Israel Mission Remembrance (I)

From December 22, 2016 – January 2, 2017, almost 30 members of the CBS community traveled to Israel as part of the CBS/Kol Shofar Intergenerational Communal Family Mission. The trip itinerary was thoughtfully designed by Rabbis Aubrey Glazer and Susan Leider (Kol Shofar), and we've heard from many participants about how extraordinary and memorable an experience they had.

Beginning today, we'll occasionally share participant remembrances on the blog. If you read these contributions and wish to join a future congregational mission to Eretz Yisrael, please let us know.

We're kicking this series off with a lovely note from congregants Robert and Irene Minkowsky.


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We came as a group of 30 or so with Rabbi Glazer, some of us totally virgin to Israel and this part of the world.

Avraham Silver, our primary guide, gave us a rich window into the history – or should we say, the memory and spirituality – of our people and into this land of honey and grapes, mountains and valleys, springs and seas, culture, language, architecture, and creativity.

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv flanked for us a journey of a lifetime.

We bounced – thanks to our driver, Yosi – over rocky roads, both inland and by the coast (eretz to yam), and moved through narrow streets. We saw the tips of the land, north and east, bordering Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, trying to understanding the borders where the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) watch from jeeps idling between mine fields.

We think we may understand now the old and the new, the religious and the secular, the rabbis and the Zionists, the Declaration of Independence and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Yet, as Avraham tells us, the conflict does not define the country; life and beauty define Israel, really.

Facebook_IsraelMission_WortzmanTalk_IsraelMuseum_JerusalemWe got a glimpse into the secrets, the magical, the miraculous survival from the fires, the anti-Semitism, the pogroms, the camps, the isolate dunes.

We saw the proud and beautiful new generations climbing Masada, defending the streets, educating the young, and supporting the aged. We floated in the salt of the Dead Sea and hummed tunes of hope. It was sometimes hard to believe we were alive in the land of our ancestors.

We are about to turn a new leaf in our book, one that includes Israel in every breath of our being. We embrace this exciting new passage in our lives, ready to explore more – so much more! – in the future.

Todah rabbah, Avraham. Todah rabbah, Da’at Educational Expeditions, and to Yosi, our Da'at guide, for the knowledge, the physical experience, and the memories you imparted us. Thank you, Rabbi Glazer, for making it the trip a reality for us, and for adding your knowledge and inspiration.

Make no mistake of it, as Avraham would say, we will be back! We leave our hearts in Israel.

With love and gratitude,
Irene and Robert (Minkowsky) Facebook_IsraelMission_GroupPhoto2_Jerusalem

Kezayit: Burn, Baby, Burn!

Facebook_LagBOmerFlamingArrowWhat's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

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Lag B'Omer is this Thursday, May 26 (18 Iyar). Although the holiday has been getting more press in recent years, it continues to go largely ignored by most Jewish Americans.

But maybe that's about to change? A concerted effort is being made by some contemporary Jewish leaders to make Lag B'Omer a centerpiece of the Jewish calendar, a holiday that secular Jews will appreciate as much as their religious brethren. Given that Lag B'Omer is traditionally observed by lighting bonfires, dancing, singing, and feasting, it should be an easy sell.

So why do we set things ablaze and party hardy on Lag B'Omer? What are we so colorfully celebrating? According to one content-aggregating website, "Lag Ba'Omer is a joyous holiday, but no one is sure what it celebrates."

There are explanations, however. Lag B'Omer translates as the "33rd [day] in the Omer." The Omer, as devoted Kezayit readers will surely recall, is the 49-day period between the second night of Pesach and Shavuot. While we previously explained why the 49 days of the Omer are counted and why this count has taken on mystical significance, we didn't mention that most of the period of the Omer is understood to be one of semi-mourning. Halachically observant Jews may not get a haircut, shave, listen to instrumental music, dance, or have weddings or parties during the Omer. The Talmud explains that the semi-mourning memorializes either a terrible plague that killed 24,000 of the great sage Rabbi Akiva's students or the murder of those same students by Roman soldiers during the years of the Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE). Modern rabbis have also suggested that the Omer should be seen as a time to remember the millions of Jews who were persecuted and killed during the Crusades, centuries of European pogroms, and the Shoah. Of course, anthropologists point out that many ancient cultures practiced "similar periods of restraint in the early spring to symbolize their concerns about the growth of their crops."

BonfireWhether it's an ancient rite of an agricultural people, a commemoration of a specifically Jewish experience, or some combination thereof, the Omer is meant to be a somber period. Lag B'Omer is the exception. All the restrictions of the mourning period are lifted; it's the one day during the Omer that we let it all hang out. Which brings us back to the holiday's potential renaissance.

As a recent article in J. makes clear, Lag B'Omer makes space for even the most secular of Jews to connect strongly with their Judaism. Joel Stanley, Director of Jewish Innovation at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center (OFJCC) in Palo Alto, saw an opportunity to draw a crowd with "live music, archery, dance, wilderness workshops, spontaneous chats about Kabbalah, activities for kids and barbecue"...as well as "towering fire sculptures." This year, the OFJCC is producing their first Burning Mensch celebration, a Lag B'Omer party designed to appeal to younger, more secular Jews, those of our tribe who generally eschew ritual or traditional spiritual experiences, but are eager to celebrate their Jewish heritage. Zack Bodner, Executive Director of the OFJCC, says Burning Mensch is part of an effort he dubs Judaism 3.0, "a vision for the future."

We salute such creative efforts, and hope that Burning Mensch is a grand success, both for the sake of its producers and sponsors (Kol Emeth, Jewish Study Network, and Milk + Honey) as well as for Jewish engagement, generally.