I was asked to speak tonight about the trip at the Federation’s board meeting. Though I spent time considering what I would say, it didn’t quite come out how I hoped. I decided I’d give it another try here.
As I have previously mentioned, much of this trip was about making connections. Some of the connections were quite simple, a-ha moments. I knew of the Dead Sea, but reading about something like that, and actually swimming in it, are two completely different experiences. Similarly, when I was in third grade (regular school, not religious school) we did a social studies unit on kibbutzim. I recall pushing our desks together to represent the community. Certainly I knew that a kibbutz would be larger than for child-sized desks, but until I drove through kibbutzim and moshavim, I had no idea just how vast they are. I never considered that one might be on the Lebanon border and be staffed by numerous soldiers. These visits connected me with Israel, helping me to better understand why the US Jewish community actively supports it.
Much of what I have learned in the past two years about Israel, I learned from the films we have screened for the Hartford Jewish Film Festival. Our opening night film this year will be The Jewish Cardinal. It is based on the true story of a man, born Jewish, who converted to Christianity at age 14. After watching the film this fall, one aspect I did not contemplate was that there would be others like him. While listening to a speaker at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, I heard of a researcher at their archives who was born Jewish and later became a priest. This certainly isn’t a Nobel prize style discovery, but it helps me to see the bigger picture. Another film in the 2014 festival is Life in Stills. The subject of the film is the photo house opened by Rudi Weissenstein. Weissenstein was known for his photographs of the early days of Israel, including images of the signing of the Israeli declaration of independence. During my trip, I sat in the room where that happened. I know that when I watch the films again during the festival (these and many of the others that will be shown), I will have a stronger understanding of the issues presented.
Never before have I felt so connected to a group of people. Most of the others on the trip were strangers to me before we left West Hartford. We had such a wonderful time together and now I can truly call them my friends. Both in Israel and since we’ve been back, they have helped me learn, offered welcome advice, and even invited me to join a cycling group! These are all people I want to continue to get to know, which is a wonderful feeling.
Overall, this trip connected my past and present learning. It connected me with a country 5000 miles away, and a community in my backyard. The experience was not one I was looking for, but I am so incredibly glad I found.