What is your connection to Israel? A good icebreaker question for a Jewish audience of any age.
It is also a good question to open up the topic about celebrating Israel and its accomplishments, as it is celebrating its 72nd birthday. Israel is a nation among the nations of the world. During this time of crisis in the world, we are proud to see Israel’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, not just for its own citizens but for all who can benefit from its knowhow. It is a leader in medical treatments and testing. It creates and uses technology to help mankind. It shares its knowledge about assisting after trauma and continues to run to places to help when it is needed.
Most Jewish young people today have received the gift of a trip to Israel from Birthright during their college years. I do not have official statistics, but I know of several of my generation and older that still have that trip on their bucket list, and are still figuring out how to make it happen.
I have been lucky – while my family had no relatives that lived in Israel, it has been a part of our family’s DNA. We said, “next year in Jerusalem” every Passover and and could picture the possibility. It is what I learned about in Hebrew school, and if we saw a product that said “Made in Israel” in a store in the 1960s and 70s, it was a thrill. I am sure many of us still have an Israeli blue/green metal Judaica piece –jewelry, mezuzahs, bookends, a seder plate, and a menorah are ones I can account for. These items were part of bat mitzvah gifts or sourced from a synagogue’ s gift shop. I had also been influenced by my parents, the generation that experienced Israel’s birth, and hearing about the dancing in the streets in Brooklyn in 1948 when the announcement of the creation of the state was on the radio. We continued to be glued to the news when I was a youngster and teenager hearing about the wars for its survival that followed.
Living in New York City, I experienced the annual Israel Day Parade that brought youth groups and schools to Fifth Avenue. I remember learning a line dance with my Israeli Hebrew teacher that we would perform as part of the synagogue delegation, wearing a white dress tied with blue ribbons. As I got older, the parade offered the social element of seeing friends I had made in United Synagogue Youth, meeting other teens around the city and tristate area.
My first trip to Israel was a sweet sixteen present from my parents, offered as their gift instead of a party. Traveling with a teen tour for six weeks , we saw Israel from end to end, experiencing kibbutz life at Ein Gedi, and a week with Israeli teenagers at Gadna camp, with the most adorable Israeli soldiers as instructors.
I got to visit again in 1980 as part of a B’nai B’rith staff mission. It was a wonderful way to bond with colleagues and learn about the people and projects of B’nai B’rith that have had roots in the country since 1888. It was another view of the country, seeing behind the tourist scene, presenting some of the difficult social issues for Israelis and their struggle living alongside their Arab neighbors. We saw the presence of B’nai B’rith in various form. From a Moshav named for Henry Monsky, to libraries and streets named in recognition of B’nai B’rith’s role in their creation. We were present just months after the B’nai B’rith World Center was established in response to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 that in August 1980 called on all member states to remove their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem.
B’nai B’rith provided another opportunity for me to experience Israel at the 1998 International Convention. It was also the occasion to share an Israel experience with my husband and introduce my kids to Israel at age 12 and 16.
The venues were amazing, opening ceremonies at David’s Citadel in Jerusalem, dinner at the Israel Museum with a private tour and a banquet that filled a ballroom with members from around the world.
The closing program included a spontaneous line of dancers that moved between the tables to celebrate the occasion of this event. A special memory was the dedication by the B’nai B’rith Center for Community Action of a playground outfitted for physically challenged children in Hadera.
I had the unique experience of seeing Israel in 2005 as a parent with a child spending their first year in a college program at Bar Ilan University. It was another view, 33 years after my first experience. For this visit, we could tak a bit more time to experience Jerusalem and Tel Aviv , soaking in the historic and cultural sites in Jerusalem and then the beach in Tel Aviv.
When my grandson Jacob was born in 2014, we joked about holding a special upcoming date on the calendar July 2027, for his bar mitzvah. We have since then talked about a summer trip to Israel as a wonderful way to celebrate with his parents and his two siblings. It is strange to think that this summer it will be just 7 years away. But, looking at the events of these past months, it feels like that that may be too long to wait. When we can hopefully see these days in our rearview mirror, and our prayers and social distancing maintains good health , I hope a family trip to Israel will be in the plans for me.
Happy 72nd Birthday, Israel. Hope to see you soon.
Rhonda Love is the Vice President of Programming for B'nai B'rith International. She is Director of the Center of Community Action and Center of Jewish Identity. She served as the Program Director of the former District One of B'nai B'rith. In 2002 she received recognition by B'nai B'rith with the Julius Bisno Professional Excellence Award. Rhonda has served on the B'nai B'rith International staff for 41 years. To view some of her additional content, click here.
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