One aspect of the seminar is enrichment activities, lectures concerning Israel in order to deepen camp directors’ understanding of the land they are in and the Israelis they are hiring. Yesterday one of these lectures was led by a most enlightening man, Zohar Raviv, who spoke about the gap in Jewish identification between the Israeli and American communities. Summer camps receiving Shlichim have the amazing experience of bridging the gap between both areas, yet in order to link the breach it’s necessary to understand the differences that have developed between the two cultures. He sketched the main differences as something like a doughnut: Israelis are generally very nationalist and their Jewish identity is tied to the physical land of Israel itself rather than to the religion. North Americans, on the other hand, must seek out Judaism in order to be Jewish, and therefore for them Jewish identity is more about ritual and tradition.
Zohar told us about a great idea to connect the two communities. While many mitzvot pertain to us as Jews, some are also pertinent to the land of Israel itself. The biblical command to circumcise baby boys after eight days, for example, is also commanded regarding trees. People rest on Shabbat–the seventh day, and the land of Israel must also rest every seventh year. Finally, the act of social justice, or Tsaddaka, also applies to the land: the farmer is forbidden to plough a section of his field and must leave it for the poor.
There is a direct correlation between the land of Israel and the tradition. Just as mitzvot connect, so too must the Jews of Israel and North America. In Poland we see both Israelis and North Americans standing at the gates of Auschwitz declaring the same thing: Never again. But in the absence of a threat, what are we? Absorbed in the act of protecting, we sometimes forget what it is we are protecting. Only with understanding both Israeli and North American points of identity can we begin to see something worth guarding.
The act of coming together allows us to fill out our doughnut and become buns. Bringing Israelis and North Americans together in these summer camps allows for dialogue about information and transformation. Martin Buber once said that the moment we have pluralism, we have the potential to celebrate. Zohar argued that pluralism isn’t only the duty to embracing everyone, but also a moment of opportunity. It reminds us that each and every Jew is different. I sometimes feel as though I am a “north American” shlicha. While this experience has been a tremendous learning opportunity and has led me to confirm my resolve to make Aliyah, I believe I have taught Israelis too. This teaching has gone beyond reviewing their English homework and teaching them modern English slang (no one says “groovy” anymore); it has everything to do with teaching them our culture, our religion and our traditions. This a vision of a future to celebrate.