Friday, November 30, 2007

HaMirpeset Sheli – Parashat Vayeishev

Honestly, I am not used to Shabbat starting at 4 pm nor am I accustomed to doing my own homework, like writing papers. I am getting used to them both, but soon enough, Shabbat will arrive later in the afternoon and who knows what is going to be with the Universities here as the strike looks like it will not be ending any time soon, and that it may expand beyond the senior faculty to adjunct faculty in the near future. I tell you this as a way to apologize for the lateness of the writing of this week’s message. I wanted to write something about Joseph this Shabbat, but I had a fascinating conversation with Esti Moskowitz at Makom: The Israel Engagement Network that took me back a to the early Jacob narratives.

Jacob, you recall, flees his brother Esau ending up at the home of Lavan. Upon his arrival, he falls in love with Rachel and works for seven years to earn her hand in marriage. On the wedding night, Lavan sends Leah, Rachel’s older sister, into the wedding chamber, tricking Jacob into marrying the older sibling instead of the one he loves. Jacob commits to working another seven years in order to earn Rachel’s hand as well. That is the short version. The Torah is rather mum about the courting process that Jacob and Rachel go through prior to their engagement and marriage.

Looking at the entire series of events in terms of process, what we have is the following:
A long period of dreaming about what might be; disappointment over what actually is; a period of growing used to and loving what is; and finally, marriage. This is not yet fully developed, but it is very similar to what dating seems to be:

You are attracted to someone and, at the outset, they are flawless. It is only after a period of time, however, that the flaws start to show. There may be disappointment there may not. You are in a position where you have to decide whether or not the positive characteristics of the person outweigh the flaws. Only then is the relationship worth maintaining. If the connection, the relationship, the passion are sustained, and the flaws accepted – for both parties –only then can there be engagement and marriage. This is a very simplified version of the process that is dating, engagement, and marriage, but it sheds light on how I think we should be thinking about Israel education and engagement in this day and age. In fact, it relates directly to the way my connection to Israel developed.

During my very first summer at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, I fell in love with the idea of Israel, the heavenly Jerusalem, a place of perfection and peace. During my six summers as a camper, I waited impatiently to go on Ramah Israel Seminar, to be in Eretz HaKodesh. Finally, the day arrived and we flew from Chicago to JFK on the now defunct TWA, and from JFK to Ben Gurion on the long defunct Tiger Air Charter Airline. I arrived wearing rose colored glasses, expecting perfection. What I found was a country filled with feral cats, trash all over the place, rude people. All the flaws, the one’s that nobody ever told me about, permeated my summer. I left very disappointed! It was like bait-and-switch.

Seven years would pass between my Ramah Israel Seminar summer and my next visit to Israel, a year of study at Machon Schechter in Jerusalem. I returned more mature, more accepting, more aware of my own flaws. Only now was I ready to engage with Israel. I came to accept and love her for all of her strengths and beautiful characteristics, as well as her weaknesses and flaws. It was the process of falling in love, of discovery of imperfections, disappointment and yet, a desire to continue the relationship, that made it possible for me to truly fall in love with Israel when I returned in 1990. It was the power of that love that made it impossible for me to leave during the First Gulf War. It is what instilled in me a passion for helping others build relationships with Israel on their, and on her, own terms.

The challenge that faces us today is insuring that we serve as honest matchmakers between people and Israel – to be sure that the first encounter is with a Holy country, with a near Heavenly Jerusalem, but with one that is not so perfect as to be either unattainable or certain to disappoint. How we do that is the subject of a future e-mail. But candle lighting is almost here and so I need to go…

Shabbat Shalom.

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