Relational Judaism and Israel

I am one of about a dozen Education Directors in the Jewish Education Project’s Reimaging Part-Time Jewish Education’s two-year cohort. Each month or so we gather together to explore what our roles are in developing thriving communities. We wrestle with our mission statements, pondering the big questions young people are asking about their Jewish identities and spiritual journeys. And we constantly struggle with what Israel education looks like in the wake of October 7.

Our current assignment from the JEP (killing two birds with one stone here so thanks!) is to share a moment of pride and joy from the school year that just ended. A few weeks ago, I offered a blessing to our wonderful Maayan, our shinshin, as she ended the year with us and returns home to join the army. During an impossible year for a girl away from home, Maayan was utterly remarkable in her ability to do what no curriculum could ever do-she helped our kids fall in love with Israel by falling in love with her she was easy to love. I believe that this is the best way forward for Israel education-building relationships with Israelis. And now I come to my (other) moment of pride and joy – the One2One program pairing American and Israeli teens in a series of zoom sessions over the course of a few months. Our second cohort just finished and here’s what our amazing students from Schreiber H.S. in Port Washington had to say about it:

Romy Pecullan (Sophomore) With everything going on, this program allowed me to see what is happening in Israel from a more complete perspective as I got to hear it firsthand from someone. I am so grateful that I was able to do this program because I learned so much and it was truly a lot of fun.

Mia Rochester (Junor). At first, I was surprised by how different we live our lives, especially because of the ongoing conflicts in Israel…. but I realized that we have much more in common than I expected – our similar music tastes and love for being active through sports…I’m extremely grateful to have participated in this program and having been able to broaden my perspective and connect more with my culture.

Zoe Rochester (Junior) Like me, my partner loves to read so we enjoyed talking about our favorite books… our daily lives, hobbies, and obligations. I would never have expected us to get along so well and I am so grateful that we did.

Samuel Singband (Senior) I wanted to learn about what it’s like for an Israeli preparing to join the IDF, and how they are dealing with the current war. Also, I believe it is important as a Jew to have a firm connection with Israel, and apart from visiting the nation, connecting with its people is the best way I feel I can go about doing so. I learned about how psychologically damaging the frequent bombings, terrorist attacks, and drone strikes are. I didn’t fully appreciate how stressful these events can be, especially since the “other side of the country” could be less than 85 miles away.

Eve Siff-Scherr (Senior) Over the past couple of months, my weekly meetings with my new friend, Tair, have provided a unique opportunity to build a connection and foster a sense of community. These interactions have allowed me to develop a true friendship, where we can laugh, share stories about our families, and confide in each other. I listened as she described her Shabbat experiences, marveled at how large and fantastic her family is and how wholesome her familial traditions are, and cherished the moments when we stumbled on words both of us couldn’t yet understand. It was then that I knew I had made a dear friend. I am grateful for the friendship and the profound personal insights we’ve exchanged.

I started this program soon after October 7 because I felt it was a powerful and meaningful way for our teens to stand with Israelis. This is what Israel education can and should look like-building meaningful connections, creating friendships, and fostering understanding. I look forward to doing the sacred work of relationship-building in the months ahead.

Rebecca Hirschwerk

Director of Congregational Education