Last week I celebrated my bar-mitzvah of guiding Taglit-Birthright, probably the most successful Jewish identity project of recent decades. I was fortunate to spend ten days with a fantastic staff, 39 young professionals from North America, and eight incredible IDF soldiers on an “Amazing Israel” Birthright trip. Even though I spend months planning and thinking about the educational content and sites on the itinerary, this time what struck me was the power of the unplanned informal moments; the downtime.
I watched with amazement how, as the participants walked on the cobble stones of Sfat and Jerusalem, and swam in the refreshing waters on the Golan, in the Sachne and the Jordan, floated on the Dead Sea, and walked through the desert at night and during the day hearing the sound of their breathing and their hearts, and feeling the sun on their faces and the wind in their hair, their attachment to the land grew daily without me saying a single word!
One of the most important and intense days on the itinerary involves visiting Yad Vashem and Mt. Herzl. It is an exhausting and emotionally draining experience. Every single soldier spoke at Mt Herzl about mates who are buried there. This time two of the soldiers invited (all fifty of) us to their homes in the nearby pastoral village of Ein Karem at the conclusion of the formal program.
The gracious hospitality of the host families, together with the opportunity to unwind in the informal surroundings of our soldier friends native enviroment was an real eye-opener for the American participants. They had spent the whole day learning about how Jews died. At Yad Vashem they witnessed what was the culminating tragedy of a stateless Jewish people, and at Mt. Herzl they saw the price we have paid, and continue to pay, in order to safeguard our state. By visiting the soldier’s houses, and meeting their families, they were seeing how Israeli Jews live!
My high school history teacher taught us that the secret of a truly great educator is not what s/he says, but rather what they don’t say! I strongly feel that the land, and the people of the land, are what made this particular trip so exceptional. Similar to the power of Shabbat, it was the opportunity to take a break from the rat-race of life, to reconnect to the heart and soul of Judaism in our homeland/birthright with her people that provided the powerful sensual and emotional stimulus – the pause between the notes!