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A letter to my son: How & why to love Israel

Before our 13 year-old son embarked on his current 8th grade class trip to Israel (he’s now a week into the adventure), parents were tasked with writing a note for the inside of a journal school gave to each of the students. This is an extended version of what we wrote to our son:

Dear B: We’re so very excited for you, and we hope that you encounter Israel in the coming days with the love and enthusiasm that you did when we first took you and your brother to Israel a few years ago.

What do we write to you as you embark on this opportunity? What do we share with you when you already love Israel?

You love the food – most of it – and will enjoy eating with friends, second cousins during a host Shabbat, and a meal perhaps with your great aunt who lives in Israel.

You love the Hebrew language, having demonstrated an ability to use it in your studies, leyning at school, and in our community at home. Your love for the language is apparent when you listen to Israeli music in the car. I know that you’d love attending an Ishay Ribo concert as much as me.

You love your memories and stories from our previous trip, even if it was a long time ago. You love talking about your visit to our cousins on a moshav and helping others at Pantry Packers. And you love reminding me that you climbed higher than me during a water hike near Ein Gedi.

Before leaving you asked what you could bring home from you trip. There are a few things that come to mind:

1) A.M. Rosenthal once wrote in The New York Times “To understand Israel and the road ahead, first read history. Then buy a map.” (July 4, 1989) B: buy a map or buy many maps! You’re a voracious reader and your ability to learn history through your individual reading as well as in school is awesome! And we know of your interest in maps. Every time we explore a new place, you like to find the maps and have one for yourself. The land of Israel is complicated, and her various maps teach us a lot, so buy a map and keep seeking to understand as you forge ahead.

2) Keep loving Israel: Love the food, love the language, and love being with your friends and family while you’re there. Deepen your relationship by asking questions and listen to the myriad answers you get. Make good choices and take care during your visit. Treat Israel as you would your own home and ensure that you leave spaces in good care so that you and others can visit in the future.

3) Pictures: Your Zayde is fond of saying that the pictures we take with our minds are as significant as those we might take with a phone or camera – remember those?! As you explore new areas and return to some places you’ve already seen, take pictures. See Israel for who She is through your perspective and via others lenses.

4) Use your journal: Now that we’ve taken over the inside cover of your journal, there should be a few pages left for you to write your questions, record a few answers, and deepen your relationship with Israel. One of my early mentors shared with me “the more you read and write, the better you can express yourself.” (Kevin Harlan, former voice of the KC Chiefs on 101 The Fox) Write in your journal, draw something, and use the space within to express yourself. That will be your greatest gift to us, to your communities, and most important to yourself. Israel’s roots run deep, and we’re so excited for you to strengthen your foothold in this part of your Judaism – your Zionism – and fill the spaces with as much as you can.

We love you so much and can’t wait to see you when you return.

Love Mommy and אבא

P.S. If you can find a Patrick Mahomes kippah in Hebrew, I’ll take that too!

About the Author
Rabbi Rafi Cohen is the director of admissions for The Rabbinical School and the H. L. Miller Cantorial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary where he loves to guide prospective students in discerning the path of their Jewish commitments and assisting them in gaining the experience they need to successfully prepare for lives of sacred service.
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