Ken Toltz
Israel-based writer

Beginning: בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית

Just a few days ago I celebrated with Nava Tehila in Jerusalem the happiest holiday of the year, Simchat Torah marking the completion of the annual reading of God’s gift to the Jewish people 5780 years ago, the Five Books of Moses. Handed down from generation to generation, the Torah is read in it’s entirety each year from start to finish. While admittedly I am not the most observant Jew, taking advantage of living in the Holyland by participating in holiday rituals is on my personal agenda.

Nava Tehila is no doubt on the leading edge of progressive Judaism with roots in the Jewish Renewal movement based in my former hometown of Boulder, Colorado. I have joined them this year for a Kabbalat Shabbat and on Rosh Hashanah, enjoying their instruments, singing and dancing approach to Jewish celebration which I find quite uplifting and communal.

This week on the first Jewish sabbath of the new year, we read the Torah over again with the very first word, Beresheit. Commonly the word is translated as in the beginning the way God wanted his people to read the story of creation. His creation.

For the past 5780 years Jews have been endeavoring to understand and apply the lessons which come from pondering creation. And of course, the order in which God created everything, beginning with the separation of heaven from earth. Our planet on which we live, our physical place which comes with our responsibility to take care of it for us and all future generations. Each of God’s creations detailed in this initial portion of the Torah read this week, tell us that God in his wisdom gave these gifts to us with responsibilities to nurture and take care of them as they are valuable beyond mere words, without them there’s nothing, an empty crater.

Beresheit at Makhtesh Ramon.

Here in my new hometown of Mitzpe Ramon, we live perched on the edge of the largest erosion crater in the world, and if you are fortunate enough to come here on vacation, you can stay at one of Isrotel’s flagship properties appropriately named Beresheit.

Beresheit Hotel Pool over looking Mahktesh Ramon.

Guests of Beresheit have the opportunity to gaze into the Mahktesh for hours at a time with the theme in mind that they’re stand at the beginning. But at the beginning of what? Considering this can be both the challenge and the reward for a life lived in Mitzpe Ramon. I accepted this test when three months ago I left pretty much everything behind or gave most away to move to Israel’s small central Negev desert town called Mitzpe Ramon.

This week marks the three month mark, so reflecting on the experiences and impressions of these past months seems like the appropriate way to begin again. And while there have already been many worth writing about, today I’m thinking about how this all began.

Beresheit. Creation. Invention. Reinvention. The gift of taking responsibility for this life that was given to us. The journey is underway!

About the Author
Ken Toltz began his professional career at AIPAC in Washington, D.C. after attending Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He's a 3rd generation Colorado native, businessman and long-time gun violence prevention activist. After 42 years from his first visit to Israel, in 2019 he relocated his home to Mitzpe Ramon in Israel's Negev. Ken currently resides in Herzliya. He writes about Israeli politics, relations with the U.S. and the Israeli creative class of writers and filmmakers.