If Not Now

Kabbalat Shabbat at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Summer 2019. (courtesy)
Kabbalat Shabbat at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires, Summer 2019. (courtesy)

A long-time Jewish educator in Israel and the US, including many summers at Ramah, the camping arm of the Conservative Movement, I find myself more and more occupied with the growing distance between the Jewish world and Israel. The coronavirus shutdown allowed me more time to reflect, and decide to reach out, hoping to touch:

An open letter to the heads of the Conservative Movement in the USA and the leaders of Ramah Movement:

Dear friends, 

We always feel and say that one day at Camp Ramah is like a whole week in the real world, and I guess in times of isolation and social distancing, our insights and inner worlds beat more powerfully. These days of Corona in Israel and this inward time, seem to allow truth and love to come to light. Maybe also over there in New York? Netanyahu said recently in one of his now daily addresses to the nation, that love is distance. It’s not his only statement that I disagree with. 

Have you heard about the process of eliminating democracy over here? Do you know about the coup that was carried out in the dead of night to close the judicial system, and cancel the Knesset and its committees, including the committee for foreign and security affairs? did you know the secret service is now digitally monitoring citizens? and that Netanyahu requested  to have high ranking authorities in the Ministry of Health undergo a lie detector test ?

Honestly, I worry about our fragile political situation and the destruction of democracy more than I do about the pandemic. I’m telling you this because I know you care. I know Israel is important to you, it’s even in the Ramah movement mission statement.

But I feel we’re drifting apart. for a while now- and perhaps I should have written this letter long ago, when I first felt people confuse their frustration and anger at Netanyahu- with Israel. 

When I first noticed people in the Ramah community slowly but surely sever their ties with Israel. People whose anger at Netanyahu and the policies of the State of Israel made them not only keep their distance from the land, but also caused their alienation from the people of Israel. From us. I felt this distancing in the relationships between the American and Israeli staff members in the past few summers.

It seems every time the subject of the relationship between our two communities comes up, everyone is suddenly very busy. The decision to cancel Hebrew studies in some of the camps, the absence of camp management in the Israel committees, and the lack of curriculum regarding Israel Education, all speak for themselves. Sometimes I think if there was no Israeli mission at the camp, there would not have been any discussion about Israel at all.

It’s true, there’s an ocean between us, but once there was love, there was closeness, caring and friendship. perhaps even a sense of mutual responsibility. of dependence. One of my favorite  sequences of letters, JFK-TLV stands for knowing I can board a plane and in less than twelve hours I’ll be home. And it doesn’t matter in which direction I am flying.

There may not be any summer camps this year, or even airplanes flying back and forth between our ports. Maybe now is the best time to stop and talk about our two communities. How can we connect better? Support? listen? Care? 

This virus has us quarantined and  wearing masks, let’s stick together and remove all masks. Maybe from this place of truth, we can develop, specifically at this time, a discourse of truth.  

Let’s meet,  Israeli and American Jews. Yes, through Zoom, but let’s also zoom-in on heart-to-heart meetings, of open hearts full of courage. A meeting where we can talk about everything: sorrow and disappointment, pain, but also love and pride and closeness, and other things we’ve never had a chance to talk about like Israel and Zion, Babylon and America, and maybe even talk about redemption, happiness and G-d.

Love is not distance, but it can grow in spite of it. And maybe in this broken world we’re all living in, this longing world, at this time and place a unity of hearts can be created.  We seek your presence. Do you also seek our presence? And if not now – when?

About the Author
Born and raised in Tel Aviv and having served in the IDF as an officer, Lea Wohl-Segal is a long-time Jewish educator in Israel and the US, where she has worked at Ramah camps for many summers. She served for ten years as Rosh Ivrit (Head of Hebrew language instruction) for Ramah Programs in Israel, including Tichon Ramah Yerushalayim and Ramah Seminar. Lea received an MA in Jewish Educational Leadership from the Schechter Institute (JTS) and an MA in comparative literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Wohl-Segal has taught Hebrew and Hebrew literature at the Hebrew University’s Rothberg International School, and currently teaches literature and Hebrew to students at the Beit Zvi theatre school, the Academy of Theatre Arts in Ramat Gan, and is a senior Jewish educator at the Raziel youth village in Herzliya.
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