Letter to my dear son on the eve of his departure to Year Course (and on the 125th Anniversary of the Zionist Congress):
Yesterday, I held a newborn and tomorrow, I send you, our bachor, first born, off to Israel for your gap year, on Young Judaea’s Year Course. Where did the time go? Just yesterday I was telling you bedtime stories about my adventures in Israel and tomorrow I will bid you farewell, as you set off on your own coming-of-age pilgrimage to the Promised Land. But before you leave, I have some parting words.
This week was the 125th anniversary of the Zionist Congress in Basel. As you and 219 other young people make their way to Israel on Year Course, I wonder what you will make of Herzl’s Zionist dream.
Will you be inspired by it? Will you be impressed at the ways in which that dream has become a reality?
The Jews who will it shall achieve their State. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and in our own homes peacefully die. The world will be liberated by our freedom, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there for our own benefit will redound mightily and beneficially to the good of all mankind.” — Theodore Herzl
What we have built in less than 75 years is short of a miracle. We are a refuge for Jews, a startup nation, a democracy in the Middle East, and so much more.
But will you be disillusioned? Will you be disappointed at the ways that reality falls short of the dream?
Yes, we are a regular country with crime and corruption, poverty, and discrimination. Yes, we have extremists, on all sides, whose zealotry makes them willing to kill or to die for their ideologies. Yes, we have our own country and are living freely in it, but not all are truly free. Yes, sometimes it feels like a zero-sum game in which our particularistic values are pegged against our universalistic values. But it need not be that way. Being a Zionist means not settling for the status quo.
You have always had a deep sense of justice, from when you were a little kid, carefully keeping track to make sure your siblings had the same amount of Shabbat candy as you, to when you went out of your way to be friends with the bullied kid on the playground. Hold fast to that sense of justice and channel it but don’t be pulled into the zero-sum game. Life is not that simple. Lean into the “Yes, and” space. Don’t disengage with Israel like a growing number of young adults in North America. I invite you to join me as part of the “troubled, committed,” as Donniel Hartman invites us “to close the gap between Israel as it is and as it should be.”
Will you find the inspiration to become part of the next phase of Zionism? To aspire to bring the reality closer to the dream? I dare you to dream your own dream. Because it is you and your fellow Judaean peers who are the future of Zionism. It is incumbent on you to dream the dream. Herzl told us that “if you will it, it is no dream,” and he went on to say, “and if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay.” Our forefathers and foremothers lay the groundwork for you and now it is up to you to continue it. “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben chorin l’hivatel mimena,” (Pirke Avot 2:16).
I know this may feel daunting. After all, you are only 18 and this is the beginning of the rest of your life. So, let’s take it one step at a time.
As you set off on your journey, some parting advice:
- Get lost and then find yourself (without a GPS).
- Remember you are young and strong, but you are not invincible.
- Make good choices and inspire those around you to become better.
- Meet new people.
- Figure out who you are and who you want to be.
- Become that person.
- Speak Hebrew (with an Israeli accent).
- Challenge yourself to hear a new point of view.
- It’s okay to change your mind.
- Experience many kinds of Jews and diverse Jewish expressions; figure out which one is you.
- Make your own covenant; you don’t need to fit neatly into a box.
- Encounter Israeli Jew, Muslim, Christian, and Druze to understand how we can share this holy place.
- Get connected with friends and family.
- The entire country is your extended family.
- Discover what you believe in and then commit to fighting for it.
As for Israel…
Let yourself fall in love with her, be challenged by her flaws, and then commit to making her better.
No pressure, but you are the future of Zionism, my son.
And finally, I wish you safe travels with the traveler’s prayer, tefilat haderech:
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ יְ-יָ אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ. שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַגִּיעֵנוּ לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵנוּ לְחַיִּים וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם וְתַחֲזִירֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם
May it be Your will, G‑d, that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and return to us in peace.
Love and Nesiyah Tovah,
aka Adina H. Frydman
CEO of Young Judaea Global