Balancing Opposites in the Coming Year – Talia Jubas, CLIP: New York 2014

Talia Jubas-1Rosh Hashanah is a complex day. On the one hand, we are austere, trembling before God, repenting for our sins. On the other hand, we are joyous. We celebrate with family, friends and food. It is sometimes hard to balance the gravity of the day that we experience in prayer with the levity that comes with the holiday feast.

I think there is a beautiful concept embedded in this dissonance. We are asked to honor the day in seemingly opposing ways, asked to straddle the space between feeling small and unworthy and unboundedly happy. The importance of both aspects of observing the holiday underscores the value of being able to embrace disparate pathways to serve Hashem (G-d).

CLIP this summer repeatedly presented me with a similar experience. The diverse cohort was filled with people who were all committed to Judaism in some form, but in ways that differed completely from how I act out my Jewish identity.

After CLIP, not only am I more comfortable with different opinions, I have come to embrace this plurality of beliefs. And as I broadened my awareness of alternative practices, I also deepened my commitment to my own religious obligations. I have a stronger sense of what I think Judaism is asking of me—and what I am asking of it—while at the same time I have a much greater understanding and respect of different approaches and beliefs.

Rosh Hashanah reminds me of CLIP in other ways, too. The Day of Judgment is primarily about the individual, with personal atonement and prayers. However, there are places where the language accounts for the entire community. One particularly resonant image for me comes from the prayer Unetanneh Tokef. It says, “All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep. Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate and consider the soul of all the living.” The utilization of the flock as the metaphorical vehicle to illustrate an individual experience highlights the overlap of our collective and personal identities. We are individuals, judged by our own deeds, but we come as part of a whole. Furthermore, although we pass before G-d one at a time, this is a shared experience. On Rosh Hashanah, and in Judaism in general, there is both a shared aspect of community and the idea that the community is a collection of individuals.

CLIP involved a lot of this kind of thinking: deep introspection without forgetting about the communities we are each a part of, as well as the community we created together. A strong exhibit of that was our Shabbaton, particularly the Friday night prayer service. Although a ritual committee was designated to work out the details, everyone participated in trying to recognize and incorporate the (numerous) differences in practice and belief into our shared experience. Although the build- up was stressful (so I hear from my friends on the committee), ultimately I had one of the most meaningful prayer services of my life; it truly felt like a communal song in harmony rather than (what I anticipated would be) discordant voices and tense barriers. Respect for the individual within the space of the group is a value I truly internalized through my experiences with CLIP.

It is my hope and prayer that the entire CLIP community will harness their experiences to bring these ideas to Jewish communities across the country and even the world, and hopefully we can start to build bridges between the innumerable individuals, personalities, and pathways to Hashem that comprise Am Yisrael.

Haym Salomon Arts Reflections – Atara Vogelstein, CLIP: New York 2014

Vogelstein_Atara_Photo_2014She can’t see—I’m told—she’s legally blind. I sit down next to her and pick up a pink piece of tissue paper. “This is a pretty color,” I remark. “She doesn’t communicate either,” says the staff person across the table. But I sit down and she cranes her neck to look at me. I sit down and she senses that I’m there. She has dark skin and wide eyes; the kind of eyes that see through you.

She holds a glue stick in one hand—it hovers inches away from the white paper plate covered with a mess of colorful squares. With her free hand, she reaches for my hand, finds my wrist, and guides it toward the edge of her glue stick. I tilt my wrist upward so that glue meets paper. She feels the pressure of the paper on the glue and peers down at it, at the glue, or at the plate, and pushes my hand forward. Pink tissue paper collides with white paper plate and she’s glued her first piece of the rainbow.

I don’t believe that she can’t see, or understand me when I comment on the fusion of colors. So I let her find the next square and only prompt her with words she may or may not hear—wanting this project to be hers.

That is the mission behind FEGS Haym Salomon Arts; to provide the paper plates and the tissue paper, but to let you decide which colors to glue and where to glue them; to lead you to the table, but to let you sense why you’re there, despite or because of the tenacity it took to get there.

Ownership, pride, dedication—these are the words that come to mind when I think about the people and projects I’ve encountered this summer. Witnessing the array of inventive submissions to the Annual Arts Awards Competition and handling unique after unique piece enlightened me one-hundred-fifty times over about what it means to celebrate color. Meeting artists who didn’t know they were artists until now and artists who knew they were artists their entire lives but had not been formerly recognized for their work revealed to me what it means to take risks; to allow yourself to devote your time to creating beauty, and to let that beauty fall into a stranger’s hands.

In the workshop I was fortunate to facilitate in Brooklyn PROS Possibilities, I asked participants to tell me stories, to share stories about their names and their favorite places, to converse with each other. In an introductory exercise, I asked each participant to announce his or her name, complemented by an action. We went around the circle. I asked if anyone could remember the names or the actions of everyone in the group. One of the deaf participants, without hesitation, mastered the entire group’s actions, clapping, bowing, waving, climbing on cue, as if she had choreographed the routine. I was impressed, musing whether her experience using sign language strengthened her memory for movement. My workshop, which I had dubbed “Creative Storytelling,” became more creative than I had imagined, with participants communicating in unique ways.

Another participant complained when he discovered the title of the activity, confessing that he couldn’t read or write. He had suffered a head injury that limited his literacy and short-term memory. Yet his power over words and recall of detail remained stunning. He spoke of God and faith and religion, reciting Bible verses and ethos as fluently as the ink poured from the pens around him, unable to put pen to paper, but to make me wish he could. When I asked him if I could write what he said, certain phrases, to share with the group, to internalize, he thanked me. I envied him for his memory, his clarity of focus on beauty and truth. He didn’t need to read or write to internalize—he listened, and heard, himself and those around him. His words resonated, eternal, as they came from deep within.

While we shared details about where we were from, train rides it took to get here, old checkered seats and cigarette butts littering the floor, pining for lakes and Puerto Rico, remembering a mother’s love for flowers…I felt a tangible gratitude toward everyone around me. Like tissue paper in the hands of a woman who is questionably blind, these fragments of beauty were handed to me.

We paste a translucent lavender square onto the plate, when the staff member announces it is time for lunch, time to clean up. I try to draw the artist’s attention to the collage that we’ve created, holding it before her like a mirror, like she can see her own reflection in the art. She gazes at it. I don’t know what she can see, and I don’t ask. Then she turns and looks at me, her eyes as wide as when the hour began. They seem to say something. I tell her it’s beautiful, what she made, that I’m going to hang it up on the wall. And then she turns, gracefully pushing away a chair that impedes the aisle, clearing my path to the montage.

Not only is she an artist, but she knows it. I write her name on her collage.

Why YOU Should Take The Leap – Molly Sigel, CLIP: New York 2014

molly.photoPeople often ask me why I chose to leave the beautiful and always sunny city of Los Angeles. I explain that somehow it was just a twist of fate. When I left one city for the other it just made sense. It made sense to go to a school with a thriving Jewish community, to have an internship in New York City where Jewish life and professionalism become one, and to explore the vast array of synagogues on the Upper West Side. It made sense to go to Israel- to have my credits transfer and graduate in three years. For me, it made sense to explore something new, something different.

The Jewish community in Los Angeles is nothing short of thriving or incredible. Jewish life is oozing at the seams. For me, though, Jewish life made sense here. There is no saying I won’t return one day and explore the young professional Jewish life of Los Angeles. Being from a small suburb outside of the city, young adult Jewish life in LA is not something I know much about. That, however, is not the point of this piece. The point is to take the leap, take the extra step, and explore something new and different. No matter how comfortable one may be in his or her current location, job, or school, going somewhere new is crucial to development. Going somewhere new affords the opportunity to discover passions and goals, learn lessons, and see what the world has to offer. This is why I am here.

For our last CLIP seminar we were asked to volunteer to speak and discuss something that we are passionate or knowledgeable about, and then teach to a small group of our fellow interns. Some of the interns who led discussions chose to speak of the prevalence of eating disorders in the Jewish community, belief or disbelief in a higher power, or even putting more thought into the food we eat. I chose to speak about the importance of geographical diversity and why taking people in from other places is crucial.

In our discussion, we spoke about the significance of this quote from the Torah: “Then she (Tzipporah) gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he (Moshe) said, ‘I have been a sojourner in a foreign land,’” (Exodus 2:22). Gershom was born in exile, while the Jews were wandering the desert, and after they had been slaves in Egypt. “Gershom” directly translates to “lived there.” Although Gershom was never a slave in Egypt, Moshe and Tzipporah found it important for their son to know where those before him came from. Gershom, however, was to be afforded of all the things that the generations before him did not have. It was important that Gershom would be reminded of his origins as he became stronger and mightier in the world around him.

To become a part of something new often seems overwhelming, intimidating, frightening. To take who you are and place yourself somewhere else is a daunting thought, a scary thought. The risk is worth taking though. Taking this risk, the risk of becoming a part of another community, can ultimately help you in the future. There is no saying that where you are is not the best place for you because that could very well be the case. For me, though, becoming a New York Jew was right. For me, it almost just happened by a chance of fate- a fate that I did not realize was my own. Fate is sometimes what you need for the extra push, the extra mile that you would not go otherwise. Sometimes change is what we need to succeed.

So what is the significance of my story? Why does it matter? I’ll tell you why. People like me are everywhere, people who leave one place for another in hope that this will be it. This will be the place where it all comes together. As members of those already existing communities, it is OUR job to take these people in. It is our job to take the college freshman that was involved in a Jewish youth group in high school and make them part of our Hillel communities on campus. It is our job to take that person sitting on the side who may be quiet because they do not know anyone and give them the opportunity to know someone. It is our job to bring these people in because ultimately they may bring something to the table that we do not know about yet. This person can make a difference in our community and it is our job to let that happen.

Challenging my Preconceptions of Jewish Programming: A Sentimental Reflection on the CLIP Experience – Jason Richman, CLIP: New York 2014

Richman_Jason_Photo_2014When I began filling out my application to CLIP: New York, approximately eight months ago in the midst of my winter semester at Northwestern, it quickly occurred to me that the mere exercise of responding to their prompts was the most “Jewish” activity that I had engaged with in a long time. Typing from the warmth of my bed, listening to the faint whistle of the wind outside my window and the comically irritable muttering of my roommate regarding the “hippy music” emanating from next door, I distinctly remember the feeling of skepticism that emerged in my gut – the sensation that had become my default response to Jewish programming and institutions since going to college.

My cynicism was not the result of a uniformly bad experience at summer camp or Hebrew School, or even at my synagogue. I had made meaningful relationships in all of these environments, identified strongly as Jewish and saw the value in each of these institutions. It was primarily a byproduct of lingering resentment at having Jewish rituals and beliefs imposed on me at times in these contexts, of feeling especially removed from spirituality in situations where I was forced to pray, of having my interfaith relationship spurned and rebuked by family and clergy, and of coming to view religion as a burden rather than an avenue for personal growth.

As I progressed deeper into the application and was encouraged repeatedly to reflect on and explore my connection with Judaism, I grew introspective, and a nostalgic sadness was stirred within me that had lain dormant for the past few years. I wrote about the feeling of loss that I felt after years of dissociating myself from religious traditions, and of an analogy that my sister had offered me earlier that year that had begun to resonate. “Your relationship with god is like a long-distance relationship with a best friend,” she said. “No matter what, you will always have a connection – but if you make no effort to maintain that relationship – you will both lose something.”

Throughout the CLIP application process I retained a healthy fear that I would spend the summer having traditional Judaism shoved down my throat. However, I decided to stay the course because of the pluralistic good vibes that I had gotten from Jay and the CLIP website, and the knowledge that I would be spending four out of five weekdays in a more conventional work environment. In retrospect, I am so glad I made that decision.

CLIP has been an incredibly refreshing experience of Judaism for me. It is the first Jewish program that I have participated in that broaches the perpetual Jewish questions of how to engage secularizing youth and ensure the future of the Jewish people from a framework of inclusion and active listening. It is also the first Jewish setting in which I felt that my beliefs regarding interfaith dating were understood and respected, and in which I could envision an interfaith future that would not require me to abandon my Judaism.

CLIP is more geared towards the individual than any other program I have participated in, religious or otherwise. I entered my internship placement feeling that both the CLIP staff and my supervisors at PresenTense were more interested in facilitating my growth as a professional than in the resources I had to offer them. I became more cognizant of my strengths and weaknesses both in professional and interpersonal contexts, and of the communicatory disconnect that commonly occurs between the message that people intend to convey – and the words that ultimately come out of their mouth. I expect that it was this very disconnect that disillusioned me from Jewish programming in the first place.

Through my experiences with CLIP and PresenTense – really two internships in one – I honestly feel that I have developed as both an individual and a professional. My placements within a group of fifty incredibly mature and good-natured CLIP interns, as well as within the innovative and uplifting environment of PresenTense have facilitated a formative experience for me this summer. I will definitely think twice before writing off a Jewish program in the future.

Shabbaton Reflections – Avi Rothfeld, CLIP: New York 2014

Rothfeld_Avi_Photo_2014I spend a lot of that time thinking about prayer. It’s purpose, efficacy, spiritual significance, personal significance, etc. Currently I only pray in any organized sense on Shabbat - on Friday night and Saturday morning. But there was a long stretch of my life when prayer was mandatory in school twice a day, which definitely played a role in shaping the relationship I’ve had with prayer.

I was apprehensive about Friday night services on our Shabbaton. But what could be bad?  The interns participating in CLIP for the summer would be spending the weekend at the idyllic Pearlstone Retreat Center, four hours away from stresses of the city, from our internships, from the apartments we’re subletting. We were out in the country with birds, goats, trees and other things unfamiliar to New York City. There were a few planned ice breakers when we got to the site, but they were unnecessary. I was already feeling a deep connection with the CLIP group and was gaining insight into the diversity within Judaism. Yet I was still nervous. I had no idea what the Ritual Committee had been planning in all their secret meetings. What would a pluralistic Jewish prayer service feel like?

In my days going to a Modern Orthodox elementary and high school I struggled to find meaning in the mandatorytefillah. I sometimes would go to great lengths to NOT pray. I even had a little chumash that looked like a siddur,which I would read from during davening, while going through the motions. Prayer was built into our schedule, just like any other part of the school day. As such, it held the same status in my mind as any mandatory school function, which certainly did not imbue it with anything close to spirituality. 

The prayer space for the Shabbaton included a “trichitza,” a three-way divider with a men’s section, a women’s section, and a mixed-seating section. The name doesn’t really make any sense. It’s a play on the word mechitza, which means to split in half. “Trichitza” would then sort of mean to split in half into thirds. But what’s really made the experience troubling for me is that it highlights differences. While a mechitza divides by gender, a trichitza divides by ideology, by values, by denomination. When choosing the Men Only section of the trichtiza, I don’t want people assuming that I am actively not-choosing (or not-accepting) another section of the prayer space.

If you’re going to pray, you should be feeling something. That something could be a sense of community and shared purpose, or it could be something spiritually and personally uplifting. But to pray without feeling anything always felt like I was getting a raw deal. The strange thing about prayer is that you don’t really get better at it the more you practice. If anything, you might actually get worse at it (in whatever way one can be better or worse at something like prayer), as the once-powerful liturgy becomes dry and repetitive. The first experience I had with prayer that re-oriented its place in my life was during my gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. I knew someone who was very ill in America and in my feeling of helplessness I found comfort in the fact that there was a set time and place for me to express certain feelings. That I didn’t need to come up with the right words on my own.

Before we entered the prayer space for Kabbalat Shabbat, we sung some niggunim outside in the hall. Chairs were crammed close together. I came in a bit late and found a seat near the back. Those with good voices (not me) and musical talent (not me) led us through the different songs. For that short period of singing, we were all sitting side-by-side, taking in the melodies, some familiar and some new. I felt my mind being cleared of the clutter of the work-week and entering some sort of sacred (or, at least, less stressed-out) state.

After spending three weeks last summer at a fellowship my former high school discussing prayer — through the readings of Soloveitchik, Heschel, Hartman — I began to find meaning in the inward and personal aspect. Yet I have still struggled to connect with communal prayer. I often feel as if my voice is irrelevant. By that I mean: If you took me out of the prayer space, the total power, efficacy, ruach, etc. of the prayer would neither be diminished nor enhanced. I provide a net zero worth to the service. [Unless, of course, I’m the 10th man, in which case I’m suddenly considered a crucially important commodity].

After we completed our CLIP Friday night service, I tried to make sense of what had happened. I knew it had been meaningful. Perhaps more meaningful than any time I had prayed with a group before then. And I tried to think what made this experience different. I’ve probably clocked in over 1,000 prayer hours in my life, but never had I felt so satisfied with the service. I thought about CLIP and the conversations I’ve been having with my fellow interns. In engaging with a diverse group of passionate young Jews, I have been forced to reconsider a lot of my assumptions about what it means to be Jewish and to be dedicated to Judaism. Everyone is bringing a distinct vision, a distinct belief system, a distinct set of skills to the Jewish people. Seeing the diversity of approaches to Jewish life, I find my own practice to be a unique part of the spectrum of Jewish experience. I feel a sense of purpose to represent my space on that spectrum.

As such, when we sang Yedid Nefesh, or when we stood up to welcome the Sabbath in Lecha Dodi, I felt that I was not irrelevant. If I was not singing, there would be a voice missing. If I did not welcome in Shabbat in the way that it is meaningful to me, that perspective would be lost. It was empowering.

Noah Flinkman, in his dvar torah, noted that Mizmor L’david emphasizes the role of the “voice.” The voice of God, as the prayer goes, can knock down the trees, can make them prance around, and can wipe the forest bare. While not environmentally friendly, this prayer presents the power that an individual voice can have. Without just one of the 50 voices of my fellow CLIP peers, there would be something lost, some experience not present, some perspective not accounted for. It didn’t matter which section of the “trichitza” it was coming from.

Focus and Clarity – Marcy Cohen, CLIP: New York, 2014

Cohen, Marcy copy“Yes, CLIP. It stands for Collegiate Leadership Internship Program. And I’m going to be placed at the Mt. Sinai Kravis Children’s Hospital.”

​Prior to the start of summer, that was my schpiel; my explanation of what I would be doing in the upcoming weeks, as I was going to be spending the summer at home for the first time in eleven years. I had attended, and then worked at, sleep-away camp for over a decade and I had no idea what to expect from a summer internship but it was time for me to enter the “real world.”

​Upon receiving my CLIP acceptance email, containing information about my placement, I was relieved to say the least. I had little to no knowledge of where the rest of my cohort would be placed for the summer, but knowing I would be working with kids, I was excited. “Work with kids,” had become my go-to answer when asked what I wanted to do with my psychology and sociology majors after graduation. Beyond that, however, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with kids as a career.

​As the program got started, and each intern was given the opportunity to evaluate our own individual greatest Strengths, I was even more certain that my career aspirations were “on point” and that I had been properly placed at the Kravis Children’s Hospital. As the weeks passed, no matter how chronically exhausted I was and unable to adjust to an “adult” schedule of commuting, I found myself eagerly awaiting the start of the next day so I could get back to the hospital.

​Not long into the summer, the figurative light bulb went off in my head – after many years down a very broad path, I had finally found a very specific and straight one to steer myself down: Child Life Specialist. What had begun as a merely a “summer internship” had become so much more for me over the weeks. I finally found a real passion; a career that I was not only fascinated by, but one that I enjoyed and wanted to make my own. Taking advantage of all of the networking tactics and advice we were taught during Wednesday seminars throughout the summer, I have begun forming and cultivating relationships with individuals both in the hospital and in the wide-ranging professional world. I have found our session entirely devoted to networking invaluable. Of course I had previously recognized the importance of developing relationships with child life specialists at Mt. Sinai, but through CLIP I now have the tools to do so professionally and successfully.

​With this newfound professional drive, I have been working to harness everything I have been learning at the hospital as well as from our weekly seminars, to prepare myself for the next step. Not only did this program enable me to learn a lot about myself and the way I identify with Judaism, I now have a very clear focus on my career direction for the very first time. My enthusiasm and passion entering the next stage of my life cannot be summed up by the four letters that represent my summer experience; the CLIP program has given me so much more than an internship, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Realizations in the Desert – Marshall Lifton, CLIP: Onward Israel 2014

 

marshall-e1404161940640-150x150Rockets, riots and ……reflection? As crazy as it might seem, these three words perfectly encapsulate the experiences I’ve been through during the last week. Amidst running for bomb shelters and digesting every piece of news like an addict, it seemed almost impossible for me to be able to find time for reflection. Yet that is exactly what our Shabbaton retreat to Jerusalem and Yeruham was able to accomplish. By observing artifacts of Jewish history and culture in Jerusalem and discovering a thriving community in the harsh Negev, I was reminded about what makes Israel so special and why so many fight for it.

In Jerusalem’s Israel Museum I stood in awe when faced with exhibits showcasing various synagogue designs from across the globe. Whether I was looking at the ornate Cochin architecture or the sand-covered floors of a Surinamese synagogue, I began to understand just how diverse Judaism is. The Israel Museum exemplified the different groups and individuals who make up Judaism and how common elements stretch across different cultures and sects. In this way it serves as a microcosm for the entire State of Israel. Like the museum, this country is a collection of people from across the globe who possess similar identities at their core. That is why Israel is so beautiful; Jews should be able to come together and share their experiences with one another in the face of differences in culture, race and religiosity. Coming to this realization during a period of intense conflict helped me to understand just why so many men and women from different backgrounds are willing to fight to defend this land from terror.

However, upon arriving at Yeruham it felt almost as if there was no conflict to begin with. The visible tension present in areas like Tel Aviv was absent and the tight security I was familiar with was nowhere to be seen in this small little town. In essence, it was a completely different side of Israel. Life seemed to move at a different pace, with strict observation of Shabbat as the norm for the community. One could walk across the entire town and not see a car going by on a Saturday afternoon. At first, I thought this seemed like a bizarre form of escapism. By living in the middle of the desert, these individuals had sought to escape the hostilities and threats plaguing the nation. Through my interactions with the local populace however, I was able to understand that living in Yeruham was in reality a way of demonstrating strength not weakness.

We were told about the history of the land, and the struggles new immigrants who came there faced. Despite the challenges they managed to tame this incredibly harsh landscape and build a community in one of the most environmentally hostile regions on Earth. Living in Yeruham meant facing the challenges of life head on, as the early pioneers worked to build infrastructure from the ground up. Today this pioneering spirit lives on in the people who live there currently. For instance, there is a thriving entrepreneurial community in Yeruham today with some members launching ventures such as the first café in the area. This innovative spirit demonstrates a mastery over the land and the area, a desire to grow life in the desert. In short, Yeruham is not a place to run away from difficulties; it is a place to overcome them and become better for it.

It is important to note that it was not myself alone who was coming to these new realizations and discoveries. I am thankful that I was able to experience an entirely different side of Israel alongside not only members of my program, but from sister programs as well. The meaningful conversations I had with these individuals serve to reinforce my earlier comments about the strength of Judaism and Israel arising from diversity. Many individuals from Cleveland and Baltimore had different opinions about current issues as well as Jewish Life than those on my program. By listening to the discussions between the different groups I was able to reevaluate my own beliefs and values on matters such as what currently poses the greatest threat to the Jewish People.

Overall, I am thankful we had the chance to journey to Yeruham and the Israel Museum given current events in Israel. Being removed from the bustling city of Tel Aviv allowed me to take a step back and look at everything that had occurred in a larger context. By reflecting on concepts such as my Jewish Identity and how it related to Israel, I have become more certain in my own views regarding Israel. This weekend was a respite from the harsh conflict, but I know now that I can face whatever comes without fear. Instead, I have begun to understand the courage of many Jews and Israelis who have faced similar challenges and how they overcame them to become stronger individuals.

Jerusalem: A City Divided – Ross Haimowitz, CLIP: Onward Israel 2014

In June 1967, the Jewish population of the world sat on edge as Israel was thrust into yet another war with its Arab neighbors. Many mourned what seemed to be the inevitable destruction of the fledgling Jewish state; instead, in what can only be described as a miracle, Israel emerged victorious only six days later. While Israel captured vast areas of land, including the Golan Heights, West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Sinai Peninsula, the crowning achievement of this unexpected military victory was the recapturing of East Jerusalem. East and west, old and new, finally united under Jewish rule after thousands of years.However, while Israel celebrated the reunification of this holy city, they also inherited a political dilemma that haunts the Jewish State until this very day: tens of thousands of Arabs who would prefer citizenship in their own sovereign Palestinian state, the capital of which would be in Jerusalem.

Fast forward 44 years, where I stand among a group of young Jewish adults at an archaeological excavation in one of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods captured during the Six-Day war. We are at the City of David, the settlement south of the Temple Mount that served as the capital of the ancient Israelite Kingdom. Walking through the City of David, I recalled the words of Yossi Ronen, who was among the soldiers who captured the Old City of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War. Upon seeing the Kotel, Ronen reported “I’m not a religious man, I never have been, but this is the Western Wall and I’m touching the stones of the Western Wall.” My support of Israel does not stem from any deep-seated religious convictions. Rather, I have always connected to the land on a historical level; walking on the site where King David reportedly built his palace and visualizing the First Temple in all its grandeur brings history to life before my eyes.

However, this sentiment is not unique to Jews alone. There has unquestionably been an Arab presence in Jerusalem since the 600s. Does 3000 years of Jewish history offer a more legitimate claim to the land than the 1400 years of Arab settlement? At what point does historical presence trump contemporary political realities? Can Jerusalem serve as the capital of both a Jewish state and an Arab state? Unfortunately, like the rest of the international community, I do not have a satisfactory answer to these questions. I would, however, like to share an applicable lesson the Bible.

Later that day, our group made our way to the Pardes Institute of Jewish Study, where we participated in a lesson focusing on King David and the morality of leadership. However, I believe that an even more applicable lesson can be learned from the Second Book of Samuel. In chapter 23, the author lists 37 of David’s military commanders: Uriah the Hittite, Zelek the Ammonite, Ira the Ithrite, and so on. Each of whom is from a different tribe or nation. It was the strength of many different individuals and allegiances, not just Jews, which allowed the ancient Israelite kingdom to reach its full potential.

The unique problem regarding the status of Jerusalem requires a unique solution. There is no city in the world quite like Jerusalem; throughout its history, Jerusalem has served as the crossroads between three continents and has been held by more empires and cultures than any other city in the world. Moreover, Jerusalem stands as the spiritual center for members of three great international religions. Regardless of its political situation, Jerusalem has always been, and will remain, a de facto international city. In fact, the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine envisioned Jerusalem as an extraterritorial region that would provide unrestricted access to all holy sites. This is the utopian ideal. It is too easy to point to the city of David and claim that history entitles the Jewish people to an undivided capital in Jerusalem. Only through meaningful dialogue and the cooperative spirit demonstrated by King David can real peace be attained.

Shabbaton Reflections – Geena Marano, CLIP: New York 2014

Marano_Geena_Photo_2014When I was accepted into CLIP for the summer, I was filled with excitement of spending time in New York City with other Jewish young adults. I figured I would get my fair share of amazing New York bagels, the chance to be a tourist for the whole summer, and the opportunity to be around other Jewish college students with similar backgrounds. I knew that CLIP aimed to bring together Jews of diversity, but I don’t think I fully understood how much I would learn until our Shabbaton retreat, and how different our backgrounds truly were.

Growing up in a home with parents of an interfaith marriage, I had a different upbringing than some Jews. My mom proudly raised my sisters and me as Reform Jewish women, but we seldom went to Shabbat because of Friday night high school football games and other events we attended together. I watched from the bleachers, as my sisters (my role models) participated in cheerleading down on the football field. We celebrated after with a Friday night dinner. This was our weekly tradition. While these nights together are a significant part of who I am, there is something in me that calls for a change in my Jewish practices as I grow older. I believe being a child with only one Jewish parent has given me the insight to different religions and acceptance of each of them. But it also has inspired me to grow closer to my own religion and my own values. So when I embarked on this Shabbaton retreat, I was looking for something that could give me the puzzle piece I had been missing in my Jewish life. What I didn’t realize was that the amazing traditions of the people around me were about to teach me more than I could ever imagine.

When I used to think of more observant Jews than myself, I thought of an amazing culture so deeply rooted in Halacha that I could respect but not commit to. As I experienced services this past weekend, I felt a wave of emotions as I heard young men and women my age read from the Torah. They were so passionate and knowledgeable about what our God had been saying. I was in shock. It was inspiring to hear, but as I sat there, I questioned myself. For when I heard these amazing people speak and explain lessons from the words of our ancestors, I realized how much I didn’t know about Judaism. I doubted my connection to its’ practices. As many around me read our Hebrew prayers in the Siddurim so thoughtfully (and quicker than myself), I realized that it was okay that I didn’t know everything. It was okay that I was not used to some particular prayers. I realized my practices as a young adult may have been a little different, but they still stem from something greater that my peers and I all share together. I began to see that not only are we part of the same, incredible religion, but it is our duty to open the eyes of Jews everywhere. It is our mission to unite Jews of all denominations, because we are all rooted in the same values.

While I looked around the room, I got tears in my eyes as I noticed how much this Shabbat truly meant to some of my new friends. How this Shabbat might have represented the first time they were not with their family, because praying together is what they did on previous Friday nights. Although my family may not have been praying together, our time spent with each other on Friday nights created close relationships and memories that I treasure. But on this past Shabbat, this particular Friday evening represented a revelation. It opened my eyes to the closeness and uniqueness my CLIP peers and I share as Jewish people in this world. It changed the way I want to practice Friday nights going forward. All weekend we spoke of the similarities between each “denomination”, but in the end, does it really mean anything if we don’t all embrace it? Being around such supportive, passionate, and intelligent men and women has led to the realization that embracing our traditions is the first step to a pluralistic world. Embracing the similarities and love for Judaism is the first step to accepting all Jews so we can stand together to change the world and resist opposing forces. Embracing pluralism is the next part of my Jewish journey, to truly reconnect to our ideals with the support and lessons from the wonderful people around me.

Shabbaton Reflections – Geena Marano, CLIP: New York 2014

Marano_Geena_Photo_2014When I was accepted into CLIP for the summer, I was filled with excitement of spending time in New York City with other Jewish young adults. I figured I would get my fair share of amazing New York bagels, the chance to be a tourist for the whole summer, and the opportunity to be around other Jewish college students with similar backgrounds. I knew that CLIP aimed to bring together Jews of diversity, but I don’t think I fully understood how much I would learn until our Shabbaton retreat, and how different our backgrounds truly were. Growing up in a home with parents of an interfaith marriage, I had a different upbringing than some Jews. My mom proudly raised my sisters and me as Reform Jewish women, but we seldom went to Shabbat because of Friday night high school football games and other events we attended together. I watched from the bleachers, as my sisters (my role models) participated in cheerleading down on the football field. We celebrated after with a Friday night dinner. This was our weekly tradition. While these nights together are a significant part of who I am, there is something in me that calls for a change in my Jewish practices as I grow older. I believe being a child with only one Jewish parent has given me the insight to different religions and acceptance of each of them. But it also has inspired me to grow closer to my own religion and my own values. So when I embarked on this Shabbaton retreat, I was looking for something that could give me the puzzle piece I had been missing in my Jewish life. What I didn’t realize was that the amazing traditions of the people around me were about to teach me more than I could ever imagine. When I used to think of more observant Jews than myself, I thought of an amazing culture so deeply rooted in Halacha that I could respect but not commit to. As I experienced services this past weekend, I felt a wave of emotions as I heard young men and women my age read from the Torah. They were so passionate and knowledgeable about what our God had been saying. I was in shock. It was inspiring to hear, but as I sat there, I questioned myself. For when I heard these amazing people speak and explain lessons from the words of our ancestors, I realized how much I didn’t know about Judaism. I doubted my connection to its’ practices. As many around me read our Hebrew prayers in the Siddurim so thoughtfully (and quicker than myself), I realized that it was okay that I didn’t know everything. It was okay that I was not used to some particular prayers. I realized my practices as a young adult may have been a little different, but they still stem from something greater that my peers and I all share together. I began to see that not only are we part of the same, incredible religion, but it is our duty to open the eyes of Jews everywhere. It is our mission to unite Jews of all denominations, because we are all rooted in the same values. While I looked around the room, I got tears in my eyes as I noticed how much this Shabbat truly meant to some of my new friends. How this Shabbat might have represented the first time they were not with their family, because praying together is what they did on previous Friday nights. Although my family may not have been praying together, our time spent with each other on Friday nights created close relationships and memories that I treasure. But on this past Shabbat, this particular Friday evening represented a revelation. It opened my eyes to the closeness and uniqueness my CLIP peers and I share as Jewish people in this world. It changed the way I want to practice Friday nights going forward. All weekend we spoke of the similarities between each “denomination”, but in the end, does it really mean anything if we don’t all embrace it? Being around such supportive, passionate, and intelligent men and women has led to the realization that embracing our traditions is the first step to a pluralistic world. Embracing the similarities and love for Judaism is the first step to accepting all Jews so we can stand together to change the world and resist opposing forces. Embracing pluralism is the next part of my Jewish journey, to truly reconnect to our ideals with the support and lessons from the wonderful people around me.