This post is written by Rosie Jaye and is republished here with permission. Rosie made a Birthright trip to Israel, an experience made possible through your donation to Federation. Registration is now open for our summer Birthright trip. You can learn more about that - right here.
In the last three weeks, I have floated in the dead sea, snorkeled in the red sea, splashed in the sea of galilee (known in Israel as the Kinneret) and frolicked in the sand of the Mediterranean. I have dipped in a purifying mikvah, explored an underwater cavern, prayed at the western wall, and sung in an abandoned cistern. I have eaten shwarma, falafal, bomba, and more than my body weight in vegetables and hummus. (Definitely not complaining about that last one!) I am amazed at the beauty of this place; the limestone rock used for almost all construction, the amazing mix of languages, accents, ethnicities, and stories. I’m not sure I realized how beautiful a desert could be before coming here. I’m not sure I could have imagined the resilience and daily intention of a group of people. And even when my opinion or point of view differs, perhaps especially when it does, I have found myself deeply impacted by the people and ways of life here.
Near the end of my ten day adventure with Israel Outdoors, a birthright program that gives jewish born individuals an opportunity to visit Israel for free, we visited a kibbutz in Sha'ar Hanegev - a community minutes from the gaza border. The act of living in this community - the simple act of breathing - takes courage and intention and I have been blown away by it. No one chooses to live in a war zone, within range of rocket fire, just because. It's not something that just happens, it is a conscious decision. While getting a tour of the kibbutz from one of the residents, I was able to hear her story of why she has chosen to live there - putting her children and herself in harms way. She has chosen to live on the perimeter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict because she believes with her whole being that this is the best way for her to support her country. It is hard for me to imagine doing the same, but the power of her commitment is something I respect on a very deep level. I was equally amazed to hear the sound of child laughter all around us on the Kibbutz even as we spoke about such an emotionally and politically charged topic. At one point our tour guide paused to regain her composure and all I could hear were children as they laughed and played on the playground. It is amazing and a little unnerving to see how life continues here. It is amazing to see the resilience of the human spirit in action.
After leaving Sha'ar Hangev, I couldn't get the idea of intentional living out of my head. It is one of the things that has struck me most about daily life in Israel - not just near the the gaza strip or the west bank but throughout the country. People seem to truly be living each day, compelled by the constant reality of death and danger. I am now a week and a half into an extension program with Livnot U'Lehibanot - which in hebrew means to build and be built. I have been volunteering and learning in an orthodox jewish community which is an experience all together new to me. Again I am struck with the existence of daily intention, this time in a religious form. My amazing coordinators (who I feel honored to now call friends) pray three times a day and before every meal. I am in awe of their dedication and commitment to their beliefs. Many of them even practice shomer negiah (guarding touch) which means they are saving their touch for their current or future spouse and do not touch anyone else of the opposite sex who is not a family member. Once again, this is a way of life that I can never envision myself participating in, but in their absolute commitment to their personal beliefs, they have my deepest respect.
These instances of intentional living inspired me last week to do a 12 hour speech fast as way to exercise more intention into my own daily life. It was truly a wonderful experience. I have a desire to listen more, talk less, and make sure that my words are spoken more for the benefit of others than myself. I realized after the fact that it was my first time fasting or restricting myself in any meaningful or purposeful way. I intentionally chose to restrict one of my most natural and comforting forms of communication and it was interesting to see how it changed my interactions with those around me. There were moments when I felt silly surrounded by my peers – the only one not speaking, but they were beyond supportive. I am incredibly grateful to my new friends in the Livnot program for giving me the safe space to experiment and try this out. It has definitely added more weight to my awareness of the power of my words and I am so excited to continue incorporating intention into my life in new and meaningful ways.
There is another concept that has left a deep impression on me while in Israel and that is the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam - repairing the world. There is this idea in Judaism that it is our duty as human beings to perform mitzvahs or acts of kindness and that these acts elevate us, drawing us closer to the most authentic and selfless version of ourselves. The world we live in today is deeply suffering and deeply in need of healing and a greater commitment to selflessness. Being in this country and hearing the stories of daily violence, fear, anger, and misunderstanding has only made it more apparent to me. For someone committed to compromise and love, this country poses a huge challenge and my time here has uncovered far more questions than answers. I am amazed at the realities I am discovering and at times incredibly overwhelmed by the issues at hand - the polarized ideologies that turn people to us vs them mentality. In spite of this, the stark reality of these issues only strengthens my resolve to do what I can, where I can, when I can to make this world a better place. Tikkun olam – repairing the world. In this concept I have found the theme of my trip and I truly want to dedicate the next few months, and perhaps my entire life, to this idea. I want to take personal responsibility and personal action to leave this world better than I found it. At every turn I want to contribute light and goodness to the proverbial melting pot. I know there is only so much one person can do, but I find comfort in knowing that I am not meant to do it all.
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