By Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D.
Last week Taglit-Birthright registration opened. I was at the University of Florida’s Hillel for the opening. Their staff, interns, recruitment team, and student volunteers were huddle around their computers watching enrollment as intently as a campaign staff monitors election results.
Winter Birthright registration has strength at this time of year. It’s before the High Holidays.
Every year during the high holidays, Jews worldwide gather to reflect and connect. We pray for health, happiness, success and improvement from where we fell short in the past year. We also pray for the return of the Jewish people to the land of our ancestors. In the Haftarah on the second day of Rosh Hashana, we read G-d’s promise to the Jews: “I will…gather them from the ends of the earth…In a vast throng they shall return here” (Jeremiah 31:8) – “here”, of course, being the land of Israel.
The Jews’ longing to return to Israel is an ever-present theme throughout our texts, and in the hearts of Jews across the spectrum. Many who live in the diaspora have an inexplicable pull toward the holy land – even those who have never been there before. So, too, it is not uncommon for a Jew who, in the past, had little connection with Israel, to arrive there for the first time and feel an instant sense of homecoming. Israel is a fundamental part of who we are as Jews, and returning there is the fulfillment of personal and national destiny. Each of us has a physical, emotional, and spiritual need to go to Israel, which is why we pray for it throughout the year, and fervently during the high holidays.
Our ancestors, have been praying for a return to Israel for over 2,000 years. There are examples of our prayers being answered. From the establishment of the Jewish state to mass aliyahs.
The Haftarah on Rosh Hashanah promises that “a vast throng” Jews would return to Israel. Over 400,000 Jews across 60+ countries have been gifted the Birthright experience as a “no-strings attached” taste of Israel. How wonderful is it that right before Rosh Hashannah was Birthright registration.
On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we pray for the things most important to us, and it is no mistake that a return to Israel is included. This time of reflection allows us to remember our connection to Israel, and to explore how to manifest it in ourselves, our families, and our communities. Every day I pray for the increasing return of our people to our land. Specifically I pray for the success, health, and well-being of Taglit-Birthright Israel: participants, staff, leadership, supporters, and all of their efforts. For 5776, may we see the greatest successes in all of our worthy endeavors and may our righteous prayers be answered – including the return to Israel.
Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D. is the CEO of Jewish Social Response, Executive Director of Project-Beyond, and a member of the Upstart Bay Area cohort. He lectures on the primary topic of how to make Jewish and Israel relevant to millennials. You can email reach him at [email protected] or on LinkedIn.