Israel: Connecting to Timely Issues Through Timeless Values

By Shalom Orzach

Pesach, perhaps more than any other festival, embodies true experiential education. Among the key requirements of the Festival as referred to in the Tractate of Pesachim (116b), and the Haggadah itself, is the obligation to see ourselves as coming out of Egypt. “In every generation a person is obligated to see themselves as if they came out of Egypt.” It is not a celebration of someone else’s journey or long walk to freedom but our very own. The audacity of this revolutionary concept defines our very Jewishness, our identity and core values. It does so not just cerebrally but experientially, by creating a living bond with our story that endures, both in time but also beyond time. This idea is evoked in our discourse with God at Sinai where we committed to do and to listen, na’aseh v’nishmah. That night at the Seder we figuratively – but in a sense almost literally – come out of Egypt and become (again for the first time) bnei chorin, free.

In this spirit, can we create a new paradigm for telling the Israel story as opposed to teaching it? Can we establish more forums where people engage in conversations rather than being “educated”?

Fittingly among the key behaviors of Purim that we recently celebrated is the act of dressing up. The Hebrew term for this is intriguing – l’hitchapes (to dress up) the reflective form of the verb l’chapes, to search. Invited to dress up we are essentially trying to rediscover who we are. It is all the more fascinating that this theme is so aptly carried over to Pesach where on the night before Pesach (referred to in the Mishna as or – light!) we are instructed to actively search our homes for chametz. Again these acts are not commemorative but of the here and now.

What might it be like to adopt these models for our engagement with Israel? This question periodically becomes all the more pronounced as we struggle with “dealing with” or “relating to” what has become known as the conflict or the “matzav.” If we do not have a “matzav” in our so called “Jewish” discourses, we should not abide its use for our engagement with Israel. We need to ground our discussions about Israel in a context that both relates to but also defies time. I believe that our engagement with Israel must be positioned in a broader value driven context that evokes our celebratory practice, our unique Talmudic discourses, and the very essence of our being.

Being in the moment should not be reserved or limited to Israelis who passionately reflect on and argue about the events of the previous week around the Friday night table. Can we reimagine an Israel-based Parshat Hashevua (weekly reading of Torah portions)? Fifty two stories marking particular events that occurred on specific dates, celebrating achievements, and telling our stories: Parshat Operation Solomon, Parshat Waze, Parshat Hamayim – bringing water and irrigation to third world countries, and so many more.

We remember and relive our stories through developing ingenious active rituals. Surely these very modalities of doing as well as listening (na’aseh v’nishmah) can be adopted to reimagine an integrative and compelling timely and timeless approach to bringing Israel into our lives. So as we move beyond the timely post-election stories focusing on sordid details on coalition building, let’s also make the story about the timeless celebration of one of the most miraculous chapters of Jewish History. The Chosen People have become the Choosing People, moving from the footnotes of other people’s stories to actively writing our own. With the election campaigns behind us, let the educational campaigns begin.

Shalom Orzach is a senior educator and consultant for the iCenter.