Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Journey Begins

       Greetings from Zichron Ya’akov, a sleepy town in the Carmel Mountains. Zichron may not have the nightlife of Tel Aviv or the spiritual intensity of Jerusalem, but it’s a significant destination for our kids. That’s because tomorrow they will meet their pen pals from the Nili School. Y’all may or may not have sensed it before we left but there is serious anticipation ahead of tomorrow’s mifgash (encounter). Mifgash means meeting. But, like many Hebrew words, it has ancient resonances. Our ancestor Jacob had a mifgash with a rock that led to his dreaming of a ladder reaching up to Heaven. When Joseph reconciled with his brothers in the book of Genesis they vayyigfash, which means they “drew near to one another.” Mifgash isn’t just a chance to get together and do some fun activities. It is the type of authentic encounter that carries with it the weight of possibility and the inevitability of authentic engagement. There will be a lot of mifgash on this Israel trip.  

    You may wonder what all there is to report after only 6 hours in Israel (most spent at the airport or on the bus). But for those of us who like to read the tea leaves, these early moments give lots of indications about how things may unfold over the next couple of weeks. Do the kids seem healthy? Yes. Excited? Yes. Appreciative? Yes. Do they seem interested in Israel food? Yes. Are they listening to the tour guides? Yes. Are they being kind and embracing of one another? Yes. These are good signs. They’re signs that the work of the chaperones will be that of helping them mifgash here in Israel rather than simply making sure that they don’t get dehydrated and sunburned (God forbid).

      In order to get to Israel you have to start by going backwards. The plane that travels from JFK to Tel Aviv begins its iconic journey by literally backing out of the gate. So too, our kids seem to have reverted back to first principles. Good manners. A sense of humor. Sharing. Flexibility. Curiosity. They’ve already shown all of these qualities. Knowing that they act on these and other principles naturally and consistently means that all of us are going to sleep tonight looking forward to a great adventure and mifgash in the days to come.

Dining Hall, Eden Village, First Dinner in Israel

     When y’all think about mifgash in your lives, maybe even in the context of an Israel trip or other adventure you’ve taken, what comes to mind? If you feel so moved, post a comment.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Thoughts from the Air

Couldn't sleep last night. Found myself flipping through a journal full of entries from previous Davis Academy Israel trips. Many of the pages are filled with "life lessons." Sometimes, when life experiences are particularly resonant, I find it helpful to make lists. So, I've got lists of life lessons from previous Israel trips. That's because The Davis Academy Israel trip is basically a series of awesome experiences one after another. All the meanings, gleanings, and stuff is best deposited in safe place like a journal.

Tikabel ("Receive"), Tel Aviv Graffiti 2016

As a way of starting the gentle process of anticipating what kinds of life lessons your child might stumble upon as they experience Israel, here are 18 (a nice Jewish number!) lessons I've learned on previous Israel trips. They're in no particular order and maybe not even particularly insightful. But still, I'm grateful to Israel and the many students and chaperones I've travelled with over the years for evoking this learning within me.

If you've gleaned life lessons from Israel, travel more generally, or through other life experiences, feel free to share them here so that they can further inform the conversation on this blog.

Here are some of the life lessons that stand out to me on the threshold of this adventure:

1. To truly listen I have to stop thinking about how I will respond.
2. Room 111 being next to room 115 only makes sense in Israel.
3. "Survival" and "living" are two different things.
4. Everyone loves a playground.
5. Experienced from the balcony, mornings are a symphony.
6. Kindness and wisdom are interwoven.
7. We should all make a pilgrimage at some point in our lives.
8. Expressing gratitude increases ones awareness of all there is to be grateful for.
9. If the world weren't broken we'd find a way to break it. That's because human beings need to fix brokenness-- it's a central component of our humanity.
10. Age and experience put us at ease when discussing bodily functions.
11. Angels often come in the most unexpected and banal of forms.
12. When the mundane things in life build bridges between people then they are no longer mundane but rather holy.
13. Feet retain memory.
14. Dancing burns more calories than fighting.
15. People aren't addicted to sugar as much as we are addicted to sweetness.
16. Intentional small acts of loving kindness are even better than random ones.
17. Stories live longer than people.
18. Everything tastes better when shared.

I called this post "thoughts from the air" for two reasons. First, many of you who read it will do so while your children are on their flight to New York and/or Israel. Second, I haven't looked at or thought about this particular journal full of Israel reflections in at least a couple of years. It's as if all of the words on those pages appeared out of thin air. If I hadn't written them down I would have absolutely no way of accessing these and other thoughts. That's certainly a reason to hope that your child keeps a good journal during their time in Israel!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

3 Questions to Ask Yourself the Night Before you Leave for Israel

Let's face it, it can be hard to fall asleep the night before you leave for Israel. Especially if you're on The Davis Academy 8th Grade Israel Trip. Nerves, anxiousness, anticipation-- whether you've been to Israel before or not, you should be experiencing some combination of these emotions. My advice, relax, write a journal entry, have a healthy meal, and spend some time reflecting. You can reflect on your own, with your parents, or with fellow classmates. In that spirit, here are 3 questions you might reflect upon the night before you go to Israel. Worst case scenario, you pass out and get a good night's sleep!

Electrical Box, Jerusalem 2016

Question 1: Why am I going to Israel? You may know why Jews visit Israel. You may know why people of all faiths visit Israel. You may know why your parents are sending you on this trip. You may know why The Davis Academy is taking you to Israel. But do you know why you are going to Israel? Do you know what you're hoping to see, taste, and experience? Do you know what you're hoping to learn about yourself, about your Kehilah, about Israel? Take some time to think about the meaning(s) of why you are going to Israel.

Question 2: How am I going to Israel? There are lots of ways to answer the "how" questions of life. When someone asks you "how did you get here?" there are lots of potential answers. You can start with your birth or your can take a more literal approach ("I walked" "my mom drove me"). So, how are you going to Israel? What kind of shape are you in? Are you going with an open mind and open heart? Are you going with a list of special gifts to bring back to loved ones? Are you going as an artist, as a writer, as a skeptic, as a spiritual being? Take some time to think about how you're going to Israel.

Question 3: Who am I going to Israel? Read the question again. At first glance it doesn't really make sense. But there's a legitimate and important question in there. Who are you as you go to Israel? When we stop to think about it, the who question is really complex. You're an individual, but you're part of a "Kehilah Kedoshah!!!". You're a son or a daughter, a grandchild, a sibling, a friend, a teenager, an Atlantan, an American (or not), and so much more. You're a link in the chain of generations. You're a branch on a family tree that extends back across thousands of years. You're hope, prayer, blessing, and so much more. When you step off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport, who will you be? When you board the plane two weeks later, how will you have changed?

I plan to take some time to reflect on these and other questions as I look forward to tomorrow with a healthy mix of nerves, anxiousness, and anticipation. I hope you'll do your own version of the same.