The term Israel means “to struggle with God” (Yisra-El). Israel is…
- A person. Jacob the patriarch, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham. He is named Israel by God after struggling with a messenger.
- A place. Israel has been used to name several places:
- The land of Israel
- Kingdom of Israel (united monarchy) (1020 BCE – 931 BCE), the kingdom established by the Israelites and uniting them under a single king
- Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) (931 BCE – 722 BCE), the secessionist kingdom of northern Israelites
- Judea, also called Israel, as it is known in the Christian Bible in Maccabees, the Gospels, and Acts
- The modern State of Israel
- A people. Israel is another term for the Jewish people, no matter where we are or where we come from.
Being Part of Israel
A key challenge to Jewish identity is often, oddly enough, other Jews. For example, hearing someone say, “Christina isn’t a Jewish name” or “Mexicans can be Jews?” or “was your family hurt when you married a non-Jew?” There are also the questions of who is and who is not a Jew by virtue of halacha (Jewish law) or of Jewish continuity — whether you are helping further the Jewish peoplehood into the future in a way deemed proper by someone else.
In my experience, it is important to remember that even if people are being rude, it is often only by accident. If someone wonders why you don’t have what they perceive to be a “Jewish name”, it could be that they are just interested in you, not that they seek to interrogate or invalidate your identity.
Being part of community is a crucial part of being Jewish. For some, community means just a direct family. For others, it means synagogue life. For others, being in a city that has lively secular Jewish cultural activities may be meaningful.
Take a look at this sheet on Sefaria and see what resonates with you and what does not.
The Ask Project
From the Ask Project:
Want to know what Israelis and Palestinians really think? Ask.
Questions come from you, the viewers. Respondents are random people on the street. All responses are included and unedited for content.
I reserve the right to give sarcastic comments
Here are some videos that capture different aspects of Israel, Palestine, religion, politics, culture and more. All the videos can be found in the link beow. Explore the topics that interest you: https://www.youtube.com/user/coreygilshuster/videos
Note that I have not watched every video, so there may be some I agree with and others I disagree with. I believe that Judaism thrives in secular democracies where lively debate (and civility) go hand-in-hand.
One thing you will notice about me is that I tend to avoid discussing politics, whether that be American, Israeli, or anyone else’s. Contrary to popular belief, not every rabbi has their finger on the pulse of what is going on in Israel, or a perfect praxis for understanding complicated nation/state history. Ask me what I believe about Israeli politics when I am in Knesset (which will never happen) or ask me about American politics when I am in Congress (which also will never happen).
Israel: Ways to Get There
I have been to Israel twice and hope to go more often post-pandemic. My first trip was on vacation with my wife and friends. The other as a tour co-leader for Honeymoon Israel on a Richmond trip. Kudos to our local Jewish Community Federation of Richmond for supporting this great effort to connect interfaith couples with Israel.
The following are some ways you can get to Israel without breaking the bank. Note that some of these will have particular religious or political leanings, so “buyer beware”. Every trip has an agenda, stated or otherwise. That’s why I (Rabbi Patrick) recommend putting together your own trip, connecting with local Israelis and Palestinians, and getting a sense of what life is really like in the land that inspires many.
- Our local Jewish Federation (runs different trips every once and a while)
- Birthright Israel
- Honeymoon Israel
- Daat (Israeli travel company — reach out to Keren Hananel for private tours)
- Delicious Israel (culinary food tours, ask for Inbal Baum)
- Ayelet (another popular tour company)
- Friends of the Israeli Defense Force (FIDF)
Just for fun: my favorite (sometimes unusual) places in Israel. Note that this should NOT be the only places you go. This just happens to reflect my interests.
- Aricha Sabich – a sabich restaurant in the Mahane Yehuda market (best market I’ve ever found in any city)
- The Karaite Synagogue – in the old city. Very friendly and an interesting take on non-rabbinic Judaism
- The Israel Museum. If you only have one museum to go to, this is the winner for me
- Ramot Resort hotel if you just want to relax
- Haifa is fun if you want a city feel that’s less intense than Jerusalem or most parts of Tel Aviv and has a more mixed population. The train ride from Tel Aviv is very pretty. This is my “if I had to live in Israel” city
- While I have not been, Tel Aviv hosts a huge LGBTQ+ Pride Festival that I have heard from friends is amazing
- Oddly enough, some of the best Pan-Asian cuisine I have had was at a restaurant in Jerusalem called Station 9