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Crafting a New Narrative


Hartman Campus FellowsI’m not usually one to proclaim having transformational experiences but this summer was a time of transformation in how I think about the next generation of Israel education. I was honored to be part of the second group of Hillel/campus professionals chosen to study as a cohort for one year with the Shalom Hartman Institute. Along with 12 colleagues from across the country, including Hillel executive directors and campus rabbis, we began our year of intensive study in Jerusalem at the Institute in order to discover a new language to engage with Israel on campus that goes "beyond the crisis narrative" and speaks to the values and priorities of young Jews as members of the Jewish people and a global society. Because students today are so far removed from the narrative of 1967, Israel’s existence isn’t even a question in their minds. International perception of Israel is important and we must continue to set the record straight but reality tells us that Israel has one of the strongest armies in the world, Israelis are a smart and innovative people and are capable of defending themselves. So the imperative to "defend" or "fight for" Israel is no longer resonating with the majority of young Jews living in the Diaspora because they see Israel as a vital and successful country.

This new reality presents both opportunities and challenges for the future of Israel /Diaspora relations. The hope is that the new reality will be based on mutual cooperation and equality. Israel and the Diaspora can and should work together as equal partners to shape the future of the Jewish people. But how do we get there?

In order to craft a new narrative that is based in Jewish wisdom but is modern in its approach we spent 8-10 hours per day in intense chevruta (traditional Rabbinical style of studying texts in pairs) and group discussion over portions of Torah, Talmud and modern texts. Each related to Jewish values and themes including power, sovereignty, stewardship, covenant, victimization, identity and more. Every theme built on the other and yet contained individual lessons that could be applied to any number of situations happening on campus and/or to us as individuals. We were privileged to be exposed to experts who took their time to both learn with and teach us. It was a humbling and motivating experience to say the least. I really believe that to study and struggle with these themes is essential to creating a deep and meaningful relationship with the homeland of the Jewish people.

So: How do we translate all of this to campus? Just as Israel is a work in progress – so is this new narrative. Over this academic year I will share some thought provoking themes and discussions from ancient and modern texts on JUF’s Israel Education Center blog , and hopefully we can learn to speak a new narrative together.

Theme 1 – Israel as a Holy Land?

Leviticus 25:14-15, 23

You shall count off seven weeks of years – seven times seven years – so that the period of seven weeks of years gives you a total of forty-nine years. Then you shall sound the horn loud; in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month – the Day of Atonement – you shall have the horn sounded throughout your land and you shall hallow the fiftieth year. You shall proclaim release throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family. That fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you: you shall not sow, neither shall you reap the after growth or harvest the untrimmed vines, for it is a jubilee. It shall be holy to you: you may eat only the growth direct from the field. In this year of jubilee, each of you shall return to his holding. When you sell property to your neighbor, or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another. In buying from your neighbor, you shall deduct only for the number of years since the jubilee; and in selling to you, he shall charge you only for the remaining crop years… But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me.

Questions to consider:

How do these directives about ownership and management of land help us think about Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people?
How do you interpret the last line?

Emily Briskman is the Director of the Israel Education Center at the Jewish United Fund / Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. She is a fellow in the second cohort of the Hartman Fellowship for Campus Professionals. This post was originally published on Real Stories – Changed Lives, the Israel Education Center’s blog.

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