The concept of making a Pilgrimage, a purposeful journey, is as old as passages in the Torah. Lech L’cha, God tells Abram, go forth, to the land that I will show you. It would add a meaningful dimension to our lives if we sometimes converted ordinary vacations into adventures of the soul, spiritual pilgrimages which enrich our lives.
A trip to Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan served as my restorative pilgrimage this summer. A week of study at The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem provided in depth study of Jewish Peoplehood: the Meaning of the Collective in Modern Jewish Life. The Hartman Institute is a center of transformative thinking and teaching that addresses the major challenges facing the Jewish people and elevates the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world.
Questions dealing with the concept of Jewish Peoplehood challenged our minds and stimulated new insights and understanding. Israel as a Jewish and democratic state was examined through the prism of text study, historical context and the current reality of regional upheaval. Over 100 Community Lay Leaders from North America, of diverse backgrounds and pluralistic viewpoints, made the summer pilgrimage to study together, to learn and be inspired by gifted teachers and to immerse themselves in a collective refreshment of their Jewish heritage and tradition.
Approximately 150 rabbis also make the journey to the Hartman Institute each summer for spiritual renewal and in-depth study with their colleagues. Add to this participation in a Diplomatic Mission of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) to Israel and Jordan, with the opportunity to meet with the Prime Minister of Israel, Ambassadors, Cabinet Ministers, military leaders and opinion-influencing journalists. Superficial headlines concerning unanticipated unfolding regional dislocations were transformed into realistic and meaningful context. The drive from Jerusalem down ancient pathways to the Jordan rift valley, past Jericho and across the Allenby bridge into Jordan and up to Amman, was an opening of the mind and spirit to experience different cultures and witness first-hand the discordant clash of ancient traditions with emerging modernity, with all its social and political complexities.
Want some tourism added? How about a long walk with friends in the old city of Jerusalem, have political reality come to life with a learned tour of the settlement blocs, experience the armor and tank museum at the historic crossroads at Latrun, enjoy lunch in the Arab village of Abu Gosh, view the richness of the inspiring collection of Judaica, archeology and modern art in the elegantly restored Israel Museum, envelop yourself in the sights and smells of the colorful and bustling Mahane Yehuda market, soak up several days of refreshment in the green and fertile Galilee, travel up to the revitalized agricultural plateau of the Golan Heights, walk the ancient stones of the Crusader fortress in Akko, absorb history amid the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, Mameluke and Ottoman ruins in Caesarea, experience the perilously close borders with Lebanon and Syria, plus the joy of a warm and wonderful reunion with close Israeli cousins.
It doesn’t take more than vision and intent to turn your vacation into a life-enhancing pilgrimage. Perhaps it is time for each of us to seek our own ikkar i.e., the root, the essence, the core, of our own personal beliefs and values. Why not trade an unhealthy suntan at the beach for a healthy enrichment of your soul? You want substance, meaning, values, friendship, beauty and tradition added to your life? Next year in Jerusalem. Make the Pilgrimage.