In high school we worked with a book for appreciating poetry: How Does a Poem Mean? I think that question also applies to Israel…not “what does Israel mean to you”…rather, “how does Israel mean to you?”
The analogy to the poetry book applies in that Israel is about more than “what”; Israel invites multiple levels of
reflection and perspective (as does a poem). How do you connect with Israel?
I assume that you assume I am talking about the 65 year old/young state of Israel. Well…yes and no. What makes Israel a “how” question is the multiple meanings/associations for that word.
“How” is at the core in approaching Rosh Hashanah and particularly Yom Kippur. How has your life journey led you to who you are in your connection to Judaism? How are you part of/connected to and or supportive of “Am Yisrael”, the “People of Israel”?
One of the most confusing aspects of Judaism is that it is home more to a people than a religion. All our holidays
and customs and ceremonies are designed to integrate into the fabric of daily living and societal function. It is natural that mail in Israel is delivered on Sunday, not Saturday. Sunday is the first work day, not Monday.
How do you connect to the Land of Israel? All of Jewish values and history are generated through memories and stories that kept generations alive in the 2000 year old Diaspora, a romanticized sense of the blessed nature of the land of Israel. This age old attachment to the land was what made the dream of return that would yield a state of Israel possible.
All of our holidays have agricultural roots and attachments. How does the land of Israel mean to you in terms of what feeds your identity as a Jew and part of a peoplehood that transcends borders? How does the name Israel mean something special to you as the celebration of our third Ancestor, Jacob? Reflecting on Israel the Ancestor gives pause to “wrestle with” the original meaning of Israel, before it becomes known as a land, a people and, in our own times, a state. It all stems from Jacob, and it invites each of us to muse about changes in our lives, especially growing into greater strengths and capacities as implied by a name change from Jacob, the one who held on (to his brother, as they were born) to Israel, the one that wrestled
effectively through the night with an angel/extension of God.
The common ingredient in the name’s usage in all its iterations is the reality that nothing comes easily, and if it does, it is likely a trap.
The Land of Israel requires human participation i.e. in making a desert bloom, in a location surrounded by hostility. Through the ages it was an arduous if exhilarating dream to make a pilgrimage to see the Holy Land.
The people of Israel, however we each identify with that people has been in a holding pattern, a mode of survival as the remnant of Israel (where “Judaism” comes in), since the 10 Tribes disappeared in 722 BCE.
While we know and identify ourselves as Jews, (Praisers of God, from Judah), our prayer book and Torah identify us exclusively as Israel. So when you recite: Shema Yisrael, ponder, if you will, how Israel means to you.
In so doing, ponder the impact of your being alive in an era where there is more than a dream of bringing Jewish life
back to the Land of Israel. You are among the few in the generations of Jewish history alive with a reborn vibrant State of Israel standing at the top of the list in bringing Light to the nations with its science, technology and inspiring dedicated outreach to assist nations large and small in their times of need for its expertise.
The struggles for security and peace in the Middle East unfortunately divert attention from and awareness of the breadth and depth of Israeli contributions to the betterment of human kind in medical and environmental advances. We just learned from our friends in Israel that the water shortage is being neutralized by the successful launch last month of a desalination plant that will address much/most of the water needs in Israel.
During the Days of Awe, we will be exploring How Israel Means to Us as part of the Cheshbon HaNefesh, the Accounting of our
Lives/Souls that we do, especially on Yom Kippur.
Israel does have one added meaning for us. It is the name of our synagogue. However we “wrestle with” what/how Israel means to us, the consequences will benefit us as B’nai Israel members in how we celebrate Judaism in our community and how we connect with others through our new association with Common Ground, connecting faith communities and non-profits in
collaborating in efforts to improve the quality of life in Solano (and Napa) County.
Shema Yisrael…Listen/Understand Israel, Adonai our God is One when we wrestle effectively with our name and see how
all identities associated with Israel are interconnected and yield fruits that can help us in the direction of Shalom.