I am home for just a week, and having had time to reflect a little on my experiences on the TRY Family Trip, I wanted to take a moment to write and share a few thoughts…
Coming from a family that is very connected to Ramah and having heard about TRY from a few others a little older than Yonah who participated in previous years, I always knew that this was an experience I wanted Yonah to have. Now that Yonah is there, through Skype and emails, I hear about the amazing time he is having, how much he is learning, and even already a little about the impact this is having on him. But it took the Family Trip for me to get a fuller, deeper, richer understanding of what TRY is all about and how significant it is.
For five days, those of us who participated had the opportunity to have a small taste of what our children are sharing in for four and a half months. Spending the last day of Passover together in prayer, song, study, and relaxed free time reminded me of the many shabbatot spent at Camp Ramah when I was that age–the indescribable way Ramah brings a vibrant, engaging, spiritual atmosphere to shabbat, or in this case, chag. It also was the start of forging bonds of friendship among the parent group, a connection that is continuing through email even after we are home. And, it’s clear that our kids, who have already had so much more time to spend together, have formed even stronger connections to each other. It was wonderful to see what a caring, thoughtful, inclusive group of teens are in this year’s program. Yonah now has friends from all over North America.
The highlight of the parent trip was having a glimpse of the Israel Core Course. Our kids, and for five days, those of us on the family trip, learned about Israel in a unique and exciting way. In trying to sum up what that is, what I have come up with is personally connecting through text, context and narrative. Everywhere we went, it was about relating to texts, from ancient Biblical verses to modern contemporary literature. It was about providing a modern, meaningful and relevant context to understand and discuss those texts and the place we were visiting at that moment that connected the history of Israel, and more broadly, the history of the Jewish people to where we were. It was about an itinerary that was arranged so the we would put it all in context by connecting the last place we had visited to where we were now and where we were headed next. It was about all this coming together to form a continuous narrative that is the story of Israel. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say multiple narratives. Every place we went, Alexandra presented multiple perspectives, multiple points of view, multiple choices that Israel had at a particular time. She prodded us with questions: “Who do you think was right?” “What would you have done?” “What do you think Israel should do now if faced with the same situation?” As we went through our last day together, it was fascinating to see that some of us did shift in our answers to these questions. It was about beginning to dig down below the surface to get a better understanding of the complexity that is Israel, from the past to the present. It was about all of this being constantly intertwined. It was about learning about the struggle between Arabs and Jews in 1920 at Tel Hai and 8 who gave their lives there, and about the continuation of that struggle in 2006 as we listened to Betsalel, in a soft-spoken voice, almost choking over his words, talking about being on reserve duty in 2006, and arriving at that very same spot moments after a katusha rocket killed 12 of his fellow soldiers. It was about going to Independence Hall and having someone on the staff there relate the historic events of 5 Iyar 5708 – May 14, 1948, and somehow in that telling also impart to us a little about her family and her children having served in the IDF and her tikvah, her hopes and dreams for Israel’s future. It was about singing Hatikvah along with a recording of the orchestra that played Hatikvah on that momentous day 66 years ago. It was about seeing how very personal this all is to every Israeli and finding the ways to make it personal to ourselves, finding the way to deepen my personal connection to our homeland. If this is what I got from five days, I can only imagine what our kids will get from four and a half months.
As I sat in Ben Gurion airport waiting for my flight home, I found myself, almost unwittingly, softly humming the words to a well-known Hebrew song, and I don’t think it’s an accident that those were the words that came to me. The song starts by quoting G-d’s words to Abraham, “Get up and walk through the land” and directs those words to us today. The verses tell us to look beyond the asphalt and the buildings and the rocks to see our true homeland, that is perhaps a bit hidden if you don’t look for it. The song continues that if we take the time to do that, then we’ll find that Israel will call to us and embrace us, and we will find that on the way, we will meet again and rediscover the land of Israel. This song is about the TRY experience. My participation on the TRY Family Trip brought the past and the present together. As someone who has been to Israel many times, I spent five days gaining a more profound and more deeply rooted understanding and rediscovering Israel in a new way.