Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Real Deal

Many years ago, fresh out of graduate school, I was offered a job at an historically black university. Working at an historically black institution was eye-opening in much the same way international travel is. You begin to see the world through the eyes of others and you see that ordinary things can look very different, depending on your perspective.

As a white person growing up in America in the 1970s, race barely registered on my radar screen. As a white person on a college campus where virtually everyone else was black, I came to regard my race differently.

I spent all day working with, surrounded by, people of color. And it began to appear to me as if white people were missing something. As if white skin was a deficient form in the range of human color.

Every time I come to Israel, I see that Judaism outside of Israel is similarly deficient. It’s missing something – something essential. I once stated that Jewish practice outside of Israel was ersatz. Some American Jews didn’t like that characterization very much. But I still think it’s true.

Jewish practice outside of Israel can only approximate the real deal.

There was a ceremony last night at the religious kibbutz of Ein Tzurim, which is the temporary location of approximately 40 families who were “disengaged” from their homes in Netzer Hazani in Gush Katif. The ceremony marked two years since the Israeli government tore them out of their homes, destroyed their communities and turned the land over to the Arabs who have been shelling the now-border city of Sderot ever since.

But this rumination isn’t really about politics. It’s about the authenticity of the Jewish spirit in certain parts of Israel.

This community, living in temporary housing, financially crushed by the disengagement and unable to work in the fields for which they were trained, got together last night, not to mourn the destruction of their whole communal life, but to celebrate the 30-year history of Netzer Hazani. There was a photo exhibit detailing the early years of the community, honoring the memories of those among them who died, and celebrating what they had built on the empty dunes of Gaza.

There were songs and choreographed group dances performed by elementary-aged girls. And, most stirring of all, there was a PowerPoint presentation of all the smachot – births, britot milah, marriages, bnei mitzvot, that the community had celebrated since the destruction of their former lives.

What gives them this kind of strength, to honor what can be celebrated in the face of communal crisis?

Their commitment to Hashem, to the Torah, to the Land of Israel.

As we sat in plastic chairs, on a gorgeous August night, watching the program, watching a community celebrating its own strength in the face of adversity, I whispered to my husband, “It doesn’t get any more authentic than this.”

Torah Jews in Israel are The Real Deal.

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