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Yael Marx: Gvanim 2, 2016

The Gift of the Journey:

"By participating in the second Guvanim group in Boston, I hoped to enrich my knowledge of identity, Judaism and community.  By taking advantage of this opportunity, I knew I was obligated to give back to the Jewish and Israeli communities of Boston.  I was also motivated to study the ancient Jewish texts with a dynamic group of interesting people. 

The offer to participate came at a time when I was at crossroads--two of my three daughters had recently moved back to Israel--one to service in the army and one as a citizen of Tel Aviv.  My two daughters--named Hallel and Drorr--”to praise God” and “freedom”--were named based on deeply held values that my husband and I held dear.  We never expected that they would live these names so fully. 

Here in Boston I’m able to take advantage of incredible opportunities to live life to the fullest along with my husband and youngest daughter, named Gaia--“mother earth”.  We live in Lexington, less than a mile from the site of the first shot of the revolutionary war--literally the birthplace of freedom in this country.

When I received the call from Michal Guttman at the Isareli American Council (IAC), I was curious and wanted to learn more about the Guvanim group.  I then met with Rabbi Eliana Jacobowitz and was moved intellectually and emotionally to proceed with this offer.  The first time our group came together, led by Rabbi Eliana and Na’ama Ore, until our final meeting, we developed a deep understanding of the importance of strengthening the Jewish connection to Israel, and the significance of maintaining strong bonds between the Jewish community and Israeli community. 

As a teacher for more than 25 years in both Israel and America, I now have a new focus and vision.  I have renewed sense of the importance of bringing my experience and love of Israel to others.  For instance, teaching about the minerals in the mud of the Dead Sea is not just about geography, but about teaching kids to be excited about the uniqueness of this beautiful country and their own personal connection to Israel.

When the course ended, it became clear that my connection to Guvanim was more than just an academic exercise, but changed my life in a dramatic way.  Instead of feeling like guests or strangers, like we should apologize for our presence in America, the Guvanim program revealed a legitimacy and moral purpose for us.  The IAC seeks to bring this feeling to the entire Israeli community living in America. 

Twenty-four years ago, when we first came to the United States, we were invited to a huge Israeli Purim party.  The hostess wanted to dance the hora and was shouting to guests in a strong Israeli accent.  I had a strange feeling that this was not right--this party didn’t seem connected in time and place to our new life in this country.  I now understand that this was perfectly acceptable--in fact that Israeli people should be encouraged to keep their culture and tradition alive in this country. 

It used to be the case that Israelis would think of their time in America as a small adventure.  Now, however, many Israelis are here for long periods of time and consider themselves part of the community.  I understand that being an Israeli in Boston is inherently complex, but that I am able to be a contributing member of this vibrant society.  Instead of dwelling on the fact that my daughters are far from me in Israel, I’m able to concentrate my energy on two valuable new initiatives--an Israeli advocacy group that gives people language to discuss Israel in a constructive way, and a project that aims to connect students to Israeli nobel prize author Shmuel Yousef Agnon.

Over the course of the Guvanim program, we developed an understanding of the power of community in Jewish culture--we modeled this in our sessions through chavruta (group) learning as a reflection of how this value can be experienced in the wider community.  This was the same euphoric feeling I had in the Israeli Scouts movement when I was a child.  Na’ama and Rabbi Eliana, what magical ingredients did you put in our potion?  This was such a quick and intense experience--one that changed all of us in so many ways and gave us the motivation to act. 

Although our group work has formally ended, we are all pursuing different projects inspired by our work together with the Guvanim program.  Such initiatives include working with Israeli middle schoolers to maintain tradition and culture, developing community with young Israeli professionals, and helping the Israeli community develop the language to have complex conversations about Israel by discussing both Israeli achievements and challenges.

Yehudah Amichai expresses idea of community beautifully in his poem “Time of Grace”:

"Once I thought we could solve problems by gathering people at the station at midnight waiting for the last bus to come.  First a small amount of people, then more and more will gather.  They will be close together--giving them an opportunity to change everything and start a new world.And then people spread out.  The time of grace has passed.  It will not return--everyone will go on their way and everyone will find their match like a domino piece, like a neverending world of games."

This poem speaks to the magic that results when people come together in community to work on issues and complex problems in order to make the world a better place.  Unlike Amichai’s poem, however, the time of grace remains for us.  We have the opportunity to continue this powerful moment that happens when we form a community.."