Greetings from Israel. It is a privilege and pleasure to be writing this week’s parshah message from Jerusalem. In this week’s parshah, Beshalach, Bnai Israel receive manna (heavenly food) as sign of God’s care on their journey out of Mitzrayyim. Bnai Israel are instructed to collect manna proportional to each person’s and each family’s need, and a double portion for Shabbat. The middah we learn from this is: take only as much as you need.
The middah sounds simple enough.
But the complexity of the middah arises around the question of “need.” What do we need? How much? Do we know what we need? Do we need the same things? Do some people need more than others? Why do we sometimes (often) take more than we need? Is our need for ourselves, or do we need something for others? Are our needs and the needs of others intertwined?
For the past week, I have had the privilege of being in Israel with a cohort of Toronto Day School leaders. On this particular journey to Israel I found myself motivated by three “needs.” An on-going personal need to deepen my own relationship with Israel. A need to consider out how best to develop my family’s relationship with Israel. And my need as an educator to consider what to bring back to my teaching of Israel at The Toronto Heschel School: to consider what teachers and students at Heschel “need” to know about Israel.
The material to fulfil these three needs has been amply provided for by the organizers of our trip. They have provided us with an incredibly rich “manna” of experiences and conversations with journalists, government officials, teachers, social-entrepreneurs, curators, and very knowledgeable guides. The land of Israel itself, is a kind of “manna” for the mind and soul.
Through an incredibly intensive and rich week of learning I have been trying hard to listen to the needs Israelis are expressing through their words, but especially through how they are responding with energy, creativity, and vision to these needs. In Kibbutz Nahal Oz along the Gaza border, we saw beautiful murals painted on reinforced concrete shelters throughout the kibbutz to meet the psychological needs of children affected by the requirement for these shelters. In the town of Sderot, a lego robotics program has been established in a kindergarten to meet the needs of children from lower socio-economic backgrounds, so they will be less disadvantaged when competing for the jobs the future. In Jerusalem, at the Yad Beyad school, Jewish and Arab Israelis teach and learn together, meeting a urgent need to break down barriers and prejudices among these communities. In the Negev, a Jewish social-entrepreneur has partnered with local Bedouin leaders to create a leadership school that meets the needs of Israeli Bedouin youth seeking better integration in Israeli society. To meet the needs of changing demographics in Israeli society, seminars are offered expounding President Rivlin’s paradigm of the four Tribes that comprise contemporary Israel: Secular, Religious Zionist, Ultira-Orthodox, and Arab. At the Tel Aviv museum traditional Jewish texts are expressed through new multi-media art forms. An ambitious new digital Tanakh (bible) learning platform is being developed that brings together a wide range of pluralistic commentary along with artwork and music – to re-affirm the Tanakh as central text of the Jewish people.
This shefa of creativity and innovation reveals the response of Israelis the needs of the moment: First and foremost, the need of all Israeli citizens to feel secure and safe, and to be included in the development of the state. But beyond this, or perhaps in order for these needs to be met, a need is being expressed to re-imagine Israel as a state infused by the values and unique qualities of Judaism, while at the same time enhancing its core democratic values that recognize the needs, perspectives, and cultures of all its diverse citizens.
What do we and our children need to know and learn about Israel? The double portion of educational manna that I take away from my short time in Israel is this. Firstly, we need to know that that there is a rich and dynamic conversation going in Israel about what it means to be Jewish, pluralistic and democratic– a conversation that is sharpened by the social, political, and economic needs of moment. Secondly, we need to start thinking about Israel education and Israel engagement in terms of how we in the Diaspora can join with Israelis to be part of these critical conversation by sharing perspectives and experiences of being Jewish in the world.