4HQ Israel Encounters Reflection

by Stephanie Groner, Moishe House Boston – Cambridge, Resident

As I reflect on the whirlwind week, I wanted to share the highlights, from my point of view:

As a religion and culture, Jews have been trying to digest ‘Israel’ as a concept, a people, and a physical place for thousands of years. So, here’s one Jew’s take on the last week as she attempted to do just that in 7 days. 30ish participants, a mix of Moishe House residents, MHWOWers and staff, spent the last week exploring a key question taken from Israel’s national anthem, HaTikvah – the Hope:
What does it mean ‘to be a people free in our land?’
We thoroughly dissected and deconstructed this question through personal experience, mini history lessons, and interactive discussions. We delved into themes of security, democracy, peoplehood, identity, minorities, immigration, rights, economies, arts, and culture – just to name a few…

We explored this nation-state from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to Lod to Ramallah, walking alongside a colorful cast of characters: an Ethiopian Israeli former shlicha to the US, the Arab-Israeli leader of a community center in Lod, an ex-mayor of Bethlehem, an East Jerusalem bookstore owner, a Mizrachi female slam poet, an expert on security policy, a rabbi named Esteban leading a musical kabbalat shabbat service in Tel Aviv. We also ate our way through the land – tasting the shuk’s apricots, dates and gummy candies galore. Also, I had at least 4 kinds of schnitzel and about 27 potato borekas over the course of the week – not that I was counting.

I watched the sun sink into the Mediterranean sea on Friday afternoon, as I sang ‘Eili, Eili’ alongside our group, with hundreds of Olim, tourists and Israelis – the song was written at the height of the Holocaust, by a Hungarian settler to Palestine. A famed poem I learned in Hebrew School two decades ago, the tune and the words flow from my tongue with ease – easier than any other idea or thought my lips have spoken during this week of mental gymnastics. And I had the strange and settling (yet unsettling) feeling that I somehow belonged amidst this melange, like I have belonged for thousands of years to this place and its people, even though I am at odds with so many of its realities: secular, religious, political, cultural and 1000 more spectrums and dichotomies we can (and will) explore till the end of time.

Perhaps that tension of figuring out if and how do I/we fit in here is the very point – we spoke often of ‘hugging and wrestling’ with Israel, acknowledging the beautiful and the difficult, and confronting both with our full selves. And if nothing else, doing that in the company of Moishe House family makes me feel full of the 4 Hatikvah questions – and full of Tikvah itself. I leave with renewed hope for the potential of our communities back home and our future as ‘Am Yisrael,’ the nation/people of Israel, as we continue to figure out what that means and actively shape our future around the world, from our houses to the Holy Land.”