Travel to Israel
Beyond tourism, to transformation: In something foreign we can find ourselves.
The key to making this a transformational experience is to ask the sort of questions that most tourists rarely ask. In the mall, consider "Is there something that makes this place distinctly Jewish?" The answers may vary: a stall selling kippot, the Hebrew on the signs, the presence of a synagogue tucked away in the back. Whatever you find, the search raises the issue of what cultural distinctiveness Israeli and Diaspora Jews share. On such a trip, one can come to feel and understand the experience of Jews living as a Jewish majority, speaking a Jewish language, and living by the rhythms of the Jewish calendar, in the same hills and valleys as their ancient ancestors. Lisa Grant of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion notes: "it has been demonstrated that Israel trips are successful in making American Jews feel more secure in themselves and more connected to the Jewish people."
If you are planning this type of trip, look for travel providers who advertise that they do "educational travel" or provide "Israel education" experiences. These enterprises will have a person traveling with the group who is a "tour educator" or even "scholar-in-residence," often alongside a licensed tour guide. Some education travel providers include: Keshet: The Center for Educational Tourism in Israel, The Israel Studies Institute (ISI), Oranim Educational Initiatives, Ramah Israel Programs, and Daat Travel Services.
Judaism, Israel, and Me
What if your goal is to use Israel as a venue to explore the spiritual side of Judaism. Lawrence A. Hoffman, also of HUC-JIR, wrote Israel: A Spiritual Travel Guide, to be "A Companion for the Modern Jewish Pilgrim." In it, Hoffman offers 18 short readings to prepare for a trip to Israel, intended to be read over the three weeks before departure. "Your trip can be just another vacation," he writes, "or it can be the journey of your life. To make it the latter, do it right… Put aside some sacrosanct time" for preparation.
For the trip itself, Hoffman gathers more texts: Psalms, poems, midrashim, and other readings to be read at many sites across the country He suggests prayers and blessings that can be used to enhance the experience of many types of sites: a place of battle, a place of hope, or seeing and hearing Hebrew all around you. Hoffman tries to help Jewish visitors connect--both before and during their visit--to the experience of prayer and thanksgiving. By using Jewish sources both ancient and modern, the book seeks to link the Israel experience to the practices and values of the religious life of Jews in the Diaspora.
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