Travel to Israel

Beyond tourism, to transformation: In something foreign we can find ourselves.

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Many Israel tour operators use texts, games, or discussions to make connections between visitors' own Jewish identities and the land and people of Israel. As Steve Zerobnick of Jerusalem-based tour provider Israel Studies Institute puts it, an Israel trip should engage "the questions of how the story of Israel makes me feel about my own role in Jewish history, the Jewish world, Jewish politics, my community, and my family." A visit to Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, for example, would best be planned for a Friday. Zerobnick explains: "Watching the transformation of Jerusalem from the high-energy, crowded atmosphere of mid-day and early afternoon to the quiet right before Shabbat would be followed later by a discussion that asks: how do we translate that transformation into our Shabbat experience at home?"

Without making those sorts of connections during and after the experience, Zerobnick notes, even the greatest of transformational experiences can go sour. Not only is attention paid during the trip to processing these questions, but ISI even sends staff members abroad several months after a trip to encourage program participants to consider what they have done with their Israel experience in their own lives and the lives of their communities.

Journeys of the Spirit

It is possible to engage Israel at an even more personal level. Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, in "Israel as a Spiritual Journey"(Sh'ma), observes that there is "a parallel between the travels of [the Jewish] people and our own soul's journey," and that an Israel trip is a chance to explore that parallel. "How, in fact, have our people reacted to change over the centuries? What can we learn from our people's adaptive strategies that could help us cope with the jagged discontinuities in our own lives? Can the healing from a broken homeland be applied to a broken home?"

Why should Israel in particular be the site for such spiritual introspection? Because, even in the age of instant communication and widely affordable international travel, Israel is--or can be with sufficient planning and follow-up--a place that fosters dreams, a place that enables Jews to connect to their deepest aspirations for themselves and their people.

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Rabbi Peretz Rodman

Peretz Rodman is a Jerusalem-based rabbi, teacher, writer, editor, and translator. He was a founding editor of MyJewishLearning.com.