Aaron Greenberg, the director of the JCC camps at Medford, and I went to high school together. We were recently reunited when Aaron was participating in an Israel seminar as part of a two year series of seminars for camp directors towards the goal of enriching the Jewish content of Jewish camps. Aaron, who has a Jewish Day school education and has lived in Israel, has already done a lot to teach Judaism, Hebrew and Israel using informal and experiential methods at the JCC camps. However, for one-third of the camp directors participating on this program, this was their first trip to Israel. This trip, gave those directors the opportunity to experience Israel first-hand, as an entity which is central to Jewish identity and culture. As Aaron put it, how can a director of a Jewish camp teach Israel without having been here?
This reminded me of another schoolmate of ours, my friend Eliot of whom I wrote in my column preceding Hanukkah. As I noted, Eliot and I shared many formative experiences including Camp Ramah, Akiba Hebrew Academy and serving on USY’s regional board. Both of us have continued being active Jewish lay leaders with Eliot now the president of his synagogue. However, Israel has not played a central role in Eliot’s Jewish identity as it has mine. In fact, Eliot’s visit during Hanukkah this year was his first trip to Israel in over 25 years, since his Bar Mitzvah. Just as Aaron asked how a director of a Jewish camp can teach Israel without having been here, I wondered how a Jewish lay leader, committed to a Jewish way of life could go 25 years without coming to Israel.
It was wonderful spending time with Eliot and his family. While we see each other on my annual trips to the States, this was the first time since college that we spent more than a few hours together and what is more, our families really had a chance to bond. Eliot and his wife Stephanie showed off their children’s knowledge of Hebrew and Judaism to me over and over again during their visit. Stephanie expressed her joy that she is able to give her children what she did not have growing up. I enjoyed seeing how proud and supportive they are and as I suspected Eric, their twelve year old son, is already planning on coming back to Israel next year as part of his Solomon Schechter Day School’s eighth grade trip and again in high school with Ramah Israel Seminar. His parents confided to me with a sense of pride that they wouldn’t be surprised if he followed in my footsteps and made his home in Israel, if not permanently, at least for a while.
Eliot and I became close in high school partially because both of our fathers had died when we were children. Our mothers worked hard to give us opportunities and as the cliché goes, to have a better life than they did. Eliot has been very successful in his career, but what I saw this visit is that just as our parents tried to give us more than they had, Eliot and Stephanie are also striving to provide their children with a better standard of living. The pride Eliot and Stephanie take in their children’s achievements results from their children’s knowledge surpassing their own. When Eric understood our rabbi’s sermon in Hebrew, Eliot and Stephanie saw the results of their hard work. When Julia, their seven-year-old daughter spoke Hebrew with an Israeli accent, she surpassed her parents abilities as well and they beamed with “naches”.
I, like Eric and Julia, am very lucky to have a family who supports my love of Israel and Judaism and who takes pride in my accomplishments, applauding me on my path as I continue to learn and grow.
This started from my first days at the JCC nursery school and my summers at Camp Hilltop. This year, Aaron has posted Hebrew signs and instituted creative ways to teach holidays and Israel at the same day camps I once attended in Medford. Bringing innovative Jewish educational initiatives enriches an already vibrant Jewish community. However, as I see more and more Jewish professionals and lay leaders coming to Israel to recharge their batteries and to give their children opportunities they did not have, I realize that I do not think it would even be possible to give my children the standard of living I want to provide them with were I to raise them outside of the Jewish homeland.
I used to think that I made a sacrifice by moving to Israel. I still sometimes question my decision knowing that there is no doubt that it would be easier for me to earn a better salary in America. However, for me, especially as it concerns my children, the standard of living in Israel can not compare to life in America. In so many ways, life is so much easier here.