When I first started working as a professional I was told whatever you do don't cry, It makes you look like such a girl and you won't be taken seriously.
I tried really hard and have never shed a tear in meetings or tense situations but I have to admit that with my job I cry all the time. I can't help it. I'm so moved by people's stories, their generosity and the programs we support.
Needless to say I went to Israel with a healthy supply of tissues. I started tearing up when we arrived at the airport when I saw the Mezuzah on the entrance to the terminal from the plane. Being in Israel for me is always overwhelming on so many levels. .I promise I'm not going to list every moment of being phaklempt but I do need to share one story.
We were in our partnership region (that I'll write about in another blog) and meet with one of JCFs grantees, a group called SAHI..
We met outside a park in a parking lot and sat on pillows and blankets around a bonfire. Young men in there 20s and 30s began telling us about the program which is aimed at at helping at risk youth who roam the streets after dark.
These young men set up the bonfire a few months ago and waited until the youth came to check them out. In a surprising twist the young men didn't start telling the kids about programs they could get involved with. .they asked for help.
The youth were surprised. ."How can we help you? "
"We are looking for families who need food..and we don't know who they are. .we are hoping you can help us. "
The kids were intrigued and started thinking. .and they started suggesting families that they knew needed help.
The young men took it one step further. . "Would you be willing to help us deliver the food? But it has to be secret so we need you to put the food in front of the door and then knock and run away so they don't know who is bringing the food. If they don't answer knock again and hide until you know they have their box. "
The kids were hooked. In just two months there are 15 youth who show up every week to help. They are starting to come up with more families that need food, so now the leaders are teaching the young volunteers how to talk to business owners about making donations.
The kids are opening up. One shared that he wants his life to be different and that he was scared about an upcoming court appointment. The organizers went to court with him and the judge gave him leniency because of his involvement with SAHI.
They give the kids dog tags that say "The greatest good is to do for others."
And the families who are receiving the food? They are overwhelmed. One youth reported that as he was running away after knocking on a door he heard a young boy through the doing say "Mommy, Mommy, it's the food angels!"
Oh damn, I need a tissue....
Our visit continues to inform and inspire. Just a few days ago an historic decision was made to create a space at the Western Wall that will be open to families, both men and women.
Women of the Wall have been working towards this moment for some 30 years.
In the United States we have the separation of church and state. In Israel religion and government are intertwined. This has resulted in certainly the protection of religious observance but it has caused tension between the ultra orthodox and non orthodox communities.
Anat Hoffman, the CEO of the Israel Religious Action Center, met with us to talk about the role of religion in Israel. Her enthusiasm was infectious and we joined in her excitement over the achievement of a space open to both men and women at the Wall.
Having worked in the Jewish Community on and off for over 30 years and watching both the evolution of Israel and the role of religion and society within the state has me raising an increasing number of questions.
I was always taught that we were to support Israel no matter what and that it was not up to we who live in the Diaspora to question what goes on within Israel's borders. We don't live with the threat of war and suicide bombers every day so therefore we need to just be supportive.
What I have watched evolve are customs and laws that we would never accept in the U.S. I am still conscious of living outside of Israel, but it is my homeland too and when we see things that threaten Israel's future we should raise questions and engage in a familial debate.
What happened last year over the Iran nuclear pact broke my heart, not because of the differing views but because of the fissions that occurred. What has made our community so amazing is that we can yell and scream and yet at the end of the day it is a hug and matzo ball soup.
I think this one sided approach to being supportive of Israel has hurt the American Jewish community.
One of the ways that we in the states can express our concern is through our funding. So for example, one of the issues that concerns our community is the the lack of core curriculum in Haredi (ultra orthodox) schools. This lack is going to result in an undereducated workforce in the future. Hence our funding of Hachmey Lev.
I mentioned it in a previous blog. What I didn't share is that the boys had a one day walk out last week to protest their poor, cramped and unacceptable accommodations. The local municipality is taking the concerns more seriously now.
I was barely able to contain my excitement. I think there was nervousness that Is be upset. Nothing could be further from the truth. These young men are taking charge of their lives and their future. I met with a group of young men who were warm and friendly, thoughtful and engaged. They are just as observant as they were before, they are just open to learning and hearing about different communities.
My time here is raising so many questions and thoughts and my love for this extraordinary country is ever increasing.
What is it about Israel?
Is it seeing a Mezuzah the moment you get off the plane? Is it being surrounded by the language of our people or the ancient stones that evoke the images of our history?
Or is it seeing young and cool Israelis walking aside Chassidic Jews as young orthodox kids skate by with tzitzit and kipahs flying?
Whatever it is, my heart is full and I've been tearing up since we landed.
In figuring out where to stay in Jerusalem I wanted to find a place that was "Mamash Yisraeli" (very Israeli). I wanted to be surrounded by Hebrew and every day Israelis. What I found was The Market Courtyard by the Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem's open air market.
It is perfect. My memories harken back 40 years (yikes!) when as a college student I spent a year on kibbutz outside of Jerusalem. So many memories (including my Hebrew) have come bubbling to the surface.
I remember buying yarn to knit an afghan to beat the cold on the kibbutz (and yes I still have that gold, orange and green blanket-it was the 70's!). I remember trying real halva for the first time and realizing that it wasn't really sawdust.
We wandered through the market this morning haggling and buying food for the next few days. The people, colors, sights and smells making me grin from ear to ear.
Meetings start soon. .but for this first morning we are enjoying the hustle and bustle of Agrippas Street and being in Jerusalem.