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  • Our Israel Blog – Ronnie and Marc Bendeth

    We are writing this together because our Journey to Israel was a trip that for years we had always wanted to take. . .

    Our Journey was made even more meaningful and special because
    it was made with our Rabbi and our Temple Community. A community that started out being just a gathering of some friends and acquaintances and ended up becoming a truly connected community. People, who we may have been acquainted with through temple, were no longer just acquaintances, bonded as friends.

    Each day was filled with more excitement and spirituality than the previous day. This was the land of our ancestors – the land of the Jewish people. It was so much more than standing on some ancient historic site. The trip gave us new insight into the lives of the Israeli people from before the Common Era right up until today. The teamwork of our guide, Zvi, and Rabbi Bellush enabled us to learn, laugh and even shed a tear. This was all enhanced by our volunteer head-counter and photographer, Bruce Silverman.

    Tel Aviv is a modern bustling city full of the vim and vigor of youth, with fine restaurants and nightlife, not unlike Manhattan.  However when you see the City of Jerusalem, at the overlook for the first time, something happens to you – it actually will move you to tears. (Tears of joy and tears of “we finally made it.”)

    We saw, we learned, we experienced spirituality in so many places – at Mevasseret Zion (a Reform Synagogue), at the Wall, Havdalah under the stars, Yad Vashem. We could go on and on! This was the experience of a lifetime made even better by sharing it with our Rabbi and Arnie and those of our Temple Community.

    It is our hope that one day we will return.

  • Reflections from our Trip to Israel by Carole Neely

    “So… where were we and what were we doing this time last week?”
    Bruce and I have had these time checks routinely throughout the days since our recent return from Israel.  It is as though we are reluctant to allow any balloons in our bouquet of Israeli memories to float away.  However, the poignant reminiscences from our trip we were so proud to share with a group of Temple Am Echad friends will always remain with us and shape our lives going forward.

    From my perspective, this trip encompassed a unique blend of historic, cultural and personal elements. Citing the many memorable experiences are too numerous to mention in this blog, but a definite highlight for me was the visit to the Western Wall on my birthday; this day could not have been more special.  While inserting written messages from family and friends into The Wall, my emotions were high.  I had thoughts of my parents, who always wanted to take this trip and were unfortunately unable to do so.  I felt confident they were both with me, accompanied by other departed loved ones, as  I prayed for good health,  joyous and peaceful times for all.  I was joined by Wendy Weinstock, also celebrating her birthday on that Wednesday.  She and I shared a special bond that I’m sure we’ll always cherish, as we were both overcome with emotion, celebrating this very sacred and heartwarming experience together.

    In addition to visiting many other historic/spiritual sites, we were afforded unique opportunities to interact with various diverse groups of Israeli residents.   Among those venues, we visited a high school and were inspired by the optimistic comments of its students, aspiring to achieve lofty academic pursuits and professions.  We also visited a residence/school for students in Jerusalem, The Dr. Israel Goldstein Youth Village, where we engaged in enlightened discussion with several students and administrators.  We also went to The Yad LaKashish facility, where we saw senior citizens at work, engaged in various crafts and related activities.

    Our last evening in Israel, we were invited to attend Shabbat Services at a synagogue, officiated by Rabbi Alona.  This meaningful experience was augmented by our gracious invites to congregants’ homes for Shabbat dinner.  In addition to the overwhelming hospitality our hostess Erin provided, Bruce and I were pleased to share this event with Rabbi Bellush and Arnie, as well as Rabbi Alona. The dinner was wonderful, only surpassed by the engaging conversation; we all seemed reluctant to return to our waiting bus.

    Since our return, some congregants have inquired about how “we all got along.” Many indicated they had been looking at our shared photos, and noted the good times we appeared to be sharing.  I can assure you our camaraderie was sincere and seemed to be felt by everyone.  Virtually every meal began with two or three couples, with the table size eventually increasing, at times, at least double-fold as we progressed.  Everyone looked out for each other as we navigated steep, rocky terrain and we shared both laughter and tearful moments during our trip.  I feel trip participants have forged meaningful, everlasting bonds.

    I was consistently impressed by Rabbi Bellush throughout this trip.  Her objective was clearly to maximize the experience for all of us, providing her insights throughout our touring, in addition to her relevant spiritual input, and thoughtfulness.  While our Israeli tour guide, Zvi, was quite informative, our Rabbi ably complemented his narratives and perspectives; the trip would not have been the same for me without the involvement of our Rabbi.

    I am challenged to sort through our photos, and abridge them into a personal album.  In fact, as I complete one round with the goal of paring down, the amount of pictures I have included seems to increase!  I think that sums up this trip for me fairly well – so many terrific memories I want to savor.

    My heartfelt thanks go to all participants.  I am hopeful our new special bonds are everlasting and can enhance our Temple Am Echad experience going forward.  Shalom!

  • Ba’Aretz – May 2018
  • My Experience of a Hasidic Passover

    Israel TripI have been planning a trip to Israel, to visit my son and daughter-in-law and their children, for months. The experience was very interesting, as I have never experienced an orthodox Jewish Passover. I arrived about two weeks before the first seder, and assisted with the preparation for Passover during my visit.

    If you live in Israel, you have only one seder. Since I live in the U.S., my son had another seder just for me.

    Following my arrival to my son’s home, I helped with the Passover preparation. This entailed a lot of house cleaning. Everything is wiped in the house, to rid the home of chumitz (non-Passover food or crumbs).

    One day, I watched my grandchildren outside in a park while my son and daughter-in-law bought and pre-ordered many things and groceries for Passover in an outside market. Another day, they bought even more groceries in a supermarket.

    Everything has to be changed over for Passover. For example, there is a special Passover toaster oven that replaces the toaster oven used throughout the year. The refrigerator is cleaned very thoroughly, Passover plates replace dishes that are used all-year…all in the effort to ensure there is no exposure to chumitz.

    Like many other Hasidic families, my son has a contract with a non-Jewish neighbor to sell any chumitz that might be left in the house. The understanding is if the non-Passover pots and pans are left in the house and a crumb was left on them, then the non-Jew temporarily owns the pots and pans. Still, this person never goes and collects the pots or dishes.

    Some of the kitchen pieces are brought to a mikvah (a small pool of water from the rain) to be spiritually cleansed.

    The night before Passover my son wrapped 10 pieces of crackers with aluminum foil. My grandchildren and I proceeded to hide the pieces around the house. I made a list where they were. Then, in the dark, my son carried a light and a feather to search for the hidden chumutz. The children were delighted to watch their father play this game.

    The next day, throughout the Hasidic community, any chumutz still left was brought outside, where it could be burned in a metal garbage can.

    The Passover seder was also on Shabbat (Friday night). We all got dressed-up and had the house in order. My daughter-in-law and I lit candles for Shabbat. We all waited for my son to come back from synagogue to begin the seder. We ate special hand-made matzo. In Hasdic tradition, we never wet matzo during Passover. We did the blessing over the matzo. Dipped it in salt on the table, but never got it wet or cooked with it. The 3 matzos for the Seder are put in a special, pretty covering. My 3 ½ year old granddaughter stood-up and asked the 4 questions in Yiddish, which she learned at her Yiddish nursery school. We had to eat a lot of matzo during the Seder. We ate different courses for dinner. The children went to sleep, but we continued the Seder to the end. My son sat with me and assisted me during the second Seder, which was just for me.

    We talked a lot about the meanings of the words in the Haggadah. I have been to many Seders, just reading the words in English and not understanding a lot of the concepts. My son explained to me a lot of the ideas from the words. I found these Seders to be very interesting and a great learning experience.

    Shalom, Susan Weiss

  • Temple Am-Echad is our Second Home

    blogI grew up in our small town, Lynbrook, where many said I live in a bubble. I never considered the town being my home, only two places in this town – my house with my family and my house of worship. There were many milestones for me at Temple Am-Echad: I received my Hebrew name, attended Nursery School and Pre-K, broke out of my selective mutism phase, learned Hebrew, became a Bat Mitzvah, was confirmed, and graduated from Hebrew High School. These are all significant events in my life that make me who I am today. In the midst of these events, I met some of the most inspiring and amazing people, including my fiance. They say opposites attract; If any of you know Bryan (my fiance) and I, you could see that we are opposites. However, Temple Am-Echad is the one thing we have in common – we both call it our second home.

    After we graduated Lynbrook High School and Hebrew High School we felt as if we lost a part of ourselves. I tried to make myself a new home in my college by starting a Hillel, but something did not feel the same. It wasn’t that my connection with G-d had changed, but it was the community that I didn’t get to see everyday.

    Thankfully, I have a supportive family both at my house and at Temple Am-Echad. Bryan and I received congratulation notes and donations made in our name after we got engaged and we couldn’t feel more loved and thankful. While I was at school and/or busy with work, my parents could tell that something was wrong – Bryan and I felt that we lost touch with our second home. I woke up one Sunday morning to a picture text message from my brother; The picture was of a plaque in the synagogue in honor of my engagement to Bryan. Suddenly, we felt that sense of community once again and it is nostalgic and heart-warming to see this and have physical evidence that a part of us will always be with Temple.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, for shaping us to be who we are today, being supportive and loving, and introducing us to each other.

    – Samara Berry

  • See

    One particular theme that stands out in this week’s Parsha is that Hashem gives us commandments as both a blessing and a curse. He lays out the laws and commandments and tells us there will be consequences for not following them. Living in this era we already know that we can not have lawlessness, but in Biblical times Hashem needed to give out the laws. The laws and commandments are specified in this Parsha concerning worship, holidays, kashruth and even tzedakah – and man is given the choice to either fulfill or abandon the commandments – the choice between good and evil – free will.

    It’s simple. The blessing will come when the commandments are fulfilled. The curse will only follow when the commandments are abandoned.

    At one point in the Parsha man is directed to be strong and not drink the blood of an animal. Sounds gruesome to us, but common practice at that time was to eat the meat and also drink the blood. Hashem knew this was tempting, because it was the norm and so he directed man to be strong in order to abstain from the norm. Even though he specified being strong with this one particular commandment, man is meant to be strong with all the commandments, not just this one. Hashem also prescribed specific places for worship and sacrifice, which would be in Jerusalem. Since we no longer have the Temple in Jerusalem and we’re spread out, we have erected Temples all over so that Jews can have places in which to worship.

    The name of this Parsha is Re’eh. It means see. Hashem commands us using the word Re’eh, see, rather than shema, listen, which is normally used. The visual has more of an impact than the auditory. The visual remains in your memory far, far longer than what is merely heard.

    See rather than listen. Hashem wants us to see the commandments in order to remember them. Additionally, it is one thing to feel that you believe in Hashem and another to actually practice the belief. In this Parsha the laws of how to observe the pilgrimage holidays are spelled out, and in the temple where you should go to ‘see and be seen’.

    When giving the laws and commandments Hashem is acting as a parent and dealing with people, his children, who have free will. He gave the Israelites the rules and allowed them to grow and make their own decisions as to whether or not they will follow his direction. If not, there are consequences. Just as a parent teaches and directs his or her child. If the child obeys, there are rewards, and, if not, there are consequences. It is only when we do not teach our children that we have not given them the tools with which they can make educated, well thought out decisions. Children naturally test their parents to see what will happen, just as the Israelites continued to test Hashem. Hashem shows us that giving directions and setting parameters is necessary for proper growth and well-being. 

    Many parents are too quick to give children the freedom to make choices that they are too young to make. Just as the Israelites made the choice to make an idol of a golden calf shortly after leaving Egypt. After all, they just came from living in a land where making and worshipping idols was practiced and revered. This is what they saw as the norm. They were newly freed and new to making choices. In Egypt they didn’t have the freedom to make choices.

    In a sense they were as young children learning which path to take. Which choices were good and which were evil. Guidance is important and there is a natural time for growth and learning. It takes a long time to become a responsible adult and the child must be directed and nurtured until ready to go out on his or her own. When this is done with care and love then we can feel that the child will be better equipped to make the better choices. We are shown here that man has the capacity to do good or evil. He has been granted free choice and the autonomy to choose between good and evil. Our deeds are not completely predetermined and we must not rely on the premise that evil was done only because one is made a certain way. If we make the right choice we are awarded blessing and if not then we will see the consequence.

    However, as adults we must make sure we follow the rules we are setting for our children. If not, and they only hear the rules – not see them being practiced – they will not have a lasting example to follow. Children need to see the rules being practiced in order for them to make an indelible impression and give them something to follow. The Israelites who saw idol worship practiced what they saw. It was when Hashem punished them for it, that they saw the consequence and knew it was wrong.

    We must teach and we must then let go just as Hashem did when he guided the Israelites to the Jordan to cross into the Promised Land. He taught them, and let them go forth to become the nation they would choose. We must show children that we actively practice Judaism – not just send them to Hebrew school and tell them they’re Jewish. They need to see religion as a living entity. Additionally, religion doesn’t take a vacation in the summer – they need to see religion being practiced year round. Again seeing is the key.

    We are given all these laws and commandments which made us unique at that time and now as well. Without these differences we would be just like all others and have no reason to be special – to be who we are.

    Idol worshippers of long ago have perished, civilizations have risen and perished, empires have risen and perished or been diminished, and, yet, through it all, Judaism survives.

    Jewish exceptionalism is not applauded by the outside world, but we must be who we are, regardless. It is what Jews do. We should not look to be normal by international standards.
    Eretz Yisrael has its own set of standards. Again, the blessing and the curse.

    However, by being so special we are given the reason to thrive and the realization that we need Eretz Yisrael to continue to survive and thrive. Am Yisrael Chai!!!

    – Marilyn Morgenlander

  • ONE

    The parsha Va’etchanan, Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11, includes a repetition of the 10 commandments as well as the Shema – which as we all know, ends with “Adonai is our God, Adonai is one.” But what does that mean – Adonai is one? Does it mean that there is only one God? Does it mean that God should be the primary focus in our life? Does it mean that we are one with God – as in God is one of us? The answer to all of the above is Yes.

    But I would argue that none of that is enough – who cares if there is only one God if we are still killing each other in his or her name? What’s the point of putting God in the forefront of your life if you forget about others around you? And does it really matter if God is one of us if we can’t care for and respect one another? We need to be more than one with God – we need to start to be one with each other.

    We need to be one with each other in our communities. Our neighborhoods are changing – and change can be difficult. So many of us now live next door to people who don’t necessarily look like us, or worship like us, or have similar families; but if we learned nothing from Hurricane Sandy it’s that recovery, survival and the ability to thrive is only possible when we work together and support one another in our communities.

    We need to be one with each other in our synagogue, where all too often we forget that we are Am Echad – one people. We are one congregation and one community, yet we often do not act that way. Many of us have been guilty of holding on to who we were, rather than embracing who we have become – myself included. It needs to stop. We will only survive, grow and thrive if we work together and support one another.

    We need to be one with our enemies. Admittedly, this is the most difficult to accomplish – whether it’s Hamas, any other anti-Semitic group or just a co-worker you don’t like – once we are able to realize that we don’t have to love each other, or even like each other, but we do have to let each one be one – we will all be able to survive and thrive.

    And so I wrote this prayer – for everyONE:

    There are a lot of things I know I don’t know – but the one thing I do know is we are one.

    Your politics are different than mine – but we are one
    Your skin color is different than mine – but we are one
    You call your God by a different name – but we are one

    We bleed the same color blood – because we are one
    We give birth to children and sometimes bury them – because we are one
    We love and are loved – because we are one

    We will perish from this earth – only as one
    We will join together and move ahead – only as one
    We will know peace – only as one

    — by Lisa Burch

  • Temple!

    Never underestimate your Temple. I have tears in my eyes as I write this note to say thank you to all the good and kind people of our Temple. I don’t go to services as often as I should, but no one judges me for that. I am always made to feel welcome. Our family is planning a trip to Israel and the Rabbi is as excited as we are and met with us to give us his ideas, experiences and advice. When we walked in to meet with him, so many familiar faces, having meetings of substance throughout the building and many nods of hello. I tend to forget how many people I know through Temple Am Echad.

    My husband just had surgery and I did not even realize that once your name is on the Mishabeirach list, the Caring Community goes to work behind the scenes. A phone call came in to our home asking if we need anything- a cooked meal, a ride? I called back to say, “yes, my husband needs a ride to the doctor.” Within a few hours, a familiar voice offered his car and his time to drive Michael to the doctor. Yes, he can wait until Michael is done and drive him back home. What a beautiful way to practice what we preach and learn at Temple or from the Torah. I feel so embraced, blessed and bolstered by my Temple community.

    My sister was visiting and she does not have a network like this and she was envious and glad for me. When my dad passed away, my sisters thought of moving my mom to Massachusetts where they both live. I told them her friends were here on LI. And weren’t they surprised to witness the outpouring of love and concern and friendship from our Temple and of course, her swimming buddies, too. Congregants still ask me about her and tell me they miss her. What a warm fuzzy feeling from our Temple.

    – by Joanne Lewin-Jacus

  • Feed the Hungry

    fth braverman“Feed the Hungry” is one of the most successful of the Am Echad programs.  Kudos to Steve and Jane Miller for making this a reality.  The program relies on an all-volunteer cadre of shoppers, and then the volunteers cook every Wednesday.  Over 450 meals are prepared each week for the mission in Far Rockaway and are distributed to people who require assistance.  Without the volunteers, this program could not exist, and they and the Millers are the unsung heros of this effort.  The program relies solely on donations, with an occasional grant also being awarded to the program.  No Temple funds are used, and the program has supported the Temple by contributing, along with Men’s Club and Sisterhood, a large amount of the money needed to purchase the new stoves in the kitchen.  In addition, the program supports local needy families with donations to local and county organizations, and even distributes unsold food from athletic events at CitiField.  All of the participants rave about this volunteer effort to make sure that the needy have food on their tables.

    – by Richard Braverman

  • My Trip to Israel

    52310008When my son-in law drove me to the airport to go to Israel I thought I was dreaming.  I had bought the airplane tickets a few months before. I was looking forward to seeing my 3 baby grandchildren and son and daughter-in-law.  Also leaving the constant snow to 65% to 75% temperature would be great.

    On the plane I sat next to a fellow and his group that were on Birthright.  This was his  first experience with going to Israel. When he saw pictures of Israel on the plane he thought it looked beautiful and not just desert.

    My son picked me up at the airport.  He drove me to the new area where he and his family live, called Modin Illit. It is a suburb with beautiful views of mountains. All of the houses are tall white buildings. All of the apartments have their own terraces. I met my grandson for the first time. His sisters were sleeping. Their new apartment is very roomy with 2 extra bedrooms built on.  Also a new bathroom. The kitchen has lots of new counter space with beautiful granite counters and light wood cabinets.  My daughter-in-law made challah bread a few days before Shabbat.  We said prayers or blessings from the family in honor of my husband. It would have been his birthday that day. Shabbat was so wonderful. Fine china used. Lighting candles with oil.  The meals were all delicious, but during Shabbat there are different courses that are extra special.

    One day we went to Jerusalem.  First we went shopping in different stores. We bought danish in a bakery call the Brooklyn Bakery. Then we took the bus to the Kotel (Western Wall).  My son watched the babies at the gate of the Kotel while my daughter-in-law and I went close to the Kotel.  Then my son went to the men’s side when we came back.  I found it to be very spiritual but also emotional, and when I saw my 2 little grand daughters running around and smiling and laughing it was uplifting.

    My son and I went for a walk during Shabbat.  We went up a hill and saw a   vast area of mountains brown and green and further down is the Palestine territory.  A wall was built and now there is more peace.  The wall reminded me of the great wall of China.

    by Susan Weiss

  • The Politics of Biblical History

    A couple of weeks ago when I prepared for the class in Jewish History that I teach to our fourth grade religious school students, I included something about the Palestinian’s view of Jewish history and what they label the “lies” of the Israeli government about ancient Israel. As I was teaching I realized that the kids really don’t know who the Palestinians are, so I quickly skipped that and went on to something else. However, the whole idea of the politics of biblical history and what others think is a fascinating issue, and it deserves some discussion.

    Why has biblical history become a political issue? The reason is very close to the Jewish heart. When the Zionists decided that historical Israel should be the location of the new Jewish homeland, this immediately raised a political issue. At the time, Palestine (which included today’s Israel) was ruled by the Muslim
    Ottoman Empire, and the majority of the population was of Arab descent. Yet based on historical Israel, many Zionists felt that Jews had the ancestral rights to the land of Israel, not the Muslim occupants. For these Zionists, the Hebrew Bible (TANACH) established a claim for territorial sovereignty by the Jewish people. Of course, over the years, the Palestinians and their supporters have handed this political claim back in spades. For instance not long ago, some archeologists hypothesized that the water tunnels underneath Jerusalem predated David’s City, and these tunnels had supported a large Canaanite city. Since the Palestinians claim that they are the ancestors of these Canaanite people from 3500 years ago, this dig proved to them that Israel had no historical right to Jerusalem as it was really built by the Canaanites. As it happened, subsequent findings about the water tunnels and discussions among the archeology community tended to discredit this particular “scientific” claim. But this example does show that almost any discussion about history in the land of Israel can become immediately political.

    by Carter Brown

  • Coming Home

    templeWhen the subject of a temple blog came up, we knew we had to co-write an entry. When Eva visited from Utah a few months ago, did we go out for dinner or coffee to catch up?  Of course not – we went to Temple!

    Our friendship began in preschool; we were part of the Temple Emanuel Preschool class of ’87, so that’s where we had to reunite. It was a spiritual day; we realized our friendship itself was spiritual, and that we had both returned home – to Temple.

    As children, we spent every Sunday together at Sunday school, every Tuesday and Thursday together at Hebrew school, Tuesday nights at Hebrew high school, Purim carnivals, bazaars, high holidays, and of course countless Shabbats and onegs. The number of Wall’s brownies and laughs shared between us friends and the countless others in our temple family is almost overwhelming.

    There are friends you talk to every day, friends you talk to from time to time, friends you talk to once in a blue moon, and friends who are now only distant fond memories. Same goes for places. There’s a certain something special about a friend or place you might have been away from for a while but somehow, when you see each other again, it’s as if you never parted ways, as if you never left. These are the friends and places we should hold dear to our hearts.

    And of course we had to take a picture with Mrs. Chaplick!

    By Doug Beckerman and Eva Kiviat Brown

  • A Life of Friends at Am Echad

    greta-blogThere are few experiences or decisions one makes that can be viewed as “life changing” other than the “normal” ones i.e., marriage, career, child rearing etc. But outside of those biggies, joining a synagogue has come to mean a life altering event in my later life. Having always been an affiliated, practicing, Reform Jew and a third generation one at that, has always been a source of great pride for me. It is a label I use to identify myself when trying to define for someone who I am and what are my beliefs. The synagogue was always a place that I came to for spirituality, education and in general my religious identity. But now I must be frank and add what joining Temple Am Echad has come to mean to me and how it has served to change the way that I view myself on many different levels.

    The meaning of Am Echad as one people is one that means the truth for me. I can honestly look around the sanctuary and find it difficult to identify by origin most of the people that are praying. There is one common denominator amongst them, they are my friends. Not all, not all on the same level, but friends none the less. Some are friends that have reached out, and made themselves part of our lives. Some just smile and greet me with warmth and understanding. Some I now cannot imagine being without in my day to day life. And a rare few are just there without the connection, but those are few indeed. How many people can point with pride to new friends acquired after a life of friends, new friends that have welcomed you, taken the time to know you and made you a part of their lives as well. How fortunate we are to have “found “each other at this point in our lives. Where else, I feel, but in a place that defines itself in its oneness? What a warm feeling to have this experience!!

    by Greta Kantrowitz

  • The Evolution of Our Jewish Homeland

    shavit3I recently read the new book by Israeli journalist, Ari Shavit, entitled My Promised Land. Shavit tells the story of Israel from the time his grandfather came to Palestine from England. He gave up a comfortable life for one of the original Chalutzim, or pioneers, who came to Tel Aviv. Shavit then begins the tale of how Israel developed, going from a land made up of immigrants and natives, with little knowledge of agriculture, business, technology, to the progressive dynamic country it is today.

    Along the way, Israel fought its battles – both internal and external. Shavit describes the conflicts within its own people on religion, on relations with its neighbors and on how to govern. The book leads you on an emotional roller coaster. As an American Jew, it was sometimes difficult dealing with the truth, as reported by Shavit. How secular Judaism grew. How Israel dealt with its Arab neighbors. How Holocaust survivors impacted modern Israel.

    And what of its future. Israel more and more seems to stand alone in the world. What should America’s relationship be with Israel? Should Israel be doing anything differently on the world stage?

    The book, tracing the country’s evolution over the last 150 years, is an amazingly stark, honest look at our Jewish homeland. Read it and decide for yourself.

    by Andy Trevers


    Jared Berry - AliyahWhat defines me as a Jew? This past summer I made aliyah to Israel with Taglit-Birthright through Kesher, an indescribable experience to say the least. While observing Shabbat in Jerusalem, we were asked what we believed the quintessential component is of being a Jew. Being surrounded by friends from all over the United States, Canada, and Israel, in a land filled with so much history, many thoughts came flooding into my mind. Perhaps wearing tefillin while praying at the Kotel (Western Wall)? Supporting Israel as a country and land of the Jewish people? Perhaps going to Israel wasn’t the epitome of being Jewish, but rather observing the holidays such as Yom Kippur and Pesach? Or who knows, it is quite possible eating the most scrumptious falafel pita for lunch every day in different areas of Israel made me a real Jew.

    So which one characteristic makes me a Jew? I still haven’t determined my answer yet. My hope is that after seeing many sites in Israel, and starting a new role as a Hebrew teacher in the same Hebrew School where I once studied myself, that I can continue this journey of self-discovery of what makes me a Jew.

    by Jared Berry