By Rabbi Rich Kirschen, NFTY in Israel Director
By now your teens are back home with your families. I am sure that there simply has not been enough time for them to tell and retell all of their adventures that they experienced during this intense, multidimensional Jewish journey. So it is only fitting that our participants returned to their hometowns while we are reading the section of the Torah called “The Book of Numbers.” Every year as NFTY in Israel participants are wandering around the land of Israel, the Jewish people are reading in the Torah from the Book of Numbers, which is more appropriately entitled in Hebrew Bamidbar, meaning “In the Desert.”
It is in this Book of the Torah that we recount the story of the Israelites traveling for 40 years through the wilderness. For our NFTY-ites it was not 40 years but closer to 40 days. However, between the friendships, the challenges, and the learning, this past month in Israel probably felt a lot like 40 years; which in the Hebrew Bible is symbolic because we are told that 40 years is the amount of time necessary to transform a generation. I am sure everyone is back home now, and have eaten the food they missed, slept in their own beds and have (hopefully) cleaned out their suitcases with all of that sand from the holy land (better to let it air outside for a day or two).
For the next few weeks, you will have even more time to sit down with your teens and listen to them tell you “their Torah,” now that they are tired, tanned, and transformed Israelites who have just finished wandering from place to place, with each site integral to Jewish history. One of the most important parts of Jewish education is that we are a people who tell our story day after day and year after year. In fact, on the holiday of Simchat Torah we celebrate finishing the year-long cycle of Torah reading by starting the whole process of reading the Torah all over again!
We Jews tell our stories time and time again, but of course we come up with new questions, new insights and new angles. It is not always obvious what the story means, so it is incumbent upon us to find meaning in the story. And when we sing the prayer from the siddur (the Jewish prayer book), “Tein Chelkeinu b’Torahtecha” – “Give us a place in your Torah” – we are essentially asking God to help us find a way to connect with our People, our Land, and our Torah. Your NFTY in Israel participants have had an extraordinary chance to experience so much of Jewish history, Jewish spirituality, and the fascinating reality inside and outside Israel. And now just as important as it was to experience all of this in Israel, it is equally important to help these young people construct a narrative from this experience that is meaningful to them.
On behalf of NFTY in Israel, again thank you for sharing your remarkable young people with us this summer. It was privilege to learn with them, take care of them, and grow with them over these past weeks. Rabbi Isaac in the Talmud said, “I have learned much from my teachers, and even more from my friends, but the most I have learned, is from are my students.” We have learned much from these participants this summer, and now that they are home, we are sure you will too.