The Dalai Lama and the Rabbi’s

Jewish Youth at the KotelRecently, some Reform Jewish teens spent Shabbat in Krakow, Poland; others experienced morning prayer in the Negev desert. Still other teens recited Kiddush surrounded by the rolling hills of the Galilee, and those teens who were visiting Israel’s Mediterranean coast said HaMotzi, the prayer over the challah, there. In so doing, our participants truly represent the breadth and depth of the Jewish experience, connecting ancient prayers, texts, and stories with the eternal Jewish reality.

These young people, they went on to explore how, over centuries, even as we built communities around the world, how Jews never forgot that Israel was the birthplace of our nation. Importantly, these experiences offer an opportunity for our teens to ask how and why any of this history is relevant to them. Of course, youth from the USA visiting Israel explored many answers, but nothing is more important than a good question to frame the entire experience.

As the summer progresses, our teens tend to ask one very basic question: How did we stay together as a people after all these years? Coincidentally, when the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, was exiled to Dharamsala, India, he too asked, “How does a people remain a people outside of their land?” Being a thoughtful leader, the Dalai Lama invited a number of rabbis to visit him so he could find out how the Jews remained a people for 2,000 years following the exile from Judea. If we Jews lacked our own geographic boundaries for 2,000 years, he wished to know what was the glue that has held us together for so long? Of course, these rabbis gave many different answers – focused on laws and language, traditions and rites. For them, retracing the Jewish story for participants of the USA youth in Israel is a chance to find the glue that connects each teen to the story.

In addition to a summer of unparalleled fun and a journey that will help teens develop a new level of personal maturity, participants of the USA youth in Israel is an experience in which Jewish fundamentals such as Shabbat are not taken for granted. Instead teens question them and wrestle with them. What’s more, questions are not limited to places or concepts, but include engaging with fellow Jews from various backgrounds. This summer, all our teens are meeting with Israeli peers their age, having meaningful encounters, and asking what the Israeli and North America Jewish communities have in common. This is one of the questions often asked by today’s organized Jewish community. By exploring it themselves, our teens will come to see that they have the power to write the next chapters in the story of the Jewish people.

Isadore Rabi, winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, was once asked why he became a scientist. He replied:

My mother made me a scientist without ever knowing it. Every other child would come back from school and be asked, “What did you learn today?” But my mother used to ask: “Izzy, did you ask a good question today?” That made the difference. Asking good questions made me a scientist.


Jewish Youth at the Kotel
North American Jewish Youth at the Kotel, (the Western Wall) in Jerusalem


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