407-645-5933 ext. 236 marisa.west@shalomorlando.org

As many of you know, I spent last week in Israel and returned to Orlando on Monday.  It was a fabulous week, and you can read all about it here.  This was my 18th trip to Israel and it was incredibly personally meaningful and I have been processing it since I returned.  

One thing that has become increasingly clear is how important Israel is as the Jewish homeland.  I’ve always been a Zionist.  I grew up in a Zionist household.  My grandparents told me stories of listening to the UN Partition Plan vote on the radio and the celebration they had when they realized it had passed and there would be a State of Israel.  It’s always been core to my personal and Jewish identity. 

On this trip, one of the things that was drilled into us over and over again was how lucky we were to be in the State of Israel, and how our parents and grandparents would have loved this opportunity but never had it.  This didn’t hold true for me.  Both sets of my grandparents visited Israel.  I remember their trips and the stories and pictures they shared with me.  Both of my parents have been to Israel.  Both of my in-laws have been to Israel.  And both my wife Alison and I have been to Israel multiple times.  As I said, Israel is core to my identity as both a person and a Jew.

I’m not sure which part of this trip had the greatest impact on proving how important Israel is to my identity.  Was it my first time at a mikvah, and the fact that the mikvah was in Tzfat, a city I love with a long history of mysticism, and was the same mikvah the Ari used over 600 years ago?  Was it sitting in between the graves of Abraham and Sarah in Hebron, a place I have never been before, and feeling the awesome power and history of the Jewish people?  Was it the comfort I felt walking the streets of Jerusalem, day and night, feeling safe and home?   Perhaps it was when we played laser tag at Ammunition Hill, a key battle in the Six Day War, on the actual battlefield where IDF soldiers paid the ultimate price to unify Jerusalem.  Or was it the regular walks to and from our hotel to the Old City of Jerusalem, wandering the Jewish Quarter, visiting the Kotel, and feeling the vibrancy of thousands of years of Jewish life?  Maybe it was Friday at Machane Yehuda, more packed than I ever remember it, as everybody shopped for Shabbat.   That’s the thing about Israel: it could be any one of them, or it could be all of them––or it could be something else entirely.

Next week is the Federation’s first Israel and Overseas Subcommittee meeting.  I’m excited to begin working with members of our community on what our involvement with Israel can, should, and will look like.  When will we take community trips to Israel, and how often will we go?  What things in Israel should we support financially?  What Israel programs should we offer in Orlando to bring Israel closer to home for everybody?  How do we help everybody in Orlando have their own personal connection to Israel like the connection that I have?   If you are interested in being a part of this committee, please reach out and let me know.  There are so many amazing opportunities and options––it’s up to us to decide what direction we want to go.

This Shabbat in Orlando will be nice, enjoyable, meaningful, and restful.  However, it will pale in comparison to last Shabbat in Israel.   I can’t wait to be back in Israel, to be in Jerusalem for Shabbat––and hopefully have you with me as Orlando explores Israel together, as part of our individual and collective Jewish identity.

Shabbat Shalom,