In Aaron Gertz’s Jewish History class, he asked his students to write a blog about what it means to be a part of Am Yisrael (the Jewish People). Below are a selection of responses from his students.
Isaac E. is a junior from Washington, DC, and is a member of Temple Sinai.
As worldly complications and the passage of time
Spread Am Yisrael far and wide
There was born a new paradigm
Jews and gentiles side by side.
With the creation of the Jewish state
Established in 1948
Mounting tensions rose and fell
Revolving around Eretz Yisrael.
What it meant then, to be a part of the whole
Passed all the way down since Abraham of old
A people united under Moshe Rabbeinu
Who told us to worship one God, Aleinu.
Nowadays, for Jews in the diaspora
Israel has become their source of pride
Standing up tall as they read from the Torah
Never again to run or hide.
After two thousand years of painful endurance
In my heart I know at least
Am Yisrael will never fall
The iron dwarf of the Middle East.
That is what it means
To be a member of the Hebrews
Pay no heed to blood or genes
For if you truly believe in a nation of Jews
Then you’re part of Am Yisrael to me.
You can read more from Isaac’s blog, Isaac in Israel.
Yulie Y. is a junior from Conroe, TX. She belongs to Congregation Beth Shalom, is heavily involved in NFTY’s Texas-Oklahoma Region, and is a camper at Greene Family Camp.
When I first saw that this was the topic of this week’s blog, I tried to put off writing it for as long as possible. Not because I didn’t have the time or effort to; in fact I’ve tried to get myself to sit down and write this for a few nights now. However, every time I tried I ended up staring at my blank computer screen for way more time than I could allow myself. When we were asked this question on the first day of class I didn’t have much of an answer for myself. This pushed me to decide that I’d know the answer by the end of EIE. But we’re two weeks away from that and I still don’t have a very clear understanding. I know that’s not the answer I’m supposed to give, but let me explain a little further and maybe then it’ll make sense. Not just to you, but maybe finally to me too.
I’ve called myself Jewish since the day I could speak. Why? I’m not so sure honestly. Maybe because my family is Jewish, maybe a little part of me believed in certain aspects of the religion, but realistically, I think it was due to being born in Israel. Like many other mostly secular Israeli families, we celebrated holidays and participated in traditions due to being part of a culture, not a religion. When we moved to America in 2005, my parents feared that my brother and I would lose the sense of a “Jewish” community from back home. However, we quickly connected with a few other Israeli families and made our own community. Life went on and I continued to call myself Jewish, not understanding the connotation.
On December 26, 2011, my family and I boarded a plane to Houston, TX where we would be living from that day forward. With our blood-related family across the world, and our second family now across the country, we felt a bit stranded. My mom began to seek out a new community for us. She came across Congregation Beth Shalom of The Woodlands, where I have spent almost every Sunday morning for the past 5 years. My first Sunday there was the first time I stepped into a congregation as a member. Immediately I felt out of place. There were second graders who knew more prayers and more about Jewish history than I did. This pushed me to get involved with the youth group. I realized that what I need in a Jewish community is the people, not the ideology. I joined NFTY as well which has become a tremendous part of my life over the past 3 years.
That was pretty much the position I left Texas in when I embarked on this journey. Being here has brought back an abundance of feelings. Most of all, it’s reminded me where I came from. Many people connect to עם ישראל (Am Yisrael) with their Judaism. I’ve come to realize that Judaism simply isn’t my connection. I connect by having my childhood begin here. I connect by speaking the language. I connect by understanding and having that dark Israeli sense of humor. And tonight, on Yom Hazikaron, I felt more connected than ever. I looked around and saw tears streaming down people’s faces. then I touched a hand to my own and I realized there was a tear rolling down my cheek as well. I realized that a year from now, I’ll be in the IDF. I’ll be fighting every day to protect this connection that I cherish so deeply. I connect by being a member of not only Am Israel, but Ertez Israel as well. This is home to me. I’m so incredibly thankful for the past 4 months I got to spend in the place that I feel most at home in. More than anything, I am beyond grateful to be leaving here with way more questions than answers, and I can’t wait to figure these things out, one at a time, hopefully back here, at home.
You can read more on Yulie’s blog, This Blog Israeli Cool.
Jacob B. is a junior from Carol Stream, Illinois. He belongs to Congregation Etz Chaim, participates in NFTY’s Chicago Area Region, and is a camper at OSRUI.
I hope you all know by now that I have spent the last (almost) 4 months studying in Israel. I have learned so much more about Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people. One of the biggest questions I feel like I have been asked is the reason I’m writing this post: What does it mean to be part of “Am Yisrael” (The people of Israel)? Being part of the people of Israel and the Jewish people means that I am part of a community that is not only within my temple at home, but a global community. If I were to travel the world and look for a group of people who speak the same language from country to country and read the same parts of the same book on the same day, the only group like this would be the Jewish people, the people of Israel. Judaism to me is more than a religion, I personally do not believe in a god and what I love about Judaism is that my belief in a deity doesn’t matter.
What matters are my actions as I live my life. I give money to the homeless as I’m walking through Chicago, not because if I do I’ll go to heaven, but because if I don’t they might not eat that night. I do things because they help people, not because I’ll get eternal life. This is a critical part of what being part of Am Yisrael means to me. It means I do things in a selfless manner. It also means that I can form my own opinion. A funny joke I have often heard on this trip, two Jews, three opinions, is very accurate, as all Jews have opinions and question things.
I recently got to go to a very special service at the western wall in Jerusalem in which a feminist group known as Women of the Wall (WoW) said a blessing, normally only said by men. They also managed to smuggle a torah scroll into the womens prayer side of the western wall. They did this because there are no torah scrolls for women to read from on their side. Ironically enough it is 100% legal for women to read torah at the western wall, but it is illegal to bring a torah because “There are already many available at the western wall,” But on the mens side in which the women cant get to. This is an instance of many Jewish opinions and oppositions. My ability to express my opinions are a very strong part of Judaism for me. In general, being part of the people of Israel means so much to so many people, trying to answer such a question is very difficult to do. I have attempted but it is not nearly all that I want to say. I have ideas I cannot simply put into words because I do not exactly understand them enough. I do know for sure, I am Jewish, I am a part of the people of Israel, and it plays a major part in who I am today.
You can read more on Jacob’s blog, My Israel Blog.
Rebecca E. is a junior from Burlingame, California. She belongs to Peninsula Temple Shalom, is a participant in NFTY-CWR, and is a camper at Camp Newman.
I am a spokesperson. In Burlingame, I am heavily involved in both Jewish life and non-Jewish life. I volunteer at my temple, go to NFTY events, and Jewish club, all meanwhile being involved in Mock Trial, ballet, and choir. Both types of activities allow me to meet and talk to different types of people. When I talk to non-Jews through these activities, naturally, my Jewish life comes up in conversation. Because I am an Asian Jew, their view of what a Jew is supposed to look like is often shattered as I hear them say “Wait, you’re Jewish? How is that possible?” The relationship usually follows with more breaking of Jewish stereotypes and information about Judaism. Now that I have learned in Israel for four months, these conversations will be even more informative than before.
I am a role model and support system for other Reform Jews in my area. Many Jews my age are rather timid of their Judaism. Some do not like admitting that they are Jewish, as it is associated with the frowned-upon Zionism. I, however, am extremely proud of being Jewish. Hopefully, my own pride will encourage other Jews around me not to hide their Judaism.
I break stereotypes of what it means to be a Reform Jew. Many Jews hold the view that Reform Jews is simply synonymous with lazy Jews, or with Jews who are too afraid to be openly Jewish within American society. However, I am a Jew who is neither lazy nor afraid to be Jewish. By being in Israel and studying Jewish history, I have learned to make an informed choice about what is meaningful about Judaism for me in the modern age.
My role in Am Yisrael, along with every other Jew’s role in Am Yisrael, is crucial. Every role is responsible for ensuring the continuation of the Jewish people. I have done so by making people more proud of their Judaism, thus making them more likely to pass it on to next generations. I have informed people about what Judaism is, thus making others more understanding of it rather than blindly hating it. I have broken stereotypes about reform Judaism, thus ridding of misunderstandings that lead to lack of unity amongst the Jewish people.
The longevity of the Jewish people can be contributed to in countless ways. I do not believe that it matters how this contribution is made, but far more so that the contribution is actually done. Many are closed minded about the type of contribution. Some say it must be done by making many Jewish children, while others say it must be done by studying Torah incessantly, while others say that it must be done by fighting for a Jewish homeland. I personally believe that any type of contribution to the assurance of a Jewish future is the key to playing a role in Am Yisrael. If we, all Jews, can remember that it can be achieved in limitless ways, it will help unite us.
You can read more on Rebecca’s blog, Rebecca’s Israel Blog.