American Jews, recent studies report, are increasingly feeling that Israel is just not all that important to them. But eight days of sightseeing and soul searching in the Holy Land may have been a game-changer for many, if not all of the 800 participants at the the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute’s recent tour of Israel.
The Land and The Spirit Israel Experience concluded Sunday with a gala Jerusalem banquet headlined by US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman. Perhaps owing to the diverse politics of his audience of diaspora Jews, the ambassador offered his guests a warm welcome to “Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Israel,” and then steered clear of anything political.
“I am glad to be among so many people who are committed to the continuity of Jewish life around the world,” he said referencing the fact that this was a group of people who had come, not just to visit, but to deepen the ties of Jews of the Diaspora with their homeland.
Jewish continuity is foremost on the agenda of the JLI and the adult educational classes it provides at Chabad Houses around the globe. The objective of The Land and The Spirit Israel Experience, said Rabbi Sholom Raichik, from Chabad of Gaithersburg, Maryland, “is to introduce participants to a deeper side of Israel.” Raichik is on the Board of Organizers for the trip. “We want our participants to come away with a more meaningful feeling for the Holy Land that will inspire them in their Jewish identity moving forward.”
Participants explored Israel’s historic, biblical Jewish sights, met with Israeli dignitaries and citizens, and participated in in-depth study groups and daily reflection sessions. Many were moved as they took part in a celebration of a Torah scroll, rescued by a fourteen year old boy during Kristalnacht as it was paraded through the streets of Hebron and brought to a new home in the Tomb of our Patriarchs.
Alan and Joni Prouser of Memphis, Tennessee saw this, their second visit to Israel, as another step in their Jewish journey. “We’ve been attending Chabad for around twelve years,” said Alan. “We’ve been taking baby steps, but while we were here, I’ve laid tefillin every day. I’ve bought many beautiful kippas and the power of this experience has encouraged me to commit to wearing them proudly when I get back home.”