I was raised with pride for the accomplishments of Israel’s chalutzim, pioneers, in building and growing the land our people’s birth and rebirth. I had faith that Israel would live out all the best of what it meant to be a Jew.

On my first trip to Israel in 1982 I learned hard lessons about the divide between secular and religious in Israel. As a progressive Jew, I felt that I didn’t fully belong there, even though I loved the land and the people. I could visit, but I could never live there.

Thirty years later, I am very fortunate to be able to spend time studying in Israel. I now feel so much more that I belong there (though my life is firmly here), having visited many communities that are shaping new types of Israeli Jewish culture. The development of Jewish pluralism and progressive Judaism around Israel is very exciting.

There is a tremendous amount of creativity within Israeli society, as documented, for example, in the book “Start Up Nation.”  Israeli innovation is alive and well and, most importantly, the products of these new ventures are inspiring examples that have the potential to reinvigorate American ideas as well. In our American Jewish communities, there is a lot to be learned from new Jewish creativity within Israel.

I just returned from spending one week on the Metrowest United Jewish Communities Israel Center Experience.  A main goal of this mission was to visit a sampling of the many religious pluralism projects that our Jewish federation supports. Metrowest is a national leader for recognizing and supporting the tremendous importance of religious pluralism within Israel’s Jewish population. We fund a broad range of programs across Israel as a contribution to the Jewish character of the Jewish homeland.

I was like the proverbial “kid in a candy store” as we went from site to site meeting visionary leaders who are cultivating new approaches to Jewish learning and Jewish expression. Everything they do is a lesson to us for reinvigorating our Jewish communities.  Our Israeli counterparts are also eager to learn from our successes in creating adaptive Jewish communities. It is rich dialogue of family learning from family.

At one community we met a group of new “chalutzim“, pioneers, who are creating and guiding Jewish communities of secular Israelis in the heart of secular Israel, the Galilee. We studied this text by famous Zionist thinker, Berl Katznelson:

“A rejuvenating and creative generation does not discard the legacy of generations to the trash heap. It examines and checks, pushes away and brings close. And it holds on to existing tradition and adds to it. And it burrows under the junk heap, exposes that which is forgotten, polishes it from its rust, returns to the beginning of ancient tradition, which can nourish the soul of the rejuvenating generation. If, in the life of a people, there is something very ancient and profound, which can educate a person and immunize him from that which will come, how much can disengaging from it really be revolutionary?”

These chalutzim, pioneers, are searching Jewish tradition and texts to find spiritually rich Jewish expressions. I asked one young chalutz, pioneer, what his community does for bar mitzvah.  He looked at me with some embarrassment, and said, “We don’t know.”  “Wow,” I exclaimed, “how cool it is that you get to imagine what you need and create it using tradition and contemporary values. Wow,” I said, “how totally Reconstructionist!”  He sat up straighter and smiled and then began to share more about what they are considering and how they are experimenting. The exchange was too brief, but it got me thinking about our approaches to bar/bat mitzvah, and how we can learn from each other.

It is nice to have good news from Israel.  These visionary Israelis are creating it for us.  I am proud we support them and grateful that we can learn from each other. I’ll be back to learn from them this summer. More to follow!

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