Passover in America is widely reported to be the most-celebrated Jewish holiday of them all. More American Jews will have attend Passover seders this week than will attend High Holy Day services this fall. No doubt this is due, at least in part, to homemade matzah ball soup, various iterations of the recipes for sweet charoset, and a time for family and friends to get together — a time to catch up on what everyone has done over the past year.
Many (most?) seders stop well before participants get to the last pages of the Haggadah. You know, the part with all the songs like, “Who Knows One” and “Chad Gadya.” But also before the formal conclusion of the seder known as Nirtzah, when we drink the fourth cup of wine. More significant than the wine, though, is the concluding line of the entire seder — l’shana haba’ah b’yerushalayim, “next year in Jerusalem.”
Each year, we Jews in the diaspora pray that we will spend next year in Jerusalem, the eternal and spiritual capital of Israel.
This week, we are among the lucky ones, as our family followed up on that prayer and is spending the holiday in Israel. We have a special reason for being in Israel — our younger son is spending the second semester of his senior year there, and we enjoy celebrating the holiday with him, with our relatives, and with many friends who live in the tiny country.
Many parents my age participated in teen tours to Israel when they were young. We spent time as a 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds on a kibbutz, traveled through the country, used a bomb shelter as our group’s meeting area, and made some of the most lasting memories of our lives. We were imprinted with a love of Israel and a love of Zion. We didn’t necessarily write about that experience for our college applications; it simply became part of us — who we are today — and how we grew into adulthood. Visiting Israel was as much a part of our teenage years as our bar and bat mitzvahs.
Since then, many of our generation have repeatedly traveled to Israel, supported Zionist efforts, and raised families imbued with the Zionist ideal and love of Israel. I was happily one of this generation and it was only logical that our children would spend time in the Jewish state. It’s in their DNA.
Perhaps it’s the times we live in. Perhaps there’s too much pressure on kids to do just the “right thing” to craft their applications to the nation’s most prestigious universities. Perhaps parents’ perceptions that having their Jewish kids go to Israel when they’re in high school doesn’t give them the edge they need for their Ivy League admission packets. What puzzles me is that these same parents think that sending their sons and daughters on five-week trips to India and Costa Rica to “help the poor” is buying into anything other than a transparently fake effort to make their children appear multi-dimensional on their college applications.
Kids who participate in these types of tours are actually perceived by admissions officers as wealthy students being exposed to “how the other half lives” in an effort to sensitize them to the world’s problems. But it is rare for these students to maintain lasting ties with the villagers they met in rural communities. Instead, they maintain contact with the friends they made on these trips — this is, until they all head off to college and quickly forget all of the valuable lessons they learned (and wrote about) in their well-crafted essays.
Jewish students who travel to Israel while in high school have very different lasting impressions. They see how the country absorbs immigrant communities, they share experiences with kids their age in Sderot and they understand a little better what it is like to live with the possibility that in 15 seconds you’ll have to run to a bomb shelter. They learn about Jewish mysticism in Sfat and, of course, they experience the spiritual magic of spending Shabbat at the kotel. These are just a few of the countless memories students make and share. Their time and their experiences are more than fodder for applications. They are enriching their lives in ways that will never be forgotten. They make friends with Israelis who will remain their friends — through social media, through joint education, and no doubt through professional and personal connections for the rest of their lives.
It’s time for Jewish parents to return to the Zionist ideals on which we were raised. Israel is the Jewish homeland, our homeland. Isn’t it really a double win to send our kids to Israel for a summer when they are in high school, rather than on a well-groomed charity vacation?
Our parents and grandparents were generous enough to share Israel with us as youths. It is incumbent on us to share it with our own children and grandchildren. The love of Israel and the longing we have for a return to Zion is real. We should not be ashamed to have our children express their Israel pride, to learn about Israel, and to be prepared to address the countless attacks they will face as they enter colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. A trip to Israel will prepare them to respond to the nonsense of Israel Apartheid Week. It will prepare them to articulate the things that they believe and that are important to them. It will help them determine who they will become as adults.
Aren’t these life lessons more important for our children than, say, planting an herb garden in Costa Rica?
Bonnie Glick is a nonprofit executive and veteran American diplomat and businesswoman. She lives in Bethesda.