We’ve reached that point in traveling when the ratio between clean clothes and dirty clothes has most definitely fallen into the latter category. It’s a sign that the trip is almost over. And what a joyful trip it’s been.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel for the past 10 days with an extraordinary group of TBA adolescents – thirteen of them. Sometimes they remind me of those old WWII movies. There’s always the tough guy with a heart of gold; the quiet one who is just waiting for someone to reach out; the funny one who must crack wise; the loud one who never learned to whisper; the curious one who must know what’s next; the one who hates the food – or the bed – or the bus; the one who quietly shares a hard story they’ve never shared before, and so on.
Now before you try to guess who is who, let me stress here that all of the travelers, including me and my fantastic TBA team of Becky Oliver and Francie Weinberg, were never just one of these. In fact, like the Four Children of the Passover Seder, we were all a little bit of all of those caricatures.
The fact is, this is a complicated world to grow up in and our kids are trying desperately to keep up. If I were a teen, I would bury my face in my smartphone, too. It’s a scary world out there. And precisely because it is so scary, we have to expose them to it, like treatment for allergy desensitization. Hiding the facts of love and war, of greed and altruism, is no good for them or for the world they will inherit.
That’s ultimately what this Israel trip is about. Opening doors to vistas our kids have never seen before. Showing them difficult political and social problems with the added complication of it being based here, in the Jewish State. Challenging them to begin going deep instead of floating on the surface of an issue of relevance. We are daring to move beyond the old stories and create new ones. We honor the tales of the past, the tremendous sacrifices of the early Zionists, the unthinkable reality of surviving the Holocaust with no place to go, the fortitude and courage of the Israeli people and their determination to become an open, Jewish democratic state.
With these stories we are proudly moving for, ard to be a people with integrity. We can’t cloak ourselves in history and coast along. We have to be present in the here and now. We must work for an Israel of social justice, living up to the words of Israel’s Declaration of Independence.
I sincerely hope our kids bring home not only a strong desire to be part of Israel’s future. I hope they take this inspiration and apply it to our nation, too. I hope they see that as Jews we are commanded to take a stand, even if we are ridiculed and threatened. As we see the kids from Parkland, FL demanding justice, it’s all about choosing to speak up.
This fact was emphasized so many times by so many adults we met, adults whose lives are dedicated to peace and understanding – in a real way, not in a superficial lip service way. But today, when one of the Israeli kids from Haifa quoted President John F. Kennedy, saying “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”, I thought, “We might make it.”
Tonight is our second Shabbat in Israel. Our kids are tired and ready to come home. Tomorrow we will pack up the dirty clothes and the gifts and the shoes and so forth. But believe me: we will be bringing home so much more.