That’s the response I have heard from a number of folks in reaction to my plans for my first week of vacation. I’ve always tried to include something in my summer plans that will expand me, teach me, and inspire me. I’ve gone to “guitar camp;” Beyond Walls: Spiritual Writing at Kenyon; Kripalu, where I have learned to expand my spiritual repertoire through mindfulness practice and yoga; and of course, Israel. Most of these were not too far outside of my comfort zones – certainly not Israel nor the guitar workshops.
My friend and congregant, Andy Molinsky, who teaches Organizational Behavior at Brandeis University, has been posting a lot about the subject of reaching outside your comfort zone as he prepares to publish his second book, Reach, in January. The Kenyon Writing Conference last summer, my first, was a stretch. So too was my initial foray to Kripalu which was really new terrain for me.
This summer offers holds a different kind of “reach.” This weekend I am flying to Berlin, Germany. It’s my first visit in Germany. As a Jew, raised on a healthy dose of Holocaust education, and during the early years of the modern Israel, Germany has felt like a destination that would never find its way onto my bucket list. The years have softened that a bit. The impetus to make this trip now came from a notice I saw this past Spring in the newsletter of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It noted an August Rabbinic Mission to Berlin. The first, and main purpose of this mission is for participants to engage with IsraAid, an Israel NGO deeply involved in responding to many humanitarian crises over recent years. IsraAid is very much on the front lines of addressing the large number of Syrian refugees who have made their way to Germany as they flee their war-torn homeland. My colleagues and I are going to see first-hand the work of IsraAid and learn about this humanitarian crisis with our own eyes. A secondary focus of the mission will allow us to engage with members of the Progressive Jewish community in Berlin, our brother and sisters, who have built a vibrant liberal Jewish community in a land once hostile in the extreme to its Jewish residents.
The juxtaposition of traveling to a country and city which holds many challenging images and such dark history for our people is daunting. At the same time, modern Germany has worked hard to confront its past. Their response to this current humanitarian crisis, not of its own making, is noteworthy. In my eyes it’s worthy of investigation. That is why I will spend my first week of vacation on what will undoubtedly be an eye-opening, and emotionally challenging mission. I expect it will also be an inspiring mission. To be sure, the issues of refugees and how our nation should response is complicated It is deeply ingrained in our current political turmoil. I want to go beyond headlines and the position-taking. I want to meet refugees, hear their stories, and see our Israeli brethren’s response to this devastating crisis first-hand.
I depart prepared to confront the complexity of Berlin and Germany as a Jew, the brokenness of our world today, our Jewish values, and my own views on what will surely be a roller-coaster ride of emotions. Yes, this is my “reach” for this summer. I find myself curious as to how I will return after all I am about to see, experience and engage.
Rabbi Eric Gurvis serves Temple Shalom in Newton, Massachusetts. This blog was originally posted on Rabbi Gurvis’s blog.