CCAR Israel Leadership Trip

Greetings from Eretz Yisrael, where I’m privileged to be studying and traveling with a group of CCAR colleagues.  What distinguishes this journey from previous ones: an opportunity for us to reflect on “using” Israel as educators —  both in terms of intentionally creating meaningful itineraries as we lead groups (of congregants) here, and in terms of bringing this week’s experience back to our respective communities.

The beautiful lunch that the Druze community served us.

Our itinerary has been chock-full of the pressing issues of the day.  We had mifgashim that have touched on the ongoing Arab-Israel question, gender, LGBTQ inclusion, and the list goes on.  But for the moment, I find myself holding on to the interaction we had with the Druze outside of Haifa.  Many of us (myself included) have encountered the Druze, and their world famous hospitality, in previous visits to Israel.  We have heard of their vaunted sense of service in contributing to the Jewish State (as Arabs) by serving in the Army, often volunteering for combat roles.

This week’s encounter went deeper.  We were privileged to hear from Reda Mansour, a prominent Israeli Druze who holds the distinction of being the youngest Israeli ever appointed as an Ambassador in the Diplomatic Corps.

Mansour was teaching us about the Druze and their desire to be an active part of the communities they are living in.  Beyond their noted IDF service, he talked about the Druze’s longstanding commitment to building institutional relationships with the synagogue and church communities that are their neighbors.  The Druze embrace the notion of surrounding themselves with those who are different from them.

Mansour went so far as to suggest a strong similarity between the Druze of Israel, and the Jews of America.  Both communities, he noted with pride, have long records of engagement in the surrounding world.

Mansour also reminded us that the Druze have a very strict policy: a Druze cannot marry a non-Druze and remain in the community.  Period.  And they do not have a mechanism that would be analogous to our sense of conversion.

A speaker from the Druze community shares his experiences with us.

This seemed paradoxical.  On the one hand Mansour’s community was open to assimilation.  Young people are not required to dress traditionally.  Everyone is expected to engage with the non-Druze community.  And yet, their tradition does not seem to be equipped to deal with the social ramifications of that assimilation.

As Mansour repeatedly invoked his assertion that American Jews and Druze were similar, I couldn’t help but think that in one respect he was incorrect.  We liberal Jews have worked hard to adapt (and we continue to adapt) our Judaism so that it fully engages with modernity.  Our ritual practice has evolved.  And the definition of a Jewish family has evolved with it.  We’ve made room in our homes, synagogues, and communities for significant others who are not Jewish by birth – regardless of whether they are moved to formally convert.  We’ve embraced this willingness to regularly reform our sense of (communal) self, because we recognize that the survival of a meaningful contemporary Judaism depends on it.

I’m grateful for the Druze for the warm hospitality they extended to our group.  And I’m grateful for their devoted service to the State of Israel.  But most of all, I’m grateful that our encounter reminded me how proud I am to be part of a tradition that has the capacity to grow, change, and thrive over time.

Rabbi Jeffrey Brown serves Scarsdale Synagogue Temples Tremont and Emanu-El in Scarsdale, New York.

CCAR on the Road Israel News

Traveling with Colleagues: Start Up Israel

In 2010, we had the opportunity of traveling to Israel on an Israel Familiarization Trip.  The trip’s goal was to help us learn how to lead congregational trips.  Rabbis have a dual relationship with Israel, that of student and teacher.  We turned to each other to learn how to bring these two roles together as we toured the country. Many of the sites we visited were ones we had visited on previous occasions.  IMG_4110However, we had to learn to bring these sites to our congregants. 

We discussed the potential for the “Disneylandification” of Israel and how to avoid creating a superficial visit to the country.  We discussed how to intentionally design trips from the ground up to create a unified learning experience for our community.  We discussed how to use the trips to create meaningful ongoing relationships with the country rather than one-time memories.    Each night we prayed together and included in our prayers reflections from the day’s experiences.  By traveling and learning with colleagues this trip provided us to with the tools we would then use to create Israel experiences for our own congregants. 

Additionally, there is a difference between traveling with colleagues and traveling with congregants.  When we travel with congregants, we become the teachers, and the experts, on everything.  Our members turn to us because we have been there more than they have.  When we travel with colleagues, we learn together and reflect with one another.  We can be both the student and the teacher.  We teach and learn with one another and we push each other to think about our experiences in new ways.  Each day we were able to connect with colleagues and build relationships.  Being able to spend time traveling together, talking on the bus, spending meals together, really deepened our sense of community and built collegial relationships among strangers in just a few short days. 

IMG_4198Traveling in Israel is an experience like no other.  We all know that.  Any trip to Israel is rejuvenating; it inspires our Judaism, calls us back to our roots, uplifts us spiritually, offers us a unique experiential and immersive learning opportunity.  We’ve taken those lessons we learned on our first trip together and put them to use- but not in a trip designed for our congregants- rather in a trip designed for you- our colleagues.  We hope you will join with us from January 26-February 5 as we travel together with other colleagues and learn about Start Up Israel.  Together we will push each other to realize how the entrepreneurial culture of Israel can influence our own rabbinates and how we can discover a unique aspect of modern Israel culture.  More information is available on the CCAR website.

We hope you will join with us from January 26-February 5 as we travel together with other colleagues and learn about Start Up Israel.  Together we will push each other to realize how the entrepreneurial culture of Israel can influence our on rabbinates and how we can discover a unique aspect of modern Israel culture.  For more information visit the following website:

See you in Israel in January!