Day 2 – On a mitzvah mission
Part of the beauty of this group is that sometimes, honestly, we don’t know exactly where we are going or what to expect. “Roll with it,” we tell ourselves, because our intention first and foremost is just to be here, and when we show up to support an organization that is doing some good for someone, chances are we’ll do some good as well.
ALEH is that organization that collects small change on El Al flights in order to make a big difference in the lives of those with disabilities. We chose ALEH as our first project, and started our day south of Tel Aviv, in Gadera, where we met the special people who give hours of their lives, 6 to 8 each day, to teach, care for and grow with individuals from infancy to 60 who experience a wide range of disabilities. We entered ALEH’s school after a brief introduction and instantly found ourselves bewildered by the severity of the disabilities–physical, cognitive and emotional–of the people with whom we had chosen to interact. The “projects” we were meant to undertake with the consumers were frustrating and futile attempts to establish some level of communication. The discomfort was evident in our body language.
Until, that is, we started seeing each child, teen and young adult as individuals. First, we strung beads, guiding their hands, or pushed them gently in their swings. Next we held their hands. And finally, we danced. The sounds and smiles, followed by the jumping and swaying, gave expression to the excitement we all felt in connecting. (Sorry, no pictures allowed of the consumers.)
And when the songleader led the residents in the Hebrew song “Thank you for all You, God, created,” several of us were reduced to tears. How astonishing to hear such expressions of gratitude from those with such challenges in their lives–for God’s goodness, for their teachers, for each other, for us. How could we ever be the same?
We took a deep breath to recover from the emotion of the morning by finding respite in the shade of my sister’s back yard. We filled our bellies with pizza, pita and falafel while enjoying the home hospitality and Randi’s story about our family history, dating back to 1949, on the moshav. Thank you, Randi and Avi, for opening your home!
By 2:30, we felt like it was Day 3 of the mission, but we had one more stop to make before heading to Haifa. BINAH (“wisdom”) is a “secular yeshiva” in Tel Aviv where Israelis of all sorts join in Jewish study, social action and community empowerment. “A Home for the Creation of the Nation’s Soul” is the vision towards which the movement works, and “secular” Israelis are lining up to reclaim their Jewish heritage as expressed through this vision. We toured the depressed area of Neve Sha’anan, near Tel Aviv’s central bus station, to learn how this neighborhood came to be the haven for asylum seekers and migrant workers from the African continent.
Once at the yeshiva, we engaged in a text study that led us to reflect on how Israel wrestles with preserving its character as a Jewish state while representing the highest ideals of our tradition, remembering that Israel is, by and large, a nation of refugees. Needless to say, Israel and the Zionist dream is still a work in progress.
All in a day’s work. Small change, big difference.
Rabbi Craig Scheff