Dr. Josh Krug, Reflections on Israel, and Experiential Education
By: Dr. Josh Krug, Director of Jewish Life & Learning
I had the special opportunity to join and support one of the recent class trips to Israel.
I am still reflecting on the meanings of the trip and likely will be doing so for a long time.
Nonetheless, I want to share some of my current “take-aways” from the experience (I am doing so in the spirit of gratitude for the work that so many Kehillah staff and community members put into enabling the trip to occur, combined with sadness that not everyone was able to fully participate):
1) “Not by might and not by power but by spirit alone” – לֹ֤א בְחַ֙יִל֙ וְלֹ֣א בְכֹ֔חַ כִּ֣י אִם־בְּרוּחִ֔י Zechariah 4:6
One of the most interesting things for me during our time in Israel was the remarkable spirit that Kehillah folks brought to bear on buses, when out and about, and during our Havdala celebrations. Students belted Israeli pop songs in the backs of buses and clapped for the One Day / Yachad musical exercise. On Saturday evenings together, we went from community member to community member and said Sha Sha Shavua tov (meaning, Yalla, Let’s have a good week ahead!) We held reuniting circles in which we sang songs like Hine Mah Tov to celebrate the return of students who had been sick with COVID. Not only this, students remarked at how connected they felt to cycles of time and to one another, as they celebrated being together in a safe manner.
2) ‘Arevim Zeh LaZeh – All of us are bound up with and responsible for one another
I’m thinking of Ms. Gibbons’ insight that we all exist in someone else’s community. She was making this point during a hike in the Negev, conveying the responsibility we have to members of other species to keep their one home, this earth, pristine and beautiful. The point stands concerning our human communities also. The community, or Kehillah, that is ours is not merely ours. Indeed, we are its; we are a part of it, and we have the opportunity, if not sacred obligation, to consider our responsibility to the community and to select others in the community. This relates to everything- what we say and don’t say, what we do and don’t do. Students cared for one another on trips, whether staying masked on buses or helping students in wheelchairs be able to access programs.
3) Everyone counts … and every moment counts
It is a privilege to be able to be on time, since, if this happens, the bus can leave and everyone can get the full experience of the day. If we aren’t where we are supposed to be, others have to wait. For those of who are time-challenged (like myself), this is an ongoing learning journey. Our time and our presence- and that of others- matters, and, indeed, can make all the difference.
4) Meshaneh Makom Meshaneh Mazal – “Change your place, Change everything”
One of our students, upon arriving in Tel Aviv, remarked at how shocking it was to him that Tel Aviv was in the same country as Jerusalem. His point was that he didn’t expect such diversity in one little country. He was thinking about the heaviness of history of each stone in Jerusalem, to contrast with the lightness of the beach and shopping in the shuk in Tel Aviv. On a broader level, the trip centered on the idea that, when we break out of the normal places in our lives, we can encounter new things and grow.
5) “To life, to life, L’chaim”
One of the Keshet madrichim asked a powerful question to the group at Masada, after telling the story of how people died to keep their enemies from hurting or subjugating them. He asked students to consider not so much what they would die for, but rather what they would live for. Our students, in turn, shared their interest in cultivating happiness for themselves and others, and spoke of the importance of freedom as how they wanted to live out their lives.
6) Co-existence and Yearning for the Divine
It was very powerful to be at the Kotel in Jerusalem on a Friday night as Shabbat was coming in, and to witness and partake in dancing and singing. It was even more powerful to be present at the Kotel, in the moment of the blasting of the Muslim call to prayer just next door. I kept thinking of how different Jerusalem is from our lives and realities in the Bay Area. I hope our students take away the beauty of the quest for ultimate meaning and the common aspiration for truth that animates many traditions.
7) Encountering history and reality, today
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn with experts about contemporary times, recent history, as well as history from generations ago. Our students heard directly from the security guard, Omer, who lost his best friend in a recent skirmish while in the army. They came to understand how some righteous people took risks to save their neighbors in 20th century Europe, even as many others did not have the courage to do so. Moreover, they literally sifted through the dirt of Tel Maresha to find artifacts and expand access to the objects of history.
8) Getting to know a place through the five senses.
While bike-riding in Tel Aviv, we smelled the salty sea, saw the people playing matkot, and heard the loud music of the beachgoers (even as they took breaks for more water … and application of more suntan lotion). We let the wind run through our hair. It was powerful to be able to get to know a place beyond going to museums, but rather to see its people do what they do, and be (and see and feel and smell) right in the thick of things.
As we begin to bring back the experiences to Palo Alto, we encourage students who had the privilege to join the trip to share their insights with one another, and to also share more broadly with other people in their lives. Since some of our students were unable to fully partake in the program, we all have the opportunity to share in a spirit of caring about what a place, and a time, and a community can mean.
In this way, perhaps, we can bring this unique spirit back to Kehillah as we look towards Shabbat, Shavuot, prom, graduation, the summer, and the years ahead!
A final thought for now:
I want to recognize the profound exertion of time and energy of our chaperones- in Israel and elsewhere- who doled out meds, counted students on buses, and listened intentionally as our students faced challenges different than they face back at home. While students slept, they were on watch.