In this space each month, we feature the writings of one of the members of our Beth Am Clergy. This month we invite Rabbi Arturo Kalfus to share some thoughts with you. You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments.
Israel and Our Kids
On April 16th we will celebrate Yom haAzmaut, another year commemorating the independence of the state of Israel. This led me to think about Jewish identity and our kids. As Jews, we make certain commitments: we want to belong to an organized Jewish community, we affirm Jewish festivals and Shabbat, we celebrate Chanukah and Passover. We commit to do Tikkun Olam, to improve God’s world, we celebrate becoming B’nai Mitzvah and confirmation, we marry under a Chuppah, and so much more.
Besides the Jewish holidays, rituals and values we teach our children, another very important element in Jewish identity is our connection to Israel. Do you remember when you received your first pushka so that you will be able to donate coins which will eventually go to the Keren Kayemet (Jewish National Fund) so that new trees will be planted in the land of Israel? An important part of our Jewish identity is linked from very early on to Israel. Perhaps the tallit you used during your Bar/Bat Mitzvah was purchased in Israel. Perhaps a family member gave you a yad from Israel, the pointer you used when reading Torah.
We are privileged to live at a time when a thriving independent state of Israel is in existence. Our connection to Israel ought not to be one just mediated by ritual and values. There is a reality that is transformative and thriving. If we are concerned with passing a strong Jewish identity on to our kids we ought to think in which ways we can provide the next generation with a strong real connection to the state of Israel. During every Bar/Bat Mitzvah we provide a certificate that financially should begin to help families plan ahead toward a teen trip to Israel. Today there are many possibilities. You can make a family trip or perhaps more exciting for our teens, we can allow them to visit Israel with their peers. There are many programs that do this. I want to highlight just one of those programs that made a big impact on my family.
Our 15-year-old daughter Lilah recently just spent a full semester of high school through the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program. It is based about 10 minutes from Beersheba. During Lilah’s four-month stay, she was able to immerse in Jewish studies and other academic subjects which were coordinated in advance with her high school here in Miami. She learned not only in the classroom but mainly through travelling within Israel as she studied Jewish history. She experienced one week of basic army training, a three-day hike across Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee. Her group went to Poland where the message of the Holocaust was learned firsthand. Lilah got connected to Israel, her people and our traditions in ways that were a pleasure for us as parents to hear. She developed incredible friendships and a thirst to know more.
You can learn much more about the different programs that the Alexander Muss High School in Israel has by going to their website — amhsi.org. There is a six-week summer program as well as an eight week academic program during the year. Of course I will be very happy to talk to you about any of these options for your teen children.
As parents, we want to strengthen the Jewish identity of our kids before they go to college. A teen trip to Israel is one of the most effective ways to achieve this goal. Our kids will grow, will be touched by the reality of a thriving country and will return strongly committed to our tradition. My hope is that, as parents, we will take this message to heart and that we will begin to plan the resources to make this transformative experience for our kids possible.
From my heart to yours... Arturo