Home, Midrash, Home

 Home, Midrash, Home 

(English translation: Jessica Bonn. for the Hebrew text see here)

Midrash is for wanderers – wanderers on foot, in thought. We wander through the sea of sources – halakha and aggadah, Kabbalah and philosophy, poetry and prose, letter, image, sound. From the moment that we lift anchor, we take upon ourselves to set sail for new horizons.

We learn because we believe that the beit midrash is a part of life. Therefore, study obligates us to strive for repair of ourselves, repair of society, repair of the world – tikkun olam. The study is our existence not just because it exists in our souls, but because it revives us and makes us vital. Study is home. Because from home you came and to your home you shall return. Your home, your wife, your husband, your family, your friends, your community, your people, your world. The experience of study in the Jewish renewal beit midrash is suited for building your home in another way, a better way, than if you had built your home without it.

The experience of facilitating Birthright groups at Elul in the summer of 2011 was wondrous, in my eyes. In most cases, it took place on one of the lawns of Jerusalem – whether in Liberty Bell Garden on the slopes of Cafe Jo, or in the Rose Garden looking out over the Knesset.

On the one hand, we saw the depth of the chasm between Israeli and US Jewry, heard about the intermarriages on the other side of the ocean – here in Israel, the topic is hardly known. On the other hand, we felt the intensity of the spiritual thirst and the intuitive connection to the traditions of Birthright participants’ families, which they told of in the study circle and in smaller hevruta groups.

It felt like a tremendous privilege to be there, at such a significant juncture in the lives of these young Jewish Americans: a biographical crossroads, in which they were exposed to Jewish-Israeli culture and thinking about whether they would want to live in the State of Israel; a spiritual crossroads, in which large questions regarding Jewish identity sawed crevices within in the space of their consciousness; a crossroads of individual development, each from his particular place in life – some still students, others in the workforce.

If this was a juncture, we, the facilitators, were poised as the traffic police: trying to enable the movement of experiences and impressions, trying not to stop the flow the conversation, trying to direct it so that those passing through the junction would not be hurt by the words of their fellow travelers. And still, the challenge was to enable passage and the legitimacy of contradictory moments at the junction: the renewal lane, the conservative lane, the lane for the young Jewish woman married to a Christian man, and for the one arriving from an Orthodox community – without giving any of them the feeling that he or she was an unlicensed driver on the roads of Jewish identity. It was this complex mission that I tried to convey earlier.

Beyond all this, there was, in my view, a lot of hope in the Birthright groups: even when I met Jews who had never heard of Abram and the commandment to “Go forth” (לך לך), or of Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, they usually had a strong desire to gain an acquaintance, to encounter their tradition, themselves and their friends, anew. I/we tried to enable this through diverse approaches, and by spurring them intellectually and emotionally to continue learning – in their way, in the spirit of “Elul,” any way that they would like. To allow their renewed Jewish identity unfold.

The knowledge that there are fundamentalist spiritual alternatives to the varied and renewal type of Jewish study (I refer mainly to the various proselytizing ultra-Orthodox groups) makes pluralistic beit-midrash study even more powerful. There are many “agents of Judaism” today. I would venture to say that very few take a mediated ideology-based approach: many tend towards religious extremism, and they certainly do not accept the secular or the mixed reality of such a large percentage of American Jews.

I am convinced that it is expressly an open approach to these Jews and a presentation of Jewish pluralist study in the spirit of Hillel the Elder that brings them closer to Judaism: they will anyway interpret as they will, uphold it as they will and they will view it as they will.

Indeed, there is a paradox here: to what Judaism are they growing closer if they interpret it as they will? And in what sense does the pluralist approach bring them closer to themselves? Perhaps the answer to this lies in the concept of home: since, as their spiritual journey progresses, they will in any case build their material and metaphoric home according to the manners in which they interpret and understand their Judaism, it will in any case be their authentic home. What we did was to try to encourage them to strive for this.

Israeli playwright Yehoshua Sobol once wrote: “To return again and walk barefoot on shards of glass.” If you will it, this is what midrash is. And how do you understand it in your life? You shall tell me.

המסה 'בית מדרש בית' התפרסמה באתר מדרשת.

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