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TCS Bulletin - My Heart is in the East

“My heart is in the east, while I am in the uttermost west. How can I find savor in food? How shall it be sweet to me?” These words are at the beginning of the famous poem by the celebrated Jewish philosopher and poet, Judah HaLevi, written in the twelfth century. While his words are over eight hundred years old they still resonate for many in the Jewish community, and for me there is special meaning in the opening words: לבי במזרח – “My heart is in the east”

These two Hebrew words really speak to my personal connection with Israel.

My heart is in the east because that is where so much of family live. My grandparents are there together with so many uncles, aunts, and cousins. With a mother,  who was born and raised in Israel it always felt like our second home. Living in England it was easier to visit regularly, and growing up our annual vacation involved two weeks in Tel Aviv, which was filled with time spent together with family.

My heart is in the east because I spent two of the most important years of my life living there. At the age of 18, before starting College, I took, what is known in England as, a Gap Year. For ten months I lived in Israel. The program was divided into different sections with a period of study in Jerusalem at the beginning, time spent living and working on a Kibbutz, and then more time in Jerusalem working and volunteering in the city. It was one of the most, if not the most, formative year of my life to date. And then for my second year of rabbinic school I went back to Israel, and this time I met the woman, who would eventually become my wife.

And my heart is in the east because I understand Israel to be the Jewish homeland, and a place where we as Jews have a unique connection through our history, our present day situation, and our future. I feel truly privileged to live at a time when we have a Jewish state in the land of Israel. That’s not to say that there aren’t problems and challenges over there, but it is the fulfillment of our two thousand year old dream. And for me it is a place that I feel connected with like no other in the world.

It is for these reasons that I am so excited that later this month I will have the privilege of leading our Family Trip to Israel together with Lindsay Ganci. There were many things that I was excited for when I became a Rabbi, and one of the top ones was definitely the opportunity I hoped to have one day of leading a congregational trip to Israel. In my early 20s I was lucky enough to lead a number of trips to Israel for teenagers through my youth movement, and it was something that I have been looking forward to doing again in the synagogue context since I was a rabbinical student.

For me it is a chance to share a place I love with my community. We will of course be visiting the important sites that everyone expects to see on a trip to Israel: The Western Wall, Masada, the Dead Sea, etc. But for me I am even more eager to take our group to the Lewitsky market in Tel Aviv, in the area where my grandparents and great grandparents were shopkeepers from before the establishment of the State. It is the place that my Saba (grandfather) and I always walk around on our visits together. And then, on our way up north, I am so excited that we will be stopping at the cemetery of Kibbutz Degania, in a place that overlooks the Kinneret Sea. Not just because of the cemetery, but because a few steps away you can stand with your feet in the Kinneret, surrounded by tiny shells on the floor, and with nothing but the sound of the wind and the water.

Israel is a truly special place, and one that I hope all of our community has the opportunity to visit. By the time you read this I would imagine that it is too late to sign up for our family trip (although it might still be worth asking), but there will be other opportunities to visit. And I hope that everyone has the chance to visit our Jewish homeland. And in the meantime, to get a taste of Israel, while we are on the trip we will be posting photos to Facebook, and will hopefully have a daily blog of our travels and what we have seen, so that you can join our tour in the virtual world.

I don’t remember when I fell in love with Israel; for as long as I can remember my heart has been in the east. But later this month I am so excited to see other people having their own personal Israel experiences. They might not fall in love with the country (there are definitely things over there not to love), but at the end of the trip I hope that everyone will feel a special connection with this small country in the Middle East. At the end of this trip, as with every visit to Israel, I am sure we will all carry away a piece of Israel, an experience, or a place in our hearts. I look forward to sharing these with you in a future issue of Connections. 

About Rabbi Danny

Rabbi Danny
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