Angie Atkins is a current Wexner Heritage member from MetroWest, NJ and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My slight worry that the Wexner Summer Institute in Israel would be either a very basic Tourism 101 or the Zionist Rally version of a Club Med Vacation was immediately put to rest by the first day’s border tour: the lines at checkpoint Atarot; the taller-than-Babel-security wall on the road to Bethlehem; and the bars/lines/pies that solemn speakers graphed for us with dire trajectories of Israel’s demographics, economics, and geopolitical future shofar-blasted away not only our jet lag, but any vestigial sentimentality we may have brought along. (And this was before the visit to the military headquarters.) I deeply appreciated the complex nuances of Israel we were privy to during the entire week’s journeys, but wondered if the intention wasn’t just a little to shock us into a reconjuring of our earliest puppy love for Israel and our erstwhile naïve connection to its land, people, and our default Jewish identity. By the way, that is not such a bad goal, for us jaded Jews, Israelis included. Quite unexpectedly, Day Two seemed to give all the people in our group this reboot.
We walked into Yom Gibush that next day a bit raw and rudderless. How refreshing it was to be given a map with no provisional lines, a worksheet, a baggy of money, and a team of local guides, each one fascinating, zesty, and with enormous good will. And they thought we were really interesting – can you imagine? Actually, we all enjoyed hearing the personal stories of the most typical suburban childhood right along with the saddest Israeli army tale. Here were twelve strangers, armed with intriguingly odd objects, coming together to have a real conversation about what moved us, bothered us, and defined us as Jews and human beings. How many Americans brought a Kiddush cup and how many Israelis some army artifact, and yet, behind each potential cliche, some small stunning truth became manifest.
It was the kind of first date that leads to marriage. I knew the personal had quite trumped the ideological when we excitedly happened upon Rav Cook’s yeshiva but were barred from even a peek because of the women folk among us. Rather than stirring up a whole polemic, we just kept on strolling, too engrossed in our conversations to let such angst-fodder derail our fun. On the micro-human level, in a neighborhood at once fraught with all the in-your-face-questions that every street corner in Israel evokes, but on the other, a walker-friendly trail that receded to a backdrop, we spoke about our jobs, kids, doubts, celebrations, daily lives, as we usually only do with our closest friends.
Yom Sheni. Ki Tov.