Posted on September 16, 2012 by Shanee Michaelson
“Atem Nitzavim Hayom Kulchem.” You stand this day, all of you. All of us are standing together today in Jerusalem. From small towns, larger cities, from North America and from Europe. Having grown up in different Jewish denominations, or unaffiliated, whether Ashkenazic or Sephardic, Reform or Orthodox,We have come here together, to this unique country and city, to learn more deeply our Jewish stories, laws, and traditions. Just like the Jewish people in Parashat Nitzavim, who Moshe speaks to before they cross into the land of Israel. We are here, together.
This is no small feat. Think back to the year before you arrived in Israel. You may have visited before, but probably not more than a few weeks. What makes this year different? Grocery shopping, paying bills, and basically dealing with day-to-day tasks that distinguishes being a visitor from living in a place. It is my personal belief that home is where the laundry is. And so welcome to your first major adjustment: learning to hang laundry on a line to dry instead of using a dryer. Welcome to South Jerusalem: more cats than you can count, and certainly more English than you expected.
Perhaps also, more learning than you expected and in different ways than you were prepared for. Learning sometimes for 12 or more hours in the classrooms and the Beit Midrash. It might be difficult to carve out a good time to actually do those day to day tasks that mean you live here. Who knew there was so much to learn? “The more I learn, the less I know,” a wise person once said. So please, learn. But don’t forget where you are. You can learn from books anywhere in the world. But you are learning in Israel. I may not be officially in an “experiential education” program, but I am an advocate of learning from experience.
In our Social Justice class, we went on a tiyul to the shuk where we were encouraged to talk to shopkeepers and hear their personal stories. Despite language difficulties, many were open to sharing with us. This experience is an example of bringing life into our learning- face to face conversation and interaction- something that can’t truly be done from afar, not even by Skype (though it can help).
We are primarily living in a garden called Pardes. As someone who has chosen to stay in the garden for an entire year, I can attest to the value of the garden. But I also had nearly 3 months of non-Pardesian time in Jerusalem this summer. It was a little scary at first! Gradually I met people- both native and non-native Israelis- who became my friends. By starting my own tutoring business, I met a cross-section of Israeli society, By going to different social events, I stepped outside my comfort zone and grew so much. It feels good to return to this Garden, all the more so now.
Parashat Nitzavim contains a well known quote: “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life!” You have all chosen to experience life in Israel for the year (or maybe a couple years or more). So I give you my blessing to get out there and experience it! And then, to talk about it, write about it; share your stories, whether on the blog or elsewhere.
Since I am known as the Poet Poet-In-Residence (see my other blog posts), I would like to paraphrase a poem by Mary Oliver. In her poem “The Summer Day” she asks, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious life?”
So I ask you on the eve-before-the-eve of Rosh HaShana: Tell me, what is it you plan to do/ with your one wild and precious year?
Shana Tovah LeKulam!