These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Group 15, or why the Masa Israel Leadership worked out

Posted on March 31, 2013 by Avi Benson-Goldberg

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A couple of weeks ago, I snuck out of Pardes, and instead of learning Torah, I learnt community organizing, best practices, and how to laugh again. It was fun, it was a refresher, and I made some amazing friends. Here’s what I took away from it:

Group 15 finding an example of Hebrew

Masa Leadership Summit’s Group 15

“Honestly, you were just a bunch of left-overs. And that’s why you’ve been put together.”

The task for Group 15 at the Masa Israel Leadership Seminar (MLS), more than anything else, was to overcome this origin story and become a true community. We were British, Australian, Western Canadian, and scattered from across the Western States. We went back to small towns, or isolated communities, or simply disorganized ones. We had no natural backstory, no shared history other than that we were Jews and we were there. We’re here. In Israel.

And we succeeded. Because (and I am not often one to say this) the story of Israel; the true story, not the story that the European Zionists want to tell, is a story of a bunch of left-overs who had nothing in common besides the fact that they were Jews and they were here. And they couldn’t and can’t even agree on what those facts mean. But that was their common ground, and here we are today.

I went to the MLS sort of anticipating feeling like an outsider: coming from Pardes where I’ve been spending the last year getting a feel for religion, for “observance,” I felt like I might not have a lot in common with the people on the more “fun,” the more “real-world” Masa programs. And I came away feeling fully inside. Because when you start as a bunch of left-overs, a bunch of potential outsiders, you really have nothing left to lose, and all there is to be done is to accept everyone who’s with you.

Perhaps we came together when we decided we would win the Instagram group challenge. Perhaps we came together when we beat the fastest time per person in getting a whole linked circle through a hoop. But I think we really came together when we ate a lunch together and debated what it means to marry a Jew–and is it important. And when we said hard things to one another about how we meant to achieve our goals–and listened.

I came out of the Summit and immediately went away on a trip to the Golan Heights with Pardes. All along, we students, who also have had very little in the way of shared history, compared hikes we had done in Israel, or sights we had seen. We filled the landscape with our stories and by sharing them, we wed ourselves to the land more fully.

Most of Group 15 will go home–wherever that may be. Most of my Pardes cohort will do the same. I don’t think that I will. And I couldn’t be happier than to know that the future of Israel and Jewish education, and community organizing, and storytelling etc, is in their hands. The hands of people who know how to share the stories of what wed them to the land, to themselves, to their community. To Group 15.