Monthly News from JNF’s Advocacy & Education Department
As we prepare to celebrate Shavuot, we are pleased to share this D’var Torah, prepared by Aubrey Isaacs, Jewish and Israel Studies Educator at Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
Seven weeks after Pesach we celebrate Shavuot. On this day, our synagogues are bedecked with flowers and greenery to celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The Torah narrative recounts the arrival of our ancestors at Sinai:
In the third month since the Exodus of the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came to the desert of Sinai…They came to the Sinai desert and they (plural) camped (VAYACHANU) in the desert. And Israel camped (singular) (VAYICHAN) facing the mountain. (Exodus 19:1-2)
In studying these verses, we can discern three transitions that take place within this miniature narrative:
1. At first, the people are called the "Children of Israel." By the time they set up camp at Sinai they are referred to as "Israel."
2. Initially, the place at which they arrive is described as "the desert of Sinai." After setting up camp they become aware that this is no barren undefined desert location but that they are "facing the mountain."
3. Initially, the act of setting up camp is phrased in the plural form of the verb, but later that plural turns into a singular.
These three changes are not accidental but reflect a growth process that was a necessary prerequisite for our ancestors to be ready and able to receive the Torah.
Firstly, they needed to cultivate their sense of collective identity. It was vital that they not see themselves as individual "children of Israel" but that they identify with the collective and see themselves as constituting the nation of "Israel," united by name and a sense of shared purpose.
Secondly, they needed to appreciate the significance of the time and the place where they were. They had to look beyond the inhospitable conditions of the desert and to recognize that they had arrived at no less than Mount Sinai with its amazing, mysterious spiritual potential.
Thirdly, they had to learn to work together. The moment of setting up camp could be a time for selfishness when each family struggles to grab the best spot, to get their tent erected and to prioritize their own needs above others. But here our ancestors learned to cooperate and be considerate of each other; and so they camped together. The great medieval French commentator Rashi remarked that they camped "as one person with a single heart."
These three transitions stake out the prerequisites for accepting the Torah. By the same token they reflect the requirements for our own collective growth. We need to consciously choose to see ourselves as an integral component of our people. In an age of rising assimilation and erosion of our sense of national identity, we need to reinforce the message that we are Israel and proud of it!
A second requirement is to cultivate our sense of wonder and awe. As our forefathers and mothers appreciated that they were at a historic moment and place, so we too need to recognize the awesome nature of the historical period in which we live. We have witnessed the miraculous rebirth and flourishing of Israel and we have watched as Israel plays an increasingly central role for the Jewish people throughout the world. It is a time when Israel can serve as the classroom for Jews everywhere and a magnet and focal point for Diaspora Jewry.
The third requirement is the need for unity and tolerance. We need to educate towards care and sensitivity and to combat self-centeredness and jealousy.
This Shavuot is a time to internalize the messages of the arrival at Mount Sinai: to promote care and sensitivity towards each other; to reinforce our commitment to avoid internal conflicts and to cultivate the sense of pride and identification with the Land and People of Israel.
AMHSI-JNF Jewish and Israel Studies Educator
Todah Rabah of the Month
Todah rabah to the 6th graders at Hillel Day School in Farmington Hills, MI for hosting Flat Blue Box Bob on May 13. Flat Blue Box Bob joined Jewish National Fund Makor member Ariel Grunberg who spoke to the students about JNF’s Indoor Recreation Center in Sderot, and the animal-assisted therapy center and the city of Sderot. Blue Box Bob enjoyed his visit!!
South Florida Celebrates Yom Ha’atzmaut
In April, Congregation Beth El in Bethesda, MD celebrated their annual Suzin Glickman Memorial Program, where they honor the legacy of a beloved congregant and faculty member by exploring issues of social justice. This year they partnered with Jewish National Fund to explore some of the social justice issues that JNF is supporting innovative organizations to help alleviate. Students learned about organizations like ALEH Negev-Nahalat Eran, and LOTEM-Making Israel Accessible, which support individuals with special needs. The participants then had to think about how they would make national parks and national monuments more accessible to those with disabilities. They explored the groundbreaking water renewal work that JNF supports and discussed what ethical responsibilities come with ensuring that sufficient water goes to all who need it in a region so strapped for sources of usable water. The students also learned about Wadi Attir and explored some of the obstacles that the Bedouin community is working to overcome in merging their nomadic nature with the need for stable and healthy communities. And, since all the students learned about opportunities to study abroad in Israel with Alexander Muss High School in Israel, they will hopefully get to see these sites firsthand when they study in Israel at AMHSI-JNF. Thank you to JNF for the great great organization and conversations to let the Beth El students explore these important social justice issues.
Rabbi Max Nissen
Assistant Education Director
Congregation Beth El
Did You Know?
5 Unique Facts about Israel
1. Israel has the highest number of museums per capita in the world.
2. Tiny Israel provides 5% of the world’s flowers.
3. Israel has more orchestras per capita than any other nation in the world.
4. Israel has more in vitro fertilization per capita than any other country, and it’s free.
5. Israel has the world’s second highest per capita of new books.
5 JNF Programs YOU Should Know About
1. PYW – Plant Your Way to Israel jnf.org/pyw
Plant Your Way to Israel is a tool to help your students fundraise for ANY Israel trip. It allows participants to take an active role in paying for their trips while building Israel through JNF afforestation projects. The program is simple, and open to anyone under 30. Once registered, the participant will create a personalized profile and share it with family and friends. Half of all the funds raised will be put in a special account for an Israel trip, and the other half will go towards JNF’s work in Israel. You get to choose where! Hundreds of participants have already successfully used the program. Sign up now and start Planting Your Way to Israel today!
2. Roots Israel Service Learning Trip rootsisrael.org
This three-week long summer trip takes high school students on a hands-on inspirational journey to Israel. Traveling through all parts of the country, the teens explore issues of environmental consciousness along with the technology and resources at the forefront of agricultural advancements and social sustainability. Through the exploration of Jewish values in these tangible contexts and examination of issues driving global change, students return home armed and ready to make improvements in their local community.
3. Jewish National Fund’s National Conference & College Summit jnf.org/nc AND jnf.org/summit
Immerse yourself in all things Israel during a riveting weekend at Jewish National Fund’s National Conference in our nation’s capital. Join over 1,000 committed Jewish and Israeli leaders, philanthropists, and college students from across the U.S. and Israel to learn about the key issues of the day and about JNF’s groundbreaking work that is powering Israel’s future. September 13-15, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
4. Sababa Society jnf.org/sababa
Sababa means awesome! Jewish National Fund's newest society, the Sababa Society, is open to 10 to 14 year olds across the United States. The Sababa Society takes youth on adventures to learn about JNF's work in Israel through online activities that can be completed within their home community. ***Educators’ portal to open soon!***
5. TBS – Tu BiShvat in the Schools
Jewish National Fund provides special opportunities to enhance the way you celebrate Tu BiShvat and connect to the land and people of Israel. We proudly think of Tu BiShvat, the world's first Earth Day, as JNF's holiday, as it embodies our dedication to Israel's environment. Various programs are available online and can be mailed to you. Click here for more info.
Meet our Education Team
The JNF Israel Advocacy and Education Department has close to 30 professionals working across the United States, bringing Israel, JNF, and AMHSI directly to you.
Richard (Rick) Abrams
Israel Programs Admissions Director (IPAD), New Jersey
Rick came to Jewish National Fund after a career in sales, Jewish camping, non-profit fundraising, and most recently, Jewish Education. He served as Director of Education for three different Reform Congregations in NY and NJ. As part of his Masters program, Rick and his wife lived in Jerusalem for a year. It was there that that he developed his personal ahavat Tziyon/love of Israel mindset, studying, teaching in a preschool, and playing rhythm guitar in a Klezmer wedding band. This continues here with JNF, as he enjoys bringing a positive Israel experience to all the communities that he works with. Whether it’s playing with the IsraChute with preschoolers, running around the Israel-map with elementary school students, chaperoning excited teens on their way to their AMHSI experience, or bringing speakers (and pizza and pita, of course) to college students all around the Garden State, Rick loves his work! In his free time, he still loves playing music (guitar, banjo, and mandolin, mostly) and cooking for his family and friends. Check out some of his baking on Instagram @rick.s.abrams1 or feel free to ask him about it, or anything else, at [email protected] or at 973.593.0095 x828.
For more information on how you can get involved with Jewish National Fund, send us an email to [email protected] or give us a call at 212.879.9305 x245.