Monday, June 24, 2013

The Teacher Becomes the Student

Neve Daniel is a very busy community. There are many Rabbis in our area who work at Yeshivas and Midrashas (post-high school learning programs).  And there are many community leaders who work with Masa and Birthright programs. They invite their students to come for Shabbat frequently, and they send out requests to the community to house and feed these students. Sometimes we say yes, and other times our own lives take over and we just don’t have the time or the energy to entertain.

This past week fell into the latter category. One of our friends was trying to find housing for a large group of post-college kids from North America, South America and other locations who wanted to come and see what an orthodox community and a traditional Shabbat looked like.

It sounded lovely.

But I was tired.

So, we ignored the emails and figured that our amazing community would step up and make sure the students were housed and fed.

Then, one of the organizers sent us a personal email, gently asking if we would participate.

And of course we couldn’t say no.

And the weekend was a reminder of so many things.

It reminded me of how wonderful it is to say yes, and how beneficial for our own spiritual and emotional development it is to open our home.

It reminded me of the amazing work that so many are doing to bring people to Israel and to expose them to situations and people with whom they might not normally interact.

We hosted the program educational director (who is Israeli) and one of the participants.

As we started talking to the participant, who I’ll call Peter, his story unfolded and surprised us all. He explained that his mother is Peruvian and Jewish, his father Vietnamese and Buddhist. He was raised with no religion. And then, one day when he failed a test in English class in sixth grade, his teacher required a parent’s note. When he returned to school the next day with his mom’s signature, the Jewish teacher turned to him and said, “Peter, are you Jewish?”

“Jewish!? Of course not,” he said. “Um, I don’t think so.”

And thus began his journey. He was, indeed, Jewish, and didn’t know it.

Flash forward many years. He ended up going on Birthright and exploring his Jewish roots. He joined the American army to pay for college (which my kids found fascinating and awesome!) and served in Iraq for a year (that made for some great table conversation). Now, at 31, he was taking 5 months off of his professional, post-MBA consulting job in New York City to come to Israel, study Hebrew, participate in an internship and explore his roots.

Fascinating.

And had I continued to say “No, thank you” and “I’m tired” to the request to host these visitors, we would have missed out on the richness and uniqueness that Peter brought to our table.

I hope he enjoyed himself as much as we did.

And thank you, Peter, and the Career Israel program for reminding me why it is so important that we open our homes to these visitors and to these programs.

Little did I know that I would be on the receiving end of the learning, hearing about how one Jewish soul came to his roots and the path that he has taken since then. What a great reminder for me of the many ways that there are to be Jewish, and the many ways that we come to our heritage.


I loved being on the receiving end of the lessons this Shabbat, having originally thought that I would be the teacher for these visitors. 

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