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A Holy Mission

On Saturday night a group of us will get on a plane for Israel. We are going there to see our beloved Holy Land with our own eyes. We will take in the landscape together. We will volunteer. We will meet with families most directly affected by that awful day in October. We will gather with soldiers. We will walk on holy ground and touch places forever changed by tragedy. Since October 7, Israel has changed and we have changed. The world feels so much more daunting.

What we have witnessed over these past months has been horrific. Loss of Israeli life. Loss of Palestinian life. Division. Scapegoating. Age-old tropes. The simplifying of complex history. Name calling and ignorance. Political gridlock. We have watched on the news, read online and talked with friends. We have felt pain, confusion, anger and heartache (and sometimes all at once). We have resisted easy solutions and lazy talking points, choosing to sit with contradictory feelings and competing emotions.

I feel so good and so proud that we will be there to show our Israeli brothers and sisters that we care and will never abandon them. This is what we Jews do: We show up for each other.

I have been to Israel many times now, including living there for a year when I was in school. It is a remarkable place of course, where history, archeology, literature, food, music, culture, politics, art, nature and science all come together to create an extraordinary tapestry. From Abraham and Sarah so long ago to modern-day Israeli teachers, activists, writers and thinkers, Israel has forever been the place where we wrestle with God, with Torah and explore what it means to be a Jew.

In this week’s Torah portion, we see how meticulous the instructions are for building the first ever synagogue. Why exactly? Why do we need such guidance when it comes to the many materials and items that are to go in the synagogue? Why the endless details? Maybe because Judaism is hard and we humans often lose our way. Maybe because, when left to our own devices, we humans too often find a way to hurt each other, rather than build sites of holiness and peace. Or maybe because the synagogue is meant to be a decidedly special space, built differently, offering us a chance at solace, comfort, connection and hope.

At KI we have taken part in vigils, engaged in discussions, joined in prayers for peace, contemplated sermons and read texts – ancient and modern – that ask good questions of us. We have raised funds and decorated cards. We have felt equal parts helpless, galvanized, defeated and determined.

We have turned to our synagogue as the ancient Israelites turned to theirs. We have asked honest questions of God. We have called out to God. We have prayed quietly. We have sung out in the name of a better tomorrow. We have allowed the words of our people to guide us, hoping that those words would do for us what they have done for so many over time, granting direction and perspective.

I pray that our trip to the Land of Milk and Honey is one that transforms us and has us come back even more committed to the prospect of peace. I pray that we might come back even more ready to build a world of compassion and understanding for ourselves, our neighbors and generations still to come.