“When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying”
— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
“When I marched in Israel, I felt my legs were praying”
— Rachel Raz
Only 24 hours have passed since the first sighting of the land of Israel from our airplane’s window. We did not have the opportunity to stop, reflect and start to grasp the power of our experience. We started our journey at the old city of Jaffa, a mixed city where Jews, Muslims and Christians live together. You can hear the call for prayers from the mosque, the bells from the church and Hebrew all around. This is the city that for thousands of years was the entry point to the land of Israel. Today, from Jaffa, you can have the best view on the modern and vibrant city of Tel Aviv, known as the city that never stops. The contrast between Tel Aviv and Jaffa was a first sign of the diversity, complexity and richness of this land.
We spent the night in Tel Aviv, overlooking the dense White City. We were a mixed group of educators and professionals; some newcomers to Israel and others returning for their second or third time, male and female, young and old, Jews and Christians. We started our morning in the Hall of Independence, the modest building where Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) declared the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. With an inspiring guide who herself made aliya to Israel, we reenact this important moment in Jewish history. As our visit drew to an end, we rose to sing “Hatikva (the hope),” the Israeli anthem, accompanying the original recording from this historic moment.
From there we drove to Tel Sheva to meet the “Desert Daughter”. Tel Sheva is a Bedouin town, which is the home for the Bedouins, one of Israel’s many minorities. Mariam Abu Rkeek, the owner of the Desert Daughter cosmetic and healing company, shared her story in her modest workshop, woven with explanations about her culture and tradition that in many cases is not aligned with modernity and western world values and philosophy. Mariam is the first Bedouin women to earn a college degree and she is an entrepreneur; Mariam and her female employees manufacture cosmetic and healing products from local herbs using her grandmother’s recipes. From this inspiring woman and her small workshop, we traveled to Kibbutz Hatzerim, home of the Netafim, drip irrigation systems factory. In contrast with the cosmetics workshop, here we saw the forefront of technology and innovation. This 24/7 computer-automated factory helps grow food in over 110 countries, some with whom Israel does not have diplomatic relations.
We continued south to explore the majestic wilderness of Zin, the breath-taking view from the grave of Ben-Gurion who dreamt about making the desert bloom, that left us in admiration and awe. We reached a stop for the night at Mitzpe Ramon. After a meal fit for royalty, based upon recipes that the chef collected from local residents, we gathered together for some reflection. I chose several posters from the Harold Grinspoon Foundation’s Voices & Visions posters that I thought could fit our experiences thus far, and asked my fellow participants to choose a poster that resonated with their experiences in Israel for the past 24 hours. After a few minutes exploring the posters, I asked who would like to start sharing reflections. One of our participants from the Mormon faith chose the poster with the quote, “When I marched in Selma, I felt my legs were praying.” With a trembling voice and a tear in his eyes, he shared how he experienced the visit at the Hall of Independence earlier in the morning. He was particularly moved when every visitor in Independence Hall stood in unison and sang along as the recording of Ben-Gurion’s speech concluded with the singing and music of “HaTikvah.” The physical act of standing on our legs in unison and singing the national anthem mystically connected the Jewish people in the present to the past and future in that room, a mystical connection that moved our Mormon friend to tears.
I have to admit that when I designed this Israel education seminar I wanted to inspire people on the personal and professional levels. Israel has a lot to offer when it comes to inspiration, but I did not anticipate that a visit to the Hall of Independence would have such a strong impact on individuals for whom the birth of the State of Israel is not their own communal story and narrative. I was reminded that stories of freedom and independence are universal and inspiring for all, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel experienced in Selma. This reflection highlighted the values we share with so many around the world and was the beginning of rich and meaningful conversations and connections that followed. So, for our fellow participants we can probably change the quote to, “When I marched in Israel, I felt my legs were praying.”
Rachel Raz, Director of the Early Childhood Institute of the Shoolman Graduate School of Jewish Education of Hebrew College. Rachel directs the Boston-Haifa Early Childhood Educators’ Connection (sponsored by CJP). She designs and lead educational tours in Israel and in Boston. Read more about the 2017 Israel Educational Seminar.
Rachel uses the Harold Grinspoon Foundation Voices & Visions posters in many educational settings. The posters help spark deep and rich conversations and reflections.