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Finding ourselves in familiar, unfamiliar places

Rabbi Batsheva Appel

With a name like Batsheva, I also have a Starbucks name, “Beth,” for ordering in person. I know that the name Batsheva is not easy for people. It might be the first time that they encounter the name and that it is hard to spell if you are not familiar with it.

I went to Israel in January with a group of Reform rabbis. I wanted to be sure to visit Israel again before the congregational trip I am leading in June and to spend time with my colleagues. The emphasis of our visit was Israel as a place of innovation, change, and creativity. We heard from entrepreneurs who had created start-ups, including a whiskey distillery and a company helping children with the simple task of washing their hands. We visited Hiriya Recycling Park, where we saw the beauty that can be created with recycled things, as well as what can be done with trash to reduce the need for landfills. We visited both the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva and the GavYam Hi-Tech Park to learn about projects there and how Israel is growing as a place for R&D labs for multi-national corporations. In Jerusalem, we attended a rehearsal of the Kolben Dance Company and met with the founder, Amir Kolben. At Roots, a coexistence project located in the West Bank, we sat with an Israeli and a Palestinian, to hear their thinking about the current situation. We met with Rabbi Noa Sattath, the director of the Israel Religious Action Center. As with any trip to Israel, the itinerary was jam-packed, and we saw so many things that I am still trying to process it.

In Tel Aviv, we visited Beit Hatfutsot ­­— the Museum of the Jewish People and its newly opened synagogue exhibition. I was struck by how much we were looking for ourselves in this exhibit. Even though we are rabbis who have visited Israel before and visited Beit Hatfutsot before, as much as we enjoyed seeing the diversity represented in the exhibition, we were delighted by seeing ourselves there. Whether it was a video of North American Jewish communities or the inclusion of the prayer book that most of us use or photos of synagogues that we know, we were looking for ourselves in this museum in Tel Aviv.

When we go to Israel, we have a chance to learn about our roots, an opportunity to come home. We have the possibility of finding out more about our identity as we travel in Israel, whether we return to a place that we have been before or we go someplace new. There is a spiritual dimension to our seeking as well as just a sense of who it is that we are as Jews.

Living in Tucson, my Starbucks name is “Beth.” As I was at Ben Gurion Airport, traveling home, I stopped for coffee. They asked for my name and reflexively, I said “Beth” and got a very blank look. I corrected myself and said “Batsheva,” which was no problem at all. Travel to Israel is about seeing ourselves.