June 26, 2013 by jewish journeys
Three years ago this week Orly and I arrived in NYC on what has proved to be one of the most powerful experiences of my life. NYC is an extraordinary place, a wonderful place, a place I leave with the feeling that I have received a gift larger than almost any I had received before this experience. I have learned so much; I have been forced to confront the most important questions in my life (and those of you who know me well, know that for me there is nothing more powerful than confronting these questions).
Thirty seven years ago I made a decision which determined my identity on every level: I decided that I would live my life in Israel. This was and is the most important decision I have ever made. On a personal level it has given me Orly, Elad, Maya and Daphne, and that has to make it the best decision anyone has ever made. Beyond the personal, it gave me a mission, a commitment which has been the central driving force in my life, both professionally and, more importantly, emotionally. I have been consumed by a powerful drive to make my contribution to the future of the Jewish People and the State of Israel. I feel enormously lucky to find myself moved beyond words by this great story, this powerful narrative, this adventure, this brave cultural/religious/ethnic/national experiment of thousands of years which is the Jewish People. For me it is not just a passive belonging, it is my search for meaning. In my world view, it is meaning which is the basic drive, the crucial life force, that which makes us walk through the door, take the chance, make the sacrifice.
I often surprise myself (and the truth is I also used to surprise my family and close friends, but they are no longer surprised) when the use of certain words, the sounds of certain music, the sight of certain visuals cause me to lose control over my emotions as I feel the tears welling up inside of me and then issuing forth. Why is it that when I tell the story of David Brodsky and the way he both lived his life and then ended his life I am overwhelmed by emotion? Why is it that at the age of 58 still, when I hear Barbara Streisand sing Avinu Malkenu at the 90th Birthday bash for Shimon Peres do I feel the tears run down my cheeks? Why is it that when I stand on a Jewish Journey and talk about a moment of Jewish history (in Budapest, Vienna, Cordoba, Berlin, Vilna) I have to have the conversation in the first person plural? Why is it that when I watch a young girl with the voice of an angel on the Israeli version of the X Factor sing a song in Hebrew I am totally overcome (especially when she speaks with Aviv Geffen, the bad boy of Israeli rock)? Why is it that I feel so emotional – difficult emotion – when I visit Hebron with Breaking the Silence? Why am I prepared to enter into very difficult conversations with the young people who make up Habonim Dror all over the world about how we educate about Israel?
The easy answer is of course because I care. But, what fascinates me is why? Why do I care? I do not see the ongoing asking of this question as an indulgence, but at the core of my continuing work as an educator. I have a strong feeling that the moment this question is resolved, I would no longer be an educator, but would go over into the realm of the politician, the activist (both roles which I have to take on, but am only prepared to take on as secondary behind my major commitment).
New York City has challenged my commitments like no other. It has challenged me because I have no doubt that it is the greatest Jewish city in the world. Greater than Jerusalem? Greater than Tel Aviv (sorry Haifa and the rest you are not in the competition)? For me yes for one reason: I want my Jewish cities to be filled with endless possibility; endless ways of being Jewish. I am intoxicated by options, by the fact that there is a restaurant called Treif, that the Charedi world is powerful, but has zero control over the public domain, that people are totally “out” as Jews, that everyone who owns a car in the city, Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Sikhs, Moonies, Jews, celebrates the fact that we have so many Jewish holidays because they do not have to move their cars!! I also want my cities to offer me cultural possibilities which are endless and do not know boundaries, and New York has this in buckets.
My time in America has also afforded me the opportunity to get to know many wonderful people and thank you to all of you who have added to my life and to my understanding of the complexity of the world. You have all been my teachers even when some of you thought you were being my students. I have learned so much. I am humbled by much of what I have seen in America. The openness at the Habonim Dror Summer Camps where young people are encouraged to find their voices in a way which I am glad has not been lost in a world ever exploring new ways to upload and download itself. The Rabbis, Priests and Ministers who recognize difference and celebrate our common humanity. The haves who give with a nobility of spirit. Those to whom life has not been kind finding the way to give in spite of the difficult burdens they bear. I am not blind. I have seen the ridiculous in America, the profane in America, the cruelty in America, the mean spirited in America, the racism in America. But I have to say that when I weigh it up, do the basic mathematics of American society, the balance is positive (and of course New Yorkers would say “there is America and then there is NYC”).
I am happy to be going back to Israel for many reasons. First because I return to my children, to Elad, Maya and Daphne, who I am happy to say have used this time to grow in ways I am so proud of and who are slowly but surely increasing our joy by adding to our family (Elad is bringing Ortal into our family on October 4th and both Maya and Daphne have boyfriends who any father would be happy about). Second because there are old friends who have been neglected over the three years we have been away. Friends who are my links to that part of life which gets ever more distant, childhood. Third, my garden on Tzora needs me! And I need it too.
But, crucially I am happy to be going back to the next challenge of my life, one filled with layers of resonance for me in a very personal way. My father was a country doctor. I learned much from him, particularly his pride in the fact that hard work and caring was the only way to be a professional in this world. His large private practice was based on his extraordinary ability to be real with people of all stations, to care for people from every level of society. Because of his work we found ourselves, the five Resnicks, like many Jews in those distant days, living in a small country community with very limited possibilities for intellectual development and social activity for young Jewish people. It was into this reality that Habonim entered my life. My life as a human being and a Jew has been enriched beyond belief by the young people who entered it in the 1960s and said to me “The world is filled with ideas; come and talk about them.” I am who I am because we sat down once a week in that most Jewish of geometrical shapes, the circle, and asked questions of each other, deep, probing questions about who we were, who we wanted to or could be; questions about identity, about taking responsibility, about history, about possibility. More than anything else in this world, I love conversation. I adore the one on one as the basic unit, the group as the place to play with possibility and make commitment and finally the private space to reflect on all that was learned.
I return to head the world movement in Israel. To lead World Habonim Dror. For me this is not only about a new job. There is something profoundly poetic in being asked to lead something which loomed so large to a nine year old little Jewish boy at the beginning of the journey of identity development. It is part of my way of saying thank you to those who helped me grow, who gave me the gift of curiosity and the permission to explore without boundaries.
I will work with young people in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Canada, the UK, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Israel, who are in many ways different from each other because of local historical circumstance, but who share something very powerful. They are part of a conversation, the same conversation I was part of almost fifty years ago in Somerset West when Jeffrey Peires sat us down and asked us the most wonderful of all questions: “What is this world all about and what are you personally going to do about it?”
I look forward very much to being in a conversation with as many of you as possible in the times to come. I will be inviting all of you to help me in this work and I am sure that in some way you will all help me. You already have.