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When Those We Love Don't Love What We Love

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Whenever I hear that Jewish friends are making their first trip to Israel, I am excited. To be able to share a Shabbat, daven together, and to try to see my city, Jewish Jerusalem, through the eyes of a newcomer are things that I cherish. But are those wishes and values mine, or theirs? 
 
Lech lecha is my favorite parsha (although during each year, I sometimes switch allegiance as I am reading). The desire to come home is one that has haunted Jews in our prayers, our festivals, and dreams. Next year in Jerusalem is not meant to be a metaphor, as an American Jew argued with me some time back. It is real. This is not Brigadoon or Oz. Jerusalem is a living and breathing testament to Jewish survival over thousands of years.
 
Since I made aliyah in 2014, several friends have visited and some of them were first timers. Some were Christian (one gentleman who was a first timer in 2015 now comes every year), some were Jews. For my Jewish friends, it has been important for me to arrange a Shabbat dinner and to welcome them to daven with me on Shabbat. Once it was a couple in a mixed marriage and they both attended shul with me and I shared a Shabbat lunch with them. They were both enthusiastic about experiencing Shabbat here and the Jewish partner (who had no knowledge of Judaism) was clearly moved during the Torah reading as he read along in English. My annual visitor best friend was raised Catholic; she has been to several Shabbat meals in Jerusalem in Orthodox homes and has visited Hebron and the Temple Mount with me. She understands what it means for those of us who are religious Zionists.
 
My general outlook, as someone who has not always been observant, is to not judge, but I know I am as susceptible to placing criticism as anyone else. As a Jew living in Jerusalem, I know that this amazing blessing comes with many obligations and one of them is to help my Jewish friends visiting experience Jewish life to its fullest within the limitations of time and ability. Sometimes it might only be a Shabbat meal, or a mincha visit to the Kotel, or going to Hebron to visit our parents, our patriarchs and matriarchs. It might be a day or two, or a couple of hours. In whatever form it occurs, it always brings me joy to share a little of the fullness of our lives as Jews in our homeland, and to witness their joy and sometimes new found understanding.
 
All of that being said, I found myself slipping into judgement about the Disneyland approach to Israel tourism. Recently, friends who I had not seen in over 15 years came on their first visit. They arranged a tour that attracts a lot of Christians and does not focus on Judaism. It is not shomer Shabbat and is scheduled tightly. All meals are arranged in hotels, leaving no time for exploration into the real Israel. My friends are Jews who were active in our little rural havurah years ago and who now live in a place with few Jews. When I heard they were coming, I was all set. Shabbat dinner, check. Davening in a Masorti shul where they could sit together, check. Dinner at the Mahane Yehuda shuk, check. None of this happened. And I had offered all of this before they set foot on the plane.
 
What I discovered is that those things that make Jewish life so amazing and such a blessing to me, mean little to others sometimes. They came to see Israel and that they did. But did they see Jewish Israel? I do not think so, but it is not my judgement to make. For them it might have been enough to go to the Kotel. 
 
These are people that I care about and respect. They are amazing parents, grandparents, and now great grandparents, although very young in spirit. They are kind and smart. And I realize that my desire to introduce them to Jewish life in Israel holds little interest to them. And I should back off and be thankful that they visited l’aretz and I got to share a couple of meals with them. 
 
For many of the possibly 6 or 7 million plus Jews still living in the Diaspora, Israel is not important in day to day life. Judaism may not be part of their daily lives. I need to accept this and not judge. We need to understand that there has been Diaspora Jewry for centuries now and trying to lecture our way into their hearts is not productive. 
 
As the issues regarding Israel politics, the Kotel, and our national boundaries swirl around causing dissent between Diaspora Jews and Israelis, we might just need to accept that our cultures as Jews are so different from each other that our eyes see very different things. I am not saying that we should avoid truth telling and not advocate for our nation, but that we might need to back off, especially when the differences are among friends and family.
 
When I wanted to say “What, you don’t want to experience Shabbat in Jerusalem? Jews around the world dream of this!!”, I backed off. I said instead, “I’m sorry it did not work out”.  For many Jews from abroad, Shabbat in Jerusalem is emotional and filled with joy. I see it all the time in shul and once saw a woman crying sitting near me behind a mechitzah. I asked if she was all right and she beamed at me saying “This is a dream come true.”  But for some, it holds little meaning. And we cannot judge. Maybe it is enough that they come. Maybe it is enough that they care to come. 
 
My friends, and thousands of other Diaspora Jews, got to see the beauty and diversity of our nation. They might not turn to observance or become Zionists, but they came. And I will accept that and keep hopeful that we continue to have rational relationships with our Diaspora brothers and sisters. And I need to remember and accept that my lech lecha journey just might not be part of every Jew’s life.   
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