Israel: Both Old and New
As I am writing this piece, I am sitting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in the ancient village of Kfar Nah.um, also known to Christians as Capernaum. Pausing to reflect on this experience of leading 13 Boston-area Christian ministers and priests, I am taking a moment of personal prayer.
Having just put my tallit and tefillin on in the ruins of a fifth century synagogue, which was built on the ruins of an earlier synagogue, which may have been connected to a fairly famous Jew who lived 2,000 years ago, I am struck anew by the connections between our faiths. While most of the last two millennia have been filled with discord, tension, hatred, fear, and violence, I am filled with hope that the next millennium will be more peaceful.
Bringing groups—whether Jewish or Christian—to Israel remains a passion of mine. There is something magical that happens each time I visit this place with those who have visited before and, especially, with those who are visiting for the first time.
Israel is both old and new.
When Theodor Herzl was dreaming of creating a Jewish homeland, he wrote two books: The Jewish State in 1896 and Altneuland in 1902. The second book’s title is German for “old, new land,” which was the vision he was creating. As modern Hebrew was becoming the dominant language of the early Zionists, the book had to be translated. But what about the title? It could be translated as “Eretz yishnah hadashah,” literally: “an old, new land.”
But this was not very poetic. So its translator, Nahum Sokolow of Warsaw, searched for a better name. What is something old in Israel? A “tel” is the archeological term for a place where there was an ancient city and then layers of towns or cities were built on top of it, creating a man-made hill. It is a phenomenon unique to the Middle East—from Turkey to Egypt, from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea. And it is the same word in Hebrew, English, and Arabic.
A tel connotes an ancient place, a perfect word for an old land. And what about a poetic word for new? They chose “aviv,” meaning “spring,” the season of renewal. “Tel-Aviv” was then chosen as the name for the new center the pioneers began to build in 1909. This cosmopolitan city is the epitome of the business and cultural center with 440,000 people and approximately 3.5 million in the greater Tel-Aviv metropolitan area.
But this idea of something old and new is not just about a place like Israel, it is embedded in our experience as Jews. We read ancient texts each year, but look at them anew. And each year we return to our deepest selves with this season of teshuvah, or repentance and return.
Judaism teaches that, while the seasons and the cycles of the years may come around and around, there can be (in fact, there MUST be) something new each year. Hopefully, as we enter into this High Holy Day season, we can look back on our year and see personal growth and change, even as we realize there is much more to do both personally and on much grander scales.
This upcoming cycle of festivals—Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, followed by Sukkot—allows us to have moments of introspection, large-scale gathering, joy, celebration, and renewal. It culminates with Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah, when we look forward to honoring Howard Epstein and Barbara Neustadt.
We are most blessed to usher this new year in with two new staff members. Raveetal Celine began working fulltime at Emunah on July 1. I hope you will greet her as we formally welcome her on Friday, August 31 at our BBQ and Barekhu. (Hopefully, you have already made reservations for dinner; if not, join us for the service and dessert.)
In a short time, Raveetal has already had a positive impact on our community, staff, lay leadership, and administrative processes. Please stop by the main office to say hello. We are most excited to have her presence and leadership. Raveetal was born in Israel on Kibbutz Ein Shemer and has lived in Lexington with her husband and daughters since 1999. She is a graduate of UMass Boston with a degree in non-profit management and has many years of business management experience in both non-profit and for-profit organizations.
This year, we are also welcoming Rebecca Weintraub as our Rabbinic Intern. A fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew College, Becca is excited to join the Temple Emunah community. After a fulfilling year studying, traveling, and eating in Israel, she is starting her fourth year of rabbinical school at Hebrew College. Becca is a proud mikveh guide at Mayyim Hayyim and a passionate alumni coordinator for the Hadar Institute. When she is not learning in the beit midrash, you can find her enjoying an ice-cream cone, hosting a Shabbat meal, or adventuring with her husband, Jeremy. She can’t wait to meet you!
Rebecca’s internship will include creating programming and building connections among our seniors and our early empty nester communities, as well as working with me and Rabbi Fel and other committees to enhance our pastoral support. In addition, she and her husband will be joining us once a month on Shabbat which will allow for additional teaching and community-building opportunities. Finally, she will be teaching in our Religious School on Sunday mornings.
On Yom Kippur afternoon, Rebecca will lead a text study during the break (from 3:30–4:30 pm) on the book of Jonah, entitled: “What the story of Jonah can add to our spiritual journey on Yom Kippur.” Please join her for this special learning experience.
So, it is a new, ancient experience. The beginning of the year—as timeless as our tradition, resonating through the ages, filled with possibility and promise. Like Herzl’s dream that has become manifest in modern Tel-Aviv, let us embrace this new year and join in strengthening ourselves and each other. Wishing you and your families a shanah tovah—may we be blessed with a year of blessing,
Rabbi David Lerner