Diary of an Ironi Hey Student, By Nadav Gezuntheit
Nadav, in the black sweatshirt, sitting next to teacher Dafna Yehudai and fellow students
My name is Nadav. I am 17 years old, a student at Ironi Hey High School in Haifa. I decided to return to Boston, to the Jewish community here, to the family who hosted me on my last trip, and especially to Gann Academy. I wanted to revisit the places and people in order to try to understand what caused the change in my life...
I came here with a lot of questions, questions for myself and questions for the Jewish people around me here in Boston.
When I arrived in Boston with my school's delegation I did not believe a change of this sort was possible…I did not know that the ideas and opinions that I would hear and the people I would meet would give me a new and different way of examining and understanding life.
Before the delegation to Boston, I was involved in the CJP Boston-Haifa Connection project in my school. We were told that during the year, we would have video conferences with students from Gann Academy, with whom we would talk about pluralistic Jewish identity. ...As time passed and we began to discuss matters relating to pluralistic Jewish identity... I wanted to know and understand in depth what pluralistic Jewish identity is all about.
The Ironi Hey delegation to Boston
....As we experienced things during the year and I started to understand the goal of the project, I realized that we're really not a delegation, this is a mission! It's a mission for the Jewish community, a mission for Israel, a mission for my school!
It was also a personal mission because what we present affects people for better or worse. I think about how much power I had in the past and how much I have now. Power to affect people who do not know Israel.
We were excited to meet our hosts....Through their hospitality I learned about Jewish life and how much more difficult it is for Jews in the Diaspora to keep the mitzvot, to be connected to the Jewish community and to maintain their values.... It makes you have great respect for them when you see how hard they try to achieve Jewish life in their own way. It also makes you appreciate what we have in Israel.
We learned important things and of course we heard different opinions. There were many disagreements about their relationship to Israel.... As an Israeli student, it was a shock that they do not feel the same way about Israel as we do. It made me think a lot about my own identity.
... We found similarities and differences and learned about different cultures. …When I saw that my host's sister was so happy that there were ten Jewish girls in her dance group, it was hard for me to understand the excitement.
I had so many more unanswered questions. ...The silence in their classrooms, their special prayers really impressed me. ...Do the families that host do it as a favor to their school or do they really want to feel Israel?
When I returned to Israel I felt something different, I returned from a journey that changed completely my mindset, my identity.
...I felt I needed to go back and try to figure it all out. When I got the opportunity to participate as part of the Haifa Boston delegation I agreed without hesitating....
For the Americans - their sense of community and their country is a top priority for them. How do they really feel about Israel? Does Judaism in America strengthen them or is it the tie to Israel that gives them strength? What is important to them in their Jewish life, and what is the big deal about having ten Jewish girls in one dance class?
My return to Boston
I arrived in Boston for the second time. I couldn’t wait to see whether anything had changed....I was just so happy, a feeling that is hard to describe. ....
We got up in the morning and we went to my hosts school, 40 minutes just to get to school.... it must be really important to him- to go this distance every morning just to get to a Jewish school!
Why is it so important to them? Why can't they just go to public schools and still keep the customs? I did not have the courage to ask.... As we prayed I thought what would happen if it was like this at my school?
The issue of Judaism always took me straight to religious ultra-Orthodox. When I thought about religion, I thought about religious coercion. I never felt connected because I knew only one stream of Judaism. And it had negative connotations for me.
I never fasted and I did not keep kosher. Even before I went to Boston, I was afraid everything would be about Judaism.
...But really the opposite happened. ...I learned something that will accompany me for life - the idea of Spiritual Judaism.
... The journey changed me. And I now feel more connected to my homeland. I would love to hear other people's outlook on Israel...I learned to appreciate my country more. ...I began to understand that we're talking not only about Judaism but also other things in life. But the link is Judaism... I began to listen to songs in Hebrew that in Israel I wouldn’t even listen to. I wanted to feel more related to the Jewish experience.
.... When I was at Gann Academy I noticed different types of Judaism and prayer within the school – Reform and Orthodox. The students get to choose ... I thought about what would happen if my school in Israel had these options. What would students choose? Attend services? Play hookey? Or maybe even adopt some of the Boston school culture like challah on Fridays.
...I would like to call what I saw there a Jewish school culture. It is something wonderful that can occur not only in a private Jewish school in America, but maybe one day even at my own school, Ironi Hey in Haifa.
....I suddenly realized the beauty of this journey and how it can change one's identity. ...I felt that people who live in Israel tell themselves that since they live there, they are more Jewish then Jews in the Diaspora. They've never heard of spiritual Judaism. They are able to accept only the Orthodox concept and don't see other options.
A dream for the future
....Today I am considering doing a year of service through the Jewish Agency and trying to find out more about identity and connection to Jewish communities around the world. I want to learn more about spiritual Judaism. It is a kind of Judaism that could be good for everyone, with no connection to where you live.
Translated and abridged by the staff of the Shdemot Department for Jewish Peoplehood, Oranim College, Kiryat Tivon, Israel