Earlier today, The Davis Academy graduating class of 2017 led Kabbalat Shabbat in celebration of their upcoming journey to Israel. They led with joy, wisdom, and spirit. They did so arm in arm, with smiles, hugs, and many different kinds of tears. By leading Kabbalat Shabbat, complete with Craig Taubman's "Going on a Big Trip," they joined a chain of tradition linking them with the many graduating classes that have come before them. And now, having participated in that sacred communal celebration, I'm so happy to be writing this blog post, welcoming all of you, all of them, and even welcoming myself to the 2017 Davis Academy Israel Trip Blog.
As a reminder--- The Israel Trip Blog is meant to be a conversation-- participate in the conversation whether you're a parent, grandparent, distant cousin, teacher, friend or random reader by posting comments whenever you've got something to add!
A couple of days ago, I received a phone call from the grandmother of one of our 8th grade students. She wanted to know if it was appropriate for her to give her grandchild a gift for his Big Trip. And if so, did I have any suggestions? It was a lovely conversation, one of many that I am blessed to have with parents and grandparents in the context of the Israel Trip. We discussed, came up with a few ideas, and agreed that the trip itself is the most profound gift that a parent or grandparent can give their child at this time of growth and transition. But after hanging up the phone, and even now, I find myself thinking about the special gift of the Israel Trip. In that spirit, here are four (out of the many) different ways in which this trip is a gift.
1. The Gift of Connection. The hardest days are the days when we convince ourselves that we're all alone in the world. That's because all of us yearn for and need connection. The Israel Trip is a gift of connection. Your kids will feel more connected to one another, to their teachers, to Israel, and to Judaism. They will feel more connected to Mother Nature, to themselves, and to the Jewish people. That feeling of connection will be a source of strength and meaning for them in the months and years to come. It will be a gift that they can always return to, even when they might feel alone or disconnected.
2. The Gift of Inspiration. Israel inspires and brings out the best in us. How can a traveller not be inspired by the art, culture, technology, agriculture, history, religious diversity, and land of Israel? Inspiration comes in many forms: the caring friend, the spiritual seeker, the beach enthusiast, the mountain climber, the journalist, the photographer, the artist, the gourmand, the souvenir hunter. The gift of inspiration is a special gift because it helps kids begin to understand more fully how an experience like travel can awaken them to new possibilities. Inspired, our kids encounter, sometimes for the first time, what they are capable of, what they love to do, and maybe even who they are meant to be.
3. The Gift of Time and Space. Time and space are paradoxical. They are constantly there but we often feel like we don't have either of them. The Israel trip carries with it the gifts of time and space. For starters, these two weeks come between the end of final exams and middle school graduation. There may never be a more carefree time and space for these kids. On top of that, in Israel, no one is rushing you to pay your bill at the end of a meal. You can always find a quiet spot at the Kotel that's all your own, even if only for a couple of minutes. Bus rides are great for brain breaks and also the kinds of day dreams that open hearts and minds. In spite of the sometimes tight hotel rooms and the sometimes intense pace, there's actually quite a bit of time and space on the Israel Trip. The gifts of time and space help the kids relax, let down their guard, open up, and therefore discover new ways of being in the world.
4. The Gift of Letting Go. With "only" 50 pounds of stuff per suitcase, there's a healthy amount of letting go that is required in order to board the plane to Israel. Learning what to let go of and how to let go is a big part of the gift of the Israel Trip. Inevitably kids let go of old social dynamics, outdated assumptions about themselves and others, and so much more. They let go of certain fears, insecurities, and no longer applicable beliefs. They let go of some of their judgments of self and others. This letting go is healthy and also a gift, because it creates room in their hearts for new insights, awareness, beliefs, and capacities. In terms of letting go, the Israel Trip is also a gift for parents. Some gifts are harder than others, and letting go is one of those gifts.
You're sending your kids to Israel. And by doing so, you're giving them a multifaceted gift. Each of them will receive and experience the gift differently. I encourage you to share some of these ideas with them in advance so you can reflect with them when they come back.
As for my phone call with that wonderful and loving grandmother. I suggested a few things. First, I suggested that she maybe give him a few extra shekels to buy something that they two of them might discuss in advance. But I also suggested that she give him a special mission to carry out for her on the trip. Maybe a note for the Kotel, or a request for a blessing spoken at a certain place. In other words, I suggested that she find a gentle and loving way to ask her grandchild to realize that he is carrying not only his own hopes and dreams on this trip, but those of his entire community. The greatest gift we can give one another is the gift of expanded understanding and awareness. The greatest gift we can give one another is that of infusing our lives with love, with connection, and with meaning. I hope this first blog post reinforces some of the things you already know and value about The Davis Academy 8th Grade Israel Trip.