Values in a Grain of Sand: Ariella Lis Raviv posts from Israel on the NEXTGen Detroit’s Advance Academy Solicitor’s Training Mission

October 21, 2015 | Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit

Values, like a grain of sand, can feel differently depending on context. We began the day discussing the values we derive from our Jewish journey and ended the day, caked in sand, mud, and a few small bugs, after a speedy Jeep ride through our Partnership Region in the central Galilee. Like values in different contexts.. sand feels soft and pleasant at the beach and gritty and sharp when it is being tossed in your face after a Jeep ride.  But sand is still sand and values are still values—it’s the context that changes them.

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This morning, we met with a representative from the JDC, a long time Federation partner who is the self proclaimed “911 emergency organization for Jews around the world.” After being presented with a deck of images, we were led in an exercise that asked us to define where we are in our Jewish journey. Each image inspired a different value , some of us even selected the same image but spoke about different values. As much as we are inspired to define and refine our personal Jewish values on this trip, the values of the State of Israel are very much in flux.

We then visited a neighborhood in south Tel Aviv that is home to tens of thousand of non-Jewish migrant workers, refugees, and asylum seekers. Many of them are Eritrean, a community of mostly African Christians who are escaping exploitive military service and a corrupt government rife with human rights abuses. The refugees from Eritrea crossed through the sands of the Sinai dessert, only to be “tolerated” by Israeli society as a non-citizen with limited rights and access to Israeli civil society. We heard the tra gic and complicated story of an Eritrean refugee named Emanuel who fled Eritrea after refusing to recruit children into the army. Emanuel shared that he sees “Israel as a Jewish state” and while he does wish to return to his homeland one day, for now he is in Israel, stuck in a country that although has a history of ingathering exiles and welcoming refugees, doesn’t know how to respond to a refugee population that doesn’t fit the Zionist mold.

From what Emanuel and the JDC representative who works with refugees has said, the policy is to have no policy, and as such Israel is struggling with the value of retaining a Jewish homeland and the reality of being located in a region rife with stateless people seeking freedom and opportunity.  The sand crossed by Emanuel was also crossed by many Ethiopian Jews (Ethiopia and Eritrea share a border) yet this Jewish population revived a very different and sometimes imperfect welcome in Israel.

We had a delicious lunch at a vegan Ethiopian restaurant (also in south Tel Aviv) and learned a bit about the efforts led by Ethiopian Israeli and allies (through Olim B’yahcad) to provide high achieving Ethiopian young adults with mentors and networking opportunities.

image4Next, we headed to our Partnership Region in the north. After our sandy jeep ride through the flowing hills of the Jezreel Valley, we spent a brief time with a communal leader in Nahlalah who created a unique spiritual community that is non-orthodox expression of Jewish values. For a state that historically has only had two Jewish options, secular or orthodox, with little in between, the creation of a progressive, lay driven, egalitarian community is a true evolution of the values of the Jewish State. We ended the day a lot sandy and a lot happy.

Ariella Lis Raviv

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