This week I received the generic email from the director of Greene Family Camp (GFC) about the URJ Youth Engagement (YE) programs that will be initialized at GFC and Camp Newman (click here for more about GFC’s EcoKibbutz & Domes and Newman’s Operation Kibbutz Yarok).  I could have just skimmed and deleted it but… but youth engagement is what I do so I engaged.  I  summarize what I wrote as “the sustainable product of YE, indelible Jewish Peoplehood DNA, is a process which incorporates Hebrew and Israel into what we Reform communities already do well.”
Yesterday the URJ posted Congregation Shir Tikva of Wayland MA’s Rabbi Neal Gold’s take on Kibbutz Lotan and Yahel http://www.reformjudaism.org/blog/2014/03/06/lotan-and-yahel-pioneers-desert.  I sometimes wonder what current value Lotan and Yahel, which were significant stepping stones for establishing the IMPJ, have TODAY to the Israel Movement for Progressive and Reform Judaism which we played a part in founding or for the Union for Reform Judaism which brought together the resources to found these two communities.  Rabbi Gold’s feedback:
“…In the 1970s, deep in the Arava desert – in the southern zone of the country – two Reform movement kibbutzim were established a few miles from each other: Kibbutz Lotan and Kibbutz Yahel. They are idealism regained, and the people who live there are 21st-century pioneers in every classic sense of the word. I love it here.
The biggest tragedy is that they are Reform Judaism’s “best-kept secrets.” Let’s make it not so – these two places embody every proud value of liberal Judaism. And they are so different from one another…
The older I get, the more idyllic the kibbutz lifestyle seems to me. Reform Judaism is supposed to be based on noble and idealistic principles: living out lives of justice, peace, and tikkun olam (social justice) in ways that are infused by Jewish tradition, often re-cast with new interpretations and perspectives. That is often hard to do, try as we might, in the buzz of suburbia, in the rhythms of the Diaspora.  But these pioneers in the desert are really making a go of it. Come and see for yourself.”
Yesterday I  was notified that Shoshana –  an OSRUI camper currently on EIE, wrote this in a blog about her few hours on Lotan (if we had dormitories then she and the EIE group would have stayed on Lotan for a week long seminar on Judaism, Community and Environment) http://shoshykaps.blogspot.co.il/2014/03/fun-in-very-very-hot-sun.html:
To end our 10 day trip that I mentioned in my previous post, we visited Kibbutz Lotan. Lotan is based in the Negev (desert) right across from Kibbutz Yahel, where my parents happened to meet. So that was sort of awesome.  Anyway, a major aspect of Kibbutz Lotan is their focus on the environment. They are a huge center for ecotourism, and, as well, have started up the Center for Creative Ecology. Part of this center is Green Apprenticeships that have they throughout the year. Their programs last anywhere from 4-7 weeks. However, many people come to live at Lotan just to learn and understand how to sustain the environment in the desert. This is definitely not an ad for Kibbutz Lotan, but I wanted to share, what I think, is something really amazing…
Reading Shoshana’s blog I found a new post that syncs it all together http://shoshykaps.blogspot.co.il/2014/03/be-your-own-jew.html and reminds me of my personal journey as well as that of many of my friends and colleagues (I selected the text in bold):
I really grew to love Reform Judaism.

However, as time goes on, I worry for the movement. Spending time with 70 Reform Jews, many of whom are leading services every week, I preview the future of the Reform movement. And the future includes a lot more English, a lot less understanding, and a lot less observance. We’ve begun singing random songs at the end of services. Once and a while they have a connection to the service, but most of the time its simply a song with a nice melody. I can’t fully explain why that bothers me, but it really, really does. It just seems inappropriate…

My Conservative day school is finally catching up to me. I can’t sit during certain prayers, skip certain passages, or sing an English version of every damn prayer. Understanding the prayer is important, but the Hebrew is a part of our culture, our history, and our religion. We can’t ignore it. I also personally believe that the Hebrew makes it so much more poetic.

If someone were to ask me now what kind of Jew I am, I might respond with a cheesy, “My own Jew. Sort of Reform, sort of everything else.”

I’m still figuring out where I belong. But throughout this trip, I’m learning that my religion and spirituality mean so much more to me than I thought. I’m learning that I’m not as liberal as I thought. I’m learning that I really hate English in services unless it’s call and response. But I haven’t figured everything out. A common phrase in Israel is slowly, slowly, and that’s just how I’m going.”

Thanks Shoshana! THAT (לימוד – לאט לאט ) is what we want the process to produce along the way – the curiosity and need to learn and engage in our Heritage (with a capital H).  It should “end” (i.e. with the capacity to raise/engage an intentional, creative Jewish Family/Community) with the win-win where Shoshana does understand the prayers and that she doesn’t feel that her interpretation of Judaism is anything other than Reform.  Learning Hebrew then speaking it in Israel are tools and skills we need to give our Reform Jewish youth.
Shabbat Shalom under a smiling Adar Moon,

Alex