This month, 25 folks from our extended congregational community, including my family, will go on a ten day Trip to Israel. Not only will we tour the Promised Land, taking in the sights, sounds, tastes and textures, 5 young people will read from Torah and mark the passage to adulthood\Bar and Bat Mitzvah. As we prepare to depart, two things are clear to me. This is not a vacation and this is not just a trip with congregants. This time in the land of our ancestors and place of powerful connection to God, should be something more.
One aspect necessary for this trip to be something more, is it to make it a pilgrimage. This means that our trip has to travel through holy time or place. This is not some secret or magical realm. It is very much like Nitzavim in Deuteronomy (30:11). Holy time and space are time and spaces of this world, yet with the stories we tell, and the rituals we perform, we connect the experience with something greater. I still remember standing at the Haas promenade in Jerusalem, reading Genesis 22 and realizing that we could be standing in the very spot Abraham and Isaac had on the way to the binding of Isaac. It was “holy” space. I also remember a few summers ago when Jill and I took the kids to Gainesville to show them the haunts of our first year together. My parents came up to meet us. We thought it would be fun to go to the Japanese steak house where Jill, my parents and I had dinner the night they met her for the first time. As we walked out after a fun dinner, I had a sense of awe as I looked back over the years, seeing Jill and I in our twenties, young adults, just starting to create a relationship. In the same scene, I stood with her after years of adventure with our three beautiful children and my parents around us. All of these years of life folded over. Sometimes these moments are planned, and sometimes they just happen. What makes them real and holy, is taking time and using ritual to notice them and mark them. We stop with ruach and koach, expending breath and energy to mark liminal moments.
The question about pilgrimage twists into another question. How does one make a trip with congregants into a congregational trip? It would be easy to go, enjoy this trip to Israel with the people on it, return and jump back into congregational life. That is a trip with congregants. But, this trip has the potential to be something more. My goal is to expand the energy and experience beyond the travelers.
It becomes a congregational trip if you help us make our trip a pilgrimage. Be part of marking transcendent experiences. We have to find ways that go beyond sharing pictures or returning with artifacts. I am trying to plan opportunities which would connect our traveling group with our home community as we move through holy time and space. Then we can bring the energy and experience of our trip back with us. Let me know if you have any thoughts or ideas. With some effort on both sides, all of our Congregation can feel as if we are connected while some of us are away, even if only for a few moments.
I hope you will join us for the Hanukah Shining Lights Shabbat on 12/19 as we also say a Prayer for travel before our trip departs. Keep your eyes on the email updates and our website for other opportunities to join this effort.
Rabbi Michael Birnholz