I’m in Israel now (though I wrote this on the plane trip over). This might be a good time to reflect upon the purpose of this trip. Israel Adventure 2009 has three purposes:
- To attend the convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform Movement rabbis) who meet once in seven years in Israel;
- To help guide a small group of Or Ami people (Mark Wolfson and his current/future sons-in-law) through Israel;
- To make my annual Aliyat haNefesh (spiritual ascent) to our Jewish holy land.
What is this Aliyat haNefesh? On Shabbat and Holy Days, when we marched with Torah we sing a verse from Tanach: Ki mitziyon tetzei Torah, u’dvar Adonai mirushalayim – From out of Zion comes forth Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem. Purposely placed in the middle of the prayer service, this song trumpets our Jewish reality: that on some cosmic (metaphysical?) level, we are all connected as Jews to Zion, to Israel, by an unseen umbilical cord. We Jews are called from deep within to reconnect to the womb.
Back on Yom Kippur 2007/5768, I spoke to Congregation Or Ami about deepening our relationship with Israel. I paraphrased the writings of my colleague (the rabbi of my youth, one of my role models) then President of the Association of Reform Zionist of America, Rabbi Stanley Davids, who called for an aliyat hanefesh, a spiritual aliyah. (My sermon also draws from the writings of Rabbi Robert H. Loewy.)
Today, on Yom Kippur, I call for a new kind of connection to Israel, an aliyat hanefesh, a spiritual aliyah. Aliyah, from the root, Ayin-Lamed-Hey means to
rise up. When you move to Israel, like my (then) 19 year old niece Yonina did,
we say you make aliyah. When traveling in Israel, and you go to Jerusalem, even
if you are in the north traveling down south, we say la’alot lirushalayim –
that you make go up to Jerusalem, rising up to our spiritual center. When you
ascend the bimah to bless Torah, we say you have an aliyah, rising up to that
I ask you all to consider making it a religious duty to participate in an “aliyat hanefesh, a spiritual aliyah.” Let it be “a soul-driven aliyah that places love for Israel near the center of our lives. Aliyat hanefesh could be expressed by visits for study and for vacations, by extended sabbatical stays, by making certain that our children and grandchildren have extensive personal experiences of Israel, by becoming informed advocates for Israel and by personally making certain to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut as a religious holiday each May.”
Today, this Yom Kippur, I call for each of us to recommit to the covenant with God by committing to travel to Israel soon and again. Let us walk the streets of our holy land once every 5 to 10 years. Let its holiness wash over our souls…
For me, once every 5 years is not enough. It is my hope, my goal, to lead a group of Or Ami congregants to Israel once every 12 to 18 months. So while our Or Ami Summer 2009 trip was canceled – the economy took its toll on everyone’s travel plans – this CCAR convention, and Mark’s desire to take his sons-in-law for a week of touring, provided me with the opportunity to fulfill this year’s aliyat hanefesh.