The land of Israel, Eretz Y’Israel, has a profound impact on the lives of American Reform Jews. Whether one chooses to travel to Israel on a regular basis, sends children to Israel through the programs of the URJ, supports Israel through a variety of programs, or has ambivalent feelings about the future of the country and America’s relationship to her, there are no shortage of opportunities to express hope, fear, exasperation or pride. Temple Sholom of Chicago strives to meet congregants where they are and offer opportunities to learn more about the history, people, country and needs of Israel, including all Israelis, not just those who happen to be Jewish.
This is done through four distinct levels of engagement: Advocacy, Education, Travel and Culture. Each offers a unique means of accessing the place and people of Israel; each may be geared specifically toward different age groups; each may allow you to grow and stretch. We hope you will journey with us to Eretz Y’Israel on the adventure of a lifetime.
In the U.S., there are several organizations whose primary mission is to advocate on behalf of Israel. Three of the most well-known are listed here, but this is, by no means, meant to be an exhaustive list.
AMERICAN ISRAEL PUBLIC AFFAIRS COMMITTEE
A bipartisan organization of U.S. citizens committed solely to strengthening, protecting and promoting the U.S.-Israel relationship. AIPAC has a similar four pillar structure: About, Learn, Connect and Act. Their focus is on the support of Israel through foreign aid, government partnerships, joint anti-terrorism efforts, and the negotiated two-state solution—a Jewish state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state. In Chicago, the local AIPAC office can be reached Midwest Regional Office P.O. Box A3996, Chicago, IL 60690. Phone: (312) 236-8550. Fax: (312) 236-8530
AMERICAN JEWISH COMMITTEE
Focuses on Global Jewish Advocacy around the world. Where AIPAC is focused solely on Israel, AJC is focused globally on issues that are of concern and interest to Jews around the world. Temple Sholom clergy and congregants are involved locally and nationwide on committees to improve relations at home and abroad. Temple Sholom hosts events for AJC throughout the year—for example there is an annual Chanukah celebration and an annual Passover Seder for non-Jewish participants, one way the AJC works toward creating understanding and awareness throughout the community.
A more recent nonprofit organization, J Street’s stated mission is to promote American leadership to end the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts peacefully and diplomatically. J Street is the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans who want Israel to be secure, democratic and the national home of the Jewish people. Working in American politics and the Jewish community, they advocate policies that advance shared U.S. and Israeli interests as well as Jewish and democratic values, leading to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Gan Shalom Early Childhood Education Center
Learning about Israel begins at Temple Sholom with our Gan Shalom Early Childhood Education Center. Hebrew language skills are integrated into the curriculum, holidays are celebrated and culture is explored through food, dance, art, stories.
Beit Sefer Shalom
At Beit Sefer Shalom, Temple Sholom’s Religious School, Israel education is infused into all aspects of Religious School. We celebrate Israeli arts and culture with and annual festival and celebrate Israel’s independence as a school. It is also an area of focus in both 4th and 7thgrades.
Lifelong Learning is more than just a concept at Temple Sholom, and, as such, there is a wide range of classes for adults of all ages throughout the year. Each fall Temple Sholom publishes the Adult Education Brochure. Most course offerings are free to members, some require texts that must be purchased. Classes range from sacred texts such as Torah, Talmud, and Midrash to music, cooking, history and culture. Clergy from Temple Sholom teach many of the courses and local clergy and/or educators teach others. Every year there are visiting Scholars-in-residence who come to teach specific topics
Establishing some standards on what Israel education should include, the I-Center model is one that believes understanding Israel begins with children’s education at the earliest opportunity. Instead of waiting until young adulthood, they have developed curriculum that builds upon Israel’s richness and diversity and helps children develop meaningful relationship with Israel and understand Israel as core to their Jewish identities.
RESEARCH AND EDUCATION
The Shalom Hartman Institute
The Shalom Hartman Institute, based in Israel, with centers in New York and Montreal, is a pluralistic center of research and education deepening and elevating the quality of Jewish life in Israel and around the world. Through their work, they are redefining the conversation about Judaism in modernity, religious pluralism, Israeli democracy, Israel and world Jewry, and the relationship with other faith communities.
Follow Rabbi Goldbergs’s Israel travel by clicking here.
Below are just a few of the options available for travel to Israel. This is not an exhaustive list; there are many options for all ages and interest groups.
ASSOCIATION OF REFORM ZIONISTS IN AMERICA
We know the best way to learn about a culture is to experience the language, taste new food, and meet the people. So, what is the best way to learn about Israel? Travel, of course. The URJ, Union for Reform Judaism, of which Temple Sholom of Chicago is a member, offers a variety of ways to participate in organized trips to Israel through ARZA, Association of Reform Zionists in America. These are available for people of all ages. Our members enjoy trips organized by our clergy—for example, over 40 congregants will be traveling with Rabbi Edwin and Melanie Goldberg June 21-July 3. Click here to see some highlights of their trip last year.
NORTH AMERICA FEDERATION OF TEMPLE YOUTH
URJ NFTY (North America Federation of Temple Youth) offers several means by which teens can learn and experience Israel. From summer programs lasting anywhere from 10 days to 8 weeks, to a semester of study through the URJ Heller High School program, these opportunities provide an immersion in the land, culture, people and history of Israel. Students in the Heller High School program also offers earn high school credit.
Young adults, ages 18-26, may access a free trip through Birthright Israel. There are several types of trips from which to choose—accommodations are available for accessibility and special needs—single gender trips, LGBTQ, professional affiliations, and trips geared toward special interests. Whatever your interest, there is certain to be a trip perfect for you!
JEWISH UNITED FUND OF METROPOLITAN CHICAGO
JUF is the one organization that impacts every aspect of local and global Jewish life, providing human services for Jews and others in need, creating Jewish experiences and strengthening Jewish community connections.
JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
Every year the Jewish Community Center hosts the Jewish Film Festival, bringing the best of Israeli films for Chicagoland to view and discuss. In 2017, 25 films were viewed at 7 venues over 10 days! Many of those viewings held discussion sessions led by historians from our local universities, or rabbis and educators from our local congregations. Keep track of future film festivals here.