After months of preparation and excitement, the LEAP 2022 cohort finally flew to San Francisco for two and a half weeks of learning, travelling, volunteering, and bonding!!
On this trip, we met with people from countless Jewish backgrounds and upbringings, who approach Judaism in a variety of ways. We continued exploring the differences between Israeli and Diaspora Jews, and it was really eye-opening getting to meet different religious communities in San Francisco. Daniel, an Israeli group member, said that “it was full of little moments of surprise and joy to understand how much American Jewry has developed with no contact to Israeli jewry and how far away the two are.” Eldar, another Israeli in our group, said that the Jewish communities here are much more diverse than what he thought! Those encounters made it clear to me how this experience is unique, and each and every one of us came with a different perspective than the other, but is also coming back with a different one, that is still different from the others’.
My relationship with judaism
I feel like this trip also helped me develop a lot in terms of my relationship with Judaism, and I’m much more open to new experiences involving it now. Ella, another Gap member, felt similarly, adding that “this trip gave our group the opportunity to explore individual curiosities, ask tough questions, and learn about jews (and generally people) vastly different from ourselves.”
One activity that our group is still talking about, even after the trip, is our visit to the Delancey Street Project. As Ella commented, it’s “a living community operated, and occupied almost exclusively by ex-cons and addicts. Delancey Street teaches these men life skills, and helps them integrate back into society in an intentional and meaningful way. The activity showed our group the continued importance of compassion and second chances, and that there is more to every person than what might meet the eye or be written on a record.”
Another experience that was very meaningful for many of us was visiting Zvika Krieger at Chochmat HaLev, a Jewish Renewal Congregation. We got to hear about Zvika’s life, different careers and personal connection to Judaism and how he shared it with others at this congregation. We also used Jewish texts as the basis of a meditation focused on finding a sense of home within yourself.
Same religion is treated in such an array of ways within different communities
After the visit, Eldar realised that Judaism can branch out into many more experiences than just prayer, and can be very spiritual and connect people to each other. It can create a sense of community and it felt much more like home than he thought it would. Eden, a Gap member, felt that hearing about how to incorporate and connect to Judaism through meditation and Kabbalah was really inspiring. Like Eldar, it also opened her up to expressing Judaism through a more spiritual lense. This is something she hasn’t been exposed to, growing up in a traditional conservative Jewish community and she’s really grateful for the experience and how it might inspire her to explore her own spiritual Jewishness.
An unforgettable part of our trip was the time we spent in the Castro. The Castro was one of the first gay neighbourhoods in the United States, and remains to this day one of the biggest icons of LGBTQ+ activism and movements in the world. We did a walking tour there, where we learned about the history of the neighbourhood and how it developed together with its population.
Our group also joined for the Friday evening services at Sha’ar Zahav, a gay and lesbian synagogue founded in 1977 and located in the Castro. They embrace a diversity of individuals of all sexualities, genders, races and abilities. Their congregation “creates new Jewish traditions that honour our modern lives, both celebrating and questioning tradition.” Shachar, another Israeli in our group, said that she felt very comfortable because the community there was so warm, welcoming and accepting.
Incredible people and communities.
We spent our last Saturday morning at The Kitchen – a non-denominational Jewish Congregation. Their aim is to pass on Torah by making religion modern and relevant, in order to positively impact the world. They are rooted in the philosophy of not having a permanent building for their services. We got to join them for a Torah study session and then a service. Shachar said this was her favourite congregation out of all the ones we visited, since the lack of a permanent building puts the focus on the people and the community.
These are just the highlights of all the incredible people and communities we met on this trip. It’s safe to say that each of us has come back to Israel with lots more questions about our Jewish identities, and plenty to share with the rest of the Mechina! As a cohort, as well as individuals we were exposed in first hand to the diversity of Jewish Peoplehood, and this experience will most definitely continue on with us – whether in the Mechina or in our lives in general.
Therefore, as the end of the year is still ahead, we’re hoping to share our experiences with BINA and the community, in the hopes to continue to bring Jewish Peoplehood to the front and create (and maintain) those meaningful relationships all over the world!
Nicole Khaimson, BINA Gap Year Participant
*LEAP (Leadership, Experience, Action, Peoplehood) is a special partnership between BINA Gap Year and the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, through which Israeli and international gap year participants travel together to California to explore American Jewish life and together engage with questions of peoplehood, identity, and tikkun olam.