By Adam Siegel
At Beit T’Shuvah, we thrive on transformative experiences; stories of transformation and redemption nourish our souls. Often times, the stories people share with me serve as sustenance for showing up (for life) each morning. We collectively celebrate achievements (i.e. cheering on the Run to Save a Soul marathoners yesterday!) and loss (see Remembering Ira Skolky). We encourage each other to embrace transformative processes and then try to be available when things don’t exactly transform the way they were “supposed” to. As most of our community can attest, transformation isn’t about enlightenment, but rather, it’s about engaging the experiences available to us with our full selves.
This coming August, a group of BTS community members will have the unique opportunity to engage themselves and others while visiting one of the worlds’s most complicated and multi-dimensional places: Israel. In conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, BTS is sponsoring a 10-day transformative experience otherwise known as Birthright Israel. While one of the trip’s main goals is to help young American Jews answer the question “Why is Israel important?”, I’m more interested in how it helps them answer the question, “Why be Jewish?”. By meeting and traveling with Israelis their own age, they will be exposed to a much wider perspective on the joys and struggles of being a Jew. From what I’ve seen, there will be a couple of people who’ll experience the trip as just a subsidized tour of a foreign place and culture. Fortunately, for most, there’ll be a sense that the foreign world they’ve immersed themselves in contains traces of a long-awaited homecoming. Despite the super-sized itinerary (try going from Holocaust memorial overload in the morning to Dead Sea swimming in the afternoon), the trip does a really good job of creating space for exploring oneself in the context of Jewish peoplehood.
By and large, this group of young adults (ages 18-26) will share many similarities with the 1,000’s of other Birthrighters visiting Israel this summer. One key factor distinguishing their bus from the others will be the stories that brought each of them to our community. At BTS, we tend to describe addiction through a spiritual lens; viewing addictive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as a reflection of psycho-spiritual brokenness and dis-ease. Consequently, a big part of recovery is the (on-going) choice to embrace and wrestle with all parts of oneself while in relationship with others and the Divine. Whereas, Birthright Israel might be a re-orienting experience for many of the other group’s participants, this trip will likely be a continuation of the transformative process these young adults began engaging in months or years ago. For eligibility for our trip includes an implicit acknowledgement that they surrendered themselves to the unknowingness of being a spiritual seeker. Where better to do this in than Israel?