Why a program about Israel and Palestine?

By Caryn Aviv, AOP Rabbinic Student

In 2013, I transitioned from a career in academic Jewish and Israel Studies to enter into the AOP rabbinic program.  I arrived at Smicha Week in New Hampshire that summer, having just co-led a 4 week academic seminar exploring justice, democracy and human rights in Israel with CU Boulder undergraduate students.  That summer, Israel was the focus of Smicha Week, in all its complexity, and R’ Bonna Haberman came from Jerusalem to be with us for the journey.  Not surprisingly, everyone had strong feelings, positions, and emotional experiences.

As a prospective student with little experience in the chevreh, I asked a few students whether there were classes offered to AOP students about Israel.  At the time, the answer was ‘not yet.’    Having a relationship to Israel and Palestine is a vital part of clergy formation, and I knew that if I joined this community as a student, I wanted to contribute towards changing that answer to a definitive ‘yes.’   I’m beyond excited and grateful that ALEPH is now offering this amazing opportunity for students to learn, understand, engage,  and transform their relationship to the complicated people, places, ideas, and spirit that infuse this region of the world.

I think there are two key reasons why this program is so important for AOP students.

Spiritual clergy formation:  This program explores unresolved and profound questions that have animated and engaged Jewish people for centuries.  One of the tasks of comprehensive spiritual clergy formation is the process of immersing ourselves in historic, spiritual, emotional, and contemporary political issues about Israel and Palestine, and the people who live there.   As emerging clergy, it’s imperative that we dive deeply into experiencing, thinking, and feeling our way through these complexities to become competent clergy leaders in our own communities.

Spiritual education for empathy: Conflicts arise and escalate when individuals and communities decrease their capacity to empathize with others.  We know this from our own life experiences, and it’s an insight gleaned from many academic disciplines.   The AOP’s ALEPH Ba’Aretz program offers us an opportunity to cultivate empathy across differences, where we can expand our capacity to listen to narratives and life experiences that diverge from our own.  We will engage what is called a multiple narratives approach, where students will hear and learn multiple (and sometimes competing) narratives within and across different communities.  The value of this approach is that it prompts participants to  strengthen our ‘empathy muscles,’ observe where discomfort with difference arises within ourselves and others, and develop compassionate ways to respond to that discomfort.   These skills can apply to so many conversations, not just about Israel and Palestine!

I wholeheartedly encourage you to consider participating in ALEPH Ba-Aretz.  No matter where you stand politically, spiritually, and emotionally, this program will stretch you to grow and change.   It will contribute to your formation as a spiritual leader, in powerful and unexpected ways.

Complete details can be found at https://aleph.org/aop-israel-and-palestine-program or email the program team at Israel@aleph.org.

Rabbinical student Caryn Aviv, who serves as ALEPH Student Board co-chair on the ALEPH Board, was profiled in our web series Faces of Renewal.