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Far Away and Still at Home: Israel and Our Interfaith Family

May 9, 2014

Dan and his wife
Dan with his wife in Israel
When a Jewish kid from Boston met a Catholic girl from Rhode Island in a Waltham basement fifteen years ago, I’m sure no one looked into the future and saw us happily married with a boatload of kids. But in this world, you never know what will happen, and here we are.

It may not have been love at first sight, and like many relationships, the early days weren’t the smoothest, especially when I took off for Israel following my graduation while the future Mrs. Brosgol had another year left of college. As I meandered through a year of procrastinating volunteering, she slogged through nine months of student teaching, waitressing at the Iguana Cantina and finishing up her double-minor. Perhaps the odds weren’t in our favor.

But then she came to Israel.
 

In February of that year, she got her passport, boarded a transatlantic flight for the first time, and landed in Israel during the height of the Second Intifada, much to the chagrin of her father, who was none too happy that she was flying off to a war zone to visit her boyfriend. That week we spent in Israel together, driving from Haifa to Eilat and everywhere in-between, was eye-opening not only for her, but for me. I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the first time and I gave her advice on how to dress at the Kotel (Western Wall). We still keep the picture of us under the orange tree at the Bahai Gardens in Haifa on the sun visor of our car.

It’s fair to say that she fell in love with Israel then, despite the fact that red flags were raised at the airport when an olive-skinned guy who spoke Hebrew dropped off a blonde girl who did not and said goodbye. Very, very suspicious… So much so that she was questioned for a good half hour about her ticket, who paid for it and whether or not her father was an Israeli citizen. Yes, that happened.

Even without the security protocols and the Intifada, it was a memorable trip for both of us, as was our trip together in 2002 on a Federation-sponsored solidarity mission to Israel. That was also quite a week, as tourism had ground to a halt due to the violence; we ended up staying in amazing places like the King David Hotel and the dollar was unbelievably strong against the shekel.

Dan's children in Israel
Dan's sons praying at the Kotel
Since her trip in 2002, though, she has not been back, despite the fact that I’ve been back and forth about a dozen times for work. Through a lucky convergence of factors, I’ve had the great privilege of taking two of my four-soon-to-be-five kids with me to Israel in recent years. I took my oldest when he was 9, and the second-oldest I took as he was on the verge of turning 8. Both of them were old enough to deal with the flight and the intensity of the trip I was in charge of, and both of them had experiences that I’m quite sure neither they nor I will ever forget. I could look at pictures of them both at the Kotel, or visiting the Dead Sea, or posing in front of the Maccabi Haifa store all day.

As I reflect on the meaning of Israel to our interfaith family, it’s not a stretch to say that Israel remains for us an ideal of something we can all share that is (relatively) uncontroversial. While we have bumped into discomfort and non-welcoming attitudes here at home, in general we have found Israel to be so happy to welcome us that it really isn’t relevant that we’re not both Jewish. While my perception is that the openness of American Judaism to non-Jews is an issue that needs fixing, I have found Israel to be exceptionally welcoming of visitors who are not Jewish. Beyond that, I’ve spent both Christmas and Easter in Jerusalem, and it’s remarkable to see how Jerusalem is alive with an entirely different sprit on those two festivals.

As we strive to instill a love of Israel and Judaism in our kids, there’s a subtle comparison to be made about how Christianity and Judaism have an interesting and symbiotic relationship in both our family and in Israel. There’s something to be explored there that would be fascinating to do as an entire family.

Just the other day, as I was driving my daughter to pre-school, she was talking about Frozen songs, ballet, and the other usual topics when she said, “Daddy, the next time you go to Israel can you bring me…”

I was waiting for the final words. “…a snow globe? …a soccer jersey? …a ring?” I wasn’t sure. After a few seconds, I asked her “Can I bring you what?”

Pause.
 
“No, Daddy. Can you bring me? I want to go.”
 

Wouldn’t that be amazing? One day, perhaps soon, we will all be in Israel together. There’s talk of us going in 2016 for our eldest’s Bar Mitzvah, which would be amazing, but in any case, my younger daughter’s already advocating for herself for the next trip. 

Hebrew for "son of the commandments." In modern Jewish practice, Jewish boys come of age at 13. When a boy comes of age, he is officially a bar mitzvah and considered an adult. The term is commonly used as a short-hand for the bar mitzvah's coming-of-age ceremony and/or celebration. The female equivalent is "bat mitzvah." A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.
Dan Brosgol

Dan Brosgol is the Director of Prozdor and a native Bostonian passionate about sports, Israel and running when he's not chasing around his five kids. Dan also blogs for JewishBoston, Hebrew College, and The Bedford Citizen.

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