Next Generation Strengthens Jewish CLE
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by Claire Levin
Showcase Cleveland Intern at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland
The following d’var torah was presented at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s Board of Trustees Meeting on July 28, 2015.
Moses never entered the Promised Land, but I’m a lucky Jewish kid from Cleveland, so I was able to.
Last summer, I had the opportunity to participate in Onward Israel. I traveled to Tel Aviv for a two-month internship program where I interned with a nonprofit called Tsevet Lohamim, a pre-IDF combat training program for Lone Soldiers, an individual not from Israel who has chosen to fight in the Israeli Defense Force. This summer, I am participating in the Cleveland Hillel Summer Internship Program and had the pleasure of being the Showcase Cleveland intern here at the Federation. My job is centered around connecting undergraduate students to one another and to fortify their connection to Cleveland and all it has to offer.
In this week’s parsha, Ve’atchanan, Moses works to instill God’s commandments upon the Israelites. With this motivation in mind, Moses repeats the Ten Commandments to them, reminding the Israelites that the Sinai Covenant applies to all of them, even those that were not physically present at Mount Sinai.
In my opinion, the strength of a community is what makes or breaks the success of that community. Under Moses’ leadership the Israelites persevered at times without a community in the physical form but a community in the bond that they shared with one another. As a Jewish Clevelander, community means the world to me.
The strength of the Jewish Cleveland community is what brought security and comfort into my life last summer. I began the summer looking forward to endless sunshine, falafel, and the electric Israeli energy I only got a brief taste of from my Birthright experience. Little did I know that I would be facing some of the most emotionally strenuous moments of my life in the months to come. A few weeks into the program, rocket-fire hailed upon the state of Israel. At first Tel Aviv seemed like a world away from danger. However, soon the warning sound of the sirens became a daily ritual. My fellow Onward participants and I were faced with situations we never imagined.
When a siren sounds while you are submerged in the cool water of the Mediterranean and the nearest shelter is a several minute run away, what are you supposed to do? When a siren sounds as you're walking through the shuk, where do you go? When you find out the horrible fate of three young Israeli boys, how are you supposed to react? When your mother and father ask if it’s time to come back home, do you leave? Many of these questions I could not have answered by myself.
I was able to overcome the stress of the summer by leaning upon my fellow Onward participants. We became a family. A family that understood the sometimes overwhelming moments a day could bring. The conversations we shared no longer were focused on daily recaps of our internship work or the struggles of navigating the bus system; they occasionally focused on fear, confusion, and loss. In two short months, we grew close. Close enough that we had the strength to tell our parents “No” when they asked us if we should come back to the United States early. We were able to do so because first and foremost we knew we were safe thanks to the Iron Dome and also because we had each other to turn to.
When the siren sounded while we were relaxing at the beach we all hesitated for a moment. Seconds later, we gathered our things and were prepared to head to the nearest shelter. Some people fled the beach, many others stayed stoically in their places. A few more seconds later, we watched the Iron Dome intercept the rocket far above our heads.
As the booms echoed across the shoreline, a sense of calm fell upon us. But only for a moment, because the life of the beach soon came rushing back. A man a few feet away from us picked up his guitar and began playing as he had been a few moments before. Most of the people who fled from their spots returned, laid out their tapestries, and fell back into their places. These people knew that the momentary danger had passed and the beauty of the day would be wasted running and hiding away.
The strength of these Israelis seeped into our Onward community. An unspoken value became clear. As a group, we were determined to not let fleeting seconds of fear spoil an incredible opportunity to immerse ourselves in the Israeli culture. The lesson I learned that day on the beach will stay with me always as a reminder that the music of a moment will be wasted if you run away from it. Every day now, I wear a necklace, inscribed with the longitude and latitudinal coordinates of Tel Aviv, a place that will always be my home.
This brings me to this summer, another incredible internship opportunity. Working at the Federation in my unique role has given me a chance to see Cleveland with fresh eyes. I was excited to actively explore a place that has always been home to me. I was excited to hopefully inspire others to do so as well and I was excited to grow as a young professional looking to learn more about what it takes to work in the nonprofit sector. In my last week of work, I am confident in saying that I have done my best to not waste a single moment. I thrive off of the conversations I’ve shared with other undergraduates who are just now seeing Cleveland as the cultural haven that it is. Cleveland has been neglected and forgotten by so many people, and finally this city is growing into its full potential. A rapid ride away and just across the Cuyahoga River, a renaissance is taking place. If you don’t believe me, go to Ohio City on a Wednesday night for live music outside the Transformer Station. Go to Edgewater Park on a Thursday night and tell me that I’m wrong. Go to Uptown in University Circle and take a peak. This is the new Cleveland.
The Jewish Federation of Cleveland is a part of the strength of this new Cleveland. Engaging children and young adults to give back and take a stake in future success is what drives a cycle of positive change. Mostly, I am blown away by the Federation’s ability to cultivate leaders who deeply care about the community in a holistic sense, where no one is forgotten. I now know the real definition of “Stronger Together” and have found great joy working in an organization that takes pride in sharing this value of tikkun olam with anyone that is willing to listen.
As an individual entering her senior year of college, I have been asked too many times what I’m planning to do after I graduate. I now know how to respond. I smile and say “I hope to bring people together to do good things.” I am not certain where the next few years of my life will take me, but I am confident that the strength of the Cleveland community, specifically the Jewish Cleveland community, will play a very important role in my future.
In the Torah, Moses instilled the values bestowed to him by God onto the next generation, the people who unlike Moses were able to enter the Promise Land. I am a member of the next generation of Clevelanders who have the opportunity to be a part of great change and growth. Standing together here in Cleveland or supporting one another from across the world the future is in our hands. Thank you for maintaining the integrity of our community. Now, it is up to the next generation to continue this mission to push Cleveland and the Jewish Community forward.