The Start of the Jewish Journey
November 4, 2022
By Ezra N. Rich

At the start of this week’s Parshah (weekly Torah portion), we have the first verse connecting the Jewish people to the land of Israel: “G-d said to Avram (this is before he is given the name Abraham), ‘Go forth and from your native land and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen. 12.1). There are strong connections between people and places, and this is the foundation of our connection to the Holy Land that has spanned thousands of years and remained a source of hope in the face of countless hardships over the centuries.

50 members of Jewish Buffalo had the fortune to visit Israel as participants on Buffalo Jewish Federation’s Buffalo Israel Experience (BIE), which concluded last Friday.

At the close of Yom Kippur, we prayed for “Next year in Jerusalem” and BIE travelers were blessed to find ourselves at the Kotel (Western Wall) a few weeks later. It was exhilarating to shop for Shabbat treats at Machne Yehuda, where merchants completed the transactions with a warm “Shabbat Shalom!” It was clearly a place where Jews were in the majority, and where Jewish culture is the dominant one.

As Bereishit Rabbah notes, when we are first introduced to Avram and his father, Terach, Avram has gotten himself into trouble by rejecting the idolatry of his father. In Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Z”L, notes how different societies have different value systems:

“[Our era] is the age of the Facebook profile, the vivid symbol of other-directedness… Avraham was commanded to leave behind the sources of both tradition-mindedness (‘your father’s house’) and other-directedness (‘your land, your birthplace’). He was about to become the father of an inner-directed people… Theirs was a morality of righteousness and guilt, not honor and shame, or conformity and anxiety. Hence the centrality of education in Judaism, since Jews would have to hold fast to their values even when they were a minority in culture whose values were diametrically opposed to their own.”

Abrahamic Ambitions in Our Day

The special relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel was certainly felt by participants on the recent Buffalo Israel Experience, where I was privileged to be among 50 Jewish Buffalonians who had a trip of a lifetime as we got a taste of the State of Israel, from Jerusalem and Haifa, to Safed and Tel Aviv. It was especially special as the group was comprised of members from across our local Jewish community and included a number who were visiting Israel for the first time. Others had not been to Israel in decades. With the State of Israel on the cusp of her 75th birthday this spring, it was a wonderful glimpse into the rebirth, vibrancy, and tapestry of this modern nation built upon our sacred past.

Here are some reflections, of which there will be others highlighted in The Jewish Journal of WNY.

“I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Israel for the first time through the Buffalo Israel Experience,” noted Mel LeMay, who was on the trip with their wife, Sara Weinstein. “Visiting Israel affirmed my Jewish identity in ways I didn’t know I needed, and helped me feel a visceral connection with the Jewish people, past, present, and future.”

“Standing at the Western Wall ignited the deep bond to my Jewish identity, reflected Dr. Aaron Weisbrot, who visited Israel for the first time on BIE with his wife, Wendy, Chair of the Holocaust Resource Center.  “This was truly an emotional high that can only be described as transformational…and will stay forever in my heart and soul.”

“The BIE meant so many things to me.  The physical beauty of Israel and learning the history from our amazing tour guides was very meaningful, said Heidi Yellen, who was on BIE with her husband, Buffalo Jewish Federation President Shelly Yellen, her mother, Mrs. Florence Fox, and her sister, Brenda Fox. “There were many very moving moments but for me the highlights were being present for the planting of a beautiful olive tree, in memory of Leslie Shuman Kramer, at the Western Galilee Partnership Center and hearing firsthand the stories of people who recently fled Russia and the Ukraine.”

From my perspective, the trip was a vivid reminder of the beautiful tapestry of the Jewish people–spanning Ashkenazim and Sefardim, new Olim (Israeli citizens) and native Sabras (Israelis)– and how our internal diversity is a strength. While the Jewish people in the land of Israel began with Avraham thousands of years ago, we are blessed to be able to play a role in the continuing history of our people this year and for many years to come.

This Dvar Torah is dedicated in honor of my niece, Maya Ruth Nathan, who is celebrating her Bat Mitzvah this Shabbat, as well as the 25th Bar Mitzvah anniversary of my best friend, Zohar C. Kastner.

Ezra N. Rich, Marketing Communications Manager at Uniland Development Company, proudly serves of the boards of Buffalo Jewish Federation and Temple Beth Tzedek. He recently was a group leader on Federation’s 2022 Buffalo Israel Experience trip and will be honored on Nov. 10th by Buffalo Business First as a 40 Under 40 honoree.


The Start of the Jewish Journey - Jewish thought of the week graphic
The Start of the Jewish Journey - P2P BIE 2022

Members of the Buffalo Israel Experience at Partnership2Gether Western Galilee Center to plant an olive tree in loving memory of Leslie Shuman Kramer, Z”L, Past President of Buffalo Jewish Federation.