Letter from Rinat Eidelman, L2G Alumni 2022:
After two years of anticipating and preparing for this moment, we finally got to meet each other. The Americans and the Israelis.
If there's one good thing about the Covid pandemic, it's that it made us more tech-savvy and thus allowed us to develop relationships and talk with people from all around the world. In our case, we were forty people engaged in a single global conversation, viewing different faces and experiencing different feelings while sitting in front of our screens. What is amazing is that when you finally meet the person face-to-face, you can already feel like "besties". In my case, it felt as if we knew each other for our entire lives.
On our first day in the States, in Nashville, we travelled to the JCC to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut – Israeli Independence Day. I think that it’s one of the days that I’ll remember forever. Not because of the event itself, but because of the people. Seeing little kids so excited over Israeli flags, Israeli food, Jewish music and the chance to meet Israelis! More than that, they were excited to talk to Jews from across the ocean with whom they could share their thoughts, humor and culture.
I’m generally not one to take things for granted, but reflecting upon this day, I understand that sometimes we do indeed take things for granted. While in Israel, we see the Israeli flag everywhere; but here in Nashville, people drove miles to be able to see it.
During our trip we had the opportunity to visit three different temples: one Orthodox, one Conservative and the other Reform. I think what surprised me the most is that the denominations are so connected to each other. They cooperate and help each other. They treat every non-Jewish student in their schools with a willingness to connect and embrace them.
The thing that struck me the most was the need to prepare Jewish kids for dealing with the non-Jewish world, including attending college with non-Jewish students. There's even the possibility of encountering antisemites and needing to know how to keep one's self safe.
In one of our meetings, I met Rabbi Jessica from Nashville. I can't explain in words, but the connection between us was immediate. Just like two soulmates, we talked for two and a half hours nonstop! (Let me take this occasion to apologize for hogging Jessica's time from everyone else(😊. I told her that I went through a conversion process while I was in the army, since technically speaking, my mother, who came from the former Soviet Union, was classified as "non-relgious"; this despite the fact that my entire family is Jewish. I found the conversion process difficult.
Jessica offered to accompany me to a mikveh, as an experience that would help me clean my thoughts, and so we did. It was an amazing experience and doing this with Rabbi Jessica made it even better. It really made me feel happy, grateful and blessed. The different experiences we had in both Nashville and Charleston were awesome. Nashville is the coolest city I have ever seen. And Charleston is the prettiest and most magical city I’ve seen so far.
In Charleston we had the opportunity to get to know each other better, to travel together and spend free time together. For example, one evening when me, my Israeli friend and two of the Americans went out together, upon returning to the hotel we talked until 3 a.m!
To conclude, it will take me some time to fully process everything—because this retreat was amazing, impactful, and a tremendous learning experience. I learned a lot about myself, about my Judaism, about people, about connecting. More than anything, it motivated me to think along the lines of our global community, how to preserve it and how to keep it united.