“Coming back to Zion: Jewish Lifecycle and Israel Engagement”

At Makom, we believe that Israel can serve as a resource of innovative Jewish culture that can add value and texture to a congregant’s life cycle event. As such, we have designed this program which proposes contemporary Israeli cultural content to enrich each major lifecycle event while also engaging the congregant more strongly with Israel.


  1. To enable clergy to develop an approach to integrating Israel within Jewish life cycle events in a way that is organic and natural to their personal and professional style/character.
  2. To provide the conceptual framework for them to develop such an approach
  3. To supply clergy with practical tools (including content rich resources from Israeli culture, reflective questions and other program ideas) that can support that approach.
  4. To provide collegial support with other clergy


Materials needed:

  1. White board and markers
  2. CD player (or some other way to play a CD)
  3. Copies of training module plus appendices.



Jewish Lifecycle and Israel Engagement


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Building Block #1: Introduction to the Project

10-15 minutes


We, at Makom, believe that Israel can serve as a resource of innovative Jewish culture that can add value and texture to a congregant’s life cycle event (or LC).  Once a connection to Israel has been made, we believe that clergy can validate Israel’s role as a normative part of Jewish identity and encourage congregants to value and develop a relationship with Israel the way they encourage them to value and develop other aspects of Jewish life (prayer, acts of gemilut hesed, social justice causes etc.)

Life cycle events are a ripe “site” for this work because they are the bread and butter of the work of clergy and congregations.  They are the events that families “show up for”, plan and in which they invest an enormous amount of time and money.  On most occasions, life cycle events are the times when congregants open themselves up to be transformed, personally and Jewishly.


Ask each participant to take a couple of minutes to think back to a LC event they attended/officiated at that was powerful.  After a couple of minutes, have them share with the group, what made it powerful?  Capture their responses on a flipchart.

At the end of the training we will return to this checklist when we ask ourselves how incorporating Israel within a LC could be “just as” powerful as other ideas they mentioned.

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Appendix A: Professional Reflection Trigger Statements from Rabbis


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  • “I haven’t really thought about incorporating Israel into life cycle events beyond the standard things that we already do, like a gift certificate toward a trip to Israel to a Bar/Bat Mitzvah.”
  • “We talk about Israel during the counseling sessions with couples before their weddings.  They tell me why they are disturbed by what Israel is doing, or feel ambivalent about it.  The most important thing is making time for those conversations to happen.”
  • “My emphasis is to connect them to this synagogue community.  I discourage people from having a Bar/Bat Mitzvah in Israel because I want them to celebrate these milestones within the community.”
  • “I take the lead from the couple.  If they want Israel mentioned, I will incorporate it into my drasha under the chuppah.  It is not the primary theme.”
  •  “The families I work with connect to Israel as an ancient place, not as a contemporary reality, so that’s what I emphasize too.”
  • “It feels terrible for me to say so, but mentioning Israel seems irrelevant at the time of a life cycle event, especially a wedding.  Sometimes it’s all I can do to bring them into a Jewish ritual, and help it not feel foreign to them, so it doesn’t occur to me to ask about Israel.”
  • “In Jewish liturgy Zion was all about a dream, a fantasy, a hope for something that wasn’t.  The reality of Israel now flies in the face of that fantasy and makes connecting to modern Israel in the context of a life cycle event difficult.”

Appendix B: Worksheet on: Imagining the Place of Israel in Life Cycle Events


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  Prep Sessions(context: Ed. And Pastoral counseling)  Ceremony Itself(context: The spoken word: liturgy/poetry word And Ritual Objects) Follow up(context: Integration into Synagogue/ Home life)
Brit Milah/Baby naming     


Bar/Bat Mitzvah     







Appendix C: Building Block # 5:


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Stage 1: Preparatory Sessions

Context: Pastoral Counseling

 Brit Milah/ Baby naming

    • What is the name that you plan to give your child? Who are they named for? Is it important to you that they have a Hebrew name? Why?
    • How will that Hebrew name be used in their lifetime?
    • When do you imagine they will be called by their Hebrew name (in synagogue, by you, by their friends, by an Israeli on a summer trip they go on)?
    • As you think about a Hebrew name consider modern Israeli names as well as biblical ones.  Which has holds more resonance for you? Why? Do you know of any Israelis you want your child to be named for? Who possess qualities you wish they would possess?





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Appendix D : Stage 2: Ceremony Itself


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Context: Ritual Objects

General Ideas:

  • Create a mechanism by which congregants can buy the ritual objects and Judaica items for their life cycle event from a select list of Israeli artists (wimple for Bris, tallit/kippot for bnai mitzvah, ketubah/chuppah for Wedding, kippot for Funerals.)
  • Connect the value of tsedakah to ritual objects.  Develop a relationship with an organization that lends couples and families ritual objects for their LC event.
  • For example, Bnai Jeshurun in NYC has an Ethiopian chuppah that they offer to congregants.  If couples use that chuppah, they make a donation to SAEJ.


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Appendix E: Israeli Culture


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1. Baby Naming/ Brit Milah/ Becoming Parents

Artistic Piece:

 Hebrew: http://www.shiron.net/artist?type=lyrics&lang=1&prfid=87&wrkid=6981

Test/ Achinoam Nini (words by Leah Goldberg) ניסיון

אחינועם ניני 

I swore to you, oh Lord
But unsure of my ploy…
How can I bear the burden
Of a perfect joy?Can my eyes contain the light?
I’m delirious and weak
How to keep from shattering
The happiness that all men seek?How can I keep my feet on board
‘neath a weight as great as this?
I want to stand up tall, oh Lord
And bear the yolk of perfect bliss
לך נשבעתי, אלעליון
ולא אדע האקיים
איך אעמוד בניסיון
ניסיון האושר השלםאיכה תכיל עיני האור
ידי רפות, ידי הוזות
איכה אשא ולא אשבור
שמחה כזאת, ברכה כזאתמכובד עול איך לא אפול
איך לפניך אתייצב
זקופה גדולה נושאת בעול
של אושר אנושי שלם

Leah Goldberg (1911-1970) was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), and started writing Hebrew verse as a schoolgirl in Kovno. She received a Ph.D in semitic languages from Bonn University, and immigrated to pre-state Israel in 1935. Goldberg was a renowned poet -a member of the Shlonsky group – as well as a successful children-s author, theater critic, translator, and editor. In 1952, she established the Department of Comparative Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and remained its chairperson until her death. Goldberg published nine books of poetry, two novels, three plays, six books of non-fiction, and 20 books for children. Goldberg was awarded many prizes, including the Israel Prize for Literature in 1970.

Known in Israel by her given name Achinoam Nini, Noa is Israel’s leading international concert and recording artist. Born in Tel- Aviv in 1969, Noa lived in NYC from age 2 until her return to Israel alone at the age of 17. Her family is originally from Yemen. After serving the mandatory two years in the Israeli Army in a military entertainment unit, Noa studied music at the Rimon School where she met her long-time partner and collaborator Gil Dor.

Noa’s strongest influences come from the singer-songwriters of the 60s, like Paul Simon, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. These musical and lyrical sensibilities, combined with Noa’s Yemenite roots and Gil Dor’s strong background in Jazz, Classical and Rock, have created Noa and Gil’s unique sound, manifested in hundredsof songs written and performed together. Noa plays percussion, guitar and piano.

When to Use: Educational session prior to ceremony, and then as a poem at the ceremony.

 Questions for Reflection:

  • How do the contradictions about parenting mentioned here (burden/joy, yolk/bliss) resonate with your feelings about being parents?


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