My Israel Story #60- Rabbi Feivel Strauss
We’re marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of Israel with a year-long celebration! Keep an eye out for “Memphis Celebrates Israel at 70” branding at your synagogue, at events around town, and online. In this My Israel Story series, we’re asking Memphians to tell their personal Israel stories. Do you have a story to tell?
I remember falling in love with Israel in the summer of 1993. She was more than I imagined – so full of energy, so beautiful – and in the process, I learned so much about myself. At the end of my eight weeks at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, I knew I had to go back. My second date would be my trip to Israel on the March of the Living, but it was only after graduating from high school that I made my first big decision to start a more long term relationship. Though my friends and family urged me to stay in the U.S. to study at Brandeis or Columbia, a rabbi I trusted gave me the courage to move to Israel and study in a yeshiva (seminary) after high school.
After two years in seminary, I decided to study in an Israeli hesder yeshiva in the Golan. During my long days studying in the Beit Midrash (house of study), I understood that relationships require hard work and that love is about giving. Up to that point, when I said, ‘I love Israel’, it was because of what Israel did for me; now I was realizing that loving Israel was about what I could contribute.
The Talmud teaches that God gives three precious gifts that can only be merited by refining oneself through difficult work: Torah, the land of Israel, and Olam Haba (Heaven) [see Brachot 5a].
It was time for me to join the IDF. Fortunately, I did not have to go at it alone, because I was able to enlist with 20 of my classmates who all enlisted as infantry in the Golani Brigade. Still, being a lone soldier was not easy and I had a better sense of the contributions made by earlier generations to establishing the State of Israel. Of course, my parents were delighted when I finally started college at age 22, attending Bar Ilan University, located just outside Tel Aviv.
Moving to Jerusalem for rabbinical school was magical. Jerusalem is an urban city, even more diverse than Tel Aviv, with Jews, Muslims, and Christians, secular and religious living in surprising harmony. Just waiting on line at the post office is a cross-cultural event! However, the most magical moment for me was the open-mic night at the local comedy club where I first met Abbie. (We actually had our engagement party at that very comedy club!) Abbie encouraged me to run and we ran in the first Jerusalem marathon. Running through the scenic hills of Jerusalem was almost as memorable (and increased my heart beat as much) as the night I proposed to Abbie next to the Montefiore Windmill in the Yemin Moshe neighborhood overlooking the Old City.
I hope I have given to Israel as much as I have gained from her. To be a part of “Israel at 70” for me is to be part of one of the greatest experiments in Jewish history. At its core, this is a love story, a relationship where we have faith in one another and where we push one another to be our best.