Like many high schoolers, I struggled with Jewish apathy after my bar mitzvah. Growing up in a smaller Jewish community where there were only a handful of Jews at school, sadly I was embarrassed to be Jewish. While I did find some comfort many weekends with BBYO programming, I spent the first few years of high school ignoring my religion around my secular friends.
Traveling to Israel on a summer teen tour was an expectation of my family. My sister’s scrapbook from her trip four years earlier added some wonder and excitement every time I looked at it, but I had no idea of the impact my summer in Israel after my junior year would have on the rest of my life. That trip sparked a lifelong love and passion for Judaism within me that still burns strongly today.
A major part of the reason I chose to become a rabbi was to share the Land of Israel with other Jews. Over the past 20 years, I have been honored to lead over 1,000 teens and adults on their own journeys through Israel. Watching a teen tear up as he or she describes the emotions of their very first experience in Israel rekindles and recharges the passion for Judaism and K’lal Yisrael that I gained somewhere in the middle of the Negev desert in the summer of 1988. And like the flames of the candles we light this week, bringing Jews to Israel will always keep my love of our land and our people burning brightly for me.
Steven Rau is the director of Lifelong Learning at The Temple.