Reflections On Israel

About The Author

Holly Krakow

Holly Krakow is a Curriculum Specialist and Lead Teacher for JCC Chicago. She is a fellowship recipient of JCC Association’s Sheva- Covenant Directors Institute. Sheva, an Early Childhood Education framework strives to raise the level of excellence in programs offered by JCCs through facilitated learning communities. Holly is also a participant of CEELI (Chicago Early Engagement Leadership Initiative), a cohort of directors and educators from various Jewish organizations throughout the Chicagoland area that examine trends and best practices in Jewish early childhood education. Holly holds M.ED in Special Education from National Louis University. In May, 2017, Holly will become President of Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Illinois. Holly lives in Highland Park, IL with her husband Jeff and three children, Ross, Carly and Samantha. .

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From the outside looking in, it’s hard to understand.  From the inside looking out, it’s hard to explain

- Unknown

Going to Israel was a dream that I have had for as long as I can remember, but I didn’t think my dream would ever come true.  My initial “plan” had always been to travel to Israel with my grandfather, who loved Judaism with all his heart and soul.  In fact, my love for the Jewish religion, the Jewish people, as well as my thirst to obtain a Jewish education, came from my grandfather's heart straight to my own heart.  I am often asked when I became so religious, spiritual and faith based.  I am a dreamer; tradition and faith are so important to who I am.  I often wonder how is it possible to have such a deep loyalty toward a place where photographs, stories and an image of culture of the Jewish people are imagined in my mind.  How can you connect and love something you have never seen or touched. Afterall, we are sensory beings.  Israel, my Jewish State is real to me, but I had never had the chance to visit and gain perspective through my own eyes.  How could I fully understand how the Israeli people live their lives and go about their days?  How could I understand in my heart how the people of Israel live and why our support of Israel, especially now, is so crucial? My children are getting old enough to take advantage of the incredible Birthright program and visit Israel.

I was then finally blessed with an Israel experience, the home of all the Jewish people, my home and now understand how we are all linked together.  I hope my children take advantage of the opportunities they are given and travel to Israel.  I feel a deep responsibility to be educated so that I can support Israel in my heart and head, without the fictional images I imagined.

Magic happens, dreams do come true, and I became a Sheva Covenant Directors Institute Fellow.  I do believe in fate.  Two short years ago, I was awarded the opportunity to participate in this fellowship, and 22 amazing people stepped into my life and will never step out.  I will never be the same.  The Sheva program consists of seven core elements where we study with a Jewish lens to reveal universal values.  Core value number seven is Israel as the Story of the Jewish People, and so the dream became reality and I was off to Israel!

Throughout my life, I’ve carried around a picture of Israel in my head, what Israel looks like, what it feels like and what it is like.  Family, friends and colleagues told me “I was going home,” “I would come back a changed person,” and “It’s so amazing!”  After I arrived home from my Israel seminar, I can confidently say I didn’t know anything about Israel and I have been standing in front of young children every day teaching about Israeli culture, history and foods.  The old images in my head are forever gone and replaced with an experience that was life changing and meaningful in more ways than I can count or retell on paper.  I felt home, safe and secure, and was in awe of the people, the culture, the history and the magnificent landscape.  I spoke with and connected with different people of all statures, children, parents, educators, professionals and rabbis,  I understand why the Jewish people are on the path they are and why they feel such a deep love and loyalty to their faith, their families and their country.  Words like kibbutz, Kotel, Old City, shuk, dessert, Hanukkah and Shabbat were brought to life in a way I never knew or thought existed.  I had all this stuff to bring back with me to my family, my classroom, my synagogue, with my heart.  When I was back home, I realized I didn’t have anything tangible to bring back home to the people I love, my colleagues or my faith community.  I had only myself to bring home, and I am forever changed.

When we arrived in Israel, before we would experience anything else Mark Horowitz, Vice-President and Director of Sheva Center spoke to the group and said to keep these words in mind, “you are here for yourself;” “your job is to generate questions”.  That is exactly what I did:  I saw, tasted, touched, smelled and heard as much as I possibly could. I became a sponge, and I tried to soak it all in my own head in conjunction with a cohort of people I truly love, trust and consider family.  This very special group of people love me and trust me right back which allowed me to be comfortable enough to laugh, cry, complain, and sometimes get so overly and outwardly excited like a small child.  The unconditional love and trust I felt allowed me to experience Israel in a more rich and more vivid way.  I truly loved the people of Israel.  They are ordinary people living extraordinary lives.  I loved the culture, the commitment to family and religious beliefs, the deep history and the pride the people I met had for their country.  In Jerusalem,  in the Old City, people prayed at the Kotel (Western Wall) while others were prayed at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I experienced Jerusalem in a very Jewish way that was so meaningful to me and also saw Jerusalem as the centrality for the major religions.  We visited Kibbutz Kfar Abba and the “Path to Peace”, a mosaic at the Netiv Ha’asara community both located on the border of Gaza.  The people in these places were proud, felt they were safe, and had the love of Israel in their hearts and souls. They told us they wouldn’t live anywhere else.  I now understand why and “I get it!”  This experience was a gift like none other, and cannot be expressed or reflected fully by using written words.  

I came back changed.  The changes in me and how I connect to the people I encounter will hopefully radiate and continue to shape our image of children, early childhood education and leadership. I know what and why we advocate to support a land and a people.  I feel lucky and blessed, and my grandfather did travel with me, home to Israel, for he lives in my heart.