This week is one of the most enjoyable weeks of the year for me. Each year, thousands gather in Gush Etzion, at the Herzog College in Alon Shvut, for a 5 day Bible Seminar. Herzog is a religious college which began as a Bible School and then expanded to include a full range of academic subjects. It follows academic standards while remaining loyal to fundamental religious principles — the Bible is a G-d—given Book and the commandments of the Bible are binding upon the Jewish people.
The Bible Seminar is intense — there are five class periods a day and each class period offers 10 different course selections. The range is amazing, covering nearly every book in the Bible. The lecturers include the staff of Herzog College, the country’s finest Bible College, as well as lecturers and professors from schools and universities all over Israel. And the participants come from all over Israel as well as from abroad, range in age from 18 to 90, men and women — but they all love the Bible.
I travel each day to the Seminar, about a 90 minute drive each way. And each day, I have passengers in my car — friends and neighbors who hitch a ride with me to the seminars. At the end of each day, we share experiences from the day’s classes and debate the various perspectives we heard that day regarding familiar Biblical passages.
Friends of mine from all over Israel participate in the seminars for at least some of the days. Most people cannot devote an entire week to the study but come for a few days. But for years now, my dear friend Linda and I are both there every day. We often have registered for the same classes and save each other seats in the front rows. In fact, Linda and I have been studying Bible together for many years.
We first became friendly when we were both at the same Bible College in Jerusalem when we were 18 years old. Linda grew up in New Jersey while I came from Ohio but we had both been members of the same Religious Zionist youth movement, Bnei Akiva. Towards the end of that year in Israel together, we discovered that we were going to be studying at the same university in New York City and decided to share a room in the dormitory. We were college roommates for the next 3 years, graduating together in 1979.
I got married right after graduation and Linda married two years later. We lived in two different parts of New York but we both moved to Israel. We settled in Karnei Shomron and a number of years later, Linda and family settled in Efrat. Linda and Jay have raised six children in Efrat, some of whom have married and have given them grandchildren.
Another friend that I see each year at the Bible Seminars is my friend Debra. We grew up together in Cleveland and her father was my rabbi. Her brother lives a few blocks away from me and his children grew up with mine. Debra and I studied Bible together from kindergarten through 12th grade and then she too, was with me and Linda in the same Bible College in Jerusalem after high school. Today, Debra gives Bible classes of her own in Jerusalem, similar to what I do in Karnei Shomron.
Debra’s mother and my mother were and still are good friends — starting in Cleveland and now continuing in Jerusalem. Debra and I and Wendy, another friend whom I will see at the Bible Seminars tomorrow, were in the same class from pre-school through high school. Wendy’s mother passed away years ago but our mothers were all dear friends.
I began my life in Cleveland, Ohio, a member of the Orthodox Jewish community. Being part of the community meant going to synagogue together, going to school together, going to Bnei Akiva together and studying the Bible together. We formed friendships that have spanned 6 decades and have crossed oceans. We began in the US and we are all here together, in Israel, still studying Bible. When we were children, we loved the stories of the Bible. As we grew, we struggled to understand Biblical Hebrew. In high school we mastered modern Hebrew and discussed the Bible in Hebrew. We danced and sang songs whose words were from Scripture.
My Bible Study has also been multi-generational. Two of my sons are Bible teachers and they, too, participate in the Bible Seminars. My parents have participated as well in the past, joining their friends from Cleveland who are now living in Jerusalem.
This morning, I heard a wonderful presentation on Genesis given by a mother and her son. The mother, Dr. Tova Lichtenstein, is the daughter of the leading American rabbi of the last generation, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveichik and is the widow of one of the leading rabbinic giants in Israel in recent years, Rabbi Aaron Lichtenstein, one of the founders and heads of the Gush Etzion Yeshiva and Herzog College. The son, Rabbi Moshe Lichtenstein, is now one of the heads of the Gush Etzion Yeshiva and a brilliant Bible scholar in his own right. They spoke about family relationships in Genesis and how these relationships are foundational to the Jewish nation even as they point to the vital role family plays in transmitting values and beliefs from one generation to the next.
Mother and son studying and teaching Bible together. Mother and son representing for us the spiritual and physical continuity that Judaism is all about. It is all about relationships, family, friends, community. It is about Jewish tradition and Jewish destiny, in Israel. It is all about the Bible.