Rabbi Barbara Penzner, in her article titled “Kaplan’s ‘New Zionism’ Comes of Age” (The Reconstructionist, Volume 60, Number 2, Fall 1995), describes the bookends of her three years spent in Jerusalem as a participant in the Jerusalem Fellows Program in the early 1990’s. As she lands in Israel and steps off the plane she removes her magen david necklace she wore so prominently in Boston. Who needs such external symbols when the very rhythms of Jewish life our organic and deeply embedded as they are in Israel (later re-evaluated as a half-truth). The bookend? As she deplanes in Boston she puts the necklace back on. Outside of Israel such external symbols are required to prop up a vital Jewish identity.
Later she links these experience to an epigram offered by Talmudic and Kabbalistic scholar Adin Steinsaltz at a lecture she attended. A biologist by background, Steinsaltz says “all creatures need water. The difference is between marine animals who are surrounded by their water and mammals who must find the sources of water and nutrition.”
Most of us in North America lead mammalian lives compared to the easier swimming in Jewish waters of our Israeli cousins. We must hunt (go to the synagogue, the JCC, our havurah) for the sources of Jewish life and inspiration.
Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Schein has spent several years explicating the importance of these distinctions for 21st century Jewish education. Among the many challenges for educators is creating the proper mixture of marine, immersion Jewish experiences and more cognitive mammalian reflections on our Jewishness.
Here is a link to an article describing his project for the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture which has been one of the sponsors of his work, now located as one of the education projects of the Kaplan Center.