Global Jewish Reflections | Another Level: A Weitzman-JDC Fellow Discovers Holiness in Jerusalem
What does holiness look like? Jamie Field, a second-year Weitzman-JDC Fellow, found the answer to this question in Jerusalem.
By Jamie Field - Rabbinical Student, HUC-JIR | April 23, 2021
Global Jewish Reflections is a recurring feature highlighting the spiritual wisdom of rabbis, Jewish educators, and others from around the JDC world.
As many good things do, it began around a table of hummus. After our first day of orientation as Weitzman-JDC Fellows, all five of us joined JDC Entwine Jewish Learning Designer Rabbi Josh Mikutis at Hummus Ben Sira in Jerusalem. As we talked about the best coffee in the city and our paths to the rabbinate, I felt that we were embarking on an amazing journey of growth, discovery, and global Jewish responsibility. Sitting with these people, around a table of hummus and other delicious food, felt holy.
As a rabbinical-education student at HUC-JIR, I became a Weitzman-JDC Fellow because I’m passionate about global Jewish life. I want my students to know that each community has meaningful traditions, all their own. From celebrating Shabbat to eating chametz at Passover’s end, these unique rituals are an expression of our values. Our students can learn so much about Jewish life from these celebrations, which is why I’m creating a curriculum about global Jewish celebrations. I want my students to understand these traditions and, through them, deepen their own Jewish practice. While these celebrations, recipes, and melodies may look different from ours, they also connect us to each other.
But celebrations aren’t the only thing that connect us. In Parashat Kedoshim, God tells Moses to “speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy.” There are so many meaningful things about how to bring holiness into our lives, and how we strive for the holiness of God. You may feel it in your Jewish community, when experiencing incredible music, or in the presence of nature. I find meaning in the phrase “speak to the whole Israelite community.” What does it mean to speak to the whole Israelite community?So many of our mitzvot are specific to one community within our larger Jewish people — men, women, priests. But God places this commandment on the shoulders of the entire Israelite community.
What exactly is holiness and how does it connect us?
My favorite understanding comes from the Jastrow dictionary, that “kadosh” (the Hebrew word for “holy”) means both sacred and set apart. In other words, holiness is something that not only rises to another level but is also distinguished. While in Israel and with JDC, I have seen the empowering and resonant ways that holiness connects us with each other. In the Talmud, we read “kol yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh,” or “all Jews are responsible for one another.” This responsibility is put on the shoulders of all Jews, just as each and every Jew is commanded to be holy. And though this commandment unites us, there are as many ways to bring holiness into our lives as there are people in the world.
This year has proven that holiness isn’t only a feeling for the synagogue, but something that can be created with a little thought and creativity.
In quarantine, I accessed this holiness in a different way than usual. When I needed to, I did my best to transform my apartment (a basement in Washington, D.C.) into a holy space. I nudged aside my books and highlighters and put on a tallit (prayer shawl), turning my desk into a space for tefillah (prayer). And with the help of a tablecloth from Target and Shabbat candles I ordered online, our kitchen table — a storage place for empty mugs and salt and pepper shakers — became a beautiful Shabbat setting. This year has proven that holiness isn’t only a feeling for the synagogue, but something that can be created with a little thought and creativity.
I found holiness in Jerusalem, too, where I had the amazing opportunity to join an Entwine group from Michigan. Together we stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, overlooking East Jerusalem and sharing falafel sushi on a food tour in the shuk (marketplace). I realized that we are connected by much more than the bus we shared. Food and culture and history and text are what connect us, along with our deep desire to make the world a better place. The day was special, because we inhabited these places together, sharing these experiences. I’ve felt that before and since — like during a recent virtual Entwine trip to Argentina, where I learned all about South American Jewish life — but this chance to come together felt different, on another level. It was holy.
I’m eager to experience more moments like this: times when I find shared holiness with rabbis, community members, and rabbinical students in Jerusalem. Together, we will eat, laugh, explore, and learn, following the commandment to be holy, both as individual Jews and as a community.
Until then, I’m reminded of the Jewish people’s strength and resilience — we who have, against all odds, continued to find holiness wherever we may be, physically or virtually.
As a rabbinical student, I want to create and sustain Jewish life that is meaningful and enriching, and I’m so privileged to have seen JDC create these opportunities around the world.
Jamie Field is a second-year rabbinical-education student at HUC-JIR and a second-year Weitzman-JDC Fellow for Global Jewish Leadership. Originally from Los Angeles, she earned her undergraduate degree from Boston University. Before rabbinical school, Jamie was a Curriculum Coordinator at the Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington D.C.. Jamie has spent her virtual school year in Washington, D.C. and looks forward to beginning school at HUC’s New York campus in the fall.