Thursday, April 23, 2009

Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist

I love the shows on the Travel Channel. When Anthony Bourdain or Samantha Brown take us exploring the world, it feels like we are there. We meet people and get to know a little bit about them. It feels like Tony and Samantha have made new friends wherever they go. The Travel channel’s slogan is “Be a Traveler, Not a Tourist.” Educator Daniel J. Boorstin said that the traveler is active; going strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; expecting interesting things to happen to him. He goes “sight-seeing.”

Fern Chertok, Theodore Sasson and Leonard Saxe - three Brandeis University researchers - have published a study about the Jewish engagement of young people returning from Birthright: Israel trips called Tourists, Travelers, and Citizens: Jewish Engagement of Young Adults in Four Centers of North American Jewish Life. They use the Traveler/Tourist idea and add one more: citizen. Although they were focused on young adults, I think the point extends to our setting. Some of us are adult citizens of B’nai Israel. You see them regularly at services, serving on committees or the board, helping in their children’s classrooms or participating in family education or adult Jewish learning. They have become locals, and they would love it if more of us took up residence.

Others are tourists—occasional visitors hoping to see the sights. They tend to drop off their children or drop in for a celebration or service when they receive an invitation from a friend. The authors of the Brandeis study suggest that for too long the model of Jewish communal life has focused on the dichotomy of Tourist vs. Citizen. They submit, and I am convinced, that we need to find ways to help our tourists become travelers before we can even think about citizenship. We need to help each other empower ourselves to deepen our connections with each other and with the synagogue. And it is happening.

Last month I attended the Religious School Parent Social at my synagogue. Over fifty people came for a purely social evening. No praying, no teaching, no fund-raising. The U Conn semi-final NCAA game was projected on a screen. Music played from the speakers in the pavilion from someone’s I-pod. There were competitive tastings of appetizers and desserts brought by those who were there. And a lot of people whose children are in religious school with each other got to meet one another and hang out. It was awesome! There were some citizens in the room and some tourists as well. By the end of the night, though, I think most were thinking like travelers – at least for that one night.

Our Religious School Committee and our faculty are exploring how we can expand this idea of developing communities of travelers to our classrooms as well. Look for some exciting developments for Kitot Daled – Vav (4th – 6th grades) that we hope will establish or deepen connections the students have to one another.

We have invited the adults in our congregation to help us, to join the journey.
Be a traveler. Drop in, call or e-mail another traveler.