My Taglit (Discovery)

by Emma Fiebach

In June of 2012, the day I graduated from Drexel University, I received the most prophetic gift from our Rabbi Emeritus, Rabbi Alan D. Fuchs and his wife Carol Fuchs, Oh the Places You’ll Go, by Dr. Seuss.  I smiled at the novelty of the gift, having no imagination for what lay ahead of me in the months to come.

But let me rewind even more, to the year 2006 when I was nineteen when I stayed in a rehab facility for alcoholism to receive treatment.

Rabbi Fuchs visited me.  We sat down in the cafeteria with our lunch trays.  Rabbis always have a great way of making analogies.  After we were finished eating he placed his small salad plate on the empty lunch tray.  He pointed to the tray, “this is the outside world and everyone else,” he said.  He pointed to the small salad plate, “this is you.”  He pointed to the tray again, “you have to start living in the outside tray.”  I will never forget that moment.

Finding balance and spirituality through the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous itself has been a journey.  There seemed to be a piece of the puzzle missing for a long time.  My father encouraged me to participate in Shabbat.  However he could not “find the missing piece for me,” I had to do it on my own.  It was much like staying sober, nobody could make me get or stay sober, and it can only be done one day at a time through my own choices.

The encouragement to go on Taglit-Birthright persisted from everyone in the family, not just my father.  When searching through trip organizers we happened to find that JACS (Jewish Alcoholics and Chemically Dependent Persons and Significant Others) organized a trip through Israel Free Spirit.  This would be the perfect trip.

“So be sure when you step, you step with care and great tact and remember that life’s a great balancing act.  You’re on your own and you know what you know and YOU are the one who will decide where to go.”  -Dr. Seuss Oh The Places You’ll Go

The missing puzzle piece, now clear, seemed to be the land itself for me, within the Jewish State.  Walking through the old city on Friday night from the Kotel (the Western Wall) back to the hostel after lighting Shabbat candles together as a group, was exhilarating.  We said “Shabbat Shalom!” To as many people as we could on the walk home, and counted the number of responses we received, some with a giddy laugh, others with a solemn nod.  I was sober, alive, free, and every step I took connected me back to my faith, and my heritage as a Jewish woman.

Growing up, our three story town home on Third and Delancey, located in the heart of historic Philadelphia, was filled with photographs and books.  The living room on the first floor and the “den” on the second floor had book shelves galore of old photograph albums, shoe boxes of photographs, and unique books.  At an early age I was drawn to sift through these things.  I remember especially being drawn to my father’s black and white Bar-Mitzvah album, my older sister’s album of her time spent on a kibbutz in Israel, and old photographs of my father’s grandfather Joseph.  Joseph Fiebach had once been Joseph Levine.  He had left Poland before the turn of the century to escape the oppression Polish Jews were facing during that time.  He purchased a Polish passport and entered the United States with the name Joseph Fiebach.  In all reality I guess I am really of the Levi tribe.

I also remember finding and reading The Diary of Anne Frank.  She inspired me.  I found more autobiographies within the shelves like All But My Life by, Gerda Weissman Klein.  I read it three times.  She inspired me.   I shared tears with my mother about the books over the tragedies within the authors’ words and memories.  We discussed what it must have meant to be a Jew and a woman during World War II.

Every Sunday morning I went to Hebrew school and played on the JCC intramural basketball team.  I will never forget one of my Hebrew school teachers, Howard Butler who told me that one can learn to read and write Hebrew in less than twelve hours!  (Learning to understand its meaning however takes much more practice).  I had a beautiful Bat-Mitzvah at the age of twelve, two days before my thirteenth birthday.  My Torah portion was the first chapter of Genesis.  I loved my Torah portion not only because it was about the story of creation, but also because it was the same Torah portion my brother Michael had two years prior.

I remembered my roots during the ten days of the Taglit trip, and I shared them with the group, as others shared theirs.  Taglit in Hebrew means discovery.  I rediscovered the essence of my Hebrew name, Esther, when one of our Israeli soldiers Ravit reminded me of the story of Purim and how Princess Esther married Ahashevrot and saved the Jewish people.  We climbed Masada and had Bar and Bat- Mitzvahs for those in our groups who wished to have another or who had never had one at all.

I felt moved at Herzel cemetery standing beside Michael Levine’s grave: a Philadelphian who had a passion for Israel, the Jewish People and the Israeli Defense Force.   I shared with Ravit, our Israeli soldier my dream of making it back to Israel after the Taglit trip ended.  She gave to me a beautiful dream catcher necklace and wished that my dream would come true.

I now write this with gratitude for my counselor Rabbi Fuchs, Rabbis Maderer, Freedman, and of course Rabbi Kuhn who had presented me with the initial donation from the congregation to go on Taglit-Birthright in 1999 at the time of my Bat-Mitzvah.  In just a few short weeks I will be returning to Israel to take part in an internship in Tel-Aviv with the World Union of Jewish Students, also to spend more time at many of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and of course I hope to lengthen my connections with the Israeli soldiers, like Ravit, who joined us on our trip.

In the suitcase I will pack amongst the many things, which I will have to sort through some to discard and keep, I will be sure to keep and bring along Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”
― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!