Students of the Outside, Students of the Land


I grew up in the suburbs in Western New York. When the weather was good, my brother and I walked around the corner to our middle school.  On rare occasions we biked to the JCC.  Mostly though, when we left the house, we went by car.  That’s just the way it was.  For the most part, that’s how it has been ever since, with two exceptions.  For six months, as a student in Nepal, I took the bus a few times, but not once braved the loud and risky rickshaws.  On streets, over rickety bridges, and steep trails, we traveled by foot, traversing the land one step at a time.  But that was Nepal.  A third-world country.  No one I knew there had a car, much less drove one.  We walked by necessity, not by choice.

The other exception to the travel-by-auto way of life also occurred while living as a student abroad.  For part of my rabbinical training, Marti and I spent a year living in Jerusalem.  With toddler and newborn in tow, we walked pretty much wherever we went — to the supersol (grocery store) and the shuk, the playground and the park, to services and study halls, to the bank and to the landlord’s house to pay rent.  Among the dozens of adjustments necessitated by living in a foreign land, the practice of walking wherever we went was effortlessly and gladly adopted.

In fact, perhaps the most difficult part of leaving behind our life in Israel was facing the prospect of returning to dependance upon a car to get around.  We did not want to give up the practice of walking.  It connected us more deeply to the land and to one another.  Simply walking, whether for purpose or purely pleasure, helped slow us down in all the right ways. So we decided that once we returned to the US, we would make a commitment to preserve a bit of that walking practice, if not every day, than at least once a week, keeping our cars in park, giving them and our dependence upon them a weekly sabbath.  It was an attempt to bring a piece of life in the holy land home with us.

Recently, as I reflected on all the outdoor activities, especially the hikes, planned at CBE over these next few months, the memories of that time in Israel resurfaced.  In Hebrew, the students who come from abroad to study in Israel are called talmidei chutz la’aretz (or Chul, for short).  The expression is typically translated as, ‘students from outside the land [of Israel].’  However, the preposition ‘la’ does not mean ‘from,’ it means ‘to’ or ‘for.’  The word ‘Chutz’ means ‘out’, ‘outside,’ or perhaps ‘outdoors.’   A letter by letter literal translation of the phrase would go something like, ‘students out[side] for the land.’

Ok. So why should we care about such peculiarities of modern Hebrew grammar?  Have you ever struggled to describe the uniqueness (peculiarities?) of CBE to an ‘outsider’?  I have.  A glance at our summer calendar of events tells you we do things ‘outside of the box,’ and outside the walls of our beautiful building.

  • Weekly softball practices Sunday mornings at 10 AM at the Evergreen Middle School, and every Thursday evening (weather permitting), one or both the CBE softball squads, the Mensch Warmers or the Hebrew Nationals;
  • Friday services outside and under the stars, including a kirtan chanting service with Hal Aqua on July 15.
  • Morning Minyan hikes on July 19 & August 16.  A women’s hike scheduled for July 24.
  • And of course, there’s the annual camping trip hosted by CBE Young Family Havurah.  All are welcome to join us for havdallah and songs around the campfire at Meadows View Campground in Pine, CO around 7 PM.

Truly we are talmidei chutz la’aretz, students who like to get outside, students of the land.  That is our choice.  Let’s embrace this identity as a class of tourists on foreign student visas, exploring new territory, on foot, enjoying each step, together.

Rabbi Jamie