Israel: The Holy Origins of Personal Development

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I recently came back from the opportunity of a life time. A 2 week subsidized and organized trip, with 45 people, to Europe and Israel, to see, learn, and experience what it means to be Jewish. The trip was generosily sponsored by a Gateways branch called Russian American Jewish Experience.

To say that this trip was life changing is an understatement, because it went far beyond that and left me touched, moved, and inspired, not just in my mind, but also in my soul.

The trip went through Budapest, Vienna, and Israel, and viewed both the historial Jewish locations, as well as the ancient biblical ones. This included, but was not limited to ancient synanogues, memorials, grave sites and other places of consequences such as the place where Eichman sat as he ordered the execution of 600,000 Jews in the holocaust. We even had a 45 minute Q&A with one of Israel’s heros Natan Sharansky.

The Rabbis on the trip, Rabbi Reuven Ibragimov and Rabbi Jonathan Shippel, were very knowledgable, clear, and enthusiastic whenever I approached them about questions of Judaism and questions of life. On this trip, more than ever, an underlying theme that I have been thinking about appeared over and over.

The State of Personal Development

Over the years I have read hundreds of books and articles on personal development. I do not say this to boast my accomplishments, but to show that I think from a place of diverse sources. Despite my reading, the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know, which is fine all the same. One thing that seemed true is that most ideas seemed to be a diluted, rephrased, or otherwise rehashed copy of something that came before it.

While I was born Jewish, I was born in the Soviet Union which did not alot me a chance for a Jewish education when I was young. Due to this fact I grew up secular, except for some traditional holidays such as Hanukkah. Like a magnet, in recent years, I’ve been attracted, and curious about learning where I came from and what is this Judaism that I’ve been labeled as.

I read a little bit, talked to a few people, consulted some rabbis, and one underlying theme appeared to me. This is the same theme that I mentioned I saw again during my trip to Israel. Most, if not all, personal development stems from Judaism. Judaism being the most ancient civilization alive today, is a civilization that brought with it ancient wisdom which has shaped the modern world and has given it mussar (character development), and morals as we know them. I learned that part of why Hitler wanted to eliminate Jews is because they made the world conscious of their souls, which meant they couldn’t act like animals without conscience.

Practical Applications

Just to be clear, this wasn’t an article to say “Hey, I’m Jewish, I’m better than you, and I was born with ancient wisdom.” That’s not the case at all. I firmly believe myself to be an equal with every human being. This isn’t a “Hey, you should look into becoming Jewish.” In fact, I would advise against it, because it’s a much more difficult life as an observant Jew.

The point of this is to tell you I’ve had an awesome trip, I’m back, and I did in fact learn some tremendous things I will be sharing with you in the future. On the other hand, I wouldn’t discourage you from looking at Jewish self-improvement books by ArtScroll or Feldheim publisher.

If you’ve had a trip that touched, move, and inspired you, or perhaps taught you a huge life lesson, please share it in the comments below.

Posted by in Personal Development, Traveling | July 23, 2008 | Digg | Del.icio.us | Stumble | Print | 15 comments

  • Maikl

    Too bad you didn’t visit Poland, which is strongly connected with holocaust and Jewish history in general.
    It used to be the place where Jews could live in peace during the Middle Ages, and thousands of Jews lived there before the Second World War.

    btw. I am Polish :)

  • http://www.cathlawson.com/blog Cath Lawson

    Hi Alex – It sounds like you had an eye opening trip. Thanks for sharing what you’ve learned. I had no idea of the real reason Hitler was trying to eliminate Jews. He really was trying to suck all the good out of the world wasn’t he?

    I hope you’re going to share more of what you learned on your trip in future posts. Thank you.

  • Maikl

    It’s a complicated issue, but basically Hitler needed an enemy for his ideology and Jews suited his needs. Just becouse they were near by and weren’t German.

  • http://billriddell.com Bill Riddell

    Thanks for sharing Alex, sounds like an incredible trip – more of a pilgrimage I guess.

    Living in Australia we just last week hosted the Pope and Catholics from around the world for World Youth Week. The newspaper and TV were filled with stories of pilgrims making the trip.

    I quite agree with your point that a lot of the self improvement messages are being taken and even diluted from ancient sources. From Tony Robbins to Tim Ferriss they are all making use of wisdom already in existence – I don’t believe there is anything wrong with that though, particularly when they mention their sources or influences. Tim for instance happily mentions Pareto’s law and many people and texts that have contributed to his way of thinking.

    It is stupid to ignore the wealth of advice already left behind by others and instead try and forge our own path. Learn from the best then improve from where they left off. Their is not point re-inventing the wheel.

    The people who deny the origins of their message and promote it as some new miracle cure, they are the ones I disrespect and distrust.

  • http://www.successmakingmachine.com summy

    Congratulations on what sounds like a great trip.

    As an “observant” Jew I’d like to add one more aspect of Judaism that I think everyone should adopt- the sabbath e.g. a day off.

    This will help you renew and rejuvenate. It gives you the opportunity to think. We’re too busy acting that we dont think if we’re doing it right. It will help your family. It’s been shown that in families that eat a meal together at least once a week the kids stay out of trouble.

    So how should you observe the shabbath? skip the rituals- don’t start lighting candles etc. just designate a day a week to spend with the family and friends. Resist the urge to check your email. Don’t do any “work” on that day. Let your office invade the other days- not your day of rest.

    Avoid time wasting electonics like TV or computer games- you have enough of that during the week. Read. Play board games. Bond.

    Think of it as a one day vacation.

    After a good day of rest you’ll have a more productive week and a happier personal life.

    • http://www.alexshalman.com Alex Shalman

      I wouldn’t use the words “everyone should adopt” but I agree that the whole concept of Shabbat is a grand one. Someone once told me an interesting story about a very successful business man. He bragged to his Jewish friend once that he saved up enough money that he bought a private island. Several times a year he would fly, then boat his whole family over to this island, where there was no cellular connection, and they would just spend time with each other without any interruption. The Jewish man replied “You paid HOW MUCH for that? We do this every week!”

      I greatly enjoyed the story.

  • http://jobmob.co.il/ Jacob Share

    Sounds like you had an amazing trip. Awesome! I somehow missed that you were coming here, it would have been great to meet up but I also know how insanely packed the schedules are in these group trips so, next time.

    I was also an eye-opening trip. When I was 15, I was on the 3rd March of the Living, a trip that would bring Jewish students from around the globe to one week in Poland and then one week in Israel. The idea was to give us a tiny glimpse what was before the Holocaust (or Shoah, as we say here in Israel), what was during, and what was after i.e. Israel. It’s an incredible contrast, albeit slightly less so today now that both Israel and Poland are much more modern than back then 17 years ago.

    As Maikl points out, Poland used to be an amazing place for Jews. There were more Jews there than there are in New York today, to give an idea. Of course, saying that just amplifies the destruction of that beauty by the Nazis and their many willing collaborators around. Thankfully, free Poland is now one of Israel’s allies.

    • http://www.alexshalman.com Alex Shalman

      I would have loved to meet up. The trip actually allowed for a lot of free time, so it would have worked. I met with 5 different sets of family, family friends, and friends on this trip. March of the Living sounds like an awesome trip as well.

      • http://jobmob.co.il/ Jacob Share

        It was awesome, but one of the harder things I’ve ever done, and I was only 15. An emotional rollercoaster to say the least. There were kids having nervous breakdowns, and that was after months of screening and preparatory seminars. Everyone knew what they were getting into but the lows were so low and the highs so high, it’s impossible to predict how anyone would react.

  • http://jobmob.co.il/ Jacob Share

    To add to what Summy said: when you get used to the idea of Shabbat – rituals included – it quickly becomes the best day of the week. A break from the information overload and pressures of life, a moment to enjoy time with family and friends and of course, G-d. We usually spend it at home but try to head out at least once a month. And the food and wine are always good :)

  • http://www.successmakingmachine.com Summy

    I agree not “everyone should adopt” the sabbath, but everyone should consider it and incorporate elements of it into their life.

    FYI, for those who are relious jews check out:
    How To Build A Shabbos Making Machine
    http://www.jewcentral.com/article469.html

  • http://productivityincontext.com @Stephen Productivity in Context

    Good for you Alex, I am so glad to hear that this trip made such an impression on you. I believe that every American should get overseas for a while, if not to re-connect with a religious or family origin, at least to experience a new culture.
    I spent the summer of ’96 in London, and I have been to Ireland and Austria. Very eye-opening, and humbling. While I was in Vienna, I met some of the most amazing young people with incredible ambition. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep in touch with them. I’d love to know what they are up to today.

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  • MOSHE RABEYNU

    CHILDREN MUST BE INCULCATED AS TO THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION IN THE ATTAINMENT AND MAINTENANCE OF A HEALTHY MIND AND A HEALTHY BODY! PENT UP SEXUAL FRUSTRATION IN CHILDREN HAS NEVER BEEN HONESTLY AND ADEQUATELY DISCUSSED AND DEALT WITH IN JEWISH DISCOURSE AND DOCTRINE. MODERN LIFESTYLES AFFORD INDIVIDUALS THE PRIVACY AND HYGIENIC FACILITIES NECESSARY TO MASTURBATE IN A PRIVATE, DIGNIFIED AND SANITARY MANNER. ONE CAN WELL UNDERSTAND THE IRE THAT WAS AROUSED BY MASTURBATING INDIVIDUALS FOUR THOUSAND YEARS AGO WHEN AN ENTIRE LARGE FAMILY LIVED TOGETHER IN A TENT IN AN ARID LOCATION. NOBODY WANTED TO HAVE A WAD OF FLYING JISSUM HIT HIM IN THE EYE OR LAND IN HIS HUMUS. WATER WAS SCARCE AND ONE HAD TO WALK , SOMETIMES LONG DISTANCES, TO THE WELL TO GET IT, IF IT WAS AVAILABLE AT ALL. UNDER THESE CIRCUMSTANCES IT WAS A CHOICE OF WATER FOR DRINKING OR WATER FOR WASHING EJACULATE OFF OF ONE’S HANDS. THIS IS WHY THE EARLY SAGES WERE SO VOCIFEROUS IN THEIR CONDEMNATION OF MASTURBATION. WE JEWISH PEOPLE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A HORNY BUNCH AND, IF THERE WEREN’T THESE SEVERE STRICTURES AGAINST MASTURBATION AT THAT TIME, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN ERRANT CUMSTAINS ALL OVER THE PLACE AND THE SMELL OF FRESHLY RELEASED JISSUM WOULD HAVE WAFTED FAR AND WIDE, EVEN WITHIN THE HALLOWED HALLWAYS OF THE SACRED TEMPLE ITSELF. TIMES HAVE CHANGED. IF PARENTS TODAY STRESS THE BENEFITS OF MASTURBATION TO THEIR CHILDREN, THEY WILL HELP LESSEN THE OCCURRENCE OF STDs, AND UNPLANNED PREGNANCIES. SCHOLARSHIP LEVELS WOULD INCREASE DRAMATICALLY WITH THE RELEASE OF PENT UP ADOLESCENT EJACULATORY TENSION.. IF NECESSARY, PARENTS SHOULD SET AN EXAMPLE FOR THEIR CHILDREN AS TO THE PROPER METHODOLOGY FOR THIS ACTIVITY AND FOLLOW UP AND MAKE SURE THAT THEIR CHILDREN ARE MASTURBATING REGULARLY AT AN OPTIMUM FREQUENCY. KEEPING A MASTURBATION DIARY COULD BE A VERY USEFUL TOOL IN MAINTAINING THE PROPER SCHEDULE. EVERY PARENT SHOULD ASK HIS CHILDREN ON A DAILY BASIS, “DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK AND MASTURBATE TODAY?” OH, OF COURSE, THE CHABADNIKS AND THE FRUMNIKS WILL YELL OUT, “BUT RAMBAM SAID THIS, AND RASHI SAID THAT AND RABBI AKIVA SAID THIS, AND THAT, ABOUT THE EVILS OF MASTURBATION.” PROBABLY ALL THREE OF THEM WERE MASTURBATING WHILE THEY WERE WRITING THESE STRICTURES, ANOTHER CASE OF “DO AS I SAY, NOT AS I DO”. WE MUST NOT CONTINUE TO LET OTHERS DO OUR THINKING FOR US UNDER THE GUISE OF RELIGIOUS EXPERTISE. SHALOM AND ZEI GEZUNT!

  • MOSHE RABEYNU

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    Shalom and zei gezunt until then!