Last month, the Oknins saga captivated many Jews around the world. Natali and Mordi Oknin, two Israeli Egged bus drivers, were arrested in Istanbul, Turkey, and kept under conditions of duress. The couple was accused of taking photos of the Ottoman-era Dolmabahce Palace, the residence of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as they rode on a tourist ferry and sending the pictures to Israel. The couple was suspected by the Turkish police to be spies of Israel. Only after the Israeli government exerted diplomatic pressure, the Oknins were released from a Turkish prison, bringing the story to a happy ending. Upon returning to Israel, according to The Times of Israel, Natali Oknin said, “We were jailed for eight days and nights — our own private Hanukkah miracle occurred. And today we returned home to our family and our children.” The couple also thanked the entire nation of Israel for their support.
Natali’s association and interpretation of the ordeal through a Jewish prism are undeniable. As Jewish educators, we strive to guide learners to build Jewish connections, as Natali did. How should we prepare our minds to make Jewish connections? The task requires creating Jewish reservoirs by delving consistently into different aspects of Jewish learning in a multi-faceted approach. Linking the past with the present, becoming versed in Jewish texts, learning Hebrew, reading articles and books of Jewish interest, getting involved in Jewish programs, finding Jewish interests, and reaching out to Jewish communities from other countries constitute some initiatives to create Jewish reservoirs.
Why are Jewish reservoirs important? Learners who build Jewish reservoirs learn to interpret the world through a Jewish lens. Learning Jewish traditions and wisdom strengthens Jewish identity, fosters Jewish pride, and provides a bedrock for what it means to be Jewish. This unceasing task, which educators share with parents and grandparents, constitutes a critical element for the continuation of our people.
Dr. Alicia Gejman