My daughter Dena is in twelfth grade at the Golda Och Academy, the Jewish Day School in West Orange NJ. This past week, she and her classmates completed all of the school work for the year and departed for a three month experience in Israel. The group travels first to Poland for 9 days to learn about the history of Polish Jewry and details of the Holocaust From there, they travel to Israel on their own program, which is based in Jerusalem, but also includes trips all over the State. In addition, to visiting the major sites and learning about both the history of Israel and contemporary life, they will also take time to talk with people representing so many aspects of Israeli life. Before she left, we talked about how fascinating it will be for the group to be there during the Israeli elections in April. As you can imagine, Dena's class has been preparing for this experience for quite some time and we, the parents, see this as an important step in their Jewish education and also the next step in their moving out of the house and beginning a more independent life.
This past Sunday morning was the farewell ceremony and parents, siblings and grandparents were invited to participate. A few members of the school administration spoke to the group and shared some important thoughts both to the students who were leaving and the parents who were staying home. As the ceremony ended, the Principal recited the prayer known as Tefilat HaDerech, the Prayer for Travel and then concluded with a phrase in both Hebrew and English. He said, "Nisiah Tovah - Have a Safe Trip."
As I walked out of the ceremony, I began to realize that there is a difference between the Hebrew and the English of that expression and most people use them interchangeably. Of course, we want people to have a safe trip; we want people who travel to Israel or Europe or South America or even across Route One to have a "safe trip." Safety is always critical when we get on an airplane, or behind the wheel of a car or in an Uber or on an Amtrak train. I am sure this expression started years ago when vehicular traffic was not as safe as it is today but even now, we always want everyone to be safe as they travel.
But Nisiah Tovah actually means, "have a good trip." Notice the difference. The Jewish message is to make the trip a worthwhile, positive, productive and good trip. Obviously, safety is a good thing and a Nisiah Tovah includes a safe trip, but goodness takes it to a new level. Nisiah Tovah implies that we want the trip to have a positive impact on the traveler; perhaps they can bring something positive to the experience and help raise the level of goodness and productivity and accomplishment to the people with whom they travel. It reminds me of what we say to each other on Rosh Hashanah. Shanah Tovah means so much more than Happy New Year - Shanah Tovah means may it be a year of goodness and productivity and positive accomplishment.
I am confident in both my daughter and the school program to know that this will be both a safe trip and a good trip for Dena and her classmates. I hope that the experiences in Poland and in Israel will stay with her for the rest of her life and that she will come home with a deeper connection to the history of our people and our incredible homeland. I explained to Dena that I want her to see her role as a representative of our family on both segments of the trip. I also hope that she gives something of herself to the program - a bit of her goodness.
So as we'll prepare for any upcoming travel, whether it be a vacation, a business trip, our daily commute or a trip to the grocery story, I wish us all a Nisiah Tovah - may it be a safe, productive, positive trip that can bring out the goodness in us and the goodness that we can share with others who we meet along the way.
Rabbi Adam Feldman