Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Unlike other Supreme Courts, Israel's highest bench invites foreigners to serve as Clerks

Unlike other Supreme Courts, Israel's highest bench invites foreigners to serve as Clerks

From Matthew Cohn, who just finished clerking at the Court for three months this summer during a fascinating period, we get a glimpse of the court through the eyes of a Canadian lawyer-to-be.

Matthew Cohn (Photo credit: Asaf Alboher)

Our daughter, our son and our daughter-in-law all clerked at Israel’s Supreme Court at various times over the past decade. We would hear lots of “court talk” in those days—not about specific cases, of course, but the culture of the court and the like. And periodically, one of them would mention a non-Israeli working at the court, a comment that perplexed me but to which I didn’t pay much attention.

Turns out, I learned this summer, Israel is the only (to my knowledge, but certainly among a very few) country that invites law students and graduates from other countries to serve as Clerks to a Justice in the Supreme Court, for a period of three months to somewhat longer.

Why does the Court do this? After all, it would be difficult to imagine SCOTA inviting French law students to serves as Clerks, no? And beyond the question of why the Court does this, what about the other side? What impression do non-Israelis get of the Court and of Israel by working in that setting?

Israel’s Supreme Court Building (photo: Judicial Authority)

Matthew Cohn is a JD/MBA Candidate at the University of Toronto who recently clerked at the Supreme Court of Israel. Having had the good fortune to meet Matthew, I invited him to chat so we could hear all about his experience, his impression of the court and how his experience has shaped his view of Israel.

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This week, we’re making this conversation, as well as the machine-generated transcript, available to all readers of Israel from the Inside. The link above will take you to the recording.

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With the High Holidays upon us, we wanted to share the schedule for Israel from the Inside during this period.

  • During the week of Yom Kippur, there will be no written column on Monday, September 25th (which is the day of Yom Kippur), but we will post our regular Wednesday podcast on September 27.

  • During the week of the holiday of Sukkot (Monday, October 2 and Wednesday, October 4), we are planning not to post.

  • The regular schedule of written columns on Mondays and podcasts on Wednesdays will resume the following week.

To all who are observing and celebrating, our wishes for a meaningful and joyous High Holiday season.

A couple of months ago, someone reached out to me via email and told me that he was a Canadian law student in Israel for a few months, clerking at Israel's Supreme Court, and perhaps we could get together and chat. And I was actually amused a little bit and enchanted and curious. A student clerking at the Court, because here in Israel, it's graduates of law school who clerk at the Court, and I wasn't actually aware that there were non-Israelis clerking at the Court. So, we got together, and Matthew Cohn is a fascinating young law student from Toronto who's had a really extraordinary experience at the Court. And as his experience at the court just wound up, he and I got together to hear a little bit more about what his experience was like there and to share some of it with you as he heads back to Canada for a new academic year and all of us continue to think about the institution that is the Israeli Supreme Court. So, Matthew, first of all, thank you for taking the time to have this conversation.

Thank you so much for having me.

Well, before we get into the Court, tell us about you, sort of how you ended up in Israel's Supreme Court.

For sure. So, there's already a little bit of an introduction, but I'm a student from Toronto, I'm at the University of Toronto, and I'm studying for a combined law school and MBA program. So even that is usually more business focused rather than ending up at a court dealing with sort of constitutional type matters. So, I definitely have answered this question a couple of times of how exactly I ended up here. So, in fact, I've always been involved and interested in Israel and Israeli politics, coming here, luckily, several times with my family, several times on school programs, growing up in Jewish school. But I never actually worked here before. And after the last Israeli election, which I had followed closely, I was sort of just curious for ways to get involved from an academic perspective and from a professional perspective.

So, I started looking around online, seeing if there were any professors that I could maybe do some research for, write up a paper, just something to take all this reading that I had done about the election and turn it into something useful. And after a little bit of time looking around online, I realized that I came across sort of this weird PDF online on the Supreme Court's website, not particularly well advertised, that they take foreign law students. There weren't really any restrictions. They'll take students from Canada, from the US, from Europe, anyone that's finished their second year of law school or more, and really anyone that's just interested in learning about the legal system here. So that sounded like something that I was incredibly interested in and an incredible opportunity. So, I put together some application materials, and I spoke to a few of the previous clerks and sort of sent my application into a bureaucratic black hole that I didn't hear back from for a little while. But eventually I heard back from them. They told me a little bit more about this program and I was hooked right away. The more I heard about it, the more I was interested, the more I thought that it would just be a perfect opportunity for me to get involved at such a unique time in Israeli history and Israeli legal history. And after a few interviews and conversations, I was offered this role here and accepted it. And that was a few months ago, and it's truly been just the most incredible experience. So, we'll get more into it.

How long is the program?

It's anywhere between three and six months. So, I chose to come here for three months as sort of a summer intern in between two academic years. But some students have come for longer in the past.

And how many foreign? Each justice has two clerks, right?

Two, sometimes three.

So, there's 15 justices, so there's typically 30 Israeli or maybe 30 to 40 Israeli clerks.


And how many foreign clerks are there at the same time?

So, for most of the summer, I was the only one. So, I was there with all Israelis. I was the first foreign clerk that they had brought in since before COVID. So, it had sort of been a generation or a couple generations in terms of clerk years since they'd had a foreign clerk. This year they're up to four. So, another Canadian clerk started a few weeks ago. I think that two more Americans are starting in the fall. But when this program was sort of at its largest in the years before COVID they would have between 10 and 20 per year. So sometimes up to ten at a time during the summer and then a few more during the fall, during the spring. So, they had to stop, of course, during COVID and they're sort of getting it back on its feet. And I think the aim is to have about ten clerks next year.

And the clerks, just like the Israelis, are assigned to a particular Justice?

Yeah, exactly.

And are they assigned to Justices that typically work in areas that need research in languages that are not Hebrew?

Yeah, exactly. So, the opportunity or the ability to take on a foreign intern foreign clerk is available to all the Justices. Usually, it's a few particular Justices that take it on. Justices that are interested in, or that specialize in areas of the law, like private international law, international trade, things like that, where there's a lot of opportunities for international sources. Also, any judges that are interested in comparative law. So that's really been a focus of mine, is looking at Canadian law, American law, British, European, Australian, and comparing it to Israeli law in a number of different regards. So, whether it's private law, constitutional law, criminal law. So, the judges that use more of that in their work, in their judgments, are typically the ones who are the most interested in sort of taking on students and clerks from this program.

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So, what was a week at the court for you, particularly like?

So, really every week was different, which was one of the great things about this program. It depended on what was going on with my team, with the court in general, they did an absolutely incredible job of incorporating me with the rest of the interns, with the judge's team in general. So oftentimes I'd be working on sort of medium-term research projects. So, there would be either a case or something that the judge or one of his staff was interested in, and they would ask me sort of an open-ended question about how do other countries treat such and such issue? Or I'm aware of this case in this country, but are there any other cases like it in other countries or within that country? So, I would do research on that. There'd be lots of conversations with the senior clerks, with the judge himself, with the other interns. We'd go back and forth with ideas. Sometimes I'd be working on these projects on my own. Sometimes it would be in conjunction with one or two of the other clerks that were with my judge. So that took up a lot of time just doing research, discussing ideas, putting them into writing, revising things. So that was a big part of my time there. And another thing that was really interesting and being the Supreme Court, we're very involved in different aspects of Israeli legal life. So sometimes we'd do little field trips, I guess, to different places, to hear speakers, to go to conferences, to learn about Israeli legal history, about Israeli history in general. And I was always included on those types of tours. So, we did a tour of the Old City, which was fascinating with some of the judges, with some of the other clerks.

And this was related to work that they were doing. It wasn't just a field trip, right? It was related to a case of some sort?

That tour, for example, wasn't related to a specific case that we were working on at the moment, but it was sort of a unique tour. We were trying to get a different perspective on the Old City. And so, we did this tour. It was a small group with a fantastic guide, and we got to ask a lot of questions. It was really great, even in context like that, just to see how a justice's mind works, how they take in information, how they relate it to things that they're working on. So, we did things like that. We met with figures in the police, in the military, in the prison service, people that are related to the legal system in different ways and just sort of got to see how they interact with the court and how they interact with the justice system.

Not a typical tourist look at Israel.

Very, very different than any time I've been here.

So, there's a lot of clerks. There's between, let's say, 30 and 40 Israeli clerks. Most of them, I assume, are graduates of law school. And then this particular time, there was you. The clerks come from all sorts of backgrounds, and then there's a Canadian person in addition. Tell us something about the heterogeneity of the clerks, the relationship between them, the relationship between them and you. What was it like to be part of this group? What did you pick up about them?

For sure. And this is one of my biggest takeaways from my time here, both on a personal and professional level, because I think it would come as no surprise to listeners of a podcast like this that one of the criticisms of the Supreme Court is that it's a homogeneous group, that it perpetuates certain mindsets and certain backgrounds.

That it reproduces itself.

That it reproduces itself. And it's, of course, an interesting question and deserves to be looked at, but I was really floored and consistently surprised and impressed by the diversity of the clerkship group, of the students or former students that were there. Of course, I was the only international legal clerk, but there were others that had grown up in the US, that were born in the US and made Aliyah here. There was the whole range of religious practice. So, it wasn't just a secular Tel Aviv bastion. Of course, there were some people like that. There were Haredi and religious clerks at the court.

There were actually Haredi clerks?

Yep. Students that had been to, you know, Haredi yeshivas. Of course, probably not representative of the entire spectrum of Haredi world…

Well, they went to law school so, by definition, they're not, but they're from the Haredi world, and they still live in the Haredi world.

Yes. So, there's certainly people like that. There were lots of interns that wore kippahs or clerks, and also senior clerks, and, of course, justices that wear kippahs, that wear for women, that wear head coverings. It was really an astonishing range of people. Also, there were Arab clerks, Arab senior clerks that we worked with and that we got along with fantastically. Some of my closest friends that were there. It's, of course, also not a homogeneously Ashkenazi background. There are Mizrahi justices. There are Mizrahi clerks. It really covered, if perhaps not in perfect representation to every segment of society, in a pretty close way, the diversity of Israeli society. And not only are all these people there, but we got along fantastically. Some of my closest friends from the summer that I was here are from very different backgrounds than mine. Again, whether that's educationally, religiously, ethnically, just the way they grew up, their perspectives on the world. It was just a really fascinating opportunity to work with a ton of different people. And not only did that contribute a lot to my development, but I think it's a really important part of an institution like that because, again, there's sound bites about how it perpetuates itself and that it's not as diverse as it should be and that really wasn't my experience.

Was it your experience looking at, I know you didn't work with all of the Justices, obviously, but looking at the Justices and the 15 of them, you knew some better than others, obviously. And you saw some of the former Justices, I know because they continue to have offices at the Court, because my kids also clerk at the Court. So, I know that phenomenon as well. So, again, without getting into details and a specific statistical analysis of the 15, did the Justices themselves seem to you to be ethnically, religiously, and politically diverse?

Yes. I think the simple answer is yes. Like you said, I don't know if I could compare it exactly to different percentages in society and different goals for the Court, for law school graduates and all things like that. But from a religious perspective, from an ethnic perspective, certainly from a sort of philosophical perspective, there's a really wide range there. And I think that if once in a while there are unanimous or near unanimous decisions, I don't think that that necessarily those are the ones that might generate headlines, but I don't think that speaks to the diversity of the people that are there, of the opinions that are there, of the experiences that are there. And I was again not only impressed by the diversity itself, but also just walking around and being there for a few months, seeing how well everyone gets along, seeing the friendships that are maybe funny at first glance or that are surprising at first glance, but when you look a little bit deeper, these are people that care about similar things, even if they're from very different backgrounds. And seeing the way that these people relate with each other and build friendships and professional relationships with each other is really meaningful to witness.

So, the clerks built a kind of a network. How did that express itself at the Court? I mean, aside from people saying “hi” in the hallways and working together on projects and so on?

Really the only way to describe it was that it was really cute. It was a really nice and heartwarming community to see. Oftentimes we'd all go sit for lunch together. There's a cafeteria at the Court. We'd all go down there at around the same time and sit, you know, bring a bunch of tables together and all sit together. I think yesterday, which was the last day of the term, we had over 20 people of the 30-ish clerks that are there, all sitting together, having lunch together. We took a really funny selfie from one end of the table all the way down. And so, it's things like this every day…

Did you do this in Hebrew, by the way. I didn't ask you that. You worked, I guess, mostly in English, but your conversations with them?

My conversations were a mix. I went to a Hebrew day school growing up, so I speak a bit of Hebrew, but it's certainly not perfect. I would joke around with the other clerks that if we're sitting around at lunch and having sort of day-to-day conversations about sports or reality TV or other things like that, I'd say I was between like 60- 75% comprehension.

That's pretty good.

I'd go into a hearing where they're talking about legal matters that I hardly understand in English and that 75 would drop down to maybe like 20%, you know a word here and there, a sentence here and there. So, my work and the professional things I did were all in English.

But when you're sitting at the lunch table and taking selfies, it's mostly in Hebrew?

Yeah, that part's in Hebrew. And sometimes I'll chime in in English. And everyone, of course, almost everyone understands English at a pretty high level, but the conversation flows in Hebrew, and I can usually keep up. But again, that's because I made it clear to them that I'm comfortable in Hebrew and want to improve my Hebrew. These are the kind of people that even if they didn't speak English at a high level, they're so welcoming and smart and engaging that if they had clerks from other countries that didn't speak Hebrew, I think they would make every effort to include them in English. So that was sort of a unique part of my experience. And I think knowing a bit of Hebrew contributed to my experience just because I was able to participate in more conversations and speak more comfortably with people that maybe didn't feel as comfortable in English. But I think that that's not necessarily going to be the case with every international clerk that comes in.

So, there was this Kabbalat Shabbat tradition of some sort which I'd never heard about before. I mean, as I told you privately before we spoke, two of my kids and my daughter in law all clerked at the courts. I've been hearing Supreme Court stories for a very long time, but I'd never heard about this. So, tell us a little bit about this phenomenon, which either did or did not exist when they were there. I don't even have any idea.

Yeah, so I'm not sure how long it's been around for, but it was certainly running the whole time I was there. And we call it Kabbalat Shabbat because it's on Thursday afternoons usually, so it's not exactly Kabbalat Shabbat…

But you’re closed on Fridays, so it had to be on Thursday.

Exactly. So, it's sort of as close as we can get. And coupled with the diversity of this group, again, not everyone there is Jewish. Of the people that are Jewish, it's certainly not a crowd that would necessarily not all of them at least, would be having Kabbalat Shabbat at home, but not every Thursday, but a few times per month, one of the Justices’ chambers so, the senior clerks, the assistants, and the intern clerks would put together a Kabbalat Shabbat for all the other non-judge staff that were there.

Which is like, what, 100 people, 50 people?

Maybe like 50, to not everyone's there every week, probably about 50 people. The 30 interns, all the assistants, and then the senior clerks, it's probably 50 to 60 people. And they put together sort of either a meal or a snack, usually with a theme and a funny email that gets sent around beforehand. So, there was a wide range of sort of approaches here. Some that were more like desserts, some that were more like brunch. One group that wanted to have a real Yiddisha shabbat, where they brought in cholent and challah. For multiple people it was their first time trying cholent. So interesting to sort of see the look in their eyes as they experience this. But it's really fun. And it starts off usually with whether it's d’var Torah or just a wrap up of the week or just a welcome to everybody and again, it's really nice to see the diversity there.

And the Arab clerks came to this also?

The Arab clerks are there, the Haredi and dati (religious) clerks, the people that are like hiloni, 100% secular Israelis from Tel Aviv or other cities like that. And it's just really cute to see everyone together. And at the end, we did a wrap up ceremony, and we give out the good Shabbos award for the team that put together the Kabbalat shabbat that was the most fun and went above and beyond in terms of getting food and preparing. And it was just a really nice tradition, a really nice way to wrap up a week, to see people that maybe you hadn't seen that week or those couple weeks. And again, it shows how it's not just a regular supreme court, right? It's the Israeli Supreme Court. And there's going to be Jewish elements that are infused in the culture and in people's relationships with each other. But at the same time, it's done in a way that is really approachable and accessible for people that if you want to make a d’var Torah on the parasha ha’shavua or something that's a little bit more in depth, you're free to do that. If you want to just tell a couple of jokes and talk about the week that was, you're free to do that.  And really everywhere in between. And just participating in that and seeing people's perspectives on that was a really unique and sort of, at times heartwarming experience for somebody that's coming from the outside.

It was probably for sure the only Supreme Court in the world that has a Kabbalat shabbat tradition, I'm guessing. Look, you were at the Court at a very, very unique time in Israeli history. I mean, in terms of the Supreme Court itself, probably the most fraught period in history. I mean, we've had fraught periods around various wars. We've had fraught periods in other times, but those were not fraught periods in which the Court was the center of attention in the way that it is now. And obviously, there's a tremendous amount that you can't speak about, and I totally understand that. But in what way did this whole national I mean, I think it's fair to say it's a crisis, in what way did this national crisis, which originated as a crisis about the Supreme Court, it's much bigger than that now, I think. But how did this whole thing filter down? Was it a cloud in the building? I mean, could you feel that this was a group of people, Justices and senior clerks and junior clerks, everybody else sort of working under a sense that, my God, this whole institution is under discussion or under attack, or did you not hear it from the Justices, but clerks talked about it? How was it different than if you'd been here, I don't know, five years ago?

For sure. And it's a really interesting question and really one of the biggest takeaways from my experience here and again, one of the reasons why originally, I wanted to come here, because this is not a situation that arises every day or even every decade…

Or even every 75 years.

Right. Or even every 75 years from a legal perspective, from a political perspective, from a historical perspective, it's really unique. And again, without getting into the details of the politics of it and how it filters down to the specific work that we do, just being a part of that was a really unique opportunity for me and something that I wanted.

You felt it during the day? It was in the air?

So, this was before I came thinking that it would be the defining feature of my time here. And I think what I found the most interesting is the times where you really feel it, but also the times where you don't feel it at all. And there were a lot of times like that, too, because, again, for people that are familiar with the Supreme Court here, it's very different in terms of its structure and in terms of the sort of hierarchy of the legal system than a Supreme Court in Canada or the United States. That is very selective with the cases that it hears.

Because it's also a Court of Appeals.

It's a Court of Appeal. For a lot of cases that it hears their appeal as of right. So rather than filing an application, the Supreme Court is to some degree obligated to hear a lot of these appeals.

How many cases does it hear a year? I've heard the numbers are outstanding. I can't remember anymore.

So, just for some comparison, the Supreme Court of Canada usually hears about 80 to 90 cases a year. The American Supreme Court. It's usually 90 to 100. Last year, the Israeli Supreme Court heard over 9,000 cases. Of course, some of these are really short. They're simple applications or things that are denied or accepted right away. So not all of these are multi page, complex decisions. But still, it's 9,000.

The bulk of those, I'm assuming, are as a Court of Appeal, not as a Supreme Court. Right?

Right. So, a lot of those are as a Court of Appeal, but a lot of those are also petitions that come in to the Supreme Court and its Bagatz function…

Because everybody has standing, anybody can submit a petition. I don't know about the Canadian system, but in the American system, I think, correct me if I'm wrong, you have to be party to the case that's made its way up the chain.

Exactly. And in Canada, there's certain doctrines that will open that up a little bit. But again, 80 to 90 cases a year is pretty typical. Here, as again, anyone who's very familiar with the Supreme Court would know, there are NGOs and bodies and individuals that file lots of cases for human rights reasons, for political reasons. So, tons of petitions come in, tons of cases come in. So, 9,000, some years there's over 10,000 cases per year. At a certain point, regardless of what's happening, even if there's giant protests outside and security at every stage to get into the building, you come into work and you have to deal with dozens of cases that day. And again, as a foreign clerk and as an intern, that's not necessarily my position, but it is the case for the other junior clerks, for some of the senior clerks. At a certain point, you have to put that out of your head and get down to business and deal with the work at hand. And so, it's sometimes funny to be sitting in a room like that where you can see the protesters outside, you can hear them outside, there's thousands of people out there, and you're dealing with really just day to day matters because everyone there is a professional. And at the end of the day, it sounds cliche, but the administration of Justice doesn't care…

The wheels of justice have to keep turning, so to speak.

Exactly. So, everyone really just has to not necessarily block it out, because that's impossible. But work has to get done and cases have to be heard and judgments have to be filed. And it was really interesting to see how people were able to sort of compartmentalize and be professional about it. And I can't even imagine the situation for the Justices that are really in the middle of all this, but continue and really, in my experience, I didn't see a single instance in which people's professionalism and demeanor and all of that was shaken. They had to come in and continue to work and continue to preside over things professionally and with a level head. And in my experience, that was really what I saw all the time. And again, there's different perspectives among the judges and different philosophies, and who knows what each individual among them thinks about different elements of the reform. But my experience was that the judges, the senior clerks, the junior clerks, to some degree myself, we came in and we dealt with the work at hand and continued with life and with work, despite everything that's going on.

Did the experience of being here for the past three months change your perspective about the reform? I mean, it was already a thing before you got here. It was well underway. The protests were well underway. Now, you've been here for about, what, three months or so, right? You've worked in the court very intensively. It's still going on. Knesset's, theoretically, on recess. So, they seem to be doing a lot of things for a group that's on recess. It's this very weird group that's supposed to be on recess and is still working, and then when it's supposed to be working, acts very often like it's on recess. So, I'm trying to figure out how the Knesset actually defines recess, but it doesn't really matter. Without getting into specifics what you think, has being here changed your view of the judicial reform thing? Has it made you more alarmed or less alarmed, more confident about this getting worked out or any other possible shift? I don't know.

So, again, without getting into the sort of unique politics of it, because, again, you know, to some degree, those are there's personal aspects of it, there's professional aspects of it, I would say that one thing that I come away from all of this with is a confidence in the people that are involved in this process on the legal side, because those are the people that I worked with, those are the people that I had exposure to and those are the conversations that I had. I come away from this and again, you described it as a crisis, and I think that that's a fair description. I'm very confident in the people that I worked with and again, my perspective doesn't really go beyond that because Hebrew language media is a little bit over my head and of course the political elements of this are outside of my area of expertise.

But I'm going back to Canada in a couple days and I'm going back with incredible amount of confidence in the people that are at the Supreme Court. Their ability again, from the judges down to the interns and really all the other people that are involved in making the wheels turn there. I'm incredibly confident that these are smart, well intentioned, hardworking people, that regardless of how this process ends, their commitment to professionalism, to objectiveness, to working hard, to really being servants and stewards for this country, I go back with even more confidence in these people from a personal and professional sense.

So that part makes me hopeful and confident. And again, I also leave thinking that a lot of what happens surrounding it is maybe not necessarily grounded in the reality of day-to-day life there. Again, I think soundbites about how the, the Supreme Court is a secular, Ashkenazi, incredibly liberal bastion and I think it's worth looking into why people feel like that. But at the same time, I leave here knowing that the reality is it's a diverse group from, again, ethnic, religious, philosophical, political perspective. And I will go back home knowing that headlines and sound bites aren't always to be trusted and that digging a little bit deeper and learning about an institution again, whether it's by going there and experiencing it firsthand or just reading about it, talking to people, getting beyond those headlines, can really give a much better and more holistic perspective on how things happen and how things function and what the reality is.

So, that's actually fascinating to me in terms of how a person spends three months in your particular case at the court and leaves very confident in its professionalism, in the devotion of the people that work there, regardless of their background. Let's just as a kind of a wrapping up, I'll ask you a question about Israel in general. In other words, you've been here a bunch of times, I don't know how many times, but typical North American, young person growing up in the Jewish community very often makes their way here a few times during the course of their years of growing up. But this is obviously very different than the typical Bar Mitzvah trip or the typical whatever I just watched this week, “You are so not invited to my Bat Mitzvah” so, I can't actually just get that whole thing out of my head a little bit, right? This is a very different look at Israel. And so, leaving aside the court altogether, just putting the court completely aside, you as a person who's grown up in the Canadian, the Torontonian Jewish community involved, Jewish Day school education, going get on the plane in a couple days, fly back to Toronto to go back to another academic year, law school. What do you leave feeling about Israeli society and about Israel as a state? What's changed for you as the plane takes off and you look out the window at the Tel Aviv skyline? If you got a window seat and you're looking out, saying, okay, that country down there, I think about it now in way X, whereas before I'd been here this summer, I thought about it in a way that was perhaps different. Any sense of Israel that's changed because of your time here this time?

For sure. And it's certainly an emotional and loaded question as I'm about to leave, because really there's so much that a question like that makes me reflect on about my time here and my experiences here and the people I've met. And so other than the fact that embarrassingly, there might be a tear or two on the plane as I look out of that window, or maybe…

I don’t think it’s anything to be embarrassed about at all. I've been here for 25 years, and I would say for the first 15, I got teary eyed every single time I flew in and out.

Or again, I think I'm on the aisle so, I'll be looking over a few people trying to get that view of the Tel Aviv skyline. But it really has changed my perspective. And I guess as a little bit of background, I'll start off by saying it's a complex question, but I think Jewish organizations and Jewish education sometimes fall into this trap of only portraying the best things about Israel, and there's a lot of great things about this country. And of course, we sit here in Jerusalem and at the end of a summer that I've spent here, and I'm as Zionist as ever, but it's not a perfect place, and there's political crises, there's day to day issues. It's a nuanced and complicated place. And so first I would want to say that I was really lucky, both at home and in my Jewish education and with the community that I've been surrounded with, to be given a really in-depth perspective on what this country is like. At CHAT, the Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto, which is where I went for high school, we had classes on Israeli society. And again, these were classes that were complex, that were probably above grades eleven or twelve level, in all honesty, but gave us a really unique perspective on this country.

Again, the good, the bad and the ugly. And so, I came into this experience knowing that this isn't necessarily a perfect place but is a complicated and it's a real place filled with real people that have their upsides and their downsides. And I would say that the perspective or the takeaway that I get from this summer, from working here, from being surrounded by Israelis around my age, all day, every day, is that this is a complicated place. And the more you learn about its nuances, really, the more you learn to care about it, just seeing the highlights coming here, whether it's once or twice on a bar mitzvah trip or a Taglit trip, which are incredible experiences, and anyone who hasn't done it, I'd recommend it. But the more you come here and the more you learn about the challenges here, the lived experiences here, whether it's just little things the traffic jams in Tel Aviv, the political crisis, people's stories about the fantastic things or just day to day boring things that they did in the army. Hearing those perspectives and those experiences and turning this from a country that you sort of read about a little bit or that you see on TV or that you see through the window of a tour bus but into a real place. Again, I think some people are maybe scared of or maybe scared it's the wrong word, but I think people are maybe hesitant to cloud that perfect picture in their mind. But my takeaway is that sort of getting your hands dirty a little bit and working here and living here and seeing different perspectives and people that have different opinions about this 75-year-old Zionist project or even longer, it makes you care more deeply about the place and more deeply about its people.

Again, don't be afraid to have a more challenging relationship with this country, because a more challenging relationship ends up being, at least in this sense, I don't want to speak for all relationships, but in the case of Zionism, I think it leads to a much more powerful and honest and really Zionist relationship. So, it's been just incredible experience that I've had here. And anyone that has an opportunity like this, I'd encourage you to take it up.

That's a very powerful way to end. The notion that the complexity here actually deepens the relationship. And you're right, I think many people abroad and in Israel are afraid of trying to sell a complex relationship and want to try to sell some pretty view that leads to thinness. It leads to something that's not really very real. Most things in life that are powerful are complex, and that true with us too. So, it's important for us to hear that from someone like you who's had this particular experience. Wish you all the best in the upcoming academic year or a safe trip home and thank you so much for sharing your time and your thoughts with us before you depart.

Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

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Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:

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Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!