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Connecting to the land & people

Photo credit: Debby Barton Grant

Debby Barton Grant says her first awareness of Israel may have been bringing five dollars to Temple Beth-El Religious School to buy a tree for the Jewish National Fund’s forests. Or it may have been helping out at Super Sunday and understanding that the dollars raised were going to help build Israel. Or it may have been seeing photographs from her grandparents’ trip in the 1970s. In any event, Israel has been part of Debby’s consciousness for about as long as she can remember. Her first trip to Israel was in 1984 when she was 15 years old. The entire Barton family lived on Kibbutz Afikim and everybody worked; Doug as the Kibbutz dentist, Sandy in the market, Debby & Jenny in the children’s house, with a few experiences in the fields, and Lindsey had fun playing with new friends in the Gan or childcare. At that time Debby had a very simplistic view of Israel – she loved the people, her kibbutz, their adoptive family, the beautiful nature but at the time had very little understanding of the struggles of a Jewish statehood and the world politics surrounding this accomplishment. Debby cannot count the number of times she has been to Israel. A few years after living there with her family on the kibbutz, she was able to travel over winter break with fellow counselors from Golden Union Camp Institute (GUCI) to visit friends studying in Jerusalem. During college, she travelled to Israel to visit friends studying at Hebrew University and immediately after graduating from IU, Debby lived in Jerusalem from 1991 to 1993. During that time, she studied at HUC in their rabbinical program and then changed her focus from the Rabbinate to Jewish Communal Service where she worked for the Jewish Agency during the very exciting time of huge waves of immigration from the FSU as thousands of Russian Jews made Aliyah to Israel. In 1994 while she was in graduate school at the University of Michigan and worked as an intern at the Detroit Jewish Federation she was asked to staff her first Young Leadership mission. In the late 1990’s Debby worked for 4 years for the organization that has become Birthright Israel, in that position she became a regular traveler to Israel and she estimates she’s been back about once a year ever since. But two of her favorite trips to Israel were when she had the opportunity to take South Bend and Benton Harbor Teens to Israel in 2008 and then again in 2011 she stressed that there is nothing better than seeing Israel through the eyes of our young adults!

Photo credit: Debby Barton Grant, pictured here in front of the Western Wall in Israel

For close to 35 years Debby has been travelling to Israel, living in Israel, taking groups to Israel, raising money for Israel, advocating for Israel, and loving Israel. When she’s there, she feels personally connected to 3,000 years of Jewish peoplehood and the experiences of Jews from all over the world (Russia, Ethiopia, South America, France) who’ve made their home in Israel, making Israel the most beautiful place on earth, visually, emotionally, and spiritually. Debby’s personal connections to the land and the people of Israel define much of her Jewish identity. She recognizes – and values – that every Jewish person around the globe has a different relationship with Israel. In today’s political climate, with the impact of social media, and as incidents and expressions of both antisemitism and anti-Israelism/anti-Zionism on the rise, Debby has to work even harder to make sure people understand not only the beauty and miracle of Israel, but also the complexity of the region, the diversity of opinions and practices within Israeli society, and the conflict with Palestinians that seems further from resolution than ever. Debby recognizes that while every generation of Jews – and every Jewish individual – may have a different relationship with Israel, as a Jewish parent, she is committed to making sure that her sons know as much history as possible, that they appreciate the miracle of the founding and success of the modern state of Israel, and never take for granted that Israel is our homeland, ready to accept Jews from all over the world. Debby hopes that when she travels to Israel with her family (hopefully soon!) it will have the same powerful impact on her husband Scott and sons Jonah, Benjamin and Sam, as the summer of 1984 on Kibbutz Afikim had for her and the Barton family.


Do you have an Israel story? Let us know if you'd like to share! Give us a call (574-233-1164) or email We'll be sharing more community photographs and stories from our archives this month on our Facebook page.

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