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Wrapping it up, Day #10

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 10:06 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

 Patton Lowenstein D`14

Wrapping up

It just started raining.

These last ten days have been, hopefully, life changing. I’m just hoping the changes will stick.

 I have three memories from this trip that resonate more than the others. I haven’t been reading the blog, so I don’t know if anyone has talked about them yet. I hope not.

It was the first night of Chanukah when we drove into Jerusalem. As we drove, excited to be able to shower for the first time in two days, we passed house after house, window after window, seeing families light their menorahs. I had never seen so many menorahs, nor such a universal show of shared Judaism. It was powerful to see a ritual I had only ever performed with my own family shared by so many others.

The second memory: Last night, we went to the Kotel, the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, to welcome Shabbat. Expecting solemn prayer, I was greeted with boisterous yelling, singing, and dancing. I suspected many of them of being drunk, but I knew it wasn’t true. They were all just really, really happy to be Jews.

The last memory is from this morning. A few other trip members and I walked to the house of Rabbi Gestetner, the director of Mayanot, for Shabbat lunch. I was nervous because of my ignorance of Hebrew, prayers, and of Jewish customs in general (I grew up in a very non-religious family). Soon enough, however, all of my fears subsided. The Rabbi, his family, and the other fifteen-odd people there, were all fun, welcoming, and almost frightneningly happy. Within five minutes of lunch starting, we were laughing, stuffing our faces, and Rabbi Gestetner was singing at the top of his lungs. After a couple cups of wine, I joined in. When the time came for more prayers, a Yeshiva student sitting next to me named Josef told me about basic prayers said on Shabbat, completely nonjudgmental of my ignorance. He just seemed happy I showed a genuine interest. The food was delicious. The conversation flowed. Everyone was happy.

What struck me most about this trip was family. Having nothing but our Judaism in common, we find ways to celebrate together; lighting our menorahs, dancing at the Kotel during Shabbat services, eating lunch with complete strangers from all corners of the world. Part of the magic of Israel is what we all have in common: Judaism. It’s why we’re here. We may be from Florida, California, New York, Venezuela, or Australia, but we’re all Jews.

To me, Judaism preaches peace, happiness, and congregation more than anything else. When we’re together, we’re happy. It’s definitely cheesy, but being here helped me realize that. When I get back home, I’m going to work on remembering it. 

Photo gallery

Wednesday, December 28, 2011 - 10:01 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

 Photo Gallery from the entire trip>

Day #8

Friday, December 23, 2011 - 6:45 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Phill Coletti Dartmouth ‘14

For those of you who have had the opportunity to visit Israel, you must remember the majestic atmosphere that pervades the old city of Jerusalem. If you have not yet had the opportunity to come to the holy land, I must qualify this blog entry by saying that much will be lost in translation from eyes and ears to the English language.

The old city of Jerusalem is incredibly unique. Think Diagon Alley meets Minas Tirith: Extremely narrow paths laid with cobblestone, high walls of Jerusalem Stone tight on either side, (every single building is made of this one rock), certain streets bustling with orthodox Jews hurrying to pray. The universal consistency of Jerusalem Stone as a construction material dissolves the typical sense of separate buildings. Rather, it felt as if we were walking on paths through one enormous unified structure.

Deep within the city lies the holiest place we Jews go to pray in the current day, the Western Wall. Chaotic is an understatement for the scene that met us there. Jews from all walks of life were pouring in the courtyard, wrapping tefillen, donning kippas, rocking back and forth while muttering under their breaths, writing notes to press into the cracks in the wall, and carrying our ancient scrolls around in joyous celebration of bar/bat mitzvahs. I, myself, put tefillen for the first time, an interesting experience to be sure. The leather strap is fairly tight, so I was definitely made aware that there were scrolls bound to my arm and head. Everyone on our trip, spanning the full spectrum of religious views from ultra orthodox to extreme skepticism, took the opportunity very seriously. Who knows when we will get another chance to come to the holiest place of Jewish worship? If there was ever a time to set aside skepticism and fully embrace the religion I have been raised with, this was it. I wouldn’t want to look back on this trip and regret not having taken full advantage of the opportunity I had been afforded.

What I must communicate is how close all this is taking place to the Dome of the Rock. We were literally praying at and kissing the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, which is under Muslim Control. It is unique for two locations so important to two different religions to coexist so close in proximity. While we were walking around the ruins of the second temple, right next to the Western Wall, we could clearly hear the Islamic calls to prayer projecting from above.

Towards the end of the day, five of our trip members were given a bar or bat mitzvah. They had decided that now would be the time to begin the next chapter in their Jewish story, that they would like to further develop their Jewish identity. This beautiful ceremony was a fantastic way to initiate the transformation into more conscious and dedicated Jews. There was laughter, crying, praying, and singing (no dancing, no chairs being thrown up and down, no lavish after parties... less distractions and more of the good stuff). We were all ecstatic for our brave and dedicated peers.

While we joyfully welcomed five new Bar/Bat mitzvahs to our numbers, we were unfortunately forced to part with eight more, our Israeli soldiers. On this last day as a group, we exchanged Chanukah presents, “Secret Moses” style. The presents ranged from pretty little pieces of jewelry, to fuzzy ear muffs, to shot glasses, to hilarious t-shirts, to confetti launchers. Smiles all around. But then it was time to say goodbye, and it sucked. Don’t get me wrong… we said some touching goodbyes. We welcomed them into our homes in the US. They invited us to come stay with them in Israel. Everyone talked of our fantastic experiences together. But the reality prevailed that we were going to have to part ways with these fantastic people who had become such a vital part of our trip family. They were the comic relief, the Israeli Wikipedias, the coolest kids on the block. But most of all, they had truly become our friends. I say this not because we had formed relationships for novelty out of some forced interaction through Mayanot Birthright. We had shaped truly meaningful connections with these people not as our Israeli hosts, not as our Israeli guests, not as our Israeli protectors, but as our Jewish peers. We shared jokes, innuendos, slang, romance stories, and meaningful philosophical conversations. Ido, Asi, Erel, Niv, Ayellet, Leigh, Shirley, and Shaked (sorry if I butchered any of those names) showed us that we all share this one common bond which transcends language barriers, cultural divides, and political tension. We love them, we will miss them, and we hope to see them again some time soon.

It is now one o’clock, and I am getting up in less than 6 hours, so I will try to wrap this up, but I want to share one example (just one of many) of a meaningful conversation that I had with a soldier on this trip. Ido is a truly amazing individual. Take away the accent, and you would never know that he was not an American. He listens to classic rock, knows the words to every Pink Floyd song ever written, and as seen more American movies than I have (slightly embarrassing as I consider myself something of a movie buff). We are both interested in studying physics and math and we share a similar fascination with the universe around us. As someone who loves to shoot the shit about physics, the universe, creation, the big bang, etc. I was more than happy to have someone to bounce ideas off of and learn from. One matter we discussed was how one can reconcile a belief in God with a belief in physics, in science, in Darwinism and the big bang. He put forth a theory that I had never truly considered before. It synthesized a bunch of conceptions I have had about religion, the torah, the universe, and mankind in a completely different, but inspirationally refreshing way. In an age when I seem to here the same arguments over and over and over, a new perspective is a welcome treat. (It would take far too long to even summarize the conversation that we undertook, but if you are intrigued, shoot me an email and we can talk about it.) By coming half way around the world, I may have finally figured out that I need to major in physics so I can better understand what the hell is going on out there in the night sky.

 

Brain-dead and struggling against heavy eyelids,

Phill Coletti

Dartmouth ‘14

Day #7

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 5:22 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

The Seventh Day: No Sleep til Jerusalem (Dennis Zeveloff D`12)

As the paparazzi have noted, it’s not easy following Greg Berger. We woke up at 6 this morning to enjoy a delightful Bedouin Breakfast (like a Bed and Breakfast, but different) in order to fuel up for the camels. Hump day took on a new meaning as we boarded those beasts two by two. The extra height helped us see what was past the desert shrubbery (more desert), the dual seated humps had the romance of a tandem bicycle, and the camel’s digestive system produced like an Israeli orange farm. It was a bumpy ride, but everything went smoothly until one camel (Camilla) let one rider down and kept the second in the air. We tried to tell her that no love can last forever, and when she finally stopped bleating love we all dismounted and disembarked. 

The mountains near Masada look as alien as Mars’ surface or Utah’s canyons. This dusty destination was the site of the final battle in the Great Revolt against the Romans. Originally used as King Herod’s hidey-hole, Masada became the last stronghold for free Jews after the fall of the second temple. The isolation, difficult terrain, rainwater-collecting cisterns, and Herod’s storehouses of food made it a perfect place to hold off a siege. Bathhouses became mikvahs, and a synagogue was built atop the plateau. Three years later, though, Rome had zeroed in on the fortress. Jewish slaves were used to build a ramp, forcing Masada’s soldiers to choose between their own safety and killing innocent kinfolk. As the siege tightened, the free Jews realized that they were not going to make it out alive. In order to liberate their families from brutality and slavery, Jewish men killed their wives and children before killing themselves. Until 1948, Masada’s Jews were the last to live under their own rule, and this point was hammered home by the presence of the Israeli soldiers. As the menorah on the mountain now says Masada shall not fall again. Soldiers are sworn in there, and together we yelled “Am yisrael chai (israel lives)!. No Romans answered our cheer, only the echoes of the blank mountains. you don’t hear the Romans booing, but the echoes of our voices in the mountains. We looked around the ruins, took a cable car to the bottom, and ate lunch (Masada now has a McDonalds) by the gift shop.

Next we got low at the Dead Sea, as close as one could possibly get to sea level. We prepared for the extreme saltiness by not shaving the day before, covering our cuts, and keeping our feet protected. The rocks are covered in crystallized salt—they look almost like frosted donuts. It was incredible to float so effortlessly but we felt a little bad for all the aquarium fish we had released into the water. Between the camels, Masada, and the Dead Sea, it felt like a postcard day for Israel.   

And then it was night in Jerusalem! Dahlia showed us where she lived, and when we got to the hotel we finally showered off the Bedouin dust that had been preserved by the sea salt. Tonight’s buffet dinner was similar to our other dinners of chicken, hummus, vegetables, rice, and something that seemed like marshmallow fluff for dessert, but that’s all starting to taste like home. We spoke with Gift of Life about bone marrow registries (Register today at giftoflife.com!), and then we had a talk from Neil Lazarus (visit him today at awesomeseminars.com!). This man did a wonderful job of explaining the facts on the ground in Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the Middle East with a semi-balanced viewpoint and the combined sarcasm/self-deprecation of a British Israeli (Benjamin Disraeli not included). There was a lot to think about—can a state be Jewish without a majority of Jewish citizens? Does the Jewish land need to be the Jewish homeland (I hear Sitka, Alaska has gorgeous sunsets)? How does this all play into the Palestinian “right of return”, Iran’s nuclear aims, and further Middle Eastern instability?

Before things got too dark, the Israelis brought out the Macabee Games: Chanukah Edition (as we learned at Masada, the Macabees have no descendants because they were subpar kings). After a human menorah competition, a traditional game of “Drop a candle into a bottle of RC Cola without using your hands”, and a suvignot eating contest, we lit the menorah and called it a night. Tomorrow we take the Old City by storm.

Day #6

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 - 1:44 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Greg Berger D `12

 

            Our adventures with the eight Israeli soldiers continued yesterday as we ventured into a network of underground tunnels that ancient Israelis had built. They used these tunnels to hide from the heat, as well as the Roman soldiers that tried to capture and destroy their civilizations. The tunnels were pretty unbelievable because they often were so small that we were forced to crawl on our hands and knees, or even on our stomachs in order to squeeze ourselves through the tunnels. While some people loved these “spelunking” adventures, others didn’t enjoy getting dirty and chalky. Either way it was nice to get some exercise.

            Next we traveled to an amazing set of farms — which were really an enormous network of greenhouses — that I never would have expected to encounter in the middle of the Israeli desert.  We briefly learned about the various irrigation techniques these farmers use in order to keep the plants alive, as the farms in this area produce approximately 80 percent of the tomatoes for the entire country. We all really had a blast when we were let loose in the tomato greenhouse and had the opportunity to try more than 10 different types of tomatoes. While I’m personally not the hugest fan of tomatoes, these were all much more enjoyable than those back home. Who knew the Israelis invented the cherry tomato!?!

            Tears were shed shortly thereafter as many of us tasted the hottest habanero peppers in the world, at least according to our tour guide. We also tried red, purple and yellow carrots that we picked from the ground — all of which tasted exactly like regular orange carrots. After a bus ride featuring blasting the song “One Day” and a cage of pigeons, we proceeded to a citrus fruit plantation with oranges, lemons, kumquats and pommelos.

            The day culminated in a trip to a Bedouin village near the Gaza Strip, where we heard incoherent and illogical stories about camels without tails and Bedouins with green eyes. There were five or six other birthright groups at the settlement as well, and never before had I seen so much AE Pi apparel in one place! After an early 6 a.m. wakeup, we got to one of the parts of the trip I was most exctied for — riding camels.

            Overall this has been an amazing trip. I came on birthright without really thinking about what I was hoping to get out of it. As someone whose involvement with my religion significantly dropped off after my Bar Mitzvah, I’ve truly enjoyed engaging with Jewish teachings and principles in a new light. I’m not sure if I have any profound insights or anything like that yet, but I’ve definitely started to think about everything more recently. When speaking with the soldiers, it’s amazing how they all have such conviction about their religious beliefs (or lack thereof), while most of the Americans struggle to confidently describe what they believe.

            The exposure to the Israeli landscape has also been amazing. The majority of images I previously associated with Israel consisted of photos of Jerusalem, the desert, and war. On this trip, however, we’ve seen beautiful beaches, rolling mountains, lakes and cities with skyscrapers.

That’s all I have to say for now, but I’m looking forward to hiking Masada and swimming in the Dead Sea later this afternoon!

Photos #3

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 4:35 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

 Human star of David at Cisaria

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 in front of the Mediterranean Sea

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 Lunch at the "Row of Salad" farm

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 Release the carrier pigeons

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Light at the end of the tunnel

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Bar Kochba Caves

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Carrots and smiles

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Reflections

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 3:27 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Amanda Marinoff D `12

I couldn’t fall asleep last night. No, it was not because I was worried about exams or because the hotel mattress was incomodious; for the first time in my life, I lay awake pondering questions about Judaism, Israel, spirituality and my relationship to these complex, multifaceted concepts. The questions kept coming: What does it really mean to be Jewish? Does God truly exist? Why is Israel important, and what gives Jews the right to a homeland? Why should I follow the commendmants of the Torah, especially some of the ostensibly trivial, nitpicky mitzvot? How can I reconcile my seemingly conflicting faith in science with the ideals of Judaism?

As the questions continued to flow and tumble aimlessly around my mind at 3 a.m., I half-laughed to myself. These kinds of questions would pop up from time to time, but I’d previously dismissed them with a wholly disinterested shrug. I couldn’t believe that I actually cared about these issues, let alone that they were keeping me up at night. Yes, my tired eyes yearned for sleep, and yes, I was aware that some would view these questions as blasphemous; yet I felt a grin spreading across my face, as I thought to myself, “I guess that’s what a few days in Israel will do to you.” Indeed, I have spent a mere five days in Israel, but a multitude of experiences have caused me to analyze, challenge, clarify, re-question, and confirm my relationship to Judaism, as well as my fundamental values and beliefs. I’ll share my reflections on just a few of those thought-provoking experiences.

Our celebration of Shabbat in the Nazareth hotel was the first time I began to truly apprehend and appreciate the true meaning and specialness of the Sabbath. Sure, I had lit candles, said the blessing ending in “Shel Shabbat,” and eaten challah on many Friday nights before, but soon after I had finished eating my matzoh ball soup, I would go on my merry way in my typical “go-go-go” spirit, forgetting to differentiate Shabbat as a special day to pause, forgetting to breathe, forgetting what Shabbat is all about. This Shabbat, the first time I had decided to unfetter myself from all things digital and “work”-related, not only did my jet-lagged body appreciate the rest, but I began to let go of my preconceived judgements and self-fulfilling prophesies. As we sang and consecrated the day with good food and wine and laughter, reflected on important, sometimes unanswerable questions, and “rapped with the Rabbi,” I began to let go of my dismissive views that I can’t afford to take a day of rest and of such cynical questions as, “ Who cares if I turn on the lights or use my cell phone?” I concede that I may still be skeptical that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh, but I am no longer skeptical that celebrating Shabbat in the true spirit of the holiday – disconnected from the trivial and more deeply connected to the things that really matter –can be a beautiful thing, and that I can implement many aspects (even if I’m not following the exact letter of the law) in my life, despite the sometimes formidable challenge of “hitting the breaks” when the world seems to be going ahead (to where, I don’t know) at full speed.

If you’d asked me before my trip to Israel what Judaism means to me, I’d tell you two simple yet extremely powerful words: family and community. My experiences on Birthright thus far have reafirmmed for me the deep importance of these ideals both to me personally and to the Jewish people as a whole. While I would previously roll my eyes at those who espouse seemingly dogmatic, extreme views and stifle a laugh at those who preach with overblown rhetoric, I have learned much by allowing myself to listen with an open mind to a variety of different perspectives. Through listening to Avraham speak in sheer wonderment about the oneness of the Jewish family, Daniel speak about the industructable power of the Jews when united, Aryeh fiercely proclaim his unshakable loyalty to the Jewish people, and the Israeli soldiers share their love of their country and their people, it has become clear that what I have always valued most deeply about religion -- the sense of family and coming together – is not merely a byproduct of reigious hoidays but rather a deeply rooted value that has underpinned Judiasm for thousands of years.

I had an interesting conversation with Rabs yesterday that helped me to better understand the purpose of the Torah and allowed me to conceptualize its teachings in a way that I am able to fit into my understanding of the world. My question, “Why should it matter whether we wait four hours or six hours between eating dairy and meat?” turned into a discussion about the Torah as a mechanism to maintain the balance of the universe, the vital importance of the world’s finest details, and the interconnectedness of all humans and all of nature. The rabbi’s answer was unexpected, and it unexpectedly made sense to me. I have been constantly reminded of the interconnectedness of all living things and the inneffable beauty of nature’s details throughout the last five days, during which we’ve had the privilege of taking in some of the magnificent landscapes of Israel. Some may call it God or holiness or the essence of spirituality; I don’t know what to call this connection and sense wonder I feel amid the vast splendor of nature – all I can say is that it is simply awesome and it is something special.  

So at this point in my Birthright experience, I am left with many more questions than I had at the start of the trip, but I am also beginning to feel a greater sense of clarity. I may not understand the esoteric teachings of the Kaballah, but I do firmly believe in the interrelatedness of all living things and in giving as a way of life.  I may be uncertain about the concepts of the soul and the afterlife, but I am convinced that many of Judaism’s fundamental principles – take care of yourself and take care of others; live a life of balance; work hard, but take a day to rest, reflect, and revitalize; be loyal to your family; find beauty and holiness in life’s big things and little things – will allow me to be a more fulfilled, balanced, and happy individual here in this life. For now, I’m content to keep questioning, challenging, and smiling. Oh, and to keep thinking about tomorrow’s camel ride through the desert.  

 

Day #5 Tel Aviv Area

Tuesday, December 20, 2011 - 1:31 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Day #5

Cory Goldstein UCF `14

Another 7:15 wake up call to begin the fifth day of this amazing journey. Another kosher breakfast awaited us at the Blue Bay dining hall, at this point we have all acclamaited to the typical Israeli breakfast, hopefully! This morning we got a little something extra, which included a choice of chocolate or vanilla pudding. The bus was boarded promptly at 8 o’clock in approach of the ancient Roman city of Casaria on the west coast of Israel. After entering the gates of the national park, I think the fact that we were in an area of the world was once populated over 2,000 years ago set in. An ampitheatre built by the Romans was still intact after all of these years where a statge was still present and still operated on a daily basis. Our female Israeli soldiers helped construct a human Star of David created in the center of the ampitheater, which I am sure you will see in the photos. Our guide Daniel continued with the tour where he explained the creation of the first port of Israel and a charriot racing and gladiator stadium used during the times of when the city was in use.

The much anticipated free time in the city of Tel Aviv was to follow where we had our first real interaction in the NYC of Israel. It was a really incredible to see and brought a feel of the true Israel economy to us bewildered Americans. It turns out that we aren’t that great at heckling with the stern Israeli businessmen of the Shook Hacarmel. But don’t worry, our Israelie soldiers were their by our sides making sure we werne’t taken advantage of.

Our next part of the day was a real breathtaking experience for all of us. We ventured over to Idependence Hall where Ben Gurion announced on May 14, 1948 that the Israelie nation was now a country. We had a real magnificent presentation that provided a real life replica that put us back in 1948 to show what the Jewish people were experiencing at the time.

I believe that when I say this has been a mind blowing experience I am not only speaking for myself but for this forty-eight member family. More and more everyday we get a little bit more pride for our homeland and a little bit more appreciation for what our ancestors have done to make a real state or Judaism.

Tonight we are going back to Tel Aviv for a night out in the town to get a real Israeli party experience.

Day 4 Photos

Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 2:40 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

 Welcoming the soldiers to our group. We are so excited to have you with us.

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The group with Lebanon in the background

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Day #4 Soldiers, Banyas, Misgav Am , Jeeping and more

Sunday, December 18, 2011 - 12:17 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

SuperParent27: Hi honey!! How is Israel? How was Day Four?

campLover91: Hi! It’s great.

SuperParent27: That’s it?!

campLover91: yeah its really fun.

SuperParent27: I haven’t seen you in 4 days and that’s all you have to tell me? I need details!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

SuperParent27: ….

campLover91: ok! I’ll be very thorough (Note: please don’t expect this in real life).

campLover91: Today we awoke in the Nazareth Plaza Hotel for the third and final time, a bit sleepy from our wild (don’t worry, not too wild) night out in Tiberius. After a hurried breakfast of bountius eggs, grapefruit, yogurt, and more, we boarded the buses with all of our luggage and began the drive to the North. On the way, we stopped to pick up eight Israeli soldiers who will be travelling and staying with us for five days. They boarded the bus and we headed to the Mitzudat Koach Memorial. It’s called the Koach Memorial because the name in Hebrew has two letters whose numerical values combine to represent 28, for the 28 soldiers who died there. There we were formally introduced to the soldiers. They are so cool! It has been really fun to meet with and interact with Israelis who are our age and, yet, lead such different lives. It was fascinating how Daniel, our lovely guide, mentioned that the only thing that seperates us is really just a chance of history: our ancestors came to America while theirs went to Israel, and we could easily have grown up in Israel or them in America if things had been different. Afterwards, we went to Misgav-Am Kibbutz on the Lebanese Border. It was seriously one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. To the west we saw an expanse of southern Lebanon, to the east the Hula valley of Israel, and to the north Syria, with the beatiful snow-capped Mount Hermon (parts of it are in Israel and others in Syria) to the northwest. We also heard from Aryeh Ben Yachov, who moved from Cleveland to the Kibbutz nearly 50 years ago and has lived there ever since.

Next, we went off-roading in Jeeps near the Golan Heights. I crashed. jk. But actually we did get to drive and it was beautiful and a lot of fun. Afterwards, we boarded the bus again (with some delicious oranges and pecans we took from the trees) and went to lunch. My falafel was great but not quite as crisp as the one from the first day—it could have used another thirty seconds in the fryer. Last we went to a nature preserve along the river Banias, and walked through a narrow valley and, at the end of the short hike, saw a beatiful waterfall. We talked a bit about nature and how it is viewed, loved, and respected in the Jewish faith. Finally, we boarded the buses for a long ride to Natanya, just north of Tel Aviv, and had a fun ride hanging out and talking to each other and our 8 new Israeli friends.

It was really interesting hearing about Aryeh’s time in the military and also, earlier, hearing the stories of the battles that occurred at the Mitzudat Koach memorial on the same day we met the soldiers, as they combined to give us a great picture of what it actually means to defend Israel. This was pretty meaninful to me because on one hand we have the soldiers, who are so similar to us in many ways, and, in the other, Aryeh, who is much older and, for many of us, probably views the world in a bit of a different way. For me, it was very thought provoking because although Aryeh clearly had different views than me on Middle Eastern politics, I felt like I admired him for the conviction of his beliefs and understood him and maybe even this country a little bit better for hearing them. I also can’t understate how beatiful the landscape was from the Kibbutz and really everywhere we were today. Aryeh said he knew immediately the first time he went to the North that he wanted to live there for the rest of his life, and it really was breathtaking to look out from the top of the mountain on which the Kibbutz was located. Daniel also said a bit when we walked to the waterfall about how, as Jews, we really “owned” the waterfall, and it was pretty cool to think about that and all of the Jewish history that has permeated that whole gorgeous valley. It was definitely my favorite day of the trip so far. How is everything at home? How’s the fam?

SuperParent27:What is “fam”?

campLover91: Family.

SuperParent27: And jk is just kidding, right?

campLover91: duh.

SuperParent27: I was just making sure!! Didn’t want you to have crashed the Jeep!! Sounds like a ton of fun!! Everything at home is great!!

campLover91: Cool

campLover91: gtg, bye! Love u

SuperParent27: Bye!! Love you too!! Have fun tomorrow!!

 

-Ian Schneider D’14

Shabbat #1 Natzrat Illit

Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 5:21 pm
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

Shabbat

Paul Schiller University of New Haven MA `13

I found this Shabbat to be physically, intellectually and spiritually refreshing. It started with the ladies lighting the Shabbat Candles in the hotel lobby. We then proceeded to doven the Friday night service under the leadership of Rabbi Gray. A lovely Shabbat dinner followed. We then did some additional icebreakers and team activities. Shabbat Morning began with some students attending services at a local synagogue. During an activity session we did some further ice breaking activities and discussed the perceived differences between the typical American and Israeli teen, in preparation for meeting Israeli soldiers tomorrow. We then went into a Wrap Session with Rabbi Gray where we were free to ask the Rabbi any question to learn more about Judaism and other subjects. We then went from talking to walking and took a leisurely shabbos stroll through the neighborhood. During the walk, we toured a local a synagogue. We ended Shabbat back at the hotel with a traditional havdalah service.

Personally, I was moved by two specific sessions. The first was the Rabbi’s wrap session. It was amazing to observe the free atmosphere of the room. We were discussing very serious and sometimes personal topics and, as students, we were encouraged to ask whatever we wanted to ask and the Rabbi was sure to answer the questions as thoroughly as possibly. Through these answers, I gained a great deal of insight that I was hoping to hear. I came on this trip to gain a understanding and appreciation of Israel’s history and culture. Although, I am content with my spirituality, I wanted to learn more about Jewish ideals, so that I could strengthen my sense of spirituality with knowledge. My background is such that my Jewish education focused more on practice than ideologies. I found it both enlightening and refreshing to find out what is written about various subjects such as conversion, contraception and the afterlife.

The other session which I found to be fascinating was the tour of the synagogue. The congregation was founded in the 1950’s by Polish Jews who had survived the Holocaust. On the steps leading up to the shul were stones engraved as a memorial to the citizens of from various countries who perished in the Holocaust. Along the steps were a line of six trees planted for the six million Jews who perished. At the top of the steps, there was a large sculpture that represented bringing an end to all war. I thought it profound that the memorial stones lined the steps in tandem with the trees as they represented the death that occurred during that dark period in our people’s history. Yet they had grown in time, which I interpreted as remembering our history and growing from it. They all lead up to the top of the stairs where the sculpture was. It seemed to represent the progression to eventual peace.

Inside the synagogue, we settled in to the sanctuary where a congregant who had made Aliyah thirty years prior enlightened us with his personal experiences and perspective on living in Israel. We then went to a room where a scribe wrote out the scrolls for mezzuzot and tifillin and repaired Torah scrolls. While the job of the scribe has not changed over time, I was fascinated by the fact that he uses some modern technology to assist him in his duties. He photographs Torah scrolls with a high resolution camera and then puts it into the computer, which scans the photo for any mistakes or signs of wear that need to be repaired in order for the Torah to be valid. While he still does the writing by hand, some very modern techniques save him valuable time in the examination and repair of the Torah scrolls. It is still an arduous task to inscribe scrolls with holy text. A short, twenty line scroll takes several hours. It was quite a site to see that the scribes still use the ancient techniques to create such holy materials while also utilizing some help from modern equipment.

Day 2 Photos

Saturday, December 17, 2011 - 11:19 am
Posted by Rabbi Moshe Gray

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Some of the boys all smiles, after the Mikveh dip.

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Rebecca and Oliva with the worlds largest havdallah candle in Tzfat

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over looking the hills of Meiron

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Gabi Tudin D `12 and Carolyn Shapiro (Georgia `13 ) loving the Tzfat air.

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As we head out on our first day to Tzfat.

Birthright Day 2

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 8:18 am
Posted by TZFAT

Michael Klein D14 - Day 2 Tzfat

The best word to describe our first full day in Israel is spiritual. We traveled to Tzfat, one of the four holy cities in Israel (along with Jerusalem, Tiberius, and Hebron). This ancient city dates back several thousands of years, and is quite unique. As we learned here, the city was the home of the Kabbalah, and is known for its mystical intrigue. The city and its surroundings are characterized by blue domes marking the burials of influential Rabbis, including Rashbi, the author of the Zohar, the seminal work on Jewish mysticism. The blue, as we learned, is reminiscent of the blue dye that the Shema instructs use to use the tzitzit, and is part of the Tzfat mystic culture. Once in the city, we visited three synagogues which had once been home of the great mystics of Tzfat. It was exciting to learn about the history of the city, and how it fits into the greater context of Jewish history in Israel. One of the most exciting parts of our time in Tzfat was our trip to the mikveh. The guys went with Rabbi Gray to the mikveh at the bottom of the city. This ancient mikveh is situated in a cave, and is supposedly holds a special place in Judaism. The great Rabbi, the Ari-zl, once said that anyone who uses this mikveh will not die without repenting, allowing users to live a more fulfilling life. After the steep hike to get there, we then fully undressed and waited on a line to submerge ourselves. I signed up for Birthright because I expected a great bonding experience, but hadn’t quite envisioned bonding in this way. As I entered the mikveh, I found myself able to take my mind of the freezing temperature and focus to the idea that I was joining my ancestors in this ancient ritual. After submerging myself three times and exiting, I felt not only felt much warmer but also refreshed. The full group then went to visit the kabalist painter Avraham Leventhal. As he spoke about his connection with mysticism and Kabbalah, it was apparent that he was ‘high on Judaism’ and had found something spiritually that was special and life altering that had led him to make aliyah from Michigan. He explained his different works and the symbolism behind them. Avraham also talked about the significance of names and how they shape our destiny. It was clear this his passionate lecture moved students. After a tasty lunch of Falafel and Schwarma, he got back on the bus and headed back to the hotel to get ready for shabbas. Overall a spiritual and enlighting first full day here in Israel.

Birthright Day #1

Thursday, December 15, 2011 - 11:00 pm
Posted by Day 1 Recap

December 15, 2011

Hello from Israel! This post comes to you from the Plaza Hotel Nazarath 24 hours after 40 students met at JFK airport to start our Taglit Mayanot Birthright trip. Our journey began yesterday in a dreary Delta terminal that was brightened by the excitement of our departure as we came together from several different schools and started to “break the ice” to form a unified group.

Rabbi Gray had prepared us for the social scene that is a flight to Israel, but that did not minimize the novelty of witnessing families pass around their children, rabbis greet old friends in the aisle, and men form a minion in the back of the plane. This was the beginning of a cultural experience like none other.

10 hours, many movies, and hopefully some successful hours of sleep later, we arrived in the bright and beautiful Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and were greeted by our Mayanot tourguides, Daniel and Dalia, and a warm and sunny afternoon. After being ushered to a palm and orange grove (yes, in the airport) we received the first of several orientations from the Israel staff which included rules, expectations, and some new getting-to-know-you activities. As the sun began to set, we hopped on our bus, eager to head toward our first of many destinations, and feeling so privileged to have arrived without cost or struggle in a place that people have longed and fought for for so many years.

Our comfortable charter bus whisked us away to Nazareth, a drive that is meant to take less than one and a half hours, but in tonight’s heavy traffic, took at least two. Rather than complain, however, students used this time to learn from Daniel and Dalia, and to catch a few more winks of sleep. We were thrilled to arrive at the Plaza Hotel Nazareth to find a beautiful hotel and a delicious buffet of hummus, roasted vegetables, chicken and more awaiting us.

Revived by food and a short break for hot showers, we re-convened for more group bonding and preparation for tomorrow’s activities, which will start bright and early at 7:15 as we need to fit in a whole day’s trip to Tzfat before sundown. Today’s quick initiation into both our group and the country is a great indication of the exciting days to come!

I am so impressed by the grace with which Mayanot manages the trip arrangements for so many students at a time, making it comfortable for us to adjust to a new place without the standard frustrations of travel logistics. The staff seems dedicated to providing us with nothing but a wonderful time here, and I hope that, in exchange, we can act as the enthusiastic and curious leaners and appreciative guests that deserve this wonderful gift.

Rachel Sarnoff

Dartmouth 2012


 


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