Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nativ: Reflections on a Significant Year


Many people remember that as I went through the gap-year choosing process, as part of the college search, my initial thoughts were to attend yeshiva.  The option in which I was most interested was Yeshivat Ma'ale Gilboa.  But I never applied; I ended up choosing soon enough to do Nativ.


So the question, mostly towards the end of the year though I thought about it throughout, is did I make the right choice?  In the end, as I reflect on my year, my goal is to have felt that I gained and grew more than I could have on any other option I was considering.  Am I okay with not having spent the second half of my year in a Beit Midrash?  Did the environment and the group dynamic fit my needs?


When it comes down to an overall Israel experience, I think Nativ was one of the best options for me.  I feel that it provides for a very holistic experience: taking advantage of the land for tiyyulim and weekend traveling, speakers and seminars devoted to understanding the State of Israel, and experiencing Israel as the Jewish State – chagim were amazing.  While we (or at least I) did not interact too closely with Israeli Jerusalem residents, Yeruham was the place where we got to know Israeli Jews and really see from one perspective what Israeli society is like.  The time we spent there was invaluable to seeing the important development of our State.


Religiously, Nativ was not always easy.  My intellectual and spiritual goals were sizably different than those of most people in the group, and at times that was challenging.  Sometimes it was a fundamental difference in keeping Shabbat; other times it had to do with my concern for piety.  Nevertheless, there were many awesome moments throughout the year in which I enjoyed the religious passion on Shabbat and chaggim.  Where learning is concerned, I know I'll have many opportunities to come back to Israel and learn and just learn in general; Maryland will be great for that.


Someone asked me today if the program was great because of being in Israel or the people.  The answer is both; yet having people with whom to enjoy being in the moment makes a huge difference.  I met some great people this year, bonds that I know will last for a long time.  I am grateful to everyone who made my year what it was, and I'm glad I got to know these people as well as I did, and of course wish sometimes that maybe I would have gotten to know people more.


Here are some lists for summing up the year:


Things Not to be Missed about Israel:

*Israeli Bus/Taxis and those Drivers

*Agron Se'udat Shlishit on Shabbat

*Education system



Things to Miss About Israel:



*Shabbat and Chaggim

*Lack of Kashrut issues

*Ivrit, obviously

*Inability to buy a bottle of wine in this country at my age


*The vast natural features of the land

*Mizrahi music

*Israeli sense of formality

*Jewish unity and identity – instant connections with all Jews



Favorite Shabbat: Tzfat


Favorite Chag: Yom Kippur or Pesach


Favorite Places to Eat: Schnitzi, Tito Bravo, Sbarro


Favorite Schul: Yakar


Favorite Place to Chill: Yeruham Park


Other Great Moments of the Year (in no particular order necessarily):

10. The Mumps

9. Desert Survival Jeep Ride

8. Shabbat Hospitality by locals in Jerusalem as well as Yeruham

7. Yemin Moshe singing on Rosh Hashanah

6. Yom Kippur on King George Street

5. Yom Hazikaron/Ha'atzmaut Transition

4. Archaeological Dig

3. Camping on Shabbat, especially Har Meron

2. Matisyahu and Idan Raichel Concerts

1. 1st Bus Ride from Ben Gurion to Jerusalem


It's hard to pinpoint specific things, but these are things that stick out in my mind…


This culminates my yearlong escapades.  Be'ezrat Hashem, there will be another one of these soon…


Kol Tuv,



Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Shabbat & Nativ Closure



Wow, it's unthinkable.  This blog post literally closes a chapter of my life, as this will be the last descriptive entry about my year in Israel (I will God willing post a couple of reflective pieces).  I think keeping up with this blog is one of the best decisions I made this year in terms of the long run.


I missed the first Shabbat of the year, but for Kabbalat Shabbat they went to Yemin Moshe and davened at the Old City overlook.  To top off the year, we went again to Yemin Moshe and davened together as Nativ.  Yossi was the sha"tz for Kabbalat Shabbat and Elkana for Ma'ariv – at least I found that to be special for us.  People stood scattered across the stone plaza, some davening intensely, others just admiring the setting.  A little into Kabbalat Shabbat, the siren went off – in the first Jewish settlement in Jerusalem outside of the Old City.  After Mizmor L'David, while singing its niggun, we created circles and danced together out of love for Shabbat and the Land of Israel.  Then Yossi chose Im Eshkachech as the tune for Lecha Dodi – certainly an emotional moment as we overlooked the Old City.  There's not too much to tell about the dinner that followed.  Immediately after dinner was Nativ-a-Tisch, with the largest group of the year singing favorites from the year, including many tunes people learned during the year.  V'yitnu lecha keter melucha (a song I brought to the tisch at the beginning of the year and a Nativ favorite going back a few years) was at its best.


Shabbat morning I went to Yakar, a favorite of mine from this year.  I walked to and fro with Cori and had some good conversations about the spiritual realities of Nativ and the Jewish world.  I received an aliyah at schul, and there was a brit milah after – very cool!  Lunch happened, a nap, and then Yossi's program.  This was also something done at the beginning of the year that I missed; it's similar to "boundary breakers" but most of the questions were to be answered in a word or phrase.  It starts with mundane questions, like "what's your favorite movie," and then escalates to questions about questions about the impact of this year, etc.  Part of the point was to see where people have gotten to since the beginning of the year.  Afterwards was Mincha, and the big end of the year talk with Yossi.  He delivered a strong message about the importance of being good lay leaders and bringing positive change to our Jewish communities and admonished fiercely (but necessarily) against intermarriage as the downfall of our people.  Finally, our last seudat shlishit (thank God because those always sucked) and singing, then Ma'ariv and Havdalah.  Motza'ei Shabbat I just hung around and went out a little bit – I bought my last bottle of wine for a very long time.


Sunday – our last day, wow!!!  When you spend a long time doing something, it's hard to imagine any sort of routine coming to an end, and waking up in Jerusalem for the last time (given that we knew we were coming back even when we weren't officially there) was weird.  I woke up on the earlier side to daven at the Hurva Synagogue in the Old City, a synagogue established a number of centuries ago that has been destroyed and refurbished a few times – most recently destroyed in 1948 by the Jordanians and most recently refurbished in March of this year – so I wanted to see it before leaving.  I then went to the shuk with Sender to do some last shopping, and then I had to start packing.  At 1 p.m. Yeruham track left for the Anna Ticho house for our end-of-year banquet, and at 4:30 we had our all-Nativ banquet (basically snacks and presentations).  And then that was it – we left Beit Nativ for good, went to the airport, v'zehu.  My thoughts going to the airport will appear in the larger reflections I will write soon.


Kol Tuv,



Monday, May 31, 2010

More About the Last Week in Jerusalem



Thursday morning started early with Shacharit and right into sessions.  The morning consisted of presentations from various programs – The Conservative Yeshiva, Nefesh b'Nefesh, and the David Project, as well as a farewell from Rabbi Lebeau.  Yossi and Elkana emphasized that people making aliyah really should do it through Nefesh b'Nefesh; they indeed had an inspiring presentation.


The afternoon program was very well thought-out and done as well as intense.  We were brought down to -3 in small groups to the Nativ "museum" so to speak, in which we walked through the entire year with a diary given to us.  Starting with the plane ride to Israel, we went through the different sections that comprised of the year and responded to questions and wrote our thoughts.  It was very overwhelming for me.  One of the hardest things for me was thinking about whether I made the most of my year; I'll write about this more but overall I'm happy with the way I spent the year.


Friday was a free day, but jammed pack.  I did some errands with Emily in the morning that included HaSofer, Steimatzky, and HaTav Hashmini (music store), where bought some must-haves as I was leaving the country.  Shira, Sender, and I met for lunch at Burgers' Bar, and then Shira and I did some shopping on Ben Yehuda and at the Shuk (last gummies!).  When I got back, I went to Beit Shmuel for a little bit to hang out with Brenna, and then I had just enough time to get ready for Shabbat.


I want to recount an incident from earlier Friday about how a simple visit to the store to get a soda turned into a 15-minute conversation.  Across the street from Beit Nativ is a Sweets and Beverage store, and they have Dr. Pepper, so I went to get one.  My way of doing things is usually to mind my own business, do what I need to do and go, but the cashier engaged me in conversation.  At this point I don't exactly remember how it started, but he must have asked me where I was from, and we talked about my Hebrew skills and where I learned.  I told him I was returning to the States in 48 hours and he asked me how I feel about that and if I was excited.  He was curious as to why I like Israel so much better, what exactly it is; he told me of his desires to visit America, a Jerusalemite from birth.  And I told him about Nativ as well.  What was apparent throughout the whole conversation essentially was the Jewish bond, one that isn't as easy to find in America with the guy standing behind the counter.  A love for the Jewish people and a love for Eretz Yisrael.


Kol Tuv,



I Stayed Up All Night Studying... Torah!




The first time I ever pulled an all-nighter was the night I got back from Italy back in January, when I didn't even get home from the airport until five in the morning.


The second time I pulled an all-nighter was the 6th of Sivan, 5770, my last Tuesday night of Nativ, for the culminating holiday of Shavuot.


Compared to Pesach and Sukkot, Shavuot is almost void of essential rituals or significant stories completely associated with it.  It also is a very short holiday, celebrated for two days in the Diaspora, and, thank God, one day in Israel, whereas Pesach is 7/8 days (respectively) and Sukkot and friends is 8/9 days.  Many Nativers, if they knew what Shavuot is, had never celebrated it to any meaningful extent.  The celebration that we took part in was a completely new concept for many, and even for mavens, the experience in Israel takes Shavuot to a totally different level than seen in most U.S. communities.


As we always do when we bring in a holy day in Judaism, we started with davening, which took place at Moreshet Yisrael, and dinner.  Because of the law proscribed in the Torah about Shavuot taking place seven complete weeks after the first counting of the Omer, we had to start Ma'ariv at dark and probably did not start dinner until close to nine.  We have the ancient custom as a people to eat dairy products on Shavuot; thus was our dinner, though I wish we could have had meat since I like that better.


From 10/10:30 onward, Tikkun Leil Shavuot would take place throughout the city in many different forms.  I will soon explain the two very different sessions I attended.  Rabbis, academics (professors, Ph.D holders), and lay leaders took the podium in synagogues, learning institutions, and cultural centers throughout Jerusalem, teaching in many different languages.  Topics ranged to anything one could imagine related to our religion.  The options were vast.  My goal was to, at the least, have one class in English and one in Hebrew.


Many Nativers, including myself, set out for the Shalom Hartman Institute in the German Colony, at around 10 p.m.  There, Rabbi Professor David Hartman spoke about "Whether God can Save the Halakha."  Many seats were open when he started at 10:30, but within twenty minutes the room was standing-only and out the door.  Interestingly, he handed out source packets but did not address the sources themselves; I do think the connection was very implied to his lecture.  He stated the problem that Haredim have monopolized halakha (and affirmed their being ridiculous, but that's a different story) and affirmed the need to study in-depth contemporary issues and to be open and flexible.  In his words, "if the halakha is wrong, it must be changed!"  That's the short gist of it.


We left right after Professor Hartman finished speaking – we being Jonny and Ariella – and we walked to the Old City for our second session.  The session we chose to attend is not your typical Torah study based on text.  Starting at the Tower of David, we (and Nadiv as well) took a tour in Hebrew of the Old City through the night.  It was advertised online as stories and midrashim, but we actually didn't get too much of that, which was kind of a bummer.  But it still gave us a good history of the city – the city to which we pray to ascend as a people every Shavuot (as well as Pesach and Sukkot).  We left a little early, since the tour started very late, and we need to return to Beit Nativ for Nativ-led Tikkun.


At 2 a.m., Nativ started its own Tikkun Leil Shavuot, with Nativers teaching two one-hour sessions.  I taught a session on Chesed (deeds of kindness) in the Book of Ruth – both times were small but intimate discussions.  In between, there was a cheescake and ice cream break.


After we completed the learning for the night, we walked together to the Old City to daven at Robinson's Arch, otherwise known as Kotel Masorti.  When we got to the Kotel plaza at around 4:30 a.m., one could see the myriad of people gathering to daven at the Kotel, except we went to Robinson's Arch along with other Conservative Jews (most of them American students for the year or immigrants) to have an egalitarian davening.  This was the only time I've seen Jews show up on time for davening and leave early, instead of the opposite.  Besides functioning on no sleep, some of the challenges of davening included the lack of seating, the cold, and it was an extra long tefillah once one accounts for the Book of Ruth and Akdamut.  Also, the setting is wider than it is long, so it's not entirely conducive.  Still, I davened and it was a worthwhile experience… once.


Most people left early, but those of us who stayed to the end returned and had breakfast, then went to sleep.  I woke up at 11:30 to head over to brunch at Singer's, but I wasn't extremely hungry so I didn't eat much.  People said I looked fairly miserable, but it's true, I was very tired.  When I got back, I napped a bit (not much), and the day was fairly uneventful from there.


I decided after this whole experience that the Jerusalem Shavuot is an amazing experience, but on the whole, staying up all night studying then davening isn't a great route to take every year.  You just end up not wanting to have too nice of a davening and the rest of the day gets wasted.  But this was a great way to end the year with a "bang."


Kol Tuv,



Sunday, May 30, 2010

Last Week in Jerusalem




As you can see, I didn't get a chance to complete the blog while I was in Israel, and after being at camp last week, I'm now sitting down to write about the events of the last week in Jerusalem (almost two weeks ago already!).


Monday morning the 17th, we departed Yeruham and headed back to Jerusalem for our closure week of Nativ.  It started with a "birthday party" for everyone who had a birthday on Nativ this year and didn't get a cake – instead, we had a huge birthday cake, with amazing frosting, in honor of everyone (though of course I have a summer birthday, but whatever).  As usually happens when there's an opportunity to create a mess, cake went flying into people's faces, etc.  Then everyone cleaned up because then we took the group pictures and then an individual picture.


During the afternoon, we had programming by track.  The program consisted of two parts: the first required us to creatively express an aspect of our year – be it related to Judaism, the Land of Israel, or friendship – and present it to the group.  People did all sorts of art, poetry, interpretive dance, etc.  The second part dealt with challenges at home, especially when it came to observing Judaism and synagogues.  This discussion wasn't too fun for me because I was not looking forward at all to having to be observant in America.


In the evening, we had an all-Nativ talent show.  Many of the acts were funny, a couple a bit inappropriate, and Mazakas' stand-up comedy about his stuttering stole the show.  Wow.



Tuesday morning was Erev Shavuot.  I went shopping at Pomeranz and then had lunch at Cup o Joe with David and the Freedmans.  Afterwards, I met Aryeh Bernstein out in Talpiyot to get the book Empowered Judaism: What Independent Minyanim Can Teach Us about Building Vibrant Jewish Communities.  It was good catching up with him and I'm enjoying the book a lot so far.  Then I came home and got ready for Chag.


Next post will discuss Shavuot.  The tone had been set at this point for the last week being packed with different things to end Nativ on a strong note, and the end was in site.


Kol Tuv,



Thursday, May 27, 2010

Packing up Yeruham - My Reflections




The time came and it was time to pack up Yeruham.  It came a lot faster than I expected and felt unreal, but reality hit in and it was time to leave my second semester home.  I spent a lot of Friday packing my bags, and then a lot of the hard-core packing came on Sunday.  We packed up our dishes and taped up the drawers to be sent back to Jerusalem and/or being donated to Yeruham, and I shipped a couple of boxes of books home.  Of course we had some hard core cleaning to do, but it got done pretty smoothly and went well.  Nativ fed us lunch and dinner.  And then at night we hung out some.


Most Israelis really have no regard for Yeruham, as I'm sure I've discussed before, and they really don't know what's so important and great about Yeruham.  Sometimes I think that as long as I have a car, I wouldn't mind living in Yeruham.  It's a special place – the people there are special and it's special to have such a close-knit community as a town.  Especially since Amram Mitzna has improved the condition of Yeruham, its residents are proud of their town and the atmosphere that exists there.  Having lived in suburbs my entire life, it was a treat to have the opportunity to live in Yeruham for three and a half months.


I discussed already my reflections on my volunteering, and I made it fairly clear that as much as I was there to give, I also took a lot.  On the whole, I feel that Yeruham was one of the most genuine "Israeli" experiences I could have had this year.  Jerusalem allows for a spiritual connection to the State of Israel, but Yeruham allows for a very personal experience.  I have new perspectives on the diversity of Jews in the State of Israel, I have improved my Hebrew, and I have gotten a greater glimpse of the daily life of an Israeli.  According to Yossi, one fully fulfills the Zionist dream today by working a development town and helping out its residents.  Whether or not I agree with that idea wholly, I feel that Yeruham brought me the side of Israel that most people don't see on short trips, and that places like Yeruham are a worthwhile investment in building Israel's future.


If there's anything that made Nativ a unique experience, Yeruham did it.  It's a place I will always feel connected to, and I look forward to visiting.  I hope to see Yeruham flourish even more and earn a respectable place in Israeli society.  I am very grateful for the opportunities I had to be part of this intimate community.


Kol Tuv,



Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Closed Shabbat in Yeruham




I'm trying to avoid using the word "last" to describe the many events happening over the course of this week, but this post is a description of the last Shabbat we had as Nativ in Yeruham.


Friday was mostly spent packing and cleaning.  Eventually came the time to light candles, however, and the moving craze ceased for 25 hours.  We had our own tefillot in the park – I did Kabbalat Shabbat and Seth did Ma'ariv.  It's hard to have a contained kahal in an outdoor environment, but it was a sweet way to bring in Shabbat for our last time as the Yeruham track.  From there, we went to our host families.  The Strausslers had a couple over that is getting married this week, and they were nice.  By the time we washed our hands it was already 9:30 – the reality of Shabbat starting late here!  Food was delicious as usual, though, and was worth waiting for.  Everyone was a little tired – and our Hebrew and English (respective to those of different native tongues) was not as easy to use, but we made it through having had some good conversation.  We left at around 11:30 and it was straight to bed for me.


Shabbat morning started a bit rough when I stained my shirt putting food on the blech for lunch and I didn't realize the gravy was all over the pan.  Later I would forget to put Tide on the shirt, and the stain didn't come out in the laundry.  But tefillot were nice – I got one last opportunity to daven Shacharit on behalf of the congregation.  A man blew up at someone sitting next to him before Musaf for talking, but as should be done, nobody let it interfere and the service went on.  In the end they acknowledged our leaving Yeruham and had a hearted thank-you to Nativ.  I went home and read for a couple of hours, and then we had lunch together.  Unfortunately, we ate outside and it was way too hot.  But then I took a nap, talked to Razie for a little while, and at 6 p.m. I went to the Matnas for Seudat Shlishit.  Throughout the week they had a piyyut festival, and they had the final thing at Seudat Shlishit; we had Nativ sicha at 6:45, though, so we got the food but missed the piyyut part.  The sicha was about the conversion bill floating around the Kenesset and the outrageous control the Haredim have.  After Havdallah, we had a Melave Malka for our host families to thank them for opening their homes to us over the course of our stay in Yeruham.  Tributes were also made to the community in general for their embracing us and to Yoram for coordinating everything.  And that wraps up the 2nd to last Shabbat of Nativ.


Kol Tuv,


Northern Tiyyul... actually happened!




Last week, in an effot to end Nativ with a bang, we had our Northern Tiyyul (that is, our trip that took place in Northern Israel).  Unlike our Southern Tiyyul, most things went as planned.  The only thing that didn't really go as planned, ironically, was our first activity.  We were supposed to start with lunch and hospitality in the Druze Village, but there was a big protest going on there so we didn't go.  They did, however, bring us lunch to a park, but we had to wait for a long time for it to get there.  That was our only major holdup though.  In the afternoon I went on a hike that included a crawl through a cave, an excitingly different challenge to the hike; holding a Maglite through that was fun.  There was a hot tub at the youth hostel that night and I chilled there a bit.


On Monday, I did an all-day hike at Nahal Amud.  The hike itself wasn't that difficult, though the climbing up and down rocks was annoying.  However, it was extremely hot last week all-around, we weren't in the shade that much, and it was just really long.  I think that was the first time I had ever run out of water (thanks to those who supplied me with more).  At one point, one girl was not feeling well and had to take it a little easier, so David and I stayed in back and hiked more slowly with her and the guard, and it ended up helping me as well.  Then at night MASA came for evaluations and we had to fill out a survey, which was long and had some really odd questions.


Tuesday was a fun day.  I went to the Banyas nature reserve in the morning, since I was hiked-out, and it was very pretty.  It had a waterfall, and there was also a tree named after me.  After that, we went rafting in the Jordan – I was with David, Seth, Mazakas, and Adam Goldflam.  The river itself was boring, but all of the rafts were at war, so that was fun.  Next stop after that was the Golan Winery, where we got a tour and overview of how the wine was made, and then we tasted three wines.  They showed us exactly how to do it – first, how to hold the cup (from its stem), smell it, swirl the wine around, smell it again, and then taste.  The wines were dry and then not dry but not sweet wines (first red, second white), and then a Muscato.  After that, we went to our youth hostel and then to Tiberias for dinner.  That was a fun day.


Wednesday was Yom Yerushalayim.  It was unfortunate that we weren't in Jerusalem, but we did Hallel anyway.  The hard hike option was at the Yehudiya, an all-day hike that involved swimming, so I didn't do it.  I did a hike at the Zavitan, which was a good hike, and I had a good conversation with Elkana about Judaism.  After that, we went to Kiryat Shmone and took a cable car up really high and got some gorgeous views of below (one could see Lebanon – it was obvious by its lack of greenery), and there was also a slide in this go-cart kind of thing that was fun (though I was scared at first).  We had a BBQ at the hostel, and then we went to the Hamat Gader hot springs, which I had been to in 8th grade; that was enjoyable.


Thursday was an extremely easy day.  We basically went to the Sachne Natural springs and swam there, and I also read a little bit.  From there we went back to Yeruham, and along the way I picked up the new Hadag Nachash CD and a Moshe Peretz CD (popular Mizrahi singer).  And that was northern Tiyyul! Fun week, great way of seeing the land as we prepare to leave.


Kol Tuv,



Friday, May 14, 2010

Shabbat with the Parents, Round 2



Last Shabbat – the last open Shabbat of Nativ – I spent again with Ima and Abba in Jerusalem.  I arrived Thursday afternoon, and we had a chill afternoon at the pool, resting in the room and whatnot.  Abba and I went to Pomeranz to do some book shopping – we both shipped books home.  After that, we went to Emek to have dinner at Luciana, and Brenna joined us.  I walked back to Beit Shmuel with Brenna after dinner, but I was tired so I didn't stay there too late and just chilled in the hotel.


Friday morning was our Old City morning – except a lot of the things we were planning on doing didn't happen.  We couldn't tag along on a Kotel Tunnel tour, and the Hurva synagogue required reservations for a tour, which we did not know before.  We just walked around for a bit, and I went into the Arab quarter for the first time.  Ima and Abba wanted to buy a small rug, so we went into a store, where the guy tried to charge them more than they wanted to spend.  He was very nice, and told Abba that he liked his beard and called him Mr. Beard while trying to reduce the price.  But Abba walked out, and the guy came chasing him down the alley trying to get Abba to buy it; he told Abba, "Mr. Beard, you are a very nice guy but a very hard guy."  Abba eventually bought the rug.


After the Old City, we took a cab to Machane Yehuda, where we did some candy shopping, and Ima and I went into Marzipan and bought some stuff there.  The amount of candy we bought was ridiculous, but thank God the shuk is cheap.  We then had lunch at Big Apple off of Ben Yehuda, and I bought a shirt there.  We saw Gelb, David, and Mazakas at Ann after that, and then we just went back to the hotel and I napped.


For davening Friday night, we went to Shira Hadasha – I thought my parents would enjoy the singing there.  Except, of course, that they really dragged it out that night, doing every dai dai dai and niggun and, in particular, slow niggunim that one could do.  We sat next to Davids Helfand and Singer and I had a good time but it was definitely long.  We left after Magen Avot and had dinner at the hotel, then went for a short walk around the area.  Shabbat morning we went to Yakar, which was very nice (though they didn't do some of the tunes I like) and then once again we had hotel at the lunch.  I napped for most of the afternoon again.


Soon enough came Motza'ei Shabbat, and Ima and Abba departed.  It was very nice being with them, but after all I will be seeing them very soon.  I know for them the trip was very nice, and it was the first time in 17 years they had come to Israel together.  Jerusalem was a nice way to end my open Shabbatot here in Israel, only to be continued in the future.


Kol Tuv,