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,



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Amram Mitzna Meets with Nativ and Kibbutz Visit



I forgot to mention in an earlier blog post about the meeting between Amram Mitzna, Yeruham mayor, and us.  Mitzna used to be high up in the military, then was mayor of Haifa after his military career, worked his way up to chair of the Labor Party in Kenesset, and after losing the election for Prime Minister to Ariel Sharon, he was appointed by the Interior Ministry to be mayor of Yeruham.  While Yeruham's leadership was corrupt and left its residents with a poor morale and even embarrassed, Mitzna came and turned that around, and now Yeruham has greatly improved over the past five years.  It was great that he took time out of his schedule to spend time with us, telling us the story of his relationship to Yeruham and learning about ourselves and our mission in Yeruham.  He was very nice, personable, and answered a lot of our questions about Yeruham and his great work.


Anyway, this semester I had not visited the kibbutz at all, other than a couple of pass-throughs to pick up people for B'yachad, and I felt it would be a shame not to visit at all.  Therefore, I went on Wednesday afternoon last week and spent the night there.  I arrived around dinner time (after some long bus traveling), which I understand to be the worst meal on kibbutz.  It was fine though, definitely doable.  Shira and Haley gave me a tour of kibbutz – the lookout point, different fields, the cow barn (refet), dining hall… it was very pretty.  I hung out around and eventually went to sleep in Joe, Mosko, and Jon's room.  The nice things about kibbutz, in comparison to Yeruham: direct bus stops to/from Jerusalem, A/C in caravans, TVs, but their internet sucks.


In the morning, I woke up and showered, and Spaceballs was on TV, so I watched that.  I hung out at the refet and got a glimpse of what goes on there.  Since it was the last day, there wasn't really much work for me to see there.  Lunch was GREAT – schnitzel, beef, and Thursday "fry-day."  Shortly after lunch I headed back to Jerusalem to be with the parents.  But I'm really glad I got to see the kibbutz and see everyone there!


Kol Tuv,


Last Day of Volunteering at Balbash




Last Wednesday, I completed my volunteering at the Belevav Shalem Yeshiva High School (Balbash) in Yeruham.  There wasn't much happening for most of my classes, but the 9th grade class met in the morning, and most of them actually came to class.  We did a classic conversation where Pini instructs everyone to ask us questions and we translate Hebrew/English according to the students' abilities.  By us, I really mean me because Gabe was unfortunately sick.  They asked me what I'm doing next year, one kid had a question about anti-Semitism, and, as usual, they asked me if I plan on making aliyah.  Very Zionist kids.  I finished off with my last lunch (star-shaped chicken nuggets!) and my last mincha there.


To reflect on my overall experience at the yeshiva, I think overall I am happy with the time I spent there.  In many ways, I wish I was more involved with English there; I was only available two days a week and there were many days when class didn't meet.  I'm not entirely sure that our presence there will have made a huge difference in any kid's test scores – though there was one day where we helped seniors as their oral bagrut was coming the next day.  But there are a few things that came out of it: a) I'm sure they learned a fair amount of English from us, formally or informally, and having a native speaker help them with their work I'm sure was a treat for them; b) looking at this from a broader scope, I believe our presence there was good for the Israel-Diaspora relationship because whether or not they like it, there are Jews in the Diaspora and it is important that they have contact with us and learn the realities of Jews in galut (exile); c) I caught a telling glimpse of the educational system in Israel – and I've been told that a lot of what I saw can be compared to much of the country; and d) interacting with dati (religious) teenagers in Israel gave me a lot to think about in respect to my own worldview.  That is a larger topic of conversation not for this post at the least.


We were told at the beginning of our stay in Yeruham by mayoral candidate Michael Bitton that we're not here to change or save the world.  That is definitely true about my volunteering.  Yet in more subtle ways, I believe that both the school and I benefitted from my participation in their academic program and school as a whole, and I hope to return to visit one day.  Balbash is a special place that will remain a dear part of my Nativ experience.


Kol Tuv,



Tuesday, May 11, 2010

MASA Day Yerushalayim



After being in Yeruham for basically 24 hours, it was time to turn around and head back to Yerushalayim for MASA's culminating event of the year.  We actually missed the morning stuff, but one of the sessions they offered we had already done a few months ago during Israel Today Seminar (branding Israel with Ido Aharoni).  On the way to Binyanei HaUma, we had lunch at Harel Mall – they gave us coupons to a couple of different restaurants and we were free to buy whatever.


The first two sessions we attended related to college and what to expect next year.  First we heard from a panel of former college students and one current gap-year student, where they recalled their experiences being active on their college campuses.  I didn't really gain anything new from that.  Then we had a lady who I think is the director of Hillel's Israel office talk about Jewish identity on college campuses – she was interesting but again, nothing too eye opening for me.  Following those sessions, Natan Sharansky spoke to the whole convention.  I wish I had paid a little more attention; it's hard in large settings to listen to a speaker.  Some of the questions were kind of annoying because they included a 2-minute introduction about how in love s/he is with Sharansky and his story – that wasn't needed.  The session after was pretty interesting, though.  An oleh from South Africa, the speaker spoke passionately about Israel as being a home for the Jewish people (Judaism is not a religion for him), and offered five legs of what a Jew should consist.  We had a long break after that, and the next major thing was hearing Bibi speak.  Whether or not one agrees with his politics, one could only be moved by the Jewish unity he invoked and his love for Eretz and Medinat Yisrael.  Over and over again, he proclaimed, "this is your country."  It was a treat to hear him.  To finish off the night we had Hadag Nachash – wasn't incredibly interested, so I mostly stayed outside.


Then, once again, back to Yeruham – made it home at a quarter to one!


Kol Tuv,



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Parents Come to Visit!


When I’ve told people that Ima and Abba coming to visit, the most common first reaction is “this late in the year?!”  But they came and they’re here, and we spent some quality time together this past weekend.

For the first time, they decided they wanted to stay at the lowest place on Earth - the Dead Sea - for a night, so after we did all that I described in the last post, we headed out to Yam Ha-Melach.  We stayed at the Isrotel, which turns out to be a really nice hotel.  Most of the guests at the hotel were Russian and walked around wearing bathrobes; kinda sketchy – Ima jokingly suspected them to be the Russian mafia.  Dinner was totally unreal – a buffet of different meats, some good desserts, and wine from the tap, which was actually really good.  After dinner, we walked around the area for a little bit, checked out some stores.  One store was selling “Rambam Soap” – I found that to be kind of intriguing.  Ima was thinking of buying some foot cream for someone but it was labeled “foot deodorant,” and that just sounds kind of wrong.

Anyway, Friday morning Abba and I went into the sea for a little bit and Ima got a massage at the spa.  We met Slovakians and a crazy Australian lady; the former was on their first trip to Israel, and the latter comes every year for treatment.  Abba loves striking up conversation with random people, as I saw saw all weekend.  I guess that makes him a good rabbi.  From there we headed to Jerusalem, where we were for Shabbat.  We stayed at the Dan Panorama on Keren HaYesod – nice pick.  In the afternoon, we walked around the Ben Yehuda area a bit, and we ate at Burgers’ Bar.  We went to schul at the Great Synagogue – the chazzan davened nicely, but they did a ten-minute rendition of Sefirat Ha-Omer, which was kind of unnecessary from my point of view.  Then we ate dinner with Dov and Esther Genehovski; we were surprised because they served fleishig, which they don’t do Friday night normally.  Ima hadn’t seen them in over four years, though, and we all enjoyed seeing each other, so much so that we didn’t leave until close to midnight.

On Shabbat morning, we davened at Shira Hadasha.  For me it wasn’t anything more special than I’m used to – very nice for the most part – and Ima and Abba enjoyed it, though didn’t see it as their best experience there.  We ate lunch at Agron – for once actually good food – and napped at the hotel.  Family friends who live in Modi’in came to visit, and then Abba and I went to Mincha at The Great Synagogue.  Mincha was followed by Se’udat Shlishit, and we sat with Rabbi Freedman and had a good time there.  After Shabbat, we went to Ben Yehuda for shopping and that was the extent of the night really.

On Sunday morning, I davened at the CY and then went to get a haircut and beard trim.  Afterwards, we all met up at the CY so I could introduce my parents to teachers and people I learned with, though a lot of people weren’t there since the Shabbaton returned late the night before.  I introduced Ima and Abba to Tito Bravo, and then we took a trip to Poland, and by that I mean Me’ah She’arim.  They had some gift and jewelry shopping to do, and I also wanted to do music shopping.  When we got back to the center of town, I introduced them to Aldo for some gelato, and then we went back to the hotel.  We had dinner at Joy on Emek R’faim, and then a little later I went back to Yerucham.

It hasn’t been since I was two that I’ve shared an Israel experience with my parents, so it was nice to spend the weekend.  I’ll be going back tomorrow.

Kol Tuv,


Friday, April 30, 2010

Touring Dimona with the Parents


Yesterday morning, Ima and Abba came down to Yeruham and picked me up.  We went to “Al HaGrill” for lunch and then drove up to Dimona to see a couple of things there. Abba is on a committee for the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America) and they oversee a couple of things there, I believe.  Both things were very interesting.

The first thing we saw was Yad LaBanim of Dimona.  Yad LaBanim, which I learned exists in every Israeli city, is a memorial for all soldiers of a particular city that have fallen in war.  Downstairs was a museum that documented the history of Dimona.  The docent there explained how Dimona used to be a bunch of tents and then huts for immigrants from both Europe and Middle Eastern countries, and workers lived there and commuted to factories and whatnot.  Many of these people were strong Zionists and wanted Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, so when the immigrants arrived and asked what Dimon was, the response was “Dimona? It’s 15 minutes from Jerusalem,” or “Dimona? It’s like Tel Aviv!”  Eventually it got turned into a city, and David Ben-Gurion endorsed it as the “wonder of wonders” of Israeli cities, praising how well it was developing as a town in the Negev.  Slowly, motels, hotels, movie theaters, a train station, etc. were developed into the city and now it looks legitimate.  I enjoyed that tour.

Even more amazing, however, is what we saw after.  We went to the Partnership 2000 office, where we met with a guy named Yisrael, now in charge of Partnership programs in Dimona but used to teach at Belevav Shalem in Yeruham, the yeshiva high school where I do my volunteering.  He explained the Lunch ‘n Learn program, geared towards kids from lower socio-economic backgrounds whose parents aren’t really equipped to help them with their schoolwork.  It works to empower kids to lead good lives with a good education and good values.  Kids stay after school until around 5 p.m. and do their homework as well as other enrichment activities.  Then we saw one public school where this takes place, called Neve Amram.  We were greeted outside by a group of kids drumming outside, specifically for our visit, and they were great.  After their performance went inside the school and a choir and a mandolin orchestra sang/performed for us.  Following those performances, we met with Vela, the principal, and she described the school and their lunch ‘n learn program for us.  She believes that every child should receive a music education, and she received funding for music classes that take place during the day.  As a result, she receives requests from families outside of the neighborhood zone who want their children to attend that school and none other.  The teachers at the school are very dedicated and have close relationships with the students.  Vela described the Lunch ‘n Learn program, which with 50 students (out of 400) is a very successful program at Neve Amram.  Many families, she reported, decline to enroll their children in the program in 1st grade when it starts, and then comes 4th grade and they realize its benefits, and once enrolled, the families say “wow, we wish our child had started this in first grade.”  We were told the numerous stories of individual children whose grades soared after enrolling in the program, as they receive homework help there.  Vela explained that she only allows teachers from her school who know the kids to participate in the Lunch ‘n Learn.  At any rate, they also have other activities such as art enrichment; we visited a class that was making jewelry, and one of the students made a necklace for Ima.  When we visited the various classrooms, Yisrael would ask the kids if they love the enrichment program and their teachers, and the enthusiastically shouted “yes.”  Though the program is geared towards families of lower economic backgrounds, it is considered by the school and students alike as a prestigious program and a great opportunity, and all of the students were extremely happy to be there.  After hearing about all of the atrocities of Israeli education, it was amazing to see a school that’s doing well and promising a bright future for its students.  I was extremely impressed with the environment they’ve created.

I’ll go into more detail later, but we hung out on the lowest point on Earth last night and this morning, and we’re spending Shabbat in Jerusalem .

Kol Tuv,


Israel Advocacy Seminar - Hasbara - with Neil Lazarus


Our final educational seminar (official seminar at least) took place this week in Be’er Sheva, at the Leonardo Hotel.  The intensive two days consisted of building tools to properly advocate for Israel on college campuses.  Yossi’s shpeil was that we can choose to involve ourselves or distance ourselves as much as we want from Israel activity, but like it or not we will be in positions where we are put on the spot to defend Israel.

Neil, of course, did not have us bored from the first second.  He “angrily” called individuals out, made them stand up, and demanded that they justify something about something or another related to Israel.  We later learned that all scenarios that he used have been used on him before (including one about how Israeli government could endorse the massacre of gays at a bar… referencing the isolated incident when a hate crime against gays was executed at a bar in Tel Aviv, which the government completely condemned).  He then showed us a video called Crossing the Line, which documents the dire situation on the college campuses.  We went through many of his defense tactics and different advocacy tools he had to offer for us.  I have some notes written down but not in front of me at the moment.  In the afternoon, a woman in her mid-twenties named Michelle, a New York native who’s now the director of Diaspora relations for Stand With Us, did a presentation as well and talked about things we can do to be active on college campuses.  They showed us the Alan Dershowitz documentary Case for Israel; I should probably read the book.  That was all Tuesday – we went home in the evening.

On Wednesday, we returned and started with a presentation from Itamar Marcus who’s high up in the Palestinian Media Watched.  He showed us some of the most appalling TV clips from Palestinian TV that indoctrinate hatred into children (including my favorite, Farfur), as well as examples of schools, sports arenas, and street names named after Palestinian “martyrs.”  After that, a founder of Jewlicious online magazine did a presentation about the importance of using technology such as Facebook and Twitter to our advantage in promoting Israel.  In the end, it was a presentation that had a message that could have been conveyed in five minutes, but not terrible.  The afternoon was extremely intense, though.  Neil planned a simulation activity in which we were all assigned to different student groups – hugs for peace, Palestinian groups, an Israel group, a sports club, an Indian group, and a Black group.  We had to plan programs for freshman week to promote ourselves, join together with other groups, and then we had to call different arms of the university to actually book rooms, security, catering, etc. (those were madrichim).  Making those calls was an extreme pain because having five groups calling one phone all at one time just doesn’t work.  I was in the Israel group, and of course part of the simulation was that there were increasing security issues the whole time because of an attack on a Muslim blamed on Jews and death threats to Zionists.  It got intense but Neil was impressed in the end of the way we got into it (especially the Indian group).  What was stressed throughout the entire seminar was that if someone is not comfortable speaking in public, they should focus on technology or planning programs or demonstrating Israeli culture in public (he gave an example of someone who used fashion to portray Israel) – the political stuff is not always the most necessary.

I’m still yet to put the Israel advocacy skills I’ve learned into use, but I still gained a lot from reinforcing tools and facts, and this time around I also learned a couple of new things.

Kol Tuv,


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Kibbutz Galuyot - Ingathering of the Exiles



(This piece is not necessarily meant to persuade others, but rather the points here have persuaded me, myself.)


A certain b'racha warrants much of my kavanna as I say the Amidah these days:


תקע בשופר גדול לחרותנו ושא נס לקבץ גלויותנו וקבצנו יחד מארבע כנפות הארץ. ברוך אתה ה' מקבץ נדחי עמו ישראל.


Sound the great shofar for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You Lord, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel. ( translation – first site on Google)


Over the past year, I've become more and more convinced that a spiritual priority for the Jewish people has to be the ingathering of the exiles.  It's not that there's anything terribly wrong with America; it's just not Israel.  True, to each his/her own and there are many legitimate reasons for people staying in America.  But I feel personally obligated to contribute my person to the Jewish shift towards the Land of Israel.


What are we waiting for?  We have prayed for years to emerge from exile and once again return to the homeland and holy land of the Jewish people.  For the first time in two millennia, we exercise self-autonomy in our own sovereign state.  The State of Israel, in my mind, is not just around for those in need of refuge; we risk not taking full advantage of its presence by staying in the Diaspora.  Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut helped me realize even more that this is not just the state of the Israelis, but rather the state of the Jewish people as a whole.  Sure, we can send our youth here for short periods of time and send our money here, and that can be considered Jewish unity, but it is impossible for the soul itself to experience the holiness of the Land of Israel with just that alone.  Redemption, as it seems from Jewish sources, will only be completed when the Jewish people comes together physically in the Land of Israel.


Not every place in this country bares the holiness I wish there was, and the things I relish most – tranquility of Shabbat, abundance of Kosher restaurants, number of people walking around wearing kippot – are not to be found in every place.  Yet as I speak the lashon kodesh (holy language) and walk around with something very fundamental in common with almost every person I pass on the street, I find a sincere calling here to fulfill God's promise to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov.  It won't be a perfect transition, and it also won't be happening immediately, as I do plan on completing college in the States.  But I hope one day to embody the full ideal of Zionism so that when I leave in less than a month, it will only be an extended leave from home, just to return soon.


Those are my feelings in a nutshell.


Kol Tuv,