Thursday, December 29, 2011
Wednesday, December 28, 2011
After quite a few days' hiatus, we are back to blog about what we've been up to. So much has happened since our last blog: on Friday, we had just met the Israelis and many of us were unsure if we would find any meaningful and lasting connections with them. Since then, we've experienced our first Shabbat in Israel, gone through Boston-Haifa-Cleveland-Beit She'an Congress, and truly become a Diller Boston-Haifa family.
On Friday morning, we drove to a farm in the outskirts of Jerusalem. We were quite tired, but the unusual leadership activities that we participated in were interesting (for example, herding sheep and goats, and cooking our own "biblical" lunch). That took up the whole morning, so when we drove back to the hotel, everyone changed for Shabbat. We were given five options for Friday night services: Reform, Conservative, Italian Orthodox (neither Ashkenazic or Sephardic), young Orthodox (all young people), and a feminist Orthodox shul. Both of us went to the feminist Orthodox synagogue to try something new. It was definitely an interesting experience; the mehitzah was just a thin, white veil separating the men and women, and both a woman and a man gave sermons. After services, we met up with the others to walk to dinner. It was interesting to notice that none of the Israelis went to the Conservative synagogue, but rather they were about evenly divided between Reform and Orthodox. Dinner was at a different youth hostel that hosted other groups of American teenagers. We all walked home in the cold for miles, since on Shabbat we couldn't take advantage of the bus! Avi was leader of the day on Friday, and did a great job.
On Saturday, some Israelis and Americans (Emily, Andrew, Dorin, and Tuval) led a Maagal Boker after breakfast. Afterwards we split into groups for a text study about hospitality. The text prompted meaningful discussions that we were able to relate to our own upcoming home hospitality. After the text study, Meirav, our tour guide, led us on a walking tour of Jerusalem. It was a beautiful day and we learned a lot about the basic history of Jerusalem. The walking tour led us to the hostel where we ate dinner the night before, where we met the Cleveland and Beit She'an Diller Cohorts for the first time. Many of us were apprehensive at meeting forty new teenagers after spending barely two days with the Haifans, but we kept open minds and positive attitudes. After Havdalah with the entire group, just Boston-Haifa walked to a café for dinner. We spent a leisurely two hours eating and chatting until we took the bus back to the hostel for Maagal LIlah and, eventually, some sleep. Talia was leader of the day and though it was a stressful day, she kept on top of things (not that the author of this blog is biased…).
Sunday morning we woke up early, drank some coffee in a hurry, and packed our bags. Before leaving Kiriat Moriah, we had a speaker, Ofer Bavli, come to talk to us about politics in the Middle East. It was an interesting but sobering experience to hear about the reality of the current situation. We loaded the bus with our suitcases and drove to Beit Yehuda, the hostel that we stayed at Sunday through Wednesday. Cleveland and Beit She'an were already there waiting for us; after an opening ceremony, we were split into four color groups. All four cities were mixed, and we stayed in these groups to have discussions and participate in activities for all four days of Congress. After the groups separated to play bonding games, a speaker named Avraham Infeld spoke to us about what he called the "five-table legs" of Judaism: family, memory, Israel, language, and covenant. Avraham explained that every Jew should believe in at least three of the legs. He received a standing ovation due to his incorporation of humor and interesting anecdotes. The next day of Congress began with a lecture by a panel of current Jewish leaders who spoke about peoplehood and leadership in the global Jewish community. Each color group continued a discussion afterwards with one of the leaders, who explained more in depth their impact in the Jewish community. The rest of the day was spent in workshops with our color groups discussing each of Avraham's five-table legs. On Tuesday, we visited the Theodore Herzl museum, which included an interactive exhibit, as well as Herzl's grave. Tuesday afternoon and evening we celebrated the last night of Hanukah with songs and a closing ceremony, where each color group performed. By that point, the kids who were strangers on Saturday had become our close friends, and we celebrated our last night together with a Teen Zulla (a hangout party). Wednesday morning we had a final reflection and feedback circle with our color groups, which ended the 2011 Winter Congress! Back as just a Boston-Haifa group, we drove to the Old City and walked through the shuk to the Kotel. It was a moving experience for many of us, whether we had been there before or not. We have been writing this blog on the bus while driving to Haifa – we have been watching the landscape plain as we travel north, and we are looking forward to a week of community service and friendship in Haifa!
Talia and Sara
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
Monday, December 26, 2011
Saturday, December 24, 2011
This blog post was written Friday morning and not posted till now due to shabbat... We will be writing a post tomorrow sometime after we get settled at congress.
Back again with Sara and Talia! Today is Friday, and we haven't been able to blog because of our really busy past few days. We'll start with Tuesday, when we began our day with going to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai. We visited a museum there that explained in detail the Warsaw ghetto uprising, and connected it to the larger theme of Jewish self-defense throughout the years. Many of us had trouble understanding the purpose of the museum's exhibit, as it mixed the concepts of the Holocaust, struggles of Yad Mordechai as they faced the Egyptians, and, specifically, the Warsaw ghetto. The architecture of the museum was impressive, though, and it was an overall good experience. Afterwards, we drove about an hour on the bus and drove to an artist colony near Arad. We spoke with a couple who had established an art studio; their art focuses on the desert. We walked around their exhibit containing different art forms using materials from the earth. Each of us then painted small, ceramic camels to get a feel for their desert art. On the bus ride leaving Arab, leader of the day Yitzhak gave us a run down the rest of the day ahead of us. We headed to the Bedouin tents in the southern part of the Negev desert. The group rode camels, some having a more pleasant experience than others. The camel ride took us through the area surrounding the tents. The Bedouins then served us tea and coffee to let us get a sense of their traditional hospitality. Many of us found their customs fascinating, as it gave us a new perspective on the Bedouin lifestyle. We spent the night sleeping in the tents, where we caught a few hours of sleep before a busy Wednesday.
4:30 AM Wednesday morning. We were woken up by our cheerful leader of the day, Ilana, who helped us get ready for our hike up Mount Masada. It was still dark outside when we arrived at Masada, but just ten minutes later we were able to see the sun peeking over the Morabian mountains in Jordan. We spent about two hours walking around the top of Masada, where our wonderful tour-guide Mirav explained the Roman siege, and engaged us in a discussion about the importance of Masada to the Jewish people. After taking the Snake Path down in the warm sun, we ate a much-anticipated breakfast at a nearby hotel. Next we visited the Dead Sea, which was a new experience for some of us, but an enjoyable one for all. It was a relaxing last few hours as just the American group, who had basically become a family by then. Eli, our hilarious bus driver, took us on a beautiful trip up the coast of Israel, northwest to Jerusalem. We ate lunch on expansive grass overlooking the entire city of Jerusalem (can you believe it was only lunch?!) before heading to a youth hostel to get settled in our rooms.
Before we knew it, it was time to meet the Israelis. After waiting for so long, our meeting in person was a chaotic but exciting moment. The icebreaker committee, made up of both Americans and Israelis, took charge for the next few hours. Ilana and Sofia worked with Reut and Amlake to organize activities such as bingo and speed dating, which helped everyone meet and begin to form friendships. We were divided into groups of four, two Israelis and two Americans, for our excursion to Ben Yehuda Street. We browsed through shops, ate falafel and shawarma, and really began to get to know one another. It was overwhelming for us Americans to face so many new people after becoming so close as a group, but we look forward to each day and its excitements and challenges.
Bye for now,
Sara and Talia!
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Talia and Sara reporting from the Ruth Daniel hostel in Jaffa, Tel Aviv. It is 10:45 PM Israel time and we have had an extremely long but interesting day! To start off the day we divided into three groups and set off on a scavenger hunt by foot around Tel Aviv. The hunt was a mixture of learning about Tel Aviv history, being brave enough to talk to the locals, and being able to navigate a map by ourselves. We spent about four hours exploring the city, which was hard on our feet; however, our individual leadership strengths helped us finish all of our tasks. Some of us were able to buy gifts for our Hanukah swap in the pedestrian mall, Nachalat Benyamin.
After the scavenger hunt was over and the winning team was declared (Ori, Emily, Sabrina, Andrew, Josh, and Julia), we all filed back on the bus and took a very short ride to a very different part of town. Our destination was south Tel Aviv, in the neighborhood of the Central Tel Aviv Bus Station (did you know it can house 200,000 people in a bomb shelter in case of nuclear war?!). This neighborhood is one of the poorest in Tel Aviv. Most of its residents are refugees or asylum seekers from Africa, especially war-torn countries such as Darfur and Eretrea. We were led on a quick walk around the streets by Michael, the guide from Bina, a secular yeshiva located in the middle of the neighborhood. Bina is an intellectual center for secular Jews to come and study Jewish texts while volunteering in the Bialik school in the neighborhood. The volunteers work with the kids of immigrants while the adults are at work, providing a much-needed service for the struggling families.
While we were standing listening to Michael, many of us were uncomfortable because we felt as if we were intruding on the reality of their lives. There was a surprising amount of people conducting business or just hanging out on the streets for midday in the workweek. Michael explained to us that most of the residents don’t have regular jobs; instead, they pick up whatever work they can from construction or day jobs. Michael also took us to an outdoor communal library. It has books in a huge variety of languages so that most of the immigrant community can take advantage of them, and the books are categorized by how they made the readers feel. The library is one of a few outreach programs by Bina in the community.
After dinner, we headed to the Palmach museum, which takes the viewer through a series of interactive videos that show the lives of soldiers in a Palmach unit, who fought for Israel’s independence. The museum helped us understand better the experiences of people who fought in 1948.
Our first full day in Israel was long (many people nodded off on the bus!) but of course exciting and informative. Shout out to Aaron Kraus, our leader of the day!
Love you all,
Talia and Sara!
(p.s. we are in the desert tomorrow so no internet access!)
Monday, December 19, 2011
Shalom from Jaffa, Israel! After traveling for about a day and a half, we are finally settled in the Holy Land. We all made it into Israel successfully, which we were very happy about. We were greeted by a Diller staff person holding a Diller banner, followed by a group of soldiers and camera men singing Israeli songs to a Birthright group, thinking we were that group! We graciously accepted the lovely welcome and met our tour guide for the next 5 days, Meirav. Meirav used to be a Diller coordinator for the Upper Galilee, and currently she supervises the Upper Galilee group and guides mostly Latin American groups. She is also expecting a second baby! We met our medic, Orel; she is very excited to be with our group. Our bus driver seems great too.
We stepped into the unusually warm Tel Aviv air, and drove straight to Jaffa. Sierra and Yitzhak led our group in an opening ceremony, filled with blessings, grape juice, and the biggest challah we ever saw. Sierra and Yitzhak had the group write a letter to themselves about their feelings as they arrived to this seminar in Israel. The letters will be returned at the end of the trip. After choosing our “Hanukkah Harry” matches for the first day of Hanukkah tomorrow, we went back to the Rut Daniel hostel and had a delicious dinner. Aaron Krauss helped guide us with some logistical updates for today and tomorrow, fulfilling his “Leader of the Day” role. The night ended early with a very short Maagal Lila reflection on our experiences so far, which peopled described as “moving,” “unbelievable,” “happy,” “tiring,” and more. We are all exhausted and are off to bed. Tomorrow we get to wake up a BIT later than usual, followed by a very full day in Tel Aviv. Lila Tov!