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