Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye Haifa and Welcome to North American Kennes!

Cohort 5 Israel Winter Seminar
Tuesday, December 30th, 2014
By Josh Geller


As we awoke on Tuesday, the 30th the Boston Fellows realized a sad truth, it was time to leave our Israelis. Although there was some excitement about meeting all of the North American Dillers once again, a somber vibe filled the room as we arrived at Reut Middle School. We proceeded to take part in program led by Liana and Nitsan, which focused on memories, and what makes them important. We discussed how our memories play a large role in who we are as people, and as a collective group. We proceeded to discuss the top five most important events in the history of both Israel and America. We quickly came to the realization that the was no correct answer. Everyone had a different answer. The different ways in which we feel about certain events all stems from how we remember them. As a group of 17 and 18 year olds, some of us vaguely remember the events that took place on September 11, 2001. As a result of this scaring memory, many members found 9/11 to be on of the top five most pivotal moments the US history.  Our recollection of that day, and actually experiencing the effects of it, are what made the attacks on the Trade Center so important to us.
Continuing, we moved on to our Maagal Boker, which was led by Rachel, Amit and Shay. They led us in a game that truly made everyone feel special. They sat us in a circle and told us to close our eyes. After all eyes were shut, Yitzhak would tap people and tell them to open their eyes and walk into the middle of the circle. Then a question would be posed to the group of people in the middle such as, "Who has a contagious smile?" and who do you feel is a leader?" The fellows in the middle would proceed to walk around, and tap their peers on the head, if they were described by the question. Every fellow got to opportunity to stand up and anonymously, answer the question. I was tapped several times, and even towards the end of the twenty questions,  I got goose-bumps every time I was tapped on the head. It was a great experience because it let me know how people really feel about me. As someone who constantly wonders what other people think of me, it was great to find out. 
More emotions were to follow as it was finally the time that everyone was dreading. The bus arrived as we had to say a tear filled goodbye to our Israeli counterparts. Even though it is possible that I will never see some of those people again, I know that the connections I have made will last a lifetime. 
After a long three hour bus ride, we finally arrived at Sde Boker, where North American Kennes is being hosted. In the middle of the Negev everywhere you look is another breathtaking view. After some socializing with the cohorts from the other cities, we all met in the auditorium for a lecture on the history of the Jewish people. The one point that always sticks out to me when talking about Jewish history is the resiliency  exhibited by the Jews throughout thousands of years. After numerous exiles, and struggling through serve anti-semitisim, the Jewish people finally have a home, Israel.
The last program that we did was an emotional Maagal Lila led by our JCs Ilana and Yitzhak. After standing at the edge of a huge valley, and taking in the true beauty off the Negev we were handed letter that were written by our parents just before we were supposed to leave for Israel during the summer. These heartfelt, deeply emotional letters brought many of the fellows to tears. It was evident to most how much family means to us, and although we don't quite say it enough, we are very thankful. It was a great end to a very emotional day. 
Jimmy V, a very famous college basketball coach, who lost his battle with cancer said,  A full day is a day, where you laugh and cry in the same day. I think it is very safe to say, we all had a very full day.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Haifa Community Week: Part II

Cohort 5 Israel Winter Seminar
Haifa Community Week: Part II
By Isabel Feinstein

On Tuesday morning, the fellows woke up at their respective accommodations. We met at the Reut Middle School at 8:30 to kick off the day with a maagal boker, designed by Adin and Galia. They led a discussion focusing on how we would take advantage of our last full day in Haifa. After wrapping up the meeting, the Boston fellows traveled to the Gavrieli School for some relaxed volunteering. Gavrieli is an elementary school in Haifa with a student body comprised of many Ethiopian and Russian immigrants as well as children of Arab backgrounds. The group divided in half, as did the fourth graders we had just been introduced to through a very cute rendition of "What A Wonderful World." We were granted the distinct privilege of learning to play "House-Field" with the kids, which is a special version of baseball with impressively unclear rules. Nonetheless it was very amusing. We then played a matching cards game led by Ilana. It was interesting to see how a total language barrier affected my personal ability to engage with the fourth graders. My sister is in fourth grade, and I have a lot of little kids in my life with whom I am usually able to connect quite well. It was a lot harder in this situation due to the lack of a mutual language. However, I still thoroughly enjoyed the visit to the school.
Our next stop was Or Hadash, one of the few Reform synagogues in Israel. We talked to the synagogue's rabbi, who told us a bit about his personal beliefs in regards to Judaism. Or Hadash is actually partnered with several Reform congregations in the greater Boston area, so the rabbi was enthusiastic about finding out to which temples the fellows belonged. We managed to eat lunch somewhere in between Or Hadash and Beit Hagefen, an institute dedicated to bridging the social and cultural gap between Jews and Arabs in Haifa. A friendly tour guide showed us the art Beit Hagefen has installed, both inside its residence and on the neighborhood streets. I love looking at art and I have a special appreciation for street art, so this part of the day was fun for me. Liana bought us falafel from "the best falafel in Israel" in the Wadi Nisnas Arab neighborhood. The owner's son even went to Brandeis!
Later in the afternoon, the Haifa fellows joined us back at the Reut School for an Israel program led by the JCs. This was an activity that every Diller group did, intended to expand the way fellows see Israel in relation to themselves. Although I was tired by that point, it was thought-provoking and the JCs did a great job. We then transitioned into prepping for the closing ceremony of Community Week. Everyone changed into nice clothes, ate a quick dinner, and socialized with each other while waiting for the parents to arrive. After a hectic hour, we began. Josh G. and Yarin were the MCs, and they were very entertaining. Several fellows, both Boston and Haifa, gave brief speeches on the past few days. After the ceremony, the fellows had a dance party on the stage, just like we did the last night of NAS. It felt good that we had a group tradition that we carried on, and after a lot of laughing and hugging, I went home with my host family for our final night together.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Haifa Community Week: Sunday 12.29

Cohort 5 Israel Winter Seminar
Haifa Community Week: Sunday, December 29th
By Hillel Maroun

This Sunday, all of the Boston Dillers met for the first time since the weekend and shared countless hilarious pictures and stories after not seeing each other for a couple days. After spending a free shabbat with our Israeli hosts, we returned to planned activities with Liana and continued to explore Haifa.

We started the touring off by visiting a Carmelite Monastery, which is a really cool example of the diversity Haifa has to offer. The fact that it was one of the highest buildings on the Carmel mountain exemplified how not only Jewish residents of Haifa have the best real estate and views, which we continued to realize after visiting the Baha'i Gardens.

A beautiful 18 terraced shrine for a Baha'i faith leader's tomb, the Gardens are situated in the center of the city and occupy a large swathe of very desirable land that could be used for stores or apartments. The whole garden is symmetrical, beautifully landscaped, and extremely peaceful. The Baha'i faith's values are well represented by the garden. We learned that they believe in the unity of all humans: equality and freedom for all.

This equality is extremely prevalent in Haifa. In the German colony, where we had a brief lunch and opportunity to shop, there are Arab villages situated next to the German area, next to Jewish homes and all next to the Baha'i garden.

Towards the end of the night, the Israelis Joined us, and we met with Liana's old professor at the University of Haifa, Yisrael Ne'eman. He gave a fascinating talk about the Israeli elections, operations in Gaza, and regional politics. He knew so many statistics, numbers, and facts, and could give detailed answers to any questions we asked.

Finally, we met with entrepreneurs who participate in the Boston-Haifa connection, who were building useful projects that were helpful to all sorts of demographics and companies. One of the projects was mapping real time air pollution in cities around the world and providing the data to help improve air quality for residents and to help educate the public about the pollution in their area.

Sunday provided us with a very eye opening view of Haifa, and helped us understand that Israel isn't only a "war-torn" country portrayed by the media, but rather a beacon for diversity and coexistence.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Going to Israel School: Three Experiences

Cohort 5 Israel Winter Seminar
Going to Israeli School: Three Experiences
By Micaela Furman, Oliver Shoulson, and Adin Feder

Micaela Furman:
Naomi Silverstein and we're staying and went to school with Orel Elhadad on Friday. She goes to Leo Baeck school with Yael Molcho Fisher. We were a little nervous at first to see what Israeli school was like but overall very excited. When we got there in the morning, we were overwhelmed with how nice and outgoing everyone was. Everyone wanted to know where we were from, why we were here, etc. The first class we went to was a Civics class in which neither me nor Naomi really knew what to expect. The teacher was hilarious and very loud while teaching about the Israeli government. He was so impressed that we were from the US he even started teaching the class in English and asked us to explain how the US government works in comparison to the Israeli one. All throughout the class we were a little shocked at how loud all of the students were compared to our own classmates back home. Overall, it was a very interesting experience and I'm very happy that I was able to see what kinds of environments the Haifa fellows learn in.

Oliver Shoulson:
This Friday I had the distinct privilege of going to school with my wonderful host, Amit Peretz. Amit goes to the public high school in his close-knit town, Kiryat Chayim, which is a small neighborhood a few minutes outside of Haifa. Most of the roughly 1300 students, Amit included, walk to school in the mornings, which may have contributed to my first impression of the school as being one of utter chaos. Having gone to private school my whole life, I don't have much of a frame of reference against which to compare the craziness of large public schools, but this environment was like none I had ever seen. Students, it seemed, only attended class when the humor struck them, and when they did manage to drag themselves into the crowded, chaotic classrooms it's difficult to imagine they were absorbing any of the information that the teachers were spitting at them in the fastest Hebrew I've ever heard. Teachers seemed hardly bothered that a whole crowd of 15-17-year-olds were making their way through packs of cigarettes behind the cafeteria during lunch. The school also now declined to provide toilet paper in the bathrooms because, as I was informed, students were known to stick wet wads of it to the ceiling. Of course I can speculate as to the reason for this remarkable apathy, but mostly I am reminded by the experience how privileged I have been in my own schooling experience, and hope to appreciate the order and commitment that the teachers and students at my school display even more when I get home.

Adin Feder:
Israeli school was an interesting culture shock. The classes were much less formal and the Israeli teachers had quite a loose tongue. Students regularly skip class without repercussions and smoke cigarettes at school. However, the culture is very relaxed and is great in terms of the social opportunities it provides students. An interesting experience was when I was asked to teach a politics class in hebrew about American politics with no preparation. It was interesting to compare the American and Israeli political systems and share with them the political atmosphere in America around issues like racism and inequality.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Heading North

Cohort 5 Israel Winter Seminar
By Izzy Gleckman

Our last day of touring began with a 7:45 am wake up call. After a traditional Israeli breakfast provided by the hotel, we headed to our first program of the day. Led by the staff, the Guest and Host program made us look deeper into the responsibilities and obligations of a host vs. those of a guest. We were given a passage which detailed the interaction of Rabbi Yannai and his house guest who he invited after spotting him on the street. This story started a conversation about the appropriate means of hosting and the expectations of being or hosting a stranger in your house. Then, when asked whether we think of ourselves as either a guest or host of Judaism, the response was split nearly 50%. I, for one, consider myself a guest of Judaism- not because I can't lead conversations or initiate religious activities, but because I feel as though Judaism itself is the host and all jews are its guest. This analyst ion and discussion really made me consider my place in Judaism.
       After a quick break, we began our next seminar called "The Parent Circle". The idea behind this program was to have a Palestinian and Israeli, both of which have lost a loved one due to circumstances involving the "other side", and talk through past occurrences and realize that most civilians just want the same thing. Peace. Emotionally challenging and mentally stimulating, both presenters told the storied of their late family members- the daughter of an Israeli and the husband of a Palestinian. After they shared their stories we were able to ask them questions regarding the past events, the current atmosphere, and the future of Israel. The theme that kept on being mentioned was the importance of communication with the "others". When they left, we had the opportunity to reflect as a smaller group and further discuss what needs to happen in the future in order to attain peace. The contrast between the ideas of the Americans and the ideas of the Israelis was very evident. As an American, it is easy to dream of a perfect situation- they would both just talk through it and get all of the civilians to tell the governments that the war is not contributing to a progressive society. Some of the Israelis, however saw things differently, from the fist hand perspective. A few agreed that conversation is the only way they can move on, but some realized that conversation hasn't worked in the past so a new method needs to be tested. Running an hour over the expected time of departure, conversations were arising and thoughts were racing. Even while we were on the bus to lunch, everyone was still discussing and reflecting on our earlier program.
          We had a "pizur lunch" (pick our own lunch) time on Rothschild Street in Tel Aviv, a bustling, commercial hub. After a two hour drive, we arrived at Yemin Orde, a school for immigrant students whose parents either live in or out of Israel. This school provides them an opportunity to thrive and learn in the most accepting atmosphere possible. Three of our Boston-Haifa peers attend this school and we had a chance to understand their lives and hear their stories of moving to Israel.
          We left the school- after taking many pictures of the incredible sunset- and set out for Haifa, where we met up with all of the host families. We had a nice opening program where we all met our new families! We did an activity led by some of the Haifa Fellows where we answered different questions and had discussions about our seminar so far and about our own lives with the families. We met the Haifa supervisor, Ilana Trock.
         Overall, it was an amazing day filled with insight and new experiences.

Friday, December 26, 2014


Cohort 5 Israel Winter Seminar
Jerusalem- 12.24.14
By Rachel Goodman

On our second full day in Israel, we ventured to Jerusalem, a city that is sacred to many people all over the world.  This trip was especially exciting for me, since it was my first time going there—in fact, it is actually my first time ever visiting in Israel.  I have spent a lot of time learning about Jerusalem in religious school, Diller, and other programs, so was ecstatic to finally get the opportunity to visit in person.  Our first stop was at Mount Hertzel, a military cemetery for soldiers who served in the IDF.  As we walked around, we stopped at several of the graves of influential leaders, including Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, and Theodor Hertzel.  We talked about their legacies as leaders, and impacts they left on the country, as well as the world.  We also visited the graves of some lone soldiers.  One girl’s we visited, she had made Aliyah from England at the age of 18, enlisted in the army, and died while fighting in a war.  Our tour guide, Eytan, read a letter she wrote to her parents, shortly before she died.  In the letter, she explained to her parents that despite the war, and despite the fact that she might die in battle, she does not regret her decision to make Aliyah.  For once in her life, she did not feel embarrassed to be Jewish, because she was surrounded by other Jews.  She clearly states that she had to redo her life, she would easily make the decisions again.  Her love for the country was so powerful—I was amazed to hear such passion for a country from an immigrant, especially an immigrant who had only lived in the country of a year and a half.  Following this part of the tour, we met with two people from an organization called “The Lone Soldier Center” Chaya and Josh.  They were both “lone soldiers” which means that they were both soldiers in the IDF from different countries.  After his service, he began to working at the Lone Soldier Center, and currently holds a high position there now.  Chaya, from Acton, MA, is currently a soldier.  She came to the program dressed in her uniform.  Chaya told us what it is like to be a lone soldier in the IDF—how she must juggle her service and a full time job.  She explained to us the role of the Lone Soldier Center in her life: it helps her with all of her responsibilities, and gives her extra support when it comes to making large decisions, such as choosing to work, paying bills, and more.  It was very interesting to hear her story, especially because she grew up very close to where the Boston fellows are from.  Both Josh and Chaya stressed that it is not easy to be a lone soldier, however as Chaya said her friend explained it: “It was the best experience that I would never want to do again.”
Next we headed to Machane Yehuda, a market in Jerusalem.  There, we had some free time to explore and try all of the fresh fruits and vegetables.  I walked around with some friends, and we bought fruit, spices, and gifts for our families.  Both my American friends and Israeli friends insisted that I try "halva" for the first time, a sweet sesame treat.  It was exciting to try something new and different from my own culture.  When it was time to leave, we were all sad because there was so much more of the market that we wanted to explore.  When I come back to Israel in the future, Machane Yehuda is definitely a place I would like to visit again.
Finally, we headed to the Old City to tour and visit the Kotel.  When we entered, I was taken aback by the beauty.  The buildings were old and detailed.  The views were spectacular.  I couldn’t believe I was actually there.  Eytan took us around the city, and explained several important events that happened in different places.  He talked about the city before Israel became a state, as well as events that took place after 1948.  As we walked around, I saw lots of young children running around by themselves—it was interesting to see, because typically in America, children are usually accompanied by their parents in public places.  This was one of many cultural differences I have noticed while in Israel.  Finally, we arrived at the Kotel.  This was the place I had been looking forward to all day.  Whenever I think of Israel, this is the picture that races to my mind.  Seeing it in person was amazing—I could not believe I was actually there.  We split up into boys and girls, because men and women are separated when vising the Wall.  I approached it with several friends, and had to wait a while to reach the wall.  When I finally got there, I touched it, and put in several notes written by friends and family at home.  I was amazed at how many notes had been put into the wall, and thought about how many people had been standing in the same spot as me, taking in the experience of being at the Kotel.  At that moment, I felt very connected to the Jewish people and community.
Our last stop was Ben Yehuda Street.  After a long day of touring, it was nice to just hang out, get dinner, and shop for souvenirs.  People ate everything, from Shawarma to pizza.  Finally, we boarded the bus and headed back to Tel Aviv to spend the night.  Now, as I am writing this, I am surrounded by Israelis and Americans singing and laughing together.  It feels great to finally be reunited as one Boston-Haifa cohort, and there is absolutely no place I would rather be.