Thursday, February 22, 2007

משנכנס אדר מרבין בשמחה Be Happy it's Adar !!!

This past Sunday and Monday we marked Rosh Chodesh Adar, the Beginning of the month in which Purim falls, and I figured I'd recap some of the celebrations of those two days, as well as some of my work this week.
Sunday morning, I woke up for Rosh Chodesh services, which didn't start any earlier than the usual 6 AM start. It was apparent why when we finished the entire service, includingHallel and Musaf at 6:43. My work for that day was pretty relaxing, and included checking the irrigation pipes to make sure water flowed through them, and loading more pipes onto a truck. As usual, I came back, showered and relaxed, and had dinner sandwiched in betweenMincha and Maariv.
Monday Morning, as it will be most weeks, is Yom Nativ, as I had mentioned last week and after brekfast (which meant that I got to sleep in), we joined together for some very spirited Rosh Chodesh Tefillot, including a Hallel with plenty of Adar tunes which I lead. Our Madrich even remarked that this was one of the most spiritual davenings our group has had in months. In the morning, our group split up into different vaadot (committees) to plan the future Yemei Nativ. I am on the Purim Vaad, and we busily set the groundwork for a Purimshpiel video, mishloach manot, Tzedaka and more... At the end of the morning, on the way, to lunch, I walked by the גן ילדים and witnessed the beautiful site of the kids having a mini-carnival to welcome Adar, and dance around to Purim music. After a delicious fleischig lunch which included split pea soup, chicken wings, and French Fries, we had a birthday party for a few of my friends who had recently celebrated, and had a friendly soccer match. Before Mincha, I took a run around the kibbutz and got a bit of exercise to make up for the day off of work.
The past three days have been busy at work, as we straightened irrigation sprinklers, cleared rocks, tended to carrots, and pulled weeds, in between tons of tractor rides (including one that my friend David drove), Aruchot eser (10 AM coffee/tea break), lunches and more. On Tuesday night we had a group barbecue, which gave us some great time to hang out, along with more delicious meat! Finally, this afternoon (Thursday) Hechalutzim Seminar (a 10 day Israel trip which includes one USYer from each of the 17 regions) came for a short visit, and I got to see Elana Shilling, which was a great surprise and nice opportunity to have a slice of home.
I'm looking forward to a nice day off tommorow, followed by another relaxing shabbat here on Kibbutz as my friends Hillel and Daniel are coming up from Be'er Sheva to visit!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

ארץ ישראל יפה, ארץ ישראל פורחת The Land of Israel is Beautiful and Blooming

This title, in my opinion really captures the feelings I've been having over the past week, Both while living on Kibbutz Ein Tsurim and working on Moshav Shitufi Massuot Yitzhak (A Moshav Shitufi is virtually identical to a kibbutz, except for lacking certain institutions such as a dining hall and a children's house), as I feel that I've really become part of the land of Israel by working the land and living on it.
I've really enjoyed getting into my job this past week, working in the parsley fields, moving around irrigation pipes, enjoying tractor rides and doing other jobs around the Moshav with 5 other nativers and our friendly supervisor Hanan. While I don't have much experience with outdoor work (except for mowing the lawn a few times when I was 12 years old), I'm really enjoying being outdoors and getting lots of exercise, as well as working with a group of fun people. The weather has been absoloutely beautiful, and so far, we've been almost done with work (since we start at 7:30 when the sun starts beating down!
I am also enjoying starting to become a part of the kibbutz lifestyle, as well as the beatiful surroundings that I live it (minus the smell that wafts over from the refet (cow stables) every so often! Every morning I wake up at the crack of dawn to attend Shacharit at 6 AM with the kibbutz. I then have a little time to relax and get ready for the day, before having breakfast in the Chadar Ochel, and getting our ride down the road for work. I get back at 2 and shower, leaving plenty of time to relax and hang out before Mincha, Dinner, which is held outside near our trailers, and Ma'ariv.

Now for a few words about Tuesday and the weekend, (and by that I mean Friday-Shabbat). Tuesday was our first Yom Nativ, which is one day a week (usually a Monday) when we come together and regroup from our seperate jobs the rest of the week. This week we spent the morning, after davening shacharit, in a group discussion about our transition from studying in Jerusalem to working on Kibbutz. after a delicious lunch in the Chadar Ochel, many of us boarded a bus together with the other two Nativ subgroups, for a day of Ramah activities in Jerusalem. We were first dropped of at the Dan Panorama Hotel, where Interviews were taking place, and I chatted for a few minutes and caught up with Amy Skopp Cooper, the director of Ramah Nyack. I then had a few hours to spare and walked up to the Fuchsberg Centre, where I washed a load of laundry, and then had the pleasure of going to the Conservative Yeshiva and studying Midrash with Rabbi Mordechai Silverstein, just like old times. The day ended with a dinner at Cafe Atara for all Ramah Nyack staff in Israel at Cafe Atara, a delicious dairy restaraunt down the street. It was nice to see people I hadn't seen since this past August, and towards the end of the meal, we even had a guest appearance by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjanin Netanyahu!

Friday was my first day off, and I think I ended up making pretty good use of it. I couldn't stop myself from still waking up early for tefillot, but I relaxed afterwards and waited until 8 to have breakfast. While I was eating I ran into my friends Josh and Phil, and I spent the rest of the morning chilling in their cabin, and celebrating Phil's 19th Birthday with him. A little before 12 we decided to go into Kiryat Malachi with our other friend Jacob, a development town of about 20,000 five mintues from Kibbutz. The four of us arrived there and after 2 minutes, found our first stop,Shawarma shel Shuki. We each got Shawarma in a Baguette, which was quite delicious and pretty filling. After lunch we walked around and checked out the town. We found a grocery store with pretty cheap prices, and I picked up a hebrew newspaper to read over shabbat.
Although some of us wanted to hold a Nativ minyan Friday night, I wanted to check out the Davening in the kibbutz beit knesset, and just as the sun was setting a little after 5 PM I walked with 3 friends towards the centre of the kibbutz and found seats. After mincha, everyone joined together in singing Yedid Nefesh, and then a man who was sitting in the row behind us with a beautiful voice went up to the amud and led a beautiful Carlebach kabbalat Shabbat. The whole congregation joined in the singing, and it was a very warm feeling to see that in many of the rows around us sat three generations of kibbutz members coming together to bring in Shabbat. It was definitely one of the most spiritual Shabbat services I had been to in a while. Between Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv a D'var Torah was given, which I'd like to quickly summarize here:
There are two mitzvot in the Parsha listed in a row, in one of which, not oppressing the orphaned and widowed God promises retribution against the one who violates it, and the second, not holding onto a lendee's posessions overnight, it is only stated that God will listen because he is merciful. Rashbam explains that the two different responses correspond to two legal categories, the first being the rule of law, and the second being going beyond the letter of the law. This was then connected to a description of the situation in Israel today, when many times the rule of law is not even followed in respect to social justice, let alone going beyond the letter. The person giving the d'var torah then went on to speak about an amazing organization called במעגלי צדק (in the cicles of justice), which was founded by religious zionists with a passion for democracy and social action. The have devolped a certificate called תו החברתי (social certification), which is posted in restaraunts and businesses which commit to paying their workers on time, treating the properly, and providing access for the handicapped, among other requirements. The Conservative movement is working on a similar oproject at the moment in North America, and I hope it will be as successful as this organization.
The service continued with Maariv, which was followed by another delicious Shabbat dinner like last week's. After Zemirot and Birkat Hamazon, I chatted with some friends, read, and got to bed early.
Shabbat morning we davened with the kibbutz, in what was aother quick (under two hours) Shabbat service. Lunch started at 10:30 and was very delicious and relaxing. We held an early mincha service around 12:30, which I got to lead, and I spent the rest of the afernoon reading and resting. We came back together for Seudah Shlishit,zemirot, maariv, and Havadalah, and we began Rosh Hodesh Adar!
Tommorow morning: Back to Shacharit at 6, breafast and work. Shavua Tov v'Hodesh Tov!

Monday, February 12, 2007

Major update #2: ‘Israel Today Seminar’ week/Darom Tiyul/Beginning of Kibbutz

I have had a very busy, but exciting two weeks, so now that I’m getting settled here on Kibbutz Ein Tzurim and have my computer back with me (having been in storage for the past week), I figured I’d update everyone on all of the exciting things I’ve been up to. Here it goes:

Monday, January 29

After leaving Toronto early Sunday morning and connecting in Newark, I arrived home in Israel a little before 7 on Monday morning. I picked up my bags, got in line for a sherut to Jerusalem, but by the time the sherut had made all of its other stops I had missed the bus for our morning tour, so instead I had time to shower and rest a bit. In the afternoon, following lunch and mincha, we went to Geula, a Haredi neighbourhood and met with a member of the Karlin-Stolin hassidic sect, who took us around their girls school, which included a matzah bakery (!), and then sat down and answered our questions. While some of his answers upset or surprised us, it was still informative to hear a representative of this segment of Israeli society

We spent Tuesday in Tel Aviv, and had a mix of fun and educational activities in different places around the city. The day began with a visit to the Dialogue in the Dar exhibit at the Holon childrens museum, where we spent about 45 minutes in total darkness in order to learn about what its like to be blind. With a guide who was vision impaired himself, we used our other senses to feel what a number of different activities, such as crossing the street or going to a snack bar would be like without being able to see. It was an extremely eye-opening experience that I won’t forget for a long time.

We then took a bus over to the neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek, had a lunch of deli sandwiches, which was followed by a question and answer session with an activist from שלום עכשיו (Peace Now) and a performance by the Inbal dance troupe. The day ended with a visit to the Palmach museum, which told the story of the striking arm of the pre-state Haganah through an experiential audio-visual exhibition. Before heading back to Jerusalem, we stopped at the Azrieli Centre, one of the largest malls in Israel, where we had dinner in the food court. I chose to get a double whopper from Burger King, which was pretty tasty.

Wednesday was spent around Jerusalem, as we learned about different important facts of traditional Israeli history. We started out at the Herzl museum, which depicts the life of Theodor Herzl and the history of Zionism through a series of four audiovisual displays. We then went back to Beit Nativ and a had an orientation for our semester on Kibbutz, followed by lunch. In the afternoon we visited the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre, telling the story of Israel’s former prime minister, his values and impact. In the late afternoon, we drove out of Jerusalem to the Neot Kedumim biblical garden near Modiin, where we all planted oak trees in honour of Tu Bishvat.

Thursday was spent at a seminar on the Arab-Israeli conflict held at Giva’t Haviva, an educational centre located in a kibbutz setting between Netanya and Hadera. In the morning we were given a lecture on the history of the ‘green line’ which is talked about so much in regards to a final settlement, as well as the Security Fence and its pros and cons. Following lunch, we heard someone speak about what it is like to be an Israeli Arab, which was followed by a bus ride where we visited a Jewish town in the area and overlooked some of the Arab towns which straddle the line between Israel proper and the Palestinian territories. Late that night, as a bedtime snack, I went out with my friends Josh and Phil to Moshiko’s on Ben Yehuda st., to get our last shawarma before we left Jerusalem.

Friday was mostly spent packing up my things, since it was almost time to leave Jerusalem, and move on to Tiyul and my semester on kibbutz. This led into our final Shabbat in Jerusalem. Friday Night was marked by another intense Tish after dinner, with lots of singing and some nice Divrei Torah. On Shabbat Morning we all davened at Moreshet Yisrael, the American-style Conservative shul on campus, as Mari-Anne, one of my fellow nativers, marked her first Aliyah to the Torah and reading Haftarah. The day continued with a festive Kiddush, studying Parashat Hashavua and Shabbat lunch. After a nice shabbos nap, we concluded with mincha, a not-too appetizing seudah shlishit with some nice singing, Ma’ariv and Havdalah.

Sunday Morning (February 4), we woke up very early, davened Shacharit and ate breskfast. We then began the process of transferring all of our belongings from our rooms to the מחסן (storage area), from where it would be loaded onto a truck and brought to kibbutz on Thursday. We then loaded ourselves onto buses and set off to a four day tiyul through the southern part of the country. Sunday afternoon was spent hiking in the Ein Gedi area. It turned out to be a beautiful day to hike, as the rain which had been with us since Shabbat afternoon had ended and we had a beautiful sun join us as soon as we left Jerusalem heading towards the Dead Sea. However, despite the fact that it rains often in Jerusalem, the Judean desert was not used to this amount of water, and we had the opportunity to see Route 90, which runs along the shore of the Dead Sea, washed out in three different places. Just before sunset, we arrived at a site named Mamshit which contains a camel ranch and a Bedouin tent experience for tourists. After unpacking our bags in the tent for the night, we moved over to the tent next door for Ma’ariv, an explanation about the history and customs of the Bedouin, and especially about their famous hospitality. During the talk we were given small cups of Bedouin tea and coffee. We then were immediately served a traditional (kosher) Bedouin meal, including a main dish of shawarma meat served over rice and vegetables, fresh laffa bread, and some salads. Dessert was baklava and more tea.

I went to bed quite early (around 7:30), partly because it was dark, and there isn’t much to do in the desert, and more because Yossi (our director) had announced that despite everyone’s fears of missing it, we would indeed be able to see the superbowl, live, at 1:30 Israel time, so I figured out a way to get a decent amount of sleep and still see the big game. Despite missing the Adath Israel superbowl party and the amazing barbecuing there, it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I saw the superbowl in a Bedouin ten in the middle of the Negev desert, complete with a projection screen and mattresses to sit on.

On Monday morning we woke up, davened and had a delicious breakfast including freshly made pitot and eggs. We then had some time to pack up, followed by a 20 minute camel ride which was very bumpy and uncomfortable, yet still somewhat fun. The bulk of the rest of the day was spent on a hike in the area of Machtesh hakatan, which was relatively easy except for four ladders which were built into the side of the rock by the Israeli parks authority. These provided a nice challenge which I completed, despite my fear of heights and falling. At the end of the hike we got back on the bus and continued our drive south towards our destination for the night, Kibbutz Ketura, a kibbutz founded by graduates of the Young Judea movement in 1973, located in the Arava valley near the Jordanian border. After getting settled in our rooms, which were brand new and beautiful, we had a nice barbecue dinner and an evening program, for which I chose to watch a soccer game played by my friends from Nativ against some of the kibbutzniks.

On Tuesday morning, we had tefillot in the kibbutz Beit Knesset, followed by breakfast. We then split into groups for a desert arts workshop. I chose to take a tour of the kibbutz’s experimental orchards, where I got to learn about all of the interesting plants that Ketura is cultivating, including some plants that were in danger of extinction. We then came back together and shared what we had learned in our workshops. It was soon time to check out of our rooms and have lunch, which was followed by a tour of the kibbutz by one of its members. On our way to Eilat in the late afternoon, we stopped at the kissufim sand dunes, famous for having some of the purest sand in the world. After walking up the rocky side of the hill, we arrived at the top of the sand dunes and saw the endless expanses of beautiful sand which we got to roll around in for a good hour. As it was getting towards sunset, we headed back towards the buses and drove to the Adi hotel in Eilat, where we would stay for the next two nights. We got our rooms, had dinner, and then were free for the evening, so I went out with some friends to the mall and the Tayelet (waterfront promenade).

On Wednesday morning we had tefillot and breakfast at the hotel, and then got on the bus for a hike up Har Tzfachot, from where we were able to have a beautiful overlook of Eilat, the mountains surrounding it, the Red Sea, and the countries of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The hike was pretty moderate, considering the amazing view, and we completed the ascent and descent in 2 hours flat. This left enough time for me to take a nice walk along the water before lunch, which was provided for us at the Halleluyah restaurant. Nativ planned an afternoon of water activities for us after lunch, and I chose to take a paddleboat out with my friend Jeff, as well as to lay in the sand for a while. I went back to the hotel to relax for an hour or so, and in evening, we were given money for dinner, so I went down to the Tayelet with my friend Matt, where we bought Baguette sandwiches with meat inside, and ate out near the water.

Thursday was a bittersweet day, as it was our last time with all of Nativ together as we split up into three different groups for the second semester. After tefillot, breakfast and loading the buses, we said goodbye to our friends who were going to Yeruham and Be’er Sheva, and boarded a bus that would take us to kibbutz Ein Tsurim, my home for the next 3 and a half months. After stopping in Dimona for lunch, where I passed on the lunch that was provided in favour of a burger, onion rings and a drink, we arrived at kibbutz around 2:30 in the afternoon. We spent the rest of the day moving in and unpacking, as well as setting up storage units for our rooms, and around 6 had a picnic dinner in front of our cabins.

On Friday we got to sleep in a bit, and spent the day getting acclimated to Kibbutz life. We started the day off with breakfast in the kibbutz dining hall, and Shacharit as a group. During the rest of the morning, we were given a walking tour of Ein Tsurim, by Yuval, a Kibbutz member who was born and raised here. We then ate lunch and had the rest of the afternoon of to get ready for Shabbat. At one point, I headed a short walk down the path, and checked out the Kibbutz’s Kol-Bo, a general store which is really a small supermarket.

We brought in Shabbat with a special Carlebach service held in the Kibbutz’s Yeshiva, which featured a chazzan with a beautiful voice, almost exactly like Shlomo Carlebach himself. Shabbat dinner was held in the kibbutz Dining Hall, and was served to us family style, with a number of yummy courses, starting with a delicious salad selection and continuing with bourekas, soup, chicken and brisket. The meal served pretty slowly, which gave us time to have a nice conversation. After dinner we had a short session and oneg with Yossi Garr, who spent Shabbat with us, and pretty soon after that I went to bed to get some nice Shabbat rest.

Shabbat morning we davened with the kibbutz in their main Beit Knesset. As I would soon find out, they don’t believe in wasting time during tefillot, and starting at 8:30, we ended Musaf at 10:15 without missing anything. Lunch on kibbutz begins at 10:30 on Shabbat, and again progressed slowly through a menu of courses. After lunch we heard again from a member of kibbutz about its history and his personal story, after which we davened mincha and had a few hours of free time, during which I hung out, read and napped. At 5 we had seudah shlishit, which was very delicious, with a selection of fresh salads and Yesrushalmi and potato kugel. We concluded Shabbat with Maariv and Havdalah, and a little while afterwards, we were assigned our jobs. I was assigned agriculture (aka working out in the fields), which was my first choice and I was really happy about. To end off the evening, some of my friends prepared a bonfire in a field behind our cabins, and we sat around for a while chilling and relaxing.

Sunday morning I woke up early so I could daven at the Kibbutz’s minyan at 6 AM before I started work. It’ a good thing I got there on time, because they don’t believe in wasting it and we were done Shacharit, with a repetition of the Amidah, at 6:25! After relaxing for a little while, I went and ate breakfast, and at 7:30, I got picked up with 5 friends of mine to begin our job working in the fields at the neighboring settlement of Massuot Yitzhak. Over the past 2 days I have weeded the parsley fields, and moved around lots of irrigation equipment, and basically had a blast. The weather has been amazing, and I love the work, as well as the group of people I work with. I’m really enjoying living on kibbutz, with the great environment and slow pace of life. I can’t wait to tell you more about my adventures here on Kibbutz Ein Tsurim!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Update!! עדכון

I know it’s been a while, but I’ve been having so much fun spending time with my family both in Israel and on a short visit to Toronto. In any case, right now I’m en route from Toronto to תל אביב and I figured it was a good opportunity to catch up a bit. Here it goes!

Monday January 1

Being in Israel, January 1 isn’t much different than any other day, except for the small group of (mostly Americans, myself not included) who went out to the bars the previous night. After davening at the Great Synagogue, we had a shiur with my Talmud teacher Dr. Josh Kulp, on topic of חוקות הגוים, the laws in the Torah regarding following the ways of the peoples around us and their interpretation up to our day. It was a very interesting and enlightening discussion. After davening Mincha, I took my first of two tests in order to get credit for next year at List College . After a lot of studying , I passed!

In the afternoon , our friend Janet Moshe met us and gave us a tour of the Shuk and neighbouring Nachlaot neighbourhood. We started with lunch at the homestyle ‘workers restaurant called רחמו (Rachmo), where I got some delicious Hummus. We then stopped by the many attractions of the shuk, most of which I had never known about, such as the Etrog man, who sells all kinds of folk remedies; the Pereg spice store; and of course, no trip to the shuk is complete without a stop at the Marzipan Bakery. We also had a tour of Nachlaot and saw some interesting sights, including historic buildings and synagogues. In the evening, after stopping at Janet’s, we wen t together with her to see the new Robin Williams movie איש השנה (Man of the Year), and ended the day by having a late dinner at Burgers Bar!


While Ima and Joshua spent the day in Tel Aviv, I went along with the other Nativ students on the Yeshiva Track for brunch at Pesach Schindler’s house, where we had a nice discussion to evaluate our semester at the Yeshiva. After relaxing for the afternoon, Ima and Joshua returned, and we had a nice dinner at Pizza Meter, an Argentinian restaurant where the Pizza is served to you by the meter. It was quite a nice experience.


I decided not to go to classes today and instead spent the day with Ima and Joshua seeing some important sites which I might not have gotten to otherwise. We started out at the New Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum, which was very moving and intense, after which we took the ‘Interconnecting Path’ to Har Herzl, Israel’s equivalent to Arlington National Cemetary. We visited all of the important places, such as the memorial to those whose lives were taken by terrorist attacks, the graves of Israel’s leaders, including Yitzhak and Leah Rabin, President Herzog, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, and Hannah Senesh, who was buried with all of the honours of a modern Israeli paratrooper. Sadly, we watched workers set up for the funeral of Teddy Kollek ז''ל (Mayor of Jerusalem, 1964-1992), who had died on Monday, and whose funeral would be taking place the next morning. We also paid a visit to the grave of Michael Levin ז''ל, an American oleh who was a graduate of Nativ, Camp Ramah in the Poconos, and USY, who was tragically killed during the war in Lebanon this past summer. To complete our visit, we visited the tomb of Theodore Herzl, and the new multimedia, interactive Herzl Museum. We then took a taxi to the Jaffa Gate, where we entered the old city and headed to the Jewish Quarter, where Ima did some shopping and I bought some more books. We stopped at a Shwarma/Falafel stand for a quick and tast dinner. Just around sunset, we walked down to the Kotel, where we took some pictures and I davened Ma’ariv. We then took a guided tour of the kotel tunnels, which an exciting set of excavations taking place north of the Kotel along the continuation of the original Herodian wall. It was amazing to see that even since I was on the tour 5 years ago, more sections and even ceramic objects have been found dating back to the time of the second temple.


As our last official day of classes at the Yeshiva, we had a study session and discussion with Rabbi Joel Levy in the morning, followed by a Pizza lunch. In the afternoon I went with Ima and Joshua to the Tower of David, which boasts some beautiful views of Jerusalem and a museum with the History of the city. We then walked through Yemin Moshe and visited the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre, which was an audiovisual presentation about his life and works. While Ima and Joshua went back to their apartment to meet Abba, I went back to Beit Nativ and hopped on a bus for a concert by the popular Israeli artist Idan Raichel, who works with a group of immigrant artists, who perform in a variety of languages from Hebrew to Amharic to Russian to Arabic. It was a great experience, especially because he performed in n intimate venue, where I sat in the 3rd row!


On Friday morning, with Ima, Abba and Joshua, I went to volunteer as usual at Hazon Yeshaya, where we had a great and meaningful experience peeling and chopping potatoes, and later serving meals. We went for a delicious lunch at Pinati, and then got ready for Shabbat. Because it had started pouring, I left at around 3:30 and picked up a cab to Janet’s. For Kabbalat Shabbat, Joshua, Abba and I davened at מזמור לדוד, a new carlebach minyan a block from her house, which was a beautiful service with lots of singing. When then went back to Janet’s for a delicious dinner with nice company. Because it was still raining, Joshua and I slept at Janet’s house.

Shabbat morning, we davened at Yedidya, where I got to lead p’sukei d’zimra, participate in a beautiful daveing, and have a tasty sponsored Kiddush. We had a delicious fleischig lunch with our family friends Kobi and Nadia Ableman. It was still pouring after we finished lunch, and I took a shluff there, until it was time for Mincha, a Talmud class and Ma’ariv. After Havdalah, Kobi graciously drove me back to Beit Nativ, where I relaxed for a few hours.

Late on Motzei Shabbat, before Ima and Joshua had to leave to go back to Toronto, we went out for dinner with ten of my closest friends at Cuppa Joe, a new coffee/dairy restaurant.

Sunday morning, we davened at the Conservative Yeshiva, and then with Abba and Jacob Zeliger, did some shopping in Meah Shearim and at Mister Zol.

Sunday-Thursday, January 7-12 –Dig Week!

As one of the three options for the Nativ ‘Israel Experience Week’ (the others being volunteering in Haifa or participating in Gadna), I chose to be part of a week-long archaeological dig at Beit Guvrin National Park, where many of you have probably participated in Dig for a Day, run by the same group, Archaeological Seminars. On Sunday, the only rainy day of the week, our guide, Bena, gave us a tour of the entire site and especially the area we would be excavating, the former city of Maresha. Originally an Israelite town, settled in the days of Joshua according to the Tanach, Maresha was summarily destroyed and wiped off the map in the year 112 BCE by the Hasmonean King John Hyrcanus when it was settled by Idumeans who had arrived after the Explusion of the Jews in 586 BCE.

For the following 4 days our group excavated for the morning in cave system 169, where we lugged up dozens of buckets of dirt from two underground rooms, and then sifted the dirt to remove any pieces of pottery, bone, or charcoal we may have missed. I personally had the good fortune to discover a nearly complete plate and jug, which were among many other finds the group made. After lunch each day, we both toured the other archeological sites of interest in the park, and went spelunking, climbing through candlelit caves which were not yet excavated. Overall, it was a very enjoyable week of hands-on learning about the past and archaeology.

In the evenings, since we slept at Beit Nativ in Jerusalem, I was able to spend some time with Abba. On Sunday night we had dinner at New Deli, a Subway-like Kosher deli restaurant. Monday, we had the privilege of enjoying a Pizza dinner and hearing words of Torah from Rabbi Charles Savenor, Associate Dean of the JTS Rabbinical School. On Tuesday evening, Abba and had dinner at the Anna Ticho House, which is both a gallery and dairy restaurant in Downtown Jerusalem. On Wednesday, after returning from digging, I quickly jumped in the shower and walked over to the Bible Lands Museum, which showcases archaeological finds from the lands and times of the Tanach. We toured around, and then heard a lecture from a professor at Hebrew University on the topic of how history is presented in the Tanach. We then headed over for a late dinner at the Atara Café, a Jerusalem institution since before the State of Israel was founded, and I had some of their famous French Onion soup. On Thursday night, after the conclusion of the dig, I met Abba and we met a third cousin Jackie (whom I had never met before), who is also spending the year in Israel, in her case on the Young Judea Year Course. We went to a restaurant called מזעדת אמא, which serves homestyle sefardic dishes. It was nice to see that even though we came from very different backgrounds, Jackie and I have a lot in common and even know a lot of the same people.


As the Nativ vacation had officially started , I was now on my own with Abba for the next week. Friday morning, we davened at the Great Synagogue and then set out to see some of the sites of the Jewish Quarter. We started with the Burnt House, a site that was found in 1967 when the Jewish Quarter was excavated, and contains remains of a home belonging to the Katros family of Kohanim which was burned down during the Great Revolt in 70 CE. We then continued, fast forwarding in time, to the Old Yishuv Court Museum, which using actual period furnishings, depicts the way life was in the Jewish quarter from the late Turkish period until the end of the British mandate in 1948. We ended the morning with a visit to the Davidson Archeological excavations at the corner of the western and southern walls of the Temple Mount, after which we visited the kotel and had a shwarma lunch. It started raining just as we were walking out of the Jaffa gate, so we went back to my room for a little while to wait it out. About two hours before the start of Shabbat, Abba and I set out for the local public mikvah to take part in the tradition that some have to immerse before Shabbat. Although I had only done it (ever) this Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it was a nice way to physically and spiritually prepare for Shabbat.

After taking care of the rest of the preparations for Shabbat, we got ready to walk to shul, which would be at Yeshurun, and since it was Shabbat Mevarchim Rosh Chodesh, we were able to enjoy the Cantorial Carlebach service again. Following Ma’ariv, we walked down the street and had Shabbat dinner with Rabbi Paul and Nina Freedman, the former director of USY and his wife, who are very warm, welcoming, and witty people, and we had a lovely time beginning Shabbat with them. Right after Zemirot and Birkat Hamazon, we headed back across the street to the Fuchsberg Centre for a panel discussion with Paul Kochberg, Dr. Ray Goldstein and Rabbi Jerome Epstein on the future of the Conservative movement, at which some very positive ideas were put forth, but I’m not sure how many of them will be seen to fruition. After this I said laila tov to Abba and hung around for a fun and exciting Yeshiva Tish. Shabbat morning I woke up, met Abba at his place, and then took a hike to the neighbourhood of Talpiot Mizrach, where we davened at Kehillat Moreshet Avraham, the Masorti congregation of the neighbourhood. It waa an absoloutely lovely davening, with lots of kids and young families present, and a Bar Mitzvah boy from Teaneck who had come to celebrate the occasion with the kehillah, and who went on to lead us in Musaf. The tefillot ended with a beautiful rendition of אנעים זמירות and Adon Olam by the youth of the kehillah. After tefillot there was an extended Kiddush, after which we walked down the street and had lunch with the Friedgut family, whose children, Ben and Eve Fried were in from Toronto, along with their other children who live in Israel, Stacy and Drory, and Hallie and their children. We had a very nice meal as well as good company, and before we knew it, it was almost the end of Shabbat. We walked back to shul and participated in a shiur with Rabbi David Golinkin on Midrash Rut Rabbah, as well as mincha and maariv. We then went back to beit nativ for a little while after Shabbat, and then went to Sbarro for a late night snack before turning in for the night.

Sunday-Monday, January 14-15

I woke up, davened at the Yeshiva for one of the last times, and hung out there for a while. Around 10:30, I had the great opportunity to spend some time with my friend Hannah, who is in her first year at List College and on her first trip to Israel on Birthright. We walked from Beit Nativ to the old city, stopped at Hadaya jewelers to order some things for her, and then hung out in the Jewish quarter and visited the Kotel.

Sunday afternoon and Monday I had the privilege of joining Abba on the Israel Bonds Rabbinc Conference and touring around the Jerusalem area with about 30 rabbis Othodox, Conservative and Reform rabbis. After a short orientation at the Sheraton Plaza hotel, we boarded a bus to our first destination of Giva’t Hatachmoshet (Ammunition Hill), which was the site of one of the most decisive battles between Israel and Jordan during the Six Day War in 1967. Afterwards, we continued following in the footsteps of the 1967 battle for Jerusalem as we drove towards שער האריות (The lions gate), and walked from there, through the Muslim quarter towards the Kotel, retracing the path of the paratroopers who liberated it almost forty years ago. After visiting the kotel and davening Ma’ariv there, we went back to the hotel for a study session on the connection between the book of psalms and Jerusalem. After a short break, we had one of the highlights of the trip, a dinner with Yitzhak Navon, the fifth President of Israel. The meal itself was very nice, with some tasty food, and a nice mix of rabbis and rabbinical students at our table. The president’s speech, although a little on the long side, was very nice, as he spoke a bit about his background, about his vision of the future of Israel, and the importance of Jewish identity.

On Monday, I woke up early and went over to the hotel to daven with the rabbis, had a sumptuous breakfast at the hotel (including fresh-squeezed orange juice), and then we got on the bus and headed to Nebi Samuel, the traditional location of the tomb of the prophet Shmuel, which lies just north of the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ramot. We toured the site, enjoyed the view (despite the strong gusts of wind), and heard from a professor at the Hebrew University who described the site’s importance both in 1948 and 1967. We then proceeded to הר הזיתים, the mount of olives, where we saw a panoramic view of the Old City and western Jerusalem. Our last stop for the morning’s touring was at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, which was a border outpost between 1948-1967, and which now looks out on the new Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har Homa.

We then went to the main building of the kibbutz guest house, where we head in Hebrew from one of the evacuees from Gush Katif about how he is trying to rebuild his life 18 months after the disengagement. That was followed by a delicious dairy lunch, mincha, and then we were back on the bus headed down the road to Kiryat Moriah, which is the headquarters of the Jewish Agency (JAFI). There we heard from two educators, Shalom Orzach (Former USY cental shaliach!), and Robbie Gringras (Ramah Nyack Artist in Residence), about new initiatives JAFI is taking to increase the connection to Israel, as well as update Israel education in the Diaspora. From there we drove back towards downtown, and while Abba continued his evening, I returned to the Fuchsberg Centre for a dinner being held for Conservative college students in Israel by the Presidents Council of United Synagogue. It was a nice opportunity to catch up with Paul and Barbara Kochberg and Keren Shilling in a relaxed, informal environment. After dinner there was a special lecture by David Horovitz, editor of the Jerusalem Post, and then I went over to the hotel to say goodbye to Abba before he went up north for two days.


As my last few days in Jerusalem before I went home for a week, I tried to accomplish some odds and ends that only be done here. After starting the morning with davening at the Yeshiva, I headed up to Meah Shearim, and specifically to the Olive Wood Store, where I picked up some gifts for Ima. Next stop was Machane Yehuda (aka the Shuk), where I picked up some Halva to bring back with me to Toronto, and roamed around for a little to pass the time, and just enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells. I bought a few bourekas for lunch and then walked down agrippas street towards Kiryat Hamemshala (the government precinct). I headed over to the Israeli Spreme Court building, and after an intensive security check, I got into the building just in time for the 12:00 tour in english. The building was very beautiful and architecturally interesting, and it was definitely worth going to. I walked home and arrived back at Beit Nativ just in time to daven mincha at the Yeshiva. In the afternoon, I participated in Reb Mordechai’s Midrash class for the last time (hopefully not forever), which Mendy also decided to show up to, so we even got to chevruta together. I then davened Ma’ariv and went to get my last Shawarma for a while, and spent the rest of the night packing.

Wednesday was a pretty light day, which was mostly just spent relaxing and hanging around. In the morning, after Shacharit, I had my Oral exanmination in Midrash, for whixch I recieved an A-, and I went to Pinati and ordered Hummus Basar for lunch. In the evening, before I had to leave for the airport, I stopped at Supersol to buy some food for dinner. I brought my bags down and waited in the lobby for the Sherut, where I met Adina Freedman, who was on the Nativ-Kibbutz track last year, and was in Israel on a hillel trip. It was a nice coincidence that we were both going to the Airport the same time, so we had a nice conversation on the sherut ride…

I’m sorry it took so long to write this update, but I hope to be able to write about this past week, which was spent touring around different sites relevant to Israeli society today, and next week, our Negev Tiyul, as soon as I get to kibbutz. Which brings me to share the news that due to some logistical issues, I will no longer be spending the next four months on Kibbutz Sa’ad, but instead will be living on Kibbutz Ein Tsurim, also a religious kibbutz, which is located about 15 minutes from Ashkelon.

Shabbat Shalom and I’ll try to write soon!!

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