Thursday, April 19, 2007

A solid Shabbat and meaningful Yom Hashoah

This past Shabbat was closed, meaning that our entire group spent it together on kibbutz. Although beforehand I wasn’t so sure how much fun this past shabbat would be, in the end it turned out to be one of the nicer closed shabbatot. After a long Friday just for relaxing., we gathered together to bring in Shabbat as a group around 6:30. We davened Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat, and had a discussion about פרשת השבוע (the weekly Parsha) before continuing with Maariv. As a funny aside, a Chassidic group (with Streimels and all) was staying in the kibbutz guest house last Shabbat and it was a little funny (and a bit disruptive as well) when they kept poking their heads in and were astounded to see us davening together with a girl leading Kabbalat Shabbat. Well, only in Israel. We then had a nice Shabbat dinner in the kibbutz Chadar Ochel. After dinner we had a really great Tish, one of the first in a long time, which was led by our fearless assistant director, Nahum Binder, and included some good desserts, and more importantly, spirited singing.

Shabbat morning, we also davened as a group, which was pretty nice to be able to pull off, and I read an Aliyah and recited birkat hachodesh. Musaf ended with a bang as Josh, Shosh and Phil led Anim Zemirot to the traditional ECRUSY nigun. Lunch was a pretty quiet affair, as Abbie and I ate at our kibbutz family’s home with one of their sons. We finished around 12:30, and I had a good five hours to relax and read a bit. Over the past few months, I’ve been reading many of the various Parashat Hashavua fliers that are distributed in Israeli shuls (such as on Kibbutz), and this Shabbat I got through all of them, which gave me some Hebrew practice as well as some food for thought. The day ended with Mincha, a discussion about issues facing Iisrael led by Nahum, Seudah Shlishit in the Chadar Ochel with zemirot, and finally, Maariv and Havdalah.

Sunday began as a normal working day, and we did some random irrigation work in the fields near Ashkelon (Today’s crop: corn!). When we got back from work we only had a little time to unwind, because that night began יום השואה והגבורה, Holocaust remeberance day, and the next 24 hours would be filled with interesting and meaningful activites appropriate to the day. We had an early dinner and at 6 PM, headed off on a bus to Jaffa and the Gesher theatre. You might be asking why we’d go to see a play on such a sad day like this, but the reason will become clear as I explain. The first thing to note is that as we arrived, we realized that this was yet another MASA event, and the famous poster featuring yours truly was prominently displayed in front of the entrance! The evening began with a discussion with the director of the theatre and two of the actors, a short intermission, and then an introduction by an Israeli author. The play itself was called ‘Momik’, and was a based on a book by author David Grossman. It told the story of Momik, a child of Holocaust survivors growing up in Jerusalem in the 1950’s whose grandfather comes to live with him. He spends much of his time trying to fight the ‘Nazi Beast’, and so the play is an interesting way to see how the younger generation, and especially children, struggled with the legacy left to them by their survivor parents.

One of the most important and amazing elements of Yom Hashoah in Israel (which be repeated again next week for יום הזכרון לחללי צה''ל, IDF Memorial Day) is the element of national mourning. The first thing I noticed while we were in Jaffa for the play and on the way home was that all places of entertainment (excluding our theatre), and even restaurants were closed for twenty-four hours, since they were not in keeping with the mood of the day. When I got home, I followed our staff’s advice and turned on the TV and radio briefly. All of the Israeli channels were either showing Yom Hashoah specific programming, or were totally off the air from 8 PM Erev Yom Hashoah until the same time the following day. Galgalatz, the Israeli music station that I often listen to on the radio, was playing a mix of slow, sad music as opposed to their usual repertoire of current Israeli and American hits.

Programming the next day began with Shacharit, which Josh and I led most of without a melody, as per the custom I had learned when I was back at Schechter in Philadephia. I also got to read torah, and recited the special El Maleh Rachamim in memory of Holocaust victims.

We then moved into one of the Moadonim for the day’s programming, which was planned by some of the Nativers and turned out quite well. They began by reading different stories of righteous gentiles, some of whom I had heard of, and others that were new stories for me. We then had some people tell their own families’ Holocaust stories, many of which were very sad and moving. A little before 10 AM, we went outside and stood in respect as a siren wailed for two minutes, as it did throughout the entire country. It was a very emotional moment as an entire country stopped what they were doing, no matter where they were (even in the middle of the highway) and remembered the tragedy of the Shoah.

To hear a live recordingt of the Yom Hashoah siren, click here.

We continued the programming by seeing a recent film based on the story a Jewish boy from Cracow who hid with a Polish peasant family during the Shoah. While I though the movie was okay, the next part of our day was probably the most moving, when Esther, a member of Kibbutz who is a Hebrew teacher told her own story of survival, from being born in Lithuania at beginning of the war, and ending it as a six year old child the only one from her family to survive, and miraculously making it to Israel. It was also nice to hear Esther’s story in Hebrew, which she spoke at an easy level and slow pace so almost everyone could understand.

After a pretty delicious lunch of tongue and schnitzel, we had a short wrap up for the day, and had the rest of the afternoon to relax. We again had an early dinner, and around 6 left for the short 20 minute ride to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, located south of Ashkelon, for one of the official closing ceremonies for Yom Hashoah. The ceremony began with many speeches, including one by Defence Minister Amir Peretz, and a girl just a few years younger than me, who represented the Hashomer Haztair youth movement who helped organize the ceremony. Because Hashomer Hatzir is a very secular youth movement, the ceremony was very different than others I had been to in the past for Yom Hashoah, in that poetry was read in lieu of Kaddish or Yizkor. As well, the tone of the many musical selections, including one that sounded like an eighties rock song, was radically different than the somber ones like Ani Maamin or Eli Eli (both of which have religious connotations) that I am used to hearing in connection to Yom Hashoah. The ceremony ended with the emotion singing of Hatikvah, which gave me the most amazing feeling of the privilege we have to be living, after the devestation of the Shoah in a sovereign Jewish state. Overall, although the ceremony was totally different than how I am used to marking the day, it was definitely a very enlightening and worthwhile experience.

To hear a recording of this Hatikvah, click here.

Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were relatively normal workdays, with a few small exceptions. Our boss, Hanan, realized that my friend David knows how to drive stick shift, and on Tuesday and Wednesday, he got to drive the pipes (and us) around the field in a tractor, which made our work much more efficient.

On Tuesday afternoon, our staff organized an outing and barbecue for us at Nitzanim beach, located on the coast between Ashkelon and Ashdod. It turned out to be a nice way for us to bond and get off of kibbutz for a little while, as well as have a tasty meat dinner compared to the dairy stuff we usually get.

Finally, Wednesday and Thursday were Rosh Hodesh Iyyar, and as usual the Kibbutz Beit Knesset didn’t disappoint us in its ability to finish the entire Shacharit service, including Hallel and Mussaf, in 45 minutes! Hodesh Tov!

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