Saturday, May 26, 2007

אהבת ישראל בנשמה Love for Israel in my soul...

Right now, it is Monday afternoon, and I will sadly be leaving Israel in just a few short hours. Although I won't finish this post before I leave, I wanted to take this opportunity to talk briefly about my thoughts at the moment, and then give a recap of the past 9 days, which I haven't gotten around to because I have been so busy doing last minute things and saying goodbye to Jerusalem. Right now it is very hard to leave Israel, which has been my home for the past nine months, and return to the pace of everyday life wherever I will be in the next few year ahead in North America. Although I am very excited to see my family and everyone else in Toronto, it is very difficult to leave not knowing when I will return to this place-my spiritual, religious, and national home, where I feel that I truly belong. However, I pray that as the title of this post proclaims, taken from a song by the band רבע לשבע, that I will always have אהבת ישראל בנשמה, love for Israel in my soul, despite the fact that לבי במזרח ואנכי בסוף המערב-my heart is in the east and I am at the end of the west (Rabbi Yehuda Halevi).
Now back to a week ago Sunday (May 20).I woke up in the morning at 5:40 and davened Shacharit with the kibbutz for the last time. I spent most of the day doing some last-minute packing, stopping for a good fleiching lunch around noon. Around 3 in the afternoon we loaded the suitcase that we wouldn't need onto a truck to put them in storage for the next week. In the evening, we had a party to say goodbye to all of the people that we had come in contact with while on kibbutz, specifically our bosses and adopted families. We came up group by group to make presentations, and at the end we even sang a song that my friend Abi had written, in Hebrew for the occasion. The number of people who came to the party truly showed that we had left a mark on the kibbutz, as well as how much our time there meant to us. Adter we said our final goodbyes to everyone we had our last barbecue and bonfire, as we did very often while living on kibbutz. After we finished eating, we sat as an entire group around the fire and for over an hour shared memories of our time on kibbutz. After the program ended, the five of us who lived in caravan nine set to work cleaning the caravan, and I finally got to bed, extremely exhausted, around 1 in the morning. On Monday, after eating a light breakfast, our group gathered for an extremely emotional last shaharait service on kibbutz, after which we cleared our our caravans, turned in our keys, and said goodbye to kibbutz. We then headed for Jerusalem and arrived shortly before noon. We got our room keys (I was with Avram, in his old room with a cute little balcony looking up King George Street) and had a little, much needed relaxing time before lunch. After lunch, I was able to run by the Yeshiva and join in for mincha; afterwards we went down to one of the seminar rooms in the basement and sat for a while to fill out written evaluations about the year. After the evaluations were over with, we all went into the auditorium and were privileged to enjoy a performance of 'The complete works of William Shakespeare: Abridged', which was initiated and performed entirely by a group of four nativers, who were extremely funny and entertaining. Dinner followed, which was an extremely unsatisfying and gross dairy meal, which I rectified by going across the street to Supersol and buying some packaged food. The evening ended with a Nativ-wide talent show, which was a nice way to begin to end the year. After the talent show was over, I took a relatively early night in order to prepare for the tikkun leil Shavuot the following night, when I would stay up studying all night and into the next morning. On Tuesday (erev shavuot), we had a free day, which I feel I ended up spending pretty well I slept in a bit in the morning and went to the 8 AM minyan across the street at the Great Synagogue, after which I went back to Beit Nativ and ran into a few friends at breakfast, who had also happened to wake up early, so a little bit later my friend Phil and I headed out up King George Street to do some errands, starting in my favourite shopping district of מאה שערים. We went into a few different stores, and got a few small gifts, and more importantly Phil bought himself a beautiful new Talit. After finishing up there, we headed downtown and I stopped at a shoe store and got myself a new pair of Naot. After that, I headed back towards Beit Nativ, but never really made it back to my room for quite a while... As I got back, I heard that the Yeshiva was open and that a few of my friends were hanging out/doing some work in there. I headed down and spent the next few hours, with a short break to go to supersol and get some bourekas for lunch, hearing some of my friends' ideas for the study sessions they would be running (much) later that night, and doing some learning of my own. Around 2:00, I finally (still temporarily) left the Yeshiva and headed back to my room, where I relaxed and got in a short nap. Around 4PM, an idea popped into my mind to take advantage of it being erev Yom Tov and head to the Mikvah for the last time for a while. So I gathered 7 shekalim and a towel, and walked down the 4 blocks the neighbourhood mikvah, and did my dipping. After I returned to Beit Nativ, I had some time to get ready for Yom Tov, and shortly before it was time to shower, I went down to the courtyard, where the kitchen staff had put together a treat of pareve pita pizza for us. We davened that evening at Moreshet Yisrael, which was followed by a pleasant, but not so tasty Chag meal.
As is traditional on Shavuot, I spent the rest of the nriight (from 9:30 PM to 4 AM), in a combination of lectures, discussion-based sessions, and chevruta. Since I had about an hour from the end of dinner to the beginning of the first session, I sat down with a few friends to study the first few chapters of the book of Ezekiel, which was quite fascinating. After that, I went to two formal sessions, the first taught by Rabbi Shmuel Lewis, Rosh Yeshiva of the Conservative Yeshiva about the juxtaposition between the concepts כבוד התורה (honouring the Torah) and כבוד הבריות (human dignity). In the second session, taught entirely in Hebrew by Juan Mejia, a third year JTS rabbinical student, we examined a number of teshuvot written by different rabbis regarding Conversos during and after the Spanish inquisition on a variety of religious issues such a marriage and hows to try to continue to observe Jewish practice. It was already 1 AM after these two sessions were over, and I headed down to the Yeshiva to study some Talmud with a few friends for the next hour. At 2 am, we began a round robin of sessions led by friends of mine for Nativ. The first session I went to was lead by my friend Sarah and talked about Heschel and revelation. After a cheesecake and ice cream break, I went to a second session led by Mendy, about the Rabbis' view of private property.
At 4, after running to my room and grabbing my Tallit and siddur, I headed down Agron street joined by all of Nativ, the rest of the Fuchsberg centre, and the entire city of Jerusalem to the kotel to daven shacharit at the earliest possible time. We held a mixed davening with a few hundred Conservative/Masorti Jews and others at the Southern (Robinson's Arch) section of the kotel, where I became a Bar Mitzvah 6 years earlier. While the idea and location of the service were nice, the tefillot themselves were, in many people's words, pretty awful. Although we started davening shortly before 5, between a half hour P'sukei D'zimra and 40 minute Hallel, the service was way too long and didn't finish until after 8, which was a pretty long davening considering that I had been awake for over 25 hours at that polint. It seemed like a long 20 minute walk back to Beit Nativ, where I crashed into bed and slept until about 12:30. In the afternoon, I walked down to Talpiot and had a very enjoyable and delicious dairy lunch. Around 5, I walked back to Beit Nativ where we davened mincha, had a light dinner and ended chag. fter chag was over, I spent a few hours filling out my hebrew placement exam for next year at JTS.
Thursday morning began with tefillot as a group, and after breakfast we had a few sessions to think about our futures post-Nativ. They began with Rabbi Paul Freedman, past Director of USY, talking about Project Reconnect, and continued with greetings by Rabbi Jim Lebeau, director of the Fuchsberg centre, and Rabbi Gail Diamond of the Conservative Yeshiva. We then heard from two representatives speak to us about the possibility of Aliyah. We had a nice three hour break in the middle of the day, and I used it to go shopping again in Meah Shearim, this time with my friend Jacob, and then a delicious final lunch at Pinati. In the afternoon, our staff put a lot of effort into a program where they turned the whole lower level of the Fuchsberg Centre into a 'museum ofmNativ', where each room was set up to remind us of a different part of our year. We were given a journal with pages to guide us through the museum, and plenty of time to record our memories of the year.
That evening, my friend Jacob, who is studying at a Yeshiva for the summer, came over to visit. After dinner, we hung out at Beit Nativ for a while, and after davening Ma'ariv, we went downtown to Ben Yehuda along with Shosh and Alana. I got a shawarma, and we hung out for a while, at one point meting up with our friends Penina, Judith and Mike.
On Friday I woke up early like I used to in the fall, davened at Yeshurun, and around 8:30, headed out with Avram to volunteer at Hazon Yeshaya one last time. After peeling potatoes for a few hours, we moved on, and headed over to the shuk to pick up a few gifts. We went for lunch at a restaurant a few blocks away called Sima, where Avram and I both had steak in a pita.. delicious!
After relaxing for a few hours, I got a phone cal and headed down to the Yeshiva for a great way to start our final shabbat together, studying Parashat Hashavua. I then had a very short amount of time to quickly get ready for Shabbat, but I did make it on time. we davened mincha, kabbalat shabbat, and Ma'ariv together, as a group, after which we sat down for our final shabbat dinner. The meal ended with a few traditional zemirot, a beautiful d'var torah reflecting on our year by Nehama, and Birkat Hamazon.
A little later, we held our final Nativ-a-Tish of the year. A tish is a hassidic celebration where all of the faithful sit, eat and drink with the Rebbe. At a Nativ-a-Tish, all of us sit around a table headed by one of our Madrichim and go around the room, each person choosing a song for all of us to sing. Besides for the wonderful singing, the tishes arre always accompanied by treats from the Marzipan bakery and plenty of (non-alcoholic) drink.
On shabbat morning, I walked down for the last time to daven at Yedidya. It was a wonderful davening, which included a bat mitzvah celebration, which meant that we got to hear a d'var torah, and separate mens and women's torah readings were held. I was honoureday b with the fourth aliyah, as the parsha, the longest in the torah, was expertly chanted by two teenagers. After the haftarah, we heard another d'var torah as we waited for the womento finish their leining. Musaf, one of the most beautiful I have ever heard, was led by my friend Avram's high holiday cantor, and was followed by a special kiddush. I made it back to Beit Nativ in time for a relaxed Shabbat lunch, although I wasn't too hungry after the kiddush. In between reading the copy of Ma'ariv I had bought the day before, I had a meeting with Yossi to discuss my thoughts on the year which had just flown by and my thoughts for the future. Before mincha we had a session as a kibbutz group about the decisions we will have to make next year rearding living Jewishly on campus. Although I will be at list next year and not all of the issues will apply, many of them will and we had a very serious and deep discussion about how to confront them. After the session, we all davened Mincha together, and I read two of the Aliyot. Although the food wasn't so tasty at seudah shlishit, the beautiful singing that we had at the end of the meal definitely made up for it. We ended shabbat with Ma'ariv and a beautiful carlebach havdalah led by my friend Shayna, whose image, with all of us circling the entire shul, will hopefully remain with me for a long time. Motzei Shabbat, I took up Josh on his offer to go with a bunch of our friends to Shawarma Hashamen, a stand about a 40 minute walk from the centre of town in San Simon, which he claims was the best shawarma ever. Although the meal was relatively expensive at 29 shekalim, it was definitely a very good shawarma, and I finished both minew and part of a friend's. This made for a very long walk back, between the full stomachs we all had and the uphill grade. When I got back around 11, I just about went straight to bed.
Sunday morning began with our last davening as a full group, after which we had a session with Yossi. It was a serious but meaningful one as we discussed how we would feel returning home after such a life-changing year in Israel, and how we will have changed when we return. We then had a break for a few hours and I walked to the old city with Nehama. I helped her pick out some gifts for her family and friends, we had lunch (falafel for her, shawarma for me), and I visited the kotel for the last time. It was getting late, so Nehama convinced me to take a cab with her and we made it back to Beit Nativ. Before the next session, a group of the Nativ Yeshiva students walked down the Yeshiva, joined them for mincha, which was led by Sarah in honour of her birthday, and then made a presentation, thanking the Yeshiva and presenting a set of עין יעקב. We then had one of our final session as a a kibbutz group, which we spent making and then sharing different kinds of creative pieces to capture the year. While people used a variety of different mediums, I chose to write a short poem in Hebrew, since it's much easier to rhyme than in English. For our final program of the day, we all went down to the auditorium as Yossi gave us his 'final words of wisdom.' He spoke very beautifully and passionately about the need to be strong Jewishly whether we return to North America or make Aliyah eventually. Another important point he made was that the North American Jewish community is too focused on 'leadership,' and really has nobody to follow the leaders. He therefore said that he would be just as happy if many of us would become committed, observant laypeople and rise strong Jewish families. On our way out from this moving session, we received our yearbooks and various other pieces of Nativ clothing. I decided to take a relatively evening for my last night in Israel, and went to have my last meal at Burgers bar (for a while, at least) with Avram, before stopping at Supersol for last time.
Moday was spent mostly with goodbyes and saying להתראות (see you soon). I ended up waking up pretty early, and just in time to daven shacharit at the Conservative Yeshiva one last time. I was aked to lead p'sukei d'zimra, and Yakov Hadesh, a first year JTS cantorial student, led a beautful shacharit. Around 10 in the morning, our kibbutz group left beit nativ and walked together to the Jerusalem theatre, where we held our final banquet. It was a very bitersweet occasion, as Yossi, Mike and Yael, gave us final words, we presented gifts to them, and laughed and cried. I did make it back from the banquet just in time to join the Yeshiva for my(actual) final davening of Mincha there (for now...). In the late afternoon, we had our actual final session with all of Nativ. I had to fight to hold back tears as David Keren, Nahum, and Yossi spoke, the Kehilla 1 a capella group performed, and we viewed a slideshow of our year in review. After a dessert reception, it was time to load the truck with our bags, and head to the airport as we really had to say להתראות to Israel...
Thank you so much for following a long with my adventures over the past nine moths. I can't wait to announce when I return to Israel next.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A time to cry, and a time to laugh עֵת לִבְכּוֹת וְעֵת לִשְׂחוֹק

A bittersweet final week on kibbutz…

It is so hard to think that tomorrow I will be leaving this beautiful place where I have lived, worked, and been a part of for the past three and a half months. For now I’ll reflect just on the past week, which was pretty packed with different exciting events, as well as time to say goodbye to our work and the kibbutz.

This past Tuesday was Nativ’s annual Yom Sport, where the three different Nativ tracks got to have fun outside in the sun while having a maccabiah like competition. The event took place in the city of Yeruham, located about 40 minutes south of Be’er Sheva, where one of the two other tracks of the program was living for the second part of the year (the other being in Be’er Sheva). After tefillot, we too the 1.5 hour drive down, and arrived around 10. After a short opening ceremonies in the city gym (ironically, donated by the Jewish community of Canada, along with many of the other buildings and parks in the city), we then split into different events where we competed by group. Nicely for me, there were a few non-sports competitions which I was able to compete in. First we had a jeopardy like trivia competition, which our group won in a landslide, followed by ‘human text twist,’ where we were each given a set of letters to hold up and see which group could make the most words out of. After the second competition, it was already time for lunch, and we had a delicious barbecue with hot dogs and hamburgers. After lunch, it was time to take the all Nativ group picture, which went off pretty well without too many hitches. After lunch, we participated in two more competitions. The first was a few different water games, including one where our Isreaeli staff members had their mouths filled with water and we had to try to make them laugh and spit out the water. The final event of the day was an apache relay, where each of us did a different task in the crazy race. My job was to paint some fences green, along with two other people in our group, which was actually one of the jobs that the Yeruham group did as their community service for the city. Although our group came in second place, the day was a great way to mark the end of our period down south, while also getting to see my friends lived and just have fun. We made it back to kibbutz around 7 in evening, and after a dairy dinner that Mike our madrich bought, it was time to switch gears and prepare for the joyous holiday of יום ירושלים, where we celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967, this year marking the 40th anniversary. I joined the kibbutz in the Beit Knesset for a festive Maariv service, which included special psalms and prayers. After tefuillot, I returned to my room and listened to a live recording of a concert called לך ירושלים which took place in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, and featured a cast of top Israeli artists from a variety of styles, to sing about the city, and although I only got to hear it on the internet, it was a beautiful medley and tribute to the city.

The next morning, davening was at 6 AM as usual, but included the Shabat פסוקי דזמרא, Hallel, and other additional prayers. We then had our second to last day of work in the fields. We drove out to the חווה (ranch) near Ashkelon, which is also owned by the Moshav and spent the morning planting signs marking the rows of an almond orchard that will be planted soon. The cool thing about doing it was that for a lot of the last month, the three girls who work in the fields with us, Sarah, Shoshana and Aviva, have been painting the signs, about six hundred in all, so it was very cool to be able to use the fruits of their labour. About 12:30, we returned to Massuot Yitzhak for lunch, and then back to kibbutz after showering and washing up, we boarded busses a little after 2:30 to drive up to Jerusalem and mark the holiday there. After stopping by Beit Nativ for a little while, we walked towards downtown to join a huge parade organized in honour of the event, with thousands of people marching from כיכר ציון to the Kotel. Although being in the parade was an interesting experience, especially to see the streets filled with Israeli flags, it was not without many aspects which I strongly disliked, first and foremost the pushing and shoving throughout. I was also upset that men and women were seperated partway through the march. Finally , the route for part of the parade went through the Damascus Gate and straight through the Moslem Quarter, and while I did not see an explicit problem with this, after talking with my friends, I realized that doing so can bring up some important moral and philosophical issues. The march ended at the Kotel, where I stopped for a few minutes, and then because I was short on time, walked to ben Yehuda with some friends and got a shawarma for dinner. We returned to kibbutz later that night, because the next day, on Thursday, would be our final day of work.

For our final day of work, we spent the first part stacking and putting away sprinklers and other irrigation equpment, since at this point of the year most of the crops switch over to drip irrigation. After taking a break, I ended the day spraying weed-killer next to one of the carrot fields. After a sad final lunch, our boss, Hanan, sat us down and gave us an emotional final talk, as well as a t-shirt and sweatshirt from the Moshav. I spent most of the afternoon packing, and was able to make a good deal of progress by the end of the day. Shortly after I returned from work, I had a great plesant surprise and got a knock on the door, which turned out to be one of the Gabbaim from the Kibbutz, asking if I could read the whole Parasha that shabbat. Although I only had less than two days to prepare, I agreed to do so, and immediately got to work learning it.

On Friday, after waking up for Shacharit as usual (since it was Rosh Chodesh, I got to read Torah, which went well), I went back to bed for a little while and relaxed for most of the morning. After lunch, I took a tiyul to Ashkelon with my friend Nehama, with the task of buying gits for our kibbutz families. In one of the malls there, we found a gift store, and I picked out a nice ברכת הבית for them. We got back to kibbutz around 3, and I spent most of the rest of the afternoon practising the Torah reading. After getting ready for Shabbat, our entire group came together outside our caravans on the grass with Mincha, Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, which was truly a beautiful davening. I then had dinner in the Chadar Ochel with about half of our group, and later on that night had an oneg in honour of Shoshana's birthday.

The next morning, we davened with the kibbutz, and I had the honour of reading the entire Parashat Bamidbar. Although I did mess up a bit towards the end, I was still overwhelmed when I finished at how many people came up to me to wish a Yasher Koach. As one of the kibbutz members remarked to me Sunday morning, it was definitely an experience that I should keep with me forever. After musaf, Abbie and I ate with the Slaters, our host family, for the last time, and we had a very nice meal, conversation and D'var Torah. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I spent the bulk of the afternoon outside on the grass, reading, having a conversation with my madricha Yael, and having a chevruta with Josh to study Akdamut. At 6 in the evening, we davened mincha, had parashat hashavua, and ate a nice seudah shlishit, with some beautiful singing afterwards. A little later, we ended Shabbat with Maariv and Havdalah.

שבוע טוב!

Monday, May 14, 2007

ראיתי עיר עוטפת אור (I see a city wrapped in light)/ Learning for Life

(May 4-13/ Iyar 16-25)

After a busy week on Tiyul, it felt quite good to have a restful, quiet and productive (finishing The Life of Pi) Shabbat, despite having so few people here on kibbutz. While we had a very empty table in the Chadar Ochel for meals, it was a nice Shabbat because I again took advantage of the kibbutz’s Shabbat afternoon shiur series in Hebrew, which I was able to understand pretty well. After Shabbat ended, the joyous holiday of Lag Ba’Omer, celebrating the end of the plague which struck Rabbi Akiva’s students at this time of year 2000 years ago and the Yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Over the next day , we engaged in many of the traditional activities of the day such as making a bonfire Motzei Shabbat and observing the bonfires set up in almost every backyard in the neighborhood of Gush Katif refugees adjacent to the kibbutz. The next day after work, I went with a few friends in one of the kibbutz tractors to collect wood in one of the orchards, and in the evening we had a barbecue and another bonfire. My friend Josh Goldberg even came back from Mount Meron, the home of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai’s grave and celebrations which attract close to a quarter of a million people, with a special Lag B’omer haircut!

Monday was our final Yom Nativ, during which we had study sessions about Lag Baomer and Yom Yerushalayim. That night, four of us made the short trip in to Ashkelon along with our madrich Mike, to have an affordable by delicious dinner at a skewer restaraunt he had been to there. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday we were back at work as usual, though to our luck, we were met by a scorching heat wave. On Wednesday, we made a decision to begin work half an hour early at 7 AM, and were able to finish at 12, in time to come back to kibbutz and eat lunch in the Chadar Ochel.

On Thursday after work, we had just a few short hours to shower and relax before boarding a bus that would take us to Jerusalem for the MASA Gala event (MASA, which means journey in Hebrew, is an initiative of the Jewish Agency to bring together Jewish young adults on long term Israel programs). Since MASA was providing the bus for us, we made a couple stops along the way, providing for a very interesting ride. On our way out of Kibbutz, we stopped at the Ein Tsurim Yeshiva to pick up about eight boys from overseas studying there. After that we stopped to pick up box dinners, and after a few kinks, ended up taking the scenic route to Jerusalem, stopping to kibbutz נתיב הלה south of Beit Shemesh to pick up twenty more people and driving through Gush Etzion and the Tunnel Road to end up at the southern entrance to Jerusalem. To describe about the MASA event, I will first insert a review of it that I was asked to write for MASA, and then I will add a few a few additional thoughts:

יחד לב אל לב נפתח בתקוה לאהבה
Together, heart to heart, we will open up in hope and love
This phrase, taken from the popular song by Gaya, perfectly reflects the amazing feeling one experienced while attending the MASA Gala event this past Thusday evening. Not only was it an amazing feeling of אחדות, togetherness, to come together with over five thousand Jewish young adults on long term Israel programs, but this feeling was intensified by the אהבה, the love that was expressed for the city of Jerusalem on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of its reunification, for our captured soldiers, and the entire country of Israel. The even began with a carnival in the חוצות היוצר area just outside the old city, which featured Israeli crafts for sale, performances, food, and an opportunity to mingle with friends, new and old, from the many different MASA programs. As the sun began to set, the gathering moved to the Sultan's pool amphitheatre for a multimedia extravaganza celebrating MASA's third year and the City of Jerusalem. Beginning a song and dance performance celebrating Jerusalem, the program continued with greetings fro the two MASA participants who MC'd the event, from Canada and Brazil, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Mayor Uri Lupolianski, Jewish Agency Chair Ze'ev Bielski and MASA supporters around the world. Following a special presentation in solidarity with captured soldiers Gilad Shalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, the real party started with performances from popular Israeli bands including a special MASA band, and a spectacular fireworks performance! The 5767 MASA Gala was a spectacular event that helped cap off another year of success for MASA and its participants, as well as showing our love and support foe Jerusalem and Israel.

The article pretty much sums up the evening, although I of course had to give it a slightly more positive review that my own personal opinion. Overall, I though the program part of the event was pretty good, especially the videos which featured friends of mine from my program and the video montage of MASA supporters included Rabbi Jerome Epstein, the head of United Synagogue and Rabbi Robert Golub, head of Mercaz USA, proudly representing the Conservative Movement. It was also cool that my friend Abi and I along with many other Nativers ended up sitting in section of the amphitheatre only about 20 feet behind the Prime minister, who did get quite a few boos during his speech since most Israeli's belive that he must tep down. There was also much security, including having to put our bags through x-ray machines, because of the high profile attendees. Although I thought the bands at the end weren’t so great, shortly after I started leaving, I turned around and got to watch an amazing fireworks display. As a final thought, while I was sitting through the ceremony, It was such an amazing feeling to look in front of me and see the Tower of David and old city walls lit up, and realize that just over forty years ago, the Sultans Pool ampitheatre was located in No Man’s land! This feeling that I experienced was the inspiration for the first part of this blog’s title, ‘a city wrapped in light’, which comes from a beautiful song about Jerusalem by the artist Yehoram Gaon.

After I left the event, I walked back with some friends to Beit Nativ, picked up my bags, and walked a block down Keren Hayesod street to spend the night with my friends Britt and George from the conservative Yeshiva.

On Friday morning, I woke up and walked over to the Yeshiva for the Shacharit service. After davening, I went across the street to Supersol with my friend Hillel, and picked up a bite to eat for breakfast and a large Friday edition of the מעריב newspaper. Pretty soon afterwards, it was time to board the bus for the Conservative Yeshiva’s closing Shabbaton, which I was privileged to attend along with three other nativers, most of the full year Yeshiva students, and many of my favourite teachers, including Rabbi Joel Roth who came in to visit from JTS in New York. We left Jerusalem and drove west and then north along the new Toll Road 6 and route 65, eventually making our way to the summit of Har Arbel, located above the Kinneret just north of Tiberias. We had a picnic lunch on top of the mountain, and then hiked down the mountain. This hike was a big accomplishment for me because we were supposed to do it two years ago on Pilgrimage, before it got cancelled at the last minute, and I had always been told that it was a relatively difficult hike. Mod tog the path turned out to be relatively easy, except for one section where we had to use ropes and metal rungs to scale down a cliff. I was very excited when I successfully completed this section, especially because I still have a decent fear of heights. After we all completed the rest of the hike, we made the short drive to Alon a field school at the foot of Har Tavor where we spent Shabbat. After I led the group in Mincha, we got our rooms, I being with Mendy and Hillel, and had some free time to prepare for Shabbat. About an hour before Shabbat began, we all gathered and had a great session devoted ‘taking the Yeshiva home,’ where we had discussions, both together and in smaller groups, about how to continue the great learning and religious experiences we had after we all leave Israel soon. Soon it was time to bring in Shabbat. We davened Kabbalat Shabbat outdoors, in a beautiful setting overlooking the mountain and fields of oak trees. We went inside for a D’var Torah and Ma’ariv, followed by a pretty nice Shabbat dinner. After zemirot and birkat hamazon, we had a short shiur taught by Rabbi Goldfarb, and then another quality Yeshiva Tish, with food drink, singing and Divrei Torah.

In the morning, I woke up and had a light snack, after which we were off to tefillot. The davening was all pretty nice, and the Torah service was petty neat, since the reading was done out of a Sephardic scroll. The Haftarah and Musaf were lead by cantorial students who, did beautiful jobs. After the end of Musaf, we had a Kiddush and then a session with Rabbi Joel Roth, which was entitled ‘Why I am a Conservative Jew,’ as he spoke about how he sees the three pillars of our approach to Judaism, the Academic, theological, and Halachic aspects, and how he is able to synthesize critical study with fidelity to Halacha. After the session, we sat down to a nice Shabbat lunch, which was followed again by some nice zemirot. I then had time for a much needed Shabbat nap, and after reading a bit, I slept straight through to the beginning of Mincha. After davening, our Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Shmuel Lewis, led a session with sources related to the Yeshiva’s motto, ‘Learning for Life’. We then had a treat, and were given a nature walk, where were able to see all of the many types of animal and plant life just within the area of the Field School. We then had a pretty satisfying Seudah Shlishit, followed by a really great closing session led by Rabbi Diamond. Before we knew it, Shabbat had ended and it was time for Ma’ariv, which was led in a special festive nusach composed by Cantor Jacob Mendelssohn , and which you can hear a recording of (from a different occasion) here.

After Havdalah, we packed our backs and boarded the bus back to Jerusalem. After a long drive and a rest stop, we arrived back shortly before midnight. I spent the night the home of my chevruta Miron and his wife Naomi. I woke up Sunday morning and walked over to the Yeshiva, where I was honoured to lead P’sukei and Participate in the davening, which I had missed so much. I made one of the best decisions to take Sunday as a day off and spend it at the Yeshiva. In the morning, I went to Talmud class just like old times, and I was so happy that I was able to jump back in, despite not having been there for so long. For lunch, I went downtown and had a Shawarma at Moshiko, and made a trip to Meah Shearim to buy a new pair of Tzitzit. I ran back and returned to the Yeshiva just in time for Mincha. After a break, I was fortunate to be able to attend the Chevruta portion of a class taught by my Talmud teacher, Dr. Josh Kulp, in Midrash Halacha. Around 5 PM, I walked across the street to the Sheraton and spent some time with the Club L’chaim group from my shul, who were in the middle of their biannual trip to Israel. I spent some time catching up, and then had a nice dinner together at the Primavera Italian dairy restaurant at the hotel. Although I would have loved to stay a while longer, I had to run and make my way over to the תחנה מרכזית to catch the lat bus back to Kibbutz at 8:15.

On Monday, I had a nice day at work to begin our last week on kibbutz. After showering and relaxing for the afternoon, we had a bonfire in the evening with some friends, some on kibbutz and others who had come from Be’er Sheva and further.

Friday, May 04, 2007

A great Shabbat in ירושלים with Rabbi Bauman, and an exciting and enjoyable North Tiyul!

Since I have been away on a nice ‘vacation’ from kibbutz and my computer for just about a week, so much has happened that I can’t wait to share!

After taking a day off last Wednesday to recover from a cold/ sore throat I caught over Yom Haatzmaut, and a day at work painting and doing irrigation work, I was just about ready to head off on my week of fun in Jerusalem and all over the northern part of Israel.

I first got packed for Shabbat and took an extra bag filled with along that Rabbi Bauman graciously agreed to take back to Toronto with him. I left for Jerusalem Friday Morning, and lucked out when I got to the bus stop outside Kibbutz and a few minutes later, after two sheruyot going to Tel Aviv drove by, I was extremely lucky to have one stop going to Jerusalem which was nearly empty. In case you’re not familiar, a sherut (literally meaning ‘service’) is a shared taxi, usually seating ten people that runs between cities and sometimes within them, for a slightly cheaper, quicker and more comfortable ride than the corresponding bus. I arrived in Jerusalem at the central bus station and in the end decided to take a bus, despite it being a pain in the neck as a result of it being packed and me having a huge suitcase, in order to meet Rabbi Bauman downtown at King George and Yafo. I found him right away, and we immediately went to Meah Shearim to make some small book purchases, which I always enjoy doing, especially with a friend. After we finished up there, we walked back Downtown and had a delicious lunch of Hummus basar (with meat) at Pinati, where I hadn’t been for months. One could tell that it is truly spring, with the sight of Pinati’s screened in porch totally dismantled and outdoor tables set up in its place. After lunch, we walked down King George and Keren Hayesod streets, and ended up at Rabbi Bauman’s hotel room at the Inbal. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and hanging out, and later on, we showered and got ready for Shabbat. Friday night, we took a leisurely walk down the street, past the President’s residence (former home of Moshe Katzav) and museum of Islamic art to Yakar. Although I’ve davened at Yakar a few times before, this was the first time going to the downstairs minyan, which attracts a slightly older crowd (people in their thirties and up) and has a bit slower tempo than the upstairs service. Although many times I enjoy a joyous, fast-paced service on erev Shabbat, its also nice to have a change sometimes and it was nice to try something different. We walked back to the hotel and went to the dining room, to have a delicious and enjoyable Shabbat dinner.

On Shabbat morning we woke up and walked over to daven at the Ashkenazi shul in Yemin Moshe, where I would go every once in a while during first semester. Tefillot were pretty nice, and started at 8:15 and were finished by 10:30. The shul was packed with an Aish Hatorah group from Washington and a Schechter group from Cleveland, so although they had quite a delicious Kiddush as usual, it was pretty hard to get in and get food. We got back to the hotel around eleven and soon found out that lunch didn’t begin until one, which gave us plenty of time to take a Shabbat nap before eating. Lunch was a buffet, and just as delicious as the night before, with plenty of meat for my taste. After benching, we went back to the room and relaxed for a few hours. Around 6 in the evening, we figured we’d go somewhere and daven mincha, and the first place to try is the large Beit Knesset on Chovevei Tzion Street. We were about forty five minutes early, but it was no loss, as we both took advantage of the library of ספרים (Jewish books) at our fingertips. The mincha service was a nice surprise, as the leader used the perfect nusach for the entire service, and the Torah reading was also superb. One other amazing thing about the shul was a plaque I noticed the front, that all of the furnishings within, including the beautiful wooden benches and shtenders, ark and chandeliers came from a synagogue that closed down near Parma, Italy and were donated the state of Israel. I felt very privileged to be able to daven in this shul with such an amazing history. When we got back to the hotel, it was starting to get dark, so Rabbi Bauman and I sat in the lobby and chatted until Shabbat ended, which brings me to one of the most amazing stories of the Shabbat. As it came time to daven Maariv, we looked for the hotel synagogue, which we had trouble finding, and soon gave up and just decided to daven on our own on the hotel’s lower level. However, just we were about to start, a young man in a suit ran over to us and informed us that his family was trying to have a minyan, and were one person short. We ran up to his family’s room, a suite on the seventh floor, and on the way learned that his family was Sephardic and originally from Panama. We got to the room and after the family thanked us, the family patriarch moved to the front of the room and began to lead the entire sefardic Maariv service from memory, without needing a siddur or any help, which was quite impressive to see and experience. After Maariv, we went out onto the balcony and conducted the קידוש לבנה (sanctification of the new moon), which was beautiful to do overlooking the city of Jerusalem.

We then went back inside for Havdalah, which the patriarch again conducted from memory. The sefardic havdalah has a few differences from the traditional Ashkenazi one I am used to. The major ones are that the service is done seated and usually around a table, and seondly, that the text of their introductory paragraph is totally different. Although I also find the Ashkenazi liturgy to be meaningful, what struck me about the sefardi version is the theme of their prayer, asking God’s blessings of success as we move from the comfort of Shabbat into the unknown of the week to come. Part of it reads:

הַצְלִיחֵנוּ. הַצְלִיחַ דְּרָכֵינוּ. הַצְלִיחַ לִמּוּדֵינוּ.
וּשְׁלַח בְּרָכָה רְוָחָה וְהַצְלָחָה בְּכָל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ.

Grant us success, in our journeys and our learning, and send plentiful blessing and success in the work of our hands…

May we all merit having this blessing come true as Shabbat ends and we move into the coming week of creative work.

After these beautiful tefillot, I unfortunately had to rush and pack my stuff up, so I could catch a bus to the tachana mercazit and then another one back to kibbutz. As a nice surprise, I ran into my staff Mike and friend Sarah, and we chatted on the hour bus ride home and walk back to kibbutz. When I got back I quickly unpacked, and then repacked for our weeklong טיול צפון (Northern Tiyul) which would begin the next morning.


We pulled out of Kibbutz around 8:30 on Sunday morning, after eating and davening, headed in the direction of the Arozolov train station in Tel Aviv, where we stopped to pick up the rest of our group who had spent Shbbat elsewhere. When I went in to the building to use the washroom, I noticed a sign that newspapers were on sale for just 2 (about 65 cents Canadian), and bought a copy of Maariv. It sure kept me busy on the bus, as it contained information leaked to the press about the Winograd commission report, which as you’ve probably heard, criticizes the government for its handling of the war in Lebanon during the summer and personally criticizes the chief of staff, defence minister and prime minister. These political stories continued to unfold throughout the week, thus we continued to discuss them throughout tiyul. We left Tel Aviv and drove about an hour north to the town of Zichron Yaakov, which reminded me of many quaint villiages I had visited in North America, except for the fact that it was founded in 1882 by Baron de Rothschild and had a distinctly Hebrew/Jewish flavour. We had a little free time to walk around the beautiful town, and were given a lunch of salatim and schnitzel at a restaurant. After lunch, we got back on the bus and drove a little over an hour towards the northern border and hiked Nachal Betzet, a beautiful and shady hike in a valley just south of the Lebanese border not too far from Rosh Hanikra. This hike brought back great memories, since I also did it almost two years ago on Pilgrimage, and I made out pretty well, hiking pretty close to the front and keeping up with Yossi. After the three hour hike ended, we davened Mincha and got back on the buses to head to Achziv, a cottage colony located right on the Mediterranean shore between Rosh Haniqra and Nahariya. After putting my stuff in our cabin, I went over with a friend across the street to walk on the beach and watch the sunset over the sea, which was pretty cool and beautiful. We had dinner, which was – schnitzel again! and I called it an early night pretty soon after I davened Maariv.

The next morning, we davened Shacharit and had breakfast, and soon we were back on the bus and driving toward kibbutz Yifat, where we visited a living history museum depicting the period of the early kibbutzim and moshavim in Northern Israel. We had a pretty interesting tour, which ended with a lunch which was supposed to recreate the food that the early pioneers ate. The food wasn’t too tasty, but it seemed pretty authentic. After lunch, we got back on the bus and drove north to the area of Meron. I fell asleep, and when I woke up we were in a traffic jam. The reason, as I soon found out was that we were getting close to Meron, home of the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi), and the police had already started to prepare for a crowd of a quarter of a million expected in anticipation of Lag Baomer. After a while of driving around and not really getting too far, we finally got off the bus and walked the rest of the way up to the tomb. We spent a few minutes at the gravesite discussing its significance, and then began our hike for the day, another mostly shady one through Nachal Meron and Nachal Amud. The hike was a little harder than the previous day’s especially the steep ascent we had at the end, but thanks to my friends I made it out with a lot of effort and just a few scratches. The hike ended just below the city of S’fat, which I could tell (besides for the modern buildings) by the fact that there was a makeshift mikvah, with clothing hooks and all, built under a highway overpass we walked by. We davened Mincha as a group as the sun was beginning to set over mount meron, and drove to our accommodations for the next three nights at the Ha’on holiday village, another vacation colony on the southeastern shore of the kinneret. We arrived close to eight, and had a pretty good fleichig dinner at the hotel. We then got our room keys, had an optional Maariv, and again got to sleep pretty early.

On Tuesday after davening and breakfast we split into two groups, myself choosing the easier hike, and we boarded the bus for the drive to Metulla, a beautiful town which sits right on the border with Lebanon. Before starting our hike, we drove to Mitzpe Dado, and overlook point where we could see both Israel and Lebanon for miles. (Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries at this point, so I’ll try to gather some other images to complement the text) We then began our hike through Nachal Ayun, which runs between the eastern edge of Metulla and the Lebanese border. It was a relatively short and easy hike, but included three beautiful waterfalls along its course. After the hike we drove over to the city of Katzrin, known as the capital of the Golan, for lunch at an Asian restaurant called Chi Thai located at a mall there. After lunch, we had one of the most exciting parts of the day, a tour of the Golan Heights Winery, which is located in an industrial park just behind the mall. The tour began with a flashy video, and then continued with a view of the oak aging casks, and then the cool bottling and packing machines. The tour ended with a formal wine tasting, where we got to try a semi-dry white wine, a dry merlot, and a swell Muscat dessert wine. It was pretty exciting to be at an age when we are old enough and mature enough to this as a group. After we finished at the winery, we got back on the bus and drove to a site on the Jordan river just a few kilometres north of the Kinneret to go kayaking. Although I don’t have the best coordination, I went in a 2 person kayak with my friend Ilana and we ended up doing pretty well and actually finished second out of all the kayaks and rafts. We waited for a while for everyone to finish, and then we went back to Haon for a few minutes to unpack from the day. That night, we had a free evening in Teverya, and I went with a group of friends to a nice meat restaurant called Decks on a pier on the kinneret for dinner, where I ordered a lamb rib in honour of Pesach Sheni. After dinner, three friends and I took advantage of being in the holy city (one of four in Israel, the others being Jerusalem, S’fat and Hebron), and went to visit the grave of the רמב''ם (Maimonides), which was just a few blocks from the shore. The tomb was actually a really beautiful complex, even in the dark, starting with the fourteen pillars on the walkway leading up to the actual grave, commemorating the fourteen sections of his magnum opus, the Mishne Torah – Code of Jewish Law. We davened Maariv there, and then spent a few minutes walking around the gravesite, and visting the other graves marked there, including the Rambam’s father Maimon, and a number of Talmudic sages supposedly buried there, including Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai. It was soon time to leave and meet the rest of the group, but we were in for quite a surprise when we got to the meeting place and saw a Nachman-mobile, a van driven by breslov chassdim who blast their music and invite onlookers to join in and dance. We decided that there was no reason not to join them, and for fifteen minutes most of group was dancing the night away. It was pretty crazy and intense. By the time we got on the bus and drove around the kinneret to go back to our hotel, it was already past eleven, and definitely time to call it a night.

The next morning there were again two hike options, and because the harder one included rapelling, jumping and swimming, it definitely made sense for me to do the easier one, which was still pretty challenging. We davened shacharit, had breakfast, and then headed off to Nachal Zavitan, the upper part of which would be our hike for the day. This hike was especially challenging for me because at least fifty percent of it wasn’t on a path at all, but rather on rocks, many of them unstable, but I’m glad to say I made through the hike pretty well. Towards the end, we stopped to eat lunch at the site of a pretty beautiful and impressive waterfall. After we finished hike, around 1:30, we drove down to the kinneret and spent a few hours at the Luna Gal water park, which I had actually visited with my family on my first trip to Israel nearly six years ago. Although I’m not a big water slide person, I still had a good time going in the pool and relaxing in the sun. Around 4:30, we went back to Ha’on and had a little while nap and relax until dinner. After dinner, which was pretty good meat again, we had another evening out, this time at Hammat Gader, an Ancient sulfur hot springs known since the Romans, and which is now a fashionable Israeli Spa.

Thursday morning began as usual with Shacharit, and it was a nice surprise to find out that the hotel actually had a sefer Torah. It was pretty neat that it was a sefardi Torah, which is stored in a wooden case instead of a cover. Since I knew the Torah reading, I got to read Torah and it was pretty neat. We then had breakfast, packed, and loaded the buses. Before we left, I made sure to buy a newspaper in Hebrew again, and that day turned out to be a pretty big news day again, as the backlash against the government continued, with a huge rally planned in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv (which ended up attracting close to 200,000), and the accusing of Azmi Bashara, a former arab member of Knesset, of treason against the state.

We left Haon, and drove through the Jordan River valley and Beit Shean to the Summit of the Gilboa Mountains. Around noon, we arrived and began descending the mountain on what began as a path but soon turned into just series of rocks to climb down onto. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come so easily to me, but my friend Shayna helped me out each step of the way, both physically and morally. After successfully completing the hike, we got our reward as we drove to the Sachne natural springs just five minutes away from the base of the mountain. We arrived and were treated to a hot Chinese lunch, after which we had time to swim in the refreshing waters of the pools. After saying goodbye to everyone, I boarded a bus that took me and a few others back to kibbutz. I even made it back for mincha, after which we had a deli dinner. I had a relaxing day for Friday, and am looking forward to another nice Shabbat.

שבת שלום!

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