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.

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