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).
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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.

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