Weekly Update from Aardvark Israel 23.04.20
We are finishing off a very meaningful week, which is followed by another extremely important week here in Israel. The week of Yom Ha’Shoa was rich in activities prior to and on the day itself. For many of our students, this was the first time standing for the siren of Yom Ha’Shoa in Israel. An experience they will not forget.
On Sunday, we started the week with the group volunteering to pick beetroot. Just like every time we go and volunteer, it was great to be able to go outside, be physically active, and most importantly, support Israeli agriculture and the economy. These crops would rot if our students had not spent the time and energy to help.
At Sunday’s apartment meetings, each apartment read texts about, and discussed the value of, life and the unimaginable choices people had to make. Students also took the time to share their connection to this special day, and how they commemorate it back home. We finished the meeting with setting intentions for the day itself, by answering the question, “What do I want to know/learn/explore this Holocaust Memorial Day?”
Monday started with our Ulpan classes and continued with an amazing Zoom “Minute to win it” Games activity led by Gil. It was a competition between apartments, and this is what Ben Newman had to say about it:
“Zoom minute to win it games pitted apartment against apartment in one minute long challenges to beat each other to be the first to complete each challenge. We were given a box of assorted oddities; a hat with teabags taped to the sides, two boxes of Tic-Tacs connected by a stick, cups, etc. which would be used as challenges. In Halutzim, we put our computer on the kitchen table and joined the Zoom chat with all of the other apartments. Despite not being in the same room, there was plenty of competitive jeering and lofty claims of being the ‘best apartment.’ We were given a minute to complete each challenge with instructions over video. We started with the old cookie from the forehead to the mouth exercise, which is especially amusing over close-up on Zoom. Other challenges included flipping teabags onto the brim of a hat, stacking Jenga blocks, and pin the tail on the rhinoceros. Needless to say, Zoom allowed for some foul play to slip by (and Halutzim may or may have not cheated on the cookie challenge… we couldn’t help it.) And while, even despite our sugar teeth we didn’t win, a healthy competition of Zoom “Minute to win it” Games was something fun that brought smiles and teamwork to the day.”
On Monday evening, we joined Masa’s Yom Hashoa ceremony, and continued with our own Aardvark ceremony. Every apartment took part, by reading a text, playing a song or lighting a candle.
On Tuesday, after the siren, everyone joined a Zoom session with Yad Vashem, on the topic of “The Return To Life”. This session was followed by the moving story from Shlomo Adler, a Holocaust survivor who shared his story with all of us. His talk was one of the most memorable parts of the day for many of the students.
In the evening, each student chose to participate in one of four interactive workshops that were offered by the staff, each workshop touched on different aspects of the Shoa.
“This was my first Yom HaShoah in Israel and I can say that it was the most memorable one that I have experienced to date. At school, we would always have a commemoration service for Yom HaShoah, in the background we would play videos of the siren in Israel; however it was incomparable to the first-hand experience. My roommates and I walked down to the street below our apartment, which is typically quite busy, and as the siren went off, we experienced something very special. All the action on the street completely stopped, people got out of their cars and those walking placed their groceries on the ground, as people reflected on the tragedy of the Holocaust. During this time I realised how special it was that we had a Jewish state of our own, something that those who perished in the Holocaust could only dream of. The unity that I felt was something so special and unique, making me so grateful to be Jewish. The rest of the day consisted of us listening to various speakers, including a holocaust survivor, Shlomo Adler, who told us about his tragic story and his successes post holocaust. I was so grateful for the opportunity that Aardvark provided, as I believe it is very important to hear the first hand experiences of these survivors in order to ensure that tragedies like the Holocaust can never be repeated. Overall, I found that I was able to have a very meaningful Yom HaShoah and I was so grateful to spend it in Israel.” – Ashley Orleow
Rachy Brodtman wrote, “This year my experience on Yom Hashoa was different from all other years. As I am no longer in school, the value I placed on this day was in my hands; as such I decided to place a slightly different focus on this day to what I that of previous years, I spent some of my time focusing on the plight of the Jewish people and some on current events. During the morning siren, I decided to focus on those who still suffer in the face of persecution. I feel immense gratitude to be surrounded by such an accepting community, and have the privilege to work towards lending support to those who are marginalized. Martin Niemöller’s ‘First They Came’ holds great significance in society today in considering what we can do for others in their struggle; whilst in my lifetime I have not experienced anything near the horrors of the Shoah, on behalf of my ancestors I recognize the responsibility the Jewish people have in offering solidarity and compassion to those around us.”
This is how Uriel Barinboim described his experience of the day:
“Yom HaShoa, a day hard to describe, for those who are directly connected to what happened to us, and for those who are not as well. Israel, the state and homeland of the Jewish people is a small country, but its population is so diverse in religions, ideologies and origin.
None of these aspects don’t make a difference on Yom HaShoa. It’s a National commemoration, and that says something about it. It’s not only a day to remember for those who survived and lost relatives, for the family of the survivors or the people they are close with, it’s NOT only for them, it is for each Jew to remember, as Am Israel, all together, what our brothers and sisters went through, what the human race was able to become and perpetrate, to condemn hatred and degradation of any kind but again, without forgetting that we are one, and for that reason it is a day for all the Jewish Nation to mourn with each other.
I had the blessing to be surrounded by Jews from all around the world, from totally different backgrounds and stories, in our home by right. And even more, I had a greater blessing: being able to witness (digitally) two testimonies from Holocaust survivors Moshe Adler (Israel) and Isaac Borojovich (Uruguay).
I went to a Jewish school so I experienced Yom HaShoa every year. But never with the depth, connection and meaning that I was able to give it here in Israel.”
After Wednesday morning’s Ulpan classes, the students joined the Daily Update with Charlee, which is the best way to start every morning. It has news, jokes, music and more. This update was followed by a session run by myself of the theme of racism within Israel and the unconfirmed story of the missing Yeminite babies from 1948. My session was followed by a cooking activity with Dor. This time on the menu: empanadas!
The true highlight of the day was an Israeli Folk Dancing Workshop with Silvio Berlfein. It was educational and physical and in the end, everyone got to break a sweat.
Ashleigh Harris wrote: “On Wednesday, Etai gave a fantastic presentation (over Zoom of course) titled ‘The Land for all Jews’. He focused on the idea that although Israel was established on the premises to be the country and safe house for the Jewish people, discrimination still takes place within our Jewish community. Suddenly, the promise made in 1948, to protect our Jewish population, does not apply to every Jew. A bit hypocritical if you ask me…. There were three main examples Etai used to portray racism, which is unfortunately, still enforced within Israeli society today. The first was the alleged kidnapping of Jewish, Yemenite babies in the founding years of Israel’s’ establishment. The Yemenite parents were often told in the hospital, right after birth that their child had died of complicated circumstances and they had disposed of the body for them. These infants were then given to Ashkanisi families and raised as their own. Between 1500 and 5000 babies and toddlers from Yemenite refugees ‘disappeared’ during this time and the Israeli government has since denied these allegations. However, they are going to begin investigations into the kidnapping within the next couple of weeks. The second example he gave us was of the stereotypes that continue to stain Israeli culture. Some examples were that the Ethiopian Jews are of a low socioeconomic status and have jobs such as cleaners, that the Haredim are anti-Zionist and that Mizrachi Jews sport brand clothing. Unfortunately these stereotypes are engraved within Israeli society and do impact on the opportunities available to these groups. The third example Etai gave was of one of his Mizrachi friends who graduated within the top 5% of his university course, a very rare and wonderful achievement for a Mizrachi Jew. When applying for a job, he put his name on his CV, as you would normally do and submitted his resume. The company did not give him a call back even with his incredible university achievements. A couple of days later he submitted the exact same resume to the same company changing only his last name to a non-Mizrachi name. That same day he got a call back and was offered the job. He promptly sued the company for racism and won! This is just one of the examples of how racism is still prevalent within Israeli society today. While every country has its own stereotypes which influence our culture and even our actions, it is our responsibility to refute the racism and redefine each person as an individual rather than label them as a group.”
On Thursday, the students had the chance to learn and discuss a variety of highly interesting topics. Natali ran a session on Israeli cults, sharing famous stories about cult leaders and members in Israel, as well as discussing what makes a cult and the psychology behind it. Daniel ran a session about wild animals in Israel, the effort the country is putting towards their preservation and the places you can find them (when the quarantine is over).
“When I first saw this activity on the schedule, I was interested to join right away. I was always and am interested in animals and talking about them, and I knew it was the best activity I could ever join. I had fun learning about the Judean desert and the animals that live there. Shriki told us the basics and a number of facts about the animals, which are good to learn from. My favorite part of the activity was when Shriki spoke about the Arabian Leopard and Striped Hyena, because they are the biggest predators in Israel, and I have a passion for carnivorous animals. It was nice to learn about them as well as the other animals that live here. I would love to see different animals that live here if this activity is on the schedule again. All week I was excited about hearing about the animals here and I’m looking forward to hearing about more in the future. I wanted to say this is the best and most interesting activity I signed up for since the beginning of online classes and activities.” – Ron Segal
“On Thursday morning we had an interesting Zoom talk from Natali about the cults in Israel. We often hear about the highly publicized cults such as Scientology; however, we are rarely exposed to cults unique to Israel and our own Jewish community. A case that stood out to me was Goel Ratson. He acted as a safe haven for vulnerable women in Israel. He eventually was found to have had 21 mistresses and over 40 children. Not only did he exploit these many women, he created his own cult of personality, resulting in the women viewing him as god-like. Prior to this lesson, the term cult was blurry to me. I wasn’t even sure of the clear-cut difference between some religions and cults. Through learning about specific cases, I now understand the extent of exploitation, blackmailing, and violation of human rights that occur within cults. I thoroughly enjoyed the activity and I’m interested in researching further into cults within Israel and the Jewish community.” Sarah Sharwood
Next week we will experience Yom Hazikaron, followed by Yom Ha’atzmaut. A unique transition Israelis go through every year.
Etai Ben Simhon