We hope everyone had a wonderful Passover holiday! This week in Jerusalem, it was great to hear from all the students about their adventures and celebrations during the time off. We had a very busy week, with so much going on! This time of year in Israel is always an exciting one with a holiday or special day nearly every week for a month…
Before we share the highlights, we want to wish a refuah shleima (full recovery) to Natali who had emergency surgery to remove her appendix this week. She is recovering nicely and we look forward to welcoming her back at work soon!
On Sunday, we began to prepare ourselves for Israel’s upcoming Independence Day by learning Rikudai Am (Israel Folk dancing) in the evening. We learned a wide variety of dance moves so when we hit the dance floor next Wednesday night, we will fit right in and show off our skills. “The Israeli dancing activity was so much fun and made me feel like a real Israeli! It was also an incredible workout and I definitely felt it in my knees the next day”, said Abby Hockstein.
Tuesday was a big day for our students with a special tour of the Old City that highlighted sites significant in Judaism, Islam and Christianity. First, we toured the Temple Mount and had the opportunity to see the Dome of the Rock from up close. It was crazy to fathom that 3000 years ago, people were cutting massive stones out of the earth and then hauling them up for the construction of the temple. For most of us, it was incredibly surreal to be at the holiest place in Judaism and we enjoyed learning about the history of the Temple Mount itself. All of the students were in awe of the beautiful mosque. We are incredibly lucky that we are currently in peaceful enough times for us to be able to go up to the Temple Mount and to visit this site, which is so important to both the Jewish and Muslim people. Joshua Allen said, “It was an amazing experience getting to go up to the Temple Mount, and visit one of the holiest sites in Judaism. I felt a deep connection to the land, and I was shocked by how peaceful it was.”
Next, we walked through the Christian Quarter of the Old City and arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This church is where Jesus is said to have been crucified, buried and then resurrected. It was packed inside the church with thousands of visitors. We explored the different halls and enjoyed seeing and learning about the decorations and displays within the church. We were in awe of the architecture and the mosaics inside. Many students who studied art history in high school told us facts they knew about the art and history of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
On Tuesday Evening we had a Faces of Israel activity called Café Dilemma organized and run by our madrichim (counselors.) We were presented with different issues facing the Jewish community in today’s modern age and had the chance to explore these complex issues. Some of the topics included the government’s position on non-orthodox conversion in Israel, anti-Semitism, and the refugee situation. Mikey Anfang said, “One of the dilemmas we discussed in this week’s activity made me realize that as Jews we should be more inclusive to others due to the fact that we have been persecuted for so many years.” The madrichim turned our Ulam into a coffee house, and served the students drinks and desserts and it was great to spend that time with our counselors and discuss these hard issues with them. We all came away from the activity with a deeper understanding of these topics and how they affect our day-to-day lives.
On Thursday, both the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv students were honored to attend a Masa event for Yom Hashoah at the education center at Yad V’shem along with hundreds of gap year students from various Masa programs. We began the day with activities run by Yad Vashem’s own guides and educators. The focus of the day was the liberation of the Jews from the concentration camps and life in the immediate aftermath of the war. Images were spread across the floor, the students had to choose a picture and talk about the dilemmas it raised. It really helped us understand the chronology of the end of the war and the struggles of the survivors to adjust. We had a short tour around the grounds of the museum to learn the story of Israel’s efforts to preserve the memory of the Shoah. In the early years of the State of Israel, it was common to talk about the number six million and so most of the memorials and sculptures are immense, large and anonymous. In contrast, today it is more common to preserve the memory of the individual. A good example of this is the Children’s Memorial. There is one candle lit in the center of the memorial but it is surrounded by mirrors that are positioned to reflect many tens of thousands of candles. While walking through the memorial you hear the names of the names of children who were murdered read out aloud.
After the walking tour, we were privileged to meet three survivors who told us their personal experiences of the Shoah as well as the stories of their Aliya to Israel. All three were so proud to be Jewish and their passion for Israel and their hope for the Jewish people was mind-blowing. One of the survivors told us about how she was in the Auschwitz concentration camp with her mother and sister. She wasn’t allowed to call her mother “mother”, rather only by her first name so nobody would know they were related. She said that from the age of 8 years old she never knew what real family life was like. With so few survivors left today, it was a privilege and honor for us to hear these survivors tell us their stories.
The day ended with a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance which included wreath-laying, candle lighting, saying the Kaddish and memorial prayers. We then sang HaTikvah and we all felt a sense of pride to be able to sing the Israeli national anthem in our Jewish State, something many unfortunately never had the chance to do.
Shimon Stein spoke about the day saying, “I felt that the Jewish ruach (spirit) is alive and it makes me feel alive. I am proud to be the great grandchild of Holocaust survivors, and to be spending this year living in Israel, the land my grandparents fought for. I am making Aliyah this summer and joining the army so I too can fight for this land – the Jewish State.”
This week, we also kicked off a special project we are participating in. The Ten Days of Gratitude, created by participants of the Ein Prat Mechina (a pre-army program for Israelis), is a time when we weave the days from Yom Ha’Shoah to Yom Ha’atzmaut together with a thread of gratitude. Amidst our national sorrow, we also appreciate the gift of sovereignty. The Ten Days of Gratitude provides us with a chance to appreciate and give thanks for the accomplishments, achievements and successes of our nation, integrating gratitude into our way of being for this period of national reflection. All over Israel, chalkboards have been hung – including on our Aardvark campus – where people can write down what they are grateful for. Here is some of what our students have shared so far:
“I am grateful for music” – Jodi Shapiro
“I am thankful to be able to spend this year living in Israel” – Jess Dworcan
“I am appreciative for all that the staff does for us” – Yaakov Bockian
Internship in the Spotlight: Naomi Pearl interning at Yad V’Shem
When I began my internship at Yad V’shem, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Museum, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. Some of my responsibilities include reviewing survivor testimonies, assisting private tour groups, and working with archived documents as well as artifacts. The first time I felt the weight of the museum on my life was when I helped assist a private tour for a German group. We went through the museum as usual and once we reached the archived documents, the chairman of my department of International Relations shared the record book kept by the Chief Nazi of Auschwitz. Soon after this, I recognized that my grandmother’s name was in this book. It was an extremely surreal moment that I know I will never forget. The Holocaust greatly impacted and affected the Jewish people but what I learned from having to work constantly around such dark matters is to not let the past define us as Jewish nation but yet more personal, our own lives as Jewish people. The struggles we face shape our future and the darkness that was created from the Holocaust has paved the way for light. As it is Yom Hashoah this week, its significance remains the same. The Holocaust serves as a reminder for how our nation was almost wiped off the face of the earth, but yet we remain. It reminds us to appreciate each moment of life and not to live in the past. We as Jews must live in the present and of course remember the past but not let it define us. The word Israel literally means to struggle with God. I cannot think of a greater struggle and wouldn’t want to either.
As you have read, we had a meaningful and packed week. The coming week is also sure to be full of special experiences as we mark Israel’s national Memorial Day immediately followed by the 70th Independence Day of our nation! We also will be celebrating Shabbat all together as a program next weekend.
Wishing you all a wonderful week,
The Staff of Aardvark