What a week it has been!
On Sunday, in the apartment meeting, the students met with the Madrichim for a night that was all about group dynamics. Each group had a nice activity to break the ice and then went deeper into meaningful conversations about their experience in Israel. Shalhevet taught her students the power of working together as a group, and told them the story of the Shalva band, and how the band has changed everyone’s perspective on people with disabilities. Ori met with his students for the first time and told them about himself, and heard from the students about their experiences so far, who they are and what they would like to accomplish this semester.
On Monday night, the students returned to the Winter Festival, as they had so much fun there the week before. Every Monday of February, the Winter Festival happens, but in a different place in Jerusalem so that everyone can learn about new cool places to see and explore.
On Tuesday for our tour, we explored the neighbourhood of Musrara. Musrara is a unique neighbourhood in Jerusalem, a fascinating microcosm of the city’s history and its various population groups. Walking through the streets, our students noticed that every house is built differently, and houses have been joined, expanded, cut up and renewed throughout the years of its turbulent history. The municipality has tried to change the name of the neighbourhood to Morasha, and you’ll see this name on official maps, but Jerusalem residents proudly continue to use its old name. Musrara was built at the end of the nineteenth century, as an Arab aristocratic neighbourhood outside the walls of the Old City. During the fighting in 1948, it was the site of many battles, and the ceasefire line was eventually drawn through the middle of the neighbourhood. The side closest to the Damascus Gate became Jordan, and the northern side was part of Israel (you can really feel this today as you cross the big highway that used to be no-man’s land). In the 1950s, the neighbourhood was populated with immigrants from North African countries, especially Morocco and Iraq. Because of its proximity to the border, it was considered a dangerous neighbourhood (you can still see bullet holes in some of the houses), and it became a kind of slum. In the 1970s, a protest movement called the Israeli Black Panthers formed in this neighbourhood, and swept across the country.
This week on Selah, we began as always with our weekly Learning Space. Rabbi Marc taught a class on dedication and commitment, and it was followed by our teacher Dana Rainsbury, who led a bibliodrama session on the fourth chapter of Megillat Esther. Monday, we set out to the Old City where we met a scribal artist – Kalman Delmoor – in an ancient Sephardi synagogue. Kalman taught the group about the power and symbolism of the Alef-Bet and gave an introductory workshop on how to write with ink and quill. After some practice with writing our names, we concentrated our efforts on writing the word – ואהבת – And you shall love – which famously appears inside the Shema prayer when talking about us loving God and in Vayikra 19 when talking about us loving our fellow person. We did a great job overall and learnt to appreciate not only the holiness of our Hebrew script but also the patience, skill and concentration needed to write out a Mezuza or Torah scroll. On Friday, the group headed off for a Selah Shabbaton. This time we stayed in the town of Mitspe Ramon, right on the edge of the stunning Ramon crater.
On Tuesday night, we had an incredible speaker come in from StandWithUs to speak to us about BDS (Boycott Divestment and Sanctions), and how it is growing on college campuses. Josh Warhit, who works with StandWithUs, really helped us get a better understanding of what BDS is and how it is becoming more and more of a problem. He gave us tips on how to respond to it and how to fight against BDS, whether speaking to someone face to face or whether dealing with it on a student government level. It was really interesting to hear just how effective BDS is and how effective SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) are around the US. At the end of his presentation, we split up into three groups and each was given a scenario that they had to come up with strategies to solve.
Shloime Ash said, “My group had to come up with an idea on what to do if the student government passes a law that BDS is okay on campus. It was really intense trying to find a strategy for this scenario because none of us have really faced the wrath of BDS yet, but I am confident that now we know how to.”
This week in Parsha and Pizza we studied the Torah portion of Tetzaveh. We learned all about the clothes worn by the priests in the Temple. Rabbi Marc gave a master class in fashion as we commented on the textiles, colours and shapes of the outfit worn by the Kohen Gadol – the High Priest. We even compared his clothes to some of the fashion worn at recent award ceremonies (like this week’s Grammys) and talked a lot about branding and celebrities. Interestingly our Jewish priests were also interested in marketing and promotion but in their case, the brand was God and spirituality. We also learnt about the 12 stones and gemstones that made up the breastplate of the High Priest (called the Hoshen – חושן) and we explored some old commentaries on the cosmic powers of sapphire, ruby, amethyst and emerald.
This week, we will be visiting Yad Vashem and Har Herzl, as well as going ice-skating in Jerusalem .In addition, on Tuesday night our students will be taking part in a memorial service for Ori Ansbacher, 19, from the West Bank town of Tekoa. She worked with young adults with special needs. She loved Israel and hiking. She was murdered in a terrorist attack two weeks ago, and our students want to show their support for her family and friends.
May her memory be a blessing.
All the best,