What a week it’s been! The students who were in the Czech Republic have returned, the new Culture Committee has been busy planning extracurricular activities, and winter has arrived!
Sunday was a great day with the students at their internships. At this point, all of the students are settled into their routines and are doing great work.
On Sunday afternoon, the students met with me in the Ulam where we reviewed last month’s trips and excursions, and went over the coming month’s calendar. This month (November), we have a new monthly politics theme, and you will see that there is a lot of emphasis on Israeli politics in the upcoming activities.
At the weekly apartment meeting (on Sunday), the staff prepared a program where the students received a taste of Ethiopian culture as they learned about the holiday of Sigd. This holiday marks the Jews’ acceptance of the Torah and is celebrated in Ethiopia with mass gatherings of the Jewish community. To learn more about the holiday and the Beta Israel (Ethiopian Jewish) community, the students then had to present the proverb that they learned in a song or in a play.
On Monday night, after our regular routine of internships and academics, we visited the amazing Tower of David Light Show and saw the history of Jerusalem played out in front of our eyes on the walls of the Old City. It was an exciting and new way to see the history we had learned about all our lives. MZ Wachtel said, “Seeing the history of Israel, and especially Jerusalem, played out in lights on the walls of the Old City was so incredible and breathtaking. I’m incredibly happy I had the privilege to start my year off in Jerusalem.”
On Tuesday morning, we visited the unicameral national legislature of Israel – The Knesset. We heard from Knesset member Yehuda Glick. Yehuda has been a member of the Likud party for the last few years. He is a human rights activist for Israelis and believes Israel should have freedom of religion by law. He mainly believes that Jewish people should have a place to pray. He told us his life story and how he entered into the Knesset. After our conversation, we went on a tour around the hall. We were able to see some architectural features of the building, the painted tapestries by well-known artist Marc Chagall and then we saw the conference room where all the big discussions take place. This is also where the Prime Minister and the President speak.
Liad Zafrani said, “We went to the Knesset today, which I found to be extremely interesting and a great insight into how the Israeli Government works and goes about its day-to-day business. Looking to pursue a career in law and government, I thought that it was an incredible opportunity to see what life would be like as an Israeli MK. We spoke to MK Yehuda Glick, the 33rd member of the Likud party. Mr. Glick informed us about the different committees that he is a member of and how the coalition government works. While I can’t speak for other people on the program, I found his speech on peace between Jews and Arabs to be extremely powerful, especially considering he survived an assassination attempt by an Muslim extremist. Personally, while the large conference room used for passing bills was interesting, I found that the Marc Chagall paintings located just outside the room were the highlight of the trip.”
On Tuesday evening, we hosted Josh Hasten and learned about his life story. Josh was an all-American kid living in Indianapolis with a strong sense of Jewish identity and he was no writer by a longshot. However, in 1998, bothered by a seemingly endless barrage of negative media coverage about Israel, he took the time to send a letter to the New York Times explaining that the situation is very different from its portrayal in much of the media. To his surprise, the New York Times published his letter the following day! Buoyed by his success and realizing the power wielded by the pen, Josh began to work more and more to respond to unfavorable media coverage of Israel. Please click here to see one of his famous speeches. For the past five years, Josh has been active in media training, public relations, and speaking tours to impress upon pro-Israel advocates around the world the power of the pen. He spoke to the students and inspired and showed them how all it takes is a passion for a cause to overcome challenges and make a difference.
At the end of the talk Jillian Elman mentioned, “Hearing the speaker’s passion for Israel was invigorating and inspiring. It really renewed my love for Israel! I’m making Aliyah tomorrow! Okay Mom?”
On Wednesday morning, we left the building early to travel to the Tayelet, a boulevard with a great view over the Old City of Jerusalem, to join the Ethiopian community in celebrating the Sigd festival. Sigd occurs on the 29th day of Cheshvan, 50 days after Yom Kippur. According to Ethiopian tradition, it is also the day God first revealed himself to Moses. Traditionally on Sigd, Ethiopian Jews fasted and studied the Orit, the Ethiopian Torah, on a mountaintop. Today, a mass ceremony is held on Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv Promenade and it is followed by a procession to the Kotel. In 2008, Sigd was named an Israeli national holiday. Gina Lewis said, “It was so interesting learning about the Ethiopian culture and seeing how they celebrate this festival which I didn’t know about before. Their outfits were beautiful and they are really good at dancing. I even learned some dances so I could dance with them.”
On Wednesday afternoon, during our Zionism class, we invited a Palestinian speaker to tell the group his story. During the session, Firas Amad explained his experience of living in East Jerusalem as a Palestinian without Israeli citizenship. He brought up many controversial topics such as his hope for a two-state solution and his dissatisfaction with the current situation in the West Bank. Amad offered a different perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, gave the students the opportunity to hear another side of the story, and gave them the chance to ask questions based on their own opinions. At the end of the discussion, many students were left thinking about what he had to say. Even though some students agreed with him while other did not, all agreed that having Amad speak was very beneficial to learn about different perspectives in Israel and about the conflict.
This week, in Parsha and Pizza the group learned about the portion of Toldot, which describes the birth of Jacob and Esau and tells the tale of Isaac and Rebecca’s lives. Rabbi Marc presented the idea that in many ways Isaac’s life can be seen as a close repetition of his father’s, Abraham. Abraham dug wells, as did Isaac and both sought refuge with Avimelech, king of Gerar when the famine broke. We talked about how children so often try to be different from their parents but end up becoming similar to them as they grow older. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in his book Biblical Images teaches that Isaac is the continuation of Abraham. If Abraham was the revolutionary iconoclast that brought ethical monotheism to the world then Issac was the one who ensured the revolution was not fleeting but could take root and remain. Isaac’s stability was crucial to the success of Judaism’s origin. Isaac was the only one of the forefathers to have one wife who he loved. Isaac also never left Israel. He is described (in Bereishit 26:12) planting seeds and growing crops. Perhaps there is a message here that we do not always need to innovate and to seek out the new and different. There is a place in our world for being the continuers, whether that be of technological innovations, our parents’ values or even, the chain of Jewish tradition.
This week on Selah we had a really busy week. On Monday we set out for another of our monthly Tanach Tiyul trips. We started the day with a hike through the beautiful trail of Nachal HaChalilim near Mevaseret Zion. We then made our way to Nebi Samwel, which is a memorial site for Shmuel HaNavi (Samuel the Prophet). We saw the building and tomb, the synagogue and the mosque (it is one of only a few places in Israel with an active site of worship for both Jews and Muslims), and the Crusader ruins. We had a stunning view of central Israel from the rooftop and our guide told us about Samuel’s life and his role in appointing King Saul and King David. We also had time for a song session in an amazing hall where one of our students, Tova Brocco, fulfilled a goal of hers for this semester by beautifully singing Adon Olam and Avinu Malkeinu for us all (both songs were based on the Barbara Streisand versions). On Wednesday was the Ethiopian Sigd festival and Selah opened its doors to other students in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to join them and attend the festivities. We saw the tribal leaders and joined their prayer service. It was quite a sight seeing thousands of thousands of people coming together to celebrate. We learnt about Ethiopian Jewish customs and the history of the holiday, and we sat together to discuss some of the challenges that the community faces. Specifically we explored the tensions between the elders and the youth of the community and the balance between assimilating and preserving your identity. On Thursday we were back at our Learning Space where we continued studying speech ethics. This week was focused on the way we talk about one another within the family and what limits are imposed upon parents, siblings and children by the laws of Lashon Hara. In our Tehillim class we had a text study session of Psalm 130 and we began to explore the relationship between the personal and the public through King David’s moving words. The morning ended with an amazing jam session that looked at the place of song and music in our Shabbat experience.
Next week, we will be visiting the city of Chevron and touring Herodion, enjoying a tie-dye activity, a sushi making class, and so much more!
Wishing everyone a restful weekend!
All the best,
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