Weekly Updates – Jerusalem October 17, 2019
Dear Aardvark Jerusalem Families,
Happy Sukkot! The entirety of Jerusalem was dressed in white for the holiday and we enjoyed the celebratory atmosphere.
Here are some highlights from this holiday week:
This past Shabbat, Selah opened its gates for the rest of Aardvark, including 9 guests from the Tel-Aviv community and 5 students from Jerusalem. Together we had an incredible Shabbat in Jerusalem, some of us hosting and others being hosted.
Friday night began with Kabbalat Shabbat, followed by a Potluck Dinner together in the Moadon; we then went for dessert at a Modern Orthodox family in Nachlaot, where the students participated in a fascinating talk with Professor Yair Amichai and his wife Debby, who hosted all 30 of us in their Sukkah, about the practical psychology of unity.
For lunch, the group were offered four diverse options, a Kosher Yemenite Restaurant that opens on Shabbat, an amazing meal with a Modern Orthodox community, a meal with a young and unconventional couple, and a meal with an Ultra-Orthodox family where as a group we later had dessert and a conversation about Shabbat!
Before sunset, we had a special unity activity with the Selah Madricha Tamar who presented a secular point of view of Shabbat, and from there we continued on a hike to the Lifta water spring, an amazing and scenic location by Jerusalem’s entrance, where we had a picnic.
Ending Shabbat and our great experience, we had a Havdallah concert at the Kol Rina community synagogue where we sang and danced to the one thing that unites the nation of Israel: Jewish Music!
On Sunday and Monday, it was the first days of Sukkot! Many students stayed in Jerusalem so they could experience Sukkot there (for many it was their first time), while other students took the opportunity to explore Israel!
Jono Levit said, “For Sukkot, I traveled with my friends from the program to the city of Akko. We spent the whole day in the Old City, exploring its history, culture, and amazing views. Historically, it has been a religiously diverse city from the Templar tunnels to the Islamic Turkish bathhouse. The legacy of coexistence continues today: walking through the streets of Akko I saw people holding their newly bought Lulavs and Etrogs while I listened to the Islamic call to prayer. It was a wonderful trip and I’m excited to explore more cities in Israel!”
On Tuesday morning, we began with our monthly community talk. In these talks, the students can share their experiences and address the entire group about different matters. In addition, each talk contains an educational message, details of changes happening in the program and information about the future schedule. We then discussed the coming month’s activities and topics.
Tuesday afternoon, we had a graffiti tour in the neighborhood of Nachlaot, the neighborhood the students call home. The graffiti pieces decorating the walls and alleys of the city tell stories of conflict and resolution, of personal and universal struggles, and they are painted onto the city for all to interpret individually. Each creation is a personalized message that is indicative of the artist’s beliefs and they share them with the wider community with the hope that their message will be internalized. Many pieces incite a response from other artists, leading to controversial conversations, representative of the larger political issues in Israeli society.
Michael Sanders said, “Jerusalem as a city is a gold mine (ירושלים של זהב) for so many things with its rich historic sites, fantastic marketplaces like the shuk and Ben Yehuda, and the ability to immerse anybody in culture wherever they go in the city. However, one thing about Jerusalem stands out more than others and it’s something that most people don’t even take notice of, the graffiti. On Tuesday morning, we went on a tour of Jerusalem visiting various graffiti sites in the city. It was a mesmerizing to take in the meaning behind the art that at first glance looks meaningless. Artists express their true feelings through the art even if the writing is not socially accepted. Any individual who is not an artist can still create graffiti. After a terrorist attack killed a 17 year old along with 16 others, a friend of the 17 year old went to the area where the attack occurred and simply wrote the date and time of the attack. So simple and yet so meaningful, graffiti can reach people and be expressed in many ways. The best aspect of graffiti is that no matter what you paint, all of the art is created anonymously, so it is just a way to express feelings rather than a way to slander people for their societal opinions. While graffiti is a way to express feelings anonymously, there are two rules that everybody follows no matter their beliefs. The first is not to graffiti on Jerusalem stone and the second, is that God’s name is never erased once it is put up on a wall. With so few rules, graffiti has taken many different paths from generic spray paint on buildings to stickers put up on lampposts. All of these different styles of graffiti connect in the end for two reasons. Graffiti is the true expression of Jerusalem culture and every graffiti artist has a signature and after all that’s what connects seemingly meaningless street art to the historic beauty of Jerusalem (ירושלים של זהב).”
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 and Israel in the modern age and had the chance to explore some of these complex issues. The topics included the government’s position on non-orthodox conversion in Israel, inter-marriage, politics, and the Israel/Palestinian conflict.
The madrichim turned our Moadon into a coffee house, and served the students drinks and desserts. It was great to spend time with the counselors and discuss these complex issues with them. We all came away from the activity with a deeper understanding of the topics and how they affect day-to-day lives.
Raya Holz said, “During Cafe Dilemma, we were split into small groups, seated in restaurant style, and presented with a drink menu. Our “waiters” (the Madrichim) presented us with some of the most pressing and challenging dilemmas Israel faces. As we drank our hot chocolate and nibbled rugalach, we discussed in groups how we believe the country should respond to problems such as Filipino immigration, banning two United States Congress women from entering Israel, and a slew of other interesting topics. We were then able to share our thoughts with other groups in the hope of gaining new perspectives. This activity was a great way for everyone to share their opinions in a passionate yet respectful way.”
We began Wednesday morning bright and early at the Birkat Kohanim (ברכת כהנים). This is the priestly blessing or priestly benediction, also known in rabbinic literature as the raising of the hands (nesiat kapayim) or Dukhanen (Yiddish from the Hebrew word dukhan, platform, because the blessing is given from a raised rostrum). It is a Hebrew prayer recited by Kohanim – the Jewish priests. According to Torah, they are descendants of Aaron, the first High Priest and older brother of Moses, and they have been divinely chosen to work in the tabernacle and assist the Israelites in blessings, ministering, sacrifices and atoning for their sins to God, for all eternity.
Even after the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the practice has continued in synagogues, and today, in most Jewish communities, Kohanim bless the worshippers in the synagogue during special prayers. We were at the Kotel with at least 50,000 other people who had come for the experience.
Ella Newell said, “This morning we went to the Kotel for Birkat Kohanim, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences I have had so far on this trip. The Kotel is always a separate and impactful experience, but today was very different. It was so crowded that we couldn’t move more than 2 feet per minute. The speakers were booming with beautiful prayer and song. The one blessing that left me speechless was the “Blessing Name”. The Rabbi’s chants were followed by an echo of men repeating the words in almost perfect harmony. The entire crowd of people went silent as it continued. I have never experienced anything like this. Somehow, in the midst of thousands of crammed bodies, this single blessing reminded me of why I love being Jewish and why I came to Israel to further discover my Jewish identity.”
On Thursday, the Jerusalem March took place and our students joined in! Every year during Sukkot, tens of thousands of marchers from across Israel and the world arrive and march through the streets of Jerusalem, waving their country’s flag, singing, dancing, and so much more – all to show their support for Israel!
Leah Matthys said, “The march in Jerusalem was so amazing to watch. It was so nice to see all the people from all the different countries come together to support Israel. Everyone was so excited to be here in Jerusalem. It was really interesting to see that many of the groups in the parade were Christian, but they were still here to support the Jewish state of Israel.”
Internship in the Spotlight: Hey, I’m David Muchnick from Long Island, New York. I came on Aardvark Israel because I thought that this program was an incredible way to make use of my time before I begin college. Aardvark allowed me to have the incredible experience of being in Israel, something I had never before been able to do. Aardvark also gave me my internship, working in an archaeological dig. This internship takes place in Jerusalem, surrounded by neighboring villages. The views are beautiful, with the Dead Sea on one side, and the entire city of Jerusalem on the other. I feel like my work is meaningful because it is work that proves the Jews were here, in Israel. Everyone is telling us that Israel is not our home, that we shouldn’t be here, but my job allows us to find the evidence ourselves and prove that we belong here. I can’t wait to continue learning, growing, and having fun with Aardvark and my friends.
Next week, we celebrate Simchat Torah, and we will be going with the Tel Aviv group on a 3-day Seminar to Kibbutz Ketura! It’s going to be a jam packed week so stay tuned!!