Tel Aviv Weekly Updates
Spring is almost here and things are beginning to bloom. Here are last week’s highlights week:
We started the week with an “uplifting workshop” for the Mind and Body Track in which the students had to create an optimistic environment and look for opportunities. In the evening, the madrichim met with the students for their weekly apartment meetings and the theme was strengths and weaknesses: in the activity, each student made a comic strip where he or she was the superhero and mapped their characteristics. This is part of our Breakout March series – a set of activities dedicated to breaking out of our shells and trying something new.
On Monday, we had an awesome Paint Bar activity. The students painted a beautiful sunset while noshing on delicious snacks. The Paint Bar is a kind of painting technique that allows anyone (even someone who has never picked up a brush before) to create a painting and experience the fulfilment and relaxation that comes with art. The activity was a success and it was great to see students that had never even held a painting brush drawing something complex for the first time. In addition, Selah students had a creative workshop with Kalman the Sofer and practiced the ancient art of calligraphy writing in the Torah.
On Tuesday, we had a socio-political tour of the Central Bus Station – the largest transportation hub in the entire world. The station is so big that you can walk 7 km without once retracing your steps! The students examined the impact of the station on the surrounding neighborhood and explored little-known features of the station such as the Yiddish Museum, the 6 movie theaters, the nuclear shelter and the army’s intelligence storeroom. For lunch, many of the students joined Rabbi Marc for a Parsha & Pizza session. In the evening we bid farewell to 8 students who are off to Nepal for two weeks. We are very excited for them!
This week in Parsha and Pizza the group studied the Torah portion of Vayakhel-Pekudei. This double portion concludes a five-week study of the Mishkan – the mobile temple or sanctuary built by the Jewish people in the desert. We focused on the designer and builder of the Mishkan – an individual by the name of Betzalel. We tried our hand at following God’s instructions on how to build the Menorah and created some art of our own. The results were quite funny and it showed us how difficult it is to move from a design brief to a concrete plan. We then watched a short movie clip that helped us visualize the Mishkan. We continued with a more in-depth discussion about Betzalel and tried to understand why he was chosen by God to design the Mishkan. He was clearly a talented individual and a master craftsman adept at metalwork, precious stone cutting and fine embroidery, but the Torah describes him as having “Ruach HaKodesh” – divine inspiration. This led us to explore the notion of creativity and genius in human beings. The evening ended with the screening of Elizabeth Gilbert’s powerful TED talk on the creative process (Click here to watch)
On Wednesday evening, we had a tour themed on coexistence in the neighboring port city of Yaffo. We walked with a tour guide and saw local businesses, sculptures and the way two people, the Jews and the Arabs, live in one city. In the second part of the evening, we met with Ihab, a religious Muslim, who told us his story about growing up and how he changed his perspective from one of hatred to one of inclusion and peace. His changed perspective led him to marry a Jewish girl and today they operate five multi-cultural kindergartens that enroll Jewish, Muslims, and Christian kids, regardless of religion. Later, Ihab invited us into the mosque to listen to the Imam reading from the Koran. We sat on the carpet and heard the Imam, and although it raised some mixed feelings, it was an important experience and a valuable glance at a different culture and religion that is also a part of Israeli society.
Afterwards Nicole Bailey Chen said, “I think that the coexistence tour was very eye-opening and heartwarming to experience and listening to the guy speak about how no matter what religion you are, love is the solution to every problem we have in the world.”
Nathaniel Bitton said, “The activity last night in Jaffa taught me a lot about other views and cultures. Growing up in a religious family I learned and cherished many Jewish values and it was nice to hear for once about another cultures, views and beliefs. I found it intriguing how I shared similar beliefs that I learned from a young age with those of people from completely different backgrounds. It was an experience that opened my eyes and gave me a more meaningful appreciation for all cultures.”
On Thursday we wrapped up with a calm day of classes, internships and Selah learning space. This week on Selah we got to try our hand at being a Sofer (Jewish scribe) we had an up and coming scribal artist come and teach us some basic skills with parchment and quill and give us the chance to practice writing our names in the traditional style. We were asked to choose a letter from the Hebrew alphabet and focus on its shape. Kalman the scribe then gave us a masterclass in Hebrew calligraphy and the mystical and artistic connotations of the forms of each letter of the Alef Bet. Later in the week we had our regular fix of learning and studying. Some of the group analyzed the Shema while others had a class in honor of International Women’s Day that focused on the role of women in the building of the Mishkan. One class had the students write letters of gratitude to people who have touched their lives in a meaningful way and another group learned about the symbolism of Matzo.
Internship on the spot – Riana Schaff, “I am volunteering at Unitaf, a daycare center for the children of asylum seekers. I have the pleasure of working with babies from the age of 6 months to a little over a year. In my short time working at Unitaf, I have been able to witness some of the milestones of the children. This experience has made me value the importance of human rights and education. I am extremely grateful to have the chance to volunteer at Unitaf, and I am excited to see what the next few months bring.”
For the first time, I would like to tell you a bit about one of the academic classes. Our Middle East Politics class spent the first part of the semester learning about the influences of geography, natural resources, tribalism, nationalism, religion, economics and political power shaping the region. Not everything is about the Israel-Palestine divide. We then moved on to explore the influences and self-interests of foreign powers in the Middle East. The students debated these issues and wrote their first Real World Paper explaining one of the subjects that we’ve explored, giving their opinions and justifying them with facts, not emotion. We share varying points of view in order to understand why the Middle East is the way it is. We are now beginning to discuss Israel and Palestine. Attach to this email is a picture of Steve Ganot, the Opinion Editor of the ‘Israel Hayom’ newspaper, sharing his positions on various issues. There were about 45 students interacting with Steve making for an informative and heated discussion. Guests with differing points of views are invited to interact with students.
I’d like to add that this month we are focusing on overcoming personal obstacles and I would like to encourage you to talk to your child about leaving their comfort zone and trying something new or something they have been avoiding until now.
The Madricha On Call this weekend is Daniela.
Shabbat Shalom and have a great weekend,