Weekly Updates – Tel Aviv May 1, 2020
Another meaningful week has passed here in Tel Aviv. This week we had the privilege to experience two important days together as a community. The grief and sadness of Yom Hazikaron, followed by the celebration and joy of Yom Haatzmaut. Celebrating Israel Independence Day this year, in the current situation, was extra special.
On Sunday, we kicked the week off with a fun ‘How Well Do You Know Israel’ activity with Dor. Later that day, each apartment had a meeting in which they discussed the moral code of the IDF, the Israeli experience of Yom Hazikaron, and their own connection to and perspective on the day.
After Ulpan on Monday, Rabbi Josh ran a session on the topic of transforming the pain of Yom Hazikaron through the lens of Judaism and spirituality. I ran another session on the day. In my session, we discussed the shared experience of a society that lives under threat, focusing on the second Intifada. It was fascinating to hear the students’ thoughts and observations about Israeli society. Each student had a different interpretation on the positive and negative effects the conflict has on our society.
On Monday evening, we all met online to experience the siren together, and then joined the beautiful and moving Masa Ceremony. The ceremony was very rich and meaningful, focusing on the contribution of soldiers who made Aliyah.
Erela Jankelowitz wrote, “On Monday, Etai held an activity focusing on the collective trauma and the aftermath of the terrorism and wars in Israel, choosing the Second Intifada as a focal point. During this activity, we discussed how we as Jews are accustomed to harsh and cruel experiences. We explored how these experiences, both biblical such as slavery in Egypt, and more modern like the Spanish Inquisition and the Holocaust, have affected how we behave as a group. We then delved into the same issue but within Israeli society; how the citizens of Israel have been moulded by the violence of terrorism and wars that they have experienced. It was interesting to think of how much of the traits of a typical Israeli are formed by what these people have gone through. Etai helped us see how mannerisms such as the straight-forward, direct attitude of Israelis is could be because Israelis know to live in the moment. Life can change in an instant. Although we might be living in the Jewish state now; tomorrow might mean a new war, life could be flipped upside-down and we could lose what we have. Even those who are lucky enough not to have experienced acts of terror are still affected. The shared trauma of the people of Israel is strong. It’s a terrible reality to live in but one can either decide to let it eat away at them or to use their experiences to become stronger and live life to the fullest. The way Israelis choose to experience life and keep pushing forward, whether it’s during war, times of terror, in the army or just in normal everyday life is an inspiration and shows us that we are capable of getting through the challenges set in front of us, no matter what they might be. We can get through the hard times and must work as a collective to do so.״
Tuesday was Yom Hazikaron. After the morning siren, the students participated in different workshops, covering different themes of the day. Arad shared his story as a combat medic, while Natali offered a session telling the story of Nava Appelbaum, a bride who lost her life to terror on the day of her wedding. Other sessions during the day dealt with heroism, remembering through music, and Hatikvah.
The day ended with a beautiful Havdalah ceremony, organized by a group of students and staff. The Havdalah marked the end of Yom Hazikaron, and the beginning of Yom Haatzmaut.
On Tuesday, we had to choose between various talks all of which revolved around brave soldiers and citizens who had unfortunately lost their lives fighting for Israel against terrorists and in wars. In Natali’s talk, she shared a very touching and heartbreaking story of Nava Appelbaum, who was a cousin of a close friend of hers, who was killed in 2003. Nava was 20 years old and was a very caring and kind person who volunteered at the age of 18 to help children who were suffering from cancer. When she was 20 years old, she became engaged to her close friend. Nava was very close to her father and so the day before her wedding, her and her father went to a cafe in the German quarter of Jerusalem in order to spend time together before her big day. Unfortunately though, a terrorist entered the cafe and detonated a bomb killing around 6 people including Nava and her father. Their family was only informed many hours later about the father and daughter as Nava’s father was a doctor and the family had assumed he would be treating the patients on sight. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Nava’s fiancé was heartbroken and was only ever able to get married 13 years later as no one was ever able to live up to the incredible person that Nava was. We were shown two videos, showing the terrible story of Nava’s death. One was a cartoon and the other was of real photos and family members talking about them. The cartoon however, I found was a lot more powerful as the faces did not have any specific features; they were more general showing that that the situation could happen to anyone. Normally people generally associate cartoons with children and the fun imaginative and playful side of life; however, when the cartoon showed the death of Nava , it made me feel as if even children here in Israel are not protected from the dangerous outside world, they are exposed to this type of trauma on a daily basis and so their pure and innocent world is contaminated from their youth. What was a comforting thought for me, in spite of all the horror that occurred, was that Nava and her father had gone together. It comforted me in knowing that her father whom she was so close to was with her in the end and vice versa. I personally am very, very close to my father. He has been my rock throughout my entire life and is the one thing that makes me truly happy in life. I love him with all my heart. It seems only fitting that a father and daughter should be with each other until the very end. – Kiara Rosen
Gil’s class was eye opening and bittersweet. Although we experienced the sadness of how the families had to cope with losing loved ones, it was quite beautiful hearing the songs that had been made in memory of the fallen soldiers. In particular I remember how the song mentioned how they were sorry for an argument they’d had with their father which really got to me making me think about how I don’t want to leave anything undone or unsaid. As by my Grandfather’s saying, ‘do it now!'” – Louis Myers
“This past week Israel celebrated both Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut back to back. The two holidays caused me to have very confusing emotions. One day I was solemnly observing Yom Hazikaron and paying my respects to those that died protecting the country I love so much. The next day, I had an Israeli flag draped over my back and was eating a meal filled with Israeli delights. This is not a common phenomenon where I come from. Aardvark made sure to put an emphasis on these two days and took the time to educate us on why these holidays are so close together. The most important theme that I learned from these two holidays is that you must understand what was lost before celebrating what you have. On Erev Yom Ha’atzmaut, myself and a group of students, along with the help of Natali and Moshe Levy our educational director, held a Havdalah ceremony to transition from Yom Hazikaron to Yom Ha’atzmaut. The group worked diligently over two Zoom conferences to create what was a beautiful and smooth transition from mourning to celebration. Each student brought their own creative ideas and presented meaningful content to the rest of the community. While I wish we could’ve all been together for the event I will never forget seeing the entire Aardvark community dressed in white and singing Hatikvah during this special moment in history.” – Jono Levitt
On Wednesday – Yom Haatzmaut, the students had the day off to celebrate like the rest of the country. Each student chose a different way to experience the day. Whether it was relaxing in the apartment, taking a walk in the neighborhood, or going full Israeli with barbecue and music – it was a beautiful sunny and happy day.
Zac Moses’ Yom Haatzmaut experience: “The sun shined brightly through the window as flocks of Aardvark students locked into my room; waking my roommates and me up with chants of AM YISRAEL CHAI! Initially this didn’t result in a very pleased Zac Moses. However when my eyes adjusted to the light, my confusion was replaced with excitement towards the day ahead; Yom Haatzmaut. After a brisk shower and brushing my teeth, I arrived at the roof of our building, dressed in all in white; ready to celebrate my first independence day in Israel.Fast forward a couple hours: friends, music, chicken wings, laughter and huge smiles; it was all anyone could ask for.”
Eytan Fainman wrote about his Yom Haatzmaut experience: “Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s birthday, is a celebratory day where many would usually indulge in activities (barbecuing, going to the beach, partying etc.) that simply distract those celebrating from such a momentous day. This year, due to government regulations, we could not partake in these fun activities. However, this did not detract from our experience celebrating the importance and significance of this day – in fact, these “restrictions” added to the experience. It forced us to delve deeper into what Yom Ha’Atmaut really is about – not only celebrating Israel’s independence after thousands of years of waiting; but saluting and honoring the brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the sake of maintaining a newly established Jewish State. Rather than Yom Ha’Azmaut being about engaging in fun physical activities, it was about enjoying the very fact that after many years of waiting, suffering and fighting – we are here! We are here in Israel building unbreakable bonds with friends that will last forever and slowly integrating into such a complex yet beautiful Israeli society. Being in the midst of a global pandemic that is keeping everyone in-doors may, on a physical level, divide us all – however on an emotional level, it feels as though we’ve never been more united.”
Wrapping up the week on Thursday, Dor ran an activity about symbolism in the IDF. His activity focused on the meaning behind each color, shape and symbol that make up the army. We finished the day with the story of Shomi Efergan, an Aardvark Alumni who chose to make Aliya and is now a soldier in the Golani Brigade.
Abby Comba wrote: “Our past few weeks have been filled with fun and interesting online activities and talks. Today, our madrich Dor showed us how the Israeli army is full of symbols and how even things as small as the pins on the soldiers uniforms have a meaning. For instance, we learned that there are 17 different types of berets, with each color representing a different unit. The IDF is one of the main pillars of Israel and now we are able to walk on the streets and identify by the color of the soldiers’ uniforms if they are in the Air Force, Navy, Combat, etcetera. Besides, the color of their shoulder piece is ranked by their different positions. I found this activity very engaging as we all see soldiers walk around every day and I think it’s great to know what all of these symbols mean.”
Overall, it was an emotional week, full of joy and sadness as one. Personally, it was beautiful to see the depth of conversation, the unique perspectives and the willingness to learn and discuss that everyone shared this week.
Have a great weekend and Shabbat Shalom!
Etai Ben Simhon