Weekly Updates – Tel Aviv May 19, 2019
We are getting closer to the end of the program, and therefore this week was dedicated to some activities focused on reflecting on the time here and beginning to say goodbye.
After a whole year or semester on Aardvark, the atmosphere here feels like family. Living together and gaining so many experiences as a group makes this week and the next two challenging weeks, which are a mixture of joy and sadness, for this amazing time together, which is reaching its ending.
On Sunday, the students met with their Madrichim for an apartment meeting. In the meeting, the Madrichim summarized the semester and helped the students to prepare for the final week, both in terms of emotions and logistics.
On Monday evening, we had an amazing activity that had two different parts. One organized by the Madrichim and the other by the student committee
The first part of the activity was a good chance to summarize the social experience of the program. After writing privately what they have learned about themselves through the semester, the students sat silently with their eyes closed, with calm music playing in the background, in a room lit just by candles. Three at a time, the madrichim called for different students to stand up, walk around the room and touch their peer’s heads to show different types of appreciation. (Such as, touch someone who made you laugh/wish you knew better/you respect.)
After that, we talked about the importance of giving and receiving appreciation from others at different moments in life. For the second part, the student committee invited everyone to the Moadon and each student received a notebook. They hung hundreds of small pictures from the semester and the year on the wall and on the table, they prepared all kind of decorative materials. Each student made a notebook and then passed it around to their friends and their educational staff. The result was pretty amazing and we all got a nice personal notebook filled with emotional letters from friends and staff. Everybody enjoyed the program and left with big smiles on their faces. :).
On Tuesday morning, we all left Tel Aviv and headed to our final overnight Tiyul of the year.
Our first stop was Nahal Hashofet. Tucked away in the heart of the Ramat Menashe Forest Reserve is a beautiful waterfall and stream – Nahal Hashofet. This little river near Yokneam is surrounded by a towering forest. First, we passed an old flourmill, and crossed over a bridge with water flowing underneath. It was the closest we’ve seen to a raging river in the middle of nowhere in Israel. Once we passed over the bridge, some of us found a big cave to explore. However, we didn’t stay long, because we could hear the sound of the waterfall coming from further along the path, and they wanted to go find its source. Some of us jumped into the water and slid down the rocks into the waterfall. It was a great way to cool down mid hike. We splashed and played in the water for a while before finishing our hike. At the end, we met up with the Jerusalem group and enjoyed lunch together!
From there we went to Chatzar Kineret. It’s hard to imagine what life must have been like for the young people who made aliyah on their own, long before the state of Israel was established. We visited the museum in Chatzar Kineret, also known as Chavat Kinneret (Kinneret Farm). This was one of the earliest attempts at communal living and predated the nearby first kibbutz, Deganya.
Originally founded by local farmers, the Kinneret farm was quickly populated by young male immigrants from the Second Aliyah. Aged 16-22, our tour guide explained that these were the hardcore Zionists. Most Jews who left Eastern Europe at the time went to the US, while older Olim settled in Haifa, Jerusalem, and the new Jewish city of Tel Aviv.
The young people worked in the fields from 4 AM until 6 PM, then returned at night to learn Hebrew in the dining room. If you spoke a language other than Hebrew, you were ignored, even if you just came off the boat. Since they were also not allowed to complain aloud, the pioneers left a rich documentation of their experiences in diaries and letters.
Religiously, they wanted to retain their identity as Jewish, but adapt new traditions. Instead of a synagogue, they decided that the communal dining room should be the center of activity. They thought of new customs for the various holidays.
The women on the farm found a teacher and role model, Leah Meizel. An agronomist, she taught the women gardening and farming, and started an agricultural school for women.
The young pioneers had almost no older people to guide them. Rachel (Blubstein), one of Israel’s best-loved poets, lived on the Kinneret farm and later on nearby Kibbutz Deganya where she worked in the children’s quarters. When she got tuberculosis, no one was quite sure how to handle the situation. Eventually, she was asked to leave by one of the members. The museum played a movie recounting a letter she wrote shortly before she died. She describes her pain when no one said goodbye as she left the Kibbutz. Most of her poems about the Kinneret were written after she left the kibbutz, and she was buried nearby. Songwriter Naomi Shemer, the child of a pioneering couple, grew up on the neighboring Kevutzat Kinneret.
From Chatzar Kinneret, we headed to the guesthouse where we would be spending the night. We enjoyed a hearty dinner followed by a game organized by our staff called ‘Minute-to-Win-It’. It was an epic battle of boys against girls. Some of the challenges were balancing 7 Oreos on your forehead, launching rubber bands at a pyramid of coke cans, and trying to drop a Mentos into a soda bottle from way up high. The boys were victorious!!
Wednesday morning started bright and early with a tour of the Holy city of Tzfat. Tzfat, one of Judaism’s four Holy Cities, is well known as the center of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) in Israel. We started our tour on a rooftop in the Old City of Tzfat and learned about the history of the Old City. Afterwards, we headed down into the Old City and visited one of the oldest Synagogues there. The students were then given time to walk around on their own, visit shops, see art, take photographs and so on. Many of the students stopped to eat some Yemenite delicacies such as lachuchs, malawach, and jachnun. From there, we headed to Kosmic Kabbalah Art by David Friedman. Many years before Kabbalah developed the popularly that it enjoys today, David Friedman was feeling its draw. He had already begun experimenting with different forms of art in his teenage years, notably mandalas, a form of spiritual art common in the East. “I liked the idea of art that can be used in contemplation to bring people into a sacred space,” David explains. When a rabbi from his hometown of Denver introduced him to the study of Kabbalah in 1977, he started thinking about how to combine the study of Jewish mysticism with his art. Arriving in Tzfat in 1980, David continued to experiment. However, it was only after recovering from cancer, when he began to practice Jewish Meditation based on the Sefer Yetzirah, a basic Kabbalistic work, that he began to develop a system of creating Kabbalistic art. It is this model that he continues to work with today.
Living in Tzfat plays a large role in David’s work. “I find that it is easy here to study Kabbalah,” David says. “The fact that some of the greatest Kabbalists that ever lived (like the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, and the Ramak, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero) taught here and are buried here infuses the air here with spirituality and makes their teachings somehow more accessible.” David studies on a regular basis with other students of Kabbalah in Tzfat. This schedule allows him to explore different dimensions and aspects of Kabbalah, which he is then able to bring into his artwork.
After leaving Tzfat, we went to Mount Bental. Mount Bental can be found in the middle of the Golan Heights, towards the Syrian border and was the site of a courageous battle fought during Israel’s war for the Golan. The battle itself was held during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. It was one of the largest tank battles ever and was miraculously won by the Israelis with their small force of 160 tanks. The Syrians attacked with 1,500 tanks and 1,000 artillery pieces to be slowly mowed down by the much, much smaller Israeli force. The Israeli army suffered large casualties as well and by the time the battle was over, only 7 Israeli tanks were operational. After 900 of the Syrian tanks were destroyed, the Syrians turned and fled, leaving the land for the victorious Israelis. Today, to remember the bloody battle, the valley below the mountain, reaching to Mount Hermon, is called the Valley of Tears.
A great way to end our last tiyul of the year was to kayak down the Jordan River. The rich blue waters of the Jordan River have many historic associations, but the experience of a kayak or raft in the waters, under the shade of the rich tapestry of bamboo and reeds, and trees which line the banks of the river, is something very different. It was a brilliant way to cool off, especially because it was so hot outside. When the students weren’t splashing each other (and the staff), they were jumping out of their rafts, and enjoying the cool waters. We could not have asked for a better way to end our last tiyul.
On Thursday evening, the students were treated to tickets to the Eurovision Song Competition 2019! Eurovision is Europe’s largest song competition and this year it took place in Israel!
This week saw our fantastic Selah track come to an end. For the 19 participants involved, Selah has been such a meaningful highlight of their semester. We wrapped up our year in style with a number of events. Firstly, we went on a Tanach Tiyul to the north where we climbed the Gilboa Mountain and heard the story of King Saul, after which we hung out together in Maayan Harod National Park where we chilled in the spring waters before studying the story of Gideon the Judge, from the book of Shoftim, who fought a famous battle there. Later that week we had a Shabbaton together in the holy city of Tsfat. We strolled around the Artist Colony on Friday before baking Challot and some of the guys went to immerse themselves in the Mikveh of the famous Kabbalist the Ari. Shabbat was full of song and prayer and Rabbi Marc ran one of his famous Oneg Shabbat activities for the final time. Shabbat day began with a reflection session led by Tali and Shalhevet and in the afternoon, we walked to the uppermost point in the city where we entered a dark cave well known to locals for its incredible acoustics. Inside this singing cave, we sang powerful renditions of time-old Jewish classics and ended with a rousing Hatikva. After Havdalla on Saturday night, the group wished an emotional farewell to Rabbi Marc’s family – Miriam and their four cute children – who have accompanied the group throughout the year. The week continued with a Selah trip to the grave of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanes near Tiberias. Rabbi Meir is one of the most famous Sages of the Talmud and the group had an opportunity to learn about the common custom of visiting righteous people’s graves around the Galilee where people offer prayers, light candles, give Tzedaka and invoke their spirit. We had a discussion about Jewish superstitions, amulets, Segulot and mysticism. Our year finally ended with a Selahbration. Each student prepared a short lesson or Dvar Torah to share with the group and we had a marathon round of learning that went on for close to two hours. The students linked their words to one of the many outings, workshops or Shabbatonim we have had over the semester. We were also joined by a number of their Selah teachers from the past semester, and there were also some video messages from people the students have met over the year. It was an incredible morning of inspiration and the most fitting way to end our semester/year of learning and growing Jewishly.
This week is our last week. We are going to dedicate the week to saying goodbye, celebrating together and having the best possible time.