Birthright winter 2012: Day 3
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom Kantor and students on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Today was a lesson in giving. We started the day with a bus ride to Safed. There we enjoyed the beautiful mountain view from half a mile above sea level. Safed is a center for Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. We learned about the importance of mitzvahs and how Kabbalah followers believe that we can heal the world through positive acts and good deeds.
To demonstrate the importance of positivity we watched an artist named Sheva Chaya at work in her glassblowing and painting gallery. Her work embodies the light which is so intrinsic to Kabbalah.
The informative activities of the morning flowed into an afternoon of community service with Livnot Ulehibanot- to build and to be rebuilt. As a group we worked together to clear the yard of a low income housing project. It was a blessing for us to be able to give back in light of the incredible gift of the birthright trip.
We finished today with a fun dinner out in Tiberias and a walk on the boardwalk of the Sea of Galilee.
One of my favorite parts of the day was when we went to see the glass blowing and to hear about Cabalah. The women who spoke to us, Sheva Chaya, not only blew glass, but painted as well. She was an artist who loved to work with a lot of bright, vibrant, lively colors. She started off by telling us a little bit about herself and how she came to Israel. She grew up in Denver, Colorado and was not very religious. At the age of seventeen she went on a trip to Israel and fell in love. She really loved the environment and energy there and learned a lot more about Judaism. While she was there she got Bat Mitzvahed and found out what her Hebrew name was and meant: Sheva Chaya= 7 Lives. Later when she was in Princeton, she wanted to find out the meaning of her English name and found out that it meant dark and coincidently her first painted when she still identified with her English name used dark colors. Later, when she made Aliyah and took on her Hebrew name she began to paint using a variety of bright colors. She then told us about how she tries to pick out at least one nice thing about a person. While telling her story and teaching us about her thoughts and beliefs, she began to blow glass. She started by taking two pieces of glass, heating them, and then connecting them. She then told us how they added color to the pieces of glass: they used pieces of color sand/ broken glass and rolled the heated glass in it. After that she began to blow into the glass and form a shape. In the end, she made a beautiful pomegranate candle cover; pomegranates were a popular theme in her glass art. When she was done, we were able to walk around and look at her art. A few purchased some of her paintings in smaller form, which she was nice enough to sign for us. The piece I bought was a beautiful simple stroke painting of a mother and her child dancing. It reminded me a lot of my mom and I. It was amazing to watch her create a piece of art right in front of our eyes, to see her other art, and to hear about her story. It was an experience that I will never forget.
We spent most of our 3rd day in Israel in Svat. The city itself is incredibly interesting and different than anything we’ve really experienced before. But the people may be even more interesting. A few of us were walking around the city trying to kill some time before we left and we met a man named Moshe. I had seen this guy earlier in the day laying out bread and French Toast for the stray animals wandering the city and trying to capture doves by sneaking up on them. He was unsuccessful though. He was wearing a Philadelphia Phillies hat and shirt so he spent a little bit of time telling us how great they were and how they needed to get back to the World Series to beat the Yankees. In addition, he told us a bunch of stories about him seeing a white donkey that turned to be the messiah, or how he wanted to eat the dove he was trying to capture. He actually had a bunch of interesting things to say, but I’m sure that all of us that met him are going to remember Svat in part due to Moshe. He had been to Israel countless times and was really passionate about it, like most of the people we’ve met here are.
To bring an end to a great day, Marty, our tour educator, took a bunch of us to the cow sheds on the kibbutz. After a short walk, we quickly knew we arrived due to the overpowering smell. We met the baby cows who were born this week and stuck our fingers in their mouth. As we watched them getting milk, we learned about the process it entails; the cows are hooked up to machines, which pumped their milk. The machine keeps track of the quantity, quality, and bacteria level of the milk. When the cows were done being pumped, they got released from the machines. Then we were all in for a surprise. To continue the food cycle, most of them started pooping. Two of us were in the splash zone. Their reactions kept us laughing the entire time back.
Birthright winter 2012:Day 2
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom Kantor and students on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
As my older brother Matt used to say, I could be labeled as an imitation Jew. What I mean to say is that while I was born Jewish and will be Jewish for the rest of my existence, I am incredibly far from devout, religious, practicing… whatever you’d like to call it. However, I can say without a doubt that I have never felt more connected to Judaism than I do here in Israel. Walking through this country I can feel a power in my blood, a kinship to everyone I see, and most significantly, my brother’s presence absolutely everywhere I go. With every new place we visit here in Israel, I find myself wondering: who has stood here, in this very place, and seen what I am seeing? With whom do I share this experience? My grandma? My dad? Golda Meir? My brother Matt? The connection I am discovering here- a connection to my people, my country, my history, nature, and most noticeably, my wonderful brother Matt, is one like nothing I have ever experienced before.
On the plane ride over to Israel, a boy named Mike saw my blatant fear of flying, sat down in the seat next to me and became a good friend in 10 seconds flat. I soon learned that he not only knew Matt as a Binghamton University student and the president of the school’s outdoors club, but Mike also ventured out on the same caving trip with the club that I went on last year. After an unfortunate incident with a car skidding off the road, I decided to go back to campus but Mike was able to tell me about his experience exploring the caves with my older brother. He told me how cold it was; their shirts were literally cracking with frost and the students huddled together for warmth until pictures were taken and they were able to hop back into the cave- like a “rabbit hole.” I was happy to receive this memory of Matt, a priceless gift that I had not seen coming.
Throughout the last two days, I have felt Matt with me every time I look out at a beautiful green and rocky mountain, the expanse of sky (whether blue, pink or gray), the incredible statues, sculptures, animals and water I see absolutely everywhere. However, I was hardly prepared for the next Matt experience I would have- a discovery that knocked me on my side. As part of the bus committee, it is my responsibility to plan games and activities to keep the group entertained as we drive through Israel, and tonight I met with another new friend named Devon to discuss ideas for tomorrow’s bus ride. We spoke for only a few minutes before the conversation turned to my brother; I asked her if she knew him and she told me she had been on the Colden hike in September when he fell to his death. After I recovered from the realization that I had not recognized this girl from the funeral or pictures, I had to embrace my new friend and reflect on the endless surprises I’m experiencing here in Israel. Whether I am discovering a new part of Matt as I gaze out onto the lake nearby the hotel, alone, or finding out that he has touched more people on this trip with me than I had ever thought before, the journey I am taking with my older brother will never end. And no matter what I believe in or do not believe in, the journey I am taking with my Jewish self will never end. I have Birthright as well as Israel to thank for the connections I am discovering and the new friends and family I am finding, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will leave the holy land a much different person than I was when I arrived.
The smells are familiar. Rain smells like rain. But in Israel, it seems different. The plants look familiar, but they have a different feeling. Walking in Tel Dan, the smell of the land and of the rain was different than any land or rain that I have ever smelled before. This place is different either physically, or in my mind.
Today on the bus I had the sudden realization that I was on Birthright. We have spent two days in Israel already, but it just felt like a trip until today. We had just finished our daily activities and we were all pretty beat (the constant rain and constant moving can do that to you) and Marty decided to put on an Israeli music CD. Although I didn’t understand anything the people in the music were saying, it just felt so right. The feeling right then and there made me feel like I was really on Birthright. I guess I had always had my own vision about what Birthright should be… and this was it. Being surrounded by new and interesting people, driving through the countryside of Israel and listening to Israeli music, just felt right.
Birthright winter 2012: Day 1
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom and Students on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
“Cell phones are just pieces of plastic with Jewish brains.”
Jaffa Port- Zack Arenstein
After walking around Tel Aviv for a little while we ended up at Jaffa Port. To me this was the most amazing part of the day because of the historical/mythical significance it holds. Our guide Marty told us 2 stories that are relatively common and ones that I had heard and studied before, the story of Jonah and the Whale, and the greek story of Andromeda and Perseus’ journey to save her. According to Marty, both of these stories had large important parts take place at that very spot.
In the case of Jonah and the Whale, Jonah set sail out of Jaffa Port in order to run away from his God-given task of telling people to the East to repent for their sins. Instead, Jonah sailed West and ended up being swallowed by the whale. In the other story, Jaffa Port is where Perseus supposedly used Medusa’s severed head to turn the Kraken to stone. Some of the stones by the wall in the water are supposed to be its remains.
These kinds of things are definitely one of the most amazing things about Israel. For years we’ve learned about stories like this. Until now, they had no context. To come to Israel and go to see these historically significant places is unbelievable.
A huge part of Israel and learning about the culture is eating the food. So for our first lunch, in Israel, most of us headed to a schwarma restaurant to taste this Israeli delicacy. Schwarma is meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, with fat dripping down the sides. We were able to pick between chicken and lamb, or both, and on a wrap or pita. They added cucumber, tomato, hummus, and seasonings as well. It was greasy, but delicious!
Our tour educator, Marty, explained to us that while our trip is about seeing all the things that make him proud to live in Israel, he doesn’t want to/ wasn’t able to sugarcoat things when we were all standing at the spot where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in ’95. The peace treaty Rabin had signed two years previously wasn’t working out too well and a religious Israeli law student decided to as he said, “take the law into his own hands.” This event was something that impacted all of the people living in Israel. Our parents remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, we all know where we were when 9/11 occurred, and for the people of Israel, they all know where they were when their former Prime Minister was shot. I really liked the sculpture we saw next to the sight representing Israel having the ground ripped out from under them. It was a bunch of stones all unevenly placed next to each other. The entire sight and conversation with Marty was very powerful and definitely something I want to take away from the day.
Juxtaposition –Jason Liebman
Looking out from a scenic overview in the port of Jaffe, We learned how juxtaposition and contrast have shaped the Israeli landscape and culture. Going up along the shoreline from where we are now, we see the old tile rooftops of the early neighborhoods of Tel Aviv in the foreground. As you move further away, it is as if the city progressed forward over time. Two story tile roofed homes give way to modern glass skyscrapers in the distance. Walking along the shoreline from the ancient port of Jaffa to the modern city of Tel Aviv, the new concrete promenade grows and evolves out of the hand laid bricks. Arab Churches and Mosques Coexist within the city where the Jewish state was declared. The juxtaposition of these contrasting aspects surprisingly live in harmony like preserved moments in time all occurring right now.
Welcome Home – Justin Kalin
In the image of late 19th century father of Zionism Theodore Herzle, on the sand dune where Tel Aviv was bought and populated by Jewish diaspora, the first city of the modern state was born. Its founder and official Mayor Dizengoff was offered the plot to build his home, which later became the city’s first art museum made possible by his selfless donation. But Tel Aviv faced many horrors, including the devastating aftermath of the Holocaust and impending attacks from 5 Arab nations. On May 14, 1948, Britain ended its occupation of the Holy Land , leaving hundreds of thousands in imminent danger. Jerusalem was far too conspicuous, and with only a few hours to spare an art museum was quickly transformed into Independence Hall. In a 32-minute assembly, Jewish leader Ben Gurian signed an emergency declaration of statehood which rushed a seemingly impossible Israel into existence.
In closing our story of perseverance, we as Birthright participants were deemed not tourists, visitors or guests – we are the Jewish people returned home. A dream for our ancestors is now our right. The gesture blew me away.
The morning began at 7:15 with a delicious breakfast at the Nof Ginosaur dining room, featuring a wide array of foods including pancakes, cereal, yogurt, an omelette station, along with many other Israeli dishes.
After breakfast, the group got their belongings together and hopped on the bus. The very scenic route led us to the Tel Dan nature preserve, where we hiked to a beautiful waterfall (which was well worth the muddy and slippery adventure -- despite the few individuals who made very good friends with the ground).
The military-style caravan began when we were escorted by jeeps to an off-road path, leading to a bunker overlooking the Golan Heights. Accompanied by enthusiastic and hilarious drivers, we learned a lot about the area along with the history behind Israel and Syria.
The caravan ended with another bus ride to an awesome Schwarma place (there were other food options as well, but most of us were told by family and friends that we MUST try it). During the ride, our tour guide Doron discussed the history of conflict between Lebanon and Israel.
Our next stop was the De-Karina chocolate factory, where received a personal tour and a behind-the-scenes view of the hand-made chocolate in the making, followed by a chocolate and chocolate liqueur tasting (don't fret parents, it was all supervised). Souvenir purchasing was available, just in case the free chocolates acquired by Inbal weren't good enough (thanks again Inbal!!).
Our last stop was a beautiful view of the Syrian border, where Doron explained the history of the area. Many pictures were taken, followed by a very silent and sleep-filled bus ride back to the hotel.
The day came to a close with a committee-forming session, followed by dinner and a final discussion.
Posted by: Alex Schwartz on Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
With much anticipation we woke this morning to see what the fourth day would bring. After breakfast, we made our way to the busses and before we knew it, we were at Allapattah Middle School for our second day of physical service. As before, we started our day at the middle school by being lead in “PT” by the City Year team. In addition to the fun and quirky callisthenic movements we were shown yesterday, we were taught an additional movement known as the Banana Peel. As expected, it was a fun way to get started in the morning. If you remember from yesterday’s posting, we spent our previous day in Allapattah reorganizing a storage room by removing and replacing thousands of old texts books. Today’s task was very different. We spent our time preparing and painting pillars that line the central hallway in the school. While the task was not as physically demanding as moving thousands of textbooks, we saw a dramatic improvement in the schools physical appearance quickly. As custodial staff passed by they even commented on the visual improvement that took place in such a short amount of time. In just three short hours we saw a new bright hallway emerge were a dark and dirty hallway once was.
After a bit of lunch and some time to relax we left the Allapattah Middle School for Dunbar Elementary where we were to spend our second day working with students. Since Wednesday is early let out for the students we decided to host a field day for their enjoyment. The field day consisted of three stations: Jeopardy, Bingo, and Outdoor Games. Our role as volunteers was to guide the students through each station. Getting a chance to see third graders get really jazzed about educational trivia was really awesome and gives hope to the idea that every child we work with has a great potential to succeed academically. As I write this blog entry this evening, I can only reflect on the day’s work as deeply impacting upon the people around us as well as us. This trip has been great and still much is planned for the remainder.
BS Chemistry, ’12
Posted by: Katie Shepard on Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Thursday day 4: Katie Shepard
Today we started off our morning with a little pump up music and the promise of another rewarding day at Allapata Middle School and Dunbar Elementary School. I found myself thinking of how this was going to be our last full day of service on the trip. I began to wonder how the trip had gone by so quickly. But I didn’t really have time to continue my thoughts because we had arrived at Allapata Middle School. After dropping off the lunch in the correct classroom we began our daily “firing up” exercises on the basketball courts with the city year staff, where we learned a new exercise. This new move consisted of lunges, spirit, and a lot of weird clapping. Soon after our group began to take on our first task of the day: painting the courtyard area in off-white. Weused a combination of rollers and smaller paint brushes to cover every last inch of the walls. After an hour or two of painting, parts of our group started to paint some of the murals that had been stenciled onto the wall, while others began to stencil words such as: persevere, imagine, and create onto the pillars of the courtyard. As I was stenciling the word “persevere” onto the wall, I began to picture future students walking through the courtyard. I wondered if they would notice the words that had once been painted onto the pillars by a bunch of college students, or if these words would simply blend into the background like I imagine the previously cracked paint and faded messages once did. I then thought of how I used to feel inspired by a poster from my high school that read “perseverance is one of the biggest keys to success.” This poster used to make me feel motivated every time I passed it, no matter how bad a mood I was in.
After lunch, we watched a film called Waiting for Superman. This film taught us of the many flaws in America’s education system including: bad teachers, lack of funding, tenure, the lottery system for entry into certain schools, and the tangled web of the federal government’s ideas of a good educational system versus the state. When discussing the film with the group, I think a lot of us were shocked by how complicated the educational system of America had become. For instance, a child could fail a test in one state, but he/she could then drive down an hour to another state and take the same test, and their score would be considered a passing grade! Signals were clearly very mixed up between states concerning the fundamental standards of passing versus failing. Another idea that struck me was that a child could be stuck in a horrible public school, simply because they lived in a bad neighborhood. Furthermore, they could potentially have the chance to switch to a better public school or charter school; however, 1000 kids could be applying to a school like that when there are only 100 spots available! So these kids’ entire futures could be riding on one lottery number. I found this to be completely baffling.
Nonetheless, we continued to Dunbar Elementary School after the movie and were instructed to lead the class that we had been working with in a few field games. My group played a few basic games including toilet tag, the human knot, and leap frog. One moment that stood out to me was when we decided to join the kids in creating a human knot of arm and legs. The kids were able to free themselves of the knot in a matter of seconds, but once the bigger college kids got involved, the whole game got a lot trickier. It took us several minutes to untangle ourselves from the knot, and when we did, for some reason we ended up with two separate groups (which is not supposed to happen) and all the college kids were like “oops something must have gotten messed up.” But the kids had a completely different reaction; they thought they had done something extra special that had led us to make not only once circle but two. They were so pleased with themselves that they were high fiving each other and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to tell them that it was in fact a mistake, since they seemed to be so proud of themselves.
It was hard saying goodbye to the kids I had worked with at the end of the day, but despite my sadness, I feel pleased that I was able to connect with these kids on a pretty deep level, even if I had only known them for three days. I was reminded of how younger children are so willing to share things about themselves and how interested and curious they are to learn about others as well. All in all, it was another tiring, but mostly satisfying day in Miami.
Miami Day 2
Posted by: Haley Schulman on Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Welcome to Miami: day two! Today was an even longer day than yesterday, if that’s possible. Our day started bright and early when we had to be on the bus by 8:00 AM (which meant I had to wake up at 7:00 AM, something I probably haven’t done in years). I promise I’m not complaining, though, as this is probably the biggest downside I can come up with from what I felt was a really great day.
First stop was Allapatta Middle School, where we were to spend the greater part of our day. At first, the entire group was together and we did a bunch of warm up activities lead by the City Year representatives. We did some jogging in place, jumping jacks, and some other stuff with funky names. Most importantly, we learned that whenever someone asks how we are feeling, we must always respond with a loud and energetic “fired up,” and when asked if we are ready to do something, we must shout “Hillel is always ready!” Perhaps the exercise was a little unexpected at 9 AM, but I think it served its purpose of waking us all up for the day.
From there we split off by school, and Binghamton got to go to a training session to learn how to deal with the kids we’d eventually get to meet and work with. We learned some basic rules of how to work with children, and we played some of the games that we will be teaching the kids to play tomorrow. It was informative and, at times, a little silly. After the training, we had the task of loading old, unusable textbooks from the school’s storage room into a big truck to be recycled. The job sounds pretty simple and menial, but it was definitely an important job with a lot of hard work involved. Not to mention that it was surprisingly fun! We blasted some music and overall had a great time with our few hours of heavy lifting.
After all that we had lunch and then heard a few presentations with the rest of the group. The first was a speaker named Rabbi Leonid Feldman. He spoke to us about the famous biblical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and how it relates to the volunteer work we are doing on our alternative break. The second presentation was a panel from City Year. They told us about the work they do with City Year, recounted a few of their personal experiences, and answered a few questions from the audience. I personally found this part really interesting- it seems like working for City Year is a pretty awesome career path.
Finally we went off to work with the kids, which I had been waiting for all day. Binghamton and a couple other school groups left to go work at Dunbar Elementary School, a school where many of the kids have home troubles, live below the poverty line, and receive free or reduced-cost lunches in order to afford one good meal every day at school. This is what they told us before we walked into the classrooms. I was initially a little bit nervous because, as a camp counselor for a nice Jewish day camp, I hadn’t really had much prior experience with underprivileged kids who can’t easily afford a meal per day. That fear disappeared when I walked into the classroom, though, and realized that these kids are really all just kids. I had a great time hanging out with one little boy who refused to talk at first but later opened up to me. He was very funny because he had no interest whatsoever in the packet of work we were supposed to be completing, and insisted on joking around with me instead. We talked about sports and television, and he even tried to play a practical joke on me but, I am pleased to say, I did not fall for it. This was definitely the most enjoyable part of the day for me, and I am so excited to spend more time with the kids tomorrow.
That’s all I have to say about the program so far- can’t wait to see what happens next!
Welcome To Miami
Posted by: Meredith Abel on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” On the first official day of not only 2012, but also of Miami Alternative Break, the president of Temple Israel of greater Miami offered this proverb. This quote truly has meaning to me especially considering I can still remember it at the end of the day. What it signifies is very simple, yet also very profound: together we can. One person may not have the resources to accomplish a goal, but when band together as a community of any size, anything is possible.
Aside from poverty and social justice, one core theme of this trip is community. What is it? How do we get it? Can we create it? If so, how? Even the term community service has the intrinsic value of “community” built in it. Among the myriad of activities we participated in today, we began with community service in one of Miami’s prominent graveyards. I personally contributed by raking leaves around the graves and disposing them in garbage bags. When looking back on the morning, however, I don’t necessarily think about the physical work, but rather the symbolism behind it. I worked with people I hadn’t previously spoken to, and by fusing two rakers together and two bag holders together, this service in itself helped to create a small community for myself. It wouldn’t have been as significant if we hadn’t worked together to accomplish the task. By starting the trip facing death, I am more encouraged to enhance life.
Later in the day, after basking in the sun for a little while, we were confronted with a speech by Doreen, a speaker from the organization faces of the homeless. To keep things brief and light, her story basically resembled the reality of an episode of Law and Order: SVU, except that her story took place over thirty years rather than a single hour. After hearing the horrific story, and asking many questions, my immediate thought was what am I going to do about this? There were so many deeper concerns, thoughts, and frustrations that overwhelmed me. No one should ever go through what this woman went through. Although, I am glad I heard this story, because it was just the piece I needed to inspire me for the rest of this week. Her story helped explain the reason why I am here.
Beyond all of the ice breakers, beautiful weather, and delicious meals, this trip is about making a difference to both those we are helping and also to ourselves. How can we help them and how can helping them help us individually? This day was full of questions, full of sun, and full of fun. It was a fantastic beginning to what I believe will be a very meaningful week.