JNF fellows: Exploring Kabbalah and discovering heroes

camelThe five teens selected for Jewish National Fund’s inaugural Schwartz-Hammer Alexander Muss High School in Israel Impact Fellowship Program are now in Israel. Their six-week journey began on June 16; they are attending the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), a college-preparatory summer abroad program that uses Israel as the classroom. Here, all five students reflect on the past week.

Sunday, July 5

As every other day, we learned a lot! However, today was different. Today I learned about the HSI (High School in Israel) community and what it really means. At first, when we all learned that there were over 180 kids, many felt very overwhelmed. But let me just tell you: It’s amazing how fast word travels around here! Both Gabe and Reuben have been challenged with injuries and sad life events and it’s been amazing to watch the entire campus come together. Whether listening to side conversations or watching friends carry pints of ice cream to their doors, it’s so easy to see that we all really are one big family!

Instead of spending my free time deciding what to do, I now focus on figuring out ways to maximize it. I spent the afternoon making new friends in the Rapaport dorm and accompanying them to the local restaurant, Ofer’s. Later, I went to town with a couple of friends. Together, we stopped in every market in town – about eight – buying a few items from each place. Our purchases included: cookie dough ice cream, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, strawberry-banana juice and Cap’n Crunch.

It’s really starting to feel like home. I can’t even begin to think about leaving!

Madyssen Zarin

Monday, July 6

Today we woke up early to go on an exciting tiyul (trip) in the northern region of Israel! We began by learning about the Crusaders, at the beautiful Belvoir castle.

After that, we swam in the Kinneret. It was nice to be back in the lovely waters of the Sea of Galilee. Although it was lovely, I wish I brought shoes! The heat of the ground paired with the sharpness of the rocks was quite painful.

After the brief swim, we headed over to Tzfat, one of my favorite cities in Israel. The beautiful stone paired with the bright colored doors enchanted by the spirituality of the city makes for a great time. Walking around the familiar city, buying jewelry, and showing newcomers my favorite places was nostalgic and fascinating. Additionally, I ran in to someone I know back at home. Crazy!

– Madeline Stull

Tuesday, July 7

This week has been rough one. Sadly, I broke my clavicle while playing football a few days back; however, I’ve still managed to have a fantastic time!

Today was a day to remember. It began with class. Once we finished, we were given the option to stay back and study or go to SACH. SACH stands for Save a Child’s Heart – a nonprofit organization that brings in children from around the world for lifesaving heart operations. I love working and playing with kids, so I decided to take up that option.

EthiopianMany of the children that we played with were from Ethiopia. I spent most of the time playing with my friend Rihad, one of the cutest and most fun kids I’ve ever met. I rolled him around on his little stroller and then played ball with him and some of my other friends.

We got back around six o’clock. I went to dinner and then studied for our upcoming exam.

‘Twas a great day!

– Reuben Nach

Wednesday, July 8

Today we continued studying the early Zionist movements in our core class. But I would like to focus more on the mystical city of Tzfat that we had the privilege of touring a couple days ago. Tzfat is considered to be a mystical city because the Kabbalah was developed there.

Beyond the beauty of the city and surrounding nature, I felt there was a deeper sense of community (kehillah) than in most places we’ve visited. I think that sense of kehillah may derive from the deep studies of Kabbalah. It was interesting to see the other side of questioning our universe from the Jewish perspective.

I appreciated that opposed to Hellenists, Jews focused more on what to do, what is right and what is wrong and how to be truly good people (most Hellenists never would have thought about how to be a good person if it didn’t involve slaves or some other morally iffy pillar of their culture). But I felt a bit disappointed that Jews never got into the truly exciting questions that many Hellenists struggled with. It has always excited me to think about philosophical questions and struggle with competing answers. That feeling of disappointment immediately disappeared after learning more about the Kabbalah.

It was difficult to really understand the Kabbalah from a single half-hour discussion – most Kabbalists study it for half their lives! But while speaking to a local artist, Abraham, I gained a more meaningful understanding.

During my conversation with Abraham I was transfixed upon the largest motif within his art – selflessness. Nearly every work had some representation of giving of yourself for the benefit of others as inspired by the Torah. I had previously learned a little bit about the levels of giving in Judaism, but in discovering the Kabbalah, I gained a far deeper understanding while being provided with even more fascinating questions.
– Gabe Friedland

Thursday, July 9

6:30 a.m.: *knock* *knock* “Boker tov”

We are up and ready for another long day of amazing sights and stories on our next tiyul. Our adventure today is “The Story of the halutzim of the second aliyah.”

It began at Kfar Giladi, where we had class on the roof of the museum of HaShomer (the Guardians). Before we even spoke a word, our teacher had us look out into the distance – both north and south – and to think of adjectives we would use to describe what we saw.

We all collectively wrote down terms such as: picturesque, vast, green, serene, breathtaking, etc. Only then did we begin class and travel back in time to when there was nothing.

After we learned about the brave pioneers who traveled to Am Yisrael from Russia in the years 1904-1914, we went inside the museum and watched the extremely informative videos. We learned about “HaShomer,” the first Jewish defense force and how they had to learn from each other how to defend their people.

From Kfar Giladi, we went and had delicious lunch at a spring. We ate, went swimming, and sat around and listened to Yosef and Phillip play guitar. From there, we had another 40-minute ride to Tiberias, where we had the most powerful class of the day at the Kinneret Cemetery.

cemeteryWe sat around the grave of Rachel the Poetess as we learned about her exemplary life. She was a pioneer who came to the land and then ended up going back to Russia where she helped out in an orphanage. There, she was infected by tuberculosis yet she didn’t know. She came back to Am Yisrael, made a life in the Kinneret, and wrote rather romantic poetry about the beauty and love she has for the Kinneret.

She was quarantined in an apartment in Tel Aviv where she ended up dying but even there she would write poetry based upon the memories she carried with her. After class, Phillip pulled out his guitar, and we sat around the brave pioneer’s grave and sang her beautiful words back to her.

The class gathered in a circle where we all shared who we thought were heroes, anyone we know personally or throughout history. Someone may be a hero in someone else’s eyes by the doing the smallest favor. The biggest heroes seem to be the ones who don’t believe they are. We had DOTS: Dinner on the Streets, where I got some delicious shawarma. Later, we went to a chocolate factory and had some amazing ice cream. There is nothing compared to the ice cream in Israel – it’s beyond amazing and refreshing!

It feels as if I have been here for months yet time is slowly nearing the end. This experience has already been life-changing and has given me memories that I will have for my entire life. Being able to learn our history exactly where it happened is something that everyone should be lucky enough to experience.

– Rachael Weinstein

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