(This piece is not necessarily meant to persuade others, but rather the points here have persuaded me, myself.)
A certain b'racha warrants much of my kavanna as I say the Amidah these days:
תקע בשופר גדול לחרותנו ושא נס לקבץ גלויותנו וקבצנו יחד מארבע כנפות הארץ.ברוך אתה ה' מקבץ נדחי עמו ישראל.
Sound the great shofar for our freedom; raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land. Blessed are You Lord, who gathers the dispersed of His people Israel. (Chabad.org translation – first site on Google)
Over the past year, I've become more and more convinced that a spiritual priority for the Jewish people has to be the ingathering of the exiles. It's not that there's anything terribly wrong with America; it's just not Israel. True, to each his/her own and there are many legitimate reasons for people staying in America. But I feel personally obligated to contribute my person to the Jewish shift towards the Land of Israel.
What are we waiting for? We have prayed for years to emerge from exile and once again return to the homeland and holy land of the Jewish people. For the first time in two millennia, we exercise self-autonomy in our own sovereign state. The State of Israel, in my mind, is not just around for those in need of refuge; we risk not taking full advantage of its presence by staying in the Diaspora. Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut helped me realize even more that this is not just the state of the Israelis, but rather the state of the Jewish people as a whole. Sure, we can send our youth here for short periods of time and send our money here, and that can be considered Jewish unity, but it is impossible for the soul itself to experience the holiness of the Land of Israel with just that alone. Redemption, as it seems from Jewish sources, will only be completed when the Jewish people comes together physically in the Land of Israel.
Not every place in this country bares the holiness I wish there was, and the things I relish most – tranquility of Shabbat, abundance of Kosher restaurants, number of people walking around wearing kippot – are not to be found in every place. Yet as I speak the lashon kodesh (holy language) and walk around with something very fundamental in common with almost every person I pass on the street, I find a sincere calling here to fulfill God's promise to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Ya'akov. It won't be a perfect transition, and it also won't be happening immediately, as I do plan on completing college in the States. But I hope one day to embody the full ideal of Zionism so that when I leave in less than a month, it will only be an extended leave from home, just to return soon.
Those are my feelings in a nutshell.
MONDAY, APRIL 26, 2010
I visited on Sunday and will report on that soon, but I wanted to post this video, as the CY has been an integral part of my Nativ experience and I appreciate the learning that took place there.
I stayed in Yeruham for Shabbat. As usual, I had dinner with the Strausslers (my host family) after schul. Pini, the teacher I work with at the high school, was also there with his family. Time flew – I left at 11:25 almost! But it was a great dinner. Pini and I talked a bit about Hassidut (that’s his area of interest in life) and we also sang a bit. The walk back went by fast since I sang a niggun the whole time.I overslept in the morning – David did not succeed in waking me up, plus my Shabbat alarm clock was still set on Standard Time, and I slept through the alarm I had set anyway. So that was aggravating, getting there mid-Torah reading. I was sha”tz for Mussaf. For lunch David and I went to Tzachi, one of the MADA drivers, and I actually know his wife from the high school. They have two cute little kids. They were a very sweet, hospitable family and it was very homey being there. I basically napped through the rest of the afternoon.
To conclude Yom HaShoah, we traveled to Kibbutz Yad Mordechai, near Ashkelon, for the ceremony that took place there. It’s one of two official closing ceremonies of the State of Israel for Yom HaShoah (the other is in the north). Yad Mordechai is named after Mordechai Anielewicz, a martyr of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The speeches included personal anecdotes and praise of heroism – Ehud Barak was among the speakers. Also there were dances, videos, song (Shlomo Gronich sang), and though a bit long, the ceremony was definitely an important Israel experience.
Here's the last post related to Pesach:
I came back to Yeruham on Sunday, the last day of Hol HaMoed. In reality, even though there's way more Hol HaMoed here than in the Diaspora, the close proximity of Shabbat to the last day of Pesach made it seem like a short Hol HaMoed. In the end, I didn't end up feeling that Pesach was all that long.
After having a few hours to chill out before chag started, I went to schul, and then had a dinner with Asaf, Gabe, and Robbie. This came about when Gabe and I hadn't made any other plans so we decided to do something simple. Asaf brought back some BBQ chicken from Ketura, so we ate that. And then I learned to play Settlers of Catan, currently the most popular game on Nativ. Wasn't that addicting for me; in fact, I haven't played since.
I made it to schul in the morning, and Tyler joined me. It was a fast davening, and I was very happy that they sit for Shirat HaYam. More than half of the schul left during Yizkor. After services, the husband of the CEO of Atid BaMidbar invited us to lunch. They were very hospitable and served us great food, especially the chicken. Tyler learned to juggle. We were very glad we got that invitation. When I got home, I went to the park to read for a bit, and shortly after Ally, Miri, Becky, and a girl in Becky's host family came to the park, too, so I hung out with them. We eventually went back to their apartment to play Bananagrams. I think I took a nap after, but I woke up to make Matzah Pizza – the second and last time I had it. Shortly after came Mincha, Ma'ariv, and Pesach was over.
At the end of chag, I participated in Mimuna – a Moroccan custom that accompanies the end of Pesach. The explanations I've heard is that the first chametz to be eaten should be sweet. The name "mimuna" could come from the Rambam's father, Maimon, whose yartzheit falls at this time, or also from "emuna," faith, that we have faith that Mashiach will come next year even though it didn't come at Pesach this year. Several families have open houses, and people come and eat mufletas – it's like fried dough and you put things like chocolate spread, honey, etc. inside. It was really good. We had a nice time bouncing around, and then we ended up at one house where I knew a bunch of kids from the high school as well as my host family. They drove us home, at which point I finished watching the Braves kill the Cubs.
Pesach definitely felt shorter this year, having been only seven days and a short Hol HaMoed. It was a good chill opportunity, and I'm happy with the way I spent vacation. While I was sad that I wasn't at Ramah Darom for Pesach this year, I enjoyed celebrating Pesach in the Holy Land, observing how Israelis observe Pesach, and with God's help we will celebrate every Pesach to come in Jerusalem.
Shabbat Hol HaMoedבס"ד
As I mentioned in the ending of my last post, I went to Elkana for Shabbat. The settlement is a 15-minute drive from Petach Tikva, just over the green line. I've spent one Shabbat there beforehand and have written about it here, but just as a refresher: Yael worked with my mom when my mom was at Federation, and she has a husband and four children between the ages of 2-11. Nitai (her husband)'s mother was also with them for Shabbat Hol HaMoed. They live in a cute caravan and they have three dogs, a few chickens, and a few goats, too. It's a very homey place to live. Shabbat is quiet there – no cars on the street.
I'll highlight just a few things that I remember – like everything else over Pesach, Shabbat was relaxing:
*They have a nice custom when they light candles that for each candle, which represents one person in the family, Yael says something positive about that person's week.
*For lunch on Shabbat, we went to a neighboring settlement called Sha'arei Tikva, where Nitai's aunt lives. She is married to a Canadian, and they lived in Canada for a few years after marriage, so everyone spoke English pretty well.
At this point I can't recall too many more details of the weekend, but I had a nice time, and it gave me an opportunity to practice some good Hebrew. I stayed Motza'ei Shabbat as well and left Sunday morning for Yeruham for the last day of chag.
The Hol HaMoed Escapades
Like any good holiday should, Hol HaMoed gave me a lot of opportunities to relax and take things easy. The short window of hol turned out to be fairly stress free and very vacation-friendly, as I sort of just said. So here's what went on:
I woke up at around eight and walked to the Old City, to the Kotel, to find a holiday minyan at the very place to which our ancestors once did and hopefully our descendants once again will make pilgrimage. The Kotel Plaza was packed, as people wrapped in tallitot filled almos the entirety of the davening area. Even from the end of the Cardo, when still on high ground, one could see heads covered in the white of the tallit, hearts raised to the God above. I entered, and having a hard time finding a new minyan, I joined a minyan that had just ended P'sukei D'zimra and caught up. Things were normal and fairly uneventful until the end of the Torah service, right at the start of Musaf, when guards begin clearing an aisle in the men's section. I was praying towards the left of the Kotel, and we were boxed in right there as the aisle separated us from almost all of the other worshippers. Security guards are going haywire, trying to keep the area under control and a leather chair was set up near the wall. I quickly learned that the Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, the giant Haredi posek of today, was coming to visit the kotel. We awaited his arrival for a long time; people were getting impatient and others pulled out their cameras. Finally, a car arrives, and a horde of people chases it all the way up to the wall itself. Security guards are trying to get people to move away, even pushing men in black in white, so that the rabbi can emerge from the car. He never did. They drove off, people were free to move, and I went back to Agron to check out.
After I got back, knowing I'd have a couple of free hours to spare, I went to Independence Park to read. The sun shone bright, and I lay and peacefully read for an hour and a half. Gelb and I agreed to meet at the Central Bus Station at 2 p.m., so I went to SuperSol to buy us some food, and then I made it out to the station to eat lunch. We got a bus to Ashkelon, arrived, and took a bus out to the National Park, where we would be camping for the night. The park was vast, very green, and people filled it, enjoying afternoon BBQs. We walked over to the campground, put our stuff down, and strolled around the area, including the beach. Shortly before dark, we ate and chilled and were sleeping by 9 p.m.
We played it chill in the morning – hung around the campsite, and I went to the beach to read for a little bit. Checkout was at noon, so right around then we went back to the Ashkelon bus station. Gelb went to Tel Aviv, and I had lunch at the mall before heading back to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, I stayed at the apartment of one of my B'yachad facilitators and a former USY shaliach, Moshe. I hung out there, and made plans to meet a friend from home, Ilan, at a Moshav Band concert on Emek Refaim. At that point, I called Michelle to find out what cheap restaurants are open on Emek, and she told me Schnitzi's was open. Two seconds later she called and said that they were making matzah pizza at the apartment and I was invited over… so I got some cheap food on Emek Refaim that night J The concert was good – the band performed very well – just a little meshuga ba'rosh in certain ways. By the time it was over it was late so I walked back.
I went to a café on Rechov Aza in the morning to have breakfast and read, since I had some time. It was more expensive than it was worth, oh well. I saw Roni from yeshiva at the café. Shortly after I went to the bus station to head to my Shabbat residence in Elkana, a settlement just over the green line.
To be continued…
TUESDAY, APRIL 6, 2010
There is a whole lot to write here about Pesach! As I have done before, I will break it down into sections – something like Yom Tov/Seder, Hol Ha'Moed, Shabbat, and last Yom Tov. This might take me a little while to finish up, as I have other things on my agenda, too, but I hope it will be done soon.