This weekend we traveled to The Negev for our Onward Israel Shabbaton. We had a full weekend of lectures and "field trips" planned for us with a few of the other Onward Israel groups from other cities. As you can imagine, we were not too excited to be leaving our comfy apartments to stay in a hostel in the desert. We were also mad that we had to miss Laila Lavan (White Night) for the Shabbaton. Laila Lavan is one of the biggest cultural events in Tel Aviv where there are parties and concerts all night long, and the museums stay open later and there are free exhibits and tours offered. Although we all went into the weekend with somewhat negative attitudes, some good actually did come of it.
On Thursday we drove to Jerusalem where Ilan Wagner, the director of Onward Israel, opened up the weekend. From there we split up into different tracks for the day. I chose to go to the Israel Museum. The focus of the track was supposed to be on "Me and My Heritage" and although I didn't feel this was completely fulfilled, I still enjoyed my time there. We started the tour with some clothing from different Jewish events around the world. From there we moved to three different rooms. Each room held an old synagogue from different countries around the world. It was really cool to see the difference in architecture and decoration from one sanctuary to another. Each of these synagogues was transported to Israel in pieces and then put back together inside the museum, so they are completely authentic.
|Ceiling in Indian Synagogue|
|South American Synagogue|
One of the coolest parts of the museum for me was this video that an artist made. They recorded a main street in Tel Aviv on Israel's Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron. When the Yom Hazikaron begins at sundown the day before, an alarm is sounded for one minute all over the country. At that time, everyone stops what they're doing, even driving, and stands in silence to honor all of the soldiers who have been lost. The video in the museum showed this exact moment on a busy road, and it was eerily silent as each person on the road stopped and got out of their car. It really captured the power that the moment holds.
|AJ, Emily, Jeremy, Max, Sarah, (Noah's blonde hair), and Lior |
waving us on at the Israel Museum
|Museum Mirror Selfie with Sarah, AJ, and Emily|
The rest of our time at the museum was spent exploring the art it held. Much of the art was not done by Israeli artists, but it was still really cool. We saw real paintings by Picasso, Monet, and Renoir, just to name a few. Along with these incredible works of art, we also saw some modern art that we were not so impressed with. AJ had a specific problem with a piece of "art" which was simply a canvas that had been painted black. We watched some videos of performance art which were pretty crazy, and saw some different things. Noah and Jeremy say that their lives were changed by it. I am still not sure if they are being serious. Sylvie actually enjoyed a lot of the modern art because she studies art. The last thing we saw was a beautiful view outside of the museum overlooking Jerusalem. After the museum, we boarded our buses and drove to the Yerucham in the Negev.
|Sunset in the Negev|
The next day my track was about Women in Yerucham. I absolutely loved the women we met. The first woman, Salima, was from a Bedouin village just outside of Yerucham. She invited us into her guest tent and spoke to us about her business and women in Bedouin culture. Salima has a business of bringing groups to her tent to speak about Bedouin culture, and because of this she is very looked down upon in her community. She told us that most Bedouin women do not even know how to read or write because they do not finish any kind of schooling, but that her father wanted her to go to school. He made sure that she received at least some education, and did not treat her like anything less than her brother. After pouring us traditional Bedouin hot tea in the hot, hot tent, Salima told us how unfair life is for women in Bedouin culture. Bedouin women are barely allowed to leave their homes, and are never allowed to do any real work. Although honor killings are something that still happens in Bedouin communities, Salima luckily does not feel that she is in danger. She was a very inspiring woman, and hearing her speak was one of the best things I have done here.
|View of the desert from Yerucham|
After we left Salima, we went to a cafe in Yerucham that was just opened by a woman. This woman was also an incredible inspiration. She is incredibly strong and fantastic. She is looked down upon in Yerucham because she is a woman, and people think she can't own her own business. A cause that is very important to her is at-risk-youth, so she found a way to help them through her business. She employs these kids as waiters in the evening in order to keep them out of trouble. Not only was she a great woman, her baked goods were so good! Jeremy, one of three guys who chose the women track, became a typical Jewish mother and bought some of the woman's cookies and forced us to eat them. (As if it was hard to force us to eat cookies..)
|Salima and her adorable daughter|
That night was Shabbat, and we had the awesome opportunity to attend synagogues in Yerucham for Shabbat services. The choices were Moroccan, Indian, regular Ashkenazi, or Breslov synagogues. Most people chose to go to the Indian service to experience a completely different culture. Now, in Yerucham all of the synagogues are orthodox, so it is a little different than what most of us are used to. We all knew that the women and med would be separated and that the service might be a little different. When we arrived though, all of the girls were in shock. We had to enter through a separate door on the side of the building, and there was a half wall between our side and the men. The rest of the half wall was filled with stained glass that you could barely see through. On top of that, we could barely hear anything. It was so frustrating that a lot of girls left very soon after arriving. I stayed for most of the service. When we returned to the hostel for Shabbat dinner, those of us who attended services discussed our experiences. It sounded like the Breslov service was the best experience of all.
Both nights after all of the programming had ended, the majority of our group went out into the desert to relax and look at the stars. Justin bought a bongo in Jerusalem and brought it out with us. Emily and I sang while he drummed, and everyone else joined in too. It was so nice being outside in a place where you can see every single star in the sky. We had some good group bonding time both of those nights, and I think that was the best thing to happen for us this weekend.
At one point during the weekend our group expressed some concern to Ilan Wagner about the program. A lot of us began to feel that we were being trained to tell people how great Israel is so everyone will change their minds about it. I understand that to an extent, and for the most part we have all had great experiences here so far that we will share with people. We simply felt that we needed a more diverse experience. We want to speak to Palestinians about how they feel about the situations here, and Israelis who don't agree with the Israeli government. Obviously we all like Israel, or else we wouldn't be here, but I personally don't feel like I know enough about Israel to have a real conversation about it. I want to learn things so that I can have an intelligent and honest conversation with anyone regarding Israel, no matter what their thoughts are.
Ilan invited our group to meet with him on Saturday so we could express these concerns. I think that we were all pleased with his response. He told us that he welcomed the criticism and that he wants to give us the best experience possible. Ilan said that if we bring our ideas to Lior then he would be happy to help us make them happen. We are currently working on a list of topics and possible meetings to give them.
Overall I would say that the weekend was good because it brought our group closer together. Meeting some of the other groups and hearing about their housing made us realize how great our group has it.
|Sculpture at the Israel Museum: Love|
-On Sunday morning Lior led a group in laughter yoga. I didn't go, but I heard it was a really fun time and everyone loved it! I can't wait for him to hold another session for just our group.
-Everyone had very positive things to say about their tracks on Thursday and Friday as well!
-WE LOVE TEL AVIV!
-Shout out to the whole Cincinnati group for making this weekend great!