Thursday, July 24, 2014

Have A Purple Day!

This week on our educational day we traveled north to the Golan Heights for a hike along El Al River. We started our journey at 7:20am when we all went downstairs and boarded the bus. Luckily we had a three hour drive ahead of us so we were all able to get some extra sleep. As we neared our destination, our tour guide began telling us about our surroundings. We drove along the fence that marks the border with Jordan, and he pointed out the old bridge where a train used to be able to travel from Israel to Jordan. As the bus got higher and higher into the Golan Heights, we were able to see into the valley between Israel and Jordan, and at one point we could see Syria as well.    

When we arrived at our destination, we all put on our hats and took our 3 liters of water and set out on what we thought was a "nice hike." In reality, it was pretty tough. There was one part that was nice though, the gorgeous place we were hiking through. We were surrounded by tons of different kinds of trees and plants. We saw a few waterfalls and stopped at one to cool down. We also saw cacti with sabras (prickly pears) on them! Some of us got to taste the sabra as well. Our tour guide told us that sabras are like Israeli men, tough and prickly on the outside, but sweet on the inside. We hiked for about two hours, and it was not easy. I am still sore!

Shira, Nikki Fisher, Liora, Me, Sarah, and Michelle

After the hike we drove to Natur Village, a moshav where religious and secular people are making attempts to be more integrated. First, we went to the Midrash. The Midrash is the gap year that Israeli teens take before going to the army. In this specific one, the teens live together and spend their days studying whatever they want. There are some classes and lectures, but mainly they do their studying on their own. They study a lot of Jewish texts, but can study whatever they would like. What makes this Midrash unique, is that there are religious AND secular teens living and studying together, which does not happen normally. After visiting the Midrash, we talked to a local man and the principal of the elementary school in Natur, which is also integrated with religious and secular students. We discussed some of the issues they faced when they chose to make the school that way.

We continued our topic of struggles between religious and secular Israelis, and the internal conflict it creates at our group meeting on Wednesday. Justin's boss was kind enough to put together a panel of three people to discuss and debate the topic for us. There was a "modern Orthodox" man (although he said he does not like the labels), a reformed woman who is studying to become a Rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, and a secular man who is a member of city council in Tel Aviv. I asked three of my group-mates to write a little bit about what they thought of both discussions.

Justin Kirschner: Our educational experiences the past couple of days have really been very enlightening. Our trip to Golan revealed an environment where students have the opportunity between high school and the military to engage in self-exploration. This gap year, “Midrash”, in Hebrew, let’s students live on their own and learn about whatever they so choose with other Israelis of various religious sects. This is interesting because the government, which sponsors non-pluralistic education, is at a challenge as to whether or not they want to fund these initiatives down the road.
              I’m a big believer in pluralism and learning from on another so I think this educational environment is great for kids and I hope this continues to grow as to maybe one day have Israeli society be more open and diverse with their education. Additionally, our experience of listening to a panel of pluralistic Israelis of different sects was also very enriching. Hearing them talk about Israel as a democratic but religious state and all the challenges they endure is simply mind-boggling.
              On one hand we have the security and war issue and on the other all these social issues which seem to conflict with everyone. This experience just added to my knowledge of the complexity that is Israel. I really don’t understand how with all these issues, (social, political, religious, cultural), they seem to prevail. I’m learning that no matter how different we are within our own religion, that we are all share common values that keep us a connected network of Judaism.

Eli Goldweber: After finishing up a rewarding and pretty hike through the Golan Heights, our group visited an interesting Mosahv. Natur is special in the fact that it promotes religious and secular jews to live together in the same community. As we have learned and witnessed through our travels in Israel, the religious divide is a major political and social issue that seems like no one wants to fully deal with. We met with a group of religious and secular highschool graduates who took a year off before the army to spearhead a new gap year program. Their program facilitated them to just study for a year or more. Together they underwent Jewish learning, and pursued their own academic interests at the same time. I really admire what they are trying to do.
              American teenagers are the youngest people in the world to go to college. 18 year olds should not be expected to know who they truly are, and what they are passionate about yet. This program will not only help to bridge the gap between secular and religious jews, but will facilitate the personal growth of Israeli teens in a way that most Americans are lacking. We also met with the principal of the primary school at the Moshav. Education is a pivotal point in the religious debate. She enlightened us by sharing their approach to this delicate topic of molding the opinions of the youth, both from secular and religious parents in the community. All students participate in Jewish learning/ prayer from a accepted text and also learn standard secular studies too. This reminded me of how a typical Jewish day school in the states would operate.
              These experiences were really put in perspective today, when the group met with a panel of three to discuss varying viewpoints on the same religuous debate. After hearing from a secualr politician, a liberal reform jew, and a modern orthodox, it was clear to me that they all wanted change. Obviously it is much easier to set up a community of 80 families in Natur in harmony than the entire country. Hopefully Natur will flourish and may be a source of guiding for the rest of the nation as Israel continues to struggle with its Jewish identity. We have been asked over and over again, and I still can’t decide if Israel is a state for the Jews, or a Jewish state, or both, or neither.

Shira Spiegel: When you live in a country constantly at war, it's easy to get wrapped up in security and look at protecting yourself as the only issue there is. And especially from a foreigner looking at Israel from the outside, you really feel that the conflict with the Palestinians is the only thing there is in this country. But the religious conflict in Israel is just as huge, and this is what we have explored the past few days.
                    There is a huge conflict of interest in Israel between the religious minority and the secular majority because it's the religious that control many aspects of daily life, such as marriage, divorce and Shabbat. But the rules don't necessarily reflect the way the majority practices Judaism. I think this is sad because what it ends up doing is turning so many Israelis away from religion because they see the only option or definition of "Jewish" as Haredi.
                    Tonight we heard from a panel of people who are all involved in trying to change this. I loved the panel first of all because of how Israeli it was! The three people had no qualms about talking over each other, arguing, and insulting each other's opinions. It was hilarious to watch and so different from panels in the US where everyone wants to be PC. But it also sparked many great discussions because of this.
                    One panel member was an orthodox guy who is part of an organization that advocates for change from within the orthodox system. He was in contrast to the secular city council member who was insulting everything orthodox and wanted to take all power out of their hands. Then there was a Reform female rabbi who just kept saying how anything was possible in the reform movement, but they weren't technically recognized by the state.
                    The bottom line of the issue is whether Israel is a "Jewish State," in which case it should have Jewish laws, or "a state for Jews," in which case it doesn't matter. When Israel was created, they decided it would be a Jewish State with Jewish laws, and that the laws they would follow would be Orthodox. But now no one wants to touch these laws because it's the status quo, and because the Haredim won't let them.
                    But people are trying. The three people on the panel are, as well as the people in the moshav that we visited yesterday. This moshav is the first of its kind because it has both secular and religious Jews living together and going to school together. I found it very interesting to hear about. The struggle of the school was especially interesting about how to integrate secular and religious learning so that both sides will be happy, and I realized for the first time really how difficult it is.
                    But the idea of both secular and religious living and working together is very intriguing, and it seems to work for them! However, there are only 80 families living there. The next challenge is to translate that to the whole county.  However, the people living in this moshav are those who are already open-minded and want this experience of coexistence and understanding on all sides. The close-minded, un-accepting ones, who also happen to the people in power, are not the people who would opt to live in such a place. The first step that I see to create change is to gain acceptance and understanding from everyone. 

That was a lot of reading so now time for some EXTRAS!

-Shout out to David for having beautiful flowing hair that is now long enough to put into pigtails.
-Belated shout out to Sarah for biting into her first apple since 7th grade! Bravo!
-Shout out to Jeremy and Aaron for going to the wrong place to get on the bus when we were leaving Natur, and then having to run after the bus when we were trying to pick them up.
-Shout out to Lior for having the best closings on his emails, for example, "Have a purple day!"

Then tonight THIS happened!

Eli in Justin's closet
Justin in Justin's closet

Me in Justin's closet

Sarah in Justin's closet
Tessa in Justin's closet



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