One of my favorite parts of the work I do here as the community Shlicha in Northern Virginia, is teaching conversational Hebrew. These sessions are called “Hebrew Café”, where we learn not only to speak Hebrew as it is spoken in Israel today, but we also get to know Israel itself.
The Hebrew Café has been taking place at the JCCNV and also at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church. We meet in small groups, and as time goes by, we get to know each other – the level of Hebrew and depth of conversation has grown.
In one of the sessions at Rodef Shalom, I think when we were learning about the Hebrew words for directions. We were looking at the map of Israel and I mentioned that I once walked across Israel from beginning in the South and going all the way up North. A few eyebrows were raised. “You walked the whole country?” “It wasn’t dangerous?” So I found myself telling all about it…
I can start and say that it was one of the greatest things I did in my life, in which I experienced firsthand the beauty of this country, its nature and its people. How did it occur to me, that I wanted to walk the Israeli National Trail (INT, שביל ישראל)? I don’t really know, I just heard about it and it seemed like something I wanted to do, and as Rabbi Hillel the Elder said “If not now, when?”
So at the age of 22, after serving in the IDF for almost 3 years, I was a citizen again and wanted to do something fun, exciting and challenging. I found a few friends who bought into my idea, we got the maps we needed, packed a backpack that weighed almost 50 pounds (as you need water, food, a sleeping bag and warm clothes) and took the bus to Eilat, the most Southern city in Israel, where our journey began.
Back to NOVA, last week we celebrated Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the trees. This holiday made me think about the 7 species that Israel was blessed with and all the amazing trees that grow wild in Israel. I couldn’t stop thinking about the experience of walking on the Israel Trail. The happiness of finding a tree to sit in its shade in the middle of the desert is something hard to explain. Or the joy of finding ripe figs on a tree, knowing there are no pesticides on them and eating them as they are – is huge!
In the next blog I’ll write about the journey itself, walking 585 miles in less than two months.
Look out for it!
Yesterday, I had one of the most amazing experiences of my Shlichut in Northern Virginia. I went to visit 7th graders at Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation in Reston. I prepared a nice program that was to include a discussion about the differences of how we celebrate Chanukah here and in Israel and then together we would watch an Israeli TV show.
But as soon as I walked into the classroom and introduced myself (in Hebrew, so they needed to guess where I was from..) I understood that my plan for this session was not going to work out as I intended. I don’t mean this in a bad sense at all – actually, in a very good and unexpected way.
After I shared with them what my role was at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, I talked about the meaning of my name (Yael – a name from the תנ"ך, the Old Testament).
It was quiet in the classroom for two minutes and then the students started to bombard me with questions! They wanted to know about my life in Israel and more. For example, one of their questions (after I mentioned Orthodox Jews) was: “So are you Orthodox or reform?” This was not an easy question for someone like me who grew up in a Kibbutz (a socialist, rural community in Israel) and never stepped into a synagogue until I was 18 years old. They listened carefully as I gave them a long answer to a short question (that included telling them that being Jewish here is totally different than being Jewish in Israel– here I need to be much more pro-active in order to feel this part of my identity.).
But what really blew me away was not a question, but a remark made by one of the students. One of them asked me: Where do you like living better, here or in Israel, another kid made a fascinating remark, he said: “Give us the “correct” answer, ok?” (and made the sign of quotation marks with his hands!). I then turned to the rest of the class and asked them what they preferred, a “correct” answer or an honest one? Most of them wanted the honest answer – so that was it (a great lesson in democracy). Interestingly enough, this kid actually gave me the idea of how to answer this intriguing question.
I turned to them and said that I love theUSbecause living here is great – it’s pleasant, easy and people are so tolerant. When inIsrael, life is difficult, rough and people are not so tolerant. On the other hand – inIsraelpeople will not give you a “correct” answer, they will be honest, even if it’s hard to hear. Israelis are usually warm, friendly and outgoing, and of course as a Jew, I feel more comfortable there.
Did I answer the question? At least I started to. I hope I got them curious enough so that they will come to Israel to see for themselves and come up with their own answer to this question. In any case – they impressed me immensely and made me love being here now even more. I have to say they got me thinking – I hope I did the same to them.
Thank you NVHC staff, teachers and students for a wonderful experience!
I have two favorite times during the year – the high holidays (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur exc.) and the spring holidays (Passover,Israel’s Independence Day and more). Growing up inIsraelthose are the times when we got time off from school/university/work and had a long and fun vacation. In between was the winter. A long period of time, without anything really special in it to break the routine.
Here, in theUS, it’s a bit different. As we were just done with the high holidays, there are many more “winter” holidays coming. So I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect back
The high holydays this year were special for me. It is the second time I’m celebrating them in theU.S., in what would be my community for the next two years. When I arrived last year, I was fascinated! I was getting to know the Jewish Community of Northern Virginia, learning for the first time in my life what Reform and Conservative Judaism means. My friends inIsraelwere shocked when I told them I drove to the service on Yom Kippur evening and found out to my surprise that it was actually taking place in a church next door becausethe synagogue was too small to accommodate all its members on that special day.
This year however, I understood much more. I could take a more active part in the celebration and that’s what made my holiday much more special. In September, I was invited to be a judge for a Shofar blowing contest at the Gesher Jewish Day School. I explained that I never blew a Shofar in my life It didn’t matter to them at all! I found myself sitting in front of students, boys and girls, some of them only in 5th and 6th grades – amazed from their ability to get unbelievable sounds out of the Shofar! Of course I never had anything like this in my school in Israel, let alone I never stepped a foot in a synagogue until I was about 18 years old so I didn’t really grew up with Jewish religious traditions surrounding me. When they asked us, the judges, to step forward and blow the Shofar ourselves I almost laughed.. It was embarrassing (I didn’t even make a sound), and thankfully the other two judges were professional at it and the beautiful sounds they made covered my empty blows.
Despite my failure to do this basic Jewish act of blowing the shofar, when I left Gesher that day, – I was thrilled! I tried, and I actually learned something that I don’t think I would have ever done back inIsrael. Gesher JDS gave me a special Jewish experience which would never even cross my mind. And for that I’m grateful.
As a native born Israeli who loves hiking and learning about Israel’s history – it’s not so easy to surprise me when it comes to traveling around the country. But this Taglit Birthright trip, or more correctly – journey, of Jan. 2012 with GMU students and other students has done it.
10 amazing days in Israel are over now and I’m writing, trying to understand the meaning of this amazing experience and how it made me see Israel in such a different light then I’m used to. I’m trying to do all that – in a short time before I get back to the condensed, busy and amazing routine of being the JCCNV community Shlicha.
Thinking about it I understand that what made this journey so special was the basic fact that for many of the students who were on it – it was the first time coming to Israel, the Jewish home land they have only heard about. Another part of the students on our bus have never got a profound Jewish education and this was their first real opportunity to explore this part of their identity, in a special place and with special people – people like them, and Israeli soldiers who joined us for a half of the journey.
It was amazing for me to see Israel and Israelis through the student’s eyes. To see them making new friends with other students as well as the Israelis, learning about places in Israel, asking themselves questions and talking about the different answers with their friends, looking at what it means to be a majority in this special country, and enjoying things they have never done before.
One of the most powerful moments for me and also for some of the students was going at night to a quiet and remote place in the Negev desert. Getting a bit away from the Bedouin tent where we spent the night, allowed us to see the amazing sky and stars of a clear night. We could see very clearly many stars systems and we learned a bit about them and how to find our way in the dessert according to them. Then the darkness and the size of the dessert were less intimidating and we could connect more to the spiritual atmosphere and to the long connection of the dessert to the Jewish people. We took a few minutes for ourselves to think. It came out as very special moments for us, being alone and together, being silent, personal and deep.
I want to thank everyone who made this trip possible for me and for the students, and hope that for all of us going on this special journey this was just the beginning of a long, life-long hopefully, connection to ourselves, our Judaism and to the state of Israel.
I really didn’t know how it would feel to come back to Israel after 5 months in the States. I came from Israel in the last summer as I was chosen to be the Northern Virginia JCC community Shlicha and an Israeli fellow at George Mason University. I was having a great time getting to know the community and starting to bring my Israel into it.
When I found out I’m about to go to Israel on a Birthright Taglit trip I was very excited. For me it wasn’t just going back to Israel – it was going back to Israel with a group of students which half of them I knew in advance from GMU (the other half is from all over the US), the vast majority of which have never been to Israel! The opportunity to be with them when they see and feel this amazing place in the first time, to show them the little things that I like about it – is just an amazing experience for me.
I’ll give a small example: I lived in Jerusalem for the last 4 years, as a student at Hebrew University, studying for a BA in social work. I enjoyed the city very much, but I was never as excited to enter it as much as I was with the students, as we entered it on last Thursday, with the song “Jerusalem of Gold” in the background and the ancient city clearly seen in front of us.
Another thing I enjoyed was introducing the students to Israeli customs, traditions, dishes and other interesting aspects of Israeli society. Like when we were in Kazrin, the only city in the Golan Heights and we were looking for a place to eat lunch in – I convinced some of them to come and eat some Kubbe soup, which I couldn’t really explain what it was (beet soup with special dumplings filled with beef and pine nuts) – I could just offer them to try it and say that it’s one of the best dishes I know especially if we were eating in a small family restaurant like we did in there.
The weather was amazing! What do I mean? It was raining all week, as we have brought the so needed rain to Israel strait from the States! I was so happy about it.
I have so many more thoughts around this trip, I had amazing conversations and learned a lot about myself and got a different perspective about Judaism in the States and in Israel, but this is enough for now, the rest will wait for the next blog.
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please contact me at: email@example.com