Thursday, February 24, 2011

what a beautiful day!!!

Hey World,

Today is absolutely beautiful here in Jerusalem. If I thought it was gorgeous out yesterday, today is even better. I am having one of those "life is such a gift" days (or IFLML). It's just been great.

First off I finally got my wallet back. I lost it/left it on the bus when we were coming back from our trip down south. I got really lucky because someone found it and called someone at HUC and got in touch with me. Nothing was missing, and the guy was super nice. So thank you Israeli guy who returned my wallet to me. You are the best. I hope you get lots of points for your good deed (either here or in Olam haba, the world to come, depending on what you believe)!!

What else, well today I went to the shuk. It is such a pleasure to walk around the shuk and all the more so when it is so beautiful out. I still love the shuk. so much. Right now persimmons are in season and they are my new favorite fruit. If you have not had a persimmon, I order you (as a future rabbi haha) to try one. But seriously the are AMAZING.

At the shuk there was this really awesome band playing which I stopped to listen to for a bit. They were so good! It was a sax, a drum guy, two guys on some kind of mandolin type thing that sounded really beautiful, and one other instrument that I forget. Great music!!! It was also cool to stand in the crowd and see the people dancing. These moments are what I think of when I ask myself why I love Israel.

I dunno what else. Life is good. I'm going to go back outside now.



Wednesday, February 23, 2011

South Tiyul!!

Hey World!

So after being on encounter and feeling pretty down about Israel, I went with my class on a trip down to the south and rediscovered my love for this place. Israel lets me down, but it also impresses me and is a place that has a lot of meaning for me. Confusing.

So the trip...We left on Wednesday and headed down to this development town called Yerucham. There really isn't anything exciting there, I guess the noteworthy thing is that it is becoming a better place to live after it was formerly a place that new immegrants were shipped to and just wanted to leave. I dunno...

For the entire trip we stayed at Kibbutz Yahel which is a Reform kibbutz in the negev. It's a really nice place. Being in the desert was awesome. It is sooo beautiful with all these looming mountains and different colored rocks. I recommend it. It was also nice to be in a place where Reform Judaism is accepted and used. Jerusalem is really religiously intense, so it was nice to be outside of J'lem in a more relaxed environment.

Thursday of the tiyul was my favorite day. We had the options of two hikes, and I chose to hike Mt. shlomo, which is one of the hardest hikes in Israel. It was soooo fun. The views were AMAZING, and it was a challenging hike, but not so challenging that I felt like I was going to die. There were lots of obstacles and things we had to climb on both up and down. Everyone was really supportive and encouraging, so that was also cool. I highly recommend it.

Also down in this area there is the Yotvata headquarters/factory thing. They make milk and chocolate milk, etc. So we stopped there after the hike and also one other time. They have great ice cream there, and chocolate milk, but you can get the milk from them most places around the country. In Israel (I'm not sure if there are other places you can find this) they have chocolate milk in a sounds weird, but it's awesome. mmmmmmmm

Then on Friday we went to Kibbutz Lotan, which is this really cool environmental/Reform kibbutz. They do a lot of cool work there in terms of trying to be environmentally friendly. They even make houses out of used tires and stuff, so they can reuse their waste. While we were there we had the option of doing different projects. I helped to plant some vegetables for their garden. We tried to plant them following the way it is said you are supposed to do it in the Mishnah, which was interesting. I don't know how many restrictions people have who plant/farm in the land of Israel, but there are a lot of interesting directions about it in the Mishnah. Good stuff...

After being at Lotan we drove down to Eilat to go snorkeling/have some beach time. The weather was wonderful!! I laid out in the sun and got some color. It was crazy the temperature difference between Eilat/where we were staying and Jerusalem, even though the drive is only about 3 hours!

After Eilat we drove back to Yahel to get ready for Shabbat. We had services at the kibbutz that were lead by some HUC students, and then we had a lovely dinner and some z'mirot singing (my favorite!!!!!). Afterwards I also played some bananagrams (good times).

Saturday was also very relaxing. We had services outside in the desert which was pretty cool. It was so beautiful to look around at everything. There is something very spiritual about the desert. I also read Torah (3rd week in a row!).

We had some interesting study sessions on Saturday also, and then when shabbat ended we boarded the bus to go home to J'lem. It was a great time! I think it is so important to get out of J'lem every once and a while, it is kind of like in NYC where everything is just so intense (obviously in a different way) and it is necessary to get out and breathe every once and a while.

What else?? My fam fam is here. Well part of it. My Dad and step mom and step siblings are all visiting Israel (and my bro is here studying abroad) so it's been fun to see them, even though school gets in the way.

I also taught my Talmud class on Sunday. It's a new group of kids with some of the same but a lot different. I taught together with the other teacher and next week we are going to split up, so I am waiting to see how my class will look. I taught this text (b'rachot 62a) that was pretty racy. Well kind of. It is about these students who followed their rabbi/teacher into the bathroom to learn the proper way to go #2. When challenged as to why they dared to that they say "It is torah and I must learn it." We talked about what the limits of Torah is, and if you believe that torah means all learning, is there Torah in the bathroom? I think it's an interesting question. We also talked about the limits of learning, is it acceptable to go as far as violating your teacher's privacy in that way. What if they had just asked their teachers? There are lots of good questions that are raised by this text.

What I just got back from an army base. As part of our Israel seminar they took us to an army base and we talked with some soldiers. We went to the paratrooper unit, which is one of the elite units in the army. It is hard to get into, but it's kind of funny that they have a paratrooper unit since they haven't had any paratrooping operations since 1957. It was interesting to talk with them, and see how proud and dedicated they are to Israel and to the military. At the same time I can't be 100% positive about the military since they do some not so great stuff in parts of the west bank. It's not the unit we met with, and I don't know how many people are actually responsible for treating people shittily, but it still happens. I would be interested to go to another army base, where it's not the elite soldiers, and see the differences, if there are.

Um yeah that's about it. Oh was GORGEOUS weather-wise. Oh man. What a beautiful day to be alive and in Israel...



Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Encounter, take 1

Hey World,

So last Thursday and Friday I went on this trip called encounter, which takes current and future Jewish diaspora leaders into the west bank to hear Palestinian narratives. Or to quote from their website ( "Encounter is an educa­tional orga­ni­za­tion dedi­cated to providing global dias­pora leaders from across the reli­gious and polit­ical spec­trum with expo­sure to Palestinian life."

One of my goals that I had from the outset of this experience was to write an awesome blog entry about it. I wanted to go, absorb as much as I could (while still being critical), and then share it with people who don't have the opportunity to go on encounter. I set the bar high, I might write 2 entries, because this experience and these people deserve that.

While being in Israel, it can be very easy to forget the conflict is even happening. It is not a part of my everyday reality, I go to school, maybe the gym, hang out with friends, and none of that is effected by what is going on in the west bank. Even though this is the case, there are people (on both sides of the conflict) who have to deal with a lot because of this situation. This is a reality, and I wanted to go see what some Palestinians had to say for themselves.

I was definitely nervous for the trip. I wanted to go on it because I had an easier time than I want to admit, to being overly critical of the Palestinian Arabs, and dismissing their claims, because they are "the other." I knew this was wrong, so I wanted to challenge myself as a person and also as a future rabbi to go on this program and really see what was going on and see individual people and hear their experiences. It is hard to deny some one rights when you have sat with them face to face and talked to them on a person to person level.

We did a lot over the course of the 2 days that I was there. We were mainly in Bethlehem and the area around it. We heard from a lot of different people about their personal experiences living in the west bank, and the hardships that they face. We saw the safety barrier that is being built around areas of the west bank and learned how some people are affected by it. We each had a home stay with a Palestinian family. There was a lot!!

I encountered a lot of people and a lot of viewpoints that were very problematic to me and my conception of Israel and the Jewish people. I am still trying to sort out all of the experiences I had, and come to more conclusions about what I saw and heard and how I will take concrete actions based on these conclusions.

The biggest problem I had while being in Bethlehem was that I could not believe that Jews were treating other people so terribly. As a Jew growing up I was taught to have pride for my religion/culture, I was taught about the accomplishments of Jews and how relative to our size we have done a lot, and won more nobel prizes, etc. I was always taught that being a good Jew, meant being a good person. We have all these laws and expectations for ourselves, and I always thought we were held up to a higher standard. We should be more moral, conduct ourselves better than others. We talk about being "a light unto the nations" (and while this phrase is definitely problematic, and I can address that another time) if we want to say that, than we should act that way.

I did not see this happening in the west bank. At all. For example, we were speaking with this woman Sheerin about her village. She lives in Al-walaje, a small arab village in the west bank. The current plan is for the security wall to be build around the village, totally encircling it, and they only way to get to the rest of the west bank (when the wall is complete) will be to go through a tunnel check point run by Israeli soldiers. The current check points are notoriously unreliable, and can sometimes take hours to get through. This check point will be in addition to the checkpoint in bethlehem that they would have to go through to get into Israel if they are even able to get the permits to get there, which is extremely difficult. If you want to argue that this security is necessary because of what happened during the second intifada, fine, but there MUST be a better way to go about doing this.

Sheerin was telling us about all the ways the wall will affect her and her village. Her house will be surrounded on three sides by the wall, and another house near hers, one of its walls will actually be part of the security barrier and so all the windows will be completely sealed. Her house is on a hill, along with the rest of the village, and from there you can look down at a valley, and it is just a beautiful view. It was breathtaking, I tried to take some pictures but they didn't do it justice. Another tragedy of this wall is that it is going to take away this view.

Sheerin also took us to this one woman's house, whose house will NOT be within the security barrier. She claimed that it is because Israel didn't want to give up more land to have her be within the boarders of the barrier. As hesitant as I am to believe this, there really doesn't seem like a good reason why they can't move the wall a little bit (it really isn't that much at all) to keep her within the village. Instead she is going to be totally cut off, and her house is going to be surrounded by an electric fence. wtf.

I'm not here to argue for or against the wall, I don't yet have enough information to come to an informed opinion on that. BUT even if you want to argue for the existence of the wall, there MUST and IS a better way to go about building it. It just seems like the people who decided where the wall should go were super paranoid, and treating every Palestinian as if they were themselves a suicide bomber. Palestinians are people too, and it disgusts me how they are being dehumanized and restricted by current plans for the wall. This is no way to treat other people.

The first day we went to an elementary school called the hope flowers school, which is a private Palestinian school. We learned about the special counselling services they offer for the kids there. We spoke with Ghada who is one of the leaders of the school, and whose father founded the school. She was speaking about how many kids in the school that have been traumatized by Israeli soldiers. She mentioned that there were kids that had been traumatized by having their houses searched by Israeli soldiers. So again, maybe these house searches are necessary, but I'm sure there must be ways to conduct them that don't traumatize these kids. There are many people we heard from that get scared when they see a yarmulke, or hear Hebrew being spoken. That really broke my heart to hear, but at the same time, after hearing what everyone had to say, I am not surprised.

One of the parts that I think is going to stay with me the most is my homestay. Me and my friend Allie, stayed together at this Palestinian-Muslim family's home. Attalla, was the "man of the house" he and his wife were so kind and welcoming. They were such sweet people. These are the people that I am going to think of when I am tempted to marginalize Palestinian's rights and quality of life, in favor of some policy that will benefit the Jews, but at a cost. They were so warm, and really Palestinian hospitality is incredible.

I left this trip on Friday feeling lost and confused and angry and sad all at the same time. One of the challenging parts of all this was that right after we got back, we had an hour to get ready before shabbat. I went from being in the west bank, to being in services in less than 2 hours. It was especially hard because I felt so let down by the conduct of my fellow Jews who were enacting these policies and allowing so much b.s to happen in the west bank. There is a prayer that we say at every service, called the Aleinu, which thanks God for making us unique as a people. While I was saying it this Friday night I was thinking about how this is not true, and I was praying for it to be true. We should be a good example of how to behave and conduct one's life in a positive way. There are Jews who do things that certainly don't set us apart, we should hold ourselves to a higher standard, I pray for our behavior as a people (especially the way we act towards Palestinians) to exhibit this. We are told to be kind to "the stranger dwelling within our midst" and as a whole this is not happening here.

I went to a shabbat lunch on Saturday, and ended up speaking a little about my experiences and getting into an argument. I was still hesitant to share my experiences as I was still processing the whole trip, but I shared some. I was sharing what I had seen, and how bad the situation was in the west bank for many people. One person at the lunch (who had made aliyah and served in the army) was arguing back that actually relative to the other Palestinians in refugee camps in Lebanon and Gaza, the Palestinians living in the West Bank had it better. While this might certainly be the case, it still doesn't make it OK. Just because the unemployment in Lebannon for the Palestinians is at like 60% or more (I don't remember), doesn't make the 43% unemployment in Bethlehem ok (again not that this is entirely Israel's fault, there are also problems within Palestinian society and government).

I was accused of swallowing the propaganda that encounter had fed me. Which really angered me. I think one of the great things about encounter is that we are presented with many different viewpoints (yes all Palestinian, but different) and we are not told what to think, we are left to do what we want and come to the conclusions we want about the experience we had. Even though I am very aware that some of our speakers presented things with a certain slant, you can't just totally invalidate everything they say because of that, or everything I saw. In addition there is so much propaganda on both sides. He was arguing that the route of the security barrier was carefully planned and thought out for maximum security. Maybe this is true, but then how come when the village of Al-walaje was requesting the route to be slightly adjusted the only reason the Israeli defense gave for the route to remain the same was that if it moved it would be too close to the biblical zoo. That doesn't sound like security to me, that sounds ridiculous. As Sheerin said, the animals are already in cages, what do they care?

A side comment that was made during this argument was especially infuriating to me, even though I didn't respond to it at the time. One person said how it's a problem that Jews love arabs more than they love other Jews (in reference to being sympathetic to the Palestinians situation). GAHHHHHHHH. I'm not sure if he was including me in this category, but seriously? Do you know what I'm in school to do? Do you know that I am dedicating my LIFE to serving the Jewish people? How dare you say that. I wasn't offending that he was implying that I like Arabs, I would say that I decide on a person to person basis, but that is the same for any nationality/ethnicity, etc. I was furious because of the way I felt discredited and how this definitely happens in circles I run in. Once you show sympathy towards the Palestinian situation people will brush you off as a crazy liberal, or as anti-Israel. I think this is partially a coping mechanism because if everyone acknowledged what was happening, it would be much harder to endorse the current policies of the state of Israel.

Just because as Jews we have been persecuted and have had horrible things happen to us as a people does NOT give us the right to treat others like shit. That makes us no better than the people who did that to us. That really bothers me.

This is also difficult because I am not anti-Israel. By making this conflict so black and white it makes it difficult to come to any solutions. One of the things that I said I would like to work on after this experience is to change the conception of Jews who are sympathetic to the Palestinians. We should not automatically be labelled as anti-Israel, or self-hating Jews. I want to be able to express myself in a way that both supports Israel's right to exist and right to protect itself, but that also is critical of the ways that Israel is going about doing this.

While this blog entry has been very negative, I do think that there is hope. The group of people I went on encounter with was impressive. I met a lot of future and current Jewish leaders who were compassionate and thoughtful, and just great people, and we can help shape the way our communities talk about these issues. Also not all Israelis act in the same way, there are Israelis who are also against what is going on in the west bank, and there are efforts to improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians. There isn't enough, but it's out there and hopefully it will continue to grow.

I don't remember who exactly, but one of our speakers said that God put us here together for a reason... He said that when we cooperate and are able to make peace that we will be able to benefit a lot from each other. I thought this was beautiful and hopeful and I would like to end with this thought.

Thank you for reading. I encourage comments/questions/anything, but most of all, if you have the chance GO ON ENCOUNTER. It is sooo important.


Monday, February 14, 2011


Hey World!

I am still working on crafting my blog entry for my trip to the west bank on encounter. It was a lot to process, and I want to do the experience justice. One thing I will say is if you have the opportunity: GO ON ENCOUNTER!!! It's really important, I think it will be one of the most important/best things I do this year in Israel as a future Jewish leader...

And just when I got back from encounter, feeling frustrated/confused, etc (more on that coming soon), I checked my email and...I got the job I wanted for this summer :-) yaaaaay. I will be working at a Jewish camp for high schoolers in NY. Super pumped!! More on that also to come.

This was like a weird preview.

Peace, and happy day before chocolate day to those of you in America (we don't get those sales here in Israel)


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Updatey date date

Hey World (and Mom who specifically requested I write a blog post)!

So (obviously) lots of stuff has happened since I last wrote. First of which is that it is a new month wooooooo February. As you may or may not know, February is the month of my birthday! Yay. It's on the 27th, so if you want to send me anything you still have plenty of time ;-)

To be honest I think I have fallen out of love with blogging a little bit. I just continue to get frustrated because I have so much to say and don't always have the energy to communicate it in the best way possible. I also think I'm much better in person, because I am very much a talk-with-my-hands type of gal (and facial expressions, which the emoticons don't really capture haha).

Anyways, last week we didn't have regular class on Wednesday and Thursday, instead we had colloquium. What is that? Well we took time to discuss Reform Judaism, and Jewish values and stuff. We focused on the main areas that are in the current Pittsburgh principles (no NOT platform that's the old one in 1885), which are God, Torah and Israel. Just fyi the Pittsburgh principles is a mission statement or more like a statement of values of the reform movement. The original one was in 1885 and there have been 3 others since then. If you do a quick read through it is pretty nice, but when I looked at it critically it was actually quite infuriating. If you want to read them:

We had a speaker, Rabbi Danny Schiff, talk to us about these principles and why he didn't like them. I think he made some great points. He was talking about how Reform Judaism has gotten to the point where we value inclusivity above all else, to the point where maybe there are some people in our congregations who really aren't Reform Jews, and the question is where do you draw the line? I am definitely all about inclusivity, but it's true, if you look at the principles they are so watered down that they aren't really saying anything. There isn't anything they take a stand on, except maybe social action which is so easy and obvious. No one is going to argue that to be a good Reform Jew you need to help make the world a better place. But I would argue that that is the same ideal for being a good person. Where is the "Jew" part in all of this? Should we expect a minimum amount of commitment to Judaism and the Jewish tradition? If so what would that look like? AND how would we do so without alienating people? Lot of questions that I would like to figure out...

In the colloquium we got to choose which topic we wanted to spend the majority of our time discussing. God, Torah or Israel...I don't think you will be surprised to know that I picked "Torah" (BIGGG SHOCK). haha. We talked a lot about Torah and texts, etc, etc. One conclusion many members of the group I was in came to together was that Reform Judaism does not have enough serious text study. This is a multi-layered problem because it can be hard to do serious text study without the Hebrew, and learning Hebrew is not something given high priority in the Reform Jewish education system. I also think it is partially the lack of training that the leaders of the movement have in text study. I don't know what the rest of my time at HUC will look like, but in our first year of rabbinical school we only have 1 semester of Rabbinic texts...that is NOTHING. We do have more bible, but yeah serious text study doesn't seem to be emphasized so much, at least in this year. I also think that there is a fear that the texts aren't interesting enough, or something. I don't know. There is soooooooooo much good stuff in the Torah and in the Talmud and midrash etc etc etc, and I really think that you can make it appeal to people on different levels and from different backgrounds. That is something that I want to do and work to do in my future rabbinic career. Reform Judaism should reclaim our sacred texts. We don't have to sit around and talk about how this text makes us feel, and then read poems. No. We can study the text and look at the commentators on the text (like Rashi) and see what they have to teach us. Then we can go and relate to it, but the text is so rich that we do it a disservice by skimming over it quickly, or just not dealing with it at all. I think you can make almost anything interesting, you just have to find your angle.

See look, now I'm just ranting. Oy vey. This is something I am passionate about.

So today we had a class field trip to beit she'arim and tsippori. It was pretty cool. Tsippori has some rad mosaics and also what they call the "mona lisa of the galilee" or something like that.

Tomorrow I am heading off to the west bank (Bethlehem) on a program called Encounter. For all day tomorrow and most of the day Friday I, along with a group of about 25 other Jewish leaders, will be going around the west bank and meeting with different Palestinians to hear about their lives and their personal narratives. To be honest I am a bit nervous about going. I am sure I am going to hear stuff that I don't want to hear, BUT I think it is so important to go. It would be unacceptable for me, as a future Rabbi and Jewish leader, to not go on this trip. It is so easy to push away the "other" and make sweeping generalizations, but that is not how we are going to bring peace to this area of the world.

I am sure I will have a lot to say about my experiences when I get back (but I get back right before shabbat starts so you will have to wait a little to hear about them).

ALSO this week is my bat mitzvah portion!!! Yay this marks the 10th anniversary of my bat mitzvah. crazyyyyyyyyy, but not really, I don't feel like I am anywhere near where I was mentally at the age of 13 (thank goodness!). But yeah I'm chanting torah this week so that will be kinda silly. I also chanted Torah last week....I really like chanting Torah, and I want to get better (aka figure out how to learn more verses faster, because there are some sections that are over 30 verses and I struggle with learning the shorter sections that are under 20). Patience.

With that, I'm out.


ps I forgot to mention that sorority recruitment just ended. It's been weird to see all the pictures from bid night and all the new members who I won't really get to know. Just another reminder that I am not in college. But yay congrats to all my sisters and my new future sisters!! While I am in school to be a rabbi I still have some (or maybe a lot of) sorority girl in my heart :-)