Sunday, July 6, 2014

Eye-opening Shabbaton!

Without a doubt, I can proudly say that this weekend was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had. Yes, I have had many great weekends in my life of mouth-watering food, exceptional drinks, great company, etc., but this one was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I don't really see myself as a religious person but more culturally Jewish, but this weekend really opened my eyes to how other's live their lives. Now, I'm going to give you an abridged version because I don't want to bore you with all the details about my weekend.

We started off in Jerusalem for the day on Thursday. We as in Onward Pittsburgh and 5 other groups that we didn't know. They were more religious groups than us, usually studying Torah in the morning and interning in the afternoons. We broke up into groups and went to the Israel Museum

where each group would be learning about a different topic. Now, my topic was supposed to be "Between me and my People" where we learned about what separates and connects the Jewish people. My tour had absolutely nothing to do with this topic besides the fact that we looked at artwork of actual people... Thursday night we headed to Yerucham for a relaxing night. A few friends and I spent our night just meeting people in other groups and listening to this one guy play guitar which we all know I love!

Friday a bunch of us (mostly from our trip) woke up at 6:30am to go to a Crater that was about a 10 minute drive from our hostel in Yerucham. I wouldn't necessarily say the crater was "pretty" or "beautiful" but it definitely was incredible since this isn't a man-made type thing here. We are talking this crater formed by itself! This is just completely mind-blowing to me, as were many parts of this weekend. We took a few pictures and then each person sat in their own space for about 30 minutes and just soaked in where we were. There was complete silence for once in my life and it was honestly perfect. I have never been more peaceful than that moment where I was starring into the crater, just letting my mind wander wherever it wanted to.


After the crater, we split into groups again, each group being a different category. Mine was entrepreneurship and youth which is kind of random if you ask me but whatever. My new motto here is always "yes" and any opportunity I'm given no matter what, I take advantage of it. So, even though I have no knowledge on entrepreneurship, I just went with it. It turned out to really not have anything to do with either topic, but it was still very interesting. The most memorable parts were going to a man named Jojo's house in Yerucham and hearing him speak (which was translated into English for us) about how passionate he is about Israel in general, but more specifically, Yerucham. The city is very small (about 10,000 people) and is a pretty poor area. Jojo said that he came here when he was a young child and they told his family that they would be moving to Jerusalem. Little did he know that when he got to his new "home" it would be in this random city. Although I couldn't understand Jojo, I could tell through his facial expressions how dedicated he is to this country and his city. His wife does cooking classes in the home and sells a cook book to help raise money for the underprivileged children living in Yerucham. Our next stop was to a robotics center where we learned about after school robotics club for teenagers. This was very similar to an after school program in an underprivileged area anywhere, but it was interesting to hear the teens talk about how life changing this was for them. My last and final stop was literally the most random thing ever but I loved it! We went to this music studio that an Indian-Israeli owns. All we did was literally play drums and musical instruments for about 30 minutes but I was just so happy and it was just very therapeutic.

At night, I decided to venture out to a Moroccan Orthodox synagogue, something that I have never done before. Orthodox services were new to me to begin with, but throwing in a Moroccan twist was something fresh. The service ended up being a bust and I only stayed for about 20 minutes since there was a divided men and women's section and I could barely hear or understand anything. A few of us went back to the hostel where we ended up sitting on a women's discussion with two of the rabbi's wives. They both told their stories about growing up, and one of them was actually raised reform. They also took a question and answer session which was so informative and very interesting. We also heard from a girl our age who grew up reform and recently decided to become modern Orthodox. Her story was incredibly moving and it actually brought tears to my eyes. I have met many Orthodox Jews before but have never really taken the time to ask them deeper and more meaningful questions about their practices and beliefs.

My favorite part of the entire trip, though, was the panel of rabbis and their wives on Saturday morning. The four of them decided to run a panel where we could ask as many questions as we wanted and no topic was off limits. Many questions were asked that I could relate to and some were more religious based questions, mostly asked by the more religious people in the groups. Questions such as, why do bad things happen to good people, do Jews believe in reincarnation, specifics about the Torah, etc. were all asked and answered. This breakout session really got me thinking about my own beliefs and what being Jewish actually means to me. Most of my friends and I were raised in a "culturally Jewish" society, and when asked, I usually say that I'm just culturally Jewish. This means that I follow all of the values of what it means to be a Jew and was raised in a "Jewish" home. But, what does that even mean exactly? Just because I was bat mitzvahed, go to services on the holidays, and eat kugel and challah... does that really make me Jewish? Many questions poured through my head and although I don't have an answer to anything yet, I'm now on a journey to find my own Jewish identity.

I can't really explain it or put it into words but being in Israel just brings everything back home. Everything that happened with the three boys, now the kidnapping of a Palestinian boy, rockets being fired, all of that stuff is scary and sad, yes, but in my opinion, it is very thought-provoking as well. I am the first to admit that I don't read the news, am not caught up on current events, and before being here, I can confidently say that I really didn't care. How could something going on in Israel or the Middle East actually affect me when living a life of carefreeness in the US? Even if I did read up on current events, what would that even do? Would I do it just so I could have an intellectual conversation with someone? Because in my opinion prior to being here, one person can't make a difference when it comes to this stuff. How can one person change a nation of suffering when the Jewish people themselves can't even agree on beliefs?! But, after being in Israel for almost a month now, I can confidently say that I am now up to date on current events, I read the news (online of course!) and I actually CARE. I never thought those words would come out of my mouth but I do genuinely care about what is happening and it is DIRECTLY affecting me now. After all, I am living in Israel for two months in the height of a huge conflict.

There were many debates conducted during my three days in Jerusalem/Yerucham. Words were said, disagreements were made, and no one agreed to disagree. People could not find it in them to see the other side. It was their way or the highway, which made me very frustrated. How can we expect to have peace between nations, religions, groups of people, etc. when we cannot even come to an agreement within our own people?! Of course, there shouldn't be a "cookie cutter" type person, but we should all be able to see two-sides to every story and find it in ourselves to understand others' perspectives. Multiple perspectives people.... we've learned this in school our whole lives so why can we not apply it?

Anyway, done with my rant now. There are so many more things I can say about this weekend and the impact it had on me, but I won't bore you with all the details. If you are interested just ask me, I would love to talk more about it! Just ask Mom... we discussed this for hours last night! I'm not saying that I'm not more religious, observant, or anything of that nature after this Shabbaton, but what I am telling you is that I am more open-minded. I think the most important thing in life is to just be open. Don't judge a book by its cover, be open to meeting all different types of people, and just listen. Listen to people's stories, to their history and obstacles. You can learn a lot just by listening and observing... that's what I did this weekend and it turned out to be amazing and honestly life changing!

Now off to a week filled of food, touring, writing, etc. We are going to the Golan Heights on Tuesday for a hike so that should be a great way to walk off all the massive amounts of food I'm ingesting into my body!

Have a good day everyone and Boker Tov (Good Morning) to those in the US! :)

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