Click below to read the personal reflections of the Peoplehood Cohort 6 Israel Encounter
Michael Belfer: "There are very few better feelings than walking down... "
There are very few better feelings than walking down the ramp of Ben Gurion Int’l airport towards passport control. That feeling you have that you have just arrived at HOME is difficult to explain but for those who have done it you know that feeling.
We boarded our bus to our first stop in Jerusalem at the top of the Mamilla Mall… then walked down the fabled shuk stairs towards the Kotel. Amid the excavation project at the Kotel, we all had some personal time to spend at the Kotel before meeting up with Rakefet Ginsberg, Director of the Masorti movement in Israel. We learned all about the religious and political issues facing the various Jewish denominations, as it relates to praying at the Kotel. As you can imagine the various groups cannot come to agreements and the process is moving along at a very slow pace.
Gregg Russo: "The joy of seeing him in his parents’ faces was clear... "
During breakfast with my host family in Merchavim, my host family’s oldest son came home for Shabbat from his military service. He looked impressive in his uniform with his purple beret tucked on his shoulder. I tried to focus on the warmth in his smile, but my attention kept drifting to the machine gun slung over his other shoulder. The joy of seeing him in his parents’ faces was clear. How happy I am when my kids are home from college. I tried to imagine the happiness that they must experience seeing their son return safely from military service.
My host David and I departed for Kibbutz Erez, a MetroWest partnership community that abuts the Gaza border. While we learned about the challenges of living near a hostile neighbor, we saw the spirit of community and love that seems abundant in Israel. Despite the neighbors, the Kibbutz is growing, and new homes are being built. People are attracted to the warmth of the place. We got to spend time in the kindergarten where I had the opportunity to rile up the kids. The teachers were happy to see me leave as I had a group of kids growling pretending to be wild animals.
Lisa Friedman: "So much spirit and liveliness dancing in the... "
Shabbat shalom. point in our journey. Have we only been here for three days? It feels so transformative. In our cohort, we experienced Shabbat in different ways, but the delicious meals made with love with great Israeli cooking, the lively conversations and gathering around the table with family and friends was universal. I was able to experience Shabbat with my gracious and lovely host, Naama, her husband, Shimon, and their three adorable and sweet children and we also received so many visitors including parents, siblings, and friends. I felt their sense of warmth and closeness. What a beautiful Shabbat experience!
After a Shabbat shluf (nap) and ride to Jerusalem we met at Hamifal, a building devoted to art and local artists sharing their work. We did Havdalah and unpacked our Shabbat experiences together where we asked each other questions and offered insights. We explored our impressions and overall feelings. After a few drinks together, many of us hit Machne Yehuda. So much spirit and liveness dancing in the streets. We had a blast!
Sydra Miller: "This is an experience of a lifetime."
I have to admit, I was nervous striking out for this trip, living with a Glatt kosher shomer shabbos family for a week. Would they speak any English? Would we be able to converse? Would I be sharing a room with their kids? Would I have any privacy? Would they like me or would it feel like I was an imposition?
Those feelings melted away the moment I walked through their front door. I can’t believe it’s only been two days and already they feel like family, with me in their warm embrace. This is an experience of a lifetime. Only possible because of our amazing Federation and the incredible people who with unique ideas, spectacular vision and the most dedicated and determined follow through have created an organization overflowing with love, mitzvot, tikkun olam, and Peoplehood.
Jen Strugger: "an important reminder to slow down and appreciate... "
We gathered upstairs in one of the hotel conference rooms to discuss our perceptions on the progression of the Israeli government by viewing and evaluating a select number of the 150 posters that were prepared by students – looking to the future (2048) and gathered as groups to discuss which posters we liked and didn’t like and why. To me (and many in the group) a few of them were too cynical and fearful with respect to the future and we favored the ones that were more collaborative and uniting (more hopeful).
After 3 hours of touring, learning, and many many pictures of the Old City, we paired off with our new “dates” for lunch. I was paired with Ayala and (total bonus!) adorable baby Beeri. We had a lovely lunch and missed the bus, but we were not the only ones. I love and appreciate that many of the Israeli’s live for the moment and sometimes (!) run a little late and are not as anxious as some of us (me!) Americans and rule followers. For me it is an important reminder to slow down and appreciate the moment.
Last stop was “What is Peoplehood” with Shelley Kedar, the Director of Connecting the Jewish People at JAFI. We engaged in a detailed discussion about Israel and America and views of being Jewish outside of Israel and efforts that could be needed to close the gap on the younger generation’s perception of and engagement with Israel. A few insightful comments were made by the group on how we can work together to continue to move the conversation and engagement forward.
Joan Sturm: "plans of the newly elected Israeli government"
We started our day with a presentation from Uri Keidar, the Executive Director of Israel Hofsheet, a non-partisan organization that works to advocate for policy change on issues of religion and state in Israel.
We are grateful for his organization and were delighted to hear how our Federation contributes funds for their work to highlight inequalities contrasted to outstanding communities ranked across Israel.
We learned about the wonderful social change fellowship program, Yahel, and met four of the impressive and inspirational fellows currently working in meaningful placements in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rishon LeZion. Each one’s story was moving and hopeful for our future.
The Israeli organizers did not disappoint as they arranged for an amazing tour guide at the Anu Museum at Tel-Aviv University. She swept us through the entire museum built around the concept of the Jewish Tree of Life and its many branches. We were so impressed with the array of beautiful and creative interactive exhibits.
Yael Birin: "we were all sitting at the edge of our seats"
We visited a hotel in Arad that was being leveraged as a temporary home for olim (immigrants) from Ukraine and Russia. They arrive to Arad and stay there for two weeks while their preliminary immigration processes are being worked out, including opening bank accounts, finding apartments, and other bureaucracies. We arrived at the hotel bringing winter blankets for the new olim , as they usually arrive with little to no belongings, and the nights in Arad are very cold right now. Locals in Arad and our GMW staff constantly gather clothing, house appliances, and anything else the new olim need. We met with two families of olim and heard their stories about the hardships they are going through. We also shared with them our connection to GMW partnership city of Cherkasy in Ukraine. Peoplehood all around.
Our last stop for the day was a phenomenal Ethiopian food feast at the Tselal restaurant. The colorful location was a perfect setting to hear the story of Beita Israel, the Ethiopian community in Israel. Naftali Aklum shared with us the history of Beita Israel, his personal story of Alia to Israel and consequently navigating complex identities, and the role his brother played in orchestrating the Alia with the Mossad. I think we were all sitting at the edge of our seats throughout this story.
Hana Frankl: "a 6th grade classroom infused with the Peoplehood concept of mutual responsibility"
There were so many highlights on our last day! Gabe Axeler of ErezIr shared an overview of the Negev region. We learned about the complexity of the region, the challenges, and the successes of the Negev communities.
We visited Moshav Ranen where we visited a Karaite synagogue and learned about this community of Egyptian Jews who only follow the written Torah. Did you know that Karaite women make Aliyah because, as per the written Torah, Miriam led the Israelites in song and dance through the parted Red Sea?
Our visit to the Ashalim School with a 6th grade classroom infused with the Peoplehood concept of mutual responsibility was enlightening. We debated, sang, made new friends and found a place for Gregg Russo to come back to continue his shenanigans.
The final mifgash of the Peoplehood 6 Israel Encounter with both the Israeli and American participants was hosted by Rami & Gali Shahaf on their farm in Moshav Nir Akiva. The beautiful view of the Negev region and the unbelievable sunset as the background for sharing the highlights of the weeklong experience, singing, dancing and of course eating (again) was an inspiring way to say L’hitraut (see you soon).