By: Rabbi David Wilfond
On Sunday, the Group began the “Kishrey Noar” segment of the NFTY Summer Program.
“Kishrey Noar” is Hebrew for “Youth Connections,” and for many of the American Teens, this is a highlight of the summer in Israel. During this part of the program, eight Israeli teens join the group full time for seven days. The idea is to break the impression that the tour bus is like an “aquarium” in which the participants look out upon Israel from the bus window, but fail to get in touch with real Israelis and their lives. In Kisrei Noar, eight Israeli teens spend 24/7 with the American group socializing and talking about the “Big Questions” of being a teen-ager in Israel and in America. The program is presented like a “Big Family Reunion” with long-lost relatives. Educationally this is also the part of the program in we focus on modern Israel and its complexities. At NFTY we believe that the best way to engage with modern Israel is alongside modern Israelis in a peer teen dialogue.
Sunday was a day of fun and sun at the Sea of Galilee with swimming, banana boats, and water sports. This was meant to create a joyful atmosphere of openness for making new friends with the Israeli teens and to welcome them to the NFTY Group. There were also ice-breakers and group-building activities. Dinner was at Yoav Pizza which makes boutique pizzas in a wood burning oven. At night the Israeli teens led an activity on Israeli pop music to introduce the American to their favorite Israeli tunes.
Monday, the Group will drove to Mount Bental overlooking the border with the country formally called Syria. Today Syria has unraveled into humanitarian disaster with worldwide implications. The visit to this look-out point provides an opportunity to have a conversation about Syria and the so-called “Arab Spring,” and what it has meant for Israel. Then the group will then drove to Metulla to look out over the Border with Lebanon. Here some of the Israeli counselors discussed their Army Service protecting the border of Israel from Lebanon and the sad and difficult history of wars with Lebanon over 30 years. The tone of these discussions were not a Rambo-like glorification of might, but a somber and serious engagement with the reality that Israel is a small country in a “Rough Neighborhood
In the late afternoon, the participants went rafting in the Jordan River near Kibbutz HaGoshrim. In the evening the group they had a program about Current Events in Israel in order to become better informed of the issues confronting the People of Israel today.
On Tuesday, the group visited the Druze Community of Daliyat haCarmel. The Druze are a highly respected minority in Israel with a secret religion. They broke away from Islam more than 1,000 years ago and today are fiercely loyal to Israel. This may be due to the fact this minority suffered severe discrimination under Islamic rule. There will be time (in groups) to shop and explore the colorful Druze market of spices, middle eastern sweets, and handicrafts. For lunch, the group was hosted by a Druze family in their home.
After Lunch, the group will visit Bat Hefer to see and discuss the complexities of Israel’s “Separation Barrier.” Though the fence separates the land, there is an inspiring story here about how the Israelis and Palestinians jointly purify the wastewater that collects in a local reservoir along both sides of the fence and is then jointly shared for agriculture. Our students learn there is hope even in sites of conflict.
In the afternoon the group will get a chance to take a dip in the cooling blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea at the beach in Hertzlia. This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in Israel and is just a few miles north of the thriving metropolis of Tel Aviv.
This beach experience allows our students to feel the pulse of vibrancy amongst young Israelis who worship the sun and play in the waves.
Today, Wednesday, the group engaged in a volunteer project at a Senior’s Center in Jerusalem before heading off to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Museum and Memorial. In addition to a guided tour of the museum, the group had a session meeting a holocaust survivor who shared a personal story of hope. Before leaving Yad Vashem the group had a memorial ceremony that included the Jewish prayer affirming life, Kaddish. The visit to Yad Vashem was the main activity of the day.
Tomorrow, Thursday, the group will visit the Hebrew University Campus on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. This was the first University in the world to make Hebrew its language of instruction. When the university was founded in 1918 there were maybe 10,000 people who could claim Hebrew as their first language. Today there are nearly 7 million people who speak Hebrew as their first language. Hebrew has been reborn and some even say “resurrected.” The Hebrew University has played a huge role in the rebirth of the Hebrew Language. Today more Jews speak, write and dream in Hebrew as their first language, than any other language. This is the first time in more than 2,000 years that Hebrew has become again the primary langue of the Jewish people.
Hebrew University also offers a unique perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. In 1948 after the British Government withdrew its forces from ruling over Palestine and after the ensuing Arab-Israeli War ended, the University campus on Mount Scopus and the neighboring Hadassah Hospital found itself isolated like an island in Jordanian territory cut off from the rest of Israeli Jerusalem by about one mile and half. In 1948 the Old City of Jerusalem was conquered by the Jordanians and the Jewish Community of the millennial old Jewish Quarter of the Old City was expelled as refugees. The Hebrew University and Mount Scopus were cut off from the rest of Israel and were frequently the target of attacks. The worst being in 1948 when the Arabs massacred 79 Jewish doctors of Hadassah Hospital. Nineteen years later in 1967, following Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, the U.N supervised “No-man’s land” that divided Jerusalem into an Israeli half and Jordanian half were dismantled and Jerusalem was once again united into one city. The uniting of the city has not been without its complexities and difficulties.
Hebrew University’s story and location provides tremendous insight on the conflict, and sometimes this had been sad and painful. In 2002 a Hamas Terrorist planted a bomb in the University’s Frank Sinatra Cafeteria that killed 9 people and wounded more than 100. Shock waves rocked the country as the University had always been seen an oasis for peaceful dialogue and learning. Since then the security at the University has been enhanced to make it one of the most secure academic facilities on the planet. The quest for dialogue and peace still continues amongst the students who hail from every minority community and every corner of Israel. Praised as the “Harvard of the Middle East,” Hebrew U has produced more Noble Prize winners than any other university in the region. International Relations, Crisis Management, and Peace Studies are still three of the most popular academic programs. Walking through the green spaces at the university one is inspired by the buzz of intellectual activity among the student body. It is hoped that friendships forged here between students of different backgrounds may lead to lasting relationships of trust that can become a foundation one day for greater peace between the diverse inhabitants of this land.
After lunch, the group will be hosted by a Muslim family in their home in Ein Rafa, a village at the outskirts of Jerusalem that is committed to promoting the co-existence of Jews and Arabs in the Land of Israel. The Mom of the family named Yasmin is a Muslim and an articulate teacher of Islam. Yasmin creates a safe space in which the participants can ask any question they have about Muslims, Islam and the Arab/Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yasmin is very charismatic and does her best to challenge and break stereotypes and enables the students to engage with the challenges for Israel to be both a Democratic and a Jewish State. This promises to be very stimulating and compelling discussion for our teens.
On Friday the group’s exploration of Modern Israel will bring them to the sunshine capital of Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew City. Founded in 1909, this was the first city in the world for more than 2,000 years in which Hebrew was the main language spoken on the street. Tel Aviv is about revival; the revival of Hebrew, the revival of the Jewish People and the revival of spirit. Tel Aviv is known for its unbridled joie de vivre. The group will get to see Tel Aviv at its vibrant best at the Nachalat Binyamin Food and Arts Market. Here the pulse of optimism is palpable. Here one smells the salt of the sea mixed with the aromas of Baklava, Pistachios, Apricots, sweet Turkish coffee and honey covered Challahs ready for Friday night’s Shabbat dinner. The kids love sampling the treats on offer at the market place.
The group will visit Israel’s Independence Hall where the first Prime Minister of a Jewish County in 2,000 years, David Ben-Gurion, read the Delectation of Independence and established the State of Israel in 1948.
There is the dream and then there are bumps on the road of reality. Independence Hall represented the dream. But the path to fulfillment of the dream is far more complicated and at times tragic. From here the group went to Rabin Square to the site of the assassination of Israel’s Premier, Yitzhak Rabin, who had been a soldier in all of Israel’s wars and then desired to be a leader of peace. The tragic loss of Yitzhak Rabin and his vision and the implications for us today were the thrust of a deep conversation for the group at Rabin Square, the site of his assassination in 1995. All of these activities were done jointly with the Israeli teens of the NFTY “Youth Connections” Kishrey Noar Program. There is no better was to learn about modern Israel than through the eyes of, and in conversation with, Israeli teen peers.
Friday night the group will celebrate Shabbat services at their hotel on Kibbutz Ramat Rachel located on the southern edge of Jerusalem. This Shabbat will focus on the bitter-sweet fact that this will be the group’s last Shabbat together in Israel.
On Saturday, after the Shabbat morning services, the American teens will travel to the homes of the eight Israelis of the Kishrey Noar (Youth Connections) program to be hosted by the Israeli families in their homes for Shabbat lunch. This is a highlight of the program. To see their Israeli friends in their homes with their parents is a powerful experience on many levels.
Though the group is heading into its last days in Israel, the schedule is rich with sites and experiences designed to give our teens memories to inspire a lifetime of connection to the Jewish Story and to our people’s future.