As American students, none of us on the Nachshon project can say that we met a founding father of our country or any country for that matter. So you can imagine how excited we were, as a cohort, when we found out that we would be meeting with former President and Prime Minister of Israel, Shimon Peres. This is someone who has seen Israel through all of its history and all of its ups and downs up until the present day. It’s hard not to feel humbled when you learn you’re going to be in the presence of such a person. The reason that we are on the Nachshon Project is to hone our leadership skills and to be able to utilize them in serving the North American Jewish community. What better person could we possibly visit to teach us about leadership?
Peres is in his mid-nineties now and doesn’t have the energy that he once did but he hasn’t let his age stand in the way of continuing his work for Israel in the form of his non-profit, non-political, non-religious organization Peres Peace House. The headquarters of his organization is in Jaffa and that’s where we went for our meeting. The building itself is exceptional. From the outside it doesn’t look like much, a regular concrete building, but the inside tells a different story. The concrete theme continues inside, signifying the heaviness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is also glass interwoven throughout the cement layers of the building representing the hope that exists for peace and conflict resolution. The front of the building faces the Mediterranean, a symbol that all are welcome to the center and that everyone has a voice in the peace process. The room where we met with Peres was essentially a small library with very high ceilings but it still felt quite intimate.
I was definitely nervous to meet Shimon Peres. In the library, while we were waiting for him to arrive, my hands definitely started to shake a little bit. When he walked into the room I was awestruck to say the least. Continue reading →
By Jonathan Marx
How do we balance an emphasis on inclusion and diversity with the importance of finding a strong community which reflects one’s values? After spending a Shabbat in the beautiful town of Alon Shvut, my thoughts centered not on the varied political opinions about the Jewish communities of Gush Etzion, but on this complicated question.
At first Alon Shvut struck me as, quite simply, an Orthodox Jewish utopia. Arriving on Friday afternoon, we saw rows of houses filled with the smells and sounds of last-minute cooking and preparation for Shabbat. Soon after, the gates of the community closed for Shabbat, and families from all directions began to converge on the synagogue in the town center to daven the evening prayers together. Sitting amongst rows and rows of men in white shirts and kippot, I felt part of a large, strong, cohesive Jewish communal lifestyle. That night, we all slept in the homes of various families who live in the town, and we got to know them better over lunch the next day. Everyone came back with similarly glowing reports about the kind hospitality, the food, and the beautiful homes in which they’d stayed.
Thinking later, though, I began to wonder about the place of pluralism and diversity in this community. Continue reading →
By Betty Soibel
Growing up in secular Jewish household, Israeli literature was my most consistent and significant connection to my Jewish identity. I remember sitting in my suburban home in Los Angeles going on adventures with David Grossman in Someone to Run With and crying with A.B. Yehoshua in The Lover. But most of all, I remember the incredible complexity that Meir Shalev presented in his book, A Pigeon and a Boy. My mother and I both struggled immensely with the book, me with the love story, her with its representation of Israel.
It’s been years since I craved Jewish experiences and only had books to satisfy my yearnings. I’ve been blessed to have a strong community in school at Columbia/JTS, at camp, and in Israel. However, meeting with Meir Shalev brought back a flood of memories, blurry images from my childhood of how I imagined Israel before it became a reality before my eyes. It was a land that not only inspired Jewish storytelling but the place where they came alive, the characters very much real, conniving their way through small town life with endearing quirks and oddities.
Since I arrived in Israel, I feel as if that idealistic image of Israel I have always had has been chipped away bit by bit as I understand the various conflicts of Israeli society more in depth. However, I always see my critique of Ha-aretz arising from a place of deep love, and without knowing it, I had desperately needed Shalev to re-invigorate that love for me. Continue reading →
By Ari Friedman
Upon our arrival to Israel we knew that the Nachson Project was all about taking extra steps to give us unimaginably unique experiences during our semester. On Sunday, April 10th, our small group of 25 individuals had the honor of meeting a founding father of Israel for a private session. Shimon Peres is a household name for Jews around the world. He served as Prime Minister and President- titles whose importance most of us can barely even grasp. We were briefed not to talk directly to the President, not to take pictures, or to shake his hand. These were understandable requests given his prestige and age. As we entered the Peres Peace House in Jaffa I was curious if he would be loud or quiet, short or tall, pompous or humble.
When Rabbi Zeff and Rabbi Cohen went with the President’s aides to greet him at the elevator we stood in silence awaiting his arrival. He entered the room with two aides and a bodyguard, a modest entourage for such an important man. With a smile he began shaking our hands one by one. Saying shalom, boker tov, bruchimhabaim. He was pleasantly surprised to hear that we could speak Hebrew. He made eye contact each of us. He paid extra attention to the Rabbis’ children who joined us for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Once the President sat he began to answer our pre-written questions. I was astonished by his confidence, composure, and intelligence. He so gracefully and eloquently intertwined secular and religious ideas to give us his well-rounded opinions on the importance of Jewish leadership in North America as well as the future of Jewry. Continue reading →
By Emily Rebenstock
Last week we had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Stephen Arnoff, who recently stepped down from his position as the CEO of the national JCC organization. Although he touched upon his experience working for the JCC, his main goal was to help us develop our understanding of possible careers the Jewish world. Through this lens, Dr. Arnoff provided us with a perspective on pursuing career paths that we have not heard before. His relatable story and supportive attitude allowed me to genuinely think about the skills and passions I have and how I can apply them to my life-long career.
Dr. Arnoff began by introducing the difference between “education” and “training”. By his definitions, education is learning about the topics that you love and the things you are passionate about, while training is learning how to make your education practical. In other words, training connects a person’s professional purpose with their day-to-day life. Throughout his session, Dr. Arnoff emphasized the importance of identifying your purpose. Without a purpose, it is easy to lose sight of why we live in the way we do. This encouraged me to think about what I want my purpose to be in my career and in my personal life, something I had never consciously done before. He explained that a person’s professional or personal purpose may change, but regardless it’s important to periodically reflect on that purpose with friends and family to make sure you are staying on track. I really related to this advice because I believe choosing a career path requires considering all aspects of your life, something that Dr. Arnoff recognized that in a way many of our previous speakers had not addressed. Continue reading →
By Carly Abramson
Stereotypes act as metaphysical borders that separate people from one another. When I think of a Jewish settlement, I automatically think radical, violent, underdeveloped; I could go on and on with negative assumptions. Once I became aware that we were going to stay on a Jewish settlement for Shabbat, I had immediate reservations that stemmed from society’s subconscious “burn book.” Settlement: controversial, dangerous– got it, understood don’t go there. However, somewhere down the road my hesitancy evolved into curiosity, making me almost eager to experience a lifestyle that I believed would contradict my own.
The moment we arrived to Alon Svhut, my expectations were totally shattered. I was ready to dive into this controversial way of living, but instead I might as well have been back in my quaint suburb in Sugar Land, Texas (minus the fact that Alon Shvut is a Modern Orthodox community and 1/3 of Sugar Land’s size). The settlement was absolutely beautiful and the people at least outwardly seemed pretty average. I expected to be introduced to all of the radical stereotypes I mentally prepared for, but I was welcomed into a lovely home with open arms and unparalleled hospitality! It seemed that life was more peaceful here than in everyday Jerusalem, a concept that is hard to wrap my head around.Continue reading →
By Sophie Stillman
I had some reservations going into our weekend at Alon Shvut. I spent some time before we went asking myself and the Rabbis serious questions like, “Will I be safe? By going to a settlement am I making any sort of political acceptance of such communities? By going here am I buying into an ideological perspective that might be harming the peace process?”
Looking back on some of these questions, I realize I had my right to be cautious, but after actually experiencing a weekend in Alon Shvut I understand that my perceptions of this place were completely off. Before visiting, I was so hyper-focused on the ideological aspect of this issue, rather than the personal aspect. I had never thought that the people who live in settlements could be so much like myself.
In fact, one of the people we met in Alon Shvut, Myron Joshua, had even more in common with me than I could have imagined. Myron is also from Minnesota, in fact he’s from the town over from me, but he grew up in North Minneapolis where my grandparents and great-grandparents grew up. When I told him my family name, he exclaimed, “Stillman! There was a Stillman who owned a grocery right around my neighborhood! His first name was Arthur!” When I responded, “That was my great-grandfather,” I think Myron and I were both blown away. Continue reading →
By Didi Poliak
With Passover coming up soon, Rabbi Cohen chose to focus his most recent session on leadership through the lens of the “Four Children” of the Passover Hagaddah. The story of the four children is one I know well from reading at my family’s Passover seder every year. However, typically the story of the four children is told and no one asks any questions about it, which is kind of ironic. During the session with Rabbi Cohen, we looked more deeply into the four children and learned about the deeper meaning behind the different types of people.
For each of the four children, we looked at the text in which their stories are found in and thought about what their titles could mean. In looking closer, it is evident that sometimes the four children are a bit misunderstood, and that their titles are not always what they seem. We also talked about how each one of us has a bit of each of the four children in us.
The most difficult child for me to completely understand has always been the child who doesn’t know how to ask questions. I always wondered if he or she did not ask questions simply because he or she did not have any, or because he or she was just shy. There are many different reasons why this particular child would not know how to ask questions. Throughout my time in Israel on the Nachshon Project, I have learned that sometimes it is really hard to ask questions. Continue reading →
By Jazzie Morgan
In kindergarten, my best friend was the most amazing person I knew. He was wheelchair bound, breathed through a tube in his throat, and never complained a day in his life. His amazing spirit and love of life became a driving factor in my continued passion to work with kids and adults with special needs. Through my work, I have noticed a major gap in the lives that many adults with special needs are living and the potential of how they could be living. My career goals have always been to create a place for meaningful Jewish involvement specifically for people with special needs. Visiting Kishorit a few weeks ago, blew me away and showed me that my goals could be a reality.
The only way I can think to explain this amazing place is imagine the happiness of Disney world. Kishorit is a kibbutz where every single member is able to truly give what they can while simultaneously getting what they need. On the kibbutz, each individual has a job. The jobs vary from farming to baking to running an award winning kennel. The jobs are almost completely run and managed by adults with special needs. The kibbutz offers training, therapy, social activities, and a home for life. Offering a home for life is not only an amazing opportunity for the members to be independent but it is also a relief to aging parents who worry about the future their kids will have when they are no longer around. This home for life assurance is one of the most relieving feelings you could offer a parent and often makes a world of difference. Continue reading →
By Ben Hersch
A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to visit the Shalom Harman Institute in Jerusalem, a think tank which focuses on Jewish thought and connecting Israel to our Jewish identities. Engaging in meaningful text study about the “chosen-ness” of the Jewish people with the institute’s president Donniel Hartman, we discussed the ideological difference in the way Israelis and American interact with the Torah, relating to it through either exceptionalism or otherness. Most translations of the Tanach explain the phrase, “ve’heyeh bracha” as, “you shall be a blessing.” While it is often interpreted by Americans to mean we must be a light unto the nations as stated in Isaiah, Israelis often understand our chosen peoplehood to mean we must be other, we must separate ourselves from other nations like Maimonides explained in Hilkhot Avoda Zara. While its perfectly fine to have different interpretations based on where you come from, a dangerous issue arises when American Jews say Israel does not represent my Judaism, and visa versa. Continue reading →
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