After listening to the wonderful Rabbi Tamar of Kehillat Tzion speak earlier that week, we were privileged to get a taste of what Tzion’s lively services are like with Mizrahi Musician Hadas Pal Yarden. Not only did we get to listen to their music, but it was also part of our Kabbalat shabbat experience in our Baaka Shabbaton. Our entire cohort was colored by the magical sounds of Hadas’s voice while we brought in shabbat. The music was different from anything I had ever experienced and the chords transported me to a different place. The music had the familiar words of kabalat shabbat service, but it very much centered around the unique melodies and tones. I was even invited to go up and sing with Hadas. I learned that a lot of the music was about improvising different melodies in the Mizrahi framework. Singing with Hadas connected me to my Jewish roots and inspired me to learn more about Mizrahi Music.
By Simon Luxemburg
For many of us Nachshon Fellows, one thing that strongly characterizes our Jewish identities is ruach-filled singing. Stemming from our Jewish-camping experiences, many of us have a deeply engrained love for spontaneous shira sessions at all hours of the day. Yet, just like any true Jewish camp kid knows, there is no better time to unite in communal song than on Shabbos. For our first Nachshon Shabbaton, we stayed in Jerusalem in the Rafael Residence in Jerusalem. Before our traditional Shabbat meal, we split up into various groups to attend a wide range of minyanim and communities in the area for Minha, Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv. Some examples of services attended were a carlebach orthodox minyan (Mizmor l’David), a partnership minyan (Shirah Hadasha), and a conservative minyan (Tzion). Afterwards we all came back together to share a wonderful Shabbat meal. Geared with the Shabbos spirit generated from our various minyanim we, naturally, continued on singing the night away. At the meal, we passionately sang zmirot from our various camp and Jewish experiences. As always during our Nachshon program, the fellows enjoyed learning songs from the various movements. Throughout the night, everyone was able to play the roles of teacher, student, and participant. Effectively, this experience made it so that we were able to build a pluralistic kehilah (community) of Shabbat observance. After our Shabbos dinner was over, we all headed back to the Rafael Residence to continue with the programming for our Shabbaton. We gathered in the penthouse room of the residence, and continued with our singing and Shabbos spirt. Here, we sang songs such as Yah Ribon, Ivdu, Yom Ze mechubad, and more. One of the main themes of this Shabbaton was exploring various expressions of Judaism, and how they manifest in Israel. We were able to learn from Jewish educators from a wide range of movements and denominations within the country. Parallel to our theme of the Shabbaton, our abundance of singing on Friday night effectively encompassed a wide range of Shabbat expressions from our own personal experiences. Not only were we all students this weekend, we were our own peers’ teachers.
By Sam Balogh
I always love discussing and participating in activities which are so often overlooked, but are so enriched with meaning. This was the case when we visited the Zeff household and had the opportunity to bake and learn from Aliza Zeff (our very own Rabbi Zeff’s wife). Besides from the three sentences of context we were provided beforehand, we did not know what to expect as we walked in. Entering the Zeff apartment, we were met with two tables covered with baking materials: bowls, spoons, measuring cups, flour, oil, etc. Aliza made us feel at home immediately, jumping right into the activity. We went through periods of amazement, as we watched videos of challah braiding, through moments of frustration when our braids looked uneven, and through moments of triumph as we held our fresh baked challah in our hands.
During our waiting periods, dough rising and challah baking, we did two types of learning. First we studied the biblical and talmudic texts surrounding challah. And later, we analyzed the teaching methods that Aliza used while teaching us (it helps that she is a teacher). Up until this point, we might as well been in chug bishul (cooking elective) at our respective camps. But it is context which provided for us Aliza which transformed the experience from just baking challah to experiencing an expression of Judaism – one which might serve as a backbone for my future Jewish work.
The biggest takeaways from our time with Aliza for me comes down to two concepts: Joy and Ritual. Ritual theorist have a hard time defining what a ritual is. Instead they focus on the role which ritual serves in our lives. For me, a ritual should provide meaning. Continue reading →
By Chantal Rubin
On the plane on route to Israel for the semester I experienced a moment of humility, honesty, and excitement as I was about to embark on a journey for which I was certainly excited, yet utterly unprepared. Upon acceptance into the Nachshon Project, I was looking forward to the opportunity to sort through some of the struggles and big questions that occupy my thoughts— which anyone that has had a conversation with me knows is on constant overdrive. This semester affords me the unique opportunity to breath and take census of my fast paced life and contemplate where I am headed, both religiously and professionally.
Starting from a young age, I always had, and still do have, great difficulty choosing a definitive path. I have always been someone that likes to occupy the middle ground, gaining the most from all sides. Whether it be answering “yes” or “no” to a question on a test, deciding which college to attend, or even as significant a decision as leaving home for a year to delve into a whirlwind of Jewish studying in seminary, the act of making a decision is daunting for me.
This interesting dichotomy of choice manifested itself when I finally decided to attend a double bachelor degree program at Columbia and the Jewish Theological Seminary which affords me the opportunity to both focus on Jewish studies while simultaneously pursuing other areas of my academic and professional interests. Still, even as a junior in college I had not yet found my particular area of interest to pursue for “my future career”. I was confident in my love of Judaism, my dedication to its observance and practice, and also fascinated by the evolving world of innovation, business, and finance. I was positive that I was alone in this struggle in contemplating what path to choose. I always knew that I cherished Judaism and its values and wanted to do good in the world, but I was not sure how to synthesize both areas of my passion. Continue reading →
By Ashley Englander
Each one of us inched forward in our seats. Our ears opened, we hoped to hear something positive about the future of the Jewish people.
Professor David Passig, an “Israeli Futurist,” is a modern-day fortune teller for Jewish leaders. His book 2048 focuses on the future of Israel and the Jews by the second-half of the 21st century. First, Professor Passig began his lecture stating his findings were based on mathematics and previous world history. After hearing this, the skeptics in the room could slightly relax and hear what he had to say.
In order to speculate about the future one must understand the past and present. We looked at data from the early 20th century to the present and noticed the population around the world – including Israel. The notion of population control around the world and its effects seemed to not correlate with Israel at first. Why is the size of the population important when discussing the future of the state of Israel?
One answer: the number of Jews in the world before WWII was plus/minus 18 million. Unfortunately, today there are only 14 million Jews (those who identify as Jewish religiously or culturally) within the world. It is crucial to gain back the pre-WWII population number in order for Israel to continue to stay strong within controversial location and society. Continue reading →
By Samantha Agranoff
Rabbi Silverman was the first female rabbi to come speak to the Nachshon fellows this semester and I could feel a difference in the atmosphere. Not only is Rabbi Susan a woman, but she is also the rabbi that has most resembled the rabbis from my community back home. Right off the bat I felt comfortable and a sense of familiarity. Also, Rabbi Silverman is even funnier than her slightly more famous sister Sarah- she could easily transition into the comedy world and have huge success.
As far as the content of her presentation, I absolutely connected with almost everything she said. Rabbi Susan spoke with us about her approach to Jewish practice and how she functions in Israeli society. We also did a short text study and, although I don’t usually enjoy text study, this time it really intrigued me and held my full attention. I even appreciated the fact that she wasn’t afraid to use profanity to express herself, which made her more relatable. The first discussion we had was about maintaining perspective. The bible often tells us what various characters were thinking at a certain time and as the reader we have a meta view of what’s going on. As humans we often have no clue what other people think about us or see in the greater picture. Perspective is a huge factor in so many situations because it’s a tool not often utilized to its full potential. Rabbi Silverman then went on to discuss the idea of absolute truth and how it’s not a real thing. In theory, it sounds great but in reality, at this point in time, it doesn’t exist. She talked about how we never really know anything for sure. We can only stand strongly by our beliefs. The way she talked about both of these concepts were different than how I had ever heard any rabbi confront them. She has been the speaker that I’ve connected with the most as far as views and I’m excited to bump into her around Jerusalem (including on Rosh Chodesh with Women of the Wall).
By Shayna Roth
On Monday, January 23, we said a bittersweet goodbye to Shefayim; sad to leave the incredible week of learning and team building but excited to make Jerusalem our home for the next five months. The eager jitters among us were evident, and not even the large volume of unanticipated traffic seemed to be able to dampen that mood. At some point someone looked out the window and shouted, “We are here!” at which point everyone suddenly jumped to look out the window in awe. A few people started blasting “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” and Matisyahu’s “Jerusalem, If I Forget You” on their phones, and our shared excitement was comforting and energizing.
This feeling among our group was consistent throughout the chaos that followed in the next few hours as we searched for our bags in a pile of over 60 luggage pieces, for our rooms and keys that (sometimes) worked to open them, for the Hebrew placement test classrooms, and for a concept of direction both physically on the university’s campus and mentally as we attempted to understand all that was going on around us in our new home for the semester.
We were finally realizing our lengthy anticipation of moving to and studying in the center of Jewish history and culture, an endeavor so significant it almost seemed as if the “normal life” we were setting up to pursue here was artificial. Each of us had our own unique emotional experiences while moving to Jerusalem, but the sense of community that remained consistent within Nachshon Cohort Three was the most remarkable feeling of all. Continue reading →
By Anina Dassa
With all of the excitement of meeting new people, seeing new sights and trying some new delicious foods, we finally sat down for some reflection in Tel Aviv’s “Mindspace”. We needed to remind ourselves of why we were chosen for the Nachshon Project, and set our goals for not only the next five months, but for the rest of our short term future. We were told to think out of the box in terms of our Jewish future. Although the task seemed daunting, it was something that each of us in the room had thought about before. In fact, that was the whole reason we were sitting where we were as Nachshon fellows. We are committed to being Jewish leaders. I scribbled down my thoughts in excitement having hope that my dreams were achievable.
Once we finished our long term goals, we talked about our personal goals for the next five months. Each person pasted their goals on the wall for everyone to see. I felt comfort in the fact that many of my long term goals were similar to those around me. The people surrounding me wanted to better the world they lived in with creativity and innovation. After looking at everyone’s goals, I felt closer to my peers and I gained strength in the fact that we were all working towards a similar goal: To make our Jewish world stronger.
By Simon Luxemburg
Before the opening conference in Shefayim, we were all given the task of reading the book Start-Up Nation by Dan Senor & Saul Singer. The book effectively prepared us for the first theme of the semester – innovation. One of the first activities that we did in Shefayim was discuss this text and examine the way in which we could apply it both to our Israel experience this semester, and our goal to think innovatively about Jewish communities in North America over the long-term. Just like most of our activities during the opening week, the book club discussion was fellow-led and planned before we all arrived at the Kibbutz. The discussion about Start-Up Nation represented the first major Nachshon program of the semester geared towards conversation with coupled deep analysis. We started the discussion with a well-developed buzzfeed quiz meant to show us whether or not we had the drive, personality, and characteristics of working in a start-up. Then, after this beginning activity, we dove much deeper into the content of Senor and Singer’s book.
Members of our Cohort, all of whom come from a wide-range of Jewish and Israel-engaged backgrounds, had various opinions of the text. While some of us passionately disagreed about the function of the book and its overall message and goal, we nearly all agreed that it provided us with a thorough introduction to Israeli society. Through a careful analysis of the start-up industry of the country, we were able to understand the effect of the army and military culture on the economy, along with gaining valuable insight into the chutzpa that widely characterizes Israeli society. In our book club groups, we had valuable discussions pertaining to the function of the text, its intended audience, and why we believe Nachshon chose for us to read it. Geared with the insights that we learned from both the text and conversation, we were adequately prepared for our meetings with Waze, Google, and a variety of start-ups succeeding in the ever-growing high tech scene of Tel Aviv.
By Syd Holt
Coming from a very secular family in St. Louis, for the majority of my childhood my Jewish identity only consisted of celebrating the main holidays. Although my interest in Judaism grew as I got older, I lacked a lot of the basic Jewish knowledge that a lot of kids my age had gained through Jewish Day Schools or Hebrew School. So, throughout USY, camp religious programming, and college courses, I often sat back and listened to everyone else discuss during text study because I didn’t feel like I had anything to contribute.
When we did the text study on Friday night, I worked with two people who have grown up in religious families, and overall have a lot of Jewish knowledge. Even though I did not understand or know as much as they did, I felt different than I had in high school doing a similar text study. Instead of sitting back and listening, I was totally comfortable asking the simple questions I didn’t know the answers to. In result of this, I was able to understand and participate in the text study so much more than I ever have before.
After only a few days of being together, I realized that the group of people I will be spending the semester with are extremely special. Because of our diverse backgrounds and life stories, each person is able to learn from one another, like I was from the others in my text study group. After this program, intended to teach us about the text study of the week, I learned much more than the story we were discussing. I learned about others’ religious backgrounds, their beliefs regarding the text, and even why they keep Shabbat every week. This text study program opened my eyes to so much, and I can’t wait to see what else I am able to learn from the others in the Nachshon Project this semester.
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