Nachshon programming has been very upbeat and energizing; we have met with inspiring leaders, felt the energy pulsating through the contemporary start-up scene and danced with Breslov Hasids. Yet, Saturday night on our Tzfat trip was, well, different. Descending from the bus, we found ourselves in the pits of shadowy valley staring up at the stars. Instead of being there to commune with nature though, we were there to visit the grave of the somewhat obscure Talmudic figure named Yonatan ben Uzziel whose burial site is said to provide aid to its pleading visitors. As each of us approached the velvet covered tomb in our own way and did seven traditional circumambulations of the roof, one could sense the discomfort. Should one really turn to the dead to find assistance in challenging times? Is this rationally defensible? Is it even Jewish?
It is the fact that saints and pilgrimage to their graves are a cornerstone of medieval Christian history that makes this last question regarding the Jewish character of our late-night trip so poignant. Why would us, aspiring Jewish leaders, deviate so harshly from the character of our history? Well, even though this question was on everyone’s mind, a little bit of research shows that there is little reason for concern. Though out of vogue—especially in progressive American denominations—communing with the dead by visiting their burial places is a religious practice rooted in our history and culture. Continue reading →
By Madeline Budman
On Sunday, March 5th, we concluded a week of physical work, text study, discussion of ritual, and spiritual exploration with a pair of kosher tefillin that we made ourselves. Soft afternoon light filled Rav Noah Greenberg’s studio as the Nachshon Fellows prepared to wrap our tefillin for the first time, and we took the opportunity to reflect on all that led up to this moment.
Our tefillin were the result of over fifteen hours of work, from start to finish. We spray painted parchment, pressed hundreds of folds with popsicle sticks, carefully placed the scrolls inside, and precisely tied our leather straps. Our tefillin-in-progress travelled from Jerusalem, where they began in a classroom inside of the Rothberg building, up to Tzfat, where the bulk of the work took place in Rav Noah’s studio attached to his home. Of course, constructing kosher tefillin involves much more than precise folds of parchment and tightly laced gid, or calf ligament. We spent much of those fifteen hours learning about the halakha l’Moshe miSinai that instructs us on how to make tefillin, and when it came time for our siyum, or closing ceremony, all of us could recite the ten requirements by heart. Most importantly, everything we said or did during those fifteen hours had to be l’shem kedushat tefillin – in the name of the holiness of tefillin. We practiced intense kavanah, or intention, to ensure the kedusha, or separateness and holiness,of the ultimate final product.
That kavanah and kedusha came to a crescendo during our siyum. We had practiced wrapping our tefillin earlier that day, but we did not say the proper blessing over tefillin, so this was to be the official first time. Our usually chatty group fell silent as we stood and Rav Noah led us through the process of putting on our tefillin. Continue reading →
By Simon Luxemburg
One of the goals of the Nachshon project is to introduce us to the wide range of career opportunities available in the Jewish communal professional world. For many of us, the most familiarity we have had to Jewish communal professionalism prior to this fellowship comes from either our Jewish sleep-away camps or Jewish educational institutions such as day schools. In line with Nachshon’s goal of career development, and the fellows’ interest in learning more about post-college opportunities, Rabbi Yoni Kaiser Blueth came to Jerusalem to speak to us about working for Hillel on Campus. Rabbi Yoni is the Executive Director of George Washington University Hillel in Washington D.C. He walked us through his professional career path and explained to us how he got to the position that he is in today. Then, after introducing us to his beautiful family through pictures, he explained to us the responsibilities of an Executive Director of a medium-large Hillel. Many of the fellows on the Nachshon Project are active in Hillel on their respective campuses, but don’t have a clear understanding of the behind-the-scenes technical processes that are undertaken in order for the institution to run successfully. For most of us, concepts such as fundraising, board of directors operation and management, and strategic planning are completely foreign concepts. Thus, Rabbi Yoni’s slow and careful explanation of these tasks proved to be extremely valuable. Furthermore, Rabbi Yoni’s talk provided us with the opportunity to ask difficult questions of him that we potentially feel uncomfortable asking our Hillel staff on our own campuses. Some fellows posed thoughtful inquiries to Rabbi Yoni in order to gain deeper insight that could then be transferred and applied to the campuses in the states.
Rabbi Yoni Kaiser Blueth’s talk proved to be so intriguing for fellows, that many of us continued the conversation with him over lunch at the Frank Sinatra dining hall on campus. There we continued to learn from his vast experiences in order to gain a better understanding of how we as future Jewish leaders could fit into the leadership structures of Hillel professional staff. Continue reading →
By Adina Lipschulz
On our Tzfat shabbaton cohort three had the opportunity to explore the mitzvah of Mikvah within one of the most spiritual of cities in the Land of Israel. The males and females where split up to delve into the differences between in the Mitzvot between the sexes.
The Nachshon women were given an introduction to what the Mitzvah of Mikvah is all about from a woman named Sarah. She briefly gave us her backstory of how she ended up in Israel, in Tzfat, and at the Mikvah. She had a very long journey that led her here to this stage in life. Sarah explained to us how for Jewish women Mikvah is one of the three commandments special for us; the other two being lighting Shabbat candles and baking Challah every Shabbat. We learned about the many purposes of the Mikvah including it being used to complete conversion for those who want to become Jewish. The most frequent opportunity for women is after their menstruation cycle each month. Men also go to the Mikvah, however it is not directly commanded to them. They typically go Erev Shabbat or Erev Yom Kippur. For Jewish males the Mikvah is just a tradition, or Minhag, so they don’t say a blessing, while women do.
There were a few things that really caught me attention in our session with Sarah. She talked about how the Mikvah is something extremely holy, and how holy can also mean separation. After a womens period she waits 7 days then goes to the Mikvah, and only after this can she and her husband be intimate. In some cases they don’t touch from the beginning of menstruation until the journey to the Mikvah. This, to me, is such an interesting idea. This separation can create longing, but also a sanctity of touching within a marriage is rediscovered and constantly thought of for those who practice this. Continue reading →
By Aaron Torop
“JUDAISM. IS NOT. A RELIGION.” Anyone who has had the privilege to speak with Avraham Infeld will be able to hear these words echoing in their mind loud and clear. But his message goes much deeper than a definition of what Judaism is (or is not); he believes that we must “re-oralize” the Torah in order to allow the Jewish people to continue to flourish.
The Oral Torah, also known at the Mishnah, used to be just that: oral only, until Yehuda ha-Nasi wrote it down after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. From this initial writing down of the Oral Torah, the Talmud and the vast expanse of laws that follow. Mr. Infeld believes that this writing down has created problems for Judaism because it has prevented the Oral Torah from continuing to be interpreted in different ways as our understanding of society and the Oral Torah changes.
If we accept Infeld’s charge, the results could be radical and scary. This phrase, “re-Oralize the Torah,” calls into question thousands of years of Rabbinic Jewish thought, laws, and customs. It calls literally everything we know about Judaism, from leadership to prayer to holiday rituals into question: what stays and what goes?
These questions are new for some, and old news for others. My progressive background has taught me to question everything, invent what I don’t find, and teaches that the prayers and rituals we create today are equally significant as those created in the time of the Talmud. Continue reading →
By Daniel Albert
When I got my first set of tefillin before my Bar Mitzvah, I had such a love. I would put them on to practice multiple times a day. When the day came that I was to do the mitzvah of wearing tefillin for the first time as a Bar Mitzvah, I expertly wrapped them with a smile on my face.
Eight years later, putting them on every morning besides Shabbat, my love and desire to wear the tefillin has significantly worn down. I have missed a lot of days, and when I am able to put them on, I don’t usually have the same passion as I did when I was twelve and thirteen years old.
That love, desire, and passion was reignited after making our own tefillin with Rav Noah Greenberg. We took a piece of goat skin that was cut in a certain shape and we stamped the shins onto both sides of the tefillin shel rosh. We then spray painted our tefillin black. While we waited for the paint to dry, we learned a little more of the laws about how to make tefillin. When the paint dried, we started folding the four separate batim of the shel rosh. We then put our tefillin shel rosh aside and folded up our tefillin shel yad. We were careful by every step to say “l’shem kedushat tefillin” to make sure we had the proper intentions. We then folded up folded up the parshiyot that go into the shel rosh, tied them with parchment and cow hair, and then put them in their respective batim in the shel rosh. We then did the same for the parsha for the shel yad. Afterwards, we sewed up our tefillin and started tying the straps on both the shel rosh and shel yad.
All in all, we worked a total of about fifteen hours making our own tefillin. Continue reading →
By Aviva Symons
To begin wrapping-up our time in Tzfat, we experienced a different aspect of Tzfat than I have ever experienced before: Har Meron. When I think of Tzfat, I first think of the Abuhav Shul and Safed Candles, but on this Shabbaton I experienced something different. I was able to take a step back to see Tzfat from a different perspective: one that soared above all the rest. After a short bus ride, we found ourselves standing at the foot of Har Meron, the tallest mountain in Israel until the ’67 War.
We hiked up Har Meron for about two hours, watching the flowers bloom around us with each passing step. Each of us followed the steps of the person in front of us, creating our own distinguished path as a group, like Nachshon would have done. Throughout the incline, we were able to experience the State of Israel: to feel its core beneath our feet and birds’ chirping in our ears. As a future educator, I appreciated how we were able to experience Tzfat with each of our five senses throughout the Shabbaton, and that we were able to feel Eretz Yisrael with our feet before wrapping our T’fillan one more time and heading home to Jerusalem.
By Gracie Gottlieb
A few weeks ago, we had the privilege of participating in Rabbi Noah Greenberg’s Kesher Tefillin Program. All in all we spent about a total of 15 hours creating our own individual pairs of Tefillin. We learned the texts in which tefillin is discussed in the Torah and Oral Law and discussed the importance of the mitzvah as well as its significance. Seeing the passion and excitement that sparked from Rabbi Greenberg when he discussed Tefillin was simply incredible. His enthusiasm for the mitzvah created such a special environment.
Making Tefillin was one of the most interesting, rewarding, complex and emotional experiences I have had thus far on the Nachshon project. To be honest, I went into this experience a bit skeptical. Coming from a Camp Ramah background but moving more towards the Orthodox world, I never really understood my personal relationship with Tefillin. I had never learned how to put them on nor have I had the access to them. I understood this is a mitzvah that I am not commanded to partake in but because of that I knew nothing about tefillin besides the fact that thinking about me wearing them kind of made me uncomfortable. I had many questions like what really is the significance of tefillin and why do I feel as though it’s not for me?
Prior to the workshop, I began to read about a woman’s relationship with tefillin but it was hard to be able to articulate my understanding and feel as though I had clarity. Then throughout each session, Rabbi Greenberg encouraged us to try on our tefillin. I felt overcome with emotion as the complexity of my relationship with this ritual was so unclear. Continue reading →
By Shayna Roth
Friday night tefillot in Tzfat was, for me, an experience of realizing authenticity and unity of Jewish practice. As always on our shabbatons, our cohort was provided numerous options for shuls to attend for Kabbalat Shabbat and ma’ariv services. The fellows split off into a few different groups heading in different directions, and I was with the majority of girls, headed to a Breslov shul which we had heard was going to have very spirited singing and davening. The shul was large and absolutely beautiful, but the nature of the service immediately surprised a lot of us; we were expecting the separated women’s balcony, but we were not anticipating being expected to pray silently to ourselves while the loud, mumbling noises from the men’s section below overwhelmed the room. While we appreciated the new experience this shul provided, there was a general consensus of wanting to try another one in effort to have a more personally meaningful davening experience where we could feel apart of what was going on.
We ended up at a Carlebach shul, which was so crowded that there was an overflow of people out the doors on both the men and women’s sides, down the entrance stairs, and onto the narrow stone street. It was interesting to see how the shul was separated on the inside, with a mechitzah down the middle and even different doors for entry, yet the overflow caused the separation to be less strict as there is, after all, no mechitza outside, and people simply resumed davening as normal regardless of their proximity to each other. By the time we found a place to stand, we had completely missed Kabbalat Shabbat and the beginning of ma’ariv, unfortunately leaving little time and space for us to deeply engage in prayer. Yet, internalizing our surroundings at that moment made the experience so powerful–standing, under the stars, in the middle of a street about the width of a single car, huddled together with linked arms, surrounded by a crowd of strangers also eager to welcome in shabbat, as light raindrops fell down on us. This moment was so unique and so important for understanding unity of Jewish people at the core. I am sure this was a religiously powerful moment for many people, as we were at a prayer service, but for me it was not powerful religiously but powerful solely in the realness of the experience. We felt as if we were truly apart of the moment, and as ourselves rather than as outsiders visiting another’s community. It was incredible to feel like we were all there together, with intentions and purposes that were similar in so many ways yet so different at the same time. This experience was a reminder of the significance of Jewish gathering and rituals beyond the standard word recitation we often associate with friday night services.
By Molly Kazan
Take a stroll through Tzfat on an average day and you’ll probably notice the hustle and bustle of a typical work day. This city, one of Israel’s most popular tourist destinations, is well known for its Kabbalah artwork, beautiful synagogues, and incredible views of the Kinneret region. But take a stroll through Tzfat on Shabbat and you’ll find so much more. Jamie’s tour on Shabbat morning gave me a new perspective on Tzfat and Shabbat as a whole. From the moment we left the hotel I noticed how quiet the streets were as families walked to shul. The calm and peaceful atmosphere permeated the streets of the city and really helped me feel the presence of Shabbat.
A highlight of the tour for me was visiting the ancient ruins in Tzfat. Located on a high mountain towards the north, the ruins served as a fortress during the Crusader period. We walked around the ruins to a cave which Jamie said used to be a water storage facility that brought drinking water into the fortress. We heard voices coming from within the cave and as we followed the long narrow pathway leading further into the cave, the voices grew louder. The pathway eventually revealed a large open space. Sunlight shone through a hole in the top of the cave. We learned that hole was a former waterway. A group of young Orthodox men stood in a circle at the center of the cave singing Shabbat Zemirot. Some of the Nachshon fellows joined them while the rest of us linked arms and all began singing together.
The Shabbat spirit heightened immensely, and it was in this cave that I realized how powerful and connective Judaism can be. That brief 15 minutes of singing was one of the best Shabbat experiences I’ve ever had. Deep in a cave in Tzfat, sharing that unique Shabbat spirit with the Nachshon family is an experience I will never forget.
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