As a member of cohort four of the Nachshon Project, I have been given a unique opportunity that previous fellows did not have the privilege of experiencing. Every week, the entire cohort studies at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies for a number of hours. Each fellow was given four course options to study while at Pardes. The classes are titled: Talmudic Heroines, Jewish Identity as Reflected in Tanach, Critical Issues in Jewish Thought, and Advanced Talmud. Allowing each of us the choice of what topic most interests us allows for a deeper connection to our studies. In addition, we are able to understand how to learn purely for the sake of learning, since the classes are not for academic credit.
Since I grew up attending Jewish day schools, text study was not a foreign concept to me. In fact, in my experience at a secular university, I struggled to adjust to the lack of text study as a young adult. I missed sitting with a chevruta in such a deep discussion that we were unaware of our surroundings and the time just flew by. I wished I could return to my high school where we could read a line of Talmud and attempt to dissect and understand it throughout an entire class period. When I heard about this opportunity to study at Pardes, I was excited to return to this kind of learning and practice my skills that have been out of use for a few years.
I was surprised to learn that many people did not approach this experience with the same eager excitement that I did.
Cohort Four of the Nachshon Project is comprised of forty-one college juniors who are all active leaders in their campus and camp communities. There are 41 leaders, each passionate and bright, but there is a component to this cohort that could not be read or synthesized through our resumes or applications—our energy and persona. Most of us did not know each other prior to our arrival in Ben Gurion Airport. The community that has been built in the last month is nothing short of spectacular. The kaleidoscope is the metaphor that comes to mind to aptly describe the unification and bond I feel with this cohort and the ideas and inspiration that my cohort members have inspired within me.
As we take the bus up north to the Galilee, we sit and huddle around each other to passionately discuss sexual ethics and Halacha, Jewish continuity, and failures of Jewish literacy across different institutions across America. The respectful space within which these discussions exist within was so seamlessly cultivated because of the deep sense of honor we feel to be around one another. Additionally, what has been startling is the hopeful mindset in which ideas have been presented. I find that the people around me want to think critically about the topics at hand. At times, exposure to material that does not fit into the background one was raised with feels uncomfortable. Yet, the attitude that being uncomfortable promotes growth has felt intellectually appropriate and sophisticated throughout. Every day I enjoy the time spent with the friends I’ve made here, who have held me accountable to the goals I set to achieve and who are invested in my progress. I do not take this commitment lightly and feel grateful to be part of such special group of people.
By Pamela Kekst
Just over a month ago, cohort four of the Nachshon Project met altogether in person for the first time. In the frenzy of meeting everyone, each of us learned how to give a quick introduction. We identified ourselves and our stories through key words—what camp we worked at, what university we attended, what number visit it was for each of us in Israel. But as the weeks have progressed, we have each learned that there is so much more to a story, and to our stories, then the buzz words we begin with. Storytelling, and the art of sharing yourself with others takes effort, intention, and practice.
That is why so many of us were inspired to meet Mishy Harman, creator of Israel Story. Mishy shared with us the concept behind his podcasts, and the power of using stories to introduce people to new ideas and circumstances. Mishy described many relationships he has built through witnessing and sharing others’ stories and discussed the elements and tensions that bring stories to life.
Then, he practiced this art before our very eyes. Our group traveled to Tel al Ful, an abandoned Jordanian castle located over the green line in Jerusalem, and told us the story of the site. It is associated with layers of Biblical and Talmudic era stories. It was the site where King Hussein of Jordan liked to hang out when he was in Jerusalem. Subsequently, it was used as a battleground during Six Day War and has been untouched since then. Through creating a podcast on the site, Mishy met many of teenagers who use the abandoned fortress to drink and play, as well as the commanders who fought there in war. In doing so, he painted a picture of Tel al Ful as a microcosm of the tensions that define Israel: a place rich in history, with multilayered narratives, and resting in stagnation, but with potential for future growth.
In the elements of his storytelling, each of us could see ourselves. We were given the opportunity to think about our own stories and how we want to share them with others. As one fellow explained, Mishy’s lesson is to ask questions and not make assumptions. Rather than using buzz words to describe ourselves, we owe it to each other in this experience to look deeply at the angles and narratives of our stories and practice storytelling with the intention Mishy exhibits.
By Elana Pogal
Life has some unexpected twists and turns but we must stay true to who we are.
Tamir Goodman, was one of the best high school basketball in his day. At age 17, he was ranked as the 25th best basketball player in the United States. He was also a student at an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva day school. Goodman was proud of both of these parts of his identity. At the time, because he was such a talented basketball player, Goodman was being scouted by a variety of Division I schools. One of these schools, the University of Maryland, offered him a full tuition scholarship. Goodman excitedly accepted the scholarship on the condition that he would not have to play on Shabbat or other Jewish holidays.
Goodman quickly became a known sports personality around the world and even was awarded the nickname “The Jewish Michael Jordan”. However, things took an unexpected turn. First, all the craze of Goodman’s fame quickly became too much for his small Yeshiva high school to handle so the school informed Goodman that he would have to transfer before his senior year. To make matters even more difficult for Goodman, while all of this craziness was ensuing, Maryland decided that he would have to play basketball on Shabbat even though they had previously promised him that he would not need to.
These dilemmas left Goodman in a tough spot. Not only did he not know what high school to attend for senior year, but he chose to give up his Maryland scholarship, something he had worked his entire life for. Goodman had to make a conscious choice for the first time in his life: Judaism or Basketball.Continue reading →
By Ami Nadiv
This past week, Nachshon had the pleasure of hearing from the celebrated author and journalist, Matti Friedman. Originally from Toronto, Friedman immigrated to Israel a little over 20 years ago. While in Israel, Friedman worked as a news reporter for the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press (henceforth: AP). The AP is one of the premier accumulators and organizers of news material in the world. Friedman’s insights on the media’s “obsession” with Israel stem from his personal experience working for the AP.
Friedman’s central argument is that Israel currently experiences a disproportionate amount of attention in the global media. He reported that more than 40 full-time staffers cover Israel and the Palestinian territories, which is greater than the number of staffers covering China, India, or Russia, and more staffers than those covering the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa. Furthermore, Friedman observed that the death toll from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years is equal to that of some of America’s safer cities, which receive far less media attention. Moreover, in the last 100 years the Arab-Israeli conflict has claimed fewer lives and displaced fewer people than the Syrian genocide has in just the last few years, and yet, the international spotlight shines ever brighter on Israel.
Friedman argued that the “global mania” surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict is rooted in a history of anti-Semitism. He suggested that Western society often projects its moral dilemmas onto the Jews as a way of externalizing moral conflict. For example, in America, people of color face systemic oppression and persecution at the hands of a white hegemony. Thus, America, in an attempt to escape moral responsibility, projects its own moral struggles onto the Jewish people and, accordingly vilifies Israel for “Israel’s” moral shortcomings. Friedman also underscored the hypocrisy inherent in such a process: China accuses Israel of cultural erasure, America accuses Israel of displacing a native people, and Russia accuses Israel of deploying disproportionate force. According to Friedman, the news has become the medium by which these countries are able to project – and thereby escape – their own moral failings.
One may also consider how the current obsession over Israel originates in a history of European colonialism and evangelicalism. Israel has remained the focal point of Christian and Muslim conflict; the West’s struggle to control Israel reflects its perennial crusade to control the “Holy Land” and the “barbaric” Middle-East. In this way, the obsession over the conflict also reflects a unique admixture of European colonialism and anti-Semitism.
Friedman does make a strong case for the disproportionate amount of attention Israel experiences in the media, and while most of his analysis resonates with met, I believe his attempt to locate a history of anti-semitism as the exclusive – or even primary – source for Israel’s attention obscures the structural inequalities that exists in Israeli society.
I live in Jerusalem. (I have to keep reminding myself.)
My stop on the lightrail is Machane Yehuda. (No, that doesn’t get old.)
Shopkeepers like to speak to me in Hebrew, then roll their eyes and switch to English as I stare at them blankly. (Keep telling me I look Israeli, though, and maybe the language will come with the vibe.)
My first night in Jerusalem was pitch-black.
Nearly four weeks ago, we embarked on a five (plus!) month journey in Israel, and I spent my first night in Jerusalem completely in the dark. Not even four hours after we moved into our apartment in Nachlaot, we blew a fuse. The washing machine stopped spinning; the dryer stopped whirring; the dishwasher stopped sudsing. All the lights went out; the room got cold; and I could hear all three of my roommates exclaim from downstairs, “What the hell?”
Despite our best efforts—putting our Jewish geography skills to the test, Facebook messaging a Ramah celebrity, FaceTime-ing all of our (questionably handy) fathers—the apartment stayed dark. Frustrated, stressed, confused, and guilty, we WhatsApp’d our landlord and tried to fall asleep. Yet, there’s something about enforced darkness: even those who insist on barring any light from entering the room as they sleep reject the possibility that light is entirely out of reach.
There’s a desperation inherent to inaccessibility, and even the strongest among us are wont to revert to children in need of nightlights when the room goes dark of its own accord.
“What are we doing here,” we ask. “How did this happen? What did we do wrong? Can we do anything right?”
These questions are too heavy for the first night, in a new place, with new people, with unfamiliar culture and customs and language. But the next day, at the shuk, with the memory of darkness all too close, all the questions come up again. Continue reading →
By Sari Mishell
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Hebrew University. The longest amount of time I’ve ever spent in Israel was three weeks at most. As incredible as the Opening Conference was, it didn’t quite feel like Israel was my home.
After seven years of overnight camp, I learned that nothing feels more permanent than putting sheets on a bed. That was also true for my apartment in the student village or kfar hastudentim. I put my new Israel sheets on my bed and knew my semester was just beginning.
Next to the kfar hastudentim is a British World War I cemetery, which I believe demonstrates the perfect contradiction of Jerusalem—an old, war-time cemetery next to a place of young, vibrant learning.
Hebrew University is also a contradiction of sorts—it is an old place with ancient, garden tombs and discoveries in dance, literature and language. Something else that strikes me is the love that Hebrew U inspires from all walks of history. On the first day of orientation, I picked up schnitzel from the Frank Sinatra Dining Hall and sat on the Nancy Reagan Pavilion. Continue reading →
By Yosef Nemanpour
November 5th was the day my study abroad office at my home school of UCLA asked me to make my final decision of whether or not I would be spending my Spring semester at Hebrew University. Every fiber of my being wants to say it was an obvious decision because in hindsight I would never have wanted to miss this opportunity—but it simply wasn’t an easy one. In my three years of post high school education, I have attended four different institutions, and I am too well acquainted with the necessary process that accompanies a change in environment. It means making new friends, adjusting to a new schedule, a new campus, and in the case of study abroad its learning and being immersed in a new language, new currency, and a very different culture, all without the proper support one has back home. On top of all of this expected baggage that comes with studying abroad, I had not yet heard back from The Nachshon Project as to whether or not I had been accepted, and I knew that without The Nachshon Project I would not choose to voluntarily go through this relocation process again. So deciding on how to proceed with my study abroad office was simply a question of do I want to be comfortable in my institution, or do I want to get out of my comfort zone…again.
Most of my worries were thankfully cleared up the first day in Israel after arriving for The Nachshon Project orientation at the Dan Caesarea. That week my biggest worry—making new friends—was cleared completely.
As an American studying abroad in a country in which a language other than my own is spoken, I saw this semester as a fascinating opportunity to immerse myself in a unique cultural environment. A semester in Israel is a chance to learn from teachers, friends, and from my surroundings, especially when it comes to Hebrew. I learned Hebrew from Kindergarten until 12th grade at the Schechter School of Long Island, and it was always one of my favorite subjects. I left day school with what seemed to be a fairly vast knowledge of the language, but after three years without practice, living in a Hebrew-speaking country seemed both exciting and challenging.
Once actually arriving in Israel, I was unpleasantly surprised to realize how much Hebrew I had forgotten over the past three years. However, I knew that the upcoming three weeks were going to provide me with some of the most crucial words and grammar rules that I would need for the entire semester.
I had always heard of Ulpan, of people who said they went into the class with no knowledge and left with the ability to have conversations with Israelis, order food in restaurants, and ask for directions. I was excited to have the opportunity to improve my own language skills, and to practice communicating in a way that did not come easily.
I was placed in Ulpan Gimel, the middle, or “upper intermediate” level.
Upon arrival to Tel Aviv I was not sure what to expect. The opening conference was a whirl-wind of small talk, programs, and jet lag. Between meeting people, learning how to be good Jewish leaders, and maneuvering the halls of the Dan Casarea and the streets of Tel Aviv, we had an hour and a half to think about our goals for the semester. When I sat down on the tile floor of Hamakom I had no idea what to write on the giant white sheet of paper in front of me.
I ended up writing about goals for my professional future, Jewish future, and Israel experiences. Professionally, I hope to figure out what I am passionate about and where that passion can take me. I am thinking about possibly law school, working in development in the Jewish non-profit world, or getting a master’s degree in public health and working for the CDC. While my passions lie within many different fields, I am hoping to focus them in and make some decisions about post college plans. I am also hoping to strengthen my relationship with Israel and Judaism through exploring different modes of connecting with my community and with God. I want to sharpen my Jewish leadership skills and bring an intellectually sound opinion of Israel back to Emory and back to Ramah in the Rockies.
The best part about the program was hanging up my white goal sheet next to 40 other similar goal sheets. Looking around at other’s goals reminded me of some that I had missed, and gave me the opportunity to learn more about my peers for the next four months. We had only known each other for four days, and I could already tell we would be fast friends! This activity reminded me of the importance of sharing values and goals with the people in my life.
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