I have always thought of myself as ambitious—I have big goals and great aspirations. With these goals almost always comes the same internal struggle, the “Of course I can do it” and the “How in the world could I do it”. When I experience the former, I am efficient and productive: emails are sent, progress is made, and I feel extremely accomplished. When I experience the latter part of the dialogue, I am discouraged and demotivated by inner thoughts such as, “Even if I finish, my work won’t actually benefit anyone.” In reality, these conversations are happening in my head all the time.
Out first week in Israel, during the orientation the Nachshon Project staff had us write some goals that we have for the semester. My goal was simply to have more confidence in myself as a leader and to believe in the weight of my ideas. I was pretty patient with this goal. I don’t know what I was expecting to learn about myself that would change this thought pattern of mine, but I figured it out on March 18th in the session with Rabbi Jonathan Shulman, just over two months after arriving in Israel.
It was a long day, we started with some basic insights into the essence of leadership, how we are all leaders in our daily lives. Continue reading →
By Racheli Shafier
One of my favorite parts of The Nachshon Project so far has been the opportunity to learn in a beit midrash. Every Tuesday afternoon, we travel together to the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies, an “open, co-ed and non-denominational Jewish learning community.” Nachshon Fellows chose from four class options, and I chose to study Talmud with Nechama Goldman Barash.
After making Aliya over 20 years ago, Nechama spent three years studying at Matan’s Advanced Talmud Institute, and then went on to complete a Master’s degree in Talmud at Bar-Ilan University. Nechama is also a practicing yoetzet halacha (knowledgeable and trained in the field of family purity), and she teaches at several institutions of higher Jewish learning, including Matan, Pardes, and Midreshet TVA. Currently she is studying in Matan’s new Hilchata program, which is an advanced program in the area of Jewish law.
Having the opportunity to study Talmud with Nechama has been a privilege for several reasons. Studying Talmud – a text written by some of the greatest rabbis in our history – has always been somewhat of a struggle for me as a woman. Learning it with a woman who is truly an expert in her field has helped me to personally bridge some of the gender gap that I often fight with in my Torah study.
But not only do I get to learn from a female Talmud scholar, Nechama is a wonderful teacher! She challenges us to examine the text from all angles, and happily accepts questions and challenges on her approach. While the eight of us in the class come from very different backgrounds and Talmud skills, Nechama engages everyone as she brings the ancient text to life.
Together with Nechama, we have explored various topics, including a few classes spent on topics in early rabbinic marriage contracts, a class on the commandments of the holiday of Purim, one on the laws of family purity, and our most recent class on the development of the holiday of Passover over three thousand years.
One thing that I have particularly enjoyed is Nechama’s usage of manuscripts.
Before our trip to Ammunition Hill, we began the day visiting Har Herzl. Our tour guide, Aviv, usually gives tours of Har Herzl and Ammunition Hill to groups of commanders in the army, a very different kind of tour than most of us received when visiting these sites on any previous Israel trip. When we arrived at Har Herzl, Aviv gave a framing for the day, and he emphasized the idea that commanders in the IDF need to have a deep understanding of their mission and the “why” behind the work they do. Aviv explained that, for any soldier that might ask for a reason why they should be serving their country, a commander should have an answer. Similarly, it is also necessary for leaders in the Jewish community to have strong understandings of their missions in order to engage and support others. With this frame, I understood that the takeaway from the day might be most focused on the importance of mission and the “why” behind one’s work and goals. However, as the day continued, Aviv also provided us with a powerful, deep understanding of his mission and reasons for serving his country.
The tour through Har Herzl was guided with stories of individual fallen soldiers and ideas about why people serve and give their lives for the state of Israel. Through this tour, we were able to honor those who are buried in Har Herzl. Hearing so many moving stories made for an emotional morning, and I was not sure how Aviv would approach the rest of the day in relation to the frame he had set.
Upon our arrival at Ammunition Hill, we watched a short video outlining the history of the Six-Day War and the battle at Ammunition Hill.
Each Friday night, my family gathers to light Shabbat candles. After taking turns lighting our own, we’ve had a tradition all throughout my life in which we light one additional candle. One reason for this final candle is connection: when we light the final candle, we physically link together, touching someone who is ultimately lighting the candle. Through this, we connect both physically and metaphorically as a family, and feel connected to all Jews around the world. Another reason is to bring in the light for those who can’t, either because they’re physically incapable, out serving a cause that prevents them from being home, or no longer alive so we light in their memory. The third reason for linking to light the final candle is that keeping this tradition each week is my family’s way of intentionally inviting a holiness to our Friday nights. We sanctify Shabbat by pausing on our last candle to take in the spirit of Shabbat and, in that moment, acknowledge the holiness, or Kedusha of Shabbat.
Rabbi Zeff’s processing group had the opportunity to reflect on Kedusha. Kedusha is the Hebrew word for “holy,” and we took time to fully and deeply understand what holiness means as well as different people, places, and experiences that can be holy. It was interesting to hear everyone’s different interpretations of Kedusha and when they experience holiness. Rabbi Zeff pushed this concept farther, as we grew to understand Kedusha as a separation from the typical. Continue reading →
By Sarah Kusnitz
Most words in Hebrew come from a three letter root called a shoresh. One shoresh that we have recently been particularly interested in is this one, ק.ד.ש.-Kuf. Daled. Shin. I would like to translate this but there’s no straight, easy translation that will do and anything I say is itself and interpretation of what it means personally. Two words that stood out to me and that were spoken about were holy and separate. Holy evokes a religious connotation while separate could be used in a multitude of contexts both secular and religious.
If the greatest capacity for holiness comes from the need for separation from the mundane then what is the separation that makes something holy? How do I know that something is a kiddush cup and not just a glass or chanukah candles rather than birthday candles? How do we differentiate regular objects from ritual objects? The only consistent answer we could come up with was intention. It’s because I have the intent to make kiddush (coming from the same root) with this glass over another. We are exploring this idea with Rabbi Cohen as we are getting ready to head into tzfat, one of the four holy cities and a place of great spirituality. Continue reading →
By Andrew Jacobson
Every Tuesday, the Nachshon Project takes us to the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem for an afternoon of learning. Along with several other fellows, I am taking a course titled “Jewish Identity as Reflected in Tanach” with Howard Markose. Each week we tackle a new subject – Shabbat and conversion amongst them so far. Last week – given the holiday – we confronted one question in particular: Is G-d present in Megillat Esther? Well, He is not mentioned explicitly. At no point in the ten chapter story are any of G-d’s names said outright. He is textually absent, a weird fact given that He is mentioned by name in quite literally every single other book in Tanakh bar the Song of Songs.
But what if we peel back the facade and look deeper? And if we do find G-d, albeit hidden and concealed, what statement does this make – about the nature of G-d, but more importantly, about the nature of ourselves, coincidences, and the phenomenon of free will? Maybe He is trying to teach us something about the necessity of humans to take action when they see injustice, especially to their own people? We investigated, by first reading the story through and then making note of any odd coincidences and textual anomalies. Continue reading →
By Hannah Taylor
“There are two types of people who go to Mt. Herzl. Those who tour, and those who
visit” Aviv Vishkovsky, our tour guide for the day, said to us upon entering Har Herzl, Israel’s military cemetery. “People who tour are not from Israel, they come to learn Israel’s history, they don’t know anyone buried here. The people who visit come to see family members, sisters, friends, who they buried following wars.” Aviv told us his story started when he was visiting the
graves of his friends who were buried on the mountain. As he mourned them he saw a tour group passing by. He asked to tell them the story of his friends, how they died in battle. The tour guide looked at his watch and told him they did not have time. This repeated itself with several tour groups until one tour leader took him aside and told him that he was asking the groups at the wrong time, that in order to tell their stories he needed to come at the beginning of tours. So he stuck around the cemetery, hearing the stories of other family members who came as visitors. And he started running his own tours.
The tour he lead for us was the same that he now gives to Israeli army commanding officers. He wanted us to become visitors by the end of our journey. Any Jew can come to Israel and hear the stories of a few soldiers that their guide picks. Aviv focused on the stories that the
guides don’t normally tell. Continue reading →
By Ianne Sherry
On Tuesday the 6th of February we had the incredible opportunity of learning with Leah Rosenthal. The lesson began by looking at the list from the Talmud of rituals that are allowed to be completed in foreign languages and those which can only be completed in Hebrew. We went on to discuss what functions speech serves in human culture including communication, music, and connecting with others. I realized that the language we choose to speak in and the words which we use have a great impact on the way we experience the world around us and how we are perceived. Ms. Rosenthal pointed out how in modern times not all Jews speak Hebrew and they also did not all speak Hebrew at the time of the Talmud. This forced the Rabbis to acknowledge the reality of Jews being connected to multiple cultures through their multiple languages. They concluded that sometimes these other cultures can be brought into Judaism however at other times they cannot.
Leah then gave us time in chevrutas to closely examine an example of each category of ritual, one that can only be completed in Hebrew and one that can be competed in any language. My chevruta and I were very excited when we thought we figured out the difference between the two categories. We noticed that the mitzvot being done in any language are the ones done on an individual level and those that must be done in Hebrew are the ones that are done on a communal level. When we came back together Leah Rosenthal expanded on that idea. She explained that it is all about identity. All people have multiple components that shape their identity including their mother tongue, religion, and the communities of which they are a part. She went on to say that our ritual lives are not molded in one shape.
During the opening conference, a group of fellows planned and organized ice breaker games for the entire cohort. They decided to put together a few Minute to Win It games. A lot of planning went into the program and then, as happens often within informal education, the schedule got changed and they had to think on their feet. The fellows who led the program had to come together to make it happen days before it was supposed to, and the cohort had to come together as a group right from the start.
The cohort was split into four random teams, full of people whose names we didn’t even know yet, and decide what each person’s strengths and weaknesses were to have the best team. As a room full of camp counselors, we all felt like masters of ice-breaker games, so pretty quickly some people had to step back and let others lead, and others had to step up to lead their teams. In true camp fashion, team cheers were created without any direction to do so, and friendly team rivalries emerged.
Yes, the classic words that start every Havdalah. Is it not the tradition before launching into a chorus of ya li li’s to sing an enthusiastic round of Mr. Brightside? Yet, that’s what we did to end our first Shabbat together on the Nachshon Project.
We all came to Nachshon with our own shabbat traditions, and we all ended up praying in our own minaynim split by denomination and comfort level. It felt disjointed. So, when it came to Havdalah it was really the first time we’d prayed together as a full cohort.
There’s something remarkable about how we all know the “Havdalah” song. There are the vastly different variations of yi li, yi di, or yi ni, but the tune is almost universal. Take a random group of Jewish teenagers and start singing those first notes of Debbie’s Havdalah niggun and they will catch on as fast as if you started in with the opening line of Mr. Brightside. So, for a group of 41 North American college students it’s as common as the pop songs we’ve been belting for years.
It was recently brought to my attention that this niggun was written by Debbie Friedman, which honestly floored me. When I was 12, Debbie Friedman returned to my camp (the camp she used to work for), OSRUI, for her last concert there before she passed away. Growing up at a conservative synagogue, I didn’t sing the same songs all the Reform kids at my camp knew. When I asked “Who’s Debbie Friedman?” my counselor’s jaws dropped and they swiftly began a spirited education. I walked away from that concert a huge fan to say the least. Continue reading →
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