Thursday, May 6, 2010

Monthly Digest

I apologize for my month hiatus from the blog. I’ve been out and about with little time to write. In fact, I just returned from a 12-hour whirlwind field trip (only in Israel!) of ancient sites in the Galil.

From Train Testing

Since my last post:

  • The Segals were here! We had a GREAT time, as you may have seen in pictures. It was wonderful to see my family for two weeks and, although three of us are together in Israel, I look forward to returning home in just over a month.

  • We commemorated Yom Ha’Shoah and Yom Ha’Zikaron, then CELEBRATED Yom Ha’Atzmaut…read more here

  • Northern Exposure…Cycling, Tivon, and Wine Tours

  • Celebrated Earth Day in Jerusalem…see photos!

  • I represented Ramah Berkshires and Outdoor Adventure at the Mishlachat training…more below.

  • AND, visited West Bank settlements, saw a Samaritan Pesach Sacrifice, then celebrated Lag Ba’Omer with all the crazies on Har Meron…click here to read on.

A Blast From the Past: Part II

The REAL March of the Penguins

  • It wasn’t long before we set out on another crazy adventure.

    From The REAL March of the Penguins

  • After a lovely night at Josh’s Aunt Shirley’s in Haifa, Josh, Danielle, and I, made our way to Tzfat. We were looking forward to spending the day there, but most things were closed, because of the Torah Parade. Every Lag Ba’Omer, for the last 170 years, they march a 500-year-old Torah through the streets of Tzfat to Har Meron. For more background information on Lag Ba’Omer, follow this link.

  • The trip was worth it though, because once again, Josh saved the day, when his friend Rafi, from Lafa Rafi (on Rehov Yerushalayim) provided us with his leftovers, which became our Shabbat meals. When you go to Tzfat, you must visit Rafi, he makes a GREAT shwarma!

  • Next, we headed to Har Meron. As we stepped off the bus, we were swept into a sea of black and white. I had imagined we were going for a nice camping trip on the mountainside; but, apparently we were attending the largest Hareidi convention…and I forgot my 18th century garb from Poland! Families with ten kids or more were lugging suitcases up the mountain and pitching tents anywhere possible. I would have never expected any of these people to sleep outside. This was the antithesis of a camping experience.

  • We found some prime real estate and setup camp. Our small lot had flat ground, padded by crushed high grasses and we enjoyed a vista of the entire mountain. We made alliances with our neighbors, prepared ourselves, watched the sunset, and welcomed Shabbat. After some minyan hopping, we ate dinner, enjoyed each other’s company, and got to bed pretty early.

  • There was a ton of free food (not the healthiest of choices: kugel yerushalmi, challah, rugalach, humus, babaganoush, and more) ALL SHABBAT. When asked who sponsored all the meals, the Chabad guy serving replied: “Rashbi [Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai – the founder of Kabbalah, who is buried on Har Meron] provides!"

  • On Shabbat, we escaped the crowds and took a nice hike around the mountains. This was probably the best part of the experience.

  • Motzei Shabbat, when the real festivities begin, as the music is pumped to a max and droves of people swarm the mountain, we were supposed to watch another sacrifice. But, unfortunately, the keves got stuck in traffic and would not arrive until the morning. It was at that point that we decided we had enough and headed home on the next bus to Jerusalem.

  • Factoid: There were an estimated 280,000 people on Har Meron over Lag Ba’Omer…that’s more people than can fit in the largest stadium in the world (Rungrado May Day Stadium in Pyongyang, North Korea)!

And now back to real life.

Up next… Jacob’s Ladder Music Festival, Yom Ha’Student concert with Ehud Banai and Ivri Lieder, and then off to Istanbul…

Until next time,



Q: Is this guy a Texas rancher or Jewish history professor at Hebrew University?

From A TWELVE HOUR Field Trip

A: Good try! The hat, gun with leather holster, full denim wardrobe, cane, and boots, would have thrown me off as well. But, in fact, this picture was taken today on our field trip. He is Dr. Rafi Josphe, guiding us in Tzipori.

Shoutout to Danielle Schindler (again), who consistently travels with only boys and puts up with our antics, just to have a good time!

P.S. If you’ve made it this far in the series of posts, I’m assuming you don’t want to read much more. But, I will pass on one article that I think is important to read. As I have been saying for quite a while, the solution to our garbage problem is clean energy…. Read more here. The U.S. needs to jump on the bandwagon ASAP.


A Blast From the Past: Part I

Ma Nishtana Ha’Lila Ha’Zeh?

....A Samaritan Pesach Sacrifice!

  • This is definitely a unique and probably the most bizarre experience I have had in Israel. For more information about Samaritans, click here.

  • I had heard about the Samartian Pesach many years ago from my friend and former high school teacher, Rabbi Herbert Kavon. So, seeing this was one of my goals for the year. Coincidently, my professor mentioned it in class and I asked how I could attend. A few days later she had information for me. I organized a group of 10 classmates and friends and last Wednesday, we went (over the Green Line) to Ariel in order to meet the bus from the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (yes, ironic that an environmental organization led a group to an animal sacrifice) that would be taking us to Har Gerizim, where many of the Samaritans live.

  • Little did we know, we signed up for a tour of the West BankShomron – Jewish settlements. We boarded a bullet proof bus, with mostly people our senior, and began our journey. Interestingly, many of the attendees were wearing kippot. We later found out that this was a big year to go and see this, because for the last four years the sacrifice has been on either Shabbat or yom tov. Until then, I had been to Efrat, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, but this was a little different…

  • Our first stop was a small caravan settlement near Elon Moreh. From there we could peer westward and see Har Gerizim to the left, Nablus in the valley, and Har Eval on the right. While it surely was a beautiful view, it was upsetting to see soldiers, basically wasting the country’s resources, protecting a “community” of seven families. Although they were on a strategic mountaintop, with Askar (a Palestinian “refugee camp”) below, and may have been there otherwise, I was frustrated that such a small group of right-wing radicals could demand that a group of 19-year-old boys waste their service time there. On the other hand, it was amazing to see that Israel really does go to every length in order to protect each citizen.

  • Next, we travelled to Itamar. This is a family farm, which produces organic goat milk and related products. I was very confused by the people who live and work there. On one hand, they are down-to-earth, environmental hippies; while on the other hand, they are right-wing fanatics, who want to hold on to every little bit of land. The photo below explains it all:

    • Although this is a magnificent piece of land, its location is quite controversial. While I believe that at some point soon Israel will have to officially give some land to the Palestinians, this visit got me thinking again. As liberal as I am, I am a bit scared to give land to the Palestinians, who have yet to show any national initiative for peace and/or development in the last 62 years, especially in light of what happened in Gaza after the 2005 unilateral withdrawal by Israel. How do we balance peace with national security and productivity?

    Next, came Har Gerizim and the Samaritans…

    • We got there around 2:30pm and the area was empty. I had no idea what we were about to experience in the next 6 hours.

    • While walking around, I spoke to a Samaritan kohen. I asked about the different garbs people were wearing, their culture, and Pesach. He explained that everyone wears white today as a sign of purity; the kohanim adorn special dresses and caps; and just on this day, they do not eat bread. There are only 5 families – hamulot – but about 700 Samaritans in total. Most live on Har Gerizim, but there is also a small community in Holon. Today, they were sacrificing 50-60 sheep (…I thought I was just going to see one…but 50…wow)!

    • It seems to me that the Samaritans on Har Gerizim have a confused identity. They speak Arabic, as they live among Arabs; they speak Hebrew, since they are Israeli; and religious services are conducted in Aramaic. They are not accepted as Jews, but they are definitely not Muslim or Christian. And, to top it off, they live on this small island in the middle of the West Bank, but serve in the IDF.

    • We went off with the guide to explore the ancient ruins and receive an explanation of the area. When we returned after about an hour and a half, the place was packed with a couple thousand spectators. This religious ritual for the Samaritans, the holiest day for them, has become a spectacle for many more.

    • The mizbeach was set and the Samartians were gathering as they brought in their sacrifices to be. The young men, dressed in all white with butcher-type hats, stood along this trough, with the sheep between their legs. Eventually the Kohen Gadol arrived, the crowd quieted and he began reciting their t’filot. He read Aramaic phrases and they responded aloud. Finally, after about 15 minutes of prayer with hands swaying in the air, he said something, the men raised their knives, they said something, and all at once, in one swift motion schechted the sheep. (Don’t worry, there were too many people crowded around, so I did not get to see/photograph this actual moment [a bit disappointing, actually]).

    • Now the fun begins... They dip their fingers into the newly drawn blood and smear it on each other’s foreheads and kiss on the cheeks. Interestingly, the Kohanim do not actually do the sacrifice; they stand in the middle of the action and continue to sing/chant t’filot…kind of like the Pesach Seder. At this point, many more boys and men of all ages get involved, skinning the sheep and removing all the “forbidden” body parts. Then, they take these 12-foot wooden skewers (looks like a HUGE toothpick) and slide them through the entire animal, creating a large shish kebab. Next, it’s barbeque time! They carry it off and place it over the alter. After watching this done to over 50 sheep simultaneously, it was time to go.

    • This is when the challenge actually began. First, in the dark and cold wind, we had to locate our bus, among at least 60. Ours, of course, was parked the farthest away, behind three rows of buses. We also realized that we were not going to return to Ariel on time (as originally told) to catch a bus to Jerusalem. So, being the de facto rosh edah, I scrambled to find different options of returning home. In the end, I was able to find tremps (rides) with various people on the bus in order to return the entire group home safely. The hero of this story is really my main man, Josh Goldberg, who writes more about this @


From Sadness to Celebration in 62 Seconds: Part II

Country-Wide Party

  • While I usually like to travel around and get a taste of everything, I decided to stay in the capital for the entirety of Yom Ha’Atzmaut and really enjoy my Jerusalem experience.

  • And that, I did. I went from party to party seeing what it was all about. With Josh, Danielle (and some Nativers), we ventured out. We took a journey through the generations:
    • Tayelet – for young families
    • Fireworks over the merkaz for everyone to enjoy
    • Down town (Rehov Hillel) – for high schoolers
    • Shuk – for 18+ - this was spectacular! Mahaneh Yehuda was literally jam packed with people just having a good time. The area was so crowded it was hard to move.

    • Rikudai Am in Safra Square – for the older crowd (but not really). Even arriving at 2:30am, this is one of the most amazing things I have seen during my time here. It was a municipal plaza filled with hundreds of people of all ages dancing Rikudai Am(both folk and modern) together (WATCH HERE)! I have never seen so many people, from all walks of life, be so coordinated and dance together. This, I believe, was a TRUE Israeli moment.

  • There was just something about the celebration that made it very different than July 4th. Here, there is simply a lot of national pride and people celebrate the country’s independence like their best friend’s birthday.

  • The next morning, after waking up to Yerushalayim Shel Zahav on the radio, we set off to make a mangal. Lee, Danielle, and I organized a group of our friends and BBQed, like everyone else in the city, in Gan Soccer. Thank you to the Epstein Family for sponsoring this event. It was a blast! In true Israeli spirit, since our Mini (crap) Mangal stoves didn’t work, we borrowed our neighbors’.

  • Although the polls say that Israelis entered this Yom Ha’Atzmaut with few expectations for peace and their government in the coming year, the sight of a park filled with every type of citizen – black, white, eastern, western, Ashkenazi, Sephardi, doctor, and driver – all celebrating side-by-side (admittedly a bit of a rosy picture), gave me a glimmer of hope for the future of Israel.

    From From Sadness to Celebration in 62 Seconds

Mishlachat Extravaganza

Speaking of Israeli spirit, if there’s one thing we don’t understand in Camp, it is Mishlachat. Well, I didn’t until this year…

  • In February, I, with some other Berkshires peers, helped conduct interviews for the Summer 2010 Mishlachat. After many forms, tests, and other interviews, this was the end of the application process for them. But, for me, this was the beginning of understanding a different side of Camp. The shlichim we have in camp are essentially the best of the best Israelis (which is why many American kids think that all Israelis were commanders in elite combat units).

  • Once the Mishlachat is selected, they must go through intense training before coming to America. The main seminar, with over 500 shlichim, took place two weeks ago. They learn how to be representatives, work with American campers, and most of all they are psyched up for an amazing summer. Josh (Goldberg), Lee, and I were privileged to see this in action.

  • It was an incredible Shabbat!!! Now that I have seen almost the entire process forMishlachat, I have a new found appreciation for them. We had the opportunity to hang out with returning members of Mishlachat with whom we never got the chance to speak in camp. This year's group is wonderful!

  • We hope to convey what we've experience and seen on behalf of the Mishlachat to the rest of the American staff. I think if they understood what the Israelis have to go through in order to come to Camp they would better appreciate, befriend, and utilize these fantastic and talented people. In addition to gaining more appreciation for Mishlalchat, being at the seminar made me super excited for camp!

With the spirit of Am Yisrael,



· I don’t get it, it takes 6 million Jews to perish for Galgalatz to play three Hebrew songs in a row!

· Israelis love the tekes!

· I’m a native English speaker and have no idea what this means...