Wednesday, May 4, 2016

From Sea to Sea

Just call me Forrest Gump because I just walked across the country.  Even though Israel may not be even close to as big as America....we still traveled the whole width.  It was so crazy fun!  So I'm basically gonna take you guys through the gist of my days.

Day 1:
We started at the Sea of Galilee.  We did a super easy water hike and then went to our campsite.  We had a cute first night bonfire and roasted marshmallows (kosher for Passover obviously).  Then, we got to sleep under the stars.  No, we didn't have a tent, they just laid out a tarp and gave us all sleeping bags.  Quite a first camping experience. 

Day 2:
This was the hardest day of all of them.  We woke up around 6:00am and started our hike about an
hour later.  About an hour in, we stopped and made ourselves breakfast.  Each group is given two burners, a bag of apples, matzah, salami, spices, cooking oil, rice, and chocolate spread.  This is given to us each morning and we eat it for breakfast and lunch.  Also, we have to carry all of this with us, as well as 4.5 liters of water.  Let me tell ya it gets pretty darn heavy.  So, we continued to hike for the rest of the day and most of it was uphill so it was very difficult.  We took the occasional break and about an hour break for lunch.  We continued our hike until around 5:00pm and finally made it to our campsite.  Even though the day was hard and tiring, it was still so much fun and was one of my favorite days of EIE.

Day 3:
They gave us tents this night :-).  We woke up and got ready to go for another long day of hiking.  It was still a super fun day.  This day we got to do self-navigation, so each group got a map and a walkie-talkie and had to navigate ourselves to checkpoints along the way to our destination.  This went interestingly because I was in charge of navigating for my group and we went to the wrong way within the first 30 seconds.  But, we ended making it to lunch perfectly fine.  On the way we passed by wild cows just roaming the forest and tons sheep being herded all by one man.  It was so cool to see.  The day was a little shorter than the previous and was still a lot of fun.

Day 4:
This day was a water hike and it was so much fun!  Throughout the whole day we walked past streams and small natural pools and we got to stop, swim, and explore the secrets of them.  My friend and I discovered a waterfall and climbed up it.  It was one of the coolest experiences.  Also, the whole hike was along the stream so we got to adventure and create our own slippery path to navigate it. 

Day 5: 
This was our last day, and do not get me wrong I loved it, but I was really looking forward to a shower, not sleeping outside, and indoor plumbing. This day we rode bikes and finally made it to the Mediterranean Sea.  It was so cool to be able to look into the distance and see the approaching sea.  Then, we rode our bikes right up to the sea and were able to run and jump into the ocean.  It was so much fun and definitely made it on my list of the most fun days I’ve had on NFTY-EIE!

Yam L'Yam was challenging and very rewarding.  The distance we traveled on foot everyday was a crazy accomplishment for all of us.  It was so much fun and a great experience.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Jewish People Live - An Essay

The following is an essay Amber wrote for one of her NFTY-EIE classes following a trip to Poland

                                                                        עמ ישראל חי
           We, the Jewish people today, all stand as survivors.  Not from the Holocaust necessarily, but from our ancient, hate filled history.  The destruction of the first Temple, the destruction of the second Temple, the Bar Kokhba revolt, the numerous pogroms, the exiles, and the continuous persecution of the Jews to this day are all unforgotten attempts of vanquishing the Jewish people.  Time and time again we are oppressed to the point of almost extinction.  Yet, we are still here.
 A more recent example of these attempts at ridding the world of the “Jewish problem” is the Holocaust.  The Holocaust, an integral yet horrific part of Jewish history, occurred in many places throughout Europe.  Beginning in Germany, the Nazi regime soon occupied and controlled nearby countries, such as Poland, which was a base for many concentration and death camps.  In order to intimately learn about the Shoah, we went to Poland to see many of the relevant places that related to the Holocaust.  Our trip encompassed many ghettos, former Jewish settlements, concentration camps, and death camps.  Comprehending each destination was difficult considering we were standing in a spot that used to be so active with Jewish life, but now there are no Jews left.  When traveling around Poland, the spectrum of life and death witnessed made the entirety of the history and stories taking place at each destination more meaningful.     
During our Masa (trip) to Poland, we experienced the amazing life that was created by the Jewish people.   Tykocin, a vibrant Jewish shtetl since 1642, perfectly defines what a lively community would entail.  This community thrived on the sense of unity it embodied.  It was no stranger to pogroms, which are anti-jewish riots, but through the adversity they still were a prosperous society.  On every Shabbat, there would be an active market in order to prepare for the evening.  One of the communities biggest attributes was their willingness to help each other. When it came time for Shabbat, some families realized that they did not have as prosperous of a week as anticipated.  This became problematic when collecting materials needed to celebrate Shabbat.  So, when this unfortunate circumstance came about, other members of the community would lend them a chicken or some bread for that week, and the next week the family would repay them with an item they need. 
Another part of the community that depicts the life that was once there is the ancient cemetery.  This cemetery, one of the oldest in Poland, portrays the life based upon the generations that are buried there.  The dilapidated cemetery is now barely even recognizable as holy place that Jews were once laid to rest. However, as I walked past each grave, I was still able to make out some of the inscriptions engraved on them.  Some read “mom”, “grandfather”, and “rabbi”, proving that the society flourished for so long to have to have multiple generations and classes of people represented.  While learning about the Holocaust, it is often easy to forget about the life that once existed before.  These people had their own traditions, lives, and feelings, and it is more important to commemorate what once existed rather than just the way it ceased to exist.   
The Nazi’s eliminated the previously thriving life at Tycocin, was eliminated by the Nazi’s in August 1941.  The residents were all gathered in the market square, which once represented life, but this action foreshadowed the demise of their society.  From the market square, they were taken to the nearby woods in a town called Lopuchowo.  As we approached the woods in complete silence, the eeriness of the whole situation began to hit me.  Each tree seemed to bear witness to the atrocities to which they were exposed.  The trees are bare and no beauty remains with them.  I feel as though this is how the Nazi’s wanted the Jews to feel,  stripped of all positive things, both physically and mentally exposed.  But then, a sense crossed my mind of how wrong it was that we were going to visit this site.  It was not supposed to be this way.  The Jewish people were no longer supposed to exist. Here we are taking the same path that our ancestors traveled. The only difference is that we were going to leave the woods alive. 
On the days of August 25th-26th, 2,000 Jews were murdered in three mass graves, completely wiping out a society that was once brilliant with life.  The people carrying out these acts of terror were called the Einsatzkommando, and they were in charge of looking each person in the face and shooting them.  Men, women and children were all killed in this incredibly personal, face-to-face method.  It is simple to think of the number 2,000 as a whole; however, picturing each individual person, every family, and the friendships that intertwines everyone, makes the horrific scene begin to dawn upon you.  Each life has a story, and every life matters.  The concept of breaking down the numbers and looking at each number as an individual being is the only way to retain the legacy of lives that were terminated too soon.
Yiddish words are personal to each family.  Everyone has a memory of a relative or some figure saying a yiddish word to them like “kepe” or “puddum”. To me, these words represent a sense of comfort and familiarity when spoken to me.  A new word that was introduced to me, and now the most important one in my quaint Yiddish vocabulary is “iberleben”, meaning small acts of resistance.  Iberleben is especially relatable to the Jews of the Holocaust, because that is how they survived.  They were the small acts that made the ghettos, concentration camps, and other difficult situations in their lives a little more bearable.  For children, ghetto life was especially confusing and difficult.  All the time there were children left orphaned because of the random murders and separations that took place.  Janusz Korczack, who embraces the concept of iberleben, set up an orphanage for children in the Warsaw ghetto.  The ghetto walls formed their own version of endless hell for the people living within them, but the orphanage created a safe haven for the children of the ghetto.  Within this orphanage, Korczack set up the rules based on democratic values.  Each of the children had a say in the system; this was very important, since at this time, they had no say in anything happening in their lives.  Eventually, the ghetto was to be liquidated, and the children were the first to go.  They were to be marched to the nearby Jewish cemetery and shot so they would fall into pits.  Janusz Korczack was aware of the encroaching fate that was about to end all of these young lives before they had even begun, as well as his life.  It is important to note that Korczack had the option of not going to die right then, but to prolong his life; however, he chose to die with his children.  He had all of the children get dressed up in their nicest clothing, and get ready to parade around the streets expressing their youthful energy through song and dance.  His preserved these children’s last moments as happy and not filled with terror.  In the end, they all died together, and this act of Iberleben showed that some things cannot be taken away.  Janusz Korczack gave these children a caring community when they needed it the most.  Even with the acts of Iberleben, death still occurred.  In circumstances relating to Iberleben, the physical occurrence of death is not the longstanding message, but the passive ways that people were able to resist under the Nazi regime.
There are 613 recognized mitzvot.  However, the most important mitzvah is not even included in this group.  Rabbi Fackenhiem once wrote the 614th mitzvah: “Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories, they are commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish”.  My generation, the last that will be able to talk directly to Holocaust survivors, has an added responsibility making sure later generations are educated about the Holocaust.  Continuing the Jewish tradition is very important, because, as the quote states, if we relax our Jewish values and morals too much, Hitler would be rewarded with a victory.  It is important for every Jew to realize the obligation they have to continuously carry out the successes of our people.  Personally, in order to follow Rabbi Fackenhiem’s 614th mitzvah, I know that I will raise my children Jewish.  As well as raising my children Jewish, I will instill upon them the importance of implementing the Jewish traditions for the rest of their lives and the generations to follow.  Along with the continuation of the Jewish people, I will educate others about the Holocaust, ensuring that am yisrael, the Jewish people, will continue forever.
Stepping into each concentration camp, death camp, ghetto, and any other place where the Jewish people were cruelly and unjustifiably persecuted increased my connection and pride to my Jewish identity.  The feeling of being in the exact place where these incomprehensible tragedies occurred is nothing like I have ever felt before.  My disbelief is completely logical considering I should not be able to understand why or how these events could take place, simply because I am incapable of having such hatred towards a group of people.  It is not normal to be able to hate a group of people  and dehumanize them as much as the Nazis did.  However, these sadistic people exist in all societies, and were able to create the the horror of the Holocaust.  It is our job as the Jewish people to keep that from happening again.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Halfway There

Hello fellow humans! Nice to make your acquaintance.  I can’t wait to update everyone on my past week.  However, first I must begin by telling you all that I got back from Poland about a week ago. It was an intense experience, but no worries I will try to communicate my feelings and the horrors to the best of my ability.  These will be in an essay that I am writing for Jewish history.

On a lighter note, the past week has been chock full of wonderful times and activities.  We had Sunday off since we got back to the Kibbutz at the ripe ole time of 5 am.  Also, let me tell ya there is nothing like coming back to a home as amazing as Israel after a lengthy and draining trip.  Then, we had school for a couple days, but even school in Israel is a billion times better than school in the US.  We two trips last week, which include a tiyul (trip) to the north and to Tel Aviv.  We went to the Kinneret aka the Sea of Galilee.  It's so beautiful there.  During this tiyul, we went to the first Kibbutz in Israel, which was established in 1909 (my mom and dad may remember that) (lol because they are old), it was very interesting to see all the hard work and struggles that people went through in order to create this settlement.  We also got a super beautiful view over the yam (sea).  Do my Hebrew skills impress you yet?

Another tiyul we went on was to Tel Aviv!!! Yay, it was super, super fun.  My Jewish history teacher is a certified tour guide (he also has a secular wife) (that needed to be included because everyone on EIE with me will get the joke).  He took us on a graffiti tour in his neighborhood, so he basically knew it like the back of his hand.  He lives in a "super hipstery" (his words) part of Tel Aviv called Florentine.  The graffiti encasing the neighborhood ranges from artwork belongs in a museum to a pre-schooler trying to write their name for the first time.  Regardless, the whole place has a ton of personality and seems to be an amazing place to live.  We also got some free time to walk around Tel Aviv by ourselves (woot, woot!!).  It is so amazing to experience the rush to complete the shopping for Shabbat and be in the shuk (the market) while this is taking place.  Everything about it just intensifies the love I have for being here because there is just something different in the air. I will not be able to feel that once I get home. We ended our week with a Shabbat service themed around friendship, which just seems so fitting.

Some miscellaneous things that I would like to include are EIE is halfway over :-( .  I love it here (if you were not aware yet).  My friends here are amazing.  I am just learning so much all the time.  This upcoming week we are going on two more tiyuls; one to Tel Aviv and one to Jerusalem to see a jail (????).  These are supposed to be super fun and interesting.  Also, MY BIRTHDAY IS TODAY!!!! WOOHOO! That's about it for now, catch ya on the flip side!

Monday, March 28, 2016

Purim in Israel

Hello everyone, sorry it's been a while, I've been super busy and now I want to catch you up on what I've been up to! We just finished celebrating Purim. While in the United States people believe that a carnival and a creative shpiel suffice as a Purim celebration, the Israelis beg to differ. Basically the whole month that Purim is in includes celebrations and other fun activities. We began by playing assassin and even though we began the game about 3 weeks ago, it just ended a couple of days ago. It's a really fun game that everyone can get involved in. We also kicked off a round of mystery Moses (the Jewish version of “Secret Santa”). We secretly gave gifts to our designated person for the week before Purim week, and then we tell them who we are the day before. Also, we did a spirit week in the week leading up to Purim. Some of the things we had to dress up as were mismatched Monday and twin day. This was so much fun!

Now, for the actual beginning of Purim, we began with our own party and shpiel on the kibbutz.
Everyone was dressed up in the costume of their choice. It really felt like Halloween, for example, our counselors were the characters from Inside Out and me and 3 other friends were Miley Cyrus (the old one, I was this one), Hannah Montana, and Miley Cyrus (the new one). This was so much fun and we even won the costume contest (check out the picture!). The next day, we went to Tel Aviv. We walked around for a while and it was just so interesting to see everyone dressed up as something different. Some people were very simple and just wore a funny hat and other pretended they were the characters from “Avatar” and painted their whole body blue.

So Purim was technically over the night we got back from Tel Aviv; however, the celebration and commemorations still continued. Friday morning we went into the old city and stood with the organization Women of the Wall, led by Anat Hoffman, as they read from the Megillah. The men on the other side of the wall did not seem as phased by this, but some of the more traditional women attempted to get us to stop, however their efforts had no effect on us.

As I write this we are packing our bags in preparation to leave for Poland. It’s hard to describe my feelings, but, the best way I can put it is that I am looking forward to becoming more educated about the holocaust and have the ability to honor those who perished in it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

A Week with the IDF

Hello everyone, I missed you!

Sorry I haven't blogged in a while I just got rescued from a juvenile detention center in Siberia. 
It was hard, but educational, just like my time in Gadna. So if you aren't aware Gadna is a week long taste of the Israeli army, which many Israeli teens experience to prepare them for the army. While many people use Gadna to release enough tears to fill an entire ocean, I had an amazing experience.

I had so much fun messing with my commander and trying to make her laugh when she tried to be super serious in front of us. However, I succeeded in making her laugh and smile on several occasions. Also, just a little tip if you plan on going to the IDF, they do not enjoy it when you march behind them or salute them. 

Some of the highlights of my Gadna experience include, painting my face with mud, engineering the construction of my tent, cleaning the dining room and kitchen for 5 hours (well kind of), braiding the Israeli girls hair, and trying to make friends with my commander (and failing :-( ) . I loved braiding the Israeli girls' hair, failing to make friends with my commander, cleaning the dining room and kitchen for the first 15 minutes, then I proceeded to lead my group in many musical performances including (but not limited to) High School Musical, Camp Rock, and Annie. But above all I just enjoyed living the life of the IDF soldiers.

Just like in regular life, not everything in army life is perfect. Shooting a gun was not fun, it made me sad. Also, sleeping in a tent while the big bad wolf is trying to blow your tent down is not ideal, I got over it and had an overall fantastic time during Gadna.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Exploring Israel

We have successfully completed our second week in Israel!!  Time is really flying by so quickly; it’s crazy.  I already feel like I've known these people for years.  I guess that's what happens when you spend all day everyday with  people..... okay anyway this was the first week when we started going on Tiyuls.  A tiyul is basically a trip, some are half days and some are full days.  On half day trips, we still have our general studies classes in the afternoon.

So, I'm sure everyone is curious about what I have done on these trips so far because you are
all living vicariously through me so I will begin to describe them now.  So, last Sunday we went to a Tel.  A tel is a civilization on top of civilization on top of civilization and so on.  It was super cool see some of the advanced structures that have lasted so long (like older than my parents long) (love you mom and dad).  That was a half day tiyul so we still had all of our classes afterward.

On to the next trip, we went to Sataf.  This was so cool and beautiful.  First, we had to walk like three miles to get there.  Totally ridiculous that they made us walk there in the morning, right?  Actually, that's what I thought going into it, but turns out the hike was one of the highlights of the trip.  During this tiyul we explored some of the irrigation systems that were used way-back-when to water the crops.  Now, this isn't your typical flat group farm.  It's more set up as shelves upon shelves of crops in a line.  So, we got super deep into the water streams and we ended up exploring caves, and some of them were so small you were literally (not figuratively) crawling on your hands and knees through them. 

Our next, and one of my favorite trips, was an archaeological dig.  For anyone that has heard me say the world archaeological, you know that my pronunciation is hilarious.  So, for now on every time I say archaeological, picture it in my voice.  We explored excavated tunnels from the ancient times that people used to live and hid from their enemies in.  It was crazy how small the spaces were.  I asked our tour guide if I could move into one for a day, and she told me they didn't have WIFI down there so I immediately rescinded my request. Along with the tunnels we did some digging and found a few bones and pieces of pottery.  Also, we had the chance to explore some ancient burial caves.  This trip was very fun and I also have to say, I learned a lot.

Friday, I had a chance to go off the Kibbutz.  I went to northern Israel to a place called En Hashofet.  One of the friends I made here on EIE invited me to go with her to her grandparents’ house.  They live on a rather large kibbutz and it was super nice.  This opportunity was really great for me because I got to test out my sub-par Hebrew skills.  But, this made me realize I know more than I think, and I can actually hold a short conversation.  I also made the effort to listen to others conversation (this is different than eavesdropping, it's for educational purposes) and try to figure out what they were saying.  My guessed turned out to not be too far off, and some were even completely correct. 

All and all everything is great (besides the food sometimes). I love my friends and everything we have done so far.  This week is looking to be hard and boring because we have full days of classes almost every day :-(.  But, next week we are going on a 10 day trip!  Stay tuned for more. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Arriving in Israel

Hi everyone! As many of you know, I am studying in Israel with a program called NFTY-EIE for the spring semester of my junior year.  My plane landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Monday, January 25 around 2:30 Israeli time (so back on the East Coast it would be 7:30).  However, not everyone from the program was there the first day due to many plane cancellations after the snowpocolypse.  It ended up being not a big deal as the rest of the people arrived by Wednesday.  So, now we are all settled and together on Kibbutz Tzuba, our home for the next four months. 

Since we were waiting for people to arrive, we have not really done very much so far.  On Monday, since everyone was completely exhausted, we just did a couple ice breaker games with our fellow EIEers and then were free to go to bed.  Tuesday, we woke up and headed breakfast.  Breakfast is pretty cool since it’s not the standard “pancakes and bacon”.  They serve many things, including salads with cucumbers and tomatoes (Israeli Salad), pita bread, and chocolate filled croissants.  After, we prepared some posters for some of the people arriving that day.  Lunch is also in interesting experience.  So far, I have basically eaten the same things for lunch and dinner.  I usually eat schnitzel, rice, and hummus.  I would say it’s excellent.  However, one of the nights we were served pizza with corn on it!! It was super weird; I would not say it’s my favorite. 

Wednesday, we were given an orientation to our classes.  First, we were placed into Hebrew classes.  The range of Hebrew skills if from fluent to not knowing anything.  We had our first Jewish History class Wednesday, too.  It seems pretty tough, but our teacher said as long as we put in a lot of effort we will be fine. :-)  We were given our general studies schedule and introduced to our teachers.  They all seem super nice and classes start on Thursday.  Sooooo excited (lol not)!!!!!!!!!

Well, everything is so super fun so far, and I am ecstatic to be here.  I have made so many new friends and memories already, and I cannot wait to make more!  I can’t wait to tell y’all (as my new Texas friend says) more and especially about our first trip, which is coming up soon!!


Amber Soffer