Showing posts with label NFTY EIE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NFTY EIE. Show all posts

Monday, January 27, 2014

Harper in the Holy Land

The big news from Israel seems to be the usual combination of the sublime and the ridiculous:
  • Because Syria is following through on their agreement with Secretary Kerry to reduce their stocks of chemical weapons, Israel has stopped issuing gas masks and refills of oxygen.
  • Oxfam is considering dropping Scarlett Johansson as an ambassador because she is doing ads for an Israeli company which has a plant in Maale Adumim (and by the way I am told employs Palestinian Arabs at the same wages as Israelis). They are apolitically against all supporters of Israel. (What?)
  • Birthright is going to allow people who went on organized youth trips to begin participating in Birthright trips.
  • The Women of the Wall are close to approving an agreement with the Israeli government to move the group’s monthly prayer service to a new egalitarian area.
But for me none of those are the really important news out of Israel. Yesterday my 15 year old son Harper and I left religious school early (he is a madrikh in Kitah Bet), picked up my wife and two fifty pound suitcases and an indescribably heavy backpack, and drove to Kennedy Airport in New York.

Harper's 67 new best friends on EIE Spring 2014
(Harper is third row, 6th from the left, in the blue t-shirt)
On arrival Harper was immediately absorbed into a group of 68 teenagers from all over North America. They had been in contact via Facebook for the past several weeks. So over and over, Audrey and I watched Harper see someone, hug them like a long lost relative and then say, "Hi! I'm Harper! It's great to finally meet you!" And the same thing happened with all of the kids. It was amazing.  (Audrey and I met parents with whom we had 2nd degree connections, and one woman I had been a camper and counselor with in Wisconsin in the 70s and 80s. But that is not important.)

Harper's adventure was beginning. He and the other teens have just begun a four month journey with NFTY's Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE). It involves four months living on Kibbutz Tzuba, just outside of Jerusalem. They will be attending all of the classes they are missing in their high schools at home (minus the electives), and they will also be attending three hours of Hebrew Ulpan and Jewish History. At key points in their history lessons, they will jump on a bus and visit the place where those events occurred. They might return to the same place more than once, to see it through a different lens and time in history.

They will hike from the Kinneret to the Mediteranean, visit the Reform kibbutzim in the Arava, attend Gadna (teen level military training) on an IDF base, climb Masada and do all of the things you would hope a teen gets to do in Israel. Awesome.
A few weeks ago Harper decided to blog his adventures. I urge you to follow him and see Israel through the eyes of a young man seeing it for the first time. The blog is called Harper in the Holy Land.

Israel has shaped and changed my family in wonderful ways. Audrey and I left for a year in Jerusalem seven months after we married. It was a year without either of our friends, family or old habits being nearby. In that year we built the core of the family we have become. Twenty years later, Harper's brother Ethan attended EIE and the experience changed him in more ways than I can share. It was amazing. Harper began counting down the days until his turn when Ethan got off the plane. We cannot wait to see what the experience will do for him. And with his blog, we can all get a peak as it happens!

Friday, July 24, 2009

“Guys, this is a learned Jew kind of thing to know.”

Here is a guest posting from my son Ethan. He is 16. He spent the past semester in Israel on NFTY's EIE program - learning, touring, hanging out and earning ful academic credit for high school. This was the semonette he wrote for Confirmation, which took place a week after he returned. He presents us with the real challenge of seeking the Next Level in Jewish learning. EIE was one of the best investments we have ever made!
Kibbutz Tzuba in the Judaean Hills

As a little kid at Hebrew school on Sunday mornings, learning about Israel is like learning about some magical mystical land. It seems almost unreal, and at that point, I couldn’t even imagine leaving home to go somewhere that was so immensely far away. But, having just come back from that far, far away place, I can say that some of the things that I thought as a second grader in Mrs. Silkoff’s class couldn’t be truer.

I remember being awed by the things that I would hear about Israel when I was a little kid, and having been seeing those things for the past four months and six days, I know now that there was no exaggeration. It seemed to me that everything I saw in Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv or Haifa or Tsfat or anywhere else that we went was more incredible and more amazing than the thing I saw before it. But, there was more to this trip than mere sightseeing.

This past semester, kind of like Confirmation, has been a sort of rite of passage for me. In Israel I learned more about myself, my people, and my homeland than I have in my entire life. And, as confirmation marks the continuation of my Jewish learning as I continue to grow, EIE also demonstrated for me the importance of Jewish education past the whole bar-mitzvah extravaganza.

My Jewish history teacher in Israel, Shira, after giving us a piece of information would all the time say, “Guys, this is a learned Jew kind of thing to know.” And, while some of those “learned Jew” pieces of information I already knew from Hebrew school, or bible stories from my dad, others of those “learned Jew” things were new, slightly more complicated.

Confirmation is also a kind of measure of growth in the sense that we are choosing to commit to Judaism as people who are old enough to make an informed decision. Likewise, some of the things that I learned in Israel, such as politics, or certain intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or even environmental issues, I was only able to fully understand because I was old enough to.

This semester, I learned that Israel isn’t always pretty. I worked for a day at an underfunded, underdeveloped preschool in Jerusalem. I rafted with my friends through what little is left of the Jordan River, and I even visited an army outpost on the Lebanese border where I had to stay behind ten-foot-thick concrete walls. But, for everything that I saw that was sad or unpleasant, I saw a million things that were spectacular, unbelievable, and beautiful beyond belief.

I walked above the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, and I shopped at a shook that went on forever just next to Shenkin Street in Tel-Aviv. I got to walk through the old city, and stand at the Kotel, and every morning, when I would look out my window on Kibbutz Tzuba, I would see the most unbelievable view of the kibbutz’s vineyards flowing down a slope until they became the sprawling Judean Hills.

So, that Israel that I imagined from inside room 7 just upstairs really does exist to some extent. Israel is as magical, mystical, and every bit as heart-wrenchingly beautiful as I always though it would be. But, because of this semester abroad being such a time of growth and learning, I also realized that it is a complicated, modern, and difficult place as well.

And to me, Confirmation is the point in time at which I can say with authority, “Ok, I know about the history of our people, I know about the issues that we and our homeland face, and I know about the importance of Judaism in my life. Now what? I’m ready to keep going from here, so what can you teach me next?”