It's been a whirlwind two days of going across the country and seeing a wide range of regions, climates and scenes from Jewish history!
Yesterday we woke up in the Golan Heights and made our way to Tsfat, where we learned about Kabbalah and how Jews through the centuries have adapted and expanded Judaism. We were fascinated by the "blueness" of the city, as well as the old synagogues which illustrated the wide range of Jewish customs and traditions. Some of us bought a good luck "hamsa," and other of us picked up Shabbat candles from a famous candle-making establishment.
After Tsfat we made our way to Haifa, the sister city of Boston, where we met with Israeli representatives of the Boston-Haifa Connection at an after-school program. Not only did we hear about the stories of Ethiopian Israelis and their immigration to Israel, but we also got to play with Ethiopian-Israeli children in several group activities. We heard about the lives of our Israeli soldiers, most of whom live in Haifa. It was fascinating to learn about the many aspects of the Connection, including school exchanges, helping youth at risk, and empowering new immigrants.
The day ended in Tel Aviv, the White City, where we hit the town for a night out and continued to bond as a group. Our daytime exploration of Tel Aviv started this morning, when we went to Independence Hall to hear about the founding of the State in 1948. After this moving experience, we met with Rami Meiri, an Israeli artist whose works can be found all over Tel Aviv. It was quite a treat to be able to each add a piece of ourselves to the walls outside his studio using paints Rami provided.
After this artistic hour or two, we made our way to Rabin Square where we learned about the Oslo peace process and assasination of Prime Minister Rabin in 1995. We especially enojoyed going up to random Israelis to ask them what they remember about Rabin, and their opinion of his legacy, and then reporting back to the group. Since most of our group was very young in 1995, it was helpful to hear from Israelis who had not only lived through these events, but some of whom were actually in Rabin Square the night of the murder.
After Tel Aviv, we drove across the country and up the tree-filled hills to Jerusalem. We visited the promenade south of the city to enjoy views of the Old City and a discussion about the city's meaning for people of all religions. The song "Jerusalem of Gold" and opinions of our soldiers helped bring the city to life, including the ways in which it has changed during the past century.
After this experience, we drove down the hills toward the Dead Sea and to Kibbutz Almog, our home for the next three days. Along the way we encountered yet another landscape - the Judean Hills leading to the Jordan Valley, which reminded some of us of moonscapes and others of us of the southwestern US.
Tonight, we broke up into seven groups and discussed aspects of our Jewish identity, including which facets we consider important. The conversations highlighted the many ways in which people connect to Judaism, including differences between Israeli and American Jews. Judaism means something different to everyone, and it was fascinating to hear different narratives and beliefs.
We're looking forward to tomorrow, when we'll drive back up to Jerusalem and explore the Old City, including the Western Wall. It's just our fourth day here, but the multitude of experiences, conversations and questions we've encountered has been incredible. We're also looking forward to Shabbat, which begins tomorrow evening, and a day of relaxation and reflection here at the kibbutz.