Shabbat Shalom

2 Jun

I think I can safely say that everyone on this trip takes Saturday as a “day of rest” very seriously. I think back in good ol’ Boston many of us to tend to treat Saturday’s as a lazy day, but in this city, where Saturday is a day specifically designed to kick back and relax, we are taking it to a whole new level. The movement in our apartments is basically limited the distance from our beds to the closest kitchen to make snacks and then back to our beds. By some small miracle I was up in the morning before eleven and I got out of bed and entered an almost entirely abandoned common space (a rare occurrence considering the 5 other girls that share my apartment). I investigated the fridge and rummaged around to decide what I wanted to eat for breakfast. I had many options because we all made a massive run to the grocery store the night before to stock up for our lovely Shabbat dinner as well as making sure we had food for the day because all the grocery stores in the city are closed until late in the evening.
I am proud to say that we have have all truly embraced the spirit of shabbat. I looked into the fridge and saw the leftovers of our dinner from the night before. We had had a delicious potluck style meal with Shabbat prayers led by our very own Matt Horowitz. We had a decadent rotisserie chicken, pasta with homemade tomato sauce, fresh salsa, and all the rugalah and pastries that you could possibly dream of. We even kept kosher for the evening! Its lovely to see how well everyone in the group gets along and wants to spend time together. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when the dialogue first began, because I have heard some major horror stories from dialogues that others have gone on, but I have been blown away by the individuals on this trip. There is so much to be said for having groups of this size travel together- it allows people to truly get to one another and creates an intimacy that is so valuable. I am lucky to be with 13 fantastic and gifted individuals who are passionate about the material and have done nothing but soak up all the information we have heard and embraced every opportunity that we have been given.
I entered this trip after immediately completing a Birthright trip. It has been a strange transition, especially now as we are staying in Jerusalem and I am constantly surrounded by other Birthright groups. I have heard a very mixed reaction towards Birthright, or Taglit as the Israeli’s know it. Some people find the tourist groups to be very annoying, something that I am now experiencing first-hand as I am spending more time in the city and watching the groups flood Jaffa street, the markets and the Old City. However, I feel hypocritical resenting their presence because I was one of them as little as 2 and a half weeks ago. I understand now, however, that perhaps Taglit does not give a full perspective of the Israeli culture and I am so glad to have the chance to fully immerse myself in this country. On Taglit, I was mostly isolated to 40 other Northeastern students along with 8 Israeli soldiers, and while I loved each and everyone one of them, I do not think that they truly gave me an idea of the complexities of this nation.
“Complexities” is the central word in our study abroad program and is the basis of each and every moment of our course. It is essential to remember that there is nothing simple in this country, although there is most definitely an inherent simplistic beauty of the “homeland” that Birthright does such an exemplary job capturing. However, I am no longer surrounding by only Jews who are being offered a free trip to a country to which they are being taught that they have a “right” to. There is an incredibly wide range of students in our group, featuring people of many different nationalities and religions. As I wandered the streets of the Jewish quarter, I was no longer only surrounded by people who were comfortable with the endless imagery of the magen david and the hamsa and the menorah. Many of the students have never even heard the shabbat prayers that at this point seem almost second nature to me. Our class discussions are fascinating because every question has so much depth and even our small group has so much valuable and UNIQUE insight to offer. I do feel that Birthright was among the most enjoyable 10 days of my life and I cannot express my gratitude at being offered the chance to identify with my heritage in this incredible country. However, even after a little under two weeks on this program, I realize that there are “complexities” in this country that Birthright did not even begin to teach me about. These complexities are a very real part of this country and it is important to understand them to even begin to grasp the Israeli culture.
I took advantage of the day to recover from our adventures of the past week and embrace my inner sloth. I spent much of the day catching up on some free reading. Unfortunately, I didn’t pack any books with me in order to save space and limit the weight of my luggage so my book selection has been limited to the small collection left by the owner’s of the apartments that we are staying in. Today I completed The Reader, by Bernhard Schlink. I selected the book randomly because it was a Oprah-recommended book and Oprah knows best. Along with almost everyone else, I spent most of the day in bed in and out of sleep. Finally around 6 pm I exited my bed for good to make myself dinner and officially become a functioning human being.
Once Shabbat was over and the city of Jerusalem came back to life, our group went out for a low-key night. We hung out for a few hours and got a chance to lounge and enjoy some good music and convseration. Our low-key night had a brief interlude when an Israeli girl came over and convinced us to go to  the dance floor because it was her last night before she had the go back to the army. Although I was still in sloth-mode, her enthusiasm got the best of me and we had a brief dance party with the Birthright groups before they got picked up by their bus to return to their hostel. Probably my favorite thing about all the Israeli bars that I have been to is the music selection- it seems as though the entire country is listening to what we listened to in the States about five to ten years ago. Every dance party is filled with some nice throwbacks that take me back to middle school and I definitely don’t hate it. I then returned to my bed and had another fantastic night sleep so I could be rejuvinated for our day of classes ahead of us.
Toda Raba!
-Eva Weintraub

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