By Mikah Atkind, EIE Alumnus (2010 Fall Semester)
Originally posted at Blog Shalom
On the 9th of Av, 586 BCE, the first Beit Hamikdash, also known as the first temple, was destroyed. Subsequently, the Jewish people were exiled to Babylon. Exactly 656 years later, the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed. 65 years after that, Beit Har was destroyed. This was the last village standing, and the last one to be destroyed, during the Bar Kochva Revolt. In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain. In Tach-Tat, or 1648-1649, the Chmelnitsky Massacre took place in Russia. In 1881, the first wave of pogroms against the Jews in Russia led to the first Aliyah to what is now the State of Israel. In 1939-1945, as many people know, was the Shoah, or the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. On Hay B’Iyar, Tashach, or May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was created. These events, both tragedies and what subsequently seem like miracles have shaped the Jewish people since our beginning, about 4,000 years ago in the time of Avraham, Yitzhak, Ya’akov, Sarah, Rivka, Rachel, v’Leah.
This past fall, I spent four months on the NFTY-EIE High School in Israel. Run by NFTY, the youth organization of the URJ, this program allows Jewish high school students from all over North America the opportunity to travel and study in Israel. Going into the program, I expected that I would be with a bunch of your typical NFTY kids, like myself. For those of you who have never been a NFTY kid, this involves singing Jewish songs until you lose your voice, being super overenthusiastic about NFTY, and hugging. A lot. However, when I arrived at the airport, I realized that this was not the case at all. While there were some of those stereotypical NFTY kids, we had an extremely diverse group. Roey spent the first three years of his life living in Tel Aviv, Noah goes to a conservative Jewish day school, and knows pretty much everything you could ever want to know about Torah, and Madeleine’s from Texas…and talks like Miley Cyrus. We had 21 guys and 24 girls; six sophomores, 33 juniors, and six seniors; two Canadians, two Eisnerites, and two from Massachusetts.
Every day, we were responsible for waking each other up and getting to Hebrew by 8:30, where we would learn for almost two hours. After a short break, we had Jewish History for three hours. After our Jewish studies were over, we had lunch, and then all of our general studies classes, such as math, history, English, etc. We had school from 8:30 AM until 7 PM, yet no one seemed to mind. After our last period, we went to dinner, then had Hoda’ot, or announcements. Only then could we start our homework, or if we finished, socialize. However, normal days such as these weren’t common. Many times, we would go on Tiyulim, or field trips, for Jewish history, which could last for as little as a couple of hours, or as many as 8 days, such as our trip to Poland in which we visited Auschwitz, Birkenau, Majdanek, and other death camps and important sites in the context of the Shoah, and tried to absorb in the emotions and impact of the Holocaust. In addition to our Jewish History-based tiyulim, we spent six days hiking from the northeastern side of Israel to the Mediterranean sea, and spent five days at the S’dei Boker army base near Beersheva, in an intensive high school Israeli army program called Gadna.
We began friendships with Israeli teens, both those who were living on Kibbutz Tzuba with us, and others in a small private high school called the Havruta School, near Netanya. We became actively involved in Israeli politics, creating a mock campaign and election for some of the main political parties, including Likud, Shas, and Avodah. We bargained for dried fruit, nuts, rugalach, and other treats at the Shuk in Jerusalem, trying to practice our Hebrew, while the vendors only wanted to practice their English. We bought ice cafes and mozzarella sandwiches at Aroma, invested in the Israeli economy at TNT and other stores at the Malcha Mall, and even went to a teen club until 4 in the morning with our Israeli host families…even though we weren’t supposed to be out past midnight. Seven of my friends and I even got to attend a conference of the Jewish People Policy Institute, for which our English teacher works, and sit two rows behind BB Netanyahu and Natan Sharansky, and listen to both of them speak on the topic of Judaism within Israel and around the world. Of course, we visited many of the tourist attractions as well, in connection with our Jewish History curriculum. We hiked up to the top of Massada to learn about the mass-suicide of the Zealots while trying to defend themselves from the Romans; we visited Tel Aviv to learn about the formation of the city, and their combination of old and new; we visited Sataf to learn about ancient agriculture and the cycle of the Judges and the Kings.
So why did I go in the first place? Well, first we need to think of the reasons behind why one would go. There were 45 of us on the EIE Fall 2010 Semester. In Hebrew gematria, 45 is מ — מה is equal to 40, and ה is 5. Together, these letters spell mah: what? What is the significance of our past? What is the importance of Israel? What are we as a people? What should we strive to be? What can we gain out of this experience? What were we doing this for? Well, switch the מ and the ה, and you end up with המ—them. While we may have gotten amazing friendships, incredible amounts of knowledge, and an unbelievable four months of adventures, stories, and experiences out of this program, in the long run, we weren’t doing it for ourselves. We were doing it for them: those of the past, and those of the future. We went to keep the covenant between Abraham and G-d, as G-d mentioned in Genesis chapter 17, verse 7: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a G-d unto thee and to thy seed after thee.” We went to preserve Jewish values, customs, traditions, and stories, as well as the Jewish homeland for future generations. We went to keep Judaism alive in our home here in the Galut—the diaspora—and in Eretz Yisrael.
תודה רבה ושבת שלום