Ariella Kronish M.A., is the Director of Jewish Studies at NFTY-EIE and has been a teacher for the program since 2002. She has a teachers certificate from Machon Kerem, which trains teachers for Jewish education according to the principles of Humanistic education, and an MA in Jewish Studies from the Schechter Institute.
This Shabbat, we return to the beginning, to the Book of Genesis and the first Torah portion, Bereisheet, which deals with the creation of the world up until the Noah story. In the spirit of starting to read the Torah from the beginning, I want to share with you what your students experienced during Simhat Torah, the holiday that celebrate the conclusion and restarting of the annual cycle of Torah reading. Ariella Poni Kronish, Director of Jewish History Studies for NFTY-EIE shares her impressions below:
We arrived at Kibbutz Hannaton on Saturday night, after Yam L’Yam or the Sea to Sea hike, ready for a hot shower and a good night sleep in an actual bed (instead of on the ground!). On Sunday morning we rested up as much as possible, until we met up for a delicious lunch of fresh Druze pita baked in an outdoor oven on the spot.
After this delicious meal, we went on a tour of the kibbutz to learn the story of the community with whom we were going to be spending the holiday. Hannaton is a revitalized kibbutz with seventy-five member families. Originally established in the early 1980’s as a kibbutz of the Masorti (Conservative) movement, Hannaton was on the verge of being closed down seven years ago, as it had not succeeded economically and most of the families had left. A group of young, idealist families led by Rabbi Yoav Ende, started the trend of returning to this beautiful kibbutz in the lower Galilee. They re-established the educational center and guest house and initiated many seminars and programs. The kibbutz formed relations with the neighboring communities, including nearby Arab villages where volunteers from the kibbutz teach English.
One of the most exciting things taking place at Hannaton today is the “Mechina”, a gap year program for high school graduates preparing them for the army while they study, volunteer and travel around the country. We had the privilege of getting to know some of these young men and women, which made our visit all the more meaningful and special.
During our tour, we saw the synagogue and learned that the community is built of Jews from all streams and they have a unique police of keeping Shabbat and kashrut in the public sphere. We also got to visit the liberal mikveh (ritual bath), which unlike most mikvaot in Israel, is not run by the ultra-orthodox rabbinate. Some of our students chose to immerse themselves in the mikveh and had a truly meaningful experience.
After some more rest time (everyone was really tired after the week of hiking!) we dressed up for the holiday and went down to the cultural center to join the kibbutz members and the Mechina students for Simchat Torah prayers. We took part in the most exciting Hakafot (Dancing around the Torah) most of us had ever seen! There was such energy and enthusiasm in the community that despite how exhausted we all felt, none of us could resist the dancing. We even led one of the hakafot (rounds) singing and dancing with the Torah with pride. It was such a pleasure to be a part of this community for this holiday.
The following morning we all slept in and then we joined together for our own Tfillah (services) and Hakafot. We prayed together with special kavanah (intent) after having such a wonderful week. Even when we thought our students might be running out of energy, they still found the strength to belt out the songs of prayer and once again dance around the Torah, this time with many loved NFTY tunes. We read the very last part of the Torah and everybody got the opportunity to have an Aliyah. After that we enjoyed a delicious BBQ for lunch!
Later that afternoon, after a few more hours of rest, we had a superb program with the Israeli Mechina students led by our madrichim. We finally had the opportunity to meet with our Israeli peers and discuss some truly important issues that are on our minds, as well as theirs, such as the challenges in both American and Israeli societies.
After a beautiful Havdallah service, we were ready to return home to Tzuba. After celebrating all the holidays in Israel and traveling the width and the length of the land like our forefather Avraham, we really do now all feel at home.
-Ariella Kronish, Director of Jewish Studies