This past weekend, the participants got to spend time with family, see old friends from Tel Yehudah, and make new friends from other buses. Family Weekend 2011 was a huge hit! On Thursday, everyone was bused to various points around Israel, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Netanya. It was a great way for friends on different buses to catch up with each other, and those who stayed with the group in Beit Ar-El got to meet each other and expand their pool of friends in Young Judaea.
On Sunday, all the participants met back up with their groups and were split up into one of four Special Interest Week buses: Gadna, Sea to Sea Hike, Kibbutz, and Volunteering.
Chanichim who chose this option are based at Kibbutz Ketura, located in the Negev having been founded by Young Judaea alumni who made aliyah. So far the participants have gotten to experience many facets of kibbutz life, including working in the dining hall, kitchen, in the kindergarden, and even out in the fields. They also participated in mudbuilding….which is exactly what it sounds like! They mixed sand, mud, straw, and water to create a material which is used to make outdoor firepits. After getting a taste of kibbutz life and speaking with members of Ketura, they got a chance to relax by the pool during free time. As its extremely hot in the desert, the kids really enjoyed their pool time!
The participants arrived to the army base and were immediately greeted by their staff. They were then split into 4 groups, with 10 participants per group. The first thing they learned were the basics of the IDF, including the chain of command at the base, and were taught the proper IDF way to greet and show respect to your army superiors. Later that night, they got a taste of basic training by sleeping in army tents, then waking up bright and early by singing “Hatikvah”. Two of the groups performed standard basic training tasks by working in the kitchen, which taught them teamwork and bonded them as a group. The rest of the day was dedicated to learning about gun safety, spending several hours practicing their stance and positioning with a plastic replica. In the evening, the participants had a discussion about the IDF and Zionism.
Sea to Sea Hike:
When the S2S participants got to their first destination, they were greeted by their madrichim and split into two groups. Much like the Gadna participants, those on S2S will be sleeping outside under the stars. S2S started their hike in Nachal Amud, which is in the upper Galilee area. One of their first destinations on the hike was to the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is known as the father of Kabbalah. His gravesite is still an important place in Israel, and the participants saw a lot of people coming to that area. An interesting feature of this location is that its right off “Shvil Israel”, Israel’s national trail. Continuing on the hike, about halfway up Mt. Meron (the second tallest site in Israel), the participants stopped at a very impressive lookout for some exercise and fun team-building games. They spoke about the Druze community, as well as Arab/Israeli relations. This was an important topic because they were near Lebanon, so the participants had a chance to learn about the 6-Day War.
On their way up to the peak, they passed by some IDF paratroopers who were taking part in training exercises. A few of our chanichim offered the paratroopers some water, which led to a quick but meaningful meeting and discussion with the groups. Anyone who had their camera out got a very cool photo! Once they got to the top of Mt Meron they took their 3 hour mid-day break for a chance to escape the heat and relax for a little while. They went to a different lookout point and saw into Lebanon. In the evening they had a classic Israeli campfire dinner of shnitzel. As they were pretty exhausted from the day, many of them went to bed early. The participants are averaging about 12 kilometers per day – pretty impressive!
On Sunday the participants got back from their Family Weekends and met their madrichim at Beit Ar-El, where they had a discussion about volunteering and heard their various options: in Jerusalem the participants could go to a school for disabled people, work with the elderly, volunteer in a soup kitchen, work with horses and help prepare them to be therapy horses, work at a summer camp for underprivileged children, or volunteer at an archeological dig. After the participants made their choices they went to the Machane Yehuda market. This was not only a chance for free time, but they were also given the task of speaking to the locals to find out what they thought about social issues and volunteering. Many of the participants asked how local Israelis felt about the Darfur refugees, as this is an issue that many of the Judaeans feel very strongly about.
On Monday the participants split into their volunteering groups. After spending the morning at different locations, they all came back to Beit Ar-El for lunch. Then they went on a very interesting tour of Jerusalem, where they learned about different groups and their place in society. They learned about how differently the non-religious live from the religious, about the active LGBT community in Jerusalem, and they even got to hear about the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities from someone who lives in the neighborhood, who explained to the participants how these communities coexist with each other. After the neighborhood walk they went back to Beit Ar-El for a barbecue and a peula about the 17th of Tammuz, which is a holiday that commemorates the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem before the destruction of the Second Temple. As the participants had just seen the Kotel, this led to a discussion about personal vulnerabilities, and they talked about some of the threats to the Jewish community, both now and centuries ago, in Israel and in the Diaspora. This talk went on longer than planned as all the chanichim wanted to participate because they were inspired by both their walk through Jerusalem and their volunteering.
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