Friday, March 18, 2011

Birthright Israel Trip - Part III

The following post was originally handwritten while on a birthright trip through BU's Hillel. The writing style is a little different than my usual. Since I added a few sentences here and there throughout the day, it may seem disjointed in places. However, I wanted to keep the writing as it was, so I'm not making changes.

"January 7th - Friday

In the morning, we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial
museum in Jerusalem. We had a 4.5 hour guided tour. The gray architecture juxtaposed with brown brick and trees is in place to stand out and signal "something is wrong here." The unique part of Yad Vashem's message was that it focused on stories of specific people - survivors and those who died - not just statistics and numbers. In the Holocaust, much of the propaganda was designed to dehumanize Jews, so Yad Vashem focused on human, personal life stories. As always, it is disgusting to imagine that no one spoke out or thought for themself - they uncaringly followed Hitler's orders for mass murder. And as always, it is haunting to see photos of prisoners at concentration camps who are less than half the size of anorexic ballerinas.

This is an sculpture at Yad Vashem of a teacher and his students. The story behind the work is that this teacher (the larger face) always respected and treated his students as equals to himself. When the students were taken to a concentration camp, the teacher was spared. However, in order to maintain equality with his students, as he always tried, he went to the concentration camp with them. All were murdered.

To lighten the mood, we went to lunch at the Machaneh Yehuda market - great falafel! I'm becoming quite a falafel afficionado (I hope that's the right word). The photo below is me and Alyssa eating falafel.
The photo below is a store front at the Machaneh Yehuda market. They sell everything - dried fruit, falafel, candy, pastries, bread, etc.

Friday night marked the beginning of Shabbat in Jerusalem. :) Since it was pouring rain (unusual), we didn't get to the Kotel. Instead we went to a Chabad. 40 Birthright participants infiltrated the Chabad service. They were welcoming, as is everyone I met in Israel. They got to the Aleinu in literally 5 minutes, and I was like, "Wow, quick service...I thought these went on and on and on." They they started chanting a bunch of added on other songs I didn't know.

The room was divided, and the lady next to me, Levana, kept pulling open the curtain to peer into the men's side - hilarious. The guys were WAY more energetic - it was like a dance party with super-high energy and clapping and singing. Our side was totally unenergetic. Every time Levana pulled the curtain aside, it was like watching a neighbor's BBQ through a hole in the fence because your invitation got "lost in the mail." Ugh - tradition sucks sometimes. By the way, all that stuff I wrote in the previous post about equality yesterday pertains to liberal, modern Israeli society, not the ancient, conservative, religious rituals.

From there, we left the Chabad and walked to dinner - coincidentally at the same place where Marissa's group had a reservation! :)

Now I'm back at the Jerusalem Gates Hotel, where we're staying. We're supposed to rest since it's Shabbat. Honestly, I'm a little anxious about relaxing for an entire day. Yes, I know how odd that sounds. In the morning, they're going to do services and Bar/Bat Mitz. for people who didn't do that in junior high. Then we'll take a siesta. I'm pretty positive that even with jetlag, I won't be able to fall asleep mid-afternoon. We're going out after sundown (Earth rotation) tomorrow night.

One final thought for today - Algo fascinante que he fijado aquí es que everyone we've met here has tremendous passion for their country, Israel. This is likely because they constantly must defend the country - everyone participates in the army for some time. Also, if religion is central in your life, this is the best place to be - people walk around singing Jewish songs, praying while waiting for the bus, singing Birkat Hamazon in restaurants - and it's normal. Israel is a safe place to open yourself. This morning, in a discussion session, someone commented that no one at all loves the USA this way. Americans, at least from what I've experienced, keep a cold, professional distance at all times and just assimilate into the American blend. Most Americans are uninterested in defending the USA and feel no particular pride in nationality. Americans - especially my generation - are ambivalent to the United States and would readily move to another country. [Sooo excited to live in Spain next year!!!] Maybe this is a reaction to the worldwide notion that the USA butts into what isn't its business too often and is arrogant. After all, who wants to associate with that? In any case, something went way wrong. Even the Jewish community in the USA isn't tight knit (as compared with other countries). The American sense of abandon seems to be contagious.

I suppose Birthright trips are an effort to solve this and restore the excitement of Judaism. Likely, since the program was first started for American Jews specifically. Now Jews in over 46 countries can participate. Yesterday at the Megaevent, there were participants from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Canada, Russia, Poland, the UK, and the USA. Good night.

Still January 7th - just kidding when I said, "Good night."

I still haven't decided what to write to put into the Kotel (Western Wall). I was told we're supposed to ask for something, but I'm not accustomed to asking for things. It feels greedy. Besides, I'm a firm believer not that, "God helps those who help themselves," but rather that, "People should stop wallowing in self-pity, get off their butts, and work to help themselves." Harsh? Yes. Realistic and practical? Absolutely. I could write a wish or hope, but a request seems inappropriate. Who am I to ask for something? Asking for world peace is generic and impersonal. Same with good health. Who doesn't want those? It occurs to me that a wish or a hope is really just a request disguised in softer phrasing. I guess I'm cornered in and will have to come up with something. Good thing I have alllllllllll that time to "relax and reflect" on Shabbat tomorrow... I'll give it some more thought. I've been thinking about what to write/say/ask since before the trip even started. Good night."

This post was originally handwritten while on a birthright trip through Hillel. January 2011

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