By Rabbi David Wilfond, Director of Education
Thursday morning began with a cloud of ancient dust, as the teens got their hands dirty while they dug in an active archaeological excavation at Bet Guvrin. The teens were excited to find actual artifacts from the Bar Kochba revolt against the Romans nearly two thousand years ago. Then the teens pulled up to the Haas Promenade, where they enjoyed lunch while taking in their first breath-taking view of Jerusalem. Next, the group visited the Hebrew Union College Campus to diagram, date, and catalogue ancient pottery in the Archaeological Laboratories of Dr. David Ilan, who is a real-life “Indiana Jones” Archaeology Professor living and working in Jerusalem and digging up its greatest treasures! The afternoon was spent exploring the Old City of Jerusalem and its fabled Western Wall, Kotel. Later in the day the teens visited the Western Wall, Kotel. The Wall is one of the last remainders of the Temple Mount Complex built by King Herod. The Wall has been a site of prayer and pilgrimage for Jews for millennia. Here it is custom to write notes and to put they in the crevices between the ancient stones. It has been asked; what holds together this ancient wall of stones that has no mortar between its rocks? One rabbi taught: It is the prayers of those who come here that holds this wall together. A Student asked about the flowering plants that grow on the wall. How can they grow on a wall with no soil nor rain? Its seems impossible. So too it is with Jewish prayer. Prayer is a hope that what at first seems impossible may become possible. The teens had time for individual prayer at the Kotel and then united at the egalitarian prayer space at Robinson’s Arch, praying together the words of Oseh Shalom, Shema, and Shehecheyanu.
The teens began Friday morning with an emotional visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and educational center. The theme “From Tragedy to Hope” led the teens from Yad Vashem to Har Herzl, Israel’s burial place for the Leaders of the Nation and those who lost their lives too young in the IDF. Here the youth heard the life stories of the founding mothers (Golda Meir and Hana Senesh) and fathers (Hertzl and Yitzhak Rabin) who dedicated their lives to help the Jewish People re-establish itself in their ancient Jewish homeland. They also learned about the personal stories of the young people who lost their lives too early fighting to protect their family and their home.
Shabbat Services on Friday night were done in the URJ style of lively music with guitars and spirited singing entirely led by the Sci-Tech and Mitzvah Corps Shabbat committee. Between each prayer, participants share reflection from the week, highlighting what they had learned, connections they had made, and how they will take their experiences home. Following Shabbat morning services on Saturday, Sci-Tech was visited by three entrepreneurs and innovators who are also active members of the Reform Movement in Israel. They spoke about their work with Pill Cam, the original IPhone, Sodastream, and Vibrant. After engaging in listening activities, mixing flavors to develop the best soda, and walking through the steps of taking an idea to reality, there were to major takeaways: “If someone ever tells you that something can’t be done, that is your cue to go out and do it,” “Your innovation work can be intertwined with your Jewish identity and should uphold your Jewish values.” Following that, they enjoyed some much-needed time for rest and relaxation by the kibbutz pool and outside on the lawn. Saturday night the group got to enjoy a night out on the town on Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda street, where they shopped, snacked, and saw teens from other NFTY groups.
On Sunday, the group began a five-day interaction program with Israeli teen peers. Icebreaker games helped the Israeli and Americans to mix together. Then they all travelled to one of Israel’s most talked about Hi-Tech companies recently acquired by Intel known as Orcam. With Orcam’s engineers, they tested their next generation products that help people with visual impairments. The teens then participated in a food science workshop with a start-up currently housed at MassChallenge start up accelerator to learn about the key role that accelerators play in strengthening the global innovation ecosystem and help starts up find success. During the workshop the teens took a tasting tour of Machane Yehuda, made the traditional middle eastern dish, Kanafe, using gels and seaweed, and experimented with emulsions and properties of milk and chocolate. Lunch was enjoyed at Machane Yehuda – Israel’s largest open-air farmer’s market. At the end of the day the group descended into the Judaean Desert to settle in at a Bedouin encampment where they spent the night. Before sunrise this morning the group will climb mount Masada to watch the sunrise rise over the mountains of Jordan. They will then descend the mountain and swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth and visit the Dead Sea factories which are extracting salts and minerals from the Dead Sea. Overnight will be at Kibbutz Yahel, the Reform Movement’s first Kibbutz in Israel.