Daily Updates

List of 46 items.

  • Israel, Tuesday, May 14

    Gidi wrote about Tuesday’s activities:
    “This morning we went to Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. At the hospital we were lucky enough to hear from a social worker who works there and mostly deals with patients from Gaza, Syria, and the West Bank. We also heard from a man who had his life saved at Hadassah when he was 12 after accidentally stepping on a mine and now works there. From these two representatives we learned that all patients who are treated at Hadassah are treated equally no matter their background or their doctors’ background. We had the privilege of meeting one of the Hadassah high-ups, Barbara Goldstein, known as BG. After being shown different parts of the hospital promoting peace and Judaism. We enjoyed a lunch pizur in the mall connected to the hospital. Jerusalem mixed grill in a pita never disappoints. After lunch we went to the StandWithUs headquarters in Jerusalem and met with a representative named Charlotte. Charlotte taught us about the importance of Israel advocacy and how to become active in advocacy for Israel on our college campuses. After enjoying some free time in the beautiful weather in Jerusalem, and eating shawarma, we had a fun activity with Ilai’s (our madrich) dad, Mark Lazar, a well-known Jewish Education. Mark led us in various activities and games that helped us remember our meaningful time in Poland as well as enjoy each other’s company”.
  • Israel, Monday, May 13

    We are blessed on this Tuesday morning to have two updates! One from Lori Jaffe, who joined Neshama yesterday afternoon to take part in the transition week: when Neshamaniks reflect on their experience and how to carry it into their future, when the reigns of daily leadership shifts from Rob and his team in Israel, to us and our team in NJ. Like many transitions it will have up’s and downs. The second update is from Noah:
    Shalom from Jerusalem,
    Today I had the privilege and the pleasure of joining Neshama.  I met the group when they were on visiting with Shai's family on their kibbutz and tried to discreetly walk up to them as they were eating their freshly home made pizza.  No sooner did I take a few steps when I was spotted by a few Neshamniks who then ran to greet me with hugs.  I made my way ( just a few more feet) to the rest of the group and the welcome continued! As you can imagine, it is wonderful seeing them. They look amazing, some have grown a few inches, tan, grown up and really really really happy.  The feeling in the group is describable.  Within just a few minutes of me being with them I've already heard stories about how transformative Neshama has been for them.  Rob and the madrichim have challenged them to think about issues, themselves, and Israel through different lenses. They are so passionate and exuberant, and could not share enough about their experience.  This was just the first couple of hours that I've been with them!
    I know seeing me is bittersweet; they are happy but it means the end of the trip.  Their journey will continue and for each in a different way.  Rob and the madrichim cannot say enough good things about this group.  They truly are special...
    Yom Tov,
    And for Noah’s update:
    We started our day by making our way over to Yad Vashem. We walked through the winding pathway and even recognized a lot of the things we previously learned, especially having been in Poland at the start of our trip. After lunch we revisited Har Herzl, checking out the graves of more renowned people like Yitzhak Rabin, but also looked into the stories of individual soldiers. We then made our way to Beit Guvrin, the kibbutz where Shai grew up. We met Shai’s family, or just clones of Shai, we’re not really sure. We made our own pizzas in an oven the actually worked. While chowing down on our delicious pizzas, Ms. Jaffe showed up! After a tour of the kibbutz we made our way back to Agron to kick back, relax, and enjoy the evening... until tomorrow”
  • Israel, Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11

    Shabbat’s update was written by Eitan Gerstle:

    “Friday was a fairly relaxing day. After a short drive down to Ein Gedi, we got off the bus in order to do one of our favorite parts of this trip: hiking. This hike consisted of climbing up and down a wadi, which is decidedly the best geological formation. After about an hour and a half, we had a short break to go swimming, eat lunch, and stand under a waterfall. We then finished our hike, and took a brief stop at the ancient synagogue in Ein Gedi before heading to the hostel for the weekend. At the hostel, we had a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat service, led by Sam and Maddie, while overlooking the Dead Sea and the mountains in Jordan. About 20 minutes into the service, the sun was setting on the mountains, and they turned an incredible shade of fiery red. After our service and dinner, we headed downstairs for some singing and a bonding activity. We had a bit of an early rest, as some of us were waking up for a hike the next morning. That hike departed early the next morning, and started climbing directly up the mountain behind our hostel. About half way up the mountain, our trail turned, taking us across a cliff to a dry waterfall. The difficult hike was rewarded with a stunning overlook.

    After our hike, we returned to the hostel for lunch and an afternoon activity. After this activity, and a lot of rest time, we eventually gathered together for singing and our last havdalah in Israel. After the beautiful ceremony, we all sat around relaxing for a while and went to bed in order to prepare ourselves for the next day."
  • Israel, Thursday, May 9 (Yom Ha’atzmaut)

    David wrote creatively about Yom Ha’atzmaut:
    Today could probably be summed up in one sentence. Something along the lines of “we had a picnic for yom ha’atzmaut.” But that would be boring, so instead I am going to write an acrostic:
    Your kids woke up late and ate a birthday cake for Stef.
    On the bus they went and drove to a park.
    Moments later they were ready to make their pita, chicken and kebabs. 
    Happiness pervaded the group as we celebrated Israel’s 71st. 
    A lot of singing and dancing as a result. 
    Avatiach (watermelon) was a fan favorite. 
    To the bus we returned and rode back to the Gush.
    Zionism was visible everywhere, with festivities galore. 
    Most of us rested up after our two long days. 
    Afterwards we ate dinner and played some fun group games. 
    Unbelievably cool to see Am Israel celebrate. 
    Tomorrow we will go to Ein Gedi for our final Shabbat. 
    Happy 71st Israel! Excited to see y’all in a week!!!!!
  • Israel, Wednesday, May 8 (Yom Ha’zikaron)

    Jonathan wrote beautifully about Yom Ha’zikaron (memorial day)
    “Yom hazikaron and yom haatzmaut are inextricably linked in Israeli society. Yom hazikaron for me was a day of many emotions. Simply watching videos of lone soldier's mothers at the Massa ceremony on erev yom hazikaron made me contemplate both my own desire to one day serve Israel and the current and future service of my friends and family. I have one cousin, Oriane, who started her service this year and my brother Jonathan plans to make alliyah after his last year of college. As much as it may have come up on me by surprise, I have a strong current connection to the IDF, and I'm not even a soldier (Yet.) (Hi mom) Many people say they have trouble moving from the mourning of yom hazikaron to the celebration of Yom haatzmaut. While I understand the difficulty people may have, especially those who have lost direct relatives, I dont think the two days could ever be observed separately. As much as it pains our hearts to think of the fallen guardians of Israel, the mourning must go hand in hand with the celebration of Israel as an Independent Jewish state.

    The Michael Levine's, Max Steinberg's, and Sean Karmeli's, z"l, of the world wouldn't have it any other way. They knew when they made alliyah that the service of protecting Israel, whilst difficult and dangerous, is the strongest thing connecting Jews to the state of Israel. The fact that Max Steinberg z"l, for example, could choose to make alliyah after a birthright trip, make his way into Golani, an elite combat unit, while barely knowing a lick of Hebrew, simply because he knew it is the most important job of a Jew in the modern world, is not only incredibly courageous but also telling of the relationship between the 2 days. It is no coincidence that 10,000 people attended his funeral. Israelis understand the importance of Jews, no matter where they are from, sacrificing their lives for the protection of the state. It is for that same reason that in 2006 Michael Levine z"l cut his vacation short and was on the first flight back to Israel when he heard of the Second Lebanon War breaking out. No one else needed him to fight - only himself.

    It is said that he who saves a life saves the whole world. Each soldier saves millions of lives everyday - our gratitude and respect for them should never waver or diminish. Without them, there is no Independence Day. They are the purest embodiment of Israel, the backbone for the worldwide Jewish community.

    When we went to har hertzl this morning, I was able to visit the graves of both Max Steinberg and Michael Levine. On Michael's grave, groups and visitors from all over the world leave hats, bracelets, name tags and other meaningful thing trinkets to pay respects. When i came over the summer, I left Michael a Philadelphia Eagles bracelet, as he shared my love for the team, and my Ramah Seminar nametag. Today, I left him my University of Maryland bracelet. There's something very meaningful to me about people leaving him pieces of their lives. It's as if they are still interacting with him and introducing themselves to him to this day. 
    At Max's grave, I was able to hear a little bit about him from his parents. His mom told a story of how Max became best friends with one of his squad mates, despite the friend being much more religious then him and Max not speaking any conversational Hebrew. Max's mom explained how a month ago, a wedding invitation appeared at Max's grave. At first she didn't know what it was, but then she realized it was from Max's best friend. The morning of Max's friend's wedding, he felt bad that he hadnt invited Max. He drove to Har Hertzl just hours before the wedding and made sure to give Max an invitation and be with his best friend on his wedding day.

    Har Hertzl was incredibly meaningful for me and for the entire group. Singing hatikva with thousands of other Jews mourning over the graves of the fallen was incredibly moving. We concluded with everyone sharing a story of a fallen soldier they came across. I was honored to share Max's with the group.

    May their memory be for a blessing יהי זכרם ברוך
    After har herzl we left for the fuchesberg center to eat lunch, do a writing activity, and watch a movie. At 4:30, as the mood begins to lighten and people begin to focus on yom haatzmaut, we departed from Agron in pizzur groups where we could decide where we want to go in Jerusalem. Following pizzur we departed for a beautiful ceremony bridging the two days that took place in Teddy Park just outside the old city. After much singing and dancing as a grade and with strangers, the Hallel service concluded and all of the 700+ people sang hatikva together. The juxtaposition of singing hatikva in sorrow atop har herzl this morning and singing hatikva to bring in yom haatzmaut was incredibly powerful. It was the loudest I've ever sang anything in my life - the pride in Israel of all the Jews surrounding me seemed to almost amplify my singing. It was an incredibly meaningful experience.

    The group then left for much more fun, dancing and celebrating on Ben yehuda and yaffo street. Thousands of people take to the streets of inner Jerusalem to attend concerts and celebrate our beautiful country. Because no matter what day of the year, that is the most important thing - Israel, is our country. It belongs to us as Jewish people, and we belong to it.

    At 12:00 we loaded the bus and set off to kfar etzion where we'd spend the night”.
  • Israel, Monday, May 6 and Tuesday, May 7

    Monday’s update brought to us by Fanya:
    We woke up in Maccabim and after breakfast, we hopped on the bus and headed out to an olive farm. We met Rimon and his peacocks and chickens, which frolicked freely around the property. Rimon explained and demonstrated how the olives were harvested and pressed in a large and very loud machine. We then reaped the benefits of said machine with a feast of fresh pita, zatar and olive oil. After a tour of the rest of the farm, we received a demonstration about natural soap making and we were able to take home some samples. We were then given fluffy pita dough to knead into our own personal pitot. Once the pitot were baked, we were given fresh hummus and other fixings to have a delicious mid-morning snack. After eating and relaxing for a while, we drove to the Thai pagoda which we had previously cleaned on the day of good deeds. After seeing our work and taking a few pictures, we headed out to the "Invitation to silence." This experience takes place in the children's museum where we had previously visited on Na'ale. We were split into groups and told to put on noise canceling headphones for the experience. We were lead through the exhibit by a hard of hearing or deaf guide and we had to learn to communicate with each other and play various games only using body language and facial expressions. After this once in a lifetime experience we ate tasty ice cream. Then we traveled to a beach nearby, where we relaxed and swam in the ocean. After we went back to Maccabim to shower, we enjoyed a pizur at a local mall”.
  • Israel, Tuesday, May 7

    Tuesday’s update was written by Sam:

    “Today we all enjoyed a late wake up before visiting Castel National Park. Here we learned about the Battle of Castel during Operation Nachshon in the Independamce War - the struggle to open up the road to Jersusalem. At Castel, we also played teamwork games exemplifying different traits of soldiers and toured the trenches and crusader fortress. After this we went for a pizur lunch where I got some delicious mix shawarma in a laffa. Then we were excited to visit with Rafi Jones, Ayala’s brother, who spoke to us about his journey from Golda Och to the IDF. With Rafi, we hiked to Har Adar to a outlook where we could see from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and where we could climb on IDF tanks and vehicles. For dinner, we returned to the hummus place in Abu Ghosh where I had previously downed 6.5 bowls. Don’t worry though - I ate much more moderately this time around (I only had one bowl supplemented with lots of falafel and french fries) I found that I actually felt a lot better there when I didn’t eat hummus to the point that it came out of my ears. After dinner, we went to a Yom HaZikaron tekes for all the Israeli travel programs. It was so incredibly moving to see thousands of Jews from all over the world gather to honor the fallen. The service was very meaningful and heartbreaking- we heard from family and friends of fallen soldiers, Israeli politicians, and music from the Israeli chamber orchestra. Tonight we are staying in Kfar Etzion as we prepare to do more commemoration for Yom HaZikaron tomorrow”.
  • Israel, Sunday, May 5

    Emme wrote the update for Sunday:
    “First thing in the morning we left Jerusalem and drove to Haifa to the Bahá’i Gardens. We took a tour of the beautiful gardens. During our tour we learned all about the Bahá’i religion that was founded in Persia around the belief that everyone is equal and that everyone believes in the same god. After we had a nice picnic lunch at a park in Haifa. Then we took a short hike to the cave where it is believed that Elijah hid with many other prophets when the king of Israel was persecuting prophets. At the cave we studied the story of Elijah and the other prophets at the cave and then we did mincha together”
  • Israel, Shabbat, May 3-4

    Ian wrote about Shabbat: 
    Shabbat began with a very chilly Kabalat Shabbat service on the balcony of Agron. After dinner we played a game in which we read prewritten confessions to the group, and then guessed who we thought wrote each one. We were shocked to learn that five year old Sam Lurie stole an action figure from his old camp and that Michelle Bilmes used to eat dirt on the daily as a child. The next morning the group split up and went to one of two synagogues for Saturday morning services. The rest of the day was dedicated to rest. Some people chose to spend their time at the park or talking to each other, but most of us just slept as we are still exhausted from Yam El Yam. After Havdalah we went to Ben Yehudah Street for a pizur dinner, and then went to sleep relatively early to prepare for our long week ahead.”
  • Israel, Monday, April 29

    We have an update from the heart of the Galil! 

    “Sunday was a relatively quiet day on Neshama. People gathered at Agron to drop their suitcases and load the bus which would head for Tel Aviv. Upon arrival in TLV the rest of the group boarded the bus and drove east toward the kineret where they would begin their yam l’ yam journey. The first day was spent following the water trail, מגרסהwhere we walked through deep waters and performed a ceremony. Post hike, the sopping students dried in the sun and boarded the bus headed to the first camp site. After changing and drying off, the students were treated to soup and a meal, followed by a nightly activity. The following morning, we arose at the crack of dawn, and prepared to hike nachal amud, to the top of mount meiron. The day consists dog hiking, singing, and drinking lots of water. After cooking a hearty meal, students began their decent to the camp site for the coming night, where they were met with soup and a home cooked meal. Though a challenging hike, the spirits continued to prevail as they prepared themselves for the coming days.”
  • Israel, Monday, April 15

    Dena’s update on Monday:

    We woke up this morning in Givat Haviva and had Breakfast. Then, we had an Arabic lesson in Hebrew with a very energetic teacher. She taught us the greetings and some slang while also explaining to us the differences and similarities between the two languages. Everyone was extremely engaged with the Arabic and some surprised the teacher with how much Hebrew they understood. It was an overall enlightening experience for all of us who have never learned a word of Arabic. After our lesson, we met with a panel of two Muslim women who told us about their life as legal Arab Israeli citizens. Their names were Salam and Ophna. After they told us about where they came from, we broke off into smaller groups and asked them questions about their way of life and their political opinions. It was an extremely eye opening experience to talk with women whose life goal is to make the world a better and more accepting place. After we heard from the two women, we had lunch in the cafeteria. Next, we met with a Panel of international students that attend Givat Haviva school. There were students from many different countries such as Israel, Kosovo, Armenia, India, Kazakhstan and the UK. We talked to the kids about their lives back home and what brought them to the Givat Haviva school. We also got to hear about their experience at the school. Some of them spoke about their favorite classes and committees while others spoke about the unbreakable bond they have created together. After this formal introduction of the teens, we were given the opportunity to talk with them on our own and met some pretty unique and special personalities. After a short break, we got to participate in the Givat Haviva Art Center interactive performance workshop. When we entered the room, we were given a handful of dirt and were not told what to do with it. Most students held it in their hands and waited for instruction. We learned all about the difference between performance art and performing arts. They showed us some videos of performance art which by definition is an art form that combines visual art with dramatic performance. No one in the group was familiar with this type of art so it brought a lot of curiosity and mixed emotions to the 28 of us. After seeing some examples of performance art, we broke off into small groups created our own performance art. After the encounters with everyone that morning, we sat in a circle with our Madricim and talked about our thoughts and feelings towards the place. We all agreed that all of these activities helped us see that co-existence is possible and that everyone can bond over food, culture, and making friends. Then, we left Givat Haviva and went on a long bus ride to Yarok Az and haShomer haChadash. After that we had dinner and got settled in the Yurts. The last part of the day was an Introduction with the madrich from haShomer”
  • Israel, Friday, April 12 - Sunday, April 14

    Shana  “Today we finally returned back to our home base of Jerusalem. However, on the way back, we stopped at Kasr El Yahud which we learned is a baptism sight. Since it has been a rainy winter, the Jordan River has risen too high for people to go dip in the river. Then we made our way to the Shook where we enjoyed a Pizzur lunch. It was so crowded there because everyone was getting ready for Shabbat. After a few hours there, we arrived at Agron. We prepared ourselves for Shabbat and then had a beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat at the Kotel. There was a lot of ruach, which seemed to attract other tourist groups into seeing what a bunch of teenagers were doing. After Kabbalat Shabbat, we had Maariv at a sight overlooking the Dome of the Rock. After we returned to Agron, we had Oneg where we played a few games and had a fun night.
    Next morning, we woke up early in order to be on time for Shabbat services. We made kiddish and had a nice Shabbat lunch together. Then we had a restful afternoon. Some of us enjoyed the warm weather by tanning in the park, and others enjoyed the peace and quiet in their rooms with an afternoon nap. Around 6:30 PM, we had the “third meal” and then sang together until it was time for Havdallah. After Havdallah, we had a nice Pizzur on Ben Yehuda”
    Fanya: “After a peaceful Shabbat at our home Agron, we got up bright and early to head out to Givat Haviva, a campus designed for promoting coexistence. There we had a seminar regarding the history of Arabs in Israel. In the seminar we learned about a village called Barta'a which had been divided into half Israeli control and half Jordanian control by the green line in 1948. We then got onto the bus and went to walk around the Israeli section of Barta'a and had a delicious lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch we went to an art gallery which brings together both Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis in an effort to form connections through art between the usually divided communities. At the gallery we learned about the organization and decorated rocks which are usually a symbol of violence, in order to symbolize that we are making progress for peace. After the art gallery, we headed back to Givat Haviva, for a bit of relaxing. For dinner, we went to a group of women who have overcome their divides to cook delicious food for the community. We cooked several types of salad, and a traditional Arab dish called Makluba. After this delicious meal, we headed back to Givat Haviva to rest and prepare ourselves for tomorrow”.
  • Israel, Wednesday, April 10 and Thursday, April 11

    Adam: “Today was a day that tested the members of Neshama emotionally and physically. We began by waking up for breakfast, eating some delicious food and drinking in a gorgeous view of the Kinneret, soon packing lunches for a hike up near the Kinneret. In contrast to our earlier travels in the desert, there were streams of running water, lush vegetation, and truly awe inspiring views of the majestic landscapes we travel. The terrain was challenging to navigate through at times, but all of us helped each other when someone was in need of a helping hand. We made quick work of any mud pits, small footholds, or slippery surfaces that stood in our way. Soon, our diligence paid off as we approached the base of the waterfall. Not only did we have a magnificent view of nature, but we were also allowed to beat the heat by taking a dive into the lake. The water was freezing cold, but the dip helped those who wanted to swim cool off from the heated hike we undertook. Once we had finished off our packed lunches, we took a different trail back to the bus and immediately turned on the air conditioning. We then took a small break for bathrooms and ice cream before going on another drive to Mount Bental in the Golan Heights. We learned a bit about the battle history of the nearby area, and about the Golan itself. The area is filled with volcanic enriched soil and various kinds of igneous rocks. They are all remnants of an ancient volcano, one which gave way to a crater where Kibbutz Merom Golan was founded. The nutrient rich soil is extremely helpful in their agricultural pursuits, not to mention their volcanic pumice quarries. The view up at the top was so clear, we were even able to see part of Mount Carmel in the distance. The old army base was fun to explore, and the Coffee Anan provided a place for us to buy ice cream, coffee, and even hot pizza. Once we all finished eating, we drove to the אסון מסוקים (Helicopter Disaster) memorial. It is dedicated to the 73 Israeli soldiers that lost their lives in a helicopter collision. Two of the boys actually graduated from the same school that Shai, our madricha, attended. Afterwards, we drove back to Ohalo for dinner and eagerly filled our stomachs. Our night was void of planned activities, which gave us all some much appreciated free time until we went to bed and rested for tomorrow”
    Same day, different, yet similar experience, Ayala: “Today we hiked in the Golan Heights, my favorite region of Israel! The hike started in a beautiful meadow covered in colorful flowers and cows, all with the backdrop of green hills. Although faced with the challenges of mud, rocks, water, and steep descents, many have said it was their favorite hike! מפל (waterfall) Zavitn was worth the effort! By the edge of the waterfall we ate lunch, swam, and sunbathed. After the hike we went to Har Bental where we saw Syria, an old army base and grabbed a bite to eat. After a bus ride along the Kineret we arrived at the Naot shoe factory where a few students bought new, fashionable shoes! Then the day took a more serious turn as we visited a memorial sight named Ason HaMasokim, Disaster of the Helicopters. There we learned about the 73 soldiers who died in 1997 due to an accidental collision of 2 helicopters transferring soldiers to the Lebanon border. The calming views of mountains and hills then smoothed us into a much needed nap before dinner. Everyone is excited to celebrate Pesach soon! Stay tuned for more updates!”
    We’ve been blessed with a good rainy year, which enhances the bauty of the Golan, the amount of water gushing down the streams and lots of mud.
    Ian wrote about Thursday’s hike: “After starting the day with its most important meal, we walked down to the cemetery next to our hotel and split up into our mishpachot to listened to four stories of essential figures in the pioneering of modern Zionism as well as the kibbutz itself. After a somewhat sad start to the morning, we headed off to Michve Alon, an active army base that focuses on integrating people like lone soldiers or Bedouins into the army and Israeli society. Soldiers study for upwards of 7 hours a day (and I thought Golda Och was a lot). Once we fully understood how soldiers are taught, we took a Hebrew class ourselves, the army teacher spoke in Hebrew for practically the entire lesson. Our Hebrew proved to be too great for the basic lesson and Golda Och Academy proved its worth yet again. The day continued on with an incredible thorn and nettle filled hike exploring the Jilabun stream. When we had the ability to look up from the jagged terrain, we witnessed things such as a magnificent waterfall as well as an old Syrian army base. By the time the hike was over, our legs were smeared with the gifts of the ground, cow manure, and a few brave souls had put it on their faces as war paint. Lastly, after a quick turnaround, we headed to Tiberius for a pizur dinner”
  • Israel, Monday, April 8

    Sam wrote about Monday:  “Today we left early in the morning to the rainbow cave on the Upper Galilee to go rappelling. After taking one look of Adam flipping upside down, dangling above the edge of the cliff, I decided to take the more sane route and watch everyone else from a safe distance. Everyone told me they had a great time, but I was very happy watching with two feet firmly planted on the ground. Rappelling was followed by a short hike along the edge of the edge of the cliff. We then drove to the old city of Akko where we went to what was voted the #2 hummus in all of Israel It was very good, but there was a little too much oil for my liking. In Akko we also went to the synagogue of the RaMHal to pray Mincha and learn some of his teachings. The day ended with a trip to the beach where we rested, swam in the freezing water, and hurt our feet climbing on the rocks.”
  • Israel, Sunday, April 7

    Jacob, Sunday April 7: “After returning from our free weekend, we set out from Tel Aviv for a week in the north of Israel. Our first stop was at the Atlit Detention Center, where Jews were imprisoned after immigrating to Israel during the British Mandate period. The barbed wire fences and sanitation rooms reminded us of the atrocities we witnessed in Poland. We watched a few films at the site: one about immigrating to Israel and another about the Palmach’s mission that rescued 200 detainees from the camp. From Atlit, we traveled to Zikhron Yaakov, a beautiful town where we were treated with a pizur lunch. Afterwards, we learned about the history of Zikhron Yaakov, more specifically the story of Sarah Aaronson. Morah Keren’s 10th Grade Hebrew class, who read a book about the Jewish heroine, helped Rob tell her story. We then hiked along the Mediterranean coastline. We also had a stone-skipping competition (Josh easily won with around 9 skips, while my stone pathetically plopped into the water). We continued on to Kibbutz Shomrat, where we be sleeping until Tuesday. We finished up the day by talking about the upcoming election, and figuring out which party we aligned with most.”
  • Israel, Thursday, April 4

    Sophie wrote Thursdays update:
    "Neshama began this morning by driving down to Neve Sha’anan, a neighborhood in South Tel Aviv. We went on a walking tour with BINA, a “secular yeshiva” that emphasizes Jewish and secular studies combined with social action and volunteering. We learned about the area’s history and its socioeconomic struggles, especially regarding the massive central bus station, which was built directly in the residential neighborhood and has not been as successful as intended. We also saw the public library, which is made up of a set of bookshelves inside the local park containing books in many languages. Neve Sha’anan is home to a number of asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea, as well as immigrant workers from countries around the world. We met with Adam, an asylum seeker from Sudan, who told us about his journey to Egypt and to Israel and the struggles he has faced. Our conversation brought up very difficult but important realities of the lives of asylum seekers in Israel. We ended our time at BINA by discussing various quotations from Jewish texts and leaders regarding the Jewish values of taking care of the poor and of the ‘other’ and the modern idea of a Jewish state. It was both challenging and interesting to unravel the contradictions between the different political and religious viewpoints on issue of refugees in Israel.
    Next, we had a pizur lunch in Yafo. Some students returned to popular spots from our culinary tour. For our last activity before the free weekend, we visited Save a Child’s Heart, an organization that performs lifesaving heart surgeries for children born in developing countries/regions with congenital heart conditions. Due to the work of volunteer surgeons and nurses, each surgery costs just $15,000, which includes all of the care and transportation costs for the child in need. Everyone enjoyed playing with children of all ages who stay at the Save a Child’s Heart home while they are recovering.
    We are all looking forward to a restful free weekend! Shabbat shalom!"
  • Israel, Tuesday, April 2 and Wednesday, April 3

    “We woke up this morning, went to breakfast, packed lunches, and met up with Arnie, who led us through most of the Day of Good Deeds (יום מעשים טובים) filled with his witty humor. The first person we met up with was Avshalom who taught us about his work with therapy animals and even brought some in for us to interact with. The Youth Hostel was not at all thrilled with the idea of having animals around and did not allow them to enter. Instead we crossed the street to the park and were able to play around with, pet, scratch, and feed the adorable creatures including both dogs and cats. After a quick bathroom break we got on the bus and were on our way. The next part of the day consisted of several long hours out in the field sweating our butts off and getting covered in dirt as we ripped out, hoed, and raked away the weeds around a lovely Thai pagoda, racking up our community service hours. We then returned to the hostel and listened to Danii, who spoke about how she created a platform for small non-profit charities. After some free time, we met with some old alumni and had dinner with them. Then, Galit came in and spoke to us about Israeli cinema as well as showed us some clips from different Israeli films and pointed out different techniques used within them. The day has now come to an end as we now wait for an exciting day tomorrow including Jamie’s birthday and Yom Neshama (יום נשמה), a day planned by the mysterious Va’ad Neshama”
    “After spending 37 days in Israel, the staff finally trusted us to plan the activities for the day. Our Yom Neshama began with the single most requested activity: sleep. After a 10:30 wake up, we drove to The Cooking Studio. We learned everything there is to know about Italian cuisine, learning how to make pasta, risotto, tiramisu, and many other dishes, and finished off our lesson with a nice meal of our food. We then went to Rabin square and heard a former member of the Israeli security force talk about the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. We spent the rest of Yom Neshama at the beach, finishing our day with falafel and hummus as we watched the sunset”
  • Israel, Tuesday, April 9

    Michelle wrote the update: “We began our Israeli election day at an overlook above the city of Tzfat, where Rob taught us some of the history of the city. We continued our tour of Tzfat by going to a nearby cistern from the time of the crusaders. After singing a few songs together, we each responded to a question Rob had posed: what is the meaning of life? We then toured three of the historic synagogues in the city - the Yosef Caro Synagogue, the Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue and the Abuhav Synagogue. We met with a Kabbalist rabbi, who led us in a mindfulness and meditation experience and then showed us ruins of what is believed to have been a center of the Kabbalist world. Following our deeply spiritual experience, we gave into our consumerist desires and went shopping in Tzfat’s art market, while Rob went to go find somewhere he could vote*. We finished our time there by meeting a Kabbalist artist named Avraham, who shared his life story with us and discussed his artwork and views on life. After dinner at the hotel, focus shifted to the elections, the results of which you may or may not know by now. It is a very exciting time for us to be in Israel and witness the democracy of the Jewish state function.” 
  • Israel, Monday, April 1

    Aytan Geshwind wrote the update:
    “We started our day with a drive from the Masada hostel to Tel Aviv. Upon arriving in the city, we split into groups for our pizur lunch at Shuk hacarmel. After regrouping we met up with Rabbi Kallush (and more importantly her baby son, Matan) and went on a rainbow tour of Tel Aviv. Our guide taught us about the history of gay life in both biblical and contemporary Israel, as well as the current facts of life for the LGBTQIA community in Israel and specifically in Tel Aviv which, with a nearly 30% LGBT population, is known as the gay capital of the Middle East. We finished the tour at the Tel Aviv pride center, where we emptied our bladders. We then went to two laundromats (one for boys, one for girls) and spent three hours running around trying to find more and more 5 shekel coins for the laundry machines; a true bonding experience. Once all our laundry was done we went to the hostel, checked into our rooms and had dinner. After dinner, Oz, a former "Rishon" (Israeli emissary to Metrowest, who we hosted) came and talked to us about his job as a control officer in the Israeli Air Force and about the current situation with Gaza. Although he couldn't share any specific information, we learned a lot about how the Air Force runs and about the structure of the military and got a better appreciation for all of the work that is constantly being done behind the scenes to keep us safe. We finished our evening with one-on-one conversations between ourselves.”
  • Israel, Sunday, March 31

    “We awoke at 7 to walk the snake path on Masada that the zealots once walked. Rob kept the morale of the group up by telling us stories of hikes gone wrong on Masada. Once we got to the top and caught our breath, we began our tour. Rob showed us several of the 12 cisterns that the zealots used to store their water. We were able to see several different examples of how Herod used art and mosaics to make Masada into a luxury resort. Since a lot of it has been preserved we were able to see examples of what a basic mosaic floor looks like, as well as a fancy one. Masada was home to religious Jews, they made an effort to keep their traditions alive, and therefore had a mikvah and a synagogue. We completed our tour of Masada by standing on the edge and hearing Rob’s outlandish claims that there is a man in mountain who watches for flash floods. After yelling flash flood into the wind a few times, we decided to make the descent. We trekked back down the mountain, and when we finished, everyone eagerly checked their phones to see how many flights of stairs we climbed. Tired, stiff and sweaty, we got on the bus to head to the Dead Sea where we spent our afternoon. When we got to the hotel, where we would be spending our time, we walked into the dining room, the buffet looked like the Garden of Eden, rows upon rows of all different kinds of food. After an excellent meal it was time to relax. People spent time in the Dead Sea, getting massages, in the various salt water pools, and shvitzing in the sauna. What was most commonly done, was a combination of everything. We emerged from the hotel with skin that felt like velvet and muscles that were far from aching. After a short bus ride to the hostel we ate dinner, which seemed impossible after what we ate for lunch. After dinner the madrichim planned a game for us. It combined taboo and charades. On pieces of paper, we wrote the names of people, some celebrities, some athletes, but most of all the people that we have met on Neshama. After free time, we called it a night and started looking forward to our week in Tel Aviv”
  • Israel, Saturday, March 30

    “Today was one of our last hikes in the desert. We departed from Eilat on our way to Ein Gedi. But before we could arrive at our home for Shabbat, we of course had to go on a hike. We hiked Nachal Peres, a canyon that would be one of our last hikes in a desert terrain. After our hike, we made a quick or stop for milkshakes on our way to our hostel in Ein Gedi. We arrived in Ein Gedi, and did a beautiful Kabbalah Shabbat ceremony in a scenic overlook overlooking the Dead Sea. Shabbat was a very quiet day. Even though we got flooded out of our optional hike for the morning, we ate lunch and played some fun games which were planned by Ilai’s mishpacha. After this activity, we had a short mincha service, and ate dinner. Our day concluded with Havdalah and a short amount of free time before we had an early curfew, in order for us to have enough sleep before Masada”
  • Israel, Thursday, March 28

    Emme wrote todays update:
    “Today we woke up at Kibbutz Ketura and went on a challenging hike through the Eilat mountains. After a long and difficult climb, we crossed everyone’s favorite rock formation, a saddle, and came to a mountain top overlooking the Red Sea. Overlooking the bay, we saw the borders of 3 other countries, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan. After a slightly shorter and much more slippery hike down, we boarded the (thankfully) air conditioned bus, and headed off to Eilat. In Eilat, we had a great time snorkeling. Despite some physical and emotional difficulties, we all managed to make it out of the water in one piece, and got to enjoy a nice time on the beach before heading off to the hostel. Tonight, we had a dinner pizur in Eilat. There were many things to do. At the end of the day, we all went back to the hostel to hang out, relax, and prepare ourselves for the upcoming Shabbat”
  • Israel, Sunday, March 25

    Theo H-B wrote Sunday’s update:

    “Dawn rose, and with it the groggy faces of 17 and 18-year-olds ready to begin another week away from the comforts of our home in Agron. After an entire weekend without a sense of unity, identity and direction, we greeted our fearless leader Rob with an uproarious cheer that shook the hostel to its foundations. Leaving Agron was, as always, an anxiety-filled moment, as some among us were afraid to leave the creature comforts of stable meals and being able to access our second suitcase in storage. Our bus ride took 4 hours, including getting stuck in Jerusalem traffic and having to back up our bus through a packed intersection, seeing horses, sheep, goats, donkeys and camels on the unnaturally green countryside (משיב הרוח ומוריד הגשם), a geology lesson about sinkholes from Rob, lots of napping and a bagel lunch break. Finally, we arrived at our home-away-from-home(-away-from-home in New Jersey), Kibbutz Keturah (קיבוץ קטורה). While many chose to acclimate to their new dwellings, an intrepid few chose to practice their bike-riding skills for the next day’s activities. Unfortunately for this writer, who accompanied them but who did not know how to ride a bike, this outing ended with the petting of a nearby kibbutz cat. After a short tour of the kibbutz in drizzling rain with our guide, who went by the name of “Bill”, we had dinner and concluded the evening’s activities with a Jeopardy about kibbutz life, with another kibbutz member who revealed her name as “Leah”. Our fearless leader Rob had told us that our Neshama journey was nearing its zenith, and that we should make the most of the next few weeks. It truly felt like a transition as our 4-hour bus ride took us from the conflict-filled, morally confounding world of Jerusalem and the West Bank to the peaceful desert commune of the Kibbutz. The next step of our Neshama journey promises lots of learning, fun and adventure”
  • Israel, Thursday, March 21

    Emily wrote todays update:

    “After a nice, late wake-up, we headed out to our first stop of the day in Ein Rafa to meet with Yasmin to learn more about Islam in a mosque. The girls had to wear headscarves, which was definitely an interesting experience. We learned that Islam is complete submission to one god that involves spiritual balance in one’s life. It’s a religion that controls most aspects of everyday life. Yasmin cleared many misconceptions that are spread about Islam from the media, emphasizing that Islam does not support any type of extremism. While there are defined gender roles, Islam is not meant to suppress women. Instead, it is meant to glorify their roles in society. We left the mosque to take a short walking tour around the village of Ein Rafa, where we learned more about the people who live there and the village’s history. A lot of people who live there come from different Arab areas, but they are still connected to their roots because of their strong family ties. The people who used to live in the village lived in terrible conditions, where 20 to 30 people used to live in one apartment under the Ottomans and even under the British mandate. Now, people in the village have set up many businesses, go to schools, and go to universities. Ein Rafa is located 12 kilometers from Jerusalem and 20 minutes from the airport, making it a very centralized area. This particular community focuses on blending the Israelis and Arabs at a young age so that they can have positive relationships and communication with each other in the future. When we asked Yasmin about her opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she brought up the idea of kindergartens with both Israeli and Palestinian children so that they can have positive experiences and not be so hateful toward one another as they get older, which was a beautiful and strong closing to our week, learning about the many faces of Israel. After our meeting with Yasmin, we went to Abu Gosh to enjoy an amazing hummus lunch, where Sam devoured almost 6 entire bowls of hummus all by himself. We reflected on the week we had in a Benedictine Church, while singing Hebrew songs and hearing the Muslim call to prayer simultaneously. We headed back to Agron, where we changed into our costumes. A few members of my mishpachah and I dressed up as police officers, aka the “mishpachah mishtarah.” Other costumes included unicorns, farmers, hippies, and Stef in a pink wig. We went to the conservative shul next to Agron, where Sam, Aaron, and I read Megillat Esther in a very fun, eclectic service. After, we enjoyed a Pizza Hut dinner and exchanged mishloach manot to one another that we bought at the shuk a few days ago. We conducted a “Purim Shpiel” during the last part of the night that consisted of a game of kahoot, an emotionless dance-off, and a contest where we tried to make the Rob and the madrichim laugh. To finish off our amazing, fun-filled day, we went to Ben Yehuda and danced the night away”.
  • Israel, Wednesday, March 20

    Jamie wrote an update about Wednesday:

    “In continuation of our many faces week, we woke up this morning and immediately welcomed Firas, a Palestinian Arab from the town of Shuafat in East Jerusalem, who told us about life as a Palestinian in the city. He mentioned that although he pays all the same taxes as the Jewish Israelis, he does not have the right to vote nor to have an Israeli passport, among other things. Shortly after, we met with Rabbi Adam Frank, a conservative rabbi originally from Atlanta, who offered his perspectives on the different sects of Judaism in Israel. After lunch, we drove to East Jerusalem to meet with a representative from Kids4Peace, as well as two teenagers - one Christian Palestinian and one Muslim Palestinian - who joined us in our tour around the city. After the tour, we stopped at the organization’s home base to hear more about how they bridge the gap between Jews, Muslims, and Christians living in East Jerusalem. We ended our day with a pizur dinner at Ben Yehuda and celebrated the birthdays of Ayala and Alana”.
    There are many reasons why Jerusalem is the greatest city in Israel, one of those reasons is how painfully realistic it is- whatever the conflict is about – it will be felt, lived, seen, experienced to its fullest in Jerusalem. Some will say it is also the greatest city because it has a belated Purim celebration which really just extends the celebrations another day. Tonight Neshama will begin the official Purim celebrations with Megila reading and the mandatory Israeli style Purim party of loud music, bowls of bissli and tapuchips (chips), mango juice and more.
    Purim Sameach to all, Yom Tov (good day)
  • Israel, Tuesday, March 19

    Fanya wrote the update:
    “Some of the early bird Neshamaniks decided to go on a leisurely jog around the lovely kibbutz before leaving Gush Etzion. The others decided to catch a couple more Zzzzz's and sleep in. After breakfast, we met with a woman from Efrat, who made Aliyah from Texas, named Malkah. She was born into a reform family but never felt much connection to Judaism because of the lack of Jews in her daily life. She made the move to Israel with her then fiancé after going to college and law school and after discovering a deep connection to both Israel and Judaism. Malkah explained her lifestyle and her opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a proud Jew living in a settlement. Neshama then departed to the Charedi neighborhood of Meah Shearim. Before entering we were briefed on how to draw little attention to ourselves as to not cause a ruckus. After breaking into small, single sex Pizour groups, we walked over to the Belz synagogue and met Yehezkel. Yehezkel spoke to us about the Belz sect of Charedim and daily Charedi life. He happily and honestly answered all our questions regarding his life, opinions and community. After receiving a tour around the synagogue, we departed to the Shuk to buy Mishloach Manot and costume bits for Purim. Sam tasted his first Sabich and demolished it in a solid five minutes. After returning to Agron we did laundry, had dinner and an open conversation with our Madrichim regarding all the different opinions from the various speakers throughout the week. We are looking forward to Purim celebrations, the free weekend and clean laundry! :)”
  • Israel, Monday, March 18

    Todays update,  written by Stef. The group is now back at Kfar Etzion enjoying a Kibbutz style relaxing night = a bonfire…
    “We started today with a really difficult experience. We learned about Baruch Goldstein and his horrific act of terror against the Hebron Muslim community on Purim 1994. While reading the epitaph on the grave glorifying his life, we began to face the serious blemishes of the situation in Hebron and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Following this, we went to Mearat Ha’Machpelah (The Cave of the Patriarchs) where we had the privilege to daven Mincha in the same location that our ancestors were buried. After Mincha, we met Rav Simcha in a Hebron Shul that was first established in the early 1500s by Jews who fled from the Spanish Inquisition. He told us about Jewish history in Hebron and his religious and political perspective regarding the Jewish presence in the city. After a walking tour of Hebron led by Rav Simcha, we had the opportunity to see a newly unearthed archaeological site - two Mikvahs dating back to the Second Temple and Byzantine periods. Our final stop during the tour in Hebron was a meeting with a Palestinian non-violent activist named Issa. He discussed the challenges he faces as a Palestinian living in the West Bank, along with his opinions regarding the political situation. After a long, thought-provoking day, we returned to Kfar Etzion for a delicious dinner”
  • Israel, Sunday, March 17

    Alana wrote about today, the first day of a week-long Many faces of Israel seminar:
    “Our first day in Gush Etzion began with historical "crash course" on the power struggle within the Gush, and within theWest Bank, including detailed maps of the area throughout the years. After boarding the bus, our first stop was to a small Palestinian village in Area C (the part controlled by Israel post Oslo). A man named Chamed showed us around and explained to us the narrative of Palestinians in the Gush and West Bank. He provided some of his own opinion being a man who lives in Area A (controlled by the Palestinian Authority) and someone who studied both in America and Israel. To finish his tour, we were invited into the home of a Palestinian woman for tea and to ask Chamed some questions. We had Pizur in Efrat giving us a chance to see a very small, modernized strip of the area and get some good food. Following that we returned to Kfar Eitzion, where we are staying, to learn about the kibbutz. Here we walked through a museum and watched a movie paying tribute to the victims of the war of independence that resulted in the evacuation of the kibbutz and other kibbutzim nearby* Then we went to the Oz Gaon park that was founded by the Women in Green in memory of the 3 Israelis who were kidnapped and killed in 2014. We heard the story and opinions of a woman named Nadia Matar, who is a proud settler of "Judea and Samaria". She was one of the people who worked to clean and rebuild the park we were in, as well as being a strong advocator of Israeli Sovereignty in the West Bank. After meeting with Nadia we prayed Mincha and returned to Kfar Eitzion for some relaxation, dinner and debriefing of the day”
    The story of Kfar Etzion and its surrounding is close to my heart. The 4 Kibbutzim: Kfar Etzion, Ein Tsurim, Massuot Yitzhak and Revadim settled in the area between 1939-1945. They were the frontier during independence war stopping Jordan from reaching west Jerusalem.

    By May 1948 all four Kibbutzim were occupied by Jordan and members were sent to captivity in Jordan. Among those taken were my step grandparents, who were/are founding members of Kibbutz Massuot Yitzhak. Upon the return from captivity the group chose to resettle where the Kibbutz is today (10 min from Ashkelon in the south) The story of these four kibbutzim, of the military convoys delivering food and weapon, the story of being captive in Jordan are stories I grew up on. Twice a year we had a bike ride from the current location of the Kibbutz to the original location, our bat/bar mitzvah projects were about this story. Every year when Neshama arrive to the Gush my heart grows wider.
  • Israel, Saturday, March 16

    Ian’s update:
    After a filling Israeli breakfast inside of the Bedouin village, we were treated with a unique camel riding experience. Although the smell wasn’t pleasant to say the least and some camels truly had minds of their own, the experience was really enjoyable. After the camel riding, we left the Bedouin village and headed to our host families for Shabbat. Both the Merchavim and Neshama girls celebrated Shabbat together at Noa Maor’s home and the guys joined shortly after. We had a relaxing night together filled with memories and newly created bonds. All of the guys returned to their host families late that night while most of the girls slept over.

    Since most of us saw our beds for the first time that night at 3am, the vast majority didn’t even bother getting up before noon. The rest of the day was spent doing activities with our respective host families, such as bowling, watching movies and hanging out. Once shabbat came to a close, all of the kids met up in Ma’abuim to say our emotional final goodbyes. After the goodbyes, we arrived at kibbutz Etzion and were all ready for bed”
  • Israel, Wednesday, March 13 & Thursday, March 14

    Amanda Feldman, Wednesdays update:
    “Today, we woke up at the Kibbutz Gvulot and ate a delicious breakfast. Then we started our journey by taking the bus to the hanging bridge at Nachal Basor. The bridge hung over a small river and was scary to those who were afraid of heights. Eventually, everyone was able to cross the bridge. It was fun watching our friends conquer their fear of heights and enjoying their time on the bridge. After some jumping and swinging, we all sat down and sang some melodies and went into depth about what this bridge symbolizes at this point in our lives. People had many different interpretations. After, we took a short bus ride to Shvil haSalat, (the salad farm). Many students were very excited to come back to this place after not having been there since Na’ale in 9th grade. Students were allowed to hand-pick a variety of fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, peppers, bananas, mint leaves, passion fruit and more. The boys and girls did a race to see who could get through the maze the fastest and the boys won. The salad trip concluded with 9 students releasing messenger pigeons into the wild and the sprinklers “randomly” going off. Then we had a quick lunch with shnitzel, salad, and rice and were off to our next destination. We had an hour drive to Netiv Ha’asara (wall of Peace). This wall was built so that Hamas couldn’t directly shoot or fire rockets into this Israeli town. We watched a video on what life was like for the woman who came up with the idea to paint the wall and put custom handwritten stones on it. We then prayed at the wall after putting our stones on it and left for merchavim. We picked up the merchavim kids, and drove back to Kibbutz Gvulot. It was really nice to see our merchavim friends again.
    Thursdays update, Amanda Nadel
    “Today, we drove from Kibbutz Gvulot to the Bedouin town of Lakiya. Together with the Merchavim students we listened to a Bedouin woman named Huda who spoke to us about the organizations that she is participating in, which aims to establish equality for women. The Bedouin women are creating very detailed embroidery pieces that are being sold to the public in order to give women scholarships for attending universities. After, we went back on the bus and traveled to the Naot Farm. We met with one of the owners of the farm named Leah who told us all about her experience of starting a new chapter of her life in the desert. She raises goats and sheep and sells the goat milk and cheese within the desert. After we spoke to her, we were able to meet the sheep and goats and also tasted different types of cheese. We then went to another settlement that has secular and religious families. There are around 40 children living here and they get an education from a local kibbutz. They hope to get bigger eventually. Finally, we stopped for the night in a Bedouin village. In this village we talked to a man named Ibrahim. He told us all about the Bedouin way of life, and treated us to some traditional Bedouin coffee. After that we ate dinner, and spent the evening together before finally going to sleep in a traditional Bedouin tent. Special shout out to my mom: happy birthday to my best friend! I miss you so much:)”
  • Israel, Tuesday, March 12

    Neshama are catching up on updates, so we have two: first, about Sunday’s activities written by Noah. Second about yesterday (Monday) written by Josh.
    Sunday, March 10, Noah: We started our day by reuniting with friends after a fun and relaxing free weekend. A bus malfunction caused a slight hiccup in the schedule, but as we have learned from Theodore Herzl: אם תרצו אין זו אגדה. A brand new, fully functioning bus quickly arrived and we were on our way to hike Shvil hama’ayanot followed by a picnic lunch. After a long and tiring first leg of the hike, Rob raised everyone’s spirits by informing us that we hadn’t even begun climbing up the mountain. With our increased motivation, we navigated the rough terrain of western Jerusalem and found ourselves at the end of the trail. We gathered fire wood, cooked burgers (both meat and veggie), and ate a well deserved, post-hike meal. We stayed at Agron for the rest of the evening, finishing the day off with a relaxing movie night and snacks.
    Monday March 11: “We started our day with a bunch of small children storming the dining room as we struggled to not knock them over. Then, the bus company tried and failed to reuse the same broken bus from yesterday and we had to leave our bags on the sidewalk for the morning. When we arrived to enter the Temple Mount, noticing the long line we decided to pray in the egalitarian section of the Kotel first. Once our prayers were finished the line for the Temple Mount was empty. We dropped off our bags and headed up. Behind us, as we entered, was a loud group of Jews chanting and cheering as they were immediately swarmed by armed guards to watch their every move and ensure they kept quiet and weren’t breaking any rules*. We prepared ahead of time and did not encounter these issues. The area was massive and a lot more peaceful than you would expect for such a tense and controversial area. After our visit, we went back to Agron, saw our bags still sitting on the sidewalk, ate lunch, and left for Merchavim. When we arrived, some of us were ecstatic to see some old Israeli friends, others we were meeting for the first time. We split into three groups and did some fun team building exercises. We then joined the Merchavim kids on their buses home and went our separate ways for the evening. To quote Aytan Geschwind: “We ate a lot of food”. That is an understatement. Every household was packed to the brim with food, and we ate and ate and ate until we couldn’t eat anymore . . . and that was just the appetizer. Tomorrow, we are off for Sderot, awaiting our next fun-filled adventure.”
    *Josh mentioned rules, I would like to shed some light on this: After the 6 day war, when East and West Jerusalem became one city under Israeli sovereignty (from 1948 to 1967 the area of the old city and its surrounding was under Jordanian sovereignty) The Israeli government agreed on a status-que for Temple Mount to be under Israeli law yet managed by the Wakf (guardians of religious places) The wakf reports and is supported by Jordan. Part of the status que is that only Muslims are permitted to worship on the mountain. This is a point of much controversy. Many Jews protest this by either trying to daven on their own or march up as a group, like the one Josh described.
  • Israel, Sunday, March 10

    When on Neshama sense of time is a bit more fluid than usual, that is why sometimes you’ll find one or two photos from Monday in Thursday’s album, student updates are not much different, especially updates written on a Thursday of a free weekend. We get to enjoy them when the author is back with the group.

    Ayala wrote about her experience from Thursday and what was her upcoming free weekend.
    “Today was one of the best days of Neshama so far! The day started in the trendy suburb of Tel Aviv, Florentine, with a graffiti tour. We saw a range of works spanning from comical, political, simply aesthetically pleasing, or ones critical of societal norms. At the end of the tour, the Neshamanikim were able to paint their own designs on a wall. For example, Fanya pained a toucan, Michelle pained an eye, and the boys branded the wall with “BWS”, Boys Who Sew. After the tour we walked to Shuk Hakarmel. There we had free time to eat lunch and shop. We then worked off the tasty food with a 18k bike ride along the Yarkon River. I am convinced I had the best ride because I rode on a tandem bike with Rob (see pictures for a good laugh)! We biked to the נמל, port, to see the beautiful shades of blue of the Mediterranean and smelled the salty air and felt a little sea spray. A few of us bought either fresh smoothies or ice cream before returning the bikes. We then boarded our beloved bus to part or separate ways for free weekend. I hope no one has any separation anxiety! 
    On a personal note, today was especially fulfilling for me for a few reasons. First, I was able to see one of my favorite cousins who owns a shop around Shuk Hakarmel. Second, I learned how to ride a bike by myself while waiting for the rest of the group to meet us at the final destination! And third, I will be staying with my brother who I hadn’t seen in many months over the free weekend. 

    Stay tuned and Shabbat Shalom!
  • Israel, Friday, March 8

    Sophie wrote about this mornings’ Rosh Chodesh prayers with Women of the Wall:
    “On Friday morning, six students on Neshama woke up early to arrive at the Kotel by 7 AM in order to pray with Women of the Wall for their Rosh Hodesh Adar service. In addition to marking the start of the new month, today's date, March 8, also marks International Women's Day and the 30th anniversary of Women of the Wall's founding, making today especially important. Unfortunately, this celebration was met with hatred and opposition from thousands of Ultra-Orthodox/Haredi Jews. As we walked to the Old City, we were surrounded by protestors who came to disrupt Women of the Wall, including many yeshiva students brought by their schools. The crowded tunnels of the Old City made it very difficult to reach the Kotel Plaza, which was packed when we finally arrived.
    At the Kotel, we separated from Theo and David, who stood near the barrier between the men's and women's section with other male supporters of Women of the Wall. Along with our madricha Shai, Alana, Fanya, Dena, and I attempted to enter the women's section. The massive crowds and pushy individuals made it extremely slow and difficult to reach the Women of the Wall, who were in the back of the women's section. In addition to a loudspeaker that was being used by the men to lead their service, many people were blowing whistles and shouting, making it nearly impossible to hear Women of the Wall's prayer. We almost succeeded in approaching Women of the Wall's table, at which point they were singing Hallel. Even then, we could not hear them well and were not able to participate. We were surrounded by female yeshiva students who were laughing at Women of the Wall and taunting them regarding their tefillah, kipot, and tefillin. At this point, we had been at the Kotel for less than an hour, but felt forced to leave due to the tense and upsetting conditions. When we returned to Agron, we learned that Women of the Wall was escorted out of the women's section soon after we left and finished their service at Robinson's Arch. 
    Today's experience, though difficult and completely contradictory to Jewish values, was personally important to me to attend. I had hoped for a positive start to the new month and a celebration of International Women’s Day by praying with Women of the Wall. Although this was not possible, this first-hand experience has provided me with a stronger appreciation for the opportunities in my life to lead others in prayer, while wearing my tallit, without harassment. More importantly, I feel more committed to women's leadership in Jewish spaces, especially religious ones, and to ensuring that all those who would like to pray in whatever form they choose are able to do so in peace.”
    Towards the end of Neshama there will be another opportunity to join women of the wall for Rosh Hodesh prayer, I hope next time would be calmer. We are also scheduled to meet with the religious action center who works behind the scenes, in courts and Knesset (parliament) to help change happen.
    The controversy over the Kotel is an interesting look into Israel - diaspora relations. Whilst discussions about the Kotel, conversions, marriage etc. often make it to our Jewish news, it does not catch as much time/space in Israeli news. For many secular Israelis the Kotel is just another historical site they visit on their 5th grade filed trip to Jerusalem.
    Part of the change in perception and practice of Judaism in Israel grows from the three-year Mifgash (encounter) we have with Merchavim. By sharing our daily lives when we meet one another, either in Israel or here, allows us to understand, on the most personal level,  that Jewish living comes in many shapes and belongs to all of us equally.
  • Israel, Wednesday, March 6

    As we set to sleep Neshama are getting ready for another fun filled day of learning in Tel Aviv- Yafo. Yesterday they learned about the history of the city, and how, literally, it rised up from the sand following a vision of a group called Homestead אחוזת בית, who got tired of the crowded streets of Yafo and wanted an independent Hebrew city by ancient Yafo. To read more about Tel Aviv visit this wikipedia page:
    Wednesdays update was written by Sam:
    “Today began with a tour of the ancient city of Yafo, courtesy of our new friend Reut (maybe a cousin of Itai’s). This, however, was no ordinary tour. It was a culinary tour; a food lover’s paradise.  Our tongues were tingled and bellies filled by some of the tastiest food any of us have ever had: fresh hummus and falafel, Cuscus, fruit smoothies, fancy gelato, Malabi (a coconut milk pudding), a Georgian pizza-like dish, and warm, cheese filled dough pockets from a century-old Arab bakery. We then had some free time to haggle in the flea market. Emily and Michelle made some good deals on Jewelry, Aytan found a bargain VGA adapter cord, Itai bought a very late 80s sweatshirt, and I almost bought an antique squeaky horn, but decided to spare my friends from it’s annoying squawking sounds.

    After Yafo, we headed to the beach! Everyone lathered up their sunscreen and put on bathing suits. Some of us swam (although the water was very cold), others tanned on the shore, and a select few decided to spend their time constructing a third Beit HaMikdash out of sand, complete with an altar, retaining wall, Robinson’s Arch, and court for the Sanhedrin. Our Judaics teachers would be proud.

    Back at the hostel we showered and then celebrated Ian’s birthday with some songs and excellent cupcakes.

    For dinner, we went to Sarona Market, the “hot spot” of Tel-Aviv. We continued to enjoy amazing food: make-your-own pasta, old-fashioned burgers, Moroccan meat sandwiches, and fancy chocolate. After eating, some of us discovered a playground outside the market with a couple of spinny merry-go-round contraptions which we overused, making ourselves a little sick and very dizzy (but we got Rob to try it out with us!). We returned to our hostel feeling very full and tired, but with many of us saying that this was one of the best days of Neshama yet.”
  • Israel, Tuesday, March 5

    Michelle Bilmes wrote an update about desert experience:
    “Upon beginning our attempt at survival in the Negev, the grade was divided into three subgroups and given all the tools we would need for three days in the desert. After preparing our own lunch, we began hiking. Our incredible guide, נמרוד (Neem-road), taught us the topographical features of the region, including the saddle, extension, wadi and peak. We crossed a saddle (kinda like a bridge) that connected two plateaus and sat in silence for five minutes to appreciate the breathtaking views. After continuing to hike through the afternoon, we arrived at our campsite. 

    We ate a delicious dinner prepared for us by the staff of the camping company and then, for our evening activity, competed in our subgroups to see who could build the highest fire. We then sat around the winning fire (group two’s, of course) and sang and roasted marshmallows. 

    We began day two with a thirty-minute hike to a natural spring, where we made breakfast in our groups and learned about water filtration. From there, we were tasked with navigating our way through the desert to a small Bedouin village in our subgroups without the help of נמרוד. We then hiked to our next campsite. On the way, however, we encountered some challenging terrain, where many of us had to conquer our fear of heights. At the campsite, we were given the option to take a short extra hike to a nearby wadi. After a delicious dinner, we were told to come line up without flashlights or phones. We were led deeper into the desert where each person was given 15 minutes to sit, watch the stars and relax after a long day’s hike. We joined together as a group after the activity and each person was tasked with describing their experience in one word. Most said words like “spiritual”, “emotional” and “perspective” but my personal favorite was Josh Kalet’s response: “stars.” We returned to the campsite, made a bonfire, and went to sleep. 

    The next morning, we were told that there would be flash flooding in the area so we had to leave early, and just like that our desert experience was over. 

    From the campsite, we took a bus ride to the beautiful Mitzpe Ramon and then we were off to the alpaca farm where we saw, among other animals, lots of alpacas. Finally, it was time for us to depart for Tel Aviv, where we would finally be able to sher and celebrate Itai and Aaron’s birthdays with Itai’s family. 

    We then had some time to explore the Tel Aviv Port and get some rest for all that lies ahead of us” 
  • Israel, Saturday, March 2

    Ayatan wrote about Friday and Shabbat:
    On Friday we started the day with a trip to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Rob guided us through the site and explained the story of Jesus and the relationships between the various sects of Christianity that have a presence at the church. We saw the rock where Jesus's cross was anchored, the stone where his body was prepared for burial, and the site where he was buried and, according to Christian tradition, ascended to heaven. After we finished touring the church, we walked through the Christian quarter and had Pizur and free time at Shuk Machne-Yehuda. After returning to Agron we prepared for Shabbat and had a ruach-filled Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv service. We finished the night with some group games and then many of us stayed up until after midnight so we could sing Happy birthday to Emily at the very beginning of the day.
    On Saturday we split into two groups. About half of us went to the Masorti shul at the Agron compound and the other half went to Shira Chadasha - a Modern-Orthodox egalitarian shul where men and women have equal opportunities to participate in services but there is a Mechitza. We returned from shul for a Kiddush and a few hours of free time to take a Shabbos nap. Toward the end of Shabbat we got into groups and discussed articles about antisemitism and BDS. Once we finished our discussions, we got together for a beautiful Havdalah service and then celebrated Emily's birthday with some singing and lots of amazing cakes (one was shaped like a burger, a play on Emily's last name.) We ended the day with another Pizur on Emek Refaim and then prepared our bags for desert survival, starting tomorrow.
  • Israel, Friday, March 1

    Another interesting day for Neshama, visiting the church of the holy sepulcher, learning about another religion, how groups within the religion get along (or don’t), getting yet another glimpse into the complexity of the city.
    This morning we got the update from Thursday, it was written by Theo Deitz-Green.
    We must have done an especially good job during the ‘prayer for rain’ part of the Amidah yesterday, because we woke up to the sound of a heavy downpour that lasted almost the entire day. Fortunately, our fearless leader Rob rearranged our schedule so that we were mostly protected from the rain but were still able to have an exciting day.
    After some post breakfast bonding activities, including group yoga, a “jam-session,” and a Talmud Daf Yomi (page of the day) study, we were off to continue our (mostly sheltered) exploration of Jerusalem.
    Our first stop was at the Herzl museum. As the name suggests, we went on a tour that guided us through the life of Zionist visionary and possessor of a good first name Theodore Herzl. The tour was designed to follow the progression of Jewish life in Eastern Europe during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and to look at how it led to the rise of a worldwide Zionist movement. It took us through the Dreyfus Affair, Herzl’s publication of The Jewish State, the various World Zionist Conferences, and eventually, the establishment of Israel in the years after the Holocaust. Finally, it asked us to consider how much Herzl’s vision has been realized - where Israel has succeeded and where there is room for improvement.
    Next, we were off to the Jewish Quarter for our second Pizur of the trip. We divided up into groups and were given money to find something to eat for lunch. Although we had to walk through streams of water flowing down the streets, and at one point had to avoid several chairs and tables blown towards us by a particularly fierce gust of wind, it was nonetheless an enjoyable hour of eating and exploring.
    We then went to the Temple Institute, a museum/organization dedicated to building all of the tools, vessels, and decorations necessary to operate the third Beit Hamikdash (Jewish temple) when the appropriate circumstances arise and the Mashiach (messiah) comes. Although it was, as Rob described it, “kinda wacky,” this museum provided us with a fascinating opportunity to see models of the Beit Hamikdash and real life replications of the ritual objects it contained - objects that the Torah spends more than 40 chapters describing but that have always been somewhat abstract and difficult to picture.
    Once we finished there, we returned to the Agron Youth Hostile for a relaxing afternoon and evening that included a Mincha service (led by Sophie), some nap/rest time, a meeting with our Mishpachot, and our first Neshama “Movie Night.” We watched “Beneath the Helmet,” a movie about soldiers’ experiences during basic training in the IDF. During some brief pauses while the movie loaded, the Madrichim shared some thoughts and stories about their own service in the IDF. After that, it was time for a bit of free time and then a good night’s sleep.
    And with that, we closed out the month of February.
  • Israel, Thursday, February 28

    Growing up on a Kibbutz that (at the time) had lots of agriculture I remember being very tuned to the weather, especially if the forecast predicted rain, will it be ‘Gishmei bracha’ (rain that is a blessing) or Gimshei klala (rain that is bad/a curse).  Even though I left the Kibbutz years ago, and agriculture became a side income to a large wet wipes factory, I still follow the rain status: the rain status as reported by my Abba (dad) who’s also the official rain measurer, is positive for both the amount and the timing. Two days of Gishmei Bracha! As you can read in Jacobs update from Wednesday the Bracha (blessing) of rain works in many ways:
    After waking up around 6:20, getting ready for the day, and almost going down to breakfast, we were informed that we could sleep for another hour or so because it was raining. Of course, nobody went back to sleep, but instead chilled around Agron. After breakfast, we got together to learn about the history of Jerusalem, specifically the City of David. We later drove to the City of David, where we watched a 3D movie and toured around the archeological digs. After getting changed into shorts and water shoes, we descended underground into a water tunnel. We spent the next 30 minutes or so finding our way through the dark tunnel, all the while singing and laughing. It was particularly hard for some of the taller boys, who were constantly squatting as to avoid hitting their heads on the ceiling. After exiting the tunnel, we went to another tunnel, one that was considerably drier. The tunnel lead right to the Kotel, where we had time to pray and look around. After resting and eating dinner, we headed to a basketball game, where the home team HaPoel Yerushalayim beat HaPoel Beer Sheva. All in all, it was a very long and fun day.
    Today, Thursday, the group went to the Herzl Museum, for an indoor exhibit and discussion. ( Tomorrow, Friday will be a day with lots of walking: from Agron to the old city, from there to Machne Yehuda (the market) where they will have time for lunch, back to Agron to get ready for their first Shabbat in Israel.
  • Israel, Tuesday, February 26

    It gives me such joy to see Neshamas’ happy faces as they get used to Agron, to Jerusalem, warmer weather (not for long) new exciting foods and more. Every day holds the potential of learning something new, on Neshama the potential is even greater.
    Itai wrote todays update:

    It was a late wake up this morning. After breakfast, we debriefed our time in Poland and spoke about what we can do to bring awareness of the Holocaust back to our communities. After a quick Minchah outside, Miriam Morris and Shachar Kessler (two alumni from school) came to visit us. Following lunch we took part in a leadership activity led by Zeev Ben Shachar, who spoke to us about using our experience in Israel to get out of our comfort zones, and how to ensure that we always remember important moments during our trip. It was then time to do our laundry for the first time on Neshama. Many of us struggled to fit all of our clothes from the last week into a small plastic bag, but eventually persevered and figured it out. Finally, we had our pizur on Ben Yehudah street, where we broke up into groups and explored! My group ran straight to Just Meat which was suggested by Aaron Lavitsky. I’m going to take a minute to personally inform you that the sandwich we all ordered was undeniably the most delicious and heavenly work of art that I have ever devoured. When attempting to order a different sandwich, Eitan Gerstle was told by Meir (the sandwich making icon) that he had two options, order the correct sandwich or leave the establishment. Eitan complied and had no regrets. When we got back to Agron, we learned about each of our Madrichim’s backgrounds and learned a little bit of Hebrew slang.
  • Poland-Israel, Monday, February 25

    Today was a day of transitions: from Poland to Israel, from zloty to shekel, from the American sim card to the Israeli one, from a week of hotels to three months of youth hostels and from the gloomy Warsaw to the fabulous, painfully realistic and unique Yerushalaim.
    Shana wrote todays update:

    “Today we began our day early in the morning in our last hotel in Poland. We woke up, ate breakfast, and then embarked on our long journey by walking across the street to the airport. We made it to the airport with no problems. We arrived at our gate five minutes before boarding time, yet boarding was delayed so we ended up boarding thirty minutes later. It was so nice to hear Hebrew after not understanding Dutch or Polish. When we finally made it to the holy land, everyone was so excited. We were “those people” who cheered when the plane touched down. After a nice Aroma sandwich on the bus, we arrived at the famous Agron in Jerusalem. There we unpacked, exchanged money etc. Afterwards, we went to a little shopping area near where a Jewish music festival was taking place”
  • Poland, Sunday, February 24

    Today’s update was written by Gidi:

    We awoke from the serenity of Shabbat at six in the morning to have one of the most intense days of the trip thus far. After departing Krakow, we drove an hour to Auschwitz. Even after years of formal Holocaust education, seeing the place where the atrocities where committed was heart wrenching. We were shown around by a guide who took us into different barracks that showed different horrors of the holocaust. There were barracks filled with artifacts from the victims. We were struck by the amount of artifacts still intact. They reminded us of our lives at home and how quickly it can all be taken away from us. We were also struck by how the camp has been turned into a “tourist” attraction. After eating lunch and driving to Birkenau we got off the bus and saw the infamous entrance gate. Donning Israeli flags on our backs, we walked through the gates and saw the vast landscape. The camp seemed to stretch as far as the eye can see. Rob told us a story of Jewish armed resistance in Birkenau that led to Jews bombing a gas chamber and therefore preventing the murder of more victims. As we have done at every camp, we held a touching ceremony. We read the names of our family members that died in the Holocaust, showing that every family was affected. Once we were cleansed from our visit, we boarded the bus for a four-hour drive back to Warsaw. We stopped at a rest stop where we bought real authentic Polish onion chips, which are really Lay’s Sour Cream and Onion chips without the sour cream. 

    After an important and emotional week, we could not be more excited to go to Israel!!
  • Poland, Saturday February 23

    David Wingens shares with us highlights from Friday and Saturday:
    The last two days have been on the lighter side, as we’ve had a chance to pause and process what we’ve seen. We started on Friday by taking a walking tour of the old Jewish section of Krakow. I decided that I was smarter than the weather forecast, so I didn’t wear my jacket. It was the coldest day in Poland yet. Luckily, our trip was bookmarked by stops at four Krakow shuls with excellent heating. The shuls were all beautiful and we were reminded of the rich Jewish life that existed in Krakow before it disappeared overnight and left the infrastructure of an amazing community entirely without any Jews to inhabit it. After having a traditional Polish street food experience consisting of bread, mushrooms, cheese, and tears of joy streaming from Aaron Lavitsky’s eyes, we returned to our tour of Krakow. We saw a wall of the ghetto and then took a walk to Oskar Schindler’s factory. After the factory, it was time to get ready for Shabbat. 

    We went to the JCC for Kabbalat Shabbat and dinner. We met the assistant director, who told us all about the past, present and future of Krakow’s Jewish community. He talked about how Krakow’s Jewish community is steadily growing as poles rediscover there ancestral Judaism. 

    The next morning, we had the choice of participating in a discussion about righteous gentiles, or attending a service at the Isak synagogue, which was built before the war, and survived the war as a Nazi storage facility. Before lunch, we heard from a righteous gentile named Mira, who told us her story of how her family saved a Jewish girl during the holocaust. It was amazing to hear the perspective of someone who experienced the holocaust in a totally different way than the survivors we have heard from in the past. 
    After Havdallah, we walked around and saw Krakow’s castle and we had another chance to explore Krakow’s main square. It was a meaningful and fun Shabbat in the most beautiful and hopeful city we’ve seen in Poland. 
  • Poland, Friday, February 22

    Eitan G wrote Thursdays update:

    Today consisted of a lot of driving. After breakfast, we departed our hotel, and drove for about an hour and a half to the town of Tarnobrzeg. In this town, we saw the old Synagogue, which has since been converted into a library. Although we didn’t go inside, it was still an amazing experience to see what the old building would’ve looked like, and to see the plaque that was placed there to remember the Jewish community of Tarnobrzeg. While in Tarnobrzeg, we had the incredible opportunity to hear a story of Noah’s great-grandmother, who lived in Tarnobrzeg before the war. Her story was one of perseverance and strength. After the Nazi occupation of Tarnobrzeg, she was marched for 2 weeks to the Polish-Soviet border, where she was placed in a small town for several weeks. She was eventually sent to work in Siberia, where she had to endure hard labor and extreme weather. After the war, she was moved to a DP camp in Germany, where she met Noah’s great-grandfather. They initially wanted to move to Israel, but because of the climate of the time, they ended up going to America instead. This incredible experience was capped off by a visit to the old Jewish cemetery, where we saw a monument to the Rabbi of Tarnobrzeg. After all this, we drove another hour to the town of Tarnow. Tarnow once had a significant Jewish population. However, after World War 2, there are no Jews left living in the city. We visited the site of the old Synagogue, a building that was just as beautiful as it was large. It was burned down during the Nazi occupation, with the only thing remaining being the brick bima, where we prayed Mincha. We also had an accidental ruin in with a woman who is helping to rediscover and protect the story of the Jewish community of Tarnow. We had an interesting conversation about her conservation efforts, as well as the antisemitism that is present in the city. After our interesting time in Tarnow, we had a much more serious experience. We drove a short way out of Tarnow, and to Zbylitowska Gora. Zbylitowska Gora is the site of several mass graves, both Jewish and Polish. However, what separates this mass grave from all the others is the fact that there 800 children that were buried alive there. This experience was understandably difficult for everyone, and the service that we did there was filled with tears. After this, we had a long bus ride to Krakow. People took the opportunity to try and process their experience through journaling, and also took the time to get some much-needed sleep. After we arrived in Krakow, we ended our day on a high note, as we got the opportunity to walk around the beautiful town square located lot too far from where we are staying. We spent an hour and a half wandering around, taking picture, eating food, and shopping. After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to have time with our Mishpachot, where we had discussions about our experiences in the past few days, and also started to prepare ourselves for Shabbat in Krakow.
  • Poland, Wednesday, February 20

    Aaron wrote about his experience today:

    Today, we started by learning some Talmud in the Lublin yeshiva. It was another nice way to appreciate pre-war Jewish life in Poland.

    Then we went to Majdanek. Majdanek is right on the edge of Lublin, and it is very close to the city. There is only one remaining field of the original five fields that the functioning camp consisted of. Even just the one field is huge, and all of the barracks and gas chambers are either original buildings or have been restored.

    Walking through Majdanek was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and that doesn't even account for the 30-degree weather and the light hail we encountered at the end of our tour. It’s easy for us to fathom the perspective of the Nazis - their anti-Semitic motives were clear in everything they did. However, its much harder to imagine what our people actually experienced, especially in such a slavery camp as Majdanek. Hearing from Rabbi Rob about the living conditions and sadistic torture that the Jews in Majdanek encountered only added to the already present somber feeling of death that carried throughout the camp. For me, the sadness was so overwhelming that it was almost impossible to shed tears or show emotion. I often found myself simply looking down at my feet; this was partly because of the wind blowing on my bare face, and partly because its difficult to comprehend the intensity of the place you are standing without taking a break to think about it. There is nothing quite like knowing that you are standing in the same exact place where some of your ancestors were slaughtered and tortured. This was the biggest difficulty for me at Majdanek.
    I would like to mention that I made a decision to not wear a hat at the camp. While I'm sure that it will give my mother a headache knowing that my almost hairless head was exposed to the cold for the whole tour, it is not the reason I did so. At every stop we've made on our trip so far, I've tried to give myself a purpose or task to carry out. At Majdanek, I wanted to visibly wear my kippah, despite the cold, as a sort of protest. It gave me a little bit of hope to know that all the repulsive and horrible SS officers who once beat, tortured and killed Jews in such a terrible place have all since perished, their anti-Semitic motives with them. Now, a young, free, fully fed and clothed Jew and his classmates could walk across a place where they once beat and tortured us, now carrying the flag of a Jewish Homeland. Nothing can undo the atrocities that occurred at Majdanek, but we as Jews can show that they were unsuccessful. This all culminated after we went inside the crematorium, when we had a closing ceremony and sang the Hatikva on the monument dedicated to all those burned at Majdanek. All the emotions that I couldn't show earlier came out at once, and I began to tear up as we sang together.
    After Majdanek we headed to the grave of Rav Elimelekh, a great Chasidic thinker, where we ate and sang and had our own little oneg. We then davened mincha in the yeshiva there and left for rzeszow where we stayed overnight.
    On a lighter note, we ended the day with a group of games for our evening activity. I encourage any of the parents to research napkin tennis - its an invigorating game
    Tomorrow brings with it another long bus drive to Tarnobrzeg visiting the jewish quarter, library and cemetery, followed by another bus drive to Tarnow and from there to Krakaow.
  • Poland, Tuesday, February 19

    By the time you read this email I hope all Neshamaniks and their Madrichim are fast asleep. The days in Poland are long, with early wake ups, late bed time, long bus drives, a lot of standing/walking and many stories of communities destroyed in the holocaust. A good night sleep is needed for both their neshama (soul) and body.

    Today’s update was written by Sophie:
    Today we had a bright and early wake up to start our first full day in Poland. After breakfast, we left Warsaw and headed east toward the small town of Tikochin. We walked through the town, which had a Jewish population of about 2,000 individuals from the 1600s until the Shoah. In Tikochin, we visited the synagogue, which was used by its residents until the Shoah and was restored by the Poles after the war to preserve the memory of Tikochin’s Jewish people. The walls of the synagogue were beautifully painted with different prayers, including Lecha Dodi. During our visit, Sam led everyone in Shacharit, and we appreciated the opportunity to pray in such an important place for the Polish Jewish community. We then walked through the old Jewish quarter to the Jewish cemetery, which was used for hundreds of years but has since been abandoned and is in a severe state of disrepair. We learned of the Nazis’ mass killing of almost all of Tikochin’s Jews in the Lopachova Forest, and walked into the forest to see the memorial commemorating their horrific deaths. After listening to the account of one of the few survivors of Tikochin, we spent some time silently around the three memorials marking the locations of the pits. For the last section of our day, we drove to Treblinka, the death camp where about 700,00 Jews, including those from the Warsaw Ghetto, were killed. Although the Nazis destroyed all evidence of the camp after an internal Jewish rebellion by about 700 individuals, today there is a museum and a memorial established in the location of the camp. The memorial was marked by a large stone monument and thousands of stone markers, some engraved with the names of the communities that were sent to Treblinka. Finally, one of the mishpachot led us in our first tekes, or ceremony, in which we read poetry, sang Eli Eli, and ended by singing Hatikva. After this emotionally intense day, we drove to the hotel in Lublin, where we had dinner and small group discussions about the day with our mishpachot before going to sleep.
  • Sendoff - Poland, Monday, February 18

    A packed two days for Neshama, from the familiar Ulam at GOA to the halls of the Novotel Centrum in Warsaw.

    Adam Gross wrote about their experience:

    We started off our day with a touching senior sendoff, and an action packed bus ride awaited us on our way to JFK airport. Once we arrived at the airport, we went through the usual motions of taking our shoes off, removing objects from our pockets, and having our suitcases flagged down for intense kugel examination. A military grade laptop was passed along unscathed, though the TSA made sure to take a closer look at a suspicious couple of dove chocolates. We were then released into the open frontier of the airport, grabbing snacks and taking care of last minute preparations. Our flight took place on a 787, and the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines' safety video did not disappoint. The whole video was delivered in a stop motion fashion, catalogued on traditional Dutch plates with painstakingly detailed tiles in every frame of motion.

    The Schiphol Airport was also filled with numerous delights. Neshamamiks surveyed the local stores, and some had a brief taste of Dutch cuisine, from Chocolate Ganaches, Avodaco and Halloumi sandwiches, and croissants. When we arrived in Poland, we met up with our Madrichim and headed out to a Jewish graveyard where we saw the tombstones of the founder of Esperanto, a famed Yiddish Actress, and prominent Polish Rabbis. The next place we visited in Poland was Umshlagplatz, an area where Jews were collected before they were placed on the transports. The memorial had a black stripe around the walls, similar in appearance to a tallit. We soon walked to another memorial honoring the warriors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and close by was the Jewish Museum of Poland, and a Holocaust memorial. After learning more of the history and significance of the sculpture, we all boarded the bus once more to head to the sole functioning synagogue in Poland: Nojyc Synagogue. The Rabbi came and talked to us about Judaism. Afterwards, we walked to a Chabad House and had a delicious meal of schnitzel and potatoes, filling our stomachs and raising our spirits with each scrumptious bite. Ian Rosen shared the story of his Grandfather, Casimir, who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto, and the class got a chance to go to the complex where he lived. With the day nearing its end, we left for the hotel and formed our Mishpachot, groups that will stay with us for the rest of our Neshama experience.
    Mishpachot is Hebrew for Families. We split the grade to 4 groups which we call families. Each family has a Madrich/a (counselor) that is responsible for a variety of activities. In Poland the main function of the Mishpacha is for reflection on the day they had and preparation for the next one. In Israel the function of Mishpachot will change to weekly responsibilities like planning the content of Shabbat, being responsible for loading the bus, snacks, wake up etc.
    Tomorrow is another packed day, with a long drive from Warsaw to Tikochin, a visit to the synagogue, the Lopachova forest, Treblinka and another long drive to Lublin.

Israel - May 13

Neshama 27 - May 13

Israel - May 10-12

Neshama 27 - May 10-12

Israel - May 9

Neshama 27 - May 9

Israel - May 7

Neshama 27 - May 7

Israel - May 6

Neshama 27 - May 6

Israel - May 5

Neshama 27 - May 5

Israel - May 2-3

Neshama 27 - May 2-3

Israel - May 1

Neshama 27 - Israel, May 1

Israel - April 30

Neshama 27 - April 30

Israel - April 28-29

Neshama 27 - April 28-29

Israel - April 15

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 15

Israel - April 14

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 14

Israel - April 11

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 11

Israel - April 10

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 10

Israel - April 8

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 8

Israel - April 7

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 7

Israel - April 4

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 4

Israel - April 3

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 3

Israel- April 2

Neshama 27 - Israel, April 2

Israel, March 31

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 31

Israel - March 29

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 29

Israel - March 28-29

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 28-29

Israel - March 26-27

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 27

Israel - March 26

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 26

Israel - March 24-25

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 24-25

Israel - March 20-21

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 20-21

Israel - March 19

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 19

Israel - March 18

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 18

Israel - March 16-17

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 16-17

Israel - March 15

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 15

Israel - March 13-14

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 13-14

Israel - March 13

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 13

Israel - Tuesday, March 12

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 12

Israel - Monday, March 11

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 11

Israel - Thursday, March 10

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 13

Israel - Thursday, March 7

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 7

Israel - Wednesday, March 6

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 6

Israel - March 3,4,5 Desert Experience

Neshama 27 - March 3,4,5 Desert Experience

Israel - Friday, March 1

Neshama 27 - Israel, March 1

Israel - Thursday, February 28

Neshama 27 - Israel, February 28

Israel - Wednesday, February 27

Neshama 27 - Israel, February 27

Israel - Tuesday, February 26

Neshama 27 - Israel, February 26

Israel - Monday, February 25

Neshama 27 - Israel, February 25

Poland, Sunday, February 24

Neshama 27 - Poland, Sunday, February 24

Poland, Friday, February 22

Poland, Friday, February 22

Poland, Wednesday, February 20

Poland, Wednesday, February 20

Poland, Tuesday, February 19

Neshama 27 - Poland, Tuesday, February 19

Sendoff - Poland, Monday, February 18

Neshama 27 - Sendoff - Poland, Monday, February 18