Israel Education


Trip Blog

List of 15 items.

  • March 12, 2020

    Today as the last day of a week filled with encountering the diversity of ideas, ways of living, approaches to religion and land. Gabi wrote the update:
    “On our second to final day of the Many Faces of Israel week, we met with three speakers, in varying levels of comfort. The first speaker was a progressive woma, Miri, working for The Israeli Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement. She explained the status quo in Israel, and why it's so horrific—tax breaks for Orthodox rabbis but not for conservative, synagogues funded by the state but only if it's an Orthodox synagogue, a lack of recognition of most major streams of Judaism, let alone any non-Abrahamic faiths, the theocratic elements of Israel's government that led directly to a level of oppression of members of non-"national religious" groups of Judaism, and more. Miri talked about people "voting against themselves" for the sake of the single issue of security; an issue that cannot be understated in it's importance, yes, but one that leads to people voting for candidates that don't even believe that their constituents are even real Jews.
    This is the problem I have with the phrase "Jewish State"—who decides what counts as Jewish? As of now it is the Chief Rabbinate, and as of now, if he really sat down and discussed things with me, I have a feeling I wouldn't count as a Jew to him.
    Rabbi Adam Frank was the second person we met with a very interesting criteria for what counts as a Jew. He is a Conservative Rabbi who used to work in the synagogue right next to our hostel, and he began his lecture by stating that most of us did not count as Conservative Jews in his eyes. He defined Conservative Jewry as a Jew who followed every tradition, who wore tefillin every day, who prayed three times every day, but also interfaced with the modern world. He believed that Conservative Jews don't have the ability to pick and choose which traditions are most meaningful and practice based on that, and if you believe in that system of Jewry, you are a Reform Jew. 
    I had a lot of serious issues with what he said, things like how atheists and the ultra-orthodox have the same level of blind faith in their chosen conclusion on the existence of God, which is a fundamental misunderstanding of atheism. He believed that without God or Judaism, humans were fundamentally without good and doomed to destroy only. He also had very strong ethical takes, like being vegan, yet drinking Coke, a company that hired hitmen to assassinate labor union leaders in Colombia. 
    I just felt a lack of consistency with him and, honestly, I felt his conservative Judaism is far from my conservative Judaism.
    After that discussion, we took a walk through Meah Sha’arim, an ultra-orthodox neighborhood. All the women wore skirts and all the men wore long pants to avoid offending the residents; the entire neighborhood was plastered with signs about "modest" (read: sexist) standards of dress for women. 
    When we first stepped foot in the neighborhood, it was like going back in time. It felt like a little shtetl: young Jews with long peyos running around, old Jews sitting behind vegetable stands, the walls plastered with old newsprint. It genuinely took me aback for a moment to see what felt like this moment in the 20th century transported into the future. 
    Then the spell wore off, and I ventured on. 
    As we got deeper into the neighborhood, I became more unsettled. Trash was everywhere. The walls were covered in graffiti and grime. We saw posters put up by the local council about coronavirus: instead of advising people to stay home and avoid gatherings of more than 100 people, the council said that the only thing to do about "haCorona" is to pray harder. And interestingly enough, we saw a lot of pro-Palestine graffiti. 
    I discussed this with Yair, our madrich. He explained that some ultra-orthodox Jews believe that we should not be in Israel until the moshiach comes, which means they will not follow state regulations. I’m still confused by why are they in Israel?
    Finally, we got to the end of the road and entered the world's largest synagogue, the Belz synagogue. It is a sight to behold. Words can barely describe the sheer scale of this monster building, containing 9,000 seats, with a third of those seats dedicated to women's sections. It felt like a shopping mall in scale, and once we got to discussing with a member of the synagogue, it felt like a train station in operation, instead. The entire system is computerized, with a new Minyan beginning every five minutes, and signs directing people to the next available room. It's about as impersonal a prayer service can get. 
    But apparently on Shabbat every single seat in the main hall, a total of 3,000, is filled. And high holidays pack the entire synagogue to the brim. 
    We asked Yehezkel, a member of the Belz community, what the synagogue was going to do about that Friday's services regarding COVID-19 and he wiped his forehead and muttered "we'll figure it out."
    Honestly, after speaking to Yehezkel for about an hour, I kind of respect him. He may have said that gay people should suppress whatever "terrible urges" they have, and he may arrange the marriages of all of his children, and he may have, when asked about dinosaurs, said something along the lines of "carbon dating, shmarbon dating." But at least he was internally consistent. 
    This is a man who would never question his community. This is a man who literally cannot fathom leaving it. This is a man who views modernity as sacrilege, who, when told to vote for a political candidate by his Rabbi, does so” 
    The last sentence in Gabi’s update reminded me of he’s earlier question about the Ultra Orthodox community: if they don’t believe in the state of Israel why are they here, and in the contexts of Gabi’s last sentence - why do they vote? In this image: will see Israel’s Health Minster,  Mordechai Litzman, who is a member of the Ultra-Orthodox community and a leaders of their political party, Agudat Israel , Yahadut Hatorah. It is a complex reality and this week Nesham dove deep into it.
  • March 11, 2020

    Noam wrote today’s update:

    “Today we heard from speakers from two unique sects of Judaism.

    The first was a Karaite Jew. The Karaite Jews reject the authority of the Mishna, Talmud, and later texts, and instead only use the Tanakh itself for halakha. It was very interesting to learn about all of the laws we take for granted that entirely come from the Rabbis, such as tefillin and most of the forbidden activities on Shabbat.

    Even the commandments that both Karaite and Rabbinate Judaism share are followed with very different traditions. For example, the Karaite brit mila is much simpler than the Rabbinate one.

    After hearing from the speaker, we were asked whether the Karaites should be included within the umbrella of Judaism. Most of us, including myself, said yes, because they believe the same things as us about the truth in the Tanakh, they just interpret the laws differently.

    The second speaker was a member of Messianic Judaism, also known as the “Jews for Jesus”. This group believe that Jesus was the Messiah and everything in the New Testament (in addition to the Old Testament), but still identify as Jews, celebrating the Jewish holidays instead of the Christian holidays, which were really adaptations of Roman feasts created to make it easier to convert the Romans. While the speaker we talked to didn’t do much more than that of the commandments, he did mention that many Messianic Jews, especially outside of Israel, follow many more of the Jewish traditions, because they don’t want to be confused with Christians.

    Knowing a bit about the actual history of Christianity myself, it was interesting to learn about how the Messianic Jews were very close in practice to the original followers of Jesus, before the conversion of Rome.

    It was also interesting to hear their justification for Jesus being the Messiah from the Old Testament, as they use quotes from Isaiah and Jeremiah that say the Messiah will do things that Jesus did, including ‘dying for our sins’.

    Like with the Karaites, we were asked if the Messianic Jews should be included under the Jewish umbrella. Unlike the Karaite Jews, the majority of the class said no they should not, including myself, because they believe something completely different than us about the life of Jesus. However, the opinion was more mixed than with the Karaite Jews.
    After the second speaker, we went to the Crusaders Church in Abu Gosh. The group sang Hebrew songs, and each person shared with the group a prayer- either a request בקשה  or gratitude הודיה

    We had lunch at the Elvis coffee shop close to Abu Gosh and dinner at Machne Yehudah.
  • March 9, 2020

    Today is one of my favorite days on Neshama, I’m never in Israel to be part of it, but it is part of me, I look forward to reading Neshamaniks reflections, to speak with Rob about how nuance and personal stories are key to understanding the many faces of Israel, what was the most challenging part of the day etc.   

    I know the history of the area very well, it’s been a big part of my life growing up. Kfar Etzion is one of four Kibbutzim established in Gush Etzion, before 1948: Massuot, Revadim and Ein Tzurim. Massuot is my bayit, home. It is where I grew up, where I learned from my Saba about his dream to build a Jewish state, how the dream was shattered when Massuot surrendered to Jordanians, and of how they rebuilt their dream, their Massuot in a different part of the country.  

    Ben Bargad wrote about the experience:
    We began today with taking a tour of Kfar Etzion Heritage Museum. There we watched a series of short clips covering The early history of the Kibbutz (1943) the difficulties of the location, surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors and bad farmland.

    We learned about the personal stories of the early pioneers. Most of them overcome great hardships that they either went through or avoided in Europe in order to make Aliyah and settle on the land where our ancestors lived. Lastly, the clips taught us about the Kibbutz’s unfortunate experience in the War of Independence, in which it was defeated by Arabs and its fighters were killed or taken to Jordanian captivity.
    I was inspired by the commitment of fighters of Kfar Etzion to the land of Israel. The defense of the village was nearly impossible, considering it was far from reinforcements, the fighters had limited supplies, and their enemies had greater numbers and equipment. Many people would think that in this situation, it is better to live and try to build a life in another part of Israel. The actions of these fighters showed me how important the land of Israel is for the Jewish people not only as a safe haven, but as an ancestral homeland.

    Following the Museum, we took a tour of Khalid Sakaria, a poor Arab village surrounded by Israeli Jewish settlements in Area C. The village faces many challenges. They cannot receive master plans to build. The Civil Service Administration (CSA), which gives Jewish settlements permission and resources to develop, basically ignores this village. The reason for this treatment by the CSA is that, according to the resident we talked to, the organization has a goal to make all the Palestinian residents move to the Area A parts of the West Bank, so that Area C could be easily annexed by Israel. 
    I greatly appreciated the representative that spoke with us. He made legitimate critiques of Israeli Government and Military policy. He was not necessarily passionate about whether he lived in Israeli or Palestinian Authority jurisdiction, he just wanted to be able to live in his village and for it to prosper. He also mentioned that the nearby Jewish settlers sometimes steal things like agricultural produce and building materials from the village, as well as verbally offend Arab residents. 
    This made me think about one of the cons of the right wing Israeli government. In some cases, like this one with the CSA, Jews are favored over Arabs. I also was frustrated to hear that Jewish settlers behaved in such a way towards the Arabs. Many of these Jewish settlers moved to this part of Israel to increase their sense of holiness, but their behavior, which is opposite to what is commanded in the Torah, undermines their goals.

    We met with Nadia Matar at the park made in honor of the 3 boys kidnapped and killed in 2014 prior to operation protective edge. Nadia is the founder of Women in Green. What stood out to me was her emphasis on the foolishness of having a 2 state solution. If this were to happen, many Arab Muslims from around the politically and economically states in the Middle East would immigrate there. The Arab state would use its power to destroy Israel, and with more organization, funds, and manpower, that nightmare could become a reality.
    From experiences I have had learning about this conflict during high school and from this trip, I see much of the resentment of the Palestinians coming from the difficulties of their daily lives. So many live in poverty and suffering, have limited access to opportunities, have to go through checkpoints, and so on. Of course, no one deserves to undergo such treatment. These people’s leaders lie to them that Israel is to blame, but the truth is that those leaders hate Israel more than they love their people. How would a Palestinian state be beneficial at all with such leaders? Overall, this particular meeting affirmed some of my beliefs about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    I find myself at the end of today mentally stimulated trying to think about actions to take to solve this conflict, in addition to processing my own knowledge and that which I am hearing from the speakers. 

    I am excited for whatever more this important week has to offer.
  • March 8, 2020

    “Today was the first day of our “Many Faces of Israel” week where we meet with people with highly differing viewpoints across Israeli society. We just had our first free weekend so we all had a chance to recharge for what would be an interesting week. Our stop for the day was mainly in chevron. Chevron is a nearly 4,000 year old city and is the second most holy Jewish city. However, the most interesting part of the city to most of us was the contested coexistence of Jews and Muslims. 
    Our first stop to visit in chevron was ma’erat ha’machpela which is the cave where Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their wives were buried. Due to the fame of this cave, we expected a massive tourist site but frankly it was quite disappointing to most of us. It was seemingly a normal synagogue except it had little sections separated with signs that claimed the forefathers and mothers were buried below. Nevertheless, we prayed in hope for a meaningful experience as we said our ancestors’ names with their bones dwelling below us. It was definitely a unique experience. 
    Next we went to visit Rav Simcha. He was a rabbi from New York that made the decision to move to the chaotic chevron to be near the holy ma’erat ha’machpela. He cherished the opportunity to pray and study there on a regular basis. He also emphasized to us that our ancestors lived their entire lives here, they weren’t just buried in chevron. Although most of our conversation with him was somewhat mundane until he was encountered with the question of whether the IDF should need to assign hundreds of soldiers to Chevron to protect so few Jewish families. He was seemingly personally offended by the question as he believed that it was critical for Jews to dwell here. Immediately after this conversation we ran into an IDF soldier and decided to ask him the same question. He stated that their job isn’t just to protect the Jews but the Palestinians as well. Therefore, even though he may have wished for a different location, he understood the importance of monitoring this conflicted zone. 
    Finally, our most controversial meeting of the day came with Issa who was a Palestinian resident and activist of Chevron. He believed that his Palestinian people were being oppressed by the Israeli occupation and sought to use civil disobedience to prevent that. Although his story initially appeared somewhat compelling, it quickly disintegrated as he opened up for questions. Some moments that stood out were when he refused to acknowledge that the US reached out to Palestine for a peace agreement despite CNN and Fox reports, declaring them both “fake news”. He only believed the reports when shown an article from Al Jazeera. However, rather than admit his fault, he claimed the peace efforts were made up rather than that the call never happened. This inconsistency and refusal to change his opinion stood out throughout the meeting. Although we definitely disagreed with his viewpoints, it was certainly a highly educational experience to see the viewpoint of a Palestinian.”
  • March 5, 2020

    Samantha wrote about Thursday:

    Street art, otherwise known as graffiti, illegal activity, or ruining a building, has made a home for itself in (or on?) the streets of Tel Aviv, in a community called Florentine. It is the epicenter of all graffiti in Tel Aviv. So much so, that we took a tour of it!
    Naturally, me being an enthusiast of all things art, illegal or not, I was stoked. I had been looking forward to this tour since I had heard about it at the beginning of the week. And Florentine did not disappoint! They exceeded my wildest dreams and fulfilled my wish to walk through the streets in a cyberpunk-anarchist-artist-takeover city.
    Of course, Tel Aviv is not a cyberpunk or an anarchist city, but it certainly felt like it when all I could see was crew tag after mural after political cartoon after cool artwork. It was an explosion of color and style and pure, unfiltered attitude. It really seemed like an artist takeover. 
    And I loved every second of it.
    I could wax poetic about some of the pieces I saw today, but instead I shall tell a story about the oldest piece of graffiti in Florentine to try and show how ingrained in the culture graffiti really is.
    It all started 25 years ago. Something really really big happened in Israel in 1995, that shocked the country and reverberated around the world. Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. This one man saw a photograph taken by an amateur photographer of the exact moment the gun went off, and he couldn't get it out of his head. For three days he couldn't sleep until he did something. So the thing he did was paint the photograph on a wall. And when the people who lived there woke up and saw the photo of one of the worst tragedies in Israel's history, they weren't too pleased. But no one covered it up because it was too important.
    Flash forward to the early 21st century, and Florentine had already gained a lot of acclaim for its graffiti, so it decided to have an exhibition. Where did that exhibition go? Right on top of the mural of the assassination.
    The people were furious.
    So they called and called and said that the municipality couldn't cover it up. But with all the confusion with all the phone calls and the people saying they didn't want the mural, they started to paint grey over top. The artist himself called to explain what was going on. Finally, they understood that they couldn't cover it, so while the paint was still wet, they uncovered the mural but remnants of the grey still remain.
    For lunch we spent some time in Shuk HaCarmel, and afterwards we went about 15 miles on a bike! It was very satisfying because apparently I can do more than I thought I could. But the whole time I was just thinking about graffiti in between trying to not hit anyone or get hit.”
  • March 4, 2020

    Ethan S. wrote about Wednesday:

    This morning we woke up and had the biggest variety for breakfast. We then preceded to meet a woman named Re’ut who gave us a tour of the city of Jaffa or Yafo. We went around seeing important buildings in the city and we learned why the city was important in the first place. While we were stopped learning about Jaffa and their famous oranges we saw one of the greatest running backs of all time Adrian Peterson and all-star cornerback Josh Norman. We bombarded them for pictures. After that we had lunch but in a very different style then we are used to. We traveled from restaurant to restaurant trying the variety of famous food in Jaffa. We had famous Shakshuka along with famous kous kous. We had delicious hummus and pita as well as some dough filled with cheese. For dessert we had kenafa and ice cream. Afterwards we went back to the hotel to change for the beech in Tel Aviv. It wasn’t a super-hot day but the beech is always fun. When we got to the beech, still in awe of seeing Adrian Peterson, we began playing football. It was a great game and I was surprised to see how good Rob was at the sport. We then branched into different things, some of us played Volleyball while others played Spikeball. While occasionally going into the water here and there. We had a Pizzur for dinner and we all got to eat food we wanted”

  • March 3, 2020

    Neshama are in Tel Aviv, like many students before them, the most exciting part of finishing Desert Experience is taking a shower. Before Gabi’s reflection of the experience I would like to remind you to vote for the World Zionist Congress WZO is where our voice could be heard, could be influential in Israel, for Israel and for American Jewry.
    Link to GOA website with more pictures:
    Gabi’s reflection:
    “ I don't think any of us truly understood what "three days in the Negev" meant. People probably expected hiking, scenery. People expected to sleep in tents and some level of independence. I expected it to be extremely cold at night, because my mom had told me that the coldest night she suffered through in her Israel trip in her junior year of high school was in the Negev. 
    It was all of those things, and it was none of those things. 
    The moment we got there, after waking early to leave from Agron in Jerusalem, we were all given dirty, mildly smelly backpacks and told to pack food that they gave us. We were split into three teams (mostly along משפחה lines), and each team was given among their supplies: 
    • Two propane burners
    • Tuna, for lunch
    • Bread
    • Rice, uncooked
    • Tahini
    • Plates and spoons and cups for each team member (to be kept and reused over all three days)
    • A little salami, as a treat
    And more that I'm forgetting. But the most important thing we were given that day was this piece of advice.
    "In the desert, what is your money?" asked Pio, our desert guide for the next three days. "Your money is water. You use it for cooking, for washing, and, most important, for drinking."
    We listened, enraptured, and the spell only broke when she explained that we'd have to take two huge 1.5L water bottles with us, each. 
    The bus dropped us off near a field, and from there we were off. We sang songs, played travel games, and learned about the flowers. 
    ("I've never seen the fields like this," explained Pio to me and a friend. "It's so green, and over there," we looked and saw what she was pointing at, "the whole area is purple. Those are all flowers, because of the rain."Later, she told us that a park ranger, after helping himself to an extra schnitzel, mentioned that he hadn't seen the desert bloom in such a way in over 8 years.)
    At the end of the field was the beginning of an incline, which gradually took us higher and higher to the first peak of our 3-day journey. Pio explained about the efforts to help the vultures who lived in the valley we were overlooking. Then we made our way to Table Mountain, took a ton of selfies, and headed down.
    We made our way towards a source of water, where we would have our lunch. This pool only existed in the colder months, and was small as it was. Every group got out the propane burners, made some rice and salad and sandwiches, noticed an ibex watching our meal from atop an adjacent peak, and we had lunch. 
    (This is where I learned about a technique for smoking canned tuna in a pinch—open the can, place a few pieces of toilet paper on top of the now-exposed tuna, and set it on fire. When the toilet paper is fully burnt away, the tuna is ready. All reports indicated that this was a very successful way of cooking tuna.)
    Finally, we made our way back down the mountain to a riverbed, fully dry. The white stone (it was actually chalk, said Pio) made for a good contrast for Jonah Heimowitz to spot an oddly-shaped piece of flint. 
    "That's an arrowhead!" she said, excited.
    Later, much later, we made our way to camp. It was an open area near a mountain, and as we put our bags down, the sun was beginning to set. We were given a dinner by the desert experience company, as well as our own tents to set up. We had a campfire building competition (which my team won, by the way, the "B" in Team B stands for Best), told stories around the campfire once the competition ended, and finally made our way to the tents. 
    The Negev is a very, very, very cold place at night. 
    When I woke up, it was 5 AM. I had a decision in front of me--do I adjust the sleeping bag to be warmer, or leave the tent temporarily in favor of relieving a far more urgent issue?
    I left the tent, came back, and once I realized that I couldn't fall back asleep, I watched the sun rise.
    I saw Matan, a worker from the desert experience company, boiling water for tea. I asked for some for my instant oatmeal, which I had packed from home (thanks Mom!). He complied with my request, and I began eating my breakfast as I waited for the rest of the group to wake up and get out of their tents. 
    Let me tell you. The Negev may be very, very, very cold at night, but once the sun began to rise, it became a far more tolerable very cold. We all shivered and drank tea as we waited for the sun to rise, and once it did, it became quite hot, quite quickly. We packed our tents and went on our way to where we cooked and ate breakfast—mostly simple porridge. From there, we split into our groups and learned how to navigate topographical maps, and hiked to an oasis. After the oasis, we climbed straight up to a huge cliff, and from there, to the site of a former waterfall. 
    It is worth mentioning that the entire Negev is the site of an ancient ocean. The entire time we discovered shells, even on top of mountains, and the whole area had been shaped by water over millions of years. On the third day, during the morning hike, Pio had us trying to find shark teeth. 
    Atop the riverbed that led to a huge cliff, we set up tarps for extra shade and ate lunch—it was identical to the first day in ingredients. After two and a half hours (plenty of time to nap) we were all given new navigation goals (which one of the teams actually successfully achieved, though not Team B, unfortunately). Once we all met up again, we hiked past some Bedouin tents, and finally, finally, we had a visual on where camp would be that night. 
    We were on the edge of a cliff, staring out over the valley. The slope of the cliff below us was turned near totally purple with flowers, a site Pio said she had never seen before in her life. At the bottom of the valley was the campground—we would have to make our way down there, but that was soon. Across from us:
    "That area with the trees is the grave of Ben Gurion," said Pio. "Where we are standing right now, that is what he wanted to see from his grave”
    That night, after dinner and once the sun had set, Pio asked us all to line up and be silent. We were all given numbers based on our place in line, and told to walk through the desert, following the person in front of us and asking no questions, only listening to the directions of Pio. 
    A certain distance into the desert, Pio began taking the first person in line and placing them on one side of the road, then the second person on the other side, and so on until the entire line was placed relatively by themselves, on the side of the road, in the Negev desert, at night. 
    The stars are beautiful, in the Negev. Utterly gorgeous. It's nothing like New Jersey, with the light pollution; although the moon was especially bright that night to the point of casting shadows on the walls of the valley, and it was hard to see the stars close to it. But after a certain point, any thoughts become irrelevant after enough staring at the stars. 
    It felt like a long time before Pio came back. She asked my number, and I rejoined the line. The exercise was evidently about not panicking when being alone in the desert, but it was much more of a meditative experience for me. 
    And then we went back to camp, and we went to sleep.
    Waking up the third day (second morning) felt like a much more subdued affair than the first morning. We all knew what to do by now. We had our tents packed and stuff ready to go within an hour. We hiked past a river (this one actually filled with water, so care was needed), and ate breakfast. Then we hiked for the rest of the morning, and were done by 10. This morning's hike was done mostly inside of canons as opposed to atop peaks or on the side of mountains, and the only mountain that we climbed was the last one of the entire experience, leading to a dusty parking lot where we awaited the glorious return to air conditioned seating. 
    After that, we had a graduation ceremony, we cleaned our dishes one final time, and we had a quick falafel lunch before saying goodbye to the Negev. 
    I don't think any of us are going back soon, but I'd be shocked if none of us weren't to go back eventually. I think this experience is going to shape the rest of Neshama, even if it's just to get us to not complain about the hotels ("Well, at least it isn't a tent in the freezing cold desert"). “
  • February 28, 2020

    Josh wrote the update about yesterday:
    “Today was a day full of what Rob calls urban touring. We stopped at various locations, but tried to do so in a fast paced manner. We would only stay at each site for a few minutes. We started where we could see the entirety of the Mount of olives and the thousands of graves inside. Individuals buried there are laid to rest facing the Kotel, so when Mashiach comes, they will rise from the graves with the easier path to the future third temple. I was fascinated by the amount of Rabbinic interpretations for the afterlife that there are. For example, the commentary that struck me most was one that explained that in the time of the Mashiach, Jewish people buried outside of Israel will roll from their graves in tunnels all the way to Jerusalem in order to be resurrected.
    Then we went inside a cave to visit the graves of the last three prophets of the second temple era. 50 people were buried there: the prophets and their followers. We were given candles to in order to see and pay our respects. The old school feel resulted in a unique way for me to find meaning in my experience. The use of candles allowed connection to the place itself as I was doing what the Jewish people had been for generations. 
    After leaving the cave we visited an Ossuary. For about 150 years period the practice of using bone boxes developed within the Jewish community. After the bodies decomposed which normal takes about a year, the bones were placed in one of these bone boxes with their name on it in order for them to be resurrected easier when the messiah comes. This was particularly interesting for me because in the Jewish Afterlife class taught by Rabbi Karp, we actually learned about ossuaries. Ally and I may have been the first tourists to be genuinely excited to see and learn about them because of our school experience, lol.
    Then, we were taught about the end of Jesus’s life which took place in the area. In his final days, Jesus went into the temple courts, to demonstrate against what was being done there. He told his disciples to find an appropriate room for the Seder. His disciple Peter found a spot on the second floor inside the city. That room is now famously called the room of the last supper. At this time Jesus observed Judaism. He was even called rabbi. During the Seder his disciple Judus made a deal with Roman authority to turn him in for a bag of money. He says the person he kisses will be Jesus. He did so and they took Jesus to be judged. There were two men: Jesus and Berebus. Berebus was a murderer and they were told by pontias pilot that one would be pardoned. It is said in the gospels that Jewish masses chanted that Jesus should be crucified. This is the root of generations of antisemitism. After reading these texts, especially around Easter time, Christians would be enraged and would inflict merciless violence on Jewish people and their families. Jewish people have been called “Christ killers” for centuries. It took until 1965 for the Catholic Church to say that the Jewish people should not be blamed for Jesus’s death. Like many others, I struggled with the fact that the Jewish people faced discrimination from this one story. The Jewish people as a whole are clearly not represented by the characters in that story. Every human being is an individual, and is responsible for their own actions. At the very least, not responsible for an ancestor’s actions thousands of years ago.
    After a brief lunch break, we went to the top of the city of David and realized that although we were on the top of the city, we were not at the highest possible point. In fact, we saw higher hills around us. I wondered why they would have chosen such a hill that would leave them more vulnerable. This turned out to be due to the fact that this hill had the easiest access to the lone spring in the area. They had to compromise in order to have water. 
    Our last stop of the day was the water tunnels. Going into the experience, I had little idea of what to expect, although I was nervous the water would be cold. In fact, the water was initially colder than I expected. Luckily however, I quickly was able to get past it and enjoy my experience. My group chose not to use flashlights and to enjoy the experience with our other senses. The tunnels were remarkable. I envisioned the work it took to construct them and the genius it took for the plan to work. I could feel that I was a part of the history there. The tunnels were the highlight of my day, and I recommend them to everyone reading this. 
    Now it’s late because honestly I forgot about writing this until now. I hope it was not too long of a recap, but it was definitely a great day here in Israel and now I am looking forward to our hike in the morning and Shabbat.”
  • February 26, 2020

    Jerusalem is the greatest city in the world (at least from my experience….) It’s not the biggest, it’s one of the poorest city’s in Israel, there are way too many hills and it’s not the cleanest of all, but it is the most realistic, raw, fresh and the most ‘in your face’ city. There’s no hiding from complexities, there’s no right or wrong, there’s no easy answer. In Jerusalem one can see and feel the fine balance of coexisting. Today Neshama took a deeper look into the reality of life in Jerusalem. Ally wrote about it: 
    “Yesterday was our first full day in Israel and we spent the day in Agron doing activities with our Madrichim and discussing our goals for the trip. We also met with a woman who is part of t “Women of the Wall.” She taught us about what their group fights for and prepared us for what we would witness when we went to the Kotel today. We gained a better understanding of the religious and political issues in Israel due to the lack of separation of religion and government. We completed our day with a trip to Ben Yehuda Street where we ate delicious Israeli food for dinner.
    For our second day in Israel, we visited the most religious and holy sites. We began our day with an early wake up so that we could be at the Western Wall by 7:00 to witness the Women of the Wall in action. We had the opportunity to not only have a religious experience and find a spiritual connection at this holy place, but we were also able to witness the passion and willingness the women had to fight for their right to read from the Torah at the Kotel. After this, we had the chance to learn about the other religions present in Israel. We went to the Dome of the Rock where we learned about the Islamic religion and the importance of this site to both them and to the Jewish people. We then had a quick lunch in the Jewish quarter and headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where we learned about the story of Jesus and Christianity. We had also met with two women, one Christian and one Muslim, who helped give us a better understanding of their religions and how they connect to Israel. Although it was a long day, we found the experience enlightening, as we were able to learn about a different perspective and different relationships people have with Israel.”
  • February 24, 2020

    One last reflection from Poland by Amy:
    “For our last day in Poland, we had the opportunity to visit Aushwitz and Birkenau. After having an entire week learning about the history of the Jewish people of Poland and the atrocities of the Holocaust, visiting the place where the largest amount of Jews were murdered was a fitting way to end our journey. We woke up very early and left Krakow at 6:45 am. Once we got to Aushwitz , we were lead by our Polish tour guide and we saw the infamous sign saying “Arbeit Macht Fret” (work will set you free) with various people proudly wearing Israeli flags on their backs. We were also lucky enough to be able to see a special exhibit about Sonder Kommandos which included various quotes from survivors of how horrifying the experience was for them, which struck a cord with many. At the end of the museum we were able to look up our family’s names in the massive book of about 4.5 million names of Jews who died in the holocaust, which is provided by Yad Vashem. 
    After our visit of Auschwitz we went back on the bus and took a short drive to the town of Oswiecim, where Zece’s great uncle used to live. Zece then told us his great uncle’s story of surviving the holocaust. The town of Oswiecim seemed like a regular town, which is crazy to me as just 10 minutes out of the town is a place where so many were brutally murdered. After this short visit we made our way to Aushwitz II - Birkenau. Seeing the train tracks where many people’s ancestors would get off of and face the selection process gave people an image that none of us will ever forget. For me, walking in, all I could notice was the size of the camp. Ive been told that a million people died in Aushwitz but seeing the place itself and realizing the operation that took place painted a whole other image to me. We ended our time in Birkenau with a ceremony which included many saying the names of their family members who perished in the Holocaust. 
    We then left for a long bus ride back to Warsaw where tomorrow we leave for Israel. Looking back on this past week, while it was incredibly sad and meaningful, it has definitely given our class Jewish pride and we are so excited to go to Israel!”
  • February 23, 2020

    Ben Gutstein wrote about Shabbat:
    “I get the honor of writing about the first Shabbat of our Neshama program. This shabbat took place in Krakow in the south of Poland. We woke up later than normal, around 8, and I was excited to experience the synagogue environment of modern Poland since most of our services had only been the grade. From seeing the way The Isaac Synagogue was packed when we arrived around 9:45 with what seemed to be around 25 locals and 200 tourists from around the world. It was awe inspiring to see the two main commonalities between everyone in the synagogue. The first was a strong Jewish identity and the second was an ability to communicate in Hebrew. Despite the fact that there must of been four or five different first languages spoken in the sanctuary that day, everyone could communicate with one another using Hebrew. Following synagogue and before lunch, we had an intense discussion over God’s presence during tragedy with a focus on the Shoah. Orthodox views that we read tried to rationalize how God could have a presence in everyday life, but was either not responsible or was actively punishing sections of the Jewish people based on denomination or Zionistic beliefs. I believe that we cannot look at the Shoah this way becomes by reading into God’s role here we are saying that the Shoah was caused because of a purpose. The tragedy of the Shoah occurred simply because of hate without logical purpose therefore logical explanations cannot be assigned to it. After a break to play football. We heard from a righteous gentile about her story saving a young girl named Miri. Her and her family risked their lives and were honored at Yad Vashem for their deeds. It was evident to everyone in the room that she had done a fantastically good deed and she was a valuable person to listen to. It is clear that some of the Polish people truly risked their own livelihood for others. We finished Shabbat with a beautiful Havdallah Led by a few of the more musically inclined members of the grade. All in all it was a great way to start the trip.”
  • February 21, 2020

    Mia wrote about Thursday: “We began our day by walking to Lancut synagogue. There we had the opportunity to meet a Christian man who has taken it upon himself to maintain the synagogue, as there are no Jews in Lancut.
    Davening, singing and dancing in the beautiful synagogue was a memorable experience, we brought it back to life. From there we took a bus to visit a memorial for the righteous gentiles Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma, along with many other gentiles they helped save Jews. Like their fellow Jews they too didn’t not survive. Following the memorial, we headed to Tarnow to learn the history of the Jewish community, standing on the remains of the city’s temple we had a lively discussion about the future of the Jewish People with anti-Semitism on the rise. We ended our day on a happy note in the city of Kraków where we ate delicious food and were able to buy some souvenirs.”
    Jonah H wrote about their experience today, Friday:
    “After a late breakfast this morning, we walked to the Jewish section of Krakow. Only a block or two from our hotel, the stores have Hebrew lettering and the restaurants sell “authentic” Jewish food. It’s a bustling part of the city and according to Rob, it is where many of the young polish people go out at night. There are almost no Jews left in the area and we all wondered to ourselves whether naming all the restaurants after Jews was a sincere way to honor our culture or a way to profit off Jewish tourism. I think for most of us the answer was somewhere in between. 
    We visited all five remaining synagogues from before the Holocaust in krakow. Each had its unique flavor ranging from the tiny 17th century Rama synagogue to the almost baroque 19th century temple. 
    In the early afternoon, we had our first Pizur. We were handed money and went out in groups of three to explore the center of town and find lunch ourselves. We quickly discovered that food is much cheaper in Poland than in New Jersey. When we all found each other after Pizur, everyone told stories of the great deals they found, four dollar large pizzas and ten pirogies to the dollar.
    After our lunch, we crossed the Vistula river and found ourselves at the Umschlagplatz ( of Krakow. We discussed the artist display there which contained no specific mention of what happened at the site. Next, we walked a few blocks to Oscar Schindler’s factory gates. We stood at the gates and wondered how the drab concrete structure could have a haven for so many. 
    Unlike the other cities we’ve been to so far, Krakow seems to make more of an effort to preserve the historical Jewish identity of the city. I’m glad to have come here and I am finally able to picture Jews living normal lives before the Holocaust.”
  • February 19, 2020

    By now most Neshamaniks are sound asleep (I hope all of them are) their days in Poland are intense: long hours on the bus, being outside for large amounts of time, learning about our people, the richness of life, and grappling with what Hanna Ardent called the banality of evil .
    Eva wrote todays update:
    We began the day in the Yeshivat Chochomei Lublin, which was led by Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the founder of Daf Yomi: the idea that one should learn one page of Talmud every day until they have learned the entire thing. At the Yeshiva, Rob led us in debate, so that we could debate in the way that this place saw once upon a time before the Nazis came. The Yeshiva has become a hotel, and last night, we stayed in the same room as the students would have lived in. Through this experience, we got a glimpse of what life was like for the ultra-religious in Poland at the time. We have learned about the experiences of cosmopolitan Jews in Warsaw, and Jews of Shtetl, like those in Tykocin. Now we’ve learned about the experience of religious, learned, Jews, another example of the diversity of Jewish life before the Shoah. 
    We then went on a shockingly short bus ride to Majdanek, a Nazi death camp. Majdanek is hardly even outside of the city of Lublin. The camp borders the property lines of regular houses. I cannot imagine how anyone could ever live next to concentration camp. I wouldn’t want to live next to a graveyard. How can people live next to that, knowing the atrocities that were committed right next to them? We saw old pictures of the city, and even back then, there were people who lived close enough to see and certainly smell what was happening at Majdanek. And somehow they were able to stomach this. with this. There was no citywide resistance in Lublin. When talking to poles today, they say that the Germans committed these atrocities were committed by the Germans, not them, and that they were as much victims as the Jews were. But Jewish survivors tell a different story—that the poles were worse than the Nazis. The Poles tried to kill Gabi’s grandfather when he returned home to his village after the war. The Poles dug the pits in the forest in tykocin. It is one thing to be a bystander or to do something at gunpoint, but there are stories of Poles who were all too willing to kill Jews, and town where the Nazis didn’t even have to lift a finger to annihilate Jewish populations. Looking at Majdanek, it’s hard not to blame the Poles just as much as the Nazis. While there were exceptions, most poles didn’t lift a finger to help their Jewish neighbors and former friends. Even today, many refuse to acknowledge their country’s responsibility and get defensive when asked about the war, saying that they were victims. But they were also the victimizers.
    Majdanek was known for having particularly sadistic and cruel guards and leaders. We read stories of guards and Jewish Kapos (Prisoners assigned to positions of power) who regularly beat and tortured the prisoners. Often they even got sexual pleasure from torturing and killing people. The Kapos were brutal to the other prisoners in part because the SS guards were watching and they needed to impress them in order to survive, but also because the power they were given made them do horrible things, as we’ve seen in studies like the Stanford prison experiment. We also read a story about a child, called”Bubbi,” who became a sadistic Nazi pet. Bubbi hung his own parents, and took pleasure in beating and killing inmates. He was 14 years old. This place turned a child into a monster. Touring around the camp, it was not hard to see how that happened. People were forced into a small barrack cramped with hundreds of people. Disease and death was everywhere. People were murdered in brutal ways at the drop of hat, or even completely randomly, every day. It is impossible for me to understand this horrific place. Majdanek was a place where the worst types of evil that humankind is capable of were able to flourish and thrive. 
    We saw the ovens where people were burned. We saw the pile of ash—human ash—under the memorial. We saw three ditches where 18,000 people were taken and shot, all at once. And all I could think was how crazy and unfathomable this is. How could human beings ever do this. How did human beings ever let other human beings do this. How.
    Even with all of this, it was hard to feel connected to what was happening. The predominant feeling I had was anger. Anger at the Nazis, the Kapos, and the Poles who lived right there and did nothing. Because of my anger and my shock, it was hard to process or feel sad about. 
    After Majdanek, we drove to the graves of Rabbi Elimelech, a direct disciple of the Bal Shem Tov. Rabbi Elimelech and the Chassidic movement brought Judaism to regular people of the time who were unable to spend all of their time in Yeshivot or move to Israel. When we went into the synagogue, we were told that they needed a minyan because someone was saying Kaddish. The girls stayed out in the hall while the guys went inside to form a minyan. Outside, the girls talked to an Israeli woman who often comes to this village. She talked about how great it is that the Jewish people have reappeared, and I realized that she was right. What happened was awful, and terrible, but we eventually move on, and we are flourishing, and that’s an incredible thing.
  • February 18, 2020

    Double reflections in today’s email! First from Danielle, followed by Logan’s reflection of today, the first day of visiting death camps and mass burial sites. These days are humbling experiences.
    Danielle for Sunday and Monday (Feb 16, 17) :
    After saying heartfelt goodbyes to family and friends, the class of 2020 embarked on a lengthy journey to Poland. After a seven hour flight to Amsterdam, five hour layover, two hour flight to Warsaw, and zero hours of sleep, the class of 2020 had finally begun the long awaited Neshama experience. Instantly, we were greeted with smiling faces by our lovely Madrichim: Yarden, Omri, Yair, and Noga who will accompany us throughout the trip. Over-exhausted and slightly delusional, the group boarded the busses, enjoyed schnitzel sandwiches for lunch, and left to the first destination- The Warsaw Jewish Cemetery. Upon arrival, the class was stunned by the overcrowded and disorganized display of the unkempt headstones before them. Many students expressed feeling desensitized and detached by the incomprehensible number of graves, no headstone was distinguishable amongst the sea 150,000 other graves. The graveyard had no order, the neat row of elaborate headstones hardly disguised the rows and rows of toppling over and disintegrating graves. Even the lavish and extravagant headstones did not stand out alongside their showy counterparts and had lost their original symbolism of humanity. To attach meaning to the individual headstones, Rob lead the class to particularly notable graves. The first grave visited was Doctor Zamanhof’s, who is famous for attempting to invent a universal language called Esperanto, to ultimately assist world peace. Although he failed to create an international medium of communication, every year a community of 2,000 Esperanto speakers meet up to attempt to preserve the language. Most importantly, the class visited Eva Hale’s great great grandmother and grandfathers grave sight, Clara and Moszes Feldsztien, who died before the holocaust of natural causes. Eva shared some anecdotes of her past great great grandparents and the class read a passage from the memoir of her grandmother, Eva Feldsztien, whom after she is named. In the passage she describes visiting the Warsaw Jewish Cemetery and standing before her husband’s parents’ graves, the same graves the class was standing before. The graves looked exactly as she had recounted, intact and surrounded by a wrought iron fence; it was extremely powerful to witness the graves exactly as Eva once did so many years ago. The two graves were very well kept, in stark contrast with the surrounding decaying headstones, and as a result of Eva’s memoir, the grave is up-kept by the Jewish association. Just as Eva did in her memoir, the class walked farther along to the mass graves. She described “standing at the edge of this dirt covered pit, all i saw was a writhing mass of tortured bodies.“ The class said Kaddish for the 80,000 Jews buried within these mass graves who were never given a proper burial. No life had grown from where the thousands of these nameless bodies where buried, there was not a single tree or plant sprouted from the ground. As the class continued onward, they noticed many headstones in the shape of tree stumps. The tree stump represents a life that was cut short, and never given the chance to reach its full potential. Children who had died before the Holocaust were commemorated with these tree stump headstones. After concluding at the cemetery, the group went to Umshlagplatz, a memorial at the transport of the Warsaw ghetto. During the travel, the students learned of how much of the city of Warsaw was destroyed, and where the Warsaw ghetto once was is now a memorial. At the memorial we spoke of the Warsaw ghetto uprising and discussed forms of resistance. Before the uprising, Jews would smuggle weaponry into the ghetto which in itself was a form of resistance. Many Jews resisted the Nazi regime through their continuation of practicing Jewish rituals by smuggling in Judaica to the Ghettos. The class read a letter by W. Sikorsky, in which he states his decision to commit suicide and devote his life to the Polish people for he cannot live on while his Jewish people are being exterminated. He hopes that his suicide will remind people of the importance of a human life and inspire people to save the polish Jews who are still alive. Many students felt that Silkoeski did not have to kill himself as a form of resistance, and instead could have resisted by living and protesting the Nazi actions. Others felt it was a powerful statement to choose to die on ones own terms and become a symbol of protest. The class then went to the last standing Synagogue in Poland from the four hundred that existed before the Holocaust. Here, the class reflected on what Jewish life must have been like before the war- Jews were extremely cosmopolitan and wealthy and Jewish life was vibrant. Now, several years after the holocaust, there are only 100 Jews remaining in Poland. At the synagogue we spoke to the chief Rabbi and he revealed that many Jews in Poland aren’t even aware they are Jewish. Many Poles have approached him and described strange rituals from their childhood that they had never affiliated with Judaism before, but were clearly Jewish practices. Most of the members of this synagogue are Polish Jews who had just recently discovered their Jewish affiliations and feel an obligation to explore their Jewish Heritage. The synagogue is conservative and egalitarian. Later that night, the group enjoyed a dinner at chabad while the descendants of righteous-gentiles who had helped save Eva’s family spoke to the class. Eva would not be in existence if it weren’t for this family, and they described feeling inspired by their family’s brave actions and an obligation to continue protesting and making change in societal and governmental issues. After a successful day of learning and experiencing, the night concluded with group meetings with the Madrichim and a well deserved good nights sleep. 
    Logan Tuesday (Feb 18):
    We started the day by traveling to the old Polish village of Tikochin. There, we davened in a Synagogue that was 400 years old. Although, it hasn’t seen a congregation since the Second World War. Many synagogues were destroyed by the Nazis, but this one was not. The Nazis decided to use it has a place to store various weapons and ammunition. After we davened we walked around the town’s cemetery which dates back to the 15th century. Unfortunately, there is no one there to keep the cemetery and it is in very poor shape. After we toured the village of Tikochin, we traveled to the place in the forest where every Jew of Tikochin was shot and killed in a mass grave. We walked deep into the forest to the site of the mass grave just as Jews nearly 80 years ago had done. Only this time, the Jews were able to return. Describing the feelings we felt viewing the place where thousands of Jews had been ruthlessly murdered is a futile task. There are no words that do justice to describe what happened to the Jews in this forest. Yet, it was impossible not to notice the many Israeli flags left by previous visitors or the Stars of David made out of fallen tree branches that littered the ground. I could not help but notice that trees had started to grow on top of the site of the mass graves. The Israelis flags reminded us that despite the tragedy the Jews have survived and lived on. The trees growing on top of the mass graves represent the grit of the Jewish people. We will never forget what took place in the Holocaust but we will continue to move on and grow just as the trees did. 

    After touring the site of the mass graves we traveled to the death camp of Treblinka. A place where 900,000 Jews lost their lives. There are no remaining parts of the camp as the Nazis burned down everything that was there and planted grass prior to the end of the war. Monuments and memorials are the only things left at Treblinka. Knowing that the Nazis destroyed the death camp can be very difficult for Jews to cope with. This is because, by destroying the camp, the Nazis were aware of the immorality of their actions. They understood that what they were doing was wrong, yet, it was never stopped. It is impossible to comprehend the horrors that took place here.
  • February 17, 2020

    Neshama had a long packed day, with a layover in Amsterdam, meeting Omri, Yair, Yarden and Noga their Madrichim, a lot of walking in Warsaw, learning from Eva about her family’s survival story, meeting the family members of those who saved Eva’s family, time in Mishpachot to process and finally to bed.
    Tomorrow, Tuesday,  Neshama are leaving Warsaw. They will begin the day at Tikochin followed by a visit to Lopochova forest and Treblinka. They are sleeping at Lublin, which means  it will be less driving Wednesday morning.

Photo Albums

March 10-11, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel, March 10-11

March 8-9, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel, March 8-9

March 5, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel, march 5

March 4, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel, March 4

March 1-3, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel, March 1-3, Desert Experience

February 28, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel February 28

February 27, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel, February 27

February 26, 2020

Neshama 28 - Israel, February 26

February 17-23, 2020

Neshama 28 - Madrichim Photos - February 17-23

February 23, 2020

Neshama 28 - Poland, February 23

February 20, 2020

Neshama 28 - Poland, February 20

February 19, 2020

Neshama 38 - Poland, February 19

February 18, 2020

Neshama 28 - Poland, February 18

February 17, 2020

Neshama 28 - Poland, February 17