How is everyone doing back in Manchester?
It was amazing coming back and seeing you all. I really enjoyed spending time with the community over Pesach, and the highlight was definitely the Shul Seder, especially when we finished for 10.15!!
Here in Israel things have really been getting intense as we gear up for the last stretch of the year. We only have seven weeks of school left, which includes exam period as well, so everyone is taking advantage to soak up as much information as we can. This does mean that sometimes the lessons get really intense, with respectful but heated discussions: teenage girls can be very solid debaters.
As soon as we got back after the Pesach break, we dived head-first into preparations for ‘Shabbos Aryeh Leib’ – named after Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kaplan, the first Chabad Shliach to Tzfat. On this Shabbos, all the Chabad Seminaries in Israel are hosted by my Sem in Tzfat. And as hosts we are responsible for the program and activities.
It was a really amazing Shabbos. Just imagine, 400 inspired, idealistic Sem girls, all sharing the same ideals and focused on their own and the world’s spiritual betterment, all in one room singing together at the Shabbos table. It was an experience I’ll never forget.
It started on Thursday afternoon when the coaches started arriving with the Sem girls from around Israel. I was part of the committee who ran the opening program, after which we split up for various workshops. That was followed by a 4 hour long Farbrengen. There really is no English word to adequately describe a Chassidish Farbrengen, which literally translates as a “joyous gathering”. It’s the reverse of a sermon where 5 minutes can feel like 4 hours.
This was story time with friends where the vistas of your spiritual imagination are opened, where your soul soars on the wings of Hassidik melodies, and where the problems of day to day life simply melt away. For four hours, story led to song which led to story, each one with a lesson that led to the next song and story, culminating with the lessons merging together in harmony leaving us with a powerful message of hope and inspiration.
For me there was an added bonus: my teachers and most of my friends have either spoken in Ivrit or American, but the speaker at our Farbrenegen was from England and even better, had grown up in Manchester. Oh what a delight it was to once again hear the king’s English: I never realised how much I had been missing the eloquence of an English accent!!
On Friday we had a panel, led by girls from all of the seminaries. I found it really interesting to hear what girls my age had to say on a whole range of topics. One point that really resonated with me was a quote that daddy has often mentioned and which he reminded me afterwards was one he had been taught by his father: “Bechira Chofshis is a result of Hashgacha Protis – Free Choice is a result of Divine Providence” This means that what happens to us is not by chance, if we are in a certain place, it is because Hashem wants us to be there at that specific time, and we have a mission to fulfil. But what is our choice? What we choose to do once we get there. Or as my Zeideh used to say: “Where a person finds themselves is Divine Providence, what they do there is Free Choice”.
That really resonated with me; the fact that I am in seminary in Israel is because Hashem decided that this is where I need to be this year, but it is up to me to choose how I make use of my time here. I hope that I have done the best I can, and I am looking forward to my final 7 weeks here.
This Shabbos is an away one, and I have been invited back to Yerushalayim. One of the heads of the Seminary in Yerushalayim who hosted me on Sukkos, was at our Shabbaton this week and she asked me when I was going to go back and visit. I guess I behaved myself last time!
Next week is Lag B’Omer and whilst I will be missing Bowdon’s amazing fire pit BBQ, I am really excited to be going to Meron for the festivities there.
See you next time and have a Great Shabbos,
P.S. – Earlier today I had an interview for Sem in New York next year and I really can’t wait for the next stage in my education.
P.P.S. – I can’t believe I am saying this, but one of my classmates from Manchester (albeit nearly a year older than me), just got engaged!!! That’s crazy. Lovely and exciting, but crazy!!!
Whilst you are reading this, I am 30,000 feet in the air (that is if you read it within the first 5 hours of being posted) because I am coming home!
It has been a really exciting busy last month, filled with programs, learning and just about everything else in-between.
It began with a really awesome full day program designated to learning about the specialty and uniqueness of a Jewish home and the role of the Jewish wife in maintaining that home. My favourite kind of learning: fun and learning combined.
Then one day I decided it was time to have actual fun, so me and a few other girls went to the local High School’s production. Aside for it being a cool story, I actually understood everything of the Ivrit only show.
The next week was Purim: except in Israel Purim actually lasts a week. As you will all know, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar except for those cities that were walled in the times of Joshua, where it is celebrated a day later on the 15th. Most cities in Israel celebrate it on the same day as you are used to in Bowdon on the 14th, whereas Jerusalem (both the Old Walled City and the New unwalled part) celebrate on the 15th. But here is the complication: there are some cities where they are unsure how ancient the walls are, were they possibly walled back in the days of Joshua? To remove any doubt, they celebrate on both days.
Tzfat of course is one of those cities, meaning I had a double Purim this year. Which sounds like fun, but remember it also meant that I had to listen to the Megillah four times!
Actually, Israel is the only place in the world, where someone can legally miss Purim. If for example a person is in Yerushalayim for the 14th of Adar, meaning it is not yet Purim for them and then they leave the city just before nighttime going to a place where Purim has just ended, they can technically avoid everything. Obviously most people try to do the exact opposite and specifically go to Yerushalayim for the 15th in order to celebrate again.
Being in Tzfat, I didn’t have to travel anywhere and automatically was blessed with the double Purim. Plus, for those of you who have read my previous blogs, it meant that I was ensured of no crazy bus stories.
So, on Purim night after my first of what would be four Megillah readings, me and about 15 other girls who had remained in Tzfat made a huge break-the-fast party. We all made some food for the potluck and everyone had a real blast. The next morning, I went with a few friends to help one of our teachers give out Mishloach Manot to his community.
I was very excited; what a perfect way to put my Ivrit to use. Then I was told: They are Russian and hardly speak a word of Ivrit! So armed with Google translate and the handful of Russian words I know, my friend and I went around and visited a bunch of Russians. They were all very old and barely leave their homes, so we literally brought Purim to them: we helped them perform the Mitzvah of Mishloach Manot, told them how they can listen to the Megillah. When we left they were smiling from ear to ear. We quite literally made their day, no their week! I felt really accomplished.
Then as soon as we finished that, we rushed over to help run a community Purim Seudah. Our job? Be counsellors and attempt to look after the 200 kids running wild all over the grounds. The ratio of counsellors to children: 33:1, oh it was fun and games. And then when that was done, we got to start all over again. Only in Tzfat!
The next day was strange, as when I messaged home, it was no longer Purim, but for me it was Purim all over again. Sort of the reverse of every other Yom Tov when Israelis have one day Yom Tov whilst everyone else has two. But it was funny.
Together with a few of my friends, I went to the children’s hospital in Tzfat, where we gave the kids Mishloach Manot and cheered them up. We then ended off 3 amazing days with a trip to a restaurant for a festive meal and then we went to Meron to Daven at the grave of the holy Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (of Lag B’Omer fame).
With no time to rest, the very next day we all went on a Sem Shabbaton to Migdal Ha’Emek. But of course we couldn’t go straight there; no we had to go on a hike. In normal circumstances, an hour and 15 minute walk on a straight path is really easy. But add a heatwave and no shade, it’s not that fun. But the views were insane, so it kind of made up for the heat, and as it was followed by a really nice relaxing Shabbaton it was all good.
When we got back to Sem the countdowns started. All everyone could speak about was how many days or even hours it would be till they flew home. The teachers had an extra hard time getting everyone to focus, especially this last week when we were in to our last four days.
And there’s not really much more to say other than see you in a few hours!
P.S. – My flight home is scheduled to last 5 hours – my travel time from Tzfat to Ben Gurion took longer! But at least it gave me time to write this all up ready to be posted just as I take off.
Sorry for the long gap, things have been really hectic here. They still are but I have a spare minute so decided now would be the perfect time to catch up. Continuing on from where I left off last time; the end of Chanukah was amazing. After I said goodbye to Mummy, Daddy and Tzivia, I got on a bus to head back to Tzfat, but in Israel, the land of crazy bus stories, this too turned into another ‘episode,’ because after just a few minutes the bus broke down and they had to bring a replacement. When I finally got back, I arrived during a special Chanukah activity: colour war. More specifically, an intense debate on the themes of both teams. But that was fun, especially as the next day was all tests.
But these weren’t regular tests for the academic subjects we are learning in Sem. No, I am now certified to do CPR, identify when someone is going through an asthma attack or having a heart attack, I can use an epipen, and perform the Heimlich manoeuvre (I still remember when Daddy had to perform that one in a restaurant.) I also know a bunch of what will hopefully remain theoretical info (albeit useful for a trivia quiz.) I am also able to tell you exactly how to apply the various different types of tourniquets, but as we weren’t taught the practical for that I’ll be useless in real life, so I don’t think you’d want me with you in a dangerous situation.
But anyways, back to the matter at hand. After Chanukah we had an amazing overnight trip down to Eilat. We stopped after 4 hours in order to climb Masada at dawn, which was amazing seeing the sun rise over the mountain where my ancestors held their last stand against the Romans before giving their lives in self sacrifice. From there we went straight to Ein Gedi where we first did a water hike, and then went scrambling up mountains. Some slight relaxation as we floated in the Dead Sea, and then it was on to Eilat. During supper we were treated to an amazing speaker and then we got to sleep in a hotel. The next morning we were split up into groups, and were sent to various schools where we gave lessons to the kids, all in Ivrit, but it was amazing. I think the Sem thought we were training for the IDF, as we then went on another hike, a real one, like scrambling through rocks kind of hike. This one was in the Red Canyon, and we were treated to breathtaking views. It was awesome and totally worth the aching muscles.
Then, with barely a moment to breath, exam season started. 3 big exams a day. It was nonstop tests, nonstop learning. For almost 2 whole weeks. That’s 26 exams in total! But during that intense period I got a really nice surprise, as a very good friend from London who I haven’t seen in half a year came to visit me.
And then came our end of semester break, a well deserved one at that.
I went with a friend to Yerushalayim where we went museum hopping. We began on Thursday, when we visited the Burnt House (in the Old City). This is the remains of a house from the Second Temple period, which was burnt in the conflagration during the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash in the year 70 CE. Due to the ash everything is preserved as it was then, which together with a video depicting the story of the family who had lived there at that time, really brought everything to life. Then later in the evening, we did the Kotel tunnel tours. The tours take you underground along the entire length of the Western Wall (the Wall that we see in the Plaza is less than a quarter of the actual length), until we reached ground level, standing on the very stones our ancestors walked on their way to the Bet Hamikdash.
Friday was a heavier day, as we went to Yad Vashem. It was heartbreaking but a really moving experience. One thing that really shook me was looking at a page ripped out of a book planning the final solution; the book listed cities and how many Jews were in each city. On a page of 19 cities, at the bottom was the number 11,000,000! They truly wanted to murder us all, including the 350,000 Jews that were living then in the UK. We could have spent hours there, but since it was Friday we had to leave early, so we sort of rushed through all the hard parts of the actual concentration camps.
We were staying with my cousin who lives directly across from the famous Ben Yehudah Shuk, so of course we went there right before Shabbos. Now that was an amazing experience, the crowds of people all rushing to get their last minute purchases before Shabbos created pushing on a whole different level. But I found gluten free Challah and cake for Shabbos so I was very happy. Sunday was back on the museum tour, this time to ANU, in Tel Aviv. I had been there with Daddy last year, but it was still a lot of fun. For one, I knew what to miss, and two I learned so much as it is such a large museum that we had to skip parts last time. We were there for ages, and almost the entire time was spent on massive interactive exhibit dedicated to Jewish History. Although I was a tiny bit disappointed, as they had changed something, taking away one of my favourite parts from last time, but whatever:)
That Shabbat off was our “half term” and I got back to Tzfat just over a week and a half ago, and it’s been full swing into the second half of Sem. But they didn’t give us a moment to breath, as 3 days after the semester started, they broke out the Sem Play – to be performed 6 days later. In Ivrit! But it was very fun and a nice challenge to act in a new language. So whilst busy with that, we had to get back into the swing of things. Some of the lessons are new so we got new teachers, but there are still all of my favourite ones. And as ever we have our programmes. Last night we had an amazing speaker, Mrs Chana Margoulis, who told us parts of her amazing life story. She grew up on a farm in Canada barely knowing anything about Judaism. Her family then moved to the city where she went through a rebellious teenage stage, from drugs to Buddhism, then finally finding Judaism. And then just as she was settling down and had started her seminary year in Israel she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. She went back to Canada and Baruch Hashem the treatment was successful and she now lives here in Tzfat. Her talk was really inspirational, and she shared with us how she overcame her challenges, and gave us practical tips for life. I bought her book “Jumping in Puddles” which I will be bringing back here with me.
Now we have just started the month of Adar, and for us it means 2 things. One: as it is the month of Purim, we party and dance every night and we do a load of harmless tricks (or “shticks” as they are known) on our teachers, without getting into too much trouble. And two: it is just 29 days till I fly home.
Lehitraot, see you in less than month!!
Ps. Here’s a poem I wrote after I visited Yad Vashem
Just rows upon rows of numbers
Then simply gone
Swallowed up into oblivion.
These numbers used to have an identity
But now they are just a number
Lost in the myriads
Numbers or identities
Numbers or names
Numbers or people
What are we going to remember?
The sheer magnitude of it all
The total tragedy
Of 6 million no more?
Or will we remember the personal
What lies behind each number.
The 6 million people
That make up this horror
Each had a past
And they should have had a future too.
But it was taken
Stolen from them
Along with their identities
Let us not remember 6 million numbers
Let us remember the 6 million people
Let us count 6 million lives
I hope you are all well.
My regular monthly blog is in the works, and I look forward to sharing it with you next week. However, as Providence would have it, I went on a special Sem trip to a Holocaust Museum last week, and as it will be Holocaust Memorial Day next week,(Friday 27 January) Daddy suggested that this should be a standalone entry.
The museum wasn’t an ordinary Holocaust Museum; it is situated in a Kibbutz built at the birth of the State by Holocaust survivors called לוחמי הגיטאות – Fighters of the Ghetto. It is part of a larger museum called the Ghetto Fighter’s House, but this section is called יד לילד – Hand to the Child, and was built for the express purpose of educating younger children about the Holocaust.
The whole focal point of the museum was very different from any others I’ve been to previously and it did not focus on the darkness and horrors of the Holocaust. Instead it looked at the Holocaust through the eyes of children who lived through it, and how they survived in a world suddenly gone black- by finding fragments of light peeking through the darkness.
We started the day with a one person monologue/show. This show introduced us to the concept of children in the Holocaust, but intriguingly it was not through the events that transpired then, but rather through the eyes of children who met those child survivors afterwards. We saw how young children on a Kibbutz viewed these young survivors who had come to live with them. They may have all been the same age, but because of their experiences these amazing survivors, children who had lived through the worst horrors known to man, some of whom had known nothing other than the depravity of the Ghettos and Camps were smaller and weaker. They were scarred and scared, and they initially responded to the children’s friendly overtures in strange ways, sometimes by hitting or even biting, making them seem weird, frightening even.
But then we watched how with the passage of time, things slowly changed. The War of Independence being a turning point in this strange relationship with the children starting to accept and possibly even to understand each other.
With that introduction, we started our tour through the Museum. Not much attention was paid to the horrors going on, but rather to the children’s reaction to what was going on around them. We began in a room with paintings that children drew in the Ghetto. One which I found particularly poignant was a picture of a perfectly normal sun, flowers and butterflies, albeit portrayed as being behind bars.
The museum went around in a spiral, descending lower and lower, through the years, until we came to train tracks, leading us to the lowest, darkest point: Auschwitz. At each stage, there were testimonials of children survivors, saying their stories, personal memories of those dark years through the eyes of a child. Although it was difficult, we were charged with finding the fragments of light that had kept the children alive through those dark times.
Afterwards there was a workshop where this point was reinforced. We were each told to draw a picture showcasing either life before or after the Holocaust, and the Holocaust itself. Focusing on how, although things changed with much lost and some never to be back again, there were still fragments of light shining through. Now I am not much of an artistic person, so I kinda broke the rules a little, and chose instead to write a poem expressing my feelings, because why draw when I can give myself over much better in writing.
When we left I took with me a whole new outlook on the Holocaust. I saw it through a perspective I’ve never before seen; for whilst I am not looking at this piece of history with rose coloured glasses, I am now able to see the light shining through the darkness.
Shattered illusion and the fragments of light:
A green meadow
Grass swaying in the breeze.
But the peace is not lasting
Into thousands of fragments
Fading into the sounds of war.
The light behind the walls.
The barbed wire fences
Blocking the green meadow
The joys I no longer share
Will the sun ever shine again for me?
Will I see the grass swaying in the breeze?
Is there even light for me
After this devastating tragedy?
Can the shattered fragments
Be made whole again
Making the darkness
A fading illusion?
Yes it can!
This life I can rebuild
This light I can find again
Picking up the pieces of my life may not be easy.
But the points of light
The fragments scattered in the darkness
Will become the foundation
Of the new picture of my life.