I choose to remember it more than anything as a slightly hazy three days that is blurred by a mixture of blue and white balloons, exotic music, and thick crowds wandering through ancient and holy streets. Here is my best attempt to recreate the barrage of events and emotions that overflowed me on the three day retreat I recently returned from:
I spent last Sunday through Tuesday at one of my program’s lecture series. Israel Pathways had arranged for my group of 26 to be bused from Tel Aviv to Netanya to Jerusalem for a 3 day event that was crammed with stimulation of the mind, body, and reluctant spirit.
We were first lectured by a very passionate linguistic scholar about the different populations of Israelis with a focus on the variety of Arabs, their belief systems and codes, and also programs in the area that encouraged cultural exchanging between Israeli Jewish children and Israeli Arab students. One program, for example, switches children’s places literally, finding things like the same soccer poster in his host bedroom and the same favored hummus in the host family’s fridge. It was a very sweet little lecture about how even though we all seem so different on the outside and within society, we are the same inside and have a lot more in common than we might initially guess. After that, while still In Tel Aviv, we spent the rest of the day at the Yitzhak Rabin center, commemorating him and learning about his quite impressive life and achievements. It was very emotionally charged and I found it impossible for me not to be moved. Especially seeing the video footage and hearing his granddaughter’s speech at his memorial service—it tugged strongly on my own heart strings and still tangible grief from the passing of my own grandfather.
Our next stop was Netanya. I feel that most likely, we were arranged to be in Netanya because we are encouraged to stay with other fellow ITF participants and Israel Pathways/Masa students in general. One of the groups that is with us for our retreats happens to be Netanya-based Israel Teaching Fellows.
We were right by the beach. We were dragged to what was promised to us as a surprise and it turned out to be a ‘Henna Party.’ An event in which stagey-seeming women (a mother figure and her daughter counterpart) mixed up some Henna paste and explained the symbolism. They showed pictures on a power point of elaborate and heavy dresses (“I don’t know how those girls can dance in them, but they can!” she assured us). They told us that circle and the three points are birth, marriage, & death. I think some biological clocks in the group started ticking a bit louder.
They gave us costumes and DJs seemed to come out from nowhere with strobe lights and an eclectic mix of Israeli, American, and popular club music. Yet again, what started out as a pseudo-lecture had morphed into a sort of Bar Mitzvah party type atmospheres with a large group of Jews dancing like nobody was watching (our first was on the Kinneret back in August). There was side cramping, there were sweaty armpits all around, and there was a videographer that I’m pretty sure caught footage of me giving my best Billy Idol snarl.
Our last day was in Jerusalem. We spent our Jerusalem time taking in the wailing wall, talking about politics and religion in small groups, exploring the Christian areas and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We also went into a cave, we had boxes of falafels provided for our eating pleasure, we went hiking to see an overlook, we were begged to be put on a list for donating bone marrow, we went to a bar at a shuk, and we went to MASAfest.
For those who don’t know, MASAfest was a concert/lecture/informative several hours where all of the 10,000 of the MASA participants for this year were shepherded. We were crammed into an indoor arena and watched in awe as we were told that Israel is our home and that we are part of a wave of new Zionists and a lot of other things that weren’t even subtle or particularly convincing.
They tried, I suppose, to balance it out with the concert that directly proceeded the pro-aliyah songs and speeches with the Idan Raichel Project’s grand performance. For those who don’t know, it is a band of Jews from different countries that perform in a genre best described as ‘world music.’ They are fronted by a very comely young man named Idan who sent most of the girls’ (and some of the boys’) hearts aflutter.
It was quite a night. At the end of it though, I just want to tell Israel, and Israel’s agents that insist on telling us how great of a country he is, that we know. We know Israel is wonderful. We know that most of us are already slightly in love with him if not at the very least terribly infatuated with his charm and striking good looks. When it comes to living with him though, making home within his strong and warm arms, sometimes we just think we are not ready to make such a commitment. I think maybe I was happier living in my parent’s house and loving him from afar.