Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : December 02, 2010
By Elana Stern, Young Judaea Year Course, Livingston, NJ
Monday of this week was completely hectic. After turning in my Zionism paper and having a morning of classes, we all boarded buses for Jerusalem. Our first stop was the AACI (Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel) memorial service for fallen members of the IDF and victims of terror who were originally American or Canadian citizens. After this year’s ceremony, the memorial wall dedicated by AACI just outside of Jerusalem now lists over 300 names, a staggering number. As Americans living in Israel, this was both depressing and humbling. So many people have moved themselves, their families and their lives to Israel, risking everything, and some have clearly made the ultimate sacrifice.
Once the ceremony was over, we took a trip to Mini Israel, which is, exactly as it’s named, a smaller scale version of all major sites, cities and attractions in Israel. Being as tall as the Azrieli Tower (the second tallest building in Israel, the tallest in Tel Aviv) was quite cool (in real life, Azrieli is almost 50 stories. I barely clear 5 feet).
Tuesday was an early morning of volunteering. It’s been about a month, and some of my students, despite their efforts, continue to try to teach me profanity in Hebrew, thinking I won’t know the difference. Unfortunately for them, I am becoming less of a “stupid American,” and I recognize their shenanigans. Two of them (who shall remain nameless) think it’s hysterical to teach me a sentence with curse words, tell me it means “You have nice eyes” or “I like your shirt” and then they instruct me to say it to their teacher, knowing full well it has nothing to do with pretty eyes or an outfit choice. I, however, do not fall for their tricks; generally, one of their classmates begins to giggle immediately, which is a tip-off, or someone (usually Bar or Sapir, my buddies) tells me not to repeat whatever the little clowns have “taught” me. Always good for a laugh, though. Crazy kids.
Tuesday afternoon was an adventure to Tel Aviv; we’ve realized that we have about a month left in Bat Yam, which means a month to visit Tel Aviv whenever we choose, a month to explore, a month to enjoy the city and beaches around us before we move to the desert. Because we cannot completely disregard being American (it’s one of those things we just can’t shake, unlike our initial jetlag and, after some Ulpan classes, the language barrier) we have decided to celebrate Halloween while in Israel. So my roommate and I got costumes, had some delicious dinner and, like true pioneers, took a new bus route home (125 instead of 18…). A very successful evening, I must say.
The best part about my day today was the evening class from which I just returned. It’s called Jewish Business Ethics and is taught by my Zionism teacher, Benjy. Every week, our topic changes; all are related to issues in business and global economies, and what Jewish law has to say about these modern issues. Tonight, our topic was advertising, its positive effects on consumers and the ramifications of “false advertising.” Interestingly, the Talmud and Halacha (Jewish law) have very specific prohibitions against misleading people when it comes to making a purchase or a decision.
The example is given: A storeowner should never sprinkle expensive, delicious-smelling wine throughout his shop if the wine in the store is not of the same caliber as the wine he uses to lure in customers. His customers then believe that the wine they purchase will smell just as delicious as his shop, but when they open it, realize their wine is nothing like the product that urged them to make their purchase. The lesson here, therefore, is that advertising falsely and similar methods of simply “making a sale” or “doing business” are prohibited by Halacha. According to Jewish law, consumers have recourse if they are not satisfied with their product after buying it based on certain information (i.e. an advertisement).
So, where does that leave us as consumers, as businessmen and women, and for me, as a Jewish person? I will tell you one thing: the advertisements on the sides of buses and all over billboards for chocolate in this country are very hard to ignore. They’re everywhere. And I can tell you from some experience that they are not misleading (so ads for chocolate are okay by the Halacha. That figures).
Now that my adventure in Bat Yam is two-thirds over, I have made a list of things that are unique to and great about living here. As I compiled this list, I found myself thinking, “No wonder Bat Yam has such a bad reputation.” But in reality, it’s been an amazing first two months, and I wouldn’t have wanted to spend them any other place:
  1. You see more cats than people. If I could somehow calculate the ratio of cats to people in Bat Yam, I think the kitties would win. They are everywhere. In the street. On my front steps. Behind the market. They’re smart though; when they see me coming, they steer clear.
  1. You can walk to the beach with your eyes closed (since you now know the bus system and the fact that certain lines stop running after certain hours. This only took three weeks to figure out.) The beach is a 25 minute walk from my apartment, down one major road, that dead-ends at the ocean. Generally, a bus line runs straight to the beach, but the stops change, and after 9 PM, the route changes completely. Learning this was not as straightforward as it sounds, more like trial and error for a few weeks.
  1. You have a small Russian vocabulary without even trying to learn Russian. Everything in Bat Yam is labeled in Russian (usually instead of translation from Hebrew to English, it’s Hebrew to Russian. Or there’s no Hebrew at all). The kids at school speak Russian to one another occasionally, and I’m starting to pick up a few words (Hello, Goodbye, Yes and No). The best place to learn some great Russian words? The grocery store.
  1. You walk outside your apartment in mid-October and immediately begin to sweat. Granted, Israel is hot. It’s the desert. But 98 degrees in October? I think that’s a bit excessive. I’d really like to start wearing jeans and long-sleeve shirts, but that will not happen in the foreseeable future.
  1. Toothpaste is a free giveaway at Super Pharm. Super Pharm is the CVS of Israel; it’s everywhere and they sell everything from shampoo to paper towels. The other day, I went in to replace my shampoo and conditioner. At home, my shampoo has some clever name with “No frizz” in the title. Well, as I looked for it in Super Pharm, I saw the tall orange bottle and written on the front “Infrizzable Woman.” Clearly, I thought that was hysterical (translations on labels are generally funny) so now, I am the Infrizzable Woman (I bought a few bottles) along with some conditioner, soap and other necessities. Well, as it turns out, spending 200 shekels or more at Super Pharm gets you a free gift! I was picturing a pack of Must gum or something but no…..toothpaste. Colgate toothpaste. When the woman at the cash register saw my face, she said “Doesn’t sell very much. We give away as present.” Toothpaste is not a big item around here – so it becomes a gift. Priceless.
  1. Despite all the problems and setbacks, strange neighbors and the relentless heat, you don’t want to live anywhere else. I really do love living in Bat Yam. It’s going to be sad to leave in a month, but I know my time here has given me some of the best (and funniest) experiences!
Published : December 01, 2010
By Rachel Barton, Career Israel
At the Religion and State seminar held in Jerusalem on November 18, Career Israel participants were met with a series of stimulating and thought-provoking speakers which left everyone pondering questions of Jewish identity and what it means to have a Jewish state. The day was set up in a way that made sure all sides were represented, but also so that no viewpoint on the spectrum of religion and state went unchallenged. Based on the heartfelt and thoughtful discussions that ended the program and continued on into the evening thereafter, it was clear that the seminar was successful both in providing answers and raising new questions in the minds of all who were present.
The seminar began with an introduction by Josh Weinberg, a reserve officer in the IDF spokesperson’s unit and educator and guide for the Reform movement in Israel. This introductory lecture, though intended to be an impartial representation of the issues at hand, already brought up the first stirrings of debate and revealed the complexities behind the question of whether Israel can simultaneously exist as both a Jewish state and as a secular democratic institution.
The day progressed with a lecture by Dr. Dov Maimon, a professor of public policy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, and a member of Israel’s Haredi, or ultra-orthodox community. Dr. Maimon gave a passionate representation of one far end of the spectrum of the religion-and-state debate; the Haredi perspective that religion, specifically traditional Judaism, should play a central role in the governance of daily life in Israel. Dr. Maimon was met with question after question, both in agreement and dissent, regarding this stance and created quite a stir that left everyone questioning if the existence of such a religious and democratic state was possible.
The final speaker of the day, Anat Hoffman, brought the seminar back to the opposite end of the spectrum with an equally engaging and controversial stance. Hoffman is a founding member of Women of the Wall, an activist group which fights for equal religious rights for women, and is the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center, an organization which promotes Jewish pluralism, tolerance, and equality. Hoffman argued not that religion does not have a place in state affairs, but that it should not influence them in such a way that it causes unequal policy towards any particular group. Her passionate mission was reflected in her repeated entreaty to the audience to “raise hell” and fight for women to be able to practice Judaism freely and publicly at the Western Wall the way men are permitted.
After a day of such fervent debate and the raising of such a complex web of questions, it’s a wonder that no one’s head was spinning upon leaving the seminar. However, no matter the perspectives taken up during the day or what previous conclusions were dismantled, all participants were engaged and benefitted from an important debate regarding Israel and Jewish identity. After all, this is a central question which affects us all and for many was the reason for coming to Israel in the first place. It is rare that we are presented point-blank with an opportunity to spend the day wrestling with our identities together, and this, if nothing else, was the uniting factor of the day.

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