Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : January 21, 2013
By Avigail Jaffe, Darchei Binah
Anyone who’s spent a year in Israel knows the challenges of finding a host for Shabbat each week. 
Like any unsuspecting teenager, I found myself in this never-ending cycle last year in seminary.  
From Sunday to Tuesday I spent countless hours trying to obtain the phone numbers of Shabbat hosts and even more time calling them, politely asking if they’d be willing to host a couple of girls for Shabbat. 
Although most were very nice, they would, more often than not, already be booked with guests. 
One week I got hold of a host’s phone number from a classmate, and I called to request if the family could host me and two friends for Shabbat.
We were warned to bring casual clothes and sneakers, but nothing could have prepared us for what we were in for.
No buses went directly to their yishuv (settlement). 
Thankfully, our host picked us up from the bus stop and drove us to her home. 
Then she showed us where we would be sleeping, which was, believe it or not, in a dusty old freight container near the main house. We looked around, found ourselves surrounded by rugged wilderness complete with a donkey and a couple other trailers, and began to panic. 
But realizing that hyperventilating wouldn’t help, we settled down and set out to explore our surroundings. We tentatively ventured into our host’s main house, which was no bigger than a large shed, with a bathroom, bedroom, and a small kitchen and dining area. 
Fly tape graced the window above the kitchen sink, though flies still circulated our heads.
With the arrival of Shabbat came rain and we walked up a hill covered in muck to the tiny shul, which didn’t have a minyan. 
During dinner we sat on thin Israeli mattresses on the floor in lieu of chairs, which got dustier and dirtier as people trampled over them. But we were hungry, and the food was delicious. 
Then we learned about the history of the yishuv. Soldiers had camped out there and refused to leave the land. 
Eventually, it became an outpost, inhabited by a small number of families. 
The next morning we rose early to take part in the baby’s birthday party.
Small children ran around in the dirt, playing with much-larger dogs. 
In the afternoon, we took a long, guided hike through the area and saw the compost that the neighbors had created, as well as the lodgings which they had constructed with their bare hands. 
One family lived in a huge tent with dim lighting, area carpets and blankets covering the floor. Handmade objects hung from the walls. 
Though this lifestyle was foreign to us, the residents all seemed happy. 
There was something about the dirt covering their hands and the simplicity of their lives that fostered a natural appreciation for life itself. 
Free from the distractions that consume so much of our lives, these pioneers had ample time to focus on their families and hobbies. 
There were only about ten families in the settlement, and they were extremely close-knit. They lived the way that they wanted to, even if it wasn’t within social norms.  
They believed they were doing their work to defend and preserve the Jewish land, and they literally depended on each other for their survival.  
To me, they were heroes. 
Published : January 18, 2013
After graduating from college, I wanted to take at least one year off before deciding on a career. I wanted to experience something new and different and also wished to be of service and give back. I looked into programs from Africa to India, when I came across something that stood out. But, it was located in Israel.  To me, Israel meant Zionist Judaism.  I saw it as a religious place, where everyone would either force me to go to services or become a rabbi.  Jews lived in New York City; I grew up there—why go to a land filled with more Jews, when I wanted to experience a change?
Clearly, I did not understand Israel. How could I think a country located in the Middle East was not cool enough for me? I had completely overlooked Israel’s diversity because it was never presented to me. Whenever people spoke of Israel it was always portrayed through one lens only. Until I came across the Yahel Social Change program, I had never looked at Israel as a dynamic place.
In Israel I live in the Shapira neighborhood where everyone knows each other. This is far different from my experience at home. Here, I walk down the street and say “Shalom” to everyone I see. People know who I am, and unlike in New York, people take the time to notice me.
Whenever there is a wedding or a funeral, everyone in the community gathers to celebrate the wedding or mourn those who have gone.  Judaism plays an important role in the community—people keep kosher, they talk about religious issues and the holidays are always relevant.
Shapira has given me the opportunity to experience a new side of Israel and get a better understanding of Judaism. I recognized that Judaism is also a collective identity and not solely based on religious aspects. I have experienced it first-hand by living in this community and by witnessing the love and support that connects everyone. Walking down the street in Israel is a Jewish experience. I feel a common bond with the people here that can only be described as a Jewish one.
At home the only time I felt this intense feeling of community was in synagogue, but I always had trouble embracing it because it was in the context of religion.  In the Youth Center, while tutoring and wherever I am in Shapira, I feel we share something special.  This Jewish connection is not something tangible—it is an intuitive affinity.  It is experienced as a feeling of safety and trustworthiness. As different as I thought an Ethiopian Israeli and I would be, the common denominator of Judaism links us together.

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