Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 25, 2013
By Rachel Manoucheri, Bnos Chava
I have been an Orthodox Jew my entire life. 
I studied in the most prestigious religious institutions of Los Angeles, and spent last year at the Masa Israel-accredited Bnos Chava, an academically rigorous seminary in Jerusalem.  
During my free time, I toured the streets of Jerusalem, and began to comprehend the identity of each Jewish sect. I believed I possessed Jewish pride in my heritage and homeland and needed no further inspiration. 
During that year, my parents traveled to Israel.  
My father planned to visit Ohr Sameach, the yeshiva that first inspired him to practice Judaism, and my mother was acting as a mentor for a Jewish learning program.  
On Shabbat, I joined my parents and two hundred other mentors, students, yeshiva students, and faculty to experience the holy day in Tzefat.  
During the three-and-a-half hour bus ride from Jerusalem to northern Israel, I felt a bit anxious about spending Shabbat with two hundred unfamiliar people, but I was also excited to finally understand how Ohr Sameach had revealed the beauty of Judaism and Israel to my father. 
The bus followed the meandering verdant roads through Arab towns and Israeli settlements, until finally reaching our destination: Hotel Ron in Tzefat.
As the buses arrived, the Hotel Ron’s mountaintop became hectic.  
As usual, there was a pulsing sense of anticipation for the approaching Shabbat festivities. The students—many who were not religious— arrived from a week of touring Israel’s physical splendor and spiritual sites. 
Yeshiva students from numerous Jerusalem institutions joined the growing throngs along with the family members of the Or Sameach faculty. I found my parents standing next to the students’ bus, beaming. 
After acquainting ourselves with Tzefat, we prepared for Shabbat.  
Along with two hundred young men, rabbis, and a few women, we walked toward the center square where Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz wrote Lecha Dodi in the 1500s.  
While the sun set behind the fertile Galilee mountains, two hundred voices rose in unison to welcome Shabbat. Bodies swayed in time to the rhythm of the haunting melody, eyes closed in concentration as we felt the presence of Shabbat descend among us.  
I closed my eyes, savoring the feeling of serenity, that special brand of Shabbat tranquility. Never before had I felt the presence of Shabbat so potently.
After Friday night prayers, we climbed the stairs cut into the mountainside to reach our lodging. A buzz of spiritual high circulated through our large group and transferred to our Shabbat meal. 
As the festive meal commenced, the college students, Yeshiva students, mentors, and Rabbi mingled and celebrated Shabbat as one, singing Shabbat zemirot with enthusiasm. 
Blue jeans and sneakers marched behind black pants and dress shoes as everyone danced with joyous vigor, celebrating their close tie with the Jewish people. I observed the celebrations with wide eyes, storing the inspiring images in the recesses of my mind. 
I finally understood the powerful life-changing gift that my father had experienced during his year in Israel: the joy of Judaism and living a Jewish existence. 
Published : February 21, 2013

By Jordana Skurka, Hebrew University 


I sat apprehensively with my palm held up to a microscope, under the watchful gaze of the Kabbalist, a religious mystic and spiritual guide. Before privately meeting one-on-one with the holy man, I and the other visitors had been informed of his uniquely powerful insight.


As a man thoroughly well-versed in the secret layers and esoteric depths of meaning within the Torah, the Kabbalist was described as one endowed with an ability to see the absolute truth and stark reality of a person’s nature. In just a few short moments of analysis, he could illuminate a person’s inner qualities and past life experiences.


I stared in amazement as he circumspectly examined the lines of my palm, in his desire to scrupulously interpret the inherent significance of each indent. He offered elaborate explications of the meaning of each distinct and individual line, readily apparent to him alone, through his elevated level of consciousness and awareness of higher reality.


He reflected upon his perception of my characteristics and qualities, interests and life experiences, as clear in his eyes as my physical form in front of him.


I was impressed by his explanations and recognized much of his interpretations as true. However, my reaction may simply be resultant of the highly positive nature of his determinations.


Who would dispute a depiction of him or herself as a gifted and charismatic genius, talented and skilled in every possible way, fated to rescue all of humanity from an impending catastrophic disaster?


While it is not advisable for a mystic to attempt to predict a person’s future, he did state his opinion as to my general prospects in life. In particular, when I inquired about a decision that had been a subject of thought for a while, he clearly expressed his opinion as the advisable direction I should consider.


As the Kabbalist’s knowledge of my self was grounded in our extensive encounter of 5 minutes in length, he clearly knew best. The opinions of friends and family faded away in the face of the mystic’s comprehensive understanding of my true potential.


After all, unlike any other, he alone had based his intimate knowledge of my life by the lines written on my palm. How could one have the audacity to doubt a word he had uttered?


I soon returned from my mystical consultation, overwrought and confused. My friends quickly assured me that he had invented his claims. While a person may have a natural inclination for a reaction of skepticism and cynical disbelief, I still could not rid myself of a conviction of the truth of his claims.


Ultimately, I may never determine for certain the basis of the Kabbalist’s apparent apprehension. A person’s accurate interpretation of the characteristics and qualities of another may simply be based on intuition and assumption, without the necessity of mystical inspiration.


What is undeniable to me is that this experience is reflective of the manifestations of spirituality that one may casually, and regularly, encounter in the course of one’s life in the city of Jerusalem.


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