Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : February 14, 2013
By Yiriel Liss, Yeshivat Lev HaTorah
Rabbi Mordechai Machlis is one of the greatest examples of a ba’al chessed, someone who does good deeds. 
He exemplifies this in the way that he lives his life, not for his own needs, but for the needs of everyone around him. He and his family open up their modest home every Shabbat, and host hundreds of people for meals. These people are a wide variety of all different types of people- not only Jews. 
Just watching him feed that many people in and of itself is awe-inspiring, but to watch him interact with them then, and really every day of his life, is just mind-boggling. 
He greets everyone with a huge smile and a hug, and he is genuinely ecstatic every waking, and probably sleeping, second of his life.
Last year, when I was Shana Alef (first year) at Yeshivat Lev Hatorah, I got to experience this firsthand. 
Rav Machlis was, and still is, a teacher in our Yeshiva. 
I was blown away by his excitement to help others, and I decided that I wanted to do something of my own to help. Guys from yeshiva frequently went to the Machlis’s on Friday afternoon to help with their Shabbat preparations, and although I participated, we wanted to get the whole Yeshiva involved.
Yonatan Friedman, a Shana Bet (second year) guy, came up with the idea to have a basketball tournament, involving the whole Yeshiva. 
I jumped on the idea and details quickly came together. We would organize a 3-on-3 round robin, with teams playing in short games until they lost twice. 
Each guy would have to pay a certain amount of money, and he would be signed up to play in the Yehsiva-wide basketball tournament. Anyone who didn’t want to play was more than welcome to give donations, and all proceeds went to the Machlis family. 
After a week or so of intense planning, the tournament got underway. Rebbeim, madrichim, shana alef and shana bet all crowded around the courts to watch each game unfold. 
There were cheers as the underdogs scored, and boo’s as the favorites scored. 
As commissioner/organizer/referee, I was universally booed, and even received a threat that my bed would be flipped. 
After the final whistle, our 6’ 5” 350 pound friend lifted the championship trophy (a piece of paper) and everyone trickled inside. It had been an exhausting five rounds of basketball in four days, and everyone was hoarse from yelling.
The next day, when I got up the courage to approach Rav Machlis with his new, “anonymous” donation, the smile on his face washed away all the stress from the week. 
I could have been giving him 1 shekel, and I could have been giving him 1 million shekel; I would have been greeted the same way. 
What better way to truly live only in the world of chessed for even a minute, than bringing a Yeshiva together to bring one family and one nation together as well?
Published : February 13, 2013
By Michael Dempster, Masa Israel Service Fellows
Since the fall, Michael has been teaching a photography and videography class to Druze youth. In late January, the Julis Youth Center hosted an exhibition of his students' photographs. Below, Michael writes about his experience volunteering in Julis, and shares a few photographs from the exhibition.
A Druze village is a pastiche of seemingly antagonistic elements. Every Thursday droves of cloaked religious women trek uphill to the khalwa, their place of worship, deftly sidestepping the mopeds driven by their secular children and grandchildren. Teenage girls are careful to remove their heels and silence their iPhones as they enter shrines memorializing departed sheikhs, whose graves they encircle and kiss reverently. And in Julis, a village in the mountainous Northern region of Israel, it is now common to see children shutterbugging their way through narrow cobblestone alleys, trying to capture an image that reveals their culture’s unique blend of modern and ancient, integrated and isolated, accessible and obscure.
It was with immense pride that I watched my film and photography students participate in the first public exhibition of their work at the end of January. A humble art show was amplified by a highly enthusiastic turnout from the village. Actually, it reminded me of the crowds that amass at High Holiday services in a shul, as many kids had to stand outside and peer through open windows after their elders filled up the indoor seating rather quickly.
Though the students have only studied their craft for a few short months, the photos on display were characterized by the marks of true artists: Surprising compositions, a strong sense of light and color, and a clear appreciation for focal depth. More importantly, the exhibition celebrated visual narratives from an essential but underappreciated people within the Israeli mosaic. In the next five months these talented young imagemakers will embark on more ambitious projects, including music videos, time-lapses of a blooming garden, and a transcontinental dialogue with Druze communities living outside the Middle East.
Many Israelis unfortunately never get the chance to interact with the Druze. Most would somewhat distantly refer to them as being “mysterious” and “esoteric”. True, their religion is rich, and some of its principles are only revealed to the devout. But in my experience the Druzim are usually open to discussing their beliefs, and quite proud of their culture’s depth and complexity. Another common refrain is that the Druzim are a “kind” and “hospitable” bunch. This is an egregious understatement. They are the most warm-hearted and exuberant people I have ever met, and although I speak about three words of Arabic and come from a very different background from my new students and friends, I truly feel like a part of the Julis community whenever I go there. When I make Aliyah I’ll be blessed to have an entire village as part of my new Israeli family.
All photos are courtesy of the Julis Youth Center, 2012-2013

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