On Thursday the 28th of October, gap year participants from one American and six British Zionist youth movements gathered in Kiryat Moriah in Jerusalem for the first Keshet Seminar, which was a collaboration beween Masa Israel, Machon, British Youth Movements, and the UJIA and UJF. Coming from all over Israel, 150 participants met for the weekend in order to discuss and explore issues and opinions in a pluralist environment. With representatives from a large range of Jewish backgrounds and perspectives, including Modern Orthodox, Masorti, Progressive and Cultural Judaism, the weekend was full of heated discussion and fascinating debate.
During the weekend we were able to interact in smaller groups catered around our interests, with group titles varying from visual arts to the studying of Jewish texts. In these groups, lead by a collection of madrichim (coming from Masa Israel, Machon and the different youth movements) we were able to engage with teenagers from different Jewish backgrounds, particularly focusing on topics such as Judaism, Zionism, Israel and Ideology.
One session in particular succeeded in producing swift individual responses to controversial statements, such as “Only Orthodox conversions should be accepted in Israel.” Each participant was given an adjustable pie chart of green and red paper, with green representing ‘agree’, and red representing ‘disagree’. Across all groups it seemed that this session provoked the most debate whilst allowing individuals to learn from and challenge one another.
Coming from movements with such distinct ideologies, the experience was incredibly beneficial in exposing beliefs and opinions that may often be absent within a given movement. This seemed to be exemplified through Shabbat, where there was a wide range of opinions over how the day should be observed and how to cater to the needs of all participants.
For examples, the use of mobile phones in communal areas was forbidden, which evoked a range of responses. Over the course of Shabbat a variety of Kabbalat Shabbat and Shacharit services were offered, run by different movements. Progressive services were run by Netzer (The International Reform Zionist Youth movement), Modern Orthodox services were run by Bnei Akiva (a religiously orientated Zionist movement) and Cultural and Spiritual services run by Habonim Dror (a socialist movement affiliated with Cultural Judaism).
Overall, the weekend fostered the questioning of ideology and personal belief, whilst encouraging gap year participants to come together and interact with one another. Whilst the differences between movements were often apparent, the seminar acted as a reminder to all 150 participants, that the desire to spend a year in Israel, exploring and challenging our beliefs, is one that we all share.