This past weekend I was a facilitator at an AviChai shabbaton for returning, second-year shilchim (Israeli staff) at North American Jewish summer camps. I was brought into the project because of previous work at the FJC, and I was very interested in the idea of the shabbaton from my first meeting, so I set to my job of collecting Americans to interact with the Israeli counselors.
What was the idea? Well, the second-year shlichim commit to a months-long training program that helps them learn how to educate kids/staff in the Diaspora (outside of Israel) in a way that works. Our (American) role at this weekend, one of the first few installments of the program, was to show Israelis committed Diaspora Jews. In my group's case, this meant committed Diaspora Jews who were pursuing advanced degrees in Jewish studies for upwards of 5 years. Many Israelis are secular, and they are Jewish because they are Jewish. Interestingly, one of the Israelis, who said she was completely secular, also said that she knows Torah, knows traditions and celebrates holidays with family at home. I couldn't believe she identified as secular! Also, many of the religious Israelis do not pursue advanced Jewish studies degrees, since they live the religious life and don't seek out the confirmation that comes with, say, a MA in Jewish Education. They don't have to go to JTS or A-Jew, or to Jewish summer camp, to help cement their Jewish identity. It makes for interesting conversations, as we (the grad/rab students) astonish the Israelis with how our Jewish commitment manifests itself in our worlds at home.
The weekend started, of course, bright and early, which meant that I missed the introductions, due to my ulpan exam (it went well, I think). After the exam, I made my way to the Kiryat Moriyah campus in East Talpiot for a closed Shabbaton. Yes, I was maybe a half hour walk from my apartment, but I stayed at KM, as was required. It was great, though -- the radiator was inches from my bed, there was also a heater that blew hot air on the other side of the room, and the comforter on the bed was a-mazing!
When I arrived, I went straight to lunch for some real, authentic army food (hot dogs and couscous), as KM is also a small army base. Afterwards, we jumped into some heavy Jewish identity related conversations. Because my delegation of (male*) incredibly intelligent, attractive (some of them are SINGLE, ladies!) and fluent rab students, much of our conversations were in Hebrew. AND, as I've been bragging more consistently lately, I UNDERSTOOD so much of what was said! I know! I know! YAY!!!
*There are also women at Machon Schechter, but they didn't come to the Shabbaton.
The weekend was incredible. The boys from Machon Schechter (where the JTS/AJU students go when they're in Israel for third year) were wonderful. They were thoughtful, critical, hilarious (Noam), and forceful when they needed to be. We pushed the Israelis, and the Israelis pushed us right back. The conversations ranged from hilarious to heavy, and it was fabulous.
The Israeli staff was great, and it felt good to work on a Shabbaton, largely in Hebrew. It felt good to work.
Thank you to Rafi, Noam, Jeremy, Gideon, Dan and Dan for being so incredibly fabulous.