A moment to think and reflect

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Shalom for Aroma’s in the Mamilla Mall. Those who follow me on Facebook – or who remember last year’s trip – will know that Aroma is my favorite place in Israel. I just had a wonderful conversation with two women on a trip with their Reconstructionist congregation in Washington D.C. and was happy to be able to give them some tips about touring Yad Vashem as well as where they might eat lunch.

I have not blogged yet this trip for a number of reasons. My program at Yad Vashem was not really blog conducive. It was exhausting physically, mentally and emotionally on a daily basis for 10 days. I had no wifi in my room at the hotel for 10 days. I had little time to myself. And, really, did you want to read about what I was learning in a seminar for teaching the Holocaust? I will say – in reflection – that it was an amazing experience for which I am very grateful. I am not thrilled about who allowed me to have this amazing experience at relatively no cost (airfare only) – Sheldon Adelson – but I am glad that some of his money is going somewhere of value rather to supporting Newt and Mitt. His name is literally everywhere at Yad Vashem and one of the other teachers in my cohort teaches at the Sheldon Adelson Campus school in Las Vegas which is nominally (well, not nominally since there is no Jewish in the name) Jewish.

The information and materials presented to us were all top notch and so intentional and well thought out. Every speaker – and we heard 20 or more different people over the course of 40-50 sessions – used the same terminology, followed the same philosophy and presented the latest and most up to date and modern approach to what we were doing. They have put much thought into their curricular materials and books. Their pedagogical approach is well thought out and was explained well and in the same terms no matter who you asked. It was very reassuring to see that much of what I included in my curriculum when I taught the Shoah (Holocaust) was supported by their approach – focusing on survivors – the time period I taught – the approach I took. That said, I still learned a tremendous amount and mostly got that teaching the Shoah as a historical event is really a very small part of the story. Of course, you, and your students, need to know the necessary historical information to understand what is going on, but the real focus is on the individuals and communities. The six million as a group are too overwhelming to really connect and feel empathy and we need to create empathy in our students. Focusing on individuals and communities allows this empathy and connection to develop. I also loved that they focus on the survivors and coming back to life after 1945 rather than dwell in the awfulness of 39-45. Every survivor testimony begins at the end so that the readers or viewers know that this person lived, found meaning in life and went on to have children, grandchildren, a career – a life. That way, no matter how much they suffered, you don’t have to wait till the end to know if they made it or not. This makes such sense to me.

In addition to great learning, I also met a great group of people. There were 19 of us – 18 women and one poor guy! Bryan took his role as lone man in the group very seriously – especially on our perilous Rampart Walk tour of the old city which was a constant up and down of narrow and very high staircases and walkways. Most of the women were in a group from Miami, there were four of us from Seattle and then a couple from LA, one from Vegas and one from Canada. We really bonded and had a great time. I have to say that the Seattle group was the loudest and most fun. It was particularly nice spending time with and getting to know better a couple of women who I have known in Seattle – one for 14 years. Our program director – Shani – was amazing and it was especially wonderful getting to go through the museum at Yad Vashem with her as our tour. She told amazing stories and really brought things to life and explained the thinking behind the way that the museum is organized and the various exhibits. She was an amazing person and teacher and I look forward to her visit to Seattle in November. At the end of the 10 days she charged us all to go foward as “shluchim” (messengers) for Yad Vashem and spread the word.

After finishing at Yad Vashem. I spent the next Shabbat at Bat Ayin on a Shabbaton sponsored by a tiny little kehilla (community) in Nahlaot – Ani Tefilati – which is led by R. Raz Hartmann. I went with Yiscah, Malika (who grew up in Seattle and lives in Nahlaot now with her husband), Tovah, Etta and Hillel (friends I have met here). Bat Ayin is about 20 minutes outside of Jerusalem but is in the “Settlements”. This was my first time going into this area and I was a bit torn and nervous. These are not “illegal” settlements but real towns and communities and there is a yeshiva at Bat Ayin where several people I know have studied. Bat Ayin has the reputation of being a bit of a hippie community and all the people with dreadlocks rather than peyus (those curly forelocks) doesn’t do a lot to refute that reputation. We were warmly welcomed and hosted by a lovely Chabad family who moved to Israel two years ago from Kansas via Chicago. The wife, Shoshana, is of Swedish descent and had the blondest (practically white) haired children who were so adorable and sweet. Their kitchen had four juicers, a food dehydrator and about 100 mason jars full of grains, beans and spices. Shoshana made us a delicious glass of ice cold fresh squeezed orange juice mixed with banana to help us cool down after the bus ride.

Friday night services were amazing as was the beautiful and delicious Shabbat meal eaten outside, sitting on cushions on the ground, in the Yeshiva’s Sukkah which serves as their “heder ochel” (dining room) most of the year. There were 60+ people there and it was like one big family table. Saturday morning I got up and went to services so early that I was the first woman there. The door was open and it was incredible to look out the door while I was praying and see the hills of Judea – little changed in 3000 years – rolling away into the distance. I think that might have been the best part of a really fantastic Shabbat for me. I learned at the kiddush that followed services, and then at lunch as well, that when an Israeli says “Yesh li camah millim” (I have a few words (to say)) that you better get comfortable! Many people had “camah millim” but there was lots of yummy food to eat so it was fine. It was all in Hebrew so I didn’t necessarily get all of it, but it was a good work out for my Hebrew and Yiscah helped to translate and sum up the main points. It was seriously hot and I took a long nap – I can’t believe people actually went on a hike and I am sure it was beautiful but I don’t think I would have survived it. I was shvitzing up a storm lying still on a bed with a fan blowing on me! Services in the afternoon were lovely and then we had the final meal – more lovely communal eating and shmoozing.

After Shabbat ended we rushed to make the first bus back to Jerusalem so we could unpack and repack to leave for the north the next morning. Our promptness was rewarded by the bus dying after going 100 yards. We waited 30 minutes for the next bus and then were on our way. It was an amazing weekend and I hope to be able to go back and visit Shoshana and her beautiful family again. They regularly host people (like every week) and invited us to return any time. It was so lovely being in community with Jews from so many places and in so many different places in their lives and Jewishness and to feel like one big happy family. This is one of my favorite things about Nahlaot and the people that I have met in this community in the various places I have either learned or davened.

I will write a separate blog about my trip to see Cousin Max and to Tsfat with Yiscah. I think I need to move Aromas and maybe get some lunch in the next one! It is getting very busy in this one as it is noon and I am sure they would love me to vacate this table!!

Be well. With blessings – b’vrachot
Nance

About nancesea

I live in Seattle with my husband Steve. I work as a Jewish educator, primarily teaching middle schoolers. My hobbies, when I have time, are reading, writing, music, and photography. I am passionate about teaching the lessons of the darkest periods history to help inspire my students to assure our future is brighter. I am a Museum Teacher Fellow at the U.S. Holocaust Museum and Memorial. I travel yearly to Central and Eastern Europe to continue to learn about this history and make connections with educators there doing similar work. I hope you enjoy my writing on my travels, my learning and Jewish thought and practice. B'vrachot - with blessings - Nance

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