Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Experiential Education

Time to dedicate a blog post to Judy Teufel, art teacher extraordinaire and friend.  Judy taught kids to write "important stuff."  Didn't really matter if it appeared in nice, sentence form.  Much of what I have learned in Israel doesn't really fit a category, it was either observed or experienced.  So, in the spirit of Middle School Breakaway, Catlin Gabel's Experiential program for middle schoolers, here goes.....

Last week, a carpenter stopped by to see what could be done to seal windows and doors to try to keep the rain out.  While he was looking at the patio doors, I noticed a pistol sticking out of his waistband.  I've never worked with a handyman who carried a weapon before!  And, in a gesture seen only in Israel, on his way out, he touched the Mezzuzah outside our door. 

Those who follow Noa already know we travelled to the Golan Heights last weekend to visit the Hoter family.  We celebrated the most religious Shabbat I have ever participated in.  After leaving Jerusalem, we traveled east to the Dead Sea and Jericho.  We turned north at Jericho and found ourselves driving through a desert.  As we traveled north, the desert gave way to greenery.  We passed through the Border Police checkpoint and were out of the West Bank heading towards Beit She'an, often referred to as Israel's Pompeii.  Upon reaching Lake Kenneret (Sea of Galilee), we stopped for lunch at a delightful arts center.  We had the entire cafe to ourselves as we enjoyed the view, serenity, and good food.  It was an idyllic place filled with sunshine, birds, and flowers.

Back on the road, we stopped near Qazrin for a short walk before arriving at Alonei Habashan, the Moshave where Elaine and her family live.  Elaine is one of three Israeli recipients of the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching, essentially my counterpart in this program.  Shabbat cleaning was in full force.  People running everywhere, furniture up off the floor, food being prepared, etc.  We were guests, and invited to take showers!  In addition to our visit, Elaine's daughter, Michal was home for the first time in many months, daughter Orit had come home from Acco (Acre), and three other family friends were also spending Shabbat with the Hoters.  It was quite a crowd!  I wondered about space for all of us, since most Israelis homes are not that large.  We all fit quite comfortably.  Noa, Pam, and I stayed in Orit's room. 

Once showered, Elaine lit the Shabbat candles.  No big ceremony, nothing like I had experienced before.  I looked up and she was over at the mantle lighting the candles.  Then, it was off to Shul with Chaim (husband) and Avichai(youngest son.)  Zichron and Effi, Chaim's college buddies joined us.  At one point Chaim asked me if I could read Hebrew, I said yes, but I couldn't read it fast enough!  Some of the prayers sounded familiar, others were totally new to me.  I was just happy that most of the time, I knew where to turn the page and didn't have to wait for Chaim to show me.

After an hour or so, services were over.  We met outside Shul.  Pam and Noa had been sequestered in the women's section (one of many reasons, we won't become orthodox anytime soon.)  Then it was time to eat and experience Yemenite culture close up and personal.  Turns out Chaim and his buddies are all Yemenites.  The Shabbat evening had such joy in it that Pam and I were soon laughing, humming, and attempting to sing all the while enjoying what we THOUGHT was the Shabbat meal......turns out it was only the first course!  The experience was dizzying.  Food everywhere....and very good food, too!  Chaim chanting blessings at the appropriate times, Effi and Orit singing the entire time.  Others joining in when they weren't eating or talking. After more than three hours of celebrating, the Monheimer's, who were falling asleep went to bed.  Fortunately, we had quite accidentally left our lights in the correct position or else we were going to have to sleep with the lights on!  No turning lights on or off during Shabbat.  Lights in common areas are on timers so we had light and hot water in the morning, etc.

Saturday morning, we had a light breakfast of sweet cakes and breads.  Zichron and we had both brought goodies from the same bakery in Jerusalem.  We discovered both Zichron and Effi lived and worked withing meters of our apartment!  The world is truly small.  We strolled around the Moshav while others attended prayers.  Then, it was time for lunch....which was nearly as elaborate as dinner the evening before!  Effi continued with what seemed like non-stop singing, Zichron and I engaged in a fascinating conversation about which electronics could be used on Shabbat and which couldn't and why the rules were needed.  After lunch, we strolled up the hill to an old Israeli bunker and admired the view into Syria.  The border reminds me of the German border in the days of two Germanys.  We observed no obvious weapons, but it was also clear they weren't very far away.  After returning to the Hoter's, it was finally time for the Shabbat nap! 

Of course, after our nap, it was time to celebrate the end of Shabbat and....you guessed it, eat AGAIN!  Dinner was a mix of leftovers and freshly prepared new dishes.  After a quick hike on Sunday back to the Syrian border to take pictures (no photos on Shabbat), we headed back to Jerusalem.  Oh, I almost forgot....Pam, Noa, and I are now officially Yemenite.  We passed the two tests (secret, sorry.)  Sunday, it was time to say our goodbyes and head back to Jerusalem.  Experiential Education part two coming up....Pam and I don't think we will ever celebrate Shabbat the old way again!  We understand why Jews look forward to it, and why, if we could go back in time, being Yemenite is the way to go!  Thank you Chaim, Elaine, Effi, Zichron, Avigal, Michal, Orit, and Avichai for being such patient, wonderful teachers!  The flower?  Golan Iris, only blooms in the early spring.  The Israeli equivalent of trillium.

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