Monday, May 23, 2016

Israel 2016-- Mediterranean Bookends


The Davis Academy Israel Trip unfolds over the span of two weeks. But the impact is immeasurable. Long after the experience itself has come to a close, the process of meaning making will carry on. What meanings? What connections? What awarenesses? What discoveries do you hope that your child will encounter in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead? Kind of like this daily blog, I encourage you to capture your responses to these questions somewhere. If you’re comfortable, you can do so in the comments section at the end of this post. That way you and your child can revisit them long after they’ve faded from your memory.
A day that is bookended by the Mediterranean Sea and Tel Aviv shore is, almost by definition, picture perfect. But the beach in the morning and the beach at sunset end up being two very different places, at least emotionally.
After breakfast we took a 5 minute walk to Hof Yerushalayim, one of Tel Aviv’s central beaches. Because it wasn’t yet 9am, the beach was relatively empty. Having said that, there were plenty of people starting their days as we started ours, with a dip in the Mediterranean.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in Los Angeles, or maybe because my own family has started to make beautiful memories at the beach, or maybe it’s because of the energy that came from your kids today, or maybe it’s the undeniably miraculous and transcendent beauty of the beach itself, but I always find tremendous meaning in our time at the beach.
From the kids’ perspective, the beach is chill time. It’s time to body surf, splash around, and eventually lay out in the sun. That’s more or less the sum total of their experience. This year you can throw in an absolutely delicious watermelon (I can’t remember what the boys named it) that appeared at the perfect time. How did they slice the watermelon you might ask? They didn’t. They smashed it!
Once I’d had my time in the Sea I stood and watched the kids from the shore. Near us was an elderly man sitting in the shallow water. He was there for quite some time. He was quiet. He seemed to be deep in thought. At one point I realized that he had only one hand. I realized that just before I saw him run his remaining hand through the water and the sand for more than a few moments. I asked Morah Orna what she thought he might be thinking about. Trying not to impose my interpretations, I said, maybe he’s experiencing complete tranquility and contentment, or maybe he’s longing for something lost. She said, a man his age is definitely longing after something from an earlier time. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the image of the man’s hand running through the sand and water. Eventually I went up and said hello to him and was completely surprised by the person I encountered. But I want to leave the mystery for you.
Meanwhile, in the background, the kids continued to frolic, take selfies, and do everything else we want them to do.
Along with the elderly man, I saw a mom and her young child collecting water from the Sea to put in a small inflatable pool. It made me think of my daughter who graduates Pre-School tomorrow and it reminded me that it wasn’t so long ago that the young men and women on this trip were at that stage of life. Fortunately they’ve got a lot of living to do before they find themselves sitting in the Sea and longing for something.
But it won’t be that long before they’ll be back here in Israel, kind of like the Birthright Group that also shared our stretch of sand.
I love the beach because each crashing wave offers a new way of looking at things. Between the young child, the birthright group, and the elderly man, our kids were having the time of their lives. And for good reason. The simplicity of childhood either has or will quickly be coming to an end. The intensity of true adolescence is knocking on the door, with all of the pressure, demands, and expectations. These two weeks, and the hour we spend swimming in the Sea in particular, represent the most carefree moments of pure joy and bliss that these kids may ever have. I mean someone else is literally guarding whatever belongings they've brought with them! Obviously there will be many other life-defining moments, but swimming the Mediterranean Sea with the entire summer leading up to High School in front of you—that’s pretty special. And the best part is that the kids have no idea how special it is. They just know that they’re exactly where they want to be. While I might have been time traveling in my mind, there’s no doubt that the beach summoned our kids to absolute in-the-moment mindfulness and presence. We didn’t have to say a prayer, or tell them how to enjoy themselves. We set the boundaries, kept an eye on them and their stuff, and they knew, with profound and unflinchingly certainty, exactly how to make their hour at the beach the stuff of eternity.
Between our morning and evening at the beach we took a crucial detour to visit the site of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the Palmach Museum. Rabin’s assassination continues to be the defining moment of Israeli history. No trip to Israel is complete without stopping to see the place where not only a man, but an idea, the idea of Shalom, was shot in the back by a fellow “Jew.” In Israel they don’t speak the assassin’s name. They call him, “them murderer.”  We spared the kids some of the details, but amazingly this murderer remains a hero to many Jews and, while imprisoned, has married and even started a family of his own. Only in Israel.
We took our Pizur lunch in the surrounding area. Nothing special, but the kids enjoy the glimpses of autonomy that come with Pizur. In fact, as I type, it makes me think that Pizur is part of what helps them feel truly at home in Israel. Often it is Pizur where they do most of their Hebrew speaking and start to gather their instincts about what they do and don't like in Israel.
The Palmach Museum tells the story of the young men and women that had the courage and commitment to fight during the years leading up to Israel’s independence. The beach we swam at this morning was there waiting for us because of these men and women and the generations they inspired.
Quick aside about the beach—as I walked to the restroom I saw a bookshelf. The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Public Library has street kiosks where you can simply go and borrow a book. Only in Israel.
If our morning swim was carefree and innocent, our evening visit to the Tel Aviv Port was profoundly shaped by the awareness that tomorrow night we sleep on an airplane. The dramatic port and setting sun (not to mention the regional jets flying to and from Eilat overhead) provided a perfect place for the group to continue to reflect on what this trip means to them even as they’re still in the midst of the experience (tomorrow is a full day and there will be two more blog posts). Here I need to say a quick word about the two reflective sessions we’ve had to date.
In yesterday’s “poem” I referenced some soul searching in the Rose Garden between the Knesset and the Supreme Court. That soul searching was prompted by a list of questions that we bring with us each year for this very purpose. Each year it’s exciting to see which 6-8 of the 67 current questions will end up being discussed. Ms. Kendrick led the session and asked kids from each chaperone group to pick random numbers that corresponded to random questions. Questions like, “What was the most spiritual moment?” or “What could America learn from Israel?” or “Tell a funny story?” or “Share a challenge you faced on this trip and how you reacted to it?” We heard a lot of good stuff. For some kids the spiritual moment was actually looking out the plane window as we landed. For others it was the Kotel. For others it was visiting with the Nili Kids in Zichron Ya’akov. There were of course many other moments shared. We also asked the kids, “What advice would you give to the 7th graders?” We heard some really important things—be open-minded, learn Hebrew, listen to your teachers, embrace the moment, don’t worry about room assignments, look out the windows, get to know your tour guides, journal every day. Pretty wise stuff. Shaul, one of our bus drivers, even inserted himself into the group reflection to tell us how much he appreciated each and every one of us and, to her great embarrassment, Zoe in particular! 
Tonight’s reflection, which took place in yet another nostalgic site—a children’s garden, was totally open ended. We gathered around a seat that was shaped like a snail and anyone who wanted to could come and sit on the snail and speak. There were several highlights, but Ethan said it best when he came up, sat on the snail, and said, “I just want to say that it’s funny that we’re sharing our thoughts while sitting on a snail, because this trip has flown by!” Adam P. also did a nice thing by asking us to place one hand on our heart, and one hand on the shoulder of the person next to us. “We’re all connected,” he said. Olivia spoke about how strange it will be to come to Israel next year with completely different people in her new school and Ian spoke about how much he enjoyed seeing his classmates and friends discovering places that he'd already been to. There were lots of tears and eventually, we’d talked ourselves into some serious "end of the journey" awareness. So we cut them loose for their penultimate Pizur which concluded with us watching the sunset over the Mediterranean.

In ancient times our ancestors feared the sunset because it meant that darkness was coming. They were pretty sure that the sun would rise again, but lacked the certainty (not to mention the optimism) that we have today. Something of that ancient fear remains for us when the sun sets. But the fear isn’t that the sun won’t rise again. The fear, maybe more like sadness or anxiety, seems to have something to do with asking ourselves questions like, “Did I make the most out of today?” or “What does my future hold?” or “Will I ever be this happy again?” or “What will tomorrow bring?” or maybe even, "What sun is setting inside of me? What moon is rising?" These are the types of questions that you don’t ask when your swimming on a Mediterranean morning. These are the questions you ask when you watch the sunset on an experience that you anticipated for most of your life and therefore thought would surely last forever. These are the questions you ask when you stand on the threshold of increasingly uncertain tomorrows. Tomorrows filled with new experiences, new friends, new communities, new learning, new challenges, new opportunities, and new journeys toward a future self that has yet to fully take shape. 
Hopefully this morning’s swim, this evening’s sunset, and everything that has taken place during the last two weeks will nourish and sustain our kids through the beautiful and challenging years that await them beyond the walls and halls of Davis, the only school community that most of them have ever known. A school community which, by the way, they authentically seem to love and appreciate with all their heart even if they'd forgotten that emotional reality sometime in the last year or so.  

1 comment:

  1. “Did I make the most out of today?” or “What does my future hold?” or “Will I ever be this happy again?” or “What will tomorrow bring?” or maybe even, "What sun is setting inside of me? What moon is rising?"

    Questions like these not only keep me up at night, but motivate me throughout the day to slow down, to enjoy tiny moments so I can pretend I'm stretching time. Thank you.