Friday, May 13, 2016

Israel 2016-- Shabbat on the Kinneret

I’m feeling pretty awesome right now for at least two reasons. First, for those of you who are following our trip on Twitter (#Davis8) I finally figured out what “Mullet Confiscated” from the Shabbat Dinner buffet line is: poached Mullet. Someone looked up “poached” and went with the slightly more sinister meaning of “to steal” rather than “to cook in liquid.” All I can really say about this particular subject is that I’m glad I figured it out because if I hadn’t it would’ve been one of those things that kept me up at night for the rest of the trip. I have mental energy to put toward exploring funny Israeli mis-translations because the kids are having a totally fabulous trip and are an absolute joy to spend time with no matter what we’re doing.
The second reason I feel awesome right now is because we’re spending Shabbat on Kibbutz Ginosar on the shores of the Kinneret. We asked the kids to put on nice clothes for Shabbat. They did. We encouraged them to greet one another with kind words and warm hearts. They did. We asked them to welcome Shabbat with us through song and prayer. They did. We asked them to linger over dinner and try to feel like royalty. They did. We asked them if they wanted to hang out in the courtyard of the Kibbutz and enjoy one another’s company. They did. We invited them to sing a closing song. They did. And Sam F. even jumped into the middle of the circle to dance a little jig. Then we asked them to go to their rooms and get some rest. Not a single complaint. Maybe a few dozen superfluous questions, but questions are the gateway to understanding so I guess we can tolerate that.
Before today becomes tomorrow never to return again, I want to capture a few of the things we experienced and the ideas that guided us. The details are important and I suspect that even though I don’t know what I’m going to write, there will be a common thread or two.
We were up early and, for literally the first time in my 7 years on this trip, all of the room keys were collected without issue on the first try. These two facts bought us a little bit of extra time and we used that time for a very sacred purpose: accompanying Morah Orna as she visited her father’s grave in Zichron Ya’akov. Every year Morah Orna takes a few minutes to do this on her own. Today, we asked if we could join. Because the kids were so prompt and responsible we got to stand with our teacher as fellow shlichei mitzvah (Mitzvah-doers). It’s important for the kids to have these moments so that they know that our first names aren’t “Morah”, “Rabbi”, “Mr.”, or “Mrs.” It’s good for them to know that we come from somewhere, that we experience love and loss and the fullness of the human experience. Many of them think we sleep at school. Amazingly, they love us anyway.
Though our time with the Nili kids only amounted to 3 hours (plus or minus) I’m pretty sure that entire worlds were both created and destroyed. As we drove away from Zichron I asked our kids how many had made a new friend. 100%. I asked how many had exchanged contact info. 100%. I asked how many had fallen in love. 75%. I asked how many had fallen in love and broken up. 70%. I asked them how many had fallen in love with multiple people. 60%. Do y’all remember the intensity of emotions that I’m describing here? There’s something really beautiful about it. And there’s something really beautiful about being further along life’s path and being able to see it happen to others, knowing that our souls recognize this passion and exuberance but have likely matured into something a little smoother and in many ways more interesting and enduring.
Our time at the Atlit Detention Center where tens of thousands of Jews illegally (and eventually legally) immigrated to Israel yielded two profound images. One came from Morah Orna, the other from our tour guide.
Morah Orna’s father illegally immigrated to Israel when he was 15. He eventually ended up in the Atlit Detention Center. Many years later, his family helped created a digital profile to document his story. While sharing this, Morah Orna explained that her father could not remember his own mother’s face because of the trauma of his leaving Europe and the passage of time.  During a family reunion, only a few years ago, Morah Orna shared that a relative told her father that if he wanted to know what his own mother looked like, he need only look at his daughter, Morah Orna. Morah Orna said the following to us (and I’m paraphrasing): “Part of why my father and I were so close must’ve been because when he looked at me he saw not only the face of his daughter, but also the face of his mother.” That got me thinking…
When we look at one another, who and what do we see? When we look at ourselves, who and what do we see? What would our lives be like if, when we looked at one another we saw not only the person standing before us, but our mothers, our fathers, our ancestors, our friends, and so much more. What if we were able to see, in the faces of the people we love, the face of all humanity? What if we were able to see, in the faces of those we fear or hate, the face of all humanity?
While touring the “delousing” station at Atlit our tour guide was trying to help us understand how Atlit both felt similar to and very different from the concentration camps of Europe. It’s a fair topic given the barbed wire, the chemical sprays, the barracks, the showers, and so on. To illustrate, he asked us to look at a collage of pictures assembled on a wall. “Do you see those people dancing the hora behind the barbed wire?”
            What a striking image. Men and women joined arm in arm, twirling, smiling,  and dancing, while surrounded by barbed wire. Were they able to find the joy in life in spite of the barbed wire or because of it? Is it fair to say that all of us are dancing the hora in the presence of barbed wire? Could it be that this is the human condition? I’m not sure yet. But I am sure that there’s lots of barbed wire in this world and also lots of dancing. I’ve just never really thought that they might be in dialogue with one another.
            Back in the States I told the kids that everyone is more beautiful on Shabbat in Israel. And I was right. What I didn’t tell them is that the beauty is less about the outward appearance than it is about the alignment between inner and outer worlds. When the kids rolled up with clean clothes, shirts tucked in, kippot on their heads, and smiles on their faces, it really helped all of us see the inner beauty that is always there but that sometimes hides for completely understandable reasons like fear and insecurity. When people think of “beauty” I think we generally think of something bold and brash, something confident and loud. But the true nature of beauty is something far more subtle and precious. We’re afraid of our beauty. We’re ignorant of it. Sometimes we’re ashamed of it. That’s because our true beauty is tied to our goodness, our kindness, our hearts, our souls, our hopes, our dreams, and the most intimate stuff of who we are. It’s not that we’re more beautiful on Shabbat, it’s just that Shabbat invites us to share our beauty in ways that only Shabbat can. Beauty needs time, space, encouragement, invitation, sometimes even coaxing. Shabbat coaxes the beauty out of us, if we let it. And we let it.
            Before hitting “post” on the first installment of this blog I meant to share something important--- namely, that this blog is meant to be about every kid and every participant on this trip (including those of you that aren’t with us). When I do mention kids by name, it’s because something they’ve done evokes something essential about the trip. Also know that I know that every kid has already done and will continue to do things that meet this criteria, but this blog is a flawed and limited resource. I really and truly mean that.

            During our Shabbat service, Mr. O’Dell asked a few kids to read things that they’d written in the months leading up to this trip. Because we’ve been discussing beauty I want to share what Alec R. and Alisa S. read tonight at Shabbat.  I’ll conclude with their words.

Beauty surrounds
Nature is beautiful
We are beautiful
Life is beautiful
Beauty is within
We just need to find it.
Alec R.

Plenty of things in this world are beautiful
But are you one of those things?
Try to be your best self all the time so you can
Be one of those beauties.
Show people your beauty
And they will show you their beauty
In return.

Alisa S.


  1. That was really beautiful and insightful, Micah. Yasher koach. Sidman

  2. Your writing is always so thought provoking and insightful.
    Looking through the photos and seeing the huge smiles on all of our kids faces, it's clear that they are finding the beauty in each other.

  3. Your writing is always so thought provoking and insightful.
    Looking through the photos and seeing the huge smiles on all of our kids faces, it's clear that they are finding the beauty in each other.

  4. Rabbi,

    Thank you for a wonderful blogpost...your words bring back such vivid memories of my trip last year and a beautiful picture of this trip.

  5. Thank you Rabbi for bringing us all on this amazing trip with you!

  6. So beautiful. We feel a connection to you all and to Israel all the way from Atlanta. Shabbat Shalom! (Amy Rosenthal)

  7. Thank you for writing so beautifully about the trip, the students and the beauty of Israel and Shabbat! It's inspiring to read it. We are praying that they come home with a renewed appreciation for who they are as Jews and as Americans with 2 homelands!!