We started the morning having an interesting conversation with some fellow Haifa'im who are the current Boston shinshinim - high school graduates who through the Jewish Agency are sent to different Jewish communities around the world to engage with the local community for a year. And when we say around the world, we mean in - two of the four came all the way from the North Shore. In morning traffic. The shinshinim told us about what brought them here, what is their mission, and how they find living in the Boston area so far. We also had the pleasure to be joined by several members of the Boston-Haifa Committee, who work very hard on making this program come to life and took advantage of the chance to meet their creation. But as the morning weather was slowly shifting outside the windows of the JCC's 4th floor meeting room, so did we.
The general confusion began at around 9:50 am, when Mr. Sokol, the president of the Boston's JCC addressed the group with the fairly simple question - how long before you go back? The first answer thrown instinctively into the air sounded "a week". A few seconds later, "3 days". Now, you'd have to agree that for a program that is only 10 days long, including international flights, this is quite a significant gap, and that we're a bit late in the game to blame it on the jet lag. We'll get back to that.
The confusion didn't diminish as our Israeli teens tried wrapping their heads around what it actually means to be an affiliated Jew, or to choose to actively be Jewish. No one's ever asked them if they feel like they want to be Jewish, or to that matter presented them with any alternative. They were also somewhat perplexed regarding why on earth would someone pay for young Israelis to come all the way to Boston for a year to make falafel and play soccer with little kids (but maybe we can do that, too?). And what's the point in living in the land of the free if you need bulletproof glass windows and three tiers of security around your community center? You might as well just make aliyah!
One thing, however, was somewhat clear - all of us truly and deeply cherish the value of community. Reform, orthodox, unaffiliated, Israelis - we all need each other to survive, to thrive, sustain our identity, and community is the key for all of this.
And then we went to Walden Pond to learn about a guy who decided to live alone in a hut in the woods. Oy. After watching a short film about the pond and its most famous resident (I believe they got the JCC part on there wrong), we met with our tour guide who challenged us to approach the pond like Thoreau would, and walk in complete silence along the north trail, all the way to the original hut site. Now, Thoreau's writings do not include an accurate account on how many selfies he used to take during his morning hikes, so technically we can't really say how far we strayed, if at all. What we can say for sure, is that the pond was absolutely glorious today, and that every minute spent by its side was pure joy.
At the hut site, we discussed some unpredicted similarities between Thoreau's words and those of our sages, such as ״Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot" from Pirkei Avot and Thoreau's “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone”. Are we beginning to get a little less confused, or is the fact that lines can be drawn directly from our Jewish community-centered heritage to the beliefs of this transcendentalist just makes less sense in this world?
At this point it was a good time to abruptly pause this internal struggle, and branch out. We achieved that by giving back to the community which has been so generously hosting us this week. Out Israeli group divided itself between Beth Elohim, Or Atid, and Kerem Shalom, and in each led a variety of educational activities for the younger grade students attending their respected Hebrew Schools. Needless to say, the interaction with these young kids was a sheer joy to our Israelis, many of whom are leaders in the Israeli Tsofim (scouts) and were able to "export" activities they created there. A special shoutout goes out to our American teens, who decided to join their new friends at their temples, in a lovely act of friendship and support.
I promised to go back to that first sneak of confusion - how long have we been here for, and how long do we have left. Around day 6 is usually the time things start to blur a little. On one hand, it was just the other day that we ran into each other's arms (literally) in Central Park, and on the other, we are only a few short days from parting days again. Today's confusion did not overshadow the experience, yet as the days go by, this cloud will become more and more dense. That's why, tomorrow, we are completely branching out - the teens will start their day joining their host as they go to school, continue with a gleaning project with Boston Area Gleaners, and again will disperse between a couple of local Hebrew Schools towards the evening.
In Their Own Words