Sunday, August 7, 2016

A #JWRP Trip That Changed My Life Exponentially, part 3 of 3

I've never been to sleepaway camp, but this is the closest I've gotten to it. Eleven women felt like my "bunkmates," and 200 felt like my fellow campers. The only time I was alone during the entire 9 days was literally when I was in the bathroom. And I wouldn't want it any other way. These girls lifted us up all week and came to each other's rescue when one of us was down. We spoke in awe about the sites and the lessons we heard and we giggled like kids because we never felt freer. We thanked, over and over again, the people we met: the Israeli 5 on our bus, our fearless guides, and especially our madrich, Ben. One of our girls realized 5 minutes before getting on the plane to go home that she left her backpack somewhere. There were several personal items in the backpack, for example, her mother's siddur, her grandmother's headpiece that she wore to the Kotel, a blanket that had significant meaning, and her journal from the trip. After a few harrowing days of resorting to the fact that she would most likely never see those items again, Ben came to the rescue and found her bag! He drove an hour to get it and it will be brought back by one of the girls who lives in South Florida and who stayed in Israel a bit longer! Talk about an HP (higher power) moment! 

Day 5 Theme: Shabbat

Lori began our session on Friday morning talking about Shabbat (sabbath). She said that there is a misconception about Shabbat in that people think it's all about "not working." No, she said, "it's a time to stop creating to recognize our creator." She said we must disconnect in order to connect. When we wake up on Shabbat, she said, we will know that everything is a gift in our lives. She made a sweater analogy--basically that anyone could wear a sweater and get compliments on it, but when it is made for you (by Lori, haha) when she picks the fabric and sews it and then you wear it, it feels that much more special than if you purchased it in a store. She ended with reminding us that Shabbat is a time to process.

Then she introduced us to the incredible Canadian fashionista Adrienne Gold. Her video is a MUST to watch, especially if you have young girls, but it is incredible either way, and I am so grateful that it was live streamed. I am also grateful to have gone on this trip JUST to hear her speak!! Adrienne started by telling us a story of how she was an emcee at an event, and how she thought she looked fabulous. However, there was a woman that everyone was following and crowding around. She had to figure out who this woman, wearing pantyhose with open-toed shoes (a major fashion faux pas in her mind) was. All the women followed this woman in the bathroom, and Adrienne joked that she went into a stall and put her feet up on the toilet to figure it out...and it was Lori Palatnik. Adrienne's zest for life was emanated in her vibrant lesson about  Re-Claiming our Dignity: Women, Self-Esteem, and Beauty in the Glare of the Media. Some quick notes:
  • Beauty is only real when the inside and outside match (Judaism)
  • Wear attractive, not attracting clothes
  • If you spend one hour in the mirror, spend one hour and 5 minutes on the inside
Adrienne showed several images and video clips about the "perfect" body and face depicted by the media, and how to reclaim our dignity. It hit several of us hard, even not having daughters. I melted quite a bit.

Watch it below. Don't miss this.
Our next lecture was on challah baking, demonstrated by Raizy Guttman, the "Challah Lady." Raizy showed us several ways to shape challah, including braiding and making flowers. She talked about the mitzvah of separating and burning the challah. She said that women were given 3 special mitzvoth: mikvah, lighting Shabbat candles, and making challah. We would be doing 2 of those 3 today.

Next, we took a cab to the shuk, or marketplace. Our cab driver tried to overcharge us by quadrupling the amount, so we "what's app'd" with our group to make sure he indeed was overcharging us. We nervously left him double the amount (better than quadruple) and ran down the street laughing but a bit scared! It definitely made for a good story. 
In the back of the cab, where we were nervously trying to avoid getting swindled
The shuk was filled with such sites and smells of delicious foods. You could definitely use the sardine analogy in that it was jam-packed with people. Or the salmon analogy of swimming upstream. And there was definitely a lot of fish to be bought in this market! We held on to each other as we navigated rows and rows of spices, bread, cookies, and candies. We had a few petite members in our group, and I, being the tallest of this group of four, was asked to look over the heads of what felt like hundreds of people, to try to find others in the group, a place to have lunch, and a place to buy wine.

We found a fantastic Lebanese restaurant to have lunch, and I think this was my favorite meal of the trip. We learned that chicken skewers are different from chicken kebobs...who knew? And again enjoyed falafel, hummus, and Israeli salads.

An interesting tidbit that happened after lunch: my friend Suzy needed to use the bathroom in the restaurant. She said there was no lock, so we had to watch the door. Suzy is the cutest and is petite. When she got out, I went in and saw the lock right at eye level--it was one of those add-on locks not on the door handle. We had a good giggle when I told her that the lock was much higher up, and she did not see it. It made me think this was a good story to tell my students: that everything is based on perspective, and what one person sees, another person might not, and that it is up to us to help others to see what we see.

We leisurely walked back to the hotel with some foods and wine bottles in hand. Upon return, my friend Benay and I did pilates outside on the balcony of her room (she taught and it was awesome) and then we showered and got ready for Shabbat. Suzy did my hair, which was necessary AND fun!
Pre-Shabbat pose at the King Solomon Hotel
We walked back to the Old City and had a pre-Shabbat concert given by the coolest Chassid I have ever seen, surfer and classic rock lover Yom Tov Glaser. Click on the video to hear "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and to watch the pre-Shabbat dancing.
Former surfer Yom Tov Glaser, courtesy of
For those of you who know me, I am completely attached to my phone. For Shabbat, we put our phones in a bag and said goodbye to them for over 24 hours. This was very hard for me, but freeing as well. For 24 hours, we did not take pictures, so there are no pictures of anything for the rest of the night or for Day 6. We were also given a Shabbat lamp for our room and were told that elevators were set for Shabbat to stop at every floor.

We lit candles together by our groups, and then we head outside to the Kotel and danced for at least an hour. People not from JWRP joined in. It was festive and touching. Anything at the Kotel makes you buzz and feel like you are in a different world. I prayed once more at the wall, trying my hardest to remain calm when waiting in lines that felt like forever. It was a strange juxtaposition to be in when I was trying to be in a great place to pray and yet was frustrated by waiting for others to is something I am definitely working on...

Finally, we walked to the Inbal Hotel and had a wonderful Shabbat dinner that warmed our heart and made us feel like we were with family. And suddenly we realized, we now were.

Day 6 Theme: Harakat Hatov – Gratitude

Ahhh finally a day to sleep in! I woke my roommate Alison up and said, "Alison! It's 9:30 already!" She didn't believe we slept so long, so she picked up the phone to check the time with the front desk and then remembered it was Shabbat and hung up. We quickly got ready, I had my breakfast of shakshuka and Israeli salads, and we went downstairs to happily hear Adrienne Gold again, as she spoke of  “Jewish Values for Jewish Kids.”

We were not allowed to write because it was Shabbat, so I sadly can't remember a lot other than a few stories and Adrienne's wonderful sense of humor and ability to make us all laugh. What stood out in my mind is the story of her son, and how he left on his bicycle, angry with her. She was nervous and upset, but he finally returned with a Kurt Vonnegut book that he found at a store downtown ("He went downtown??!" She thought, but tried to remain calm). They had been looking for this book forever, and he had to come home because, as she said, "Ma, you would be the only one to appreciate that they had the book." She likened boys separating themselves from their mother to a hacksaw, and I can relate. Tears welled up as she spoke, yet my mouth was turned up in a smile, and I was nodding in agreement.

Her next story that resonated with my group was the story of Japanese pottery that had cracks. She explained how they had a method using a mixture of glue and gold to put the pottery back together. It looked so beautiful that people were actually breaking their pottery to use this resin to put it back together. She explained that sometimes things are more beautiful when broken and then "rerepaired," and how in Judaism, we learn about this principle: for example with the two tablets that Moses brought down or in the breaking of the wine glass at a wedding. She stated that in order for a person to achieve maturity, they need to understand that "things can be both broken and whole at the same time." See the video below, where the ever-inspiring Adrienne explains this beautifully and much better than I could ever put into words. 
Next, Rabbi Gavriel Friedman spoke to us about “Shabbat – Heaven on Earth.” Rabbi Friedman had an incredible way of mixing popular songs into his discussion that had us all laughing. His energy was contagious, and he even brought his wife and two-week old baby with him. I was shvitzing just watching him work so hard singing while explaining. His talk was as animated as any comedy show I have ever seen mixed in with Torah and Shabbat. For example, he would speak about Shabbat and then break into "Then we do it, we do it all again," from the Black Eyed Peas...but this would happen with just about every sentence. JWRP definitely found the most relatable speakers for us, and we couldn't get enough.

We broke for lunch where all groups went to different houses hosted by locals. Much of our bus was hosted by the Looks family, and their warmth was genuine. We bonded even more as we spoke about what one thing stood out to us so far about our trip. More tears flooded as honest stories came out - everyone has their own story, as we kept discovering. The food was delicious, and just when we thought we were done, there was another course. Salmon, chicken surrounded by mounds of rice, and beef (maybe in a date syrup?) came in two courses after salads, hummus, and a baked eggplant split and filled with tahini. Such Mediterranean goodness! 

We walked back to the hotel where some people took naps and relaxed. My roommate Alison and I discovered the rooftop pool, and we swam and sunned while overlooking the Old City. It was absolutely incredible, and we did not want the day to end.

We showered and got dressed to get ready for Havdalah but first we all met to "Stump the Rebbetzin," which was where we could ask all types of questions to a group of Rabbi's wives. 

We walked to the Aish building where Lori Palatnik spoke to us about “Four Things You Never Knew About Judaism." Again, we could not write yet, but the acronym we were told to think about was JAK-P. Here are some bullet points from her handout.
  • J - Judgment 
    • Pirkei Avot: "You can't judge another person until you've come to their way." Since this is impossible, you can never judge another person. You can judge actions, not people. 
    • The difference between Rosh Hashana and New Years is accountability. Accountability is good. We want G-d to judge us because it means that our actions count. 
    • G-d only compares you to YOU. He judges on how much you tried.
  • A - All or Nothing (this one really resonated with a lot of us)
    • Judaism is NOT all or nothing. We are not hypocrites, we are human. Do what you can, but you don't need to do it all--some is better than nothing. This made us feel better, for example, about keeping Shabbat. Perhaps we could start small, like by lighting candles and putting our phones away for the evening.
  • K - Knowledge
    • It's better to know and not do then not to know. G-d wants you to have the knowledge, even if you are not ready to put it into action.
  • P - Pleasure
    • The world is for us; for our pleasure
    • The opposite of pain is not pleasure, it's comfort. Our deepest, greatest pleasures in life come with effort and pain. Ex: self-growth, marriage, raising kids, etc. This one resonated with us, too, and reminded us of Adrienne's talk on cracks in the pottery!
I think it was here that Lori taught us tricks on how to remember the Ten Commandments; how did I never learn this before?

We had our small, third meal, or Seudah Shleshit and then walked up to the gorgeous rooftop of the Aish building for Havdala. A band was playing, and we got our phones back, which I missed a lot in the beginning, but was relieved not to have for a day. A friend from Stuart asked how I knew a Facebook friend we had in common...maybe this was earlier and I have my days mixed up...but we realized that my cousin is her sorority sister...and we heard this kind of thing over and over again on this trip.

We danced, and my favorite song (that Alison and I could not get out of our heads for days) was Salaam, or Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu. Below is a video of us dancing to the song. If I am ever down, I will definitely be watching this video. The view of the Kotel at night was breathtaking.

Finally, some of us did a little damage shopping in Mamilla Mall for a few hours, buying some gifts for friends and family. We ended the night with a toast to several of our Israeli friends back at the hotel. It was starting to hit us that the trip was almost over, and we decided to stay up and savor every moment. 

Day 7 Theme: Creating a Legacy

Today was a day to remember. We climbed Masada (via cable car), went to the Dead Sea, had fun on 
camel rides, danced to a Drum Circle in the Desert, had a festive dinner in Abraham and Sara’s Tent, and ended the night with a few of us going to Mamilla for dessert and drinks. Here are some pictures from all of the exciting events.

Day 8 Theme: Bringing it Home

We began our last day walking to the Old City with a stop at Aroma (as Bruchy said, who needs Starbucks?) and my friend Jacquie and I found the store Hadaya, where we found the perfect Hebrew phrases to be etched into a hammered bracelet. Though we did not come home with the bracelet that day, we know we will be jumping up and down when it does arrive--a little bit of Israel awaits us with our meaningful phrases that our individual hearts selected. 

We walked back to the Aish building, saw a Bar Mitzvah along the way, and then wrote a letter to ourselves, which will also be very exciting to receive in a few weeks.
A Bar Mitzvah boy under a chupa
We had an introduction to Israel Activism and talked about how to bring it all home. Our group planned to meet once a month, each of us taking ownership of a month. We decided our group would help Jewish women and that we were definitely going to give back and continue locally what JWRP taught us globally. I decided to co-advise the Jewish youth group at my school again with my friend Tammy, and I cannot wait to get started. 

We received wonderful gifts from JWRP - a book, a personalized siddur, and most of us bought pictures. Once home, my friend Karen posted this photo, where some of the items just mentioned were placed on her night table. Love.
We walked around a bit and did some more shopping, and then a few of us had a wonderful, relaxing and cool (it was so hot in Israel, even as a Florida girl!) lunch at The King David Hotel. I got (surprise!) hummus and falafel, and we enjoyed talking with our bus leader, Estee. She told us of some recent heartbreak, but how she was overcoming it. We could not have asked for a better time. 
We headed with our luggage to the Mega Event, or our Final Banquet, and our Palm Beach group sang a rendition of "Jacquie and Diane" (two girls on the trip who were roommates) to the tune of Jack and Diane as a tribute to Bruchy--pretty clear we never practiced, but it was fun!
At the Mega Event, we were able to buy items that the fashionistas were selling. We sat at our table, feeling very much like we were at a wedding. Several people spoke, perhaps the most moving of which was Mindy Scheier, who collaborated with Tommy Hilfiger to create clothes for differently-abled children. We listened to a fabulous all-female Israeli band, and the trip was honestly so well-planned from start to finish. We had drumsticks tied to our chairs that we wondered about until the song came on...then we knew what to do!
We headed back to the buses, where we thought back about everything from the week. Benay summed it up beautifully:
On our way to the airport, we knew that for Israel, this was not goodbye, but “l’Hitraot,” or see you again soon. 

Day 10: Back to Reality

It has been hard to put the trip in words. In my mind, on a very simplistic level, this was a journey that combined the spiritualness I feel during a yoga class with Judaism. As I went to my yoga class that day, I couldn't help but notice the parallels:
  • Mountain pose; the minute I stepped off the plane and onto Israeli ground
  • Deep and difficult poses that were hard to stay in, with sweat pouring down my face; Yad Vashem was hard to listen to, tears pouring down my face
  • Repeat that difficult sequence on the other side; going to One Family after Yad Vashem
  • Strong warrior pose; Strength on Masada and Israeli soldiers

  •  Sweat in my eyes; salt in the Dead Sea;

  •  Twisting; braiding the Challah

  •  Heart beating fast; beating of our drumsticks at the Mega Event

  • Camel pose (lean way back!); this picture

    • Wash it all away with a Vinyasa; get the tears out and process with everyone
    • Gentle touch by yoga instructor; Bruchy checking in with each of us making sure we were okay
    • Balance poses; holding up my friends who needed strength
    • Child's pose; how will I bring this back to my son and my son's children?
    • Handstand; it's not All or Nothing. Try and do your best
    • It's hot. Drinking water; Masada - David telling us, it's hot; drink water
    • Jumping forward; jumping over people in seats on El Al - lol
    • Saying "OM" in sequence; singing Salaam together
    • Wheel; opening up my heart at the Kotel
    • Chair pose, or lightning bolt pose; Israeli pride 
    • Savasana; Shabbat
    I'm not suggesting that yoga and Judaism can be compared, I'm only saying that for me, the closest thing I have ever felt to the spiritualness one feels in Israel is when I've gone to a good yoga class, but it is only about 1% of that spiritualness. There is only one way to get that feeling, and that is to go to Israel - no matter what religion you are. What are you waiting for?

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