Machon 2018: Weekly Update

By Gaby Faigenblat, Machon ’18 Participant

This week was insane! We did so much I don’t even know where to start. One of the most challenging things I had to do this week was wake up at 4 am to hike Masada. It was exhausting to have to hike with only 5 hours of sleep. As challenging as that was I learned a lot from it, most importantly that there is a lot more to Israel than meets the eye. I learned this while doing a street photography workshop with a man named Jonnie. He told us to go up to Israelis on the street and ask them what they love and what they hate about Israel and all the answers were so diverse. It really opened my eyes to how locals really see the land us diaspora Jews see as perfect. We also went to the Dead Sea and we got to put the mud on our faces and it felt amazing. We got so many cute pictures, and after I washed it off my skin was softer than anything I have ever felt in my life. This week was so much fun and I can’t wait to see what next week brings!

October 2015 Newsletter

Simon Klarfeld, Young Judaea’s visionary Executive Director had an article recently published in the Center for Jewish Peoplehood (CJPEmost recent publication released earlier this month “The Peoplehood Papers 16.”  This edition, entitled “Developing Teen Leadership with a Peoplehood Orientation: What Does It Take and Where Do We Start?” focuses specifically on teen engagement: Simon’s article Mifgash and Meaning: Challenges and Opportunities for Teen Leadership Development in the 21st Centurydiscusses the challenges and opportunities of the Mifgash (encounter) for teens in the 21st century.


Personal Reflections: Maille Is Back in America

Now that I’m back in America for several days, how do I feel? What do I do now with this experience? What differences or similarities do I recognize more now that I’ve spent time in both Israel and my own urban American Jewish community? Why do I feel that Discovery is an important trip? How has it changed/strengthened my Jewish identity and connection to Israel?


These first few days home I have been sharing my experience with my close family and friends as I round out my jetlag. I have been encouraging everyone I know to read my blogs. I believe my writings capture my trip, as much as one can without the three-dimensional sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of a place. I also look forward to forcing my teachers to read my blogs (they will enjoy them, no doubt) once school begins in September.


Right before our last Shabbat, we toured many essential sites to the birth of the modern state of Israel. We went to Mount Herzl to pay our respects to Theodor Herzl and all of those who have perished fighting for Zionism. What particularly saddened me was the memorial at Yad Vashem to the Jewish children who were murdered by the Nazis: one million. I can never fathom how there can be such hate in the world. When I arrived at Michael Levin’s grave, an American soldier who lost his life while serving in the IDF, I felt oh so very proud–proud that a young man like Levin was willing to put his life on the line to protect the Jewish homeland.


After visiting Mount Herzl, Leor and I were whisked away to Hadassah Hospital. The hospital was beautiful. Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows, left me in awe; I found them to be more inspiring and beautiful than his work at Lincoln Center here in New York. We learned about the precise detail and thought behind each window, representing each of Jacob’s twelve sons. After gazing up at these marvels, we visited a patient who broke his foot and was currently recovering from it. It was right before Shabbat, which is when a band comes to the hospital and plays for Hadassah’s patients. Leor and I were roped in by the band and we all sang for this, well, stranger. After the lovely tour of Hadassah, Machon and Discovery had Shabbat together. It was our last Shabbat and we got to spend it overlooking Jerusalem, as one big giant Jewish-American family. Saturday morning we attended services at an Israeli synagogue. I found it surprisingly laid back and much less observant than the synagogue I belong to presently. We witnessed a bar mitzvah, which was very sweet. The rest of the day we relaxed and packed for our departure that night. We reminisced on the times we had and how much we were going to miss each other.


As I chow down on this abnormally large peach, dog by my side, I can’t help but be upset. Today is my mother’s birthday. For it, I treated her to coffee and shakshuka (her first!) at Aroma, an Israeli coffee chain. Yes, the Ice Aroma was delicious, and I thank my madricha for introducing me to it, but I am having profound Israel withdrawal. I have been blasting Golden Boy and Tel Aviv throughout my apartment. I am glued to my phone not because I am a millennial (in fact, I won’t allow anyone to use their cellphone during a meal!), but because I miss my friends so much and love seeing their snapchats. It has been three days since I have returned home, but I am still getting over jetlag. When I look back on where I was three days ago, it’s weird to say that I was praying at the Kotel. It has been hard for me to adjust to not seeing my friends’ faces when I wake up. I still can’t accept the fact that there isn’t Israeli salad at every meal I eat.


There are obviously more differences than similarities now that I’ve spent time in both Israel and New York. The greatest similarity is the feeling that Israel is an America of Jews (and other wonderful cultures). America is a Christian Democracy; Israel is a Jewish Democracy.


The differences are clear: the pita and hummus is not nearly as good even in New York. However it’s pretty hot in both places. As for differences between Israel and my own Jewish community… For starters, I find that the Israeli community is much more accepting than my own because of its size. Although I live in New York, one of the most densely populated Jewish community, I am not the majority. In Israel I was, and though it saddens me to say this, I really enjoyed it. I liked seeing stars of David at local jewelry stores. I found it comforting when the cashier at the gas station wished me a Shabbat Shalom. I also appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to defend Israel’s skepticism about Iran. On that note, I now have a better understanding of why Muslims find it hard to live in Israel. Although a very accepting society, it is never easy being the minority, even in a democracy.


Discovery was special in many ways. We were the only group to go to Greece. I believe that this excursion helped shape our views on what it means to be a Jew, especially in a country that has not always been the Jews’ friend. Discovery was also special because the majority of us had never met each other, and because of our small size and big hearts, we were able to become a close knit family in just four short weeks. This trip that I shared with Discovery has been my best trip yet. I also think that there is something really special about immersing myself in the Holy Land with members of the tribe. Although we all came from different facets of Jewish-American life, we all share an ancestral, rare common bond. I have learned so much from this trip and I plan on continuing it through new travel and studies. After this trip, I feel confident in knowing why Israel is such an important place, both as a person and as a Jew. Experiencing Israel firsthand and immersing myself in such a tolerant culture was incredible. I feel closer to the Jewish people and my ancestors. The trip is over, but I feel that my journey into the realm of Judaism has just begun. I look forward to learning more about my culture and my people, wherever I go. I hope that as I age more of my questions will be answered, and I hope to ask many many more. Before I leave, I want to thank Hadassah for making this trip possible. Without this wonderful organization, I wouldn’t have grown as a person. I am that much better because of this generous award and time.
Toda Raba! Toda Raba! Toda Raba!

Personal Reflections: Leor Is Back in America

After a month in Israel, I have arrived back in the United States. I feel a sense of sorrow, but also of happiness. Sorrow, because the trip is over.  Happiness, because I was lucky to be afforded the opportunity to experience the best summer of my entire life.

Going into this trip, I did not truly know what to expect. I knew that I would expand my connections with friends and explore Israel. What I did not predict was that Machon would have such a profound impact on my life.

Each small experience that I had this summer shaped me a little, and I would like to share a few of those special experiences that I have not yet written about.

A few days ago, we went to Tel Aviv and visited Rabin Square, the place where Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in November 1995, nearly twenty years ago. In Rabin Square we talked about Rabin and his search for peace. We were then told to go talk to Israelis on the streets around the Square and ask them about Rabin’s assassination. We started off by talking with a few interesting people.  Then, all of a sudden, we met a man named Moshe. Moshe was there the day of Rabin’s murder. He brought my group and me up to the spot where Rabin spoke and sang Shir L’Shalom, the last song that he sang before his assassination.  He also showed us the exact place where Rabin was shot. Moshe explained that after Rabin’s death the entire community came and stood around the place where Rabin was shot and held candles for seven days. People were crying and mourning.  Not just for Rabin’s tragic death, but also because many people believed that this was the end of the prospect of peace. This incredible experience made me feel as if I was right there twenty years ago. I felt connected to the emotions and sorrow of that tragic day, and the feelings of many people in Israel that peace may be harder to achieve.  Now, looking back twenty years later, I believe they were right. 

One of the last things we did on the trip was visit Mount Herzl, the national cemetery of Israel in Jerusalem. We walked through the thousands of graves. We began with graves from the beginning of Israel and slowly moved up to graves from the war last year. Looking at these graves, I felt suffocated. I felt the loss and open wound that many Israelis feel. It was impossible not to cry.
Another very special part of Machon has been the interactions that I have had with the other Machon participants and our counselors. Throughout the trip, we have had discussions about spirituality, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more. It is very special that we are all now at the age where we are forming our opinions and can have intellectual, deep, and engaging conversations about these important and difficult topics (this does not mean that these discussions don’t sometimes lead to disagreements, but we try to be respectful). Throughout my time in camp we learned and experienced many things together.  But, until now, we have not had conversations as deep as these. Being in Israel and together experiencing the things we are talking about have helped to facilitate these very meaningful and important discussions that we will all take back home with us.
The last week I was in Israel, two terrorist attacks occurred, and innocent people were murdered. These acts of terror only affected our group slightly, as we could not go to the Kotel on the final Shabbat. Other than that change, the trip was not altered. Despite these horrific acts, life in Israel appears to go on. Throughout these blogs, I have expressed how incredible Israel is. However, these events highlight the imperfections and problems in Israel that need to be combatted so that the identity of Israel isn’t lost to extremists.
I believe it is vital for young Jewish adults to visit Israel to strengthen their connection and really understand its importance. Young Judaea Machon is the perfect way to experience Israel because it encompasses education, fun, and exposes teens to the culture of Israel. Most importantly, Machon allowed me to travel around Israel with some of the most passionate, intelligent, and caring people I know.
Now that I am back home, I am so excited to share my experiences with others and continue to be a strong advocate for Israel. The knowledge that I received has helped me become more informed, and gained a wider perspective on the many issues that Israel faces.

Throughout all of these posts, I’ve shared some special moments of Machon with you.  I hope that I have also conveyed how incredible and impactful this trip has been as a whole. Even though I already had strong feelings about Israel, after Machon, I have an even bigger and more appreciative love of Israel. This trip also helped strengthen my Jewish identity and my pride for being part of the Jewish people.
I can’t wait to return on year course and spend an entire year in Israel.