My Year in Israel: Charlie Spiegel

485592_10203396357448411_473143495811261825_nThere’s this theory in quantum physics that our universe is just a small fraction of the entire cosmic picture; That the dimension we live in is just one of an infinite number of narratives that trace their way through the sands of time, each slightly different than the rest.  There is no limit to what these differences could be. It might be something huge, like all of us having seven toes, or something no one would ever notice, like water being a different shade of blue, but either way it leaves our reality changed. These changes, in turn, would lead to more divergent storylines, where sandal companies play a much larger role in global politics and Crayola has an entirely new subsection of blue crayons. This pattern will continue like the ripples of a pebble dropping into a stream; while initially faint, they create more and more of a reaction as time goes on. What I am here to tell you, my fellow year coursers, is that this is one of those moments, and that all of you are those blue crayons and seven-toed sandals that are going to make a difference in the world.

This world we live in, from the air we breathe to the mind-numbingly complex ways that our bodies interact with the world, is at our disposal. We are agents of change, the catalysts that will carry our world from one dimension to the next. We can create, we can destroy, we can live and we can hate and we can do anything we want, because we are capable and we are human. We have the strongest power in the world: the power to choose who we are and what we want to do. We have the power to physically change the reality we live in to make it a better place.

We chose to come on Year Course instead of going directly to college, and that changed the world.  Some of us might already be able to see how it has changed our individual worlds, but only time will show us how it has changed the entire world. Will it affect our educational choices?  Our career choices?  Or life choices?  This year in Israel, this Year Course experience?  The MDA course or going to Yemin Orde or falling in love with a person or a city or a beach or the entire country?  Every experience we chose to enjoy or ignore this year, it all changed us and shaped us into the Jews and Zionists and humans that we are right now, and it will keep on affecting us as we move forward, and that will affect the people we meet and so on, through the sands of time.

I understand this is a lot to take in, so even if only half of what I said resonated with you, I’m glad I could say anything to you at all.I hope each and every one of you appreciates that we are at this junction in our lives, isn’t afraid to embrace the moment, and strives to make as many ripples as they possibly can in this thing we call life.Things are going to be different when we get home, so we might as well hit the gates running.

A Bat Mitzvah, Israeli Soldiers and Jewish Identity: A letter from Rachel

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Hi Jenny,

Today is the day that we sadly have to go back and leave this beautiful country. This trip has taught me a lot, both about history and about myself. This entire experience was life changing to me. The views were unbelievable, looking over Masada at sunrise to being at the top of the Golan Heights. The activities we did brought us together as a group and I can honestly say that I have 44 new best friends including Israeli soldiers. The soldiers surprised me the most because of how close we got despite the differences in our lives. I really became close with one of the soldiers, Adi, and I had the opportunity to meet her family and get a tour of her house as well as getting a nice Israeli home-cooked meal. The energy here is obvious as soon as you walk out the airport. You think to yourself “I have made it to the Holy Land.” For the past thousands of years, our ancestors have been praying for this. I also was lucky enough to become Bat Mitzvah while in Jerusalem. Throughout my life I felt like there was something missing when I thought about my Jewish Identity. I also feel a lot more connected to Israel. I always supported Israel because it was the land of my ancestors. Now that I have friends fighting in the IDF, I am more worried about what is going on in Israel that could seriously effect Adi, Raz, Raz, Shahar, Shay, Omer, and Nof. This experience truly effected me and I will never forget it. When I go home, I want to learn more about our ancestors and the history of our people. I also want to do what I can to help my Jewish community for the present and for the future. Thank you to the donators that allow me and my peers to come to Israel and have this amazing experience. I cannot wait to come back.

Rachel Sausner

What Magen David Adom Has Done for Me

With another year coming to an end, the incredible stories about our chanichim’s experiences are in no short supply.  Here is a great piece written by Adi Genosar about her volunteer placement, Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross).

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine doing the things I’ve done in the past two months. My name is Adi Genosar, and I am a 19-year-old Israeli, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. I am currently in Israel on a gap year Masa program called Young Judaea Year Course. On Year Course, I was afforded the opportunity to volunteer with Magen David Adom for a short period. MDA was never something I saw myself being able to do. I knew I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me, bigger than anything I have ever been involved in, something worthy of not just me but others around me. That something is undoubtedly the MDA Overseas Volunteer Program. After taking the 60 hour course and starting to volunteer daily at the Rishon L’Tziyon station, I fell in love! The experiences and friendships I’ve made have left an everlasting impact on my life and changed me as a person. This one case still keeps me thinking.

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It was just another normal morning shift. I had already had one or two calls and now I was just hanging out at the station watching a movie. “34 Nesiyah (call for ambulance 34),” the moked (dispatch) announced over the loud speaker. I quickly grabbed my stuff and headed to the ambulance. As soon as I was in my seat and buckled, we heard what our call was, and my adrenaline was pumping. “Mechusar hakara (unconscious and not breathing) 65 year old woman…”  This was it! This was the moment they talked about during our MDA training where you need to be prepared for what’s coming. I grabbed two pairs of gloves and stuffed one in my pocket and put the other pair on. I prepared the equipment to come off the ambulance as quickly as possible. As we zoomed down the streets in Rishon L’Tziyon with the sirens screeching, my driver, knowing this would be my first CPR, started calmly explaining the procedure. I took a deep breath as we parked, and then it was time to go.

With everything in hand we headed up the elevator to the 3rd floor, ready. Or so we thought. The minute we got there we saw the door wide open and a woman doing compressions on a young man on the floor. We quickly assessed the new situation and quickly started. I remember my driver looking at me directly in the eyes and saying to “start compressions” while my tzevet (team) got the rest of the equipment out. I panicked slightly as I began to wonder if I knew what I was actually doing. All I remember thinking was “1…2…3…4…” and staring into this kid’s wide-open teary eyes as I tried saving his life. Time started flying and within a matter of minutes a MICU (Mobile Intensive Care Unit) arrived at the door, medications at hand and ready to help us. It was nearly impossible to handle such a serious case with a normal ambulance. They too assessed the situation while I continued compressions. I switched off with someone in their team, and we each continued doing rounds, giving him breaths, shocks and medicine for over an hour and forty-five minutes.

Sadly, we eventually concluded that nothing remained for us to do for him. We had to just let go, move out of the way, and let the paramedics take care of the rest. It was really difficult, and I have to say the hardest part was looking into his eyes, wanting him to wake up, knowing that he was just a nineteen year-old boy, someone the same age as me. It’s crazy to think about it. However, I had to put my feelings aside and continue helping out. I was told to clean the equipment and CPR area and organize it all in the ambulances. As I grabbed the equipment, I saw them cover the kid with a simple blanket which had been lying next to us on the floor. They took the family into a different room while I organized the gear and returned it to the ambulance, just as if it were any other call, and waited for the rest of the team to return.

Once everyone had left the apartment, we were left waiting for a different organization to come to take care of the body. The driver arranged a sort of huddle. He told us what was happening at the moment, that we had done well, and explained the overall situation. Before he ended the talk, he pointed out to everyone, that although this was my first CPR, I worked as part of the team and did the best compressions of the day. I couldn’t believe that he had given me such a huge compliment. The last time I performed CPR, I was pressing into the chest of a dummy!

I remember taking a deep breath and thinking to myself, “Wow, I’ve actually done it!” The situation left me rather dumbfounded. I wasn’t precisely sad. Although someone had just died, I knew that my whole team had my back, and I knew that I really had done everything I could do. I really surprised myself! I never thought I could ever do something like that in real life!

MDA has really taught me to appreciate life. It showed me how to be a part of a team, how to be a leader, and most importantly how valuable a person can be…including me!

How To Save A Life — Heroism In Auschwitz

In wake of the recent tragedies in Boston, it feels like the perfect time to share a recent experience I had on Young Judaea Year Course, my nine-month Masa program in Israel. Last month I, along with 50 other Year Course participants, traveled to Poland with Kuma to visit the concentration camps and a number of historic Jewish sites. The trip was an incredibly emotional experience, and at times I felt as if there was evil all around me. Yet every time I began to feel that evil around me, I was reminded of the incredible strength of humanity overcoming the worst through stories of survival, resistance, and the amazing sacrifice of the victims of the Holocaust.

While there are many stories to be told, I’m going to focus on one that really hits home with me time after time. Be forewarned however, this story not only shows the best in humanity, it also shows the worst. It is a disturbing story, yet it shows that even in the face of death and hopelessness, rays of good still will shine through. This story, while powerful enough on its own, was even more powerful to me because I heard it while standing 5 feet away from the bridge in Auschwitz where this story takes place:

It was just another day at Auschwitz as another train full of doomed Jews pulled up to the unloading docks. As they were being unloaded, two Nazi guards standing on a bridge where the “lucky” few Jews who were not selected for immediate death would cross to get to their barracks, were arguing. Below the bridge was a pit of sorts. This pit was full of nothing but sewage. The two SS guards standing over the pit were arguing about how long it would take someone to drown in the sewage. After arguing and arguing, they couldn’t agree on a time so they decided to test it out to find out how long it would take.

As the Jews passed over the bridge, one guard got his watch out while the other one kicked a small girl into the pit. As she flew into the pit, these guards, who were now laughing, began their timer. At first, there was nothing. The sewage was so thick; she didn’t even sink right away. Struggling, she attempted to free herself from the pit but was unsuccessful. Eventually she slowly began to sink. Within a matter of minutes it would be as if she never existed. But right as she was about to go under, something incredible happened. She felt a hand grab her. Another prisoner had seen the incident and had rushed to her side. Without thinking, he jumped into the sewage-filled pit and swam over to save the little girl. With his hand grasped around her arm, he pulled her out of the pit where she was quickly ushered back in line. She didn’t even have time to thank the man who saved her life. She didn’t know what this man looked like and never saw him again. She survived the Holocaust because of one man who risked his life to save a little girl in need of help.

To this day, this woman does not know who this man was or what his fate was. All she knows is that he saved her life. How, in the biggest place of death and evil in the world, was humanity able to shine through? Why was this man willing to risk his life to save the life of a little girl? Even when all hope has been lost, humanity will never be lost. There are hundreds of stories in the Holocaust of good triumphing over evil. Every Holocaust survivor has one. Even when all hope seems lost and all good is gone; there will always be a glimmer of hope. We see this type of selflessness in every tragedy. During every tragic event, there are stories of people rushing to the scene to help others, putting their own lives at risk.

More recently, hundreds of people rushed to the side of injured victims in Boston and Texas, some of them losing their own lives to save others. In a world full of war, corruption, and death, it’s easy to miss the good that happens. I urge you to look not only at the evil that happens in the world but also the good that shines through during these times. During the worst tragedies, the best in people come out. As history has shown, the good always triumphs over the evil. My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected by the most recent tragedies.

Tzeva Kachol Brings Activism to Kibbutz in Need

Tzeva Kachol visited Kibbutz Nir Am located near the city of Sderot, a place unfortunately most known for its close proximity to Gaza which has fired rockets over the city for the past ten years.  Some of the rockets have fallen into the kibbutz’s agricultural fields.

With help from the Sderot Media Center, the chanichim arranged to help the kibbutz’s elderly residents in the days leading up to Pesach, cleaning their public gardens and helping to kasher their kitchens for the holiday.

First, they took a short tour of Nir Am, seeing the metal factory and meeting some of the residents who were incredibly grateful for Year Course’s visit.   Dividing up into small groups, half the chanichim pulled out weeds and helped to beautify the areas outside the houses while the other half helped put chametz into storage and throw away anything not needed for Pesach.


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Tzeva Kachol making a difference on Kibbutz Nir Am

It was clear from the residents how much they care about their home, seeing that there was only desert when they arrived decades ago (Nir Am was founded in 1943).  The Year Course visit really touched the residents who were moved that the chanichim cared about a place that meant so much to the kibbutzniks.

Said Aviva Weinstein of Washington, DC, “A lot of what we talk about in the Activism track is the importance of giving a community help that they actually need, as opposed to focusing on what is easiest for us to give.  It was an enjoyable afternoon but really shocking to hear the news the next day that rockets had fallen again so soon after our visit.

Together with the NU Campaign, Tzeva Kachol is creating t-shirts to raise both fund and awareness.  In addition, the activism track is working with the Koby Mandell Foundation to send birthday care packages to Camp Koby, a camp created to provide positive experiences for victims of terror.