Robin Kahn's Blog (Our educational Director)
Shalom From Jerusalem
I am continuing to enjoy Jerusalem very much. Finding things to do and people to connect with has not been a problem! I am fascinated by the contrasts, richness and texture of the city. For example, right next to buildings that are 2,000 years old are buildings that were built just a few years ago, and the skyline is filled with building cranes. One joke I have heard over and over is that Jerusalem’s mascot should be the building crane. The diversity of people from the religious to secular, and everyone in between, is amazing. I’ve met immigrants from all over the world and just today spoke with some from Ethiopia, Russia, France, America and Ireland. As I walk around I’ve been listening to the languages spoken, noticing different head coverings, skin colors and dress – it seems that everyone wears Uggs on their feet! I’ve learned that everyone has a story, and I love listening to people I have just met tell me why they made aliyah or how their family came to Israel: opportunity, persecution, fulfilling a dream, or love of the land are just a few.
A few highlights from the past few days.
The weather on Shabbat left a lot to be desired, though the wind, rain, sleet, snow, hail, and thunder didn’t stop me from exploring the Old City and different shuls. After our group welcomed Shabbat together a group of us headed for Kol Ha Neshama, a Reform synagogue. Along the way, I met a group from Temple Sholom in Broomall, PA and once at shul I met my former religious school principal, friends from Boston who made aliyah and Ken and Naomi Koltun-Fromm, new BAI members. Back at our hotel I bumped into the Methodist minister that I sat next to on the airplane coming over – only in Jerusalem!
Friday night our group hosted several lone soldiers (soldiers serving in the IDF with no family in Israel to go home to). For me it was moving as Michael Levin’s “adopted parent” joined us and shared his memories and stories about Michael. Today would have been Michael’s birthday. (Michael was a native of Philadelphia and was a camper at Ramah Poconos, who made aliyah and was killed in combat in 2006.)
As Shabbat ended the rain passed, and our group was treated to dinner at a restaurant that cooks primarily with ingredients mentioned in the TaNaKh. It was an amazing evening and the chef explained the herbs, spices and how each dish was prepared as it arrived at our table. (Did you know that over 200 varieties of sage grow in Israel?) After dinner Grace, Art and I met for a cup of coffee and to catch up, compare notes and share our experiences.
Sunday morning I spent in a section of Jerusalem where many artists who studied at Bezalel Art School have studios and galleries. I was able to watch them at work, and learn about another dimension of Israeli culture. In the afternoon, I rode the brand new light rail train. It’s kind of like a street car and makes almost no noise, so if you’re crossing Jaffa street and not watching for the train or distracted by everything going on around you, you could get hit. Late in the afternoon I met up with a friend whose two little girls took me for a pedicure….but there was a gimick...I had to put my feet in a fish tank and let little fish nibble at them. I admit it was kind of gross and tickled. Eventually I got used to it and didn’t look at the fish but closed my eyes and imagined my feet were in a whirlpool.
Monday, I joined the group from Temple Sholom and hiked Ein Gedi and Masada and floated in the Dead Sea. Jerusalem had been so cold that being in the desert was a real treat. Only a few minutes outside of Jerusalem and the temperature was about 25 degrees warmer. Ein Gedi was beautiful and I appreciated our guide pointing out the wildlife and plants. One animal, rodent like, think the size of a beaver, is apparently closely related to an elephant! Since I chose to hike Masada, I missed the tour of the top, but enjoyed the view as I ascended. I enjoyed a quick float in the Dead Sea, mainly to say I went it—how could I not go in? It was windy on the beach and chilly so I didn’t stay in too long. As we headed back to Jerusalem through the Judean dessert our guide pointed out Mt. Nebo – where Moses surveyed the land before he died.
The highlight of Tuesday was my visit to the Hand-in-Hand school, an Arab-Jewish school for grades k-12 in Jerusalem’s Paat neighborhood. In the elementary grades there are 2 teachers in each classroom, one Jewish and one Arabic, and all students learn Hebrew, Arabic and English. There is beautiful student work all over the building, which is architecturally stunning! The students we spoke with, ranging from grades 6-12, told us over and over how lucky they felt to be able to attend Yad b’Yad and how special it was (It just so happened that Ross Weissman, a BAI member’s son, was touring the school as well as he will be volunteering as an English teacher and as the afterschool chess activities counselor. To get Ross and the program started, BAI will be purchasing 2 chess sets for the school.)
Today, Naomi Kolton-Fromm guided me on a tour of East Jerusalem, where she pointed out the Third Wall, a First Temple remnant, and the American Colony Hotel, and explained many other important places. From there I made my way to the center of town, then to the Kotel (the sun was setting and Jerusalem looked gold), then back to the center of town where I discovered a teacher’s store with lots of goodies, then back to the hotel, and then back to the center of town with colleagues for dinner and a frozen yogurt…as always, the perfect ending to a great day!
L’ Shalom, Robin
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