Remembering back to high school, I think about my many weekends spent at NFTY kallot, and spending shabbat with many amazing friends. This past weekend took me back to those amazing times. Thursday morning, I was up bright and early to make my way to Kibbutz Kramim, a kibbutz just north of Be’er Sheva, where I spent three days with 90 other amazing individuals who had been at the Leadership Summit back in November. So, what made the Masa GLI Change Retreat different from the Leadership Summit? Everything!
While everyone in attendance at the Change Retreat was also at the Leadership Summit, the sense of community was very different. It was a much smaller group, so not only did I continue to bond with friends from before, I was able to meet many new people. I was surprised by the amount of people I did not remember from the week long seminar we had previously. But, even with so many “new” faces, the sense of community was even stronger. Before, the sheer amount of people was overwhelming, so many people tended to stick with friends from their own program. At the Change Retreat, however, with less people, it felt as if we were one giant family.
On Friday, we all had the opportunity to go on different exposure visits. The visit I chose took us to Sderot, a city on the border of Gaza. This city used to be famous for its musicians and artists, but is more recently known for being a war-torn city. I was not only excited to be able to see the city of Sderot and the different things they have put into place to try to keep life as normal as possible, no matter the current political situation, but also to see what life is like post-war. We started at an breath-taking overlook, where we were able to see Gaza on one side, Sderot on the other, and the military zone with tanks right in the middle. The rest of the Sderot tour, unfortunately was not what I had hoped. We went to a woman’s house to hear her talk about the urban kibbutz that she started in a section of the city. After her talk, another woman came to the same house to speak about her musician and artist cooperative that she started in the city. While both talks were interesting, they both went on for too long, and we did not get a chance to see any of the actual city. As a friend from the retreat put it, I can now say I have been to Sderot, but I still feel like I have never been to Sderot. I would love to be able to go back and see some of the things that make up life in this amazing city. While speaking with my mom on the phone, she told me that JNF has created underground playgrounds inside bomb shelters to try and cut down on the extremely high PTSD rate in children. That, to me, shows what life would be like. When our group returned to the kibbutz to debrief about the visit, many of us shared the same feelings about this visit. I can only hope that our comments will be taken into consideration for next time!
The truly special part of the Change Retreat came that evening, when we, as a group, came together to celebrate Shabbat. Being from all different countries, I loved hearing some of the different melodies to the prayers, but also having so many people sing along to the more camp-y melodies from back home. That evening, after dinner, we broke into small groups and did a small Beit Midrash, where we all read and learned from different texts from the Torah. We finished off that evening with some Cards Against Humanity and an incredible jam session. We sang for hours, and it truly brought me back to NFTY and camp times, sitting with friends, and listening to the guitar.
Saturday was also a more relaxed day. We had two main sessions that day, one lead by different participants, and one lead by one of the facilitators. The participant led session I went to was on food systems and policy. We discussed some of the different policies in the US, and how they make it difficult for everyone to have access to food. The facilitator session was all about story telling and how to tell a story in a way to convey a specific message. Three people in my group were brave enough to share their stories with the entire group. I am always fascinated to learn more about where people come from through hearing their stories. After that session, we had some free time, and I got to visit the Kibbutz’s horses! They have a huge barn area with at least 20 different horses. Someone brought a bag of apples so we were able to feed them, as well!
Our weekend together ended with the Havdallah ceremony, which I had the opportunity to help plan. In addition to the prayers, we were supposed to have a bonding activity that would leave everyone feeling good, so we decided to do the “Tap someone on the shoulder who…” Due to a lack of time, we changed it to “Look at someone who…,” which worked almost as well. Then we went through a quick explanation of the different parts of Havdallah, each followed by its blessing. When we finished the ceremony, the entire room broke out into the “camp” version of the blessings. We sang all the way through, with our arms around each other. This was just one of the many moments of the weekend where I truly came to realize I have made a new family here in Israel; a family that consists of people from all over the world. I truly could not have asked for a better weekend or for better people to spend it with. And, while it makes me sad to know that some of these people are at the end of their Masa programs and will be leaving soon, there are plenty more that are staying that I can continue to share this wonderful year with!