What Next?!

Disclaimer: this will be long. Skip to the bottom if you are tired of reading everything I have to say. No hard feelings, promise.

I know I kind of just posted about how the second half of my program was about to start, but the funny thing about time is that it is always moving and two months after the half way mark leaves me with only three months left. And three months really doesn’t seem like a lot. As I find my brain settling into a rhythm of “this is almost over,” I just get more and more conflicted.

I do not regret coming and spending a year here in between high school and college. I have met countless of amazing people: from my gap group to my Israeli peers to my teachers and administration to the people I work with. I will be leaving this year knowing people from dozens of countries all with their own life stories and reasons for how our paths ended up crossing. I have learned from these people, especially the kids I volunteer with who come from Eritrea, Sudan, the Congo, Darfur, Ghana, and so many more places. Their smiles say so much and when they don’t smile, it says so much more. My classes have been so enjoyable (mostly when they were in English and I was actually able to understand what was happening…) and they are taught by equally interesting people – this list goes on and it will be impossible for me to name everything amazing.

Most of all, though, my friends have amazing. And I am scared. Because, for the most part, we are all going off in our separate directions. My Israeli friends are going to be serving in the army. They will take the leadership skills they gained here at Bina and be the future leaders of the Israeli Defense Forces; serving in positions all the way from combat units and pilots to Intelligence. Regardless of the seven hour time difference, we will be in different worlds as I begin tackling my own journey in university.

And my gap group is splitting as well. Well, except for you, Eve! (Eve and I will both be attending McGill University this September). But, most of my gap group is going to their own college – or staying in Israel and volunteering to be a lone soldier, serving in the IDF. I am worried that when I get home, after having been through such an intense, life-changing experience where I had no space to breathe because I live with fourteen people in a tiny apartment, life will just continue on like I never went away. Like I didn’t change. Because, just like time, life does that.

Our experiences don’t affect our neighbors and they are not written on our foreheads so that when we meet new people they will look at us and automatically see our message:

“Hey! Look at me! I just spent a year in Israel on an army preparation program and I am so different than I was ten months ago! Please treat me like I changed!”

Yeah…

I don’t think life works like that.

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So, it’s scary to think that even though fifty other people experienced all of this with me, there are way more than fifty people in the world. For those of you that knew me in high school, I had a tendency to obsess over trying to be in Israel and I am still not sure if that hindered me from experiencing things or if it just shaped my character. I don’t want to miss any of the rest of my life because I am getting over the (good) trauma of participating on Bina. If I learned anything these past seven months, it is that time goes fast and the good moments can be frequent or far and in between. We can’t know, so we need to learn to recognize them and not be caught up in something that already happened or else time will fly by and, before we know it, all the good times will have slipped by, too.

(Sorry, there’s a little bit more to go. If you’re still reading: Kol haKavod! But you can still choose to skip ahead…)

On the flip side, a part of me is ready to come home. My parents were just visiting, I believe twoish weeks ago, and as much as I absolutely adored showing them around my home here in Israel and truly feeling apart of the Shapira/Florentine, Tel Aviv community, part of me really missed being home. Or maybe not so much being home as not being in such an intensive program. And my family.

If anyone is interested in Bina and is reading this blog post, you need to be aware of what you are getting yourself into. The schedule is intense and not entirely flexible. Classes are mandatory and we wake up at six or seven and don’t come back to our apartments some nights until ten or even eleven. And then on top of all of that, for me personally, because I am learning Hebrew in Ulpan four days a week, I have a ton of Hebrew homework. So I come back around ten and then chill for a little bit only then to have to do my homework. At least I have a building full of native speakers to help me.

Anyways, it is exhausting. Not in the way high school is, just in the standards and expectations that we need to hold up. It is rewarding to no end, but you need to be prepared. Maybe it is the program I chose, maybe it is the people who run it, maybe it is my personality, maybe it is all of those combined. But this has been exhausting.

So I am excited for the end of the year to come. The air is starting to have that feeling of when things are winding down in classes and the weather is nice but then you need to work extra hard to study for finals. Things are busy here and I have so many projects that I want to attack with a vengeance. Even though I do have three months left and that is a lot of time, truly, I am stuck between wanting to clock out and wanting to never leave. I can’t decide if I should try to prepare myself mentally, now, for when I am back home or if I should not think about it because I am so scared of not being with the friends I made this year.

(Congratulations! You made it all the way through!)

(Skip to here. I can’t believe you didn’t read everything … )

In a nutshell: I want to go to college and I want to be with my family and see my friends and a small part of me wants to be out of Bina as well. Not be in a culture I need to figure out all the time. But I also am scared of how the transition back to life in America will be. Now Bina is starting to not feel like reality and eventually dreams need to end. I am scared of loosing touch with everyone I have grown close to and after June comes and I go back home, I really am not sure when I will be able to come here next.

This year has been an experience of a life time. An adventure, as my father likes to always remind me when I complain about things. And he is right. I hope I can tell you all sometime about all of my adventures. From almost getting hypothermia while sleeping outside in the rain to almost missing my plane back home and begging a taxi driver at 3 AM to take me to the airport for half the price because I didn’t have enough cash. I have learned so much and, for the moment, thank god I still have three more months left.

Surprise! I Was Converted Yesterday

I love my kids that I work with (yeah, I call them my kids). A little background: they are about twenty total and come from the Philippines, Eritrea, Congo, Sudan, Ghana, and many more. I am with them in the afternoon two to three days a week and do things like helping the teacher in the class, helping the kids with their homework, planning activities, drawing with and for them (so. much. drawing.) and just playing with them. Almost all of them speak some level of English and I really practice my Hebrew there. Its a challenge, no doubt, but one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. My kids give so much love and attention and us volunteers are more than happy to provide more than that in return.

My class is from the ages of seven to nine and I believe all of them are Christian. A few months ago, one of the girls in my class – lets call her Dox – found out that I was a “yehudit!” This means Jewish in Hebrew. Her and a lot of the other kids in my class were shocked and began asking me why I didn’t believe in Jesus. I pacified them by nodding my head and listening to them talk about Christianity and when the day ended, I assumed they would go home and forget about it – they are little kids after all.

But Dox is the daughter of a pastor from the Congo and it seems that my religious choices were bothering her a lot because this past Wednesday, when I was at the school, Dox pulled me aside and said she really had to talk with me.

(This entire interaction happened in English. The English skills of each individual child depend on what country their family came from. Because Dox is from the Congo, her English is pretty much fluent as that, in addition to French, is what she speaks at home with her mom. And then she learns and speaks Hebrew at school.)

Not knowing what could be wrong, I followed happily. She sat me down and said “Why don’t you believe in Jesus!” Wagging her finger in my face in a very nine year old-like fashion. I just gave her a slightly bemused smile in return.

“Why are you smiling! This is important! You have to believe in Jesus! Because if you don’t … if you don’t then you won’t go to heaven. And then you will be sad and die. And even though you are yehudit, and he doesn’t love you right now, if you just believe in him, you will be safe and you will go to heaven and he will love you!”

Not quite knowing what to say, because it was obviously upsetting her immensely that I wasn’t Christian, I just sat there quietly, nodding my head and smiling. When she finished, she asked me, “Do you see why you need to believe now? Do you believe now?” And again, I simply nodded my head.

In my mind, I was wondering if it was my place to try and teach her about tolerance, after all, that is part of my job with them: to mentor and guide them. My official Hebrew title is called madricha, which directly translates into a guide.

Before I could make a decision, a friend of my from the mechina sat down with us and Dox proceeded to ask him if he believed in Christ. He shook his head no and Dox went at it again. She looked at me and said “I’m testing you now! Tell him why he needs to believe in Christ.”

I tried to be serious about it, I really did, but the irony of the situation was too much for me to handle and, regretfully, I couldn’t get past saying “You need to believe…” without laughing. Multiple “You need to believe…”‘s later, Dox, frustrated with me, took over and explained to my friend why he had to believe in Jesus, saying exactly what she told me, and at the end, asked him, just like she asked me, “Do you believe now?”

And my friend just shook his head no.

Dox became so angry. She started to cry and looked like she wanted to hit my friend so I figured then would be a good time to try to teach about tolerance.

It didn’t go so well. I started, “Dox, sometimes, even though we try to help people make the best choices, they will not make the choice that we want them to make. But we have to be OK with this. We can’t get mad at their choices because that isn’t fair. And it’s great that you want to help people so badly, but we need to respect them (I had my friend translate respect into Hebrew just to be safe). OK?”

Apparently it wasn’t OK… She just responded with “NO! They won’t go to heaven!” And then she ran away. It was rough, but maybe later in life that conversation will come back to her and she can learn from it then.

The beauty of kids is they never stay mad for a very long time and by the final few minutes we were together, she was laughing and playing with me and the other kids again.

So while I wasn’t actually converted to Christianity, I think this story exemplifies a lot of what I am experiencing in my volunteering. The kids are not easy to mentor. They get angry easily and hurt even more so, they don’t like to listen and, particularly for me, their English is not always good. Or they will not even know English at all. But despite all the challenges and them questioning my religion, when I see my kids inside the school and out of it, my heart is so full. I love them and with all my being cannot fathom how I will be able to say good bye to them in four months. I am truly lucky to be able to have the opportunity to work with such amazing children.

Struggle

“When one is in an act of struggle, they may feel as if their  very essence is being torn in two. Stretched and worn, like an aged tapestry – held together only by its weary threads. Together, but almost not. Left to ponder its choices; hoping beyond hope that pondering will not be the very act that severs it. That action will not over-stress it. That this impasse within itself will come to pass, because even the impasse can tear at those threads. And so the threads continue to fray as time trudges on. They cannot be fixed, for fear of breaking, and they do not want to fracture, for this sacrifices their beauty. And so time weighs its heavy hands; resting, taunting. Causing our hearts to pound. Our writing to become unsteady. It eats and gnaws. Until all we are left with is doubt. Doubt in ourselves. Doubt in our actions. Doubt in our choices. All because of this one, very internal –

struggle.”

I wrote this about a week ago in my creative writing class. The class is in Hebrew. I couldn’t understand most of it. My Hebrew skills are improving, but mostly just to understanding basic, light conversations. From what I got between the translations and this writing exercise, it was about what different words mean to us and the many different ways we can describe each, individual word.

I was sitting in the class, feeling so … torn. I wanted to walk out, I didn’t want to walk out. It was my first class in Hebrew without a friend who could tell me exactly what was going on or to put me completely at ease even if I didn’t want the translations. (I did have a friend, Kineret, trying to help me. It just wasn’t enough, but thank you so much for doing what you could Kin!) And for the first time, I really, truly questioned my choice in staying. I felt like I didn’t belong there. And so when we finally got a writing exercise (write a list of six words that are me and six words that are not me, then take one from each column and write our interpretation of the definition for the word), I went a bit overboard. I wasn’t expecting to, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to share it out loud in a different language than the one the class was conducted in. (Doing this is usually a nerve wrecking experience because I never know if what I’m saying is relevant or an intelligent addition, but I just go for it anyways) But, anyways, I just started writing and the words started flowing.

I’ve never talked before about what it’s like to write this blog for me, but, to be frank about it, I really enjoy it. It has become therapeutic. I didn’t think this would happen, but I have become crazy about keeping this up. So when I started thinking of the words as something … magical, I felt … powerful. I felt like I was controlling the language. I don’t know how. I don’t even know if it’s normal. But I just approached the exercise from a different mindset than any writing I have done before and since then, I have become obsessed. I have written a bunch more passages. I don’t know if I’ll be publishing those, though. We’ll see.

I shared a section of my passage in class (it was the longest by far); I knew that it was different from all the other definitions that everyone read from the mood of people’s voices and their body language. I guess because I couldn’t follow the lesson I could take it where ever my brain and heart wanted me to take it. And I definitely was not expecting the reaction I got – as soon as I finished reading, everyone was silent. I’ve changed a few words here and there since then, but I knew I used some words that some people in the room would not know. I was worried for a few moments that they were silent because they didn’t understand. And I was worried that I would have to explain what I wrote – I really apologize, my friends, because this was not the case at all. After the moments of silence drew to a close, I began receiving compliments. Some of the nicest I have ever received. Or maybe I was just in dire need of acceptance at the moment. Either way, the feelings that caused me to write this passage in the first place started to dissolve. Just like that…

I came on this gap year partly because I want to get more experience in … well, in everything before I go to college and choose what direction I want my life continue in. And I have had experience in everything from being a teacher, Judaic learning, philosophy, social activism, to now creative writing (among much, much more that I’m blanking on at the moment); I have just found something else to consider. Who knows. I used to want to write for National Geographic as a child. Like a super brief phase in my childhood. But maybe I’ll find a way back to this path somehow.

Only time will be able to tell. Until next time!

Jaz

Sidrat Daroum (The Southern Trip)

If you ever want to become a leader overnight (and do a difficult, detail-orriented task), lead and plan a four day trip for 55 people. In a nutshell, the trip was four days in the south of the country – otherwise known as the Negev. In Hebrew, it is called Sidrat Daroum or Southern Series. A team of ten mechinistim (two from each group), guided by one madricha, planned everything from when we leave the appartment to where we sleep each night, the entire menu, and all the activities. All of this is guided by goals we set for ourselves to achieve through the sidra.

We were split into pairs, with each pair leading a day, and then one pair was head logistics and the other was the head of the team. For about a month, the entire team worked endessly, sometimes meeting a few times a week, sometimes working for hours with your partner, to make the sidra happen. For the day I was responsible for, my partner, Zohar, and I decided we want make our day an allday hike in the desert. (How can you go to the south and not hike?)

I am so glad I took the oportunity to head this sidra. I learned so much about managment and leadership in general. When I began to think about planning a hike, for some reason, it didn’t occur to me that I would be the one actually leading fifty people into the desert. And then, when the madrich who was helping me said that I would need to go down to Sde Boker, where the hike would be, and do the hike with one or two other people, alone, before the actually sidra – I was a bit taken by surprise (this basically meant that I needed to plan two separate hikes and lead both of them). Always up for a challenge, I didn’t let any of this stop me. Even when we experienced many, many … many … challenges along the way (Everything from not having the preparation hike planned the day before we hike it to not having a medic until about eight hours before the hike took place with no finalized Plan B schedule. Feel free to ask me more questions about any of this privately or in the comments, it is actually quite humorus now when I look back on it.), I wasn’t swayed.

The hike was amazing. Astoundingly magnificent. For anyone in the Negev/Sde Boker region, I highly recommend it, we hiked up to Chod Akev and then down and around to Ein Akev and finished the day at our outside campsite. About seventeen kilometers total (a little under ten miles).

When I came back from the preparation hike, everyone who enjoys hiking started asking about it, I of course told them how at some points the climb was so incredibly and beautiful, that at some points it felt like I was flying.  This then, of course, got around to everyone and people started to get worried: Is it too hard? Will I fall and die? I won’t be able to finish at all so maybe I should just not try, right?

I have to say it was difficult to keep people’s morale up. A few I knew wouldn’t be able to do the hike because of health and physical complications, but everyone else would be able to do it – that I knew.

So when the night before the actual hike came, and I was preparing to tell everyone that they would need to be up by 5 AM and out by 5:45 AM, I was really worried about how people would take it. As everyone in our mechina knows, sometimes we have tendency to give up before we even try and I didn’t want that to happen this time. When I expressed my concerns to my madrich about how to make everyone understand the importance of getting up and out on time and keeping up a fast past (to fight the sun) and still enjoy the day, he told me that I would need to give a pep talk – the most epic pep talk ever.

For anyone who knows me, pep talks are not usually my forte. I can talk in front of groups alright, but I’ve never been the kind to give master pep talks to a big group of people who actually really need one. It is just out of character for me to be, well, peppy. My madrich ran through some ideas on how to give an encouraging speach and said that if I believe what I am saying , then I can be so convincing that everyone else will, too (I still don’t know if I believe that…).

So we got everyone together and I went for it. I pretty much completely winged it. So I don’t have a written out copy or anything, but it pretty much went how you would expect a pep talk to go – with the necessary Obama “Yes, we can!” reference, of course! That part wasn’t planned, but I definitely learned that I have a lot more in me than I thought I did in terms of being a public speaker and gaining support. I don’t even know how to put it into words, but suddenly people who had been complaining to me about getting up early and doing physical exercise all day were now cheering with everyone else and kind of excited (it looked like it at least).

But I couldn’t know if it had actually worked, yet. I could only be sure if I was successful or not when it would be time to leave the next day.

We didn’t leave by 5:45, we left at 6:15. But it was OK. My group did so amazingly! They all worked so hard during the hike to stay together, to help the people in the back, to have fun, to hurry up when I said it was time to hurry up – I am still, almost a month later, so incredibly proud of my mechina, everyone in it, and even myself. I know it might be a bit superficial to be proud of myself, but I really wasn’t sure if I would be any good at leading a hike. There is so much more to it than knowing the trail. I really had my doubts, but I really think I actually did pretty well. I felt I did well, at least, and I received positive feedback. I was, and am, so amazed at what we accomplished. That hike was pretty difficult and everyone really did just such an indredible job at challenging themselves.

At the end of the day, when we were at the campsite, a friend of mine came over to me and said “Jaz, when you said that we would have to wake up at 5 and be ready in half an hour, I wasn’t sure I coud do it. But then you said that you believed that we can do and when I woke up, I wanted to go back to sleep. But I thought to myself ‘No! I can’t let Jaz down!’ and I got up and ready in time! Thank you for leading such an amazing day.”

That one exchange was worth all the hardships I encountered in making that day happen.

The moral of this story: if you get the opportunity, I really recommend being on a team to plan an important trip. It is really worthwhile, incredibly meaningful, and a great learning experience to see the direct results of what your sweat and tears can bring to others.

Update: I know what apartment I will be in. It was my top choice, so now I just need to move in and start the next semester. But first, enjoying my last moments with my gap group all together and then a week vacation at home. Yes, I do mean home-home. As in New York. I have a busy few weeks ahead of me, but a lot to look forward to!

Jaz

Official Announcement

I only have one month left of my gap program. It is now 2016 and a year ago I remember I was only just trying to figure out my options were and what I could be doing with them. Now I have to figure out what I will exactly be doing next year and what I want to study. It is a big process but I still have time and I still have half a year more to figure it out.

Official Announcement: It was never one hundred percent decided, but for all my Israeli friends out there who are reading this and haven’t heard this from me in person, it’s official – I will be staying in Israel and continuing in the Hebrew/Israeli part of my program. Now it’s a done deal. I will be having a really challenging six months ahead of me. I will be moving into an Israeli apartment and everything will be in Hebrew. I am being allowed to take an intensive ulpan; I will learn Hebrew as fast as possible to help me adjust and increase my productiveness in Bina (the ulpan I was in for the past four months was not enough). It is a huge honor that I am allowed to do this and I am so proud that the tzevet (administration, basically) trusts me to have a different schedule from the rest of the mechina. I will be in charge of myself and I am so excited to have this opportunity. I am also worried.

Out of everyone staying from my gap group for this next semester, I, by far, have the worst Hebrew. I need to learn as fast as I can if I want to not frustrate my friends with the sounds of translating in their classes and group meetings all the time. Or having an American, English speaker in their apartment, which is meant to be a safety-net. I really just hope that my friends will understand and be patient with me in the coming months. And help support me, as well. It will be difficult for everyone, but I am optimistic. We will all get through it (hopefully, with me coming out as fluent as possible on the other side). But nonetheless, I am still crazy worried.

This week I will find out what apartment I will be joining. The more I think about it, the more stressed I become. I just need to stay positive.

My New Year’s resolution is really to continue to have the strength and courage I’ve had in the past four months to help me adapt to yet another new situation. Because, truly, every moment of this gap year has been a challenge in it’s own way and this will just be another leg of the road that I will overcome.

Happy 2016 and I hope everyone has a great year!

Jaz

FriendsHelpingFriends

Friends helping friends!HikeInSdeBoker

On a hike in Sde Boker that I lead. (More posts to follow upon this experience)GroupAtWall

My entire group at a security border between a kibbutz in the south and Gaza. We painted murals on the wall.EinKerem

The view from Bina Jerusalem, where my gap group spent one weekend together. The village is called Ein Kerem.GazaBorder

Gaza.Hike2 - Copy

Hike in Sde Boker – Chod Akev.Hanu

And, of course, soufganyot for Hanukkah!

What is My Reality Now?

Nothing clears your mind more than getting away from your everyday life. Anytime you need a reset, a fresh perspective, some peace of mind – just take a day and get away. Even an hour. Right? That’s how I thought it was supposed to be at least.
So why, after a weekend with my father in Vienna, Austria am I not feeling refreshed like I thought I would be?
After two very, very difficult weeks, I was able to get away in the hugest sense of the word. I was in another country, one I’ve never been to before, alone for two of the days -sightseeing and touring while he was working – and at nights and the last day with my father for the first time in three months. How much more removed can one get than that? But a weird phenomena happened to me. I started to get confused about what my reality was.
Here I was, with my father, some of his employees, and even, for a bit, a friend of mine from high school, Chiara, all the way on the other side of the world. It was almost a mini ‘Toga in the middle of Vienna’s Stephanzplatz. After two weeks of being nervous, stressed, frustrated and feeling helpless about a complication with the administration of my place of volunteering (coupled with my birthday being during the time when the Israelis were on a different schedule because they had to work for the mechina), I started to feel slightly forgotten about, over exhausted and sick – so seeing my dad was surreal. And I started to wonder, why was I letting my volunteer organization get to me so much? Why am I getting caught up on the bad things that make me sad; forgetting that this year is for me to learn about myself? This year is for me. I need to remember that a lot of what I am doing is for me. And that what I am doing here, in Israel, is not my ONLY reality.
But.
But what?
But I have more than one reality?
Yeah … I have more than one reality now. Being with my dad was like snapping into a different reality. I suddenly had my father telling me we need to get me medicine for the cold I still had last weekend. It wasn’t just me looking after myself. We were having discussions about our days! We were even having conversations about days that happened weeks and months ago and it was like no time had passed.
But.
But time has passed.
The mechina has also become my reality.
For one year. I am here. My dad isn’t. My reality is quite different. And I accept it. I like it.
But does that mean that what my reality is at home is not my reality anymore? Or will it always be my reality?
And what does reality even mean?!
My reality is my life … but what is my life made up of right now. In this moment. As I sit on a bus with my friends coming back from a two day seminar learning about the economics and society in the north of the country, I can’t help but wonder what is my life?
What makes it up? The ingredients.
In Saratoga, I had my family, school, friends, temple, my town, the things I did, my hobbies. All the physical things I used to have … a lot of them are not here with me now.
In my life right now, I have new friends, different family members, a mechina, volunteering, less time to do my hobbies or not even the possibility to do them.
It seems like my two lives don’t have any intersection. I am a puzzle piece that completes two different puzzles. And sometimes I wonder if life is supposed to be like that. In high school I had my school life, my social life, and my family life. But they were still one. They somehow all worked together to make up me.
I can’t quite describe it. Maybe this is similar to college. Maybe it isn’t. What I do know is that when I was with my dad, I started thinking this is my year to not worry as much about consequences and mistakes – because I can learn from them – because this is just a single year and isn’t my only life. This isn’t my only reality.
And then I think about going back to the old life I lead and I can’t quite picture how I would cope. Because I love this place. The people. What I’m doing. How I am learning to balance what I need and what I want and need to do for the mechina. Everything.
Regardless, seeing my dad for a weekend was beyond words. I was so happy and I missed him so much that no matter how I try to describe it, it will just sound insufficient. It was hands down the best birthday/Thanksgiving present I could have ever recieved! I love you, dad, and the only thing that could have made weekend better was if the rest of the family could have made it, too.
Unfortunately, we can’t get everything. We just need to be grateful for what we do have, I guess. Not to be cheesy.
So on that note, happy (late) Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope you had a meaningful, turkey-filled holiday.
Jaz

Jaz

Life Lessons in the Not So Mundane

Wow. I cannot express enough how amazed I am at all the feedback I received to my last post! Each and every question was amazing and I am going to try to answer all of them soon. If you have more questions on my life, on something I’ve written, on anything really, feel free to leave a comment and I will respond to you. Or maybe make it another blog topic. And if someone leaves a question you particularly like, please like it in the comments.

Before I answer my first question, I just want to let you all know that my blog has been viewed almost 2,000 times (which is incredibly insane) from people in over 14 different countries all around the world. Each time I check in to read the stats, I am blown away. I never thought my blog would reach past family and friends, but it has! Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this.

Now, for the question of the day.

Drum roll please…

Emily, you are the lucky winner!

“In starting my first year of college, I’ve noticed that I’ve already learned a few very important things outside the classroom. Some of them are things my mom has been telling me for years, but others are things that I’ve had to discover on my own. One of the biggest things I’ve thought about is how fast people become friends in college, and the dynamics of my friends group here versus back home. Are there any big things you’ve learned or thought about more due to living in Israel that have stuck out to you?” – Emily

It is an interesting concept to think that we are being thrust into these new situations where things our parents have been telling us are finally making sense. For example, cleaning our dishes as soon as we use them or keeping the bathroom clean. Mundane when your parents say it, maybe, but I think the biggest challenge for me has been getting used to group life at the mechina. Suddenly, here, mundane things carry a whole lot more weight.

Since I’ve never been in college, I don’t know if I can compare them with your experiences, but I will try. Here, I am living in one building with about fifty out of the sixty people on my program (the rest have a separate apartment in a different building for space reasons). The building is not very big. There are five groups making up our mechina of anywhere from seven (there is only one this size and it is my “international” gap group) to fourteen people in an apartment.The internationals have to stay together in one apartment with no Israelis in order for the internationals to have a strong English “family,” but no apartments can have mixed gender rooms. My friend is the only guy in our group so he actually has his own room. I have only one roommate, Noa, and luckily we get along very well. I think most rooms have only two to three people in it.

The mechina, as a pre-army program, emphasizes three things: Study, social action, and group life. I did not fully understand what I was getting myself into in terms of the group life when I signed up for Bina, in all honesty. I assumed it would be like college in the sense that I would have space to do my own thing whenever I need it and how what I do mostly only affects me. But it is not like that at all. It is almost like we resemble a socialist group. Our food is bought on a small budget for the entire mechina, we cook it together in a communal kitchen, we all participate in cleaning, we all need to take the initiative to make this year the best it can be because the staff are not meant to do that for us – things like this.

This is not high school and this is not America. Everything is very Israeli. Take that how you may, but I am speaking of their stereotypical Israeli assertiveness. If we want something done, we cannot wait for it to be done, we need to do it ourselves. My parents always said to me, “Jaz, you need to advocate for yourself. No one else will do it for you.” And I believed them, but I didn’t see why. Now I am seeing the reason why in every moment of the day. I think this might come with independence, but I don’t think everyone learns this skill right away. I am being forced to learn it if I want to have a good year. Actually, I am forced to learn this skill if I even want to just understand what is happening because pretty much everything is in Hebrew.

Additionally, and here is where group life comes in, I am not advocating only for myself, I am advocating for all sixty of us. Everything we do has to be for the good of this machzor (basically refers to a grade or class in Hebrew). If I have an idea, it should be for the better of everyone. In America, especially in my high school, we did everything for ourselves. We studied for ourselves, we did projects for ourselves, we participated in gym (or didn’t) for ourselves. Now when I am in my workout morning class and I see my Israeli peers around me, saying that they want to get in shape for the army, I think a small part of that reflects a different sentiment than the traditional “me, me, me.” And don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of that sentiment in Israel too. Just here, in the mechina, we are trying to get past this sentiment and form a bond like none other. The Israelis will be in the army next year, many as commanders and officers, and the internationals will be, most likely, in university. The mechina is training leaders. The group life, pushing people to succeed even when they might want to give up, is one of the mechina’s ways to prepare us all.

We live together, got lost in the middle of nowhere on navigation hikes together, slept outside in the rain while trying not to get hypothermia together, shop on a budget for sixty people together, help each other stay awake for programing from 7am to 10pm Sunday through Friday together (there is actually a formal responsibility we have to wake people up during programing that we decided on during a three hour meeting with the entire machzor). We go through so much together and I think both deep down and at the surface, we form a bond that might be hard to let go of.

Tying all of this into the mundane acts that I am sure everyone who is living in some sort of dorm will understand, being on top of your stuff in your apartment is undeniably important. It creates for a healthy group dynamic and the small things can really add up to big problems. I have had problems with this, other people in my apartment I am sure may have had problems with this, I know a lot of people in the mechina have problems with this, but the mechina is teaching me that the only ways out of these situations are soaring up or crashing down. I mean that you can either deal with the situations head on and work past them, even though you might be frustrated to no end and might not see the point or you can let it overwhelm you. I have done both this year. I am still working out how to live my group life, it is extremely challenging. But at the end of the day, I think that the Israeli mentality, among many other things, incorporated specifically into this mechina is giving me invaluable life lesson skills.

Jaz