Greetings from Jerusalem, where we are nearing the end of the third day of our Havurah Staff Training Seminar! Havurah is TY's unique program for teens from the North American Russian Jewish community which allows its participants to explore and deepen their relationships with Israel, Jewish traditions, and Jewish culture and identity - all with a twist of Russian heritage thrown in the mix! Through generous sponsorship by Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Jewish Agency for Israel, each year the Havurah staff is able to come together in Israel to learn, work, and be inspired for the summer!
Today, our group just returned from a very full day of learning and exploring. We began with an in-depth tour of the Old Yishuv Court Museum where aspects of daily life in the Jewish Quarter prior to 1948 are carefully depicted. Some of us learned for the first time that a vibrant Jewish community existed in Jerusalem's Old City even in the Ottoman Period, and many of us were surprised by certain tools and clothes from that period which were on display.
One particular exhibition, which focused on the establishment of health services for new mothers and their infants in British Mandate Palestine, made me reflect on a recent visit to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in Manhattan. How ironic that Jewish settlers in Palestine at that time faced the same poverty and squalor conditions, along with shockingly high infant mortality rates, as their counterparts who had sailed across the Atlantic to New York.
As we left the Old City and headed toward the more modern parts of Jerusalem, we learned about Sir Moses Montefiore whose funds and efforts built some of the first residential settlements outside the walled city of Jerusalem. Today these are charming residential neighborhoods with hidden gems of cultural history waiting to be discovered around every corner.
When we are not learning on-the-go, we have the privilege of hearing from top specialists in informal Jewish education on topics ranging from how to present challenging issues concerning Israel to using the arts as a medium for Jewish education. We are being challenged to accept the diverse backgrounds and perspectives our campers will bring with them and to consider different styles of leadership and future goals for ourselves as educators.
Each day we also learn more about Israeli society, which is a cultural mosaic. Just walking down a busy street in Jerusalem one can hear several different accents, notice a variety of skin tones, and try numerous traditional cuisines. Similarly, at camp we are united by shared goals and common values, but the ultimate goal is not to merge together into one homogenous group. Perhaps some of our campers will struggle to understand or decipher their distinct cultural qualities. But hopefully they will also take the time to celebrate their heritage, and all the influences that make up that heritage - Russian, Jewish, American or Israeli - since each piece of our identity is inevitably entwined with every other piece.
-Anna Umanskaya, 2011 Madricha (Havurah Program)