By Dustin Feinberg
It would be difficult to summarize everything that has happened since I arrived in Israel. So much has happened in such a short span of time that my mind and fingers can’t keep pace with the fast motion of this wonderful trip thus far. I will do my best to capture and share what I can when opportunities of rest permit.
I certainly did not intend to post a blog so late in the game, but things have been quite hectic here for everyone involved in the initiation of this great journey. In the beginning there was a slow and easy start, but because it was my first time flying into another country solo, there was also a lot happening internally.
I flew into Tel Aviv, a city where almost everyone speaks English, but I felt frustrated and distant because I didn’t speak Hebrew. Nevertheless, I made my way around the city (and managed to get lost on my first day) and probably walked a total of approximately 20 miles over the course of about three days. I was determined to explore.
Sunday was the day the group of participants for the Yahel Social Change Program finally met. This was a group divided into two different cities (Lod and Rishon LeZion). Both cities involved an in-depth community service experience that was just beginning for all of us. But let me back up a little and tell you about a moment leading up to that. I had an interesting encounter with the Taxi Driver that picked me up where I was staying.
I told him, “I need to go to the Savidor Train Station.”
He said, “Jerusalem…?”
I said, “No, no, not Jerusalem…Savidor Train Station in Tel Aviv.”
The taxi driver then went on repeating ‘Savidor, Savidor, Savidor’, in a playful sort of way. Then I joined in with him chanting ‘Savidor, Savidor’—all the while hoping he actually takes me directly to the Train Station rather than hustle me for a few loops around the city so he can make a few extra shekels.
Thankfully, we arrived at the train station on time without much hassle until he tells me how much I owe him. I hand him some money, but there is some confusion about how much I should pay him. So there we are, sitting in the lane with a long line of taxis behind us honking. We are both trying to understand what the other is saying so he can get his rightful sum of money and I can move on with my day.
The day has just begun and it is already hot. We finally settled our money exchange. I grabbed my bags and made my way over to where the group was standing waiting in the hot Tel Aviv September sun. We eventually departed from there and spent the afternoon at a youth village (which is a type of facility largely unique to Israel). We engaged with each other as the program began to take shape, participating in a conversations revolving around the history and foundation of the Yahel program. Later on, we are each dropped off in our respective cities.
Our first official day in Lod began with a tour given by a historical archeologist and involved an introduction to various sites rich in history. We were informed that Lod has a history dating back as far as 8,000 years ago. The interior of Saint George’s Church was shiny, multi-faceted glimmers of beauty with historical epochs that took place in the very space in which we stood.
We walked around the ancient land of ruins in the nearby vicinity; we stood upon historical ground that has yet to be excavated—thousands of years of holiness and great periods of power and development that rose and collapsed. The area is now ready for resurrection. This progress could bring justice to this land that is so spiritually raw. I am blessed to be giving my hand to this project.
Later in the day we spent a little time discussing our plans for Yom Kippur. We then ventured out into the city in search of falafel for a late dinner. It took a little time to find the right place. The delicious taste of fresh falafel and conversation in the warm soothing air of late night Israel made it worth the effort.
I woke the next day like any other, but it was the anniversary of my birth. It was also the day that would lead into the beginning of Yom Kippur. We all ate breakfast and then left for the store to buy necessities for the feast. The day smoothly eased into excitement for the coming of a sacred time, but what does Yom Kippur mean? It was a time for rest and reflection; a time to let go of regret; a time to look deeper into Self in the New Year. This is what it came to mean for me.
Dinner preparations began. A sense of comfort and excitement was bubbling within me, like I was a young child reliving old memories in new form. I showered and dressed. Dinner for my group in Lod happened like we were becoming a family.
After dinner, I washed the dishes and the call to prayer sounded throughout the city. It gave me goose bumps thinking of the sacred time shared by so many in such a small space. We walked to the synagogue where we went to our respective sides (men and women separate, for reasons that some – or perhaps many – may disagree with). I saw the beginnings of prayer forming.
We felt weird wearing non-white clothes in a place where so many were wearing white. A nice man noticed our uncertainty and guided us to books filled with a language I didn’t understand. Prayer began and felt oddly powerful in a social and unifying way. The purpose was to connect to God — something so innocent in that moment. It was strange because although I didn’t understand a word, I did recognize a few from early childhood memories of going to synagogue with my family.
I fell in and out of interest, really mostly just observing the prayer and creating some personal intentions of my own through the guiding point of Love. The service eventually came to an end and we walked back to our new home. We spent the rest of the night on the rooftop, chit-chatting, thinking and flowing into light and heavy conversation. Talk often drifted into fasting for the holiday and the inevitable hunger that is part of this great humanistic practice for self-reflection in moments of purity.
The next day I was faced with a choice: Either attend synagogue for service, or stay home and participate in a yoga and meditation session. This decision is representative of a big part of what this trip to Israel means to me: what does it mean to be a Jew while still practicing in non-traditional ways? What practices really resonate with me? And how can I be authentic to myself while still remaining true to the ultimate purpose of spirituality/religion?
I chose to stay back and participate in the yoga/meditation session; that is what made more sense to me in that moment. I believed it was the most effective way for me to connect with myself through self-reflection. The rest of the day was spent fasting, resting and time in self-reflection.
Once the sun began to sink, the sky turned pink. We walked the empty streets of Lod where children freely rode their bikes while parents idly stood by talking to each other. We made our way back home after a long walk around town where we met up with the rest of the gang. Soon after, we prepared our feast to break-fast in a simple and easy way that brought great delight after a full day of abstaining from food and water.
So what was it that went down? And what did it all mean? This was a brief moment in time where I take rest to reflect and remember that not all things in this world come easy. My life is filled with moments where I make decisions that determine my integrity and that of the world around me. There is something far greater than me that exists, even without the guidance of God as conceived thousands of years ago.
It takes Courage to venture out into something “new” and “unknown”… and have faith in knowing “Yes…This is right Where I need to be”…
I have always admireDustin.1.d the ones who choose to move to another country and deeply immerse into culture and life so very different from one’s own..
Despite how superbly frightening it may be at times, it is an act of vulnerability and courage to remain open to Self-Reflection, Introspection and profound growth gifted from the experience
You can stay connected with Dustin via his blog