Reflections on a Tiyul to the South of Israel

Friday, December 4, 2015

Year-In-Israel students at the Peace Wall.

Kolby Morris, Year-In-Israel rabbinical student, writes:

First-year rabbinical, cantorial, and education students in the Year-In-Israel Program recently returned from their tiyul (journey) to the South, where they encountered the spirituality of the desert and the history of the land of Israel. 

"The desert is so huge, and the horizons so distant, that they make a person feel small, and as if he should remain silent."

This is a quote from one of my favorite books, The Alchemist, written by Paulo Coelho. In this book, Paulo captures the essence of the desert: a wide and magical place that allows you the space to think and feel deeply while also challenging us in a real way.

We were fortunate enough to experience a taste of this magic when we traveled to the Arava for our Year-In-Israel south tiyul over Thanksgiving weekend. The tiyul was action packed: we began with an experiential mini-tour of the western Negev region with Israel Experts and explored the complicated relationship with Gaza. We had a beautiful Mincha service at the overlook at the Midrasha Sde. Boker. We enjoyed a great BBQ and bonfire just outside of Kibbutz Yahel. We spent the following day either hiking Har Shlomo in the Eilat Mountains or hiking in Timna Park, and feasted on a Thanksgiving meal prepared by some amazing students. We visited Kibbutz Lotan, went snorkeling on the Coral Reef Nature Reserve in Eilat, had a beautiful Kaballat Shabbat tefillah, Aruchat Shishi, and Tisch at Kibbutz Yahel, Shaharit services on Shabbat in the wide open desert air, and a session with Rabbi Benji, the Israeli reform rabbi of the Arava. The entire weekend (sadly) came to an end as we said goodbye to Shabbat under the quiet Arava sky.

Shabbat Shacharit in the desert.

Here are four (of the many) gifts that the south tiyul gave to me: 

1. Time for development of our community and relationships: Having the time to get to know one another, outside of the classroom, was absolutely critical for us as a group. There were several faculty members who also joined us throughout the weekend, and it was so nice to talk, laugh, play, and enjoy one another's company. While spending Thanksgiving away from the place many of us call home may be quite difficult, the bonds within our blessed community certainly softened the blow. 

2. Space for personal and collective spirituality: The tefillot throughout the weekend (all led by students) was completely and totally moving. Something about the desert air awakened the creativity in all of us, allowing us to pray and sing with all of our souls and spirits. We also were able to find the joy in prayer, a prayer entangled with laughter and smiles, which is sometimes difficult to tap into in the dense Jerusalem air. 

3. Experiencing the Israel that is outside of Jerusalem: Sometimes we all need a reminder that there is more to Israel than just Yerushalim. What an exciting reminder it was to see a totally different region, deep in the periphery, with its different scenery, people, ideology, stories, challenges, and more. With every new place we visit here in Israel, our relationship with the land deepens. 

Year-In-Israel students hiked either in Park Timna or Har Shlomo, pictured here.

4. An opportunity to share our treasures: My partner, Noam Dahary, a native Israeli, was able to join us on the tiyul. Several times he told me and others during the trip that he was absolutely inspired by our group and the experience of the weekend. In the recent months and amidst the recent wave of terror in our country, it has been difficult to find hope here in Israel. Noam said that he found hope in us, the future Reform Jewish leaders. While we certainly received many gifts from the weekend, it is important to remember that we too give gifts, wherever we go. We give the gift of our passion for Judaism, the values of our Movement, and our unconditional love for all human beings. 

Thank you, HUC-JIR, for allowing me to be proud to say to my friends and family back at home that, "yes, indeed, this is rabbinical school." 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.