November 2007

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Welcome Teens!

Welcome to the teen column, the newest column in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. This column's purpose is to address concerns and interests of teens and to be the Teen's Voice in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

The column will discuss topics ranging from colleges and youth groups to dating and babysitting from sports and art to summer programs, from jobs to community service groups and volunteer opportunities, to anything else that readers are interested in.

Remember, this column would be nothing without you, our readers, so please send any ideas you have for this column and please encourage your friends to read it. Join "Philadelphia Jewish Voice Teen Column" group on Facebook and invite all of your friends to join as well. If you are interested in writing for this column, if you know anyone who would be interested in writing or if you have ideas, please contact me by e-mail.

-- Gabrielle Loeb, Teen Editor

Teen Voice

Machaneh Bonim B'Israel
Habonim Dror marks its 16th year sending 10th graders to Israel.

-- Shira Landau

A group of teenagers sprawled across an expanse of grass. Among them sat two well-spoken adults, passionately discussing Habonim Dror, the Labor Zionist Youth Movement, and aliyah, the commitment to live in Israel. The teenagers’ eyes enlarged to the size of lifesavers; they searched for a safe place where their thoughts could settle down. I found myself confounded -- unsure of what to think -- as my previous concept of Habonim Dror vanished.

The teenagers engaged in a fierce discussion with the two adults, who are currently living Habonim Dror’s central ideology: a socialist lifestyle promoting social action in the Jewish homeland. Although the pair bewildered us with their zeal, they succeeded in leading us to question our aspirations and life goals. The discussion remains one of the most unforgettable experiences and thought-provoking moments that I had during summer 2007, on Habonim Dror North America’s Machaneh Bonim Israel (MBI) program.

For the past 16 years, Habonim Dror North America, the Labor Zionist Youth Movement, has organized the MBI program for its post-campers, although it remains open to all rising high school juniors. Participants from Habonim Dror’s seven camps across the United States and Canada are invited to come together for this five-week program to form "the eighth machaneh (camp)." The mobile machaneh does extensive traveling across the country and engages in regular peulot (discussion-based activities), primarily focused on various aspects of Israel. The program emphasizes the development of personal connections to Israel through the exploration of Israel’s land, of its history, and of the history of Habonim Dror.

MBI 2007 participants floating in the Dead Sea.

Last summer, I traveled with MBI through the Northern Kinneret area, visited major cities such as Jerusalem, Haifa, Tel Aviv-Yaffo, and Eilat. Then we journeyed into the Negev, in Southern Israel. MBI 2007 began in the north with hiking and outdoor activities, which allowed participants to examine Israel’s unusual topography. In the lower Galilee area, the group hiked along Mount Arbel. The view from the peak of the mountain revealed two villages dotted with broccoli-shaped trees, one on each side of a road. One of the four tour guides -- the one who traveled with my bus -- perched atop a rock to explain how to distinguish which of the two villages belonged to Arabs and which to Jews. Every so often, our tour guide had us shift to the shady side of the trail so that he could discuss the history of the area around us. The coordinators of the program understood that teenagers would have difficulty paying attention to lectures in the heat of summer, thus pressuring the organizers to employ tour guides who could laugh with us while successfully communicating the essence of the historical information.

Toward the second week of MBI, groups of participants spent five days on machatz , which required living either with individual families or in a moadon (recreation room) on a Kibbutz. Participants stayed on kibbutzim Afik, Afikim, Merom Golan, Gvat, Kfar Horesh, Ein Dor, Sha’ar Hagolan, and Maoz Chaim. MBI participants and teenagers from the kibbutzim took overnight hiking trips, kayaked, or visited museums. The integration of kibbutzniks and MBI participants is an integral part of MBI’s kibbutz experience; by exchanging dialogue about day-to-day life, the MBI teens develop a clearer image of how socialistic principals and a capitalistic market can merge.

On the kibbutz, I was able to compare and contrast the aspirations of kibbutz kids to my own. Through discussions with others and on my own, I examined my values and those of the Israeli teenagers. The long nights provided ample time to determine why each set of values exists, and how our values operate in our individual societies. I was able to uncover why I posses different goals from those of the kibbutz teenagers; our aspirations diverge as a result of differences in societal standards and cultural values. My aspirations reflect what I am passionate about, which in turn mirrors my values. The same holds true for the Israeli teenagers. However, our different lifestyles and societies have led us to value different things and thus find different passions in life.

MBI 2007 participants by the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Israel.

One afternoon, our program director gave us a tour of Mount Herzl. He specifically chose to guide us, as opposed to permitting us to roam freely, in the hopes that we would extract meaning from the experience. As I walked, I thought about the commitment that it takes to sacrifice your own life on behalf of others. I saw the vastness of the cemetery, the number of dedicated Zionists: people and their actions are often forgotten, but not on Mount Herzl.

In Tel Aviv, despite safety concerns, we were permitted to wander through the Carmel shuk (market) as long as we clustered together in small groups. The shuk reminded me of the Italian market on 9th Street, fed with Miracle Grow: it was at least twice the size of the Italian market, but equally intriguing to the eye. Colorful fabrics and clothing hung over tables of shiny trinkets. I had an interesting experience there while trying to use my limited Hebrew to haggle with a saleswoman. My American accent showed through in my speech, so she used her limited English, and between the two languages, we managed a discussion about prices. I spent ten minutes trying to convince her to lower her asking price on a handbag, but she would only decrease the price by a few shekels. The deal did not seem worthwhile. As a friend and I walked back through the shuk after we had finished shopping for the day, the same woman flagged us down, trying to discuss prices again.

A daring hike through Ein Avdat on broiling hot day.

In addition to the shuk, my group visited Independence Hall, Yaffo and Rabin Square. In Yaffo, the madrichim divided us into groups of ten or fourteen people, with one madrich/madricha (counselor) per group. We held a ceremony at Rabin Square to honor Yitzhak Rabin and his accomplishments for the state of Israel. A group of kids directed the program, leading songs and reading portions from writings of Rabin. Before the ceremony began, however, one of our Israeli madrichim sat our group down next to a small group of headstones and the wall of graffiti in honor of Rabin to discuss the significance of Rabin’s work.

During our last couple of days, spent in Eilat, we snorkled and bought last minute gifts. Kids who were leaving Israel on the earliest flights said their goodbyes even before we left for the airport. No one wanted to break away to leave. A last embrace. The last time I’ll see you until winter break. The last time I’ll see you until next summer. The last time I’ll ever see you. I will miss you. Will you write me a postcard?

Excavating and uncovering remnants from an ancient wine press.

By the time I arrived at the parking lot of Knesset Israel synagogue in Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, where the bus from JFK dropped us off, I did not want to go home. I don’t think that any of us did. Home represented the ordinary life, where chores were not entertaining and I would be forced to do them without the constant companionship of close friends. I would miss the dialogue about obscure, sometimes ridiculous topics that made me laugh.

Visiting Israel with MBI gave me a unique perspective of the country. The informative lectures left me with new impressions and dispelled fallacies. I imagine that other Israel programs for teenagers tend to have a mechanical, pre-planned, cookie-cutter edge to them; yet I felt as though the MBI program was responsive to our needs and interests, and that the program was designed to accommodate a variety of personality types. Everything we did, everyone who spoke to us, and every one of our peulot, reflected Habonim Dror’s principles. The ability to travel with peers who share values, and who are interested in similar prospects, enabled me to view Israel through this particular lens. Recollections of good times with new friends in a beloved country will sustain me throughout the agonizingly long school year.

Curious potential MBI participants can find further information at on the Habonim Dror website.

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