Boston Mifgash – Days 5 & 6 – American Jews

One of the main goals of the Boston Mifgash is to reveal to the Haifa students a secret that is usually well-kept in Israel – the existence of a thriving, diverse, and fascinating American-Jewish community. These past two days, perhaps more than all the rest, were designed as a vertical and horizontal overview of the American-Jewish experience.

On a rainy Tuesday morning, we headed down to the Plimoth Patuxet Museum, where by walking through living and engaging exhibits in the form of a 17th century English village and a Wampanoag homesite populated by actors and interpreters, our students acquired their very initial knowledge of the “American Story” and its many colors.

At the workshop that followed the tour, students read parts of the Mayflower Compact, and were encouraged to phrase their own group contract – or Brit – which yielded both profound and hilarious creative results. As part of our discussion, an interesting line was drawn between the group of English settlers trying to form a new society, and the early Zionist settlers, trying to establish a new society in a new land. To add some authenticity to this exercise, we also got to experiment with signing our name with quill and ink. It was also interesting to realize that the Torah scroll we unrolled across the entire sanctuary just two night ago was entirely scribed that way.

Even thought the students expressed their desire to continue debating the Mayflower Compact for many more hours, unfortunately for them it was time to continue the American journey by paying a visit to the mall, and meet with their American counterparts for a brief strolling and shopping session, which they reluctantly participated in. We ended the day at the too-comfortable AMC theater, where we watched part 1 of The Journey to Sinai. We can only hope that part 2 will be released by the time we visit Israel, so that we can see how it ends.

If Tuesday was about American, Wednesday was about the Jewish, and what a better place to start this chapter than Starbucks – on our way to Brandeis University. Brandeis, a historically Jewish university, and according to Prof. Shirley Idelson is now such in spirit, is home to the Hornstein Program, who graciously hosted us this morning. Along with Prof. Idelson, we were lucky enough to speak with Prof. Fern Chertok and Marla Olsberg, who shared some historical and sociological context to help the Israeli students better understand what they currently are experiencing, while they visiting their American counterparts.

Among other topics, we discussed the Separation of Church and State, which is one of the most remarkable differences between the U.S. and Israel, and one that thoroughly shapes Jewish-American life; the concept of Jewish Peoplehood, and how we feel it during our visit; and had a very interesting conversation interfaith marriage, which has been a prominent and steady demographic trend for the past 30 years, and has some very interesting sociological, as well as theological roots.

For our last encounter at Brandeis – and one with potential future implications – we met with Laura Hyman, the director of Genesis, a fantastic pre-college program at Brandeis for Jewish high school students from all over the world, which our students are eligible – and invited – to apply for.

As a living example of the ways the American-Jewish community sustains itself, we proceeded to visit Mayyim Hayyim, a community mikveh and a cornerstone of Jewish life in the greater Boston area. We explored the different roles a mikveh can play in a person’s life, how immersion experiences can range between different kinds of mikvaot, and of course about the fascinating “mechanics” of a kosher mikveh – a truly unique and eye opening experience.

After all this learning, it was time to switch roles, and put our Israeli students for the job of teachers, even if just for one afternoon. As one of the highlights of the HiBuR experience, our students went into the Religious Schools of Temple Beth Am, Temple Israel of Natick, and the Jewish Learning Collaborative of MetroWest (JLCMW), where they led a variety of Israel and Hebrew-related fun and engaging activities for the younger kids. While it’s not entirely clear which side enjoyed the experience more, it was clear that spirits were high, and meaningful learning was achieved.

After a family dinner, the bi-national group took advantage of their first night off since arriving in the MetroWest area, for a fun and casual get together. Tomorrow our Israeli guests will get to experience an American High School first-hand, and of course are incredibly excited to host the very first Pop Up Israel – to which YOU are warmly invited!

Today we started learning a little bit about Jewish life in America, and by the end we were one who taught about Jewish life in Israel. The end of the day made me so proud and happy about Jewish people in general. – Liel

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