Friday, March 2, 2012

Update from R' Asher on Survival Week

.As you probably know, last Shabbat, Parashat Titzave, was held in the holy city of Chevron

Needless to say, spending Shabbat where so many of our ancestors lived, and are buried, was truly an uplifting experience, as many students shared, for all of us.

We had the privilege to daven Mincha of Erev Shabbat, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Arvit in Mi'arat HaMachpela (the cave of the patriarchs) with many other people. There was lots of singing and dancing, and also a few quite moments as students took personal time for themselves, to reflect on where they were standing and who exactly is buried beneath them.

We had our three Shabbat meals with a captivating and a one of a kind elderly couple who live on the hilltops of Chevron, and have a unique and enthralling opinion and perspective about Am Yisrael, and the state of Israel.

The students were all captivated and taken aback by our hosts and would love to spend time with them again.
During Shabbat, we toured the many sites of Chevron understanding how so much of our Jewish roots began there.

We visited the old, yet renewed Avraham-Avinu community, the homes of the renewed Jewish neighborhood spread throughout the city, and also with a group of soldiers toured many of the ancient parts of Cheveron where Jews, prior to 1929, once lived and flourished.

One of the special moments was when we had a personal meeting with one of the top officers of the Golani brigade who's in charge of Chveron security, and actually "happened" to be a previous student of R' Erez in high school, for Tanach classes.

He not only spoke about army life and what his responsibilities are in Chevron, but also about the importance and the privilege he has to be able to guard, and take care of the resting place of Avraham and Sara, and our other ancestors. It was very powerful for the students to hear about the keduash of the Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, not from a famous rabbi, but from a top army officer, who wasn't only talking the talk, but also walking the walk.

We also heard fascinating stories about daily life and the importance of living there, from the great granddaughter of Rav Kook and other residents, we dipped in an ancient Mikva, saw the archeological remains, believe it or not, of the actual gate through which Avraham Avinu and King David passed (!!!), and enjoyed many other exciting sites.

It was truly incredible!!!

On Motzei Shabbat we joined a Yeshiva University sponsored barbecue Meleva Malka for all American one year students in Israel which was held in Jerusalem. We had a bite to eat, danced, heard some Divrei Torah, and after enjoying the evening set off to the north to begin survival week.

I'm sure you have probably heard by now of the survival week, so I'll just give you a general picture of it.

In the weeks leading up to it, the students did a great job in preparing for Survival. They studied maps of the terrain of the southern and northern Golan so they‘d be able to navigate the trails with ease, brushed up on a few first aid courses, learned about basic herbs that's edible, and prepared their bags with bare essentials-clothes, sleeping bag, tents, water, and Teffilin, and most importantly looked forward to it with great anticipation.

We left early in the morning, and after Shacharit Vatikin all students were divided in to three teams and given their daily food portion which basically consisted of some dried fruit, nuts, and flour,. After the initial shock regarding their food rations set in and after making sure no students brought any extra nosh with them, we set out on our way, hiking through streams, mud, mountains, freezing water, and valleys.

Throughout the four days of survival students got to really know themselves, their weaknesses, their strengths, and those of their friends. We saw many situations in which students ignored their own discomfort in order to help someone else who had it harder, cases in which students kept their word even when they thought they were alone and no staff was around.

We walked about 60 kilometers through cold harsh weather, sometimes even through stormy winds, sleet, hail, and snow, while all the time each student carried his pack made up of their clothes, sleeping bags, cooking dishes, tent, towel, toiletries, etc…

Among the challenging things they had to do, the students had to jump in to freezing water to try to catch fish for them to gut and clean and cook for their dinner, had to sleep in a tent full of water while sharing one sleeping bag per three guys, and carry a stretcher with an "injured" guy through a fierce storm of wind and sleet while trudging through water and about a foot of mud.

I can personally tell you that it was no stroll in the park.

The student pushed themselves even when it was very rough, and as they would later share during our meeting, pushed themselves beyond what they thought were their limits and realized that (almost) nothing is impossible if you really set your heart and mind to it.

Needless to say, after a few days of just surviving on some dried fruit, canned corn, and each other’s company, they gained a new appreciation for food and friend.

I'm attaching a link to more pictures from Survival.

That's about it for now, the students have an out Shabbat and will g-d willing return with new strength for a week of studying about, and celebrating Purim altogether.

Shabbat Shalom!

R' Asher

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