Desert Camping & Shabbat on the Kibbutz

Getting sidelined is never fun, but I still managed to enjoy the group’s camping trip to Sasgon Valley, located not too far down the street from the kibbutz.

Our campsite: just a few mats to sleep on and a fire

The agenda: hiking, setting up camp, making pita bread and then s’mores over the campfire, then chilling, talking about constellations under the desert sky, chatting into the night with group members, enjoying a surround-sound symphony of snoring, sleeping under the naked sky, and waking up at the crack of dawn for coffee and a desert poetry discussion.

Got to participate in everything except the hike and the work of setting up the camp. I guess you win some, you lose some. While I had a mild case of missing out syndrome while the group was off hitting the mountain and I was back at ‘base camp’ I realized sometimes it’s okay to take it easy to prevent further injury. Besides, I needed the ankle to be fresh for two days of walking around Jerusalem and any future hikes and outdoor activity. And once in awhile it’s cool to let everyone else do all the work…

I was pretty jealous about not being able to run down the giant sand slope

Talking poetry during the trip was a surprising highlight for me. I must have short-term memory or something, because I did forget how much I used to enjoy English classes in high school and taking a work, reading it, analyzing it, and discussing it in a group. For this girl, poetry, along with literature is among the finer things in life.

I’m taking this camping trip as a reminder to slow down when I need to, enjoy my surroundings, and keep my mind fresh and happy with poetry and literature. Plus I learned how to make pita bread, which was delicious with homemade tahini sauce.

Watching the hike from down below

Upon arriving back on the ranch (or the kibbutz) from the camping trip, I got to experience my first Shabbat in Israel. Coming from a pretty secular yet Christian-dominated society and then spending a year in an Islamic one, I was curious to see how this would compare.

The program arranged for us to meet with a member of the kibbutz to discuss Shabbat traditions and practices on the kibbutz. This was followed by a visit to a kibbutz member’s house to have tea and shoot the breeze/ask about Ketura life, then Shabbat services at the synagogue, and finally Shabbat dinner. Shabbat dinner was probably the best meal I’ve had on the kibbutz and there was wine and really delicious challah bread.

Other than a multi-cultural Passover Seder at Dickinson a couple of years back and a friend’s family’s Hanukah party, my contact with Jewish tradition has been pretty minimal. I never went to a bar or bah mitzvah, though I did have morning bagels at Dickinson’s Hillel house a couple of times. Frankly speaking, there weren’t very many Jews in my life until Dickinson. Yes, I had some contact with the American Jewish community through entertainment; I watched the Cohen family in The O.C. and read Chaim Potok’s The Chosen and others like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and Everything is Illuminated.
But, predictably, it’s something else to experience a religion and a culture rather than just reading or watching a program.

How did I feel during Shabbat services in Ketura’s synagogue, as one of the only gentiles? A bit weird and out of place. Everyone seemed to have seen non-Jews in services before, so there was no discomfort from other people and I didn’t get any weird looks when I just couldn’t seem to keep up with the songs and prayers in the all-Hebrew prayer book in front of me.

However, internally, I felt really out of place. For the most part (or all parts), I had no idea what was going down during the service and I don’t speak a drop of Hebrew so the fact that the whole thing was in Hebrew also made it a bit confusing. Like a kid in a rehearsal who hasn’t learned the dance routine, I just watched what others were doing and imitated. When everyone stood up, I got up from my chair. When everyone started to sit down, I sat. And repeated.

Something I did appreciate was watching how in sync and into the service everyone in the synagogue was. Observing spirituality like that was something special and worthwhile for me, and I think it was felt most during the songs.


3 responses to “Desert Camping & Shabbat on the Kibbutz

  1. Temple Emmanuel was like my second home when I was growing up in Philly. I’ve always felt at peace in the synagogue. How ironic that I grew up with so many Jewish Americans and you knew hardly any!
    Neat pictures! Great to talk to you!

  2. Merali Chalfin Drucker

    I enjoyed reading about your experiences in Israel so far. Your life experiences were so different than your mother’s, in that she grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Philadelphia having many friends who were Jewish. The two of us spent lots of time together experiencing each others ethnic and religious differences. She still wears the star of David on her necklace that Mollie Bromberg gave her while she worked in her Jewish style restaurant, earning money as a waitress during summers between college semesters. Even your mom’s first boyfriend in high school was Jewish. Anyway, enjoy this time in your life as much as possible. It is all very enlightening and enriching.
    Love always,

  3. I’m glad your experience at my family’s Hannukkah party helped you out a little in Israel!

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