Sunday, February 27, 2011

Settling Down in the Desert

When I left America, I kept saying that I didn't want to have the life-changing experience that everyone said I should expect. I wanted to have a life-affirming experience, and to return unchanged to an unchanged home. Even so, my expectations were exceedingly high - I spent five weeks travelling before arriving in Israel, much of which I spent meditating on how much I couldn't wait to get here. Life in the Jewish State has been full of pleasant surprises, deep conversations, and a promising future: a not-too-life-changing life-changing experience.

I spent my first Shabbat in the old city, followed by a visit with my cousin Sol who I had never had the chance to get to know before. On my long walks through the city, I remembered how much I had fallen in love with it last year. Sitting by the Kotel on my last night, I thought of the words of A.J. Heschel:
Streams of endless craving, clinging, dreaming, flowing day and night, midnights, years, decades, centuries, millenia, streams of tears, pledging, waiting from all over the world, from all corners of the Earth carried us of this generation to the wall.

I was sad to leave Jerusalem last Tuesday afternoon, but instantly felt at home when I arrived at Kibbutz Ketura and the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Meeting classmates from Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and North America, I became electrified to begin the semester. A heritage of yearning brought me to the wall; my generation's striving for a better world has brought us - Jews, Muslims, Christians, and others - together from around the region and the world. I am at home here. On our last night of orientation, we threw a birthday party for one of our classmates, learned Jordanian dances, and played circus games for hours - celebrating our group, excited for the beginning of classes focused solely on coming together around environmental action.

My friend Ibrahim relaxes outside our dormitory, next to the bike that another classmate, Bilal, is fixing up. The mountains behind our dorms are amazing hiking grounds, with cliff walks and incredible views. Looking out the other side of our quad, I can see across the valley to the mountains of Jordan.

Last week, we visited Neot Semadar, a neighboring Kibbutz. This is their arts and crafts building, complete with a passive cooling tower: magical eco-castle in the desert? I tried to find Mickey Mouse inside, but he must have been hiding with the Oompa Loompas.

Our class hiked up to nearby sand dune after leaving Neot Semadar; the softest sands in the wa orld, perfect for tumbling and playing! I didn't take my camera out when we got there, because the sand in the air could have gummed it up.

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