December 5, 2013
On Tuesday, we woke up in the beautiful city of Jerusalem, prepared for what would be one of the most enjoyable days of IST so far. According to schedule, our day would begin with an indoor component of Ulpan that would end in an outdoor ‘Tiyul’ of the German colony of Jerusalem, after which we would follow the footsteps of the Maccabees and have the opportunity to meet up with family and friends in Jerusalem’s Ben Yehudah St.
We travelled to a special venue in the morning, in which we took our Ulpan Or program for the second day. Personally, I believe the Ulpan program is great, as it teaches the many kids who have struggled or slacked off in Ivrit classes for the past years to engage with the national Israeli language in a fun, intuitive way that involves songs, drama and multimedia catered to each student’s requirements. I noticed many of my friends speaking Hebrew as they left the classroom, using their new-found confidence in their language to embarrass themselves in conversations with strangers.
We took the experience further through experiential learning in the German Colony. We studied texts explaining the history of the colony and why it existed. Initially the colony started at the time of the Ottoman empire, and consisted of a group of faithful Germans Christians known as ‘Templers’ who believed that rebuilding the land of Israel would ultimately result in redemption. German colonies can also be found near Haifa, Jaffa and Tel Aviv. As we each travelled with our Ulpan teachers through the colony, we were shown significant landmarks as well and given various challenges throughout the days. My Ulpan teacher challenged us to find out answers to the following questions during our free time in the shopping/tourism district:
מה השיר הכי ישראלי?
What is the most Israeli song?
מה לדעתך האוכל הכי ישראלי?
What in your opinion, is the most Israeli food?
מה המיץ הכי תעים בRe-Bar?
What is the best juice at Re-Bar?
We got some strange answers from the strangers we asked: one man’s favourite food in Israel was fish and vegetables! [Perhaps our expectations were too high after having eaten such a variety of Israeli foods such as shakshuka, hummus and shwarma since we arrived] After touring that area, we looked at structures the Germans built. One of the houses which stood out to me had the words “קוּמִי אוֹרִי כִּי בָא אוֹרֵךְ, וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה עָלַיִךְ זָרָח”, written on the doorframe; an excerpt from the prayer of Lecha Dodi which borrowed quotes from the Christian and Jewish Bible.
After Ulpan we obediently boarded the bus, with little idea as to where we were heading (as usual). We drove through Gush Etzion, an area south of Jerusalem renowned for it’s Yeshiva, and annually acknowledged by Moriah at the Counterpoint Seminar through its naming of the central room as the ‘Gush Room’. We were also advised of the interesting route which we were travelling which took us into the West Bank for the first time and saw the diminutive ‘wall’ consisting of a mere barbed wire fence separating the road from villages beyond. There was a rapid change in weather that day; from sunny to rainy in less than 5 minutes. Rabbi Benji confused us by announcing that we are visiting a weather man on the hills of Jerusalem to teach us about the various climates of the country. It seemed a pleasant surprise, and we enjoyed the remainder of the ride barely questioning the sudden ‘change in plans’ or ‘mysterious insertion into our busy program’.
We stepped off the bus 10 minutes later, into a primitive looking place consisting of bleak tin houses, where we saw the weather man’s alleged IDF guards waiting for us. Rabbi Benji could no longer contain the smile he was concealing as he shouted “We are going paintballing!” The boys all cried with joy and the girls manifested their disapproval for not being told to wear the appropriate clothes, however deep inside everyone was extremely happy. We were introduced to a friend of Rabbi Benji’s, named Steve Gar, whom the Masada kids recognized as their previous Shaliach from the North, that had returned to Israel to serve in a counter-terrorist army unit.
We were split into two groups for the program which was at a place specialized for the training of counter-terrorists unit at a base called Caliber 3: one group for basic military training, and another for paintballing. My group began with the basic military training which was led by Steve. We were ordered to divide into several rows, in which we were to be given some general information regarding the army. We were told about the importance for soldiers to be quick, as each second in an attack could mean one life is lost. Our instructor mentioned that he knows it takes him 3 seconds to put shoes on, and that sometimes he has to deduce whether or not it is essential to do so. Steve also showed us Israeli military widgets they utilize to maximize combat efficiency, and stressed the prowess Israeli soldiers require to be accepted into such a vital unit. We learnt and tried out various military techniques such as firing positions and the logical way to slow down after a sprint. Throughout the entire program, our instructor emphasized to us how critical the Israeli Army’s role is, and how they do the most they can risking their lives to save fellow Jews from various attacks. I personally learnt that there are so many factors such a soldier needs to take into account and that one mistake could play with lives.
The next station we went to was where it got a bit more exciting. We entered the paintball course, seeing the other group emerge from their game with bruises, blood and a lot of washable paint all over them. We were briefed about the safety requirements, and for most of us, we were given the privilege to play paintball for the first time. There were two teams: the army and the terrorists which battled against each other with M16-style paintball guns. The game was very tactical, and my team took the game seriously, winning us another game following the first.
At the end, Steve gave us a summary of the program we undertook and explained the underlying importance of the army for a thriving state of Israel. He explained that Israel would not be a safe place for Jews to live without the army, and that he views his involvement in the army as worthwhile for protecting his wife and 4 children rather than to risk losing them.
After the great paintball experience, we boarded the bus once more to drive to Ben Yehudah Street - a street filled with shops where we were given 3 hours of free time to shop, buy dinner and explore the area. As we walked down the streets, the aromas from the bakeries wafted through the air, and light flickered across the street from all the souvenir stores. The street was filled with goods from bright kippas - small and large, to T-shirts, keyrings and jumpers. Many students used the extended period of time to catch up with family over a meal, or to grab a coffee with friends. It was a great shopping and social experience.
Many admitted that this had been one of the best days so far. At the end, almost everyone admitted that the paintballing was a great surprise, and that it would not have been so exciting if we’d expected it. As we drove back to the hotel, most of the students struggled to keep their eyes open as they looked forward to a much-needed sleep in their beds.