Day 17 - Gush Etzion, Paintball and Ben Yehudi (Lehava)
I was eagerly anticipating another fun day of ist. We awoke early, got ready and started to mentally prepare for all of the day's activities. The past 3 days had been extremely enjoyable, and I couldn't wait to see what this next adventure in Israel had to offer.
Instead of our normal bus groups, we split up boys and girls as the boys were going to a Yeshiva and the girls were going to a seminary. We were welcomed by Rabbi Miller of the Nishmat seminary. We walked in and saw women learning in chevrutot (paired learning) in a pretty room with lots of wooden tables filled with books and got a brief insight into what learning would look like. We then went to the Cheder Ochel (Dining hall) for group learning. Rabbi Miller spoke about the history of the seminary and what it does for the women that study here. After, a women named Gila who had been working at the seminary for over 20 years, gave us 2 short lessons about Chanukah. All girls split up into threes to discuss the questions that were given on the sheet. After our private discussions we put our ideas together as a group. I learnt a lot from Gila about Judaism and our laws and customs, and really appreciated this unique and insightful experience.
Afterwards we went to the Gush Etzion for lunch. As we arrived, we realised the park where we planned to enjoy our lunch was far more than a park. In 2014, three boys, Ayal, Naftali and Gilad were kidnapped by terrorists and were missing for over two weeks. During these weeks, it felt as if the whole world was Jewish, and the whole world had the ultimate objective to 'bring back our boys', and for probably the first time, I felt a part of a unified people. The park in which we ate was a memorial for these three boys, and one to show terrorism that their goal will never be achieved. If they kill our children, we will create a place for our children to play.
Before we ate, we were spoken to by Alex Yudin's (a Lehava madrich's) father. He is in charge of a yeshiva, and one of his students, Ezra Schwartz, was killed in a terrorist attack on his way to volunteer at the park we ate lunch at. His words touched us all in a way we never expected and he inspired us to be proud to be Jewish and to treat people the way we would like to be treated. It also made me realise that any day could be your last, so we all need to make the most of everyday that we are living.
During our lunch, we had the opportunity to plant trees to help beautify the park. It was amazing as we got to work with many students from Alex's fathers yeshiva, planting trees, and it felt as if Jews from all over the world were working together as one people.
We then had a short bus drive to a counter terrorist army base called 'Calibre Three' to play paintball. We heard from an army officer about defence against terrorism and how to spot a terrorist. Afterwards, we split up into family groups and played short intense games of paintball. It was the most fun I have had in a long time. We played one round of capture the flag and then one round of shoot out. A lot of people got shot and few got injured, but in the end we all had fun shooting at each other.
We then went to a unique bakery, run by a man called David. He bakes bread in a different way to how we normally eat. He cooks it in an ancient style, by taking one piece of old dough and then mixing it with flour and salt and water. This way is much more healthy and has a lot more flavour than store bought bread. We even had the opportunity to bake own own pretzels, which were delicious.
After, we had the opportunity to go to Ben Gurion street and have 2 hours free time to buy dinner and shop. It was amazing as we got the opportunity to see the other 80 after a long week without them, as well as unwind and enjoy the Israeli food and culture.
Time is going by very fast in Israel and I would really like to make the most of every opportunity I get. IST is an opportunity of a life time that most people will never get to do, so I am taking in everything that comes round the corner and the beautiful country of Israel.