Israel Day 34: Ricky Schlessinger

I decided in preparation for my blog entry to read a bit of the Tanach that was generously donated to me by Jeff Seidel. One of the first things we learn at school is that in Bereshit it states that on the 7th day G-d had a day of rest. One of the first Passukim in the Torah states “and G-d blessed the seventh day and made it holy.” How is the Shabbat holy to us now? What does holy even mean? How have our Shabbat experiences on IST shaped us into the people we are today? 
After an exhausting week, filled with fun and strenuous activities such as hiking and water sports, the highly anticipated day of rest came upon us. I am not one to usually keep Shabbat but on IST I've tried my best to make the most of the opportunity given to us. From Shabbat in Kraków, where we sung songs and danced with a group of English students, followed by a Shabbat in Tzfat, where the words of ‘Acheinu’ echoed through the pitch black cave. Next came our own individual free weekend Shabbos, in which we got the privilege to spend time with our beloved families, followed by a meaningful and relaxing Shabbat in Ramat Rachel in Jerusalem. Then we shared a very down-to-earth Shabbat on Kibbutz Ein Tzurim, and finally the last Shabbat in Jerusalem. 
It was Friday afternoon in the jam-packed, bustling Machane Yehuda markets, there were many people doing last minute shopping for Shabbat and the close-up, vibrant atmosphere was insane. Merchants shouting out their products, people running around, a few buskers providing the Shuk with music and 137 IST children buying food and gifts. I enjoyed an authentic shwarma and bought a lot of gummy lollies. We were each tasked with a “Shabuddy”, a little project in which everyone had someone’s name and had to buy that person a gift. After approximately an hour of stumbling around the Shuk, we all miraculously managed to meet up at Aroma to return to the buses. A group of boys including myself decided to head to the Mikveh to spiritually cleanse ourselves after an intensive week. After which, we arrived back at the hotel to be encountered with girls running round swapping clothes and everyone preparing for Shabbat. Looking very formal we headed outside to the veranda to take photos in the pre-Shabbat sunset. 
The girls lit the candles and brought in Shabbat. We then davened a really meaningful Kabbalat Shabbat, as everyone knew in the back of their minds that it would be our last together. Everyone was standing, singing and dancing to the tunes of Hashiveinu and some other favourites. After prayers we headed to the Cheder Ochel to eat a delicious meal, buffet style. One thing about Shabbat is that the food is significantly better than any average day. Following dinner we had the privilege to watch two absolutely hilarious skits made by Nahar Pleshet, Eden Dorra and our beloved Madrichim. 
Ten minutes later we sat down for an inspiring Tish. The Jewish songs reverberated from wall to wall as we all sang together with brief interludes from several brave people who stood up and shared extremely personal stories which heightened the intensity of the atmosphere. No words can explain the unity in that room as we all cried the chorus of Adon Olam. Beautiful harmonies filled every corner of the room. Whilst sitting in the room I stopped singing for a few seconds and just listened to the beautiful sounds voiced from every single soul in the room and instantaneously goose bumps spread across my body. 
As we finished our Tish, we lightened the mood with some happier songs. As we started to dance, our voices raised in unison and we headed upstairs to the lobby and encountered a bunch of American birthright tourists. We continued singing and they joined us in our ruach (which translates to wind or furthermore energy). Panting and sweating we then learnt and had meaningful discussions with our Madrichim. 
Another great thing about Shabbos is that we get extra sleep time! We woke up fresh at 9:30am and headed down to a nice Shabbat morning service followed by a pleasant lunch. After eating amongst our friends we had an interesting Chabura session with various Madrichim in which we broadened our knowledge on philosophical topics. 
After this, we had free time in which we all relaxed in our own respective ways. With my free time I headed to the sports complex in which a huge Moriah vs. Masada soccer game took place. The game was nail-biting, coming down to a goal from Gidi Zimmerman in overtime to bring his side to victory. 
Following the highly captivating game we ate Seudat Shlishit, which led into a round of games in which we laughed and had some fun. 
As the sun started to set we began chanting the tune of Havdallah and sung the post-Shabbat blessings for one final time on IST. Arms around one another in a huge circle, the emotions were evidently running high. After a moving service we gathered on our buses to our surprise evening event. 
Straight off the bus we were greeted by bongo drums and music. We sat down in an outdoor hut with drums. The cool desert air brushed against our faces as we created rhythms on the drums. We danced into the night and then were driven around in jeeps on the bumpy terrain. After dinner we then sat down and heard a few closing speeches from both Madrichim and Chanichim. It highlighted the fact that our amazing experience is coming to a close and that we need to take on board as much as we can, so that we can stay on this spiritual high once we get back to Sydney. 
We then returned to the hotel and spent the night packing, chatting, and reflecting on the incredible journey of the past 6 weeks.
Personally, I find Shabbat quite easy to keep in Israel, especially because I am surrounded by my friends and there's no need to be distracted by my phone. Shabbat has been a time to get to know one another, to have deep and meaningful conversations and to relax and reflect on the past week and for the week to come. As a good friend of mine, Grant Saacks, perfectly states, "Shabbat is just the best atmosphere. The whole week we look forward to Friday night." It has been nothing short of a privilege to fully immerse ourselves in the Shabbat atmosphere here in Israel, only through experience can one truly learn how special Shabbat is and the holiness that ensues as a result. 


Israel Day 35: Becky Dunkel

Israel Day 33: Cara Krek