With exams finally over, its time to start looking ahead again...to 22 Shvat, when a representative from NHCS will be flying to New York to participate with women and girls of Lubavitch from all over the world! Attendance has never been looking so bright as only those with perfect attendance who also master the first two perakim of the maamar Basi L'Gani will be placed in the goral.
On December 20 Rabbi Crysp delivered a fascinating 3-hour lecture on a variety of topics, using Torah, Chassidus and Kabbala to expound on such diverse topics as the study of arts and sciences, the spiritual meaning of blood in connection to the Parsha of the week and the study of film. The students spent these hours engrossed in incredible concepts and ideas, all according to Torah - it was undoubtedly a privilege to experience.
SHABBAT B'CHEVRON!!! YES, IT IS
On Sukkos, it is a publicized mitzvah to spend the holy days at holy sites. Hence, it is well-known throughout Israel that On Sukkos we are all in Chevron! Some of us made the trek, waiting to get onto buses at Binyanei HaUmah, spending our first moments on a bulletproof bus in shivering anticipation, buying the requisite Chevron Tshirts, and dancing behind to the music behind a Mechitzah with Carlebach girls and a shofar. Despite all the fun and fanfare from the day, no pilgrim on the first two days of Sukkos can say that any of the action compares with the primary thrill of davening in Mearas HaMachpelah.
Having now spent a Shabbos there, I can say that none of this experience on Sukkos, of being with thousands of Jews from all over the world in Chevron, can compare with the true Chevron experience that one Shabbos in the Holy City can bring.
It is said that there are four holy cities in Eretz Yisrael: Jerusalem, Tzfat, Teverya and Chevron. Having spent time in all four and being enchanted by each city for differing qualities, I can pinpoint where Chevron has obtained her spark. Chevron is a city that you are only there because you want to be there, because its holy. Unlike Jerusalem with its theatres and clubs, Tzfat with its mystical feel and artsy cobblestoned streets, Teverya with its beautiful views and waterfront cafes, Chevron has only one central attraction: The graves of our forefathers, considered to be the Gateway to Paradise.
Our trip began on a bulletproof bus emblazoned with the words Come Visit Hebron, with the depiction of Mearas HaMachpelah against a clear blue sky. Rabbi Hartman of Nachlas Har Chabad shared stories about the Chabad settlement in Chevron and the great Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel Slonim, daughter of the Mitteler Rebbe who dwelled there as a life force of the community. We were shown a short film about Chevron and the Mearas HaMachpela, before our bus stopped at the Kever of Rebbetzen Menucha Rochel, a gravesite desecrated by the Arabs many times so that it now has a fresh tombstone for the umpeenth time. Alongside a plot of land which looks like any other, we were informed that this is actually the location of an ancient cemetery which was plowed over by the Arabs. A kollel run by the Chabad shluchim in Chevron, Rabbi and Mrs Dani Cohen, overlooks this site.
Our second stop was the ancient city of Biblical Chevron, now known as Tel Rumeida, or Admot Yishai. A handful of families, blessed with many children, live there in trailer houses, sacrificing their lives daily for the zchus of living on holy land. Baruch Marzel, a resident of the area showed us the ancient city walls of Chevron, where David HaMelech was crowned king and where his father and ancestor, Yishai and Ruth, are now buried. We visited their kevarim, alongside an army compound, and marveled as we were told that the Arabs in this area are more afraid of the Jews than vice versa...The Arab homes were covered in bulletproof measures whilst the Jewish homes lay bare, showing the pure faith these people have in Hashem for fulfilling this important mitzvah.
This was not the first display of Mesiras Nefesh and true Ahavas Eretz Yisrael we were to see this Shabbat. Throughout the weekend we met amazing people who spoke from their heart about why they live in this place and the sacrifices they have been through to remain here. We learned that being arrested by the government is a way of life for the community of Chevron, and they will not rest until Chevron becomes more and more of a Jewish city, befitting its holy status.
Following candlelighting, we walked to Mearas Hamachpela, watching the sun set over the hills of Chevron. The minyanim were packed with Jews from Kiryat Arba and Chevron itself, who had braved the dangerous walk for the zchus of davening in this holy spot. After a beautiful Kabbalas Shabbos, Rabbi Yurkowicz spoke to us about the importance of this place, for it is known that the Tefillos go directly through Mearas HaMachpela to the heavens. Adam was expelled from Gan Eden and then moved to Chevron-for he was aware of the secret, that the Mearah is the portal to Heaven.
After our Friday night dinner, we were privileged to hear from Rabbanit Miriam Levinger, a legendary woman, the story of her pioneering efforts in Chevron. Her cheerful laughter was hard to comprehend when she spoke of such grave issues such as the shootings outside their homes, but she explained that in such circumstances, You just have to laugh, girls. Our speakers were all incredible people, radicals with an ideology that they would never shirk from. We continued on a walk to Kiryat Arba, accompanied by armed escorts, and explored the yishuv slightly before wandering back to the Holy City.
Up bright and early for Shacharit in Mearas HaMachpela, davening has never had such meaning. In the Parsha we read how Yaakov instructs his sons to bury him in the Cave of Machpelah in Chevron-the place under our feet! Sim Shalom..Give peace to your nation, we begged Hashem. Afteward, we were treated to hear the story of the cave from Noam Arnon himself, one of the few people who had actually been down the opening and into the double cave. He described the history of the cave and what he had seen down there, close to the second holiest spot on earth.
Our Shabbat meal was filled with inspiring stories and divrei Torah from the Chabad shliach, Rabbi Dani Cohen, and Rabbi Yurkowicz. The farbrengen continued into the afternoon, upon which Mrs Cohen took us on a tour of Chevron and its Chabad history, from the Avraham Avinu shule and its adjoining Kollel of Menucha Rochel (the former Chabad shteibel), to the newly converted storefronts of fleeing Arabs now occupied by brave Jewish settlers. We constantly passed army posts as we visited another area of Jewish settlement in Chevron, Beis Rumano, which once housed a Chabad yeshiva founded by the Rebbe Rashab, Beis Shneerson in which Rebbetzin Menucha Rochel once resided, and Beis Hadassa, the first home of Jews in Chevron after 1967. In Beit Hadassa we explored a beautiful museum, each with rooms painted to portray a different period in Chevrons history, from ancient times to the 1929 massacre and finally resettlement in 1968.
We returned to our Hachnasat Orchim Hotel for Shalosh Seudos and a fascinating speech by Baruch Marzel, an incredibly courageous soul who has sacrificed himself countless times on behalf of entire Jewish world with relation to Chevron. He described the mesiras nefesh exerted to put one mezuza up in Mearas HaMachpela and other subsequent battles with both Arabs and sadly, the government authorities. He opened our eyes to the importance of ideology and faith in ones life and awoke within us a deep sense of appreciation for the holy work of the people who dwell in Chevron. May we merit for all of Israel to be united, in peace, harmony and holiness with Moshiach immediately!
Shabbos Parshas Vayigash was held in Kiryat Malachi with Rabbi B
Kaplan and his family. A shopping trip to the mall in Rechovot was arranged on Wednesday January 8...a welcome relief as the students are currently undergoing the stress of midterm exams in most subjects this week. In honour of 5 Teves, the anniversary of Didan Natzach, there was a farbrengen with Rabbi Groner on Monday evening, Dec 29. He discussed the concept of Kabbalas Ol to be applied to every person present.
One thing about Israel, the concerts never end...Tuesday evening Dec 30 NCHS folded themselves into the Hasa'ah van with our favourite driver and zoomed to Tzvata in Tel Aviv, to be a supportive audience at the Piamenta video filming. Avi's melodious flute playing was backed up by crunching bass, electrifying violin, rocking keyboards and rhythmic drumming and Yossi's fiery guitar licks..(yes, I always wanted to be a music journalist...and write reviews) NHCS girls especially enjoyed their version of Asher Bara Down Undah! and Yalla Mashiach...their bluesy encore was especially memorable and the Lubavitch atmosphere at the concert was something that made it feel, oh so Israel! Happy days to everyone
Before you hear the deal on the NHCS trip to Eilat on the week before Chanuka, here's a word from our sponsors on what we actually DID do on Chanuka... The first Shabbos of Chanuka and the Sunday after were spent in the dorm with a grand Chanuka Party on Sunday night. The room was decorated with a lavish display of candles, lights, nerot and menorot... and maybe some candles as well in case there was a shortage. The music went beyond Sevivon Sov Sov Sov and Dreidel games far more than nes gadol haya poh...the dancing, dreidel games and Chanuka fun lasted till the wee hours of the morning. From Monday evening to Motzei Shabbos the dorm echoed as the girls travelled 'Midan v'ad beer sheva' and further, from Eilat to Jerusalem and back to the beloved Qiryat. Now its time to start counting 2 1/2 months till Purim
EILAT TRIP UPDATE
So you imagine going to Eilat is beaches, sunshine and water activities all day long. Sparkling blue water, tropical fish and coral, flea markets along the boardwalk, ice cream and sunsets on the beach.. Sounds like paradise...
Transpose that image onto this: long, dusty hikes. Rocky slippery hills, ropes and metal thingys and sunrise hikes and aching hamstrings and precipitous climbs and depleting water bottles and minute cracks in the rock that are meant to be squeezed through
Israeli children grow up on the hiking circuit, walking the land of Israel like true professionals from the age of four. Theyve got it covered-scaling walls, crawling in caves, crossing rivers and stepping over monoliths all in the hot, hot sun as if they were born to do it. The average Israeli can hike for hours before asking the inevitable how much longer question which Americans will pose every five minutes.. Seminary girls are somehow expected to fit into the Israeli bushwalking prototype whilst also carrying along with them the excess ten pounds of felafel, blue milk and frozen yoghurt, and being unused to anything beyond the yearly Lag Baomer walk in the woods, where the salami sandwiches are a far greater focus than the so-called hike at hand.
Most of this was not considered when the NHC seminary girls were informed that a trip to Eilat was on the books. Images of pristine beaches, sparkling blue water, tropical fish and coral filled our minds, supplemented with pictures of ourselves tanning in the sun, swimming all day, and shopping along the boardwalk. Suddenly the itinerary was handed out and there was that dreaded word-HIKE-appearing not once, not twice but a total of SEVEN times on the entire three day schedule.
Yay, said some. Now we can burn off all those excess iced coffees and café hillel sandwiches currently residing on our rear ends and maybe even experience some endorphin-induced highs to get into the Chanuka spirit. Others looked forward to communing with mother nature, seeing holy sights in our land (forget the fact that Eilat is not technically Eretz Yisrael) and using up a few rolls of film.. Whilst there were still a few who anticipated hours of waiting in a hot, sticky bus for the triumphant outdoorswomen to return, borrowing discman batteries and snoozing on the floor to pass the time.
So as we boarded the bus on Tuesday morning there were those decked out in sneakers, tracky pants and sunhats, equipped with water cooler backpacks, as well as others in Dr Scholls and headphones, prepared with pillows for hours of waiting on the bus. Nevertheless, the entire group proceeded on the first hike, finally experiencing life in the midbar. The 2 1/2 hour hike soon stretched into three, then finally four hours as the inept Chutzniks attempted sliding down slippery rocky surfaces holding on to ropes, climbing down ladders, scaling rocky cliffs and finally, braving the two steep hills at the end. A seminary hike is never complete without encountering the requisite Israeli high school trip, as they casually take on the hills like theyre taking an afternoon stroll. One daring Israeli held his guitar in one arm and strummed with the other as he slid down the hill with utmost ease while the rest of us huffed and puffed.. nevertheless the variety of views on this particular hike was certainly worth the exhaustion felt afterward, from beautiful coloured rocks to the panorama of the Red Sea with desert hills in the background.
The hiking never ends, and with that in mind most of us were tucked into bed early on Tuesday evening in anticipation of the highly acclaimed sunrise hike scheduled to begin at 4.30 am. 18 brave women fronted up for a tough climb under a canopy of stars, followed by gorgeous views of Eilat and the Yam Suf as the bright orange sun began traveling overhead like a ball of fire. The girls davened Shacharis at netz hachama before proceeding downhill and back to the hotel.
The rest of the morning was spent marveling at the incredible hidden world of fish and coral under the sea, at the Red Sea Observatory where we viewed the world of the sea five stories below the ground through windows, participated in an interactive movie experience, and saw the sharks being fed. The observation of the wondrous tropics was taken one step further as NHC girls were treated to an unforgettable experience-scuba diving 6 metres below the surface of the sea. After the traumatic donning of the wet suit, the girls suited up with their oxygen tanks, goggles and masks and learned to breathe underwater with their patient instructors. Soon the journey began underwater as they dove deep down and tossed rocks, stroked coral and watched brightly coloured fish swim directly in front of their noses.
The grandmas of NHC Sem were in no shape for any hiking after the mornings activities and the afternoon and evening were spent wandering through the malls, the shuk and the boardwalk along the beach. Thursday morning had been intended for free water activities, yet it was a brave few who took up the opportunity to go banana boating and jet boating in the cold, windy weather. Others relaxed for our last few hours in Eilat before we headed back into the desert for our final hike, heralded by our guide Rabbi Goldberg to be one of the best hikes in Israel.
It began not too pleasantly with a fifteen minute climb that had anyone but a gym freak or Israeli crying in pain. Yet as we climbed and saw how far we had gone, the realization was made that the view is truly better from the top... and oh the exhilaration!! The next hour was spent crawling precariously (for some) or ambling carelessly along the pointy peaks of the mountains, in a scene fit only for Hollywood. With nothing on either side but the joyous mountain air, our schools image shifted from Swiss yodelers to petrified puppies to circus acrobats who only pretend that theyre having a tough time on the balance beam. The view of the mountains and the sea complemented the feeling of relaxation and vitality at the peak of the mountain range. Lets put it this way, when the pictures come out everyone will think theyre superimposed images..
So after finally being convinced that hiking can actually be fun, we were back on the bus with our pillows and Discmans, traveling upwards from the warm and balmy south to the cold and raining north. The students of NHCS have finally experienced an Israeli rest stop, with bus passengers running hither and thither grabbing their coffees before their bus departs and where the lafahs just might be free... The three day trip to wonderland may have ended, but with Chanuka vacation looming, it appears there may be a girl or two returning to the Florida of Israel (which has every American girl laughing when an Israeli attributes this label to Eilat)-only this time, perhaps the hikes might just wait..
The abridged version for those who believe the Purim Megilla is meant to be read just twice a year; We came, we hiked, we dived, we left. It was fun, says one. See the bus, says Spot. There are girls on the bus. They are going to Eilat.