Monday, January 27, 2014

Harper in the Holy Land

The big news from Israel seems to be the usual combination of the sublime and the ridiculous:
  • Because Syria is following through on their agreement with Secretary Kerry to reduce their stocks of chemical weapons, Israel has stopped issuing gas masks and refills of oxygen.
  • Oxfam is considering dropping Scarlett Johansson as an ambassador because she is doing ads for an Israeli company which has a plant in Maale Adumim (and by the way I am told employs Palestinian Arabs at the same wages as Israelis). They are apolitically against all supporters of Israel. (What?)
  • Birthright is going to allow people who went on organized youth trips to begin participating in Birthright trips.
  • The Women of the Wall are close to approving an agreement with the Israeli government to move the group’s monthly prayer service to a new egalitarian area.
But for me none of those are the really important news out of Israel. Yesterday my 15 year old son Harper and I left religious school early (he is a madrikh in Kitah Bet), picked up my wife and two fifty pound suitcases and an indescribably heavy backpack, and drove to Kennedy Airport in New York.

Harper's 67 new best friends on EIE Spring 2014
(Harper is third row, 6th from the left, in the blue t-shirt)
On arrival Harper was immediately absorbed into a group of 68 teenagers from all over North America. They had been in contact via Facebook for the past several weeks. So over and over, Audrey and I watched Harper see someone, hug them like a long lost relative and then say, "Hi! I'm Harper! It's great to finally meet you!" And the same thing happened with all of the kids. It was amazing.  (Audrey and I met parents with whom we had 2nd degree connections, and one woman I had been a camper and counselor with in Wisconsin in the 70s and 80s. But that is not important.)

Harper's adventure was beginning. He and the other teens have just begun a four month journey with NFTY's Eisendrath International Exchange (EIE). It involves four months living on Kibbutz Tzuba, just outside of Jerusalem. They will be attending all of the classes they are missing in their high schools at home (minus the electives), and they will also be attending three hours of Hebrew Ulpan and Jewish History. At key points in their history lessons, they will jump on a bus and visit the place where those events occurred. They might return to the same place more than once, to see it through a different lens and time in history.

They will hike from the Kinneret to the Mediteranean, visit the Reform kibbutzim in the Arava, attend Gadna (teen level military training) on an IDF base, climb Masada and do all of the things you would hope a teen gets to do in Israel. Awesome.
A few weeks ago Harper decided to blog his adventures. I urge you to follow him and see Israel through the eyes of a young man seeing it for the first time. The blog is called Harper in the Holy Land.

Israel has shaped and changed my family in wonderful ways. Audrey and I left for a year in Jerusalem seven months after we married. It was a year without either of our friends, family or old habits being nearby. In that year we built the core of the family we have become. Twenty years later, Harper's brother Ethan attended EIE and the experience changed him in more ways than I can share. It was amazing. Harper began counting down the days until his turn when Ethan got off the plane. We cannot wait to see what the experience will do for him. And with his blog, we can all get a peak as it happens!