Author Archives: Mandy

Bible characters…revisited

“In order to know where you’re going, you gotta know where you came from” ~ Shi 360, Home.  In the Jewish religion our spiritual and religious leaders often try and teach us about where we as Jews came from by using torah and biblical characters.  While I do find the above quotation to be true, with all due respect to those who love to learn it and those who love to teach it, this way of learning just isn’t for me…or so I thought.

While you may not identify with Noah and his ark, Abraham’s mission to the promise land, Adam & Eve and their apple, or with God’s influence in the biblical version of these stories, I would venture to say that each and every one of us can identify with the notions of tragedy, unfamiliarity, and blame.  The reason why I am sharing this new found perspective with you is NOT because I hope that you will become Torah scholars or believe in God and the Jewish biblical stories, but simply because sometimes new perspectives can be enlightening.  Sometimes all it takes is for someone to present something in a new light; where the whole Jewish “stuff” is a bit easier digest, a bit more manageable to grasp, and frankly, a bit more real. 

Noah’s story is that of hard work as well as tragedy. Although I could not originally relate to this Jewish biblical tale, I can certainly relate to the concept of hard work and the idea of tragedy.  When you put so much of yourself into a relationship that fails, you study endlessly for an exam and don’t get the desired grade, or you try so hard to please the boss and never get that promotion… believe it or not, you are relating to Noah. 

Abraham’s story is one of travel and unfamiliarity. This whole biblical story with God asking Abraham to do something for Him doesn’t really speak to me.  However, when I change my perspective and try to see this as a much less biblically charged story, I can sort of relate to Abraham.  He’s just a guy who is setting out to travel and is experiencing the unfamiliar.  If you have ever backpacked to another continent, done an exchange for school, started a new job, moved into a new apartment… believe it or not, you are relating to Abraham. 

Adam and Eve is the story of two people who do something that they are not supposed to do and who then blame other for their own actions.  While I’ve never eaten an apple off a tree that someone told me not to, I have definitely done things that I was told I was not supposed to do and when I was caught, from time to time, I blamed someone else.  If you have ever forgotten to empty the dishwasher and got yelled at and said “I though my brother was supposed to do it,” told your teacher your dog ate your homework, or got caught speeding and responded by saying you were keeping up with the car in front of you … believe it or not, you are relating to Adam and Eve. 

These stories were originally taught to us using picture books, where the story reader would use a deep, slow speaking voice to imitate the sound of God.  They then evolved into classroom learning where you would pass notes behind the text books you were supposed to be reading.  Most recently, the stories were re-taught to me in a whole new light.  Mark Fishman, the educator who joins BIEC for a few hours a week, used one of these biblical stories to make a point and believe it or not, it worked.  His use of the story was not to teach us about where we, as Jews, came from or to try and get us to identify with our Jewish heritage through Adam and his apple, but it was to put these biblical characters into a perspective to which we can relate.

I was reminded that perspective, open mindedness, and sense of self are key ingredients to learning and to communicating.  While Noah, Abraham, Adam & Eve have not changed, and neither have I, maybe our introductions were just not done properly and as a result we got off to a rough start.  So with the lessons I’ve learned in the past week, I encourage you, be it to a biblical character, an old friend, or a future romance… re-introduce yourself but most importantly, be open minded!

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The Essence of Time

Within the first 60 seconds, I felt I had made the biggest mistake of my life and I was desperately trying to figure out how I was going to get out of this. 

The concept of the IDF had always been such an incredibly large one that I couldn’t wrap my head around and I was curious to try and find out for myself what it is all about.  Now, by no means am going to pretend that I joined the IDF and completed the two or three years of service that Israeli’s are required to do however, I did something that was so far out of my comfort zone that I considered to be the next best thing, Marva.

Marva is a program for non-Israeli citizens to experience the first two months of basic IDF training.  It’s a program designed to allow people from the Diaspora to experience the physical and emotional challenges of the country and its people.  Each week was spent focusing on a different topic, with different related activities.  Through hiking the land and learning its history, navigating through the desert, living in field conditions, and meeting various soldiers and learning from their experience, I got a glimpse into the everyday life of a soldier.    

The Marva Base

At the same time that Montrealers go through the stages of deciding what they are going to wear to grad or what they are going to do for the summer, Israelis are deciding which unit they will serve in, and while we wait for our acceptances into CEGEP, they wait for their IDF draft date.   

When I got off the bus in Sde Boker, the commanders began to shout out instructions in Hebrew (which I didn’t understand) and my only choice was to follow the crowd.  The Mefakdim (commanders) began to ramble on about something that I figured was important but being completely overwhelmed, I tuned out and my mind wandered off.  I was thinking of contingency plans for the summer; I was certain there was no way I was making it past the first day.  Little did I know, this “rambling” was in fact directives specifically for the girls.  In translation they were saying, “remove your sunglasses, take off your nail polish, tie your hair back with only a black elastic, get your uniforms and you have exactly 7 minutes to do this.” Were they nuts?!!  I can barely see in daylight without my sunglasses, where was I going to find nail polish remover in seven minutes, my only elastic which was on my wrist was purple and more importantly how long would it be till I was able to get out of there?! Two months later, I graduated Marva K”T with a sense of accomplishment and pride greater than I had ever expected. 

After spending the first week of the course trying to figure out how I was going to tell my parents that I wanted to come home and they were right for telling me that this was a stupid idea, I quickly realized that leaving was not an option.  Something had clicked.  I am not sure how, or why for that matter, but I am so incredibly grateful that it did.  If Israelis can do this for two or three years, I can do this for two months… or at least try!

The truth is, when I look back at my eight weeks pretending to be a soldier, I realize that the activities were not that difficult (with the exception of climbing Masada the ‘army’ route where I thought I would literally never make it up until my greatest support turned to me and joked “we never leave a man behind” and helped me every step of the way), it was the difficulty of being so far removed from what I had always known.  It was my surroundings, my comfort, and my emotions that were all new and challenging.  It became a mind game.  I had a choice; I could quit at every moment I felt the urge to (which was arguably every 10 minutes) and never know what I missed, or I could put the saying “mind over matter” into action and finish the program which is exactly what I did.

Climbing Masada

“No,” “I don’t want to,” and “I can’t do this” became foreign concepts to me and the idea of team work, support, and determination developed entirely new meanings.  I spent four days in the field sleeping in a tent (and by tent I mean, the desert sand with just two flaps over me).  The running became easier, my cot began to feel as if it was a king size bed with a duvet and I learned to eat tuna for breakfast, lunch, and dinner…and love it.  I developed the skills of being able to navigate with topography maps through the desert, and I learned to love using my M-16 as a pillow.  I learned to push myself more than I ever thought possible and I learned to truly appreciate the concept of time and the concept of togetherness (a word they often used in Hebrew- beyachad). 

Field Week

When I marched at my graduation ceremony, I felt an overwhelming amount of emotions.  I felt such a sense of accomplishment and also felt so empowered that I had developed skills that I would have never otherwise had the opportunity to develop.    

I have always had an incredible amount of respect for Israeli soldiers and the sacrifice that they make by giving two or three years of their life to defend their country, but after going through just the basic training, the amount of respect grew to a whole new level.  Every time I lead a Birthright trip and develop relationships with soldiers I am reminded of my short army experience and I remember how important it is to recognize the sacrifices they make.  These young adults who spend critical years serving our country value us in the Diaspora and appreciate any commitment we make to them and to Israel, as a whole.  For those of you who haven’t yet had the privilege of meeting soldiers, I encourage you to make the effort to do so next time you are in Israel.  For those of you who have, I encourage you to take the time to contact them, just say hello and send regards, I promise they will be happy to hear from you because as much as we can learn from them, they in turn can learn from you!

Marva Graduation Ceremony

Kids of the 90’s

As a new year quickly approaches let’s reminisce about the past.  Let’s talk not only about the celebrity gossip, fashion trends, and breaking news of the past year but let’s go further back. Back to the 90’s!!

With inspiration from other 90’s related material on the internet, Team BIEC compiled a list of staple items by category for those of us who were born in the 80’s, but grew up and formed most of our childhood memories in the 90’s.  Although some of these staples may have been forgotten, they will surely spark some fond memories and put a smile on your face!

Music:

Television:

Fashion:

Gadgets and/or supplies:

Slang:

  • You’ve said   “Talk to the hand
  • You still get the urge to say “NOT” after (almost) every sentence…Not…
  • You’ve used the word “Duh!

I hope that while reading this list you gave a few good “oh yaaaa, I forgot about that” or “I remember those!!”… if you have anything else that we haven’t listed, I encourage you to add to this list. After all, who doesn’t love to take a walk down memory lane!

“Remembering the past and embracing the future”

We stood crowded under the showers where the gas was once released and placed our hands along the cement walls that surrounded us.  We felt the scratch marks where Jews once stood grasping for air and the reality of what once went on between those very walls set in. 

In utter disbelief and with an overwhelming amount of sadness, we formed a circle with our arms around each other and began to sing Sh’ma Israel over and over, louder and louder.  30 new friends, all coming from different backgrounds, experiencing one moment; a moment that for most impacted us for the rest of our lives.  As we stood there united, we celebrated life in a place of death, honoring and remembering those who perished.  At that moment we assumed the responsibility to always remember and more importantly, to pass on the message.  We became witnesses to a part of our history that changed the face of the Jewish people forever; we were now part of something much larger than ourselves, we became part of a tremendous community movement.

The March of the Living is a two-week program that is not only an educational trip, but is also a journey of self-discovery and reflection.  The program consists of travelling to Poland where participants have the opportunity to see, first hand, the remnants of the Holocaust and participate in the March from Auschwitz to Birkenau which, during the war, was coined the march of death.  After days of mourning, sorrow and understanding the importance of our presence, the journey continues on to Israel where exhaustion turns into adrenaline, tears turn into laughter, and sorrow turns into pride.  We commemorate those who perished on Yom Hazikaron (soldier remembrance day) and then celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel Independence Day).  We learn about Israeli culture and have the chance to see and learn about accomplishments that have helped shape the country.       

The March of the Living is helping recreate and recount an important part of Jewish history. I would describe it as having learned and put into practice the concept of paying it forward.  Paying it forward is the notion of pure giving, without expecting anything in return but remaining hopeful that every individual will continue to give purely of themselves.  This concept is like building a chain.  As Marchers we can be proud to be actively participating in building this chain with thousands of Jewish young adults and honorable survivors; a chain from generation to generation. 

Some of us are traditional Jews, some of us reform, and some of us Orthodox; BUT no matter what level of observance we live by and no matter what we stand for, we are all Jews and we were all there for the same cause; promising to always remember and promising to pass on the message always remaining optimistic that the words NEVER AGAIN will forever hold true.  This part of my personal story, might I encourage you to share yours …

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