Saturday, March 27, 2010

Two Survival Weeks

(Side note to all the camp people: I'm writing from Abby Bob's computer in Haifa. I just came here from Yogev's house. I also just ran into Shlomi, the waterfront/sailing guy from 2006. He recognized me on a bus.)

As many of you know, three weeks ago the hype was electric with anticipation for Survival Week. The week is one of the most built-up at the Mechina, and graduates are instructed not to tell anything--from where it is, to what it includes, to how it's administered--to the current year. As such, I can't really say a lot here about what's included, because there may be people reading who are coming to the Mechina next year or in a few years.

I will share a few small things:
a) The only thing I heard about Survival Week was a tip from Daniel Gastfriend: "The ultimate rule of Shavua Hesardut, and of life: when things are difficult, help someone else." I had that advice in my mind for all of Survival Week, and can't count the number of times it saved me from yelling at someone or from complaining. Because it was clear that there were people for whom the week was harder, and when you're helping them you're not thinking about how hard it is for you or how much you ache or how much you just want to get to the final stop for the night.
b) Survival Week was a lot different than what I expected, and I'm still digesting the whole thing. There were parts that I liked more (the day when I arrived at 3:15am at the final stop for the night, the last day) and parts that I liked less (never mind, I won't go into details here).
c) 7.5L seems like a lot of water when it's on your back, but when there's a heat wave, it really is a normal amount
d) The memory card that I had with on Survival Week is messed up and will let neither the computer nor my camera read the information stored; I have no pictures from the week.
e) The amount of sweat my body produces--even when it's chilly, and in the middle of the night--is incredible

As soon as we got back to the Mechina, we began preparation for what some of the madrichim called "the REAL survival week": the camp we put on for kids in Kiryat Gat (note to Gideon: we had kids from the Mercaz Klitah, which means that I worked with the same kids you did!). That week I wasn't actually in classes very much, because one of the days I was toranit (cleaning, organizing meals, etc.) and another entire day I spent or driving to a doctor's office (it was closed) or being visited by a doctor at the Mechina, or at the ER at Barzilay Hospital in Ashkelon for my elbow (I fell on asphalt playing touchdown and scraped my elbow, then it got infected and gross. It's doing very well now, after two weeks...)

In any case, the Kaytana (camp) was a lot of fun. I got second graders (I think the best age ever!) and wored with Eitan and Alon. The thing is, we weren't told the ages before hand, and the cos were changed day-of-game, so at the beginning I was with Yisrael and none of the activities we'd built were age-appropriate. However, once I was with Eitan and Alon and we knew what ages we had, e managed. For the first few days we just played tag and soccer when it was up to us to occupy them (there were also activities that were planned for us: a clown, a magician, Field Day, etc.). Then we were supposed to plan a Passover-related activity for them; something with content, which we thought was impossible, because they can't play tag for 45 minutes without getting antsy, let alone sit on their bottoms for 45 minutes. We joined up with two other groups and made a Passover play of the story: Yotam narrated in the background, and we acted in front. Every few minutes we'd have a song-break or a "What do you guys think?" break, and they loved it! And somehow, we were able to do a substance-filled activity with them!
We took them to the Israeli version of KiddyLand, where everyone except the kindergarteners and the first graders were released to drain their energy however they wanted. In any case, I ended up walking around with a few of my kids glued to me, the ones who said "this is boring, this is for little kids" until we came to the pool of balls (like the McDonal's Funhouse) which was probably the coolest thing in the place. I managed to not have my elbow bumped up too much (although kids do like to touch things with bandages on. Ouch!) I enjoyed being there a lot, even though the kids didn't want to be rounded up when we started herding them to the meeting spot.

I had to fight with them to put seatbelts on on the bus. And for the boys to stop throwing the soccer ball on the bus. But I prefer the boys--who threaten to beat each other up--to the girls who say "It's a pity I came, why do we always play boy games?" and then sit out (causing the other girls to trickle slowly to the sides...) Anyway, I had a very nice conversation with a little girl named Shelley on the way to Beit Chalomotai, and the same on the way back with Bar (one of our cutest. He's missing every second tooth, I think). At the end of my conversation with Bar, he said "but why does the kaytana (camp) end tomorrow? I want it to be for all of Passover break!" which is once of those things that makes a counselor's soul smile. I think my proudest moments as a counselor, though, were my heart-to-heart conversations with two seven-year-olds. (Also when they told me they were born in 2002...)

On the last day came some staff from the Madatech (the science museum in Haifa) to do something that's "like magic... but real!" And the kids' eyes were glued to the color-changing, foam-producing, fire-igniting beakers. We hardly had to remind them to be quiet. They were fascinated (much more so than by the "magician" or the "clown"--who just put on music and danced with the kids).

For our last activity with the kids we played charades using all the activities and things we'd done the entire week. Eitan and I had stayed up till 2 the previous night writing cards to each kid, which we handed out with a printed picture of our group (Hawaii) and the lyrics to our song written out as well.

I was exhausted every day after the kids left at 1. It was an exhaustion like none I've ever experienced before; more tired than after each day during (the original) survival week, although let it be known that I probably sleep-walked sometimes that week. But after the kids left each day I was ready to drop. That said, I never managed to sleep during our break. Or I was planning an activity for the next day, or I was reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, or I was getting my elbow taken care of, or I was wandering. I found a cool spices and dried-fruits shop (the smell....) in the shuk near the mall across from where the camp was, and I went twice (once with Eitan, when we discovered it) and once with the Haifa crew, where we inhaled for 10 minutes before walking out empty-handed (and then Ron and I couldn't deal and came back 15 minutes later to get dried pineapple--unsweeted, dried mango, and dried pomello).

I really enjoyed working with younger kids, despite how shocked I was at the way they talked to each other and to other counselors. Kids in Israel start swearing early, and certainly learn how to be chutzpanim earlier than American kids. They have no shame in pulling the "I'm going to call my Daddy" line or the "who are you, telling me what to do" challenge of authority. They call each other names (benzona) and decide for themselves what the rules are. These kids are 7, and they handle each other in a way that even my Chalutzim campers didn't when they were annoyed with each other! Somehow, though, they manage to have cute faces, which kept me from sending them home.
HAPPY PESACH! This year in Jerusalem :)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


It's a short month, two-and-a-half of whose weeks were internet-free because of technology problems (I'm only on the internet now because I have special connections and am using the madrichim's computer).

In any case, a short summary of what happened in February.
The day I landed from Rome back in Israel (January 29) was exactly 5 months since I'd landed in Israel way back in September.

Our first week back was a week planned by Chulyat Lemida (Lemida=learning, education), and they had chosen their topic to be media/as it relates to Israel advocacy. We had a number of people come speak to us, including army spokesmen and news anchors from Israeli channels, as well as graduates of the program who now work in media. That entire week passed in a blur, as nearly every spare moment was filled with last minute touches on Shavua Omanut (Art Week), for which I was part of the planning committee.

We'd received an entire week blank, empty, with 26 spots to fill with whatever and whoever we wanted. The night before our week started we pulled an all-nighter, decorating the mechina like it's never been decorated before with posters from concerts and movies and shows that we took from announcement boards around Tel Aviv a few days before. Dvir (Seattle) and I were "mnahaley yom" the first two days, which meant we were in charge of hearding the group from place to place, making sure the speakers were coming, and etc. There was a bit of an unexpected event when one of the speakers cancelled, but we covered and it ended up being an interesting lecture by Gilad (head of the mechina) about art in the Holocast.

There were a wide variety of things that week: healing clowns, art therapy, workshops, architecture, print-making, drawing/proportions... for the last two and a half days we were in Tel Aviv and went to a cemetary where a lot of famous artists and poets are buried, we went to Chaim Nachman Bialik's house and had an architecture tour of the Bauhaus buildings in Tel Aviv. We heard a lecture about art and the bible, from a speaker who usually charges 600 shekel for an hour, but spoke for free. He was incredible, and what was really cool was that all the art he showed was what Galya and I had seen the week before in Italy! I contacted Micha Bar-Am, my favorite photographer (he has some incredible photography that really define events in Israeli history! and he came and spoke to us as well. Also Chanoch Piven, who makes portraits of politicians and other such famous people out of food and found objects (picture of Darwin):
There was a writer for Eretz Nehederet (Israeli version of SNL) who came to talk to us, and also a lecturer about feng shui. It was just really incredible to see how the week came together so well after two months of planning!
The next week was a week planned by Chulyat Ezrachut Pe'ilah (citizen activism). There week was focused on injustices in society, and we went to a protest in Tel Aviv against the charge that the ATM takes, especially on those who don't know the rights of consumers (elderly, immigrants, etc.) We also went to a conference where Members of Knesset spoke against the building of a coal refinery in Ashkelon.
After that was Shavua Chinuch (Education week), were we began by going to different schools in the area to see the attitudes of students, teachers, and Israel to education and to each other and the different types of atmospheres. The principal of a Montessori preschool came, as well as a mother who homeschools her daughter (she was very interesting, as she doesn't just sit with her daughter over a workbook 5 hours every day. She's worked it out in a very clever way), and a Rabbi who's the principal of a Chassidic Yeshiva talked about education in the Chassidic circle. The last two days of the week were spent at a Leadership Seminar in Tel Hai (the north), where there were a lot of panel discussions and, possible more important, thousands of ripe, ruby red strawberries. (That's probably what I'll remember in 20 years about the seminar...) it was a lot of fun, though, and very interesting.
And then PURIM! (We had a costume party and I dressed up as a pregnant religious woman. It's the easiest costume...). I've been missing a lot of the lectures this week because I'm re-jetlagging myself: calling Americans between 1:30-6:30 am Israel time about coming to the program next year, which means I'm sleeping during the day.
Next week is Survival Week, which we don't know anything about... the suspense is part of what we have to survive.
Anway, that's a short update.