This is the part of a series of live dispatches from our Write On For Israel students during their trip to Israel. Write On For Israel is a leadership training program for high school students. You can find out more about the program here, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram for live updates throughout the trip and here for the daily roundups.
On Shabbat morning in Jerusalem, students had the opportunity to begin the Holy morning in their own fashion. With the option to choose one of five minyanim (or enjoying Shabbat individually) in close proximity to the hotel, students were able to explore a variety of religious practices, exiting their comfort zone and gaining exposure to a more complete Judaism. The minyanim, ranging from traditional Modern Orthodox to Reform to an Italian synagogue, offered students a true breadth of opportunities to explore the diversity of the Jewish faith.
Following a spiritual morning, students returned to the hotel for a special lunch and prepared for an optional guided walking tour of Jerusalem led by Dr. Tuvia Book. With stops at the King David Hotel, Jerusalem YMCA and the quiet Jerusalem neighborhood, students not only saw neighborhood landmarks but quickly appreciated Jerusalem and Israel from a religious point-of-view, with streets free of cars and hushed on Shabbat afternoon. The walk was described as a “true highlight of the trip” and “the kind of educational, yet decompressing activity that we needed as the usually fast-paced trip winds down.”
After a rest, students gathered in the lobby for Seudah shlishit, a light snack of pita, hummus, cold cuts and tea, before concluding Shabbat with a Havdalah service outside the hotel. The service opened with a Dvar Torah from student Ezra Seplowitz and then other students joined together to usher in the new week.
With Shabbat concluded, the cohort headed out to a book shop in East Jerusalem, where we heard from a practiced English-speaking Palestinian for an open forum to discuss and share opposing views. Prior to the event, it was emphasized that it is necessary to maintain a level-head in dealing with oppositional perspectives. “If you raise your voice, you’ve already lost,” said program coordinator Linda Scherzer prior to disembarking the bus, echoing the sentiments of the previous day from StandWithUs’ Charlotte Korchek.
To start the discussion, the speaker depicted the Palestinian means of resistance—encompassing both those peaceful and violent, terror efforts—as being components of a national struggle. While he did not condone the activities of Hamas and other terror-attackers, the speaker stressed that all means of resistance against Israel are, in his view, valid and warranted. Interestingly, the speaker acknowledged that he has in fact abandoned hope for a viable two-state solution. Instead, he believes efforts should be focused on obtaining full incorporation of Palestinians into Israeli society with full autonomy and equal rights—something which he believes is not presently in place for Palestinians. When asked what specific solution he would suggest for diplomats to pursue to conclude the continuos reigns of terror, he, in paraphrase, recognized that should Israel concede and acquiesce to all Palestinian demands, the terror would cease.
After poignant and thought-provoking back-and-forths with the speaker, the cohort reboarded the bus speaking intensely with one another about the dialogue presented earlier, developing strategic responses to select claims, debating the legitimacy of Palestinian/Israeli claims to the land and engaging in more intellectual responses to the discussion.
The speaker requested anonymity in order to ensure that he would be able to speak openly and freely throughout the discussion.
The cohort ended the night by grabbing dinner at Tachana Rishona, The First Station, where students enjoyed live music and delicious shawarma, pizza and more.
Overall, the day was an incredible Shabbat spent in Jerusalem. Stay tuned tomorrow for the final update of the Write On For Israel 2020 trip.