Welcome to Diller Pittsburgh Cohort 5’s Israel Summer Seminar Blog! Well, not quite, but we are so close. After a very apprehensive and emotional past few weeks this overnight was just what we needed to come together as a group. The first few hours of team building activities certainly got the bonding going right away. We started with an icebreaker involving a pool noodle, lots of string, and a maze that I won’t even try to explain in words. Then came the outdoor training activities that truly became a testament to our brawn and brains, and of course our teamwork skills. After getting our hands a little dirty we ate lunch and then got to enjoy a couple hours of free time; of which the majority was spent playing an intense game of football in the pool. This was some friendly competition, certainly with greater emphasis on the competition than the friendly. Safe to say you should really be watching C5 for some future NFL stars, especially from the girls.
After free time we sat down to talk about Israel. We first evaluated our own relationship with Israel, which was hard to identify a true connection for the majority of us who have yet to experience it first hand. We then looked at a broader view of all North American Jews’ connection to Israel. Everyone really had very different opinions and views on this connection which were really intriguing to listen to and add to, as the conversation ranged everywhere from the obligatory support we feel for Israel to questioning the pressure we put on Israel’s each and every decision. To finish off the program Yarden taught us about the history of Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem, and she led us in singing the beautiful song.
After these programs Chris sprung upon us the news that we were responsible for cooking our own dinner. We were all stoked to do this, some even ready to get out in the woods and start hunting. Luckily we were provided with everything to make quesadillas, grilled cheese, and vegetables over the hot fire that Noah, Henry, and Yarden slaved over. With a solid team effort we produced a lovely dinner, followed up by a birthday celebration for Becca, when an unfortunate amount of frosting ended up on my face, and Henry was chased down by Mark, Tyler, and Jacob Riberi until he too was covered in chocolate.
Following our beautiful group effort, Chris led us in two programs that really made us think and allowed for a lot of self-reflection. The first was based on a song entitled “rak po” which is Hebrew for “only here” or “just here”. The song is about the writers contradicting love for Israel, as there are numerous things he hates about his country, yet would never want to live anywhere else. We each then wrote a stanza or two of our own connection to any place of choice, noting both the good and bad we see in “only here”. I was totally kidding about the football earlier but I mean it when I say we have some true poets in the cohort. Honestly I was blown away by not just one person’s writing but seriously every single person who chose to share. We sure do have a way with words, some even in Hebrew. Constant reminder that at Diller I am surrounded by amazingly talented, thoughtful, and unique personalities. Next we watched a video filmed in Israel entitled “one wish”. In this people of all ages, races, and religions were asked if they had one wish what that would be. Answers ranged from world peace to the destruction of the Arabs to the destruction of Israel to getting a girl to losing weight. It was an extremely powerful video and opened our eyes to many themes, although we discussed the potential bias created by the editors. We then each got time to think of our own “one wish”, and just as in the video, ours ranged through all different topics and time frames.
Our last structured event of the night was the ma’agal lilah, which of course I cannot tell you anything about because “what is said in this circle stays in this circle”. This was certainly one of our longest ma’agals, as it didn’t end until close to 12. Some went right to bed afterwards, while others participated in a random assortment of activities. Myself, Riberi, Gabe, Ben, and Henry took to the mini golf course and with one ball and one phone as a flashlight somehow actually completed a lovely round of golf. Henry certainly had the shot of the day, chipping it with the purple club from the grass off multiple rocks and edges and right into the hole, but in the end I reigned champion, showing all the guys up of course. As it got later the camp got quieter, and the first day of the overnight came to a close.
We were awoken early Monday morning by the swim team that arrived at J and R with much more early morning enthusiasm than we could muster up. Zombishly we packed up all of our stuff, ate breakfast, and prepared for our “Pittsburgh themed” day. First stop was station square where we got aboard the ducky tour. It was cool to see the city from a different perspective, both on land and in water, and to learn random facts about Pittsburgh that I likely otherwise never would have known. After a nice ride filled with terrible duck puns, we departed for the Heinz History Museum, where we were free to roam for about an hour. As we went where we so pleased, Chris told us to keep in mind the question of how we each individually connect to Pittsburgh, a topic to be discussed later. As we were leaving we all got our free souvenir mini pickle, our newfound cohort mascot. Get it, dill(er) pickles. Ha ha.
With our stomachs growling we showed up at Milky Way and devoured all of the pizza, salad, and fries we could. We then returned to the JCC, piled all of our stuff in Chris’s office and did some final activities. We started by watching a Ted Talk given by Israeli artist Hanoch Piven, who creates sculptures of peoples’ faces by using objects that represent a part of them. Our task was to create a portrait of a randomly selected Diller fellow. We had some time to get our creative juices flowing, then presented our work to the group, who had to guess who was represented. We were able to guess just about every single one, which was really cool to see how well we actually know each other in more ways than we thought. As promised we then briefly discussed our connections to Pittsburgh, which turned out to be quite different for each individual. Lastly, Ram Kozovsky came to speak to us about Israel, specifically the conflict with the Arabs and Palestinians and its origins. I certainly am no expert on the subject so it was good background information to learn so we have a basis for all of what is currently going on there and we are very appreciative for all of the knowledge he shared with us. Just past 5:30 all 18 of us scurried out of the JCC and headed home to start and finish packing and return to the JCC only 16 hours later.
After leaving the overnight on Monday was one of the first times in the past few weeks that I was truly excited for Israel and at last it seemed like a reality. So much doubt and uncertainty had been present in the weeks prior, but finally things were coming together and a few hours of packing and preparing and a few hours of sleep later we would be on the bus ride to JFK. Then at exactly 8:34 PM on Monday, July 21 I received a text message from Chris saying, “Hey guys, emergency conference call at 9 pm. Check emails for details. Parents should be on as well.” My stomach immediately dropped. This could only mean the worst. We had heard about a few cohorts deciding not to participate in the ISS, but as far as we knew Diller had not yet made any new changes to the itinerary. Trying to be optimistic, we speculated maybe it would just be Chris notifying us about other cohorts that chose not to attend and to reassure us that everything for our trip was in order. As hard as I tried to listen to that small voice, the over powering thought that yelled our trip was cancelled was all too hard to ignore. For me it didn’t matter that the call was at 9, at 8:34 my world of excitement came crashing down. As others described it, I felt numb. It was such a hard thing for me to grasp, yet I know that for so long a little part of me had been expecting this. Arriving at the JCC the next morning at 10, without my gigantic suitcase and Diller backpack and without excitement and anticipation was so so difficult. Thankfully though, that meeting was so weirdly uplifting. Chris already had a full itinerary planned for us to go in December, and plans for next week were already in progress. Love that man, and everyone that has worked so hard to make our Diller experience everything it can be. Sure we were sad and disappointed, still are and still will be for a while, but we came to the realization that this is all for the better for the time being. Right now while of course it is okay for us to be upset about our trip no longer taking place this summer, our thoughts and prayers should be focused on Israel. Our partner cohort in Karmiel-Misgav is our family, and I undoubtedly think of them and their families and their well being every single day, and I’m sure I speak for most of us here when I say that. Israel is our beautiful homeland and though we are not physically there now, it is certainly in our hearts and our minds and everything that is happening now will only make us appreciate it even more when someday we will arrive.