Time marches on. I can't believe that a whole week has gone by since I celebrated Shabbat at the Machtash Ramon. We were a mixed group from Shabbat observers to those who treat Saturday like any other day. We were encouraged to observe the Shabbat as we wished. Besides traditional Shabbat morning services, a hike to the Machtash, yoga, and messages were available to all. No matter what one did on Shabbat, all of us were greatful for the rest Shabbat provided us from our saddles and all those miles. We all needed a rest.
Of course, I went to services and I even read the 7th alilya. Although I am not a professional Torah reader, I think I acquited myself well. Services were good. We tried to sing as much as we could. The rabbi in charge of the service after each aliyah asked us if something stood out from the text that applied to our experience of the ride. I spoke up that Sodom and Gemorra was a test to see whether or not Abraham lived the values of Mishpat (justice) and Tzedakah (righteousness and kindness). These are the values God wanted him to inculcate into us, his descendants. I spoke how the crew really did embody those values. Somehow even with a group of 114 riders we always began on time and did what was necessary, but the crew was so kind, friendly and concerned about our welfare. Never a mean word or gesture was heard or seen. They embodies Mishpat and Tzedakah. People had a lot to say that we went over the time alloted for tefillot.
Right after services another rabbi gave a class on Beraisheet showing us how through the stories, God teaches us the preference of biocentric and biodiversity over anthrocentric approach to Creation. One such example was Noah and the Flood. Noah had to gather all the animals to insure that there will be biodiversity to help us sustain life. The Tower of Bable story shows the opposite. When there was no diversity for they all spoke 1 language, life as it was known was unsustainable. Only when humanity split up and spoke different languages was life enhanced. He was very good and interesting.
People ask me about the food. The food was plentiful and delicious. You could go back as many times as you wanted. Now that I have returned, people remark that I look like I have lost weight. They should only know how much rice, potatoes, meat, chicken, and salads I consumed. I guess you can eat as much as want when you burn in excess of 3000 caleries a day.
After some free time and a short nap and reading the book Seize the Day by Malemud, we had a program in order to meet the Alum of the Arava Institute. Out of 25+/- alum, 6 spoke to us about who they were, where they came from, and what they are doing. It was most interesting to hear from the Palestinian and Jordanian students. For the most part, the Palestinians had no problem socially going to school at the Arava Institute and Ben Gurion U.
The Jordanians had quite a different story. They learned about the program thru an add that mentioned scholarships but did not the name of the institution and where it was located. When some applicants learned in a telephone interview that it was Israel, they didn't continue the process. Some of those who did sometimes had to cut all relationships with the family and friends. Others were more fortunate. One Jordanian invited his Israeli room mate back home to a family wedding. Everybody knew who was who and a great time was had by all. Another Jordanian with the help of the Institute, brought his family over from Jordan to see where he was learning. Nevertheless, they didn't put on their CV that they studied in Israel at all and earned an MA from BGU. It would be a death knell to their budding career.
There is a required seminar that all students have to take discusses issues of the Middle East. Obviously they don't agree on the issues at all like the Turkish Flotilla. There is yelling and a lot of tension. People leave the room. But unlike other dialogues of peace, it doesn't end there. No matter how angry the students get, they are stuck in the middle of the Negev with no where to go. The next day they still have to see all their friends. Both Jews and Arabs at the institute learn to disagree without hating the other side. They see each other as human beings and not characters reduced to faceless stereotypes. You really do see a real transformation in people. I don't know whether the Arava Institute will reach a tipping point towards real peace, but the little steps that are being taken give me hope. Now if we can only take away the politicians and politics, peace could really break out.
We ended the day at the Machtash with a Havadala service a la Debbie Friedman with some more touchy feely stuff. See the sun go down with the beautiful sunset colors, and the full moon rising with lots of stars was just awesome.
Off to dinner and then to bed since we have a full day of riding tomorrow to Kibbutz Ketura which is home to the Arava Institute.