For the past few years we have been operating a program for Partnership 2000, preparing teens from a region of the upper Galilee for encounters with their peers from their partner community in the United States. In normal times, the program includes regular meetings during the school year and an intensive week of hosting the American kids during the summer, followed by a reciprocal visit in December. However, since there are no Americans to host this summer, we used the time and resources to do an intensive week of group-building and preparation, looking toward the trip to the States in the winter. They are a lovely group, and the week was fun for both kids and staff. One of the foci of the week was "community" -- getting to know different communities and different conceptions of community, as preparation for their encounter with Jewish communities in the United States. In addition to a seminar on Jewish communities at the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv, an evening with their peers from an Arab village, and research projects on the communities in which they live, they experienced three small communities here in the central Galilee; the three represent an interesting indicator of the spiritual and social winds blowing in Israel today:
Ma'aleh Tzvia: the only community in Israel associated with the Way of Emin, a movement whose founder and teacher lives in Florida, and whose teachings combine New Age beliefs involving elements, crystals, animals, colors, etc., with an emphasis on self-study, self-actualization, and communal obligation. The settlement itself is striking, with a large artificial lake in the middle, a beautiful music center, and impressive public gardens. Blue is the dominant color of the houses. There is a strong sense of involvement in the community, and much of the public art and gardening are the results of members' volunteer efforts; they also have their own youth group and an alternative elementary school that attracts pupils from other communities in the area as well. Our kids were impressed by the community, but felt that the story was too good to be true, and that the teens they met gave a feeling of having been "brainwashed." An interesting question that we did not consider: at what point do such belief systems come into conflict with Judaism? What is paganism today?
Shorashim: the group spent shabbat here at Shorashim, where they were freaked out by women wearing tallitot, but otherwise found the mixed-seating, egalitarian service novel but attractive. There are several orthodox kids in the group; several "traditional," and several avowed secularists. So there was something to upset everyone. What upset me was that if our little group had not been present, we would not have had a minyan at kabbalat shabbat; of the 50 families on Shorashim, over half come to synagogue only on special occasions if at all; another 10 or so come only occasionally; and of the dozen hard-core, most were away on vacation this week. A bit depressing, and hard to explain to guests to whom you are trying to convey a positive sense of the community and its commitments... In any case, the setting was great for study sessions on the meaning of tradition and the different denominations in Judaism.
Eshbal: we spent a morning at this small outpost, the newest kibbutz in Israel (about 5 years old). Founded by graduates of Hano'ar Ha'oved Vehalomed socialist youth movement, mostly from middle class homes, this community of 40 singles (so far) has designated itself an "educational kibbutz." They plan to support themselves not by industry and not by agriculture, but by values education: they already provide youth directors for many of the other communities in the county, run programs in nearby Beduin villages, operate a boarding school for 25 Ethiopian high school dropouts, and offer various seminars for schools and youth groups. The new campus of the bilingual (Hebrew-Arabic) elementary school is under construction on the grounds of Eshbal. The income from these ventures is limited, but the members insist they are happy with their spartan, idealistic, existence. Our kids were moved by the encounter as was I, but full of questions: what will happen when the members start families? How will new waves of young members influence the community? All the members came to the kibbutz straight from the army -- no university; will the lack of intellectual and professional depth stunt the community and/or its educational work?
Three communities, three experiences, three world-views. Just a little corner of the amazing and variegated mosaic we are assembling here stone by stone.