“Who is really here for who?” The question resonated for the whole group, as they sat in their specially-built temporary structure (a sukkah of sorts), in the northern Negev. It was Friday night and the 41 participants in the “Tribal Fire” program (in Hebrew Medurat Hashevet) had reached a level of open communication that the organizers had been hoping would result from the intense 5-day hiking expedition for Israeli students and American volunteers.
The brainchild of two lecturers at Sapir College in Sderot, Medurat Hashevet was adopted and implemented in February 2014 by Sderot Hillel Director, Rotem Ohana, and her colleagues at Hillel Israel. They built an ambitious plan to break through stereotypes and deeply-held patterns of communication between Israelis and Americans, in order to arrive at a deep conversation about Jewish and Israeli identity. And so, despite the desert cold of February, 41 participants set out on a 5 day experience of hiking, talking, celebrating and learning together. The program included two days of hiking, a Shabbat in nature, in which the participants negotiated how the group as a whole would celebrate the day, and ended in Sderot, with an exploration of the city and a visit to some of the innovative social programs that Hillel is involved with.
Throughout, the intention was, according to Ohana, “ that to create real learning, we needed to create a social platform that would lead to real discussion about identity – what it is to be Israeli, what it is to be a Diaspora Jew”. And one of the key lessons that she and the organizers learnt is that the typical patterns of relationship between Diaspora and Israeli Jews are deeply ingrained. The Israelis approach the conversation assuming that they have to present Israel to others, and be the informal ambassadors, or the hosts. The Diaspora Jews typically accept this, assuming that they are there to learn, to receive, and that they don’t have much to offer. Yet, after a carefully-designed set of conversations, and the bonding that comes with camping out (in the cold!), these patterns started to break down. Symmetry was established, meaningful conversations emerged, everyone learned and everyone contributed from his or her experience, and the question “Who is here for who?” was answered – we are all here for each other, part of the Jewish People, with much to gain and much to learn.
For more photos from Medurat Hashevet, check out Hillel Sapir’s facebook page.
Check out a blog post from one of the participants.