This blog post was written by Ben Sousa, one of the amazing participants on this year’s Yahel Social Change Program. Check back every week for a blog post from a different Yahel participant!
It’s been three months since Yahel has started. When you say it like that, it doesn’t sound too long, but when you break it down into weeks, it starts to seem longer. That is a lot of weeks and a lot of weekends. Back State side, when I thought of the weekend, I thought of the time to go out, spend money and do things. I think many of us do. Not since I was little did I think of just slowing down on the weekend. Yes, not every weekend was super fast, but even if I was not doing a lot, the world around me was. You could hear groups of people going out, playing music or whatever else.
In Israel, we are forced to slow down. It is almost mandatory, at least here in Gedera. So what does one do on Shabbat when there is nothing open and no buses to take?
I’ve tried to spend most of my Friday nights with others in the community. There is always someone willing to invite me inside for dinner, I’ve found. This is something that I can’t say I had in State College, Pennsylvania during my college career. Yes, there was Hillel or Chabad, but those are organizations. There is something special about it being someone’s house, often someone I have never met before but who is eager to have me over to celebrate and make this day special.
When I was a child, we used to keep Shabbat, kind of. I remember that I was not allowed to watch TV when I was six or so, and to make the day more fun, my mother and I would go to my Orthodox friend’s house to have lunch and spend time after they had come back from synagogue. It was a time for breaking out of our individual lives and joining together as a community…or in their case, a group of friends whose children went to the same kindergarten. Still, I have that same sensation every weekend here in Israel.
I have spent most Shabbat evenings with my host family. They live right across from the congregation in the High School, so it’s an easy trip back after Kabbalat Shabbat. Almost every Friday, I get dressed in my nice clothes, leave the house before sunset, and walk down the same way I walk to school (the services are held inside the schools). Yet unlike when I go to school, there is a noticeable difference in the atmosphere. There are no cars driving. If the weather is warm, there are people outside just talking. You can smell all different delicious meals wafting out from the open windows. It is a very slow, inviting time for me.
It gives me that sense of family and connection that I think one needs to live in a community. Last Friday, the rain was pouring and it was so cold there was ice on the ground. I had stupidly left my coat at home. When I got into services, I was cold though my umbrella had kept me mostly dry. Molot (my host dad) and I ran through the rain back to his place, where the heat had been turned off before Shabbat. Uh oh. Molot is religious, so he could not very well turn it back on, and I had forgotten my coat. Normally I sit down in the same chair every time I go there, but this time, it was so cold that I sat on the couch and curled up in blankets like the rest of them. Nothing makes you feel more part of the same group than laughing about how cold you are and how crazy the weather is. When the rain stopped, they would not let me leave until I had taken a fleece so that I would not be so cold on the way back.
We spend so much of our time trying to make a change within the community of Gedera as a whole, always observing even while we try to connect and join. I think what I like about my Shabbats in this city is that it is a time to relax, take off my volunteer/work hat, and embrace the community that I have found willing to welcome me. After all, to really help, one must find that place they feel they belong.