On Sunday morning we left Rehovot and made our way to Tel Aviv. Miriam had visited me that weekend, and we left each other with sad hugs at the Arlozorov train station. Amir, Eli, and I then went to the MASA bus pick up and waited to go to Jerusalem. Our bus got off to a late start, and when we arrived at the hostel it was already packed with people. I knew in my head that 500 people was a lot, but I didn’t realize just how many 500 people were until I looked around and realized I couldn’t move. Ariel greeted me with a big hug, and then took me to some of the other OTZMAnikim who were also attending the program. We then ate some lunch and soon made our way to the opening seminar.
We first heard opening welcome remarks from Ayelet Shiloh-Tamir, the CEO of MASA Israel, and Avi Steinberg, the Education Director of MASA ISrael.
After that the President Emeritus of the Hillel International, Avraham Infeld, came up to the podium to speak to us. He is more popularly noted for being the first Director of Taglit-Birthright where he led the entire planning process for the program. His speech was entitled The 5-Legged Table — Jewish Identity in the 21st Century. which he wanted to be inspirational, rather than informational. He talked about leaders in a group, and how a leader never leaves the leading. While one person can make a difference, so can a group of people. “G-d did not create a single leader to take the Jews out of Egypt. If you want to lead Jews you need a committee.”
He then spoke of Moses, and how although he was not that great of a leader, he was driven by ambition and by a cause; he knew where he wanted to go, and he went there. His brother, Aaron, was just the opposite. He was more peaceful. After more details on the two brothers he concluded by telling us two things to remember — never lead alone, and never try to lead without a mission.
So what exactly is the Jewish Mission? How do we ensure the continued, significant survival of the Jewish people? Because the future of the Jews is most certainly not ensured. “We currently live in a world of a totally confused identity. Judaism is not a religion. It is a religious culture of a particular people,” said Mr. Infeld. “There is a deep sense of belonging to the condition of the Jewish people. We are a family, and don’t forget that.”
He said how being Jewish is a sense of awareness, knowledge, and being able to open your minds. He said how the Jewish people “don’t have history, they have memory.” I loved this particular line. He wanted us to link our personal memory to the collective memory of the Jewish people. He said how most likely one of the reasons we came to Israel was to find our personal journey for the Jews. He said to make this a better world, and more specifically, to ensure that what follows us Jews is a better world than what we came into.
He concluded his inspirational speech by telling us what he wanted from us — to go back to our homes (wherever in the world they may be), and to continue to committ to Tikun Olam and the future of the Jews. To do this he said it is important to understand Eretz Yisrael [The land of Israel], but to know that the purpose of the Jewish people is not to ensure only the continuance survival of Israel, but to ensure the continuance survival of the Jews. After all, half of the Jewish population lives outside of the Holy Land. “We are a purposeful people and we have a purpose in this world — to make it a better place.”
After hearing Mr. Infeld speak we all split up into smaller groups. I was in group 15 with three other OTZMAnikim. Our leaders name was Ran (pronounced Ron). At 27 he has already served in a high ranking in the IDF, obtained a law degree from Hebrew University, works in the Knesset, and does plenty of volunteer work on the side. Talk about inspirational. We started our group discussion with my favorite activity, icebreakers! That was complete sarcasm, I always tend to dread icebreakers. After getting to know each other a little, we spoke about transformative leadership and other different styles of it.
Afterwards we went to our rooms and got ready for a Gala that was held for us that evening. What a great time it was! It was so nice to listen to some live background music, eat some o’derves along with a delicious dinner, hear speakers, and get excited and motivated for the coming week.
All of the speakers were great, but the two men from the NU campaign really caught my attention. The NU Campaign is a t-shirt company. As described on its website they strive “Through Stimulating and Artistic Design, NU shirts illustrate the ‘Human Story’ behind Major Israeli and Global Humanitarian Causes. On the inside of the Each Shirt, Opposite the Heart, the Story is Printed, so that Wearers ‘Literally’ Carry it with them and Become its Ambassadors out on the Streets.”
The two founders of the campaign told us how they started, with a detailed story of advocating for Israel at an anti-Israel rally in the streets of South Africa. At the end we were all told to look under our table for a surprise. Underneath was a custom-designed BFL t-shirt for each of us to keep. Now who doesn’t love free t-shirts?!