So the last three days have been Orientation time for me. That’s right, I haven’t actually started school yet! (At the school in Israel they wait ’till the endless round of holidays are over and then keep us there about a month later than in the States.)

Some background: I’ll be studying at an Israeli rabbinical school–one that has a full ordination program in my denomination for Israelis. So they’re there for 5 years. For what is usually the third year, they ship us kids from the two schools of our denomination in the States here to learn. Depending on one’s Hebrew level, some classes might be with the Israelis, and there are a few classes that are specifically for us Americanim.

Day one was mostly administrative: meet the administrators and (some) faculty, get a lot of paperworky info about registration, volunteer projects, etc., do Hebrew and Talmud level testing, etc., with a reception in the evening for folks to start getting to know each other a little. There are 11 people from my school and 12 or 13 from The Other School. So far I’m feeling pretty good about the group as a whole–I like the people who are here from my school, and The Other School kids seem good, as well. A lot of them are married men in their early-mid 20’s. Well, all of them, really, except for the 4 women (one of whom is married to one of the married guys.) The people from TOS that I’ve gotten to know a bit I like, and so far the small talking has been generally not bad, either. Also had a pretty wonderful academic advising meeting–I am, as always, sort of a weird case re: class placement, and I was quite pleased with the way my advisor decided to handle that and what the possibilities might be. I may wind up rearranging my sched. a couple of times before I’m through, but he didn’t seem to think this was all that big a deal, which is nice. So this year may have some real potential.

Yesterday and today were more activity-oriented. I confess, I was a little nervous when it became clear that the theme of the days was going to be Zionist history–it can be a pretty loaded topic these days–but they actually did a fabulous job. We started off with an excercise in which we analized the messages being set forth in early (1910s-40s) Zionist propaganda, posters and the like. Lots of room for critical analysis. Then we went on a tour of Nobel Prize-winning writer S.Y. Agnon’s house, ending with sitting around his garden discussing a couple of stories and feeling the season’s first warm sweet drops of rain fall. (We’d only started saying the prayer for rain about 4 days earlier!)

Today we went on a tour of the town of Zikhron Yaakov, an early early settlement a few hours NW or Jerusalem. We had the same guide/educator for the two days, and he did what was actually a phenomenal pedagogical move: the first half of the day was largely lecture with some discussion–getting the basic history and background about the place. Then he let us loose on the town’s history museum and told us to think about (and then we discussed) how they portrayed the same history, what we’d keep and what we’d do differently, what got left out, whose POVs were over- or underrepresented, etc. Was good both as a way of engaging us and as getting us to think about our learning as educators ourselves. Then we had Q and A with a panel of people from the town’s shul of our denomination, so more with the hard questions and complicated answers.

What I most appreciated about the two days’ program is that they seemed really interested in allowing us to think about complexity and subtlety and nuance and shades of grey and not just to show us a pretty picture of how great it is to be a Jew in the Holy Land. The early history wasn’t put on a pedastal and the messy realities of today (even just re: Jews relating to other Jews) were in full view. So when someone on the panel talked about what was beautiful and rewarding and profound, it was easy to believe him/her because we were also hearing the truth about what’s hard.

So, yeah, so far so good. We’ll see how things feel after classes start on Sunday (here, Friday is more like a day off and Sunday is a workday), but this wasn’t a bad way to start.

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