Last year I had the opportunity to be a (very old ) participant at midreshet ein prat a program for post Army/Pre University young people. This year I had the opportunity to join them for Shabbat/Shavuot.
The midrasha was founded by Micah Goodman a dynamic teacher who seems to show up everywhere I look: a bestselling book on Maimonides, a filled to overflow lecture at Machon Begin on Tisha B’Av, Hartman Institute programs in English and Hebrew…I even looked up at the TV in a coffee shop on a Friday afternoon and saw him interviewed about the weekly torah portion. He made a visit to LA where he visited Ikar and other groups.
The Midrasha is targeted to bring together dati and lo dati young people to learn western philosophy and Jewish sources. Their day starts at 8 am with Talmud and literally ended with Machiavelli at midnight with new testament, modern jewish philosophy,Plato and sufi Islam in between. The judaica teacher is the soft spoken Rabbi Danny Segal who with an approach the polar opposite of Micah’s makes just as much if not more impact. In between I saw students pair off to learn Spinoza by bringing up Google books on their laptops.
The Midrasha has grown tremendously, there is the five month after army program as well as a month long Elul Program, they have added a pre Army mechina . Over the past year Ein Prat has begun to host American groups of American students through Tikva fellows. The Israel Ein Prat alumni can’t get enough of the experience and have continued with a magazine and alumni groups in Beersheba and Jerusalem that have Shabbat programs and courses during the week.
The program for Shabbat/Shavuot was hosted by those currently on the five month program and was attended by alumni, friends of alumni, potential participants and even one fellow who literally stumbled upon the place. The participants pretty much rolled up their sleeves and ran things, the 2 staff people pretty much the same age as the participants gave guidelines as to what needed to be done in food prep, cleaning and the participants took over from there. The 2 days at ein prat were exactly the type of “chavaya” I want to blog about.
Kabbalat Shabbat is conducted at a spot with an incredible viewover the Judaean desert. The tefillot are led by a male and a female of dati background. They are conducted with incredible spirit and Carlebach and other similar melodies as the sun sets over the desert…it bore strong resemblance (and not by coincidence) to your best Jewish summer camp or Shabbat retreat kabbalat Shabbat.
Interestingly the chevra than move back to the midrasha after kabbalat shabbat and a far smaller group participates in the maariv service traditional with a mechitza. It’s a pattern one notices often at ein prat: the dati students retain their more “orthodox observant”, those from a non religious background experience more of the tradition than most have ever participated in in their lifetimes. But this is not a program designed to change anyone to a particular pattern of behavior or observance. The main goal is to open everyone’s eyes and mind to a different way of looking at things.
Everyone the assembles for Kiddush and the Shabbat meals, complete with songs that I hadn’t heard since Zionist summer camp, decades ago.
Shabbat morning those interested (a very small group )attended services at the adjacent yishuv Alon. Everyone reassembled for Kiddush and Shabbat lunch. Havdalla was attended by all with a Debbie Friedman melody common at American non orthodox summer camps and synagogues.
Then the real action began… the crowd built to probably 3 or 4 times the size for the tikun leyl Shavuot…remember that these participants would be non observant that travelled on Shabbat. The group swelled to close over 200 to hear classes from Micha, Rabbi Danny. Micah’s keynote talk on Shavuot spoke about the need for Judaism to adapt itself to three main issues: relations to the outsider, women’s rights and homosexual rights.
Then participants had the option of several classes through the night. It seemed to me most stayed up all night. Again few assembled for fomal tefillot the next day. However a large group sat in a circle for a reading of megillat ruth in traditional trop led by one of the Dati guys. As the day progressed most studied Ruth in small groups.
None of the program was micro managed, study groups developed spontaneously or folk just assembled for conversation, study or card games. The 2 day experience was enough to motivate a few non einprat alumni to consider applying to future programs
During my time at Ein Prat I am wont to walk up to one of the particiants and ask “could I ask you a question ?” which is my tactic to engage them in a 20 -30 minute conversation…which they are almost always open to participating in. Some common themes come across in all the conversations.
For the non observant including some who stated they never even had Friday night Kiddush in their open a big part of their motivation was that there was something missing in their background. As one student put it to me it didn’t make sense to grow up in a jewish state and receive an education in which one didn’t even know what a page of Talmud looked like. They all (of course I am sure there were exceptions) found the exposure to Jewish sources and traditions an eye opening experience . Most expressed interest in continuing to incorporate more tradition and study of sources in their life….but none were about to become strictly observant.
Those from the Orthodox community were clearly out of the mold of many of their peers. They came to Ein Prat out of a desire to gain exposure to secular sources…it also seemed clear to me that they wanted strong social interaction with their non dati peers something that if it occurs at all would likely only be in the framework of their Army service.
Common to both groups was a rejection of what they viewed as the artificial black and white distinction between “dati and cheloni” is outdated something set by previous generations that doesn’t match the way they view things. Many are interested in studying jewish sources, increasing their observance of Shabbat..but few if any of the non religious are about to become dati and few among the dati seemed to be inclined to become “dat lash = dati lesheavar formerly orthodox—although several already fell into that category and based on statistics it would be reasonable to assume a few more will enter that group. Also there are far more “intermarriages” between dati and lo dati partners than most Americans would suspect…..does this all sound a bit familiar….?
For me what is fascinating to find in all these encounters is what I call the American “fingerprints”. Micah’s parents are American and he is affiliated with the Hartman Institute which is created and led by American olim, Rabbi Danny Segal’s father is an American oleh Conservative Rabbi…and many of the participants have American parents or connections. One of the most dynamic teachers Dror Bondi is teaching from his book of translations of the works of Abraham Joshua Heschel who is very minimally known amont Israelis…The young Israeli woman who drove me back to Jerusalem told me she had been a participant on Young Judaea year course and worked her way through American Jewry by working with NIFTY, Camp Ramah and NCSY.
One question I always ask in these environments is whether American Judaism’s greatest contribution to Israel might be it’s greater openness (across denominations). I always get strong agreement even more so when I suggest it is potentially a far greater contribution than advice on foreign policy or negotiating tactics.
So here’s some food for thought: not only would it be great for American Jews to become more aware and involved with these groups…in doing this American Jews would be well advised to leave their denominational labels at the airport before they get on the plane to Israel.
Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform American Jews would find much in common with many of these programs….and no doubt much that doesn’t exactly match their worldview. Far better to work with these groups where they stand rather than make support and ties contingent on the details of their programs. If one is truly concerned about disturbing trends of religious extremism it Israel best to work from the bottom up with groups like the students and alumni of ein prat.
In any event make a visit for yourself, the students hold a mishmar—all night study session – which is open to the public on Thursday nights..I faced both times I attended at around 1 -2 am. And feel free to make a connection if dropping in on a Thursday night doesn’t meet your plans….In the meantime you can find a gallery of videos here
Although I am committed to not making this blog a forum for discussion of “ha matsav” I think it would be disingenuous not to mention that Ein Prat is located at Yishuv Alon over the green line about 25 minutes from Jerusalem near Maale Adumim . I’ll leave it to others to draw conclusions and look at where it stands on various maps of proposed final settlements.
I also would be remiss not to steer people to the great videos from the ein prat music group: the fountainheads. The music videos can be found here