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Monthly Archives: March 2021

Post by Sara

by Sara

The past few weeks have been full of excitement at my house, as I am making my final preparations before heading off to New Hampshire for the next few months. I leave for Marlborough in less than two weeks now, and I am so excited to finally arrive! In case you haven’t seen my previous posts, which you should definitely check out, by the way, I’m heading north for a program called Gap at Glen Brook, a place-based gap year program that focuses on personal growth through a variety of experiences, including engagement with nature, building practical skills, and more.

Since October, I’ve been preparing myself in a lot of ways for this experience, which will be like nothing I’ve done before. I’ve never been away from home for so long before, never seen more than an inch of snow before, and certainly never canoed to another state before. That being said, I knew what I had signed up for when I decided to attend Glen Brook, and these “never-befores” are, at least for now, more exciting than nerve-wracking for me. In order to prepare to the best of my ability, I’ve had to do a great deal of learning about surviving New England winters, including everything from base layers to fleece hats to sleeping bags rated to 15°F.

There are also, of course, a lot of covid related procedures to follow in the lead up to arrival, and yesterday was the start of my two-week quarantine. Every day, I record my temperature, symptoms, and notes for the day to be turned in upon arrival, and I am limiting outside excursions to only the essential. I will also be getting another covid test next week, as will the other participants. Once we all arrive at Glen Brook, we will continue to social distance and wear masks for two weeks, and if no symptoms are shown, we will then transition into a domestic unit.

My next post will be written from New Hampshire, and I can’t wait to share more about the experience. Also, if you are curious about the program, check out their website: https://www.gapatglenbrook.org/.

Out on the Trail

by Leah

We’ve reached the height of the season for dog sledding trips, and are now going out on an overnight trip about once a week. Just yesterday we got back from a three-day trip–we spent two nights at our established winter campsite, with five of us staff members, five clients, and 20 dogs.
A trip like this takes a lot of work. Preparation began a few days in advance, with me packing out all of the food we would need. The day after all of the food was organized, I went with one of my bosses to drag the food into our campsite by snowmobile and to move dog sleds to the trailhead.
That evening, our five clients arrived–we settled them into our guest lodge, outfitted them with all of the warm clothes they would need, and told them to be ready to go at 8:30 in the morning.
The next day we fed the dogs at 6:30 in the morning, then all of us staff ate a quick breakfast together and got moving: backpacks and skis and snowshoes and ropes and all sorts of extra equipment and parts had to be loaded into the trucks, and then the dogs were loaded, and we were off, driving to the trailhead.
Once we’re at the trailhead, the dogs stay in the truck until the last minute. They’re always ready and raring to go, so as soon as they’re hooked up to the sleds you have to leave right away or else they’ll get frustrated. But there’s plenty of stuff that has to happen before the dogs can get hooked up: our ski guide set off with two of the clients (they need an early start since they can’t move as fast as the dog team), and the lines on the dog sleds were all laid out and prepared, and the qomatik was loaded with anything that there wasn’t room for in the three sleds, and then the qomatik was attached to the snowmobile by a tow bar, and finally we started unloading dogs from the truck. We divided the 20 dogs into three teams: an eight-dog team and two six-dog teams, each with a staff member mushing and a client inside the sled. Me and my fellow apprentice took turns mushing the last team and driving the snowmobile, which follows behind the last dog team. And we set off, winding down our trail onto the lake, and then into a cove where our campsite is.
The campsite has several canvas wall tents that we leave erected all winter. Each tent has a bough floor and a wood stove. As soon as we got to camp, half of us tied the dogs up in camp and gave each one of them a bed of hay while the other half went out onto the lake with an ice chisel and a sled full of empty pots to collect water.

   

Once the dogs were all watered and the sleds and qomatik unpacked, we ate lunch together out on the ice. After that there were chores to be done: finding firewood and bringing it back to camp, and cutting up meat for the dogs, and fetching and boiling more water as needed, and collecting boughs to add to the tents, and chopping wood, and keeping stoves running, and finally making dinner. After dinner we did the dishes, and then we went down onto the lake for my favorite part of every overnight trip: the campfire.
In a normal year, guests and staff would all eat together in the largest tent (the cook tent), passing around food, telling stories, getting to know each other. But with covid, we can’t all be in one tent together–we have to eat separately. So every night, we make a campfire out on the lake. That’s where storytelling and socializing happens this year.
The wind blows jets of smoke and sparks, causing us to engage in a perpetual dance around the fire as its direction changes. On this night, the stars were the best I’ve seen them here–they reminded me of my trip to Big Bend this fall; they were almost as bright.
Thanks to the nature of the service that we provide and our rigorous safety policies, we have been able to keep taking folks on these amazing trips, even while covid is still an incredibly dangerous threat to many people, businesses, and communities. It’s a pleasure to get to spend time meeting new people after months of isolation, and it’s so much fun to watch them experience the wonder of the dogs and the outdoors, and incredibly rewarding to know that I helped facilitate that experience.
I’ll be here for about two more months–I’m so excited to spend more time with the dogs, and with amazing people out on the trail.

Exploring

by Kayla

I’ve always been fascinated with color theory. In fifth grade, I gave a presentation highlighting my limited understanding of how our eyes process color and how color mixing works. In seventh grade, I was enthralled with and inspired by a biomedical optics lecture. In high school, I found neuroaesthetics articles and immediately wanted to learn more. I plan to explore the intersection between art and science in the future, as these disciplines really fuel my passion for learning. I’ve begun to learn more about neuroaesthetics by reading and researching, and I hope to continue this exploration throughout college.

I want to explore more subjects related to my interests, so I decided to delve into graphic design. Venturing into Photoshop and other programs for the first time was daunting, but online tutorials helped me figure out the basic ins and outs of design. Working on graphic design can be tedious, but it definitely strengthens my attention to detail and my work ethic.

Sometimes, I’ll go outside to the local park to read or to complete my work. It’s a great way to get out of the house and to get some fresh air while continuing to learn. Without the stress of deadlines and exams, I’m finding more enjoyment in exploring the topics that I’m interested in, and I feel more motivation and excitement for my studies in college. I appreciate having the time to figure out how I learn best so that I can get the most out of my current and future studies.

As I learn more about graphic design, I’ve found that I can apply many of the lessons I learn to my everyday life. Ranging from the effects of color to the importance of negative space, these lessons change the way I consume media and influence my approach to choreography and dance. I’m really grateful for the chance to investigate different avenues during my gap year. With a more flexible schedule, I’ve been able to explore more about myself in order to figure out how to balance my life before starting college. As I continue my gap year, I hope to keep branching out and to find even more opportunities.

Coping with COVID

By Sammy

COVID has been crashing world economies, demolishing daily routines, and most of all, causing deaths throughout the world. Israel has not been spared, with the country initiating multiple country-wide lockdowns to fight off the spread of the disease. However, Israel has also been leading the world in vaccinations per capita. After high cases per capita, the Israelis fought back resiliently, rapidly dealing out doses to its citizens. Recently, I volunteered at one of these vaccination centers, checking in on post-vaccinated people and giving them refreshments.

 

The center was a blur of efficiency, and I was delighted to see how fast Israel was administering vaccinations. I conversed in Hebrew with the people there. Since most of them were elderly and spoke slowly, I was able to understand almost everything. These conversations proved a great measure of how much my Hebrew improved in my time here. As I exchanged stories, part of me was thinking about the current situation in the US, where my own grandmas had been struggling for weeks to schedule a vaccination. It seemed so simple to implement quick distribution of the vaccine, and I was astounded after hearing how slow the process was in America. After personally seeing the efficiency and organization of Israel, my heart filled with pride. Not only are Israelis innovative and determined, but also so genuine and welcoming. As I volunteered, people pulled me aside to chat and asked me about my life, diving straight to deeper conversations without any superfluous chit-chat. I left the center feeling fulfilled and proud.
A couple weeks later, my friends and I did some research and found a place where we could personally receive vaccinations, since they had extra doses that they were just going to throw out at the end of the day. We rushed over, and in ten short minutes, I was through the line and given my first dose. I had received the vaccine before even my own grandparents in America.
It was also exciting to be able to search for the vaccine center ourselves, making our own appointments and deciding when to go. Doctor appointments, insurance, meals, laundry — we had officially been given responsibility over most aspects of our lives. In the middle of January, my friends and I moved into our own apartment. We soon started work, and began independent and fulfilling routines. I had my first day of my internship, taking a thirty-minute bus to an office in Herzliya. The company is called “VeloQuant,” a high-frequency trading firm that creates bots with algorithms to trade stocks by the microsecond. My job was to help code these investing strategies, and I started my day learning about their system and database. I shared an office space overlooking the sea, equipped with two massive desktop computers at my desk.

With only four other employees, who were extremely welcoming, I already felt part of the company family. As typical of Israeli culture, my boss conversed with me for an hour, asking about my family life, time in Israel, Jewish identity, and more. He proceeded to tell me about his life, his work, and even mentioned his eight-year service in the army. I had my theories that he was an elite undercover Mossad (Israeli’s secret intelligence) agent, but I didn’t press him with too many questions. I returned after my first day, feeling truly satisfied to finally have a routine along with a unique work experience. But it wouldn’t last long.
The next night, I sat down for Shabbat dinner that ten of my friends and I had been working on for the last couple hours. We had spicy chicken, schnitzel, salad, potatoes, and a variety of other dishes. I bit into the chicken, and found the food surprisingly tasteless. Same with the salad. Same with the potatoes. I had completely lost my taste. We heard later that someone on our program had tested positive for COVID, and a day after my own test, the health ministry informed me about my positive result. After some confusing conversations in Hebrew over the phone, I was asked about my recent contacts and then sent into a 10-day quarantine. I was whisked away to one of our program’s buildings with thirty other kids on the program who also tested positive. I had to contact my fellow employees and boss at work, telling them they had to get tested as well. Even though they tested negative, they still had to enter a ten-day confinement…not the best first impression.
Regardless, everyone is thankfully healthy. I’m working from my computer, studying Hebrew, and working out. While definitely a setback, I will be back out in a few days and ready to restart my routine. As of now, I’m still making the most of my time here and embodying the traits of Israelis: resiliency and efficiency.

My Trip to the Gaza Border

By Sami

As one of the most turbulent and dangerous areas in the world, the Gaza strip is certainly a place myself and most Jews have learned about, at least in the context of its relationship with Israel. Before writing more about my experience learning about the conflict between Israel and Gaza, though, I thought I’d give a brief summary of how today’s circumstances came to be. 

 During the War of 1948, in which Israel won its independence, thousands of Palestinian refugees fled the war and settled in the Gaza strip. The territory ended up under Egyptian rule and stayed that way until Israel took control after the 1967 Six Day War. Over time, a number of Israeli settlements were built within the Gaza strip, but growing violent opposition convinced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that it was t

oo dangerous to continue the Israeli civilian presence within the territory. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, forcibly removing the Israeli residents from the settlements. After an election and military coup, Hamas, an extremist militant group, took control of the strip. Since then, constant rocket fire targeting Israeli civilians has led to several more violent confrontations between Gaza and Israel, leaving much of Gaza destroyed and in extreme poverty. 

My view of Gaza City from Sderot.

Until recently, my vision of the Gaza strip and its neighboring Israeli towns was largely abstract. Israelis have gotten so used to constant rocket fire from Gaza that it no longer seems unnatural, and because I had never actually met someone from Gaza, their reality to me felt like nothing more than a cautionary tale of what misunderstanding and unending conflict could do to a society. I felt almost numb to the fact that nearly 2 million civilians live in Gaza in some of the worst conditions on the planet and that the poverty and violence that exists there is so closely related to the reality I’ve been living for the past six months in Jerusalem.  

A closer view of Gaza through a telescope. Seeing real people on the other side of the border, and speaking to Ahmad on the phone, made the Gazan’s reality feel more tangible to me.

This past weekend, my program took us on a tour of the towns neighboring the Gaza strip and introduced us to a number of people who’ve experienced the conflict on a more personal level. First we arrived in Sderot, a small city less than a mile from the border with Gaza. We heard from a woman who had lived near the border for over thirty years and also spent many years in Egypt, interacting with Arabs and learning about their struggles. After speaking about the need to work towards peace, she put us on the phone with a man named Ahmad who had spent his entire life in Gaza, unable to leave, and who spoke about the living conditions his community is faced with. As an academic who regularly interacts with Israelis and who’s attempting to lessen the tensions in the area, he is seen as a traitor to Hamas and has been arrested multiple times. Just being able to hear the voice of this man who many people see as an enemy simply because of the place where he involuntarily lives helped me see the urgency with which the conflict needs to be solved. After speaking to Ahmad, we took a tour of Israel’s defensive infrastructure with a Jewish man whose settlement was destroyed by Israel during disengagement. Throughout the tour, he didn’t hide his anger towards the attempted peace process and the Hamas terrorists who launch rockets into Israel every month. I was able to see inside Gaza through a telescope, and in one frame I could see farmers on the other side of the wall, with buildings with Hamas posters on one side of them and heaps of rubble on the other, and directly above the farmers high up in the sky was an Israeli balloon with surveillance cameras attached.  

Apart from hearing about Gaza, we also visited a small kibbutz right on the border named Nahal Oz, and there we learned about the lives of the Israelis. Throughout our tour of the town, we saw tiny bomb shelters staggered around parks and sidewalks, and we learned about the PTSD almost all of the local children suffer from because of the frequent bomb sirens and the fear that at any moment their home could be hit. 

A local Israeli showed our group how an artist transformed a rocket made from a lamppost into a beautiful Hanukkiah.

After a two-hour bus ride, I returned to Jerusalem feeling incredibly privileged to have had the chance to visit this zone of conflict and to speak with people from all sides of the spectrum, and to have learned all that I did knowing I’m not in harm’s way. Spending this year in Israel has helped me make better sense of all that’s going on here, and it has pushed me to see the situation in Gaza as more tangible, as a conflict that today is impacting the lives of millions of innocent people, and as a conflict that is urgently personal and troubling.

Colon Hyphen Parenthesis

By Valerie

As a quintessential Gen Z-er, I am conversationally impaired without my painstakingly-curated digital repository of stickers, emoticons and emojis. How could I not, when they have the power to impart shades and nuances that colloquial devices cannot effectively convey? 

 

Responding playfully to a lame quip from a close friend with a terse remark lacks the theatricality of a flamboyant swivelling “OK” sign. A sprawling dead-eyed Kermit screams exasperation of an intensity that beggars description, infusing an impassioned rant with a much-warranted melodramatic tinge. And who could decline even the most onerous request at the heart-rending sight of a puppy with its paws clasped in earnest imploration? 

 

When emails superseded texts as my dominant mode of communication for work and research, I balked at the cold, perfunctory exchanges. The striking absence of a warm human touch was discomfortingly at odds with my propensity for genuine, personal engagement. In a bid to lighten the tone of solemn discussions, I interspersed plain words with cordial smileys. But the bold attempts backfired, my well-intentioned overtures coming across as shallow and contrived. 

 

Dismiss it as childish naivete if you must, but I refused to accept that this– sterile, dull and flagrantly pragmatic– was the immutable nature of work conversations and relationships. Thus began a series of strategic efforts to transpose these dialogues to the familiar grounds of WhatsApp and Telegram. There, with an extensive pictorial arsenal once again at my disposal, surely I would be better-placed to forge more meaningful connections?  

 

Self-doubt and anxiety clouded the start of my endeavor. Was this appropriate? How would others react? Would my gestures be misconstrued? Preferring to err on the side of caution, I was conservative in my choices– especially with people many years my senior (boomers, basically)– carefully testing the waters before deciding to advance or retreat. It was a delicate balancing act that entailed not so much treading the fine line between the personal and the professional as constantly zigzagging across it, expertly adjusting the sails whenever the needle strayed too far off-centre.  

 

Unapologetically nonchalant responses threatened to dampen my enthusiasm, but a handful of earnest reciprocations convinced me that it was well worth the effort. I am still not quite sure what to make out of these relationships, though. They continue to awkwardly straddle the ambiguous divide between work and life, suffusing me with guilt-ridden gratitude for reaping the practical benefits borne out of mutual amity, while evoking bouts of skepticism towards the other party’s intentions when the friendly exploitation becomes too blatant and overbearing. 

 

I guess I’m starting to get a taste of office politics. 

What’s Next

By Hannah

After I finalized my decision to take a gap year last spring, I spent a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this year were going to be. I had a feeling that I was going to be changing my plans a lot for the year and wanted to have a way to ensure that I still accomplished certain things. The list went as follows: 

 

  1. Travel somewhere 
  1. Engage in new ways in my community 
  1. Meet new people 
  1. Read more  
  1. Form good self care habits 
  1. Spend time with my family 
  1. Get real world experience 
  1. Go outside my comfort zone 
  1. Improve my cooking 
  1.  Don’t be stressed 
  1. Have fun 

 

Looking at this list now, I feel like I am making good progress on every item, except for number 2. I put this second because I felt like it was something really important to me. Knowing I would be spending a good portion of this year at home got me thinking about how I could make the most of that. I decided that I wanted to find a new way to give back to the community I have called home my entire life. Especially now with COVID-19 and other crises facing us, I want to be able to look back on this time in my life and know that I stepped up. While I don’t know exactly what form this is going to take, I have been in touch with a few local organizations and am working on finding a couple volunteer opportunities to work on these next few months. I look forward to finalizing these plans very soon and hopefully having some cool experiences to share next month!  

 In the meantime, I am now back home from my time on the east coast, and have been enjoying spending my time outdoors (especially with my newfound appreciation for a California winter). I’m spending my time with my family and friends going on hikes, skiing, and even watching the Superbowl while having a picnic on the beach.