The English Shnatties saying goodbye at the airport: October 2013
Two RSY-Netzer shnatties saying the prayer for going on a journey before boarding the plane: October 2013
It is not possible for me to talk about my journey with Shnat Netzer without looking back to 2011, when I went on LJY-Nezer’s Israel tour. Having never been to Israel before, I was shocked at the connection I felt and therefore resolved to come on Shnat Netzer two years later. There was also an ideological rooting in my decision to join the program, which developed and strengthened as I got older, and solidified whilst on Shnat. I came to realise the importance of Israel, progressive Judaism within Israel, youth movements, Reform Zionism, Tikkun Olam, and the ability to, in your youth, not only make informed decisions, but also to feel empowered.
Two LJY-Netzer shnatties and one RSY-Netzer shnattie on our opening seminar in Jerusalem: October 2013
Our first visit to the Kotel on our first night on shnat: October 2013
LJY-Netzer has always provided me with a feeling of community, and I believe that that is of the upmost importance to the development of everyone who is part of the movement. Until I came on Shnat I could not harness the feeling that was evoked within me when I sat in services at Machaneh Kadimah, or really felt passionate about vegetarianism, or started chants in the dining hall. But now, as my year draws to a close, and I have lived within a Netzer community for 8 months, I realise that this feeling was one of belonging. I am part of a worldwide movement of young, progressive Jews, who share rituals, traditions, ideals, but most of all, who share a common goal in the bettering of the state of Israel. And that, along with the drive to pass this goal to future pioneers of Netzer, is the single most powerful thing in my life.
Our first Shabbat Shacharit as Northern Shnat Kinneret;
playing guitar in the Etgar flat on our opening seminar: October 2013
Shnat Netzer is about many things, and all of these things can be seen in different stages of the program. Firstly, it is about creating a Kvutsah, a group of people who eat, sleep, learn, talk, cry and laugh together, at all hours of the day. This is important because it creates worldwide bonds between Netzer sniffim and allows for the realisation of each individual that Netzer is world wide, and therefore that we are all interconnected, not only as human beings, but also as a movement. Furthermore, it is about actualisation of Netzer’s three pillars: Reform Zionism, Progressive Judaism, Tikkun Olam. As you are living and breathing Netzer for 8 months, everything you do is spurred by the ideology. Whether it is working on Kibbutz Lotan (one of two reform kibbutzim in Israel), volunteering in fields of Israel’s society that need development (such as Arab-Israeli schools), or planning and running ma’amadim (creative prayer services) for each other, you are constantly surrounded by and implementing Netzer’s ideology. Whilst on Shnat Netzer, you really are fulfilling the Reform Zionist dream. Moreover, it is about intellectual stimulation, which occurs not only in the classroom but also in your living space. Your opinions and view points are constantly challenged and affirmed through your classes, as well as through conversations had over meals, early in the morning and late into the night. Lastly, it is about growth as a young adult as you learn to cook for 19 people at a time, keep your living space not only tidy but also clean, make sure you have enough clean clothes, and figure out how to travel in an unknown country.
The Yitzhak Rabin memorial in Tel Aviv on our first week on Shnat: October 2013
Rewind, now, to the beginning of my Shnat journey, 235 days ago, when the English group from northern Shnat Kinneret were standing in the airport, petrified for the 8 months ahead, saying goodbye to loved ones. Since then, we have spent time on Kibbutz Lotan, volunteered in Karmiel, and have had lessons in Jerusalem. At each stage of our journey we were faced with new highs, new challenges and new lessons, and each section of the program has been vastly significant to our experience in it’s own way. We have experienced Israeli society in many of different skins, and have been exposed to many different lifestyles, whilst constantly having our ideologies as a group, as well as individuals, challenged.
Our time on Kibbutz Lotan began in October, and from the moment we stepped off the bus it was clear that it was going to be an inspirational journey. The Kibbutz itself is situated in the heart of the desert, on the border of Jordan, allowing for the community to be not only secluded, but also breathtakingly beautiful. There is nothing quite like the sight of the Jordanian Mountains glowing red at dusk, as the sun begins to set, or the cloud formations in the morning sky, with rays of sunlight bursting through. One of the biggest inspirations I felt from the kibbutz, was rooted in the environment that the kibbutz operates within. It made me realise Tikkun Olam in an ecological sense really is possible, as it is being achieved right now in the desert, and so therefore should be achievable elsewhere. The eco-kef is an ecological centre that aims to live as sustainably as possible. It includes composting toilets, vegetarianism, reusing every material possible, and mud domes, (that we stayed in) which are designed to need no additional heating or cooling, as the construction means they keep cool in the summer and warm in the winter.
An RSY-Netzer and LJY-Netzer shnattie enjoying the desert on Kibbutz Lotan: October 2013
LJY-Netzer shnattie cooking on Kibbutz Lotan: October 2013
On Lotan, we had lessons with the members of the Kibbutz, which helped us to understand the people who are dedicated to the ideology of kibbutzim and Reform Zionism, and to learn from them, based on their subjects of expertise. We rotated around the work branches, helping to shovel dry cow pats and move the cut branches of the date trees. We cleaned the rooms of the hostels and planted seeds in the eco-kef. We installed air conditioners and painted the walls of the pub. Being in a community that was completely focused around Reform Zionism, really helped to initiate ideological thought in a lot of us. We had discussions on how to keep Netzer moving forward, and how to unite the sniffim from across the world.
One of the mud domes we slept in on Kibbutz Lotan
On the sand dunes near Lotan: October 2013
Our time on Kibbutz Lotan was special and influential for the group. The sensation of belonging that is induced on Netzer events is the heart of the very being of the Kibbutz, as it is based upon not only our ideals as Netzer, but also on community and socialism. It gave many people hope that the values Netzer gives you are not only applicable whilst you are at youth movement age, but that you can go on in your life and make them a reality.
Two LJY-Netzer shnatties as the mountains turn pink at sunset;
two Netzer Barcelona shnatties and an RSY-Netzer shnattie cooking dinner on Lotan
Northern Shnat Kinneret on a hike in Timna Park;
An LJY-Shnattie with a bra as a plant pot:
After spending time on Kibbutz Lotan, we headed to Karmiel where we encountered our first experience of communal living. 19 of us living together paved the way for us having to learn how to keep the house as a functioning and blooming community. We ran aseiphot and sharing circles, aiming to provide a safe space for everyone to express themselves as individuals and also as members of a community. We spent our days volunteering, and through that, we experienced Israeli society first hand. Through the children and adults we met, we gained insight into topics such as the IDF and the conflict in Israel, broadening our perspectives and bringing to light the complexity of the issues within the country we are living in. Communal living was never easy, but it made us reflect on ourselves and how we related to others, forcing us to put the needs of the collective above those of our own.
Two LJY-Netzer shnatties on a tandem in Karmiel
Our first sharing circle as a community: November 2013
The community during “Mystery Maccabi” at Channukah
An RSY-Netzer shnattie cycling:
Besides learning about community and Israeli society as a whole, the volunteering we did in Karmiel helped us to live out Netzer’s pillar of Tikkun Olam. The volunteering was hard and repetitive, and people often felt fed up, but the lesson learned was invaluable. We were putting our needs, comfort and desire for constant stimulation aside, in the hope to better Israel’s society. Furthermore, the act of fulfilling Tikkun Olam through volunteering, really brought to light the importance of social action within Netzer’s ideology, relinquishing the idea of Tikkun Olam being about the environment alone.
An RSY-Netzer shnattie with the flags of all the countries represented in our group on New Year’s Eve;
Two LJY-Netzer shnatties and an RSY-Netzer shnattie in a 3-hour Reggae ma’amad: January 2014
Shnatties on the beach in Haifa
LJY-Netzer shnattie designing a T-shirt for our time on Lotan
In February, the Northern group split into two programmes, and we were joined by Southern Shnat Netzer, all of whom are from Australia. Half of the group went to Machon, a program which runs in a university style, where the participants live in dormitories, eat in a dining room, and are from a spectrum of different youth movements. The other half of us chose the Netzer specific program, in which you live, 17 people in a flat, have lessons, volunteer, and build a community. I cannot speak for Machon, as I have not experienced it first hand, but I believe the experience of learning from a wide range of youth movements is a very important one. Etgar, however, I can speak for (although it’ll be hard to sum up the experience and I feel I could speak about it forever). The main thing that is important about Etgar is the constant attention that the community needs. The community itself is an organic structure that has to be watched carefully, as without warning it can plummet and need revitalisation. The main factors that contribute to the atmosphere within the community are; having a clean and tidy house within which everyone does their job, having enough healthy food, having people cook nutritious meals, going to and participating in lessons, running sessions for each other, spending time in communal areas doing communal things, taking trips together, running shabbatot and other services for each other, having successful aseiphot, caring for the needs of others whilst encouraging people to be as involved in the community as possible. Etgar has challenged every fibre of my being, whilst accelerating my intellectual abilities faster than I could ever have anticipated. You are living not for yourself, but for 16 other people, and there is always an ideological discussion to be had. Are we fulfilling the Reform Zionist dream? What is this dream? Would you give up Jerusalem for absolute peace? How can we end extreme poverty? Etgar really does live up to it’s name.
Now, as I sit and write this, there are only 17 days left for those from the northern hemisphere, and time is running out. As our year draws to an end, I look back to the feelings that were circulating in the airport, and can mirror them to how I feel now. There is anticipation for the next months ahead of me. Will I be able to pass on everything I’ve learned to the chanachim on camp? Will I find a way to continue my drive for Tikkun Olam and Reform Zionism when I’m back in the Diaspora? Will I find a niche for my Judaism whilst at university? I am leaving a family behind, just like I was 8 months ago, and in some ways too, I am leaving behind my home. This is the beauty of Shnat Netzer, a real and true community is formed.
Northern Shnat Kinneret
Netzer Germany shnattie and an LJY-Netzer shnattie in the Dead Sea
With the benefits of Shnat Netzer in mind, it is now essential to consider how we can spread what we’ve learned to our communities in the Diaspora. If anything, the past year has stressed to me the importance of educating ourselves on the reality of what Judaism and Zionsim is today. Living in the UK it is often easy for us to overlook the hardships which Jews across the world face. For me, Israel has shown the huge variety of different Jews coming to together to create something new. Having learnt and seen the successes and failures of so many strands of Judaism working hand in hand, I have been able to learn and fully appreciate the Progressive Jewish standpoint globally. The work done in LJ and Ljy-Netzer is vital in being the cutting edge of Judaism today, the ability to reform, update and modernise our faith should never be underestimated however understanding others who share our faith and choose not to do so, is crucial. Working in the youth sector, I have seen prejudice from the Progressive movement toward more Conservative strands of Judaism which we do not understand fully. This year has proved to me the vital importance of understanding the vast amount of different expressions of Judaism, a skill which I feel will benefit me for the rest of my life. As much as this has proved to be reflected in my outlook on Judaism, it hold true for interfaith work both in the UK, Israel and across the globe. A higher level of understanding leads to a higher level of resolve, a cause deeply rooted in Liberal Judaism. The Progressive movements need to have forward thinking and fully informed educators to create and help open minded generations of leaders. For Netzer the concept of ‘informed decision making’ is the value which we hold closest to our hearts in our education and one in which LJ does too.
Etgar on a 5 day hike in the desert: March 2014
Netzer germany shnattie on a 5 day hike in the desert
Immersing myself in the culture and society of Israel has had a profound impact on what I intend to bring back to the UK. Where is Liberal Judaism’s place is in Isarel? What is Progressive Zionsim? These are questions I have repeatedly asked myself since arriving in Israel. The answer is that our importance in Israel is huge. Israel needs Progressive Judaism to help revitalise the faith, Israel need Progressive Judaism to separate the view that the only options to express your faith are Orthodox or Secular, Israel needs Progressive Judaism because The Orthodox are dominating the religious practices of the country and this is being reflected in the Politics. Israel need Progressive Judaism for so many more reasons than I could fit into this piece. Israel is going through a huge time of change, the concept of Zionism is changing, as the State develops from its birth, it is transitioning into becoming a fully developed country and State. 66 years later Israel does not need the Zionists we saw in the 1900s, It does not need chalutzim to set up Kibbutzim, but it needs a new wave of inspiration. Our Progressive Zionsim reflects the modernity of our religion and the constant needs for revaluating what is necessary and why.
Etgarniks busking in Jerusalem for money for the homeless
one of the rooms on Etgar made up of LJY-Netzer, RSY-Netzer and NFTY shnatties: May 2014
LJY-Netzer shnatties on the Etgar hike to the Golan Heights;
RSY-Netzer, Netzer Spain and LJY-Netzer shnatties on a hike in the Golan Heights:
I feel as though the power of the Liberal Jewish movement in the UK is flying below the radar. We have some of the most dedicated Jewish Leaders and Youth Leaders from across the UK and definitely some of the most active. The bogrim of LJY-Netzer are some of the most active students I have ever seen and will shape the future of our religion and society in years to come. This is why, I feel, that we need to properly educate our members. To create members of our community which have the education and hadracha skills to pass down the essence of our movement to younger generations. Shnat Netzer is a year of immersing and living out a progressive Jewish ideology in one of the most important and controversial places on earth for us. The journey has been deeply personal, highly relevant and incredibly significant to me, it has taught me more than I could ever have hoped for and I look forward to restarting my life in the UK as an educator and activist.