Ronnie Shashoua, a participant on the BINA GAP Mechina year, about how does it feel to smell the eucalyptus leaves.
The start of the second semester of the Bina Mechina starts with a bang—which is probably just the front door of Ben Asher 18, the home of three Mechina groups, slamming shut as all the Mechina participants troop back in from our ten day winter and lockdown vacation. For us Americans, this is particularly exciting, since many of us had decided to come back early to spend some time together during the break, a really fun experience that nonetheless left us excited to welcome back our Israeli friends. Our first week back was something called “Shavua Emtza” (translated literally, “Middle Week”). This week is a sort of prequel to our second semester, allowing for both personal and group reflection as well as time for us to set goals and concrete changes we want to make for the coming months.
Although it was handled with a special Bina excitement and cheer (yes, there was cookie cake baking and mural painting involved), it made everyone really hyped up for the official start of the second semester.
Upon arriving to BINA, second semester is spoken about with the same reverence American high schoolers give second semester senior year. Despite additional responsibilities, it’s a time when the Gap group works to immerse ourselves even further into the Mechina by taking on additional logistical responsibilities if we so desire, and more importantly, getting increased freedom to take classes in Hebrew alongside the Israelis. My own Hebrew classes this semester are almost double the number of English classes. Therefore, the first morning of our new second semester came with a lot of excitement (after a few cups of coffee, that is).
In particular I was looking forward to a class called “Simanim Ba’Zman” (or, Symbols in Time) which is focused on the evolution of Jewish tradition. This class was the second in a seminar that was centered on a discussion about the trivial origins of Tu B’Shvat as a tax collecting day, then its eventual evolution into a holiday revolving around nature. What followed was a very typical discussion for BINA, about who dictates whose Judaism and from where we derive our Jewish identities, capped off with a tour through the botanical gardens while we contemplated a Jewish connection to nature.
Before coming to Bina, these weren’t questions I asked myself. But through every conversation about my Judaism, how I experience it and why, I learn a little more about myself and this beautiful history and community I’ve inherited. I came here because I wanted to be challenged, because I wanted to ask myself hard questions, and answer it in a language that I grew up with yet am only now learning to master. I’ve never questioned my mom’s opinions on what makes us Jewish, or my grandpa’s assertions on what my Jewish practice should look like. Yet still, I find my answers to these recently discovered questions in the most unexpected of places: standing in front of the Sabra cactus deep in the botanical gardens and understanding that this plant and I have a deeper connection than just our physical location, or smelling eucalyptus leaves that a BINA educator pulled off for me and feeling like I’m at home.