August 5th – plane to Tel Aviv delayed

a handful of seeds

any moment now

taste of home

Still in Toronto Israeli time is a wish and a laugh away. Delays are more common than the sunflower seeds we were hoping to save for the flight.

No more seeds, but lots of delays. Every few minutes the board pronounces further delays. I’m out of coins to phone my parents. They might look at the plane schedule for amusement.

They might have internet. I don’t.

What kind of airport doesn’t offer wifi. The cleanest airport in the world, perhaps but no wifi. And no airplane to Tel Aviv.

Reminds me of a joke. You know the one. Yes, no. Never mind.

 But I speak of not knowing if the delay will be good or worse for us. The so-called ceasefire due to begin at seven in the morning, Israel time. What will be the state of rocketfire by the time we land. I believe that every second counts. What can we do, but wait and see. Defenseless to change our situation.

Would I have stayed in Toronto if I’d have known that I’d have to sit here for hours? I doubt it. I still have to get home and the rockets will still be falling. I can just hope that they don’t fall on us.

Amen, anyone?

august 4th

Unconference, Sheffayim Nov 14/14

People from all over Israel attended the Unconference, and I was there to represent Class Relax, born and developing here in the Western Negev.


What is an Unconference?

Receiving an invitation asking if they are interested in contributing to a given theme, would be participants apply, get approval and then show up at a designated venue on the prescribed day. There, they select a time-slot, sign up and prepare to present their project for 25 minutes or so.

The white-board of time-slots and locations gets quickly filled up with topics and presenters.

Attendees gather round and fill out their own schedule according to what looks good.

A bell is sounded and it begins.

November 14, 2014 Unconference at Sheffayim Bank Hapoalim  8:30 – 2:30 pm. This year’s theme:  School as a way to close social gaps

We were told to get there early to sign up!

So it was that on November 13th, I travelled north to Petah Tikvah to stay the night. My daughter and her fiancee drove me up to Sheffayim and I checked in, got my name tag…

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Nirinjan Kaur guides us through the Adi Shakti Meditation, a practice to restore personal power.
The 40 Day Meditation cycle began May 17th. Forgive me for not sharing but I hadn’t realized how beautiful and enriching this meditation would prove to be.

The words to the Complete Mantra:

Adi Shakti Adi Shakti Adi Shakti Namo Namo
Sarab Shakti Sarab Shakti Sarab Shakti Namo Namo
Pritham Bhaghvati Pritham Bhaghvati Pritham Bhagvati Namo Namo
Kundalini Mata Shakti Mata Shakti Namo Namo

Excerpts from Mindfulness in Education 2014 Conference presenters.
Keynote by U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan.
Also featuring Mirabai Bush, Mark Greenberg, and the Holistic Life Foundation’s Andres Gonzalez, Atman & Ali Smith.
More about the conference & links to clips of each speaker’s full presentation at

Brilliant Photography: Ezra Tzahor

Ezra Tzahor, photographer, teacher at Nofei Habsor, kibbutznik who lives in Kibbutz Revivim, recently had a show at the White House, Nir-Oz.

Ezra Tzahor, at the White House, Nir-Oz

I spoke to Ezra about his work focusing on the Bedouin population and the desert environment that he loves.

Judih: Ezra, can you tell me something about the current Exhibit?

Ezra: I’m constantly biking around the area with my camera.  In the Revivim area, there’s a large Bedouin population.  And I endeavour to photograph what’s going on, within our population and around us. The Bedouin  have a very difficult life, without legal status or rights and they are angry to the degree of hatred.

Desert, Ezra Tzahor, October 2012

I try to capture the images of what is really going on, with the Jewish population and the Bedouin. At the same time, my intention is to be an agent, or go-between. I wish to mediate between two sides, two groups of human beings

Judih: Do you feel that you are being heard? Do people have questions? Are they taking an interest?

Ezra: People are listening. They get angry, but they listen. There are those who believe that I’m exaggerating on either sides. Yet I know that eventually what I’m saying will penetrate people’s consciousness.

Judih: Have any newspapers taken up your cause? Is there anything written?

Ezra: Very little. I say this: Over Tel Aviv, there’s an Iron Dome, impossible to penetrate.  You want to get through, but it’s impossible.

Judih: You can’t break that bubble.

Ezra: Exactly, even if you have something to say, something truly deserving to be heard,

Judih: Do you know if something has been written in the English press? Perhaps some response from out of the country?

Ezra: I don’t think so, but I’d like to find a way to spread the word to English-speakers.

Judih: Well, this blog might find a small audience, maybe 20 people or so!

Ezra: It doesn’t matter how many, even 20 people is good!

Judih: Is there something in particular you’d like readers outside of this immediate area to know?

Photo by Ezra Tzahor

Ezra: As I wrote  in my artist’s statement for this show, people find it very difficult to relate to the camera; as if the camera is an enemy. This is true for Jews as well as Bedouin. Apparently, they’ve got something to hide, and that is what I’m searching for, what lies underneath.  Both sides are the same, and essentially need to stop being foolish.

This week, for example, on our Kibbutz fence,there was a war between the Bedouin and the local councils. Highly unnerving. There I am biking around, and it’s not always with a good feeling.

Judih: or a feeling of safety.

Ezra: or safety. And after this week, I feel even more uncertain.

Judih: What exactly happened?

Ezra: Government officials came to issue demolition warrants on illegal housing and there was huge opposition.  The Bedouin threw stones and there was gunfire, right on our Kibbutz fence.  It’s terrible.

Revivim exists with that volatile fence and tunnels and trenches. It’s terrible.

Still I am trying to build relationships, but I’m only one man, a small force and it’s extremely difficult to encourage change.

Judih: Do you have any suggestions as to how to recruit support?

Ezra: My dream is to establish a home, like Haim Perry has done with the White House on Nir-Oz,  between Revivim and Bir-Hadaj, their area. There I want to offer art activities for groups of Jews and Bedouin. That’s my dream.  With such activity, it’s possible to develop cooperation.

Judih: That sounds wonderful! Is it possible, is there some viable way to develop this project?

Ezra: Haim suggested something and I’ll start to work in that direction; perhaps the Peres Center for Peace.  And I need to find someone who can locate the resources for developing this idea.

Judih: Excellent.  Good luck and thank you.

Ezra at the White House, Nir-Oz

Ezra has an online gallery here.

To contact Ezra, feel free to write him @

Inspiring Students: Interview with Bari Nirenberg

Bari Nirenberg is a teacher and counselor in the Negev region. She recently worked with her students on a unit studying the Paralympics. Greatly moved by her students’ responses, Bari has generously shared her experience with us.

Interview with Bari Nirenberg

Bari Nirenberg

Judih: Hi Bari. Could you introduce yourself?

Bari: I am originally from New York, but I have been in Israel since 1988 and I’ve been teaching English at Makif Alef in Beer Sheva since 1989.  In my many years of teaching, I teach grades 7 through 12 and I have taught all levels, but for the past few years I’ve been teaching mainly gifted students.  I am the mother of three.  My daughter recently finished her army service, I have a son in the army and my youngest son is in high school.  I have an MA in TESOL from Teachers College – Columbia University.  In addition to teaching, I am also a regional counselor, I teach an in-service course on the new literature program and I mark bagrut exams.  My non-professional interests include reading and doing triathlons (slowly…).

J: Have you always been an English teacher?

B: Yes, I studied to be a teacher and it’s what I’ve been my entire adult life.

J:  Where do you live?

B: I live in Lehavim, about 12 kilometers north of Beer Sheva.  Lehavim is a fairly small community, apparently best-known for its train station, “Lehavim-Rahat”.  The station is located in Lehavim, but the nearby Bedouin city of Rahat shares the name of the station with us.

Lehavim in the Negev, Israel

J: Do you think that your environment influences your choices in teaching?

B: Not really, but my interests do occasionally influence my choices.  Many of my gifted students are not particularly interested in (or good at) sports, so in the classroom, I try to emphasize the importance of a healthy body.  I make an effort to talk about things that they are not necessarily familiar with in order to broaden their horizons.

J: Could you tell me about your recent teaching unit?

B:I started off the school year in all of my classes with a unit on the Paralympics.  In the 10th and 11th grades, this was actually a project.  My inspiration for the unit was a presentation by the British Council which I saw at the ETAI conference in Beer Sheva at the end of the last school year.

I started off the unit using two sets of pictures from the British Council presentation.  The first set shows what appear to be normal, able-bodied athletes.  I asked the students to describe the people in the pictures.  The second set was the same people, but it also showed their disabilities.  In all of my classes, the students were very surprised by what they saw.  This led to a discussion about “disabled” athletes and then about the Paralympics, which were due to start that week.

The 8th and 9th grade classes then read a text on the Paralympics.  In the 10th and 11th grade classes, I gave out guidelines for a project.  First of all, I sent them to the Samsung site for the Paralympics, where there were three inspirational video clips.  They watched these at home and then talked about them in the following lesson.  For the project, they had to choose a sport in the Paralympics, talk about the history of the sport and explain the classification for that sport (how disabled athletes are put into the different categories according to their disability).  Then they had to choose an athlete (one athlete for groups of three, two athletes for groups of four) and find out more about him or her.  In addition, they had to follow their chosen athlete’s progress in the Paralympics.  This was to be presented as a written project and also orally in class.  There was also creative work — the students were asked to create a poster inviting the public to the medal event in their chosen sport.  The poster was to include a picture or pictures plus the date and venue of the event (they had to find this information online).

The project was successful beyond my wildest dreams.  On the first day, the students told me what an interesting topic I had chosen and they were very excited to start working.  I should note that most of them had never even heard of the Paralympics before.  They did all of the work in class — some brought in printed-out sources from the Internet and others used their smartphones to view their sources.  The groups in both classes worked independently, calling me over only to when they needed help finding something or didn’t understand something they’d read.  They worked so well that a few of the groups actually finished the work earlier than planned (I had allotted 8 to 10 class hours for the project after the initial lesson).  The students got particularly excited about the athletes they had chosen and some of them gave me daily reports on their athlete’s progress.

The first group to present orally had chosen the sport of wheelchair tennis and Noam Gershony was the athlete that they researched.  Note that they had chosen both the sport and their athlete before the games had even started, so when Gershony won a gold medal for Israel, they were very excited.  As part of their presentation, they showed a slide show with pictures of Noam Gershony, starting with a picture of him as a pilot before his accident in 2006.  For the background music, they chose the Beatles song “Blackbird“:

“…Take these broken wings and learn to fly,

All your life

You were only waiting for this moment to arise.”

That was about the time I started to tear up.  They later told me that they’d chosen the song because of the words that they thought were so fitting.  At the end of the presentation, they showed a clip from Channel 1 in which Gershony was awarded his medal and Hatikva was played.  While listening to the national anthem, Gershony started crying (not just tearing up, but actually sobbing, head in hands — I didn’t realize how hard he had cried until I saw the entire clip).  I had to try hard not to cry myself and I could see some of the students getting teary-eyed.

In addition to the moving video and pictures, the three girls who did this project also talked about how much of an inspiration Noam Gershony is to them, how they now know that they can do anything they put their minds to.  They called him an Israeli “hero”, not because of his achievements in sport, but because of his sacrifice for his country.

The most important thing I learned from doing this project is that when students are interested in a topic, they will also be motivated.  My students really put their all into this because they wanted to know more.  It also helped that the topic was current and that they could watch the events unfold as they were working.  I think that “relevance” is the key word here.

J: Was this response to a project exceptional?

B: I’ve had students put a lot of work into a project before, but I’ve never seen them get as personally involved as they did in this one. This was definitely one of the most moving and most satisfying teaching experiences I’ve ever had.

J: Thanks so much for sharing your brilliant project and your students’ responses.

Do you have any future projects in mind?

B: I don’t have anything specific in mind at the moment, but hopefully I will be able to find something else that really makes my students want to learn.

J: Thank you, Bari

Bari Nirenberg

T’ai Chi! A talk with Amiram Shabelman

Interview with Amiram Shabelman

Amiram doing Chi Cong

Judih: I’m speaking with Amiram who is a participant in the T’ai Chi sessions conducted by teacher Doron Lavie. Please introduce yourself.

Amiram: Shalom. I’m Amiram from Kibbutz Nir-Itzhak. At the moment I work as the Kibbutz driver.

J: When did you discover T’ai Chi?

A: Actually I began by participating in a course in Martial Arts offered by the Eshkol Community Council, led by Moshe Galisko, about 15 years ago.  There were about 7 of us from my Kibbutz who came regularly, but after about a year, the course was no longer given.  So, we brought Galisko to the kibbutz and continued to practice for a few more years until that broke up as well.

One of us, Eran Florentyne, went to Kibbutz Nir-Oz, to try T’ai Chi with Doron Lavie.

After one time, he knew that he had to bring us all with him!

J: And what is it about T’ai Chi that grabbed you?

A: I liked the pleasant music and the soft, relaxed movements. In Karate, we were always working hard and my joints were aching.  With T’ai Chi this never happened! The opposite – by the end of the lesson, I was filled with energy, strength.  Never tired.  It offered a combination of sport, meditation and health!

J: When was this?
A: It was about 14 years ago.

J: What does T’ai Chi do for you?

A: First, I begin the morning by practicing Chi Cong and T’ai Chi. I wake up an hour before the children and practise outside in the summer months, or  indoors in the winter, and the day begins with relaxation. This has really improved my health.  While driving I practice my breathing. This brings me the inner quiet and the patience I need to deal with all kinds of people. It becomes integrated into my life – enabling me to serve others with courtesy.

J: Could you recommend T’ai Chi to everyone?

A: Yes, it suits every age at every level. Perhaps less with little children. I work with them during school vacations but they really need something which allows them to release their considerable energy. T’ai chi is fine for a few sessions but it might bore them to study it more seriously.

J: How old were the children?

A: Grades 1 -3. I work with quite a large group and they really enjoy it.  They always ask when we’re going to do T’ai Chi again.

J: Do you have any recommendations as to how best to work with children? What works well for them?

A: First, you have to stay relaxed, not excited at every child who tries to disrupt. You keep working and eventually that child will join in. For a few years, I have been working with a special needs child. At the beginning, he didn’t speak to me, not one word.  Today he chats with me about everything, he’s interested in so many subjects. During kibbutz holidays, he sits beside me, and I really enjoy his curiousity and interest.

J: And this is through T’ai Chi.

A: Yes, he tells me that T’ai Chi has really been a good influence, and that in school, before exams, he does some Chi Cong in order to relax. He can’t understand why his parents  don’t do it, as well!

J: You didn’t suggest it – he realized it by himself?

A: Yes, on his own.

I also have a group of pensioners and other adults.  I work with them once a week doing Chi Cong and then T’ai Chi. As soon as I receive my diploma, I plan to open up this group to others on the Kibbutz and in the area.

I am studying Chi Cong with Nira Rabinowitz on Broshim Campus, of the University of Tel Aviv and will be certified and am now studying Advanced Chi Cong for Healthy living. I hope to develop the practice in this area

J: Has the study influenced your food choices? Or other aspects of your life?

A: I’ve never gotten into health food. I eat moderately from all food choices.  But, in general, sport is very important to me.  For example, I have a home gym for more intense work-outs.

J: So what I hear is that Chi Cong and T’ai Chi give you the inner strength, the patience and energy to work with people who might present challenges.

A: Also I get a lot of satisfaction when I see how others benefit from practicing Chi Cong and T’ai Chi.  Often after a session, they’ll come to me and tell me how good they feel.

J: Great! Is there anything that you would  like to add?

A: Yes! After the Jewish Holidays, I am intend to start a new Course in Chi Cong and it will open to people from all over the Eshkol area.  This way, I’ll be able to  work at my beloved hobby while bringing in some income to the Kibbutz.

J: Good luck and thank you very  much, Amiram.

Link: Amiram speaks in Hebrew here