T’ai Chi in Nir-Oz: Talking to Zohar G!

T’ai Chi: An interview with Zohar

Judih: Can you please introduce yourself

Zohar: I’m Zohar, from Kibbutz Nirim

J: You come to T’ai Chi in Nir-Oz. How did you discover T’ai Chi?

Zohar: Through Mickey from my kibbutz. The truth is I thought about it a lot for a long time, but just procrastinated until I finally asked him about it. He told me that it would be great if I’d come.

The truth is that I was searching for some form of exercise to help me, because my back is not in great condition and many exercises do more harm than good.  With Ta’i Chi I felt that this was what I needed, from the point of view of my health.

Judih: Nice.  When was it that you decided to come?

Zohar: About 2 years ago, in January, 2011.

Judih:  From the moment you began, what grabbed you, what attracted you to T’ai Chi?

Zohar: These are exercises that I can do. They’re not complicated. And I hope to be able to keep on way past my 80s.

Judih: That shouldn’t be a problem!

Zohar: In things like Feldenkrais and other forms of movement, I felt that I couldn’t do the exercises or that they were doing me harm.  Here, I really liked the warm-up exercises and the Chi Cong.  I like T’ai Chi a little less. But I stay mostly for the first part of the session.

I don’t relate to the martial arts aspect,  I don’t really understand how the movements relate to warfare against an opponent. Since I danced for many years,  I relate to the movements themselves.

Judih: Tell me, have you looked into the philosophy of T’ai Chi?

Zohar: No, not really. At the beginning, I searched on the Net to get some background, but not more than that. In fact, until two months ago, I only practiced during our weekly Tuesday evening lessons. But for the last two months, I’ve been doing the exercises every morning: the warm-up and some Chi Cong.

Judih: Excellent. Do you feel that this has helped you health-wise?

Zohar: Absolutely.  First of all, I couldn’t stand! I have a slipped disc and I really couldn’t stand on my feet for any length of time. Now with our static Chi Cong (standing in one place), I can actually stand, for a long time!

Secondly, I feel that it helps me in work. It helps my mind, I’m more able to concentrate.

Helps focus!

Judih: Has this changed since you began to practice every morning?

Zohar: No,  this happened from the very beginning.  It works on focus.  I’ve worked on this from many different directions and I believe that this is what is really helping me. I need to make myself keep at it, because I know myself and it’s hard for me to stay with something.

Judih: You’ve said so many positive things about T’ai Chi. Can you elaborate? When you sit and work, how do you find that it has helped you?

Zohar: I’m an accountant and the branch coordinator. Along with that,  I coordinate Information networks. That means that I have to know a lot and remember many fine details. I simply feel that I’m better able to do my work. I can feel it.

Judih: Do you feel more able to concentrate?

Zohar: Yes, most definitely.

Judih: Would you recommend T’ai Chi to everyone?

Zohar: Yes, and to all ages.

Judih: Great. Do you have any other comments you’d like to add?

Zohar: Yes. I also enjoy the people who come here to do T’ai Chi. The atmosphere is warm and free from judgement. You can make mistakes and it’s fine. I got here after others had already been doing it for 10 years  and it’s fine! People are very pleasant.

Judih: Thank you, Zohar. When you’re 80 and I’m 100, we’ll meet and discuss this further!

Zohar: One more thing. I know it’s highly recommended for improving balance and I’m encouraging my mother (who’s in her 80s) to do the exercises of Chi Cong.

Judih: Yes, others have spoken about how their own sense of balance improves immediately after doing the exercises and in general. You make a good point. Thank you, Zohar!

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 @ ezrazahor@gmail.com

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

Meditation for Kids – with Doron Lavie

Meditation for kids- Doron Lavie offers simple guidance

August 7,2012

I asked Doron Lavie, T’ai Chi trainer and practitioner and teacher of Zen meditation, how he would introduce meditation to school children in the seventh grade. Without hesitation he outlined a simple meditation that can be done in 10 minutes, accessible to all.  Here’s what he said.

Doron Lavie

Judih: Doron, How would you suggest teaching meditation to pupils in the seventh grade? Each session is to be about 10 minutes.

Doron: Work very systematically and very simply.

  • Harmony of the body

  • Harmony of the breath

  • Harmony of the mind

We work to harmonize each one separately and at the end they harmonize together as a whole

And when we’re in that place it’s hard to explain the experience to someone else but from within, we see the difference

We start with the physical

First, we work on the body

We begin with where we are. We feel ourselves sitting on the chair and gradually travel down the body with our imagination. We relax our face, muscles, shoulders. Working very orderly, harmonize your body. When it is all ordered and relaxed, we move on

Harmonize the breath. In a way that is very systematic. We blow out the air in the body – do a sustained “Phew” . We use the sound in a long exhalation, until it’s impossible – there’s no air left. Then we let go. And air enters by itself. We do this a few times and we enter a rhythm. When we understand the idea, we don’t push it, but just continue easy. Harmonize your breathing

Body is ordered. Breath is ordered

The next thing: We go to harmonize your mind. We cannot stop thinking. It’s very hard for us. Our mind is always actively taking us away to many things. But we can focus on one thing – that’s the closest we’ll get to ‘zero’. So the best thing to do is to count our breaths.  To stay only with the breaths

The exhale is ‘ehhh‘ and the inhale is ‘one‘. (Exhaling, I think ‘ehhh‘ and inhaling, I count: one, and repeat, twothree) We will naturally lose the count, we’ll think of something we need at the store, or of a teacher, remembering something, it doesn’t matter, simply start again

This simple procedure: Harmonize body, breath and mind is very immediate, very accessible for the person to work with himself:  body, breath and mind

An image to share is to think of the head as a balloon, the breath as the cord and the mind as the hand that holds onto the cord. This image helps them remember the sensations of the experience

Judih: Could I stop the meditation with a gong?

Doron: Yes, it’s possible.

Judih: I’d like to offer a suggestion that the meditation can be repeated during the day and everyday

Doron: When you do it several times, and see how simple it is, it’s very possible to do it in every situation, whenever. You got angry, frustrated, hurt. This is the time to harmonize your body, harmonize your breathing. It’s always useful

When you practice it, it immediately takes you to a better place and also offers a better place from which to act, in a more productive way

Judih: thank you, Doron

June 23rd, 2012 Rocketfire on a Saturday morning

this morning

before five thirty a.m.

we received a message to stay close to our fortified safe rooms.

another round.

I rolled out of bed, acquired some coffee and headed to check out the sounds outside and then the newsfeed. Sure enough, rockets had been aimed at cities and towns close by. Momentary updates show that the Iron Dome intercepted a few missiles, but that at least one man has been injured from shrapnel.

I realized that there’s something to share here: a news report featuring my friend Adele, who lives on a neighbouring kibbutz. She was interviewed the other day and I’ll let you listen to what she has to say.

Israel under fire, June 21st, 2012

Rocketfire- Cancellation of year-end School Happening

School happenings of the finest sort have been cancelled due to a barrage of rocketfire on our area (Eshkol Regional council). A 2-hour barrage prompts cancellations of  Nofei Habsor end of year happening and the Sapir College Graduation Ceremony. Take a look at the ynet article:

Rocket fire continues: 13 Qassams hit Negev

june 19th barrage of rocketfire, photo by Eliezer Levi, ynet.co.il

Israel is 64 years old

Amazing, really. Sixty-four years old. That’s all. Only slightly older than me.

Just for example, I live in the desert. I walk through fields irrigated with recycled sea water. Orange orchards grow, while my feet tramp through sand. Communities of kibbutzim stalwartly plow, harvest, market. They raise chickens, beef cattle, dairy cattle. Flowers are cultivated in hothouses under the beating sun.  Industry is low-key, although on a windy day, we smell the chemicals from the kibbutz 20 kms away.

Our school has 900 students. The elementary school has another 300 or so.

Young people come, go. Older people keep working past retirement age.  Some of course don’t work and age is immaterial.

But here I am – on a kibbutz younger than me – 50 something.

People with a plan and determination and the ability to live together, support one another, can accomplish a reasonable lifestyle.


And optimism is easier to foster with a little music. Here’s Gadi Haggai playing a variation of To Be (Coltrane) at our Memorial Day Service on Kibbutz Nir Oz.


Rocket fire Purim

All seemed to be sweet-ish

the usual Purim costumes – animals with whiskers, soccer players, dyed hair and quickie cartoon tattoos.

Then came the evening. Qassams, mortars, Red Alerts to stay in our shelters. Some wounded, some damage and the ever-present lack of knowing exactly where what fell. Saturday morning in the kibbutz. No Purim festivities today and we’ve been told to stay close to shelters.

May this end soon. No one gains from bomb attack