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The Wonderful Music and Art School in Eshkol

Bikurim, or “First Harvest” offering an invitation to artistically gifted students from 9th to 12th grades, opened its doors in September 2014 and has progressively welcomed students from all over the country.

Some of my most interesting pupils have studied there and have enriched our high school, Nofei Habsor, with a blossoming artistic environment, kickstarting the already lush Art Department and offering their gifts cultivated in a rich new Music Dept.
This past May, a film was created to highlight the dream of the founder, Jonathan and his associates, of bringing gifted pupils from all over Israel or from abroad to our home-town, Eshkol to study art and music, and more!

I’m proud of Bikorim and long to see it develop into a larger hub of artistic pursuits for students of all ages.

Please read what Prof. Jonathan Dekel-Chen says below and watch this film.

“In these difficult times for communities and people around the world, I am delighted to share with you a beacon of hope and joy: Bikurim Youth Village for the Arts. I invite you to view this short film, in English:

Bikurim: The Youth Village for Excellence in the Arts

This film is a window onto Bikurim, located 2.5 miles from Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, a most unlikely place to establish an exciting, new professional incubator for excellence in the arts, while narrowing the gaps of opportunity for our country’s gifted, but marginalized, young people from cities, small towns, kibbutzim and moshavim.

For more information or to explore partnering with us, please contact:

Prof. Jonathan Dekel-Chen (co-founder)


Phone: +972-54-7916931

Check out our Facebook page or website for the latest news, music and images from the Village:

Thanks for taking the time to read and watch the clip. Feel free to add comments below, Judih Weinstein Haggai, Kibbutz Nir Oz, Eshkol Regional Council

Kibbutz Life · Living in Otef Azza · Music · Nir-oz

Listening to the body, flowing with music

Before doing my own sitting meditation, I always address my body. I stretch gently, I warm up the joints and do what I must to maintain skeletal integrity. So, this Friday in our Nir-oz Sangha, I asked: ‘Who’s done a little body workout already this morning?’ Since no one had, we turned on some music.

thanks to karma castle for the image

My instructions were simple: to move slowly in the room, being aware of our feet on the floor and to gently add movement to other parts of the body – the hands and arms, the knees, the spine, the shoulders. Oh so gently, listening to the body.

After five minutes, I asked who would like to continue and we all wished for more. And so we continued, each listening in our own way to our own body responses. No need to watch anyone else, we played with height, speed, direction: growing taller or shorter and moving slower or faster, backwards or forwards or still. And so it went on for a total of 15 glorious minutes, as we slowly eased up on the movement (and what beauty of movement was present in the room!) and re-found our cushions.

Gently noticing our body’s sensations, sensing our breathing and heartbeat, we began a slow body scan to allow the breath to enter and cleanse, releasing any tensions, noticing any pains or itches.

We shook it out after about 20 minutes of this seated meditation and with cleansing breaths, we used sound on the exhale to further align ourselves to ourselves. Why don’t I give details, here? There are situations where to read afterwards what sounds were used simply won’t be useful. There are experiences that must be experienced directly. Each environment requires unique components.

The feeling in the room was rich, and upon wishing ourselves a good day and then thanking one another for coming together in the meditation session, we slowly arose and left the room.

The participants were more quiet than usual and I felt wonderful.

Thank you Nir-Oz sangha.

Kibbutz Life · Living in Otef Azza · Music · Nir-oz · truce with Hamas · Youth Making a Difference

August 18th, 2014 – pondering different realities

piano chords

flute melodies

waterfalls and birds

chinese bamboo flute.jpg
Chinese bamboo flute

Listening to Chinese bamboo flute music.

The single chords of a piano, the melodic flute, water runs in the background and a bird on occasion. Some vocals, some strings.

It opens me up in an effortless way. Immediate effect. And it works on so many others.

new york kids aug 2014.jpg
Our School Twin, Bet Shraga, Albany, NY

I see a group of American kids posing in front of a beautiful backdrop that they created. I cry. Why? Because I wish I could be teleported into that picture. Happy, smiling. For that particular moment, they’re together and their only goal is to have a picture taken to mark their existence.

Beautiful existence.

I look at them and wonder when our kids will be having that experience. It seems like we’re in for war tomorrow. They cancelled the train from Ashkelon to Sderot. That translates to heavy odds towards renewed rocketfire, missiles being aimed at a chunk of the country.  I clearly don’t want to think about it, but it’s hovering right there, just above my right shoulder.

The bamboo flute reminds me that this too will pass. The future doesn’t yet exist. One move made by one person could change everything. One move leads to another. I could be sitting here tomorrow morning praising the wisdom of those sitting at the negotiation table. Or their folly. 

Humankind doesn’t seem to learn that flexibility comes with practice. If each human exercised daily, meditated daily, listened to Chinese bamboo flutes, then perhaps, human beings would be able to reconsider the old ways.  Perhaps those ways don’t suit the current reality. It could be that there’s a new way of dealing with things right in front of our eyes, if only we were to be open enough to look and see.

August 15th

August 19th

Israel · Living in Otef Azza · Music · Nir-oz

August 13th, 2014 – Ceasefire distractions on tap

one a.m. recess

sample of R.E.M.

Hong kong dreamscape

Enough of the same bombed-out photos of our neighbours’ hood. Last night’s dream made me a photographer documenting nightlife in Hong Kong. This was a flash, glamourous gig. Thank you unconscious mind!

There were no people, I was looking at angles and the effect of neon lights on the lines of buildings.

reminder to reader: All this is emerging during the mind cleanse regimen that I’ve embarked on. That’s all

I remember the drawing class I attended on Kibbutz Nir Oz where Rahel D, kibbutz artist, had piled up a bunch of wooden chairs and instructed us to sketch the negative space. I tried. I really did. I also tried to sketch my hand without judging.  It must be, I thought, an acquired taste. Like the time I was told to listen to the Grateful Dead’s Sugaree via the space between notes.

So I looked between wooden chairs, between fingers. I listened between sounds, but stuff kept getting in the way. Perhaps it was a matter of not enough LSD.  Too late now. These days I think of my liver and my equilibrium and back away from unusual recreational drugs.

. . . . .

Here it is, Wednesday morning. Another day of ceasefire and I realize that while we’ve had a break from rocket attack, real life has begun to seep into my days. My jet-lagged stupor is no protection as I slowly begin to take on assignments.  Hanoch Piven has asked for my help. He wants to come south with a team of therapists to work with our local Eshkol population. As wonderful as this is, I will need some skills to make this happen. 

Hanoch Piven

Telephone skills? Can I manipulate a telephone sufficiently well to make myself understood? I haven’t spoken Hebrew in ages and when I do, I insert liberal amounts of gesture to make myself understood.

And I need people skills. Unfortunately, this comes just as I’ve come to terms with my mild state of social autism, especially significant during times of war-time stress.

There must be a way to navigate the committees and the faces that comprise them to get to my required Yes!

It’s not just Hanoch who needs me, I need me. By luck, I have a chance to enroll in a marvelous course “Teaching Mindfulness to Children.” This is a newly expanded course, and by some miracle, school has granted me the appropriate day off and there’s still room in the class. Now, I only need to find a way to pay a small fortune. I need the kibbutz for this. (Note: the kibbutz grants permission to only a few to go out to study, with a chance for financial help if one’s petition is accepted. There’s also a matter of submitting a request before the deadline (which I hadn’t) and then being called upon to speak to committee members)

Perhaps there’s a mantra for this.

I also sense that the new school year is approaching. I’ll need to keep myself strong while a million little nudniks claw away at my reservoir of energy. Demands for my attention, from meetings to dealing with special situations, each replete with smiling faces. That’s how it is, but at my advanced age, I prefer to keep myself in one piece while I respond. I’ve decided that my survival depends on dedicating time to chomp on salads – this has become my favourite pastime during summer vacation – the ability to chew lettuce as it’s meant to be chewed.

take your time to chew

My gravestone: Her life was made happy by ample greens.

And while I’m contemplating death, I must manage to schedule the puppet bodies I need to create – shoulders, chests and arms. I’ve already made my peace with leaving off legs. No problem. But I need shoulders and arms.

These will have to be sculpted. This requires time and cooler weather to sit in my lovely little wooden workshop which tends to steam up in this 36 degree weather.

A fine August morning 

wordless salad

just the green of nature

to find and enjoy

August 12th, 2014

August 14th, 2014

Creativity is the answer · History · Israel · Kibbutz Life · Living in Otef Azza · Middle East · Music · Nir-oz

August 12th, 2014 – Day 3 of Mind cleanse

plum stained lips

dylan tangled up in blue

flush mind therapy

Once upon a time, I was what was called an angry writer. I didn’t dare tell everyone else what I thought of them, so I wrote it all down. Not as blunt as it could have been, I disguised my ire in satirical sketches and metaphorical verse. Free style, the innocence of thinking that once it was down on a page, the power would exert its force.

Those were the days before I discovered that no one looks beneath the surface. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and wears the latest style, that’s good enough. No one would bother to look for a swan under the feathers or a deeper sound beyond the surface.

I hadn’t realized how most people navigate the world. After a flash appraisal, their judgement’s been made and that’s that. And it appears that magic doesn’t work on non-believers.

And so, I stopped making signs on the page. I backed away and began to learn. Years of trial and failure and danger and denial helped me out. And I slowly came to an understanding.

In order to exact a difference in the world, one needs to realize that nothing is going to be different and so one might as well work on making a difference in oneself. That at least has a chance.

looking inside, watercolour by judih

My writing began to change its target. Instead of hurtling out innuendos, I focused inwardly on the present moment. I brought the richness of language, cadence and meaning   into the zone of observing what is, rather than what could be.

I listen and write: ‘the sound of one flower singing.’ The moment overflows with such a sound.  What might be, in the future, ceases to matter, for right now I’m alive! Can this moment affect the next? Can this effect flow between moments?

While I consider this, there I go…off and running through endless associations (what’s that message on my phone, how many people liked my haiku, how to use iPads in school, what book will I use with my Grade 11 class, how many photocopies will I have to make…) until, I stop. I notice the trip and for another moment I can choose to stop travelling. That one brief glance at a moment, changes it.

It’s said and I believe it’s true that the more such moments, the more there will be.

Bob Dylan’s still alive. There’s hope.

Bob Dylan, Things have changed

August 11th

Getting involved · History · Holocaust · Living in Otef Azza · Music · Nofei Habsor · Rights · Youth Making a Difference

Democracy Week at Nofei Habsor High School

Nofei Habsor (link in Hebrew)

Strange to say that during Democracy Week last week in our Western Negev School, I had little contact with my students. Some were off on a week of pseudo-Army experience, called the ‘Gadna‘. Some were off in Jerusalem in order to sum up their experience of travelling to Poland in August, where they experienced the actual Holocaust location, empty and green as it may be at the moment.

For me, my experience of Democracy Week was grabbing a chance to pursue my right to be a human being despite the incessant calls to create powerpoint learning units and to devise creative ways to stimulate learners to absorb the English language. My human rights were happily exercised as again I interviewed Martina Newberry (soon to be posted here), and entered into that part of my brain that deals with the more bizarre connections of experience, my own and others’.

But enough about me.

This post is to commemorate the ceremony in Nofei Habsor, on Wednesday, October 20th, marking 15 years after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, killed during a public gathering in what was then called the State Square, mid-Tel Aviv. It’s now Rabin Square, and since that mind-boggling night when a citizen named Yigal Amir murdered our Prime Minister because of a difference in point of view, we struggle with what it means to be Democratic.

How far from a Democracy are we, and what can we do to strive to work towards equal rights for all?

I include the clip filmed and edited by our Media Department, and below the jump, you’ll find some photos of the interactive seminar rooms in which students of all grades participated.

The clip, in Hebrew, shows Grade 10 students reading important statements about Democracy from the beginning of the existence of the State of Israel, in 1948 till later days. You’ll hear songs, you’ll see the release of doves as a pledge to search for freedom. Finally, you’ll hear one girl announce that the Student Council initiated a petition pledging students to resolve to work towards freedom and equality for all. After collecting signatures in Nofei Habsor, the student council will circulate the petition to other schools to create a butterfly effect.

Salute to those who search for the way to a Democratic way of living in peace and co-existence.

Art · Creativity is the answer · Kibbutz Life · Living in Otef Azza · Music · Nature

South by south fest – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News

South by south fest – Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News.

It’s In-D-Negev weekend!

Check out the article by Lea Penn in today’s Ha’aretz.

Israelis are flocking to the desert, where indie music is given room to shine. For many, the In-D-Negev festival is the closest thing Israel has to Austin or Glastonbury.”

In-D-Negev, the festival for independent music, artists and craftspeople takes place on Kibbutz Gvulot. This year it’s a 3-day festival.

Read more at the link above and check out the youtube clip:


Tanka, coming to the End of Ma’ale Habsor High School – June 18/19

Endings are part of a natural cycle.

Ma’ale Habsor is ceasing to exist and in its place there will rise “Nofei Habsor”. To drum this home, the teachers of Ma’ale Habsor took themselves to Tanka, a mini-Indian experience set in Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael.

Running this spot is Netta Aloni, a one-time teacher, art therapist. Spending some time in the U.S. as a Jewish Agency delegate, she came upon a teacher by the name of Bear Heart and embarked on a Vision Quest. The Indian way made such an impression on her that upon returning to Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, she pushed the idea of opening a small site dedicated to giving others a taste of the Indian way of looking at life. The ten years it took to establish Tanka was thanks to her determination (and a timely Buffalo totem).

We began our trip with lunch outside.IMG_4415IMG_4420 And then entered the wooden building, sitting in a circle around a ‘salt rock’ lamp. Netta began to present her interpretation of the Native Indian Way of life. What I’m presenting here is my understanding of her understanding. Please excuse wild generalizations and correct misinterpretations if you see them. (with thanks)

Brief  take of the Native Way

We learned of the four main components that make up the native way of life:

The circle (all life occurs in cycles, beginnings and endings are cyclical from our first meeting to our separation)

The sanctity or ‘happiness’ of the circle (if one person in the circle is unhappy, then all will  feel unhappy, and so it is imperative to find the weakest link and resolve it.)

the Earth as mother, she gives, she protects and we need to respect her.

and compassion, we are all perfect in our imperfection.

We learned about the drum, the flat wonderfully resonant instrument made of elk skin or more rarely buffalo skin.

arodrum16-1side-backWe found that a light touch of the drum stick brings far more sound than a harsh beat. So the world offers echoes of that which we put out: we put out good intentions and good echoes back down upon us.

We chanted:


“Vishita, doya doya doya

Vishita, doya doya hey

Wahsa tanaya heya heya

Wahsa tanaya heya hey”


“Mother earth is under our feet

Mother earth, we hear your heart beat”

These simple chants with simple, resonating drum beats did wonders for our alpha waves. The calming centering effect was undeniable. Drumming is a marvellous tool, used for healing. Children are taught to drum from a young age  and so the drum becomes a part of life.

We took a look at a tipi:


We learned that the tipi is the only family property and that the youngest daughter is the one to inherit it. She thus will always have a secure place from which she can look after her parents, feed her family and at the same time cultivate her healing power.

A husband will bring his personal belongings to his wife’s tribe, but he will never possess the tipi.

Moving from one circle of life to another

The cycle of life dictates that as we end one cycle, we ponder on what we’ve received and what we’ll take with us in the next cycle. To formalize this passing from one phase to another, we passed a three coloured braid around our circle. Red signified mother earth, the doing, blue represented the analytical, the observation and purple the combination of considering what needs to be done, its solution and implementation.

passing the braid around the circle
passing the braid around the circle

The braid came home with us back south to the Negev. But not before we had an evening in Sheffayim and an outing in Tel Aviv.

(to be continued…)