Thinking about January

We live in tense times. We already listen for possible Red Alerts. We are poised for phone messages from our Council Security Team about current dangers. We watch the skies for balloons bearing explosives. We need a time-out. Therefore, every Friday, I come early to the Open Center in Kibbutz Nir Oz to arrange the space, adjust the room temperature, and align my mind with my intention: to offer a safe space.

Nir Oz fields, January

With every session, I’m learning more about timing, attention span and interests of the people who come to practice mindfulness.

With the new group of over -60s in the Blue Kindergarten, I have seen that starting the session with qigong helps circulation and ability to focus on breathing. One woman is a little hyper and finds it hard to sit, another has poor circulation and a third holds her own, enjoying the challenges. Rather than turn up the thermostat in the room, it’s preferable to turn up the body’s thermostat, so we engage in basic warm-ups and then some breathing, movement sets.


With the Friday morning group, I vary the theme according to the weather, the feeling in the room and the particular outer and inner environment. The past week has seen threats from many explosive-laden balloons and we are always aware that Trump’s Deal of the Century is going to bring angry responses. It’s never-ending and we must be highly diligent all the time. This is why our times together are sacred – a chance to breathe and check our physical condition, emotional and mental states.

Today, I began with some lilting music called Restore, published by the Insight Timer application. We gently circled our upper bodies, crossed legs our anchor on the floor. Our heads and necks extensions of our spinal chord, we moved with awareness 10 times counter-clockwise, with a pause to scan our sensations, and 10 times clockwise.

We then did a body scan from head to toe and back up to our pelvis. Each station was a slow four-breath pause before I moved on. Pauses for more inclusive breathing included head, upper body and lower body, before we allowed the whole body to breathe – out breath from head to toe, inbreath from toe up to head and we followed 10 of these cycles. Afterwards, we took time to allow the body to breathe while we listened to the sounds of the room. These included the hum of the air conditioner and the birds and gentle music and watersounds of the Secret Garden (Insight Timer).

Insight Timer app

The body scan was about 22 minutes long. We unwound, taking time to stretch out our hands, fingers, arms, shoulders, shaking them, dancing with them. Then we addressed our legs, rotating our ankles 10 times each direction and stretching our spines by reaching up to the ceiling and then bending slowly towards our toes, unimportant how far we reach, just the reaching is what’s beneficial. Three times center, 3 times to the left of our legs, back to center, then 3 times to the right of our legs. We reached up to the sky, stretching the upper part of our bodies and again reached down to stretch our spines – center, left of the legs, right of the legs. Then again shaking it out, and noticing our sensations.

la qi – pulling qi (energy)

We bridged into la qi or ‘pulling energy’. We warmed up our hands, creating electricity, rubbing our hands till we could each feel the energy. Then from playing with that ball of energy, rotating the ball, getting to know it, we allowed our hands to part and come close together – inhaling with their parting, exhaling when they came together. We reformed the ball of energy and then felt a small rod of energy between our hands, a constant distance and took it to the right side, right hand on top, left hand on bottom we brought it across to the left side and reversed hands. The movement was kept central, not going past the knee, sensing our crossed legs as anchors.

We reformed the ball and gently pressed it into our lower bellies to recharge our energy reservoirs (dan tian).

Right hand travelled up to our heart, left hand on the dan tian, we began a Metta meditation, (meditation for lovingkindness) wishing ourselves, health, happiness and relaxation. We brought to our imaginations someone who inspires us, brings a smile to our faces and wished for them the same things. We next brought to mind someone in need of energy and wished for them the same things. We then thought of someone with whom we have difficulty and knowing that they also want what we want, we wished them the same. To reward ourselves, we completed the cycle by returning to wish ourselves these good things.

The singing bowl signaled a transition. It was a time for gentle full belly breaths, inhaling filling up our abdomens and – exhaling in turn: ‘aah’, ‘ohh’, ‘mmm’ and ‘ohm’ which brought us to a self-hug, offering ourselves love.

We gave ourselves a Dry Shower to pat in all the energy. Thanking ourselves for being present and wishing ourselves a good day, we parted.

Then H told me of a family trip they’d taken out of the country. When on the road, in the car, A decided to lead everyone through a dry shower. He was quite sure of himself and illustrated exactly how it was done, guiding his family to do it correctly.

In another incident on the trip, he had felt ill, vomited and to quiet himself, set himself to focus on breathing. Before long, he’d fallen asleep. His delighted grandmother was eager to report that A had internalized our methods and was quite naturally using them when required.

I felt, my work is done! I can pack away my sign on the door, hand over the keys and sit back!

Now, however, I have a lesson with A and H, so till next time.

Shalom Sangha readers.

Getting involved

August 15, 2014 – pieces of night infiltrate day

hours stretch

dreams overlap onto page

what will appear?

I spend my nights in pieces. A chunk of sleep. Wake-up. Wander to check messages on my phone, what’s apps or letters. Pee. Then another round of bedtime. I do that again a few hours later. It’s jet-lag and I know it because when I crawl out of dreams, it’s usually an unexpected time. Close to six or even seven. Normal for me is five. So I know that it’s jet lag.

My dreams have included graphics and bizarre angles and when I emerge from the sheets to hit the tile floor, I blend one reality into another. It takes a while. Water. Coffee. Rice cracker & peanut butter. Mechanical web checking and finally enough coordination to emit a morning haiku. The haiku reveals what manages to float into an accessible zone – something greets hand-eye synchronization to make contact with the page.

Today is Friday. The day for cleaning the house. Wrapping up the week. Hoping there are some vegetables to buy at the kibbutz grocery store.  It’s also usually a day for an extended siesta together with my man. We let our ideas flow, laugh, jam. Fridays are special.

Today also my son and his girlfriend return from a month in the US. They managed to leave the country just as the Army reopened our main highway 232 after a security lockdown. Now, it’s their turn to convert their minds from one culture to another. I wonder if her American father also prays for a ceasefire like mine does. Does he hope that the Hamas wakes up and shakes hands with a smile?  Mine does. My dad believes that getting along isn’t so difficult a goal. 

coexistence according to Bill Weinstein

What shall I say to him? That it’s a goal that isn’t in the immediate lexicon of those who only strive to conquer the world? That  sounds a bit melodramatic. Perhaps I could say that I hope that we all get along but that I have my doubts. Perhaps I could just do the Canadian thing and say, I agree with him.

Frankly, it’s frightening. The southerners had their show of solidarity last night at Rabin Square.  The south wants security. Of course we do. So does everyone in Israel. The South doesn’t like the fact that the government knew about the underground tunnels for the past 10 years but chose to refrain from taking action. The South appreciates the attempt to prevent us from feeling panic about living here, but we would have preferred that the situation be resolved before Shalit was snatched and before the tunnels became the main focus of this operation.

And it’s frightening. We see the Hamas polishing their rockets and missiles getting ready for the next round. They have patience. They are focused on their goal. Terrifyingly focused.

Meanwhile, our goal is to be better. To have better living conditions, better hi-tech, better TV and movies and crops. We’d like to win math competitions and work for equal rights. Some of us wait for the day when we can go back to visiting friends in Gaza or traipse over to Qalqilya without having to fear for our lives.

Some of us work on programs for co-existence, dialogue.

We have hopes that focus on things other than survival. But perhaps we need to re-prioritize. Perhaps survival is nothing to sneer at.

How can a pacifist flip over to be a realist? The thing is: can we survive being pacifists?

It seems unlikely. And that’s a frightening thing as well.

How to face students

conversations about peace

while gripped by trauma

August 14th

August 18th

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

August 14th, 2014 – ceasefire? Red Alert? What’s going on?

I went to our kibbutz grocery store and while choosing cucumbers, I met Bat-Sheva. Grabbing this perfect opportunity to share our thoughts, we agreed that there was only one logical next step to the war situation – a miracle. A sudden burst of sanity! People would sit up, become sane and realize that there was a far easier way to deal with one another: via peace and cooperation. Seems so simple, but it would take a miracle to bring about a reasonable future.

For the rest of the day I made phone calls, dealt with people then conked out from the heat.   The buzz of nervousness was kept on a low flame as the clock ticked towards the midnight end of ceasefire.

sudden red alert

heart sinks in dismay

then news…ceasefire

It seemed so commonplace – just a few hours left of the ceasefire when we suddenly started to get red alerts. Rockets were being fired, before time. Friends began to text one another. Where to sleep? The secure room or our regular bedroom? We were split in our decisions.

I went to my regular bed and then after midnight checked my phone and discovered there’d been a decision to extend our ceasefire.

Not a miracle but a quickfire intervention – another five days of ceasefire. A placebo relief to placate the crowd.

a toss of a dice

tomorrow promise of ease

until the next time

But is anyone placated?  The US is pissed off. The Knesset is pissed off. The residents of the South are pissed. The Hamas are going with the flow, I imagine, setting up housekeeping for the next opportunity.

I can’t speak for the Egyptians or the rest of the world.

Me? I’m breathing easier. I like the illusion of peace, the absence of booms and sirens as I sit here. I guess in gaming this would be called onboarding – learning the rules under simplest conditions. When I’m adept, I’ll be able to carry on nicely under more extreme conditions.

August 13th

August 15th

Creativity is the answer · Living in Otef Azza · Youth Making a Difference

An Interview with Avital Shalev, student and artist

Look up

no problemsafe

Pictured above is an art installation, the final art project of a student at Ma’ale Habsor Regional High School. I asked her if I could interview her about her work.

An Interview with Avital Shalev

Judih: Avital, hi. I’d like to interview you about your art project installed in Ma’ale Habsor High School.

First, how old are you?

Avital: Almost 18

J: Where do you live?

A: Kibbutz Be’eri

J: Tell me about your art project. How would you describe it?

A: The physical description? Okay, to begin, the foundation is a kind of protective shelter, which has drawings on it.  And on top are colourful umbrellas.

J: How did you get the material to do it?

A: The shelter was already there. And to get umbrellas,  I put up notices on the bulletin board in Kibbutz Be’eri and in the Youth Clubhouse, asking for people to donate old, broken ones.  I had a basket ready to collect whatever might come. I got most of the umbrellas from my kibbutz. Some I got from school and then I had to buy  about five umbrellas,  but only five!

J: How did you get the idea?  

A: Okay, that’s the funniest part. I was in my art history lesson and it was mid-winter. And I saw my teacher’s umbrella in the corner of the room. I looked at it and rdecided I really wanted to do something with umbrellas.

I started to brainstorm on paper about umbrellas: what they meant for me, their purpose and how they protect us from the rain. I jumped to the concept of protection against qassams and how the protective shelter and the umbrella were very similar in that they both help shield us.   And then I thought about protecting the roof of the shelter (which is open to the sky). The idea of the  falling umbrellas came as I started the actual work.

J: When did you start creating it?

A: Around February, 2008

J: How did you feel while you were making it?

A:  It was hard. Physically it was very hard to execute the idea . I had to get to the top of the shelter, holding the umbrellas, using a ladder that wasn’t high enough.

And also it was difficult to connect the umbrellas. At the beginning I didn’t know how to go about doing it. Finally I joined them on the ground and lifted up the whole thing. That was the hardest part, I think. But friends from the art department helped me.

The project is located  right beside the Grade 9 classrooms and the kids were always asking me questions, some of which that I, myself, didn’t know how to answer.

J: Can you think of any examples of questions they asked?

A: For example, a  girl asked me how my project would help the situation. I didn’t know what to say

and right at the beginning, one student asked me how I was going to do it. I couldn’t answer that, either! The kids were very sweet. 

Someone asked me why  all the umbrellas weren’t red, and I said it was because they were similar to people, small, big, light, dark, decorated with pictures or plain, and if I had chosen all red ones,  I would have lost that added meaning.

The use of naïve colours, that was also important to me. That choice was part of my statement.

J: How did you feel about the result, how it looked at the end?

A:  I was very satisfied. The responses of people made all the hard work worthwhile. It didn’t come out the way I imagined, it was more striking than I’d thought.

J: How did other people react?

A: I did the project before there was the Jerusalem demonstration of Otef Azza  dwellers. They used red umbrellas to demonstrate their point, so after that, people asked me why I hadn’t done them red.  But, as I’ve said, I chose my  colours for a reason.

And there were many other responses. That made me realize that the academic grade I might get for my work was not as important as people’s reactions. 

J: Can you remember any special reaction?

A: An art graduate came to our exhibit and told me and one of the teachers that my work was the one she loved the most.

J: Now, today, when you look at your project, after time has gone by and the colours have faded, what do you think?

A: Actually, in general, I was supposed to have taken it down, but then I spoke with my art teacher, Gladys, and we decided that we’d leave it up until they tear down the school* (scheduled to happen this summer) because they don’t bother anyone. So meanwhile they’ll protect the shelter.

J: And do you think the idea is any less relevant, today?

A: It’s still relevant. The work is very political. For example, the problem with qassams reallly has no solution and my work continues to show that nothing has changed.  There’s also added relevance in that there’s still no solution for Gilad Shalit.

J: Avital, do you think expressing yourself through the art has helped you to deal with things? 

A: Maybe. During the time that I was working on it, there were many qassams. I think doing this work helped me deal with that. But this particular piece is not about dealing with things but rather expressing a political statement about our reality.

J: Anything else you want to add?

A: I don’t think so.

J: Okay, thanks so much Avital.

A: Thanks, Judih.


*Ma’ale Habsor Regional School is being torn down this year and re-built according to the safety regulations needed for Otef Azza. The school will be united with Habsor High School (which is for residents of the Moshavim in our area.) As a result, the art studio will be demolished along with Avital’s installation.

Additional note from Judih

Avital lives in a kibbutz that has experienced a few direct hits of qassams. Her kibbutz, Be’eri, was the first of all the kibbutzim in the Ma’ale Habsor district that had qassams falling in residential areas last year and continuing this year, causing injuries, physical and certainly psychological. One such example can be found here.

Avital, herself, is also one of the most sensitive students I’ve ever taught, who’s come to know herself as she’s matured. Her artwork is especially dramatic in light of her personality and environment.

This particular piece of artwork has caused others to stop, look and experience something in a new way – a true measure of art, in my opinion.

If you’d like to contact Avital, herself, you may do so at her e-mail address: