Thursday, September 23, 2010


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oops, I’m very sorry for not writing for so long! Here are the highlights from the last week:

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 21-22, 2010

Tuesday night we went to the big Tel Aviv apartment and built a sukkah during Ulpan. We learned a lot of Sukkot-related words, which I currently don’t remember, which was fun. Sukkot is a huge holiday here in Israel – once again, everything is going to be closed for about four days, since it falls on a Wednesday/Thursday, and then Shabbat. Amy, Hannah and I stumbled into a sort of farmer’s market on our walk that was selling only these three things you “need” for your sukkah – we thought it was something awesome so we went in, but it was super orthodox. We were the only women in there, we were not dressed orthodox-ly, and we were clearly not going to buy anything. We left in a hurry.

Oh, something I forgot to mention was that I had a very interesting conversation with Morgan about state-sponsored orthodoxy. She told me that because studying Talmud and Torah is more holy than working, the state subsidizes men who don’t work and instead go to the Yeshiva all the time. Plus, they get more money for every child they have, so you see these orthodox women with 12 children begging on the street because the welfare they are getting can’t support their family, and their husbands won’t work. That is ridiculous. Be a religious state, that’s fine, but you can’t tell people that studying holy texts is more important than providing for their families. You just can’t. And of course the women can’t work, because they are orthodox, and also because they have 12 children. And this uses up a huge chunk of the state’s welfare allotment, which means that other people who are actually working and trying to provide for their families can’t get the assistance they need. WTF.

I remembered that conversation because apparently Sukkot is such a big deal that poor Jewish families are spending money they don’t have to build a sukkah (which is very expensive). That is crazy to me – isn’t the point that you invite those less fortunate into your sukkah with you? Then why, pray tell, are those less fortunate having to build their own sukkahs? Why can’t they go to North Tel Aviv and hang out in your rich sukkah? WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY.

Also, we were talking in Ulpan about how your invite important people to your sukkah. Our teacher mentioned Abraham, Issac, Jospeh, and I was thinking about how those are never the people we invited to our sukkah at Sholem. Then I got the “this week at Sholem” email and they talked about who they were inviting to their sukkah: Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi…obviously a different sort of population. I remember there were always fierce debates in my class about who to invite – Emma Goldman or Mother Jones? Ghandi or Mandela? Dr. King or Susan B. Anthony? It made me really appreciate (for the thousandth time since I’ve been here) my Sholem education. Sukkus, for us, was always a political holiday (like all holidays) and it taught me about civil rights and labor leaders I didn’t learn about in school. If we had invited old dudes from the bible every year, it would have been (a) boring, and (b) much less educational. I guess it depends on what kind of education you are aiming for, but I think the Sholem way is definitely the best. Also, I read some of the class notes to Hannah and Jodi, and they were like, “yeah, that place sounds amazing.” And I was like, damn straight.

Then on Wednesday we had a whole bunch of Ulpan, then a whole bunch of hanging out. Jodi and I bought DINOSAUR SHAPED CHICKEN NUGGETS for dinner (Morgan had them too), and we spent hours trying to watch NCIS, which was very challenging for everyone involved. But then we had a lovely dinner downstairs in the sukkah that Amy, Dante, Katie, and Nate built on their patio, with all the Yafo people and two Tel Aviv people (plus Jodi and Morgan, who are basically Yafo people at this point.) Then, after our lovely meal, we finally watched NCIS, which seriously disappointed me, by the way. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it and then LET’S TALK. I also watched the season premier of How I Met Your Mother the other day with Amy, which I thought was excellent. Then we all went out to this bar in the flea market, which was fun until there was some too-intense conversation about the construction of masculinity going on. I love talking about gender construction, of course, but it wasn’t really working (wrong time, wrong place, needed a facilitator, wrong approach), so Dante and I sang “A Whole New World” instead.

Israli Public School System

Sunday-Tuesday, September 19-21, 2010

These past couple days have been all about visiting potential placements and Ulpan. I went to four sites: The Holland Center (preschool for kids with special needs), Ironi Zayin (an afterschool program for highschoolers), Ironi Chet (a religious Jewish boy’s high school), and the Daniel Kindergarten (a Jewish public school right next door to us.) I wasn’t really feeling the Holland Center, even though it is an amazing place, but I want to work at Ironi Zayin incredibly badly. They are doing absolutely amazing things at that program, and it is definitely my top choice. Unfortunately, they don’t have many spaces and it’s a lot of people’s top choice. So I don’t know how that’s going to go. I wasn’t mad about Ironi Chet – too much religion, too few girls, I think, but I really liked the Daniel kindergarten. They are doing a lot of coexistence work and trying to help their Jewish and Arab students get to the same level.

At the kindergarten meeting, we talked a lot about the public school system in Israel. What I understand is that there are three “streams” of public schools: Jewish, Religious Jewish (orthodox) and Arab. My impression is that the difference between Jewish and Arab is more about the racial makeup of the teachers and the language spoken, and less about the population. Many Arab children go to Jewish schools for a better education, the way many non-Catholics go to Catholic schools in the states. The Daniel school is a Jewish school but has a high percentage of Arabs from Yafo, because they can offer a better education, and Hebrew fluency, which is needed for any higher level of learning or living. However, as you might expect, Jewish children never go to Arab schools.

After this meeting, Hannah and I had a long talk about this state-sponsored segregation, starting from kindergarten. It seems to us to be only a slightly better form of “separate but equal,” (better because Arab children can attend Jewish schools if they want/can do it logistically/can get in) which is obviously incredibly divisive. The schools aren’t even requiring them to become fluent in the other language. We think that if all schools were integrated and bilingual, it would do a lot to lessen the conflict and heal the upcoming generation of this country’s wounds. If all Jewish kids went to school and were in classes with Muslim and Christian kids, if they all were fluent in Hebrew and Arabic (and English), if they all really went to coexistence schools every day, that would be huge. It struck us that there is so much more that the government could be doing to end or lessen the conflict, but they just aren’t. It made us (sorry for putting feelings in your mouth Hannah) incredibly frustrated, because everyone is talking about how they want peace and all of that, but they aren’t doing everything they can!

Yom Kippur

Friday-Saturday, September 17-18, 2010

Yom Kippur! Once again, everything in the entire city closed down. But at least it was only for two days this time, instead of the four we had for Rosh Hashanah. Morgan and Jodi spent a lot of time over here, which was awesome. Yom Kippur is, in Tel Aviv at least, like a giant block party. There are very few cars because people aren’t supposed to drive, so kids overtake the streets on their bicycles. There were more cars in Yafo, but they still had to navigate around the biking kids. Apparently people walk and ride their bikes on the highways, just because they can. It used to be that anyone driving a car would get stones thrown at them, and it might still be that way in Jerusalem, I don’t know, but here in Tel Aviv, and especially in Yafo, there is enough religious diversity that it’s not like that.

Quite a few of us fasted, me included, so we all got together and had a very nice break fast meal downstairs, with about 2/3 of the Yafo group (plus Morgan and Jodi.) It was really nice, and a good way to end the holiday.

Oh, also, incredibly weirdly, there is nothing on the tv or radio on Yom Kippur, apparently. You turn it on, and it’s just gray. So. Weird!

Night Tour of Jerusalem

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Last Thursday we went on a night tour of Jerusalem. Since it was the night before Yom Kippur, it was called a Slichot tour (and “slicha” means sorry), because of all the people in the old city to atone. The walking around the city was very cool, although our tour guide was not very good. The tour was too long, and we all very tired, since it didn’t start until about 10pm. We didn’t get to go down to the Wailing Wall because of the huge throngs of people – it looked like those pictures of Mecca, when the center is completely filled with a swirling mass of people. (Pictures up on facebook soon.) But don’t worry, I am definitely planning on going back and going to the wall at some point, because I am certainly not going to leave Israel without being there.

It was certainly weird being in the Old City, and being in Jerusalem in general. In Tel Aviv, the conflict seems like more of a political issue, but in Jerusalem you are confronted with the religious reality. The biggest building in the Old City skyline is a church. The entrance into the walls is riddled with bullet holes. The religious conflict is overwhelming, and I don’t really understand how people can see it as a completely holy space. I find nothing holy in hate, war, violence or fear, and Jerusalem is filled with all of those things. It also didn’t help that our tour guide was completely pro-Israel the entire way, and made no effort to provide another side to anything he was saying. We’ll see how I feel after having actually been to the Wall.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Pictures from the past week-ish are now up on Facebook! Take a look!

Word updates coming soon!

Teaser: we went to Jerusalem and I have bug bites! That's what I get for leaving my Yafo!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sorry I haven’t updated this in so long! Here are the last three days!

Today I went to two placements; one which I liked and one which I didn’t. The first was Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), which is an incredible organization that brings children with heart disease from developing countries to Israel for life-saving surgery. They also train medical personnel so that the children can get proper care when they go back home. 50% of their children come from Palestine, with another large chunk coming from Iraq. The rest come from all over Africa and some from South America and South-East Asia. As a volunteer, I would be playing with the kids in their house (they all live together) and visiting them in the hospital pre-and-post-op, as well as giving their parents some relief from constant caregiving.

We went to the house and met some of the kids, which was very intense. They ranged from what looked like 4 years old (but could have been older since kids with heart disease don’t grow very well) to 12. Most were from Ethiopia (they had a big group come in) with little Asian girl with a Chinese-sounding name. We played with them for a few minutes, which worked very well despite none of us having a common language.

I need to do some introspection on whether I will emotionally be able to handle working there a couple times a week, but I think it’s a really amazing place. If anyone is looking for an organization to donate to this Jewish holiday season, I strongly recommend this one. All of their doctors and the surgeon are volunteers, so it only costs $10,000 to save a child, including travel and logistical costs. The family pays zero dollars, even for the most complicated open heart surgery there is (one kid had heart on the wrong side of his body, and they saved him.) It’s really really amazing. They have saved over 2,400 children.

In the afternoon I visited a community center that I didn’t like as much. The guy doing the presentation wasn’t very good, and he seemed like he wanted only people with good Hebrew who would be here for 10 months. Plus the work wasn’t as coexistence oriented as I wanted. So, at least I can cross one of my 9 of the list!

After that, we tried to go to this dance performance in Tel Aviv (The Inbal Pinto Dance Company We went to dinner and got super delicious food, but it took a long time and then we got lost, so we found the place a few minutes after the performance started. And the men were snooty, so we decided to come back and see it when they will be back in November. We ended up just getting drinks at the really nice and comfortable bar/restaurant outside the theater. It was a really great setting, and I had one of the best drinks of my life (called “Summer Apricot,” which is how I learned that “apricot” is “meeshmeesh” in Hebrew.) We decided that we want to go there all the time and be slightly yuppie, but feel really good about.

We (Morgan, Jodi, Hannah, and I) had a really interesting conversation about how we, as opposed to other people in the program, are doing. A lot of people are kind of disillusioned with experience at this point, and we talked a lot about that. Obviously, adjusting to a new place takes a long time, and I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel this settled for a month, at the very least. I also think that it is hard for the people who just graduated college in May (which is over half the program, I think.) For me, because I lived in the real world for a year, and it was SO not what I was looking for, especially socially, I knew what I wanted in a very specific way. This program is much more like college than like real life, and that was exactly what I wanted. I wanted a built-in social scene and structure, which I am getting. But for people that have had that for the past 4 years, and haven’t had time to miss it, it certainly feels different.

Another big consideration that Morgan and Jodi brought up is that many people have (we think, look at me putting words in other peoples’ mouths!) an idealized version of Israel, especially after doing Birthright, which almost everyone on the program has done. On Birthright, apparently, everything is clean and nice and exciting and there is no seedy underbelly. Here, in Yafo and South Tel Aviv, it is dirty and sometimes smells like trash and things don’t work and you have to cope every day with the seedy underbelly. In addition to our volunteer placements, which are obviously dealing with needy populations, we are living in areas that are economically depressed. When we walk around in big groups of girls, men in cars honk or yell stuff at us, and you have to watch your step on the street cause the stones might be uneven, or maybe water will drip on your head, or maybe you’ll step in dog crap (like I did yesterday.) But I really love Yafo! I think it’s a really awesome place. But I (and the other girls in the conversation) never thought of Israel in that idealized way, either logistically or politically. I never felt like being here would be easy, luxurious, or feel like home. When you get off the plane and walk towards customs, there is a huge sign that says “WELCOME HOME.” I never expected to feel like this was home, or to feel an instant affiliation or connection with Israel, which I think a lot of other people did, either subconsciously or consciously. I certainly understand how hard that is, and how shocking it can be to realize that what you’ve thought and expected your whole life is so different.

Anyway, I hope the people that aren’t happy start to feel better as we get more settled and fall into more of a routine. And I hope I keep feeling as good about it as I do. Honestly, I am learning and using my brain, I have really good friends, we talked about racism, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the concept of “good hair,” and dinosaurs tonight at the bar, and I’m living in a way nicer apartment than when I was in Boston. For me, at least for now, it’s all good in the hood.

Fajitas and Florentine

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Today I didn’t visit any volunteer sites, although I have two tomorrow. I just hung out and mostly did nothing until Ulpan, which was very good. We played charades at the end. My team lost horribly, but my acting skillz did not let us down. We don’t have ulpan for 5 days in a row (damn Yom Kippur!) so I think we should all play Pictionary and charades to remember vocab words. It’s fun. So far, I have 3 favorite Hebrew words: zarzar (cricket), meeshmeesh (apricot) and melachfafon (cucumber.)

After ulpan, some of us went over to one of the Tel Aviv apartments where Morgan made us FAJITAS! Absolutely delicious fajitas! And she’s from Malibu, so she knows what Mexican food needs to be like. It was amazing. After that, we went out to a bar in the super hippy/trendy bar area, called Florentine. We convinced this guy, Oren, who lives with Morgan and others in one of the apartments to come with us, which was awesome. He is in an army program where he: volunteered for a year, then worked with a youth group for 6 months, served in the army for 6 months, now is supervising at that youth group for a year, then maybe serves another 6 months in the army, and then is done with his service, which is pretty awesome. Also, he was hilarious and knew how to get places, not to mention he read us the entire all-Hebrew menu. Super useful fellow.

So anyway, Allyson was with us, and she was like “Oh, I met this girl who DJs here sometimes, I wonder if she’s here.” Allyson disappears for 30 seconds, then pops out of the first bar we saw saying: “She’s here, and she says we can come to the private birthday party in the back!” So we got to go into this super nice back room (and sing happy birthday?) and it was very awesome. We felt very important. After being there for quite a while, Oren took us to this amazing ice cream store, which was some of the best ice cream in the entire world, in my humble opinion. It was fantastic.

Visiting Placements

Monday, September 13, 2010

Today I visited two volunteer sites! The first was called Aros El Bachar, which is an Arab women’s empowerment organization. This amazing woman decided that the Arab women of Yafo needed a place to go to learn English, computer skills, and other skills that will help them get jobs. They also offer legal consultations and help the women be aware of their rights. To help them make money, they have a doll-making collective, and they make the most awesome dolls ever. Hopefully soon there will be a website just for the dolls and I will link it when it is up. They need help mostly with teaching English. It would be different from our other English teaching opportunities (there are many) because it’s much more unstructured, so there is a lot more leeway and room for creativity, as well as responsibility and lesson planning.

The second site was the Arab-Jewish community center in Yafo. The center is on incredibly nice grounds, which was kind of weird for us, but we were warned not to forget that it is still an incredibly needy population that goes there. The center was very cool – they mostly need help doing English in the “American Corner” which is partially funded by the US Embassy. That really freaked some of the people from the program out – they were unhappy about doing something so “American.” I was talking to one person, I don’t remember whom, and she was saying: “I never went to Israeli corner anywhere…this kind of American propaganda scares me.” I told her that I had thought that all Jewish summer camps are affiliated with Israel, as are many synagogues and Jewish communities, not to mention college Hillels, and wasn’t that like “Israel Corner?” I think I feel that if the American Embassy is going to be spending money to help poor Yafo kids learn English – why not? They could be doing a lot worse things with my tax dollars. Like killing and oppressing Palestinian children. Spending money in a coexistence community center is not a problem for me, at least at this point.

At the community center there is also a youth leadership program where they train teenagers to be leaders in their own communities. She mentioned that they talk about things like racism, which obviously caught my attention. I’m not sure if I’d be able to work there because of the language barrier, but it is definitely something I want to look into more.

After the site visits, we had Ulpan. I went to the lower class and told the teacher I wanted to be in her class and I had already done the homework. She was like, “Okay, cool.” No sweat. And this class is SO. MUCH. BETTER. They are doing things that I already did in my class at AJU, but I know we’ll finish that tomorrow or the next day, and then it’ll be perfect. But it’s a fun, funny, relaxed, but still very fast paced class. She speaks to us only in Hebrew but is always careful to make sure she is understood. It’s pretty thrilling to understand 3.5 hours of pure Hebrew, even if much of it is communicated through pantomime, or through one person getting it and telling the rest of us in English. It’s fun. And SO MUCH BETTER. I’ve started calling it “Baby Hebrew” (a name which has spread like wildfire) and I love my baby Hebrew!

The WEIRD thing about today is that Justin, the dude from LA I had facebooked before we came, left the program! I knew he was upset because his apartment was gross and filled with cockroaches, but I didn’t think he was going to quit the program. Apparently he is crashing with a friend in Tel Aviv and is hoping to get a job. Since I didn’t hear from him the reasons he left so I won’t speculate here on this public forum. But anyway, I’m sorry to see him go. He was pretty hilarious to have around.

Monday, September 13, 2010

First Day of Ulpan

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Today was our first day having a real program after all these days off for the holidays. We took our first bus in Yafo (they have all been shut down for Rosh Hashanah and then Shabbat) to the central bus station, which seems to be bigger and more hectic than Port Authority. After some mishaps (oops) we found Benji (!) and our group, and headed over to the Bina building for more volunteering info with Avital. I found out from Benji that I was placed in the intermediate Hebrew group, instead of the intro group like I had expected. I was even more upset when I found out that Morgan, my number one twinsey, was also in that class. Morgan is pretty much conversationally fluent, and she is my translator when we go out. WHAT? So I asked Benji if, after today’s first class, I could downgrade a level if I need to. He said yes (after objecting to the word downgrade,) so that was slightly comforting. But still scary!

After more talking about volunteering placements (our visits start tomorrow!) we went home. I did some laundry and cleaned the apartment and we all helped settle in my 4th roommate Allyson, who just switched from the Tel Aviv track to ours! Yay! I’m very glad she’s going to be living with us. She’s sharing a room with Tiffany, which seems to be working out well so far. We’re all very happy to have her.

Then it was time for our first Ulpan class! (Ulpan is the word for Hebrew class – I don’t know what kind of Hebrew class it has to be to be classified as “ulpan,” but whatever, that’s what ours is called.) Half of our ulpan classes are in Tel Aviv and half are in Yafo; classrooms in Yafo are very expensive so they are held in our living rooms instead! Which is super convenient for us!

With great trepidation, I went into the intermediate class (in my very own living room!) Immediately, it was way over my head. He spoke only in very fast Hebrew, and I caught maybe 1 in 10 or 20 words. Usually the word “ani” which means I, or “ken” or “lo,” which are “yes” and “no.” By the end of the 4 hours, I was pretty frustrated. Then the teacher came over to me while we were doing an exercise in the book (the same book I used for my class at AJU, funnily enough) and said something like “why haven’t you finished it?” It was something where you had to read the sentence and fill in the missing pronoun, either “I,” “you (masculine or feminine),” “you guys (m. and f.)” or “them (m. and f).” I understood the pronouns, but it took me so long to work through the sentences since I don’t actually know any Hebrew, that it was taking me way longer. So he came over and started explaining the pronouns to me in a way that made it seem like he was frustrated with me. I tried to tell him that I know the pronouns, but I can’t get the context. He didn’t seem to be listening. Then he told me I should think about switching to the other class, and I told him I expected to. Then he seemed mad (????) and said they were starting from the absolute beginning and would be working on the alphabet for weeks. I told him only one person didn’t know the alphabet, and he was like “No, I read the tests myself.” And I was thinking: “Really, did you read my test where all I wrote was “I don’t speak Hebrew” in Hebrew?”

Then towards the end, Adam, who seemed to be only slightly above my level, started saying that he was frustrated and wasn’t getting anything. The other girls in the class tried to encourage him, but the teacher was strangely silent. Then he started saying that he thought we weren’t motivated enough, especially those of us who are here for only 5 months. Some people tried valiantly to respond, but it was just really weird.

After the class I talked to Hannah and Katie who were in the lower class, and I’m definitely going to switch. In this first class they covered basically everything I learned at AJU, so it should be perfect to jump in tomorrow. It’s not that I don’t want a challenge, or that I don’t want to push myself. But there is a difference between pushing yourself and being in a level that is far too difficult for you, where everything is over your head and you are struggling so hard to keep up that you aren’t understanding or retaining anything. That is not at all constructive, and I know the frustration I felt was impeding my learning, not enhancing it. I learned a long time ago that I learn best when I’m comfortable – I don’t excel in stressful situations. I know that the lower level class will be the best place for me, and will really push me to improve and to be at the top of the class, which is how I learn best.

I’m hoping there won’t be any tsuris about me switching classes – I’m planning to just tell Benji tomorrow morning at the placement tours and then show up to the lower class. I’m even going to do the homework she assigned so I’ll be an ideal pupil. She’s gonna love me! Plus, I get to be with Hannah, and a bunch of my other friends! Yay!

After the disastrous ulpan, I hung out downstairs on the patio for a while, and then got the best falafel of my LIFE. He cooked the falafel themselves right there for me, and it was super delish. Plus, I managed almost the whole thing in Hebrew (all I said was “falafel,” “ken,” “lo,” and “zayoo” (that’s all,) and “toda” (thank you), I think.) The best part is that it’s only 3 blocks from our apartment! SCORE! Then I hung out in the downstairs apartment for a while, which is always delightful, and now I am going to bed. I gotta wake up super early tomorrow to go see two placements before lunch, and then ulpan in the afternoon!

I am Harry Potter

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Today is Caroline’s birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY CAROLINE!!!!!

Today I woke up late, did some stuff around the apartment, and then in the early afternoon met some of the Tel Aviv people at the beach. It was really nice and warm down there, and the water was great, as expected. I walked down to the beach by myself, and I realized it was the first time I had walked around by myself at all! Crazy! But I didn’t get lost and found my people on the beach without trouble, so that was lovely.

After a while we got hungry and went at got falafel on Yefet, one of the main streets of our part of Yafo. It was super delish. Then we returned to the beach, where I was VICIOUSLY STUNG BY A JELLYFISH. But it’s cool, because it stung me in the shape of a lightning bolt. You know what that means. I’M HARRY POTTER. I’m also a horcrux, which is pretty badass. It stung quite a bit, but it was fine. Some other people got big stings too. I have pictures that I’ll post soon – it’s pretty spectacular! Then Dante and I watched the sunset over the water – there were clouds for the first time, which made it super pretty. Almost like Maui style! AND there was a tiny green flash! I was practically eating pupus and drinking experimental Maui Sunrise Piña Coladas.

After I got home and showered, I doused my sting with vinegar and watched half of Anchorman with Vanessa until she was too sickly to stay up and then I went to bed!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New Layout!

New layout! Because the white letters on the dark background hurts my eyes! And now there are birds! How delightful.

Empty Shuk!

September 10, 2010

Friday Hannah and I decided to go explore in downtown Tel Aviv. Our goal was the Hacarmel Markets, which is a sort of outdoor market with people hawking their wares in your face. However, we forgot that it was the second day of Rosh Hashanah, which meant that (1) the buses weren’t running, and (2) zero shops were open. So we walked for about an hour into Tel Aviv, and arrived at the market to find it ghost town. Literally zero people in sight. Then we met up with Hannah’s friend from Harvard and Morgan and Jodi (from the Tel Aviv group) and we wandered around until we found one street that was semi-open, called Rothschild, which is the hip young people center in downtown Tel Aviv. We got some gourmet ice cream with savory flavors and hung out in the shade for a while. Then we meandered back along the coast and put our feet in the water, which was really nice, although we were sweating immensely at that point, so we wished we were swimming instead of walking.

Then we bought bourekas, which are pastries with made of filo dough with cheese or potato inside them. I had a potato one, which was like knish but with filo dough. Delicious. Best street food ever. And only 10 sheckles!

After we got home, I google mapped how far we walked – turns out it was 6.5 miles! That’s a lot of walking, especially in the immense heat. I just looked it up, and it was 90 degrees with 75% humidity. So intense! So after showering all of that off, we had Shabbat dinner!

We decided to have a Yafo group bonding activity and have a potluck Shabbat dinner downstairs. Every apartment brought food and we all had a great time. It was really nice to have a family bonding activity like that. And some people made super delicious food! It was awesome. My contribution was financial and I washed every single dish! So I feel that I significantly contributed. AND, Katie said she’d teach me how to cook anytime I want, which is also great. I hope we keep doing Yafo Shabbat together, cause it was really nice to all be there.


September 9, 2010

Thursday we went to the beach! It took us about 30 minutes to walk there, although we thought we didn’t take the most direct route. At first it was just Hannah, Stephanie (my roommate) and I, but then a bunch of people from Tel Aviv came and joined us, so that was awesome. I had missed them a lot, so it was great to see them.

And the beach, OH MY GOD. It is the number one best beach I have even been to, minus our very own Kamaole II. The sand is super soft, there are no rocks, and the waves are big enough to be exciting but not scary or hard to get in or out. And the water. Oh my god. It’s incredibly warm, warmer than Maui. If it were any warmer it wouldn’t even be refreshing. It’s also extremely salty, which is fun too. And soft! Soft like Maui water! But the whole thing is just amazing. I feel less bad about missing Maui now, knowing that I can go to this beach and pretend I’m at the Hale Pau Hana. Hopefully we are going to go back today (Saturday) because I want to be there every single moment of my entire life.

Apparently you can bring your dog anywhere on the beaches with you. Which is nice to get to watch the dogs, but not nice because you have to watch your step at all times. We did watch a small fluffy dog try to make babies with a pit bull who was not having it at all. The dog tried for literally two and half hours. We felt bad for him. And the owners did NOTHING. It was kind of strange.

Some of us stayed on the beach to watch the sunset, which was amazing. Our beach faces due west, so it was really nice to get to see the sun drop right into the ocean. And, of course, it was still very warm at sunset, even though we were all in our bathing suits.

After the beach we came home and hung out at our apartment with two of our Tel Aviv friends, which was super nice.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rosh Hashanah

September 8, 2010

First of all, today is HEATHER RIPLEY’S BIRTHDAY. So, obviously, it’s the best day in the whole entire world. Obviously.

Also, pictures from the trip thus far are now on facebook! They are visible to friends of friends, so even if you and I aren’t friends, you should be able to see them! Enjoy!

This morning I woke up, wrote a birthday song for Ripley, then hung around the apartment until Hannah, Nate, Stephanie, and I went out to the ATM and bought wine for our host dinners. Then Hannah and I went back out (after dropping off money and wine in our apartments) and wandered around all of Yafo for about 4 hours. We went to the Old City, the Flea Market, up and down the big streets, then down to the port and along the beach and back through Ajamai (one of the poorest neighborhoods of Yafo). It was really awesome. Every part of it is different, but there is so much cool stuff to see everywhere. There is a lot of whale and water imagery since Yafo is, apparently, the port Jonah took off from when he got swallowed by the whale. Which is pretty damn cool. Oh, plus, we had the best couscous of my life! It was amazing! Everyone should come here and eat this couscous!

Also, we didn’t get lost once. It was MIRACULOUS. We were SO PROUD of ourselves. You have no idea.

Then after the most freezing and refreshing shower of my life, Hannah and I went to our Rosh Hashanah dinner at Esi Lillianthal’s house. She lives in a super nice part of Tel Aviv. We split a cab with another girl from the program so we walked for about 20 minutes to get to the apartment, and it was such a difference from Yafo, and especially Ajamai. So incredibly nice. But anyway, Esi is basically the nicest person in the entire world. We got off the elevator and she gave us huge hugs, and said “Welcome, welcome, l’shona tova!” She is the matriarch of the family, and her children and grandchildren were all there, about 18 people total I think. Luckily one of her daughters and her three kids lived in Miami for a long time, so her two daughters speak perfect English. They are 21 and 15, and Esi sat us with them, so that was nice. The third child is actually taking a class at SMC right now! Hilarious. And, of course, the food was incredible. I am STUFFED.

First there was schmoozing (we tried to help in the kitchen, but were rejected, as I expected), then we gathered around the table. Two quick prayers, one kiddish, and then eating time – just the way I like it. Esi was really great about explaining everything to make sure I knew what was happening all the time, and everyone spoke English and translated anything that was said in Hebrew for us. First we had apples and honey and pomegranate seeds (supposedly there are 613 seeds in a pomegranate, like the 613 mitzvahs) and then gefilte fish (sorry Tash.) Then we had latkes made out of leeks (AMAZING) and egg salad, a recipe passed down from Esi’s grandmother. Oh, also the candlestick (which they adorably called a candle holder) belonged to Esi’s grandmother. Then we started the “real meal” of fish, beef, salad, mashed potatoes, and more I can’t even remember. Topped off with cake (amazing) and fruit salad. I never want to eat again. However, if I didn’t feel that way after Rosh Hashanah there would be something seriously wrong. Then the Miami granddaughter drove us home (score!) and we exchanged numbers with her so we can see her again if we want. When we left, Esi was like “sometimes, give me a call! Come over! I cook for you!” and Hannah and I were like YES PLEASE. It was a really great experience; I’m so glad I went.

Apparently in Israel, Rosh Hashanah is all about family dinner, and Yom Kippur is the much more religious holiday. It’s like that at home too, but I think the difference is more exaggerated here. It was crazy when we were walking around – almost every single store was closed, and the streets were dead. Every single pedestrian we saw in Tel Aviv (less in Yafo because of the high Muslim and Christian population) was dressed up and carrying a bottle of wine. It was crazy to see so much going on for a Jewish holiday. There was even a giant display next to City Hall that said “L’shona tova” and “Chag Sameach” in Christmas lights on our way home. Everyone says that the whole country shuts down, and will be basically shut down until Sunday morning. That’s obviously not completely true because when we drove back into Yafo we saw all the Arab restaurants were open. But everything run by Jews was done around 3 or 4pm today. It’s really fun being somewhere that everyone knows about the holidays I celebrate. I enjoyed it quite a bit. But the great thing about living in Yafo is that I can’t think that everyone is celebrating, that everything is shut down. I can see the truth on my own street, in my own neighborhood. I’m really glad to be living in such a mixed area because it keeps me from being carried away with the “I’m surrounded by Jews!” mentality. It’s a great reality check.

Tomorrow we are going to have a New Years beach day with a bunch of people from the Tel Aviv track, as well as our Yafo friends. It’s only been a day and half since we haven’t seen them, but I feel like it’s been forever. I miss them!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Back in Yafo

September 7, 2010

Today is the day we had to leave Kibbutz Ketura. L I’m very sad to have left. I know we didn’t get the real kibbutz experience because we weren’t working, we were on vacation. Spending all our time at the pool, and all. But it was an amazing week, and I’m very sad it was over. I’m also very sad to be losing most of the group to Tel Aviv. I have a lot of friends in the Jaffa (or as they say in Hebrew and I’m trying to train myself to say, Yafo) track, but it’s hard losing 15 of your brand new best friends to another part of town. It’s also weird being in my apartment with just one other person now after being surrounded by 25 other people for an entire week.

I slept most of the bus ride to Yafo (4 hours), which was excellent. I’m in the upstairs apartment, 3rd floor, which is good for security but bad for my tired legs in the million degree heat. I am living with Stephanie and Tiffany, and Allyson if she switches from the Tel Aviv track. I have a great room, pretty good sized, and our living room is massive, so that’s good. The other two Yafo apartments are just downstairs, so that’s good for hanging out. After moving our stuff upstairs, Benji took us on a whirlwind tour of our neighborhood. Mostly, the only thing I retained was how much more humid it is in Yafo than down south on the Kibbutz. That was super hot but a dry heat, and this is yucko muggy style. Unfortunate, but what can you do. Oh, also we had pizza! It was good.

Then Stephanie and I braved the big bad world by ourselves and went out and bought a bunch of crap for our apartment at the pharmacy (called SUPER PHARM, LOL), veggie store, grocery store, etc. All I can say is, thank god everyone here speaks English!

One thing that is really cool in our neighborhood is that you can hear the Muslim call to prayer while you’re walking in front of a church listening to men in yarmulkes speak in Hebrew. It really is a mish-mosh of cultures, and that’s really awesome.

Another awesome thing is that these ladies gave us apples and honey on the street corner. I was like, I know it’s the new year, and you do too! Being in a Jewish state is awesome! She was walking up and down giving them to all the people in cars stopped at a red light too. It felt nice. I wonder if she would have given them to me if I had been wearing a hijab.

Now I am exhausted, and probably going to bed super early. Tomorrow night is Rosh Hashanah, so I am going to this lady’s house with Hannah for dinner. I hope it will be good! I’m sure the food will be! The bad news is that the buses and shops and everything are all going to be closed until Sunday because of the holiday and then Shabbat. Welp, my feet will get lots of exercise! And lots of beach time for me!

Sand Dunes

More September 6, 2010

After the Zionism workshop, we did some more logistics, and then WENT TO THE SAND DUNES. We rode on a bus up above the kibbutz 300 meters up into the mountains and then drove deep into the desert. The bus pulled over in the very middle of the desert; it looked to us like a stretch of nothing just like all the stretches of nothing we had passed. We actually laughed when David said we were getting off – we thought he was joking because it was absolutely NOWHERE. We got off and hiked into the desert for a moment. Then David stopped us and showed us a row of rocks in the sand, about ankle high, forming a small part of a circle. They are remains from the stone age! That was a super long time ago! Apparently the Arava Valley, where we were, was incredibly populated during the Stone Age because of the incredible availability of flint. It was lying all of the ground we walked on, and apparently in the rest of Israel it is covered with several layers of limestone. Also I learned that there was great debate about whether to mention God or not in the Israeli Declaration of Independence, and they compromised by mentioning the Rock of Ages, which is, fascinatingly enough, flint.

Anyway, after I soaked in the amazingness that I just saw a Stone Age relic just chilling in the desert, not in a museum, but just there on the ground, we started to hike up the mountain. It was about 10 minutes, then we rested almost at the top. The view was incredible. We could see into Egypt, which was crazy. From the kibbutz you can see into Jordan (it’s RIGHT THERE), so it was a three-country day for us. Then we hiked about 2 more minutes, and arrived at THE SAND DUNES.

The dunes are huge, covering a massive territory. And the view from them is incredible. But the most amazing thing about them is how soft the sand is. It literally felt like velvet. I can’t even find the words to describe it. It was the most amazing substance I have ever seen or encountered in my entire life. When I held it up to my face, I couldn’t even see the different colors of rock in it like you usually can. This sand is made of limestone instead of the usual mix of quartz and other rocks, so it is different from any other sand I’ve seen.

We had time to romp, roll, play, run, and do anything we wanted. It was amazing. We even made sand angels. It was windy, so sometimes my eyes hurt, but I didn’t care even a little. Then we all were given two pieces of paper and were told to go into the dunes and find a spot where we couldn’t see anyone else, and we weren’t supposed to make a sound. For fifteen minutes, we were just supposed to sit and think and be.

I’ve never been able to mediate or anything, but this would be the place to do it. I couldn’t get over the fact that this place looks exactly the way it looked thousands of years ago. Probably millions. All you could hear were the same sounds you would have heard in the Stone Age, or before. As far as I could see from my chosen perch, there was absolutely nothing man made – just mountains and dunes. I was sunk in the softest sand, watching the wind whip it around, listening to it whistle around me, and it was deep and profound in a way that makes those words seem empty and meaningless.

I felt very comforted by the idea that this was all unchanged. I thought a lot about time up there; about how time affects the dunes, about how every time I touched the dune I messed it up, but in a few minutes the wind covered up everything I did and made it go away again. I was thinking about my future and I was, for some reason, really comforted that no matter what I do, this desert will be the same. I felt much less anxiety and urgency to figure out my life when I was up there than I ever have, and I’m very much trying to hold on to that feeling. I can’t explain any of it well, but I think it was one of the best places in the entire world.

After our solo pondering time, we all ran down the last dune together, put our shoes on (saddest moment of my LIFE) and then went down to where they had a dinner set up for us. We made our own pitas on a Bedouin cooking stone, which was absolutely delicious. I accidentally ate a lot of it. Good raw too! Then we sat around the campfires for a while until we had to leave.

I’ve always thought of myself as a beach or forest kind of person, but this experience, both on the dune and the whole week at Ketura gave me a real appreciation for the desert. There is something incredibly beautiful in the simplicity and the geology, something that is impossible for me to put into words. I could never live somewhere like that, but it was so amazing. I’m still processing.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Zionism on Ketura

September 6, 2010

This morning we had a session about Zionism. I was nervous about it because of my complicated relationship with Zionism and the State of Israel, but since we had a great Jewish Identity workshop yesterday, I was confident it would be well run. But, alas, it wasn’t. David (the kibbutz guy) gave us a lot of history of the Zionist movement, but there was no discussion. He also brought up anti-Semitism and conflicts in the Middle East as things that have always effected the Zionist movement. I felt like we weren’t having the conversation I wanted – one guy actually put up his hand during the anti-Semitism part and said “I don’t see how this is constructive.” People started to talk about it, but David shut it down to get on with his lesson plan. I found it frustrating because bringing up anti-Semitism often shuts down the conversation about Zionism and Israel, just like bringing up the Holocaust often shuts down conversations about Israel’s military and political decisions, not to mention discussions of Jews’ white privilege in America. Yes, the Jews have been persecuted throughout history, but that doesn’t make what we are doing to the Palestinians any better. That’s what I wanted to talk about. I know we’ll probably talk about that informally with each other, but it would have been nice to have a facilitated dialogue about it.

I am completely not sure how I feel about being in Israel, in terms of the political implications. My relationship with the state is so complicated, and I haven’t settled on how I feel now being here, spending my dollars to stimulate their economy, feeling like my presence here is a wordless acceptance of the existence and choices of the state of Israel. My relationship and my feelings are obviously a thousand times more complicated now that I’m here, on this soil, and I know they will continue to get more fuddled and muddy as time passes. I wanted to talk about that with people, to see how other people are handling this. I think that some people here are definitely more supportive of the state than I am, but from individual conversations I’ve had I know there are other people who are questioning a lot of what is/has been going on here for the last 100 years. THAT is the conversation about Zionism I want to have. I wish Malka and Aziza and my NewGrounders were here to dialogue with me and help me figure out how I feel.

I guess another thing that bothered me about the workshop is how matter of fact it was. In NewGround, when we were talking about Israel/Palestine, a Jewish fellow explained to a Muslim fellow that Israel is like a wound to every Jewish person (forgive the generalization); we all carry around this sore, this sensitive spot, and that when other people, or even other Jews, are discussing it with us, they have to be aware of this woundedness we have. I really believe that, and it’s something I’ve thought about all the time after she said it, especially when deciding to do this program. I feel like, in this workshop, there was no recognition of the pain or the woundedness that American Jews can feel for Israel. It was so straightforward…it was like getting a lesson on evolution – slightly controversial, but mostly factual. And that is, obviously, not at all the way I see Zionism or the relationship I have with the state of Israel.

Ketura, Sept 5

September 5, 2010

Sunday morning we had a workshop called “Jewish Identity,” which I was worried about, but it turned out to be fun. There was a “store” with “Jewish” items, like a picture of Chanukah, a prayer shawl, a picture of the founding a Tel Aviv, and we had to choose 6 we wanted to “buy.” Then we had two small groups and we talked about what we chose and why, and what we didn’t choose. Our discussion was facilitated by David (the kibbutz guy) and it was really good. I really enjoyed what we all said and hearing from everyone.

We spent a lot of time talking about our neighborhood in Jaffa and our volunteer placements. I signed up to look at 8 places and will probably chose 3 to work at. We’ll start looking at them next week, so that’s cool. I’m really excited to get to see them, and see what I like. We also got to know our volunteer coordinator, Avital (the one from the kibbutz), and she is really cool.

Plus, we had our dinner bbq and night pool party, which was great. The bbq was fun – I’ve never had tahini sauce on a hamburger on pita before, but it was good. Expanding my culinary horizons, and all that. Plus, afterwards, Nancy played with my hair, which was delightful. Also, I found out that Morgan, my number one twinsie, is in love with NCIS too, so we’re going to have viewing parties for sure. And Amy and I are going to have Glee parties. It’s all good in the tv-watching hood.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

A Gradual, Easy Hike

September 4, 2010

Yesterday we started the morning off with breakfast in our rooms. It was lovely. I ate Israeli corn flakes. Then we had a group text study with the leader of our program, Moshe, who is a Bible teacher. We studied a text from Deuteronomy that says what you are supposed to do when you get to the Promised Land. Apparently, you’re supposed to bring your first fruit to the priest and give it to God. Cause apparently God worked really hard for that harvest? Interesting. Anyway, we analyzed it in pairs, and Justin and I had a super good time. We were the only people laughing. It was atheist corner of humor at it’s best. The conversation was interesting, although I definitely have some issues with giving MY hard work to God. And also, being in the Promised Land. But ANYWAY.

After that, since it was Shabbat, we had a whole bunch of time off. I obviously spent it all in the pool. It was awesome. And delightfully refreshing. It’s so ridiculously hot here, the pool is literally a slice of heaven.

After pool time, we went over the program guidelines, which was thrilling, obviously. Then we went on a “gradual, easy hike to see the sunset.” Turned out to be a STRAIGHT UPHILL GOAT TRACK TO THE TOP OF A TALL MOUNTAIN. It was the most intense experience of my life. About 5/6ths of the way up, Jodi and I decided to find a nice place to sit and watch the sunset from instead of making another vertical climb. It was actually very nice. As we climbed down, we talked a lot about our Jewish identities, and it was a really great conversation. I wished I could have finished the hike, but my body told me to stop, so I did. But I had a good time, so I was happy.

After the hike, we made dinner in our separate community and coexistence tracks. Our group made stir fry, salad, and noodles, and the other group made Middle Eastern and “Mexican” food. Our group worked together really well in perfect harmony. It was very encouraging. And there were cupcakes. I only ate the top, obviously. Then we did lots of hanging out, both in our courtyard and at the pub. Then, finally, I went to sleep. It was a good day, minus the straight up the mountain climb in the 287923497 degree heat. Pictures on facebook to follow whenever I get around to it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Ketura Day 2

September 3, 2010

Friday (writing this on Saturday) we woke up, had our first Kibbutz breakfast, and then headed over to our first program. First we learned more about the Kibbutz, and kibbutzim (plural) in general from David, the New York Israeli with the squeakiest voice and the funniest way of talking in the whole wide world. He told us that all kibbutzim in Israel are (to certain extents) JSADS: Jewish, socialist, agricultural, democratic, and small. Ketura is apparently one of the most socialist ones still in existence. Ketura makes its money from dates, milk from their cows, and this red algae they grow that is used for medicinal purposes. They make about $5 million a year, and spend almost all of it. His personal stipend is $200 a month. The kibbutz pays for his rent, food, healthcare, education (through college!) for his four children, and just about all of his needs. Sounds pretty cool.

Ketura is special because it houses this academy, The Arava Institute, that is doing environmental work in the region, across geopolitical borders. They have students from Israel, Palestine, Jordan, and around the world come and study together. The program is super successful, and they are hoping to expand it. It is a really great example of coexistence work that is actually working; their alums are still friends, and many are high up in their respective governments’ environmental agencies. The man who runs it is actually my volunteer placement coordinator’s father – turns out she grew up on this kibbutz. It also turns out that guy with the gun on our bus was her brother, coming home on break from the army. Oops!

Then we had a delicious lunch, and then our coveted POOL TIME. It is literally a billion degrees here, so I LOVE THE POOL. SO MUCH. We stayed in there for about 3 hours, just talking and hanging out. Awesome.

Then we broke into our separate coexistence and community groups and did some bonding activities, which was really nice. I like all the people, but it was good to get to be just the people who will be living together.

After that, we all gathered and talked about Shabbat, and the idea that Judiasm is centered on time, not space. Then we lit candles, and then went to the kibbutz’s Shabbat service. Going to the service was optional, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go, but I decided to go. When else would I get the chance to see Shabbat on a kibbutz? My friend Hannah told me she was wary too, being from a reform temple, so we agreed to sit in the back corner together. The prayer books were only in Hebrew, so I generally had zero idea what was going on, but when she knew she explained to me, so that was awesome. The first part was all singing, community wide. It was not at all what I expected from a service. I thought it was more rabbi-led, but this first part was very communal. About halfway through, the rabbi took over from the young woman with a beautiful voice who was leading, and then it was more of what I expected. It wasn’t too long though, and I never felt really uncomfortable. It was interesting, but I didn’t feel bad at all being there, so that was excellent. Once again, thanks to my NewGround experience, I knew more of what to expect and I was less fearful of coming clean to my friends here about never having been to services, so it was not nearly as scary as it could have been. I know if I hadn’t gone to NewGround, I never would have stepped foot in that place.

The service was really nice because it was such a community feel. People were getting up and hugging each other all over the place, and the kids were running around. It wasn’t super serious and formal like I worried it would be.

After services was dinner, which was super delish. It was our first meal here with meat…our guess is that during the week it’s a dairy kosher kitchen and for Shabbat it’s a meat kosher kitchen. There was a crap ton of food, and wine, and it was really nice. OH, I forgot to mention that during the day we made challah! Or, technically, challot (plural.) They told us we could make any shape we wanted (the dough was prepared for us) and we really ran with that. I made two beautiful braided challot – so proud of myself! – and a sailboat, and, my personal favorite, a camel. And someone else made a unicorn and Justin made fun of me for telling her (very matter of factly) that she needed to add a tail because unicorns have tails. But I’m right. They do have tails. Take that, Justin. There was also a turtle, a hotdog, hamburger, bear, star fish, etc. Awesome. HOWEVER, when we got to Shabbat dinner, NONE OF OUR BEATIFUL CHALLOT WERE IN SIGHT. They totally censored our beautiful challah making, and it was very sad.

After dinner we hung out around our rooms for the rest of the night. Since it’s so hot during the day, it’s super nice during the evening. We can just hang out in tank tops and shorts until midnight and it’s really really nice. So we spent hours just out on the grass. Bonding times. I feel like I’m really getting along with all the people, so it’s been a lot of fun hanging out. Then, after some truly fun conversation, I went to bed.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Arrival in Kibbutz Ketura

September 2, 2010

Today we woke up and hung out in the apartment until we all got transported (very. slowly) over to the Bina David center for our first orientation activity. We had a bunch of people from Bina, the secular yeshiva, the reform people that are helping our program, and Masa (which is pronounced mah-SAH, not masa like casa, oops!) to tell us how excited they are that we’re in Israel! It was slightly repetitive, but still nice. Then we filled out some paperwork, and I found out the program will get my visa for me! JOY OF JOYS, WONDER OF WONDERS. I love these people. Then we had falafel for lunch, and hopped on the bus to head down to the Kibbutz.

The bus ride was super long, like 4 hours. When I got on, I saw a guy with a huge rifle sitting in one of the front seats. I was surprised, but I recovered quickly. I did think it was strange that they didn’t tell us we were having an armed guard on our bus, and I wondered if that was just so typical for any tour bus in Israel that they didn’t think we’d even notice. At one of our rest stops, there were a couple of buses of soldiers that were getting food. It was so weird to see a flood of people in sand colored uniforms with these GIANT guns just walking around, eating fried chicken, super casual. I guess it will be a common sight around here, since soldiers are everywhere, but it’s still weird seeing these massive guns.

One thing we talked about at one of our rest stops was how weird it is to be illiterate here. It’s not just that I can’t speak or understand, but I can’t read anything. When we were looking for towels for Sara, we were all saying it would be much easier if we could read the stores’ signs to see what they sold. Hopefully that will come quickly.

Finally, after dark, we arrived at the Kibbutz, which is called Kibbutz Ketura. We are staying in really nice apartments, 3 or 4 to a room. We were greeted by this guy David, who one of the girls described as Woody Allen’s lost cousin. He is from New York (as he calls it, a small village on the eastern part of America), and has lived on the Kibbutz for 30 years. We talked a little about the Kibbutz and then had dinner (more pita! But this time with meat options) and one girl brought out her guitar and played for us. It was really nice just sitting outside, looking at the stars, hearing music. Very peaceful. Very Kibbutz style.

After a while, we went down to the pub, which apparently rotates nights on all the local Kibbutzes. Five of us sat at a table, and it turned out that three of the girls were really interested in doing refugee work, either as lawyers or advocates or whatever. So we talked a lot about that, which I thought was really interesting. We also talked about life, our future plans, politics, grad schools, etc. It was great to be sitting around listening to American pop music (Lady Gaga, what up) in a pub on a kibbutz in the middle of nowhere Israel talking about all these profound things. It reminded me of some of the conversations we’d have at dinner at MHC, so that was awesome.

After the pub, we came home to bed. I feel like I bonded a lot with my roommates for the week, Allyson from Cincinatti and Tiffany from Sonoma. Tiffany is in Coexistence, so that’s nice. Right after we went to bed, one girl from the program stumbled into our room, dead drunk, and it took us a while to get her back to her room, but it all turned out right in the end. Man, so drunk. It was pretty hilarious.

First Night in Israel

September 2, 2010

Since the internet here in the Kibbutz is shoddy, I'm writing these when I can, putting the date I'm writing about on the top, and then posting it when the internet is cooperating. It's confusing, but, in the end, unimportant.

It feels like I’ve been here for so long, but really it’s only been about 30ish hours. So yesterday after my flight landed, I waited in line for passport control FOREVER, then got my bags without hassle and met Dan right outside customs. He was there with three girls, Julie from Boston, Marissa from New York, and Sara from Ohio. They all seemed really nice, and we had nice ride to Jaffa from the airport. Some of the scenery looked a lot like Southern California, but many of the buildings look different. They do this thing where on one side of the building the upper floors are scaled, so it looks kind of like they are falling down or ruins from a distance. There were some super weird songs on the radio that Dan said were programmed by the rental car agency, which is staffed by “Israeli Guidos.”

We got to the apartment in Jaffa, which is a super cute building, definitely the cutest on our block. Our apartment was on the first floor – apparently the coexistence track has 3 apartments in the building. I saw all three of them, and they are all really nice, so I don’t really care which one I permanently get assigned to. Even though all three of the other girls are in the community track and will be living in Tel Aviv, we were all staying in the Jaffa apartments for the night before the program really starts.

For a while we all just hung out in the apartment, but then we took a walk around the neighborhood. We ended up in Old Jaffa, and the other three (who had all been there before) remembered this awesome place up on hill where you have a stunning view of the harbor and Tel Aviv. It’s a pretty touristy spot, but for a good reason, because it was absolutely incredible. As we walked up these old sand colored stairs, we saw a bride a groom taking wedding photos. Then we meandered up the hill, and heard this live klezmerish band playing over on a stage to our right. Right when we got to the top of the hill, the band creshendoed into a sort of mystic Irish fusion song. We sat up on the top and watched them play for a while until their sound check was over (they were setting up for a concert that night.) It was a really beautiful hilltop with an archway about some Biblical story or whatever. Pictures will be on facebook soon. The awesomeness of the live music and the incredible panoramic view of the ocean and Tel Aviv was not even obscured by the rather creepy old man in a bright red shirt that said “Let’s talk dirty” on it who was walking around on the hilltop. We also saw 2 or 3 other wedding parties, and I think we were accidentally in several wedding photos. Oops.

After soaking that in for about 20 minutes, we walked down the hill and found a falafel place for dinner. The food was very good, and we were happy we navigated our first Hebrew sales event (even though we spoke English the whole time.) The food was overpriced (23 sheckles!) but felt good. After dinner we went back towards our apartment, and then went on a hunt for towels for Sara. After about half an hour of hunting, where I was the only one who didn’t give up hope, we finally found them! Success! It was awesome. Sara even bargained the price down, so we all felt good about it.

When we got back to the apartment, we met a bunch of other girls who were going to be staying in our apartment for the night. Since Julie, Sara, and Marissa are all from the Community track, so I was excited to meet people from my Coexistence track. All the people seem very nice. There are only a few guys in the program (I think four?) so it’s lots of ladies. There are people from all over, but we all found connections. Julie went to UMASS, so she and I bonded over the valley, and she found a friend from preschool, and two girls here went to camp in Georgia together. It’s random how all these people can find these random connections in common, and how much we search for them to make this place seem a little more like home.

After a long time of hanging out, we all went to bed. It was SWELTERING in the room Sara and I slept in, so it wasn’t my best night’s sleep ever.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

In Flight Entertainment

August 31, 2010

I wasn’t sure what date to put on this, since I’m not quite sure what the date is. I guess I should have put September 1st, since it will be 2pm on September 1st when I land, but I thought I’d give a shout out to Tash. Happy birthday sister!

Anyway, as implied, I’m currently on the plane. We’re over eastern Europe, right near Belgrade, the little plane icon tells me. We are 1188 miles from our destination, 2 hours and 9 minutes remaining of our 14 hour excursion.

Man, how about that security at El Al! The weird thing is that what we think of as security, the metal detectors, take out your laptop, take off your shoes, blah blah blah, was exactly the same as normal, if not more lax. That part felt like the Hartford airport, my cutest most favoritist airport in the entire universe. But before you get to that joyous part full of only people who HAVE NO IDEA WHAT TO DO AND TAKE FOREVER TO DO IT, you have to get through your interview with the nice security people at the check-in counter. So I got in the terminal, wheeled my giant bags over to the counter and waited in line. A blonde woman, about 30, called me over to her when there were a few people ahead of me in line. She pulled me into another lane with no people in it, and started asking me questions. Why am I traveling to Israel? What kind of program? What kind of volunteering? How did you find this program? Who have you met from this program? Who do you know in Israel? Why don’t you speak Hebrew? She seemed very unthrilled that I had found the program through Google, I speak no Hebrew, I don’t know my volunteer placement, and I’ve never met anyone from the program. Then she asked if I ever did anything Jewish, so I said I went to Jewish Sunday school, a “super reform” community (sorry Sholem.) She asked how we did the holidays, and I mentioned that we do all the holidays, like Rosh Hashona and Passover, and we have a Passover seder. She asked me what was on the seder plate, which I thought was hilarious. I told her, including that I hate parsely. I thought that might give it the human (aka not bomber) touch she was looking for. After a while, she went over and talked to her supervisor, a pretty brunette lady about the same age, who then came over with her. The supervisor asked me some of the same questions and some new ones. They were very insistent on why I chose Tikkun Olam over other programs. Super not thrilled with me. The supervisor told me straight up: “I’m concerned someone is using you to bring a bomb on board.” I was like…well how do you respond to that? “No?” I mean, seriously. No answer sounds good in that situation. But the supervisor finally left and the blonde lady asked me for another 5 minutes about whether anyone else had access to my bags or if there was anything in them I didn’t already have before. I declined to mention the billions of things I just bought, and all the people who had been in our house lately and had access to my suitcases. It worked, and finally I was allowed to check in and go through the limited regular security. I thought there might be extra security at the gate, since the metal detector was for all international flights, not just El Al, but there wasn’t. It was super chill once I got through. I had a hot dog with the most creepy and brilliantly hunter green pickle relish I have ever encountered, and then got on the flight.

Wonder of wonder, miracle of miracles, there is no one in the middle seat, so Chaim, my seat mate, and I get to stretch out. It’s awesome. So far I’ve watched “Remember the Titans,” which never fails to make me cry, and half of “The Backup Plan” with J-Lo (!) until it turned into French. All the movies on here have one channel in English and one in French, both with Hebrew subtitles, which I find slightly strange. I guess more movies are dubbed into French than into Hebrew. I’m just glad they have them in English.

It is very weird being in an environment where I don’t speak the language AT ALL. They tend to make most announcements in Hebrew then English, but some are just in Hebrew. I hope they aren’t saying anything I need to know. I just keep telling myself to remember how much I don’t know now, so I can dazzle myself when I fly back with my awesome understanding. The guy next to me, Chaim (or Chaim Potock, as I think of him,) asked if I spoke Hebrew. I said no, and he said: “You’re going to Israel. You should speak Hebrew.” I was like, thanks for the opinion, Chaim. Way to be useful. Just, thanks.

However, the good thing about this flight is that they served us food! Real airplane food! And it was pretty good too. I was happy. There was a brownie. And hummus, shocker, but with nothing to dip in it. I was confused. It was Sabra hummus though, so that was fun. Good bread.

I think there is youth group here on their way to Israel. They are going into their senior year of high school, and are, as you expect, rather annoying. Two of the guys were talking about what they would do if they came home and their dog started talking. One guy said: “I’d literally shit my pants, and then beat up my dog.” What a winner.

Well, they have turned the lights on and are starting to serve “breakfast” (WHAT TIME IS IT???) so I should put this away. Hopefully the rest of this flight goes quickly, and there is actually someone there to meet me from Tikkun Olam! And hopefully I get through customs without any hiccups. I’m sorry I don’t speak Hebrew, future customs person! If you let me in, I will! I promise!

P.S. Odd fact: yesterday (WHAT DAY IS IT???) when I was using the coinstar machine to make all my coins turn into real money, I found one South African penny and one restaurant token for a place in Indiana. It was strange.