Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Christian Tour

On the Christian tour now….we are singing a Christian song as I type. Feeling way out of place, but will figure it out. I’m just not used to the Christian stuff. The outward, tangible expressions of Christianity. Not that there aren’t any present at my church. But, where I come from, personal expression of religion is expressed in a more conservative manner. Maybe I have boxed myself into my creative interpretation of what I believe is Christianity. Anything outside of the comfort zone of Christianity I have created makes me highly uncomfortable.
Last night I met my roommate Debra Waldman who is friends with Peggy Knockman- an amaingly kind woman who used to babysit me when I was a little girl… such a small world. I immediately met three of the pastors of Christ Fellowship, his wife and the circle of people surrounding him. They were very welcoming as I waited for Meredith and Richard to arrive on the last bus. I met great people, whom were all exhausted from their flight from Florida. I dropped of my outrageous bright orange backpacking backpack in my amazingly large, spacious room across from the beach at the Dan Panorama hotel. I met my roommate who was surprised that I was there, funnily enough. (Apparently she wasn’t expecting me until next week) She is the sweetest lady, and introduced me to all her friends. We ate dinner together, chatted about what journeys in their lives brought them here, why they are taking this trip. One of the ladies was a Québécois and quite well traveled. Another was this tall blonde woman who reminded me of me a little. She loves traveling, adventure and was all about going for a walk, seeing the neighborhoods and going into the sketchy places where tourists really shouldn’t go. After a HUGE buffet dinner (as in ridiculously huge- extensive-aromatic- delicious-did I say huge?!?) I took everyone for a walk down the pier- showed them the main sights, pointed out the port and city of Yaffa and ended up explaining a lot of history that I knew about the area. For example, there are so many cats in Israel because when the British came to occupy Palestine they brought cats with them because there was such a large problem with rats. Ever since they brought them over after WW1 the cats have been breeding like rats (how ironic!) and overwhelm the streets.
I slept so well and boarded the bus after an overwhelming breakfast. We are now on our way to Caesarea. Here are some of the questions asked on the tour bus this morning: Is the name Jew derogatory? How long is the school day? What is Zionism? Are you Christian? What are main industries in Israel? How much is gas? (Answer $8.50/gallon) Everyone on my tour was genuinely sweet, one of my favorite characteristics of Christians in general; they tend to be such kind-hearted people, emanating an inner joy. We were divided into 5 buses and were off. Caesarea was beautiful, with seaside beaches which reminded me of Prince Edward Island. Gently jagged rocks with slow waves and bits of beach, the Roman amphitheater was beautifully positioned, conveniently located next to the ancient palace of King Herod. This king was manic-depressive and basically killed everyone who was close to him including his wife, children and advisors. The story of Paul was told about him witnessing. To be honest, I was confused with the Christian connection they were making except for the fact that a disciple Paul was put on trial here. The Pastor gave a great sermon that focused on sharing your faith, which I don’t necessarily agree with unless someone asks you about your personal beliefs, but I listened with an open mind and an attempt at an open heart. I am trying so passionately to figure out what I believe, why I am here and how the heck I have gotten here. How is it that, the girl who wanted to become a senator has lived abroad basically now for 4 semesters and wants to move abroad to work with NGO’s become me?
At lunch I sat with a sweet elderly lady who spoke with me about her life (literally the whole thing) over an hour of a falafel lunch. Another woman asked me if I spoke Jewish. I giggled. (But of course I said, yes I am learning to speak Hebrew.)
I want to believe what I believe because I believe it. While that may seem obvious, so many are Jewish, Christian or Muslim, Zoroastrian, or whatever, simply because that is the religion they were born into. Not me. My faith is just that, mine. To discover, to cradle, to hold, to honor, I want a faith to be confident in. I want to know why I believe something. But most importantly I want to know why I believe in this and not in all the other religions.
On the tour we saw Mt. Carmel, the valley of the Armageddon, the supposed sight of Earth’s final battle, the hill where Jesus was chased up because he read the wrong section of the Torah (and the Jews were not happy about him claiming to be a messiah- this Jesus boy they knew growing up with) and parts of Nazareth. Our bus almost fell off of this hill, which was a high point. We all had to disembark unload luggage out of the back of the bus so it wouldn’t fall over the side of the mountain, and get locals to assist us with tying ropes to the bottom of the van and all the men pulling it up. I’m waiting for some kind of feeling. I’m not expecting a burning bush God like appearance but I want a feeling, I want to be able to take that leap of faith into whatever I believe. It is starting to come together, to make sense. I’ll explain soon I suppose. (When it all becomes able to be expressed concisely)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Fieldtrip with the Jewish Agency

February 22 & 23, 2010
(I am) “in love with life... Intoxicated by its beauty, its potential, its thrill. “ Beautifully stated by Ranya Idlby, in The Faith Club- this may be the exact description of my outlook on life right now. Today was a rough day for me, a bit under the weather, I had to go to the orthopedic Doctor to get my foot checked out (turn’s out I sprained my Achilles’ tendon) and was rather lethargic throughout the day, in both mood and manor. I still tried to find the beauty in the place I’m living. Even today with my sniffles, it was easy to do. I snapped pictures of the rolling fields seemingly breathing life into the desert, blossoming with new fruits, lush green leaves and flowers bursting from the ground, yellow, cheerful, brightening the day with their vibrant colors. I love yellow roses, definitely my favorite flower, but alas I could not see any today. Parts of Israel remind me of bits of Italy. When I lived north of Rome, in Lavinio, there were fields upon fields of sunflowers turned towards the sun day after day. Here, I witness the same effect but the sunflowers of the Roman hills are replaced by the petite, springy daisies of Israel.
I reflected on two things today. The first, my trip to Jerusalem, and second, on the differences I believe are most prevalent between the Israeli’s and Arab Muslim’s of the region. This topic will not be covered in one, two or even three blogs. But I will do my best to give a concise snippet of the first topic today.
(NOTE: I have had some questions about my view on the issue of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, on my right to speak about events and perspectives which I was not born into, religiously speaking. I believe, as a true American I suppose, that it is my right to relay my perspective of my experiences in the Middle East. They are just that, my thoughts, reflections and perspective. I am not asking any readers to agree. I hope that by reading my blog (whoever may be doing so in this virtual world) is entertained, informed and maybe even at times, provoked to be thoughtful on issues of the region. That is all I can ask for. Any suggestions for topics you all are curious about, would like me to speak about- please feel free to email me at
First, Jerusalem.
My class went on a field trip to Jerusalem today. Sponsored by the Jewish Agency, we are taken to the main sights of historical/religious importance in the Jewish faith. We began our trip to the Herzl Museum, which I had never visited before. Quaint and modern, the museum takes you through Herzl’s life in an interesting format- through a movie of them making a play of his life. Kind of confusing, but all in all quite informative. I made a comment to my friend about Herzl which left her open mouthed and gaping. I said, you know I’m not a huge fan of Herzl. My friend Judy looked at me like I was an alien. I said, “am I not allowed to say that?” And she replied simply, “ I don’t think so.” Partially joking I had stated this just to get a rise out of her, but in all actuality, I am a much bigger fan of Ben Gurion and his methods, especially the revival of Hebrew than I am of Herzl. Though, I must admit Herzl's book on the Jewish State is quite beautifully written. I learned about his life and impact, and at the end of the tour the message was Israeli’s development since its creation; the technological, agricultural and political achievements- which are astonishingly immense. Did you know Israeli technology invented much of the technology we use in cell phones, and even Intel processing chips? We journeyed afterwards towards YadVaShem, (in Hebrew yad=hand and vashem= and name) the Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem. This was my second visit there, but was probably doubly moving. As we walked through the entrance hall, the atmosphere held a tangible somberness. The museum is designed in a pyramid/triangular shape but is made so you must wind through all the halls, unable to go in a straight line—which parallels the inability of the Jewish people to reach the end they wanted so badly, forced to move back and forth, stopping and starting in different directions.
The museum hits on every sense; full of visual stimuli like the propaganda, shoes of children and actual train cars they used to transport people to the concentration camps. It is full of auditory stimuli, with survivors relaying stories of their accounts. The most moving for me, unable to be expressed in words, was a man recalling his story…he was told to line up at the edge of the ditches along with other men. The shots went off and he fell into the pit, shockingly unharmed. Laying there for hours, with bodies below and on top of him, he waited for silence, and crawled his way out of the pit along with one other survivor. Tears pouring down my face, I could not help but feel guilty for the atrocity of the Holocaust. Clearly an irrational feeling...but not being a Jew, or even one of the persecuted minorities, I wish I could’ve played a part in preventing these atrocities, and felt that somehow someone maybe I am related to had played some kind of part. Actually, my dad’s biological family were Polish Jews way back when, but still… though my own parents hadn’t even been born yet, I felt this sense of fish out of water-ness in the museum. While empathetic, I can never wholly understand these atrocities because they did not personally affect me or anyone I know. I was not born Jewish. The Holocaust plays such a major role in shaping the foreign policy and rationale of the Jewish State, and also in the minds of Jews all over the world.
Speaking with my friends here, in Eretz Israel, abroad, and back in the states, every time I have asked the question, do you think the Holocaust can happen again- I have been given the same answer. “Of course, that’s why we have Israel.” Fundamentally, the Jewish State acts as a refuge and safe haven for thousands who have been persecuted over the centuries. This is the place they are safe. This is the place where the Jews (technically) are the majority, and this is the place where the Jewish world is the norm- the Jewish calendar, holidays, culture, customs and religion- it all ties back to the ability to have a physical place of significant geographic magnitude to protect the people from the recurrence of an event like the Holocaust.
I was contemplative, thoughtful and significantly more somber all day- reflecting on the museum, the Holocaust and the events of the day. Dining in one of the national park on the well trimmed grass we enjoyed an al fresco lunch of typical Israeli foods.
We journeyed afterwards to the Old City to visit the Kotel (Christians know it as the Wailing wall) where we went behind the wall, visited the site of the Last Supper, the tomb of St. Peter and of course, the actual Kotel. All very moving. I had done most of these before on my tour when I was a student at the University of Haifa.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Hit Counter by Digits

Uneventful Days

February 20, 2010
We woke up at 3pm. Basically there was no moving all day. We got coffee. Ate yogurt. Got more coffee. Watched Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 1 &2 and studied. That’s about it. Literally. The weather got cooler. That’s it.
February 21, 2010
Worked this morning, made the sandwiches for our class trip to Jerusalem tomorrow. Made like 70 sandwiches, washed apples, and chopped veggies. Didn’t feel so hot, but I don’t know why. I’m relaxing now after lunch and have class for 2 ½ hours in the afternoon. Getting ready to absorb hundreds more words into my brain. I think my brain very well may be turning into oatmeal.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Shabbat in Ramle

I have known Reut since I lived in Haifa during the summer of 2008. She came and picked me up from my Kibbutz and we drove to her house which is situated in the heart of Ramle. Made of Jerusalem stone, her house spacious and lit became my home in Israel. Her family was excited to have me there- and I got to meet her whole family. Mom, Dad, two sisters a brother (who is 12 ½ ) and her grandmother who was visiting. Practicing my Hebrew, I greeted their grandmother. We relaxed for a bit, watched the Hills, which is apparently quite fascinating. My friend asked me, “does everyone in America live like this? I saw an episode when they flew a private jet to Mexico.” Of course immediately, my instinct was to defend Americans in general and promised her that our entire country was not completely comprised of girls like that.
We prepared the different appetizers- so many salads! Reut’s family is half Moroccan, so literally I think her mother had prepared 12 or so dishes (before Shabbat) of tapas for us to eat. The chetziliim was the best I had EVER had. Eggplant, mayo, garlic and spices- I don’t even eat mayonnaise and I could not help myself! We broke the challah and her father led the prayers. Murmuring the responses, the family all followed suit. Passing around the wine (guests sip first) and then by descending age order we all drank the wine. Then her father broke the challah and dipped it in salt. The reason: Our table is considered an altar (Ezekiel 41:22), and in the Holy Temple salt was offered together with every sacrifice (Leviticus 2:13). We dug into the food with her brothers and sisters all relaying the events of the day in quick Hebrew. I understood most of it. Dinner was full of giggling, lost in translation moments, and people unbuttoning the top button of their pants because her mother would not rest until we couldn’t get up from the table! I haven’t been that full since Italy, and honestly hate being that full. But, it was an experience. After dinner we all watched a movie together, her mother brought out MORE food- fresh nuts and strawberries- apparently to cleanse the palate for desert. (WHAT?!! More food??) We later had tea and lemon cake. Yeah, I know. I was invited to her brothers Bar Mitzvah in April and was told I was required to come back often. Her mother was so welcoming, gave me hugs all night and told me even when Reut is not there she expects me to come visit. I am officially obsessed with her family lol.
Her and her sister took us out to this club in Ramle- 24 and up. It was so nice to be surrounded by people who were our own ages, and a bit older. Relaxed in atmosphere, the club was chill, full of interesting people and great music. We danced all night, drank champagne and enjoyed the company of each other. It was definitely a girls night. The vibes in Israeli clubs are definitely different than in the US and Egypt as well. In Israel and Egypt actually, there is no grinding- that is strictly an American phenomenon. People sway, and dance face to face, like out of the movies instead of rubbing on each other which is the custom in the states. Quite refreshing actually. In Egypt, everyone who goes to the clubs are very wealthy, but smoking sheesha, getting VIP tables and talking is more the norm. In Israel, smoking cigarettes (Ew), dancing, talking loudly and shouting the lyrics is more the norm. It’s difficult to explain, but it is less of a pick up scene and more a setting where groups of friends and colleagues congregate and let loose. Came home late, and stayed up tucking the other girls in.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Life and Death

Last night was Karaoke- oh boy. Never have I ever sung Karaoke! Until last night. I sang Bitch my Meredith Brooks- not even on purpose. I was considering it, going out of my box in an attempt to check something off of “the never have I ever” done list. The DJ thrust the microphone in my face and said sing when the song came on. It was a wireless microphone so she brought it to our table and we really had no choice. I had so much fun- got a little crazy and even sang another song, though I don’t remember which one. Ended up having an amazing time, bonding with some people I didn’t talk to before.
The next morning was Friday- I had to work. Right now, because my foot is hurt I am in charge of cleaning our area- the kitchen, bathrooms, etc. It took me forever to actually do it, slow from the night before. We laid around all day, ate lunch and then I went to this amazingly gorgeous field in the middle of the Kibbutz. I decided to take some me time and read, relax and nap. I am reading the book the Faith Club and I can’t even explain the extent to which that book has challenged me and forced me to examine my views of faith and religion; their importance and whether or not they are mutually exclusive. I had this amazingly deep conversation in my head. I was contemplating death, and reading about the Jewish perspective of it. My thought process was basically this: I do not think I believe in a heaven or in a hell per se. I read this thing about a Rabbi asking what happens when people die, where the matter goes and what happens to the soul. This spurred a whole thought process- when we die, our bodies disintegrate. BUT- if abiding by the law of conservation of energy {matter is neither created nor destroyed- but only transferred} then we do not cease to exist. The energy, the pulsating force and atoms of what was once our bodies lives on. Our energy is merely passed on to create magnificence in this world in another form. Whether it be through a rain drop, slowly falling to the ground or in a strong breeze rushing across the plains. Peoples’ energy forces are transferred into the bits of nature that emanate their same intensity and spirit. Quiet people are reflected in the calming properties of nature and the fierce, intense people of the world, their energy so great, must be transferred to things like waterfalls and thunderstorms.
I fell asleep after having this strange revelation and dreamt about the energies of the world and how they are intertwined. This dream was all in colors and energies- impossible to explain. I woke up, went back to the room, did some homework and had a conversation with this guy who is from Hungary. I asked him about his heritage, his background, and if he was Jewish. His family is Jewish, at least in the historical sense of the word. His family doesn’t associate with the Jews, or the fact that their family has always been Jewish. After the Holocaust he explained, their family changed their name and have not associated with it since! I found that so interesting.
I went back to the room, contemplative of the extent of the atrocities committed in the Holocaust , did some homework and then got ready to go celebrate Shabbat at my friend Reut’s home in Ramle.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Khedva, the teacher.

Hebrew class begins at 8am. My teacher, Khedva, is a little scatterbrained and quite typically Israeli. Her classes are a little scattered, but you can tell she is passionate about what she does, which is nice. I am in this awkward phase because the class is moving slower than my level, but my two girlfriends have a much higher database of vocabulary than I have. So I am in this weird middle level too high for one class and too low for the other. Meh. Anyways so I ended up buying the easier book and reviewing it all myself. Today, I did 70 pages, which is a little bit hard to believe.
Today was really interesting because my Arab friends from next door (who are building the new houses on the kibbutz, near our dorms) brought me a whole plate of kunefa! Unfortunately, it was so delicious I had way too much! Kunefa is my weak point, definitely. I shared it with everyone and they loved it too. My friend, Avrahim wants to take us around Nablus and be our tour guide. Haven’t decided if that is a good idea yet or not, but an interesting proposition nonetheless. The men over there speak Arabic, Hebrew and even a little English, so when I speak to them we simultaneously switch between the languages. Often times, my brain hurts afterwards. It was one of the first times I have been able to speak to people who understand all the languages that are popping out of my mouth. We talked about where I lived in Cairo, why I am here, why I am studying Arabic and Hebrew, etc. They were such nice people and are forever on my good list because they brought me such delicious kunefa!
I speak with some of my friends here, and they constantly warn me about interacting with ‘Arabs.’ They claim there is a different mindset, a different outlook. I actually agree; from what I experienced in the Arab World (and the Muslim parts of the Middle East) there is definitely a different perspective of the world that is more prevalent in Arab eyes than in Israeli/Western eyes. Funny thing is, I really don’t care. I love the differences. I love feeling a little awkward trying to explain something in Arabic. I love being an anomaly in the Middle East. I love that people are really confused when they discover that I am not Jewish, nor Muslim and am here simply to learn about the languages and religions of the region. I look at the differences as something to be learned about, to attempt to understand: not as a fence or an excuse for social separation.
Lastly, I accomplished something pretty amazing. Something I never thought I would ever be able to do in my whole life. It may not seem like much to the rest of the world, but for me, today was a personal triumph. Today, I climbed a 10 foot rope (4 times!!!) that we have in the workout area. There were no knots in the rope on the way up, just straight rope. Who knew I had that much upper body strength?!?! I did it twice using my right leg dominantly and twice with my left. Sadly, I have serious rope burn because I wasn’t wearing shoes—but it was definitely worth it. Goal: By the end of these 5 months- do it using only my arms- no legs at all!
Tonight is Karaoke night at the pub.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Day to Day

Today class was really interesting. Though, I was partially distracted by skyping with someone while I was in class. Oops. It was worth it. Anyways, learned a lot today- we had a huge review session and I’m learning so many new words. I came back after walking around the Kibbutz with Ali and the water to our building was shut off. Great. There were Arab workers working on the buildings next door and of course everyone was thinking we should go talk to them to fix the problem. So I volunteered my Arabic skills, in an attempt to practice some more Arabic- since I have been completely deprived. We solved the problem- yay! I communicated that our building needed water so they turned it back on AND I really really have been craving Kunefa (an Arabic dessert) here and its not good here. These guys are bringing me some tomorrow- thank God! I have been craving it ever since I left Egypt!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

HaYom Yom Revee-ee.

Last night, for Valentines Day the girls decided to indulge in a girls night and buy 4 different kinds of chocolate. We LOVED it. ☺ It was Ash’s birthday last night so we Nate built a bonfire and we all gathered around, listened to music, relaxed and got a little crazy.
I hurt my foot when I was running and now I must get x-rays. Which kind of stinks. They switched my job with Judy so I cleaned the general dorm area today; the bathrooms, kitchen and our living area (המואדון ). It was so exhilarated to clean. I can’t explain it- but it was almost theraputic,to clean our communal living area, to erase the grime and make it pristine for the rest of the people here. I was jamming with my headphones in, dancing with the mops and swishing the window wipers to my music. People would randomly walk in on me and laugh, but it made it so much more fun. I listened to Don’t Rain on My Parade and think that has officially become my theme song this week. Just saying. Right now I am listening to Christmas music! Random I suppose for February, but it makes me nostalgic of home and Jupiter First.
At the lunch hall today, the girls ate by ourselves and the huge boys table chowed into their food. {We are not separated by gender, it just so happens that is the way it is because of the amount of chairs.} I watched the people interact- (my favorite hobby) and witnessed budding relationships. There was an old couple sitting next to each other, and there was this moment when then locked us, squeezed hands and then continued talking with friends. It made me realize that that is the kind of love I want when I’m too old to wipe my own bottom. I saw workers exhausted but managing to keep a smile on their faces and relay the current events and politics of the Kibbutz. Then there are the little kids, cute as ever, who get their trays, line up with their little bowl of soup and crackers or little pile of food and sit down with their families.
Tonight everyone went to the bar and I am staying home. It was such a long day and I have so much catching up to do on my Hebrew/Arabic. Relaxing is so nice when you are alone. Its taken me 21 years to finally figure that. Relaxing is not being unproductive. It is relaxing.
Ali and I are officially invited to this family’s house for Shabbat dinner which I am really excited about- don’t know when yet, but I am looking forward to another Shabbat dinner.
Ali and I discussed today how excited we are to get off the Kibbutz on the weekends. It is definitely not that I don’t appreciate where I am, what I am learning and the seclusion it offers but getting outside to practice my Hebrew and absorb more of the cultural nuances is what I am truly interested in. Also, out program director doesn’t go out of his way to tell us about opportunities at the Kibbutz. We learned there are basketball games among the Kibbutzim that we can go watch, tennis lessons, horseback riding lessons and so much more! So we are going to jump into all of those exciting little lessons.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shabbat, the War, and John Lennon

So, the weekend continued, we had Shabbat dinner- I left with a protruding belly and a new family of amazing people. The boys then took us out to a bar and a Russian club, both interesting experiences in the heart of Jerusalem. Russian immigrants here (Olim Hadashim=New Immigrants) are everywhere, and throughout the city you can see the effects of each homeland of the Jews and the richiness it weaves into the tapestry of the Jewish Homeland. Ethiopoian Jews, Russian Jews, American, Australian and French Jews. They all come with the same passion, wanting to share the dream of a unified Jewish people- a land where the Jews are safe.
Interestingly enough, I often talk to my friends here about contentious Jewish issues. The question that intrigues me most is ‘Do you think the Holocaust can/will happen again.’ Every time the answer surprises me- a resounding ‘yes.’ “It happened once, it can happen again. “ Or “it only happened 60-some years ago.” Maybe because I didn’t experiene this horrific event in the same way my friends here had, I still am in shock that a thing like this could happen again. I see Rwanda, Darfur, Armenia- all these devastating instances of humanity at its lowest and I wonder. If the world could let something as atrocious as the holocaust happen once, Darfur happen again, when will we learn to stand up and say no? At what point is intervention necessary to avoid things like this? At what point in history will this ever stop?
It makes me thing of Imagine- by John Lennon.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world

“Never forget, always remember.” As I sat in the bus station in Jerusalem, a sweet elderly Israeli Lady leaned over my shoulder looking at my flashcards. I was learning the word forget. She looked at me and said “Never forget, always remember,” (referencing the holocaust) She said, “honey now do you understand the phrase? Remember your past. Never forget the tragedies of the world. This is what the Jews mean. This is what we mean.”

Monday, February 15, 2010

Shabbas in the Holy City

Today is Valentines Day! Happy Love, I say. I’m on my work break and catching up on my blog. This morning I am working in the shrubs. We are digging out these fern looking things, plucking out root by root, getting down with mother Earth. God, I am such a nerd. Anyways, last night we got back from this crazy weekend in Jerusalem.
We left on Friday after class, gathered our stuff, ate some decent cafeteria food and hopped in a cab to the train station. We were supposed to stay with my friend at his friends place but as we were on our way to the train station, he called and apparently his friends got in trouble in the army and had to stay on base. Which meant for us at least, that we were S.o.l. Of course we start freaking out…but decide to be spontaneous and still go. We figure it’ll be an adventure. We start calling all the people we know in Jerusalem- and end up staying with Emily’s friend Arik. We took the train, which has the most scenic beautiful route from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The tracks wind through the rocky hills full of pine trees. At the bottom of the hills is a river (maybe the Jordan?) which snakes through the valley with lambs munching on the blossoming pastures.
Upon arrival in Jerusalem, right before Shabbat, we disembarked and found a cab and drove over to Arik’s house. It was so nice- in the suburbs of the Holy City. Driving into Jerusalem was deja-vu for me. The looming white Jerusalem stone is one of those striking visuals that your mind never forgets. I could see the wall separating the Palestinians from the Israeli’s, so depressing.
The boys had cleaned the whole apartment for us, gave us three beds and made us feel right at home! We ended up passing out for a few hours and then the boys woke us up for Shabbat. We split up, I went to Mayor’s house for dinner with him and Yosi and Emily went to Arik’s while Ali slept. Going to Shabbat at his house was entertaining- of course I understood about 50% of what they were talking about- generally I understand the topic- but miss the nuances/small details. His family was so welcoming, open arms, big hugs and huge smiles welcoming me for Shabbas. (Shabbas is the Ashkenazi reference to Shabbat- where as Shabbat comes from the Sephardic Jews) We ate this amazing meat with potatoes and fresh vegetables. They all said the prayer, which I didn’t know…It was a little awkward. Then he blessed the wine and challah and we all ate. I loved speaking with his two younger sisters, who were so eager to practice their English. We drank, laughed, indulged and shared stories for hours. For desert, we ate Pomella, an Israeli fruit. It is a genetic combination of grapefruit and oranges and is extremely delicious. We watched the evening news and listened to the stories (in Hebrew of course) about the children who’s legs were either shot off/blown up as a result of the Intifada’s. Hearing their reaction, seeing the families and hearing the other side again snapped me back to the full reality of the situation. There is no right side. It is so difficult trying to explain to people what I am passionate about and why I want to work here, with Palestinians and Israeli’s. Seeing children like this (on both sides) probably best explains why. The pain, the conflict, the struggles that are experienced here on a daily basis have the potential to change. I hope one day we can learn how to achieve this end. Mayor’s family was tearing up, clearly distraught at the trauma this brings into all Israeli’s daily lives.
Before I arrived to Arik’s, the girls and I had discussed my ‘religion.’ Which is, I suppose, up in the air- religious background I can talk about. My beliefs, I’m still working on. Anyways, it is such a pain when everyone and their mother asks me if I am Jewish to explain why I am here, why I like Israle, what I’m studying, what I belive, etc. sometimes when people ask me if I’m Jewish in the grocery store or whatever I just kind of nod and go along with it. Explaining in depth every time gets a bit tiring. So anyways, this weekend, at the end of Shabbat dinner, their family asked me if I was Jewish. I awkwardly did a side nod- like a yes/no thing. I lied. I know, it’s awful. I hate lying; I have officially decided, even for convenience, I just can’t not say what and who I am. I may not know exactly who I am, but I know what I am not. I do not like lying, and I am proud of where I come from and my reasons for being here. From now on, no more side-winding around the question.

Feb 11. 2010

I went out to the city with the girls into the market after my classes today. bought some fresh figs and nuts :) and tried all these fresh cheeses and strawberries! All these men of course offered us free tastings and Emily, adorable as ever, would sneak all these little snippits of food from all the stalls. The best thing about the Middle East is by far the fresh out door markets; and of course, the languages.
I translated all of my Hebrew notes into Arabic last night (6 pages of vocabulary!!) which is really great. I am hoping I can keep it up to maintain my proficiency in both languages. Its basically double the work load.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Graveyards and Rakes and Trees Oh My!

Today I worked in the graveyard. I was unhappy, to say the least. I found out that I was going to be working there, and immediately my mind wandered to decomposition. Gross, I know, but what would you think of if you were to work among the graves? I don’t know why I started freaking out, but as I walked toward the graveyard, I started crying, which is quite unusual for me. Seriously, fah-reak-ing out.
I suppose the only cemetery I have ever visited was when my amazing friend Scott passed away when I was seventeen. Hence, the association is depressing. We walked to just outside of the gates of the Kibbutz into a graveyard which has been in place since the beginning of the Kibbutz.
I was responsible for weeding around the graves, as in right up around the big cement box sticking out of the ground. I am extremely uncomfortable with this, but decided to force myself, teary or not, to go out of my comfort zone and figure out why I was so uncomfortable. Cleaning a cemetery, or tending to the graves is supposed to be a mitzvah. My friends kept trying to qualm my nerves by claiming the goodness of my actions, but at that point I wasn’t caring as much about that as the dead bodies surrounding me. I ended up surviving the day by plugging in my ipod and completely zoning out. I finally calmed down about two hours into work and decided to keep my stress level down by jamming out. I jammed my way through two Glee CD’s and finally started to appreciate the mitzvah I was taking part in. It really is a beautiful thing to cherish and tidy graves. Respecting ones we love and holding up their memories is something beautiful.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the creation of Kibbutz Na’an. I am excited because our director told us about a variety of events that will be taking place this year because of the year long celebration. We get to have concerts, religious celebrations and our Kibbutz has the largest celebration of Passover in Israel.

Monday, February 8, 2010

What We Do

So this morning we had quite an early start to our day. We woke up at 8 for our testing into classes. We stood outside waiting for our teachers to be called in and tested for the correct Hebrew class. I tested into advanced Hebrew. I got my job as well…what I will be doing for my “work” part of the work study program here; I am a gardener. I woke up this morning- because I have to be at work at 6 am. 6, flipping, am. I almost died when I found out. I woke up, am working with 3 other boys. Yes, I am the only girl. We met the other Kibbutzniks who assigned us our jobs. Two of the boys went and chopped down a tree. This guy form Argentina, named Mattie, and I, were assigned to the gardens. I weeded and tilled the soil for 5 hours this morning. It was 45 degrees this morning and still dark when we woke up. The sun rose about 5 past 6 in the morning and was beautiful rose colored, slowly rising over the mountains. The hours went by pretty quickly. Once you get into the work funk, digging, shoveling, turning the soil, it becomes a rhythm, a way of relaxing into your mind. I am very rarely reflective, and I’ve found this time really requires me to focus on my thoughts. Lunch is good, always decent. The vegetables (hot and cold) are pretty good – fresh from the Kibbutz. There are always varities of meat, mousaka, schnitzel (the favorite Israeli chicken dish) and vegan stuff. The families and coworkers all sit together in the dining hall, animatedly talking about the days work, gossip among the families and daily life. I love watching the dynamics between people here- the old ladies sitting together, pushing around vegetables, clearly the best of friends. The old men who eat in silence, teeth absent, and reading the newspaper. There is such a communal feeling in this place. For example, this morning, I was working with one of the guys in the garden. I asked him about the rotation schedule on the Kibbutz. I was curious whether people switched jobs often. What if you hated cooking and you were stuck in the kitchen? Apparently, the people on the Kibbutz pretty much stay permanently in their jobs. They don’t switch around unless absolutely necessary. The guy I was speaking with had been working in the garden for 13 years. But in the last few years, lots of people have been utilizing their specializations and are working off of the Kibbutz. Na’an is the second richest Kibbutz in Israel and one of the largest in terms of size. It isn’t religious though, very few people attend services regularly, and the only services are on Shabbat and the holy days.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Kibbutz Na'an

So Kibbutz Na’an is a beautiful chunk of landscape located next to the city of Rehovot south of Tel Aviv. Driving up, I had no clue what to expect. I was instantly blown away by the never ending rows of lush green fields, flowers and lines of houses in this quaint Kibbutz, Also noticing industrial equipment, my mind wandered to my eventual job placement here on the Kibbutz. Was I to be working in a factory?

My taxi dropped me off at the entrance to the Ulpan center where I immediately met some nice Ulpan kids. 3 Australians and a Brit. They are all 19. Anyways they were really nice guys, all attractive. They were witty, charming and of course have great accents. They made me feel right at home. I checked in with the director, Ilan, whose office is decorated with paintings from past Ulpan classes. There is everything to beautifully done artistic landscapes to class portraits drawn in South Park theme. He was really sweet, welcoming and organized. I loved that bit- the organization part; a beautiful change from Egyptian run things. Anyways the boys helped me bring my bags to my room and we almost immediately went into Rehovot to get some things. It was pretty cold so I bought a jacket, but we walked around this town, quite family oriented. The mall is that way too. Kids surrounding tables getting taught how to make pancakes, families playing in kids jungle gyms, etc.

Meeting people was interesting, as I suppose most first impression situations are. There are people here from all over the world: Mexico, Britain, Australia, Hungary, France, the US, Germany, Russia, and more. There are only 30 of us and the guy to girl ratio is quite off. I think there are only 10 girls. We hung out, smoked sheesha, and talked with each other, regaling our different adventures. Most of us are very well traveled, and were exchanging trips and stories about where we’ve been/where we are dying to go.
I woke up this morning, after homey-ing my room and went for a run. 2 other guys were supposed to come so they slept through it. The run was nice, and the kibbutz is so big, I ran for 30 minutes and hadn’t seen hardly any of it. There are fields upon fields of eggplant, corn and some other unidentifiable vegetable. Gorgeous rows of flowers and even stables with horses, peacocks, pigs and goats surround our Ulpan dorm area. The boys built a fire pit, clearly a crucial need for a five month program. My roommate’s name is Emily, she’s from California and really cool- very chill, nice and clean thank god.
The general way of life here is just drastically different. The communal feeling is evident. People greet everyone as they walk by, the locals are happy to meet us and show us around. Even the dining halls, where everyone eats, felt like one big camp atmosphere- everyone here knows and loves each other. Women walk around with stroller like objects- or at least purposefully so, but actually are cribs with wheels on them with a baby in it. I find it kind of cute, they stroll their baby’s crib along to the grocery store. When you grow up in a kibbutz, at age 16, you get your own apartment, separate from your family. Also, they have a communal grocery store, swimming pool, playgrounds, gardens, and even 2 pubs. I think I could get used to living this way. Everything is so calm and peaceful. Might be trouble though, I am already getting restless. Not in a bad way necessarily, I just have to learn to quiet my mind.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sheiken Street, Tel Aviv

I am supposed to get my bags back this morning. Its about 10am here and I couldn't sleep because there is a new building going up next to my friends apartment and they are jack hammering at 9am. So now I am wide awake. I'm having an amazing time. I went to the market yesterday, practiced my Hebrew, and got all these fresh vegetables and fish to cook for my friend who is hosting me. It was great walking through the streets of Tel Aviv and remembering all these old places and restaurants from two years ago. I cooked a big dinner last night and some of his friends came over and we watched a movie, just hung out.
I relaxed all morning, mushing around the apartment waiting for the dang bags to come. I made myself fresh eggs from the market with oozing cheese and fresh Israeli salad. I am reading, reflecting, and journaling about past experiences in an attempt to critically juxtapose my Arab and Israeli experiences.
I waited until 1pm when the Russian immigrant Jewish man brought my bags up four flights of stairs. I was ecstatic, thank the dear lord. I just wanted my bags. Anyways, I unpacked a ton of stuff, stoked to finally have the basic necessities with me! I got ready for yoga, Yam was nice enough to lend me his mat and then I was on my way to Yoga. I google mapped it and decided to walk to the Bikram studio. It ended up being about a 35-minute walk, give or take. I walked up the beach road to the Opera Tower and turned to Allenby and followed it up to one of the side roads I was supposed to take. Allenby is not the most beautiful of streets in Tel Aviv. As you pass by the stripper joints, the putrid smell of urine passes through your nose, leaving a scowl on your face. But continuing on there were random stores full of fashion from the 90’s, old camera’s, hippy-chic boutiques and people rushing on their way to some place or the other.
I found a new favorite street in Tel Aviv, and don’t even remember the name of it. Anyways, it is right across from the HaCarmel Market. It is a street of such high intensity. Full of shops, sounds and people bustling around. I sat in this coffee shop called Aroma, relaxed after my morning of Bikram yoga (which was really cool to take the class in Hebrew). I watched families come and go, shop owners receiving deliveries. All and all, my eyes were reopened to the city of Tel Aviv. So full of life and laughter.
We went out for sushi with my old friends from two years ago, who are really amazing people. We journeyed on to this club- it was a mob getting in. And, like all clubs they handpicked girls to let in out of the masses lol. Its kind of funny to watch. Anyways we get into this club and the lights were way trippy. Blinking, flashing and being highered and lowered above your heads, I felt like I was on acid or something. The DJ was ok, but I wasn't that into going out and getting wasted. Times change I guess. But I was also adjusting to the city, meeting people and was a little out of my comfort zone. I left for Kibbutz Naan- Yam's friend helped me with my bags down four flights of stairs and over to catch my sherut to the bus station. This creepy guy from Manhatten, who apparently is now an Israeli postal worker was following me- offering me a job and made me promise I would write him. Clearly, not happening. He was the definition of senile, creepy old man. Anyways, arrived to Kibbutz Naan safely. Met everyone here. More updates on Kibbutz life to come.

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Taste of TelAviv

February 1, 2010
So today is my first real day in Israel. I got in yesterday, after Delta lost both of my bags. So now I am everything-less. Clothes-less, shoeless, shampooless! Just about everything is missing. I got in, remembered way more than I thought I would, in terms of restaurants, street names and places in general. So I passed out on the couch when I arrived at my friend Yam’s apartment, which is exactly one block away from the beach. I woke up from knocks, door bell rings and calls from Yam. We talked about old friends, Israel, and other frivolities you discuss when you haven’t seen someone in two years. We met his neighbor and they were speaking in Hebrew, I understood most of it but I don’t know if they realized that I can understand that much. Anyways they asked me about what I was studying and I mentioned Arabic. So his neighbor decided to tell me a joke. He looks at me and asks, what do you call it when there are three Arabs in the ocean? I answered, quite awkwardly (not wanting to be in this position), I don’t know. He says, pollution. Continuing, he says what do you call three million Arabs in the ocean? Again, this time with obvious discomfort, I answered I don’t know. He says pollution. I am flabbergasted. But, then, I remember where I am. And where I just came from. Regardless of the issues I have with the Arab world, I love and care for the people in it every bit as much as my Israeli friends. Awkward.

I actually just woke up today, at 1:00pm. I slept for a good twelve hours and needed every bit of it. Now, I am venturing out to find a cell phone, sip some coffee and relax.

Just got back from the shook (market) and am ready to cook fresh Israeli Salmon from the Mediterranean! I literally could just sit and watch interactions all day. I walked through the market streets taking in the sights, aromatic scents and atmosphere of the Israeli nation. The weather is a beautiful 65 degrees Fahrenheit with a slight wind and beautiful bright sun. Crossing streets being wary of sheruts (large publict taxi’s) and bumbling, smoking buses, I walk back and forth across the streets- just because. I enter the HaCarmel Market, about a 15 minute walk away from my friends’ apartment and enter, ready to experience again the craziness of the markets. Typical things include shouting daily prices, juices of unknown sources dripping into the walkways, old women pushing their way through with rolling carts, haggling for lower prices and more. I examine the “way” to do it before I jump back in. Hesitant, but still acutely confident, I stride up to the first stand to buy some vegetables. Always, and I mean always, go to the stand with the most locals. You know it’s the best. Success! So vegetables in hand (thank god I remembered my Hebrew numbers!) I decided to purchase some fresh fish. Called dag (sounds like dog) in Hebrew, I always find it funny asking for dag instead of fish.. Now, I am cooking in my friend Yam’s apartment. I am attempting to make fresh cream and strawberries. The crème is not setting, dang it.

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