Today we toured city of Jaffa. Jaffa is the oldest port city and helped with the creation of Tel Aviv. Today a lot of Arabs and Jews live in this area, which, besides from the Old City and touristy stuff, is very underdeveloped. The sights from the area, especially at night from Tel Aviv were absolutely stunning. We walked all around the Old City as Itzik told us all about the history of the area, stopping at some of the most perfect lookout points.
After our walking tour, we went to DOCTOR SHAKSHUKA!!! This place claims (and does) to have the best shakshuka in Israel. To all of the non-Israeli food eaters, shakshuka is a tomato/pepper based dish that is cooked with a sunny-side up egg on top. It is DELICIOUS! We had no idea that we would also be served bread with some wonderful spreads (an eggplant one that was to DIE for!), coos-coos, a stew with potatos, salad, and other delicious treats served family style. We also had delightful lemon-limeade stuff that cleansed the palate nicely. Needless to say I went home VERY full!
This year, I finally celebrated Sukkot! Technically I did not celebrate it in a sukkah like it is “traditionally celebrated” but I did celebrate it the Israeli way-with family and friends! And the best kind of friends and family-my Camp Harlam ones! Stef and I took a wonderful journey to Haifa to visit Guy Koren, Tal Perlman, and Tom David along with a special visit from Nati Mor, Adi Haring, and Elior! It was a camp-tastic few days! As soon as we arrived on Tuesday, we went to Guy’s house, which is AMAZING!!!! It is so beautifully designed inside-very modern and simple. Guy has the entire bottom floor to himself, which included a little living room, bathroom, office, and bedroom. It is a perfect little bachelor pad (except for the small fact that he still lives with his parents…)!
After we settled in, we went for Thai food for dinner. It was absolutely delicious and luckily there were leftovers (aka lunch for the next day!). From there, we went to an Irish Pub that had an amazing overlook. Because Haifa is built on Mt. Carmel, there is not a bad view! I thought that it was pretty ironic that in one day we went to a Thai restaurant and an Irish Pub in Israel, but oh well! We met a bunch of Guy’s friends who spent most of the rest of the days with us. One of them was Dani, who is Ariel’s (the ’08 security guard at camp) twin brother. Unfortunately Ariel wasn’t there but it was awesome being with Dani. The next day, we went directly to the beach as soon as we woke up. The weather was BEAUTIFUL. The beach in Haifa that we went to was really interesting because it wasn’t an official beach. Instead, ice cream trucks set up umbrellas and chairs for the visitors without charge in hopes that you’ll get hot and buy something from them. Which is exactly what happened! After a lot of tanning and playing this silly paddleball game, we all treated ourselves to a delicious watermelon ice-pop! Tal came and joined us and we brought Guy up to date on all of the camp gossip from the summer.
That night, Ms. Koren made us an amazing dinner, which one of Guy’s sisters and brother-in-laws joined us for. There was so much food it could have easily fed an army and then some! We started our meal with Mr. Koren’s famous mushroom soup, which was absolutely delicious! Then we had chicken, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, salad, rice, steak patties, and other things that I can’t even remember. For dessert, we had cheesecake and ice cream. I was so stuffed by the end of the meal that all I wanted to do was go to bed. So that was exactly what I did (after we had a quick visit to Tom’s apartment). The next day we went back to the beach (of course!) and I took my chair down to the water to read. It was so relaxing I could have stayed there all day. Later that afternoon, Guy and Stef went to play soccer, while I chilled at the house.
When they finally came home a million hours later, they brought Nati and Adi with them! I was so excited to see them. Elior then met us and we went to Tom’s and ordered delicious sandwiches for dinner. I had a turkey and cheese thing that was very yummy! After we ate, we headed to the Carmel Center to a club called “The Loft”, which was ironic because it was in the basement of some place. On our walk there, we walked through a HUGE festival that was going on in the center. There was a huge movie projector and about 50 different booths selling EVERYTHING! A few of us got in easily but the rest of the crowd had a hard time so we dance for a little and then joined the rest of the group. We were all pretty exhausted so we headed home. For our last day, we headed to the beach one last time before getting on the train home. It was a sad goodbye but I am sure that I will be back soon!
Today we went to a place called “Better Place”. Here they are advertising and selling the first electric car, which is going to be on the market in 2011. We were able to sit and watch a movie about how the car is going to work. Ideally they want to put charging stations and plugs all over Israel, which sounds like a great idea except that it would be WAY too hard to do in America. The movie was very engaging and the car looked super awesome. Next we got to test drive a proto type for about 10 seconds each on a course. It was a wonderful drive and felt very much like driving a prius. Finally we watched how the battery gets changed in a test area. The best part of the whole experience was the sunset that we got to watch from a balcony at the place. I like the idea of an electric car but I think it is going to be a long time before it comes to the United States.
Yom Kippur in Israel is completely different than it is at home. Every single store closed at 1:30 in the afternoon on Friday, in preparation for Kol Nidre and the Pre-Fast meal. Adam, Rivka, Shelby, Alex, and I headed to the shuk to pick up last minute things for our final meal. We cooked chickens in sautéed onions, made a huge salad with the most beautiful peppers ever, had pasta with asparagus and mushrooms, honey potatoes, and delicious pastries directly from the best baker in the shuk. It was a weird feeling having my final meal during the afternoon but we stuck to the time very precisely and at exactly 5:28, we put our forks down and had our last sip of water. That night, I hung out with everyone until about 8 when my food coma hit and I was ready for bed! On Yom Kippur here, everything is shut down. No stores are open and no car is on the street. Outside, children were playing in the middle of King George Street while people strolled up and down, completely ignoring the sidewalks. I managed to use the day as a perfect chance to catch up on my sleep. Surprisingly, I slept until 1 pm! For the rest of the day, I watched movies and continuely napped until about 5, when I retreated to the other building to visit everyone else. We couldn’t break the fast until 6:20, which was the longest hour and twenty minutes EVER. When it was finally time, we all headed to the big classroom and ate a variety of foods from pasta salad to potatoes, to eggs. After eating a few things at the group break fast, Alex and I took a walk to our favorite sushi place, Moon, to really break the fast! It was amazing. One minute there was not a car in sight or a store open and then in a blink of an eye the city woke up! All of the restaurants in town opened and the traffic backed up. I have never seen anything like it before in my life. Hopefully I’ll spend Yom Kippur next year in Jerusalem and have a completely different experience.
For today’s volunteering, I decided to a little more physical work and went to Leket Israel, which is part of the National Food Bank, to pick onions. Leket Israel is a non-profit organization that takes food that would either be thrown away or destroyed and gives it to the needy. The particular farm that we went to was owned by a lawyer from the states who was appalled to see so much food go to waste. He donated the farm on the condition that it constantly be kept up. Through the work of volunteers, people come everyday to pick a variety of foods from this farm. On this particular day, we picked onions. Besides the fact that I smelled like onions and got a fantastic sunglasses tan, I had a really good time. We were able to pick a TON, and actual TON, of onions in one afternoon! It was crazy. And the onions were DELICIOUS. If you would like to find out more about Leket Israel, click HERE!
For the next two days, Career Israel has chosen a few places for us to volunteer after ulpan. Today I went to a place called Save A Child’s Heart. It was one of the most moving and awesome places I have ever been. Save A Child’s Heart is a non-profit organization that brings children, ages 0-18, from developing countries to Israel for heart surgeries. The children that come usually are not even aware that they have a heart condition until the last minute when they are finally able to go to a free clinic to get a check up.
The Save A Child’s Heart house is a place where the kids and a parent (or in some cases a nurse who brings multiple kids) can stay before the surgery and for no less than one month after. They provide food, housing, daily activities, and other basic needs to the patients that stay there. Through private funding, the organization is able to provide a variety of heart surgeries for a VERY small amount. Operations that would cost $10,000-$30,000 only cost $3000 thanks to donations of surgeons from the Wolfson Medical Center time.
As soon as we arrived, we sat in the living room and learned about the organization through a speaker and video. As we sat there, the patients began waking upfrom their naps and coming downstairs. One little boy named Anthony walked right over to a guy from my program’s lap and sat down without saying anything. It was adorable. Finally the presentation was over and we got to start hangingout with the kids.
There were about 8 kids that came to play with us, although currently 12 are in the house. Happiness was from Ethiopia and couldn’t be more than a year old. He was thankfully going home later that day! A little girl from China, who was about 7 or8, was at the house for the second time getting a follow up surgery after being there when she was 7th months old. Anthony, everyone’s favorite, was from Kenya and I was able to sit with his mom for a little and talk about my experiences there, which was awesome. Another favorite, a little girl from South America, was about two years old and a little flirt. She was all about two or three. There were four kids from Zambia between the ages 8-14. I hung out with them the most.
The boys all really liked basketball so we played with the net and soft-ball that they had in the backyard. Unfortunately the net didn’t have a backboard and the kids were having a hard time making a shot. Luckily at that moment my creative juices were flowing and I found a square basket and some rope and made a make-shift backboard by tying the basket, bottom towards the basket, to the net. It worked like a gem!
I had an amazing time at Save A Child’ Heart and I am hoping to go back a few times while I am here. If you are reading this blog and are interested in A) learning more, B) donating, or C) all of the above
Rosh Hashana in Israel...definitely not what a normal American Jew is used to. However; due to my secular/hippie take on Judaism upbringing, I was ready for it!
I spent the first night at my friend Adar's family's Kibbutz, Kibbutz Ruhama. I have never been to a Kibbutz before, so the experience was doubly exciting. After a tour of the kibbutz by Adar, and a quick history lesson from one of her grandfathers (the Kibbutz was privatized in the early 90's, so it is not what one would think of as a traditional Kibbutz, it's more like a gated all-inclusive community), we arrived at her Aunts house for one of the most amazing meals of my life. I was not prepared, and didn't have my camera on me to take a picture of the heaps of food on my plate, very reminiscent of holidays at my house as well as at the Nidel-Novick residence.
About 16 of us crowded around a dinner table, yelling in Hebrew and laughing as we started in on the feast: Stewed beef, roasted chicken, fish with lime, rice with almonds, salad with rimon (pomegranate) seeds, cabbage salad (salat kruv - my favorite Israeli side dish), chopped liver (the best I have ever had), and countless other tidbits covered our plates...a real smorgasbord! After the food coma set in, everyone sat in the living room and participated in a tradition I think I'm going to keep from now on. Everyone was asked to write a brucha, or belssing, for the upcoming year. Whether it be for the community as a whole, for the world, or just the family...and then put it into a basket. Everyone then draws a brucha and reads it aloud -- and people try to guess who wrote it. Some were funny, some were written by the children, some were very touching...but it was a way to connect with the holiday without involving religion, something I have gotten very used to after living with Hazel&Jordan as parents. Next year, I'm beginning this tradition as my own.
After spending the night at Adar's house in Rehovot, we spent the next day at...THE BEACH! We drove to Rishon L'Tzion, one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever been to. Who goes to the beach on Rosh Hashana one might ask...well - almost all secular Israelis.
We found a cute little beach cafe and indulged in some breakfast at 12:30pm. I was immediately drawn to the shakshuka. Shakshuka is a spicy tomato and fried egg stew of sorts that is baked in an oven and served wit a variety of other ingredients. It is an amazing breakfast/brunch food, and also for late-night drunk eating. Since Israeli dairy products are the most amazing in the world, I had the Shakshuka with Balkan cheese. Balkan cheese is a sour, goats milk cheese, very similar to goat or feta cheese. It is delicious. it was served with a side of white hard crusted bread that was sprinkled with zatar, a middle eastern spice mix which I put on almost everything because it is so delicious. how amazing does that look??Living in Tel Aviv, a secular multicultural modern city has been the most amazing week. I have grown to love this country more and more just from living here, instead of Jerusalem. As much as my father hates to hear this, I really do feel at home here. Especially in Tel Aviv, religiousness hidden away from public view.
After I landed in Tel Aviv I took a taxi to Jerusalem, where I am to meet up with the fellow participants of Career Israel.
How did I first know that I was in Israel? It wasn’t the beautiful desert scenery. It wasn’t the ubiquitous Israeli breakfast salads (hummus, now a breakfast food!). It was the cab driver. Within minutes of getting in the cab he asked me my thoughts on Obama and the current political scene in the states.
This isn’t unusual. In Israel, everyone talks politics. And in a room with four Jews you can find 40 opinions. And as much as I have been looking forward to traveling in a post-Bush-The-Buffoon world, I am wary to discuss my thoughts on this in Israel.
Bush was much more unquestionable and staunch in his support for Israel than Obama. However, even my carefully worded response evokes a passionate reply from the cab driver, who apparently has the highest of disdain for turn signals, speed limits and Obama.
But I digress. I met my fellow participants at the Rabin Youth Hostel in Jerusalem and was surprised to learn that there were over 120 participants. There are people from all over the world: England, Scotland, Lithuania, Guatemala, Hungary, Latin America, Russia, Siberia, Canada and the United States.
Our first days in Jerusalem are jam-packed with all-day scheduled activities. It feels a little bit like going on a million first dates: Hi, what’s your name? Where are you from? What did you study? Where are you interning?
But the scenery is so beautiful it’s hard to be cranky. We go on tours of the old city and see the kotel (the Western Wall), the church where Jesus was anointed and the cave where he was buried (I took pictures of this for you Jeff, my favorite catholic!).
We hear speakers about the political situation in Israel right now, and go look at walls built to protect neighborhoods and roads outside of the green line from gunfire and bombing from the West Bank. (This is very controversial, more on this later.)
We also see the security checkpoints Palestinians from the West Bank must go through. We drive down ‘seam-lines’ roads that are all that separate Palestinian villages from Israeli villages. I realize Israeli’s and Palestinians aren’t so much squished next to each other as they are piled on top of each other. After all, this is a country the size of New Jersey.
I go to the Israel Museum (located conveniently across the street from our hostel) and see the fabled Dead Sea Scrolls. Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but somber, full of conflict and is deeply religious.
For a secular Jew like me, this can be a little overwhelming. Everywhere there are ultra-orthodox Jews and I live in constant fear of offending them unintentionally, and as my dad says, “bringing shame down on the family.” This fear is escalated when an Ultra-Orthodox Jew spits on me in the old city and yells at me with alarming hostility. I’m assuming that it’s because my clothes were not modest enough, although shoulders, knees and breasts are covered. The situation jars me and I am happy when we leave Jerusalem for Tel Aviv, which is where I will be living the remainder of the time.
Tel Aviv is a largely secular city that I have already fallen in love with, from its beaches, to its good-looking people to the dogs and the food. But more on that to come soon! To all my friends and family at home I miss you terribly and will post more soon and with more details!
Shana Tova to all my Jews! I will also write about my first Rosh Hashanah in Israel!
Lots of love to you all and let me know if there is anything in particular you want to hear about.