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.