Day One (Tuesday):
Intending on leaving at 730am, in true Israeli fashion, our bus didn't pick us up until 830. After sitting around for an hour, we were finally on our way. After a 3ish hour long bus ride and a short rest stop at a gas station on the side of the highway we got to our first destination: Nahal Kziv.
I had forgotten what hiking in Israel at noon was all about since it's been 5 years since I spent the summer doing it. After a beautiful (and very hot) hour and a half down the mountain, we took a break for a swim and then proceeded back up for an hour and a half. Needless to say, it was quite the way to start the day.Where we started and ended the hikeAfter downing a litre or two of water post-hike, we made our way to Rosh Hanikra a gorgeous white cliff with a beautiful view of Haifa Bay, the hills of the Galilee and the Mediterranean, right on the Lebanon boarder. We took a cable car down to see a beautiful aquamarine Mediterranean within a cold white cave.After a beautiful and relaxing afternoon we headed to our hostel, Tel Hai (which was donated by a Toronto family).Day Two (Wednesday):We started our day with a security briefing at kibbutz Misgav Am located on the Lebanon boarder. Lebanon The man who spoke with us is an American who made Aliyah 30 years ago. He was an amazing speaker and was so passionate about Israel; It made me so proud to be here. While he was incredibly biased, which is a quality I don't normally like in a speaker, he was very up front about it, and ended giving us an incredibly powerful message. Listening to him speak was the highlight of my north trip.
After the security briefing we went to a local Arab village and sat down with Arab high school students- just to talk. It was such an amazing experience. The experiences that we all had talking with the students were very different. While some of them said that they do have Jewish friends, others didn't care to talk about religion, and some were very emotional when they found out that we were Jewish because they have gotten picked on and bullied for being Muslim. Hearing that was so difficult. I was so upset and angry that there are Jews living in Israel who haven't learned from our past. It was quite an eye opening experience.
After visiting with the students we went on a tour of Tzfat and had some time to walk around, which was very nice because last time I was in Israel we went to Tzfat on a Friday afternoon and had no time to do anything.
Wednesday night we went to the Tel Hai Photography Museum, which was great. I spent the entire evening there and then went back to the hostel and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Day Three (Thursday):
We woke up early Thursday morning to do another hike. The hike was more of a nature walk than a hike, but it was beautiful nonetheless. After a few hours of nature walking we went to Emek Habacha (Valley of Tears), which is a famous battle site from the Yom Kippur war, fought against the Syrians.
We then made a quick stop at the Naot factory (where I didn't get anything b/c the prices were pretty comparable to those at home!) and then made an unexpected stop at a memorial for the largest Tzahal disaster ever- the 1997 helicopter disaster, where two Israeli helicopters crashed into one another, killing all 73 on board both helicopters. Our tour guide's best friend was one of those who died, so it was a very emotional stop for us and a very meaningful but sad ending to the day.Day Four (Friday):We spent Friday morning swimming in the Kinneret, had lunch and went home. Apparently it absolutely poured all day, but we missed it because by the time we got to Tel Aviv the sun was shining again and I was sleeping on the bus when it was raining along the way. But this video is around the corner from my apartment, so you can get the gist of what I missed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-PIUSF1BrI
Ulpan? Oy Vey! Luckily, I grew up in a family that forced me at a young age to learn how to laugh at myself!
I’ve endured years of what my mom calls ‘good-natured teasing’ and what my dad more succinctly calls ‘character building’. What does this really mean? It means that my parents have long seized upon my many misadventures and mishaps for comedic enjoyment by REPEATEDLY recounting the tales to each other, their friends, extended family…co-workers…neighbors…even their meat purveyor at the Farmer’s Market.
Happily, as a result of this I have developed a very high tolerance for shame. And it has paid off! Without this high shame tolerance, my experience with Ulan would have undoubtedly left me rocking in a corner somewhere muttering to myself. Ulpan is an intensive Hebrew language school, and it’s the real deal. It’s actually used by the Israeli government to help new immigrants to the country learn the language and adapt to the culture. On the Career Israel program I’m participating in, we had Ulpan Sunday through Thursday, 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. for a solid month before we began our internships.
In the first week, we took a placement exam that would determine which of seven levels of Hebrew class we would be placed in. How can I paint this pretty picture… Imagine being handed a test with two pages of squiggles with question marks and fill-in-the-blanks ( which you assume should be filled in with the appropriate squiggles) and then one page on which to write an essay (in the mysterious squiggle language) based on a topic paragraph written in the same indecipherable squiggles.
Needless to say, I handed this exam in completely blank. And ok, fine! I even had to guess which squiggle to write my name by!
But this is no surprise. I come from a secular family. I went to public school, not a Hebrew day school. When all the other kids in my program were learning their Alef-Bet (ABC’S), my dad was teaching me to curse in Yiddish and leading discussions on the finer points of what constitutes the perfect bagel.
I was placed in the lowest level, Alef One. At the start of Ulpan, I was very optimistic and excited about learning Hebrew. However, I quickly discovered on our first day of class that even the lowest level class was miles… no leagues, above my head.
This class was designed for those who gently dozed their way though Hebrew in Sunday school growing up, not for people like me who on Sundays slept late, ate bagels and lox and then cheered for the Green Bay Packers! Everyone except one kid in my class already knew Hebrew letters in both script and print form (That’s right other bad Jews and my Goyem, there are TWO completely different ways to write each letter in Hebrew!). So the teacher spent only one day going over the letters before expecting us to be able to read and comprehend her lesson notes on the board (in Hebrew) and our lesson book (in Hebrew).
Usually words and letters are my friend. As my friends know, I love to write and read, so the struggle with literacy in Hebrew was particularly frustrating and my self-esteem took a bit of a beating. The teacher began to skip over me when we went over the answers to the squiggles in our lesson book. I stared uncomprehendingly at the squiggles on the board and attempted to copy down the lessons phonetically.
Thank goodness for that shame tolerance, because seriously, I really made a fool of myself in that class! Five hours a day of being the clearly identifiable dumbest person in the room. So long cockiness or any lingering self-delusions of grandeur that I may have! It was like David Sedaris in his book ‘Me Talk Pretty One Day’. Except suddenly I was the one living in a foreign land, able to clutch all of my vocabulary (written on flashcards) in one hand and absurdly over my head in a foreign language class.
The good news is that I am done with my daily dose of public shame and began my internship this week. The even better news is that I’m not giving up on learning to read and write Hebrew…just the public humiliation! I will be doing private tutoring with myUlpan teacher at a pace and level much more suited to me. This time we can begin with the Alef Bet, and hopefully in a while I’ll be able to drop you lovely readers of mine a line in Hebrew!
Today we went to a Binyamina-a kosher winery about an hour and half outside of Tel Aviv. An interesting fact I learned about kosher wine is that if any part of the process is touched by anyone who is not “koshered”, the entire batch is un-kosher. Another way to kosher-ize wine is boil it, which sounds a bit ridiculous. The wine was de-li-cious and SUPER cheap.
Some wine tips:
1. If you’re white wine is green, it is bad
2. There are two ways to try wine-either sip it and swallow or sip and swish around in your mouth
3. Wines can last up to 10 years after the date on the bottle, which correlates to how long it fermented.
Today was sadly our final day with Shmulik, aka the Shmulster, Shmulski, ect.-the BEST ulpan teacher EVER. Ulpan was a great time, for all three weeks. We learned everything like שלומ -shalom-hello peace and goodbye! As soon as I get a keyboard cover thingy, every couple of days I’ll blog a new little phrase I like!
My ulpan class was a blast! We did everything from go on scavenger hunts to play basketball-all while learning Hebrew! For our last class, we translated songs into Hebrew and sang them! You can’t learn Hebrew without having fun! I’m looking forward to continuing for the rest of the time I am here.
Am now a resident of Tel Aviv! I’m sitting at a café across the street from our apartment building. Between sips of ice-coffee and bites of Israeli salad, I notice that the music playing is Erykah Badu. This brings a smile to my face, along with the realization that this is a city that I can dig.
And it’s not just the music that is endearing the city to me (although since I’ve been here, I have heard Van Morrison, Al Green, Leonard Cohen, Sade, Thievery Corporation and Erykah Badu playing in various cafés and Laundromats around the city). It’s the people, it’s the energy…and ok, so maybe it’s also the beach!
After Jerusalem, Tel Aviv feels like the cold shower that snaps you awake from a dreamy sleep. Jerusalem is a city that radiates religious reverence and is ruled by tradition. Its streets are full of bearded men in black with dark hats. These life-long students of the book have grave demeanors and prodigious families. Even their eerily well-behaved children exude an air of studied self-restraint (note to self: Must never let my parents see these children. These well-disciplined kids would only serve to make my 23 year-old self look AWFUL in comparison and add fuel to my parent’s ‘Its time to be an adult’ fire.)
In a stark contrast, the streets of Tel Aviv are bursting with nose-rings and dreadlocks. Young 20-somethings rule the streets, wearing neon colored clothes and showing daring strips of skin. In fact, since sitting at this café, I have seen two well-put together cross dressers walk by, which is not surprising as I live in a gay-friendly district. And while there are many children in Tel Aviv too, these children are screaming at their parents for glida (ice-cream in Hebrew and yes, one of the few words I have mastered!) in displays of unabashed pleasure-seeking that I find refreshing after the freakishly well-behaved kids in Jerusalem.
There is a youthful energy here that I love. And I’m lucky, because our apartments are located in a bustling street in the heart of the of the city. I exit my front door and BAM, I’m in the middle of it all.
It’s a little like living on State Street home in Madison…that is, if State Street was a ten minute walk from the Mediterranean Sea, not Lake Mendota! My apartment is surrounded by cafes and restaurants and clothing boutiques. Also, I’m a mere five-minute walk from the Shuk (the out-door market that sells everything from knock-off Tommy Hilfiger to fresh produce to Hamsa’s and post-cards to whole fish that still have eyeballs).
But perhaps best of all to me, is the fact that I am only a ten-minute walk from the Mediterranean Sea. The beach is white sand and stretches for as long as the eye can see in both directions. The water is crystal clear and seriously bathwater warm. There is a boardwalk that runs along it, and you can walk to Yaffo (the fabled biblical city) and enjoy the view of the sea and parks, restaurants and hookah bars that dot the path.
I’ve taken to going to the beach after Ulpan (Hebrew School). I lay in the sand and enjoy a book while I soak up the rays of the sun and listen to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore…and ok, maybe I hum the lines of Atmosphere’s song ‘Sunshine’ to myself. Around 5:30 the sun sets in a blaze of colors that has not yet once failed to take my breath away.
When I walk home, no matter how hard I try to avoid it, there is sand in my bag, caked in my hair and in various crevasses in my body. Regardless of a shower, this sand will get tracked all over the apartment and make appearances in my bed. But with sunsets like this, I know I’ll be back tomorrow.
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!