Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in the West Bank

I'm used to eating Chinese food (or, not really eating it, but explaining that a lot of Jews do eat it) and going to a movie on Christmas.
This year will be a bit different; in about an hour the Mechina is heading off for a week in the Settlements of the West Bank. We'll be spending Shabbat in Kdumim with host families--I'm paired with my friend Noa (from Ramat Gan). We'll also be going to Kiryat Arba and Gush Etziyon, among other places.
I'm sure that after the week is done there will be a very interesting blog or two to write...

Shabbat shalom and Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Weekend in Tzur Hadassah (not this past weekend)

As I said in the previous blog, Yotam fell asleep on the drive to Tzur Hadassah. But the rest of us were awake, and I enjoyed looking out the window at the view. The first stop was Yotam's, and then Hadar's, and then Itai's. I had planned to sleep at Inbal's (camp counselor this summer) house, but turned out she had to leave at 6am for work, so I decided better to sleep at Itai's. We went over to her house, though, because Itai is also friends with her brother Dror. Yotam and Maayan (their other friend) came too; while they hung out, Inbal and I talked. By around 11:30 we were starting to get tired, so came back and went to sleep (after I spent a long time copying my pictures from my memory card to my external harddrive).

Woke up around noon, ate something, and then Itai took me to Yotam's, where I hung out for the day. We looked at his baby pictures (he was a very cute baby!) and I got to see how the Imri/Yotam farm looked at the beginning, which is very different than how it looks now. Then I showed him some of the ones that I scanned and loaded onto Facebook. He kept feeding me—everywhere I go, they feed me! Also, his mom kind of reminds me of my mom. Yotam is the third of four kids—two redheads, a dirty-blond, and a black hair—which seems to be a relatively common number of kids in Israel, even in non-religious families. After going to Kabbat Shabbat with Itai (the shul is literally in a trailer), I went back to Yotam's for a family dinner—not Shabbat dinner, but a family dinner. Then we hung out some more, and I pointed out two books on his bookshelves that he has to read: he started The Last Lecture (which, unfortunately, I still haven't read) and I picked up Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (ELIC, one of my favorites, and reading it in Hebrew is really interesting because Foer's writing style is very distinct. Most of it translates well, but some of the magic is definitely lost.)

I also got to talk to Yotam a lot, which I've sort of only done on a superficial level until now. One of my favorite things about going to friends from the Mechina for the weekends is that it gives 48+ hours where there's really no choice but to talk to them, an opportunity to get past the "yeah, I really liked that speaker," or "what are we having for lunch?" or "I don't feel like running" and to get to the "I love this book because…," "why do you agree with that policy," or "It was really hard for me at the Mechina in the beginning because…" Yotam brought me to Adiel's for a while, which was nice. Later we came to Itai's, along with Dror (one of the silliest people I've ever met. The similarity in personality between him and Inbal is incredible) and Maayan, and later Yael from the Mechina came as well.

Saturday involved a lot of just hanging out, reading (Itai also has ELIC) and snoozing. Galya came, and we went out for a tour of Tzur Hadassah in the car after picked up Angels and Demons at the movie rental place (which is actually a movie vending machine). When we came back, Yotam called and asked if Itai wanted to go running with him; Itai didn't, but I said yes.

We went for a 15 minute run around the neighborhood, by the end of which my Achilles Tendons and ears were burning (Achilles I don't know why, ears from the cold). Most of the time I kept up with Yotam, although I had to walk for a bit. Then we did calisthenics (thanks, DD!). We started with arm strength: two sets of 10 pushups with hands shoulder-distance, 10 with hands wide, 10 with switching off between right hand farther forward and left hand farther forward, and 10 with legs propped up on a block. Then moved on to abdomen: two sets of 25 sit-ups, 25 touching each elbow to opposite knee (right ankle is propped on left knee, left elbow touches right knee), 50 "penguins" (lying down, knees in "wedge position", touching each hand to ankle bone), and then propping yourself up for as long as you can with hands clasped—essentially push-up position. After that we moved to back: two sets each of 20 "superman" (lie on stomach, clap hands in front of head and then behind back), 20 "breaststroke" (lie on stomach, raise hands in front of head, bring perpendicular to body and raise again), and 20 "upper body lifts" (hands "at attention" behind your back, raise your upper body from your waste)—all three of these are done with your legs lifted above the ground. It was probably the best workout I've ever done, because I didn't let myself give up at all, and Yotam kept me at pace.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Tiyul Campus Negev

A small crisis the morning of the tiyul: I put my newly-charged battery into my 3-month-old Canon SD 1200 camera to make sure that it's completely charged and that I have room on my memory card only to find the dreaded: "Lens error, restart camera" message on the screen. Luckily, I brought my old Nikon Coolpix 5600 to Israel as well or I wouldn't have had a camera for the trip. It is a bummer, though, and it looks like I'm going to have to ship the Canon back to the States for repair (because of some silly Canon policies).

DAY 1 (Nov 29-exactly 3 months since landing in Israel!):

I think I once commented that the days you need the most sleep are the days you get the least. On trips, for example, you want to be well-rested so you can be coherent and energized when you get up at 5:30. You'd rather not go to bed at 2, which leaves you only three-and-a-half hours of sleep. Maybe one day I'll learn how to plan ahead (and how to pack without throwing my entire closet onto the floor). In any case, that day hasn't come. And anyway, we had a fun time packing--it was the first time in a long time that all 6 of us have been in the room at the same time (except for when we're sleeping). We turned on music and had a dance party at the same time.

The trip started at Mitzpeh Revivim, which was one of the first three settlements in the Negev. It was established as a settlement in 1943, but had previously been used by the Ottomans; we got to walk through Byzantine caves that were strategic in the defense of the Negev as bunkers and hospitals. From there we continued on to Nitzana and Sha'ar Hashalom, where we were unexpectedly greeted by a multi-national helicopter that keeps tabs on relations on the Israeli-Egyptian border. We took advantage of the opportunity presented to us in the form of an Israeli soldier (from Schaumburg, IL) who did Garin Tzabar (but doesn't plan to make aliyah until later in life); she spoke to us about her army service on the border and about talking every day and hanging out with the Egyptian guards. What stands out about Sha'ar Hashalom are the pillars--there are 90 pillars, each with "peace" written in a different language.

We got very close to the Egyptian-Israeli border, and there heard a lecture by Zevik (that I semi-took notes during, but couldn't repeat to you for a million dollars). The most interesting part of the day was at Shivta, an ancient Nabatean church. Although Zevik's lecture was interesting, the gorgeous sunset and little boy climbing the ruins of the church were more distracting. The boy, who was probably 8 or so, was dressed entirely in olive-green, including his fleece hat, was barefoot. He followed us from the moment we arrived at Shivta, and pranced ahead of us from there to the church ruins, where he stole the stage from Zevik every thirty seconds. When Zevik finally succeeded to step into the spotlight, the boy ran off and started climbing the church ruins, jumping from stone to stone and running along. Watching him was fascinating, and as I took pictures of him I couldn't help but think that this was how a National Geographic photographer feels: the story is not the church ruins, the story is the little boy who runs along them barefoot.

As Galya and I were climbing some of the ruins, he came over to us and asked her, "Are you married? Why not? Don't you want to get married? Do you love someone? I want to get married when I'm 16" and then "How old do I have to be before I can touch a gun? I want to hold one like him. Why can't I before the army?"

Then we met his mother, who decided around ten years ago with her husband that they wanted to move to settle in the Negev. They're the only people for miles around and, although she says her kids go to school and meet other children, it seems like a very secluded lifestyle. She's happy with it, and the carefree way in which she lets her kids run around and explore by themselves is wonderful. ("One day he'll decide that he wants to wear shoes. But until then, why should I make him do it? He wears shoes to school, because he knows those are the rules.")

DAY 2 (Nov 30):

In Dimona we saw "Kfar haStudentim", basically a student community of 50 or so who live and do community service projects together at the same time as doing their studies.

Then we split into three groups to do our own community service projects--I went to Mitzpeh Ramon to clean the boardwalk. Luckily, I was selected as a "1", which meant that I was cleaning next to the crater. It's absolutely gorgeous; the sand in the crater is all sorts of browns and reds and even some black. Where were cleaning there was also a "Sculpture Park" (better than Skokie's, I think). There was a mini-Stonehenge, and the coolest swings I've ever seen (picture), as well as other larger-than-life sculptures and toys that we could climb. The best part, though, was the Bedouin woman there with her flock of children and goats. So we chased the goats and Galya and I--again--wanted to do some National Geographic style photography, but decided that photographing the woman's children wasn't so appropriate. I did get some nice shots of the goats, and Carmel did some nice "baaa-ing." Oh yeah, we also picked up garbage. Really, we did. Unfortunately for those who didn't clean at Mitzpeh Ramon, they didn't really get to see the crater up close (we went to the visiting center, which is not the same. And, in any case, didn't get to spend a lot of time there. There were also typos on the English signs there, which I took pictures of to show Gideon).

DAY 3 (Dec 1--how is it December already?):

We started off the day at Andartat Hativat Hanegev (a war memorial from the War of Independence.) The memorial is different than any I've ever seen; it's not a wall with names engraved on it, or a larger-than-life statue of some forgotten hero. Instead, the architect really thought about what he was doing. It's a memorial with 18 parts, each symbolizes a different aspect of the war (ie: there are holes on domes, symbolizing bullet-holes). As soon as Nir finished explaining each of the parts, he let us have 15 minutes to explore, which most people used to climb on the andarta rather than to read names or the battle information. After the 15 minutes were up, Dan sad: "When Nir let you go, הפכתם את האנדרטה להיות מגרש משחקים בצורה פסיכי" (Basically: You went back to being 5 year olds--what happened?) Although people were at first ashamed and felt accused, it turned out to be a really great question, because it made us think: what did the architect intend by making an out-of-the-ordinary memorial? Was he saying that war is just part of Israeli life, and the abundance has left us jaded? Or was his purpose to get us to feel what the battle was like--lumbering up ladders, crawling through tight tunnels with slits of light and peering through peepholes.

In Be'er Sheva we saw the old Turkish train station (the Turks connected Damascus to Be'er Sheva) and also a British cemetery. The cemetery was the most pristine, well-kept, clean, orderly cemetery I've ever seen. The headstones all looked brand-new, although they were from more than 60 years ago, and stand in stiff rows and columns unlike the haphazardly-placed headstones in the old Jewish cemeteries. In Israel, Jews are buried without coffins, because the ground is holy (and if Mashiach comes then we'll all walk to Jerusalem. But that's weird). The Brits (Christians), however, are buried in coffins.

DAY 4 (Dec 2):

Wednesday was probably my favorite day of the whole tiyul, although there were aspects of every day that I really enjoyed. Wednesday was the day we did hiking--not nearly as intense as our Tiyul Noded, because nearly everything was flat, but we still went about 12 km. This time we were near Sde Boker (the Kibbutz were David Ben-Gurion lived and is buried). We sang much of the time, whoever was near us joined in, and we sang Hebrew and English, Beatles and Disney--whatever came to our minds we sang, and sang happily. Dan, spontaneous man that he is, invented a multitude of games to fill the time (we were ahead of schedule), and included one in which everyone starts inside a circle and tries to push each other over the line. There's something with that man and aggressive games...

As we approached Ayn Akev, a spring, Dan told me "You have to go in, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity." I said, "Fine, but I didn't bring a change of clothes." He insisted: "Then borrow boxers from someone. You can't stay wet afterwards." When we got to the spring, I didn't test the water first, because I knew that I probably wouldn't get in if I did. I knew it was cold, because Uri jumped in first and was shaking in the water. I jumped, and indeed, the water was freezing. We stayed in for a while, every now and then shrieking at the cold, and then I got out and put on a sweatshirt to warm up. (The water was colder than any Lake Michigan I've ever been in, although I don't know how cold it was). When Uri finally got out, Shir Hanuka and I hugged him to try to warm him up--he was shivering severely--but we didn't succeed in holding him still.

After lunch, we hung out and played more games while one-by-one the madrichim sent off the chanichim on solo-hikes until we reached the end of the trail. I don't know how long the solo hike was, but on the way I sang, and touched the rocks, and smelled the plants and really felt the Negev. There were stones that were pure white like snow, covered in a layer of chalk. There were flat areas with large stones seemingly dropped from above in the middle. The end was clear--I saw everyone else from the Mechina sitting in a Bedouin tent, where the woman selflessly prepared teapot after teapot of hot, sweet tea for 70+ guests. She spoke a jumbled mess of Arabic, Hebrew, and English to us, which I could surprisingly understand nearly all of.

From the time we left her tent until we got back to Sde Boker (an hour or more, I think), I talked with Shaked (the boy, not the girl) who I hadn't really talked to at all until then. A few weeks ago the staff did an activity in which we wrote notes to each other in various categories; among them was "to someone you want to get to know better, and both Shaked and I wrote a note to each other. He's one of the quietest, most shy people at the Mechina, so to have an hour-long conversation with him was really excellent, and it didn't feel forced at all. It was one of the best parts of the trip, because I think really one of the biggest parts of the trips is talking to new people and learning about them, and that experience closed the tiyul for me.

DAY 5 (Dec 3):

After Zevik's lecture at Tzrif Ben Gurion, we went to a Bedouin school and met with the principal and an engineer from the area. It was the most beautiful, well-kept school I've seen since I've been in Israel. It actually reminded me of Payton, the way there were huge windows on each floor, the walls were brightly painted, and some had student-painted murals. It's also only been opened for three years (last year was the first graduating class).

Imri lives on a farm in the Negev (incredibly close to the Green Line). His parents founded the farm a good 20 or so years ago with Yotam's family (who left about 10 years ago). His father spoke to us about starting a farm in Israel, which when he did it was nearly unheard of and today is nearly impossible. His dad prepared fresh labneh, which I don't even like, but this was extremely delicious!

We drove back to the Mechina, I threw clothes in a bag, and 20 minutes later I was in a car with Itai, his father, Hadar, and a sleeping-Yotam on my way to Tzur Hadassah (suburb of Jerusalem) for the weekend.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Where I was over break

This past week was our fall break.
I started off in Zichron Yaakov with Galya (Mechina) and her mom. There is an excellent Conservative shul there (Kehillat V'ahavta) that their family friends started.
Then I went with Jeff Blumenthal (Akiba) to Jerusalem and that night slept at Gal Chaitchik's in Herzeliyah.
Then I went to Inbal's (Mechina) in Gedera
Then I went to Asaf's (Mechina) in Rishon Letziyon
Then I went to Sara Goldberger's (WOFI) and learned with her for a day (!) at Migdal Oz in Gush Etziyon
Then I came to Jerusalem, where I spent a day with Sara Dritz (camp), Shabbat with the Kochins (where I also saw Mindy Shimmel, Cheryl Birkner, and Sarah Kass), and tonight I'm with Galya and her mom again at their family friends.

So basically, I saw people from the Mechina, camp, Write On, Akiba, and Chicagoans/Hyde Parkers. It was excellent!

CHECK THIS MAP (hm, looks like it's not showing the points. Go to and make the trip Zichron Yaakov--Jerusalem--Herzeliyah--Gedera--Rishon Letziyon--Gush Etziyon--Jerusalem):

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Kotel with Jeff Blumenthal and Bill Clinton

I got an email yesterday from Jeff Blumenthal saying Surprise! He was in Israel for a long weekend and where was I and did I want to see him.

I called Ethan/Linda to get his number, and made plans to go with him to Jerusalem today. We met up (after taking Galya to the dentist's in Ra'anana) and drove to Jerusalem.

After getting terribly lost (let's just say I've never seen so many gates to the Old City before...) we found our way to the Jaffa Gate and the Jewish Quarter. We walked around in the underground shouk, and had a kabab lunch at Jeff's favorite restaurant.

We went to the Kotel, where we were met by black Sedans, tens of security guards, and even more people crowding around. Some people said the Prime Minister was there, other people made other guesses, and some were just along for the ride. We ignored the mess, continued to the Kotel, and when I came out I saw a bunch of men in the kind of kippot that Millie gives out. I looked, and then saw a head of white hair emerge, and then a suit with a red tie and then--Bill Clinton!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Shiur Chanich on the Conservative Jews

One of the great things about Nachshon is that we don't just invite lecturers to speak, we also get a chance to be the lecturers.

Each chanich teaches at least one shiur chanich on any topic of their choosing. Before one is allowed to teach a second shiur, everyone has to have taught at least one. I decided a long time ago--probably after the first argument that I had on the topic--to teach mine on Conservative Judaism. I wanted to do it this week because this shabbos was the 5th annivesary of my bat mitzvah (Parshat Chayei Sara) and I originally planned to chant a few psukim of the parsha as part of my shiur (for the section on egalitarianism).

Although I knew for a few weeks the general gist of what I was going to teach, and even the date of my shiur (I asked for a Thursday so that it would be a Torah-reading day), my planning ended up being like senior year, when I only really began to work on it two days before the Big Day.

I chose to work with Dan (our madrich who is religious) on purpose, although I knew that of the madrichim he would be the most frustrating for me to work with. Whenever we talk about religious/egalitarianism and the conservative movement I get very worked up because he pushes me; he pushes me to define what I stand for and he pushes me to explain why I stand for it. Which is really really hard. I know that at the end of the year I'll be glad that he's digging deeper, but when he's asking all the questions it's just frustrating because at this point I don't have the vocabulary (not in terms of language barrier. In terms of ideology)--or maybe even the knowledge--to explain why I think that what the Conservative Movement has is great.

In any case, I sat down with Dan to talk about my shiur because I really had no idea where to start. I knew in general what I wanted to teach, but not how to turn it into something more interesting than me standing up talking for however long. This time I made a point of hearing him out on every comment he made, every kashe he asked, although at times I disagreed with him so vehemently.

The night before my shiur I stayed up until 3:30am planning it--I had done most of the research before, but hadn't compiled it all. I wrote my entire outline in Hebrew, before realizing that I'm still unable to skim in Hebrew, so those notes wouldn't really do me any good in realtime when I would want to be glancing down for reminders of what I wanted to be talking about. So I rewrote the entire outline in English, with Hebrew every now and then for words that I had to look up and phrases I didn't know so well so that I wouldn't struggle. Here are pictures of both outlines so you can see what I talked about (Grandma, that's for you, for your lecture series).

I spent about 30-45 minutes going through the information in the outline. What I planned to do then was to play the "agree on this side of the room; disagree on that side of the room" game with a few statements ("agree" meant that generally they agreed with the Conservative position). After that I was going to switch them--have those who were usually on the "disagree" side argue for the Conservative movement (and vice versa).

We never got to that point, however, because the first question I asked exploded the discussion. The first statement was: אפשר להיות דתי\שומר מסורת בלי להיות אורתודוקסי (It's possible to be religious/keep the tradition without being Orthodox). The reason for this question is mainly because in Hebrew the words for "religious" and "orthodox" are generally the same: dati and I had a hard time trying to explain that one could consider herself religious without considering herself Orthodox.

The discussion was actually incredible (although admittedly weighted towards the Conservative side). I employed the Mr. Wright technique of everyone (including myself) sitting in a large circle
and the Mr. Karafiol technique of calling on a list of people (X, then Y, then Z, then Q) instead of waiting for one person to finish before calling on the next. Both of these techniques worked very well for me, especially the X, Y, Z, Q; people at the Mechina love to respond to each other's comments (even when not called on) but this set a precedent and people knew when it was their turn to talk and when not.

I was pleased with the level of partcipation (naturally not everyone participated, but I did think there was a good amount of variety) and that Galya's mom, who is in town for a bit, participated as well.

When I mentioned that the Mechina is split into two for shiurei chanich I forgot to mention that the groups are called siman and sh'ela. I specifically asked to teach mine to siman because it had all the people who have ever argued with me about Conservative Judaism. I can tell that they still don't agree with me--even a little bit--but I'm hoping that maybe my shiur chanich planted a seed in their heads that maybe, just maybe, there's something okay about another type of Judaism.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

As Promised, about the Tiyul Noded

The most important thing I had with me was my 55L (45+10) Deuter hiking pack. It's so comfortable that even with the 4.5L of water and sleeping bag and camping matress (foam) and the cloathes and other things I had to bring with me, I hardly felt it at all. I had no back pain, no tight muscles, no bruised hip-bones (an especially excellent occurence, given that both other "real" hiking trips I've ever done--as a Mosh camper and a Mosh counselor--the packs I used were significantly too big on me and were quite painful to carry).

Our tiyul was definitely a tiyul of firsts. For example, when we (after an excellent nap on the bus ride there) arrived at our starting point, I saw a camel in person (in animal?) for the first time. Like any tourist, I took some pictures. We had a short tidruch--I'm having some trouble finding words in English, you'll have to excuse me--about the Bedouins in the area and about the Judean Desert in general. After a surprisingly short "hike" (it was actually basically just walking) we got to where we would sleep for the night. There were mountains all around us, and we were there just in time for sunset which is really a beautiful sight in the middle of the desert where there's nothing but sand all around. I got to play around with my camera a bit taking silhouette pictures (this is Galya) and such.

We attempted to take a picture standing in the formation of י"ג (we're the 13th year of Mechinat Nachshon) but according to the picture I found on my camera, it wound up an epic failure. Dan planned a simply superb activity for us. If you haven't ever been to the desert at night, I highly suggest you go; it's an experience worth having. The silence, the vast openness, the blanket of stars extending to infinity. The activity started with each person saying a word that they associate with the desert. We then turned so our backs were facing into the circle, and walked 120 steps in the direction we were facing out into the Nothing. And then we listened. Just listened to the sounds, the silence, the nature, the never-ending _____ (I'll think of a word). I lay on the slope of a mountain--we didn't know how long it was--and looked at the sky, looked around, let my thoughts float away so I'd have a completely blank slate on my mind. Shortly before Dan called us back I simply felt free, exhilaration is the best word I can find.

Chulyat Kvutza also planned an activity for that night; one that was particularly successful. At camp we call it "warm-fuzzies". Basically everyone sits with their eyes closed and four people are chosen each "round". Then, a statement is read (ie: You made me laugh today. You have characteristics of a leader. You helped me on the hike today. etc) and the four chosen people walk around the circle and tap on the shoulder each person who, for them, fits the statement. Simply to be tapped on the shoulder is an excellent feeling, warms your heart, and kept the calm, pleasant mood of Dan's activity around.

The next day began the real hiking. By the end of a day of mostly-inclines (and mostly walking in front of the pack, because, although the sooner you fall behind the more time you have to catch up, it's also significantly harder to hike at the back of a pack of 62 people), of swimming in a pool we found, of physically draining climbing--oh, and did I mention inclines? Very very very very big inclines?--we arrived at our camp for the night. Where we ate a delicious dinner. And then went to sleep (relatively) early, because on tiyulim in the desert one wakes up at 4:30 am so that we can be on the path before the sun comes out to burn our skin.

On the third day we woke up, packed up, and saw a beautiful beautiful sunrise (see picture of Bar breathing fire... to appear soon) as we continued. I looked towards the north-west and saw a nenormous mountain, and silently thanked Chulyat Tiyulim that we would not be attempting to climb it. An hour/hour and a half later, I found my quads telling me quite the opposite: not only had we attempted to climb it, but we succeeded. It really is a giant mountain, with excellent echo-ing abilities (and when I have a computer with a faster internet connection, I'll upload a picture of it). There were a few more (smaller) inclines, but mostly after that the rest was all downhill (down-mountain).

For a while we were literally climbing down a cliff. Again, the kind of thing that you drive by on your way to Pittsburgh and go "Man, how could people ever climb down that, it's nearly vertical!" And yet, somehow, we started at the top of a canyon/crater and ended up at the bottom where we were supposed to be. It was like rock-climbing minus the harnesses and ropes. Essentially, hard-core rappelling--without the safety? The whole time we were only a few kilometers from the Dead Sea (to which I have still not gone) and especially from the mountaintops we had a beautiful view. However, I was always under the impression that the Dead Sea was a tiny little thing, a small lake, (because we only ever see small touristy parts of it), but it's actually quite large (I don't know the actual measurements).

The final part was a little incline, a little decline, but mostly just walking on flat ground until we reached our final destination: the buses! (And eventually a shower? After three days of the same clothes and hot sun, I'd say that was in order.)

{And then spent the weekend at Shani's in Jerusalem. Where I ran into multiple people I know.}
Also there was a MASA-sponsored (ie: free) Idan Raichel Concert in Jerusalem on Sunday night. It was incredible. Pictures here and on Facebook shortly. Maybe. be continued....

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tiyul Noded in Midbar Yehuda (Judean Desert)

A word-description will follow in a few days, but for now check out some pictures:

This is what my bag looked like (with a license plate I found along the way)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Orienteering (says dad) and shabbat

I've gotten to the point where there are now certain things I know how to do--how to explain, how to think about--in Hebrew but not in English. Orienteering (at least that's how Dad translated it) is one of them.

The other day we had a "Yom Nivutim" (Navigation Day/Orienteering). Basically we split into groups, went to Emek Ayala (near Beit Shemesh) and had to get from Point A to Point B by way of certain other points in between. During the day we had a "chonech" who went with us, explaining what he was doing, how he was using his knowledge of topography etc to translate the map to the land. During our (extended) lunch break, we had time to break the remaining terrain into a planned path. That meant memorizing the map--valleys and hills and etc. (this is hard... I know all the words in Hebrew, and I know what they look like in reality, but I don't know the most appropriate translations for them into English) and the coordinates and how to find them on the compass (it's preferred not to walk around with a flashlight on at night, which means memorizing the map and landmarks, etc.)

In pitch black, with turning on a flahslight maybe 3 or 4 times, we managed to get from Point A to Point B (and all the check-points in between) without getting lost! It was a really excellent, satisfying, and gratifying experience...and to tell the truth I found it easier to do the navigation during the night because then we weren't trying to match trails that we saw with trails on the map (which are not exactly exact, and we weren't necessarily sticking to trails.)

On Tuesday we leave for our first Tiyul Noded ("wanering trip". ie: carry everything on your back) for three days in the Judean Desert. I'm not exactly sure what the plan is, but I'm VERY very excited.

We were here for Shabbat this week (once a month) and once again I was in "Chulyat Shabbat" (the group that plans Shabbat and all the activities). We planned Shabbat with a theme of humor, which was great. It was basically like 24 hours of solid hilarity and laughter. I was responsible for giving the "Dvar Hagut" (which is LIKE a dvar Torah, except not necessarily related to the week's Parsha) at dinner. I basically talked about Isaac (in hebrew "Yitzchak" which comes from the word "laughter") and the appearance of laughter in the Torah and its connotations.

I ALSO was reponsible for leading Kiddush on Friday night, which ended up turning into a big fuss and someone storming out of the room. You see, religion here is very black-and-white; at least, the aspects of religion that are talked about. You're either Dati (religious) or Chiloni (secular) and there's no (widely recognized) in between. And the idea--the very idea of trying out some sort of egalitarianism is unfathomable to so many people here, even chilonim. I didn't choose to do Kiddush, per se; I agreed. Our (chiloni) counseor Dani went to our (religious) counselor Dan and said "I need to find a guy to do kiddush." and Dan said "why a guy?" so Dani said "Sababa, I'll ask Abby." More than just the one who left the room were upset that I (okay, that a girl) led kiddush, but it did open conversation. It opened a conversation that I've had so many times since I've been here, and to many an interesting discovery about the religious beliefs of both Dati'im and chilonim (yes, they do have religious beliefs. It's very interesting).

This is a conversation that I then repeated nearly word-for-word to Gideon when I talked to him for 35 minutes (!) (for the first time in two montsh!) the other day, and then also with Deborah. And it's a conversation that I'm sure I'll have many many more times throughout the duration of the year, and maybe by the end of the year some of the people here will think differently about gender and religion than they do now. Maybe.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Since I last wrote, Sukkot has nearly come and gone.
Religiously, it was the most bizarre Sukkot of my life.
On the first night I went with Neti and his family to his cousin's sukkah nearby. It was really nice to eat a (delicious!) home-cooked meal and be with a big family with lots of noisy kids running around.
But in the morning I didn't go to shul, and now that I'm thinking, I haven't shaken a lulav and etrog at all.
We DID have a sukkah at the Metzudah (that we built and decorated) and didn't eat in it for every meal, but we did specifically have one dinner during which we ate in the sukkah and sang songs (in Israel there are Sukkot songs!) I ALSO slept in the Sukkah (twice) forthe first time in mylife, which was very veryneat.
On Tuesday I was "Toranit" which means I don't participate in the normal activities; instead, I (and one other person, Assi) worked in the kitchen (cutting salad, etc.) and cleaned (bathrooms, floors, etc.) all day. We actually had a lot of fun, but didn't have enough time to shower before.... driving up to Jerusalem forthe night. SURPRISE! (I didn't know that washappening). We went to Mea She'arim (basically a Hasidic enclave in the middle of Jerusalem). When you walk in you sortof think you've been teleported to 1800s Poland. Everyone wearing long skirts and jackets and the black hats....
Anyway, it was an interesting experience, even though I didn't (obviously) agree with everything they said to us. The woman who took us around warned us: "I hope nothing will happen to you here, I hope no one will throw anything and that the worst will be nasty words, but be prepared that something might [because there are girls wearing pants, which is against the dress-code]." (We did hear some nasty words, but no one threw anything).
We were there for something called "Simchat Beit Ha'shoeva" which is basically men dancing every night of sukkot to emulate something that happened during Sukkot when the Beit Hamikdash was still built. The women? They stand in a cage-liked thing aboveand watch through a window the men dancing. The woman who took us said "there's nothing like watching the men dancing" I wanted to ask her--WHY DON'T YOU DANCE FORYOURSELF!? I think that was basically the major theme (for the girls) of the night: why are you restrained, why don't you do things for yourself, overthrow this patriarchy... it was actually nice to see the feminist side of the girls at the Mechina, because it rarely shows through.
We ended up leaving at 2:30 am.
In the morning I went to the Defense Minister (Ehud Barak) sukkah. more later.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Don't have a heart-attack; if anything had happened I wouldn't be able to post this :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur

(First, the photo album from the Golan:

Well, I suppose I'll start with my birthday (the 26th--Saturday).
On Friday I went to Gan Yavneh (about 20 minutes from the Metzudah) for a few hours to Bar's house.
Then Chipsa (a friend from camp) picked me up with a bunch of his friends and we headed further south to a Reggae Festival in the Negev. Now, they said "festival" I was expecting a Lolla-sized thing, or at least Summerfest. Nope, this was a cute--maybe 1500 person--festival with one (small) stage. At Israeli festivals, though, they're all-day things and you camp out. So I fell asleep under the stars on my birthday :) And yes, 18 here is a legal drinking age, so I had a (yes, "a") sip of beer after midnight. Saturday was pleasent--mostly listening to the music, sleeping, hanging out, some dancing, and wandering from drum circle to drum circle (

We got back (to Jerusalem) around 9:30 or 10-ish I'd say and ate something, and then I met up with some friends from the Metzudah at Kikar Ha'Chatulot (in "the city" where all the bars and shops are). We sat there for a while (the night wouldn't be complete without the waitress spilling someone's shot on me. Excellent, I smelled like pure rubbing alcohol. Gross). We left and wandered to the Old City--climbed on some rooftops and watched some Bnei Akiva (religious youth group) kids singing and dancing. [This around 12:00 or 1 am on Erev Yom Kippur]. We continued, climbed some more roofs to see the Kotel (Western Wall) and then decided to go for it. The guys and girls split, and planned to meet back in the middle in 15 minutes.

Well, Erev Yom Kippur is possibly the most packed the Kotel can be. It took us 15 minutes just to get IN. Holding hands in a chain, and trying to smile even at the people pushing and shoving with all their strength (ironic, being obnoxious to get to the Kotel so you can pray?), we eventually made it to The Wall. We stayed a few minutes, and on the way out things started to get messy. We saw policemen coming our way, telling the woman standing next to us (a Muslim woman) to open her black briefcase. She refused, he asked again, she refused, he told her she had to, she refused. People started to freak out, pushing and shoving to get out--we were scared, just because of the first thought that entered our minds. Obviously, nothing happened or everyone would have known.

We left and continued through the Arab market in the Old City--a place where I just want to wander for an entire day taking pictures. Around 4:15 in the morning (yes, apparently that's not so abnormal for Israel?) I made it back to Chipsa's.

skip a few hours....................................... evening of Yom kippur.
We went to Chipsa's dad's to eat a delicious meal before the fast. The Fast started at 4:55, which was weird for me. Anyway, afterwards we walked to the Kotel (pay attention to the math: 6 km) and that was definitely a very once-in-a-lifetime way to spend Kol Nidre. It was significantly less packed than on Erev Yom Kippur (as in, we had no problem getting in),a nd everyone was going at their own pace. There were people there with mattresses, etc. planning to be there the entire holiday. We walked back (another 6km), and once we got back Chipsa and I went up to the roof of a hotel, which has one of the best views of Jerusalem.

Slept, and in the morning we walked (4.7 km) to the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. It's orthodox, there's a balcony for the women, and it has a choir. It was definitely definitely not what I was expecting at ALL--I didn't really like it--and I even contemplated leaving in the middle to walk to Moreshet, the synagogue attached to the USY Fuschberg center a block away. But I didn't, shacharit ended at 2:15 (!!!), and then for Mincha I went to the conservative one. It was nice--exactly like home, nearly all American. I hear all of Torah (for some reason I didn't remember that it was the sex/anti-gay portion) and Haftarah (Yonah), and then met up with Chipsa to walk to Shira Chadasha (1.5 km). We got there, met Galya (from the Mechina) and Chipsa left.

Shuls here have seating charts, so you have to make sure you find an empty area. Also, people bring their own Machzorim (prayer books) which means that if you don't bring one, you don't have one. The seats wasn't a problem--you stand for all of neilah. Galya and I stood in the back and periodically shared/used Machzorim of women who were busy with their babies. Shira Chadasha was what I was expecting (more on that another time... I have to catch a bus in 5 minutes), and it was very very very nice. The Shofar-blowing at the end was nothing compared to Naomi's shofar, I must say.

Galya and I drank some water and left, halfway together, and then split off (a total of 3.3 km). I got a little lost, but eventually found my way back to Chispa's house.

MATH TOTAL: 21.5 km, which is about 13.8mi, ON yom kippur, when I wasn't eating... decent!

Anyway, then we ate something at Chispa's mom's house, and then went out with some camp friends in "the city" and ran into some other people.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Culture shock?

1. Religion
Israel is a Jewish state, right? Sure, theoretically. But that's not really what I saw these past two days of Rosh Hashanah. I thought that I was in the most Jewish place in the world, because I'm in Israel. To tell the truth, if I hadn't made a point of going to synagogue I wouldn't have known that it was Rosh Hashanah. 

Maybe it would have been different if I'd been in Jerusalem--of course it would have been different--but I certainly didn't feel like I was in a more Jewish place than if I'd been in Manhattan or, hell, even West Rogers Park! The street today and yesterday didn't look like anything but a normal day--kids rode on bikes and waited (impatiently) at the corners for cars  with screaming babies to pass as dads got pulled along by dogs on leashes. 

Even inside the house of a family that I knew to be religious--at least when they were in Chicago they were religious--I would hardly have known that it was Rosh Hashanah except that we lit candles, etc. on Friday night. In the house I could hear the hum from the computer and the rattling of the washing machine, the kids on the couch watching tv in their shorts and t-shirts and the flick-flick of a light switch being turned on and off. Yes, the family still identifies itself as religious (they have two sets of dishes) but from my understanding (and stereotypes) of what it means to be religious? No way. They wear whatever they want (shorts and tank tops for the girls, no kippah for the boys), they "break" Shabbat and chaggim without a thought. In short, they go about their normal lives even on Shabbat and holidays. During the week, if you put them on a street, I'd pick them out as "chilonim" (secular). 

That's kind of how I've felt about all the "religious" people I've met here, mostly from the Mechina. Of all the ones who identify themselves as religious, only two wear kippot all the time. Only one of the girls wears a skirt all the time. The others wear whatever they want--short shorts, tank tops, whatever (guys included). They all keep kosher (at least that I've seen, because the Mechina is strictly Kosher), but they don't all keep Shabbat (we have a "chilul Shabbat" room, and there were many "religious" people using the computers there last Shabbat). None of them are shomer negiah (when opposite genders don't come in contact before marriage). And girls never go to synagogue. (Maybe because at every synagogue, except for reform ones, there's separate seating for men and women, maybe even a separate room for women. And women don't participate in the service, period.)

-Something interesting that I saw at the (tiny, Sephardic) synagogue I went to today and yesterday. A little background, first: The place is tiny. There are 12 seats set aside for women in the back right corner of the room, blocked off with a 3 foot high wall and then a curtain above as a mechitza. On Friday night I was there and the curtain was a bit open; one of the (few, at the time) other women in the room (a young woman, too. Not older than 24 probably) turned to me and asked me to please go close the curtain. I was in shock! But then on Saturday morning when the Torah came around (I'd never seen a Sephardic Torah before; it's beautiful. And they stand it up to read from it!) the old (!) women opened the curtain so they could see the Torahs. Generational divide?

Another word on women: even to chilonim, the idea of a woman reading from the Torah is bizarre. When I told them that I had an Aliyah and read from the Torah for my bat mitzvah (and indeed, probably every other week), they couldn't fathom the idea that I'm not reform. I said, "No, no. I'm conservative. You know, Masorti?" Well, apparently Conservative Judaism is not the same as Masorti. Now I know to say that I'm "conservativi".

Of groups that are identified as "religoius" (excluding charedim, etc.), there are two groups I think. There's the ones that are ultra-orthodox--the guys who walk around all the time in tzit-tzit and (knitted) kippahs; and then there are the religious people that I've met, the one's that I'm still having trouble differentiating from chilonim or, to give the benefit of the doubt, from reform. 

At least for some people I know it's a "We're in Israel, there's no need..." type of thing. But could it possibly be that way for everyone?

2. Generalizations
People here (why not start off the section on generalizations with a generalization?) are much quicker to jump to conclusions/make generalizations than are the people I know from home.

There are "Aravim", "Druzim", "chilonim (secular)", "dosim (religious)", "filipinim (Filipinos)", "polanim (Polish)", "etyopim (Ethiopians)", "teymanim (Yemenites)", "Arsim (greasers, basically), "homo-im", "kushim (I-think-derogatory word for blacks)--and everyone fits into a category. When people tell stories, they identify the people they're talking about by these categories. When our madrichim want to reiterate that we have to clean up after ourselves they say "there are no filipinim here to clean up after you." (The American stereotype is Polish cleaning ladies; here it's Filipino. But in America we would never say "Clean up because there are no Poles here.")

Another example: "Kushim" is derogatory. Not nearly with the same connotations as the N-word, but still, not a nice way to talk. I spent an hour one night (a late hour, so I won't write the time) explaining to some people at the Mechina about political-correctness and who says "black" and who says "African-American" and what the differences are and why I don't want to hear them say "kushim." (There's also, apparently, a difference between "etyopim" and "kushim", more on that later). One time I heard a women say to her children (who were being very wild and crazy and loud), "quiet down, or people will think that this is a house of kushim!" Can you smell a stereotype? Because I sure can. 

Two weeks ago I read an interesting letter to the editor (in Hebrew, which made it even more exciting!) on this topic exactly. It was about specifically identifying Ethiopians. Basically the gist of the letter was "Yeah, their parents or grandparents came from Ethiopia. But they're Israelis like the rest of us. You don't call me 'germani' whenever you talk about me just because my mom is an immigrant from Germany." I think what the author was trying to get across was: why do you specifically categorize certain groups--but not all?

And homophobia? That's for another post. It's very interesting here.

Anyway, as a good friend told me when I made this rant to her: "It's tough observing how other cultures operate, how historical prejudices surface or manifest on a daily basis...These are good questions, ones that many are not willing to face or confront... try to remember, these are all experiences--the amazing, the frustrating, the disappointments, the challenges, and wonderful times... they are all layers of experiences that are piling up for you." 

Friday, September 18, 2009

To the Golan and Back


I've just come back from our first five-day tiyul. Some general comments before I give a day-by-day breakdown:
-People in Israel are really into sharing. We share silverware, dishes, water-bottles with anyone who doesn't have theirs handy. When we pass around the can of canned fruit, we pass it with a fork and everyone eats from the same fork{including madrichim, which would not happen at camp]. When we're doing fitness stuff people drink from the closest water bottle.
-With all that sharing, however, Israelis are not into the camp-style showering. By the end of the year, though, I'm sure that will improve.
-It's a much more affectionate society, visible in the presence of lots of terms of endearment in every sentence: "motek" (sweetie") "chamood" (cutie), "chayim sheli" (literally "my life"), n'shama (literally "soul"), etc. etc.
-Also a much more politically aware youth, but that seems natural given that we're in Israel. Aalso much more patriotic.
-A more independent youth, I'm not sure exactly how to describe in what way, but they know what needs to get done, they have discussions that I could never dream of having at home.

I never get enough sleep the day before a tiyul--you always have to wake up early to leave on time, but you also go to bed really late because you're working on finishing organizing etc. The ride to the north was mostly broken-sleep interrupted by some ipod sharing and a bathroom/snack break somewhere along the way.

We stopped for a short bit at Kibbutz D'ganya Aleph (the first kibbutz, established in 1909). There's D'ganya Aleph and D'ganya Bet, and we learned that the reason is that originally the thought was to name every kibbutz some permutation of "D'ganya" (ie: Aleph through Tav), but after two they decided that was silly.

At Tel Saki--a place with thousands of land mines surrounding it and a concrete bunker--we heard the story of a battle from the Yom Kippur War (1973) that took place there. It's actually quite an incredible story; 28 injured Israeli soldiers crammed into the bunker and they hear the Syrian soldiers approaching and one of the Israeli soldiers is crying out for water. They tell him over and over again that he needs to be quiet, but he doesn't understand, doesn't stop. Finally the commander has no choice but to order someone to kill him--but right before, one of the soldiers writes a tiny note that has the message, and the crying soldier immediately stops. One of the other soldiers is sent out to tell the Syrians that he's the only one alive in the bunker, and he is taken to the Syrian jail (saving the lives of everyone else in the bunker, and he is released a few months later).

The first two nights we slept in a college of sorts (I'm not exactly sure what it is, as Israel doesn't have "college" in the same sense that we have college. Maybe "academy" is a better word?) In any case, we slept in the main hall of Michlelet Ohalo, we head a logistics room and a classroom. Once everything was set up, we played a few games while waiting for dinner, and then attempted to watch "The Syrian Bride" but the subtitles only worked in English, so it was hard for many of the Israelis.

I woke up super-early because I was a "toranit" which means it was my day to prepare meals and clean, etc.

We went on a 5 hours walk/hike, and there was not one second when we didn't have a beautiful view in front of us. I always felt like I was taken from a scene in some movie with people running through a field, barefoot, hair loose. At one of the breaks there was a water pool where we stopped to swim for a while, and then I really felt like I was taken out of a book, one of those ones where the kids live near a pond and tie a rope to a tree and jump in during the summer.

In the afternoon we went to a Shiryon army base near where we were staying and saw a tank demonstration as well as learned about what Shiryon does and what they did in the YK War (1973). I missed out on the service project (basically cleaning warehouses, fixing stuff up at the base) because I was a toranit, so I went back to the academy to make dinner.

After dinner we saw a short video about the Golan and the environment with super-insane special effects (like water shpritzing out, wind blowing through, the room getting cold...) it was VERY cool, although definitely one-sided.

We started off the day at Gamla, an ancient ancient city in the Golan that gets its name (Gamla=Gamal=Camel) because it's on a mountain that looks like a camel. Gamla has a story similar to that of Masada, except that many people think that the Jews actually DIDN'T commit suicide; instead one of the theories is that it was "accidental death by falling" ie the Romans pushed them back and back and back as they chased the Jews and the Jews fell off the mountains. In any case, our Madrich Dan told us the story of Gamla as we walked around, we saw the old synagogue (picture) there and had to climb back up in the hot hot sun. (When I say "climb back up" I mean that we were literally climbing up rocks for over half an hour. My legs were burning, but in a good way).

During one of the breaks, I picked up a conversation from last week with Amir about KAM (the non-Euclidean gemoetry math class I took junior year). The most incredible thing about it is that we were able to have an intelligent, intellectual, coherent conversation about a conceptually difficult subject in Hebrew!

When we finally reached the top, we went to an Eagle observatory where we sat in silence waiting for the rest of the group and our breath to catch up. Again, the view was beautiful, and we did see some eagles. Perhaps the most exciting thing though was that it was a lesson--a real lesson like you'd hear from a park ranger at any national park in the US--and I understood every word!

We then went to Emek Habacha, where Yos Eldar (who runs the Mechina program) spoke to us about his experience in the Yom Kippur War and being a soldier and friend of war-hero Avigdor Kahalani. Unfortunately, I was really tired and wasn't really concentrating while we were there.
For the third and fourth nights we stayed int he gym of a community center, and were allowed to use the gymnastics mats to sleep on (!) We had fitness with a "madasnikit" (madricha sport) from the army, who's actually going to be with us for the rest of the year. Dinner was actually one of the best meals I've had since being here.

Chulyat L'mida let a discussion (in two groups) about the Golan and the prospect of returning it (or not). It was really interesting to just listen from the perspective of an outsider/American to the opinions of everyone, because almost all of the Israelis agreed that returning the Golan was out of the question. Most of the time I just sat and listened, but Shaked really wanted to hear what the Americans thought so a few of us spoke at the end.

The first thing we did was go to Har BenTal (I was actually there last year with WOFI) and unforunately it was really cloudy/fuggy so we couldn't see anything till the very end. Looking out towards the east we could see the Kinneret, and it was beautiful. You couln't even tell it was water, it just looked like a sliver of radiating white light. It was somewhat chilly (by Israeli standards: they were wearing pants and sweatshirts and were cold, I was wearing pants a t-shirt and fine.)

We stopped for a short while to see where Nebi Chazuri (a Druze prophet, I believe) is buried. I guess it's Druze custom to not leave your home/homeland, so he's literally buried in the middle of his bedroom. The house and the view from there were beautiful as well, and I got to practice reading some Arabic.

Then we went to the top of Mt. Hermon! We took ski-carts up to the top, where it was legitimately cold (and windy!). We were with the group from the Kibbutz, and Uri Avni took us around to places that most people don't get to go. We were at the top and heard baout the battles there. He actually wasn't even supposed to fight there, because he was a parpatrooper, but he answered a call for help and ended up staying to work on the base there as part of his reserves duty. There used to only be one base on the top of the Hermon, and now there are 7. Again, beautiful view, although a little too windy for my liking. I finally put into action what I always mean to do: take notes (otherwise I don't pay attention, and if i don't pay attention I don't get it because of the Hebrew).

We met up with the group from the Kibbutz to hear from Uri Avni, but as Dan said "these chairs are asking for us to fall asleep" (I didn't fall asleep, but I didn't really pay attention, either...). Later that night Tzipkah Harel, a woman who was ionfluential in founding Kibbutz Rom Hagolan (as well as many other kibbutzim in the golan) spoke to us about her experiences and answered questions for us.

Woke up early and went to Tel Facher for a lesson led by Zevik. At one point he stopped the lesson and basically broke us up into platoons, with commanders and assistants and etc etc. That's how he led us through the underground tunnels until we reached the end, where we looked over land that used to belong to Lebanon (a visible difference. Israeli land is green, Lebanese is yellow/brown).

That lasted longer than anyone expected, and we finally made it to Mitzpeh Gadot for the "sikkum tiyul" (summary of the trip). Basically an extended verison of what we do every night: everyone goes around and says something about the trip--questions it raised for them, about the group, things that need improvement, things that were great, etc.

FINALLY, we got on the bus that would take us to our respective locations for Rosh Hashanah. After too many hours on a bus, I arrived last night around 9:30 at the Delgados in Metar. (bus of the Mechina from the north to Kastina--with many stops along the way to let people off/change to a smaller bus etc--then a bus to to Be'er Sheva, then a bus to Metar).

And now I'm here, typing this post.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Trip in the area

We went on our first tiyul a few days ago; just in the area, very close to the Mechina.
It was a 2-day "tiyul nodded" which means we carried everything on our backs. (Luckily, my Deuter backpack is SUPER comfortable!)

One of the coolest things about the tiyul was that we simply walked out of the Metzudah; we didn't take a bus or something to the beginning of the tiyul. We simply walked out of the gates, backpacks on our backs, walked on the street for a little bit, and then picked up a path somewhere. The first thing we saw was a wine-makery (I'm not sure if that's what it was called--basically some stone-lined stones in the ground where they would crush grapes and then let the juice run through, pick out the seeds and pell, etc.) from the time when the Byzantines were here. (I'm putting a picture).

We stayed the night at a place called Givat Tom v'Tomi, which is a memorial for the soldiers who died in a helicopter disaster in 1993 (or 1997?) One of the guys from a nearby Kibbutz took us around and explained about the place, and then we stayed there. There were fresh Sabra fruits (we cut one open, it was delicious) and also fresh pomegranites (which Alon opened with his hands) that were also absolutely delicious.

Much of the time that we were walking from place to place we teased the Israelis about specific words in English that are hard for them to say (among them: girl, world, squirrel--basically anything with an "r" and an "l" next to each other--Massachusetts) but all in fun. Because they get to tease us all the time about our accents....

Our "evening program" of sorts (that's the easiest way to describe it, since there's a lot of camp people reading this) was lots of team-building/trust games. We built pyramids of 20+ people (quite a feat), we did that one where you stand (tightly) in a circle and then sit on the lap of the person behind you, we did one where you hold ones with the people on either side and then squat and stand--then with the people one away, then two away..., we did the one where two lines face each other, hold hands with the person across from them, someone dives on, and you "pass" him by thrusting your arms in the air. We did it with our madrich who announced that he weighs 110 kilos (>220 lbs).

We slept the night literally under the stars--us, our camping matress pads, our sleeping bags, and the stars. No beds, no tents, no roofs, no nothing. It was amazing.

The Negev is basically where Israel tests its military planes and stuff, and I guess the night we were out they were testing stuff, because we kept seeing (and hearing) planes overheard. It was kind of weird to know that there were so many military planes, and that none of them were passenger planes.

In the morning we walked to Kibbutz Negba, and then walked back to the Metzuda completely pooped and ready to fall asleep--but we had to clean the area till it was sparkling because that night there was a Memorial Ceremony at the Givati museum (which is literally attached to the metzuda) and Rav Aloof Gabi Eshkenazi (the head of the Israeli military) was coming. So we cleaned and mopped and swept and organized... and like I already commented in an earlier post I think, mopping here is significantly easier here! We had a great time, sliding on the floors, dancing and all.

The Memorial Ceremony was very beautiful, but I think what was actually the most meaningful was that I understood almost everything said in the speeches. There were two chayalot (women soldiers) who sang Shir La'ma'alot absolutely beautifully. I got some of it on video.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The weekend

Metar (about 20 minutes from Be'er Sheva) is a very nice neighborhood.
The Delgado's house (house, not apartment--in itself a rarity in Israel) is beautiful. THroughout the house the floors are tile, which makes it very easy to clean, as a I saw. You simply dump soapy water on the floor and bring a squiggie...
This weekend I felt a little like Jana (Payton reference): the Delgados are from Cuba and lived in Chicago for three years, so at home they speak a mix of English, Hebrew, and Spanish, which was definitely a challenge for my brain. Spanish--well, I know a tiny tiny amount, Hebrew I know, and English I know. But everything with a Cuban accent, and with words from three languages in each sentence, I definitely had to pay attention. It was very cool though! And then at the bus station in Metar (waiting for the bus that would bring me to the Tachaneh HaMercazit in Be'er Sheva) there was an older couple waiting for the bus also and speaking Spanish, and the bus was 10 minutes late so I started talking to them--in Spanish--and after a while they told me I could speak Hebrew with them :)
And THEN, once back at the Mechina (yes, I arrived safely from Metar to Be'er Sheva, and then safely from Be'er Sheva to the bus station in Kastina with Galya where we met everyone else, and then safely on the bus to the Metzudah) we watched part of a movie about the Yom Kippur war, which was obviously in Hebrew, so it was a very taxing weekend in terms of language.
But playing tag and tickling the whole weekend with David and Ruthie was NOT very taxing; it was a nice, relaxing Shabbat with lots of delicious food. I even started to read "Hakesem m'eretz otz" (The Wizard of Oz) in Hebrew. That was difficult.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Here's what we do on the Mechina

I've now been in Israel for nearly one full week (and for those who don't know, I now have my suitcases. They arrived on the Metzuda on Tuesday).

I'm writing from the Delgado's house ("hello" to the Akiba people reading this!) in Metar, which is near Be'er Sheva in the south. Eldad (one of our counselors/madrichim) drove me, Galya, and Imri to a bus stop where we got on the the #369 bus. Imri got off at the next stop, and Galya and I stayed on till the end, at the central bus station in B'er Sheva. Bertha picked me up there, we ran a few errands, and drove to their house. It's a beautiful, beautiful house! Be'er Sheva, as much as people say there's nothing there, already seems like a great city. It's just as diverse as Chicago also in terms of religions and also in terms of the color of people's skin and where they're from, which is amazing because Tel Aviv was definitely not like that.

So the way each day on the Mechina works is we get up, eat breakfast (usually hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese "kotegge", Israeli salad--at every meal, cereal "kornflakes", tuna, tea). And then we have our first class (shiur) of the day--sometimes Yahadut (Judaism), sometimes Manhigut (leadership) with Gilad, the shead of the Mechina, sometimes Tzionut (Zionism) with Zevik, sometimes with a guest....

We have usually three or four 1.5 hour long shiurim each day, and we also have a three hour break/menucha/hafsakah after lunch until around 4--except usually that "break" ends up turning into time to meet with your chulya (for camp people, it's like va'adot, for others, basically the defined groups that plan programming) or to wait in line to check email, or play frisbee or... whatever you want to do.

Since I mentioned chulyot, I’ll explain a little bit. There are six chulyot (kvutza, p’ilut toremet, echud chayim, tiyulim, limud, and… something that I’m not remembering right now). Each chulya is in charge of running a different part of the Mechina. On the first day, we chose our chulyot, which ended up being a 45-60 minute discussion, including switching our preferences, arguing out, drawing the short straw—in short, something that I’ve become very accustomed to since coming to the Mechina. Sof sof, I’m in Chulyat Kvutza, and we’re in charge of two things. Thing 1 is basically about how things are going on the mechina, things we need to discuss to make sure everything is smooth between us, things like “how do we vote” (we finally decided on 50%+3 people) and “after what time, except for certain places, do we need to be quiet” (12am), etc. In the future, probably things like bringing food into buildings, cell phones on, smoking corners, etc. The other thing we’re in charge of, is planning fun activities (camp people: evening programs) for the whole Mechina. Last night, for example, we ran a program that started with a fun game, then divided into 5 groups to play different get-to-know-you games at each station (my station was basically 2 truths and a lie, there was also “chavila overet” which is like hot potato with questions at each layer…. Etc etc etc.) At the end we had a tekes (ceremony of sorts) with candles and sang Yachad (basically a song about being together). Other chulyot work with the topics we learn about (for special themed weeks), the community service projects we do, the places we go for tiyulim (trips)…

We already went on a small trip (siyur) to Yafo a few days ago, and learned about the Yafo history, and how certain streets came to be named what they are, and walked all around. We met with two Arab-Israelis who grew up in/around Yafo, who talked about what their lives are like (one who went to a Jewish school as a kid) ,and it was very interesting, especially to see the Israelis’ reactions which were so different from anything I would have seen from the same type of presentation at home.

Although Mom/Dad/other adults might not be so happy to hear, there’s no curfew (not like there’s anywhere to go… we don’t leave the Metzudah). But I haven’t been as responsible about going to bed as I probably should. I haven’t gone to bed earlier than 1:30 any night, and two nights ago I went to bed at 3:30. Because people are still awake, and even though sometimes I’m tired, I don’t want to miss anything! But I’ll have more self-control as it gets harder to stay awake in shiyurim.

Each week we're also going to have "koshair gufani" (physical fitness) 2 or 3 times a week. There are going to be two "levels", and I think I want to do the hard one. We ran near the Metzudah, around sunset. To run in an open field during sunset, when you can also see the moon, is really something special. It feld good to run, although my achilles hurt a little, but I think I'm going to like it since I never exercise at home.

About the Hebrew: it’s been really really good! I understand nearly everything in the shiyurim, and when we went to Heichal Ha’atzmaut (the building in Neve Tzedek/Tel Aviv where Ben Gurion announced Israel’s independence in ’48) we watched a documentary in Hebrew that I understood all of. Of course there are words in every shiyur that I don’t understand, and I write them down and people help me out with them—sometimes simply translating to English, but lots of times explaining in Hebrew. I am actually surprised by how much I know. It’s different than classes at home, where I can doodle and take notes and listen and talk at the same time; here I have to concentrate in order to listen and take notes, and I can’t draw at the same time (except yesterday I did and I still got most of the lecture!) There’s only been one that I haven’t understood, and I didn’t get any of it except for the main topic (what’s the dilemma/is there one between science and religion). But the Rabbi who came to teach it used very very high, formal Hebrew and I couldn’t read his hand writing or understand the packets he handed out. It’s basically like being in an unofficial (no direct Hebrew classes) ulpan, since everyone speaks Hebrew all the time. Kind of like Chalutzim…. But to the max?

Shabbat shalom l'kulam!

I posted the first album of pictures: