Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yom Kippur

(First, the photo album from the Golan: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2018960&id=1156650460&l=a0e58c1601)

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 (http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2019058&id=1156650460&l=02a44bd264).

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: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2018680&id=1156650460&l=99bbcd0c4f