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.