One Last Post

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So this is the end of my journey. In eight days, I will leave my program. These last ten months have really been something else. It hasn’t always been easy or fun but looking back, it was a hell of a ride. In the past ten months I have accomplished the following:

 

-Visited two new countries (Cyprus and Jordan)

-Extensively explored the State of Israel

-Hiked more than I ever thought I would all over the country

-Witnessed a full year’s worth of Jewish holidays, many of which I had never even heard of

-Learned to windsurf (not very well but I still learned)

-Learned a new language

-Fully explored and consequently fell in love with Tel Aviv

-Took a road trip from the very north to the very south of the country

-Attended a workshop on becoming a medical clown

-Took a class in Krav Maga

-Witnessed speeches by Benyamin Netanyahu and Natan Shiransky

-Went skydiving

-Met a variety of new people from everywhere from California to Israel to Russia

-Made some very closer Israeli friends that I surely will not be forgetting any time soon

-Taught elementary school students about American customs

-Discovered that I definitely DO NOT want to make a profession out of teaching

 

I’m sure there is more that I am forgetting but this list will do for now. As I said, there have been highs and there have been lows but looking back on this list, not too shabby! You could say I have been very privileged to experience and do what I have experienced/done.

 

The next step: After I leave my program, I will embark on a month-long trip around Israel with 26 Jewish teenagers from North America and France. I can tell you it will definitely not be easy but it’ll definitely be interesting for sure. By the end of July, I will be able to say that I hiked 40 kilometers from the Mediterranean Sea to the Sea of Galilee, spent multiple days/nights living in the desert and exposed 26 teenagers to the country in which I have been living for the past ten months. I can only hope they will take as much away from the experience as I have.

 

I hope you guys have enjoyed reading this and I will see you all on the other side of the pond.

 

April 2012: It’s All Downhill From Here

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First of all, let me apologize for the lack of posting recently. April was a crazy busy month and I procrastinated writing this post as long as I could because this is gonna be a long one.
The best way to describe this month is as a series of new experiences. Let’s start with Pesach. As you may or may not know, Pesach (or Passover in the goy-land) is an eight day holiday that remembers the slavery of the Jewish people in Ancient Egypt and commemorates their freedom from said bondage. While most of Israel only takes off two days (the first and last days of the holiday are considered the main celebration days), Israeli schools take off two weeks. So basically, this was my spring break.
Originally I was planning on traveling abroad for the first week but due to time constraints, the only relatively cheap flights I could find would leave me with 2-3 days of actual exploring. I decided this was hardly worth hundreds of dollars so I opted to stay in Israel. This first week consisted of lots of sleeping, going to the beach, trying new restaurants/bars, and day trips to Haifa and Tel Aviv.
The Pesach seder with my host teacher was…interesting to say the least. We arrived to my teacher’s mother’s house before sundown, promptly after which her husband, Yaakov, went to synagogue. An hour later, I am listening to the family complain about this fact, sparking a debate about whether they should just eat and do the seder after. They decided to wait it out and as soon as he got home, we were at the table. The seder (literally means “order” in Hebrew) consists of a bunch of prayers, eating different foods to remind us of tough times in Egypt and four cups of wine (it’s a little more organized/lengthy than I laid out but I don’t really feel like going into it).
Halfway through the seder, you are supposed to break to eat a huge meal. After speed reading through the first half, it was time to eat a monstrous meal that left me feeling like my stomach would literally explode (as opposed to normal Shabbat meal where I just feel fat and ashamed). After the meal, there is still a second half of the Haggadah (the prayer book) that needs to be read. I wouldn’t say that it was vetoed, but let’s just say the family lost interest quickly. Not five minutes after Yaakov started reading again, Louise, her mother, and daughter, started having a side conversation. Not just whispering, but having a full on conversation over the prayer reading. Ten minutes later, they left the table, moved to the couch and turned on the TV…while Yaakov and his son continued reading by themselves. To say the seder was informal is putting it lightly. It was all just very…well, Israeli. I hope I’m not putting the family is bad light because they are really the sweetest family ever.
Anyway a day after the seder, it was time for what I am dubbing Spring Break Road Trip 2012: Israel Edition. Four friends and I rented a car and basically toured the country. Good friends, good music, good weather, the open road: it doesn’t get much better than that. Overall, I think we put something like 1000 km on the odometer in 4 days. Impressive considering Israel is the size of New Jersey. Basically our journey took us up to the very north all the way to the very south with all sorts of stops in between (I had written out a detailed description which my computer promptly crashed and lost, so if you want details, ask me).

The week after Pesach brought in Yom HaShoah, which kicked off probably the most somber/depressing week in the Israeli calendar. Yom HaShoah is Holocaust Remembrance Day. At 10 AM, a siren sounded off throughout the whole country and everything literally stands still. I’m talking in schools, at work, in the supermarket, even on the highway. Everyone stops what they are doing, stands still for a moment of silence in remembrance of all Holocaust victims, then just carries on with what they are doing. It was definitely a surreal experience seeing kids stand perfectly still for a minute then carry on with what they were doing  as if nothing happened.
A week later is Yom HaZikaron, Day of Remembrance for Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terror Attacks. Considering most of the country has served in the army and knows someone that has died, I would say this day is taken as seriously as (if not more than) Yom HaShoah. This time there are two sirens: one at night and one in the morning. Due to some amazing connections, we were invited to a ceremony at the military cemetery of Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, where we saw a speech by Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and appearances by President Shimon Perez, Natan Shiransky and other higher-ups in the Israeli government. It was a pretty powerful ceremony and I am still shocked that we were at such a prestigious event.
As soon as the sun goes down, Yom HaZikaron turns into Yom HaAtzmaut, or Independence Day. The mood instantly turns from completely somber to out of control celebrating. Yom HaAtzmaut is very similar to American Fourth of July, with the addition of street parties galore and crowds of people partying in the streets. My night/day included bar hopping (including the new experience of the police kicking everyone out of a bar), an air show on the beach and roof top grilling. Considering I’ll still be here during 4th of July, that will have to hold me over until next year.
With that ends April and the eight month mark of my time in Israel…and basically the beginning of the end. While it has been a jam packed month, I have a feeling things are only going to get crazier and busier from here. I’ll try to keep you all updated as much as I can, but I can’t make any promises.

Chag Purim Sameach!

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With the start of this week came the end of another Jewish holiday. Purim is the celebration of the Jewish people’s survival of yet another eradication attempt , this time at the hands of ancient Persians. The holiday calls for much rejoicing, eating, and drinking – three things at which I am very good. Let me tell you, Israelis know how to have a party. My experience with Purim in Israel could be described as a combination of Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland.

Let’s start with the mitzvot of Purim: 

1) Listen to the Megillah. 

Done. The Megillah is the Scroll of Esther, which describes the story of Purim.This was actually much less painful than I expected it to be. Considering the rabbi read ten thousand miles a minute, it seemed like we were done in ten minutes.

2) Send Gifts of Food

Well, I didn’t SEND gifts of food, but I sure as hell received a ton of it. Candy, snacks, cookies, not a healthy morsel in sight. It’s mitzvot like this that keep me convinced the Jewish people have a hidden agenda of keeping people fat and happy.

3) Eat a Festive Meal

DONE AND DONE. I’m pretty sure this is also the mitzvah that includes a clause about getting so drunk you can’t tell the difference between Mordechai (the good guy) and Haman (the bad guy). Count me in, good sir!

Beside the performing of mitzvot, Purim lasted somewhere between 2-4 nights depending on who you asked. That’s right. AT LEAST 2 nights of dressing up in costume, drinking, parades, street parties, the works. Alright I need to stop talking about this because it’s somehow already making me nostalgic.

Stay tuned next time for…another holiday! Pesach (aka Passover) starts in two weeks so expect a (hopefully) fun and adventure filled post from me when I return!

24 Feels Remarkably Like 23

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Now that my computer is actually cooperating with me for once, I figured I would take this opportunity to fill you all in a bit. Quite a bit has happened since my last post so hopefully this won’t be too scattered.

A few weeks ago was my birthday week and things were hectic to say the least. Let’s start with windsurfing again on Monday in which, despite being completely off balance the entire day, not only did I get up and stay up, I (somewhat) learned how to turn around on the board, which is no easy task.

Tuesday, we had a workshop from a real life clown on how to be medical clowns (the clowns that go to hospitals to cheer up patients)…and no I am not messing with you. The clown taught us how to find our inner child inside and channel that into making children laugh. After a series of improv-type exercises, we learned to develop our own clown walk and how to make balloon animals. At the end of the workshop, we all received certificates and red noses. That’s right, I am a (somewhat) certified medical clown!

Wednesday was my birthday and despite having to send some students back to their teacher because they wouldn’t sit down and listen to me, it went very well. Starting off with some delicious Mexican food, tasty margaritas and other latin-inspired beverages (have I ever mentioned my love for fajitas and margaritas?), and free birthday flan, we soon moved onto a bar in the Florentin district of Tel Aviv for 60 shekel all-you-can-drink beer. That’s slightly over $15 for as much beer as my heart desired. Not a bad way to celebrate my 24th anniversary, I’d say!

After 2-3 hours of sleep, it was time to embark up to the Golan Heights for our first seminar with the new Israel Pathways groups. Let me just say that the north is by far my favorite part of Israel. It’s just so green, relaxed and full of life. After activities such as making our own chocolate bars at a chocolate factory, touring the second kibbutz to be formed in Israel, wine tasting, some light hiking, a tour of Tel Hai, and a frisbee-filled Shabbat, I would say it was a pretty successful weekend.  I thought I would have tough time adjusting to the newcomers but it was actually much easier than expected. Everyone is pretty cool and there are already some solid friendships forming there. Thus ended one of the more hectic weeks of my stay in Israel.

Just one other small little update, of which I’m sure many of you will not approve: I was recently chosen to lead a teen tour of Israel over the summer so there is a chance I will be here until the the end of July, instead of the beginning of the month as originally planned. Sorry to disappoint those that were expecting a hasty return from me.

Expect another post from my pretty soon of my experiences with Purim. From what I gather, it should be like a combination of Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day, in which it is supposedly a mitzvah to “get so drunk that you cannot distinguish between Haman and Mordechai”. Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.

The Halfway Point

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So this past week marked the halfway point of my time in Israel. That’s right, I have officially been in Israel for five months. It’s a strange sensation in that it seems like time has flown by me ridiculously fast but at the same time I feel like I have been in Israel for years. 

While my program is only halfway through, the other three Israel Pathways programs have completed and most of my friends have gone back to their lives in America. After a weekend filled with going away parties, I am starting to realize that I have really been taking living in Israel for granted. While I have traveled around the country, I haven’t seen nearly as much as I would have liked to by now. I have decided to fix this. The first step is Tel Aviv. I have been to Tel Aviv more times than I can count (I have been there four times just in the past week) but I still feel like I haven’t seen much of it. I have decided to start exploring more (probably this weekend) . Yes, that requires money but Tel Aviv is also a 10 shekel (roughly $2.50) bus ride away so I don’t really have an excuse to not explore. Then from there, hopefully I can get off my lazy butt and start seeing all the cities and awesome things that I have been putting off for far too long.

Happy New Year!

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Wow. I can’t believe it’s January already. This time last year, I was living in an apartment in Chinatown DC working as a contractor with the government. Now I’m living on the beach in Israel, my DC life seemingly a million miles away.

Anyway, it’s been a while since I’ve written and I apologize for that. There has been a good amount to talk about but I’ve just been feeling pretty uninspired.

First let’s talk about our latest seminar. During our Chanukah break, Israel Pathways travelled to the Judean Desert for a seminar with theme of freedom. While the theme was only examined sparingly, it was still pretty amazing. Highlights of the trip included a six hour hike through the desert (including a completely vertical climb up a small cliff using metal rings nailed in the rock), hike up Massada, a break at Ein Gedi Spa, swimming in the Dead Sea, and a leisurely walk through the Ein Gedi Natural Reserve.

ZICHRON YAAKOV

After the seminar, we still had most of the week off to do whatever we wanted. A few of us took a day trip up to Zichron Yaakov, a small town about an hour north of Netanya most notable for the Carmel Winery. It was a cute little town which felt more like Europe than Israel. En route to the winery (of which we were unfortunately unable to get a tour), we befriended five religious Israeli girls that are in the National Service in the nearby town of Rehovot. In true Israeli fashion, they immediately invited us to their home for a Shabbat dinner sometime. I swear, it’s like every Israeli has a Jewish grandmother inside of him/her. Soon after they insisted that we come with them to Eilat to vacation with them.  Probably not happening but it was a nice thought!

NEW YEARS

Unfortunately New Years is not really celebrated in Israel (makes sense considering the Jewish New Year  is in September). This meant making New Years plans as slightly difficult. In my usual fashion, I did not have plans until about 10 PM that night. This meant getting to the bar where we met our friend literally as the clock hit midnight. We spent the majority of the night at an American party in Tel Aviv. Considering I spend all of my time with English speakers, it is strange that I was so thrown off by the amount of English spoken at that party. Anyway, when the party wound down, we moved on to the beach and got to a bar at about 4 AM, where it was still decently packed. Topping off the night with watching the sun rise on the beach, I would say it was a good night.

We are getting ready to start another week soon but are actually leaving for Jerusalem on Thursday for one last seminar before the other Israel Pathways groups leave (the other three programs are all 5 month programs). Maybe this time I’ll actually blog about it in a timely fashion…maybe.

 

Check out photos from trips here:

https://picasaweb.google.com/100041323550009491997/EinGedi?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCPXxjcfPzuaqNw&feat=directlink

Adventures in Windsurfing

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Time to get serious for a brief moment as I talk about the Netanya Sea Scouts. The Sea Scouts is a local organization that aims to keep at risk teens off the streets by providing them with after school activities on the beach. The thought behind the organization is that if they can provide these kids with activities that they can succeed at, they can slowly build up their self esteem and keep them away from gangs, drugs, etc. Therefore, Sea Scouts provides them with activities such as windsurfing, kayaking, boating, surfing, among other things.

The people behind Sea Scouts felt that these teenagers could additionally benefit from learning English, with the same concept that it would ideally raise their views of self worth and make them better people. Thus, four or five of our Israel Teaching Fellows group volunteer there, teaching English to these youngsters. As opposed to the classroom, where we are teaching based off of a curriculum, this is more informal where they learn different marine related terms and other basic English they may need.

As a result of our volunteering, the Sea Scouts are letting us take advantage of their facilities free of charge as a thank you.

Yesterday was our first of hopefully many experiences with them. To start things off, they gave us the option of sea kayaking or windsurfing. Yours truly chose the later and it was a blast.

Let me tell you,windsurfing is definitely a tough sport. First off, you need to learn to balance on the board in water. It’s just a tad harder (read: a lot harder) than balancing on say a snowboard or skateboard. Next, just picking up the sail out of the water can be tough for a weakling like me. After that, you need to know how to move the sail, based on where the wind is blowing, in order to actually move at all. Apparently I am pretty good…at least at first. It only took me about ten to fifteen minutes to get up on the board and pick up the sail without falling. With some guidance, I successfully sailed around for a bit, almost running right into the nearby jetty.

After about an hour or so, my success rate started declining fast. By the end of our two hours, I could barely get back onto the board, let alone pick up the sail. Falling, getting back up, picking up the sail; it is all freaking exhausting. Regardless, it was an amazing experience and I am officially in love with windsurfing. While we will have scheduled group activities there every month or so, they claimed that we could come back as much as we would like. I definitely plan on coming back as much as I can, at least until they decide I am abusing the privilege.

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