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.