Wednesday, August 4, 2010

I volunteer on Kibbutz Yechiam - אני מיתנדבת בקיבוץ יחיעם

Almost a month after getting to Yechiam, we started volunteering. Oranim encourages its participants to volunteer in the local high school tutoring students in English. I was looking forward to working out in the fields, but this proved not to be an option due to my gender. So, I compromised and ended up volunteering in the kindergarten on the kibbutz.
The gan yeladim (literally, children garden) are split up by age on the kibbutz. I was placed in Gan Zamir (Zamir means nightingale) with the 5 to 6-year-olds. A typical day in the gan is mostly filled with preparing food, washing dishes and watching the kids play outside; sometimes I get to color too. On days that aren't too hot we go on mini field trips around the kibbutz for a picnic or to pick fruit from the trees to eat.

Two years ago I worked for a company that used fitness education as a medium for effecting positive behavioral change in children aged 3-6. That experience brought me into a handful of different pre-schools in central New Jersey and taught me a very specific philosophy in children's behavior management that I believe is very effective. There are a lot of differences between pre-schools in the U.S. and the ganim on the kibbutz. This is clear in the educational philosophy and the actual facility. In the U.S. the pre-schools have a hospital-like sanitary feelings to them with lots of bright colors on all the walls. All the classes are in one building but separated into different classrooms. Basically, they are just what they are called, pre-schools, school before school.
Here on the kibbutz, the buildings that are used for the ganim were converted from their original function as children houses, where all the kids on the kibbutz lived until it was time for them to live at high school or go to the army. So now, each gan has their own building which has a large central play area, one classroom, bathroom (including a shower and changing area) and a kitchen. The playground more closely resembles a trash yard than the hurt-proof rubber pits that are popular state-side.I really like the idea of re-using old items instead of throwing them away and I think this is a much simpler and effective way to use recycled products than how its done in the U.S. but I have to draw the line at a "giraffe" made from rusted metal frame work.
The most substantial difference between kindergarten here and at home is the educational philosophy. As it has been explained to me, the idea here is kids are going to be in school for a long time and they have all that time to spend learning, so until then they should have as much fun and play time as possible. The kids get one formal lesson a day which includes anything from hearing a story read to them to learning how Brazilians say hello, thank you and goodnight. The lesson, called a mifgash which means meeting, lasts about a half hour right before breakfast. The rest of the day is spent playing or working on art projects. I'm not sure how art class is organized in American pre-schools anymore but compared to what I remember from when I was in pre-school, the whole class does a project at the same time, together. Here, the thought is that all children have different strengths and the child should choose to spend his time doing what he/she enjoys the most. On one hand, I like this idea because it gives each kid extra time in an area that they enjoy allowing them to develop those skills. On the other hand, I think it encourages children to give up in areas where they aren't naturally inclined, instead of teaching patience and perseverance. Because there is very limited organized time led by the teachers and the children are left to choose their own activities, kids miss out on areas that they initially find uninteresting or difficult.

In terms of discipline, considering my aforementioned background, it almost seems like there is none here. This statement should be taken with a grain of salt though, as I can't understand most of what is being said in Hebrew. I only understand that the children are being disciplined if they do something heinous enough to be yelled at and removed from the group. Perhaps what is most frustrating for me, is that despite my training in behavior management, I can't use any of it without the ability to speak Hebrew conversationally. My discipline of the children is limited to saying "Enough! That isn't nice!" or just "Be quiet." Although, about 2 weeks ago I found out one of the kids doesn't speak English but can understand it, which made communicating with him a lot easier.
In the end, I don't think it matters much, as kids will find a way to beat the crap out of each other if they really want to:

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Fast Forward

My program has come to an end and I've made a slide show commemorating all the good times that I was, not surprisingly, too lazy to write about! Since my family keeps asking for pictures, I am going to upload it here. Don't worry, I'll still write about all the things I've done here... just not now. Now I'm going to the pub to celebrate! Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I'm really terrible at remembering to write my blog, so here's an update about the first two weeks of my program, two weeks before it ends.

The program I am volunteering for is called Oranim. It's a 5 month program that combines volunteer work with ulpan (Hebrew language study). There are programs in other cities including Tel Aviv, Ashdod, Ramla and Ness Ziona and one other kibbutz, Kfar Masarik. My program is on Kibbutz Yechiam which is situated in the Galil Mountains 10ish miles east of Nahariya, on the coast, and about 5 miles south of the northern border with Lebanon. The kibbutz was founded in 1946, a year and a half before the declaration of independence of the State of Israel. In the early days the kibbutz was known as HaSela (The Rock) but the name was changed for a member of the Palmach who was killed during "The Night of Bridges". During the first years, through the Independence War, the men of the kibbutz lived in and around the fortress at the top of the hill (which dates from the 12th century), while the women and children stayed in and near Haifa. During the war, the men simultaneously converted the rocky land surrounding the fortress into farm land and defended their position from the local Arabs; going weeks at a time without supplies or water because of the remote location of the kibbutz.
Yechiam functioned as a socialist community up until recently when the kibbutz members voted to privatize the kibbutz. The dining hall remains but it is no longer used for communal meals. The fields are still worked to produce fruits and vegetables but most of the farmers are migrant workers from Thailand. The deli factory still produces meats but the employees there are no longer exclusively kibbutz members and they are paid a personal salary. The childrens' houses have become day care centers where even members of the kibbutz have to pay to send their children. This is actually quite common as the era of kibbutzim is coming to an end. Unfortunately for me, I didn't realize any of this before I came here, so it was quite a shock to find out I'd be responsible for my own food. Good thing I have some money saved up!

I arranged to meet Lorien (who later that day became my roommate) at the train station in Tel Aviv so that we could travel together to Nahariya and then to Yechiam. I had been fairly nervous but Lorien is a really anxious traveler so in trying to distract her with getting-to-know-you small talk I calmed myself down. Lorien and I talked the whole train ride and the trip felt very short. I learned that Lorien is from Capetown, South Africa and went to private Jewish day school where she learned Hebrew as a second language and Afrikaans as a third. She is 26 and prior to coming to Israel worked as a Programmer. She decided to come to Israel to take a break from "real life" and try to figure out what she wants to do next with her life. As we were chatting I was surprised to see that the northern train line travels next to the coast almost the whole way from Tel Aviv to Nahariya. The only thing that is closer to the water is the highway.
The train arrived in Nahariya on time and we lumbered down the street to the bus station to catch the bus to Yechiam. At the station we happened across Jessica, another participant in our program who comes from Argentina. We tried, unsuccessfully, to help her find a bathroom. Jess is a 23-year-old journalist based in Buenos Aires. Her English is awesome although she refuses to believe it and sometimes she comes up with great names for things like "tiny closet" instead of cabinet or pronounces the "ch" in stomach. The bus finally showed up and we finished the last leg of the journey to the kibbutz. The road to Yechiam passes by little else except banana and orange fields. Some of which are owned and run by the kibbutz. The Galil Mountains are green and beautiful, especially in the Spring, which was just beginning.When we got off the bus we were met by Oshra, our "city" coordinator. She took us to our rooms to get settled and meet the other volunteers, Max, Justin and Mike. Mike had already been in Israel since last June on other Oranim programs. He was first in Ramla until his program was moved to Yechiam where he loved it so much he signed on for two more programs. Mike is from New York/Connecticut and studied music education at the University of Rochester. Justin is 22, from Toronto and just recently graduated from university where he studied health science. Max, 23 (although he's had a birthday since we met), is from New York City and graduated from Dartmouth where he majored in history. He is really interested in the French Revolution.
We got settled in and met Oshra and Yariv in the Volunteer Moadon (clubhouse) for some pizza, humus and information. Yariv lives on the kibbutz and is the Director of Educational Programs for Oranim. He also works as a tour guide, so we don't get to see him that often.

On our first full day of the program, Yariv took us on a tour of the kibbutz which was thoroughly confusing. Yariv really knows his stuff and proved it by eating half the plants we walked by. At his prompting, I ate a purple flower that tasted exactly like what you'd think a flower would taste like. In all seriousness though, there are so many edible plants. Just outside our door there is a tree that gives "berries", lemongrass and mint plants, I even picked a lemon off of a tree to use in my guacamole. The kibbutz is split into two sections, one is residential the other is industrial. There is the deli meat factory, a fiberglass shop, mosaic studio, a company that gives horseback tours and soon there will be a winery. There is also a national park surrounding the fortress, with a restaurant where people have bar/bat mitzvot or weddings. The fortress is really big and beautiful and is a prefect place to take pictures, read or draw. This is Jessica reading at the fortress.
The rest of the first week was filled with introductions and a hike to K'lil, a nearby community made up of former city dwelling intelligentsia who moved to the north to farm and live a simpler life; or, you could say, Israeli Hippies. On our hike to K'lil through the dry riverbed:
For the next two weeks we had Ulpan everyday for 5 hours. Everyone else had gone to private Jewish day school, so they all knew a little Hebrew already. Even though I had gone to Hebrew school from Kindergarten through my Bat Mitzvah year until 10th grade, on the first day of class I realized that I had never even learned Hebrew script. I only knew type face Hebrew letters so everything our teacher, Meital, wrote on the board was meaningless to me for two reasons: First, I didn't know what the words meant and secondly, I couldn't read them. Needless to say, I had a slow start in Ulpan, but by the end of the first two weeks I was already using small sentences! "Shalom! Shem Shali Karen!" "Hello! My name is Karen!" "Coma ze Oleh?" "How much does this cost?" "Eifo ha'shirotim?" "Where is the bathroom?" "Ani ohevet g'vina!" "I like cheese!"
At the beginning of our second week I was spared the embarrassment of knowing the least amount of Hebrew in Ulpan when our final participant, Stacy, showed up. Coincidentally, Stacy not only is from New Jersey, but used to go to college in the same town I was living in before I came to Israel. We didn't live there at the same time, but it was nice to have someone around from the same place. Stacy is a 28-year-old gemologist, who took some time off of work to come volunteer in the Holy Land. Here is everyone, except Jessica on a tiyul (outing) at the fortress. From right to left (just like in Hebrew) Max, me, Lorien, Justin and Stacy.
Now that we had all the volunteers assembled, and with our intensive ulpan coming to an end and our volunteer placements were about to begin, it was time to look up and out into our socialist future, like a soviet propaganda poster.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Tel Aviv and Petra

Thursday, February 25, 2010 was a rainy, rainy night. The birthright tour brought everyone back to the airport, so those of us staying in Israel had to make our way back into Tel Aviv. We hired a taxi and got to the hostel we were going to stay in. It took a little while to sort out the room situation because there were so many of us but we got it all figured out. Then I was able to get onto the internet and video chat with my parents. It was great to be able to see and hear them though it made me a little home sick, BUT, there was still lots of fun to be had. Even though we were all so tired after only sleeping 3-5 hours each night of ten, we stayed up talking and reminiscing about our adventure through Israel.

The next day I slept and slept and slept. I think I woke up around 11, ate breakfast and then took a nap. It felt so good to be rested and have more than a half hour to shower and get dressed. To be honest, I cannot remember what we did that night.

Whatev's, I'll talk about the next night when we went to our tour guide's house for Shabbat dinner. We all rented two cars at Jay's prompting, so that we could get around to places outside of Tel Aviv. After a half hour of driving in circles, we realized that our GPS was set on pedestrian mode, and finally figured out how to leave the city. Eventually, we made it to the Moshav where Irad lives. His house is gorgeous and it turns out Irad and his wife designed it themselves. The highlight was definitely the toilet seat which was sand and sea shells set in resin. The meal was so delicious, I ate enough for three. That turned out to be a mistake because I didn't leave enough room for desert which was also amazing. We hung out for a little while then said thank you and goodbye and left to go meet up with some of the Israelis we met on the tour.
We got lost again but eventually found the bar, called Hobbit Pub. When I saw that the place was Lord of the Rings themed, I knew it was going to be a good night. The sign says "פוב הוביט" which is how you transliterate "pub hobbit" into Hebrew.It was the night before Purim so everyone in the bar was wearing hats; which is something I still don't fully understand. I think it's the Israeli equivalent to wearing animal ears on Halloween. Anyway, we got a table and drank and talked for a while before we started a dance party, complete with lifts.
The next day was Purim so I wore my nerd costume all day. Less out of excitement for the holiday and more out of a lack of clean clothing. I think I may have cheated in picking my costume, because all I needed to buy for it was a pair of socks. Maybe I really am a nerd. In any case, it was still raining and we spent the day with some of the soldiers from our trip. We got lunch at Mose's which is a hamburger place. Everyone said the meat was really good, but I got a veggie burger so I don't know if that is actually true. After lunch we went to meet the sailors Nitsan worked with when she was in the Navy at their boat. They seemed happy enough to pose for pictures.I got a sweet shot of me in my costume on the boat.Night time rolled around and the Americans (plus Gal, his girlfriend and Nimrod) decided to have a real, live Purim adventure. Sure, I could write about how we had fairly decent pizza outside of New York, how we walked for 45 minutes to get to a thumpin' club party on the pier, how we all decided in the same moment that none of us wanted to be at a thumpin' club party on a pier, and how we walked the 45 minutes back to go to a bar that was right next to the pizza place. Or, I could just show pictures of us in our Purim hats.
Katie was a 'detective' and I think Zev was a cowgirl?
Arin's costume was 'Arin in a fez' and Alexandria was an angel. (Another costume that really wasn't a costume)Gal and I weren't wearing hats, but we were wearing glasses, and I think that counts too.
The next day was still rainy and very windy. I spent it with Arin, Alexandria and Grant who were all leaving that night. We walked next to the beach where we saw lots of wind surfers. They were doing some pretty cool tricks and Alexandria and I went out on the beach to get a closer look and were almost sliced in half by a rogue parachute's strings. That was the fastest I've run in a while.We kept on, making our way to the shook (market). I saw this which I thought was beautiful.At the shook Arin and Grant both bought sweet Fedoras (probably still on a Purim hat high). Then we walked down one of Tel Aviv's boutique shopping streets where it rained, again.
Happy about all the rain:We decided to wait out the rain in a cafe. This was a good idea with bad execution. As the four of us huddled under the small awning of the cafe with only outdoor seating, we gazed longingly across the street at the cafe that not only had an actual covered porch but indoor seating as well. Here's a view from our dry(ish) corner.When the rain let up, we started back to the hotel. On our way we passed a piercing parlor. After much deliberation Arin decided to get another hole in her ear rather than in her face. It looked great but, in all the excitement, she forgot her brand new fedora at the parlor.
For dinner that night everyone wanted something fast and close so we went to a hotdog place. I didn't get anything there but I did look at the menu and was surprised to see that you could only get get either chicken dogs or pork dogs. This was first of many observations on how Israel is simultaneously religious and secular in very strange ways. (This will be a subject of a later post.) With dinner behind us it was time to say goodbye to part of the group. Arin, Grant and Alexandria were leaving for home and Dan and Natalie were heading off to Petra. As we worked out our plans for the next few days I made a last minute decision to join Dan and Natalie in Petra. I reserved a ticket and went with them to the Tel Aviv bus station to catch a midnight train going, not just anywhere, but to Eilat where we made our way to the Israeli/Jordanian border crossing. The street lights are on in this picture because it was 6 in the morning when we arrived.

Dan's guide book described the border crossing as "sleepy" and I can't argue with that. We made it through in under 45 minutes and hired a taxi to take us to Wadi Musa, the Arab town next to Petra. I think it's fair to say that they do things a little differently in Jordan. The taxi driver started off and instead of heading for the highway took us on a detour to Aqaba, Eilat's Jordanian counterpart on the Red Sea. We turned down a quiet residential street where the driver told us to get out and proceeded to unload our bags. Before my heart could jump out of my mouth, he explained that his brother (I think) was going to take us the rest of the way. Great. I suggested to him, in a very nice way, that he should probably make the effort to tell his costumers that they will be switching cabs before it happens.
That day there was a very thick fog and the 2 hour cab ride through the mountains was pretty terrifying. The driver seemed to know the road really well though so, in order to not have to think about how I could only see 10 feet of road in front of the car at any given time, I went to sleep. We stopped at a rest stop along the way, where I went to the bathroom. At first I thought that it wasn't finished yet because the building looked new and some of the stalls lacked doors and others lacked toilets. I picked a stall with a toilet and a door and then realized that Jordan is one of the countries where the people don't use toilet paper. Instead, there is a nozzle on a hose that is smaller than a shower head but bigger than a kitchen sink spray attachment. I've never understood why people prefer bidets, it seems to me that even after one has washed, one would still desire to dry/wipe. Well, I don't think it needs to be said that considering how I don't even touch the door handle in a public bathroom, I certainly didn't touch the hand held bidet. I was never so happy in all my life to have had a cold because it led me to bring a roll of toilet paper with me.
When we reached Wadi Musa, the fog was beginning to clear but it was still very hazy and a little cold. We checked into our hostel called the Valentine Inn, which was awesomely kitschy and had a strange mix of available technology (like WIFI and a huge movie collection) and a general lack of modern convenience (like heat, hot water and bed sheets). The people who worked there were very friendly and helpful and told us where a good place to get food was. Dan, Natalie and I added an additional member to our group, an Australian named Mitch who was staying at our hostel as well. The four of us went to eat and then start our day of hiking. It was only 10am when we walked through Wadi Musa to the park.The sky began to clear up as we entered the park and we joined a tour group because they made us. Our tour guide was a local Bedouin and told us that when he was a kid he used to live in the caves that are in the park until his family was relocated to a nearby town to preserve the historical site by the Jordanian government. Apparently, he is loosely related to this woman: Petra was an ancient city and contrary to popular belief, what is left of the city are actually temples and tombs. The freestanding buildings that stood in the middle of the valley have been destroyed over the years by a series of earthquakes. It wasn't until local Bedouin tribes occupied the landscape that the caves of Petra were used as homes.
The ancient people of Petra carved the tombs into the sides of the mountains by starting at the top and working their way down. Leisure time was really different back in the day, I guess.
Boring tourist shot.The only freestanding building left in Petra:Ruins from the town in the foreground, tombs in the background.Luxury Donkey. Natalie bought a keffiyeh at one of the souvenir stands in the park. We chatted with the Bedouin, Abram, who owned the stall and drank some Turkish whiskey which is actually tea. I didn't sip mine until I saw the local guys drink some of theirs. They noticed, and we began to discuss the cultural differences between Americans and Bedouins. Apparently, they think Americans are distrustful of strangers. I said that I agreed and I think the reason is because in America trust is something that is earned and not given. They seemed to have no use for setting up barriers like that so I brought up the idea of self-preservation. That's when they stopped talking to me and focused on Natalie who wasn't being quite as contradictory as me.
Here she is on Solomon's mule. The trail to the Bedouin village.The park closes at sundown, so we headed back to our hostel just in time for the last 20 minutes of hot water. The management turns the hot water on for showers only twice a day for two hours. I got in the shower with 10 minutes to spare and turned the hot water knob. No water. "Okay," I thought "I'll take a cold shower. Just like at camp." But when I turned the knob for the cold water only a weak trickle of residual pipe water came out. So, I washed my important parts with what little water I had to work with. Thankfully, the hostel makes great food and after my unsatisfying shower I ate a delicious dinner. The after dinner movie was Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It turns out that, despite the aforementioned video collection, Indy gets played every night.

The next morning, back in the park and inspired by the movie I took this photo:Dan was feeling sick, so Natalie, Mitch and I had left him in bed at the hostel and started our day early. The morning light was great for picture taking.
Aqueduct in the canyon. Self-timers are fun.Porno donkey.Taken from the High Place of Sacrifice. Those dots on the ground are people. The Bedouin village is in the background.Hour 3 of 9.Cafe.
Erosion!The last leg of our hike was an assent up 800+ stairs to the Monastery, the biggest tomb in Petra. Were the surroundings not so beautiful, the hike up the stairs would have been more boring than exhausting. 800 is a lot of stairs.The sun was setting so we had to head back. We walked with some of the Bedouins who were still around. They offered us a ride on their donkeys but I was too scared to ride one going down the stairs so I walked most of the way. It was dark before we made it out of the park so the Bedouin guys insisted on giving us a ride to the gate. Riding a donkey is a lot of fun! We made our way back through the winding canyon as the stars peeked out between the tall natural walls and our escorts songs filled the silence of the night.
Me drop kicking the sun:Unfortunately, I missed the hot water again, so when we got back to the hostel I enjoyed dinner and a beer. I sat around with some people staying in the hostel with Dan (who was feeling better) and Mitch. We met three girls from France, a Brit and an Icelander. We talked into the night and went to sleep late.

In the morning we took a bus back to Aqaba and then a cab to the border where Mitch was held for thorough questioning since he had been to Syria.
(He eventually got out ok and is now backpacking through Africa. His blog is much better than mine, check it out -
Dan and Natalie were going to Egypt next and I was going back to Tel Aviv, so I said goodbye at the border and took a cab to the bus station where I waited for a bus back to Tel Aviv. While I was waiting, a Jewish religious man approached me and started talking to me in Hebrew. I told him I spoke English and he asked the guy behind me to translate, in French. So the French guy translated into English that the Israeli man wanted to know if I would drive an extra car of his to Tel Aviv. Of course I declined and after the Israeli man walked away the French guy (Ben) and I started making fun of what a ridiculous request that was. We introduced ourselves and it turned out we were on the same bus. We spoke for most of the 6 hour ride north to Tel Aviv except for when we were sleeping. Ben was in Israel working for a French guise book company so when we got to Tel Aviv, he helped me figure out how to take the bus back to where I was staying. After three days without a proper shower, I got back to my hostel in Tel Aviv and took the longest and most amazing shower of my life.
I reconnected with the rest of my friends from birthright who were still in town, and that night we went to a really great show in Florentine. Florentine is to Tel Aviv as the LES is to New York. The band we saw is called HaCartel. The show was awesome! Everyone there was into the band and the music was really good. After the show Jay somehow managed to get us all backstage to meet the band. The band and their friends? girlfriends? groupies? merch girls? were all really nice. I suggest you go listen to this band now.
No really, go do it.
The rest of my time in Tel Aviv was pretty tame. I stayed with a family friend that night and we hung out the next day. I went back to the Shook HaCarmel again. I went to the beach again. I said good bye to my Birthright friends who were going home. I walked around Tel Aviv again. I hung out with Ben and my friend Billie Dawn on the beach and I made sand art with my feet. It's a bird's head. I stayed with my cousin Sela for a few days. I went to a very nice Shabbat dinner at my cousin Dity's house and met her boyfriends family. I went shopping with Sela for shoes and I had a night on the Town with my cousin Yossi.
I didn't think that I actually did as much as I did in the ten days between Birthright and getting to the Kibbutz, but there it all is. Here is Jay and Sara on the beach at sunset on their last day in Israel.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Inaugural Post

In a fashion true to myself, here is my first blog post, over two months after my arrival in Israel.

Ok, so. Here's where I am: Kibbutz Yechiam, Western Galilee, Israel
I'm going to address my Birthright tour adventures first, for sake of chronology. As told through picture and word:

It's important to know that I did not sleep the night before my flight out to Israel. Instead, I stayed up making my niece's first birthday party dress. (Pictures coming soon!) I figured I would sleep on the plane, and while I slept in the car to the airport (Sorry, Larry and Gina), I only got about 2 hours of broken up sleep during the flight. We landed in Tel Aviv around 7:30 and were promptly hustled onto our tour bus. (Hustling is a theme of the trip.) We started out driving north to Haifa, where we stopped to look at the Baha'i Garden. We said the Shehechianu and drank some grape juice and were back on the bus in less than 20 minutes. Yalla! (C'mon!)
Next was a "nature walk - sandals acceptable". At first we thought maybe we misinterpreted what our tour guide, Irad, meant by "nature walk", but by the end of the trip we understood that first day really was, quite literally, a walk in the park. Nevertheless, this happened afterward:We got to the Kibbutz we were staying at, ate dinner (some of the best hummus I've ever had), and went to sleep. By the time I got into bed I had been awake roughly 60 hours without sleeping.

In the morning we went down into the Chula Valley to a Bird Sanctuary. We saw a bunch of cranes, and by a bunch I mean hundreds. Yalla to the next part of our day which was a walking tour of Tsfat. There we joined up with the Israeli soldiers that traveled with us for five days. Tsfat is really pretty and old. All the doors are painted cobalt blue in an effort to keep bugs out of the homes. There is an artist colony in Tsfat and we went to hear an artist named Abraham (aka Robert from Detroit) talk about Kabbalah. His lecture was short because He had to pick up his kids from... soccer? But, He did manage to say "awesome" what felt like over 100 times in twenty minutes, which I think is awesome.
A tour of Galil Mountain Winery was next. We also got to do some wine tasting. It was a neat coincidence to be there because last Passover my Dad and I went on a long search for good kosher wine and came back with a bottle of Galil Mountain wine. Usually kosher wine is pasteurized and that's what make it taste... not so good. Kosher wine has to be pasteurized because otherwise, according to Kashrut laws the wine can only be handled by devout Jewish men to ensure that it is kosher. Galil Mountain Wine is good is because they don't pasteurize and opt instead for all their employees who directly handle the wine to be religious Jews.

The next day we went on a hike
through a valley
to a waterfall!After the hike we went up to a decommissioned bunker on the border with Lebanon. There I found out Gilligan got off the island and joined the IDF: Trenches above the bunker.I couldn't read the sign about it since it was in Hebrew, but there were lots of sculptures made from what looked like old weapon parts. I'm a sucker a flower in a gun barrel.We kept up our hustled pace and, after some lunch in an Israeli strip mall, we drove down to the Kineret to swim in a hot spring. It was the kind that's really a pool with hot spring water channeled in. I'd rather have hiked to a natural hot spring, but it was pretty funny to see how pissed all the old people were when 40 American 20-somethings rolled up. We only had about an hour there and then we bussed it down to Jerusalem, where we stayed for the next three nights. On the way, Jay led us in a sing-a-long, and we discovered that we all know the lyrics to Lean on Me and but not to Semi-Charmed life.
We got to the hotel in the center of Jerusalem and had to run in to eat dinner before even bringing our bags to our rooms since we were running late (again). The rooms were pretty nice if not cramped and absent of right angles.

Our first day in Jerusalem was a walking tour of the Old City. The pictures on Google image search are much nicer than mine from that day, so I'll just share some of the 'art' shots I took in the market.
Alex, you have a creeper doppelganger in Israel:Nim, I found your pants:That night was Erev Shabbat (Sabbath Eve) and we went to the Kotel. By the time we arrived, there were already hundreds of people gathered. As I got closer to the Wall on the women's side (the sexes must be separated during prayer, according to orthodox tradition), the crowd filled in so that it was hard to move without bumping anyone. I don't like being in big crowds, so I was surprised to feel comforted in the throng. There were many circles of women dancing and singing together. It reminded me of Miriam leading the Israelite women in celebration after crossing the Red Sea out of Egypt. I joined a circle of women from Britain and though I didn't know their melodies to the prayers, they helped me follow along. I felt joyful as I made my way backwards through the crowd, so as not to turn my back on the most holy Jewish place in the world.
Afterward, we went out to a bar where I ordered a liter of beer, which is something you can do here in Israel.

On Saturday we walked to the park by the Kinesset and the Israelis taught us some dangerous games that kindergartners play here. (That's foreshadowing.) Here's a picture of Nimrod explaining the rules to balloon pop. Behind him is Sapir, Maayan, Yarden, Balloon-head Shaked and Gal.
Jay and Max(?) dunked their faces into bowls of flour in pursuit of taffy. Jay won!Adam beat Dan at egg-on-spoon-in-mouth race...and Alexandria broke her wrist.This is me jumping in front of the Kinesset.This is a picture of the best meal I've had since I've been in Israel. Fried halumi cheese with avocado, grilled veggies and salad greens on the best whole wheat bread ever baked.

On our last day in Jerusalem we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and Mount Herzel, the Israeli national military cemetery. I'm having a hard time finding the words to explain what that day was like. Studying the Holocaust and going to Holocaust museums is always emotionally trying, but this time was different somehow. I think being in the museum with only other Jews, even the ones who don't identify as Jewish, made the experience more profound. the museum is laid out so that you are forced to follow a zig-zagging path around pictures, maps and former belongings while the space around you becomes diminished and cramped. The effect is that it sometimes forces one into extreme closeness with the others around them and at other times isolates the visitor into seclusion. The result of which, for me, was an overwhelming feeling of oppressive, constrictive sadness, alternating with bouts of helpless isolation. The museum path opens out onto a balcony with an amazing view of the hillsides of Jerusalem. I felt immense relief as I walked out of the dark hallway into the warm sun. As everyone silently gathered in the courtyard, we held each other and cried.
Then we walked into the woods next to Yad Vashem and ate lunch. Pizza, we found out, tastes good when we cry.
When lunch was finished we walked over to Mount Herzel. We visited the grave site of Theodore Herzel, Father of Zionism, and headed into the cemetery. Irad took us to some notable graves, including Golda Meir, the first female Prime Minister of Israel and one of my childhood role models. We also learned about a few Israeli heroes who died in action, including Michael Levin, a lone soldier from Philadelphia, who was killed in action during the Second Lebanon War. (A lone soldier is a Jew from another country, with no family here in Israel, who volunteers in the IDF.)
The idea of a hero is very important for an army and the nation behind it. I think one of the reasons for the support and success of the IDF, is not just that the men and women serving and all Israeli civilians have heroes to look up to, but also that these heroes are ordinary people. Every Israeli citizen must serve in the army and therefore has the potential to become a national hero. What makes a lone soldier special is that they volunteer to put themselves in harms way. They are the embodiment of the idea that Israel is the home of all Jews, not just Israeli's, and that idea is worth fighting for.
After our tour of Mount Herzel we sat in a big circle and each said a few words about our experiences with the soldiers who had spent the past five days with us. Before it was my turn to speak, I realized that my patriotic American belt buckle had broken. It may have been caused by the mood of the day, but the instant I realized that the buckle, with a bald eagle holding two soaring American flags, was broken, I took it as a sign that I should make Aliyah. I don't usually make impulsive decisions, especially big ones like changing allegiance, but that night I did promise myself I would consider it. (Aliyah is when a Jew in diaspora moves back to Israel. I'll devote a post to this after my visit to the MASA Aliyah informational session next Tuesday.)
Here are all the soldiers with the Birthright staff. It was a beautiful and emotional farewell.We left Jerusalem for the Dead Sea and managed to get in some beach time before waking up at 4AM for our Masada hike. I learned how to skip a stone on water!

Sunrise on our way to Masada; that's it to the right.There it is again, with me jumping in front.Water break.Arin at sunrise.Grant at sunrise. Our hike took us around the base of Masada, up the neighboring plateau, up to the roman ramp to a whole lotta stairs and then...Josh read us an account of what was said the night before the Romans invaded, written by the man who betrayed the Jews hiding there to the Romans, who was in Jerusalem at the time. Or something. It was very dramatic.We didn't stay on Masada for too long, considering we needed to get back to the hotel to eat breakfast by 9. In an effort to balance our desert hike, after breakfast we went on a stream hike to an oasis with a waterfall. It was beautiful and fun to play in the water!From the oasis we went straight to the Dead Sea for some mud and salt action. You have to pay for mud there, which makes about the same amount of sense as paying for water. Also, the mud looked like poop.
I put some hand prints on Aaron's back to make it look like he'd been macked on. I think I did a good job.Jump shot fail. Someone else has a better shot of this.Yalla! Time for another activity. We headed south to a farm in the desert to see Israeli agriculture in action. This farm is GM free but does a lot of cross pollination and other neat biological tricks to make tomatoes taste like salmon and other such things. They let us eat the veggies off of the plants. I tried some of the tomatoes and peppers. Some were good and others reinforced my initial reaction which is that tomatoes shouldn't taste like fish.They also grow and export flowers, mostly to Europe.
Next day, in the Negev. Our hike took us through a dry river bed, it was mostly down hill. The highlight was the section of the trail on the border with Egypt. It was pretty dusty so I wrapped up like a ninja and took some sweet jump shots in front of the border with Egypt. The ravine marks the border.I imagine this is what it looked like when the Israelites were wandering in the desert for 40 years, minus the Camelbacks and hiking boots, plus the manna and matzah.When we finished the hike, we went back to Eilat to go for a dip in the Red Sea. Eilat really reminds me of the Jersey Shore, but different. These pictures show how:Yalla! Camel riding was next. My camels name was Sahara, and she really liked Aaron's camel. I was really nervous at first, but then I was able to relax. Thats when the camels spooked a little bit and we had a mini stampede that was majorly scary.That night we camped out in the desert. I took some pictures that I think are pretty cool. Jay led us in what, I think, was the best sing-a-long of the trip, which culminated in an improvised song about Irad's manhood and our group being sexually nerdy.Oh, and I taught everyone what I learned in college:

Next Day, Sunrise.Early morning in the desert is cold. We cuddled.The last hike of the trip was to the summit of Mt. Shlomo. The mountains in the far background are in Jordan.
The mountains of the Negev were formed at two different times, which is why some of the mountains are dark (granite) and others are light (sandstone).Liza and me scrambling up the mountain. Believe it or not that wasn't even the peak.Rebecca and Kristina at the summit!It took us two hours to hike to the summit and four hours to descend. After hour four I got a little bored but there were plenty of dry waterfalls to navigate that kept my attention. Fear of falling 20-30 feet tends to help. When we finally got to the bus I was ready to sleep for hours, which worked out great because the next thing we did was drive 5 hours to Tel Aviv.
We got to the hotel and, once again, were late for dinner. So we ended up with only an hour to eat, shower and get ready for our "night-out-on-the-town!". Yalla! We did it though, and went out to a club at the Tel Aviv port (which doesn't function as a port anymore, but does have a really cool wavy boardwalk). It was a pretty awesome last night.

The last day of our trip was spent in Tel Aviv. (I feel bad for everyone that went home right after the trip and only spent one day there, because Tel Aviv is the most fun place to be in Israel.) First was a visit to Independence Hall. Then we walked around Rabin Square and visited the Memorial there. It is the most unique and morbid memorial I have ever seen.
The memorial is comprised of a dry fountain in front of the spot where Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated, markers on the sidewalk showing exactly where Rabin, his bodyguards, other officials and finally the murderer were standing and a nearby wall of graffiti created in the night following the assassination by the mostly young crowd that stayed until morning. The most notable of all the graffiti is the word 'סליחה' which means 'sorry'. The memorial is completed by a brass plaque with a bas-relief recreation of a photograph taken at the moment of the assassination. Everyone in the picture is named, save for the assassin who is simply remembered as "Murderer".
There are important attributes about Israeli culture to be learned in regards to the assassination of Rabin. First of all, the Israeli people not only make no attempt to shirk from the reality of their felled compatriots, but exalt them, (I will address this further in my future post about Yom Hazikaron) as exemplified by the markers at the memorial. Second, is the effort that goes into diminishing the identity, and therefore humanity, of the perpetrators of acts of terror or war. Despite this, and this leads me to my third observation, is that Israel seems holds human life in such high regard that there is no death penalty; (with the exception of the most heinous of crimes including, but not limited to, genocide and crimes against humanity) Rabin's murderer remains in jail on a life sentence with no option for parole.
After the square we lightened the mood with a visit the the Shook HaCarmel. We ate lunch there and walked through Nefetzedek to Jaffa. Nefetzedek was the first section of Tel Aviv, settled 101 years ago and is a preserved historical site. It is Illegal to change the facade of any of the buildings in order to maintain the unique look of the neighborhood. Jaffa is the old city of Tel Aviv and is where most of the Israeli Arabs live and, from what I could tell, where some hip kids and artists live too. Both neighborhoods are beautiful and were made even more so by the reflected light of the overcast day.
We finished our trip with dinner at an outdoor restaurant that luckily had tents to protect us from what was now a stormy night. We ate shakshuka (fried eggs over tomato sauce) pita and lots of other yummy stuff. Then we drove back to the airport where I said a bittersweet l'hitraot! (see you later!) to my new friends who were returning to the states. Then a bunch of us made our way back to Tel Aviv...