Embark on an exciting journey into Israel, the homeland of the Jewish People and my home for the next year! I will be adding my new observations and perspective of student life at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Israel. Enjoy the ride!

Monday, December 19, 2005

Almost Hanukkah Vacation...

I realized that after my last blog, I sounded a little bit depressed and like I was trying to write something meaningful and important, instead of letting it flow naturally like I usually do. The truth is that I was trying to look on the sunny side of things because I was a bit sad that day, but things are looking up. Firstly, I was waiting for some kind of internal change to happen within me, where I would start to feel satisfied in what I have been doing this track, and it is happening. I am starting to form real relationships with people I have met, whom I interact with every week at the same time and place, and have really been enjoying myself. I had a particular moment yesterday, when I was sitting at a table that has been designated mine, with one of the Holocaust survivor's I met, Yehuda, and just realized how lucky I am and how special my time here is. Yehuda came to Israel after the war at the age of 7. I haven't actually heard his entire story yet, but he always talks about this man, John Gordon, who he met during a trip to Los Angeles who is also a Holocaust survivor. He desperately wants me to meet John when I return to the states, and speaks highly of him every time we meet. Yesterday, Yehuda brought pictures of his family and his trip to LA with him to Cafe Europa. There were scenes from Universal Studios, Disneyland, the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and a the other Cafe Europa that meets in LA. He also showed me a picture of his wife when she was in her twenties. I just kept thinking to myself that he was letting me into his life. Actually, I am now a part of his life, and most likely I might be creating a memory that will last him the rest of his life also. I know he certainly is doing that for me. I just am so happy that I get to meet with them week after week, and I actually am starting to hope that my internship ends up being in Tel Aviv so I can continue coming to Cafe Europa.
This leads me to my next thought... I have been evaluating myself a lot lately. I just have been analyzing what I enjoy, what I am good at, what I try at, and what I give up on. I'm coming up with some interesting answers. Primarily, I know I am good with people. The truth is that I didn't have much experience with working with all age groups until I came to Israel and started volunteering here. I actually love working/hanging out with senior citizens, babies, kids, teenagers, and adults. I find it challenging to connect with them on a certain level, but once I figure out the repoire with them, I feel really good about my ability to work. I am initially shy at first. I know, that sounds crazy, but it is true! I generally find myself checking out a situation before really diving into it. For better or for worse, that is how I deal with new situations and new people. I find more intimate settings more comforting, but I also am very outgoing with a large group of people I know and am comfortable with. I am beginning to trust myself, more than anyone anymore, which doesn't mean I don't take advice, but means that my gut reaction is usually right for me. I am comfortable in my own skin now, which feels really good, and I feel like I have much to offer the world, as long as I find the right outlet to do so. I don't think I will actually ever be good at music, as much as I dabble in it, because I just don't have the patience to practice for hours on end. This doesn't mean I don't love it, but it means that possibly I won't ever reach the potential that I have in that field. And, I am adventurous, even though all my risks are actually calculated. I love love, and I believe that one day I will find that person who will be my partner in crime, whenever that is destined for me. I actually don't think I have much control over when that will happen, although I wouldn't mind if it came sooner rather than later. I love my family and my friends so much, and being away has actually only made me realize how integral they are in my life. I'm not sure what all of these self-realizations amount to just yet, but I am getting ideas. I don't want to come off as self-centered, but this year has been a lot about discovering myself and I wanted to share what I have come up with thus far.
So, I am on to my French getaway on Thursday, and I am really excited... I spoke with Michael before Shabbat, and he is planning to pick me up from the airport when I land and this will begin my Paris adventure. When we were discussing plans, he said "We will just be like 'tayerim' (tourists in Hebrew)," which means I will be busy when I am there! I am interested to see what has changed there since I was there last, and how the spaghetti sauce actually tastes (Dad, that joke was for you). Honestly, I am ready for a little break from Israel, some new scenery and some French wine, chocolate, and pastries. I will take lots of pictures, so not to worry, you won't miss a thing! And, I hope to have some French romance stories too... :)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Tel Aviv Update

Well, I haven't written in a while basically because my internet access is much less in Tel Aviv. I haven't found a place close to where I live with access, so I try to check email twice weekly and find some more significant time once a week to write. Last week I was just too tired to try and make conclusive thoughts in a blog entry, so I decided to wait.
Shabbat has just ended here in Tel Aviv. I decided to stay in Tel Aviv this Shabbat, and some of my friends joined me here for the weekend. It was wonderful, and refreshing. I realized that I still truly am adjusting to the new atmosphere I am living in here. I am also still finalizing my schedule, where I am volunteering, trying to find a routine, and it is slowly happening... I have a lot of free time here right now. In fact, for me, I have too much free time. I really feel like this track I wanted to be working full time, and it just hasn't worked out like that yet. I feel myself wanting to put in significant time, to make significant differences in the lives of those around me, but am a little frustrated at the choices I have been given. Here is what I do:
Sunday: Free morning, volunteer at Cafe Europa (which I will explain in a bit) from 3:00-7:00PM
Monday: Ulpan 8:15AM-11:45AM, Volunteer at the local elementary school from 3-4:30PM
Tuesday: Free morning, teach English 1:15-2:45PM, Jaffa Institute 3:30-6PM.
Wednesday: Ulpan until 11:45AM again, local elementary school 'til 4:30PM again, volunteer at the place I am living 4:30-6PM
Thursday: Volunteer at the day care center for endangered kids 9-12:30PM

And that is basically my week thus far. I still am trying to work in other things, but for now that is what my life looks like. The good news is that I live in Tel Aviv, and there are plenty of things to do and people to see. The not so good news is that there are less people to do it with. I love some of the new Israeli friends I have met, but there aren't enough of them yet. Just give me time though.

Every Sunday night, I spend about 2-3 hours with Holocaust survivors. However, I don't spend time with them at a museum, or a lecture, but instead I drink coffee, listen to music, and two-step with them every week at Cafe Europa. I know I have mentioned this in previous blogs, but this is something truly amazing and worthwhile for me to be participating in every week. All of the survivors speak fluent Hebrew. They have crazy hair colors, crazy love triangles, and each one of them smiles through the warmth in their eyes. These are some of the most amazing, inspiring people I have met thus far. I had a realization the last time I was there, sipping coffee and eating rugalah with one survivor. He was asking me where I have been around Israel, what I have seen thus far, and then proceeded to add to things I need to make sure I see. I was suddenly struck by the fact that this man couldn't speak about anything like this 60 years ago. 60 years ago he was a boy, living in Poland, whose whole life was about to change for the worst by no fault of his own. He was speaking to me in Hebrew, and language that just was starting to be resurrected at the time of the Holocaust, and telling me about these places that are his own now. This was one experience. The first time I was at Cafe Europa, I was being taught the two-step by a survivor named Shlomo. He made it through Aushwitz because he could play the harmonica, and the Nazis liked to hear him play so they let him live. He was telling me the story while we were dancing. I have only heard maybe two stories, and the truth is that I am not sure I fully understand each of them because I am listening to them in Hebrew. I know that each one of the people that walk into that room have a story, similar because they survived, but different in how they managed to do so. Their stories don't stop at the end of the war, and that is what amazes me. Each of these people picked up where they left off, not right away of course, but came to Israel and had families and lives after the Holocaust. Whenever I feel frustrated or discouraged, I remember these people who smile at me so brightly when I see them, are so happy that I am there dancing with them each week, and start to realize that whatever I am going through can't actually be that bad. I could not have had this experience anywhere else, and I might actually be the last generation to have an experience like this. One of my fears is that the memory of these people will pass when they do, and I am making a promise right now that they will never be forgotten.
So, one more quick thing, in less than two weeks I will have been here for four months. On the actual anniversary of my arrival in Israel, I will be leaving to go to Paris for my Hanukkah break! Truth be told, I am totally excited to go on one hand, and completely freaked out on the other hand. I am excited because I get to return to France as more of an adult than the last time I was there, and I am going to spend time with Michael who is living there now. I actually bought a guide book so I will know where I want to go and what I want to do, so I hope Michael is ready for me... On the other hand, I'm a little bit nervous about entering back into the secular world. Sounds funny, right, since I have lived in America my whole life, but is actually something that has crossed my mind quite a bit. I will be spending Christmas and the beginning of Hanukkah in France, a country that is apprehensive towards the Jews (not all the time but that sentiment certainly exists), and a country where I do not speak the language or really understand the culture. Basically, I am going back to being an outsider again, a stark difference from the four months that I have only felt like an insider here in Israel. I know there is something much deeper to this. I just feel myself here, like I can wear my Jewish star without being nervous and I see my traditions and holidays all around me. I have basically forgotten how to deal with living in the secular world and having to create a Jewish life for myself, because here it is already created for me. I know I don't look Jewish, believe me I have been told that plenty since I have been here, and my last name isn't Jewish. More than anything, I've realized my soul is Jewish, and here is the place that I feel it and can express it the most. I just think it will be interesting how I am going to relate to things, and what my reactions will be again to the rest of the world that is not Israel during my time in France. Thankfully, I will have Michael who will help ease me into this, but is is something that continually crosses my mind. I leave a week and 5 days from today, not that I am counting ;), on December 22.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Beer Sheva moves in to Tel Aviv!

This week started Track 2 of Otzma, where everyone splits up into their Partnership 2000 (P2K) cities and volunteers full time there. My friends are all over the State at this point, in Migdal HaEmek, Kiryat Shmona, Kiryat Gat, Kfar Saba, Ofakim, Yokneam, Ramle, Rosh HaAyin, Haifa, Kiryat Malachi, and we are in Tel Aviv. We all packed the busses on Monday, a very rainy day in Jerusalem, said our goodbyes and then headed in whatever direction our cities were.
So far, it has been a very "interesting" experience. Not good, not bad, but interesting. Like I said before, I am living in Tel Aviv, specifically in Shckonat HaTikvah. Shchonat HaTikvah is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Israel, but still does not feel anything like what the poorest neighborhood in the States would feel like. I am living in a place entitled "Sheltered Housing for the Elderly," which sounds worse than it actually is. I live with Michelle Groisman, the other girl from Los Angeles, in a one-bedroom apartment with a tiny living room. The boys from LA, Brent Yarkin and Larry Mahler, live right next door in a similar apartment. We had a really cute moving in experience. The rain did not let up when we arrived in Tel Aviv, so all of us were carting boxed around the corner while it was pooring rain. I gave up trying to salvage my jeans from getting soaked on about the second round, and collectively we took about 15 trips back and forth from the bus. That wasn't the cute part. The cute part of the moving in process was the old people all standing there watching us come. Every time we would go back out the door, they would look puzzled at each other, and then at us and say "Yesh od masheho?" This means, "There's more??" They were all really happy we were there, welcoming us in Hebrew and telling us where they were located in the buildings. We saw them later again as we exited the building and I have a feeling that these people will become a regular part of our lives in Tel Aviv.
The next day, we investigated the area surrouding our new place. I will take pictures, but this truly feels like an Israeli city to me. There is apartment upon apartment, a random park situated in the middle, and then a main street with lots of kosher meat restaurants and other random shops. My favorite space so far is the shuk, which is very wide open and spacy, with a beautiful selection of vegetables and fruits to choose from! I was especially excited when I was able to buy fresh rye bread and fresh mint from the shuk. For those who don't know, I have become obsessed with mint here. I love it just with hot water and sweet and low, and have decided that I must grow a mint plant when I get back to the States! Okay, but off that tangent, we are living about 20 minutes away from the center of Tel Aviv, but not far enough to avoid the traffic! I think I am going to end up loving it here, but that is yet to be seen.
So, amidst moving into Tel Aviv, I still had to give that speech to the Education Department of the Jewish Agency on Wednesday in Jerusalem. I said thought it was Thursday, turned out it was actually on Wednesday. Anyway, I worked on my speech the night before in Jerusalem at my madrich Feivel's house for about 3 hours, and then slept over at Anat's house, my rakezet (coordinator), the night before the speech. I'll be honest by saying that I wasn't that nervous about it. The only thing I was nervous about was the content of what I was actually saying, and the length. I spoke to one of the people running the program two days prior, and she informed me that they wanted me to speak for 15-20 minutes! That was what scared me the most. Anyway, so I arrived at the place and there were about 55 or so people sitting in one crowded room. The room was set up with four chairs in a straight line in the front, and then everyone else facing us in rows. There was a video camera situated in the front middle, that was recording each of us as we spoke. So, I was on a panel with a guy from Havana, Cuba who came on a year long program in 1956-57. He ended up making aliyah, so he spoke in Hebrew about his experiences ad nauseam, ad infinitum. It was hard for me to look like I was interested when I really didn't know what he was saying and I was a little nervous that I was next to speak. So, after about a half an hour, it was my turn to speak. I had my entire speech prepared and nicely printed out on paper, but realized right at that point that I didn't want to stand up and read. So, I didn't. I used my paper as a guide, and just went on and on. It was nice for me because since I had it all written out, I knew the flow of my speech but I was also able to add in things and take out things as I saw appropriate. I told lots of stories of my journey in life and to Israel. I talked about being four years old and asking everyone I met if they were Jewish. I talked about college, cantorial school, and AIPAC. I talked about the amazing experiences I have had volunteering and living here. And that was basically it. Not to brag, but I was really happy with how it went and I even surprised myself at how comfortable I was speaking in front of that large group of strangers. Most of the Otzma staff was there, and they were all so complimentary to me and surprised I think that I was able to give a speech such as this, that I felt affirmed in what I had originally thought. And, not to be full of myself, but the director of Otzma called me two days later to tell me that she had been receiving compliments about me from people in the Agency, and that I should be aware of that. She asked if she could give my notes and picture to the guy who was running the program so he could use it for something. Anyway, I felt a very big sense of accomplishment after that and hopefully will take this experience with me into other public speaking opportunities I might have. I'll try to post what I said sometime in the future, but if I don't get to it I will at least keep my copy.
Finally, Thursday was Thanksgiving. Many of us from Otzma gathered in Kiryat Gat for a very large Thanksgiving dinner, with turkey and lots of potatoes. They don't have pumpkin stuff here, so we lacked everything pumpking about Thanksgiving but that is okay. It felt wonderful to be reunited with my friends and be able to celebrate the holiday with them, and I was so happy to be eating turkey at the appropriate time.
Right now I am in Ashdod, visiting Sylvia and Marek again. Stella also joined us for several meals this Shabbat. It has been great catching up with them, and I do truly feel like I have blood relatives here. Sylvia and I went through the bloodline, and she explained to me that my grandfather's father, Yehoshua (correct me if I am wrong) and her father's father, Rahamim, were brothers. That makes Sylvia and I third cousins. I am so interested to figure out where I came from! Okay, enough for now...

Friday, November 18, 2005

Zeho l'Beer Sheva v'hakol sham

The title of this blog translates to "That's it for Beer Sheva and everything there." I actually did manage to move out my five boxes (all packed with newly accumulated things from Israel), guitar, and two huge bags down the stairs, out the door, and down the other set of stairs without a hitch. All of my things are currently sitting on a truck somewhere in Jerusalem. I actually had to write down what I had, so when I have to bring it to Tel Aviv on Monday, I won't forget anything. True Tami form. I finished teaching my kids at the high school on Tuesday. Michael also left on Thursday. That about brings my life in Beer Sheva to a close for now. The closing events at the Merkaz were lovely. We had a party for those of us that volunteered in the high schools, which featured a nice discussion about what we learned, lots of pizza, and a showing of a really cool Israeli movie called (A name I can't remember) goes to Jerusalem. We had a final party at the Merkaz with the staff that worked with us and food cooked for us by the Indian community that lives there. We had a little show for them, where some of us sang, danced, and others from the Merkaz performed something. I also have a really cool little henna design on my hand from the night too.
I said goodbye to Michael that night as well. Of course, it was really hard, but I think we both handled the situation as best we could. I am thinking about going to France over my break in December, but still contemplating if that is a good idea or not. Any advice?
On Wednesday, I packed up everything I owned and Thursday morning was putting it on the truck. After it was all loaded, I hopped on a bus to Tel Aviv to eat sushi with friends in a sort of recognition/celebration of my new single status and all of our new lives about to begin. To be honest, right now I feel really displaced and homeless. I am sitting at my host family's house right now, and starting to realize that I do not live in Beer Sheva anymore. I am not going to return there after Shabbat, as I have become accustom to doing. Forgive me if I repeat myself, but I'm not sure I ever really discussed what a day was like for me in Beer Sheva. Every morning, I would wake up at about 7:30AM to get ready for Ulpan classes at 8:15AM. I went to the first session of class starved, and when the first break came at 9:45, I would rush over to the bakery and grab a piece of chocolate rugalah and a little chocolate croissant. That always cost me 3 shekels. Right next to the bakery was the toast place, which is where I usually bought my coffee if I was getting something at the bakery. I would sit there during my break and talk to my friends, decompress about something, or read the newspaper. Michael and I used to sit there a lot too when he was taking Ulpan. At 10:15, or around there, I would return back to class for the next session. During the next part of class, I would contemplate what I wanted to eat for lunch, since two pieces of something chocolate and a coffee was never sufficient, but I loved it anyway. If I decided to cook myself, after class I would walk over to either the vegetable stand to pick up what I needed, or to the supermarket, or both. If I was just too lazy that day to make lunch (which was the case many times), I would walk back to the toast place and order either a toast on a bagel or a baguette. This is probably one of my favorite meals in Israel. So good. This routine happened about every day. On Thursdays, I would try to get up early and go to a different coffee stand run by this adorable French couple. Their coffee came from a machine, but tasted so good, and I was able to buy English newspapers there for the bus ride. I went to this stand a lot too when I wanted to just grab a quick cappuccino to go. I really am going to miss them. So, after I ate lunch, I would either decide to sleep because I did not sleep well the night before, or I would go volunteer at either the high school, or coach latet. Truth be told, I also went to the mall to "study," and after reward myself with something new. I won't have as much time to do that this track, so hopefully I got it out of my system. After my afternoons were finished, my friends and I would either go back to sit at the coffee shop, or head out to one of the many bars in Beer Sheva. Beer Sheva gets a bad wrap, but when school is back in session and you are my age, it is a pretty fun place to be. If I had to choose a favorite bar, Pablo would be the one. I liked it because it played some fun music, and served great beer with beer quotes all over the bar. My dad's kind of place. So, that is it for Beer Sheva. I'm going to miss it, and it certainly will be a big adjustment, but now is the time to start the process.
I know I have been so focused on other things that I forgot to tell you that I was asked by the director of Otzma to give a little speech to a group at the Jewish Agency this coming Thursday. The theme is something like "Generation to Generation," and they are bringing someone who did an Israel program a while ago to speak, someone in the middle, and then me. I am feeling the pressure a bit, just because I want to give a real analysis of my life here and my purpose. I am extremely flattered that they asked me to speak, so I also do not want to disappoint those who believe in me. I am going to do a bit of brainstorming here, so if you have suggestions for me, please email me to let me know!
I know why I came here. I am trying to remember the moment in which I knew that I needed to be here in Israel now more than ever, but I'm not exactly sure that it was an exact point. Israel became more of a process for me. I recently had the realization that I think about Israel every day of my life, which is so much more than many Jews do in the US. Of course I think about Israel now, because I live here, but this was something that happened even before this program. Last year when I worked at AIPAC, my boss led me to believe that everything I did was in the name of Israel. Everything. Every way I spoke to a donor, checked my work, took a reservation, whatever, it all affected Israel. I'm not sure that I would consider every little thing I did as truly affecting Israel, but I understood his point. I was forced to consider the implications of a media that was so cruel and biased, countries with people whose sole mission is to terrorize and destroy everything and anyone here, pending disengagement which caused a huge rift in the country, and combating terror on a daily basis. On top of all the external challenges, this country still had to deal with a diminishing economy because of regular terrorist attacks and fear instilled into people here. As I sat in my desk, day in and day out, staring at the picture of Masada, being reminded of the Jews sacrifice at that spot to determine their own destiny to die as Jews, reading the news daily, it occured to me that I couldn't experience this from across the world. I had to be there. I had to see for myself how resilient the Israelis are through all this. I had to know and feel their determination to sustain a homeland that they are protecting, and yet belongs to all the Jews of the world. I had to taste Israeli culture, and experience life here as a normal person. I had to get off the tour bus, and get on to a different one to see what life really is like here in Israel. And I had to help. I had to be able to tell my children, when I have them, that didn't just write a check to help Israel, but I did something about it. I tried the best I could also to make this State what is should be. So I came. And now that I am here, my life has changed in startling ways.
I live in a real Jewish state. My week goes from Sunday to Thursday, and I experience Shabbat every week in some form. Whether experiencing Shabbat means I get frustrated because there are no buses and I want to go somewhere, or having a nice Shabbat meal with friends or my host family, I still live Shabbat every week I am here. The same applies to the chagim. I finally exist in a place that recognizes how I have always felt on the inside. On Yom Kippur, my family and I are not the only ones fasting and praying for forgiveness, but an entire State stops and does the same because we are the same people. The second week I arrived, I checked my email at a local hotel with a friend in Beer Sheva. A man approached us, dressed as a religious Jew, and started to ask in Hebrew if he could check his email. We had no idea what he was saying. In true Israeli form, he switched to English, since he was from Philadelphia after all, and informed us that he had just been kicked out of his home in Gush Katif and hasn't been able to check his email for a week. I was in shock. I felt like I had met a celebrity. I had watched the disengagement happen on tv in the States, and now I actually met someone to whom disengagement was his reality, not just a news story. I came to the realization that in Israel, history can smack you straight in the head when you least expect it. I met someone who went through one of the most painful, political processes Israel has suffered through, all because he wanted to check his email.
The face of an Israeli has changed for me. I lived in the Merkaz Klitah for 2 months where there were new Jewish olim from Russia, South America, India, and France. I know that in other Merkazeh Klitah there are Ethiopians. The face of an Israeli is no longer just someone who speaks really fast and can be quite pushy at times, but a person from anywhere in the world who has decided to make a life for himself here. At the high school where I taught English, each kid proved to me that they have such amazing potential to contributen to the State. The kids in my class are from all over the world, each with different backgrounds: from Morocco, Ethiopia, Argentina, India, Russia, Israel, and I am sure I am missing somewhere else. Together, these kids are the future of this State, all with a common destiny to serve after high school, and beyond that, potential that can reach the sky. I am extremely confident that if the kids in Israel are like the ones I was so fortunate to spend time with, our State is in good hands.
And finally, I have been exposed to some of the ugly parts of this State. After taking a tour of the periphery towns, I realized that this certainly is not Jewish Disneyland, and we still have lots of work to do. There are challenges to creating a State that protects and sustains the Jewish people, and does the same for the others that happened to be here when the State arose. Israel is still young. Israel knows that she has problems. The first step to alleviate a problem is to know it exists, so I hope we will start working more seriously to fix the problems at home. After that, I will truly feel as if we are living in the land of milk and honey and prospering as we were meant to when Theodore Herzl thought of this reality called Israel.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Wrapping it all up...

Well, time to go. I arrived in Beer Sheva a little over two and a half months ago and my time here is coming to an end. Beer Sheva has been good to me. I feel like I have eased my way into Israeli culture, although I am still very much an outsider, through becoming familiar with this small city. The more I think about it, the more I really am going to miss the Gesher, where I do all my grocery shopping and eat lots of toast (not like toast in America, more like a cheese sandwich with lots of veggies toasted) and falafel, and the mall, and the Old City, and the pubs and bars around here. I truly think this is a special place because all the people here are just so nice and warm, and it was a great way to start my time in the country. I know Tel Aviv will be in stark contrast to Beer Sheva, and a part of me already misses the intimacy that this city has and Tel Aviv does not. As a way to conclude our time here, my group had a sort of potluck Shabbat dinner here at the Merkaz. It was wonderful, with lots of different kinds of food and great people. I found it ironic that the Torah portion for this past Shabbat was Lech L'cha, the portion where Abram is called by God to go to a land (Israel) that God will show him. Abram obeys and brings his wife Sarai along with him in this journey (I think they actually do end up in Beer Sheva), and they are bestowed many blessings. Abram and Sarai's names are changed to Abraham and Sarah, and they are given the blessing of a son, Isaac, which they both have wanted for so long. God changes their names as a sign of the covenant now between them, and the father and mother of the Jewish people are founded. There is so much that can be learned from this portion, but it just seemed too obvious to me that my group and people close to me are going through a very similar change. We all came on this journey expecting some change, some connection to the land of Israel to take place within us. I know that no one in my group is the same as when they first arrived here, and we are just beginning to become the people that we will be when we leave. We are about to head out of Beer Sheva and disperse throughout the country, which is going to give us yet another experience in the Land that God bestowed upon us. I know we are all nervous and excited, but ready to make a difference of the lives of the people we will meet. I feel blessed to have this opportunity, and to do it with those I respect and love so much.
Switching gears a bit, after Shabbat this past weekend, Israel memorialized the tenth year since Yitzhak Rabin's assasination. The memorial was held in Tel Aviv in Rabin square, the exact square where he stood to speak about peace and then was shot and killed as he descended the platform. This was the most intense, emotional experience I have had yet in Israel. About two hundred thousand people showed up, and were standing shoulder to shoulder on the streets surrounding Kikar Rabin because there was not enough space for everyone. Just to set the scene, the square was set up EXACTLY as it was ten years ago. The goal of Rabin's daughter was to reenact the night he was killed as precisely as possible. The platform was set in the same place, there were the same baloons surrounding the square, with the same slogans, the same songs sung, and some of the same people spoke. Throughout the ceremony, there were flashbacks to the news reporters commenting on his murder, from the point where he was shot to the moment he passed away, to his funeral. There were musical interludes, with the most talented of Israel's singers, singing songs that either were played at the rally ten years ago, were written after his death, or were loved by him. Some of the most powerful members of the Labor party, Israel's left-wing party in which Rabin was a part of, gave speeches commemorating Rabin and affirming that his vision of a peaceful Middle East has not died. This part of the ceremony served as somewhat of a revitalization of the left in Israel, with Amir Peretz (the new Labor party elected leader) and Shimon Peres (who ran against Peretz and is a veteran of the Labor party) giving speeches during the night. However, the highlight of the evening was the speech given by President Bill Clinton. Pres. Clinton came with Hillary and Chelsea, and I must that that I was incredibly moved seeing him at this event. He spoke about his friendship with Rabin, and how not a week passes by without him missing his friend. He discussed his legacy, saying that the best way to memorialize him would be to take up with work that he died doing for us. Another thing, I was amazed to see the Israeli's reaction to Clinton. They love him. Everybody was completely focused on his every word, and people showed such a reverance for him that it made me really proud to be an American. The most moving thing for me was the conclusion. President Clinton stayed on stage for the concluding song, Shir HaShalom (Song for Peace), which was sung at the end of the rally ten years ago. The lyrics to this song was actually found bloodstained in the pocket of PM Rabin when he died. Hatikva, Israel's national anthem, was played at the end and the camera man kept flashing back to Pres. Clinton who was singing along with us. I almost started crying. I remember the day that Rabin was murdered, and it meant so much to be to be able to stand in the Square with all of Israel to commemorate and pay respects to him. On top of this, Bill Clinton is my favorite president yet, and I am in disbelief that I sang Hatikvah with Bill Clinton in Israel. This ceremony just reminded me yet again of how hard this place is to live in. People sacrifice so much, even their lives, to live out a dream and passion for the betterment of the Jewish people. I am humbled when I try to imagine the magnitude of a sacrifice such as this, and admire people who have the ability to put their passion into their life's work. I am forever grateful to them.
And finally, an update on my personal life. Michael leaves this Thursday, which is sort of symbolic since that is the day I also leave Beer Sheva. I am putting a lot of effort into make the best out of the time I have left with him, but it is still hard for me to live in the moment when I focus so much on the fact that he will be out of my life so soon. I know life isn't fair, and I feel like a baby saying this, but this really isn't fair. I am hurting so much still, but have learned to do what my mom has always taught me. I am becoming a believer. I believe that there is a reason things like this happen, and that something else will come out of it. This mentality is hard for me to completely prescribe to all the time, but most of the time it makes me feel better. I have no idea what the future holds for me, which is exciting yet scary, but I am going to face it with everything I am. I was raised to be a strong person, to find strength within myself and be my own best friend. My strength is bolstered by those around me who are supporting me as I go through this. Why does love hurt so much? I refuse to become jaded by the heartaches and pain, and will not become bitter, but I wonder when it will just stop hurting and all come together like I believe it will. I know there is no clear answer for this, but I am ready to find peace with love in my life. Hopefully, with everything in my life changing right now, I will find the answers I am looking for and be focused yet again on my time here.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A sad day...

Well, I guess it can't all be good here. Funny enough, I was eating dinner with Robin Einstein, Sharon Haber, Robin's cousin Melanie, and Kayla Ship, my tour guide for my trip in March, about Otzma as a program. In a side conversation with Kayla, I commented that what I like about Otzma is that we have been able to see what you don't normally see on tours here. On tours, no one wants to see that Israel, as a State and political entity, does not have it completely together quite yet. Two weeks ago on our education day, we were driven around to several different cities that have almost been completely neglected by the State. Ironically, all these cities are in the South, around Beer Sheva where I have lived for the last two months. I would say that a large majority of people in Israel believe that the desert is the future of this country. The Negev is where we have the most potential to grow and realize David Ben Gurion's Zionist dream of making the "desert bloom." Unfortunately, there are issues in the South that are truly difficult for a Jewish State to deal with, such as the Bedouins that were forced to settle within borders after the wars no longer allowed them to wander, or the new immigrants who were thrown into the Desert when they arrived in Israel and forced to build a life for themselves in a completely new environment. One particular city I visited, Yerucham, has a really large arch-like statue with a slide in the middle of it that everyone passes as you enter the city. You may ask, why the slide? The slide really stands as a symbol for those who can make it out of the city, slide away. They leave because the opportunities are so slim in cities in the periphery such as Yerucham. These are the ugly parts of this Jewish state that tourists do not come to and put money into the economy.
As a whole, things here are amazing. I walk around quite freely every day, appreciating the people that are out and about and th fact that the malls and shops are crowded. I can easily forget that this country is a new country, just barely hit the senior-citizen age, and still has many problems to deal with. I was reminded of this last night, in a very personal way. For those of you who don't remember, I have been lucky enough to be dating a very special man, Michael, who came here to make a life for himself from France. When I asked him once why he was here, he commented that in France he couldn't live his life as a Jew as fully as he wanted, and that he worried that when he started a family that raising Jewish children would be difficult there. He was a very successful dentist in France, working for 6 years and achieving financial goals that he had for himself. He took a chance by coming here, attaining citizenship, and then living on a temporary residency visa to see if he could make a life for himself here. On a more personal note, he is one of the sweetest, nicest men that I have ever had the privelege to get to know. He always supported me on my ways of practicing Judaism, even though he himself is an Orthodox Jew (and I can explain how that worked later if you are curious), and he also really respected what I had come here to do. Last night, after an amazing night of being together, he told me that he had to return to France to work. I sensed a sort of frustration and humiliation in his voice, but the truth is that doctors don't make the same living here in Israel as they can elsewhere. He had been searching for jobs to no avail, and I think he hit his limit and decided to go back to France next week to start rebuilding his life there. Needless to say, I am heartbroken about this whole thing. Heartache feels the same regardless of the country that you are in, and this one especially hurts because I am powerless. I cannot imagine the loss of intergrity he must feel having to pick up and start again, since I know how much it meant to him to live here, and I am having a hard time dealing myself with the circumstances of this loss of mine. He was wonderful to me, not saying that we were meant to be together, but it is yet another relationship that I feel was stolen based solely on circumstances out of my control.
I am angry. I am angry that a professional cannot come live in this country and realize the same success as he can elsewhere. On the one hand, we are doing so much right here. This is the one place that Judaism may be preserved forever, but how can we sustain the people here if we have no opportunities to offer them? How? I also take into account the fact that we did just go through the intifada, a four year war that completely decimated our economy, and we actually can try to build it up now. Health insurance doesn't cover dentistry. The health system is socialized, so what motivates people to be doctor's if they are not rewarded for it? We are so worried about our security here, but everyone smokes so much that I always wonder why we bother if we don't worry about our health too. These are hard times here, and I wish I understood the economy more so I could surmise a way to fix it. I don't, but God-willing, someone will in the future. That is all I can hope for so heartaches like this don't have to happen again.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Just can't sit still...

Well, I finally made it to Shabbat this week! I am sitting in my friend Julia's living room at about midnight in Jerusalem, and thought I would attempt to collect some thoughts of the last couple weeks.
My Sukkot vacation ended with celebrating Simchat Torah in Jerusalem with friends. At that point of the chagim, I was all prayed out, so we decided to have dinner at our favorite coffee chain in Israel, Aroma, for dinner and then head to services when all the dancing was happening. I wasn't sure what the atmosphere of the holiday would be like in the city, mostly if places would be open, because of how quiet Jerusalem was for Yom Kippur. For Simchat Torah, the shops and restaurants that would normally be closed on Shabbat were closed, and those that would be open were open. Nothing too special. After dinner, my friends and I went to Shira Hadasha, the progressive Orthodox shul that I have mentioned before, and joined in on the dancing and singing with the Torah. I was satisfied with my half hour of praying for the holiday, and went back to drink a little as you are supposed to dance with joy (okay, so I did the opposite) on this holiday! I ended up drinking an entire bottle of white wine to myself, and then proceeded to a party at Feivel's, my madrich, apartment. The funny part of the story was when Feivel gave a d'var torah talking about how his friends "eminate Torah" in their words and actions. Afterwards, he came to check on my friends and I, and I asked him, slurred voice and all, if I "eminated Torah?" He just kind of laughed and moved on from the conversation...
Anyway, so I went back to Beer Sheva for two days, which is where my adventure for the next week began. The students are back in University in the city, which means more things to do and many more people in town. My friends and I have basically decided to go out on the town as much as we can, as we are leaving to our respective cities in two weeks! Long story short, we went out to a pub in Beer Sheva on Wednesday, and then Thursday night decided to go to Eilat.
Eilat is a beautiful resort town located at the southernmost end of the country. The bus ride takes about three and a half hours from Beer Sheva, so it was better for us to go now when we are still living there. Eilat was wonderful, beautiful, breathtaking, and did not feel a bit like Israel. That was the really strange part actually. This city did not feel like Israel. There was a major lack in kosher restaurants, topless women on the beaches, and not much in the form of religion openly exhibited. I layed on the beach, and could literally see Jordan on the other side of the water, and Egypt in the distance. I was joking with my friends about the idea of how relaxed I was, sunbathing amidst countries that don't particularly like my country. I then just rolled over to get an even tan on my back!
I came back to Beer Sheva late Saturday night, went to sleep, and the next day was packing on my way to Tel Aviv. Why was I going to Tel Aviv? Robin Einstein and Sharon Haber were arriving at Ben Gurion airport at 5:35AM with my guitar that I needed to pick up from them! So, I slept at my host family's house in Tel Aviv, woke up at 4:30AM, and was walked to the bus stop by my host dad, Yigal, at 5:20AM so he could make sure I knew what I was doing. I'm telling you, this family that has adopted me is so wonderful. I am so lucky. Anyway, so I arrived at the airport at 6AM and Robin and Sharon were waiting in the terminal for me! My first visitors! I sat with them for about an hour, catching up, listening about their flight, so on and so forth, and then caught a train to Beer Sheva at 7AM. I was back in Beer Sheva by 8:30AM and back to class by 9! That was a crazy day.
The next day (we are at Tues, Nov. 1, now), I traveled back to Tel Aviv with my three other fellows from LA (Brent, Michelle, and Larry) for our site visit. I am moving there in about two weeks, so we went to see our volunteer opportunities and where we are going to live. I was struck by many of the opportunities when I was there, but one in particular hit me hard. There is a huge amount of illegal immigrants in Tel Aviv currently, 60,000 down from 140,000 four years ago, and a large problem with the kids of these immigrants. The kids basically have no where to go, except day care centers with sub-par conditions set up by private people throughout the city. We went to one of the "better" daycares, where there were about 40 kids to two staff people that did not do anything with the kids. The babies stayed in their cribs all day, because they have no where to go, and the other kids occupied themselves by doing more of nothing all day long. This was truly heartbreaking for me to see, and so I am looking forward to spending time there in Tel Aviv. The other interesting thing about Tel Aviv will be my living conditions. I am living in an assisted living home for senior citizens in the area of where I will be volunteering. My peers love to make fun of me for this, but I actually think it should be a pretty fun experience. Michelle and I will be living in a one-bedroom place adjacent to Brent and Larry. The home doesn't feel or look like a hospital at all, more of like an elderly dorm hall! We walked in the door to look at the place, and there were all these people playing cards, conversing, etc. I hopefully will master more chords on the guitar and be able to play for them when I am there. I think this experience will be great, and most definitely interesting.
Wednesday was a normal day, thank goodness. Thursday, I went back up to Tel Aviv to have an education day at Tel Aviv University. First of all, what a beautiful campus! We spent the entire day learning about issues of the Jewish World today, including the Diaspora. I'm too tired to get into detail, but it was very interesting. The exciting part of yesterday was the arrival of the box of "stuff" from my mommy! I can now be just a little bit more spoiled here, and use my favorite shampoos and conditioners again! The little things in life make it that much better, and I know I am spoiled but I have most definitely learned to appreciate it even more now! I stayed in Tel Aviv last night to celebrate my friend Jen's birthday, and ate an amazing meal at a restaurant called Dixie's.
This brings me to today. I headed to Jerusalem after eating breakfast in Tel Aviv with friends. Firstly, it is COLD here. Silly Tami forgot to bring closed-toed shoes here, so luckily I have good friends who let me borrow shoes so my toes don't fall off! I went to services tonight at HUC with Julia, and then went to dinner at Foccacita with Robin and Sharon. We had so much fun, and everything has been great. I will give you more soon...

Saturday, October 22, 2005

My Sukkot Vacation Thus Far...

Sukkot is like winter vacation in the States. The time of this season is referred to by everyone as the "chagim," translating into "holidays." Sukkot is the "moed," or "festival" that concludes the chagim. This basically means that the entire State of Israel begins vacationing right after Yom Kippur is over during Sukkot. So, Otzma allows us to live like Israelis and have our first vacation of the year during Sukkot. Naturally, I thought I had my vacation all planned and ready to go. My friends Erin, Jen, Gittle, Sarah, and I were all going to the B'reshit Music Festival up north in Tiberias, and hiking from the Kinnerret to the Meditteranean for four days, and then spending Simchat Torah in Jerusalem. I should have expected that things would change, because that is what always seems to happen with my schedule lately.
I started my vacation on Monday, October 17th by traveling pretty far north to Tiberias for B'reshit. We left Beer Sheva, camping gear and backpacks in hand, and hopped on a bus up north at about noon. We didn't actually arrive in Tiberias until about 6:30 because the traffic was so terrible since everyone was travelling before sundown started Sukkot. So, we were dropped off at Chof Dugit, the beach where everyone camped, and picked our campsite right next to the little restaurant. As it turned out, the restaurant literally did not turn off the music all night long. So if you can imagine techno music with a little pop music mixed in pounding in your head all night long, that is exactly what my sleeping atmosphere was that night. I forgot to mention also, mostly everyone camping was in their teens, about 14-17 years old I would say. So, again, if you can imagine Jewish summer camp with a hippie twist and zero camp counselors, that is what it was like. Needless to say, I was in a pretty foul mood when I "woke up" (you have to sleep to wake up) the next morning. Luckily though, the rest of the festival made up for it. The festival reminded me of the OC Fair, with all the outside booths selling a variety of goods, and informational booths mostly promoting environmental/health conscious products and practices. There were different bands playing throughout the day, and lots of chai tea to drink. The entire festival was vegetarian, so meat eaters were out of luck. I defintely embraced my hippie side, which I discovered is pretty limited! I didn't shave anything, wore dirty clothes, and barely took a real shower the entire time I was there! However, I would say that I was cleaner than most! Anyway, all and all, I heard some really awesome Israeli bands and met some interesting people, and camping by the beach was in fact really beautiful, even though I am not much of a camper.
One sad thing to note about the festival is that there was a plethora of prostelitizing Christians. I was very upset to see this. The thing that upset me the most actually was that they were sly with their tactics. There was a Jews for Jesus booth, with literature all in Hebrew, and people with t-shirts on walking around handing these pamphlets out to the unexpecting kids at the festival. One guy approached us,and I am pretty sure that when he left he was sorry he had ever met us. My friends and I all were pretty much on the same page in that regard, that we just cannot accept the dirty tactics that these people take to try to convert more people to a false form of Judaism. The guy definitely felt that when he walked away from us. There also were Christian bands there. Granted, they were all singing in English, so we were really the only ones offended by their words. However, I was pretty upset by this knowing how much Jews have to deal with this in the States and saddened that these people just can't let us be even in Israel. Very disheartening.
Anyway, so on Tuesday morning, we awoke from our tents to pouring rain. Erin and I had borrowed a tent from one of our friends in Beer Sheva, who neglected to tell us that the zipper on the tent was broken! Sadly, that was a very wet morning for us. At that point, we reconsidered going on the backpacking trip and started to make other plans. We left B'reshit and stayed at my friend Jen's brother's kibbutz, Deganya, which is right next to Tiberias. We visited Hamat Gader, the resort and hot springs, that evening and then went to bed. The next day we woke up early and headed up north to do a hike through pools and mountains. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the place we went, but it was truly beautiful! I was having a bit of a hard time hiking over all the rocks in my shoes, but I somehow managed to not trip and hurt myself. I have no pictures of this hike because at one point, you literally cannot pass through without swimming through ice cold water and engulfing yourself completely. I lost my sunglasses when I hit the water, because I just forgot about everything because the temperature was so piercingly cold.
When we arrived back from the hike, I decided that I was finished with nature and being dirty, so I decided to hop a bus with friends to stay in Jerusalem basically until the end of the break. However, as I was sitting on the bus, I realized that I really didn't want to be spending that much money on hostels, and that I would rather go meet my family that I just discovered. I'll back up a minute... I forgot that I had family that lives in Israel! Before I was leaving for Sukkot break, I received a random phone call asking for someone named Jennifer. I told the woman calling that this was not Jennifer, but I knew many Jennifer's in my group, and perhaps she had the wrong number. She hung up, and then called back a few minutes later. This time the question she asked me was "Are you Leslie's daughter?" I was shocked, and then replied "Yes, I am." She became excited, "I'm Sylvia, your cousin! I know Mike and Dorothy, your grandparents, right?" All of a sudden, I began feeling this huge sense of relief almost that I have real, bonafide family members here! The conversation just continued, and we agreed that we would see each other soon after Sukkot break when I could come visit them in Ashdod. Sylvia concluded with "You have family here now. If you need anything, just call." I can't even explain the feeling I had. I just felt this enormous sense of gratefulness that now I actually do have real family, that know my history, my relatives, me, and I really did feel like I might have found my home away from home. Israel is wonderful, but can feel a little lonely at times.
Okay, so back to my story. As I was sitting on the bus, I realized that I really just wanted to meet my family and stay with them before travelling to Jerusalem for the chag. At about 4:00, I just decided to call Sylvia and see if that was possible. She was more than happy to hear from me, and said if I could find a way to come to Ashdod, that I was more than welcome. I decided that was what I would do, but I knew it would be difficult since public transportation basically stops after sundown on Shabbat unless you are willing to pay an enormous amount of kesef (money) to go somewhere. I didn't give up hope. We arrived in Jerusalem at about 5, and it was dark and deserted, as I had expected. I caught a cab down to Ben Yehuda, where there are usually cabbies or sherut (shared taxis) hanging out. I found a sherut going to Tel Aviv, which is close to Ashdod, and off I went. After travelling another hour to Tel Aviv, I found another Sherut to Ashdod and off I went again! Feeling so happy and relieved, I arrived in Ashdod with no broken bones or bruises, and waited to meet Sylvia at the Central bus station. I waited maybe five minutes, and Sylvia and Marek walked up to greet me!
I was overwhelmed. Family. I recognized Sylvia, not from pictures, but because she resembled my family, my aunt Virginia's smile. I knew I truly was home, and was going to meet even more of my family here in Israel that second. We walked to Sylvia's brother Eli's house, where I met his wife Yafa, his sons Roi and Edo, and Edo's girlfriend Moran. I also met Sylvia and Eli's mom, whose name I still don't know because they were calling her "Ema" the entire time. Dinner was wonderful. We all caught up on how the family was doing, which they were all quite inquisitive about. Eli was talking about how he spent a day in LA a while ago, and my mom drove him around and visited with him the entire day. Sylvia kept telling me about how wonderful my grandparents were to her when she lived in LA, and when she really needed someone to help her at the end of her stay in LA. Sylvia had pictures of my mom and grandparents and my family when we were young sitting on the kitchen table so we could look at them when we came home. I just feel better being in Israel now. I still miss my family at home terribly, but some of that void is now filled with people here that truly care about me and make me feel at home when I am with them. So, I am here now, sitting at Sylvia's computer writing emails and updating my life. We went on a driving tour of Ashdod today, which is situated on the beach and reminds me so much of Huntington or Santa Monica. We had lunch on the boardwalk, and now are just relaxing until shops open up again after Shabbat. What a wonderful, unexpected holiday!

Sunday, October 16, 2005

High Holiday Quickie

Just when I think I am becoming more consistant, that updating this will not be hard to do, the High Holidays hit and all hell breaks loose! Okay, I am being overly dramatic, but things did all of a sudden become really busy around here. I apologize to all of you who avidly read my blog for the lapse in entries. I've just been really busy.
I know that some of you were wondering how my performance went for the Jewish Agency workers... In short, it was fabulous! It turned out it was a real performance, with real microphones, a real audience, a real sound system; you get the picture. There were about 100 Jewish agency workers from all over the State in attendance, and many speeches that I did not understand but were apparently funny since everyone was laughing. I performed in the same group that you see in the previous pictures, and I promise to post my pics as soon as I get a chance.
Rosh Hashanah turns out to feel much like the secular new year when you spend it with a secular family. I found it really interesting actually... In Tel Aviv, I feel like the atmosphere of a secular new year was even more apparent. "Shanah tovah" was on about every billboard, my favorite billboard showing the top of a pomegranate in the shape of a Jewish star and then the sign just saying "Shanah tovah l'kol anshai Israel" (In English: Happy New Year to the People of Israel). I spent the Holiday eating the entire time with my host family in Tel Aviv. Nothing was open, so the only thing to do was eat and hang out. The second day of the Holiday I went to the movies with my host sister, and finally saw "The Forty Year Old Virgin," a perfect way to start the year if you ask me. I really missed going to shul and being with my real family though; it just didn't feel right to not be with everyone.
Yom Kippur, in short, was amazing. I went with my group to Jerusalem for the Holiday, and stayed right next to Hebrew Union College (HUC is the Reform Jewish College that trains cantors, rabbis, and educators) where I spent the services. The sanctuary had an incredible view of the Old City, so as I was sitting through about a million hours of services, I had the pleasure of watching the different ways the light shines on the Old City. The view helped the cause of fasting successfully, as it gave me a fabulous diversion to the pangs in my stomach throughout the day. Another thing, the city was QUIET. There were no cars on the street, and everyone took advantage of it by walking in the middle of the street. No businesses were open at all, unlike Shabbat where a few still remain open. This was certainly a sight to see, and just kind of amazing that the citizens of the city were literally all in shul or in their apartments.
This was my experience on the surface. I am sorry I don't have time to explain more, but I certainly will touch on it when I get back. Monday night starts the Sukkot holiday, and everyone in Israel is on vacation, including me! I know I will have much to say when I return, and will do my best to not procrastinate. Just know that I am having an amazing time here, and that I miss all of you so much. Please keep the comments coming. Love you.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Holidays are Coming...

I ended up coming down with my first real cold while I have been here in Israel, and I will tell you that there was nothing "inspiring" at all about it! I felt a little odd sniffling and blowing my nose in at least 80 degree desert weather, but nevertheless I am getting through it. I am at the stage where you only have to blow your nose a couple of times to make it through the day without being miserable.
I must say that this particular cold came at a very inconvenient time for me, not that colds are ever convenient, but you know what I mean! This week we had a Tekes (assembly) for Rosh Hashanah at the Merkaz for all the Ulpan classes and anyone else who wanted to come. I didn't write about this before, but about two weeks ago, the two Otzma Ulpan classes were combined and introduced to Gadi, who is the Merkaz's musician when he is needed. He handed out song sheets, and started to teach us traditional Israeli songs for Rosh Hashanah and the holidays. Innocently enough, we were learning "Bashana Habana" in class and he asked for soloists. Right away, everyone began pointing to my British roommate who sings in a band in London and is very open about her musical ability. After she sang, Gadi asked for others, and then the finger was pointed at me! Funny enough, not everyone in Otzma knows that I am a singer, because I'm still not sure how one shares that sort of information, but I ended up singing and also getting a solo! I didn't know this at the time, but the fact that I got a solo meant that I would be performing in front of the entire Ulpan and at a special performance for the Jewish Agency workers!
So, on Wednesday, we had our Tekes for Ulpan. The performance was a lot of fun, with apples and honey and everyone in the holiday spirit! The people from the other Ulpan classes were from all over: India, Russia, Canada, South America, France, and the States. I really thought it was amazing how we were all celebrating the Jewish New Year together. My cold definitely made my voice a little scratchy, and my performance not exactly how I would have wanted, but overall it was fine. I impressed some staff at the Merkaz, and my French man so that made it all worthwhile. On Sunday, I have another performance for the Jewish Agency workers which is apparently pretty important. I was joking that I thought I wouldn't be singing this year for the holidays, but it seems that I was wrong again!
The feeling around Israel these days is very much focused towards the holidays coming... Every cab driver I have encountered, cashier at the grocery store, the bakery lady, the salespeople at the mall, everyone has wished me a "Shanah Tovah" when I have finished my business with them. Everyone in the State at least acknowledges that the new year is coming in some way, regardless of how religious they are or not. Even the ATM wishes you a Shana Tovah after you take out money! This week I taught my last Atidim class before the Holidays, and I wished the kids a Shana Tovah as they walked out the door. The thought occured to me that was an experience that I did not have outside of Sunday school when I was a kid growing up in Orange County. I imagine that this experience is hard to have outside of a Jewish Day School or heavily populated Jewish area in the States.
For all the problems that Israel deals with, the fact that the freedom exists to be a Jew as one pleases seems to make all the trouble worth it. I've been taught to appreciate the little things in life. The ability to wish literally everyone a Shana Tovah, and not have to worry about getting work days off, or make up homework, or all the issues that we have to deal with being a Jew who wants to observe the Holidays in the US, makes me appreciate being here so much more.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Adoptive family and such...

Firstly, I do apologize for not posting pictures recently. I'm going to try my hardest to post this week, or today if at all possible.

Last weekend all of the Otzmanikim went to their respective cities to meet their host families. I was picked up in Tel Aviv at about 9:30AM by my "father," Yigal. We went to his car, and he drove me back to his house where I would be spending Shabbat with the rest of the family. We arrived at the cute little apartment on the third floor outside the center of the city in Tel Aviv, where I was greeted by my "mother" Chedva and "brother" Roy. I don't have any pictures of Roy, but he was a typical (or not so typical) Israeli 17 teen year old who did not hang out with his family unless he had to and basically did his own thing. He maybe said two words to me the entire weekend, so I think that meant that I fit right in with the rest of his family. He said about three words to them. Anyway, I am digressing. I walked into the door and put my things in my host sister's room, and took a nap because I was so tired. Yigal went to sleep too after we had chocolate cake and coffee for dessert with Chedva. I woke up from my nap, played on the internet for a while, and planted myself in front of the tv for like the next 4 hours until Shabbat came in. Normally I might be bored of this, but considering I don't own a tv anymore, it was relatively fun to do something mindless. An anecdote about my "mother" Chedva, she was such a typical Jewish mother! She comes from a Yemenite background, so everything she cooks has a certain flavor to it. She loves to cook and talked about all the different recipes she liked to try. I basically had no choice but to try everything put in front of me, and I have come quite a long way from my "spaghetti no sauce" days! However, I think Chedva thought I was too skinny or something (which is nuts) because literally whereever I went the entire weekend, there was food. I went to the computer to play on the internet, and there was a plate of fruit. I sat in front of the tv, and there was two kinds of seeds, more fruit, chocolate cake, chocolate, and coffee. I am not kidding. For Shabbat dinner, their cousin and grandfather joined us and we had about 8 different dishes on the table. I ate, and ate, and ate the entire weekend, and none of it was bad food at all! I fell in love with different Yemenite foods, like the pita like doughy bread that you put eggplant and tahina spread on. Amazing! I don't remember what else I tried, but all I remember thinking was that my parents would be proud of me! After Shabbat dinner, which was quite traditional despite the Israeli soccer game we were watching in the background, we all got dressed and went out as a family to the boardwalk of Tel Aviv. It was beautiful! Tel Aviv is not a religious city in Israel, and in fact I would say it was odd to see any shops closed given the amount of people and noise. The tayelet (aka the boardwalk) was completely packed with people strolling, street performers, and bars packed with people and loud music. We sat at Mike's Place, made famous by the terrible suicide bombing that happened in 2002, and drank beer and listened to the live rock music. I have to say, for an Israeli band doing American Classic Rock, it wasn't so bad! We got home at about 3AM and went to bed right after that night. One thing I haven't mentioned yet, my family only speaks a limited amount of English. I found the language barrier to mean two really neat things. First, you can communicate with someone and make them feel completely welcome without being able to understand tham completely. There were only a couple times that I didn't understand or participate in most conversations that weekend, and that was because they made me feel welcome in so many other ways. The other thing I realized is that they truly wanted to communicate with me, and would sit with a dictionary for words even if it was a little frustrating. I was forced to try to use my Hebrew more than I have to daily living with my Otzmaniks, they helped me say the words correctly and likewise. I think that they are just as excited to improve their English as I am to improve my Hebrew. Even though it is a little harder to communicate, I think it is going to be that much better in the longrun. On Shabbat, we walked around Old Yafo, which is the old part of Tel Aviv where it is about 50/50 Jews and Arabs, and along the other part of the tayelet in Tel Aviv. We were incredibly hot all day, so we went back to the apartment and rested until S'udah Shlishit. For the last meal, we went up to the outskirts of Tel Aviv to Yigal's sister's house, which is this huge house on top of a hill and beautiful. My first taste of the elite in Israel. The family was incredibly sweet, and spoke perfect English, so it was nice to be able to communicate more clearly than I had all weekend. I was dropped back to the bus by my entire family (except Roy of course) at about 11PM with hugs and warms wishes. I am going back there for Rosh Hashanah, and am really looking forward to it. I already have spoked to my "sister" Liron this week, and I know that this hopefully will grow into an amazing relationship over the year.
In other news... I did my first volunteer opportunity with the Atidim kids this week in their high school this week. About 20 high schoolers showed up, completely enthusiastic and happy to be there with us. They came from a variety of backgrounds: Russian, Ethiopian, South American, and Israeli. I am truly amazed to see the spectrum of backgrounds that people come from in Israel. This truly is a country of immigrants, especially in cities like Beer Sheva. We played games with them all including English, and they came away from it wanting to do more with us in the future. We are basically going to teach them about American pop culture, so I think our curriculum will include a lot of baseball, Kelly Clarkson, and MTV. I am excited! We have another session on Tuesday, so hopefully it will be as good as the last.
Finally, I don't usually talk about my love life on my blog, because it is a little awkward, but I feel I have to mention one quick thing... I met this French, Jewish, good looking, TALL, DENTIST named Michael at my Ulpan a couple weeks ago, and we have hit it off pretty well. Excluding all other details, I basically ditched all responsibilities and went on a bus (one-way, direct, SAFE) to Tel Aviv after Ulpan and went to the beach with him this Wednesday. Needless to say, the water was fantastic and the tayelet (the same one I was at on Shabbat) was absolutely breathtaking. I layed on the beach with this hot French man who seems to like me quite a bit, and just truly soaked in the sun and the rest of the day. As I was laying facing the Meditteranean Sea, watching the sunset, and taking in the beauty of the shoreline of Tel Aviv, I realized that I was actually having a "moment" with a cute Jewish boy in my amazing homeland. I think I am falling in love... with Israel. I cannot put in to words how that moment made me feel, but I just honestly couldn't believe that this is my life right now. I am so lucky.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

An Unexpected Multicultural Weekend

Well, they say that in Israel anything can happen, perhaps because Israel is the land of miracles, milk and honey, etc. ad naseam, ad infinitum. This weekend I felt like I truly experienced just how diverse this country can actually be on a regular basis.
Weekends in Israel for me start on Thursdays usually. My weekly schedule goes like this: Sunday-Wednesday I have Ulpan from 8:15AM-12:45PM. After that, I volunteer for a few hours and then come home. I haven't exactly figured out all the places I am volunteering, but I have one program that I am involved in. I am a group leader for a program called Atidim, which means "Futures" in Hebrew. This program works with the top 20% of kids who live in the periphery, which means outside the big cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, etc. and gives these teenagers extra classes after school in math, science, and English. The idea behind this program is that this will help the kids excel in subjects that they need to be accepted to universities in Israel. The kids who have gone through this program in the past have been more likely to be accepted. The hope is that after their education they will resettle in their respective communities and help create new jobs and a better economy. The hope is also that in 15 years or so, the cities in the periphery will be just as appealing to live in and able to provide the same jobs and opportunities as big cities. I am extremely excited to help these kids learn English and get to know them. I also know that this will be a huge challenge as well, but I am up for it.
Anyway, on Thursdays, during this part of the program, we either have education days or group volunteer activities. Last Thursday was a truly meaningful volunteer opportunity. We met with the other Otzmanikiim from Ashkelon and ended up in a greenhouse that had tons of plants that had been transferred there during the disengagement from Gaza. None of these plants had been properly placed or watered since they had been moved. We had the unique opportunity to help expediate the process for the former settlers by arranging these pots so they can grow and prosper as they did in Gaza. Although the settlers themselves weren't helping us rearrange the flowers, I couldn't help but think that perhaps we were giving them peace of mind so that they could continue on with their lives as best they can. I was happy to help.
My friends and I caught the next train out to Haifa, where we spent the night and most of the next day. The train is a great way to travel in Israel, I have discovered. There is a lot of room to spread out, and the views of the country are just beautiful. The only complaint I have is that they are COLD!!! I felt like I was in a meat locker the entire time, and will most definitely bring sweats for the next time I decide to take the train! We arrived in Haifa, which is located in the Southern Galilee, around 9PM and found our hostel, an adorable place located right next to downtown Haifa. We took a leisurely walk to the main street with lots of restaurants and clubs, all lit with colored lamps and lanterns. I felt very much like I was in downtown Santa Barbara, with the lights and the beach. We had a beautiful view of the Bahai Gardens lit up on top of the hill overlooking the street. I had a nice dinner with friends, and afterwards we went walking back to our hostel and heard music coming from a place on a side street. Like good travelers, we followed our ears and ended up at locals' bar in Haifa where everyone was dancing and singing along with the music. We weren't sure if this was a private party, so we hesitated at the door to walk in, when the manager came to the door and escorted us in! From then on, I felt like we were the sort of celebrities in the bar... Everyone came by our table to say hello, try to speak with us (although their English was terrible, and so was my Hebrew, so that was difficult). All in all though, the bar was my first real taste of smalltown Israeli nightlife, and it was wonderful to be in a space where everyone was dancing and singing Hebrew songs that weren't from Sunday school.
The next day we woke up and went on our own walking tour of Haifa. We tried to get on a tour of the Bahai gardens, but there was not enough space for us so we just looked from the outside. Breathtakingly beautiful. We'll plan better next time. We ended up visiting a Catholic church located on the edge of Haifa. It was not designed as grandly as those churches I have seen in Europe, but it was built in Israel in the 1700's by people who were seeking religious refuge. I honestly don't remember the details, but I bought some postcards to send out about it... We took the cable car down from the top of the hill in Haifa, walked along the beach, and then traveled on our way out to Tiberias.
Tiberias turns out to be a beach city with lots of restaurants, shops, clubs, and feels very much like a tourist town. We definitley overpaid for meals and such, but that was the sacrifice for a clear view of the Kineret. The Kineret is fresh water, so I basically felt like I was taking a warm bath when I swam in it. In Tiberias, we went out for a night on the town and then hung out on the beach the next day....
Here is where the multicultural part of my weekend comes in. The whole reason we went to Tiberias in the first place was because my friend Brian has a friend in an Arab town next to Tiberias who was getting married. We thought that he was the only one invited to the engagement party, but he called us as we were laying out on the beach to let us know that all of us were invited to this party. So, in true traveler form, we changed at the local McDonald's bathroom and caught a sherut (shared taxi-van) to take us to our destination. We ended up meeting up with Brian's friend's roommate, Ronit, who welcomed us into our home an escorted us to the party. As I entered the party, there was at least 150 Muslim women surrounding this prestinely dressed girl who was dancing in the middle of the group. The girl, actually the bride-to-be, was dressed in an ornate purple gown, with each hair on her head perfectly placed, and her make up perfectly done. She was clearly the center of attention, and danced to the music that one could hear throughout the village. We were clearly outsiders at the party, but nevertheless everyone was incredibly accepting and invited us to join in on the festivities. About an hour into the program, the groom's entire family, and I am estimating about another 150 women, showed up clapping and dancing to the party to again dance with the bride-to-be. About half an hour later, the groom arrived, atop his buddies, and cheered as he entered to meet his bride. They danced together, and then exchanged dowries. The experience was topped off by the men serving the women traditional Arab pastries, fruit, and tea throughout the party. I ended up dancing in the group with the bride, and had the best time trying to imitate the other Arab dancers around me. It was fabulous, and incredibly mind- opening. I was reminded that Arabs and Jews do come from the same geographical region, at least the Sephardic Jews do, and we all party the same way!
After the party, we went back to Ronit's house and her mother made us a snack to take with us before we left. We still had some time before sundown, when Shabbat is over and transportation begins again, so we just talked with Ronit and her siblings about everything. We did get into a little bit of a political discussion, but Ronit shied away from delving too deep because I think she didn't want to interrupt the pleasantries of the afternoon. It was obvious to me that we wouldn't agree on everything. However, I also realized that these are not the people that are trying to kill us. Yes, they are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, but in the same way that we are sad for other Jews around the world that do not have the same opportunities we do. Moreover, she did express that the government of Israel helps her family since it is so large, and that she would not move to a new Palestinian State initially because she would not have the same opportunities there. Sadly though, in the same way Jews experience anti-Semitism in countries that are not our own, she experiences some racism at Hebrew University where she studies. She feels like she is looked down upon because she is an Arab Muslim, and that is hard for her to deal with all the time. I was deeply saddened to hear that racism is widespread, even in a place where I would like to believe it exists less. This was another look into how the conflict affects people's lives directly, and was extremely important for me to see it from the other side. We watched the sunset set over the mountains, and then left the Village to come back to Beer Sheva.
I was incredibly moved by my experience in the Arab Village, the name I will find out later because I don't remember off the top of my head. I was almost moved to tears several times throughout the engagement party because I realized how much Arabs also just want to live as regular people. As I write these thoughts down, I am scared to admit that I had many preconcieved notions about Arabs here in Israel. I'll be honest. Knowing the sensitivity of the conflict and the political situation Israel is going through right now, I have been a little apprehensive towards those people who are not Jewish here. I don't analyze every person on the street, but I definitely think about who I am passing by sometimes. This is hard to write. When I was witnessing the joy during the engagement party, and the pain that my friend (she is my friend now) Ronit experiences, it hit me that the Arabs were not celebrating death. They were celebrating life. They were not celebrating the amount of kids this new couple will have so they can then go kill more Israelis, but were instead wishing them a prosperous future and meaningful life together. I am almost ashamed to say that I really needed this experience to widen my world-view, and remind myself that people are all just people, who generally search for the same things in life. When Ronit and her sister were explaining what being a Muslim meant to them, they said it was a feeling that just came from deep within them, in their hearts. In Judaism we call that kavannah, or intention/feeling from the heart. It was important for me to be reminded that that feeling is universal. Interestingly enough, that day, a sheikh (a Muslim spiritual leader) who had just been released from Israeli jail after two years came to visit their village that evening to thank them for their support during his sentence. Ronit's mother made sure that we knew what happened to this man, and that they loved this man very much. According to Ronit, he was jailed for speaking out against the Israeli army after they had done a raid in the territories that had killed many Palestinians. One would imagine, since the news puts these images in our heads, that there would be green flags being waved and madness in the village to show their support for this sheikh, but there was nothing. Peacefully, Muslims walked to the mosque to hear their sheikh speak, and again this was another reminder of how everything is not always as it seems. I couldn't help but wonder how much we in Israel we may overestimate a situation, and let fear guide our actions. I truly hope one day that Israelis and Arabs can one day embrace each other's similarities, and work out our differences in a peaceful way. I can't say I think that will be soon, because I am unfortunately still quite pessimistic about the actual Palestinians, but I have regained some hope for the future of relationships between Arabs and Jews. This entire experience will burn strongly in my memory, and I feel relieved to have been able to have my eyes opened so wide.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

New Photo Update

I realized after uploading my photos of Israel up until now that I am unable to narrate them on the album. So, here is little update to clue you in...
Pictures 1-8 are from the bar in Long Beach called Joe Josts. We have a family tradition to go to Joe's to celebrate any significant event in our lives. So, Uncle Gary, Aunt Cindi, my parents and brother all accompanied me to the bar for one last drink...
Pictures 9-17 are of my best friend Kim, Jenelle, Josh, and Kevin all celebrating again at Newport Brewing Company. Good times...
Pictures 17-23 are at Chimayo in downtown Huntington Beach with my God-sister Andrea and her husband Joe, Kim, Aunt Cindi and Uncle Gary, my brother Zach, and my parents.
Picture 24 My fellow Otzmanik from LA Michelle and me at the airport.
25: Larry and Zahava among all our luggage.
26: Otzma XX pictures!
27: All the Otzmanikim sitting for orientation.
28: North American director Marni Mandell.
29: LA cohort waiting for our flight... Brent, me, Michelle, and Larry.
30: Jen (from Texas), me, and Jenny (from Wisconsin) posing before our opening dinner at the Youth Hostel.
31: Me, Jen, and Erin (from Canada) posing in front of our dinner.
32: LA cohort.
33-38: Pics from the dinner
39: LA cohort and the Tel Aviv partnership staff.
40-48: A night out in Jerusalem. We ended up in this trendy 70's bar off of Ben Yehuda street and then a hookah bar
49-54: The Bedouin tent and camel riding. All I can say is that camels are seriously disgusting.
55-70: Hiking through the Negev desert on Nahal dov. We concluded that hike with a visit to Ben Gurion's, Israel's first prime minister who dreamed to "make the desert bloom," grave. After that, I floated in the Dead Sea. Ouch!
71: Top of Nahal Tamar.
72: We venture into the Old City of Jerusalem from the Jaffa Gate.
73-77: The Kotel (Western Wall) at night.
78-79: Hookah Bar in Jerusalem.
80-83: The carnival we planned for the kids at the Absorbtion Center.
84-95: The tour of the Israeli Supreme court.
96-99: View of the Old City from my hostel in Jerusalem, Beit Shmuel.

Just to update quickly, we had our first "education day" in Jerusalem on Thursday. We gathered both groups together to discuss the issue of Israel as a Jewish State. We looked at documents like the Declaration of the State that David Ben Gurion read as he was declaring Israel a legitimate state to the world. We discussed issues like growing pigs in Israel, Hatikvah as the national anthem, the Shabbat laws, etc. The discussion was fascinating, and I feel like I am just a little more educated on the internal issues that Israel has. We also toured the Israel Supreme Court which was cool, but a little on the dry side.

I am spending Shabbat with Julia and David at their apartment in Jerusalem. Jules planned a surprise party for David's 26th birthday with all his friends here. He was surprised for the most part, and the food was great! We are just taking it easy for the rest of the weekend around here, which is exactly what I needed. I feel like I am at a hotel compared to what I live in at Beer Sheva. It is so nice to have friends here.

I'll write more later... Shabbat Shalom all!

Monday, August 29, 2005

Arrival in Beer Sheva

We arrived in Beer Sheva yesterday morning. However, when we loaded the bus, we were informed that there had just been a terrorist attack at the Central Bus station here. This put quite a damper on the experience, although I reacted better than I thought I would. Life goes on in Israel, and the news and people worldwide seem to forget that. I was more angry than scared that someone would viciously try to take more Israeli lives after Israel has gone through so much. What a cowardly way to make a point! I feel more strongly than I am writing right now, but the point is that life does go on. We drove past the bombing about 7 hours after it occurred, and it looked like nothing happened. People were still waiting in line for the bus. Buses were carrying their full capacity. Life continues despite these gutless terrorists. How dare them.
Beyond that, we arrived at the absorbtion center where I will be living for the next 3 months. I am living with 5 other girls in an apartment meant for new immigrants coming to Israel. We have no oven, no microwave, and as our madrich Feivel says, we are living the "real thing." I finally unpacked all my clothes and made my very very hard bed, and I am beginning to feel at home. I am living with Jesse from the UK, and she and I clicked right away! We have a great time singing show tunes and making sick jokes to each other. I know it is going to be a great situation for the duration.
A little bit about Beer Sheva. Beer Sheva is the fourth largest country in Israel, housing about 200,000 people. It is the largest city in the desert, and was named after the wells in the Torah, specifically the 7th well. This is my first night venturing out in the city, but so far it looks like it will be fun. There is a university here, but the students are on break until after the Holidays.
Today we did are first part of community service. We planned a sort of impromptu carnival for the kids in the absorbtion center where we are living. We ended up having about 50 or so come from all age ranges, and it was a lot of fun! Communication was difficult since they come from all different countries, mostly India, France, Russian, and countries in South America. We have the opportunity to volunteer time within the center working with the kids, so I might try to do something like that weekly.
That is Israel in a nutshell thus far. I have already had my eyes opened in ways I never imagined, and I am excited to see what other things I will discover this year.
One more note... I met a settler just now who left Kfar Darom in Gaza last week. He is staying at this hotel in Beer Sheva and then being moved to Ashkelon for a while until they can start rebuilding their lives in the desert. He was just asking to use the computer to check his email. Amazing.

My First Week in Israel!

Wow. I have way too much to say. I have been here officially a week, and have done so much already. I'll try to update you as best I can, but it is impossible to include everything that I have done. We left on a plane from JFK at 2:40AM. In total, there are 63 Otzmanikim from all over the US, Canada, and one from the UK on this program. Everybody I have met here is fabulous, and have all come for the right reasons. I am still taking my time getting to know everyone, but I have made strong connections with some of the girls and we have had a blast together thus far!
We started our week in Jerusalem, staying at the Rabin Youth Hostel in Givat Ram, which is just outside of the City. We basically did not leave the hostel for two days as we were updated with information on the history of Israel, disengagement, security, Ethiopian Jews, the differences between Americans and Israelis, and other topics that I am sure I am forgetting. We only ventured out to the town on our second day and went to Ben Yehuda to a bar and then to a hookah bar. Hookah is flavored tobacco for those of you unfamiliar with it. We went down to the Negev to a Bedouin tent and then arose at 5 AM (and I didn't even complain) to go on a hike called Nahal dov. This was the first experience I had actually hiking and making a connection to the desert. The temperature was not as hot as I would have expected, but was not cool like California by any means. We went to the Dead Sea after that and I actually floated for the first time there! The next day, we arose again at 5AM for another hike, this one called Nahal Tamar, and then headed back to Jerusalem for Shabbat. A word about the desert... It is actually more beautiful than I had imagined. We stopped at one point during our first hike and talked about how Abraham passed through the desert on his journeys. This was the place where he spoke with God many times, and when one sits quietly for a while, one can start to imagine why. The peacefulness and spiritual energy that flows from the desert is amazing. For Shabbat, we had a festive meal with our Otzmanikim at the hostel, and then were on our own for Shabbat morning. I went with a couple girls to a shul that I had heard much about from my old boss at work. The shul is progressive Orthodox called Shira Hadasha, and I was blown away when I walked in the door. There were as many women as men, some wearing talitot and kipot. The separation, or mechiza, was a sheer white curtain that was pulled back for certain parts of the service. A woman was leading davening for the entire congregation, and women lead the Torah service and read from the Torah. The Torah was passed on both sides of the mechiza for people to kiss it as it went by. The music was like nothing I had ever heard, and the melodies and harmonies were uplifting and enchanting. I was spiritually uplifted in a way I hadn't been for a while.
We concluded Shabbat with Havdalah and then made our way to the Kotel in the Old City. Strangely enough, I felt like I needed to see the Kotel (Western Wall) to actually believe I was in Israel. I felt differently than I had ever felt before this time when I came. There were people praying, as they usually do, and a woman sobbing as she stood next to me. I was wondering what she was crying about. Had she just left her home from Gaza? Did she just lose a son or daughter in the army? I was suddenly aware of all the cries this Wall must have heard throughout the years, and I was overwhelmed. I realized too that for the first time I will be able to visit the Wall frequently if I wish, not just once and then leave like I had been accustomed to in the past.
After my spiritual experience, I headed out to a club in Jerusalem to meet up with the guards from our trips to the desert, and danced the night away. Jerusalem was amazing.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

All Ready to Go!

It is late, so this will be a short one! After days of stress, I am finally all packed and ready for the year... I am sure I packed too many unnecessary things, but I decided to blame my sex. If I were a guy, I think packing would have been much easier! Anyway, finally the anticipation comes to fruition! I will be in Israel in about two days, or so. I suppose that tomorrow I will just end up sleeping the entire plane ride, because I can barely keep my eyes open as it is... Just to clue you in, tomorrow my plane takes off from Long Beach at 8:50AM and arrives at JFK in New York at 4:55PM (East Coast time). From there, I will head to the El Al terminal where I will meet up with my fellow Otzmaniks. We all will meet and have an orientation at the airport at 8PM, and then our plane takes off to Tel Aviv at 2:40AM! The flight to Israel takes between 10 and 11 hours, so I will be arriving in Israel during the evening. I just hope I get to a bed where I can sleep! Okay, I am going to go to bed now. I love all of you and thank you for being such a support to me through this!

Friday, August 19, 2005

Why Israel? Why Otzma? Why Now?

The past couple of weeks, I feel like I have been asked the same questions over and over again. I thought I would just talk a little (or a lot) about why what I will be doing over the next year is so important.
I was born an American Jew in the year 1982. This means several things. First, I never experienced the same kind of anti-Semitism that my grandparents or mother did growing up. Being born two-generations beyond the Holocaust supposedly meant that the world had "woken up" and that anti-Semitism would no longer be a problem I would have to face. The Jews had suffered the worst atrocity possible, and the world would not forget that. I would say for the most part, that is how I felt growing up as an American Jew. I never hid the fact that I was a Jew, even though I was the only Jew in my school until middle school. It was a challenge catching up on homework that I missed yearly for the High Holidays, but other than that I felt my childhood was an easy, positive experience for me. The fact that I was born in 1982 also means that I have never lived in a world without the State of Israel. I think many Jews, as I did, take that for granted. We have no idea what the consequences would be if we did not have a State to turn to in our time of need, should it ever arise. We have no idea the fight that took place to establish Israel, nor did we ever experience first-hand the wars that this young country has been through in its nascent existence.
However, in college, I faced a different form of anti-semitism. I watched as professors and administration supported anti-Israel speeches, classes, lectures, and organized groups on campus condemning my country for whatever was on their agenda for that day. I didn't have the knowledge or the tools to start arguing back, or fight what needed to be fought, so I became an observer. I just reacted emotionally at these talks, and became more interested in finding out more. I was not as passionate then as I am now.
AIPAC became a driving force in my quest for knowledge and understanding of Israel. I was exposed to news stories where I read first-hand, every single day, the anti-Israel bias that appears sometimes very subtlely in many newspaper articles. I read about the divestments of churches from Israel because they don't believe Israel has a right to defend herself however she deems necessary. I read about our detractors, of whom are many, and began to understand how truly outnumbered we as Jews are in this world. I feel like I have only scratched the surface of what actually is out there, but I can say that this exposure caused me to wake up. Unfortunately, I am not as optimistic as I once was about the future of Jews anywhere in the world. Actually, I need to revise that. I don't feel confident about the future of Jews in anywhere, except Israel. Israel is there for Jews everywhere in the world. Currently, Israel is bringing in Jews who have been persecuted all over Ethiopia and giving them a safe place to live and prosper. The same goes for the Soviet Jews. Israel exists so we have a place to go and live in peace and prosperity.
This brings me to why I am going for at least a year. I am lucky that I have passion streaming through my veins about Israel. I am unlike the majority of Jews, I am sorry to say. However, it is one thing to articulate how passionate I am, but another to actually act on it. I am spending next year in Israel because of my Zionistic ideals. I want to make a tangible difference in the lives of Israelis, and hopefully help better the country by doing so. I don't want to be a person that has never acted on her passion or ideals, and I need to be a part of Israel's history. I hope that in some way, when I have children, I can say to them that I helped build a school, or built up a community, in Israel and that we are lucky that Israel exists for us. I don't want to just talk the talk, I want to walk the walk and be an example to those around me.
Through Otzma, I will be able to learn about the country and participate in community service projects that will put me in touch with Israelis and Israeli culture. I feel fortunate to have found a program such as this, and will fully utilize all it has to offer me while I am there.
Finally, I am going now because the time in my life is right. I also know how incredibly important it is for me to be in Israel now. I have spend all week watching the settlers disengage from Gaza, and how steadfast the soldiers have been while carrying out this terribly painful process. I am proud of my country. I feel like we have handled this awful situation as best as possible, and can now begin the healing process. I hope that somehow, and I honestly have no idea how, I can be a source of comfort to these people. I feel deep down within me that I need to be there in Israel's time of need, and feel fortunate to have the opportunity to go.