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!

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...