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!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Parent's Visit and Pesach

April 14, 2006
Ironically, it somehow became April and Pesach has already arrived. I am sitting here in my hotel room in Tel Aviv, overlooking the beautiful seashore with my brother beside me, and I am having a hard time realizing that time has passed so quickly. The weather has finally changed from winter to spring, and the country’s landscape is waking up. Green meadows with flowers cover the highways, and the trees are growing back their leaves. Israel is truly beautiful at this time of year, and I am happier than ever to be here to experience it.
I realize now how much has passed, and how much I have not been able to write about here. I’ve had some technical difficulties for the last two months, but luckily my memory hasn’t faded so much that I cannot write about them. I promise to catch you up, but I first want to talk about what is happening right now.

I picked my parents up on Sunday, three days before Pesach started in Israel. I have to be honest; it seemed surreal to see them in the airport. When I arrived at Ben Gurion Airport on Sunday, April 9, I knew that at that point it had been about 7 and a half months since I had last seen my parents and my brother. The truth is that I was really nervous to see them. Have I changed so much that they won’t recognize me? Even worse: have I stayed the same? The memory of our last meeting when I left California in August kept repeating in my head: my dad crying, my mom trying to withhold her tears, my brother of course standing tall and strong for them, and me sobbing as I gathered my things and checked into the plane. I knew that now they would see someone stronger, happier, much wiser about the ways of this culture, and I was scared how they would react to it. However, when I saw them, it was as if no time had passed between us. I was just happy to see them, and they were happy to see me. I felt strange as I was joining back into the Wheatley family unit, but something about it felt like home and comfortable. I felt so good to be back with my family.

The first three days we spent in Jerusalem, touring about the city, seeing the holy sites that exist there. My dad and brother’s reaction to everything was interesting; they have a curiosity for the ways of the country and the history embedded into everything that exists. I played “Tour Guide Tami,” and was quite impressed at how I knew what I was looking at most of the time. Rather than me explain in detail what we did each day, (I think I will let you ask my parents that), I would rather explain to you what I personally found interesting. First and foremost, I reentered into the world of Israeli tourism- the grossness of it all. I have to say that living here, I have learned to deal with swindling taxi drivers, slow hotel staff, Israeli restaurant food, and figuring out how to drive here. What do I mean about all of this? Well, let’s address the taxi drivers first, aka “the bane of my existence.” Okay, I am being dramatic, but honestly, I HATE taxis in this country. I never feel like I am getting a fair deal, and I am always scared for my life at one point or another. I felt bad having to expose my parents to the reality of dealing with these people, but we basically had no choice. They are the worst, especially in Jerusalem.

The first experience in a taxi that we had was coming home from the airport; boy, was that fun. My parents and I stuff all of our luggage into the trunk and backseat of this semi-old looking cab, and get in. We were crowded in the back seat, but we were fine, up until we start hitting traffic. Here’s the part of the ride where I start freaking out. We’re ascending up Route 1, the main freeway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and there is a sign for Jerusalem pointing one way, and the hills area (the name is escaping me) that takes you through to the backside of the City. We go the other way, which I know will take us through the West Bank territories. Now, according to the cab driver, this is the quickest way to go at this time in the morning. I let him drive, without being probing, even though I am fully aware of what is happening the entire time, and try to take deep breaths to release the building anxiety I am starting to feel. So, we continue driving, and my mom notices a change in my attitude. I assure her that I am fine, even though I am not, and my dad starts noticing things. My dad asks me,“Tami, isn’t that…(The separation wall/fence) (Hamas flags)(Guard soldiers with guns)?” “Yes, Dad.” I interrupt him sharply. “Just relax.” I assure him. Luckily, I think my brother is seemingly unaware of the situation and my mom isn’t exactly sure what is happening. We continue driving and notice long lines of traffic on the other side. I think to myself, “Thank God that isn’t us right now. We are close.” All of a sudden, we are waiting in a line, too… My dad asks me again, “Tami, is this a …(checkpoint)?” Again, I interrupt him. Damn him for being intelligent. It’s true that the first experience I gave my parents was a little educational tour of the West Bank, a place I am not supposed to be nor do I want to be. Army checkpoints are set up all over the place, soldiers are standing guard from the hilltops above, and Arab villages like Ramallah surround us. All this too after me explaining time and time again to them how “safe” I feel in this country. I was incredibly pissed at the cab driver for not asking if this was our preferred route, and I felt guilty for putting my family so close to the West Bank. Not only are we on the road I don’t want to be on, we are going something around 30 miles an hour. I knew the car looked old when we got in, but when most Israeli cab drivers do their utmost to get to their destination as fast as possible, I knew there was a problem. The truth is that there hasn’t been much action on these roads, but with checkpoints and a slow car, I was still a bit nervous. On top of all of this, I had to release some of the coffee I had to drink earlier. Badly. I asked the cab driver in Hebrew how close we were, and if we could possibly stop in a bathroom. We were still in the middle of the West Bank, but I couldn’t wait. We finally get through the checkpoint, and the closest bathroom is a Port-o-Potty at the Checkpoint. I suck it up, get out of the cab, and go in the “bathroom.” I had relaxed significantly. The cab driver and I were best buddies after this, and I dropped all my anger towards him the second my bladder had been relieved. We made it through to Jerusalem, and after the driver explained to us that the car in fact was not his and he was going to a repair shop straight away, I felt much better. Oh the joy of cabs in Israel. I just reaffirmed why I prefer riding buses, even if they are considered “unsafe.” Cabs don’t seem that much better.

Besides all the touring my parents and I did, we had the chance to spend Pesach with family in Ashdod. Pesach in Israel was surprisingly nice. I say “surprisingly” because I really thought that Pesach would be like some sort of government-enforced holiday, with everything being kosher and religious. However, I found the holiday itself to be really nice. Everywhere had kosher for Pesach options, which I found to just make observing it much easier. The restaurants that couldn’t make the switch from unkosher to kosher just closed, and even restaurants that didn’t even bother at least had salads and matzah available. My parents and I were invited to my cousin Sylvia’s for the seder, and she had invited her husband’s brother’s family, her mother, and other family that I can’t remember. This seder was one of the funniest ones I have been to in a long time. You know that at least for Pesach, I tend to lead “serious” seders. I require careful reflection on our long history of Jews as slaves in Egypt through different sources and activities, and come away from the seder feeling like I have done something traditional and meaningful. Well, that was definitely not this year. This year all the Hebrew parts that we generally skip at home were read, in the fastest pace possible to expedite dinner. The men weren’t even reading, it was Marek’s two nieces. The only thing the men were doing them was nagging them to hurry up so we could eat. Needless to say, I didn’t feel like I actually experienced much of a Pesach seder, but I still had a really fun time. I felt like I experienced a non-traditional “Israeli” seder, and that was just what I needed.

After the seder experience, my parents and I headed into Tel Aviv and took a tour of Old Yafo and the artist’s shuk. We had dinner at my friend Gitit’s parent’s house in Herziliya, which was wonderful, and then headed up North for a day trip on Shabbat. We visited Ein Gev, a beautiful kibbutz on the Lake Kinneret and did a tour of ancient ruins called Susita. It was a beautiful day, and gave my parents a quick glimpse of the north of this country. The next day it was raining, so the plan to lay and relax on the beach had to be swapped for something more educational. I decided to take my parents to the house where Israel was declared a State, and the army museum on Rothschild St. After the Israel education, we took a stroll down Rothschild St, which has a lot of “old meets new” history, and then to Sheinkin St for a look at the boutiques and fashionable shops before heading to Mike’s Place on the beach for an afternoon snack. This basically concluded the trip for my dad and brother, and they headed out early the next morning to catch a plane home. For the rest of the holiday, I spent quality time with my mom in Tel Aviv at coffee shops and shopping. Unfortunately, the day my brother and dad left, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Old Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, which changed the mood of things that day. We were sitting at a coffee shop when it happened at a different part of the city. We found out about it when we returned to our hotel, about 15 minutes after it happened, and turned on the news to a picture of the site. Awful. After reacting to this, I took my mom out shopping because it was important for me that she saw how Israelis react to this situation. They continue on with their lives. They shop, eat at coffee shops, ride buses, and continue doing what they would have been doing before the bomb went off. I proved my case when I took my mom to Dizengoff mall, one of the most crowded areas in Tel Aviv, and it was buzzing with life as I had expected it would be. Again, this is not what you see on CNN. Israel is full of life that CNN doesn’t show; CNN is only interested in death. For the end of Pesach, my mom and I returned to Ashdod and met more family from Brussels. After the holiday, we returned to Tel Aviv and relaxed the last day she was here. On Friday, I took her to the airport bright and early, and sent her off on her plane back home. Weird. The time with my family came and went so fast, it is actually hard to believe they were even here. I missed them terribly, and was glad to see them, but also glad to return back to my “normal” life here.

More catch up blogs to follow. Check out my pictures also!