Archive for November, 2009

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Trip to Tel Aviv and Be’er Sheva

November 29, 2009

Since this past week I didn’t have to work on Friday, I traveled to Tel Aviv, Kibbutz Hatzerim, and Be’er Sheva for the long weekend with Filippo and Alex.  Alex has a family friend who commutes to Tel Aviv every day from somewhere close to the Kibbutz, so we got a ride to the city, directly to his friend Andre’s apartment.  We arrived in the early evening, and walked around before deciding to have Mexican food for our Thanksgiving dinner.  I had been craving a margarita for a couple of days, so I didn’t mind if the food wasn’t so authentic, however it was tasty, and the restaurant started the meal with small samples of a passionfruit margarita which was very unique.  The weather in Tel Aviv was definitely cooler than I had anticipated, but we ate outdoors, and followed our meal by a coffee at a nearby cafe.

After chatting, peoplewatching, and doing random contour drawings in Alex’s notebook, we went to Mike’s Place, a bar near the beach and next to the U.S. Embassy.  I went to the Jerusalem location the last time I was in Israel, but it has since closed.  It’s a bar largely for expats and English speakers so the bartenders and waitstaff were dressed in Native American Indian costumes and were serving Thanksgiving dinner in honor of the holiday.  It was fun to listen to the live music and look at the costumes.

On Friday morning, we woke up late and then spent most of the day going to markets.  First we went to the spice markets, where I got some freshly ground cinnamon, and some almonds, which I had been wanting for my oatmeal.  Then we perused the freshly baked goods, and Filippo bought an amazing challah, which was still warm!  Amazingly we ate the entire thing, in addition to some burekas, which are pastries made with crispy dough, and filled with both savory and sweet things, like cheese or chocolate.  Then we went to the vendor markets, where jewelry and art are sold, and Alex played his guitar and sang to make some extra money.

Later we caught the bus that people from Kibbutz Hatzerim were taking home from a day trip to Tel Aviv, because Alex was playing a show at the Kibbutz later in the night.  The Kibbutz and the people there were great, allowing us to eat dinner in their dining room, and bringing us beers in their recently renovated coffee shop.  The Kibbutz is close to Be’er Sheva, which is in the Negev desert, and unlike Kibbutz Tzuba, it is a traditional kibbutz, and it makes much of its money from its factory (Netafim), which designs, manufactures and distributes irrigation systems.  Alex filled the coffee shop with people excited to hear his music, and it was definitely well-received!  His friend Hela came to watch the show, and afterwards, we went with her home to Be’er Sheva.  She is a student at Ben Gurion University, and lives in a nice house with some roommates near the school.

On Saturday, we slept in late, and then decided to make some sushi.  The grocery store was open, and very crowded; it was fancy like Harris Teeter or Whole Foods (I took a picture of it- check out Picasa).  Hela worked at a sushi restaurant so she knew how to make it well; we made both tempura and regular sushi, although all without fish.  It turned out really well!  We relaxed most of the day, and returned to the kibbutz in the late evening.  I had a great weekend 🙂

I’ve been really hoarse the entire weekend, and today when I woke up I didn’t feel well.  I went to work for a few hours but took the rest of the day off so I could rest because I think I have a bad cold.  I hope this easy day will heal me!

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Trip to the South

November 25, 2009

Yesterday I went on the first organized trip of the ulpan.  We first rode in a chartered bus with two tour guides, two drivers, and two guards to Ein Gedi.  Ein Gedi is a desert oasis near the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.  We focused particularly on Nahal David (David’s Stream,) which has caves where in the Bible David is said to have hidden from Saul.  The park is very beautiful with waterfalls, flora, and many animals, which you can see on my photo site.

After touring Ein Gedi, we drove a very short distance to reach a public beach on the Dead Sea.  My experience in the sea was much more pleasant this time than the last, when I was in Israel for the Birthright trip.  Although I had many cuts on my body from work, the water didn’t really sting my skin!  But there were many rocks along the shore, so it took me a little while to enter the water.  It was pretty windy as it rained on and off throughout the day, but the water was warm, and as characteristic of the very salty sea, I was buoyant!  We ate lunch on picnic tables near the beach, then took a short ride to Masada.

Unlike my last time visiting Masada, I took the cable car up to the top (in light rain), which provided a nice view of the rocky terrain below.  Masada means fortress in Hebrew, and served as a location for palaces and fortification for the Jews a long long time ago.  I think the story of the demise of the Jews is sad to repeat, but here it is: During the first Judeo-Roman war, troops of the Roman Empire tried to take over Masada and enslave the Jews, so all the inhabitants committed suicide in 66 AD.  A man named Josephus reported the events, which is the only account, so therefore may not be 100% correct.  Our group discussed the event, and someone suggested that not everyone agreed to the mass suicides…only 7 people lived out of almost 1000.  I’m not sure, but it sure is a tough situation that no one wants to be in…be a slave or die!

The excavations in Masada remind me of some of the sites when I visited Rome, because they contain some of the same features!  There were saunas, thermal baths, cisterns, and other “modern” features of the Roman civilization.  The amenities are from King Herod’s time, where his palace was used for a refuge.  Jewish extremists inhabited Masada after the destruction of the first temple.

After a thorough tour, the group walked down the Roman ramp, and headed to a Bedouin camp for dinner and camel rides.  The camel ride was fun, especially getting on and off, which was almost scary!  I felt like I was going to be bucked off!  Also, the camels make some strange noises!  In a tent, we were served coffee and tea in the Bedouin style.  Bedouins are no longer nomadic, but they still welcome all who is traveling through the desert and is looking for respite.  They serve a guest three cups of coffee; the reasoning is the following: the first cup is for “the soul” (El’Heif), the second is for “the sword” (El-Keif) and the third is for being a guest (El-Dheif).  After having the coffee, the guest should feel welcome.  I don’t like bitter black coffee, so I only had a sip, but the tea was very tasty.  The rugs and mats were hand woven and made from wool.  Traditionally, there are seperate tents for women and men, but the group was able to enjoy the experience together.

We also were served homemade bread which was stretched over a rounded piece of metal on a fire.  Then we had an “authentic” feast with salads, hummus, pita, meat, chicken, and rice.  It was probably the best food I have had since I’ve been in Israel this month!  The bread was yeasty like pizza dough, and perfect for scooping the rice and meat with, much like Ethiopian bread, but better in my opinion.

I had a great time, and I am looking forward to my trip to Tel Aviv this weekend.  I have Friday off from work, so I am leaving tomorrow (Thursday) evening.  Happy Thanksgiving to my friends and family!

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Trip to Modi’in

November 21, 2009

For Shabbat, I went with some friends from the kibbutz to the house of a family friend of Raquel, who is from Mexico.  Modi’in is about a 30 minute drive from the kibbutz.  Amazingly, I haven’t been to a house since I’ve been in Israel; most people live in apartments, especially in the cities.  But there are both houses and neighborhoods in Modi’in, all connected by curvy roads with roundabouts (one of my favorite city planning tools!)

The house had HUGE pomelos in a tree outside, which were larger than a softball, and we were allowed to take one home!  As I have been learning, Shabbat dinner means a lot of food, so we were offered edamame with garlic and almonds first with a beer while we were waiting.  Then, we had sushi, challah, soup, meat, potatoes, salad, and carpaccio (which I didn’t eat).  I was sooo full by the end, but I saved room for homemade cheesecake!  Obviously it wasn’t a kosher meal with the cheesecake right after, but we still sang some songs in hebrew prior to the meal and said the blessing over the challah.  Also, the men wore kippahs. It was a good example of a secular family’s observance of Shabbat-everyone’s interpretation of the holiday is different in Israel, just as in the U.S.

Afterward, we talked to the son, who is in the army as a diver, and had some drinks.  We got a ride back to the kibbutz- it was nice not to have to take a taxi.  Later that night, I went to the kibbutz pub for a second time, which was fun because more people were there.  Today was a lazy day…I slept in late, went running, and just hung out.  It’s great that I have been able to get out of the kibbutz fairly often; there isn’t so much to do during the week, so it’s easy to get cabin fever!

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Jerusalem again!

November 19, 2009

Last night I went to Jerusalem with Alex and Roni to meet up with some more of the Israel Fellows I worked with at Hillel.  I only succeeded in taking a few pictures before the battery died in my camera, but I will definitely be back again soon.   Roni, Diti, Anat and I went to see the “Night Spectacular” at the Tower of David Museum in the Old City.    It was an interesting concept; pictures portraying different periods in the history of Jerusalem were projected on the walls of the Tower of David.  It was cold outside, but I think the ambiance contributed to the storied past of the city; although I have to note the presentation was all about the triumphs and tragedies of the Jews in Jerusalem, and other ethnic groups were left out, which was particularly noticeable at the end during the celebration of modern times.

After the show, we walked through the market and looked at the Wall from afar.  Then Diti drove us to the German Colony, which is a popular area of the city with bars and restaurants.  Since Alex, Roni and I got to Jerusalem late after having waited almost 2 hours for the bus, we decided to forgo taking the 9:40 bus back to the kibbutz and just take a taxi, so we got to enjoy food at a local restaurant.  Also, a couple of other Israel Fellows from my first year at Hillel (Avigail and Tamar) met up with us.  I had a chocolate lava cake, which was delicious, as dessert is rarely served in the dining room on the kibbutz.  We spoke mostly in English, which was easier, but I hope in coming months when I am speaking with Israelis, I will be able to converse more freely in Hebrew.  I know so much more than I did in the begining, but my grammar is still lacking a couple of tenses and many verbs!

It was a nice little trip to get away from the kibbutz and energize me for the remainder of the week.  Tomorrow is Shabbat, so I only have a half day of class.  We will have an oneg shabbat before class is over, which means we will say the prayers over challah and grape juice and have cake and sing some songs.  It is fun because two weeks ago we just sang all the versions of “Lecha Dodi” that everyone knows, which was a lot–since people in the ulpan went to synagogues all over the world.  I will probably stay on the kibbutz this weekend and go to the pub here, but maybe if I get cabin fever again I will go to Jerusalem after Shabbat is over.  I am planning to go to Tel Aviv next weekend because I will get Yom Shishi (Friday) off!

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Trip to Haifa

November 14, 2009

My new work schedule now gives me Fridays off, so I decided to take advantage of the full weekend and visit my friend Larissa in Haifa.  Larissa was an Israel Fellow at the Hillel at Virginia Tech, so I worked with her for a year at Hillel through the Israel Fellows Program.  She moved back home a few months ago and is now working as a social worker in Haifa.

I took the bus from the kibbutz to the central bus station in Jerusalem, and then had a 1.5 hour bus ride to Haifa.  Larissa’s boyfriend Roni graciously picked me up from the bus station, and drove me to Larissa’s family’s apartment in the suburbs of Haifa.  I met her mother and brother, and then Larissa, Roni and I drove to Acco (Acre), an ancient town close to Haifa.  We went in search of the best hummus in town, and after asking a few people, we were directed to the hummus place the locals like more than the place that was more well-known.  The little shop literally only serves hummus and pita, and chips (fries).  You get pickles and some other little snacks with the hummus, but it’s filling enough on it’s own!  I got hummus with beans on top, which was an interesting combination.  It was fresh and warm, but my only complaint was the lack of salt, which was thankfully available on the table.

Unfortunately I forgot my camera on Friday, but the city is very picturesque.  It is situated on a port, and fresh fish straight from the sea were being sold at a large market that we walked through.  We bought some baklava treats from the market, and I tried a new dessert- it had the top of a baklava dessert but it was orange, and on the bottom was warm goat cheese.

Acco is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so it is very well preserved, and it may have even be mentioned in the bible.  The Arabs and Ottomans once ruled Acco, and Napoleon seiged the city at the end of the 18th century.   Also, the founder of the Bahai faith was imprisoned in the city for many years.  Currently, two-thirds of the people living in Acco are Jewish, and the rest are Arab.  Larissa told me that in Acco and in Haifa there is “cold peace” between the Arabs and Jews, meaning they live side by side generally without incident when wars are not going on.    After we explored Haifa, we drove to the sea and saw the border with Lebanon.  The cable car was closed for Shabbat, but it looked awesome!  We watched the sunset at the beach, which was at about 4:30 p.m.  😦

In the evening, Larissa’s mother cooked a huge Shabbat dinner; there were so many types of food to eat, including  fish, meat, salads, and even homemade pie!  The family made aliyah from Moldova about 15 years ago, and Mrs. Rozenblit is an English teacher, so many languages were spoken at the dinner table, as their Russian-speaking friends were also at dinner.  After dinner, Roni, Larissa, and I went to a bar to meet their friends.  The Irish bar was at a mall, which was more crowded than Tysons Corner Mall in Virginia during the holiday season!  Larissa didn’t know why so many people were at the mall; she said it usually wasn’t that way.  The bar had many beers to choose from, so I tried a cherry beer from Belgium.  I took a picture of the bottle, and it’s on my photo site, along with a few other pictures at the bar.

Today (Saturday), we went to the Bahai gardens, which are beautifully designed to be connected to nature and to the tenets of the religion, which include equality between males and females, monotheism, and harmony between science and religion.   Although we took a Hebrew-speaking tour, I had a pamphlet in English, and I understood a surprisingly good amount, with Larissa’s help of course.  After the tour, we drove around Haifa, and I got to see the University of Haifa where Larissa attended, a nature reserve, and a church.

I took the 6 p.m. bus back south, and recognized a girl from the kibbutz  sitting near me so I got a ride from Mevesseret Zion to the kibbutz instead of having to go all the way to Jerusalem and take another bus to the kibbutz.

I had a great weekend, and am now re-energized for a long day at work tomorrow!  We had very nice weather in Haifa, but it is now cold in the Judean Hills, so I hope it won’t be too cold at 6 a.m. tomorrow.  Most likely we won’t be inside because we were in the packing house on Wednesday again!

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I got a splinter!

November 9, 2009

For the first time in a long time I got a splinter in my finger.  I can remember crying while both of my parents tried to remove a playground splinter with tweezers, but I didn’t recall the pain of the process until today.  If you are wondering how I was blessed with having paint in my hair and nails after a shower, stains on my hands, and the splinter, the answer is working with olive trees.  After a few hours of painting apple trees again, I learned the process of removing olives from trees and collecting them to produce olive oil.

First, we laid netting around the tree.  Then, we used a tool that resembles a rake, that is attached to a truck with a air tank, and we combed the tool through the leaves on the tree.  The rake thing vibrates the branches and forces the olives to fall down to the ground, hopefully on the tarp.  The tool is pretty heavy, and it’s difficult to use while it vibrates.   After most of the olives fall down, we pick the remainder by hand.  Then we gather the tarp up and pour the olives into large containers.  then we sort through the container to pick out leaves and twigs.  The process is difficult because the terrain is rocky and has branches and bushes around; also the tarps are large, so we have to be careful not to spill the olives when we pour them into containers.

I was very tired at the end of the work day, and I am looking forward to sleeping in tomorrow (6:50) for class!  Yesterday I ran to the mall and finally I found oatmeal, which I have been looking for since I got to Israel.  They had it at a  health food store…it’s not so common in Israel obviously.  I had to wait an hour for the bus to get back to the kibbutz, so I think I won’t be running to the mall very often.

On Shabbat, I went to Jerusalem for the night when the buses started running again in the evening.  Since the buses stop running at 2:30 on Friday, you either have to stay the night or go somewhere when Shabbat is over.  It was great being in Jerusalem at night, and getting away from the kibbutz.   I went with a couple of my friends from the ulpan and we ate shwarma (a meat sandwich in a pita), walked to the Western Wall, strolled through the Old City, and had a beer at a bar before we caught the midnight bus back to the kibbutz.  Although I was tired for class the next day, it was worth the trip.  The Wall looks so imposing, and was even crowded at night.  Also, the view of the whole city lit up-seen from the ramparts-was quite memorable.  Unfortunately I didn’t bring my camera, but I will next time!  Also, if you would like me to put a note in the Wall for you, feel free to email me!

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Hike to the unimpressive spring

November 7, 2009

We  have been having great weather for the last couple of days so I have been taking advantage, running and hanging out outside.  Today I took a hike around the kibbutz, exploring the sites such as a spring that was very lacking in water, old caves, and olive trees. You can view pictures from the hike here: http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/nPooO8X3G6Ur4h-jLweZCg?feat=directlink.

Last night I went to the kibbutz pub with the people from the ulpan who were around for the weekend, which was fun. Tonight the dining room is closed so I’m going to Jerusalem in search of some schwarma for dinner!