Archive for January, 2010


Lumberjack Vick

January 25, 2010

I still maintain that I have the best job available to people in the ulpan, especially now!  For the past two work days I have been helping to prune olive trees (aitz zayot).  I think I should buy some plaid shirts, because I am enjoying this new task!  We have three main tools to accomplish prime pruning: shears (mazmerot) and two saws (masorim).  The goal of pruning is to make a very overgrown tree look minimalist and sort of like a goblet.  This can be difficult when there are several trunks or branches growing the “wrong” way, inside the tree instead of outwards.  That’s where the saws come in!  The first day I had some trouble with the saw, but I quickly caught on; you have to put your whole arm into it!  I’m looking forward to some more days of hard work in the trees, but hopefully the weather won’t be like it was today (really cold and rainy!)

In other news, this past weekend I hiked to Sataf with Alex.  It’s only about a 25 minute hike through the kibbutz to get there, and there are lots of little trails that go through some ruins with aqueducts, and there are great views of Jerusalem, Ein Kerem and everything in the valley below.  Also, there is a cafe that is open on Shabbat- big bonus!


Trip to Tel Aviv

January 19, 2010

On a cloudy but temperate day the ulpan had its third trip, to Tel Aviv and Yafo.  We began the trip by visiting the square next to city hall where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995.  In my photos you can see plaques  placed on the ground marking the exact spot Rabin was standing, and where his bodyguards were standing.  It seems unreal that the shooter could have gotten so close to him, but apparently that day Rabin refused a bulletproof vest because he didn’t believe anyone would be against him and peace.  One new thing I learned from the tour guide was that ironically, the lyrics to a song about peace (Shir LaShalom) that Rabin led minutes before his assassination, was found in his pocket, stained with his blood.  The monument in the square, displaying black broken rocks, symbolizes the “political earthquake” of Rabin’s assassination.

Afterward, we walked to the Shalom Tower, which was the tallest building in the Middle East when it was built in 1965.  Nachum Gutman, who is also a children’s book author and illustrator, created a large mosaic displayed in the lobby of the tower, which contains over one million tiles, depicting daily life in Tel Aviv and Yafo.  There are also models of the first homes in Tel Aviv.  Unlike Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is only 100 years old- before that, it was just desert!

Then, we walked to Neve Tzedek, one of the original neighborhoods in Tel Aviv.  Most of the houses have been renovated now, but many look very run down, which I was surprised about, since the property values are very high in the area.  We also passed the first coffee kiosk in the city, on the way to Independence Hall, where David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the state of Israel.  After hearing the explanation of the meaning behind the name “Tel Aviv,” I want to know why Spring Hill school and Recreation Center (in Virginia) are named that way!  A tel (a hill with layers of civilization buried underneath) is something old, and Aviv means spring (renewal, something new).

We had some time to explore Yafo, which is the ancient port city neighboring Tel Aviv.  I bargained my way down to purchasing an umbrella for 10 shekels (about $2.50) in the flea market, and had a shwarma sandwich.  After the free time, we toured Old Yafo’s narrow alleyways with zodiac signs, and viewed a hanging tree,  a wishing bridge and some Egyptian excavations in Abrasha Park.

It was a nice, albeit short trip.  I’m glad I had the opportunity to see some places I didn’t go to during my Birthright trip, and I hope I will return to Tel Aviv before I return to the U.S.!


Home or Homey?

January 10, 2010

Lately many people have asked me what I am planning to do after the ulpan.  Since a lot of the students in the ulpan are planning to make aliyah,  many Israelis assume  that I will also be staying in Israel indefinitely.  I didn’t come to Israel with that expectation, not do I intend to now, however I can understand why people come as tourists, and decide to move here.  For me, Israel does not feel like home, but it does feel “homey.”  What I mean is many aspects of the country are familiar to me, particularly in Jerusalem.  Of course walking through the Old City isn’t like just any city in the world, and there are many unique features to the country, many which I have pointed out.  But, I feel comforted by the prevalence of English spoken pretty much everywhere, the fact that mealtime is valued, and the knowledge that family dynamic is important, particularly because of Shabbat, when the country slows down.  I would like to say that it’s comforting to know that I’m not in the minority as a Jew, but actually that doesn’t feel normal to me.   It feels more unique being a Jew in the Christian world- there aren’t many places you will see cab and bus drivers,  maintenance workers, and clerks all wearing kippot, except for in Israel!

Today I took the opportunity to use  my monthly free day from work, on what couldn’t have been a more beautiful day.  The weather was summer-like in a good way (not too hot), sunny, and virtually cloudless.  I woke up around 9:00, sat outside for a bit, and took the bus to Jerusalem.  I spent the morning much like I used to in the U.S.: ran around the city past parks and government buildings, and sat outside eating a bagel with lox and an iced coffee.  I spent the afternoon walking down Emek Refaim with my friend Jamie and her boyfriend.

I didn’t come to Israel to do the same things as I do at home, but I think it’s important to remember what you like about home while you’re away.  I mentioned that I passed some government buildings; they weren’t just any municipal government buildings, they were the Knesset (legislature), and the Supreme Court.  The parks were the Wohl Rose Park (19 acres and 15,000 rose bushes) and Gan Sacher.   It’s definitely a treat to experience Israel on a less touristy level- I’m getting more oriented with the city, and am also critiquing it- as in D.C., a street car line is being built, it’s construction stymied by delays, and causing traffic problems city-wide.

I got some delicious strawberries at the market, and I even found Snyder’s corn chips at a grocery store with a bunch of American products!  I’m glad I’m able to have a “taste” of home, but also ask for directions and speak to shopkeepers in Hebrew, negotiate an unfamiliar bus system, finally, appreciate the value of a day off!


Happy New Year/Sylvester!

January 1, 2010

In Israel, New Year’s Eve isn’t such a big deal because Rosh Hashana (the Jewish new year) is in September.  Nevertheless, “Sylvester” is seen as a good excuse to have a party!   New Year’s Eve is called Sylvester in Israel because it was the name of a Roman saint who convinced Constantine to prevent Jews from living in Jerusalem, and the day Catholics appointed to be celebrate his “achievements”  is December 31st.  I guess we ignored the meaning behind the day, and celebrated like the rest of the world- the pub was decorated, a band played, and there were free drinks!