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Summer has arrived?

February 13, 2010

I went to Netanya for the weekend with Malke and Ylana, and stayed with them in their friend Samantha’s apartment, which is where they will be moving to after the ulpan is over.  In Netanya, many shops and restaurants are open on Shabbat, so we were able to eat non-Kosher McDonald’s for dinner.  Then at night, I went to my first “fiesta latina,” in Tel Aviv.   In Netanya, like in other Israeli cities, there are sherut monit, which are smaller than buses and look like taxis, but are  less expensive.  So we walked to a nearby sherut monit stop, took one to the central bus station in nearby Tel Aviv, and then took a taxi to the bar where the party was held.  It was fun to see Jews from Spanish-speaking countries from all over the world dancing and singing to familiar (to them) music, and Malke (from Mexico) and I enjoyed having Corona beers.

Today we woke up relatively early and went to the beach.  We had fantastic weather, and I loved having the opportunity to read in the sun.  The water was too cold for me to get in, but I put my feet in, and it was warm enough for me to wear my bathing suit!

Netanya has many waterfront apartment buildings, and many more are currently being built.  Malke and Ylana’s new apartment is walking distance from the beach, and is built in the 70’s style of apartments in Israel- concrete block exterior, however their apartment has been renovated inside and looks quite modern.  The waterfront town has a lot of nice amenities– running/bike path separate from the sidewalk, public tennis courts, beach with cafe, and good public transportation, but the services seem to be lacking.  I wonder where all the people who will move into the new apartments will buy their groceries?

I hope the nice weather will stay in Israel- I am have been working in the vineyard securing the vines with special plastic ties and rubber bands to wires.  Work is so much more pleasant when the sun is shining!  This week I will be going to the Diaspora museum in Tel Aviv with the ulpan, and next Sunday we will be doing basic army training (Gadna) at a base in the desert in the South of Israel.  I will definitely report on my experience there, but not until I return, because I will not have computer access during my time there.

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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!

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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.!

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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!

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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!

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Trip to Netanya

December 27, 2009

This weekend I visited my cousin (actually my dad’s cousin) Jason, his wife, Limor, and their three children (Maya, Avishai, and Mika) in Netanya.  They live across the street from the sea and also a horse ranch!  Their house is great, with a backyard, which we took advantage of during my stay!  I played games with the kids, including an Israeli version of Uno, which was great practice for my Hebrew.  The girls speak English and Hebrew, and I think they enjoyed making fun of my accent!

I went on a walk on the beach with their family friend, who made Aliyah from France, so I also  practiced my French a little bit.  It turns out that her husband (who also stayed with us for Shabbat) is the brother of someone who I worked with at Hillel!  What a small world!  On my walk, I saw some large beachfront homes, with varied architectural styles, but similar building materials, which are unique to Israel.  You don’t see houses with brick, siding, or stucco typically.

I had a great weekend, even though I didn’t celebrate Christmas…although before I took the bus to the kibbutz I stopped at the mall and got some lo mein…that was my Jewish Christmas dinner a day late.

Here is the beginning of my list of things unique to Israel/different in Israel than in the U.S….I will add on as I can think of things:
-People using squeegees for household cleaning (ie showers and counterspace)
-Weird heavy horizontal window blinds
-People eating wafer (waffle) cookies with coffee
-No public transportation on Shabbat
-Ice cream looks like gelato
-It is fairly uncommon to live in a house
-Houses and apartments are rented and sold without appliances (including heaters and stoves)
-Everyone has a kumkum (electric water kettle)
-Dinner is like breakfast in the U.S.- people eat cereal or something light
-Kids eat a hot lunch after they get home from school
-Your bags have to be searched by a security guard and you go through a metal detector when you go into a mall
-Green lawns are not common
-People almost never dress up
-There are two ways to flush the toilet- for number one and number two
-Almost everyone listens to the same radio station- Galgalatz.
-There is resistance-based athletic equipment on the side of the street randomly, that people actually use.
-People wear socks with sandals
-Young soldiers walk around with guns
-Grocery stores use the floor polishers during regular, busy hours.

My current wish list:

-Winter hat
-Cheap watch
-Some zip up hoodies
-Slippers
-Sweet tart hearts (in February)
-Running pants
-T-shirts
-Neutrogena SkinClearing oil-free concealer

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Second ulpan trip!

December 23, 2009

Yesterday the ulpan traveled to Jerusalem.  First we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum.  I went there with my Birthright trip 3 years ago but I was too jet lagged too fully appreciate it.  I can’t decipher what I remembered from actually visiting that museum, or the one in DC.  For the tour, everyone received headphones, either to listen to our guide, or to hear about the exhibits in their mother tongue.  It was definitely a sad start to the day, but I think it’s important to be constantly reminded of the victims, the villians, and the righteous among nations (those who were not Jewish but saved Jews).  I already know a lot of the things that the guide discussed, but I learned something new that gave me a new found respect for Sweden: During the Holocaust, the country allowed Jews to immigrate from Norway and Sweden, and apparently the entire Jewish community of Denmark!

We also went to Ammunition Hill, the site of a battle during the Six Day War, where we watched a movie about the war.  We had time to walk around Ben Yehuda St., where I bought some orange fleece gloves…I assume it will get cold again, even though it has been relatively warm the last few days.  We also went to the Kotel/Western Wall.  This time I decided to go into the women’s section for a bit.  I don’t really agree with the separation between the women and the men, and especially the spatial disparity, but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity because so many people would love to be in my place.

Finally, we went to the “Time Elevator,” an experiential movie with moving seats and other special effects, which was somewhat an overview of Jerusalem’s history from the City of David up to the Six Day War.  It was entertaining enough, but having been to the light show a month ago, it was redundant for me.

In other news….the civil defense siren went off this evening.  I was in my room alone, and I was scared.  I went outside to see if people from the ulpan were going to the shelter…we started to go, but the siren stopped.  I later found out that it was a drill; there had been a note (in Hebrew) in the dining room informing people about it.  I wish I had known!

Today I worked outside all day.  Luckily I dressed more appropriately than I was the last work day (one pair of my work pants has a broken zipper so I couldn’t take off my sweatshirt because I was wearing a tank top- and it was 75 degrees outside on Monday!)  Today we continued with putting the “plasticim” on the irrigation pipes;  I think we are almost done, but we also had to hammer stakes into the ground over the pipes.  It was really tiring work and my back is sore!  It’s nice to see what I’ve help to accomplish though-when we drive through the fields to reach the edge of the kibbutz to finish working on the remaining vineyards, we can see the “fruits” of our labor!