Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First 2 Weeks of Seminar

Ok so as most of you reading this know (that means my parents, because I don't think many other people actually read this) I don't really have internet access while I work as a counselor on Ramah Seminar. I'm on my first day off in 2 weeks, and it has been MUCH needed! I get about 5 hours of sleep a night and each of my days is about 18 hours long consisting of 3-4 stops each day of hiking and walking around. I hike/walk about 6 km every day. My experience with the kids has been both a positive and negative one: there are some amazing kids out there that impress me tremendously, but unfortunately there are several kids that make me disgusted to be related to them as human beings. I want to ship them off to boot camp until they learn respect and the values of being a good person.

Anyways, let me try and give you a quick summary of what I've been doing...

My first week of Seminar started in the north of Israel, based in an orthodox youth village called Hodayot. The theme of the travels in the north was Borders and Beginnings, where we showed the kids the borders with several countries and showed them different kinds of people living in and around Israel. We traveled all around the Golan Heights and the Galilee, seeing beautiful nature hikes and cool cities. Some of the pretty hikes I've done are in places called Banyas, Gilabon, and Mount Arbel. These were all nature hikes, some being around beautiful waterfalls and hiking in streams (which I always think is very cool). As for Mount Arbel, we hiked up it in order to stand on the top and pray Shacharit (the morning prayers) as the sun rose, which was really a beautiful scene. I know I throw the word beautiful around, but it's one of the best words I can use. Other places we've visited have related to the military here, as it is one of Israel's central focuses. We visited a place called Kfar Giladi where we heard the story of a man named Joseph Trumpledor, who was a Zionist leader and came to live in Israel, saying that if no one cultivated the land up north, countries would simply take it over. He died fighting for what he believed was his homeland, and was quoted as saying "It is good to die for your country." We also visited an old army based overlooking Syria called Har Bental, and we got to run around in all the old trenches in this base. We've also gotten to meet with Israeli Arab teenagers to hear their perspectives on things as well as meeting some Druze people in their village (called Dalit al HaKarmel) to hear their perspectives on Israel.

The second week here we moved ourselves to the base camp in Jerusalem, and have started to travel around this area. We've traveled up to Tel Aviv to see Independence Hall, where Ben Gurion declared the Jewish state of Israel in the middle of a war. We took the kids to a mall where every single place to eat in the mall is strictly kosher, there's a synagogue there, and how this mall completely shuts down on cool is that??? We've taken them to parts of the Old City, to walk around the ancient towers of the walls of the old city, walking in Hezekiah's water tunnels. We are also exploring the War of Independce of 1948 and seeing some battle sites, such as Castel and San Simon Park. We also got to tour an underground ammunition factory called the Ayalon Institute and we visited the Palmach Museum (the Palmach was basically the beginnings of the Israeli Defense Forces).

Next week begins our 5 days of Etgar (literally meaning Challenge), where I will be one of about 9-10 counselors leading about 70 kids on a 5 day hiking, swimming, biking trip from the Kinneret (on one side of Israel) to the Mediterranean Sea (on the other side of Israel). This trip is commonly known as Yam L'Yam (Sea to Sea). Anyways, my next internet access should be in about 2 weeks, so be prepared for another big update then. Pictures will follow soon hopefully!

Love you all and hoping this finds you well,

Monday, June 15, 2009

The End and The Beginning

I’m sorry that this last update is looooong overdue, but the last couple weeks have been crazy. So, with that being said, I’ll try to catch you all up on my life.

On May 24th, I cashed in my Hanukkah present and took my friend Zehra on a tour of the tunnels of the Kotel. I hadn’t been on the tunnel tours since I was around 10 years old with my family, so it was still new enough to be interesting for me too. Many people don’t know the visible part of the Kotel (the Western Wall) is really only a very small part of the walls of the ancient Second Temple. You can take a tour walking along the rest of the wall that runs beneath the Muslim quarter of the current Old City. Also, this tunnel tour gives you the chance to marvel at one of the ancient mysteries from the Jewish world: a single stone block that weighs over 500 tons was placed down there, but no one knows how! Little did I know that I would be going on this same tour a few weeks later on June 11 with Ramah Seminar because we had to learn to give the tour so that when we take our kids (yes that means I’m going a third time this year) during Seminar, we can give them the tour.

The first week of June was absolute craziness. Not only did I have 4 finals, a 12 page paper, and a 15 page paper to do, but I had to say goodbye to all of my closest friends from the semester as they flew back to the United States. After the tearful goodbye to my friends, I had to move out of my apartment in the Kfar and into another apartment. Thanks to my friend Abby and even more thanks to her grandmother, I have a great place to stay for the 3 weeks until Seminar starts. Also, during these crazy first two weeks of June, I started my staff training for Seminar. Long days of them telling us obvious things like don’t exit the bus in the middle of the street. I’ve met my little staff of 4 (3 others and me) and I really like them and I think this will be a fun yet exhausting summer. After the boring parts of training like sitting in a classroom while they talk and talk, we were taken out on a hike to simulate a day in the life. We hiked in an ancient agricultural site right next to Jerusalem called Sataf, located on the terraced slopes of Mt. Eitan, where you can see the remains of a pre-1948 Arab Village. Here in Ein Sataf, we entered a cave where a spring flows and brings pure cold water out from the rocks. Inside the cave, completely pitch black, the whole staff sang a song called Ohzee (a Jewish song/prayer). It was really emotionally moving to hear all of our voices singing this beautifully haunting melody in a cave thousands of years old. And actually, even more moving for me, I did this same thing 5 years ago, in this exact cave, on my high school in Israel program. One last thing I wanted to tell you about: my Shabbat experience at a synagogue called Shira Hadasha. Shira Hadasha (New Song for those non-Hebrew speakers) is an orthodox synagogue but with a very feminist feeling. By that I mean they have a mechitza (curtain separating women and men) but women were leading parts of the service, reading Torah, and doing many other egalitarian things. They even opened up the mechitza in the middle so that women could read from the Torah. This was the most confusing Shabbat for me. I really liked it at the beginning because you could get that bond with women only, but not feel like you’re being completely excluded from the men. However, by the end, the more I thought about it the more I didn’t like it. I felt like if you were going to be Orthodox, be completely Orthodox, and if you were going to be egalitarian and let women be involved, don’t separate us and let us do some things but not all things. As I said before, it was a very confusing Shabbat experience for me. It made do a lot of thinking and re-evaluating of my current observance level to figure out what I liked.

Anyways, now I have 2 weeks to hang out in Israel until Seminar starts. I hope to spend some time with some of my new Israeli friends and see those friends who are still here. I’ll try to update you again before Seminar starts, but be aware that once Seminar starts on June 28th, my internet access will be zero to nil.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Media vs. Reality

As I know this blog is much delayed, it's really going to be more about my thoughts and impressions rather than my exact actions. In the past month, I have had the opportunity to visit 2 very different cities: the Southern Israeli town of Sderot and the town of Nablus, located in the West Bank. Since you are reading this, it means I've returned safely from both of those cities, deemed dangerous, so no need to fear. I just wanted to write a little about my impressions on media vs. reality when it comes to these cities, both victims of media lies.


The city is still under Qassam rocket fire, where residents still live in fear. We went on a tour of the police station (and the Qassam pile), a house destroyed by a Qassam, a playground where the equipment has turned into a rocket shelter, and an overlook of Gaza. The media is not able to truly display the feelings of the residents in the area. We spoke to a college student who described a class experience of hers: in her class, she could not finish watching a 30 second commercial in 20 minutes because the incoming Qassam alarm went off 7 times, and they had to run to a bomb shelter every single time. Her home had a bomb shelter in it and she said her family kept running out of food because everyone would crowd her bomb shelter and eat all the food they had for days at a time. The streets of Sderot are empty, the shops are lifeless... this town has essentially been abandoned. EXCEPT, everyone still lives there, it's really a sad situation. And after seeing the Qassam rockets, I can't imagine having one of those slam onto my home. What's even sadder was walking on the playground. This playground has the famous concrete caterpillar, a very long, big, and colorful hollowed out caterpillar made of about 1 foot of concrete, designed to be a shelter for children to run to when they hear the alarm. For your information, this caterpillar actually can't protect the kids from a direct hit, it just protects them from the shrapnel and debris that does the damage. By the way, in case you didn't know, after you hear the alarm go off *TZEVA ADOM*, you have 15 SECONDS to get into a shelter...basically, you're in trouble if you're not standing right near one. For the first time in my life, as I walked down the street, I was actually staking out where the bomb shelters were, should I also need to run for my life. I looked for the bus shelters which are made of concrete, homes that have a bomb shelter built in (which not many do), and any other structure that could protect me. How scary is that? When we went to the overlook, where we could actually see Gaza, it was amazing to see how close it was. But honestly, the most amazing part of this day was being able to tour Sderot, seeing the actual rockets that have exploded (I got to touch them, very scary), and listening to stories from a girl not much older than me, explaining how she couldn't finish class and how she had to pull her friend out from under a table because she was shaking so bad. I'm blessed to live in safety.


Oh what an experience this was. After all my studying of the politics of the area, I thought it was only fair that I give the other side a chance, and at least go see with my own eyes what's so terrible about the West Bank. The media only partially lies about this...I took an Arab bus (because it was a Saturday and regular buses weren't running) from Jerusalem into Ramallah, after which I transfered to a van (with several other friends) that took us to Nablus. In case you didn't know, Nablus was the center of many of the suicide bombers and much of the unrest in the West Bank. This means that there has to be lots of checkpoints around Nablus itself. So we went through our first checkpoint of the day. What a nice thing to be a get through some checkpoints MUCH faster and without any problems. We then took a taxi to the center of town. In case any of you plan on going...take someone with you who speaks Arabic!! We had my friend Zehra who guided us through to Nablus but then split off, making sure we didn't get taken advantage of, and I also traveled with my friend Rachel, whose Arabic is equivalent to my Hebrew, but obviously is better than I can do in Arabic! Once we got to the center of town, we were trying to find the famous Jacob's Well, and after much walking around, we just decided to get a tour guide since we didn't really know what we were doing. We bargained (always, ALWAYS, bargain your way down). Our tour guide first showed us a soap factory, which is now shutdown because no one can buy the soap (you can tell no one buys soap because the human body odor was terrible, but it was cool to see the stacks and stacks of the soap). We eventually made our way to Jacob's Well, which is located in a beautiful church and we got to drink from the supposed holy water that has physical restoration properties. We then toured the city, getting a VERY one sided explanation of things ("this is the house that was destroyed by the Israeli occupation invasion that murdered an innocent family"), but such is life over there. Shortening up the story, we eventually found our way back to the border crossing called Qalandiya, which was QUITE an experience. At this border crossing, it didn't matter if you were Christians, Jewish, Muslim, Israeli, Palestinian, or American. You had to go through the same process. We waited in a single file line (or something like a cage, closed in by bars on both sides and on top) for about 1 hour as we were being sorted into more lines. Then we waited for about 1.5 hrs in this one VERY unruly "line", which really was a mosh pit. The Arab men were basically trying to break down the turnstile that was letting them through about 2-3 at a time. It was taking so long because after you get through, you had to put your bags through a scanner and present your documents to a soldier behind a bullet proof glass office and then go through a metal detector. The more unruly the men got, the more reluctant the soldier was to even let them through, which only made them more mad and unruly. I was a little afraid standing in this row, being only 1 of 3 non Arab people. Eventually, me and my 2 friends jumped lines because we were getting afraid of being squashed to death and got through just fine in another line. After all was said and done, it took us about 3 hours to get through that border crossing and we wanted to celebrate about getting back into Israel. I guess if you're used to that kind of activity, which is daily and sometimes several-times-a-day daily, it's not as bad, but it made me never really want to go back again.

A few other impressions I had....1) maybe I just wasn't in the worst parts of the West Bank, but it looks like any other crowded city anywhere, with not that much destruction. It kind of angered me that the residents there try to get so much international sympathy when it looks like any other crowded New York City neighborhood. I've seen worse areas in the US and they don't garner anywhere near as much attention. 2) Palestinian men made me feel really grossed out. They looked at us like we were zebras and they were lions. I wanted to go home and take a shower after the way they constantly stared and made gestures and said things to us. Yuck. 3) I really enjoy my freedom and the ability to do basically anything I want. The checkpoints were quite frustrating, especially when our "American card" didn't help at all. Also kind of made me realized as Americans, we can't just do anything and we don't get exceptions everywhere.

Sorry this post was long, I just had a lot to say. And also sorry it's VERY late in coming. I'm in the beginning of finals period, so I've been a little busy. Enjoy the blogging and the pictures!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Pesach break slideshow!

So here are my spring break pictures finally.... After losing many of my pictures to a stupid mistake, I was able to recover most of them and then I borrowed some pictures that friends took. These aren't all of my vacation memories, but here's a small taste so you can see what I did for two weeks!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pesach Break Part 2- Greece

Thursday April 9
  • in trying to get a cheap flight to Greece for vacation, I ended up booking a flight that had a layover in Riga, LATVIA! (not really realizing how far out of the way that was) so I now have a stamp in my passport saying I went to Latvia!
  • arrived in Greece...for some reason without getting a stamp in my passport :( and met up with my friends who were already in Greece
  • grabbed an evening ferry to the island of Santorini where we were picked up by the people who ran the hostel we were staying in called Manos Villas, which was very nice (the pickup service and the hostel)

Friday April 10

  • after getting a recommendation from Ali about seeing a volcano, and hearing from other people too, we decided to wanted to check out this volcano on a small island off of Santorini called Nea Kameni. In order to get to it, we had to catch a bus from our hostel, take a cable car down to the port, and then hop on a boat going to the island! All very exciting though!
  • We were guided around the volcano by the tourguide of the group, and got to hear about how it's still an active volcano and for only something like 1 million US dollars, you can actually buy this volcano!
  • After wandering around the volcano for awhile, we hopped back on the boat so they could take us nearby to some hot springs, where we could get out and swim around if we wanted, which of course some of our group wanted to do. We jumped into the Aegean Sea (which was freeeeeezing) and swam to the hot springs, but because it was only April, the hot springs weren't actually hot, but it was still fun.
  • that night we went to a late dinner and then out on the town to check out the scene, and it was very touristy was still fun

Saturday April 11

  • rented 2 ATVs to share among the 4 of us because we were told it was the best way to get around the island to see all the things we wanted to see
  • drove to a black sand beach called Kamari beach and then drove to another beach (with white sand) called Perissa...sadly we ran out of time to see the red sand beach
  • grabbed an afternoon ferry to Crete. It was rough seas but we made it pretty quickly because we took a ferry that was a hi-speed Cat.
  • arrived at the main port of Crete called Iraklio but we were staying in a city called Rethymno, so we took a bus over there which was 1.5 hrs away and checked into our very crappy but very cheap youth hostel

Sunday April 12

  • took a bus back to Iraklio in order to go see this ancient palace called Knossos which was built by the Minoans, where we met up with 2 of our other friends from Israel...we saw lots of ancient ruins, but because so many of the ruins were falling apart so badly, the guy who did lots of the excavations of the site built replicas in its place, so much of what we were seeing were replicas of what he thought the palace used to look like
  • then we decided to go see the CretAquarium, which pales in comparison to the New England Aquarium in Boston, but it was still fun to see all the underwater animals

Monday April 13

  • the plan for the day was the beach, but the wind was killer, so we decided to visit the Fortezza in Rethymno which was built by the Venetians relatively recently (in the 1500s) to protect against the Turkish threat
  • met up with our 2 friends again in Iraklio where we went to the Archaeological Museum, but didn't stay there long because it was terrible and small. It's under many renovations and they are very strict, unlike many museums in the US, about visitors being inside, so it wasn't really pleasant to stay there
  • hopped on a 9 pm ferry back to Athens

Tuesday April 14

  • grabbed a 730 am ferry back out to Mykonos (I know, going back to Athens was out of the way, but it saved us some money)...and at this point in time, it was now my friend Larissa and I traveling together because our other 2 friends traveled to London for the remainder of the trip
  • arrived on Mykonos around 130 pm and was picked up by the place we were staying with (we were staying in a little studio called Studio Eleni, a little 3 person room with only the 2 of us, on a roof, very nice and quaint and relaxing)
  • Larissa and I wandered around the city of Chora, where we were staying, for the afternoon and then called it an early night since we were exhausted from not sleeping on the ferries

Wednesday April 15

  • went to a small island right off the coast of Mykonos called Delos, where basically the whole island is an archaelogical site/ruins of a city and walked all over the island and up the mountain on the island until the early afternoon
  • after cleaning up, Larissa and I went to a local bar on the water in the city/area called Alefkandra to watch the legendary sunset on Mykonos, which was absolutely beautiful and then spent the night dancing away at the clubs together

Thursday April 16

  • sat in the sun on the rooftop of our studio since we were leaving relatively early to head back to Athen, leaving on the day that supposedly 10,000 people were arriving to Mykonos
  • arrived in the evening to Athens where we checked into a wonderful hostel called Easy Access. It wasn't located in the best part of town, but it was a great hostel otherwise. We met some people in the lounge who showed us to a great place to get gyros right around the corner, and since I finally could eat bread and break Pesach, I was super excited to have my first gyro!
  • later that night we met other people, and went out with them to this area called Psiri, which is always cool to learn about other people's stories (we hung out with one of our roommates, a girl from Scotland)

Friday April 17

  • One of my favorite days of vacation began with a cheese/cracker lunch in Syntagma Square in Athens, near the Parliament building. Today, if any of you know what the Freedom Trail of Boston is, Larissa and I did the same type of walking trail around Athens. We had a great walking Athens in 1 day book that took us all over the city to see the sites.
  • We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which happens on the hour every hour. It's a very ornate process, but very cool to watch
  • Then we walked through the National Gardens, which are very beautiful and made me miss my mom, as she really loves botanical gardens
  • We passed by the Panathenaic Stadium, which is built of white marble and used to hold some of the athletic portions of the Olympic Games in ancient times, and in the 2004 Athens games, held the archery competition
  • Next we walked through the small streets of an area called Plaka, which is very cute and full of little shops and cafes
  • Continuing on, we walked through parts of the ancient agora and saw the Roman Agora and Library of Hadrian
  • After that we continued our walking tour by the Temple of Olympian Zeus (well the ruins of it) and by Hadrian's Arch/Gate, which was pretty cool, but it looked out of place standing next to telephone poles
  • Finally, we got to the the Acropolis! We saw lots of ancient Greek buildings such as the Dionysos Ancient Theater (which wasn't on the top of the Acropolis but on the slope of it). On the top we saw: the Propylaea which is a gateway to the rest of the buildings, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Parthenon (and from this spot you could also see the St. Georges Church on the Lycavittos hill and the Fetchigie Mosque)...sorry I'm throwing out all these names, I just jotted them down as we went, and you'll see the pictures of them in my slideshow
  • Went back to Plaka for dinner and this is where I had my ill-fated accident with my camera and accidentally lost ALL my pictures (and for those of you who missed out on my hysterical email, I did eventually get most of them back, but some I lost to file corruption)
  • For our last night in Greece, we met a group of kids from Wake Forrest who were on their break from studying abroad as well, who pulled us into their group and we all went to this really cool ice bar. You couldn't stay in the bar long because it was so cold (they gave us parkas and gloves to wear inside) but then came out and just danced to the great music that was playing. It was really fun to be able to sit on couchs completely made of ice!!

Saturday April 18

  • trying to kill some time before going to the airport, Larissa and I went to the big archaelogical museum, where many of the actual statues and paintings of the sites we had been seeing (and seeing the replicas) were.
  • also checked out Monastiraki Square, which is a big public area and on Saturdays I guess, they sell lots of cheese!
  • finally checked out and went to the airport for a very long trip home (through Latvia again)

And that, folks, is my trip to Greece in a quick nutshell... I know, it doesn't seem like a short blog to you, but let me tell you, I cut out details so as to fit it all here. Here are some other observations I made while traveling abroad:

  • Traveling in Europe, or at least on the Euro, is expensive!
  • Keeping kosher for Pesach and not eating bread makes it even more expensive because you can't eat the cheap street food
  • Greek men are VERY aggressive and slightly creepy
  • there is nothing to see or do in the Latvia airport, don't ever go there :)
  • Greece is very touristy and loves to play to tourists' expectations, but it's also very pretty if you go for relaxing vacation and for the beaches

Ok ok, I'm done with the typing. Stay tuned for the photo slideshow!!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Pesach Break Part 1- Netanya

This is WAAAAYY overdue, but I had to hit the ground running after I came home from vacation, so here are my vacation blogs. Also, because there's so much to say (because I did so much) my blogs are going to be in bullet format. If you would like more information on anything I did, feel free to actually email me (what a concept!!!) Pictures will follow in another blog, similar to my Petra photo slideshow.

Friday April 3
  • took a bus to Netanya to spend a few days with my sister Dena and her husband Amit
  • had a wonderful Nepalese Shabbat dinner made by Amit's grandmother's caretaker Mina, while being joined by my friend (and Amit's cousin) Abby

Saturday April 4

  • went to Tel Aviv at night to join in the celebrations for Tel Aviv's 100th birthday
  • met up with Amit's cousin Eitan and his girlfriend Maayan and went to a cute little bar called Backy's where Eitan's friend was a bartender

Sunday April 5

  • didn't really do much except run some travel errands with Dena and Amit
  • sat on the beach for awhile

Monday April 6

  • went Passover food shopping with Dena, only to be severely disappointed
  • discovered that most of Israel eats Kitniyot, which I don't, which makes all the food that says Kosher L'Pesach NOT kosher at all!!!! Realized that if I don't eat kitniyot, it's actually easier to celebrate Pesach in the States

Tuesday April 7

  • sat on the beach for a few hours, it was beautiful weather!
  • Mina made this dinner called Pansaroti, which everyone loves, it was delicious!

Wednesday April 8

  • went to Eitan's parents' house in Herzliyya for Seder
  • this seder was amazing, tons of amazing food that was kosher for me and Dena (we were the only ones not eating kitniyot)
  • surprisingly, almost every guest at this seder was American, but it still made it quite interesting
  • it really made me miss my family's seder, and more specifically having all my family together for it
  • left for the airport right after Seder to catch my 5 am flight to Greece!