Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Blur

The past few weeks have been an absolute blur here. I'll try to break down exactly what has been happening during this time period.

גדנ"ע (Gadna)
Gadna is a week long army experience designed for Israeli Teenagers to prepare themselves for what the army will be like. The word גדנ"ע in Hebrew is actually an abbreviation for גדודי נוער. Literally this means 'teen brigades.' In the days of the פלמ"ח (Palmach), before the state and the army officially existed, this was a way of training future soldiers. I guess little has changed but the formalities.

My Gadna experience was a bit different as the entirety of the week was spent with only Garin Tzabar participants. Unlike some Israeli teens, our motivation to join the army is not a question. We came here and joined the Garin Tzabar project to be a part of the IDF.

The week was spent getting up early, running from place to place, eating bad food, standing at attention, doing pushups, lifting heavy objects while running, and drinking lots of water. We learned how to stay hidden in nature during our 'field day.' We learned how to properly handle firearms and can now recite the rules and regulations from memory. Most importantly we learned how important it is to work as a team to accomplish goals set forth. My צוות (team) was awarded best in our platoon.

During our last day of Gadna most of us finally got our new cellphones! I haven't had a new phone in about 4 years now. My old Motorola is about dead and it was time to move on. Now I have a brand new Nokia 5800 XpressMusic. It works great, but the best part is Garin Tzabar has a special plan for us which is even cheaper than normal soldier rates!

צו רישון (First Call Up)
August 31st was the date of my צו רישון or my first army call up. Most Israelis have this day some time during sophomore or junior year of high school. It gives them about 2 years to figure out what they want to do in the army, take care of health issues, and make other important decisions. For me this is happening 3 months before I am drafted. It makes the process a bit more stressful. What is the צו רישון?

Sav Rishon is a day of testing...all kinds of testing. All of this testing is done at the local draft office, mine being in Tiberias. You begin by receiving a plastic card with a magnetic stripe. Its your ID for the day. In it is programed your Teudat Zehut number and personal information. Remember Teudat Zehut is the official ID card in Israel and its number is much like the US social security number. With this magnetic card you swipe it through a scanner in a computer and you begin to wait. Most of the day is waiting in between tests.

First I had a personal interview with a lovely female soldier. She asked me all about my life. Where I was from, my parents ages, my family situation, how many friends I have, what my education was like. All of this sounds irrelevant, but they're building a profile of who I am and what kind of environment I'm used to. Here they also administer a Hebrew language test. Mostly listening and reading, but I also had to tell a story to prove I know how to communicate. This whole interview places you on a quantifiable scale called “dapar.” Basically its your social well being number. You don't get to find out what your dapar is.

Next I was sent to another computer...another swipe and I was set to wait for my health tests. A urine test for proteins and general health is followed by a height/weight measurement and eye exam. Next a doctor checks out your health history from medical records and quickly examines your back and feet. This is then quantified into a number as well. 97 is the highest physical profile. Why 97 and not 100? The joke is, no male is totally complete because of the circumcision. Maybe its true, maybe it isn't. Either way the health profiles are: 97/82/76/64/45/30/24. Seems random, but 76 and higher can be combat soldiers. I got a 97 on my physical profile.

The next swipe leads to an intelligence test called the Psychotechnic test. Its a test of shapes and patterns. It can be taken in any language, because intelligence doesn't always mean Hebrew fluency. This test is graded on a scale of 40-56. Again quite random, but 54 and higher means possibility of officer training. A score of 55 or 56 means you have the intelligence to go to pilot school. Like your dapar, this number, called 'caba,' remains a mystery until later.

After this test I had a personal interview with an army social worker. This was to arrange my status as a lone soldier. She explained to me my rights. Specifically my extra salary and my rent assistance.

After this most people have a personal interview with an officer after this. Because I have a degree and a few years more experience than the average 18 year old, this step was skipped. I'd love to tell you more about it, but I wasn't there.

The whole day took from 8am to 5pm and the only perk I got was a free sandwich and drink with that magnetic swipe card. However, now I'm in the army system.

יום סידור (Errand Day)

Today we all went into Kyriat Shmone to run errands around town. It was a day of great accomplishment today. My bank account is now open and has money in it. I also now have a two credit cards in my name from Bank Leumi, my new bank! Next I arranged my new health insurance provider Clalit. I also started the process of switching my drivers license from Wisconsin to Israeli. It mostly involved a picture and an eye test. More will come on that front as the process, like anything here, takes lots of time and many steps.

This weekend is a closed Shabbat on the Kibbutz and I'll be uploading pictures then when some extra bandwith opens up on our internet.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Shabbat on the Kibbutz

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

This weekend is an 'open shabbat' for the Garin. This phrase 'open shabbat' is one I'm going to have to get used too. It means that this weekend we are allowed to leave the Kibbutz to visit friends or family elsewhere. Most of the people in the Garin bolted for the gate as soon as possible. I decided to stay for Shabbat. Mostly because Brett isn't open for this shabbat. That has something to do with the fact that he's being released from the Army on Monday!

Anyway...an open shabbat on the Kibbutz starts Thursday afternoon. The kibbutz gives people rides down to Naharia, a major rail hub of Israel. For the nine of us staying on the kibbutz its mostly a chance to relax. Yesterday evening those who stayed went go karting a bit down the mountain. I don't want to brag, but I did get the best lap time.

Tonight will be shabbat dinner in the dining hall and fun at the pub. The rest of the Garin doesn't return until Sunday evening...so we have ample time to relax.

Shabbat Shalom everyone, hope yours is as relaxing as mine will be!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A New Life!

Here it is loyal blog readers...its my first offical documentation of Israeli citizenship. Its called a Teudat Oleh. Basically it is an immigrant's first ID and a documentation of all his/her benifits from the government.Its one of those documents that seems pretty useless when you first get it. For instance, I would like to open a bank account. Why, because without a bank account I can't get a cell phone or get money. The cell phone being more important to me right now.

Anyway, despite the fact that my Teudat Oleh does have my official Israeli ID number, it is insufficient to actually open the bank account or get the cell phone.It is one of those documents that when you need it, you really need it. You need it to set up your Sal Klitah, the government stipened for new Immigrants during they first 6 months. I'm also eligable for 6 months of unemployment after the Sal Klitah runs its course. You need your Teudat Oleh to get these benefits.

To read more about the benefits of an Oleh Chadash in Israel check out this link here.


Here's my horrible picture...absolutely aweful. Why are my ID pictures always so bad? Anyway, the number under the artful grey censorship is my official ID number for the State of Israel. Sort of like a social security number. Like the social security number in the US its needed for almost everything important. Unlike in the US, the numbers are issued in numerical order. All my friends who are previous immigrants have closely examined my number and said things like: "Wow they're already in the 33's." or "Yeah mines a 31, but I came 7 years ago."

Tomorrow afternoon is the offical opening of Garin Tzabar 2009. There will be a ceremony at Tel Aviv University. 215 particpants will be inducted into the project for this year and we will be living at 9 different Kibbutzim. The most in the history of the project! You can watch the ceremony online tomorrow morning at 7am EST. Check out the link here.

I'll try to post again soon, but no promises. After the cermony we are moving to the Kibbutz and I don't really know what the situation will be for the first few days.

P.S. I just posted some pictures of my summer trip to Boston! Check them out at my Picasa website.
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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Looking Ahead

Lately I've been thinking a great deal about the future. Its a fairly obvious topic for this time of year at HUC Jerusalem. We're in the home streatch here as purim has passed us by. In a little bit it will be Passover and before you know it its May and finals will hit us all like a ton of bricks. My classmates are all working on securing their summer jobs, finding new places to live, buying cars, and picking up their lives again from where they left off.

In a few short weeks people in my class will start their packing to head back to the United States and Canada. My reflection group will be having a discussion about 'What we will be packing with us' when we head home. I jokingly said to them: a very small backpack.

My last blog post was about the counter I have counting up on my facebook page. Well today I added a new counter: My Countdown to עליה! It say that from today I have 141 days until I make Ayliah. Writing that sent shivers down my spine. 141 days from now I will be here in Israel as a citizen.

Now I'm sure that most of my readers (all 5 or so of you) have talked to me about my plans, but I haven't really talked about exactly why I'm doing this. I've compilied a small list...

100 years ago Minneapolis Minnesota was a fairly large flour milling town on the Missisipi river. Milwaukee Wisconsin was a small little town on Lake Michigan. Tel Aviv didn't even exist! Haifa was a tiny port city that wasn't worth mentioning on most maps. Be'er Sheva wasn't a city at all! 100 years later and Tel Aviv is the cultural capital of a modern state. Haifa is a booming and diverse city and Be'er Sheva is the metropolis of the desert. I look at everything that's been built here and say to myself 'I want to be a part of this!'

Walk down the streets of Israel on Friday night and there is one thing you'll hear. 'Shabbat Shalom!' Saturday night its 'Shavuah Tov!' On Holidays its 'Chag Sameach!' Its hard not to live the Jewish calendar here. Life just marches to the beat of Judiasm's drum. I want to live here and feel that every year.

I'm looking ahead...not to packing for the United States, but to packing for my return trip...packing for my life.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

500

About 501 days ago...I was getting on a plane in New York bound for Israel. Life seemed very uncertain at the time. Where was I going to live in Israel? How was I going to like living in a land so foreign to my own? What would my life be like for the next 18 months?

Here I am exactly 500 days abroad. In all of that time I've seen and done incredible things. On this the 500th day of my adventure I'll recap a few of the great things I've done.

I have...
Swam in the Mediterranian, and I did it within 2 hours of being here!
Lived in the Jezreel Valley, Israel's bread basket and home to many Kibbutzim.
Worked in a Screw Factory, where no one spoke English! (Oh So Many Jokes about the Factory)
Lived in a Desert climate...very different from where I've ever lived.
Learned to speak a language both ancient and modern all at once.
Drank tea with Beduins (real Beduins not the tourist ones who take you on camel rides)
Smoked Nargila on the side of a Jordainan Highway with my cab driver
Stood next to the giant temples of Petra
Ice Skated in Metulla at the Canada Center
Wandered the streets of Tel Aviv (The first Modern Hebrew City, celebrating its 100th birthday this year.)
Picked Olives
Eaten Hummus fresh (Yes it does taste better warm)
Watched the sun set over the Golden Dome and the Kotel
Strolled down the Cardo like my ancestors did thousands of years ago
Watched Military Ceremonies and watched my best friend become a soldier (albiet a lazy one)
I've visited the capitals of Europe (well France, England, Germany, Holland, Spain, and Belgium)
Slept in airports (on purpose)
Eaten French Cheeses so exclusive, its against the law to export them
Ridden the bus from London to Paris...yeah I took a ferry to Dunkirk
Seen the Mona Lisa...pretty over hyped
Watched the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
Ate real fish and chips...with malt vinegar and everything!
Wandered the grounds of Versalles (and yes the tour guide was angry at me for reminding him the German Kaiser was crowned there)
Stood under the Brandenburg Gate
Eaten Bratwurst at the Reichstag
Cried at Anne Frank's house in Amsterdam
Saw more Van Gogh paintings than I ever thought exsisted
Walked the red-light district also in Amsterdam
Ate Stroopwaffels (Dutch is an awesome language by the way)
Sipped German beer and found it to be not nearly as good as Dutch beer
Walked in the Placio Real in Madrid
Learned that wine brings all people together
Found that just a smile and a hello can make strangers into friends
Grown up a whole lot...


Its been a crazy ride so far. By my estimate I have about 75ish more days before I return to the United States, but it won't be for long. See there's one thing I've found these past 500 days that trumps all of these exprience. I feel at home here in Israel and I've decided to make the dream a reality. So I guess that in August when I return there won't be any need for a countdown or a count up...

Monday, January 5, 2009

Time to Speak

I'm sitting here in the Library at HUC trying to study for my exams. Why am I not able to focus? Well other than the normal internet related distractions like facebook and hockey scores, there's a war going on in my backyard. It’s been on my mind since the whole thing started two weeks ago. I'll never be able to forget exactly where I was when it happened.

I woke up in the morning on Kibbutz Yiftah ready have latkes with my friends to cure my awful hangover. As we grated potatoes we switched on CNN just to see what was going on in the world. Turns out the sky was falling down on top of Gaza. Suddenly all across the Garin area of the Kibbutz cell phones were ringing. Not calls from parents or friends but rather calls from army superiors telling their soldiers to skip the laundry and be on the first bus back to base. Just like that a week vacation for some or just a weekend off for others got canceled. It was a stark realization to everyone there.

Reports started to filter down to us as to which units were being called up and where they were headed. It sounded like a dance of line cutting and shifting. I wasn't quite sure what to think, I just wanted to know if my best friend was going to the border or not. Luckily at the time it was just air attacks and he would be going back to his training base to finish his advanced training. He was still on track to receive his colored beret on the 15th of January. I even talked with his mom about how excited I was to see them again.

Fast forward to this last Saturday evening. Strolling Ben Yehuda street with my friends visiting on their Birthright trips. Everything seemed ok, until we heard the news that the ground invasion had begun. I heard conflicting reports about numbers involved, injured, and thankfully at that time none dead.

Now the picture is becoming clearer as to what is actually happening in Gaza. Dozens of IDF soldiers have been injured and one has been killed. The operation is expected to be long and difficult here and there are few who will not be affected in this small country that I love. It’s hard to write about, but I do know people who are directly involved. Their lives will forever be changed because of this war. Guys I used to joke with, drink with, play soccer with, and hangout with will simply never be the same.

My best friend's beret ceremony has been 'postponed' indefinitely and his training has been cut short. Luckily he's not heading to Gaza, but the alternative isn't much better. He'll be patrolling the streets of Ramallah or Hebron for awhile. He may not even be able to get leave to see his parents when they come.

My heart is saddened for another generation of Israelis who have to know war instead of peace.

So here I sit in the HUC libray, trying to learn some trope for an exam tomorrow. Hard doesn't even describe how it is right now.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oh the Places I've Been

Its been 365 days since I left home...I've now been abroad for one year. I left a bright eyed kid who'd never been to far from what was comfortable. My life existed through a prism that I didn't even know was missning so many colors. I'd never genuinely met a person who was all that different from me. One year ago my life took a turn down a road of adventure.

Its been a year of memories and a year of growth. I've learned an ancient and yet new language, the language of my people. A language I've grown to love. A language of such great holiness, learning, and beauty and at the same time a language of markets, cell phones, and all sorts of normal daily things.

I've grown to love this place for what it is. From far north in Metula where you can ice skate at the Canada Center, all the way down south to Eilat where the parties don't stop. Taba and Aqaba beckon to you from the boardwalk in Eilat. I've seen the soaring sky scrapers of Tel Aviv and ridden on the crazy subway in Haifa. I've hiked the Golan and seen Damascus on a clear day from one of the peaks. I've lived on Kibbutzim, a place where pioneering spirit can still be found with a Labor Zionist brand. I met some of the brave ones who fought in all of Israel's wars. I've mourned the loss of their comrades on Memorial Day and had the absolute thrill to be in Rabin Square for Independence day (the day after Memorial Day.) 60 years now we've had this home of ours.

I've watched my best friend become a soldier. Its hard to believe that in a few months he will have his swearing in ceremony into Nahal. Its strange to think what his life is like. He was drafted on my birthday last year...thanks Israeli Government. I'm proud of him for all that he is doing. He's making a life for himself here. 

I've seen the sights of Europe, admittadly not as much as I wanted to, but still lots of stuff. The amazing museams and artwork that takes your breath away. Strange coffee shops where a dozen different languages waft in the air. Interesting people you meet in the hostels along the way. Seeing the world.

As I write this I'm feeling homesick. Its been a long time since I've seen a lot of you reading this thing out there. I've missed so much of what's going on in the States. We're all a year older, and a year's worth of experiences has passed us by. Of course I miss my family, especially the little ones. I miss my friends who are still in various places around the country. I miss the snow and the ice. It may be wonderful here, but its not the same as where I grew up.

I miss certain familiar foods which you either can't get here or only come in strange varities here. While yet, I've come to enjoy all the amazing food that is here too. Learning to cook a new way was fun, and doing it in a different language was even more.

I've see a whole lot of stuff, met a whole lot of people, and been to quite a few places. Its been an amazing ride. Hope to hear from you all and hope you are all having a great Sukkot!

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