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!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

A New Year's Resolution

Last week was ראש השנה, and in Israel it literally represents the New Year. In the United States I always observed the holiday, but never really thought of it as my New Year, because in secular American society it is not. School is in full swing and the Jewish High Holy Days (ימים הנורים) represent a strange sort of interruption. They tend to fall at a time, for University students, when classes are just beginning to get difficult for the semester. Due dates for papers draw closer and research projects need their library time.

Here in Israel, the holiday is felt everywhere. The checkout lady at the supermarket wished everyone a Shanah Tovah, because the holiday is on everyone's mind. There is no feeling that the holiday crept up on you, because the world view here is centered around the Holiday cycle. Rosh Hashana is the last real day of summer for secular Israelis and often that means one last beach trip. Sounds strange to American Jews, but for some reason it seems to fit in my mind. I was in services all day, but I could understand how a secular Israeli might want to streatch their summer just one more day. The Shabbat after Rosh Hashanah is traditionally an extra large party. It makes sense to me as well, because the New Years (Jan 1st) is always a large party. Why not celebrate the last few hours the last year and rejoice in the year to come?

I hosted two friends for Rosh Hashanah and we decided to Shul hop around Jerusalem's many options. I attended HUC for Erev Rosh Hashanah and found it to be a carbon copy of every other Reform High Holiday service I had ever been to. There was a large operatic choir singing the prayers to beautiful tunes, and each cantorial student had at least one solo. The cantorial students have been running around like their collective hair was on fire for the last month preparing. It was nice, but I'm in Israel and couldn't pass up the opportunity to see as much as possible.

I ducked out of HUC after the Torah reading on Rosh Hashanah day 1 and headed quickly for Har-El. While they have a well trained operatic cantor, the whole service had a much different feel. The entirety of the service was in Hebrew, it is an Israeli Reform shul after all. I arrived just in time to pray Mussaf with the congregation, a part of the service not included in most American Reform Synagogues. The service ended with B'shana Ha'baah, an Israeli folk tune who's title literally means 'Next Year.' Its a song of hope and decidedly secular. Singing that song at the end of Rosh Hashanah services reminded me why I love the Israeli Reform Movement, an amazing blend of old and new.

On day 2 of Rosh Hashanah my friends and I went to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue for Scharit services. Because I was hosting to women, they sat in the balcony and had a much better view than I did. It is a spectacular view and an amazing place. The whole shul is designed to be acoustically perfect for the Chazzan (service leader.) He stands facing the Ark and sings, accompanied by an all male operatic choir, and without the aid of a microphone all 2,000 people can hear his wonderful voice. The service is decidely Orthodox in its leaning, but it was a unique exprience. The Chazzan there will be retiring after this Yom Kippur and I had to see him lead services once before then.

After Shacharit we wandered a block down the street to the Conservative Yeshivah to catch Mussaf. It was a more egalitarian type service, but still had its times when the Chazzanit (female service leader) allowed the participants to go their own pace. The Sermon was very interesting and seemed to come from the heart. Its rare to see a Rabbi speak without notes, in my experience, but he spoke eloquently. The theme was one of T'shuva (repentance) and specifically the Ramban's teachings about it.

After the whole experience we walked back to my apartment to nosh a bit and then we walked over to the Kotel in the old city. There were a lot of tourists out. I joked they were 'watching the Jew in his natural environment.' (Use the National Geographic narrator in your head for that line.) My friends and I decided to pray Mincha service together just outside the gate to the Kotel plaza, so we could pray in mixed company. Then we headed down to the Kotel to say our own prayers. As I entered the Kotel area, a group of 20 something Modern Orthodox men asked me to pray with them. They already had a minyan, so the gesture was one of pure hospitality. How could I refuse? Orthodox Mincha service takes roughly 10 minutes and these boys were no exception. As we concluded with the Mourners Kaddish I turned to leave and meet my friends back in the plaza. One of the men grabbed my arm and said, stay and sing with us. Once again how could I refuse? Their voices weren't operatic, but something about the way we sat and sang next to the Kotel was magical. I really felt the depth of faith these young men had. Beautiful is an understated adjative for this situation.

When I finally left to go with my friends, they told me they loved listening to that 'wonderful group of singers over on the men's side.' I couldn't help but blush that I had been part of it, but it was an amazing experience to be a part of it. What a wonderful New Year celebration I had.

Now for the Resolution...I've gotten pretty sloppy about keeping up with you all through the blog and through all the various other forms of communication I have available. I'm going to do my best to change that.

I hope you all had a wonderful New Year. לשנה טובה!

P.S. If I have wronged you in the past year please find it in your heart not just to forgive me, but to email me so that I can try to make amends.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Post....

So it has been quite awhile since my last post. I'm not even quite sure what I last wrote about, but here's an update on my life.

I've now been in Israel/Abroad (note 4 weeks in Europe) for about 300 some days or about 10 months. Up until I got to HUC life was fairly simple...there was a goal and my whole being was focused on that goal. Getting into HUC was not an easy task for me and I finally did it.

I'm now about a week away from being finished with HUC's summer Ulpan session. I started the session in the Daled level of Hebrew, but now I am in Gimmel. The reason for the switch was my achillies heel: reading. I'm still not quite where I want to be with it, but hey I can pretty much function in this society with my speaking. Take the strengths with the weaknesses.

The Ulpan has been an interesting experience, especially coming from a totally different kind of Hebrew learning. Academically it is far more challenging here, but the Kibbutz Ulpan system forces students to live a life in Hebrew. My co-workers at the Kibbutz didn't speak enough English to even greet me in the morning, and here we are all North American or native English speakers. Holding down a conversation in Hebrew with other HUC students isn't always easy, but we all try our best.

We've also started a Biblical History survey class. Its essentially a two part class with lectures on Wednesday night and Trips on Thursday. Its an interesting concept for a class. Discuss the Philistines and their cities on Wednesday night and actually go to them on Thursday. The professors mostly come from archeology backgrounds and have incredibly interesting insights into the biblical texts. Nothing is taken for granted when they read the bible.

Other than that, my life is pretty much a gigantic ball of frustration. Its mostly directed at the fact that my student loans are now about a month and a half late. This fact alone makes me want to tear out my hair on some occasions. (Good thing I've got a short haircut.) Its making it difficult for me to function here as it is constantly on my mind. I've been told its just a paperwork miss shuffle, but that doesn't make me feel any better. Everyone tells me to have patience and I'm trying. I refuse to yell at anyone on the phone or here in Israel. It just won't do any good so I'm trying to keep calm. My new friends/classmates have been a great help.

In other news around Israel...

Brett finally graduated from his combat medic training course. Its one of the most difficult courses in the Israeli Army and he finished in the top 25% of his class. Not bad for a guy who's Hebrew is admittdly not so strong. I went to the ceremony where he recieved his pin. It was quite something to see him there. He even got a big hug from his commander. After the ceremony I went up to his Kibbutz to celebrate with him. It was also his Kibbutz's 60 birthday so there was a great deal of celebrating. I got to see a movie about the Kibbutz, a show about the founding, and even a concert. It was also the day the new Garin moved to the Kibbutz, thus compounding the good things.

I swear that as soon as I get internet working well enough in my apartment, I will post the 1000 or so pictures of Europe on the Internet.

Till next time folks...

Friday, July 11, 2008

Shabbat in Jerusalem

So I know its been awhile since my last blog, but I'm gonna give you all a quick update...

I landed back in Israel on 6/7/08, please note that this is the European date and not the American date. (In Europe its Day/Month/Year.) Anyway, I landed in Tel Aviv and spent the night in an air conditioned dormitory at Hayarkon 48. (Israel's most famous Hostel.) It was an uneventful night with not much to talk about.

When I arrived in Jerusalem on the 7th, life became a whirlwind of activity. I've gotten a new cellphone and am looking for a place to live permanently. Its been quite crazy. There's all sorts of new things to do and many challenges await.

I still need to:

Get my Student Loans to come through.
Get a Student Visa for Israel
Get a Place to live permanently
Get class schedules
Buy books
Generally get myself in school mode

Its going to be an interesting few weeks and I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Tonight is my first Shabbat as an HUC student and I've waited for this for a long time. I hope you all have a Good Shabbos!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lag B'Omer

So tonight begins one of my favorite holidays: Lag B'Omer! If you're counting the Omer, you can check to see what day it is on my blog or my sister's blog. (Our Dad wrote the code for her counter.) Lag B'Omer is the middle day of the counting of the Omer. It's a special day during the counting because you are allowed to do many of the things normally forbidden during the Omer. You can:

Get Married (One day only!)
Listen to Music (Some of my favorite bands just came out with new CDs!)
Shave your beard (Maybe you don't want to if you're still growing your Hockey Playoff Beard.)

In Israel Lag B'Omer is a day of picnics and huge bonfires. I'm a little sad to be missing it, but I'm pretty sure I'll get to experience it next year. Tonight I'm going to be shaving my beard and cutting my hair...look for some before and after pictures both here and at my sister's blog!

Happy Lag B'Omer!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


That's right folks I'm no longer in Israel. I'm currently sitting in the departures area at Heathrow International Airport just outside of London England. Today was an eventful day to say the least.

Lets begin the story with yesterday evening, when I made one of the most colosal mistakes of my life (at least regarding travel.) I mistook a 1AM flight for the wrong day and completely missed my flight to Chicago. In any other airport in the world I would have been screwed. In Israel, the free Wifi access in the whole airport saved me. I mangaged to skype my way to Orbitz's customer service and cash out my ticket for the full amount (minus an 'airline fee' of $100.) Then using Orbitz website I booked a new flight imediately but this one was through London with an 11 hour layover. Hence why I'm writing from England.

Anyway with all of that taken care of at the airport I headed to Tel-Aviv in the hopes that I could stay with friends. That didn't pan out so I instead headed back to Jerusalem. Luckily the busses still run at 12am from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.

Anyway I ended up back at Ben Gurion Airport at around 3pm this afternoon. Through security and the rediculously large duty free shopping I finally got on a plane bound for London.

On the flight I met a very nice Israeli man who spoke no English. What Luck! I ended up translating every cabin annoucment and word spoken by the flight attendants. It was amazing and a fun way to flex my Hebrew skills. Turns out his son lives here in London and works in Security at the Airport. (Yeah I know it seems so typical, but its often true.) His son just had a baby boy and my new traveling companion was on his way to meet his first grandson for his brit. The flight was largely uneventful other than that.

When I arrived in Heathrow I found the airport to be almost completely deserted. The shops are all closed and most of the services aren't working. When I spoke to the hotel booking agent at the airport he explained to me that all available beds at the airport hotel were taken. Even if I could get one they cost 360 GBP per night! (Multiply that by 2 to get the USD amount!)

Anyway I took the underground to my terminal for tomorrow morning's flight and found a vaguely comfortable place to spend the next 6 or so hours before I can check in. While sitting here I've met another Israeli. Turns out speaking Hebrew is a great asset when traveling around the world. He and I have been talking about life in general for the last hour.

He's quite an interesting fellow. He was born in Haifa, but lives in Omaha now. Both of his children are 'American' and are going to college at Indiana and Illinois. Crazy to meet another Hebrew speaker so randomly.

This is essentially my first shot at backpacking in Europe. Yeah its been largely unsuccessful as I haven't even left the airport, but at least I have a stamp from England on my passport. That makes three foreign stamps: England, Israel, and Jordan. (Quick side note: Jordan's visa takes up a whole page and I was only there fora bout 10 hours!)

Anyway I'll be getting this posted after I land in the USA.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Israeli Holidays

So in Israel there are three major holidays clustered around the end of Pesach. These three holidays are also celebrated in the rest of the world, but they have special meaning here in Israel. These three holidays are Yom Zikaron HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha'atzmaut.

Yom Zikaron HaShoah is the day of rememberance for the Shoah (Holocaust.) It started on the night of May 1st this year. I stayed at the Kibbutz for the holiday so I got to see the way the Kibbutz commemorates this very important day. On Revivim there was a ceremony of about 45 minutes. At 8pm everyone assembled in the אולם תרבות (Literally: Cultural Hall) for the ceremony. The ceremony was poetry written by survivors and victims of the Holocaust. There were a few songs as well. The whole ceremony ended with אלי אלי (Eli Eli) by Chana Shenesh. I've heard the song many times in my life, but this time it was different. I can't really describe it, but it was somehow more powerful.

Yom HaZikaron is the Israeli version of memorial day. In the United States, Memorial day is a day of barbecues, sales at retail stores, and generally a pleasant day off. In Israel, a country where violent conflict is unfortunately sometimes a daily reality, Memorial day is a very important day. The television stations (even the cable ones) are all turned off. The ones that are still broadcasting only show names of Israel's fallen soldiers. This year the holiday started on the evening of May 7th. At Revivim there is a short program beginning at 8pm. It began with the air raid sirens. All of Israel heard these sirens across the State and stood in silence until it ended. The ceremony was much like the the Shoah memorial. There were poems written by soldiers and songs sung. The somber attitude was punctuate by the reading of the names. The list of names read at Revivim's memorial were the sons and daughters who fell during Israel's conflicts. Most of Revivim's soldiers who have fallen in conflict fell during the Independence war. Most fell defending the road junction just outside Revivim. They literally fell defending their homes and land.

The next day, after the ceremony, I was at work when the Sirens again sounded at 10am. Once again everyone in the country stopped and stood in place at attention in a moment of silence. I actually burned the turkey I was cooking on the grill because of the timing, but I didn't care one bit. To honor the soldiers who have fallen in defense of Israel is way more important than anything else I could have been doing.

The end of Yom HaZikaron merges seamlessly into Yom Ha'atzmaut: Israeli Independence Day. This year was a very special year to be in Israel. May 15th 1948 David Ben-Gurion announced to the world the establishment of the State of Israel. May 8th 2008 was the 60th anniversary of that momentous day. Last night around 5pm I got on a bus, and headed to Tel-Aviv to see the program and concert at Kikar Rabin (Rabin Square.) I have no idea how many people were there, but it was packed. My friends and I stood and listened to the concert and watched the spectacular fireworks and light show. My friends were a bit lost with the musical aspect, but I knew a lot of the songs sang that night. When HaTikvah (התקוה) was played I was moved to tears. Imagine it, 60 years of Israel and I got to be here for the day. It was a wild and crazy party and who could blame the average Israeli for being ecstatic about their home turning 60!

We returned to Revivim the same night. (We actually got home at around 3am.) Exhausted from the trip and the party we all fell into bed. When I woke up this afternoon, the Kibbutz barbecue was already in full swing. I spent the day eating, playing volley ball, and generally lounging around the Kibbutz pool. It was a great way to spend the holiday. As a side note, the Kibbutz had a program while I was away in Tel-Aviv. During the program the showed a video that had been filmed througout the Kibbutz over the last year. Apparently I was in this video and I'm trying to get a copy, more updates about that later.

I think that the best part about all of these celebrations and commemorations was my Hebrew level. When I went to Kikar Rabin for the memorial of Rabin's assassination, I understood very little of the ceremony. Over the last week and a half at every ceremony I was surprised at how much I understood. While Ulpan may not have been successful for everyone here at Revivim, It certainly was for me.

Looking forward to seeing all of my readers soon when I come visit the states.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pesach Two Ways (Part II)

So with all the amazing experiences I had in Jerusalem for my first few days of Pesach, returning to the Kibbutz was a strange slap back into reality...

Returning to the Kibbutz meant one thing: Work. Without class during Pesach, the Kibbutz decided that each Ulpanist got only 3 days off. I got Friday, Sunday, and Monday off, so on Tuesday morning I was in the kitchen working. It was not what I would call the best way to spend a Pesach, but it was pretty much my only choice. I tried to make the best of it, but most of the other Ulpanists took their vacation's sporatically throughout the week leaving mostly a very small group to socialize with. I studied, I ran, and I went to be early. It was pretty boring, but that's not really what this post is about.

During Pesach its very important to me to keep as close to Kosher (for Pesach) as humanly possible. In college I cleaned my entire kitchen and even boiled my utensils and cookware. Sure it was a hassle, but it was important to me to be close to chamez free. Here at the Kibbutz that was pretty much impossible. The kitchen did almost nothing to clean for pesach. In fact many of the things which they cooked were the standard Kibbutz fare. Breaded schnitzle was still served, along with pasta, rice, corn, and coos coos. There was matzoh put out where the bread is normally, but it was right next to the bread.

I'm a fairly easy going guy and none of this would normally faze me. However, I felt like the only one who was keeping Kosher for Pesach on the Kibbutz. It was, needless to say, a difficult experience.

More to come later about the upcoming holidays: Holocaust Rememberance Day, Memorial Day, and Israel's Independence day (YAY 60 YEARS!)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pesach Two Ways (Part I)

So this year I got to have a completely new set of Pesach experiences. I like to think of it as my year of the Pesach I celebrated two separate ways. First I celebrated in Jerusalem and then returned to the Kibbutz to finish off the holiday. The differences between the two are like night and day...

I arrived in Jerusalem on Friday afternoon and went straight to my friend Lyle's place to pick up the keys to the apartment I was to be staying at. A BIG thanks goes out to Jill for letting Brett and I stay at her place. After arriving at Jill's I headed right to the Shuk to buy groceries for the weekend. The Shuk in Jerusalem is a magical place and even more so a few hours before Shabbat. After groceries I bought flowers (for the Pesach table) and headed back 'home.'

Finally after waiting for a few hours Brett showed up in Jerusalem. We went out for dinner for our last chamezt before Pesach. I've got to say that Focaccia is probably the best place we could have done it. I know that its an non-kosher restaurant, but that bread was amazing.

Seder finally came and it was an amazing experience. 14 people sitting around a table and actually discussing the Hagadah. It was a unique and incredible experience. Sure it wasn't exactly like Pseach at home, but it was a great experience. We even chanted Hallel, which is normally omitted from a Reform Seder. I have gotten to know the Hallel because I've spent the past few Seder's with my fraternity brother's and their families. They chant a more traditional Hebrew version of the Seder. Also quite an incredible experience for me.

The Seder started around 8pm right after Shabbat ended. I ended up back 'home' at around 3:30AM. (Its about a 10 minute walk.) That's something that generally doesn't happen at my family's seder. It was nice to be at a Seder that actually went until the morning. No we didn't make it to the morning Shema, but we were awfuly close. Overall a great experience!


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Counting the Omer

The time between Pesach and Shavuot is a period of time called the Counting of the Omer. What exactly are we counting and why? Well there are many traditions associated with the counting. First of all the counting is mentioned not once but twice in the Torah. First it is mentioned in Leviticus 25:15-16: "You shall count for yourselves -- from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you bring the Omer of the waving -- seven Shabbats, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh sabbath you shall count, fifty days..."

The second mention is in Deuteronomy 16:9-10:

You shall count for yourselves seven weeks, from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. Then you will observe the Festival of Shavu'ot for the L-RD, your G-d"

Omer is referring to a sheave of wheat which is threshed, bundled, and prepared for sacrifice at the Temple. The counting begins the day after the Pesach Seder. I say 'the' Pesach Seder because inside of Israel there is only one. In the Diaspora the counting begins on the night of the second Seder.

The counting of the Omer has so many different meanings to so many different groups within Judaism. To the Kabbalists, each of the 7 weeks represents one of each of the 7 lower Sfirot. (Even after 2 years of academic study on Kabbalah I don't really understand the whole concept.) The Talmud tells us the Omer is a period of mourning. Traditionally the mourning is associated with the plague that wiped out 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students. According to the Talmud the students were struck with a plague for not honoring each other enough. Because it is a time of mourning it is forbidden to: Shave, cut ones hair, listen to music, have a party, or get married. There is one day where it is allowed to do all of these things: Lag'Bomer. It is a day of weddings and bonfires in Israel.

During the counting of the Omer I chose to follow certain traditions. Firstly I don't plan to get married during the Omer...I know that its not on the radar yet, but it will be one day. Most importantly I don't shave or cut my hair. Its a daily reminder of the counting and of the mourning. So on Wednesday night I got a haircut...haven't had one for quite awhile. I'll also be shaving for the last time tomorrow afternoon. The next haircut or shave will be on June 7th.

I'll be at Seder this year in Jerusalem for the first time in my life. I'm excited, every year we say "Next year in Jerusalem" and finally I will be.

As they say here Chag Pesach Sameach v'Kasher (חג פסח שמח וקשר) "A Happy and Kosher Pesach"

Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Night of Playground Fun

So tonight our usual activity, the Kibbutz coffee shop, was closed. Standing outside the dining hall we all wondered what we should do to pass the time. We looked out and saw the same playground we see everyday. Tonight we decided to go play around on the playground. It was one of those moments when life just didn't seem to matter and we just had some fun like we all used to. We even played tag with some Israeli children. It was so much fun just to play and run around! Check out the pictures....
Me, Travis, and Jared...

Check out the rest at my Picasa WebAlbums!
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Monday, April 7, 2008

Israeli Highway 90

This weekend I completed many journeys. First and foremost I have now been on every single one of Israeli Highway 90's 480 kilometers. It is the longest highway in all of Israel. It stretches from Metula all the way south to Eilat. This weekend was my first time in Eilat!

When i got to Eilat I found out right away how much of a tourist town it is. There were no private hostel rooms available anywhere in the whole city...not because of any conference or anything like that, it was just the weekend. We decided to go with the dorm style rooms. (Since my friend was female we had to be in separate rooms.) It was a great experience to be in dorms. I met people who had been in Eilat for awhile, but didn't speak Hebrew. I speak Hebrew but know nothing about Eilat. The combination was perfect.

Eilat is touted the world around as a beach city, and I'm pretty sure that unless you have a lot of money to spend the beach part is non-existent. The large commercial hotels pretty much control all of the beach front property. The public beach is about 7 feet long at low tide. (Measurement from the sea to the boardwalk.) The public area is also quite rocky, but hey its free to sit there, unlike the Hotel beaches where they charge to sit on your own towel. Anyway, the water is goregous and always calm. Its also always about the same temperature.

So Friday we got up and headed to the Jordanian border. It was honestly a little scary leaving the comfort zone of Israel. However, my goal for this Israel Adventure is to be courageous so off we went. We changed money at the border and purchased our exit visas. Weird that they charge ₪ 56 to leave the country, but that's the way it is. The Jordanian Dinar is about the same price as the Euro, so expensive. Anyway, with 61 Dinars in our possession we walked across the border into the Jordanian border control facility. There our passports were checked 5 times and our photos were taken. The entry visa was free, more about that later, and we walked through the gates into Jordan proper.

From there we were immediately approached by a Jordanian cab driver who agreed to take us 2 hours to Petra. The journey was anything but simple. After driving for 5 minutes the driver stopped and got out. He swapped with another cab driver who drove us about 25 minutes to the city limits of Aqaba. There we switched cars and drivers in the middle of the highway. Turns out there is a regulation about which cabs can operate where within Jordan and Aqaba is a special zone. From there we stayed in the same cab.

Along the way we stopped in a bedouin village for a very good Turkish coffee and cookies. All part of the service the driver provided to make our stay more pleasant in Jordan. Finally after a lengthy car ride we were finally in Petra.

Petra is HUGE! There's absolutely not other way to describe it. I can only imagine what it was like to live there in its heyday. It must have been amazing, they even had running water in some parts of the city. Incredible how advanced they were so long ago. The pictures tell the whole story and there are about 100 of them up on my Picasa Web Album.

After close to 6 hours wandering around we finally met back up with our cab driver and headed back to the border. Remember I mentioned that the Jordanians didn't charge us to enter their border? Well they actually charge to leave instead...5 Dinars a person for the exit visa. This is where my friend and I ran into trouble. We contracted with the cab driver for 25 Dinars per person for the whole ride. Seemed pretty normal since most of my friends had paid about the same on their previous trips. When we reached the border they changed the deal and told us it was actually 50 Dinars per person...25 Dinars each way. Well we were obviously a little short. What to do...this is how bad movies start right? Well we piled up our Dinars and all $23 American we had. It wasn't enough. We then added about ₪100 to the pile. The driver then told us that it was close enough. We finally got out of the car and went into the border control station. We saved 10 Dinars to pay our exit visas and did it ASAP! It was 7:30 at night and the border closed at 8.

With the whole ordeal finished on the Jordanian side we still had to go through Israeli Security. I spoke to them in Hebrew, and that was probably a mistake. How do you know Hebrew? Are you an Israeli? Do you have and Israeli Passport? The questions didn't stop, but finally we made it through all of the checks to the last security gate. From there we split a cab with a nice middle age British couple on holiday. They were very impressed by my ability to talk with the cab driver in Hebrew...so impressed the refused to let us even think of paying. It was nice...the kindness of strangers...seems to happen a lot here.

Back in Eilat we decided to take a walk around the boardwalk area for the evening. However, with 6 hours walking up and down the rock faces of Petra we didn't even last till midnight. We called it an early night.

When we woke up the next morning we headed straight for the beach. We spent the whole day laying out, reading, practicing Hebrew for our oral final exam, and generally relaxing. What an amazing weekend!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


Sometimes something happens in your life which makes you stop and think to yourself, "what the heck is going on here."

On Saturday afternoon we got word that Kitah Aleph (the lower Hebrew Class) was being closed completely. All of the people in the class were either being moved to Kitah Bet (My class) or being asked to leave the Kibbutz. Scary stuff...many of the people I'm friends with are in that class.

As the dust settled on Sunday afternoon, the truth began to come out. The class was not being closed, but people were being asked to leave the Kibbutz. The people that were asked to leave, I will not mention them by name, were asked because they either didn't go to work and/or class. Quite often it was both. I want to stress that we have literally one month left of time here on the Kibbutz.

While the Kibbutz is not summer camp in any way, I find that many of the lessons I learned as a summer camp counselor could be applied here. We used to say, in our Machon Meetings at OSRUI, that it is always easier to start off strict and become more lax as the session goes on. With only a month left in the Ulpan session, it seems that the lesson here won't be learned by anyone except those who are no longer here. To make matters worse, those who have already left seem happier to be gone....

Having lived on two Kibbutzim in the last six months, I've seen only two different styles of Ulpan/Volunteer management. Quite frankly comparing the two styles is like saying apples are better than oranges...its an opinion. Each system works for the place. Here at Revivim, the system implies more responsibility to the participant and unfortunately this time there was none.

In Other News:

On Thursday I will be taking my Hebrew test for HUC. I've timed this Ulpan very well with the test. We've been practicing for the Ulpan's final exam which is essentially a shorter version of the HUC exam. I've learned so much here and not just Hebrew. I've learned how insulated the United States is from the rest of the world. Seeing other American volunteers and ulpanists who, like me, have never had to make a serious effort to learn another language. In most of the rest of the world a second language is often a necessity. In America its often not on the radar, past the requirements for school. Even those requirements aren't stringent and very often don't mean fluency. That's why I'm so excited for my Sister's (Check out her blog!) son David. He's in a school with a bilingual English/Spanish program. Learning languages works so much better when you're young.

Anyway after the test on Thursday I'm hopping on a bus to Eilat. Its the only part of Israel I haven't explored yet and while I'm there I'm going to take a quick day trip to Petra. Something I couldn't have done before the peace with Jordan. I'm excited to check off one of the World Wonders from my to do list.

Wish me luck on my test!

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Weekend at Yahel...and a Day in Jerusalem

So on Thursday morning I woke up at 5:00 AM to board the bus with my Ulpan group. This time we were headed to Jerusalem for the standard old city tour. However, on the way we decided to stop for a wonderful hike through the Judean Hills. The overlooks on the switch back trail were absolutely amazing. With views of Har-HaTzofim (Hebrew University's Campus) and Haddasa Hospital, the hike was worth losing an hour in Jerusalem.

When we finally made it into Jerusalem, our first stop was to Yemin Moshe. This was the first neighborhood built outside of the Old City's walls and it is absolutly gorgeous. Hard to believe that before the Six-Day War it was an utter war zone. The neighborhood overlooks the old city walls and the road between the two was no-mans land before the war. Yet this settlement has been inhabited since 1891. The perserverance of Israelis amazes me to no end.

We walked up the Har-Tizon from Yemin Moshe into the Zion Gate and the Old City. On my way in I noticed something very interesting. Its become habit for me to notice not just whether there are soliders around, but what units they are from and their ranks. As I looked at the young men being led around the Old City I noticed that I recgonized their קומת (barets.) Only basic training soliders wear brown ones and only Ulpan soliders wear tags from the education ministry under them. As I wondered who these soliders were, I was bear hugged by Brett! Amazing, and a phenomena only found in Jerusalem. I ran into my best friend who was also on a tour of the old city. I ened up hanging out with him and a few others I know in his unit around the Kotel for about an hour. I even got to see them perform a formation on the plaza outside the Kotel. It was a pretty moving sight to see about 50 new immigrants, who knew no Hebrew 3 months ago, listening to their Commander give them a speech about their futures in the Army. I even got yelled at by Brett's commander for taking so many pictures...but it was Brett's camera. (I snapped a few with mine too.)

The rest of the day and night in Jerusalem were fairly uneventful. I spent the night with some HUC students and got up early the next morning to head on an Adventure!

The bus ride to Kibbutz Yahel is quite long from Jerusalem. Three hours on the bus gave me a good chance to catch up with and meet some of the people on the shabbaton. I say catch up because one of the participants was my camper about 4 years ago. Crazy to think...my campers are heading off to college now. But I digress...

When we got to Yahel we headed straight to the Pomelo fields. If you don't know what a Pomelo is or haven't had one, you're missing out. They're quite delicious and these pomelos were special too. The fields are situated about 50 feet from the Jordanian border. After the peace treaty was signed the Jordanian patrols started stealing the fruits because lets face it its very hot in the Negev and even more so in the Aravah valley. The Kibbutzniks caught wind of this and they started putting out crates of them as an offering of peace. Eventually the Jordanian Mayor on the other side of the border had lunch with the director of the pomelo fields. "Pomelos for Peace" they called it on the kibbutz. The Israeli government eventually shut down the opperation. If you can 'smuggle' pomelos like that, what else could be passed across the border? Still a pretty cool story... peace isn't just about the treaty. It has to be about more.

After the Pomelo Fields we went to the Kibbutz. Yahel was established as the first Progressive Jewish Kibbutz. The members have had to deal with Jewish laws that no other Reform Jew has ever had to think about. These laws mostly involve agricultural activites. It is truly a place where one can live a Reform Jewish life. Every second of the day is as part of a Reform Jewish community. Outside the Kibbutz, the synagogue or JCC are the centers of Jewish life, but they are only attened for specific cultural or religious events. While I would never seek to diminish the effectiveness of these institutions, the idea of a complete Reform life is quite an interesting concept.

On Friday night we had services and dinner with the Kibbutz. It was a great experience...their dining hall is much smaller than Revivim's, but that made it more of an intimate experience. The food was nothing special, but unlike the two previous Kibbutzim I've been to, they served to the tables and not buffet style. The program after dinner was a stargazing event. We discussed the 12 tribes and their correspondance to the signs of the zodiac. It was pretty interesting, but the stars were the real sight to see. Absolutly no light pollution. Amazing!

Saturday morning I got to lead services! I was only give about 12 hours advanced notice, but I jumped at the chance. It was great to get a chance to do it again. After services and lunch we had a long break for my favorite shabbat activity...a nap! The nap was followed by a quick tour of the barnyard and the worlds most productive milk cows. Why are they so productive? Something about a cross breeding of Damascus and Holstein mixed with being below sea level. Either way, the milk they produce is sold to Kibbutz Yovata, makers of the famous "שוקו בסקיט" (Chocolate Milk in a Bag.) Its absolutly delicious and cool to know that some of it came from Yahel.

Getting back to Revivim was quite easy. The private bus took us up the Aravah road to a major junction. From there every bus on the way north from Eliat stops there. From there I caught one of them to Be'er Sheva and that was that. It was a great weekend and with Purim coming up this weekend, I'm sure there will be another one. Purim in Jerusalem...sounds like fun.

Till next time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sounds Like an Exciting Weekend

So this weekend will be an exciting one. There's so much going on...

Thursday Morning:

Thursday morning I will be waking up at 5:30 Am in order to be at the bus stop by 6Am. The whole Ulpan will be there because we are going on a TRIP! This one is not to the Negev or to Tel-Aviv for some lame seminar. This time we're heading to Jerusalem and most of us won't be back home until 10pm Thursday night. The longest and best trip of the Ulpan so far. We're told that there will be a surprise side trip along the way. I'm honestly not sure where we might stop on the 2.5 hour trip, but I'm sure it'll be fun. Inside Jerusalem we'll be on the normal tour, but this time it will be in Hebrew. I'm excited.

Thursday Night:

Thursday night I'll be staying in Jerusalem with some friends from HUC. I'm not quite sure what will be going on. I'm sure it'll be a good time. Why am I sticking around Thursday? Its because on Friday I'm heading on a Reform Movement Shabbaton. HUC has put together the weekend and there will be a few students there too. Its going to be held at Kibbutz Yahel, which is actually south of my Kibbutz. There is a free bus, included in the ₪50 fee for the weekend, from Jerusalem and it seems easier to get on it. Getting home will be a bit of a strange journey, but it'll be ok. It'll probably involve a bus to Ashkelon before I get to Be'er Sheva.

The weekend is titled: "Desert Spirituality: Stars, Sand and Sun." Sounds like it should be a pretty interesting experience. Hope to bring back some good pictures and stories!

Sunday, March 9, 2008

How do you explain...

In America, we are concerned with security. Since 9/11 we've become more concerned with it. We established a new bureaucratic organism to deal with our 'Homeland Security,' whatever that actually means. However, all of our security efforts there cannot even come close to what exists here in Israel. The security situation is difficult to fathom as an American. Our lives seem so much easier. We don't have to walk through a metal detector or be patted down when entering a Mall, bus station, restaurant, or any other crowded place.

Last Thursday there was a terrorist attack in Jerusalem. The Mirkaz HaRav Yeshiva was shot at by a lone gunman. Eight Yeshiva students won't be studying anymore. They were gunned down while studying the holy books. Israel is such a small country and rarely does one here not have some connection to a terrorist attack. A kid in my class has a brother who studies at Mirkaz HaRav. The only reason he wasn't studying on Thursday night is because he was at the supermarket. My heart is crying for the dead and the families. Its hard to express how sad I actually feel about such sensless violence.

Its hard to explain that this country is a safe place to live, work, and travel. If terrorism stops people from coming here, they they have won. I know that sounds a lot like something that our ilustrious preident would say, but in this case it is true. Israel needs every bit of support that it can get right now. Obviously visiting here is the best support you can give, but there are plenty of other ways. Being informed about the situation is another way. I would highly suggest "A Case for Israel" and "A Case for Peace" as two must read books on the Israeli conflict. They're both by Alan Dershowitz. I would also suggest "Warrior" which is Ariel Sharon's autobiography. Another good book is "The Missing Peace," by Dennis Ross. These books are just a good jumping off point. Each offers a unique perspective and set of information about Israel and the conflict.

Sunday, March 2, 2008


So its been quite a long time since my last blog and so much has happened....here we go.

Mom and Phyllis (אמה ואחות שלי באו לארץ)

If you asked my friends from the Kibbutz before I left they would tell you one thing: Harrison is focused solely on his Mom and Sister coming to Israel. I was so incredibly excited to see them and it was really the topic of every conversation I had two weeks prior to my trip. I was excited for two reasons. First and foremost I was super excited to see family. (Duh!) Second I was excited to get off the Kibbutz for an extended period of time and see some of the country with a trip. We'll talk more about that later though.

My trip started off amazing with a few days around the HUC-JIR campus in Jerusalem. I met up with Rabbi Kanter and discussed my future at HUC. He was an amazing host and he explained to me all about his experiences traveling abroad. He even let me stay in the HUC President's apartment on the campus. It was a pretty cool experience to see HUC as a non-student. I met a lot of my future colleagues at a fundraiser they held my first night there. I made some new friends and met up with some old ones. I even got invited to a Shabbaton at Kibbutz Yahel in mid-March. There was one disappointing thing about HUC. Like any large group of Americans living in Israel, the predominant language spoken was English. In fact when the students saw me studying in the library, they were surprised to see my notebook only in Hebrew. I'm not sure how I feel about the "HUC Bubble" which everyone mentioned to me. Having lived outside, I'm not sure how easy it will be to go in....we'll see.

Seeing Mom and Phyllis began in a not so ideal way. I walked from HUC to the Dan Panorama hotel in Jerusalem. It was raining and I had my huge frame backpack with a weeks worth of clothing inside. Needless to say after 5 blocks of walking I was wet. I sat in the hotel lobby for about 3 hours before finally calling Dad to find out where exactly they were. Turns out they forgot to notify me that they would be in not at 3pm but 1am due to weather in London. I had an interesting exchange with Dad about it:

Dad: Oh, no one told you they were going to be late? Didn't someone call you?
Me: Dad, you're supposed to be the someone. You Dad you have to call me.
Dad: Oh right, I guess I though...well its ok.
Me: I love you Dad

Anyway the ladies arrived and were unfortunately without their luggage. Also Phyllis came with an Israeli cell phone, that was unfortunately dead. Without my cellphone, the whole trip would have been out of contact with Phyllis until she rented one. While I'd love to recount every detail of the trip, that's just not possible. You should check out my sister's blogs: here and here. She's been recounting parts of the trip there. I had an amazing time with Mom and Phyllis. Seeing Jerusalem with family was an amazing experience. Not my favorite city in Israel, but I respect the importance of it both politically and spiritually.

Phyllis and I did come into a little sibling rivalry over how we view Israel. Her perspective is not wrong in any way, but we don't see eye to eye on everything. I love Haifah, Tel-Aviv, and the Negev, and she loves Jerusalem. Its just a difference of opinion. My Israel experience its much different from hers and I respect that we aren't going to like the same things.

After a few days with the trip, they headed north to the Golan (One of my favorite parts of Israel) and I headed back south to Revivim to catch up with classes for a few days.

Arriving back on the Kibbutz was a strange experience. I was for some reason very excited to eat in the dining hall and sleep in my own bed. I felt at home when I got back and it was a strange feeling.

Tel-Aviv Trip with the Ulpan

I returned to the Kibbutz on Tuesday and went to class and work, but Thursday we headed to Tel-Aviv as a group to visit the Diaspora Museam. While I'm sure the people who made the Museum had the best of intentions, I feel that it fell short of its intended goal. First of all, the concept of a Diaspora museum in the heart of Israel seems strange. Second, the seminar which we attened was about Jewish Identity. Diaspora and Jewish Identity are not the same things and the whole seminar seemed quite strange and a littel contrived to me. All in all the trip seemed to me to be a waste of a day in Tel-Aviv. However, it was a free trip to Tel-Aviv and I stayed the rest of the night to see Mom and Phyllis on their last night in Israel. We had dinner and I said my goodbyes. I'm glad they had fun and saw the country...now more than ever Israel needs support especially from the Jews of America. While, I was a little disappointed that Mom wasn't able to come see my Kibbutz, I understand why she didn't want to. I was also disappointed that I didn't get to see dad, but it was an all women's trip...

A Trip to Brett's Kibbutz

I left Tel-Aviv on Thursday night and headed north. I spent the night a Kibbutz Ein Hashofet with my current roommate Jared. He's thinking of continuing his Ulpan there when we finish here so I offered to introduce him to his future classmates. We had a great night hanging out with all my old friends and meeting the new volunteers which have cycled into the program. It was fun, but at 7am I was on a Monet Sherut to the bus station in Haifa to catch the Egged #500 toward Kyriat Shmone and Brett's Kibbutz. Its 45 minutes to Haifa and another 3 hours to Tzomet Koach, the Junction near Brett's Kibbutz. I should clarify, the reason I went to see Brett this weekend was because on the 28th of February Brett turned 23. Since the Israeli Army doesn't exactly give you days off when you want, we took the weekend before and ran with it.

Arriving at Kibbutz Yifatch Brett pomptly went to sleep leaving me some time to hang out and skype Dad to make sure Mom got home ok. Boring, but I'm used to Kibbutz boredom. After Brett woke up we had dinner with his adopted family on the Kibbutz. Brett's adopted Mom is an amazing cook and it was great to eat some non-Kibbutz food. After dinner we headed to Brett's room to catch up and watch some American TV shows we used to watch together in college. We discussed the dismal season our Golden Gophers are having in hockey and our respective NHL franchises. (Bye the way the Red Wings are in a slump and the Wild are doing pretty well right now.) After the TV we headed to the Kibbutz's dance club, but were disappointed as usual. The club was mostly kids from Kiryat Shmone and very much not our crowd.

Saturday morning we woke up late and headed to Kryiat Shmone. Our actual destination was Metula and Mirkaz Canada! Its probably my new favorite building in Israel. The Canadian Jewish Federations built it as a cultural center for Canadian Immigrants. It has an amazing gym facility, Basketball, a school, and most importantly a hockey rink with the first ice I've seen since I got here. It was gorgeous. We skated for about an hour and a half and I have to say it was probably the best time I've ever had skating in my life. I've never been on an ice sheet with that many people and been one of the best skaters.

After our awsome skate, we headed to Brett's favorite restaurant in Israel...a steak place called Tachana. They grow their own beef and man was it delicious. A big thank you to Brett's dad for picking up the tab for Brett's birthday dinner. After Metula, there was little left to do in the north. I spent the night on Brett's Kibbutz and woke up early on Sunday morning to head back down south. The trip down south is not an easy one in any way. I left at 7am from Brett's Kibbutz and made it back to Revivim at 3pm. First I caught a ride down the mountain back to the Junction. From there I caught a bus to Tel-Aviv. From Tel-Aviv a second bus took me to Be'er Sheva, and finally after a wait of 2 hours in the bus terminal in Be'er Sheva I caught one final bus to Revivm. What a weekend!

Well that about catches everbody up on what's been going on. Soon I'll have a few (not many) pictures of Mirkaz Canada and even a video of Brett skating!

Bye for now loyal readers.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Missing Jerusalem Post

Written on 2.14.08 (21:30)

So I've been i Jerusalem for about 24 hours now. I haven't really seen or done much except to learn more about HUC.

Last night HUC held a fundraiser to raise money for an interesting and worthy cause. Every year the IMPJ hosts a bike ride through Israel to raise money and awareness for Progressive Judaism in Israel. This year the ride is from Tel-Aviv to Eilat or roughtly 4 days. Each rider must raise at least $800 to ride. HUC is sending 10 riders and hosted a casino night to reaise part of their funding. I didn't win anything or even bid on any of the silent auction items. (Though 3 boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese for ₪150 sounded awfully tasty.) I spent the night schmoozing with my would be classmates. Its interesting to think of how close I came to missing this Israel experience and trading it for a straight to HUC one. I honestly can't imagine that scenarion having been half as interesting. My Israel Adventure has offered me the experience of a lifetime.

On a different note, I began my HUC process today. I met with all of the administration and began to set my plans in motion. I'm looking forward to acing the Hebrew test!

So phyllis and Mom are still not here, Snow in Chicago didn't slow them down, something in London did. (I hear it was British Airwayws itself!) So hopefully they'll land at David Ben-Gurion Airport around midnight tonight. I'll spend one more night in the HUC president's apartment. A gorgeous place, but I'd rather have Phyl and Mom here now. I'll call there phones around 00:30 and hope for the best!

Friday, February 8, 2008

American Politics

Shabbat Shalom Everyone (שבת שלם לקולם)! Hope you all had as good a week as I did. It was mostly uneventful, but our volunteer coordinator made a slight clerical error today. This resulted in a day off for me today! So as a highlight to my week I get a two day weekend...a rarity and pleasure around here.

That's not really what I want to talk about today...I want to discuss my new views on American politics as viewing them from abroad. To the rest of the world our democracy is the epitome of freedom of choice. However, after looking at this year's presidential primaries I highly disagree. The choices with each election seem to get narrower and narrower. Do I chose the pro-life tax cut and spenders or the pro-choice tax cut and spenders. On foreign policy the choices seem more diverse, but I'm fairly sure that they'll eventually narrow as well. I only have one question: Where is conservatism and where is liberalism?

Now its not a secret that I'm a supporter of Barak Obama. Why you ask? I'm a supporter because he seems to be the only one willing to say that his principals are more important than the election. I admire that, it may bite him in the ass later, but that's later and he'll still have his principals and a senate seat from which to continue his fight. Clinton seems to me to be a panderer and power hungry. I don't believe you can be an effective democratic leader if you aren't willing to stand for what you believe in. But that's just my two cents.

The candidates in this election all seem to be running to the middle. It seems logical from an electoral math standpoint. Win the middle swing votes and you can take the presidency. However, the more to the middle they run the more the base of each party seems to be left behind. The more promises I hear, the more promises are broken. Its very disheartening as a young person looking for change in the system. There doesn't seem to be anything but business as usual.

In 1896 William Jennings Bryan made an impassioned speech at the Democratic National convention in Chicago. He had been campaigning to gain the nomination, but had ultimately lost. However, his speech moved the delegates and ultimately he won the nomination.

"Having behind us the producing masses of this nation and the world, supported by the commercial interests, the laboring interests and the toilers everywhere, we will answer their demand for a gold standard by saying to them: You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold."

True liberalism embodied in a speech and an even more truly democratic process. The delegates were allowed to vote their hearts and that is what politics is about. What do you believe in your heart is the right course.

Hypothetically if Obama loses the primaries and enters the convention as the loser, what can he do? In the days of old he could have used his amazing oratory skills to swing the convention in his favor. Today his only choice seems to be a short concession speech and tossing his support to the winner. Despite the fact that his delegates probably think Clinton is the wrong choice, they will still be forced to vote for her. How is that democratic?

Where is the Liberalism and where is the Conservatism? Where the democracy that I learned about as a school child. Where are the Lincolns, Bryans, Kennedys, and the Carters? I'm not sure where the political process is headed, but I'm not sure I like it very much. I yearn for the days of impassioned speeches, true debates, and two distinct parties.

Monday, February 4, 2008

A Nice Relaxing Weekend ened by a Tragedy

This last weekend I took Friday off and headed north. I took two buses and finally I reached Ein Hasofet. If you don't remember Ein Hashofet and need a visual reminder check out my pictures and look at the albums from October and December. You can also check out the posts from that time to refresh your memory of the Kibbutz where I spent 2 months volunteering. It was a great time and an interesting look into Israeli culture.

Anyway I went back to visit all the friends I left who were on the Ulpan. A few of the volunteers were still there, but most of them too had moved on. A day makes it a little difficult to make new friends, but I did meet many new people. The volunteer ranks have grown a little, but the Ulpan is largely the same.

Thursday night Daryl met me in Yokneam and we had an excellent dinner. We bought a few beers and reminisced about good times and caught up on each others lives. We then headed to the Super Sal [Supermarket] and bought some snacks and beer for later. That night after a quick haircut we hung out and had some beers and I generally had a great time catching up with all my old friends.

Brief side note...most of the weekend was spent speaking only in Hebrew as the Ein Hashofet Ulpan is 4 months into the 5 month process. Even the כתה א (Class Aleph) students are able to hold down decent conversations. It was nice.

Daryl and I woke up late on Friday morning and went back to Yokneam. The original plan was to go to Haifa, but we ended up getting a late start and the buses wouldn't work for us. Anyway, we ate lunch and did a little shopping...I bought a new hat. My old one was too big for my newly cut hair.

Friday night we went to he Ein Hashofet pub. We played pool, drank, ate, and danced. It was a great night. While there I met up with some kibbutznik friends who I had made while volunteering. Long story short one of them invited me on his Shabbat day trip.

Waking up at 9:30 am to go on the trip was a little difficult. We only got back from the pub at around 3 or 4 am. Tired and without coffee, Daryl, Begonyia [from Spain], Matan [My kibbutznik friend], and I all headed for a brunch. Little did I know what was in store for me.

We headed to a small Arab village south of the Kibbutz. We pulled up at a tiny little restaurant in the middle of an Israeli Arab village. The restaurant was an amazing experience. We were shuffled to the best table in the restaurant an food immediately appeared. (Matan had ordered with out me even knowing.) Humus, salads, chips (french fries to us), falafel, stacks of pita, and plates of Arabic jasmin rice, meat, beans, and tahina. When a plate looked empty it was refilled very quickly. The owner (I can only assume the man working was the owner) was pretty regularly checking up on us and all the other customers. A mix of Hebrew and Arabic was in the air mixing with the wonderful scents of food. Arab families were sitting next to Israelis and children were playing outside. It was delicious food, and a wonder of an experience.

After the amazing food and a quick shot of spiced Arabic coffee we headed to Tel-Meggido. This is an archeological site near Ein Hashofet. The like goes to the Wikepedia entry for it. Quite an amazing piece of history overlooking a modern road that was built on an ancient one. I took lots of pictures and had an amazing time. History is everywhere here and its almost always right next to something very modern. Tel-Meggido is right next to Kibbutz Meggido. Its amazing to see how interwoven history is with the modern state. Check out the pictures.

After I got home life seemed to return to normal. Unfortunately tragedy struck this morning and it was quite close to home. Dimona is a city in the Negev. Its mostly famous as the bathroom stopping point on the bus to Eliat. However, its a fairly large settlement just south of Be'er Sheva. While smaller than Mequon, this country is much smaller and 36,000 people is a fairly large place. This morning tragedy struck in Dimona as the first suicide bomb in over a year hit. Details are still a bit sketchy, but at least one woman died and 11 were wounded. Check out the Ha'aretz article to know more.

The scene from lunch on Saturday is playing over and over in my mind. Most people here just want to live their lives, but there is so much hate. I desperately want history to not repeat itself this time. I want there to be peace, but I know its difficult when young men and women are willing to blow themselves up to try and make their point.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

100 Days in Israel

Tomorrow is my 100th Day in Israel.

In 100 days I've seen so much and realized how much I love this place and how much I haven't yet seen.

I've seen factories, kibbutzim, cities, holy sites, archaeological digs, sunrises, sunsets, and so many other things. My blog could not appropriately contain all of these experiences. I know that I have tried, but only by being here with me could you understand the power this place has.

I'm reminded of a song by one of my favorite artists: John Mayer....

I'm writing you to
catch you up on places I've been
And you have this letter
you probably got excited, but there's nothing else inside it
didn't have a camera by my side this time
hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm
in the mood to lose my way with words
TODAY skies are painted colors of a cowboy cliche'
And its strange how clouds that look like mountains in the sky
are next to mountains anyway
Didn't have a camera by my side this time
Hoping I would see the world through both my eyes
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm
in the mood to lose my way
but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You'll be with me next time I go outside
NO more 3x5's
I Guess you had to be there
I Guess you had to be with me
Today I finally overcame
tryin' to fit the world inside a picture frame
Maybe I will tell you all about it when I'm in the mood to
lose my way but let me say
You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes
it brought me back to life
You'll be with me next time I go outside
no more 3x5's
just no more 3x5's

One day I hope you all get to experience Israel in some way....its truly an amazing place. No words can adequately describe it or its effects on a person, especially a Jewish person.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

ט"ו בשבת ועוד

So there have been a few minor developments in my life here on the kibbutz recently. As always I'm here to update you.

So life here is generally boring, but every once an awhile something interesting comes along that makes everything seem happier. For instance, a few days ago I figured out how to put my computer into Hebrew. Unfortunately for the first few days I was unable to type in Hebrew because the keyboard is not phonetic to the standard English QWERTY. No matter, for twenty shekels (20 ₪) I purchased a set of glow in the dark stickers with both English and Hebrew keys. Its pretty cool looking and now I have to learn a second keyboard. Switching between the two is fairly easy, I just hold down alt+shift to switch between the two. Quite nice if I do say so myself. I'm still searching for a freeware Hebrew keyboard teaching program, but no such luck yet. Meh, this is still a significant source of joy to me...a testament to how boring Kibbutz life can be sometimes.

This week was ט"ו בשבת (Tu B'shvat.) I'm sure most of you knew this because Phyllis' various blogs have all be discussing both the holiday and a greener lifestyle. Well being in Israel I thought that I would be able to get the upper hand on her by taking pictures of myself planting trees in the Negev and helping to fulfill the dream of David Ben Gurion to establish both Jewish settlements here and making the desert bloom. However, sadly Jewish law has interceeded on my sister's behalf and I was not able to plant a tree here. This year is the seventh year of the cycle of planting and according to Jewish Law, this is the year of rest for the land. No planting of trees, crops or anything else for that matter. No pictures of me helping to fulfill Ben Gurion's dream....that will all have to wait until next year. Unfortunate, but a reality of life.

Another interesting thing about life here on Revivim is the placement of holidays. While ט"ו בשבת was actually on the 22rd of January or Tuesday, the Kibbutz does not celebrate any holidays that may interfere with work. Work here is paramount. So any holiday during the week is shifted to the next Friday evening or Saturday afternoon. Thus we will be having a Tu B'shvat Seder (שדר ט"ו בשבת) on Friday evening after dinner and before the bar opens. It seems strange to me, but it is simply the way of things here. I suppose it says a lot about the priorities of this Kibbutz. Work always comes before anything else...even Jewish holidays.

This weekend I'm staying here on the Kibbutz, for the Tu B'shvat seder. However, next weekend I'll be heading back to Kibbutz Ein Hashofet to visit some old friends from my days of volunteering. After that Mom and Phyllis will be here! I'm so excited to spend a few days in Jerusalem and see some family.

I've uploaded a few new pictures so you should all check them out.

Till next time!

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Brief History of Kibbutz Revivim

This Last week my Hebrew class took a trip to the Kibbutz's museum. In this museum is the history of Kibbutz Revivim...I'll briefly summarize.

Kibbutz Revivim grew out of the Youth Aliyah Movement during the time of the British Mandate. The British Mandate Authority allowed Jews to purchase land, but not create settlements. The group that was to become Kibbutz Revivim was just a small group living in Rishon LeZion, a small suburb of Tel-Aviv. The group was finally granted a small parcel of land in 1943. They were to fulfill the dream of settling the Negev. However, because permanent settlements were illegal...Revivim was established as a Agricultural Research Station. Its formal name was Mitzpeh Revivim or Watch tower Revivim.

With no actual roads to it and only a small desert piece of land, it took 5 hours to make the trip to the new land. Today it takes about 2 hours. The first settlement was only three men. The station grew slowly and eventually some of the women were allowed to come. The growth of the new settlement was stopped by the War of Independence in 1948.

During the War Revivim was the center of Israel's defense of the Negev. Kibbutz Revivim had many purposes during the War. An airstrip was built to bring in supplies. The caves which were once home to the settlers became the field hospital and main base. Many brave men and one woman of Revivim fell during the war. However, after the dust settled and Israel's position became clear...Revivim became the heart of the Negev. Revivim now has moved about a kilometer away and the original kibbutz has now become the museum.

Check out my pictures of the whole thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tragedy Strikes in Israel

Every week I read the Israeli newspaper in Hebrew and I have very quickly learned the words for rocket, casualty, killed, and terrorist. It is unfortunate that I've had to learn such phrases, but they are part of Israeli culture. Every week more rockets fall from the sky onto unsuspecting Israeli communities that just happen to border the Gaza Strip. Israel's responses are always swift. It is a cycle of violent actions which beget more violent actions. My heart weeps for both the Israelis and the Palestinians. I weep because neither side has know peace, ever in their lives.

Just a few days after President George W. Bush left Israel a violent tragedy has occurred. An Ecuadorian volunteer was gunned down by an Palestinian sniper while he was working in the fields of Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha (עין השלושה). He was only 20 years old and only was looking to get away from home for awhile. Its terribly sad, especially for the Ecuadorian volunteers on my kibbutz. I can't imagine a life where going to work in your farm fields requires a bullet proof vest.

As if this scene weren't bad enough the Israeli's responded quickly to the attack. The IDF killed 15 Palestinians in a raid near Gaza City. Attack and and defense, attack and counter attack. This is the life here in Israel. While in the past, the United States of America has taken interest in fixing the situation, the current administration seems to be interested in other endeavors in the Middle East. I have been reading the Dennis Ross book called "The Missing Peace." It describes the great lengths which the George HW Bush (Bush I) and Clinton went to to attempt to broker peace deals in the region. By comparison George W Bush (Bush II) has barely lifted a finger. He has only visited Israel twice while in office. He has made outrageous claims that he hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian deal by the end of his term. This is clearly not even close to possible while rockets fly from Gaza on a daily basis and Israeli planes bomb Gaza right back.

Living on a Kibbutz so far away from either Gaza or the West Bank puts me in a unique position to view the conflict. Be'er Sheva and Revivm are possibly some of the safest places in Israel. The view isn't always pretty from the highest and safest perch. Neighboring regional councils are in quite real danger and there seems to be no end in sight. I pray for peace, but I don't know if that has ever been enough. I'm at a complete loss...its just hard to fathom such hatred.

Please pray for peace and pray for comfort for an Ecuadorian family who didn't know when the kissed their son goodbye, a few months ago, it would be the last time they saw him.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


So today I went to Be'er Sheva on the 3pm bus from Revivm. Normally taking this bus is a happy occasion as I'm getting off the Kibbutz for a nice change of pace. For some reason its nice to walk around a city once and awhile. Today I went for a different reason. My phone broke about a week ago and I had to go back to Be'er Sheva to retrieve it from the store. Don't worry about the phone as the problem was apparently fairly minor to fix. Since it was my problem and no one really had business in Be'er Sheva I happened to go alone this time.

On the bus today was a group of my Israeli friends who are members of this Kibbutz's Nahal Garin. A Garin is a group of Israeli's not from a Kibbutz who agree to live on a Kibbutz and do a whole mess of other programing. After their army service they are eligible for full Kibbutz membership, something not generally available to the general public of Israel. Anyway, the Garin members get one weekend off a month and it generally starts on Thursday and goes till Sunday. They all tend to go back to their parents houses wherever they may be.

Seeing all of them happy and excited to go home and see their parents reminded me of just how far away from home I am. Its funny to think about how long I've been here. At this point I've been here for over 80 days. (83.5 to be exact.) I know that I was away from home for the last 4.5 years, but its different being in Minneapolis than it is being in Israel. Having no family here is difficult even with so many friends here. Friends are great, but family is priceless. So this weekend I'm going to Tel-Aviv to see my brother...I know he's not my real brother, but Brett is probably the closest thing I have to family here in Israel. There's no firm plans, but I do know that it will be nice to see him.

I know I haven't been the best at communicating with family and friends this past two and a half months, but I'm going to try and change that. However, with that said I'd really like to here from my loyal readers, especially the family. Anything would be great...emails...comments on the blogs...and phone calls. I love all of you guys and want to thank you greatly for all the support you've sent my way. I'm just having having a tough day today...

Tomorrow is another day.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Another Week

So its been another week of Ulpan and I thought I'd update you all on the happenings around the Kibbutz.

Class is going quite well. We're going over verb forms...which is review for me, but its great to review. Every class I learn new words and read more and more fluently. I've been reading the back page of the new immigrant newspaper. Its the easy page with only abbreviated articles, but its very cool that I'm reading the news in Hebrew.

As for speaking...I've managed to put myself into the only job where English is absolutely not spoken. So every day in the kitchen I get barked at in Hebrew and I'm starting to bark back. Not really interesting work, but at least its work I know and easy to do.

Not much else has happened this week...New Years was the highlight. There is a party in the Kibbutz tonight for Sylvester. It should be a fun time.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

My First New Years in Israel

So Israel is a very strange country. While living in the modern world and mostly doing business in it, there are a few exceptions. New Years in Israel is not really a holiday. My Kibbutz doesn't take the day off of work and even goes so far as to change the date of New Years to this Friday...we don't work Saturdays so its easier to have a party.

Israelis call New Years Sylvester. After some quick research to find out why I feel that it is only an Israeli sense of humor which could spawn such a name. Check out his article on wikiepedia to understand more. He was a huge anti-Semite, but his Papacy ended on the 31st of January 335. The 31st is also his saint day. All kinds of strange going on with the holiday here.

Anyways...we decided to head to Tel-Aviv for some fun. By we I mean almost the entire Ulpan group and most of the volunteers as well. It was quite a good time. We went to a club called Concha which is in the old Port area of Tel-Aviv. We essentially danced the night into the morning. We finally made it to the Kibbutz we were staying at, in Rehovot, at around 5:30am. We slept the day and meandered back to Be'er Sheva. We finally made it back to Revivim around 6:30pm. It was quite a wild night and quite an amazing way to spend New Years.

Pictures will be coming as soon as I can gather all the cameras that were in the club with us.

One New Years in Israel down...One more to go on this great adventure of mine.