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 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 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 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.