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!

NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM, AGAIN!!

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...

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!
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