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

Heathrow

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.
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