Friday, June 30, 2006

Driving and more driving

Yesterday Ronnie and I drove up to Afula. I thought we'd leave around noon. At 11am, when we finally finished laundry and walked out to find food (the only thing in the fridge was yogurt and granola, which was fine for me, but two things Ronnie would eat only if stranded on an island with nothing else to eat), it was clear that we wouldn't be leaving until 2pm. Around 2:30pm we finally left, to go pick up the film of Petra we'd dropped off earlier (to be posted later). While Ronnie was inside the store, we got a call from his cousin who lives about 5 minutes away. So we told her we'd stop by for a quick visit. 30 minutes later, we finally extricated ourselves from her house to find our way out of Jerusalem. by this time, somehow, it was almost 4pm. Oh, and at some point in the morning, my cousin Steve called to ask if we'd pick up Ma'ayan at Har Halutz (an hour north of Afula). No problem....

And the traffic leaving Jerusalem was terrible. And just as we got out of town, Ronnie started feeling sick. And we needed to get gas. An hour later, we found gas and gave Ronnie a chance to walk around in the fresh air. But the station we stopped at wouldn't take American credit cards, so I had to give them all of the cash we had just to put a few liters in the tank. We were going to need to stop again.... The traffic leaving getting off the highway was of pre-Shavuot proportions and Ronnie used the occasion to continue emptying the contents of his stomach (pretty politely said, right?).

I dropped Ronnie in Afula, picked up Ayelet for the ride and we were off to Har Halutz. We picked up Ma'ayan, and headed back to Afula. We decided to take the scenic route, which, in the dark, really wasn't as scenic as I'd remembered. I also don't know this route at all, and totally needed to rely on Ayelet and Ma'ayan for the directions, which they sometimes gave me as we were about to miss a turn (Ayelet!), or when they (Ma'ayan) said one thing (straight) when they really meant something entirely different (left!)

I somehow convinced Ma'ayan that I'd found a new radio station, Reshet Dalet, that played only Abba on Thursdays. Since I'd only just found the station, I didn't know what bands they played on the other days of the week (but I'm thinking just Hasidic niggunim on Shabbat).

Since Ronnie wasn't feeling so well this morning, we came back to Jerusalem instead of going to Kibbutz to see more of his family. He's feeling a little better now - I still think it was something he ate (see, he should have stuck with yogurt and granola!).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Abba and Madonna

Are the CDs that Ronnie brought me. It will definitely be happy driving!

Walk 5 miles in my shoes....

And you would have walked all the way in and out of Petra. Ronnie and I spent the day yesterday traveling in Jordan up to Petra, with a quick city tour of Aqaba for starters. I say quick, because as much as it's growing, it's a pretty small town with a palace, a port, lots of plans for new beachfront property, and not much else.

We were picked up at 7am by a man named Shor, who looked like he came to Eilat as part of his mid-life crisis. And he came in a jeep, that already had 4 other people sitting in it. So we got in and headed to the border. And a few minutes later Shor remembered that he had one more couple to pick up. And they turned out to be in their 80's, but pretty spry. So now there are 9 of us in the jeep, barreling for the border.

We crossed the border, borded a van with a man named Mohammed and set out for Aqaba, which is not quite on the way to Petra, but not so far out of the way. And, in Aqaba, we picked up apples, oranges and warm water.

2 hours and a bathroom break later, we were in Petra. Or, to be exact, 2 kilometers outside of Petra. So we started walking (the older couple took a carriage). The canyon leading into the city was pretty cool - with really tall walls, colors of rocks that you don't usually see in rocks (bright yellows, blues and reds). There were donkeys and camels and horse-drawn carriages ferrying those people who didn't want to walk, to the ancient city. At some point, one of the chariots (a fast moving carriage?) sort of ran into Ronnie. He's fine, but his arm has what will hopefully not be a permanent souvenir on it.

A few more kilometers later, we were in the heart of Petra. It's amazing what they can carve out of stone. Our guide, Mohammed, said that as a child, they lived in a house without a good roof, and for the three months of rainy season, they would come live in the caves of Petra.

And then you could walk out, or take a camel most of the way. I walked, and Ronnie cameled.

The other interesting thing we saw there were the original Jordanian Almonds. In the US, they're almonds covered in chocolate. But in Jordan, it's a hybrid of an almond tree and a carob tree. The almonds grow with a carob shell around them. It's not really almond season now, so we couldn't taste them. But if I'm ever back in Jordan in the fall....

The flight back to Tel Aviv was pretty uneventful, except we were all the way in the front of the tiny little plane, facing all the other passengers. And there are no windows. And you're not allowed to have anything in your hands - a newspaper, a book, a bottle of water - for landing or take-off. It was just annoying.

On the way back to Jerusalem we stopped at the Ben Gurion airport to say hi to E. (this entry feels long enough to write it like it's a Russian novel) who was picking up Hillel professionals for a summer session at Pardes, a non-denominational yeshiva. Plus, we could eat there and buy a few presents. It would be pretty easy to come to Israel and not leave the airport.....

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Eilat or bust

I actually have a lot to do today before I head to the airport, including a stops at Hebrew U, a grocery store, and a meeting in Gedera. I'm not really sure where that is, and I should probably find that on a map before I start driving....

I got a call before 8am today letting me know that I should just keep my rental car and park it for three days rather than return it and pick up another. Ok. I'm hoping at some point I also get confirmation of our flights and hotel. I'm not worried, and there's not really a worst case scenario....

The good news, is that along with himself, Ronnie is bringing two very important things. CDs for the driving (better late than never), and his laptop. I'm hoping that his laptop will allow me to finally watch the last two episodes of Lost. The laptop I'm using won't read the disc!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hotel + Prison + Spaceship = Hostel

I spent this Shabbat at the new Young Judea Youth Hostel. It's a brand new facility and really nice, (which is the only part that is hotel-like), but the rooms are sort of funny.

The room I was in was clearly made to house four people. I've never seen murphybeds for the top bunk bed, but there they were. And the bathroom was all stainless steel (like a prison). There was an orange curtain on the window, but no lining to prevent the sun from streaming in at 5am. And this led to a really strange glow in the room (like a spaceship) at 5am.

The food was decent, but it was definitely a hostel. How could I tell - it's the only place in Israel I've seen peanut butter. And the bed was like a big log plank with a sheet. I've never slept on a bed like that - I think that would be considered prison-like, if I were still looking for similarities.

And I know I tend to write a lot about the bathrooms I've seen, so this hostel shouldn't be any different, right? Ok - here's what was strange - for a room built to house four people - there was only one towel hook. Anywhere in the whole room, And the only hook I saw was on the door of the bathroom - not close enough to reach by someone in the shower unless the bathroom door was open, which if you're living with three other people, it probably isn't. The fact that there was a hook anywhere at all indicated that while the fixtures were all stainless, it was, in fact, not a prison.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Avoiding O'Henry

I decided not to go to Turkey. Good thing, because Ronnie is meeting me here (in Israel) on Sunday! Can't you just see the bad sitcom scene now? But after a full day of flying on his part, I'll pick him up at Ben Gurion, head to Sde Dov (a really little airport in Tel Aviv) and we're flying to Eilat. I think it will be really cool to fly over the desert, and certainly faster than driving or taking the bus.

I have no good stories for today. I went out for breakfast to work at a coffeeshop, aptly named "Coffee Shop", and they handed me a menu in Hebrew. There's a small thrill in that. My experience is that if they see an American, they automatically go to English. And I think I look pretty American. And even though she saw me reading and writing in English, the waitress still spoke to me in Hebrew. And I got what I thought I'd ordered, so there was some success there.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

As seen through the windshield...

We're driving yesterday and there's a religious man driving the car in front of us. We could tell because he had a big head of grey hair and a big black kipah. And his payes (at least on the right side) were sticking straight out from his head. He looked a little Shrek-like, but not as green. But then, while stopped at a light, he took his left payes in his left hand, and his right payes in his right hand, twirled them around his fingers, and then proceeded to bring them up over the top of his head, tie them together, and slip them under his kipah. I haven't laughed so hard since we drove all the way to Katzrin last year with no clue of how to find the winery.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Chocolate Croissants and Wilted-ness

This morning we had a few meetings, all scheduled at Caffit, a cafe on Emek Refaim. It's a hot morning, but there was a nice breeze and a shady place to sit, which was good, because we were there for nearly 3 hours. At our first meeting, Adam and Emil both ordered chocolate croissants. Emil's arrived just as expected and just like what you'd imagine a chocolate croissant to look like. Adam's arrived a while later. It looked like a regular (plain) butter croissant, you know, just like you see the Pillsbury Doughboy advertising on TV. But this one was special. It was cut down the center, and most of an Elite chocolate bar was placed on the inside. You could still see the imprint of the cow (the symbol of Elite chocolate) on the parts that weren't melted yet. It was like a candybar sandwich than a breakfast pastry. Adam did not complain.

It's noon now, and it's hard to believe that one can feel so utterly wilted this early in the day. The shade and breeze at the cafe were not at all reflective of the actual day's heat....

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


After "I hope I didn't mislead anyone" at the Bat Mitzvah, we heard that the student's mother is Catholic. She actually had a long and fairly sad story, but the Catholic part was fine and I think that was what she was worried about. She's eligible for the trip and therefore able to participate in any program we offer as part of the trip.

So many things, so little time

The last three days have been pretty full. The time not spent at the Poriya hospital, were spent driving, giving blood, driving some more, eating falafel, changing rooms, finding air conditioning and/or waiting for the air to get cold in the car, and hanging out with staff and participants.

The Poriya Hospital is right outside Tiberius. Monday morning, one of our participants thought he might have a problem with his appendix, the doctor agreed, and so he was taken to the hospital. The doctors there agreed as well, so he will be leaving Israel sans one small body part. At one point, before they had decided on the surgery, a group of nine (9) doctors entered the room to speak with him. I figured out that this must be a training hospital (it didn't take me too long). My only concern, as they were discussing the surgery with him, was that one of the doctors had a surgery textbook with him. I kid you not.

The hospital is really, really quiet. There are three people in each room, but there are no televisions, except in the waiting rooms, which are not at all conducive to waiting because they are equipped with the most uncomfortable metal chairs I've ever seen (or had to sit in). The only thing you really hear, and not as often as you would assume, are cell phones ringing. And the announcements letting you know that visiting hours are over (or starting again).

Two other interesting things. According to a plaque on the wall, the operating room was equipped by the American half of the Partnership 2000 region in which the hospital lies - that would be Milwaukee, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Tulsa. The other was that it's the first waiting room I've seen that had copies of Tehilim (Psalms) in it. Those are traditionally read/recited during vigils of the waiting room sort. (And probably other times as well.)

The participant is fine, by the way.

We held a blood drive on Sunday night, and a good number of staff and students participated, including me. I give blood a few times a year, but it feels different to do it in Israel. The form asks if you've been out of the country in the past 14 days. I got to answer "no". Just in case you were wondering, I also answered "no" to getting a tattoo in the past 3 months.

The hotel was the same one I was at a week ago in Tiberius, but this time I was on the 14th floor. Great views (not as good as last week), but no airconditioning. I don't generally like things so cold, but the air coming out of the register was more than warm. By 11:45pm, the security guy (and, evidently, also the temporary airconditioner fix-it guy) figured out that it was not going to start working anytime soon, and so they found me (and another family next door to me) a new room. But it turned into a much later night than I expected.

But in the morning, all was well when I saw what was served at breakfast. In addition to the standard fare of vegetables, cheese, herring, shakshouka and cold scrambled eggs, there was also a quiche-like dish that had a pretty interesting assortment of veggies in it. Peas and carrots, corn, and string beans. Yes, string beans. And no cheese, which would have been a strange addition to peas and carrots, but somehow would have made it seem more quiche-y and less totally weird.

And I've eaten more falafel in the last two days than I think I have in the last five weeks. Well, maybe not more, but an equal number, in any case. One today, one yesterday - both were in Tiberius, both were good. And more importantly, in both cases, I found parking in downtown Tiberius mid-day.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

I nixed the three-peat

I decided this morning to skip hearing Avraham speak for the third time (this trip). Today I'm headed back up North for two nights in Tiberius. And tomorrow two of the final five buses arrive. The last three don't begin arriving until July.

I'm trying to figure out what to do with my week off the end of June. Turkey is a possibility, but I'm not sure if I'll be comfortable going there as a vegetarian. Or I might just go to Eilat and veg out for a few days.

I think I forgot to mention that yesterday we had 6 students become bar/bat mitzvah. The ceremony was great, and 4 of the 6 students gave "speeches" that were real tear jerkers. The last one started with "I hope I haven't been dishonest or lied to anyone here....". Aryeh and I looked at each other and were more than a little concerned about what came next. It all turned out fine, but there was definitely a scary moment. (We didn't know if she was going to turn out to be a Messianic Jew and/or not Jewish at all -and that turns into all sorts of other problems for us vis a vis the program).

Saturday, June 17, 2006

More nicknames

Another staff oneg, another round of nicknames. You know the drill -
Given names: Julie, Tal, Daniel, Danny, Sarah, Phil, Shira, Rachael, Sara
Nicknames: Danimal, Ray Ray, Sauce, Shrosin, Skippy, Toosh, Curly, Wadball and Doobage

This Shabbat, I was at the Ceasar Hotel. I think the decor could be described as early 70's chic. When I checked in, there was a plate of cookies and a beautiful fruit tray waiting for me. I brought the fruit to the staff oneg, and when I returned later that night, I found that the cookies had attracted a large number of ants. Ewwww.

And, since I've often mentioned the state of Israeli hotel bathrooms.... The tiles on the walls and floor were a dark blue. The shower curtain was dark, and there were only lights by the sink. Who designs these rooms?!

As is typical on a Saturday night in Jerusalem when we have a lot of buses, we went to the Campus Club after Havdalah. There's a great place across the street that sells calzone sorts of things and borekas. What I learned tonight, is that the world of borekas is a complicated one. There are triangle-shaped ones called "turchies" (or at least that what I think the sign said", regular borekas shaped ones, appropriately called "borekas", and round ones that look like mini-cinnamon buns called "shniks" (or sniks?). And within each of these categories, you could choose different flavors - but not all flavors came in each type. There were cheese, potato, apple, mushroom, and a few we weren't really sure about. And if you just got the triangle ones, you had to separate the cheese ones and the potato ones in order to tell them apart, since they both had sesame seeds (as opposed to the mushroom ones that had poppy seeds).

Friday, June 16, 2006

And the five legs are:

As I suspected, there were a good number of us staff sitting in the back saying the key lines along with Avraham as he spoke: I saw the suffering of my people, that Jewish children shoudl be born with a ticket to Israel tied to their umbilical cord, Judaism is NOT a religion, I told the man "Fix that sign", Because my father told me so....

But for those who are curious, the five legs are:
Jewish Memory (there is no such thing as Jewish history - only Jewish memory)
Jewish Family
Mt. Sinai
Land of Israel and State of Israel (4a and 4b)
Hebrew Language

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Judaism is NOT a religion

I stayed out of the room when Avraham Infeld (Hillel president) spoke a few days ago. This morning I probably won't be so lucky. He gives a great speech (always the same) about a five-legged stool. The legs are each Jewish concepts/values, and if each Jew just picked three, not even all five, then we'd always have something in common. The students love it. As he's speaking, there are a few of us that feel like we're at a concert, mouthing the words as he says them. The classic line (it's like going to the Rocky Horror Picture Show) is "Judaism is not a religion". But you have to hear it in a low, bellowed, South African accent. For the life of me now, I can't remember what the different legs are.... Good thing I'm going back today.

And then, I have no idea what I'm getting myself into, but I'm going to the Hava v'Adam (Adam and Eve) Farm. It's a crunchy/granola self-sustaining, don't bring anything in that you're not planning on taking out with you, kind of place. It's a stop on our environmental bus and should be interesting....

According to google


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Lafa, Latrun & Swag

I had a "morning after the mega hit by a truck" feeling today. It took until about noon to really get going. I worked for a while, watched some bad tv, and got really hungry. There's no food in the fridge. The three cucumbers were woefully shriveled, and other than 1/2 a bottle of Pepsi Max and a pitcher of water, there was nothing to eat. Which takes us to Lafa.

On my way to hear Avraham Infeld speak, I stopped at a little shop to get a sandwich. I didn't really feel like falafel, the salads only looked sort of fair, but it was 3pm, and I was really, really hungry. I saw something I didn't recognize behind the counter, and I'm still not sure what she called it, but it was basically a vegetable pancake - about the size of a paperback book, only round. I figured, why not. And then the woman behind the counter asked the fateful question - lafa or baguette. I sort of wanted a baguette, but I evidently hesitated long enough (there was no one else in the shop), and so she told me I was going to have a lafa. Think pita on steroids. Like an enormous tortilla, but thicker, like pita. She asked what I wanted on it, and I told her whatever she thought should go on it.

I have no idea what was there. I recognized and/or tasted: hummus, salad, fried eggplant, harif (hot sauce), amba (a really yummy sauce that's sort of like curry mustard), and chips (french fries). There were also things (probably vegetables?) that I didn't recognize in their wrapped state. This whole thing was wrapped up semi-burrito like, with a falafel ball plopped on top. And just for the recond, the falafel fell on the floor as I was trying to pay. Going with the 30 second rule, I ate it anyway. The whole thing was excellent - whatever it was.

Later, we went back out to Latrun (where we'd been for the mega-event the night before) for a closing dinner for three of our buses. It wasn't as fancy, but the food was better than it had been at the VIP reception last night. The music was good, the night was cool, and students had a good time. We stayed away from the desert because we recognized it from last night.

Which brings me to swag. The closing dinner was for three of our Jewish Agency buses. They (the Jewish Agency) gave the bus staff cool backpacks, and I got one too. And I probably should have mentioned I also got a good backpack from Da'at (one of our other land companies) a few weeks ago. It's not an Oscar's gift bag, but I'm good with it.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Kreps and Fotdogs

Well, another Mega-event over and done with. The participants liked it and had fun. But as someone who has been to more of these than I care to count (but not to all of them), it ranked pretty low on the excitement factor. It was outside at Latrun, which last year was great. This year, it was as if they were trying too hard.

When Lynn Schusterman, Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman were called up to speak, Lynn and Michael spoke for a few minutes each, and then no one announced Charles and they went on with the program. That was just weird - who brings Charles Bronfman up on stage to have him speak and then forgets about him? Michael Steinhardt started by greeting the participants in the languages from their 14 home countries. If you've never heard the Brazilians or Argentinians cheer, you're lucky. Plus, it's soccer season, so they're just crazy no matter what.

They also welcomed the 100,000th participant. The poor girl has had to do all sorts of interviews, go on stage in front of 1o,000 people at the mega-event and probably hasn't had any fun at all. She did get a diamond pin out of the deal (so did Lynn Schusterman) presented to her by Shimon Peres.

Oh, and for 7,000 people, there were only 8 booths selling food. In addition to falafel, hamburgers and pizza, students could also buy "kreps", and, I kid you not, "fotdogs". Yes, fotdogs. They looked just like hotdogs, but being a vegetarian, I couldn't do a full investigation to find out how a fotdog might be different than their correctly named look-a-likes.

And, of course, our Hillel booth was excellent (just in case you were wondering).

Monday, June 12, 2006


It was another three shehehiyanu day. The first two were pretty standard, but the third was fantastic. It was only for three buses (120 participants), there was fun Israeli music playing on the stereo, students were dancing, everyone was pretty laid back. It was almost sunset, and the city looked amazing. The ceremony was short (I've never seen larger challahs in my life!) and we had three students speak about what it meant to finally be in Jerusalem. One said, "we've been to Masada, we've been to the Golan, we've been to Tel Aviv. Those were all places, but Jerusalem, this is a feeling".

The long-awaited celebration of the 100,000th participant is tomorrow at the Mega-event. It's a funny name, but that's what it's been called for the last 7 years. Gaia is out, and some new singer is in. The prime minister is in France, so security shouldn't be so bad, and at least we know there will be good food at the VIP reception. We have a booth there, and I was outvoted on what we should do there. I wanted to give out blue string bracelets, similar to the red kabbalah ones that everyone gets in either Tzfat or the Old City. Some people (who I promised not to name) thought it was a bit too cultish. I figure if we're trying to take advantage of popular culture, why not? The idea we're going with was also a good one, just not mine. We're going to have big rolls of butcher block paper and have students write graffiti on the walls of the booth. They tell me it was successful in the past and I think it could be pretty cool.

While we've brought nearly 22,000 participants from the US out of a world-wide total of 100,000, we (Hillel) don't have the 100,000th participant. She's from Shorashim. If it wasn't going to be us, we're happy that it's them, and given the amount of work they've said has been involved, I'm definitely glad it's one of theirs.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Other stories

We played the nickname game again at our staff oneg on Friday night. I still have the package of cappucino gum from a few weeks ago and I'm willing to part with it if you can correctly match the nicknames to the given names. Nicknames: Little fish, Delores, Bernice, Peanut, Captain Clutch. Given names: Valerie, Andrea (not me), Steve, Rob and Bennie.

My cousin Boaz encouraged me to try eating watermelon and salty cheese (like feta, but Bulgarian, not Greek). I did. It was actually good. Not that I doubted him. Too much.

Last Thursday I went to the Hula Valley Bird Observatory. This is an area that is a pit stop in a race around the world for millions of migrating birds of various ilk. It is also a former swamp that was drained in the 50's to make way for agriculture. I don't think it would be fair to say that they're "re-swampifying" it, but there are a few big lakes there now. Malaria has not yet returned. We biked around the area - a little over 6 miles (11k) which was pretty easy (it's really, really flat), but it was also really, really hot. Just biking it alone, it could be done in about 30 minutes at a pretty easy pace. With a group of 40 students, it took nearly 2 hours. That included stops to look at the buffalo (no, I don't know why they're part of a bird observatory), a bunch of different types of birds, and talk about the reclamation of the environment.

Last night the participants went on a boat cruise in the Kinneret. Because there are 6 buses of students, we used 2 boats (they aren't so big). Whenever anyone asked whether I'd be on their boat, I apologized and said that I'd be on the other boat. I had a great grilled haloumi salad at an outdoor cafe and I believe no one was the wiser :)

The Art of Driving

A lot of people think I'm crazy driving around here. It depends on where you're driving. This past week I drove up North and then back on the Bika Road. Basically, if you drive out of Jerusalem going due East and then turn left when the road ends (at the Dead Sea/Jordan) you're driving through amazing desert, and very different than driving through the Negev. The road runs tight along the Jordanian border. If you have long enough arms, you can hold them out and practically get electrocuted by the fence that borders the very small swath of no man's land. It's got great roads that follow the curve of the hills and very few cars and lots of animals. The animals are the real adventure of driving in Israel.

On the way up North, I saw a lot of signs (like the above). If you look closely, it looks like a reindeer, or maybe a gazelle or ibyx, which is more of a possibility in Israel that reindeer should be. Whatever it's supposed to be, I didn't see any. Instead, I saw, and was stopped cold by cows, donkeys and goats. The only problem with getting stopped by animals is that given all the hills and turns, you don't get so much warning that they'll be there. The good news is that I apparently have excellent brakes in my car.

I learned a few things on the drive this week. One is that you shouldn't pass other cars on a road with no shoulders.

On the way to the Dead Sea (before you turn left), there are markers every 100 meters as you descend below sea level. At the exact sea level mark, there's a camel all dressed up and ready to take pictures with tourists. I've seen it every time I've driven by (over many years), and have yet to see anyone on the camel.

On a regular stretch of road up North (not on the Bika Road), I got pulled over by the police right after I'd left Kfar Giladi headed to Tiberius. I hadn't done anything illegal yet that morning, so it was a bit of a mystery. I opened my window, they said, "Mi afo At" (where are you from), I said in my best American accent "m'Washington DC" and they waived me on. I'm not sure how I could have possibly fit any profile they were looking for.... Two blocks later, missing the street I needed, I made an illegal u-turn with no trouble figuring that they clearly had other things to worry about.

I've also learned that while I tend to get lost a lot, there aren't too many places you are actually really lost. It's easy enough to figure out where you shouldn't be, and after that, people are mostly friendly and helpful and usually wait until you drive off to start laugh at my incompetance.

This morning, I was looking for the retirement home in Tiberius to meet a group of our participants who were volunteering there. Tiberius isn't really a very big town, and there's a big lake (the Kinneret) to orient you in general, but it still took us a good 25 minutes to find the place. Partly, the street we were looking for was not on any map, including one of the fancy ones that indexes every street and alley. But if you drive around enough, know you're looking for a big tour bus with a Taglit-birthright israel banner on the front, and then finally see a sign that says "Beit Avot", it's not hard at all to get where you need to be.

My last driving story. I have one CD here. It's a good one, but I've been doing a lot of driving and there's only so many times I can listen to it in a row. So I'm scanning for radio stations. In the desert, it seems that reception is only good if you're an Arabic station. Not only do I not understand one word, but I'm not so into the music either. So it was back to my one CD....

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Clearing up Confusion

I have evidently left some confusion as to the ransom and rescue process involved in yesterday's abduction.
1. Esther and Sarah really were in Haifa for the opening of the Haifa Hillel.
2. Rabbi Samuels knew I was getting out of the van to get in a cab to meet them. And they were thankfully (on my part) stuck at a very long ceremony and were therefore still around when I got there.
3. As it is Israeli policy not to negotiate, there was no ransom paid.
4. The falafel was not good, but excellent.

On a completely unrelated note - I'm going up North for the next four days, probably without internet. I'm sure there will be all sorts of stories to relate when I get back.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Did I mention...

that today I was kidnapped by Rabbi S?!

To and Fro

We left for the airport this morning at 7:15am. The first two flights were arriving at 8:10am. At 8:15am we were the second car one stop light away from entering the airport. At which point a security guy in an SUV blocked the road, got out of his car, and then pulled out his Uzi. Ok, I don't really know what kind of gun it was, but it wasn't a rifle, it wasn't a pistol, and it probably wasn't a big machine gun. It was nevertheless a bit out of the ordinary. 8 minutes later we were on our way....

On the way back tonight, we took the train from Haifa. It's a really nice train, air-conditioned (way, way too cold for me), and goes along the coast. It's pretty beautiful. Esther and Sarah sat with two soldiers, and I sat across the aisle from them with an older couple who were clearly not happy to be sharing the four seats that they were otherwise occupying. To the best of my knowledge, they had only paid for two, so I sat down. They also weren't so happy when I pulled out my remaining 1/2 bottle of water. I couldn't tell if they were upset that I didn't offer them any, or that in pulling out my 1/2 bottle of water, that my bag accidently touched on of their bags sitting on the third seat. I'm not sure who was happier when it was time for them to get off. Well, actually I do.

And me without my hat....

Where to begin? And keep in mind that I think this story is better told live, with facial expression and hand motions.

This morning, I was at the airport and decided to call and say hello to Rabbi S, our Chabad rabbi from Milwaukee, who I knew was in Israel. After the arrivals, I didn't have much to do for the day, so when he said he'd pick me up, I said ok.

He picked me up and said he was going to show me around Kfar Chabad. I had on capris (remember I'm short, so they weren't quite as long as pants, but stilll...) and a t-shirt. When I mentioned that I wasn't sure if I was appropriately dressed for the visit, he said, "don't worry, it's Chabad". Okay....

So first we drive around Beit Rivka, I think mainly because he made a wrong turn on the way to Kfar Chabad. Beit Rivka is where all the girls go to school. Dorms, a gym, a synagogue - not much to see.

Then we wound our way to Kfar Chabad. I think I was the only woman within miles wearing pants. If he was okay being seen driving me around, I was okay wearing pants, but it was still a little strange. I think I was also the only married woman within miles not wearing a wig.

First, we went to the house of a woman whose husband runs the Chabad at the airport. According to Rabbi S, he's a good person to know. I didn't meet him, so I won't find that out. His wife however was lovely, offered me Moroccan sweets (they were quite tasty), and invited me to her daughter's wedding. Their home was surprisingly normal, if you consider that the living room was bookshelves floor to ceiling on all available wall space, save the windows, although they could have done that and I wouldn't have known. There were cookie jars in the kitchen, loaves of bread being stored in the double oven (well, I guess that's not so normal), and a fridge full of half bottles of soda. There was a picture or two of the rebbe, but not as many as I've seen in Rabbi Samuel's house.

When we left her house, we went to 770. Really bizarre. The place is an exact replica of the Rebbe's office in New York. We went in, but not before I asked if I was really allowed. Evidently I'm far enough off the path of righteousness that he thought I could be helped by going in. That, or the answer was actually yes. You know what, there's nothing to see there. I mean, the Rebbe isn't there, and everyone else is studying.

In the basement, they have their book empire. There are copies of the Tanya (the book on which the Lubavitchers base their practices) printed in every country and city in which there are at least 10 Jews. Rabbi S told me that he had them printed in 40 towns in Wisconsin. Including Peshtigo. There were 10 Jews in Peshtigo, Wisconsin (see, inflection and hand gestures would be used emphatically here)?!

After looking at the book of shluchim (shlichim, or emissaries to all but those who speak Yiddish), we left. Note to anyone who tries that again - don't. It's boring, and it's like looking at someone elses family pictures where you have no connection in any way, shape or form to any of them.

But I digress.

So we get back in the car and Rabbi S offers me kichel. It's 1pm, I've had nothing but a handful of peanuts and a lot of coffee, and he offers me kichel. Note to anyone who tries that again - don't. No explanation needed.

We head to the highway East toward Tel Aviv and Rabbi S says were going on the next part of our tour. Okay. And then we head North, and I politely asked where we were headed. His answer stunned me. He said, "Haifa".


I told him I wasn't so interested in heading to Haifa. He said "oh, that's just a stop I have to make, and then we'll head on the real tour up North."


Can you say kidnapped. Seriously. Trapped in a Kia van with Rabbi S and our only non-spiritual sustenance was going to be kichel. Not cool at all.

He wanted to show me Amuka. Thankfully, I'd been there once, and heard enough about it from friends to fake my way through convincing him that I'd been there. So then he asked where else I'd been. I do birthright trips nearly three months a year, if it's touristy, I've been there. So I said, you name a place and I'll tell you if I've been there.

[i'm not sure what happened to the original post - i'm rewriting here...]

At some point, he figures out that I really don't need to go up north with him. And yet, there I am, still in the van with Rabbi S. and some kichel. And then, a divine lightbulb exploded in my head. "Rabbi S. - the friends that dropped me at the airport this morning are in Haifa. How about if I drive with you to Haifa, and I'll go back with them?"

Long story short, he agrees, and after finding a bathroom at the train station (think passwords and secret staircases to get there) I ultimately made my way to the new Haifa Hillel to meet Sarah and Esther to take the train back.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Loose threads

Last night I had dinner with my cousin, Boaz, and we were talking about the lack of city planning here in Jerusalem. Street-wise, there seems to be no organization at all. Obviously they're not going to start straightening streets and widening some of the main thoroughfares to more than one and half lanes (seriously), but I was thinking.... What if, within different areas or neighborhoods, the street names were organized by one of the following systems:
1. family groups, with streets in birth order (Reuven was the eldest of the children of Israel...)
2. time in history, with the oldest sections of the city corresponding to names from the earliest era
3. thematically: early zionists, mountains in the Galil, trees, politicians, you've got the idea
4. biblical books (including the writings and prophets)
OR - since most cities in Israel all use the same names (Herzl, Herzog, Tzernikovsky, King David, Histadrut...) they should be laid out all in the same order so that if you know your way around one city, you can find your way around them all.
Why didn't any ask me earlier?

Passport stories: As the next buses begin to arrive tomorrow, I am hoping that we repeat none of the following true stories:
a. The night before the student (I'll call him Joe) was to return to the US, he came down panicked that he'd lost his passport. We don't take it lightly, but it's really not such a big deal. Worst case scenario, the student gets an emergency passport and takes a later flight. When the staff went up to Joe's room, one of the roommates was there. When asked if he'd seen the passport, he (the roommate) said yes and pulled it out of his backpack. Joe had lost it several days earlier and the roommate just wanted to see him sweat. I guess this is less of a passport story and more of a mean roommate story....
b. A student emailed me the other day and asked if they could use the copy of their passport to travel to Israel since they'd lost their passport sometime after making the copy. That was an easy answer....
c. Students have forgotten to get their passports out of the bank safe deposit box in time for their Sunday night flight.
d. One student lost his passport between the time he checked in for the flight, and the time he got to TSA security to get to the gate. He (obviously) missed the flight, had to get a rush passport, and got a flight the next day. His passport was found in his friend's backpack two days later (don't ask...)
e. Students have forgotten their passports in their dorm rooms, which after school has ended for the semester, are locked tight until school starts again.

Three buses arrive tomorrow morning - let the games begin...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Random Thoughts

I was driving back from Afula this morning, when I found myself stopped at at a light to the right of a cement truck with it's spout perilously close to my window. There was a slow drip of concrete and I was just thankful that the traffic this morning was much better than it was on Thursday (it's not like it could have been worse).

So over the past four days, I saw four different prisons (from the outside). The first was on the drive to Har Halutz with Steve. I thought it was curious that there was a walled city with a mosque that was clearly not Jericho, Jerusalem, Akko etc. [do prisons count as a walled city in terms of reading Megillah?] The second was on the way to the beach (but it turns out I'd passed a million times before) in Meggido which reportedly holds terrorists. The third was on the road this morning near Netanya, and the fourth was the HaSharon Prison, which looked like the most menacing of the group.

I also learned about a poisonous flower that grows along the side of the roads here. They're beautiful but deadly if you're going brew tea with them. Thankfully, the water had not yet come to a boil.

My vocabulary is improving, and is indicative of the experiences I've had. (In the past, I've had opportunities to learn the words for infusion and crutches.) Traffic, (as opposed to a bottleneck), leash, dill - you know, all of the important words for everyday conversation. It's the stringing them together that isn't proving to be so simple.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

New Rule

I really hate to do this, but no more anonymous comments, ok? It's not so fun for me and doesn't say much about you.... If your screen name isn't obvious, then feel free to identify yourself in the text. Others will be deleted (for those still reading - this does NOT make me the meanest!)

Let There (not) be Light

Well, tonight we narrowly escaped death (or major injury) by falling gigantic wrought iron/glass chandelier. Galit and I actually commented on how interesting the fixture was when we walked into the restaurant, having no idea that a mere 40 minutes later it would come crashing down 6 feet from us. It happened that the family eating dinner at the table right below the fixture had just left. No one was hurt, everyone was calm, but there was glass everywhere. Dinner was free.

Normal, pt. 2

There are more than a few different "normals" in Israel. One is the way I spend Shabbat when I'm working here - in various pluralistic modes of celebrating Shabbat. And for a good number of people here, they do this when they aren't here working. :) Today Steve, Galit, Lotem and I went to the beach in Caesaria. It wasn't as crowded or even as hot as I expected and in the shade, it was downright pleasant.

As always, we saw our share of characters on the beach. There was one woman in particular (pictured to the right) that I specifically asked Steve to take a picture of. Between the Brock-a-brella and the swimsuit - really - even the picture doesn't do her justice. For those of you who have been to Chamat Gader, the one similarity we found on the Caesaria beach were large Russian men in speedos. We were extremely fortunate not to also find the larger Russian women in bikinis.

Given that it is the Sabbath, I did not leave my daily voice mail for Ayelet. Plus, she was here and I saw her. I think that there is probably some opinion that would say that because of the Sabbath I should have left her two....

Friday, June 02, 2006


This morning, I went with my cousin, Steve, to pick up two of his daughters in Har Halutz. We saw part of their Shavuot program - kids doing class dances (the 4-5 year olds, and then the 7-8 year olds), one group of adults dancing, and various explanations of the holiday. Then there was a parade of offerings for the holiday, and then tractor rides and big inflated slides to play on. And of course, all the participants wore white, and some of the kids had wreaths of flowers and branches around their heads.

Steve's other daughter, Ayelet, met us later. I've left her messages on her voice mail every single day. At first it was just to try and get in touch with her. Then it just became funny. I'm pretty sure that by the time I leave, it's going to be annoying, but I'm willing to take that risk. I promised her I wouldn't write here about her underwear, so I can't say any more.

Today in Afula just felt normal. Which is to say that we went to Galit's parent''s house for a great lunch with her family, and later to a concert in their community. In general, when I'm here for work, I do a lot of touristy things, and even when I'm spending time at a cafe in Jerusalem, there seem to always be a lot of Americans around and I wonder whether it's actually reflective of Israeli culture. I think to a large degree it is, but there's always enough doubt to make me wonder. Today was definitely an Israel day, if that makes sense.

The concert was Shiri Maimon, one of the finalist from the Israeli version of American Idol and the Israeli representative to Eurovision last year. As is typical in Israeli concerts, everyone there sang along with her, every word, every song. I think it was clear to anyone who looked in our direction that I had never heard of her before. It was a very mixed crowd - young children through grandparents and people brought blankets and food.

The Long Road to Afula....

I have never seen traffic like this in Israel. Like a moving parking lot. Maybe it was because everyone was going home for Shavuot? And yet, you would think that they wouldn't all be doing it at the same time. A normal, just-under-2-hour-drive, took nearly three. And then I got to Afula. Which felt like a ghost town. The shops were already closed for the day (because of the holiday). No one on the streets, no cars, no people, and even stranger, no cats. Very, very eerie. I think that they must have all been in traffic.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Steal this Car

I returned my rental car yesterday and picked up a new one today. Let's just say that the one Hillel rents for me is nicer than the one I rented for myself. The new one is clean, it drives, it has a CD player (for the one CD I have with me), but it's definitely not the work rental. And while I read as much as I could in advance, on-line about the restrictions that come with this rental (no driving through Palestinian territory, for example), there was nothing about the additional fees that were associated with taking Road 6 - the first toll road in Israel. It's a really fast way to get up North and when we rent from Hertz (with work), I know that it costs an additional few shekels for them to process the toll. But with Budget, it's $10! That's ridiculous. So my travel to Afula for the weekend will take a little longer than expected. Not horrible at all - I'm not in a rush, but just annoying.

Also, there's a whole complicated process involved in starting the car. You would think that you could just turn the key. You can, but the car won't start. You turn the key two clicks to the right (to "on", but not "start"), press the button on the keychain 4 times, turn it back one click, and then forward two to "start". Seriously.

I rented the car so I could drive up to Afula to see cousins - Steve, Galit and their kids. A few of my friends are incredulous that I would deign to spend Shavuot outside of Jerusalem (where it's supposed to be pretty cool), but this will be much better.