Goodbye shuk.

Goodbye falafel.

Goodbye keeping Kosher (so nice to be back to one set of dishes).

Goodbye Mediterranean Sea.

Goodbye Old City.

Goodbye crazy religious people.

Goodbye “the north”.

Goodbye everything being shut down on Shabbat.

Goodbye thousands of years of history wherever you turn.

Goodbye awful fashion.

Goodbye amazing coworkers.

Goodbye leaving lights on over of Shabbat (killing the environmentalist in me again and again).

Goodbye arak.

Goodbye smoking indoors (thank god).

Goodbye most amazing rooftop balcony ever.

Goodbye Marzipan ruggelach (good thing I brought a kilo home).

Goodbye conflict and terror.

Goodbye tiny bed.

 

Hello AMERICA!!!

Hello fall (pretty trees and pumpkins!)

Hello Chipotle.

Hello reasonably priced clothing.

Hello American holidays.

Hello US Dollars.

Hello being able to eavesdrop.

Hello suburbia.

Hello access to websites from the US.

Hello taxes not included in the price (so dumb).

Hello Target.

Hello tons of wonderful microbrews.

Hello TV!!

Hello being able to read labels.

Hello American cereals.

Hello friends.

Hello family.


go. see. do.

01Oct11

Sooo it’s been awhile since I last posted  but, I have not fallen off the face of the earth.  Let’s just say I’ve been on summer break- and a very busy summer it has turned out to be!  A few months ago it hit that I only have a few more months here and need to be doing more, plus summertime came, and I snagged a great new addition to my community of very few people here– a boyfriend [Gidi] (who has a car, and likes doing things too, especially on Shabbat when Jerusalem is DEAD).  Needless to say, my life over the past few months has been very fun!  Here’s some things I have been up to:

can you tell which is my half and which is Gidi's?

Camping! Over Shavuot, Gidi and I camped at the Kinneret.  It was my first time at the Kinneret and my first time camping in Israel, the weather was amazing, and we found a great camping spot.  We swam in the beautiful sea, bbq’ed, and made s’mores! (not nearly as tasty as with Jet Puffed marshmallows, Hershey’s bars and real graham crackers, but still tasty).  We went camping again a few months later up near Kiryat Shmona.  We spent the afternoon at the Kibbutz Gidi lived at for a few months, wandering through the orange and avocado orchards, petting cows and dipping our toes in the freezing Dan River, and then ate some of the best (local) fish I have ever had.

4th of July I wasn’t going to let the holiday go by uncelebrated, especially as I have really been missing America.  The 4th was on a Monday, so no big party or anything.  But I had over Gidi and his friend and wife.  We hung some American flags, bbq’ed, played classic American music and lit sparklers!

Brechat Meshushim

Visiting Israeli gems As I mentioned, boyfriend with car=ability to go/see/do things otherwise difficult to get to.  Over the course of many weekends, we’ve been to the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi (which I was finally able to check of my list), Beit Guvrin (lots of underground caves!), Brechat Meshushim (Hexagon Pools- re: a freezing cold natural pool at the bottom of a canyon, the walls of which are hexagon-shaped pillars- really cool!), and Hezekiah’s Tunnels in the City of David (walking in a pitch-black tunnel with thigh-deep water)- all very fun summertime activities!

Simple summertime fun While not trekking around the country exploring, I’ve also been able to enjoy the simpler, yet still summertime fun activities.  Picnics at parks, sitting in the baby pool on our roof, and going to beaches.

Safari A safari in Israel? Yes!  Ok so maybe not as authentic as a safari in Africa, but super cool nonetheless and a great way to spend my birthday!  We drove the car through the safari part where there are hippos, lions, lots of gazelles/impalas, etc. and zebras who come right up to the car!  There’s also a whole zoo inside!

Street parties/shuk The Jerusalem municipality puts on lots of fun events over the summer including a street party almost every weekend.  Also, once a week during the evening in the month of July, there was an event an the shuk with lots of artists and performances.  It was cool to see the shuk transformed that way.

Art/design exhibits The art/design schools in Jerusalem (Bezalel) and Tel Aviv (Shenkar) both had end of school year exhibits displaying the students work.  Lots of interesting and creative stuff.

Tent City As you may or may not know, there has been a protest against the cost of housing going on in Israel over the past few months.  The way this protest has manifested is through protesters camping in the streets/parks.  They have literally set up tent cities (the largest being on Rothschild Blvd. in Tel Aviv, where they have an entire kitchen set up, an arts and crafts tent, musical performances, and plenty of living room sets).  It’s really amazing to walk around and see what they’ve done.  I commend them on their persistence of living in tents for so long.



Today, June 20th marks World Refugee Day, recognized every year on the anniversary of the signing of the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, this year being the 60th anniversary.  Before starting this fellowship, I never knew there even was an World Refugee Day… now, my life revolves around refugees.  Working with refugee issues is not something people go into simply as a profession, rather, it is a humanitarian calling, a vested interest in the rights and well-being of refugees, a personal dedication within these professionals that drives them to this work.  I did not come into my work like most of these professionals; I was placed at CIMI and assigned to work on a program called Assisted Voluntary Return (in short, a program that assists rejected asylum seekers wishing to return to their home country).  And slowly, over the last 8 and a half months, it has become my life.  While I keep my work life and personal life separate (I do not take calls from program participants outside of working hours), I have become passionate about the issues in Israel beyond the scope of my work.  I spend more time reading news articles than I probably should at work and I will talk to anything that moves about the issues.  But I recently mentioned to Natalie, our JDC NY supervisor, that I wanted to become more engaged outside of work… to learn and understand the community better- not just the refugees/asylum-seekers themselves, but the greater community of volunteers and professionals, of Israelis and internationals who are somehow involved with the migrant community here, whether working at an NGO or doing research at a university.

I guess I’ve lucked out recently without even really having to try! I went to 2 conferences last month, I met with an organization also working on refugee/asylum-seeker issues that I wasn’t familiar with, and, of course, now lots of stuff for World Refugee Day.

Refugee Communities in Israel, the Refugee Rights Forum, and Human Rights and Aid Organizations in Israel have organized many events in recognition of World Refugee Day.  This past Thursday evening/Friday afternoon, I joined other volunteers to help put up posters around Tel Aviv for their celebration on Friday, which I am very much looking forward to attending.

Additionally, they have organized film screenings around the country, including one in Jerusalem that I attended tonight.  The film, The Last Survivor, could not have been more perfect.  The film, made by Israeli filmmakers, chronicles the stories of 5 victims of genocide- 1 from the Holocaust, 1 from Rwanda, 1 from Congo and 2 from Sudan.  Not only did I appreciate the film for putting together the Holocaust and the African genocides (which I have mentioned before I think is a major point to recognize, and could go on and on about), but it also included an Israeli context with Sudanese refugees here.  Also of significance was that part of one Sudanese refugee’s story here connected to Yemin Orde, a youth village founded for Holocaust orphans which still exists to this day now serving other at-risk youth, and of course what the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda (a JDC project where we have 5 fellows this year) was modeled after.


Earlier in May, Israel observed many holidays, none of which were religious holidays, but each of which carries with it a heavy weight, each relating somehow or another to the existence of this country- Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzmaut and Nakba Day.

Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 2nd)

In the evening at the start of Yom HaShoah, I watched the special on TV and am very glad the most important/meaningful part was in English- survivors (or family members of survivors) shared their stories of ghettos and camps; of losing friends and family members right before their eyes; of hardships, persecution, torture and starvation; and of escape or perseverance.  Each of the stories ended with somehow, someway, leaving war-torn post-Holocaust Europe to Israel where they found a safe haven and were part of the birth of this country.

Now for my take on this holiday– This concept of a safe-haven from which to escape persecution, and the promise of  “never again” are both things that are still relevant today, and relevant to my work with asylum-seekers.  Thousands and thousands of refugees from Sudan, Eritrea, and other African countries have crossed into Israel as asylum-seekers escaping persecution, hoping for protection.

Israel bears with it a responsibility to accept asylum-seekers — not only a diplomatic responsibility as a signatory of the UN Convention on Refugees, but also a moral responsibility as a country that was birthed out of refugees (hence Israel’s staunch support of the Convention at the time it was written in 1951).  Yet the influx of asylum-seekers is a contentious topic here and there is considerable discrimination, distrust, fear, hatred, violence, etc towards these asylum-seekers.  Not to mention there is no clear and coherent policy, there is a lack of transparency in the system, and there are continuous appeals from humanitarian rights organizations as these people are denied at the border and returned either to Egypt or their home country where their fate is uncertain,  unjustly stuck in detention, or free but lacking many refugee rights (per international standards based on the UN Convention), including the right to work, and stuck in a bureaucratic mess.  It pains me the number of times I have heard asylum-seekers who are choosing to go back to their home country rather than stay in Israel, struggling to get by every day, say “I would rather die in my home country than die here.”  and it makes you think twice about the promise of “never again.”  Is Israel turning its back those who are suffering persecution, just like Holocaust victims 70 years ago?

(This is obviously part of a much larger discussion, but I just wanted to share some thoughts.  And I will also note that there are also thousands of labor migrants that apply for asylum to get temporary protection while they are in the very long application process, and unfortunately this bogs the system down and makes people doubt the validity of all asylum claims, which is not a point to be ignored.  It, however, does not mean that those that truly need protection should suffer because of it.)

I’d like to share an article that articulates some of these points vis a vis Yom HaShoah: http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/israel-should-have-learned-the-holocaust-s-lessons-of-nationalism-1.359277

Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day, May 9th)

Unlike most US observance of Memorial Day, it is not a day of barbeques and furniture sales in Israel.  Rather, it is a truly somber day, a day that affects everybody in this country, and sadly a young person’s holiday, as those that have fallen in service and from terrorist attacks are remembered.  A siren sounds every year in the morning of Yom HaZikaron for 2 minutes.  Everybody stops what they are doing (even driving), stands up, and is silent for 2 minutes.

Yom HaZikaron is a holiday of ceremonies, whether in your town, with your family, or at your school.  I attended a “ceremony” in the evening that was truly amazing- hundreds of twenty-somethings sat on the ground in a city square, listening and singing along as a few singers played/sang meaningful songs.  It felt like camp and it was truly beautiful.  The following day I attended another amazing ceremony at my roommate Helene’s school in Bat Yam (outside Tel Aviv), where she works with at-risk youth a few days a week.  Some students performed, the kids actually behaved, and it ended on a note of hope.

Yom HaAtzmaut (Independence Day, May 10th)

Yom HaAtzmaut immediately follows Yom HaZikaron- at sunset, the day transforms from the saddest day of the year to the happiest day of the year.  Like in the US, Independence Day here is also celebrated with barbeques.  It was a day off and a day of fun.  But it is more than just that.  Like Yom HaZikaron, Yom HaAtzamut is also a meaningful day.  This country has only been independent for 63 years and that is something Israelis don’t take for granted.  This country’s independence has been threatened for the last 63 years and will surely continue to be threatened.

Nakba Day (Day of the Catastrophe, May 15)

Lastly is Nakba Day.  Nakba day is, for the most part, observed by a different demographic than those that observe the previous 3 holidays.  Nakba Day marks the day after Israel declared independence on May 14th, 1948 and Palestinians became refugees in their land and lost their homes and properties.   Not surprisingly, observance of this holiday is not highly favored by Israelis- mention of the word Nakba has been banned in Israeli textbooks and Israeli legislation has made it illegal to commemorate it.  This year, Palestinians and their supporters marched to Israeli borders in Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza to protest/rally, resulting in the death of at least 10 in Lebanon at the hands of the Israeli military.


eurotrip

11May11
i embarked on a 2.5 week eurotrip just over a month ago and have finally settled back into normal life again to blog about it!  i did not expect to be galavanting around Europe when I accepted this fellowship, but when you’re handed a free flight to Berlin (and have a week off because this country shuts down for Passover and find good deals on RyanAir), you make the most of it!  how did I get a free flight to Berlin?  one of the great things about this fellowship is that we have a mid-year seminar where all of us from around the world (26 of us, to be exact) get to spend a few days together to learn/catch up on each of our placements- the work we’re doing and the places we’re living, address challenges we are facing, discuss values, etc.  while in past years the seminar has been in Israel, this year it was in Berlin (lucky us!) it was really great to see everybody and get taken care of for a few days!
besides the seminar in Berlin, I also went to a few other places- some new places and some places I had been before, overall a good mix of places (old pretty european cities, major urban cities and real working-people cities), and good to see some friends.  
in sum:
stop 1: riga (9 hours) freeze hands off trying to buy bus ticket, walk around BEAUTIFUL city, eat delicious apple pastries, explore market in old zepellin hangars, survive 1st solo travel experience
disneyland?

wayyyy more pork than I've seen in the last 7 months

stop 2: berlin (6 days) spend 1st 2 days with another fellow from my program, eat felafel that is nowhere near as good as in Israel, go out till 6am 2 nights in a row, eat my way through a food market, seminar for my program which served as a 4-day therapy session for us all to vent and hang out with each other, eat lots of delicious food that the program fed me (yes, I ate a lot in Berlin)

mmmm urban art

brandenburg gate, of course

stop 3: stockholm (3 days) meet up with friend/travel partner Charlie, eat DELICIOUS meal he cooked, see family (i’m not swedish but my mom’s cousin ended up there years ago and raised her family there… saw her, her daughter and mate and their 2 adorable sons), walk around old town, go to dinner party, ride ferry, eat ice cream

gamla stan- old town

looks like Sweden

stop 4: dublin (2.5 days) gape at expensive prices in not-so-expensive looking town, sit in lots of parks, drink delicious guinness, bike around adorable town, see seals (!)

help crossing the road

unloading the day's catch

our sweet rides for the day

yummm!!!!

stop 5: glasgow (2 days) enjoy affordable food, have 1st couch-surfing experience, see buildings from an architect i like, struggle to understand glaswegian accent, go to fun house party

Kelvingrove Gallery, on the edge of a BEAUTIFUL city park

nice place to perch

awesome

stop 6: edinburgh (1 day) look at the bright side of a rainy day in enjoying the dark side of this mysterious/gothic city, stare in awe at castle/mountain in middle of city, see cafe where j.k. rowling wrote harry potter

I wasn't kidding about the castle on a mountain in the middle of the city

classic

stop 7: london (1 day) meet up with welsh friend i met in jerusalem, see where ‘time starts’ at greenwich, drink starbucks, eat indian food, see/stay with college friend, eat lebanese food as my last meal before returning to israel (ironic?)

underground :)

ah-dorable!

while i was not thrilled to be ending my trip and returning to israel, i was happy to not be living off of digestive cracker/biscuits anymore, sleep in my own (awful as it may be) bed, and not have to think about which way the cars are coming from when i cross the street (re: the left-hand driving thing really throws you!)

PURIM!

03Apr11

I never really celebrated Purim much growing up besides eating some hamentaschen and swinging an occasional gregger.  This year, in true Israeli fashion, I celebrated, and it was a blast!  For those unfamiliar with Purim, it is basically like Jewish Halloween, but better.  I celebrated the first half of my 4-day weekend in Tel Aviv with Carrie (!) and Eugene, who were visiting.  While we were not costumed, we definitely enjoyed seeing everybody else dressed up.  It’s so much better than in college when all the girls dress like sluts or buy costumes from the store.  Here, people just put together fun/ky costumes- whether it’s something really creative or just pulling some things together and throwing on a wig!  We even saw some dogs dressed up :) Sunday morning I went to the parade in Holon (re: lots of girls dancing troops + floats).  Sunday night was the big night out in Jerusalem- my roommates and I dressed up as the 4 seasons (I was spring), had some friends over in the evening, then went out to a party in the shuk (what? yes.), to the main event of the evening – a massive party in a parking garage (a parking garage? yes.  so freakin’ cool) and then ice skating at 3am (there is ice skating in jerusalem? yes.)  The night was A BLAST!  The next day, I switched it up a little and in true Purim spirit rocked the cross-dressing look and we street-festival hopped all day (it was SO nice out!)


I had an AMAZING two and a half weeks with my mother visiting in February.  After her flight being delayed from the crazy blizzard in the States, she arrived on a Friday morning and we spent the day in Yaffo at the old port town, browsing the flea market and eating a mountain of delicious hummus (a great welcome to Israel meal) at Abu Hassan.  Then, with the assistance of the much-needed (and slightly obnoxious) GPS, we began our adventures around Israel.  We headed north and spent the rest of the weekend in Caesarea where we saw ancient ruins, Ein Hod (an artists village), and Zichron Ya’akov (an adorable town + wineries… nomnomnom).   weekend 1 photos

The next weekend we headed back up north again.  We stayed at a zimmer (re: Israeli B&B) in Rosh Pinna, and from there we went to Tzfat, saw some b-e-a-utiful scenery in the Upper Galilee and Golan, toured the Bahai Gardens in Haifa, and relived history in Acco.  weekend 2 photos

We finished our grand tour-de-Israel down south for weekend 3.  We hiked through Mitzpe Ramon (a GIANT “crater”) and Ein Avdat, saw the ruins of Avdat, and of course visited Ben Gurion’s desert home in Sde Boker.  weekend 3 photos

During the week we also went to the Old City and Ein Kerem in Jerusalem and saw a stunning Chihuly exhibit in Tel Aviv.  Tel Aviv/Jerusalem photos

I was so grateful she came because of the opportunity it gave me to see so much of the country and of course to see her!  Now just 6(ish) more months until I see momma again!




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