Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Double check your IDF Slang!

Family and friends,
I hope that you and your families are having a relaxing and enjoyable summer.

I'd like to call your attention to the Cleveland Jewish News which as added my blog to its website at: http://www.clevelandjewishnews.com/news/blog/israel/blogs/weinberg/
Not sure if there will be any differences between what is listed there and what you will receive, but it is exciting nonetheless. Currently, there are technical difficulties in viewing the blog, but I've been assured that it is being addressed.

Now on to the highlights of my past month in Israel:

Around the time of the last entry I was in Tel Aviv for "Lila Lavan" which translates to "White Night." Much like Kaboom in San Francisco or Bumbershoots in Seattle, it's a citywide festival where thousands upon thousands of people come out for live music, concerts, and drinks. The meaning behind Lila Lavan is that the city never sleeps, it's alive all night and the beach becomes a stage for some of Israel's top singers.
The following night I went out with my roommate, Matthew, from the Ulpan, and taking a cab into the city I had my first extensive conversation in Hebrew with our driver. For the entire 10 minute ride, I spoke to him in Hebrew about making Aliyah and joining the IDF. He asked me where I wanted to go in the IDF and when I replied Nachal, his face lit up like a kid in a candy store and he started screaming about how he was in Nachal and telling me stories about how "Nachal is family" and "all the Nachal soldiers look out for each other." He explained that as a mechanic, he was required to work on the machinery when everyone returned from the field, usually around dinner, and as a result he usually missed the dinner rush. He told me that while his mechanic friends in other units such as Golani and Givati would miss all the food, the Nachal cooks and soldiers always rationed out his dinner ahead of time and set it aside so he would never miss dinner. That was truly a special night: it made me believe that all the hard work I've been putting into Hebrew is coming to fruition and that my decision to join Nachal is a smart one.

One of the reasons that I am serving in the IDF is to give back to the State of Israel. This is a stance that I hope to live my life by and continue to give back to the State throughout my life. As such, I have begun networking with Venture Capitalists to see what exactly they do, how they do it, and what their perceptions on Israel and working with Israel are. I had my first meeting with Jacob Ner-David, Founder and Managing Partner of Jerusalem Capital, several weeks ago. The story itself is quite entertaining so let's begin there. I was supposed to meet with him the previous week, but since the first bulldozer attack was about 2 hours before my meeting, it was canceled. On the bus to my rescheduled meeting, I met two Hebrew University students who after asking me about myself and why I was here, promptly invited me to Shabbat dinner the next evening (more on that dinner to come). The one hour bus ride took an extra 30 minutes to cross Jerusalem thanks to traffic and after updating the receptionist on my status, was told that Mr. Ner-David had to leave earlier than expected and that I would only have 15 minutes to talk with him. Getting off the bus, I sprinted to his office. Mind you, it's 90 degrees, and I'm wearing a light sweater, dress shirt, and slacks--no iron so I had to hide the wrinkles somehow, a sweater seemed like a great idea at the time. Arriving at his office drenched in sweat, I was greeted by Mr. Ner-David who was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sandals. After a short yet fruitful discussion on Venture Capital and his take on the opportunities in helping Israel through financial markets, I headed back to my dorm, happy to get out of my dress clothes. The dress code here is a nice change from last summer's suit and tie in New York's humidity, but I still cannot bring myself to show up in a t-shirt and sandals for a meeting with a Venture Capital firm.
As for the Shabbat dinner, it was a wonderful spread of Israeli and Venezuelan staples. There were about 15 people at dinner, of which 10 were Israeli students, a few of us from the Ulpan, and a few Venezuelan students who are studying at Hebrew University. After dinner we were sitting around talking and I looked out the window and saw a tree on fire. Before you know it, then entire area around the tree caught fire, and it grew to about a quarter-acre. We sat in awe as underbrush caught fire and it continued to grow. After 10 minutes the firemen came and put out the brush fire. I've been looking in the newspaper and online for the cause of the fire but cannot find anything. Nothing like a burning bush on Shabbat though!

I have no intent on making my blog a political commentary; my intent is to provide you with vivid accounts of my experiences in Israel. However, following the recent terrorist attacks and prisoner swap, I do have a few words to echo. For those who do not know, there have been several terrorist attacks since I've been here: two separate bulldozer attacks where terrorists have hijacked bulldozers and run over cars and into buses, and one or two other minor attacks. Most recently, Israel came to terms with Hezbollah to exchange five convicted terrorist--including one man, Samir Kuntar, who was serving 542 years in prison after killing 4 Israelis including a 4-year old girl--for two soldiers, Ehud "Udi" Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. It was hoped that the two Israeli soldiers were alive, and the families of each did not know the status of their sons until they saw the coffins unloaded from the plane. To say the least, this was an extremely emotional period for Israel, and signifies the fundamental difference between the terrorists in the region and Israel. The Israel Defense Force's main goal is to maintain the safety of Israeli citizens and to remain defensive at all costs. The soldiers of the IDF are the 18-22 year old citizens of Israel who are required by law to serve and as such are embraced by every family in Israel. PM Olmert explained why Israel paid such a high cost for two of its dead soldiers, "A stranger will not understand what every Israeli understands very well. The fate of every one of our soldiers is the glue that binds us together as a society and allows us to survive in an area that is surrounded by enemies and terror organizations." The following Shabbat, I had dinner with family friends, the Steinberg's, at the father's parent's house. Situated on top of the tallest "hill" in Jerusalem and on the 10th floor of the building, we were able to see Jordanian lights to our left and the flicker of Tel Aviv to our right. In between the Jewish neighborhoods lay dormant, sanctifying Shabbat, while the Arab neighborhoods shot off fireworks to celebrate the return to freedom of one of the most despised men in the world. To live in Israel with hope is a fragile ideology, we always hope for peace but when one sees the dynamic differences in philosophies between many Arabs and the Israeli's it is all too easy to be filled with pessimism. The President of Israel elucidates my sentiments "...if the heavens asked me to which people I would rather belong, the people in mourning over the deaths of two of its soldiers or the people rejoicing in the return of a craven murderer whose mark of Cain can never be erased, the answer is clear."

On a more positive note, the Jerusalem Film Festival was this past month. I went to a viewing of "Mongul," the life of Ghengis Khan. The Jerusalem Film Festival is a surprisingly large and well respected film festival that lasts about two weeks. The catch to the movie I went to, was that it was in Mongolian with Hebrew subtitles. I surprised myself with some proficiency in understanding the story, but needless to say, most of it was over my head.

It was brought to my attention that I have a distant relative, Drew, on my mother's father's side of the family who began Garin Tzabar two years ago! I was in contact with her before I arrived in Israel and since I've been here, I have had the delight of meeting her twice for dinner in Jerusalem. A very determined and outgoing girl, Drew has been a great resource for not only my program, but the IDF (she is also a member of Nachal, and insists that it's where "all the good boys" go). Regardless, it's a delight--and quite the small world--to have a family member my age from the US in Israel.

In my last entry I detailed some of my experiences with the excitement that is bureaucracy in Israel. Well, as it turns out, I was required to return to Beer Sheva last week to sign three identical pieces of paper. The department refused to fax or email it to me and insisted that I come down to sign the paper in person during their convenient times of 3-5 pm Monday and Wednesday. Taking a 40 minute bus ride to the central bus station in Jerusalem, I then took a 1 hour 45 minute bus to Beer Sheva. When I arrived my cousin's fiance, Ayal, met me to help me with the process. Arriving at the office at 2:40, the security guard informed us that I would need to come back the following day at 8 am to sign the papers. Insisting that I called down and they instructed me to come at 3 pm, the guard repeated his stance. When we showed him the letter that was mailed to me, he suddenly decided to inform us of another office that we could go to. Walking to the second office we took a number and waited for an hour. When we were helped, the woman informed us that"this is really simple," and took out three identical pieces of paper and had me sign the bottom of each. That was it. Another two buses back, and my day trip was a simple 9 hour adventure.

Before I tell the next story, I want to preface it by saying that some of the Hebrew I have learned is slang, of which a fair amount is army slang, which has original connotations that I am unaware of. That being said, we have a test every Thursday in my Ulpan and recently one of the sections was to write two paragraphs in Hebrew on how we feel after being in Jerusalem for one month. I explained that it has been a drastic change for me, leaving most of my culture and comforts in Cleveland. I discussed how hard I have been working to learn Hebrew and that I often get frustrated in my studies. Now the word that I learned for frustrated is "shavuz," which is army slang. When I received my test, I had a large red circle around the word and my teacher had written "slang" above it, with a hearty deduction of my grade. After reviewing the test, I asked one of my good friends why she took off for it. He explained that shavuz is actually a contraction of two words, "zayin" and "shavur." Unbeknown to me, these two words literally translate to, "broken penis." One can only imagine how frustrating that can be, and so the crude slang implies such. Note to self: double check the original meaning of slang before you write them on a test.

The Via Dolorosa is the path that Jesus walked from his conviction to his crucifixion and grave. Every Friday there is a pilgrimage of the 14 steps by four monks who chant in Latin, Italian, English, and Spanish. I had the pleasure of joining the large tour a couple of weeks ago. As you can see from my pictures, there is a marking of each of the 14 steps where Jesus fell for the first time, consoled the lamenting women on Jerusalem, etc. You can read about each of steps here: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-via-dolorosa.htm
It was a very interesting and enlightening experience that only comes with the open mind of other's cultures and religions. The last 5 steps (10-14) are in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was hung, cleansed, and then buried. You can see in my pictures that it is a tradition to crawl inside the podium and kiss the place where Jesus was crucified, kiss or touch the slate that he was cleansed on, and then enter the tomb where he was buried.

I mentioned in my last post that I was hoping to go to Turkey, but after the recent terrorist attacks, my friends and I decided it would be smarter to travel to Eilat (Israel's resort city) and spend a few days relaxing. I'm hoping to do some hiking up north around the Golan Heights before I am rushed off to my Kibbutz on the 15th.

That is all for now. I will try to update the blog in smaller segments in the future, but I have no idea what my computer accessibility will be. I reiterate my previous sentiments and ask you to download Skype so we can talk for free online. I have already done so with many friends and family and it is a pleasure. You can download Skype for free here: http://www.skype.com/intl/en/download/skype/windows/

Closing in on two months in Israel, I am confident that this will be a truly life changing experience that I will treasure forever. Regardless it has been difficult to leave so much behind, and when I was in a bar in Tel Aviv a few weeks ago, Plush by Stone Temple Pilots (my fraternity's song) came on, and a rush of emotions swept over me. Know that you are all missed.

I wish you all health, happiness, and safety. And don't forget, when you're frustrated, try not to use the word "shavuz!"

Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Lost in Translation: Israel

Family and friends,
I hope that each of you and your families are having a relaxing summer and wish you a happy July 4th.
I realize that this post is long overdue, and apologize for its tardiness, but the past 3 weeks have been quite remarkable.
A few people have asked what my itinerary over the next few months and during my tenure in Israel will be, so here it is:
  • June 24-July 31: Jerusalem, Hebrew University Ulpan (Hebrew immersion course)
  • August 1-14: ??? Hoping to travel with army friends to Istanbul, Turkey, or Jordan or Egypt. If you've been to any of these countries and have some recommendations, please let me know!
  • August 14-early November: Moving to Kibbutz Yiftach in northern Israel, just across from Lebanon; working on the kibbutz and more Ulpan
  • September: Psychometric and other army examinations; start the countdown of 2 years of army service...
  • early November-May (?): Rumors say that basic training for Kravi (fighting) Units is 6 months.
  • May (?)-2010: Deployment around Israel for the rest of my 1.5 years of army service
Others have asked about my reasons for serving and about my preparation, both mentally and physically, over the past few months. There were a few articles written about me that answer these questions in depth:

With that all said, here's a recap of the past three weeks:
I departed Cleveland at 6 AM on June 11th and arrived in Tel Aviv on the 12th. The first 10 days I traveled in a compact car around the country with my father living out of a suitcase. As you can imagine, tensions rose on occasion (you do the math: living out of a suitcase and a different city each day with your father), but all in all it was a treat to be (re)introduced to family who I have never seen or have not seen since, as everyone likes to demonstrate by pointing to two feet off the ground and reiterating, "you were this tall!"

The first few days were spent at my father's cousin Rivka and Chemi Cohen's house in the northern Negev at Moshav En Habsour. (A moshav is a farm co-op where each family has its own house and land to conduct agriculture on and sell the agriculture products either collectively or independently). I was re-acquainted with the Cohen daughters (Shlomit, 21, Gili, 25, Roni, 28, and Noga, 30). Tensions with Gaza were surfacing again during our sojourn as a Kassam missile was shot from nearby Gaza and landed just a few miles from En Habsour (the moshav is at most 5 miles from Gaza). As Chemi explained to me, residents of the northern Negev are at odds with the Israeli government as Kassam missiles have continued to pour into the country but Olmert has yet to forcibly retaliate. The kicker is that Israel sends in truck loads of supplies ranging from food to phosphorous daily to aid the Palestinians. However, Hamas and other militant groups have used the phosphorous and Israeli aid to build the Kassam missiles that they then shoot right back into Israel. (Kassam missiles have no guidance systems and are shot randomly with pellets to kill as many people as possible). You can watch CNN day and night, but until you see ashy craters and smell the rancid odor of burnt sand, you do not realize the true day to day fear that Israelis live with.

Just down from the missile attack is Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, where my father's aunt and uncle Samulito and Chi'a Samban live. From there we traveled north to Tel Aviv to meet Rivka's two sisters, Michal and Ruti, along with their children and significant others (children is a loose term, they are all 25-30 years old). What Jerusalem is to religion, Tel Aviv is to everything else: pubs, restaurants, night life, technology, etc. The Mediterranean Sea is unbelievably warm and an afternoon is not complete without sitting at a cafe and sipping on a mojito or two. In Tel Aviv we visited more family members, one of which, Paul Kebar, was a pilot at 18 in the RAF during WWII and was one of Israels first pilots in 1948. Touring Tel Aviv we stopped by the oldest part of the city where my father spent part of his childhood. Much like in the US, the oldest, most worn parts of cities have become prime real estate for renovations and trendy shopping (including $300 Italian shorts).

Our next stop in Jerusalem took us to family friends, the Steinbergs and Ganchrows, whose American backgrounds were a nice change of pace. My father met with colleagues at Hebrew University and Hadassa Hospital to look into collaborating on future research projects, and I spent the day relaxing, happy to be out of the car. Many more family members later, we stopped by my father's parents' graves in Ashdod, a very emotional experience for both my father and me; it was the first time that I had visited in close to 10 years. At some point I am going to rent a cello and visit their graves to play for my grandparents who provided me the opportunity to take lessons for 10 years but never heard me play; it is the least I owe them.

Changing gears, I want to clarify that although my Garin (army group from the US) does not meet until August 14th, I came early to work on my Hebrew and visit family. That was the good news, the bad news was that instead of waiting for my Garin to help me with my paperwork, my father and I had to handle my Teduat Zeheut (ID card), Teduat Zechaut (essentially returning minor paperwork, I was born in Israel), open a bank account, Ministry of Absorption/Immigration, Aliyah forms, scholarship forms, health care registration, army deferral (they wanted me to join right away), and a few other odds and ends to tie up. I won't go into too much detail regarding the absurdity of where we had to go and what we had to do, but my commentary is reserved to the observation that the Israel bureaucracy is in a league of its own. Patience is the cardinal virtue as each and every stop takes a minimum of 2-3 hours and the hours of operations might as well be on a roulette wheel (banks are open until only 1pm Sunday, Tues, Thurs, but reopen again from 4-6 pm on Mon and Wed....I think...). Regardless, without my father's persistent personality and fluency in Hebrew, I would be as the Israeli's say, "achalt oti," "I'm screwed." To this I owe him a nice bottle of merlot. By coincidence--scratch that, good karma--over Shabbat dinner at the Cohen's house, we were discussing my plans and how I was going to get everything done in just two days, when Roni's fiance, Ayal, mentioned that his mother, Becky, works at the Ministry of Absorption/Immigration, and would help me with the army (a meeting that I spent 20 minutes being interviewed and 2 hours waiting, with only 2 other people in the waiting room), Aliyah, and half of my other paperwork. Bless Becky, because without her, we would still be in line. My roommate on Kibbutz Yiftach has said it best, "Wow, I got my bank account today in just 4 hours, that was a breeze!"

I have just about finished all the paperwork and am now at Hebrew University at Mt. Scopus (Har Hatofim) in Jerusalem, located next to Hadassa Hospital where I was born--22 years and I've made a complete circle! I find it ironic that after four years of college without a class before 10 AM, I have class from 8:30-1:15 five days a week, where English is forbidden in the classroom, and 1-2 hours of homework a night. There are few things more humbling than learning a language after graduating from college; the little grammar nuances that I never learned are torture to imprint in my mind. Regardless, the teachers are unbelievable and in just a week and a half, my Hebrew has improved by leaps and bounds. Being immersed in the language is truly the best way to learn--that being said, the first thing I do after class to clear my mind is plug the iPod in and turn on the country music.

I was watching the movie Lost in Translation a few nights ago to compare my experiences with those of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray's characters who feel out of place in Japan and with Japanese culture. In one of my favorite scenes, Bill Murray, playing a famous actor, is sitting on a set in a tuxedo, making a commercial for a Japanese whiskey. As he is sitting there, the director goes into several passionate speeches that last a few minutes and the translator reiterates to Bill Murray that the director would like him to use more emotion and turn slower towards the camera. Stunned, Bill Murray asks the translator if that is all the director said considering he spoke for several minutes, and she replies, yes. Similarly, I've discovered that learning Hebrew is not only as frustrating, but the way in which one communicates with others is extremely different than English. What can be said in one minute in English can take two minutes in Hebrew, and furthermore, the way in which one simply wants to express his emotions are completely different. What we would say in English often makes no sense in Hebrew, and vice versa. Therefore, when I think of what I want to say in English and then translate it to Hebrew, I often get blank stares in return. The trick is to learn how to express yourself in Hebrew and not translate from English...a trick that will take just a little bit more work.

I have had the opportunity to go out a few times since I've been here. The first was a moshav party for several of the neighboring moshim and kibbutzim. The party was directly next to all of the cows, but after a few beers everyone seemed to zone out the smell. The party was called "Shira ve-beera," translated directly as "singing and beer." I had the pleasure of teaching Israelis a few drinking games (very unpopular in Israel) which seemed to catch on, but once the singing started, everyone was up, singing and dancing. This was followed by another scene from Lost in Translation where Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are out in Japan at a club with blaring techno music. Everyone is dancing and quite immersed in the music while Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are taken back, out of their comfort zone. As you have guessed, the "Shira ve-beera" was followed with techno music, a far cry from my comfort zone of country and hip-hop. I guess that's just something that will take time to get used to...maybe.

I would like to end this first dialogue with something that I have noticed about Israeli culture. Israelis are "salt of the earth" people: people who often have very little, but have the biggest hearts. Each and everyone of my family members and friends insisted that I take their contact info and told me a minimum of three times that their home is my home, and anytime I need anything or a place to stay, I am more than welcome in their house. I have built up a Rolodex of who's who in Israel and at no point will I ever be without a loving family member or friend. For someone who has left his family and friends half way around the world, it is very comforting to know how loved I am.

For contacting me, the best way is usually email: nadav.weinberg@gmail.com.
However, I have subscribed to Skype (a free computer-to-computer calling software) where you can have video conferences with the other person. To download Skype, visit:
Add me as a "contact." You can search for me by either Nadav Weinberg or my contact name, nadav.weinberg

With a sunburn on my shoulders and Hebrew on my tongue, wishing you the best,
Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg