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.
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.
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,