Saturday, August 23, 2008

Finally Home: Kibbutz Yiftach!

Family and friends,
I hope that you are all having a great end to the summer. I have been in contact with many of you and appreciate your thoughts and prayers while I'm over here. Please continue to correspond, it is great to hear from all of you.

As I said at the end of my last entry, several members of my Garin planned a trip to Eilat, Israel's "resort." Famous for its diving and snorkeling, Eilat is located at the southern most tip of Israel along the Red Sea. Following a 5 hour bus ride from Tel Aviv, we were greeted by 110 degree heat; it's dry, so you actually don't sweat as it evaporates right away, very dangerous. As we were only there for 5 days and snorkeling courses are at least 5 days, we opted to sit seaside, snorkel, ATV in the desert, and go out to the bars at night. Although a nice vacation, Eilat would have been much more fun in the winter and if I was 15-17 years old (the vast majority of the people fit that age range). This was the first vacation I've taken where I preferred to not leave the comfort of my air conditioned room and when we did leave the room, we looked for the closest store with A/C. Waiting for the bus back to Tel Aviv, there was a bomb scare at the bus station (it happens all the time as people get on a bus and forget a piece of luggage behind. We were all told to evacuate the perimeter and watched from a distance as the bomb squad pulled out their robot and actually shot the bag. Meanwhile my shoes were melting into the concrete in the 115 degree heat.

The last weekend before my move to Kibbutz Yiftach, I went to Jerusalem to meet with good family friends, the Cook's, before Shabbat dinner with John Medved and his family. The Cook's are one of the sweetest families you will find in Israel, and I had the pleasure of meeting their daughter Lia and Mrs. Cook's mother, in town for a granddaughter's Bat Mitzvah. After spending the day with the Cook's, I met John Medved, his family, and good friends in the Germany Colony of Jerusalem for services and one of the best meals I have had in Israel. It was my first time in an Orthodox synagogue (the women sit in the back) but it was a wonderful service and enjoyed davening on Tisha Ba-av (commemoration of the destruction of the Jewish Temples). The Medved family is from the US and made Aliyah in the late 80's, so it was a pleasure to be with American-Israeli's who enjoy a 6-course exquisite meal and a fine single-malt whiskey for dessert: a page out of my playbook. Mrs. Medved made sure I helped serving dessert and cleaning afterwards, a sign from Mr. Medved that I am invited back. The Medved sons and daughter are very mature and well versed in the Torah and Tanach; stories and explanations of the weekly Torah reading were topics of discussion by the siblings. Hoping to meet with the Medved's in the near future and getting to talk a little business with Mr. Medved who is a successful business man in Israel with a history in Venture Capital and is currently CEO of Vringo.

Rabbi Weiss (one of my Rabbi's from Bnai Jeshurun Congregation, my synagogue in Cleveland) led a tour of Israel with about 30 synagogue members and Clevelanders. I had the opportunity of meeting up with the group at the Palmach Museum (Palmach was one of the first fighting forces of Israel in the 1940's) and spoke about my decision to move to Israel, join the IDF, and my experiences over the past two months. It was a rewarding experience to share my philosophies and ideologies in patriotism and duty. I have previously mentioned how soldiers are treated specially in Israel and I had my first direct experience. While speaking to the Cleveland group, I was explaining my decision to join the IDF and the man working the snack shop gave me a free ice coffee and said, "this is for you, soldier." Although I have not received my uniform and am not officially a soldier, it was a small moment that made me realize that this is actually happening. It been so easy to talk about this over the past few years, rough to say good bye, and even living here it hasn't seemed real. At that moment I realized I was integrated and accepted in Israel, and even more, appreciated.

Of the family I have in Israel, I have become closest with the Samban family (my father's mother's family). Samulito and Cha'i are the parents with three daughters: Rivka, Michal, and Ruti. Rivka is married to Chemi and have 4 daughters. The oldest, Noga, just had her wedding, and the second oldest, Roni, is getting married in a few weeks, and the third daughter, Gili, is engaged. Last week, I went down to the Northern Negev for Noga's wedding with Michal and Ruti and their children. It was a beautiful and cozy wedding with about 150 people. Noga's husband is an aspiring musician and his band performed at the wedding. Check the blog post for pictures and videos of the wedding: Apparently a very famous musician is a friend of Noga's husband and performed a few songs at the wedding; don't know who he is, but his music was amazing and everyone rushed to the dance floor immediately. As if I haven't learned by now, I brought a tie with me to the wedding. Everyone laughed at me, and when I saw that even the groom wasn't wearing a tie, I opted against it. First of three weddings, I'll be prepared for the next two.

The same day of the wedding was the official opening ceremony for Garin Tzabar. All 160 or so of us attended and were supported by thousands of family members and previous Garin members from years past. Again you can see the pictures on the blog. There were several speakers, ranging from high ranking generals to past shaliachs (Israelis who live in different cities around the world to help strengthen the bond between the Jewish communities and Israel). One of the speakers was the Director of the Ministry of the Interior (he looks like a South American dictator), who was surrounded by two personal Mossad agents, and gave a heart warming speech where he elucidated his pride for our decision and its importance to the State of Israel. If my previous coffee-soldier moment wasn't enough of a wake up, I sat in my seat almost dumbfounded as it dawned on me that my decision was officially coming to fruition. I was proud to have both Michal and Ruti there to support me.

The following day, I met up with the rest of my Garin at our Kibbutz, Yiftach, following a short 4 hour bus ride from Tel Aviv. I was greeted warmly by staff on the Kibbutz who insisted that I eat immediately. I unpacked all of my suitcases; a great feeling knowing that I will not have to repack and move somewhere in the next two years! The following days were filled with poolside games, relaxation, eating, basketball, running, and group activities. We have recently started an Ulpan and I am taking every opportunity to speak and think in Hebrew. It continues to be a frustrating process but as the Israeli's say, "לאט,לאט", "slowly, slowly." There is a Garin from 2007 at Yiftach and they have all been extremely helpful with army stories, recommendations, and tips for the Kibbutz. The best part for me is meeting them and hearing stories about how for some, their Hebrew was worse than mine, but after diligent work, they all speak fluently now.

Kibbutz life is great. I am taking an Ulpan in the morning, swimming and relaxing by the pool in the afternoon, studying, and participating in group activities. My bed almost fits me (I actually have metal bars at each end), and my room was 90 degrees. Ilan, my best friend here and roommate, bought two fans, and after opening the door, opening the one window, and maximizing the cross-breeze potential of the room, we have been able to hit a consistent 86 degrees in the room! We've been leaving the door open at night because it is simply too hot otherwise, so we have both been woken up by flies. On a less sarcastic and more positive note (I actually love it here, don't get me wrong), the food is amazing and healthy; we help with the cooking, but we have an "Eema and Abba" (mother and father) who do most of the cooking. My dream of having a dog has partially come true as there are several kibbutz dogs who roam the campus and stop by my room every night.

I am leaving tomorrow for Gadna, a pre-army 5-day exercise that gives us an idea of what it's like to wake up at 5 AM and run, crawl, and carry a gun. Although it is meant for high schoolers, this is a special experience for those of us in Garin Tzabar. Can't wait to get yelled at and have no idea what my commander is telling me!

I finally have a permanent address. In English:

Nadav Weinberg
Kibbutz Yiftach
D.N. Marom Galel
Israel 13840

In Hebrew (preferred):

נדב ויינברג
קיבוץ יפתח
ד.נ. מרום גליל
ישראל 13840

I wish those of you returning to school a successful year, and to everyone my warmest regards from my sub-6' bed.
Love and VDBL,

Nadav Weinberg