Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Volunteering, the Negev, and Purim too!

Alex, a 5 month Social Action track participant, recently wrote about some of her experiences in her blog post:

This past week has been very fulfilling for me! Last weekend the group traveled to the Negev Desert, where we set up sleeping bags under Bedouin tents, made pita from scratch, and learned to make poikey. That night I smoked hookah with two Bedouin muslims. One was 25 years old, named Solomon. I learned that he had 2 wives and 6 kids. His wives don’t like each other apparently, which he seemed okay with. They fight over me, he said with a subtle, satisfied smile. He’s a modern Bedouin, making money working at these tents made for tourists like me. He prays 5 times a day, but on his own time, none of that call-to-prayer tradition for him. And he probably does this in his Ed Hardy sweatshirt.

The next day we hiked Makhtesh Ramon Crater. For five hours. It was challenging, even difficult for most people, as there were steep inclines and scary descents on more than one occasion. I honestly loved it. I felt the burn for sure, but the result was worth it. The views were breathtaking, & the geological nature of the crater was mind blowing. I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but I can imagine this is what it would be like to hike through it. Except for the billion year old fossils of sea life you find along the way.

Volunteering has been really rewarding this week. Etgarim is fun, although a nerve racking experience. There’s not much instruction, it’s fair to say you’re left to find your way and figure it out as you go. It’s hard, for instance, to tell Ronnie, on his hybrid bike, to watch out for other people. I can’t remember how to say it in Hebrew when I’m feeling panicked. The other day I’m there I work with a different group of kids, including 8 year old, Hannah, who is autistic. She’s so sweet but she really doesn’t even communicate with words at all. Mostly I read her face, like her eyes, or her excitability level. I have brought one awesome skill with me to the table; my enthusiasm and energy. I cheer the kids on while we’re all en route, riding along the coast on bike paths, telling them “metsuyan!” or “tov me’od!” ("excellent!" or "very good!")Even though it’s scary to have their general safety in my hands, there are some things I guess you can just do on your own.

Mesila was fun last week for the toddlers. Melanie and I noticed these kids had like, NO toys. We took time to go shopping and brought some balloons. It was a huge hit. Since every kid was allowed a balloon, no one had to fight over who got to play with it first. Sharing is not an option for these kids... Another nice thing is that they’re slowly catching on to my routine song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, & Toes.” They like the moves to that song anyway. It’s a very sad place. This one child kept begging to be held, over and over, and I finally realized he was pretty delirious, as in sick. I picked him up and he immediately fell asleep in my arms. He’s from Sudan or Areatrea, no more than 3 years old. His parents cannot afford to stay at home and take of the poor little guy. It’s a hard life for these kids. I can only go 2 hours a week according to this program, and it’s honestly not enough time for me, but it takes your EVERYTHING to be there, especially when there’s 20 other toddlers tugging at your clothes, wanting to play with you, and wanting to be held as well.

Omanoot is very cool so far, since my first assignment was to photograph a band at a cool venue called the Barbi Club. Next, more photos, as well as helping create a more visual look for their site, but all in due time.

The Blind Center has been really great. I started teaching a yoga class for senior citizens on Thursdays. It’s easier than I thought it would be, although one of the staff members had to take it too so she could translate everything for my "students." They are not only blind, they also barely speak English! This last Sunday they created a Purim party for all their members and volunteers. Not only did I set up food and drinks, but plated the food for members as well. Not usually a big deal, but I don’t know all the vocabulary yet for food, and I have to explain to them what the options are for them to eat! It was pretty funny. I was good at naming drinks at least. I'm noticing understanding Hebrew spoken back to me is also very difficult… Interesting situation! They really like me though (once again, energy goes a long way), and now some want me to teach them English. Love it!

Purim was insane here in Israel. Now, I have celebrated Halloween in the Castro in San Francisco, but I think even that comes to a close second on the party scale when it comes to Purim in Tel Aviv… I dressed up as a thought bubble. I wore all white, white long sleeve shirt, white skirt, white leggings, bought some bubbles, fabric markers, and walked around asking everyone to write their thoughts on me. It was creative and fun! Made for a great souvenir to bring home. Many of my friends and I started on Thursday night at an Etgarim dance party, which was really, really fun. Even little Ronnie was there, and we danced the night away. Friday during the day I went to a street party, then at night we went out to Florentine, the trendy, popular district within walking distance from our apartments. Then Saturday we just started all over again. Some of us went to the beach to hang for the day, and then came home to change back into costume and start the drinking again! Loving this holiday... On Sunday it was Ma’ayan’s birthday, so we all had a lovely pot luck dinner at our house, where I made Israeli salad and tabouleh for my first time. Everyone brought some amazing food, it was a feast and a great party.

I want to write more, but that is the last week in a nut shell, and I’m exhausted from running around. Keep your eyes on my Picassa for photos, and also on Facebook.

Missing everyone back home.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

We're free. We're free! Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade

Lisa, a 10 month Social Action participant, recently attended the Gay Pride Parade here in Tel Aviv. Here's an excerpt of her blog post about the parade:

Parties. DJ's. Extravagant floats. Little to no clothing. A lot of sun. A fabulous beach party: this is how Tel Aviv celebrates Gay Pride. 

I feel that this is a necessary event to blog on. I had been hearing about the gay pride week in Tel Aviv pretty much from the moment I arrived, so naturally I was pretty excited. In the week leading up to the actual parade, there are nightly celebrations at clubs and daily dj sessions at the so-called "gay" beach. I was unable to make it to any of the parties during the week, but I had mentally prepared myself for the parade. My friend Rachel was visiting for the day (I met her at the leadership conference) and we, along with a few other of my friends, were ready for what was to come. We enjoyed a delicious buffet at a local vegan restaurant and then walked up the beach hoping to run into the parade...and run into the parade we did. As we reached Bograshov St., we found ourselves literally smack in the middle of the gay pride parade. As half of the parade headed south down Ben Yenhuda, we chose to follow the parade north. Good decision.

Up ahead we saw an amazing pink float that lured us in with it's blasting music (most likely Lady Gaga- this was a constant theme throughout the day). When we got close to the float we understood the large crowd. A pink float, donned in only pink, hosting a constant dance party of men and drag queens. What is not to love? We followed the float to the north of the city, dancing to it's music and celebrating the day. My favorite part had to be when a guy was frolicking through the parade yelling out "Hag Sameach!!" to the parade-goers. (Happy Holiday!!). Not only did I yell this back to him, but I have to say that this is my new favorite holiday of the year. 

You know you would follow this float...
a few of my friends enjoying the parade

The parade was absolutely amazing. I have never seen so many men dancing so fabulously in high heels. They need to give me some pointers on how to dance without falling on my face. The parade ended with the floats going one way and the crowd of people heading down to the beach. What would a parade be if it didn't end at a giant party on the beach? I don't hate it! After quickly changing into my bathing suit, I followed suit and jumped into the sea. Definitely the best way to cool off after being in the sun. After some time in the water, my friends Dante and Tiffany, decided that it was time to dance. Luckily Tiffany lives close to the beach and we made a pit stop at her apartment to drop off our belongings so we could dance care free. I have discovered that it is completely normal to walk around the streets of Tel Aviv wearing only a bathing suit. This city ceases to amaze me. With nothing to worry about, the three of us claimed a great spot on the "dance floor" and danced to the numerous performers that strutted across the stage. Let me just say that I have never been surrounded by so many beautiful men. Is it wrong that I wanted to be a gay man that day? 

beach party anyone?

Yes, this was another excuse to party, but it was actually amazing to see the crowd that showed up to celebrate. People were celebrating from there apartments as the parade went by- they were even nice enough to throw buckets of water on the paraders. In a lot of cities (especially in Israel), gay pride does not receive such a big celebration, and I felt honored to be there. One of the best things had to be that as the music blasted on the beach, the MC announced only 30 min left due to the start of Shabbat. In what other city would a beach party end due to the start of Shabbat? Sometimes I wish that Shabbat wasn't observed so strictly, but it added another element of Israeli society to the already ridiculous day. Tiffany, Dante, and I went back to her apartment where we cooked up an amazing Shabbat dinner. As I walked back down the beach at the end of the night, I was shocked and impressed to see that the beach that had been host to a fabulous party had been cleaned and there were only a few remains of the days happenings. I mean, not every rainbow flag could be picked up....

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day Trip to Sderot

Alex, a current 5 month Social Action participant, wrote the following about Tikkun Olam's day trip to Sderot this week:

Ventured to Sderot today. Got to see what it's like for students at Sapir College to study in bomb shelters while rockets from Gaza fall from the sky.

They joked around, a lively bunch. One girl commented that one time, when a siren went off, she ran to her nearby bomb shelter, but since she had been in the shower she showed up in just a towel, surrounded by cute guys and students she didn't know.

It was good to be on a college campus again, and these students live life to the fullest.

Who wants to live in fear anyway? I remember times that I told people I was traveling to volunteer in Israel, and they responded with, "Are you crazy? Aren't you scared??" And I always explained that I can't live life fearing the unknown. I could get hit by a car or bus in San Francisco any day of the week. If it's meant to be my time, it's meant to be.

That's what I appreciated about today. The students we spoke with had the same attitude. What's more, they had pride for the city of Sderot. This little city, with bomb shelters on every corner, playgrounds in bomb shelters, bus stops with bomb shelters. Qassams, or rockets, are kept at the local police station, hundreds of them stacked on these metal shelves like collector's items. Many are made out of pipes, car exhausts, or other random junk metal pieces, and you wonder what someone is thinking about when they’re creating rockets out of them… especially when they’re adding nails and other sharp objects to make a bigger impact when it falls on enemy land.

When rockets were flying back and forth between Sderot and Gaza a few years back, many people took their families and left. But many people stayed, feeling a sense of loyalty to this place, even at risk of trauma and death. That blows me away. Many times today I felt like I didn't understand this mentality - but when I think about it for a couple seconds, I can grasp some vague and strange concept of why. Maybe because I have been here for four months now and sometimes no longer feel like such a tourist??

Unfortunately for the students, there is no work in Sderot, so they're happy to go to school here, and they feel really strongly about the excellent education system at Sapir, but after graduation, it's time to find work elsewhere. One girl commented, if you want to help, sometimes you have to help yourself first. She wants to see Sderot developed just like any of the other students we spoke to.

From the top of one of the school buildings, there's a view of the Kibbutzim across the football field, also with bomb shelters on either side. One “Urban” Kibbutz was founded back in 1987, by this woman, Nomika, and 5 other visionaries who shared the goal of having dialogue with folks in Gaza, not war. They’re about 80 people today; half that number is their kids. Nomika shared with us in the recreation room of the Kibbutz stories that will be hard to forget. She is a different voice in Israel, one that is more humane and empathetic towards human beings in Gaza. She shared that when she was young, maybe 10, she made friends with a Moroccan girl, and they were very close. When the little girl came to visit her, however, local boys would run over to them, throwing stones and yelling racial slurs to the young Sephardic girl, chasing her back to Gaza. She never saw her again. It stayed with her, wondering how people could think they’re better than someone else.

She wrote an article a couple years ago, relating her compassion for peace and humanity to the masses. The article was translated into 20 languages, Nomika stated. She received responses from people all over the world, especially from Israeli’s who feel the same way about war and the treatment of other human beings, that it’s wrong, that there should be dialogue, and not death. It’s all about revenge now, not understanding.

There is so much hatred built up with this issue, such a wall, with Gaza and Israel, with Palestinians and Jews, that the ultimate goal, peace or something better, may never actually be seen. Ever… Ever? I don’t know. But today was one of the defining reasons why I came to Israel. I wanted to see how Israeli’s live in fear. They don’t live in fear. They LIVE.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Setting the City on Fire

Alana is a 5 month Social Action track participant and University of Connecticut graduate. Here's an excerpt from her recent blog post:

Friday night we had another family seder at the house. I have to say that my roommates are pretty much the best chefs ever. I’m not really sure how they do it, but everything turns out amazing. It’s incredible! (And usually 100% veggie friendly!)

We had quite the potluck spread!

And invited over a few guests to share in the glory–including Lisa’s dad (visiting from the U.S.) who did the Challah-cutting prayer honors.

There are 3 prayers, which are traditional on Shabbat. The first is the prayer over the candles, the second is the prayer over the wine, and the third is the prayer over the bread/Challah. I’m sure there are more, but with my “relaxed Jew status” I’m only familiar with the three.

We all sat on the roof and enjoyed the night :)

Later Maya and I went out with some friends to this cute bar in North Tel Aviv. The night may or may not have ended with Maya flying down the Ayalon (the local highway) on the back of a motorcycle. Pretty epic.

The next day (Saturday) was the start of Lag B’Omer–yet another Israeli holiday (because, let’s be real, it would be wrong to go one week without a holiday in this country.) At first almost all of us were completely unaware as to what this holiday actually was.

Upon inquiring as to what we were getting ourselves into the only response was that we were going to set things on fire. No explanation as to why we were setting things on fire, just the simple fact that that was what was going to happen. Hm. Okay?

Tikkun Olam organized a bonfire in a local park so that we could participate in the festivities. We had no idea what we were about to get ourselves into. The bonfire was a lot of fun–we roasted veggies, marshmallows, hotdogs, potatoes, etc…delish!

Eventually we discovered what this holiday was all about (and by discovered I really mean that I googled it when I got home). Although there are many reasons for this celebration (including something about the 33rd day of the Omer, which is so confusing that I’m not even sure I fully understand it), the main reason for the holiday revolves around a battle against Roman occupation of Jewish lands during the years 132-135 AD. The fires are meant to symbolize the smoke signals which were used to communicate the end of the war. Put that bit o’ knowledge in your pipe and smoke it.

While we dined on barbecue deliciousness there were huge bonfires throughout the entire park. People came out to set broken chairs/various slabs of wood alight. It was nuts!

The synagogue next to our house (which is usually pretty Orthodox) was blasting reggae music as kids ran around a gigantic bonfire in the yard.

And this is reason number 46593 for why I love Israel.

After Lag B’Omer life resumed as usual, but there are a few new updates:

1) Apparently the high school students in Israel stop coming to class for the last month of school in order to study intensely for the Bagrut. This seems very counterintuitive to me, but nonetheless my students have departed. I’m a little sad because I liked them all a lot, but soon they’ll be headed for the army (which will actually benefit a lot of them in regards to education) and beyond! And I feel like I’ve had a small part in helping them get there.

2) I’ll now be helping at Etgarim, which is an after-school biking program for students with mental/physical disabilities. It’s going to be challenging, but I’m excited to work with kids in a less structured environment :)

3) I joined a gym! It’s getting a little too hot to be running around the neighborhood and now that I have pool access my life will vastly improve.

Next week I’ll be heading into even warmer weather, however, as I journey to Eilat! Eilat is one of the few major places in Israel that I’ve never been before. Birthright doesn’t take participants to Eilat, but it’s location on the Red Sea makes it the “Miami” of the holyland. We are allowed to take one week off from volunteering so I decided that Sunday through Wednesday I’ll be heading south to Israeli paradise! I am beyond excited..apparently there are glass-bottom boats and dolphins involved. That can’t be bad! It just can’t!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Independence Day in Israel

Josh, one of our 5 month Social Action track participants, recently wrote the following about his experience in Israel on Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day:

Starting at 8pm on Monday May 9th it became Yom HaAtzmaut which is Israeli Independence Day. This started with tons of celebrations in Rabin Square where there were thousands upon thousands of people celebrating. All the kids had this spray foam stuff and they also had inflatable hammers and they were going crazy, spraying each other and beating each other with the hammers. I got to Rabin Square and right away there was a woman performing on stage. I didn’t know who she was but I was told she was a pretty famous Israeli singer. After her many other people came on and performed. There was one woman who apparently is really big and she reminded all of us of Ellen Degeneres. After her this old man came on to perform, once again no idea but was told he is an older singer and very well known. Everyone who performed was amazing. After the show ended at like 2am Nancy, Kelly and I went to Florentine for the street party. The street party was completely BALIGAN(crazy/insane). Tens of thousands of people drinking, dancing and partying in the streets. It was one of the most ridiculous things I have ever seen. Music was loud, drinks were everywhere, it was a night of pure craziness.

The next day consisted of much more celebrating. First thing to do was to wake up and go to the beach to watch the air show and navy and whatever else was going on. We got to the beach and there must have been at least 10,000 people on the beach hanging out for the shows. First thing to come were the navy, I think they had 7 ships and they were all in a line coming straight towards us. The first ship lit off some yellow/green smoke for show. Other ships also let of smoke. After the navy everyone who owned a yacht or sailboat or anything was out in the water. There must have been over 100 of them in a line sailing. Finally the air show started. The first group to come was also the best group. They consisted of 4 planes, propeller powered and they flew in formation and did tricks and such. The next group was 3 military helicopters flying by. Followed by a group of 3 planes, looked like C-130′s but I could be mistaken. The next group was cool, it was 3 F-16s I think and a fuel plane and one of the planes was being fueled as it flew over. Next up was a group of 5 fighters that flew in formation with each other and after them another 5 did the same thing. It ended with 4 different planes of El Al flying in formation to, which was cool but they were passenger jets as opposed to the military but it was still cool. The day at the beach was great.

Then it was time for the bbq! Everyone bought stuff and made whatever and brought it to the table. I made chicken soaked in a nice marinade I found online. Everyone seemed to love it as well as everything else that was brought to the table. Vegetable kabobs were being made and many other things. Ended up being a really nice day, having everyone over and just celebrating Israels Independence Day!