Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jerusalem, If I Forget You....

Long time no talk! Sorry I haven't blogged for a few days, I am already having withdrawals from Israel and I haven't even left yet.... great.

Yesterday we adventured down to Jerusalem for the third time this trip. All of the other times we sat in classrooms, but this time was different, thankfully. We started off the day in a classroom (shocker) learning about Jewish text. The theme of the day was Judaism, which was very fitting since after all we are in Israel and are all Jewish. We read a passage from the Torah and did some "deep thinking" which occurred a little too early in the morning for me.

Next, we heard from my favorite speaker. Her name was Leslie and was the Executive Director of Women of the Wall. Now, I'm sure most of you haven't heard about this organization before. Most people in my group had not either. The mission of Women of the Wall is to "achieve the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall." This was directly taken from their website because they just summed it up perfectly. Leslie, a reform Jew, started off the presentation by showing us videos of arrests that happened at the Wall. Leslie herself has been arrested 4 times and in a way, she is proud of it. Along side of Leslie, Sarah Silverman's (comedian) sister and niece were arrested as well. Basically, the police men at the Kotel will arrest women who wear tallit in white, blue, or black because those are the "men" colors. Pinks and purples are fine, but no masculine colors. So messed up in my opinion. They will arrest them if they bring a Torah into the women's side of the Kotel, but the men are allowed to do it. They will be arrested for praying out loud at the Kotel, whereas people are always chanting on the men's side. As you can see, there is a 100% discrepancy between what men and women can do at the Wall. As much as people try to deny it, it is obvious, apparent, and hurtful. I'm not even religious and it bothers me because it is an issue of women's rights and human rights in general. Leslie was one of the most passionate speakers I have ever heard from. I could feel her energy and dedication for women's rights, which is obviously something I can connect with. My favorite part of her entire presentation was when she stated that she cares about this issue herself, but also does it for the rights of others. Leslie is a reform Jew, meaning she isn't very religious and wouldn't go to the Wall daily to pray. But, there are reform, conservative, and orthodox Jews in the group as well. Her ability and thrive to support them is what makes this organization so successful. I left the presentation feeling hopeful for the months to come. Leslie said Women of the Wall has made great progress since it started years ago, and it can only go uphill from here.

Stop number 2 of the trip was to the Old City for some free time and lunch! I ate at the same bagel place (Holy Bagel) as Sam and I ate on Birthright last summer. I remembered my way around the Old City, something that definitely does not come naturally to the directionally challenged me.

Since arriving in Israel, all I've wanted to do (besides go to Tzfat) was to go to the Western Wall. Although I don't consider myself a very religious person, just being present there gives me a feeling that I cannot explain. Especially with everything going on (family stuff as well as this horrific war) it meant a lot to me to be able to go to the Wall. I put my note inside the Wall and basically just sat and thought. Many times having the time to think produces unwanted thoughts and memories. In this case, it was exactly what I needed. Time to reflect on my two months in Israel, on life, going back to school, etc. It was "me" time and it was just incredible.

Last stop on our trip was to an ultra-orthodox community. Anyone who knows me knows that I am so intrigued by the orthodox way of life. I love asking questions and being informed about their traditions and beliefs. But, this lecture was different from the rest. I'm not going to go into details because it will just upset me and probably you as well. This man was so opinionated and basically insulted every one of us sitting in the room. We did a Q and A session with him, which resulted in an argument with a boy on my trip. Not only was it uncomfortable and awkward, but totally uncalled for. The worst part of the entire lecture was that this man stated that reform Jews basically are not Jewish. This obviously upset each and every one of us sitting there, since we all were raised either reform or conservative.

But, have no fear because dinner just brightened up my entire day! My boss and I went to dinner at this place called Taizu, an Asian Fusion restaurant. She had contacted their PR person to get us in since Inbal does the writing for Fodor's Guide Book for the Tel Aviv section. Although I have no pictures to prove how amazing the meal was, I can tell you it was one of the best meals I have ever had... and that's saying a lot. The interior was Sushi Samba meets New York chic. We had about a 12 course meal, not including the 3 cocktails they brought out for us. My favorite cocktail was with this orange vodka-ish thing with hot pepper at the bottom. Spicy and sweet at the same time! Out of the 12 courses we had, about 8 of them included fish and seafood which is my absolute favorite!

Some dishes included:
-Wild Fish Tartare, served in a crispy rice cone
-Shrimp Dumplings
-Wild Fish Carpaccio
-Tandoori Calarmari
-Fresh Mussles
-Tandoori Soft Chicken
(just to name a few)

Our dinner lasted 3 hours and was full of delicious flavors and amazing company. While all of my friends here made chicken and rice for dinner, I was eating like royalty. They truly did roll out the red carpet for us!

Now, off to see a Ethiopian Jewish woman who made Aliyah speak. It should be interesting.....

ONE LAST NOTE: If you could all please "Like" Women of the Wall on Facebook, that would be great! Just want to give my girl Leslie some more fans!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spontaneous trip to Tzfat!

Spontaneous trip to Tzfat is an understatement of what my title should be. For anyone that knows me, you know that I'm a planner. I have to plan everything from where to eat, what to order, what sites to see, etc. Just ask my study abroad roommates, I'm sure they have many stories for you! So, basically the word "spontaneous" just really isn't in my vocabulary.... that is until Wednesday night.

At about 1am, Cydnie and I decided that it would be fun to accompany some of our guy friends on a trip to Tzfat. I have been dying to go back there since before I even came back to Israel. Every time someone here mentions a day trip, I will not shut up about going to Tzfat. Every other word out of my mouth was Tzfat... (not actually, but kind of.) So, when given the opportunity to go to Tzfat, why not?! At 1am, we put our thinking caps together and all decided to look up ways to get there. No option sounded ideal, so we finally compromised and decided to take 2 buses that would then get us directly to Tzfat.


We wake up bright and early at 8:30am in order to make the 9:09am bus (to be exact.) We waited at the bus stop and the bus finally came about 20 minutes late. This now put our schedule behind 20 minutes, which as a planner, is not something I look forward to. We patiently road the bus, thinking maybe it would make up for the missed time while on the road. This didn't happen. We realized that we were going to miss the second bus to Tzfat and that another one wouldn't come for a few hours! The bus started slowing down, as we passed some cows grazing in the field. As the bus pulled aside on the highway, the bus driver kindly told us that this was our stop. The four of us looked at each other with pure confusion. We were supposed to wait here, on the side of the road, for hours until the next bus came?! We literally were intertwined with cows in the middle of no where Israel. We soon found out that we were in a little city called Olga, where the population is probably 10 and that is including the cows. Across the road we saw a gas station and decided to go in there since we had to go to the bathroom. The gas station had a little fro-yo shop and hungry Alexis decided it would be a good idea for some fro-yo at 10am... good times.

After a bathroom and fro-yo break, we decided to go back to the side of the highway and wait for the bus. We thought that there may be some chance that there would be an earlier bus! A sheirut (shared cab) stopped at our stop, where I asked the bus driver how long until the next bus for Tzfat. A woman peeked her head outside the bus and told us that the bus to Tzfat isn't for a while and that it only takes religious men and absolutely NO women! The bus driver told us to come aboard the sheirut, so we did. We asked where he was going and he told us a place called Afula. We all just started hysterically laughing because we had no idea what or where Afula was, but he ensured us that it would get us closer to Tzfat. Kevin, one of our friends with us, had to sit on the floor of the sheirut since there wasn't even enough room for all of us!

We FINALLY arrived in Afula and found someone with some helpful information! 2 more buses were needed in order to get to Tzfat, but then we would FINALLY be there! We had to make a quick pit stop in Rosh Pina and then we were on our way to Tzfat! This sounded like a great plan to us so we hopped aboard the bus to Rosh Pina!

After about 4 hours of traveling and 100 shekels spent, we reached our destination of the mystical city of Tzfat. Tzfat is home of Kabbalah, which is the mystical interpretation of the Torah. It holds an artist colony, which contains local painters, jewelers, and more. This is my favorite part about Tzfat and the aspect that made me want to come back!

The four of us walked around for a bit and then Cydnie and I ventured off on our own. We came across a winery and we were in desperate need of some food and drink. We ended up sitting at this winery for hours just talking, sipping on our wine and munching on some cheese. The view was spectacular and breath-taking so we just did not want to leave! The man working there was also a delight and sat with us for a little bit. We were the only ones in the winery, so he could afford to chill with us for a while. He told us his life story and about his spiritual journey that led him to become religious. It was so interesting hearing from someone who did not grow up religious. I have found that many people here decided to become more religious by choice, not because they were born into it, which I find very intriguing.

Overall, we had an amazing day trip to Tzfat, despite the little hiccups in the road. Our spontaneity helped the situation and no one was panicked which was a relief. If anything, I was the one who was most nervous, but I stayed pretty calm. We had a great day exploring the city of Tzfat and it was nice having people to adventure with.

Steps of Tzfat

Our view from the winery

Weaving a tallis

Today, my friends and I had a nice and relaxing day in the area of Sarona. It reminded me of a combination of Stepford Wives meets Parisian neighborhood. It was filled with adorable cottages that served as storefronts and restaurants. My friends and I decided to go to this place called Picnic, where they give you food in a picnic basket as well as a blanket to sit on. We camped out a spot of grass in the shade and peacefully ate our Italian delights. We then walked around and did some shopping. After that, we headed to the city center for the art market that we are obsessed with. A home-cooked Shabbat dinner was a must so after we headed to the Shuk to buy some ingredients for dinner.

It was an amazing weekend and I couldn't have asked for a better one, despite our bumps in the road. Sometimes, it's those little moments that make you appreciate the big ones. I was in good company, delicious food, and spectacular scenery... what could be better?!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Day of Food/Memorial in Rabin Square

Yesterday was a day of mixed feelings, to say the least. I started off my day bright and early with a siren, but what else is new. Went into the bomb shelter, chilled for 5 minutes, then came out and continued on with my work. I worked from home until I couldn't stand the enclosed space of my dorm room and then headed to the beach with two friends who happened to get off work early that day.

We hung out at the beach for a few hours and then it was time for me to go meet my boss at a new restaurant we were trying. I'm not sure if I mentioned before, but I'm helping my boss with a "Top 3" guide to restaurants in Tel Aviv. For example, top 3 hummus, falafel, shakshuka, kid-friendly, romantic, vegetarian, etc. We decided to try a vegetarian and gluten-free place called Mezze. On my way to Mezze though, I had to stop at Tamara for some good old frozen yogurt. Now Tamara isn't like any fro-yo you get in the States. It's 22 sheks for ALL YOU CAN EAT toppings. And, not only that, but the toppings are out of this world! And, to top all that off, they have a delicious chocolate sauce that they drizzle on top.... oh I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!

After my date with myself at Tamara, I walked to Mezze, which was about a 30 minute walk in the sweltering heat. I finally arrived at the restaurant, dripping with sweat and sunscreen all mixed together. My boss and I had a meeting set up with the owner where we learned more about the restaurant's vision and history. It was so interesting talking to the owner and hearing about her story. She and her husband opened the restaurant 10 years ago as a little neighborhood cafe. She has celiac and her husband is a vegetarian, hence the reason for the restaurant. We also talked a lot about the current situation going on in Israel, and it was very interesting to hear her perspective.

I finally arrived home and my friends and I decided that we were going to attend a memorial in Rabin Square for all of the soldiers who were killed recently. It's so sad that this is my second memorial service in the span of only 5.5 weeks. Although I didn't know any of the soldiers killed, I felt it was my duty to attend the ceremony and honor them for all they did for this country. The memorial was more of a spiritual ceremony, with lots of singing and speaking in Hebrew. It brought me to tears the amount of people that came to support these soldiers, who unfortunately are no longer with us. Although I couldn't understand 99.9% of what was said, I could feel the speakers' energy, passion, and dedication.

I've said it before and I'll say it again but I can't begin to explain everything going through my head these days. It is all very overwhelming and a lot to take in, but I think in light of this situation, it has made me think positively. Not only about the current situation, but just life in general. Being in Israel for the past 5.5 weeks has taught me more about myself as an individual. I've learned to make the most out of every situation, and look at the glass half full instead of empty. There is no point in sulking about everything going on here, but instead, we should celebrate this amazing opportunity that has been given to us.

It also is amazing to see the support around the country. I was just speaking with a girl I interned with, Samantha, and she said that she went to a pro-Israel protest in Chicago today. It's great to know that in the United States people are doing things to support Israel, even from so far away! Here is a short clip from the protest in Chicago:

Anyway, today was an AMAZING day! My group and I went to the Ein Geti and hiked which was a great time. I did the same hike on Birthright last summer, but it was such an experience going with people who had never been! After that, we headed off to the Dead Sea for some good old floating time! There was some burning here and there, but we had such a great time all being together! I honestly don't know who picked the Pittsburgh group, but we seriously are the best (even though I'm a little biased.) We all get along so well and truly enjoy hanging out together. Whether we need a shoulder to cry on or someone to laugh with, we are all there for each other. We seriously are one big Mishpacha!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Day Without Sirens

A day without sirens is like a day without ice cream for me, it's rare, but it happens. Yesterday was that day for me, and a relieving one I might add. My friends Dani, Marissa and I headed to Haifa for a day of sightseeing and hanging out. I have never been to Haifa before since it wasn't one of the stops that we made on Birthright.

We took a train bright and early after a late night out in Tel Aviv so needless to say I was a bit cranky. For those who don't know, mornings are NOT my thing and I need some time before anyone can talk to me. We boarded the train and headed to the beautiful city of Haifa. After arriving in Haifa, we got on a bus to go to the Bah'ai Gardens. It's so funny that there is a Bah'ai temple on every continent and the one in the United States is right next to Evanston aka right by me. I have never once been inside and have only driven by in the 21 years of me living in Chicago.

Anyway, so on the bus we befriended a nerdy man who was probably 30 years old. We were asking directions to the gardens and what else we could do with our 5 hours to spare in Haifa. Well turns out this man had a few hours to spare so he ended up walking us to the Bah'ai gardens... such a lovely gentleman! We made really random small talk with him because 1. it was awkward 2. he was awkward and 3.... well i can't come up with a third point. So, the man (Gal is his real name) takes us to a place where we can pick up a tour of the temple in English. We had about 10 minutes to sprint a marathon and get there but we made it with a minute to spare! We say our goodbyes to our new BFF and exchange numbers (not that we will EVER be hanging out with him again) aTnd head over to the meeting point for the tour. After letting everyone in for the tour, it was finally our turn.... well, so we thought. The nasty Israeli woman tells us that there is no more room for the tour and that we aren't allowed in. I asked if we could not do the tour and just view the temple on our own yet the witch said no! All the running for nothing, but I guess it was my workout for the day! My friends and I decide to just take photos of the temple and gardens from afar and just to pretend we went in... after all, we needed a photo to Instagram!

Dani, Tami, Shira, Me (host family) 

Sea of Galilee 

On our way to lunch, we ran into a few men holding adorable puppies... puppies + men + men holding puppies=i have to go stop and talk to them. Turns out the puppies needed to be adopted and I was THIS close to bringing one back with me... just ask my friends!

After our random few hours in Haifa, Dani and I took a train to Karmiel to meet up with our host family. We made a quick stop in Akko to catch a bus to Karmiel and absolutely not one person spoke English and we got many weird looks.

After being greeted with hugs and kisses from our family, we went to the Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee for a late night swim and picnic on the beach. We watched the sunset while snacking on some delicious food... what could be better?!

Today, the Alon family had a bunch of extended family over for lunch. When I say we had a feast it's an understatement... I seriously have never eaten so much in the period of one day as I did today... but, I loved every minute of it! Their nephew came as well who was a one-year-old ADORABLE baby named Shir. Dani and I played with him all day and I was so close to baby-napping him and putting him into my duffle but I decided that it may not be the best of ideas.

All in all, I had an amazing weekend free of sirens and commotion about the war. It is now being called a "war" here since there is a ground operation that is currently happening, but I'm sure you all are keeping up on the news. On our bus ride back to Tel Aviv, we had about 15 soldiers on our bus, guns and all. I can honestly say that I have never felt safer in Israel. Just knowing that all of these people are serving their country and put their country before themselves just amazes me. I don't think anyone including myself understands how much dedication and loyalty they have to Israel.

The more I've been here, the more I think that I can actually see myself being here. I have gone back and forth about taking a gap year before grad school and I think there's no time like the present to do something that I want to do. These past 5 weeks have been incredible and I've had some of the most amazing and life-changing experiences. It is completely different than living in Florence for 4 months, but I'm experiencing real life as in Israeli, war and all. It's so funny because every Israeli I talk to asks how my parents and family and friends back home are feeling about this conflict, but no one understands what it is like if you aren't here and experiencing it firsthand. As I've stated before, it is nothing like what the media portrays it to be and yes, there are sirens and yes, we go in a bomb shelter daily, but after the 5 minutes is up, we leave and continue on with life. I never have felt so proud to say that I am Jewish as I am today.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Everything is Sababa

Hi friends and family,

I really don't have any updates (no news is good news!) but just wanted to let you all know that everything here is sababa (cool, in Hebrew.)

I'm absolutely LOVING my internship! My boss is amazing, I'm working on some cool blogs and research, and most of all, I'm learning about Israeli cuisine!

My friends here are AMAZING! I'm so lucky to have met such amazing people and I can't wait to spend my last year at school with a lot of them. It's programs like these that I'm so thankful for because I never would have met these people otherwise. Many of them hang out at Hillel, a place where is not a frequent stop for me. I've been many 3 times in my 3 years at Pitt... but now I know that there are really cool people who regular there and they'll just have to drag me with them to free Shabbat dinners.

What else... hmmm... well the rockets are apparent as always, but I'm not letting them dictate my life. Last night, a few of us went out to watch the World Cup Finals not that I even care or understand soccer. But, it was nice just to get out and chill with my friends somewhere other than a bomb shelter.

I'm not going to make this blog post all writing, so I'm just going to add some pictures from the last few days since I haven't really added any. Here you go!

Not sure what's on tap for this weekend. My friend Dani and I may go visit our host family in Karmiel or we may take a day trip to Tzfat of Haifa. Time is running out!


West Bank to the right of the road....

Chillin' with my new friend 


Cydnie, me, Tali 

The crew before a night out 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The "Real" Israel

I want to start this post by saying that I'm safe here in Tel Aviv. I know you have all probably watched the news, been on Facebook, and seen what is happening in Israel through many different media outlets. I just want to let you know that the media isn't always portrayed as it actually is here. Are there rockets being fired at Israel hourly? Yes. Is it a scary and unsettling feeling? Of course! But, we can't sit here and sulk in the negative... we must pick ourselves up and have confidence that everything is going to be okay. Let me start out by my experience with the sirens, rockets, and bomb shelters.

It all started yesterday after a day trip to what we thought was going to be the Golan Heights. Our program had originally planned to take us there to hike for the day, but last minute changed plans (tends to happen a lot here) and we did not end up going as far north. So, we end up in this random desert and they tell us we are going to hike. Now, we knew there would be some water included in this hike, but they told us maximum it would be up to our knees. Now, there's up to the knees for our 6'4 guy on our trip, and then there's knees for all 5'2 of me. Needless to say what it ended up being was water up to my neck! We had to "hike" our way through this river for about an hour and a half. Mind the fact that no one informed us to bring a bathing suit, change of clothes, or even a towel! It was probably one of the highlights of my trip because who doesn't love a little spontaneity to spice up a trip?!

While on the bus ride back, we found out that our madricha (group leader) Shira must be sent back to the reserves during this time of need for the country. So, we get back to the dorms at about 7:30pm on Tuesday night. I kid you not the second I put my key into the lock, I heard a noise. Now, this noise sounded like a combination between a tornado siren and when you turn the air conditioning on. I had assumed the negative of what this invasive noise may be, a code red siren. I immediately yelled to everyone on my floor. "What is that noise, hello is anyone here, help, what is going on!" Seconds later, frazzled Americans (myself included) ran into the bomb shelter on my floor of the dorm. Now, this bomb shelter is actually a dorm room for one of the people living here, so we had to pound on his door for him to open up. 10 minutes later it was all clear to leave and go back to our business.

I really cannot describe the thoughts rushing through my head as I entered a bomb shelter for the first time. Relief that we actually had a safe shelter to run to and fear of what could possibly happen. This is no Pitt bomb threat jokes anymore people, this is real Israeli life! Rockets from Gaza are being aimed at us and there really is no way to escape it. Israelis go on with their lives, they resume work, lunch, shopping, etc. I feel as if people here keep comparing ourselves to Israelis, but we really can't. This is our first experience with anything like this. It's okay to feel scared, nervous, anxious, or any type of emotion. Some people are internalizing this while others are more external with their feelings. How sad is it that Israelis are used to this? They don't flinch at a siren going off, but are prepared and know how to react since many of them have done this before.

For example, today I decided to go workout and go to the pool with a friend. This facility is walking distance from my dorm so we were close by if anything else happened. While at the pool, one of the lifeguards came and spoke to us. He showed us where the bomb shelter was without us even asking. He then said that if a siren went off, he would remain in the lifeguard chair. We asked why and if he was scared and his answer was basically that this is life for them and we just have to move on. He said he doesn't live his life in fear. So, my friends and I decided to do what we do best... get pampered! We went for pedicures and went on with our daily lives just as the Israelis do. And, it was honestly a great day.

I seriously cannot imagine life without the sirens, though. They are a warning signal and tell us to take cover. Israelis intelligence is literally insane and I cannot even wrap my mind around how this all works! We have exactly one minute to get to safety. Now, one minute is both long and short in my opinion. At least we aren't in the South of Israel where they have 15 seconds... just imagine. 15 seconds to find hiding. 15 seconds to grab your family and run. 15 seconds to duck and cover if that's all you have. So many people don't even have a bomb shelter or secure area to go to. We are lucky that we have bomb shelters on each floor of the dorm. When in doubt, I tell myself that I am safe in my dorm and that if anything were to happen, the safest place is here.

I woke up this morning to what I thought was a siren in my dream. When the pounding on my door intermixed with the dream, I knew it was real life. Time to head to shelter again! 8:30am this was just the greatest wakeup call. For the rest of the day, anytime I heard a police car, the wind, a horn, anything, it made me jittery. It was like the Pitt bomb threats except real. Any noise, I flinched. Any screaming I thought something was wrong.

But, in the end, we are all safe here. The media doesn't always portray what it is like here. Life does go on. And it will. Am I a little scared? Of course I am! Who isn't?! But, stuff can happen anywhere. You just have to pick yourself up and move on. I'm trying as hard as I can to go back to my normal life here. My routine and what I know. You have to make the best of situations and stay positive. This is what I've learned not only from being in Israel, but about life in general recently. You can't focus on the negative and things you can't change. But, you can stay in tune with what you do have control over.

Honestly, I never thought that me, a privileged girl from Highland Park would be seeking asylum in a bomb shelter. But you know what? These are the experiences that make you grow as a person. These are the stories you tell your family and friends. It's times like these where we all have to stick together and just keep thinking that everything is going to be okay. Because it will be. Just stay optimistic.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Eye-opening Shabbaton!

Without a doubt, I can proudly say that this weekend was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had. Yes, I have had many great weekends in my life of mouth-watering food, exceptional drinks, great company, etc., but this one was unlike anything I have ever experienced. I don't really see myself as a religious person but more culturally Jewish, but this weekend really opened my eyes to how other's live their lives. Now, I'm going to give you an abridged version because I don't want to bore you with all the details about my weekend.

We started off in Jerusalem for the day on Thursday. We as in Onward Pittsburgh and 5 other groups that we didn't know. They were more religious groups than us, usually studying Torah in the morning and interning in the afternoons. We broke up into groups and went to the Israel Museum

where each group would be learning about a different topic. Now, my topic was supposed to be "Between me and my People" where we learned about what separates and connects the Jewish people. My tour had absolutely nothing to do with this topic besides the fact that we looked at artwork of actual people... Thursday night we headed to Yerucham for a relaxing night. A few friends and I spent our night just meeting people in other groups and listening to this one guy play guitar which we all know I love!

Friday a bunch of us (mostly from our trip) woke up at 6:30am to go to a Crater that was about a 10 minute drive from our hostel in Yerucham. I wouldn't necessarily say the crater was "pretty" or "beautiful" but it definitely was incredible since this isn't a man-made type thing here. We are talking this crater formed by itself! This is just completely mind-blowing to me, as were many parts of this weekend. We took a few pictures and then each person sat in their own space for about 30 minutes and just soaked in where we were. There was complete silence for once in my life and it was honestly perfect. I have never been more peaceful than that moment where I was starring into the crater, just letting my mind wander wherever it wanted to.


After the crater, we split into groups again, each group being a different category. Mine was entrepreneurship and youth which is kind of random if you ask me but whatever. My new motto here is always "yes" and any opportunity I'm given no matter what, I take advantage of it. So, even though I have no knowledge on entrepreneurship, I just went with it. It turned out to really not have anything to do with either topic, but it was still very interesting. The most memorable parts were going to a man named Jojo's house in Yerucham and hearing him speak (which was translated into English for us) about how passionate he is about Israel in general, but more specifically, Yerucham. The city is very small (about 10,000 people) and is a pretty poor area. Jojo said that he came here when he was a young child and they told his family that they would be moving to Jerusalem. Little did he know that when he got to his new "home" it would be in this random city. Although I couldn't understand Jojo, I could tell through his facial expressions how dedicated he is to this country and his city. His wife does cooking classes in the home and sells a cook book to help raise money for the underprivileged children living in Yerucham. Our next stop was to a robotics center where we learned about after school robotics club for teenagers. This was very similar to an after school program in an underprivileged area anywhere, but it was interesting to hear the teens talk about how life changing this was for them. My last and final stop was literally the most random thing ever but I loved it! We went to this music studio that an Indian-Israeli owns. All we did was literally play drums and musical instruments for about 30 minutes but I was just so happy and it was just very therapeutic.

At night, I decided to venture out to a Moroccan Orthodox synagogue, something that I have never done before. Orthodox services were new to me to begin with, but throwing in a Moroccan twist was something fresh. The service ended up being a bust and I only stayed for about 20 minutes since there was a divided men and women's section and I could barely hear or understand anything. A few of us went back to the hostel where we ended up sitting on a women's discussion with two of the rabbi's wives. They both told their stories about growing up, and one of them was actually raised reform. They also took a question and answer session which was so informative and very interesting. We also heard from a girl our age who grew up reform and recently decided to become modern Orthodox. Her story was incredibly moving and it actually brought tears to my eyes. I have met many Orthodox Jews before but have never really taken the time to ask them deeper and more meaningful questions about their practices and beliefs.

My favorite part of the entire trip, though, was the panel of rabbis and their wives on Saturday morning. The four of them decided to run a panel where we could ask as many questions as we wanted and no topic was off limits. Many questions were asked that I could relate to and some were more religious based questions, mostly asked by the more religious people in the groups. Questions such as, why do bad things happen to good people, do Jews believe in reincarnation, specifics about the Torah, etc. were all asked and answered. This breakout session really got me thinking about my own beliefs and what being Jewish actually means to me. Most of my friends and I were raised in a "culturally Jewish" society, and when asked, I usually say that I'm just culturally Jewish. This means that I follow all of the values of what it means to be a Jew and was raised in a "Jewish" home. But, what does that even mean exactly? Just because I was bat mitzvahed, go to services on the holidays, and eat kugel and challah... does that really make me Jewish? Many questions poured through my head and although I don't have an answer to anything yet, I'm now on a journey to find my own Jewish identity.

I can't really explain it or put it into words but being in Israel just brings everything back home. Everything that happened with the three boys, now the kidnapping of a Palestinian boy, rockets being fired, all of that stuff is scary and sad, yes, but in my opinion, it is very thought-provoking as well. I am the first to admit that I don't read the news, am not caught up on current events, and before being here, I can confidently say that I really didn't care. How could something going on in Israel or the Middle East actually affect me when living a life of carefreeness in the US? Even if I did read up on current events, what would that even do? Would I do it just so I could have an intellectual conversation with someone? Because in my opinion prior to being here, one person can't make a difference when it comes to this stuff. How can one person change a nation of suffering when the Jewish people themselves can't even agree on beliefs?! But, after being in Israel for almost a month now, I can confidently say that I am now up to date on current events, I read the news (online of course!) and I actually CARE. I never thought those words would come out of my mouth but I do genuinely care about what is happening and it is DIRECTLY affecting me now. After all, I am living in Israel for two months in the height of a huge conflict.

There were many debates conducted during my three days in Jerusalem/Yerucham. Words were said, disagreements were made, and no one agreed to disagree. People could not find it in them to see the other side. It was their way or the highway, which made me very frustrated. How can we expect to have peace between nations, religions, groups of people, etc. when we cannot even come to an agreement within our own people?! Of course, there shouldn't be a "cookie cutter" type person, but we should all be able to see two-sides to every story and find it in ourselves to understand others' perspectives. Multiple perspectives people.... we've learned this in school our whole lives so why can we not apply it?

Anyway, done with my rant now. There are so many more things I can say about this weekend and the impact it had on me, but I won't bore you with all the details. If you are interested just ask me, I would love to talk more about it! Just ask Mom... we discussed this for hours last night! I'm not saying that I'm not more religious, observant, or anything of that nature after this Shabbaton, but what I am telling you is that I am more open-minded. I think the most important thing in life is to just be open. Don't judge a book by its cover, be open to meeting all different types of people, and just listen. Listen to people's stories, to their history and obstacles. You can learn a lot just by listening and observing... that's what I did this weekend and it turned out to be amazing and honestly life changing!

Now off to a week filled of food, touring, writing, etc. We are going to the Golan Heights on Tuesday for a hike so that should be a great way to walk off all the massive amounts of food I'm ingesting into my body!

Have a good day everyone and Boker Tov (Good Morning) to those in the US! :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Food Tours Galore... and more!

As the new Delicious Israel intern, I have many responsibilities. One being going on food tours. This past Sunday, I embarked on the infamous "Levinsky Market" tour led by my boss, Inbal. Now, Levinsky Market isn't what you may think it is... I originally thought it would be like the Shuk (Carmel Market), but to my surprise it was just a bunch of streets with food stores on them. On our tour was a family from Toronto and a couple from New York and me. Everyone was so friendly, especially since we were after all bonding over food.

Abu Hassan Hummus
The tour featured many shops along Levinsky Street as well as some side streets. We sampled spices, olives, cheese, hummus, meats, the list can go on and on. The most interesting part to me was a place called Cafe Levinsky 41 (aka the address... so original I know.) We met the store owner who explained what he did. Basically, he preserves various fruits, vegetables, spices, you name it, he does it. His entire shop is covered with jars with preservatives in them. His idea was to make various drinks with homemade syrups and seltzer water. So he makes a concoction of a mixture of syrups and then adds water from a soda stream type gadget. It honestly was mind-blowing because it is such a unique concept and the drinks were out of this world!

Cafe Levinsky 41 

The next day, I went on a similar food tour except in addition we went to Jaffa which is my actual happy place. I am obsessed with Jaffa and no one can sway me otherwise. Jaffa is South of Tel Aviv and the architecture is inspired by the Middle East, Morocco, etc. There is a Jaffa Flea Market which has lots of goodies as well as beautiful restaurants with outdoor patios, amazing shops, and did I mention AMAZING shops?!? We went to a famous hummus place during the tour called Abu Hassan which I have been DYING to go to and I finally went... for free I might add! :)

It's funny to me how people sit at a desk 9-5 here for internships and then there's mine which entitles me to go explore Tel Aviv and all it has to offer. I can proudly say though that those two days taught me more about Tel Aviv, Israeli culture, food, and myself then my past 2 weeks in Israel.

So funny experience that my friend and I had the other day. Tali (my friend) and I recently joined the gym to kick our tushies since all we've been doing here is eating and drinking. They also have an outdoor pool which isn't too shabby. So, we decided to enroll for a kickboxing class at the gym. We walked over and at first we were completely lost because of course every sign is in Hebrew. We tried finding Studio 1 except literally every building and room was labeled 1 so that just messed with our heads. We finally found the class, with about 30 people in line before us. When the clock stroke 7pm, it was a literal mad rush with the class before letting out about 30 people and then 30 of us shoving our way into the crowded studio. Israel has many things that don't make sense here and that is just one of the many confusing and unorganized things in this country. So, Tali and I started the class literally hysterically laughing because the people were just too damn funny. The teacher was an adrenaline junkie and was screaming and shouting the ENTIRE class. Oh, did I mention the class was instructed in Hebrew? Jokes on us I guess. It was a great workout though and I definitely got some worthwhile laughs.

Another funny story here. Four of my friends and I decided to go out for sushi the other night. At the end of the meal, our waitress brought us free shots of some fruity Japanese liquor. I first took a sip to see if I would like it or not and it was so fruity so obviously I had to have it. We all took the shot in unison and while Dani, Tali, and my facial expressions read that we liked the shot, Cydnie looked utterly disgusted. We were trying to figure out what was wrong because the shot was delicious and very refreshing after a sushi dinner. A few minutes later, the waitress came over and said that by mistake she poured one of us a shot of whiskey... we honestly could not stop laughing for about 5 minutes!

Also random side note- we were trying to explain to my madricha (RA), Shira what a "typical American Jewish Girl" looks like. We were explaining that they are usually short, dark brown hair, brown eyes, etc. As we were explaining my entire group was literally like, "What Alexis looks like." It was very funny and so true.

Yesterday, with my day off of work, my friends and I decided to go back to Jaffa because of my #obsession. I showed them around, playing tour guide for the day. We were famished and needed to find a place to eat ASAP and we came across this cute cafe. Turns out, it was the restaurant that I've been searching for, called Cafe Puaa. This restaurant was so cutely decorated and I want my first house to look like that. It was out of an antique store/Anthropologie combo. Needless to say I was mesmerized and couldn't stop looking around and taking photos. We spent the rest of our day shopping because we were in desperate need for some retail therapy. You know, my days in Tel Aviv are really rough. I bought myself a pair of earrings and am definitely going back for more sometime soon.

Cafe Puaa 

Last night, we celebrated Tali's 21st birthday at a restaurant called Night Kitchen. Thankfully my friends here like to eat like me so three of us split a bunch of appetizers and I felt like I was at home with Mom because we always do the same. After dinner, we headed to Rabin Square to participate in a memorial for the three boys who were kidnapped and were recently found dead. I can't describe the thoughts and feelings I felt being there because I had many emotions running through my head. When we arrived, the people were gathered singing "Shalom Alenu" which was so moving I had goosebumps. In this heart-wrenching and horrific occasion though, it is amazing to me how our people stick together. As sad as this tragedy is, I think it makes this Jewish community even closer. I can't really describe what it is like to be in Israel during all of this, but it just makes me thankful for all I have, both near and far. I was standing at the memorial thinking about the family and friends of these boys and their pain right now, and thinking to myself that I'm so thankful for all of my friends and family. I guess it's times like these where you just have to make the most out of a really shitty situation and just try to stay positive.

Night Out with Friends

Beautiful sunset

Outside of Puaa 

Jaffa Market

Marissa, Tali, Dani, Me, Hannah

Memorial for the boys 

On a brighter note, I am headed to my first Hebrew class in a few hours! Should be an interesting sight to see, especially since I've been jumbling my Hebrew with my English. For example, the word "to move" is Zuzi. We were at the beach and these boys were playing paddle board literally RIGHT in front of us so I decided to use my Hebrew and say, "Do you mind zuzing on over there?" My friends were hysterically laughing because Hebrew and I just don't really mix.

Off to Jerusalem for a Shabbaton weekend with other Onward Israel groups. Should be interesting.....