Sunday, August 30, 2009

Gadna and brighter parts of life

This past week was spent mostly in Gadna. Gadna is a program run by the IDF to give incoming youth a taste of the army and an idea of where they would like to go. While the idea is great and I am all for the program this week was not fun for me. For one thing I already did a week of Gadna, but mine was done with a real army unit not with an education unit, and second I did a solid year at West point, enough said.

The better part of the week though was when Gadna ended on Thursday and we all got to leave. From there we went to Jerusalem, and after our bus breaking down on the side of the highway we finally got there. We stayed the night at an apartment owned by one of my friend’s parents, and that night we went to the Jerusalem beer festival. First of all I have never in all my days seen so many different kinds of good beer in one place at once. It’s like being a kid in a candy store and in either situation too much means you throw up, don't worry I did not. There was also an Israeli band playing there, and they were really good. Overall it was a great experience.

For shabbat I stayed with a friend from Mechina and Friday night we did a meal with another former Mechina member. Shabbat morning was more interesting as we ate at a friend’s house, his parents had just made aliyah and it was their first shabbat there. Me and several of my mechina friends compromised there first shababt guests in a beautiful but still mostly empty house.

The picture attached is one I snapped just as shabbat was coming in, and the sun was setting over Jerusalem and from my friend’s apartment one could see all of Jerusalem spread out below and a rosy ball of fire painting red clouds over the horizon as it slowly sank into a blissful day of rest.

Friday, August 21, 2009

A ride into the sun set.

On Thursday we took a break from the normal grind of life on the Kibbutz and we took a bike ride. We rented bikes (Nice ones) and we went for a ride. We left the kibbutz and went towards the border with Jordan, and about 5 kilometers latter we stood at the border, with Jewish farms rolling behind us and Jordanian orchards before us. We then road farther north along fish ponds and through freshly tilled fields till we got to our destination, a ma'ayan (Hebrew for spring) and we stripped off our shoes and shirts (for the guys) and jumped in. The water was cool, and the bottom was muddy, very muddy.

After a cool swim in the water we crawled out and but our shoes and shirts back on. We then began our ride back to the kibbutz. As we road we were facing the mountains of Yehudah and Shommron (Judea and Samaria) with the sun crawling behind them as it sets. In America you cant watch the sun set, it moves too slowly, but in Israel tou can and its stunning. Slowly, bit, by bit the sun slipped behind the mountains leaving them a dark hazy outline to ones eye. It reminded me our an expressionistic style painting, except this was real life. Finally as the sun was slipping the last few inches of its head below the mountain line we stopped our bikes to daven mincha (afternoon prayers)in the field. We then picked our bikes back up and finished our ride back.

Its funny really, the only place I have even ridden a bike is Israel. I think buying one here would be a good idea. the ones we used usually go for about 1500 Shekel, but one of our madrich's (counselors) does some work for a bike shop and could probably get me one for less, 1200 maybe? Time to start saving.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Running with Moses

I am a runner, as many of my friends may know, but running here is different. To me running is a somewhat religious experience, it is a moment of life were you are alone in your own mind, you are able to learn new things about yourself, and are able to enjoy nature in a new light. Every time I run it is a brief pause from all stress in my life to just relax and focus on only what is happening in another 30 seconds, when running all out with pain searing though your lungs and calf muscles all other worries fade.

In Israel though, and on my kibbutz specifically, running takes on a new meaning. Every morning when I get up and put on my shorts, shoes, and shirt I know what I will see on my run will amaze me. I begin my run with the mountains of Jordan on my left, and they are beautiful. In the warm, clear morning air you can see their every detail, their rich colors, and majestic beauty. It looks like a painting done by a master, almost too real to be real. But these mountains soon fade as the road curves and the plain of the Beit Shean valley spreads out before me with its vibrant assortment of green and yellow colors spread out below me. In America each tree looks similar to the one next to it, but in Israel each one is distinct and different from its neighbor. The beauty of assortment and variety is too difficult for me even put into words.

But as I round another curve the view changes to the mountains of Judea and Samaria, as they too rise with their own majestic beauty. Their sharp curves and dusty detail are a sight to behold each morning. Then as I round yet another curve palm trees obstruct my view and I get to soak up the view of the milk and honey of the earth. As far as my eye can see spreads out the wealth of the earth, and the sweat and toil of Jews in their own land becomes apparent.

Each and every morning the scenery takes on a new view or meaning. Either the Jordanian mountains are covered in mist or a single tree stands out in the valley more than usual, but without fail the scenery is an inspiration making running a religious experience on a whole new level.

As a note writing this piece is hard for me as I feel I am not doing due diligence to the places I am trying to describe, the beauty is nearly beyond words for me. While West Point and the Hudson River may be beautiful, Israel is beautiful on a level no other place in the world can compete with. I am not sure I even know how to capture the full beauty with pictures, but I will try.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Wedding on the Kibbutz

Israeli Weddings, are different. Today on our Kibbutz we had a wedding; both were born and raised on the kibbutz. This wedding is nothing like any you will experience in America. It begins with dancing and l'ichaims with the bride and groom separately. By tradition the week before a wedding Jews do not let the bride and groom meet or speak till under the Chuppah. (Jewish weddings are conducted under an awning known as a Chuppah). Then everyone files outside to the grass where the Chuppah is erected, and the trees are lit up with lights. The ceremony does not drag on forever like American weddings tend to, and everyone stands except for a few elderly people who are on chairs in the front row. The Wedding was beautiful and livly, and then they had one heck of a pimped out van with ballons and streamers take the bride and groom to their house for their Yichud time. (Jews have the bride and groom spend a short amount of time together alone after the wedding and it is called Yichud, from the hebrew root for sinle/one meaning they are alone)

While the bride and groom spend their time together everyone else heads back to the mess hall and there a lavish meal is served, at this wedding for the teens and young adults they had Asian style tables close to the ground with mattresses to sit on. It was quite nice, as per usual the food is amazing and they had beer on tap, a huge plus. and then the bride and groom return. Here the kibbutz had a special chair for them which sits two and has handles off the sides so people carry them, and the grooms friends carried them in, to the dance hall where every one comes in and dances together, well sort of. Religious jews do not do mixed dancing so men dance with the groom, and women with the bride though the bride does come over to dance with the groom at times. this goes on for quite some time, and people get really into it.

After the dancing subsides people return to finish the meal, and have desert. This takes a while as the bride and groom eat and people sit around and talk a lot. Then everyone says Birkat Hamazon (Grace after meals) and the family puts on a skit for the bride and groom, and all can watch.

One interesting thing about this wedding which is common to many Israeli weddings is the guys in attendance. The groom is an officer is Duv Devan (for info see and many of his friends from the unit were there. This meant there was a small armory worth of M4 Carbines with sick scopes, pimp sticks, flashlights, and all sorts of other gear on them. Before the wedding one fo my freidns saw one of the guys heading to a house with 8 rifles so they would not get in the way of dancing. others kept there weapons on them for the wedding. I would post pictures of the wedding, but i would probably inadvertently out probably a dozen operators. But when one looks at these kids you do not see that American/Hollywood stereotype of a special operators. Most of the guys are 20-21 years old, they do not have bulging muscles everywhere, and they come from all walks of Israeli life, from religious settlers with big knitted kippot, and long curly peyot (side locks) to unreligious Tel Avivian's with jeans and printed tee shirts. This wedding is definitely an experience of a life time, and lucky me there is another one in three weeks. This time the groom’s family is marrying off a daughter. As a side not I am now an official Israeli, I got my Tudat Zehut (Israeli ID card) finally!!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Life On A Kibbutz

Till I draft to the army in November I am living on a kibbutz, Tirat Tzvi. It is located in the Beit Shean Valley about 10 minutes from the Syrian border. It is actually weird for me to be living on a kibbutz, being a fierce advocate of Capitalism, and the Free Market. But a kibbutz is also an interesting palace to live.

First of all the place is gorgeous, absolutely stunning. There is nothing like coming out of one’s house to run, and being greeted by warm air, peacocks running about, and a beautiful and I mean beautiful vista of mountains and fields. I must note however while the mornings may be warm, the day is HOT. In my room the AC is on 25 Celsius, that is about 77 Fahrenheit and it feels cold, quite cold. A cool day here is only 100 degrees.

People also do things in a far more communal style than most places. While this Kibbutz is privatizing to an extent there is still a communal dining hall, which people eat in. There is a laundry facility, where each person has a number and they write it on all their cloths and then they turn in their laundry and it is returned to a box with their number on it.

A place such as a Kibbutz can be really hard to understand for people who live in America, or even people who just visit. It’s really a way of thinking about things, it’s more about the group than any one person. Its also a way of life focuses on not letting work get in the way of enjoying life. For instance there is a pool on our kibbutz and at 5:30 every Monday people meet at the pool to swim and relax together and then have a dinner of hotdogs at the poolside.

In my book one of the best things here is what the kibbutz produces, meat. Lots and Lots of meat, meaning we eat lots and lots of meat. Being a Meatatarian this rocks, but it really is not fun for our one vegetarian.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Landing In Israel

So as the plane finally came down to a smooth touchdown in Israel the excitment on the plane was palpable. with the whole plane being full of just olim. (New Israeli Citizens, the Hebrew word oleh means to go up and since Israel is considered the holiest place it is considered as you are going up always, even if you are not going up litteraly. Olim is the plural form of oleh.)

When we landed we stayed on the plane and sutoms came on made sure ourpassports were in order and we then got off the plane. from the plane we took some pictures and then were put on buses to go to Terminal 1 where we were greeted by hundreds of family members, freidnds, and well wishers. After saying hi to our freinds, and exchanging hugs we had a welcome ceremony. I had spoken with the director of Nefesh B'Nefesh (The program I made Aliyah throuhg) and he told me the directors of my Mechina, me, and another member of the Mechina would be in the second row. now on the plane I did not realize what that meant. When I got to to the ceremon I realized this meant I was the row before the Prime Ministers staff. As we waited for the ceremony to begin we were all hanging out, and in came Natan Shiransky, this man had been a Refusnick in russia and had treid to leave the USSR for Israel. For this he was sent to the Gula and even there he refused to give in. When he was released he was ordered to leave and walk straight out of there, he walked out in a zig zag.

After I met him we began the ceremony and we heard from shiransky, the founders of Nefesh B'Nefesh, and then the Prime minister of Israel, Bibi netanyahu, got up there to speak. I was told 5 minutes before me and another girl would be recieving our Tudot Aliyah (Documentation of making Aliyah) from the Prime Minister him self. It has been a long time since Iwas that nervous, standing up there with the Prime Minister, a baggilion cameras going off at once, and then when he hands me my tudah he starts to ask me, questions like what type of officer I had wanted to be in America. It was a nerve racking moment for me to say the least. But when it all ended I got to go upstairs and there I got the rst of my papers sighned and off I went to my new country.

This thursday I begin my program Garin Tsabar, and move into Kibbutz Tirat Tzvi. Getting pumped.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Big Day

As I write this I will leave America in another 13:07:45 Hours. Its exciting, and makes me a bit nervous. When I next get a chance to write on this blog I will be Home and an Israeli citizen. Kinda scary in its own way. I find this a great video to inspire me and keep me on an even keel.