For your viewing pleasure, pictures will now be incorporated directly onto the blog.

To the illiterate and lazy – you’re welcome.

The Dead Sea

The Dead Sea is pretty... dead.

Yes the rumors are true:

  1. Step into the Dead Sea with an open wound, it hurts.
  2. Lay down on your back or front, float.
  3. Get some Dead Sea water in your eyes – seek the nearest freshwater shower.

All this made possible by a naturally occurring 33% salt concentration (compared to the ocean’s 3-4%) 1,300 feet below sea level.  Clearly this amount of salt makes it physically impossible for anything to live.  We float because the water’s more dense than we are.   Picture the last time you floated in zero gravity… it feels something like that.

So we float, the microscopic cuts and scrapes we didn’t know existed – burn.  It doesn’t help that the floor of the Dead Sea is layered with crystallized salt.  Then we….

Mud Playing

…play in the mud!  What was once a free, naturally occurring substance in the Dead Sea area is now packaged in 20-sheckle ziplock bags full of enough mud to cover you and your closest friend.  Girls and boys alike enjoy smothering themselves, and truthfully the mud coupled with the Dead Sea experience made my skin feel smoother than ever.

Forget the spa… I’ll be back in Israel for my next treatment.

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As I discussed earlier, eight Israeli soldiers were placed on our trip. Our tour leaders told us repeatedly, “this was to be the most important aspect of our adventure” To meet, befriend, interact with, and understand Israeli life and culture from the eyes of our peers.

They were right. When the soldiers arrived, we were somewhat reluctant. When they left, we were despressed and wished they stayed longer.

Here’s a little background on what it is to be a soldier in Israel. Each person, male and female, has to enlist in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) at the age of 18. Every single person, whether it be a brother, sister, father, son, mother, or daughter. Males enlist for a minimum of three years, females for a minimum of two. To become a commander, males and females must tack on an additional year of service. Upon the completion of their servcice, soldiers are discharged, but males are forced to maintain in the reserves.

We must protect this house!

Not all soldiers are combat soldiers. But those who are, males (and sometimes females) are very competive in achieving high ranks, positions, and teams. For example, in the floatillion incident several weeks ago, those Israeli SEALs who descended from helicopters were among the elite.
(Asside)Exception – The only exception is the ultra-orthordox Jew, they are exempt from enlisting because they spend all day studying. But even this is under scrutiny. When the law was originally established back in the late 1940’s, there were only about 6,000 such aformentioned ultra-orthodox. Today more than 50,000 exist in Israel.

Think about this: at age 18 in the US, what do we do? We travel, we go to college and universities, we go to work…. Basically we, as a people, get to choose. Israeli’s children aren’t as lucky. Kids from the age of ten ask their mom “am I going to have to go to the army too?” The answer is always, unfortunately, yes.

This is what it takes to defend a country surrounded by its enemies. The wars started immediately. In May 1948, within minutes of Israel becaming an independent state, British mandate ended (they were occupying Israel since 1917) and Israel was invaded by 5 neighboring Arab countires, forced to defend itself. The War of Independence began a day later (5/15) and Israel formed the IDF.

War after war after war, we’re still here. We’re still fighting.

Our Soldiers

Israeli soldiers believe they are all connected, like brothers and sisters. We conducted an exercise with the soldiers that involved 3 different but FACTUAL situations. We were given the background, and asked to make a decision.

Here’s one situation:

1) In 2006 an Israeli soldier was captured and held for ransom by Hamas in Gaza. The price: in exchange for the single Israeli soldier, Hamas wanted the release of 1,200 terrorists that Israel contained in its prisons. The Gaza Strip is a land full of tunnel systems, an elaborate labyrinth impossible to navigate, let alone finding a captured soldier. A rescue mission is out of the question. So the choices are – negotiate, or not. The American answer seems simple: it’s not worth saving one life to free 1,200 people who would conduct further terrorist attacks. That was our American consensus. This is not how the Israeli mind works. Their brother is alive (Hamas showed a video about a year ago proving his mortal existencea) They want him back, alive. America does not negotiate, thus will not release hostages to free soldiers. Israel will. This exemplifies the strong bond among soldiers. The IDF is a family. Commercials flash across Israeli television reminding the 8,000,000 people their brother is still a hostage. He is not forgotten, but not yet rescued.

The soldiers were seemingly shocked by our answer, but we are different. Not naïve, but the American mind doesn’t think like an Israeli mind. This is one reason that makes Israeli an incredible place – everyone’s dedication to each other.

I really do love this place. The people of Israel need to fight to exist and have every right to defend themself. It is my duty to share what I learn. I will not believe everything I read in the news. I will enlighten people on current Israeli situations. I will be able to explain logic behind Israeli military movement. I not only learn, but I feel. Whether or not I live there, I will forever feel that Israel, the state of the Jews, is my home.


Flight Home

24Jun10

Two hours and five security lines later, I made it onto the plane back to JFK.

But O-M-G…This is gonna be a long-ass flight.

– I have no ipod.

– I’m sandwiched again between two Finnish dwarfs, one of which has a baby in her lap… that’s three bodies in two seats.

– The flight back to NYC is at least two hours longer than the flight there (about 12 total hours.)

Soooo according to my calculation, I better be sleeping. What’s the monetary value of a window seat? How bout an aisle seat? How bout any other seat than the one I’m currently in?

Shalom Israel, shalom NYC.


Tel Aviv

24Jun10

This is it, the culmination! Our last day in Israel. Sorry I haven’t posted lately, been busy and tired. Writing takes effort. Hanging out is slightly more enjoyable…

We’re currently in Tel Aviv, entering Rabin Square where Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1994. He was the first sabra (someone born in Israel) Prime Minister in Israel. (Link here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assassination_of_Yitzhak_Rabin)

Rabin Memorial

Until 1994 the square was called “Kings of Israel” square. It was renamed for the late PM. Check the twitter feed on the right for pics.

1/3 of the population of Israel (about 2.5 million people) live in Tel Aviv. While Jerusalem is the religious and governmental (is that a word?) capital of Israel, Tel Aviv is the cultural capital. It’s the New York of Israel… Full of youth, energy, and action.

Last night we walked to a bar 45 minutes away on the coast of the Mediterranean. It was hot. It was also my boy Hollenberg’s bday. We entered the beach bar to 200 people lounging on the beach watching the Ghana/Germany soccer match on a 100 foot projection TV. After their three day hiatus, the soldiers met up with us. It was a fun final night.

Cheers Bday Boy

Argghh! Beach FuN!

I’ll write again later to post all the things I missed in the last few days. Again, check the twitter feed to the right.

Shalom.


Please note: All pictures taken of the Western Wall were captured on Sunday, not on Shabbat.

To welcome Shabbat, last night (Friday) the group bussed to the holiest place in Israel – the Western Wall. The land around this area is the reason why there’s been a struggle between Jews and Muslims for the past hundreds of years. The holiest place in the world for Muslims exists a mere ten feet behind the holiest place in the world for Jews.

To explain The Western Wall, check out this excerpt: “in the midst of the Old City in Jerusalem is the section of the Western supporting wall of the Temple Mount which has remained intact since the destruction of the Second Jerusalem Temple (70 C.E.). It became the most sacred spot in the Jewish religion and of the Israeli state.” Link here: http://mosaic.lk.net/g-wall.html

Basically the Jews built a very holy temple a few thousand years ago, some a-holes knocked most of it down, this is what remains.

Western Wall

“Funny” Moment – No one is allowed to snap pics in front of the wall on Shabbas (the action of snapping a picture is not allowed, not necessarily the picture itself.) Some non-religious Jew dude was by the Wall with his kids and a foot-long lens on his camera. He wasn’t taking pics, but the camera was readily available via shoulder strap. A hassid (very religious Jew) walks up to him all garb’d up and threatens to spraypaint the lens if a picture is taken. Non-religious Jew dude gets embarassed and walks away with his kids.

Insert Note Here:

It took about an hour to walk back to the hotel from the Wall. Upon our return and over the course of about 5 hours, we polished several holy bottels of vodka while playing Kings (a drinking game, see rules here: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=kings%20cup). Needless to say, several people wound up removing articles of clothing.

Next day…

Despite the many things to do in Jerusalem, Shabbat doesn’t allow for much. Streets are desolate – few people, few cars, no public transportation. In Jerusalem, the most religious city in Israel, people stay in their homes to enjoy their weekend which begins Friday afternoon and continues through Saturday. Sunday is the first day of the workweek in Israel.

Luckily (insert sarcastic snicker here) the bird sanctuary in Jerusalem WAS open, so this is where we were taken. I’ll spare you the exciting (insert sarcastic eyeroll here) details, but basically an MD heads the place… they trap birds in nets, tag them with bracelets, log info, and set them free. The MD tracks migratory patterns, health, and other bird mumbo jumbo. Most entertaining part – after watching the MD measure the birds’ vitals, he let the girls of the group (how sexist) set them back into the wild. The looks on girls faces were priceless, and it was even better when the birds made bird doodies on the girls’ hands.

The Bird Man

Breaking News: my roommate in Jerusalem just walked into the room w/his girlfriend. Please commence silence and/or nudity.

Back to the birds – the MD showed a movie after the bird “release party,” which I ditched to hang out with Shani. She didn’t seem too interested in the birdman, so we looked at pics from the trip on my camera.

I’m getting tired so the rest of the day thus far will be summed up in the following:

An older British dude spoke on the political relationship among Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Hamas, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran. He predicted Iran to be THE superpower of the middle east in a few years if they receive nuclear powers. But even without nuclear power, Iran controls 7% of world trade and approximately 35% of the world’s natural oil reserves.

We also played a trivia game (split East coasters vs. West coasters) hosted by the soldiers on facts about Israel. Takeaway point – Leopards (yes, the big cat) do exist in Israeli deserts. I’d like to write a whole other entry on the way Israeli military views their soldiers as compared to the US military – but not right now.

Tonight we go into town, eat, shop, drink, and smoke hookah! It’s the soldiers’ final night with us…

Shalom.


Woke up refreshed after a good night’s sleep in preparation for what we were told would be a depressing day.

The soldiers were asked to come down in uniform for respect of Yad Vashem (explanation below.) The soldiers looked dapper. The hotel served up a solid buffet breakfast, full of everything that is mediterranean. With the amount of traveling we do, the “full” feeling only lasts about 2 hours. We’re hungry shortly later. After breakfast we hopped on the bus and headed to Yad Veshem – the Holocaust Memorial.

The architectual structure itself is very cool. Its shaped in a triangle, symbolizing two things:

1) Half of a star of David

2) As if the roof was closing in on the Jewish people during the time of the Holocaust.

Our museum tour guide was approximately my age and about to receive his Masters with a specialization in the Third Reich. He was from the UK and spoke at least Hebrew, German, and English – a very bright guy.

The museum is laid out chronologically, from the rise of Hitler to shortly after the Jews were liberated from the concentration camps. Of course, there was rivetting artifacts, videos, and pictures inside the museum. I definitely experienced emotional moments… It’s tough not to.

The purpose of the museum is not just to remember the death of so many, but to remember that each person was an individual and had his/her own story. We were asked to remember the name of one individual person, so their life will not be forgotten.

Interlude – I totally have a crush on one of the Israeli soldiers and I think she has a crush on me too. We sit together on the bus all the time and I like to stand and walk next to her. We’ve been talking a lot… One on one mostly. In the cemetary I had her read me gravestones (romantic, I know.) I like to be around her, and I like talking to her… So if we need to talk about gravestones – I’m down. I ask a lot of questions so I’m also learning a lot.

She’s super cute, (I twit pic’d her before) nice, and smart. She speaks English very well (as do most of the Israeli soldiers) but her mother is an English teacher. One of the guy soldiers whom Shani came with defintely keeps giving me the evil eye. In Yad Veshem I tried to ask him about something about his uniform and he replied “not now” and he sorta walked right by me. Granted the time we were at Yad Veshem definitely wasn’t the appropriate time to ask.

After Yad Veshem, we walked up the street to Mount Herzl. This is the burial place of national Israeli leaders and the military cemetary of Jerusalem. Each Israeli city has their own cemetary for fallen members of their community. It really was a beautiful place. Being here with the Israeli soldiers her, especially Shani.

Notable burials here – Yizhak Rabin, Golda Meir, Mikey Levine, and Jonathon Netanyahu (PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s brother who died during a military operation to rescue hostages in Africa. Very interesting story, check it out here: (scroll to “page 4”)

http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:q9oRLdCQ-pgJ:www.tegreensboro.org/uploads/4183AShortBiographyofJonathanNetanyahu.pdf+jonathon+netanyahu&cd=5&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&ie=UTF-8&client=ms-rim

Mikey Levine also has an interesting story. He’s an American kid from Philly who joined the Israeli Defense Force as a paratrooper and was killed when a missle hit his barrack. His story here: http://www.israelnewsagency.com/michaellevinisraelidfzionistherolebanonwarparatroopers48072907.html

Tonight, we celebrate shabbat at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. It don’t get much more authentic than that.

As for what’s goin on in MY life… Loving this trip. Great bunch of people, guys and girls. Not as much partying as I expected, but that’s definately a good thing with the amount of activities we do during the day.


17Jun10

Just wrote a huge update and I think I lost it… Damn.