Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hiking in Midbar Yehuda, Simchat Torah, Shabbat in Efrat

So I guess the whole plan to update more often isn't working out so well but I'll keep trying.

I went hiking with my friends from Maale Adumim in Midbar Yehuda - the Judean Desert. We went for a hike in one area near Jericho for about an hour, went home for lunch in the sukkah, then went out again to hike at another trail near a few water sources. It was interesting to see how packed the parks were (though I cant say it didn't take away from the hike a little) , there really is a difference in the involvement with nature here than I am used to from being around NYC. This isn't true everywhere in Israel but many many teens and families hikie in the different nature reserves around the country.: Golan, Galilee, Central and Southern Israel.

Another Israel moment came when we got to the second hike and walked down to the beginning of the path. Right at the start of the path there is a stream which one has to hike through for most of the course. There was a sign noting that the water was neither for drinking nor for bathing but because there were so many people in it I figured it was outdated. After finishing the hike, I pointed out the sign (signed by the Ministry of Health) to my friends father - "Oh, I should cal them, that was never there before." Well, that was reassuring.

Simchat Torah, already 2 weeks or so ago, was good. I spend Wednesday night with B at another friend, R's house with him and his family who were in visiting. R recently made aliyah after a year in yeshiva after high school and will be drafted in March or so and hope to go to a very competitive course that would require him to sign 6 or 7 years and would train him to become a naval officer. B and I passed on the mizrachi shul that R and his family were going to and went instead to Shira Chadasha, a liberal kind-of Orthodox kind-of egalitarian minyan. It was nice, danced a bit, prayed a bit, and went home. Dinner was good. Simchat Torah day, Thursday, was good too. B and I went to B's friends house for meals. Shul Thursday was rather unremarkable. Oh, Wednesday we walked to the Old City to the Kotel and caught the tail end of a group of yeshiva boys, hasidic men, religious students, tourists, etc standing in a circle that took up the entire men's section of the Kotel. We stood with them, arms around each other and sang (I also did a bit of na-na-na-ing and such since I still don't know a lot of words to religious songs - usually psalms i don't know). It was really really nice. Then B left and I sat with two other guys and just took in the wall for a bit before walking back to where I was sleeping that night.

Shabbat was spent in Efrat with B and A. Its really amazing the perspective that spending time in the disputed territories (Judea/Samaria, Territories, West Bank - take your pick) give you. You see how small the area is, how close Jewish and Arab towns, how beautiful the place is. It's just makes it much more real. In any case, its a beautiful community with a large Anglo/English-speaking community. We stayed at a house of a nice family I had been introduced to at a wedding at the beginning of time here. Its hard to explain how beautiful the community is and it being Shabbat (and therefore my not taking pictures) doesn't help me pass on the beauty. Shul was good, the building was beautiful, and the abundance of pistols was, sadly, not too surprising. Meals were great. Friday night I was given a brief tour of the area by one of my hosts sons. Among other things we visited his friend's house where one of the daughters makes cakes professionally. I was lucky enough to be able to sample some chocolate, fudge, coffee, nut cake. We walked over to one of the main squares where the communities teens hang out Friday night. There is a man there who started setting up a table with food and drinks a few years back when the area had come to be known as a hang out for kids who were becoming estranged from the Jewish community as a sort of grassroots outreach. Out hostess was so interesting. It was apparent this woman loved, loved, her community and was so committed to it. Similarly she was very involved with an organization devoted to taking care of soldiers. She took the opportunity to make it clear to B, who is being drafted in a few weeks, that he should think of the home as a second home for him. The numerous pictures of one of her sons, currently in a paramedics course for an elite combat unit, in uniform and the way she was holding him Saturday night at Havdallah (before he had to go back to his base for the week) was touching. The whole Shabbat was interesting because I was exposed to a kind of community that has a lot of spirit - precisely the kind Israeli society needs to become stronger and rebuild - but also a lot of problems - sometimes very right wing (but i don't want to get too into politics now).

Soooo the above has all been in written about a bit late....

I'm currently in my second week of classes. Things are going well. I'm taking 5 classes (more than I intended) - Hebrew (made it to the next level!), Medieval Jewish History, Modern Jewish History, Hasidim - A history, and a class on work or some nonsense like that to go with my internship....

I'm currently working for Yossi Klein Halevi at the Shalem Center! I got it! I'm quite excited that I have the opportunity. Basically I am assisting Yossi with research for a book he is writing about some paratroopers who helped liberate Jerusalem in '67. Its a fascinating project and I'd love to tell anyone who wants some more details about it in a less public forum (rules are rules).

I moved apartments!. Yep, it was time. I was with good guys but we had, to say the least, different lifestyles and it was time for real. I moved with a Brit, a Canadian, a Spaniard! (who I've yet to meet b/c i think he is visiting home), and - as of today - a guy from California who will only speak Hebrew to us (which is awkward since we know he speaks native English but prob better for my Hebrew). Everyone is religious which helps in terms of kashrut, and - maybe more importantly -clean. I'm very happy in the new place AND I have a bigger room because I'm in the designated safe room (i.e. Steel door in addition to my own, steel window cover in addition to my shutters, reinforced vents, and protected outlets and lights.)

I'm spending Shabbat with an organization that is going to take us around Friday to see the security barrier, and then have us lectured on various security issues by some military types, and discuss issues things among ourselves. I think it will be interesting but I've been on enough of these kinds of things to question how seriously I can take a bunch of teenagers and students in theirs early 20s being "briefed by IDF officers" on security issues. We'll see.

Today on the way up the stairs to my boss's office I passed a man who looked familiar. I said "Hi" (which is unusual because - though many people in the office do speak English very well - I usually don't speak to Israelis in English if I can avoid it). I realized after the man had gone that I had just passed the former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ayalon. Quite a well known man.

Peace !