Friday, September 22, 2006

First Impressions

The gap year, a chance to see the world, enjoy new experiences, meet new people, get drunk and generally have a lot of fun. That is why most people who take this wonderful opportunity go to far flung exotic lands, volunteer on local projects in remote Indian villages and get drunk in every major town or city along the coasts of Australia. The very idea of a gap year is not to go to one country for a year, a country not entirely different to your own and study. Then why do so many young people come each year to this other country, the subject of this is. The country I am talking about is of course Israel, a place where hundreads or even thousands (I'm not really sure on the numbers) come to savour experiences which for the most part can be done anywhere else in the world. Why do they come? Two reasons spring to mind they are Jewish and there parents probably wanted them to, but other than that what is it about this small piece of desert at the far end of the Meditteranean that draws people towards it. Obviously I cannot answer for everyone but over the next year I am going to attempt to convey to you what it is that is so special about this country.

So why did I personally come, well there are two main reasons. The first of which, to use an overused cliche, is to find myself. I am not entirely sure what that means but it sounds profound and maybe when I return I will have completed this abstract goal. The second and most important reason is to understand what makes this country so special. In the previous paragraph when I said it was special I was quoting the words of others, and so the purpose of my year is to confirm what I have been told and come to understand this country.

Phew, thats the introduction over with. I apologise for that, from now I will try to reduce cheesy content and make it somewhat more light hearted and humourous. Now before I relate my experiences to you I better introduce myself. As you should know my name is Daniel, I am 18 year old and I have just finished secondary school. Next year I am going to the University of Nottingham to study American Studies and Politics. My gap year which I am currently enjoying is I am sure you have worked out being spent in Israel. The first part of the program started a number of weeks ago, this is an informal college called the Machon where one studies leadershp and all things Jewish. I myself only arrived on Monday morning two and a half weeks after everyone else. Why, well how techinal do you want it, the short version; medical reasons, the long version; I had a cyst in my cinus which had pushed my wisdom tooth into my nasal cavity and I had to wait eight weeks after the operation before I could fly. I should also mention before I begin to recount my experiences that I am doing this program with Noam the Masorti (conservative) youth movement.

If you have ever travelled to Israel I am sure you are fully aware of the strict security measures in place. Even before I checked in I was met by the Israeli Inquisition (I really didn't expect it). Having mumbled my way through a number of truly bemusing questions "No I dont have any weapons on me and out of curiosity has anyone ever said yes", I was able to check in. Having checked in I said a heartfelt goodbye to the rest of the family who had come to the airport to see me off. Security checks included a complete going over my bag and a strip search (well it might as well have been). The flight was uneventful and sleepless being the night flight and we landed at Ben Gurion at about six in the morning to rapturous applause,only in Israel does that happen. Having waited about an hour for my bags I met Reg the Noam representative in Israel at the airport who put me on a chiroot.

A chiroot is the only proper way to travel in Israel and so deserves a full paragraph of its own. A chiroot is a shared taxi and as such is a hotbed of complete messhuganahs, and the chiroot I was in was no exception. For example I was sitting next to two Sem girls (Seminary's are Yeshiva's for girls) who were praising the joys of Essex. Next to the driver sat a man who seemed to speak fluent Ivrit apart from when he was talking to Israelis when he only speak English. Other passengers included a woman who looked like a nun and several Israeli's who wanted their opinions to be heard on every subject imaginable. A gentleman in front described it to me as trial by taxi. Apart from the characters in the car the journey was uneventful except for the driver almost getting run over by a car which had just smashed into another cars door, hours of fun shouting ensued. At one stage during a particualrly heated discussion (which I believe was about which passenger to drop off first) the gentleman in front and asked my how good my ivrit was, when I told him it was virtually non-existent he said 'good' as what was being said was clearly far too delicate for my ears. Nethertheless as I disembarked at my destination I vowed to learn Ivrit if only I could understand what was going on the next time I travelled in a chiroot.

The Machon at Kiryat Moriah is one of the bases for the Education Branch of the Jewish Agency in the Souther suburb of Talpiot. At the English speaking Machon there are just under fifty people. While arriving late may have its advandatages (its not in my nature to notice them) disadvantages are rife including the daunting prospect of having to learn about 50 names in a very short space of time, (a task I still haven't completed a week later). Giving a blow by blow account of everything that has happened over the last week will take too long and so I am just going to mention some of the highlights, and I will go more into the day to day life of the machon at some later stage.

In the afternoon of the day I arrived we went on a tiyul (hike) through the City of David, which included the usual ruins and visit to the Kotel (Western Wall) but the highlight was without a doubt a forty minute hike throught the water systems under the city, the same systems that King David's men supposedly used to get into the city. This was incredbily fun especially as it provided a wonderful opportunity to scare the bejesus out of the more highly strung members of the group an opportunity seized upon by some of the more malcious types with great delight.

The day after that I had my first run of normal lessons, although I missed the morning lessons owing to a strange and sleepless night before. I spent the rest of the weeks getting used to the Machon meeting people and generally trying to get work out what the hell was going on. Yesterday (being Thursday) I had my first real evening out. This consisted of visiting another youth movement (can't remember which one) in their flat, and going to my first Israeli concert. The concert was a band called Shoteh Nevuah (I thinks that how you spell it) a group that sort of mixed pop/rock/reggae and a bit of folk rolled into one. The venue was small and intimate and we were right at the front, it was a really great gig with the band having wonderful presence and great music.

I am currently writing in a virtually deserted Kiryat Moriah as most people have gone away to family and friends for Rosh Hashanah. I'm off now but I was doubtlessly speak to you soon.
Take Care and Shona Tova
Daniel

1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damn I was going to buy a new Hummer in late 2012 and drive around the country for a vacation, Now I am going to have to shave my head and join the Hari.s, Muslims, Jews, Jehovah s, Mormons, Christians, and a few other wing nut groups just to cover all my bases.
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