Saturday, October 28, 2006

Northern Tiyul

As I mentioned at the end of last week, the past week was spent on tiyul (excursion) in the North. To the uninitiated mind this conjoured images of long hikes in the scorching heat, with poor food and worse hygeine. Happily this was not the case. We (meaning the entire Machon group) stayed in the hotel on Kibbutz Giladi, one of the older Kibbutzim in the North Eastern part of the country, very near the Lebanon border. The hotel was very comfortable with TV's and baths (both luxuries that are always relished) and to top it off the food was wonderful.

Owing to the fact that far too much happened on Tiyul and I do not have the time nor space to go into each and every detail and so here is a brief summary. On our first day we arrived very late in the day and so only had time to visit a beautiful cemetry by the Kinneret where many of the early Zionists were laid to rest. The second day began with a hike, not particularly challenging and most people had done it on tour. This was followed by a brief trip to Tsfat a small religious town, where we spent at least half the time there looking for a toilet. In the afternoon we went canoeing/rafting down a tributary to the Jordan river. This was as you can imagine rather manic, as all rules about splashing, getting out of the raft, pushing people off were all speedily broken as the journey turned into a huge fight between nearly all parties. I was in a two man canoe with Richard Sarsby and we pushed quickly towards the finish. Realising we probably had missed all the fun we decided to lie in wait just before the finish line for about twenty minutes to join the fray which had been battling down river.

The following day, Tuesday I shall deal with separately for reasons that will become apparent. The first half of Wednesday was spent in the Golan Heights a mountainous area on the border with Syria. We began with a gentle hike, in a nature reserve at the bottom of the heights before going up into the heights themselves. We visited a former military position on the top of the heights where we could look down into Syria and the Valley of Tears, a sight of several major battles throughout Israel's history, the heights being a key military position. After lunch we visited a newly opened film about the Golan, it was essentially a tourism pitch asking you to smell, feel, hear and see the Golan, complete with wind and rainfall during the showing. This was followed by a 'model' of the Golan upon which there was a projection, which was designed to illustrate the history of the Golan, highlighting different areas at different stages as well as the battles that occured in the Golan. It is virtually impossible to describe just how propaganday and pro-Israeli it was, and the tank movements illustrated by images which belonged in a 1980's video game only heightened the hilarity. Following this we went to a leisure centre where we went swimming and ice-skating.

Thursday was the last day of Tiyul and we began by visiting the Rosh Hanikra Caves, which is on the Northern most part of the Mediterranean coast and on the border with Lebanon. Before going into the caves themselves there is an introductory video to the caves. The video talked about the love affair of the sea and coast, the carressing movements of the waves and the massaging of the rocks crevices, never has erosion sounded so sexaul. In my opinion the Rosh Hanikra caves is one of the most beautiful places in Israel, the sea is of the richest blue, the caves themselves are a tranquil tunnel looking onto the deep azure of the Meditteranean, and the gentle sounds of the sea are only marred by the soft screech of bats that populate the heights of the cave, the perfection is only ruined by leaning out over a railing and looking out at the Med. when you realise it is the birds bathroom and some of their business has been transferred to your arms.

After the caves we drove back towards the Haifa, and without actually entering the city we drove up into the mountains above it to visit a Druze village. The Druze is an offshoot of Islam, which rebelled against the way Islam treated women. Druze is an exclusive religion meaning you have to be a born a Druze, however they are a very friendly people and live by the laws of the land, meaning they are entirely loyal to the state of Israel. We began by going to a Druze market where I bought a backgammon set something I had long been meaning to do, as well as sampling Druze coffee (very interesting) and being told by a shopkeeper that a man should respect his wife but always keep a strong whip in his hand 'not for his wife but for self-defence.' Following the market we went to a Druze house where we were served one of the most delicious meals I have had since coming to Israel, it included spiced pittas, houmous, lentils from the heavens, salad, rice and more. This array of food was presented to us in groups of five on a huge platter and we had to keep going back for refills.

To finish off the day we went across the bay to the historical town of Acco, not mark you to learn the important and exciting history of the town but to go to a MASA event. MASA was an organisation set up by Ariel Sharon to bring young people to Israel on long term programs. Therefore a MASA event is where almost everyone who is on Year Course in Israel congregates in a small area to be told how wonderful Israel and Masa is. The event had infact been going on for the whole day but we only came for the end. The end of which I speak was a concert complete with abysmal MC, cheesy music, high ranking officicals saying what a wonderul job Masa was doing.

Er I should apologise for the last few paragraphs, I appreciate I did say I would be brief and clearly failed, and if you think that was bad I am about to talk about Tuesday and be warned its heavy. Tuesday was a day reserved for the war in Lebanon, the day was run by the UJIA, a British charity, who includes as part of its work helping to establish education projects in Northern Israel. We began by visiting a car park just outside our kibbutz where 12 reserve troops were killed, in the car park there lay rubble as well as pictures of the soldiers to serve as a temporary memorial. From here we went to a Moshav (non-Socialist Kibbutz) on the Lebanese border, because of its proximity the Moshav was used as a military base, whilst its community was moved down South. The leader of the Moshav was himself a victim of an attack in 1970 when his school bus was attacked by his militants, several young children were killed during the raid as well as his father who was acting as a guard. It was amazing to see this man who had endured so much emotional hurt in his life standing strong and being able to talk about his experiences. Following a talk from him we went all the way down to the Lebanese border and were able to see building which served as entry points for Hezbollah tunnels.

Next was the most moving point of the day as we visited a man who was in his living on a Friday night when a Katusa rocket came through his living room, his wife and grandaughted died in the blast, he survived because the rocket entered just above his head and went right through the room. A small miracle in a total tragedy, however what was startling was the fact that he could talk to a group about his experiences and appear with strength and resolved. The day was concluded in the small Northern town of Shelomi, a town with strong connections to Britain and particularly the town of Radlett. Here we were given a talk about the town and then had a discussion about Jewish relations throughout the world. What struck me about all the people we heard speak on this most intense day, was their strength resolve and ability to look to the future, for no matter what trouble they had encountered and what difficulties they had been through they showed a determination to survive and continue to go from strength to strength, and that is living in Northern Israel (essentially a frontier area) does to you.
I hope everyone can take someone from that

P.S. I am well aware that what is expressed here is very pro-Israeli and I know there was suffering on both sides of the border, I am just relating to you what I saw that day, please dont take offense.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Har Herzel

Hello Again

It was back to lessons this week at the Machon and unless you want a complete breakdown of every lesson there is nothing of any real interest to report. On Monday however we went as a group to Har Herzel. Har Herzel is the main military cemetery in Jerusalem as well as being the resting place of many leading Zionists and politicians including Herzel and Yitchak Rabin.

Before we visited the cemetry itself we paid a trip to the Herzel museum which is attatched to the cemetry. The Herzl museum is one of those new fangled museums which relies not on exhibits but on a film, and this particular museum had far far too much funding on its hands. The museum appeated to be funded by the entire nation of Austria (which might have explained a description of Vienna as the cultrual and enlightened centre of Europe). The museum had recreated the town hall in Basel where the First Zionist Congress took place, complete with transparent statues of delegates and Herzel's original office. The museum itself was actually quite impressive, the film was as you might expect about Herzel's life, told by way of a theatre company putting on a play about Herzel. The film was was informative, although it went over the top with its Zionism (what do you expect). It was however ruined by poor dubbing and awful acting.

Har Herzel is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cemetries I have ever visited. The first thing one notes is that it is strikingly green and organised. Each grave is identical, in that they all look like beds with the gravestone made in the appearance of a pillow. There are row upon row of graves, steeped down away from the grave of Herzel standing alone at the top of the mount. At the very bottom is Yad Vashem the Holocaust Museum thus creating a symbolic rise from the Holocaust at the bottom to Herzel the founder of Zionism at the top. Throughout the graveyard there are various memorials to different events including the Jews who had fallen fighting the Nazi's in WWII, a lost submarine, the Battle for Jerusalem in 1948 (including a memorial to a 10 year old boy who was acting as a messenger) and many other events throughout Israel's history.

Perhaps the most disquietning thing about Har Herzel are the graves waiting to be dug. There is still considerable space and since the last time I was there some of that space had been filled in, and it is only a matter of time before more graves are created. It is inevitable that when touring Har Herzel with Israelis they know someone who lies there, and we were told of two people known personally by one or other of our guides. One man we were told about was a former teacher on the Machon called Nir Cohen who was killed when his tank exploded in the recent war in Lebanon, seeing his grave and listening to the testimony of those who knew him was truly a moving experience and brought a tear to many an eye of those who were present. It was a downcast and reflective group that returned to the Kiryat that evening.

Tomorrow the entire Machon is leaving the Kiryat for a week as we are going on a Tiyur (hike) in the North. It should be stated that although we will be doing some hiking we will be staying in what is meant to be very nice accomodation. I hope I shall be able to report back with a very upbeat entry next week.
And so until next time

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Big Meet

Hi Again

I am well aware that my last blog was bloody long, dont worry I'm not going to start talking about its length again, and so you probably cant take another entry, but you will have to forgive another one, whilst the details are still fresh in the memory. I will try to keep it as short as possible.

Following my five days on the Galilee I returned to Jerusalem by way of a quick stop in Tiberias. We did not however stay at the Kiryat which was supposedly shut, instead we were put up in the Shalom Hotel in Western Jerusalem near Yad Vashem and Har Herzel. The hotel was actually really nice as it had a bath, comfortable beds and a TV all luxuries compared to what I have had for the past month. It was thus a welcom change from camping. The reason we (as in Noam) had returned to Jerusalem half way through our holiday was because we were going to a mifgash (meeting) with our parallel Conservative youth movements in America, South America and Israel. The Yanks both North and South had about 80 members each we had 10 and the Israelis 5/6.

The mifgash occured at some sort of weird biblical themed park half way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We were split up into different groups and I found myself as the only Brit in my group. The activities we participated in included using a pulley system to get water out of a well (which we failed at), cooking a vegetarian biblical lunch (surprisingly good and I helped make rice and lentils which got much praise) and then some sort of dull navigation exercise in the searing heat. Following that there was a dinner and a disco (dont ask), all in all a fun day.

But sod the events of the day I know all you care about are the Americans and just how annoying they were. By the sound of it I got quite a nice group and I was able to get along with everyone in the group (and for the record I did tell them I ate cucumber sandwiches and have tea with the Queen). Apparently in other groups the Americans were over enthusiastic whereas the South American did bugger all which caused significant tension between the two, which in one group almost broke out into war on the Mexican border. Anyway from my point of view they were all really nice and I think I am going to try and keep in contact with them which will be nice.

I am now back at the Kiryat, I've got one more day before the holidays start which just so happens to be simchas torah so I intend to be pretty happy (drunk).
Speak to you all soon

Succoth on the Galilee

I know its been a week but boy oh boy is there a lot to talk about. If you have not already scrolled down to see how long this blog is, its long, very long, you would not believe how absurdly long it is. In fact its so long that this elongated description of its length is only prolonging the length of the blog and therefore I shall cease to write on this topic and move to the more substantial part of the blog.

This past week was chofesh (holiday) as it was the festival of Succoth, and for once I actually did spending a week under canvas by the ever picturesque Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), the first few days from Friday - Monday were spent at the Bereshees festival. I went to Bereshees with 15 other people 14 of which were on the Machon (we were joined by Amiel who was staying in Tel Aviv), from Machon there was all of Noam, both of Hanoar and one from each of AJ6 and Netzer. The Bereshees festival is a very chilled out slightly hippy music festival that takes place over the first few days of succoth. It was a rather strange experience for me to go to a festival and not be scared of getting stabbed the entire time I was there (mind you my only source of festival comparrison is Reading, which explains the stabbing fear). The festival was described to be by a fellow festival goer as "A sample of every group in Israel and a sprinkle of happiness" and although I could not account for every group statement, happiness was rife. Even with the language barrier I could sense the happy and friendly feeling of the festival, which had an undoubtedly great atmosphere.

The same guy told me that people come for five reasons and I will briefly go into each:

The first is to chill out. This was for us our primary objective which we achieved unsurprisingly with flying colours. Chilling our primarily consisted of lying under the canapy (which I will come to later) and smoking nargillah. We also spent a considerable amount of time in the sea which was frequently surprisingly warm and refreshing. On our first night we went late night skinny dipping, Bnei Akiva style (ie. boy and girls separately) their idea not ours, obviously. Although no one could see anything we all put our trunks on our heads and encircled the girls, which was rather amusing.

The next reason I was told people come to Bereshees did not really apply to us, and that was to get drunk/high. It might seem somewhat strange that a group of 18 year olds at a music festival on a week long break from an intense study program would not wish to do either of these things, but drinks were overprice and not very nice and getting caught doing drugs means being sent home instantly, and its far too early in the program to do that.

The third reasons is to get laid, once again this was not managed/attempted by anyone in our group (to my knowledge) for two reasons. One the obvious langauge barrier and two all girls there were either 16 or below and the rest of them had boyfriends. It should be stated however that there was a significant proportion of incredibly attractive girls at the festival.

The fourth reason, fairly obviously for a music festival, is the music. To be honest we did not see that many bands maybe five or six in total. Most were incredibly average, although I very much enjoyed a reggae band called Hatick 6, whose album I intend to illegally download/copy as soon as possible and so help improve the Israeli economy.

The fifth reason is actually one that I noted and that is those that were there to "convert". I suppose it is to be expected that at a festival as open and chilled out as Bereshees there was going to be a proliferation of groups trying to convert you to their cause. Amongst the groups there were Jews for Jesus, Hari Krishna, and the Lubavitch. There were also many non-religous groups like the Animal Liberation Front who campaigned for their different beliefs. We had the 'good fortune' to be camped out opposite the Lubavitch Succah which meant that we had to endure their music until the early hours of the morning, provoking huge arguments between them and us.

Other aspects of the festival that should be noted include the mud bath of which I had two, the fact that there was no meet there, I HATE TOFU but other than that the food was very nice and our canapy. But before I go on to the last point I want go mention our tents. We had three tents a two man, a five man and a 14 man. Property oh Hanoar (another Jewish youth movement) we guaranteed stairs from every group that passed by, and when they found out that we were English the temptation to call it a palace and make butler and patio jokes was clearly too hard to suppress. The tents were unfortuneatly not in the shade, a fact that became a serious discomfort on the first morning we were there. In order to lessen the heat and create some shade we created a canapy, made from the the outersheet of the oversised Hanoar tent, which we attached to the tents, a bin and a sign we 'borrowed' from the Lubavitch. Owing to the fact that the tents were quite far apart the canapy hung very low, and forced us to crawl around inside it or complain of back problems. It did however provide a very nice shade to relax under, and about five of us slept under it on the second night, and it did prove to be slightly less stifling then the tent.

After Bereshees I decided not to leave the Kinneret, like the rest of the group, but move a couple of beaches down to join some friends from Netzer and FZY. They were on another beach a five minutes chiroot drive down the road. I spent the next two days with them, swimming, playing cards, going for walks and just generally relaxing. Being on a camp site we had to cook our own food and I feel I should mention the delicious stir-fry we had on the last night which included noodles, rice, eggs, vegetables and veal, it was divine. On the first night I was there we played a mad drinking game called Ring of Fire, which would take far too long to go into hear but suffice it to say we pissed off a few people and I had to drink a hell of a lot of Vodka.

As I sat one day at the second beach, regretting staying by the Kinneret and not seeing the rest of Israel I realised I was discovering far more interesting, namely the Israeli people and in particular the youth. In my opinion the Israeli people are some of the greatest I have ever met and those that I met by the Kinneret only helped to underline that. Let me give you a few examples we met quite a few groups who having not being able to eat all their food they just gave the rest away, this included not yet opened tins of food, whole loafs of bread and many other thins besides. It was very common at Bereshees for someone to sit down at your tent and chat for hours on end, and on the final night a group asked down to the beach with them to chill out around the camp fire, and they really made an effort to speak English and include us in the fun. Obviously there are some negative aspects of the Isreali youth but these were not really on show over the past couple of days, and it is not the time to go into them now. I really felt incredibly at home while I was camping around the Kinneret and that is due to a large part to the people I met. Do I regret not spending my week off to see Israel, no I do not, meeting the people was in my eyes far more interesting.

I will be posting again very soon as I am only half way through the past week. I should mention that there are photos I will be putting up but I cant get them on hear at the moment, but there are a few on my facebook account.
Anyway until next time

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Middle of the Road or Atoning in the Holy Land

As I am sure most of you realise yesterday was the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Whereas outside the Jewish community the world lets this annual event pass by (except for maybe my old school which had a half day) Yom Kippur brings Israel and specifically Jerusalem to a halt. And when I say halt I mean halt, all the shops are closed and there are no cars on the streets, the implications of that I will come to later.

Yom Kippur is also a day loved by the secular firstly because they go out and have picnics (probably as near to a synagogue as possible) and
secondly because it is the perfect opportunity to ride their bicycles. Yom Kippur in Israel is also known as the Yom Offanayim (Day of Bicycles) as the street are litterally littered with people on bikes, big and small, young and old all go out on their bikes without fear of being hit by a car, although of course bike accidents are higher on yom kippur than any other day. Another thing that should be noted about yom kippur is that on the day before the clocks go back an hour which means that the fast seems shorter as it goes out an hour ealier, in practice of course its still 25 hours long.

Like all fast days the most important part of the program is eating, and both the making and breaking of the fast were made at the house of ex-Noamnic and current teacher on the Machon called Dina. I cannot even begin to describe just how much food there was for both meals, and we could not finish either trying not to be bloated at the first meal, and failing miserably at this challenge for the second.

For Kol Nidrei we went to the local Masorti synagogue called (I honestly cant remember), but the service was pleasant enough. By some strange coincedence (I may be compleltely wrong about this though) the chazzan (cantor) was the man in the chiroot of the first blog who told me that it was luckly I couldn't understand what was going on in the chiroot. Following the service I returned to the kiryat for a couple of hours before venturing out around 11pm to the western wall (kotel). I was accompanined by four others from the Machon on a very pleasant walk, being careful to stay in the centre of the road. As I said at the beginning the roads were deserted and so walking down the centre of every road without fear of car was an experience to be relished.

On the crossroads of the first main road we saw a small group of people in the middle of the road. Such was the interest of the occasion that Richard decided to take a photo of them. This encouraged one of the boys, an American, to enquire why we were taking photo's of them. One lame excuse later, they had invited us to play cards with them, and so we sat down in the middle of a main road with a group of complete strangers to play President.

Following this amusing interlude we resumed our walk to the old city of Jerusalem. On arrival we spent around half an hour of quiet reflection, discussion and discovery beside the wall (discovering the sheer numbers of ultra-orthodox Jews who sleep by the wall on Yom Kippur night). The walk each way took about 30-40mins and we were out for about three hours in total arriving back at around 2am.

This excursion fulfilled two main aims, 1) to get to the Kotel on Yom Kippur and 2) far more importantly to completely tire me out, in order that I can sleep until the early afternoon on the following day in order to conserve as much energy as possible. The plan actually worked which was impressive and I managed to miss the entire morning service. In the afternoon I went to Shirhah Daschah (probably spelt that wrong) an Orthodox synagouge, with beautiful singing and which is notoriously hard to get a seat in. I was lucky enough however to get a very good seat throughout the whole service. The service was very nice and musical although when you are fasting you sort of wish they would skip the harmonies and hurry too the end so you can refill your stomach to a more normal level. I did however manage to survive the fast although I couldn't get to the breaking the fast, fast enough.

I probably wont post now for quite a few days as I am going camping for five days, three at the Beresheet music festival and two camping around the kineret. I will be sure to send you a fun-filled account of my life under canvas.
Until next time
N.B I have just added the picture at the top, and it is of us playing cards with some random Israelis on a main road in Jerusalem