Friday, December 29, 2006

Finishing and Leaving...eventually

In many ways I am a more than typical Jew, for instance I love cream cheese and smoke salmon bagels, will always make a point of noting famous jewish people, and am absolutely hopeless at manual labour. However, one Jewish trait I absolutely can not stand is the Jewish goocbye. For all those that have no idea what this is, although its fairly self explainatory, it is an incredibly long goodbye that can take over a couple of hours. For me however the best goodbye is a quick handshake or kiss and a swift exit. My loathing for the Jewish goodbye probably come as a reaction to my father who is a master of it.

So why you ask do I bring up this topic, the reason is simple, the end of Machon. Coming back from our Southern Tiyul we were scheduled for a two day sikkum which I think means review or analysis and it was essentially a two-day long good-bye, I was as you can imagine dreading it. My fears only got worse when I realised that there was something like a five hour wait between the closing ceremony and the time when Machon finally finished.

It all started at nine on Tuesday morning at about nine with a project fair, in order to graduate machon you had to make a personal project this could be anything from an essay to a piece of artwork, mine was this blog a cunning plan not to do any extra work as I was doing this already. So a couple of pleasant hours were spent looking at all the work that had been put into the projects, which ranged from a pamphlet warning of the dangers of Iran to an Israeli cook book.

A couple of hours later we had our last ever chavra which was essentially two hours of us saying how wonderful we all were and giving feedback about how crap Machon was. The entire afternoon was given over to packing and clearing up, although there was still time for a football match between Noam and AJ6. I am sorry to report that we were soundly routed with yours truly being in goal, however I must say that some of my saves made up for some pretty poor errors.

After dinner we had a closing party, this party had a dress code you had to dress up as someone else, usually of the opposite sex. I had to dres up as Jessie which was actually very easy and comfortable as she frequently wears a very warm hoody, although I had to wear her uggs as well, some people however were truly hilarious, taking an opportunity caricature whothey were dressing up as. I have had a complete blank as to what the party consisted of, except for a video time capsule which had been made as a personal project, and also some paper covering a light caught fire which I had to quickly put out.

After this party we went as a group to Underground. Underground is a nightclub, and it has a reputation for being the sleaziest club in Jerusalem and we were warned against it at all costs, which is why I suppose it became the favourite haunt for some Machonikim both boys and girls. Due to constant and relatively heavy rainfall throughout the day the floor was covered in about half an inch of water,and apart from us the club was pretty well empty as all sensible Israelis were avoiding the rain at any cost. I returned relatively early for my final nights sleep at Kiriyat Moriah.

Prophetic fallacy is a common dramatic device where the weather is used to show the mood and emotions of the characters and plot and as I awoke on Wednesday morning I could swear it was in use, as the first thing I heard upon awakening was the sound of thunder and heavy rain. This I felt reflected the despondency and depression of the Machonikim because of our departure. Despite the weather I arose in good spirits and with my three roomates (Danny, Joel and Richard) we finished packing and clearing our rooms with endless singing, causing many in the corridor to wander in and check if we were OK.

Having cleared our room we killed a couple of hours in the computer room before the closing ceremony. The closing ceremony and graduation consisted of a series of speeches, a bit of singing and a final graduation and certificate presentation. The ceremony was rather nice and actually not as cheesy as one would have expected. After the ceremony hanging around time began, my fear of the Jewish goodbye meant I had to get out of the Kiriyat, and so I decided to brave the rain and took a brisk walk down to a bagel place about ten minutes away.

The reason why the time between the ceremony and leaving was so long was because the powers that be at the Machon had to work out how much of our deposit we got back. As it turned out we all got all of our deposits back, which means the people checking our rooms were either really lenient or we were all goody goodies and did not fulfil our duties as Machoniks and trash the place. Owing to the place that working out deposits was meant to take five but only took five minutes, once the rooms were reviewed, we had absolutely nothing to do. So once I was back from the bagel place and collected my deposit I had nothing to do. I spent the next hour watching Friends which made life slightly more bareable. You might be asking yourself why I did not leave straight away, the reason was because I was one of hordes going down to the Southern Resort of Eilat, and the Machon arranged a bus for that which was coming at five.

Others who were not going to Eilat drifted out so at around at four we had said goodbye to everyone who was not going to Eilat, which meant there were about 30 of us bumming around waiting for the bus. At three it started to snow. This scared us as Israel is like England, ie it shuts down the moment the snow starts to settle, so you can imagine how anxious we were getting. Five comes, and the snow starts to settle, however there is no sign of the bus. We spent the next hour pacing around nervously and watching the weather praying for the bus and the end of the snow. Finally at six the bus arrived, one hour late but at least it was here, we ran to get all our stuff on to the coach, and of course we had so much stuff it did not fit. Finally with frozen hands we boarded the coach and drove for about five minutes, no dont worry the bus didnt break down or get snowed up, instead we went to a storage facillity to dump half our stuff. Finally we were off, well I say off, it took us an hour to crawl out of Jerusalem. Finally once we were out it was much easier and aside for a quick stop to get dinner it was a pretty uneventful ride. Then finally at 12:30 am I arrived in Eilat.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Southern Tiyul

It was to be the perfect close to the Machon a five day trip to the warm South, away from the dank, cold air of the hills of Jerusalem. Four days of fun yet challenging hikes in the Negev and Judean Deserts in the South of the country. As we had discovered the North (or rediscover it as we had done most of it on tour) so we were to discover the South (actually same thing applies.)

Wake up on Thursday was predictably early as we had a two hour drive down to the beautiful Ein Gedi Nature Reserve for a three hour hike, which we had of course done on tour. That doesnt stop it being a wonderful hike which involves wading knee deep in a small river (I was clever enough to bring sandals and unlike everyone else did not need to spend half an hour complaining of squelchy hiking boots.) After the hike we drove across the road to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is the lowest point in the world currently at about -418 below sea level and its salt content is so high that nothing can live there, but it also means the water is so dense that it is possible to just float on top without doing anything. I did not go in as I have rather unpleasant memories of last time where after about two minutes I ran out screaming from the pain, and before you judge me imagine what it feels like to have that much salt water wriggle into your nether reigons.

After an hour by the Dead Sea we drove to a Bedouin Tent, somewhere in the desert (I was probably asleep during the drive, happens a lot). When I say Bedouin Tent, its more like a Bedouin themed tourist campsite. Bedouins by the way are a small nomadic group that live in Israel. The main attraction there was camel and donkey riding both of equally entertaining value, and I was particularly interested to discover that there is more than one way to ride a donkey (thank you Sarah). Before I go on I feel I should mention just how cool camels are, I say this without jest (or any sort of sexaul intent) but I just love camels, I think it is that they are just have a perfect serenity about them, and are completley at peace with their surroundings as they look around in their casual and relaxed manor. After the camel/donkey ride came to an abrupt end we went to one of the big tents where we were treated to a talk on Bedouin music and hospitality and we were also served Bedouin tea and coffee. The tea is amazing but the coffee is rather bitter. Dinner was both lovely and plentiful and then after a short program which involved desert survival games and stargazing it was off to bed in one huge tent for an early night.

Wake up next morning was at 4:30, if you didnt get that the first time I shall repeat it, wake up next morning was at 4:30, why you might ask this truly unholy time, because we were to climb Masada. Masada is a mountain with a long flat top which in times of old was used as a fort by the Jews, it is also the sight of the ancient world's greatest mass suicidies, when a group of Zealot Jews decided they would rather fall on their own sword then be captured by the Romans. To mark this momenntous occasion it is customary for all tour group that pass through the reigon to climb the mountain to see the sun rise, because for some reason it looks so different to every other bloody sunrise. There are a number of paths up to Masada a ramp which takes about five minutes to climb which we took on the way up, and a snake trail which takes 40 minutes which we used for our descent. Masada is a very interesting site, which we of course did on tour, and I am sure I would appreciate far more with more sleep and a different breakfast, but still its worth a visit, althought maybe not with a group that believes its best viewed with little sunlights and less sleep.

After Masada we made the two hour or so drive down to Eilat, a time used by all to catch up on their sleep. I do not want to say too much about Eilat as it shall feature prominently in later entries so I will give a very brief summary of my time there. On arrival we went straight to our lunch, after lunch I walked from the hotel we were staying in the Adi hotel full of tour groups and trashy working class Israeli's to the Royal Beach Hotel full of rich North London Jews, to visit my parents, who had arrived the previous day for a ten day holiday in Eilat. I of course gave them a huge shock jumping out from behind them and it was a real pleasure to see them after so long. After a brief period with them I returned to my hotel for Shabbat, the service was very nice, the meal was lovely and we sang so much that many people in the neighbouring tables came over to sing with us and called out for more as our vocal chords could take no more. After supper we had a program full on Hanukkah games and then it was early retirement to the rooms for a quiet night in front of the TV.

The next day was a typical quiet shabbat with a service in the morning, another lovely meal with more singing, then a free afternoon used to visit parents followed by more food back at the hotel and finally a stair well havdalah (meant to be on the roof but it was too windy.) After shabbas had gone out we went on a disco boat (did that on tour as well) which was great fun and a good laugh. That lasted for around an hour and a half and having disembarked I went a few of the bars Eilat has to offer.

The next day we departed from Eilat to the 'mountains' outside it, I put mountains in brackets because when you get near them they look more like hillocks. This was the day of our five hour hike through the Southern Negev and along the Egyption border. It involved climbing the highest mountains in the Negev, which was actually pretty tricky as in places it was actually vertical. It was a great hike which was lots and lots of fun and actually not that tiring, it concluded with the Red Canyon a beautiful canyon which was a bit like an obstable course, and guess what, we had done it on tour. After the hike we drove to some sand dunes but as they werent there we went on to our next destination Mitzpe Ramon.

Mitzpe Ramon is a small God forsaken settlement in the middle of nowhere, which only has a population because all the Russian immigrants get sent there, there is actually nothing to do there. The youth hostel where we stayed was funnily enough the first place we had stayed in on tour, the only thing that mildly interested me was the fact that there was actually a bar somewhere in the town, and even more alarmingly there were points in the night when we were not the only people in it. So why did we come to Mitzpe Ramon the reason is because it overlooks the Ramon crater the largest crater caused by erosion in the world. Its all very interesting to a geologist but does that really mean we have to hike through it, just like we did on tour, although it was a different, easier, hike, praise the Lord,

Following our hike in the crater we went to a small wooded area for team building games, which may not have been compleltely useful being at the end of tiyul and Machon, which means that if the team was not built by now, there is no real way a few games are going to help. Nethertheless they were good fun and at times rather amusing. When all was over and done with we borded the coach for our final drive back to Kiriyat Moriah and the end of Machon.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


I feel as I draw near to Machon, you my dear readers still have absolutely no idea what I am doing. This is perfectly understandable as all descriptions of the program have been incredibly vague, and my idea of talking about one lesson an entry failed miserably, and so today I shall give you a blow by blow account of a typical week of lessons at Machon. But before I do that I just want to talk about a couple of highlights of the week.

On Monday Modi Bar-On a famous Israeli sports anchor and TV personality came to give a talk to us about Israeli Football and Society. The talk was interesting and higly amusing as Modi who had started out as a stand-up comedian was very funny, even though he was not talking in his native tongue. For example when asked the question does Israel have any particualr rivalries with other countries he stated that 'for each country we can find a pogrom.'

On Thursday, in a rather uncharacteristic move I decided to spend a night with a group of friends from the Machon in Tel Aviv. By spend the night I mean spend the entire night as we had booked no accomodation and the entire was to leave Tel Aviv at daybreak. It was a very good if not rather expensive night as we ate in a pretty expensive but delicious restaurant on the waterfront, and we went to a number of bars and clubs as well as just sitting and drinking by the beach. We got back to the Kiriyat at about seven in the morning, and although I tragically woke up around 10 i refused to get out of bed until three.

On Saturday I went with Nick to the Israel Museum, the Israel Museum as one might deduce from the name is the main musuem of Israel. Its exhibits include the Shrine of the Book which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls, a huge model of Jerusalem in the time of the Second Temple, a sculpture garden and a large museum which included vasts amout of Jewish art as well as contemporary and impressionist art and a lot more besides. There was a huge amount to take in and i probably saw under half of what was on display there. We spent a good half an hour in the sculpture garden, and there is nothing more fun than looking at sculptures with someone who is just as clueless as art as you are. Nick and I concluded that we had no idea most of the time what we were looking at or what the artists were trying to say, and that on the whole they were doodles in 3D.

So my timetable on Machon. I should state before I begin that all lessons last an hour and a half, unless its a double when it is 3 hours. Sunday is the first day of the week and it starts with double Chinuch which is about education, this basically involves how to be a good informal educator on camps. Our teacher is Reg the Noam Mekasheret, and she has some pretty wacky ideas on the subject, which tend to go over my heard. After this is mini-chavurah with Nic, an old Noam movement worker, a time to process the week gone by and a chance to reflect how we have changed over the last week, as you can imagine I am not particualrly good at it. After lunch which lasts from 1-3 there is double Israeli History and Society with Haggai, Haggai is in charge of the timetable and the logistics on the Machon and it would be no exaggeration to say that he knows absolutely everyone in Israel. The lessons involve looking at, as the name suggests, Israeli History and Society. This is frequently done through looking at poetry, music and film and is very interesting, although being at the end of the day it is reasonably easy to drift off in it.

On Monday there are only three lessons the first is Ivrit Tutorial which is... actually I have no idea it used to be doing lots of work sheets and realising just how clueless I was at the subject, although I think it changed to more oral stuff, but as I was not there last week I'm not sure. Next there are electives which I am going to talk about at the end. After that there is Ivrit, which as I stated in a previous blog is my least favourite subject for a number of reasons, including I am dreadful at it, the teaching leads a lot to be desired and I have absolutely no motivation what so ever, in fact most of the time is spent looking at the time. On Monday afternoon's there are no lessons, every other week we go on excursions, these have included the Temple Mount, Har Herzel and Hebron, all which have been talked about in previous blogs. When we have not gone on excursions we have had a free afternoon, which is lovely.

Tuesday starts with double Kehilla which literally means communities, although it is our Jewish History lesson. It is my favourite lesson of the week and I actually do not mind waking up at eight in the morning for it. Our teacher is Steve Israel, and as a fountain of Jewish knowledge pours from his mouth we all scribble down everything he says as fast as possible, I have more notes on Kehilla than I do on all the other subject put together. After Kehilla is Ivrit (more clock staring) and after lunch there is Peer-Led Chadrachah with Reg, which is where we have to put our leadership skills into action and run programs for eachother and then receive feedback on how good/bad/appaling we were.

Wednesday begins with Israel Update, which is basically a run through a week of Israeli news, this is actually not as dull as it might sound, as Israeli news is often very entertaining with things like escaped rapists, constant threat from just about everyone, corrupt politicians, mad strikets and lots more besides. After this is Chavurah which is a chance to do all the administrative business of the week and to occasionally play games. Then guess what we have before lunch, clock-watching. After lunch there are double electives. Electives is as you may have worked out a chance when we can choose what we want to do and then swith half way through the program to something else. In the first half I did Political Activism on Monday's focusing mainly on Student politics, and on Wednesday's I did Modern Jewish World and Creative Leadership, which both did what they said on the tin. Now in the second half of the program I do Jewish Exstentialism on Monday which is just as heavy and confusing as it sounds, and on Wednesday's I do Israel Advocacy which is a highly humorous lesson on public speaking and more importantly how to win a debate defending Israel, and the day finishes off with Senses of the Shoah which looks at the Holocaust through literature and art, yet its pretty heavy stuff.

Thursday is Judaism day where our entire morning is dedicated to Judaism (which means no Ivrit yay!) . It starts with a class on Uniformity and Diversity which is about the nature of Pluralism and Diversity within Judaism. After that we have what is known as the to do section where for half the program you look at a specific aspect of Judaism and hear lots of different views on the subject, in the first part I had Jewish Signs and Symbols and in the second part I did Shabbat. Finally the day concludes with a lesson on the development of prayer in Judaism which is very interesting if not rather confusing at times. This is the last lesson of the week Thursday afternoon is free as is Friday and Saturday, which gives us enough of a break to be ready to start again for another week on Sunday.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Real Seats of Power

I know I often complain in this space of the ungodly hours that I am forced to awake, but for once yesterday morning was actually early. We were instructed to be outside and ready to go at 7:15 in the morning. The reason we were having a day dedicated to Israeli politics, which involved visits to the Israeli Knesset (parliament) and Supreme Court. So we all arrived punctually and exhausted in front of the Kiriyat gates in order that we might have enough time to wait fifteen minutes for the bus. Once it had finally arrived we quickly bored and drove to the Knesset.

On arrival at the Knesset we were subject to standing around in the cold for the security checks which were probably over paranoid, I mean since when was a camera on a phone used to blow anything up, finally we passed the security checks and walked acrossed the large open courtyward to Israel's most famous mental hospital. Once inside the Knesset we were taken on a tour, our first port of call was to go into the actual Knesset room where we were shown what was what, from our seats in the VIP gallery. The Knesset room is ultra-modern with eachmember having their own computer screen and a small LCD screen in front of each desk had the name of the member who sits there. As the Knesset is not in session on Thursday the room was deserted, aside from a single cleaner, and in fact the entire building was rather empty.

Having gone to the Knesset room (I really shoud find out the proper name for it) we were taken to the state room just outside. These were decorated with beautiful huge tapestries by Marc Chagall, who also designed a large mosaic on the wall and several on the floor. After this impressive artistic treat we were taken downstairs to see where the offices were and the entrance for Member of the Knesset. Beside the entrace which showed how many members were in the building, there was a grand total of one.

Upon leaving the Knesset we took a brisk walk through the rose garden and found ourselves in front of our next port of call, the Supreme Court of Israel. Although I am not a connoisseur when it comes to architecure even I was able to appreciate the interesting architecture of the building, although that could be because our guide spent the first ten minutes talking about it. Having been shown around the building we were taken into one of the courts (there are five) which was in session. We all sat at the back looking interested without a clue about what was going on. We were then taken into another, this time empty court, where we were told that a case was being brought to the treasury about compensation to do with the Lebanese war. We were then given a talk which lasted for about an hour on the workings of the Israeli judicial system. Personally I was fascinated as the topic was very interesting and our guide was excellent, but I think many found it went on for a bit too long, which was understandable.

After lunch at the Kiriyat I went with my roomate Joel to Mea Shearim, the ultra-orthodox area of Jerusalem. I had been there once on a tour and had been meaning to come back ever since I had arrived. Mea Shearim is without any doubt a ghetto, everything is run down, the streets stink, and everyone is dressed in religious dress that hasn't been washed sinced their bar mitzavah. Walking down some of the side streets you can just feel the poverty and the obsession with Jewish learning and the refusal to contribute anything to society. O.K. maybe I am being over critical Mea Shearim certainly has some plus points I always feel it has a wonderful sense of community and care for its members, it also has some dirt cheap shops and the best beakery in all of Jerusalem, where we spent a considerable amount of time.

The subject of Mea Shearim gives me the perfect opportunity to talk about the Ultra-Orthodox or Charedi community in Israel. If there is one minority group that holds more influence than anyone in Israel it is them. Their claim to this influence is logical, Israel is a Jewish state therefore everything must be as Jewish as possible and as they are the most Jewish group in the state everything should match up to their standards. A recent example of their influence is when oweing to a back log because of the recent strike El AL the main Israeli airline was forced to fly a few hours into Shabbat, something it usually never does. The Charedi community were up in arms about this decsion and threatened to never fly El Al again. That is 300,000 people that would never fly El Al again, which would cripple El Al and send them bankrupt. The situation is still unfolding and a resoloution has yet to be reached but this is just one example of how much influence this community has.

Other times they have reacted included the recent gay pride marches where the Charedi community was rioting for a number of weeks in the area of Mea Shearim, this included doing such positive and helpul things as blowing up dust bins. Another issue is that they refuse to go to the army and as they spend most of their time studying they contribute virtually nothing to the Israeli economy, whilst taking all the economic benefits they can. The worst part is that there exists a small but vocal minority, that actively advocate against the state of Israel beliving it should not exist until the coming of the Messiah. Thus what you have is a small group that does nothing for society and bums off the state which they do not believe should exist.

When I got back late afternoon of the Kiriyat I heard talk of an arts festival that was going on for three weekends in Jerusalem. As part of the festival called Hamshushalaim which is an amalgamtion of the words Hamshush which I am told means 'something' and Yerushalyaim or Jerusalem. Therefore everyone at the Machon decided to make use of all the offers and openings to do something slightly more cultural. In an uncharacteristically cultural move I joined a group going to a half price concert of the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra who were playing a collection of works by Stravinsky including his stirring Rites of Spring.

Following this we walked down the road to the Museum for Islamic Art which like many other Museums was opened till two. Here we looked at the exhibits, played chess (as there was a chess grandmaster playing multiple games and we took advantage of a free board) and watched belly dancing, which I have to admit was rather captivating. The Museum was in fact very interesting and I was particularly pleased to note a number of Ultra-Orthodox Jews paying close attention to all the exhibits so its not all bad news I guess. And who knows maybe they enjoyed the belly dancing as well.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rifts and Seams

When thinking of Israel I am sure that many images and ideas spring to mind, but predominent amongst these is the image of the Dome of the Rock, which sits atop the Temple Mount, the most Holy Site for Jews and for Muslims (other than Mecca and Medina). It is a site prominent on the Jerusalem sky line, but it is a site that few Jews ever get close to. The reason for this is that most Rabbi's say that because on that site there was the most Holy Place in Judaism ie. the temple and more particualrly the Holy of Holies (a room in which only the high priest could enter on Yom Kippur), and as we do not know where on the mount it was the Rabbi's rule Jews can not go on the mount. It is also talked about as being an area of great tension, and so not a particularly safe for Jews to venture and certainly not as Jews.

You can therefore imagine our surprise when we are told we were going to go up the Temple Mount, it was akin to when we were told we were going to Hebron. Actually if my memory serves me correctly it was on the same day, a double whammy. On Monday morning we arrived at the gate to the Temple Mount in the Jewish Quarter at around midday. A big sign next to the gate stated that going onto the Mount was prohibitted by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. This stern warining did not stop us, and at 12:30 the official visiting hour we ascended the wooden ramp which lead from the Western Wall in the Jewish Quarter to the Temple Mount above it. We had been warned that there would be strict security measures and that we were not allowed to carry any Jewish items with us, however, we managed to get through security very quickly and it did not take us very long before we were in the sacred enclousre.

On the Mout we encountered absolutely no strange looks, although that could be because outwardly we were not Jewish as we had nothing to identify us as such. In fact much to my surprise the Guard of the Al Aqsa who came to tell one of our group to cover their bare arms was smiling jovially. In fact the hour spent on the Mount was spent in complete harmony in the beautiful Israeli heat. It was lovely to be able to stand right next a group of young Muslim school boys praying without any feeling of conflict. Of course these impressions were entirely false, I was standing on one of the biggest rifs and causes of tension in the Middle East. Any talk of a peace process must contain discussion about the Temple Mount, and therefore the peace was just an illusion on that quiet Monday morning.

Clearly all is not right on the Mount, as although we were free to wander all around it amongst the salesman and playing children we were not permitted to go into either of the two sanctuaries. On the Temple Mount there are two main building the much more famous and noticeable Dome of the Rock with its gold plating and beautiful blue ceramics and the very plain Al Aqsa Mosque. Of the two the Al Aqsa is the more Holy of the two, it is meant to be where Muhammed prayed before he was taken to heave, the Dome of the Rock is supposed to contain the Foundation Stone which Muhammed touched before it went to heaven. It has always been the case that non-Muslims were not permitted to enter the Al Aqsa Mosque although there is probably nothing to see in side. However, it was only in 2000 following the visit of Ariel Sharon that non-Muslims were forbidden from entering the Dome. In response to this many salesman on the Mount seized the opportunity to sell pictures of what is inside to those who are not allowed in. Following an hour of touring the Mount and taking many photos we were asked to leave as visiting time was over.

To get back to the Jewish Quarter we had to walk briefly through the Muslim Quarter an area that is usually restricted to us, and this area is usally off limits to us and entry into it can you see you been thrown off the program. We stayed for only a couple of minutes within the Quarter as we only needed to walk a couple of hundread meters before we took a turn and quickly found ourselves back in the much safer Jewish Quarter.

We spent the next couple of hours in the hustle and bustle Jewish Quarter having lunch and looking around. This woud have been very nice indeed had we not been constantly pestered by cats who were trying to get to our lunch (which to be honest was not particulalrly good). I should take a brief tangent at this moment and took about cats in Israel, they are quite literally vermin. I'm not quite sure what the story is but I think the Brits brought them over here and now there are strays everywhere, I think kicking is not only legal but encouraged, and for every peace of cat roadkill you bring you can get a monetary reward (I am of course joking). Although it must be said I have seen more roadkill in Israel than anywhere else in the world, another example of just how bad Israeli driver are.

But I digress, after out brief sojourn in the Jewish Quarter we drove to our final port of call of the day the Museum on the Seam. This Museum is located on the former border between Jordan and Israel and served as a guard post before 1967. I had been to the Museum on the Seam before, then the exhibit had been about violence and co-existence and I had very much enjoyed my time here. However, they recently changed the exhibition and now it was entitled 'Equal and Less Equal' and it used art-work to look at the ideas of slavery and exploitation in the modern world. The exhibition was really interesting and thought provoking it was however completely runied by the most awful guard who made it sound like a geography lesson (without the colouring pencils) and sped us through the exhibits without giving us any time to engage with them. What could have been a really nice experience was ruined.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Tel Aviv

Although I have been to Tel Aviv a number of times since I have been here I had yet to have any time to explore and get to know the city. Therefore I could not wait for the Noam Shabbaton which was to be held in Tel Aviv. We were staying in the Metropolitan Hotel in a side street just off the promenade by the beach. According to research done by others in the group it was a 4 star (and according to one accout 5 star) hotel and so as you can imagine expectations were running high. We were to meet in the lobby of our hotel at 5:45 pm on Thursday afternoon for our first activity. It was thus calculated that taking a chiroot from Jerusalem at 4:30 would give us ample time. Of course we did not take into account the traffic jams and so in true Noam style we arrived at 6:45, pretty sure that we would get some sort of bollocking for our punctuality, I don't know why I worried since Reg and Nic who were running the shabbaton had apparently only arrived a few minutes earlier.

We were given five minutes to run upstairs throw our bags down and have a quick look round. The room had the always welcome luxury of TV, bath and comfortable beds, but other than that it was pretty basic. Our first activity was a group discussion on the difference between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and what we thought we preferred. The discussion was short and sweet as the smell of dinner beckoned. For dinner we went to a small restaurant in an out of the way sidestreet. We sat down and immediatelty the food started coming and it quite literrally did not stop. Just as we thought we had eaten more pitta than we could consume in a year more would arrive fresh out the oven, and that was only the starter. The main course was two large kebabs and chips, feeling incredibly full and somewhat unable to move we left the restaurant.

At this point we split into two, one group went to Max Brenner's a restuarant in Tel Aviv famous for its chocolate, they clearly wanted to eat so much they had to throw up. I with the two Richard's and Nick went to Borat a film that was so funny that at certain stages I was laughing so hard I thought I was going to throw up. If you have yet to see this truly hilarious film I suggest you do so immeadiately, in fact go now the rest of the blog can wait until you get back.

Well, did you enjoy it, I told you it was funny. Anyhoo on with the rest of the weekend, we woke the next morning at around I can't remember when for schaharis (morning prayers) on the beach. The service was brief but the strange looks we received from passers by was many. We were then split into groups and given a map and set of instructions, and were sent on a scavenger hunt of Tel Aviv, with a free meal at Joys for the team that completed the most tasks. I was in a group with Ruthie and Grace two girls known more for their desire to shop than their competitivness. I dont know why I even thought we had a chance of winning, but all hopes of that delicious free meal were completely abandoned after the girls walked into the first of many clothes shops. Maybe not really competing was the best thing that happened that day, as we had a lovely time walking through Tel Aviv, a city which I quickly fell in love with. Even the frequent pictures of escaped rapist Benny Sellar couldn't put me off. I particularly loved the bustling Carmel market, the beautiful old neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek and the lively Jaffa. We arrived at the meeting point having completed 7 out of the 12 tasks (the other groups had done several more) and we had cheated at over half of what we had done e.g. for the cheapest thing you can buy in the market we bought a bag of sweets and left one at the end which we said we bought for 10 agarot (israeli pennies, cents etc.).

Given a few hours before dinner we had a quick wander around Jaffa, and returned to the hotel for a few hours of TV watching. At about 5 we left the hotel and walked backed to Jaffa for dinner at Reg's flat. Dinner was both delicious and plentiful, and we stayed for several hours after playing random games. Eventually we forced ourselves up (or rather we were driven out) and we walked back to Tel Aviv. Then in a not very shabbasy move we went not to out hotel but towards the main high streets of Tel Aviv to experience its night life. In a fashionable and popular bar we met several of our friends from Machon. We eventually came back to the hotel a few hours later, but not after I had the first decent vodka since I got here.

The next day forced upon us a ridiculously early wake up of 9am, as we were going as a group to the great synagogue in Tel Aviv. The syngagouge itself was indeed great, the congregation was almost the total opposite. There were about 10 of us in our group and we formed almost a half of the congregation was actually rather upsetting, and it made me realise that although Israel may be a Jewish country Tel Aviv is not a Jewish city. The cars on the roads and the sheer number of shops that were open, on Shabbat just highlighted the situation. However, please do not think that I am complaing, its because Jerusalem shuts down for a day and a half every week that gets to me, and it was refreshing to be a city that does not go to sleep once a week.

After lunch we were given time for a quick rest before didactic encounters. This is when you go off in pairs with a sheet of questions and you spend two hours discussing a list of questions about yourselves. I was with Grace and we went to sit on the beach, it was really nice to just chat for a couple of hours, and if it had not been for the ever colder beach and the attacks by a couple of Israeli kite flyers I would have nothing to complain about, which is rare for me.

We concluded the shabbaton with havdalah on the beach, although the wind kept blowing out our candles and we did not have any wine, and had to use a pack of ciggarettes for spices it was all strictly kosher, if not particularly well prepared. After this I quickly left the group collected my things and walked up the beach front towards the Sheration Moria to meet my grandpa John. It was truly wonderful to see a member of my family for the first time since I had come to Israel. It was the first time I was really aware of the passing of time, as when we met in the lobby he looked at me for about five seconds without realising who I was, I will be scarred for life. We spent several pleasant hours before discussing all sorts of things in the Sheraton members lounge.

Soon it was time for me to bring my brief visit to a close as I had to leave both him and Tel Aviv behind as I had to return to Jerusalem for lessons the next day. I got a taxi to the main bus station where I spent about fifteen minutes navigating the chiroots trying to find one going to Jerusalem. I am pretty sure the world land speed record is held by an Israeli, unfortunealty it has not been recorded as it was probably broken by a chiroot driver somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Unfortuneatly the dangerously fast driving only meant that it seemed that the traffic jam appeared out of nowhere, and we here were stuck for a good twenty minutes. Just as suddenly as it appeared it dissappeard and we were once again zooming back towards Jerusalem and home.

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