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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