Thursday, March 29, 2007

Magic in the air but not on the pitch

When I left you last I was saying my final goodbye's to Karmiel on Thursday night, and I suggested that the next couple of days would be somewhat magical. Well if this was the case the location of our weekend was far from magical. You see your humble narrator along with four of his fellow participants made the hour long journey to Shlomi. Shlomi for all those who are mildly curious is a tiny town of about 9,000 just by the Lebanese border. Karmiel looks like party central compared to it. So why did we go there of all places. We went because of Magic Moments (and the Hogwarts like allusions become clear). Magic Moments is a program that sends Israeli teenagers from settlements and communities in the North of Israel, to England for a week where the Israeli's show their English hosts how to celebrate Israeli Remembrance and Independence day. They have been preparing for some months now and over the course of the weekend it was up to us to answer any questions, reassure any nerves and to try to explain the differences between England and Israel. We were doing this along with our friend from AJ6 and Hanoar. The reason why Shlomi was chosen is because it has a very nice and spacious youth hostel there.

So we arrived in Shlomi but instead of going to the hostel we went to the AJ6 flat, they do their volunteering in Shlomi. We spent a few hours there just chilling and watching TV, and then we went to the hostel. The next day we woke bright and early for breakfast to meet everyone else and to prepare for the weekend. As the kids were not arriving till two we had ample to finalise our programs, do last minute preparations and blow up a lot of balloons.

Two comes and so do the kids, well not on the dot of two this is Israel, but half an hour later we were ready to begin. We started with an introduction that I would rather not mention and then we divided the group into smaller groups. In these smaller groups we gave them a presentation of people they were likely to meet in England the chav, JP and aristocrat. After this everyone was given the chance to go and prepare for Friday night.

Everyone reconvened for the Friday night service and dinner and in true Israeli style they all looked just as messy as before. The service was poor as no-one was singing (most of these kids go to shul twice a year) and any attempt to start any singing at dinner tended to fail because of the nature of the hall, the noise and the sheer number of kids (around 80). The onegg (which I was in charge of) was also hellish because its just so hard to keep the focus of so many people. However, once all the programs for the day had finished I had a nice time chilling with the kids, many of whom had excellent English.

The next day there was meant to be a main service and an alternative one (ie. no praying) of course the alternative one was packed and I dont actually think anyone meant to the main one. Following this there was another program about different denominations using game shows. I had to make Israeli kids try to describe things like Informed Decision Making (Reform Movement) without using those words. It was hard enough for me to explain it to them and it would be virtually impossible for them to do it in English so I permitted them to do it in Hebrew.

Following this there was lunch, followed by free time where the kids showed just how easy to amuse they are. For example they spent about half an hour watching each other jump over three shoes. After this we each went off with a small group of kids to talk to them about the particular communities they were going. There was a slight problem in that we all came from a very few selected number of communities and these were not the ones they were going to. The group I had will be spending their time in Cockfosters and North Southgate, now I don't even know where that is on the map, but I felt I managed pretty well with no knowledge whatsoever. I did make a disclaimer at the beginning saying I have never been there (well I said I may have been there once) and so everything I say should be taken with a pinch of salt.

Following this we did the most British Shabbat activity there is and left the Shabbaton to go to the football. The drive down to Tel Aviv was about three hours with a thirty minute for the driver to eat MacDonalds. The drive was filled with much debate about who to support and England and Israel chants were screamed shouted at each other as we approached Ramat Gan.

I was sitting with the two Richard's, Annabel and Nick in the Israeli fan section (the rest of the group had got their tickets at a later point and were sitting elsewhere) in the block to the left of the England fans. Although we were all supporting England (well Annabel was a bit confused and she seemed to be supporting both teams) we kept ourselves relatively hidden not knowing our presence would be taken. As we walked into the stands we were given an Israel shirt from Pellophone (an Israeli phone company) and I think they gave these to everyone who entered the stadium even the England fans, and so nearly everyone was wearing Israeli blue, (although I didnt put mine on till after the match to highlight my exasperation with England.

Anyway as I was saying the idea was to keep a very low profile. That was until we spotted a group of your typical England fans a few rows ahead. Loud, tattooed, fat, louts either sporting England shirts or no-shirts, and the Israelis around them were all chatting happily away with the Brits and even taking photos and having photos taken with them. Before the game started one of the Brits got out a megaphone and turned to all the Israelis behind him and said 'Shabbat Shalom' into the microphone to the applause and laughter of all around him. By this time we had realised we were very safe and had no qualms about showing our support for our boys, singing both national anthems with pride but clealy England supporters. This did not me from shouting 'Yisrael Milchama' literally meaning 'Israel War' which might seem to be slightly inappropriate considering the past year, and the cry should be seen as another wonderful example of Israeli humour. The atmosphere was amazing the match was, as I am sure you all aware, pretty poor. So poor infact that after the game when waiting for our friends at a rendesvous outside the away supporters gate I along with many other Brits took great pleasure in jumping up and down in front of the Sky News cameras and wearing our Israel Pellophone shirts and chanting 'Yisrael Ole'.

After the match we met up with our friends from Netzer who I hadn't seen since the end of Machon (in general they were all a lot hairier having spent the past couple of months on Kibbutzim) and went out for a late dinner. After dinner we said our goodbyes and got a taxi to Jerusalem, this took a lot longer than it should as a taxi driver had no idea where the hotel was despite passing it as we entered Jerusalem. The reason we were going to Jerusalem was so we could be nearer the start of the third and final part of the program.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Last Week in Karmiel

Oy is there a lot of catching up to do, so I am afraid today is going to be one of those straight narrative accounts that I so hate because they are boring and the sort of thing I tended to write at school which was my grades were always so average. Anyhoo I shall start from the weekend before last and go from there.

The weekend before last (told you I would start from there, dont act surprised you were warned) was our last weekend in the Karmiel house, and so to mark the occassion we had a Noam Shabbaton, i.e. we were all in the house together for the weekend. The weekend consisted of a group meal on Friday night which was delicious, and on Saturday we had a short service in the house before going off to our respective host families for the last time for a lovely lunch. In the afternoon we had a quick program and then havdalah. All in all a very nice chilled out and relaxed last weekend in the house.

Sunday was our penultimate day of school and so Jessie and I started our goodbyes (and participated in two P.E. lessons which was great fun) we also had a final meal at the art cafe (the local restaurant we frequented) and our last ulpan lesson in which our teacher Margalite indulged in her other proffession and gave us some relationship advice. Sunday is clean up day but as we were going to have three days of clean up to come we decided to bum around in filth for a couple of days instead.

Monday was our final day of work and so at the end of each lesson we made a little goodbye speech and handed out sweets and chocolates to all the kids, which was of course greatly appreciated. We also took quite a few photos and then finished up with a final, and rather awkward meeting with the headmaster. In the afternoon Ariel and I (Annabel had other commitments) went for our final time to the absorption center, but as we never did anything there we just wandered around the kibbutz where it is based for half an hour and then came back home. Monday night was also our final group meal prepared by Richard and Ruthie, we all had great fun making our own pizzas and I was surprised to find my one turned out rather well.

Tuesday was the beginning of our three day clean up and of course I ended up with the kitchen, but that was fine because in the afternoon I was told to do Misc. which I of course took to mean absolutely nothing. In the evening was our final kef night, we were all given sheets about our characters at lunch time and we were all to come to dinner as them. I was one of the few people who realised it was a murder mystery (although I only knew because I was discussing it with Ariel the previous day). Ariel was playing the detective who was of course French, and he made Clousseau's accent seem normal and comprehensible. He gave a ten minute round up of all the characters and their motives, and as he was about to reveal the murderer he was of course killed. His speech however was absolutely hilarious. The murdered in case you were wandering was Nick who was not as we thought a Scandanavian Financial Minister but an Australian assassain. I was in case you were wandering a Hungarin magician.

Wednesday saw the continuation of clean up. All good work done by those who were cleaning up was seriously hindered by something that I never thought would actually happen. A few weeks before Yoav had suggested we have a bake sale during our closing days in Karmiel, everyone agreed although no steps were taken. However, a few days before frantic cake baking began and on Wednesday evening the house was opened up to tall those who wished to feast on the Noam kitchen talent. In total 900 shekels was made and we had only sold about 2/3 of the cakes. In truth not that many people came but those who did bought in bulk. All money raised went to Moadonit where many of us had been volunteering. On Wednesday night having tidied up we ventured for our final time to Franklins the local bar. We had decided to reserve a whole section as many others would be joining us throughout the night. On our arrival much to the delight of the boys but the horror to the girls it was discovered that in our reserved area there was a widescreen TV with a playstation rigged up and with none other game than Pro Evo Soccer 6, the game that had divided the house so much towards the beginning. So of course the boys sat down to play and the girls sat down to moan.

Thursday was my final day in the house (some people were staying till Friday), in the morning we finished packing and cleared out the rooms. Then after a final take away burger we cleaned all the floors and sorted all the sutcases out into their destinations. Then Oren returned to us our deposits, and we amazed to discover that we only lost 20 shekels each for the washing machine, which is rather shocking when you considerd all the damage we did around the house. Finally at 8:30 I made my last goodbye to the house and to Karmiel and off I went for a rather magical weekend but that I shall leave for another time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Filling In The Gaps

Last time I told you about the planned routine and program, so today I am going to focus my attention on what we do the rest of the time. I suppose the biggest gap is the weekend which begins on Thursday evening and finishes on Saturday evening. On two occasions in the past and on one occasion to come we have had Shabbat Byachad's which means Shabbat as one, and so of course no-one is allowed to go away. On these select weekends its unlikely that on Friday anyone is up before midday, and we spend the next few hours slowly getting ready for synagogue. At around four we leave all smarted up and just about awake, once we went at this time to meet our host families and the another time we went to plant trees because of Tubishvat (the birthday of the trees).

The good thing about our local masorti shul is that it is a two minute walk away, the bad this is that it has to be one of the most tuneless god-awful houses of worship on the planet, and when
the main prayer coming from my nouth is 'dear god may this service be over'. After shul its too our host families. Its two of us to a host family and I go to mine with Ruthie. Our host family are Shlomo and Marion Jeter elderly American ex-pats whose kids have kids of their own. The food is always wonderful and he is the type of guy who you can tell has thousands of stories and he doesn't dissapoint. There is a general feeling among the group that the host family scheme has failed. The scheme is meant to give us another point of contact with the Karmiel community, but we as a group have not become as connected with our host families as we should have. The reason it has been decided is cultural, because you know how difficult it is for a Brit to call and ask himself over. On Saturdays we of course want to lie in and do nothing. This happened the first time and most people spent the entire day reading in their pyjamas. The second time we cruelly had to go to synagogue and stay for lunch.

On other weekends one is free to do as you please, so long as you do not go anywhere which may be unsafe e.g. Gaza. In my weekends off I have been to Haifa which is still a city I have yet to get to grips with despite two weekends there. I did however walk down the beautiful Bahai Gardens (the centre of the Bahai religion), and go to the Haifa zoo where I was lucky enough to witness and record lions mating. My first time in Haifa we found it very difficult to find a room so in the end we had to stay in a guest house run by the Rosary Sisters, who were in case you did not geuss nuns. I have also been to the beautiful and lively Druze village of Dalyat HaCarmel, which has a huge bustling market but no transport in or out of it.

Last weekend I went to Tiberias (deadly boring avoid like plague) which is the main town on the Kinneret (sea of galilee) the reason I was there was to undertake the 56km cycle around the Kinneret. The day before my leg began to get very painful and I was finding it rather hard to even walk, so with this in mind my miserable 25km should seem to be somewhat better than it actually was. I can console myself with the fact that out of the seven who started the excursion only two completed it, as the remaing five all went back together. I was actually one of the fastest cyclists it was just incredibly hard to peddle and I spent most of the ride with gritted teeth.

Unfortuneatly I have not been so adventurous every weekend and I have spent a couple of times in Karmiel. These have been some of the best weekends as I can sleep for as much as I want, watch loads of films, and just really relax, it is after these weekends in that I feel most prepared for the week ahead.

But what about the rest of the week. Karmiel has three or four bars, the one we frequent the most is called Franklins and is in the industrial district. However, we do not go there so much as it is one of the most crowded and smokiest bars I have ever entered. There are few bars nearby, where we go to watch the football. There is a wonderful restaurant called the art-cafe where I have whiled away an afternoon. There is also the basketball court where our Israeli's spend much of their time and I occasionally join them. The library is the only place with internet access, and it is where I have been writing my blogs from. We have all joined the gym which is down the road from the library, and it is one of the greatest enemies of boredom, and as their TV's in front of each treadmill there is no reason not to go.

In the house there are two computers which are used for games like Football Manager, or film watching. There is also a playstation where in the beginning boys would congregate around to play Pro-Evo Soccer, but this was soon outlawed. Now the playstation is only used for communal activities like watching films and TV shows 24 and Friends are big favourites. There is also a new show that recently came out called Heroes. Its about random people with special powers, it may sound lame but its actually bloody good, and has most of the house watching and discusiing it. Other things to do in your spare time including cooking and washing up, oh wait no-one ever does that.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Weekly Routine

So lets get down the tachlis (nitty gritty) (probably spelt that wrong (the tachlis that is not the nitty gritty (should probably get out of these damn brackets))), today I want to talk about what my week actually consists of (hence the title).

The weeks starts on Sunday, which still confuses me and I frequently find myself wearing my Monday socks on Sundays (yes I actually have socks for the days of the week and I must wear the right sock on the right day, sad I know). My alarm goes off at 7:00 as the bus comes at 7:30, so it is a rushed breakfast as the bus is usually outside about ten minutes before I am ready to go, so I get on the bus, I say bus its usually a minibus which seats between 10-15, this is ironic as there are only two of us Jessie and myself. The drive to my school in Ein Al Asad lasts about twenty minutes and give a perfect opportunity for a quick nap. We arrive at school around eight, I will not go into a full retelling of a day at school as no two days are ever the same and I am scared of going into too much detail. So I will skip to the end and say that we leave at 1:15 every day.

On sunday afternoon's we have ulpan (Hebrew lessons) with Margalite a relationship and sex therapist, dont ask. For these lessons (the hebrew not the sex ones, we have to go to her house for that, for that joke to take full affect I should state she is in her fifties) we have to write ten sentences in Hebrew about the last few days, so this is what most people do five minutes before the lesson begins. On Sunday evenings we have our big group meeting of the week, which I spoke about in a previous blog, and this is followed by group clean-up. In an attempt to prevent the house looking like a total pig-sty at 9:30 on Sunday evening we as a group clean up the house. The house is divided into three areas, and the group is divided into five groups of three, and each week you and your group have an area of the house to clean.

Monday morning is exactly the same as Sunday, in the evening though at around 5:30 a bus comes to take me Annabel and Ariel to the absorption centre on a Kibbutz half an hour away. Here we are meant to teach young Ethiopian immigrants English, but that is never the case as they are either dont turn up or run amock as we struggle to control them. Last Monday was slightly different because we helped them with their maths homework instead. Monday evening is usually the night upon which kef night falls. Tuesday is enrichment day and as that was last weeks subject I shant say anything about it this week, other that we had a really lovely trip to the Golan Heights which included wine tasting.

Wednesday is just like any other school day except we start at 10:00, and as you know very well by now from reading this blog that I love my lie-ins. Wednesday afternoon is the second ulpan of the week and in the evening we have our group meal. This is the one time a week when we as group sit down together to a home cooked meal, it is usually one of the highlights of the week as the food is always good and the conversation lively. The meal is cooked by two members of the group, and two others are chosen to do the washing up. I had to cook the very first group meal and together with Grace (and a considerable degree of help from Jessie as she can cook) we made shepherds pie.

Thursday is just like any other day in the morning, and in the afternoon I go to the moadon kef-li which is a social group for young people with mental disabilities. On Thursday's we take them to the local gym or park and play games and sports with them, its usually quite fun although communication is rather difficulty. Finally the week ends with a group meeting with Oren where we round off the week. Then there is the weekend the subject for another time.