Thursday, February 11, 2010

A LOT of Catching Up to Do - Israel Today Seminar (I'm so behind!!!)

Last you heard from me, I was home from Italy and in the middle of Israel Today Seminar. The Seminar was great. I enjoyed much of the programming, learned a little, and had some fun experiences. After that, it was time to head south for our Southern Tiyul. In order to catch up quickly on over two jam-packed weeks, I'm going to simply cut and paste the schedules from those two weeks and give my own explanation on them. In some cases, we had multiple options, I'll only write what I chose.

Sunday January 31

8:00 Shacarit

8:45 Breakfast

9:30 Lecture on Israeli current issues Editor in Chief of the Jerusalem Post

The talk was interesting, though I disagreed with many of our speaker's points. I don't believe it was actually the editor-in-chief of JPost because that is David Horovitz and our speaker was named Jeff Barak. My biggest issue with him was his view on Israel's demographic problem. My views are colored, for better or worse, by this article, which I read on

12:00 - 3:00 the Menachem Begin Center

The Begin Center was really cool. Unfortunately, I was exhausted and fell asleep during the movie at the end. I definitely need to go back and do some independent reading on Begin in addition.

4:30 Panel discussion on the Israeli Army

This was a great program planned by Cori. Cori, Elkana, Nadiv and two of Cori's friends answered questions that Cori had written about their experiences in the army and then fielded questions from us. In particular Cori's friend Brian gave very candid answers which painted a sometimes haunting picture of what it meant to serve in the IDF during a major operation, in this case Cast Lead.

6:30 Dinner

Free evening

Monday February 1

7:30 Shacarit

8:15 Breakfast

9:00 – 3:00

Option 1 – Israel and the environment

· Tour of Ayalon park Changed to Chava v'Adam

We went to Chava v'Adam, an environmental learning community. It was interesting to see the different ways that the residents lived and raised animals and small gardens with a minimal carbon footprint.

· Tour of Safdan water conservation plant Changed to Chiriyya Garbage Dump

Though Chara in Hebrew means "shit," apparently in Arabic it means beautiful - interesting fact. The dump is located on what used to be (pre-1948) the Arab village of El Chiriyya. There, they have all sorts of projects in place to find better ways of disposing of garbage to try and reap some benefit from it. The original mountain of garbage, now covered with grass, is being slowly converted to a park with a beautiful view of Tel Aviv. The goal is that Ariel Sharon Park becomes a beautiful nature reserve and promenade overlooking Tel Aviv.

3:00 Comics museum in Holon Cancelled

4:00 Israeli Cinema at the Holon cinematek

We watched the movie The Lost Islands. The title of the movie made the Lost clique all jump immediately. Turns out, it's named for an old Australian TV series which used to be played all the time in the summers back in the 70's and 80's when Israel only had one TV channel. The movie is about a family in that time period living in Kfar Saba and the intrigue and loss in their lives. It was excellent - very funny at first, building to a sad ending.

6:00 Dinner at Azrieli mall in Tel Aviv

For dinner, we all got NIS 35 to spend at the mall. I went with Gabe and Lainie and Ilana and a few others to a chinese place which was pretty good.

Tuesday February 2

7:30 Shacarit

8:15 Breakfast

9:00 – 3:00

Option 2 – Israeli politics

· Tour of Supreme court

The tour of the Supreme Court was interesting and something I've always wanted to do. (While looking for a site to link this blog to for more info on the Israeli Supreme Court, I came across this gem - I should have realized that the Rothschilds were actually a Masonic cult! Here's the link for more information on the Supreme Court building)

· Workshop on Israeli politics

A woman who Ariella and I recognized from Shira Hadasha spoke to us about the barriers to Israel writing a Constitution.

4:00 “branding Israel” - Ido Aharoni, Head of Brand Management Team, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Cancelled

Trip to Gush Katif Museum - What I expected to be the least interesting part of the day was actually a really interesting portrayal of what I've always viewed as a sort of "other side" (the former residents of Gush Katif).

6:00 Dinner

8:30 “Please Touch” Theater Company, Old Yaffo.

The Na LaGaat theatre company is comprised of deaf-blind actors. The show they put on would never even come close to being nominated for a Tony, but it touches the heart nonetheless. During the performance, entitled "Lo Al HaLechem Levado," "Not by Bread Alone" the actors prepare bread dough and bake it while telling a little bit of their personal background.

Wednesday February 3

8:00 Teffilot

8:30 Breakfast

9:30 Orientation for Kibbutz group in Ariel

11:00 Orientation for Kehilla group in Ariel

12:30 Lunch

Afternoon pack and free

On Wednesday night I finally shaved off my beard which had been growing for about 2 1/2 months. I decided that just for that night, while I went out with friends, I would keep the mustache. I looked a little something like this:

I'm posting this just so you know I'm still alive, I'll get you all up to date as soon as possible,


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The End of Italy

On Sunday evening the other boys group checked into our hotel in Venice and we spent some time hanging out with them. We watched the Jets-Colts game, and then I went to bed. A bunch of people (especially the Vikings fans) stayed up to watch the Vikings/Saints game – they weren’t happy in the morning. When we woke up we went down to breakfast (more tea for me!) and then made our way over to the train station. We caught our train to Verona, and made our transfer to Trento. On the train from Verona to Trento I finished Have a Little Faith. It is one of the most beautiful and best books I have ever read – I definitely teared up while reading it. Right when I finished we arrived in Trento, a city which, I later found out, has the highest quality of living in Italy, and already knew as the site of the Simon of Trent blood libel accusation.

Once there, we walked down the block to the Trento bus station and, after killing some time and eating some pizza, boarded a bus for Madonna di Campiglo. The view from the windows of the bus as we made our way up the mountains was stunningly beautiful. Gushing rivers and babbling brooks slowly gave way to icicles and frozen streams, barren deciduous trees yielded grudgingly to more resilient evergreens, and the temperature slowly plummeted. I came to the slow realization that I may have never been in mountains like this before. My Wheels bus only skirted the Rockies, and there is nothing on the East Coast or in Israel like the Alps in winter. After about a three hour bus-ride (which contained about an hour when we served as a school bus, and half an hour when we were a skibus), we arrived in the town of Madonna di Campiglo. We waited another fifteen minutes for a taxi, which took us to the front door of the hotel, the Carlo Magno Zeladria Hotel Resort Spa. We checked in and went to our rooms. Because Joshy, Adam and Seth would be getting up early to ski, they stayed together (with Gabe as well), and Joey, Nadav and I were the other room. The rooms were basically the same – each had two floors, each had two TVs, each had two bathrooms, both with bidets, one in each room with a bath, each had a master bed and three couchbeds, and each had a balcony with a magnificent view of the majestic Dolomites, this particular part of the Italian Alps.

We all spent some time exploring our rooms and relaxing (I took a bath), and Joey and Nadav went to sleep for the night. The rest of us went back into town for dinner, I got pretty good pizza, and then came back to the hotel and went to sleep. In the morning, Joey and I woke up around 9:00 and we got up and woke Nadav downstairs. We all went down to breakfast with Gabe. Breakfast was incredible – there was yogurt and granola and cheese and bread and eggs and apple juice and donuts and croissants and jelly and hot chocolate (I deliberately made no mention of the bacon or sausage because they just don’t interest me for obvious reasons). After we finished our (several) plates, I got tea – English Breakfast of course – which was wonderful!

After killing a little time, the four of us changed into our bathrobes (courtesy of the hotel) and got into bed to watch a movie. We watched 500 Days of Summer which is a surprisingly good movie – not your typical chick-flick (one of my favorite genres), but still very sweet and deep and insightful and funny.

Joey and I went to the spa in the afternoon and spent time relaxing in saunas and lying on water beds and fun stuff. The skiers ended up meeting us there.

That night we all went out to the same restaurant as the previous night. Since I never had lunch that day, I decided to have a bigger dinner than usual. I got penne al salmone to start (really good penne with pieces of salmon mixed in) and then a pizza. When we got back home we lazed around for a while and then everyone went to their separate rooms. Joey and I ended up playing a game where we tried to name everyone on Nativ and one interesting fact about them. It went pretty well.

In the morning we got to breakfast right after the skiers left. Breakfast was wonderful again, especially since Gabe accidentally made himself a medium boiled egg and I got to have it without any of the work. After breakfast we hung out in the rooms for a bit and packed our stuff up. Around 11:00 A.M. we left the hotel and caught the skibus which dropped us off at the bus stop for the bus to Trento. We arrived in Trento 2 hours later and went to the train station for our train to Milan. Once there, we located our train and waited in the snack bar for it to get there. About ten minutes before the train was supposed to arrive, the letters “SOP.” appeared next to our train. I went out to the main room of the station to check the bigger time board and ask information what the letters meant. The bigger board said “Sopresso” next to our train, as well as the next train to Verona (where we would be transferring to our train to Milan). After waiting on line for quite some time, I finally got to the information desk, to a man who didn’t really speak English. The only information I was able to get out of him was that Sopresso means “no train” (or, literally, “deleted”). We went to grab lunch and waited some more, in total about 2 hours for a train that we thought we might get kicked off of, because it might have needed reservations, which we did not have. The skiers (who had skied that morning, and so were two hours behind us) caught up to us on the platform and we all boarded together. The train was really cool, with compartments instead of just seats, so that I felt like I was on the Hogwarts Express. We made it safely to Verona and boarded our train to Milan. On that ride Gabe and I watched Horton Hears a Who, which is a great film for children and adults, funny and sweet.

When we got to Milan we dropped our bags at our hotel (a 1-star establishment which may actually have been the shabbiest place we stayed at, despite its status as a hotel and not a hostel) and headed out for the downtown area. We went to a bar which called itself an Irish Pub but reminded me more of my time in Memphis on Wheels. We spent a couple of hours there and then made our way home.

In the morning we were out of the hotel by 10 a.m. and went to the Duomo area of Milan. We went into the Duomo, which was pretty cool and then we walked around and went shopping. I bought a tie for myself and gifts for family. We went to lunch at Ciao, which is actually Italian fast food, but we had delicious pasta and cheese and bread and fruit and it was pretty good. After we finished eating, we realized that there was nothing left to do in Milan so we took the subway back to the train station (where we’d left our bags), retrieved our stuff, and got on a shuttle to the airport. We got to the airport around 4ish, and our flight wasn’t until 10:40. Josh and I did some more gift shopping, we hung out with the other guys group a little and Gabe and I started The Terminal. I went to the book store to check if there was anything I wanted for the plane, and there I saw the Italian cover for the Harry Potter books, they are totally ridiculous and have nothing to do with the plot.

We got on line for security and stuff around 7:30, grabbed dinner, bought chocolate at duty-free, and went to chill by the gate. I “read” an Italian newspaper and talked Have a Little Faith with Ariella. Someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me they were making a minyan, so I was a part of that. We boarded a little late and then we were off back to Israel!

On the plane, we had incredibly delicious sandwiches – mozzarella, tomato and cucumber on ciabata bread – and then tried to go to sleep. I didn’t sleep for a minute, which was annoying, but what can you do? When we landed, people went to get their bags (I already had mine because I always fly carry-on whenever possible) and then we got a sherut and headed home. We got back around 5:30 a.m. and I slept from then until noon (at first I thought that this might be a bad idea but then I remembered that I sleep until noon every Friday morning). When I got up I got lunch and then went with a bunch of people to Ben Yehuda to see the Tu Bshvat festivities going on – lots of people creepily dressed as trees and plants; only in Israel.

Shabbat was closed, but we were allowed out for davening. I went to Shira Hadasha on Friday night and played Settlers after dinner. On Saturday I got up and did Shacharit in my room and then went with Asaf to Yemin Moshe in time for the Haftara, Musaf and Kiddush (which wasn’t as good as their Kiddush usually is). After lunch and Mincha, I played more Settlers and then it was time for Maariv and Havdalah. Josh’s dad was in town for a trip of Chicago businessmen called Nachshon. He came to Israel to see Josh and then was flying to join the group in Kiev before flying back to Israel. We (13 of us) met him at the Citadel and did Havdalah with him and then went out to Olive with him for a lovely steak dinner. It was a pleasure to see him and it was really nice of him to take us out to dinner again.

I’m too tired to finish this up now – at least I finished Italy.

Up next is Israel Today Seminar, where you’ll hear about my experiences learning about the IDF, Israel’s environment, Israeli cinema, the Supreme Court, Israel’s lack of a Constitution, the Withdrawal from Gaza and a special acting troupe and the message they are trying to spread.

I’ll be away on Southern Tiyul over the next week. I’m moving into Yerucham on the 11th and I may not have internet until the 12th or so. Try not to miss me too much.

Love you and miss you all!

Talk to you soon,