My European Adventures!

As many of you probably saw with the many pictures I have posted lately, I just returned back home from an AMAZING 10 day journey in Europe.  Every night, I made an effort to take 5-10 minutes to write down what happened that day, as a small travel journal, so that I wouldn’t forget any of the amazing experiences I had.  Now that I am home, I thought why not share my travel journal with everyone!

March 31 – Flight to Berlin

When flying within the US, you go to the airport, check in, sit at your gate, and when it is finally time to board, you show your boarding pass and then walk down this tunnel thing that leads right to the door of the plane.  One of the weirdest things about flying to/from and within Europe is that not once did I walk down one of those tunnel things.  Once you show your boarding pass at the gate, you board a bus that drives then drives you to the actual plane.  Once you land, you unload the plane to get back onto a bus, which then drives you to the terminal.  On my way to Berlin, I had a 4 hour layover in Kiev, which was unfortunately too short to leave the airport and explore.  While waiting out my time, I decided to go to the duty free shop to get some snacks and a bottle of water, because I was thirsty.  Little did I know, when you buy ANY type of liquid from duty free, they put it into a sealed bag that you are not allowed to open until you reach your final destination…Whoops!  I finally arrived to Berlin around 2 pm, and took a bus to my hostel.  That evening, I celebrated my first night in Germany with a dinner of shnitzel and German water (more commonly known in the US as beer).  From there I continued to the Bundestag building, where Germany’s parliament meets, for a tour.  Our tour guide was very monotone, and actually quite boring, but the tour was overall a great experience, and the building is beautiful!

April 1 – Berlin

I started the morning with the hostel breakfast, which consisted of breads, cheeses, and sliced lunch meats.  It was then that I realized fruits and vegetables would be very hard to come by on this trip.  I then went on a 3 hour free walking tour.  (Side note to anyone traveling Europe in the future, check out New Sandeman’s tours!  GREAT tour company!!!)  Our tour guide was truly amazing and had a lot of knowledge of the places we went.  Our stops included the Brandenburg gate, the Holocaust memorial, Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the location of Hitler’s bunker, the square where the book burnings of the 1930’s took place, and Humboldt University.  Humboldt was the school of over 27 Nobel Prize winners, including Karl Marx, Einstein, and the Brothers Grimm.  About halfway through the tour, we stopped at a small cafe for a bathroom/lunch break.  I tried currywurst, which is a cut up sausage in a delicious curry sauce.  After our tour ended, I returned to the Holocaust memorial because they have an underground Holocaust museum that we did not have time on the tour to go into.  The museum was small, but very well done.  After stopping for a bratwurst dinner, I returned to my hostel to prepare for a pub crawl set up through the same tour company.  The pub crawl took us to 4 different bars and got us VIP entry into a nightclub, and including a free shot at every bar, plus drink specials.  Two of the bars had buy one drink, get a free shot.  At the beginning of the crawl, another woman and I introduced ourselves, and we formed a group of people that we hung out with all night.  In order to get from the last bar to the club, we had to take the Underground.  Now, just imagine 140 drunk people on a bar crawl, all trying to cram into one Underground car, and then someone deciding it was Karaoke time, so we all started singing 500 Miles by the Proclaimers!  By the time we got to the station to get off for the club, I realized how tired I was, as it was already 2:30 am, and I had been up since 8.  With over an hour journey back to my hostel, I decided to skip the club, and head home to get some sleep.

April 2 – Berlin

For some odd reason, my body woke me up bright and early at 9 am.  I used the time to pack up all of my stuff, and then went to the New Synagogue of Berlin.  While this synagogue is no where near new, it was completely destroyed in WWII, and has since been beautifully restored.  I then met up with the woman I met at the bar crawl for lunch at Burgermeister, whiche is one of the places I was told was a MUST GO in Berlin, and I have to say, I definitely agree with that!  It was incredibly delicious, and pretty cheap!  The woman and I then went to East Side Gallery, which is a part of the Berlin wall that is still standing, but has been turned into an art gallery of street art.  There are sections that are gated off so the artwork can stay as intended, and there are open sections where artists are still able to come and leave their mark.  The artwork was truly magnificent!  We were also able to stop and get our passports stamped with the original Checkpoint Charlie stamps, from when travelers had to cross the Berlin Wall when it was actually in use.  Because Berlin was split into 5 different sections at that point, I got a German stamp, a French Stamp, a British stamp, a US stamp, and a Soviet Union stamp, all of which were used at one point.  When we got to the end of the gallery, we went our separate ways, and I went to the Jewish Museum of Berlin.  I started in their special exhibit going on right now about women’s head coverings.  It was such an amazing and inclusive exhibit that spoke about how all three monotheistic religions (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam) all have head-coverings worn by women.  It showed some of the different types of coverings for all of the religions, and spoke to the discrimination some women face due to the choice to wear the head-covering for their religion.  There was a section of the exhibit that spoke about burqa bans in different countries, which I thought was very powerful, because when you look at a burqa on a mannequin, it looks so similar to the head-coverings for Christianity and Judaism, but those are not being ban.  I continued up to the main exhibit of the Jewish Museum, but it was honestly a bit of a let down to me.  I’m not sure what I expected, but it was very simple.  There were a lot of things, but many explanations I do not think did some of the pieces justice, and many of the artifacts they had in the museum were just regular Judaic items that were there merely to explain the meanings of the different aspects of Judaism.  I think it could be an amazing museum for someone coming to learn about Judaism, but for me, it was too simple.  After the museum, I proceeded back to my hostel to retrieve my luggage, and headed to the bus station to catch my overnight bus to Amsterdam!

April 3 – Amsterdam

My bus arrived in Amsterdam around 7:15 am.  I went straight to my hostel, put my luggage into a locker, and then wandered the city for a little bit on my own, until I could check-in.  At check-in time, I got my luggage out of the locker, and as I was bringing it to my room, the handle decided to break off (yay!).  Luckily, reception had a screwdriver, so I was able to fix it.  I then went for a three hour walking tour of Amsterdam, with the same company as in Berlin.  (Trust me on this.  They’re great!!)  We walked through the whole city and got to briefly see things like the Red Light District, some of the more famous Coffee Shops, and the Anne Frank House.  After the tour, I headed to the House of Bols, which is the oldest distillery in the world, named after its founder, Lucas Bols.  They had this simulator where you had a small shot of a red liquor you drank while they flashed lights and played different sounds to see how sight and sound can also affect taste.  At the end, you got a free cocktail of your choice to taste the Bols liquor.  I had a strawberry cheesecake drink that was absolutely one of the most delicious drinks I have ever tasted!I then stopped at the famous “I Amsterdam” sign to take my touristy photos, and then continued back to central Amsterdam to meet up with yet another tour, this time specifically of the Red Light District at night!  We learned a lot of the history of the Red Light District and how prostitution became legal in the Netherlands.  It was actually a really interesting and informative tour, and probably my favorite of the entire trip.  After the tour ended, I stopped at Bulldog, the oldest running Coffee Shop in Amsterdam, but they unfortunately didn’t have any snacks that I could try, so I walked down the block to a regular grocery store, where I was able to pick up some cookies to eat once I made it back to my hostel for the evening!

April 4 – Amsterdam

I started off the morning at the Anne Frank house. (Traveler tip:  buy your tickets MONTHS in advanced, or you’ll have to wait in a 2-4 hour queue just to get in the door!)  Anne Frank is one of those people we all learn about in school, and how her family was able to hide in secret for so long before being discovered by the Germans, but being able to see Otto Frank’s office and where the whole family hid for so many months was a whole new type of understanding.  I always knew that the room she shared with Dr. Pfeffer was small, but to actually stand in the room and realize that two single beds would barely fit in the space gave me a whole new understanding for the time they spent in hiding.  After Anne Frank’s house, I stopped by the Amsterdam Cheese Museum to try some Dutch cheese, and ended up buying some to take home.  They actual vacuum pack and seal all of their cheese so that it stays fresh up to 3 weeks outside of the refrigerator so travelers can take some home!  I then continued to the Jewish Quarter of Amsterdam and visited the Portuguese Synagogue.  For entrance to all of the museums in the Jewish Quarter, you have to purchase a ticket, which has a student discount available.  I showed my Israeli student card, paid my entrance fee, and the man handed me an audio guide.  When I started playing the audio guide introduction, I immediately realized the audio guide had been activated in Hebrew, because I showed the man my Israeli student ID.  I returned to the entrance to fix the situation, and then was able to continue to see the amazingly beautiful synagogue.  I then continued to the Jewish museum of Amsterdam, which I think far outdid the museum in Berlin.  The artifacts felt more real, the explanations of things were better, and I enjoyed the overall feel and flow of the museum much more.  The Torah they had on display was even open to my bat mitzvah portion!  For lunch, I stopped in the museum cafe for a REAL BAGEL!  Seeing as you cannot find a good Jewish bagel in Israel, this was an absolute treat!I then continued onto the Van Gogh museum where many of his most famous paintings are displayed.  I saw many of his self portraits, the sunflowers, and the lily paintings.  I did not realize how many of his most beautiful works of art (including Starry Night) were done while he was in an asylum for his severe depression.  I finished off my time in Amsterdam with a tour of their many amazing canals, and ended with a dinner of a giant Dutch pancake.  I chose a more traditional flavor of cheese and apple, which was so delicious and the perfect sweet and savory end to a day!  It was the time to catch my bus to my last stop of my EuroTour, London!

Overnight Bus to London

Yes. This bus ride gets its own section of my travel journal!  I got to the bus no problem, it was a little fuller than the bus from Berlin to Amsterdam, but that didn’t matter too much.  We drove through Belgium and through France, but once we hit the French/British border, the “fun” began.  It was around 3 am when we hit this border, and in order to cross the border, you have to go through passport control.  Our bus stopped so that everyone could get off and first go through French passport control.  We then had to get back on the bus, drive 10 seconds, and get off again to go through British passport control.  Of course, one guy from our bus got pulled aside at British passport control.  We had all gotten back on the bus, but we were still waiting for the one guy that got pulled.  After about 10 minutes of waiting, the guy got back on the bus, escorted by a border police officer.  He grabbed all of his things and then got back off of the bus.  A few minutes later, another border officer came out and informed our driver that everyone needed to unload the bus again, taking all of their things, including the luggage from under the bus and go through passport control once again.  Everyone’s things had to go through an x-ray machine, and a few people had their bags searched.  I have to say, I am VERY glad I did not take any leftover Amsterdam cookies with me on that bus ride!After most people returned to the bus, it took about an extra 20-30 minutes for them to clear the few people they pulled, as well as the guy that initiated the entire check.  Now, the only way to cross the English Channel is by train.  So the bus literally drove into a giant train car, where we had a 45 minute train ride into Great Britain.  The rest of the ride went smoothly and we arrived in London around 7:30 am.

April 5 – London

After dropping off my things at the hostel, I headed over to Buckingham Palace to watch the changing of the guards ceremony.  I even caught one of the red coats SMILING!!!I then continued on for, you guessed it, a free 3 hour walking tour of London!  We saw many of the most famous London spots, including the perfect tourist selfie spot where I was able to get a selfie with a telephone booth AND Big Ben in the background!  When the tour ended, I was able to go actually check-in to my hostel, where I got ready for my first night out in London, dinner and a show!  I had dinner reservations at Getti’s, an Italian restaurant.  I had fried calamari, a seafood pasta, and tiramisu for dessert!  It was then off to see Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.  It was SUCH an incredible show!!!  My original seat was at the very top of the theater, which had an overhang, which unfortunately blocked a little bit of my view.  At intermission, I then went down to the theater manager and asked if there were any open seats, and because if was the middle of the week, to my luck, I was re-seated five rows from the stage, on the main floor!  I absolutely loved the show, and would recommend it to anyone who was thinking about seeing it!  When I returned to my hostel, a few of the girls I was sharing my dorm room with invited me down to the hostel bar for some dancing and drinks.

April 6 – London

For today, I had bought the London Pass, which got me discounts on different tours and restaurants, and got me into many famous London places for free.  I started the day at Westminster Abbey to see the tombs of most of the past kings and queens of England, as well as some famous people like Issac Newton.  I also saw the cathedral that all of the coronations and royal weddings happen in.  Then, I was off to Kensington Palace.  Right now, they have an exhibit featuring many of Princess Diana’s outfits.  Afterwards, I headed to St. Paul’s Cathedral.  At the top of the cathedral is a giant dome with one of the best views of London.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling the 1,000+ stairs to get to the top, so I didn’t see the view.  I then took a short stop at the British Museum, where the Rosetta Stone is held, and then crossed the street to a cute, quaint restaurant for a traditional, English afternoon tea.  After tea, I went to the Tower of London, which is a giant castle built for William the Conqueror in 1096, and is currently home to the Crown Jewels.  I then walked over to the Tower Bridge, which has two towers on either side of the bridge that stand 65 meters, or 213 feet above the Thames River.  There are walkways between the two towers, with glass cutouts so you can see down to the road below while crossing.  I then ventured down to the dock on the side of the River to take a river cruise towards Westminster Abbey and back, and then went on a hunt to find fish and chips for dinner.  I had no idea that fish and chips would be so difficult to find in London!  By that time in the evening, and it was only 8 o’clock, every fish and chips place that wasn’t outrageously expensive had already closed.  I ended up heading back to my hostel and just ordered a burger from the restaurant downstairs.  I spent the rest of the evening packing up my stuff so I didn’t have to worry about it in the morning, as I had a very early wake-up.

April 7 – London

With the London Pass, I was able to get a discounted tour (Just transportation and an entrance ticket) to the Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Studio Tour!  The bus left the tour company at 7:30 am sharp, so I was there by 7;15, because I was NOT missing that bus!  Of course, since it was a planned tour, we were on a double-decker Harry Potter themed bus.  And, what better way to pass the hour and a half long drive, than to put on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (don’t forget, I was in London)!  We arrived in time for our 9 am entrance time, and by then, I was geeking out pretty hard.  The tour starts in a small movie theater where they show a film about the creation of the films, and then the screen lifts to reveal the door to the Great Hall.  A guide explains to you a bit about the self-guided tour and how it is set up, and then the doors open to reveal the actual Great Hall set inside.  There are costumes from each of the four houses, so the guide went around to each and, when she got to Hufflepuff, she asked who were the Hufflepuffs in the house.  I was the only one who cheered, and she made a Hufflepuff joke by saying, “Great! That’s one more than usual!”  Let me just tell you, that Hufflepuff is not only the best house because of its’ members’ extreme loyalty, but it is also J. K. Rowling’s favorite house!  From then on, the tour was completely self guided, so I walked from set to set and saw tons of the props used in the movie.  Halfway through the tour, you come to the backlot, which has a cafe, that of course sells Butterbeer!  You can drink your butterbeer while exploring the Knight Bus, the Potter’s House from Godrick’s Hollow, and Number 4, Privet Drive, before you head into the second half of the tour.  The second half of the tour includes the Creature Shop, where you learn how many of the different anamatronic things, including Hagrid’s head were made!  You then pass through Diagon Alley before seeing the white card models of all of the different sets used throughout the movie.  The tour ends with the actual model of Hogwarts that they used for the entirety of filming!  I had some fun in the shop as well, where I got a Maurader’s Map mug, a chocolate frog, and Honeyduke’s Salted Caramel Fudge!  Upon returning to London, I had about an hour and a half before I needed to head to the airport, so I FINALLY was able to find myself some fish and chips, and they were definitely worth the wait!  I got a few last souvenirs for my family, and then headed to the airport to catch a flight to Berlin, where the next day, I finished my journey with a flight back to Israel!

7 Month Update

It’s hard to believe that I have now been in Israel for over 7 months!  The time has truly been flying by, and I only wish I could slow it down.  I was recently rereading some of my original blog posts I had this weird feeling.  It feels like forever ago that I wrote those posts about beginning my year and starting in my school, but at the same time, it seems like just last week I was first meeting my teacher and the students.  Throughout the seven months there have been ups and downs, but I have loved every second of it.

One of the biggest hurdles I have faced recently was homesickness.  Yes, it may have taken 7 months for it to hit, but I definitely have had the missing-home blues recently.  The last few weeks have been particularly tough being so far from all of my friends and family.  I am very fortunate that this hadn’t hit before, but I think that I have had such an amazing support system, that I never truly felt like I was missing out on life back home.  For the first half of the year, I had my parents’ trip to look forward to, and for the first couple months after, I still had the lingering feeling of spending that time with them.  Although, once March came, the feeling of homesickness hit hard.  At the time, I had recently accepted a spot in an additional month long program in Israel for the month of July, which extended my time here from another 4 months to 5 months until I get to see my family again.  Also, I found out that one of my best friends in the entire world decided to move their wedding up to June, which means I would still be in Israel.  With all of these compounding factors, I think the homesickness took over, and made these last few weeks some of the most difficult weeks I’ve had since living here.  But, no matter, I have been talking with my friends a bunch on messenger, and had a great conversation with Savannah on FaceTime, so it helped me overcome some of those feelings.

Also, these next few months have a lot of amazing things to look forward to, so I can’t be sad going into April!  On Friday, my Spring/Passover break begins with an early flight to Europe!!!  I am still kind of in disbelief that I will be taking my first ever Euro-Trip, and it is less than a week away!  After that, I will return back to Israel in time to share the Passover Seder with my teacher and her family.  After that, I have another week and a half of break to explore and hang with friends.  When school resumes after break, I will be leading an English Day at my school, which is 2 hours of fun, English themed activities that I have planned, all based on There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly.  It is supposed to be a day to spark even more interest in my students’ love for the English language.  April ends with what I’ve heard Israelis call the “Yoms”.  Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day), and Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independance Day) are all just one week apart.  I’ve always seen videos shared on social media of the sirens that go off to mark the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, where the entire country stops for an entire minute, and I can only imagine what I will feel experiencing it for the first time.  May brings lots of happiness as well, with the first of the summer Detroit Taglit-Birthright trips that my brother will be on.  It will be great to see him here and to be able to spend time with him.  We will take a Bina trip to Jerusalem near  the end of the month, and then it is already time to start saying our good-byes.  With Tel Aviv Pride, my birthday, and the end of the program all within a few short weeks, I’m sure June will be a whirlwind of feelings and emotions.

This year had truly been a blessing, and I cannot believe how much time has already passed.  These last few months will definitely be months of memory making that I will cherish forever.  And, before I know it, it will all be done and over, and I will be on a plane back to the states to see all of my amazing friends and family!  I love you all and can’t wait to see your faces again soon!

Wait…Which one is Haman?

I’m pretty sure I’ve said this before, but it still holds true: one of my favorite things about being in Israel for an entire year is the opportunity to celebrate the Jewish holidays, Israel style.  Purim, was absolutely no different.  For those that don’t know, Purim is the story of Esther, where the King of Persia married Esther, and her Uncle Mordechai refused to bow down to the Prime Minister, Haman (BOOOO!!!!!), so Haman decided to kill all of the Jews.  Mordechai told Esther, and Esther told the King, and, long story short, the King decided to kill Haman instead.  So, one of the biggest, and my most favorite, tradition of all is that on Purim, you are supposed to get so drunk that you cannot tell the difference between Mordechai and Haman.  It is also traditional to dress up for Purim, making this Israel’s version of Haloween, and the festivities lasted for a week!

Being the Haloween of Israel, everyone dresses up.  For my costume this year, I decided to be Princess Poppy from the new Trolls movie.  I bought a 10 shekel tutu and a 10 shekel headband, and made my troll hair.  As a rule, I don’t spend a lot of money on costumes that I will only wear once, and I just happened to have the perfect skirt to use as a dress with leggings to make my Princess Poppy outfit complete.  Overall, I spent 30 shekels, or about $7.50, between the glue and embellishments for my entire costume!

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The actual holiday of Purim was March 12 and 13, a Sunday and Monday.  The entire week before was basically Spirit Week at my school.  Everyday had a different theme that the students dressed up in.  We had hat day, pajama day, and costume day.  In addition to dressing up, all of the school breaks were longer than usual and had extra fun activities, like games and face painting.  My favorite day was Tuesday, pajama day.  Students had onesies on and were dressed as unicorns, giraffes, bumble bees, and my personal favorite, Pikachu!  That day, I also had some people from Bina coming to take photographs for marketing.  As break was ending, and I was going to greet them at the gate, one of the 6th graders ran up to me and asked to paint a red heart on my face.   Of course, I couldn’t say no, and so I had what looked more like a red blob on my cheek for the Bina photographs, but it was still cute, and it made my student’s day!

On Thursday, as soon as school ended, I was on my way to Tel Aviv for one of the biggest party weekends in Israel. I stayed at one of the other Bina apartments in the south part of Tel Aviv.  We spent Friday wandering Tel Aviv getting ready for a party we were throwing on Saturday.  We stopped for alcohol and snacks and ended up stopping by the other Bina apartment in Jaffa.  One of the Jaffa people shared a really cool podcast with us, and then we went to an Asian restaurant for “Shabbat” dinner.  After dinner, we went to Malabia, a little shop that sells malabi, a sweet custard like dessert.  It was great to spend the evening with good food and even better friends.  Saturday we spent making hamantashen, pita chips, and popcorn for the party.  With some leftover egg whites that we didn’t use, I ended up whipping them up with a fork and making meringues by hand!  20170311_150709.jpgThe plan for the night was to pre-game at the apartment and then to go out on the town.  People started arriving around 8:30-9:00ish, and the party began.  After talking and catching up with some friends and winning a game of beer pong with an awesome partner, someone tried to read the Megillah (the Purim story), but by then we were all too drunk to pay attention.  From there, a group of us decided to head toward a party in Florentine.  About 10 minutes into the walk, a friend and I realized that we were already way too drunk and decided to head back to the apartment.  Even if the night didn’t necessarily end as planned, it was still so much fun, and my favorite Purim tradition was definitely upheld.

The next morning, the other Bina people had to be up early for class.  I got up with them and ended up just going to Aroma to get a coffee and breakfast.  When their class finished, I met back up with them, and we all headed to Holon for the Purim Parade.  The closest thing I can compare to the Holon parade would be the Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC, but Israeli, which means people push their ways through other people to get to where they want to be.  I separated from the group for a little bit, and I was able to push my way through some of the crowds to get some front row pictures of the different groups and floats in the parade.  My favorite, of course, had to be the one of Trump tied up with a tattoo of Hillary Clinton on his shoulder.

I was able to find a few of my friends again, and as the parade ended, we started our trek back to the apartment.  My friend and I got off the bus by the apartment, and got side-tracked by the playground.  It was nice to reconnect with the kid in me as we climbed the jungle gym and sat on the swings for awhile.  That evening, most people were still recovering from Saturdayy night, so we never made it out that night.  Monday was then used relaxing and packing up my stuff before I took the train journey back to Migdal HaEmek to prepare for the week.

While I never actually made it out in Tel Aviv to any of the bars or parties, my first Purim in Israel was definitely a success.  I spent the time with amazing friends, with a great costume, and it will definitely be a Purim I will never forget!

An Amazing Roommate Shabbat

Shabbat is always a special time of the week, especially being in Israel. Whether it is just relaxing at home, or spending Friday evening with a host family, every shabbat here has been great. But, this shabbat was special. Yesterday, I came down to Tel Aviv to spend Friday evening at one of the Tikkun Olam’s (another Bina program) apartment. The second semester of Tikkun Olam just began, so there are new participants, so it was great to meet them over Shabbat dinner. We then played my favorite game, Cards Against Humanity to see just how horrible/hilarious everyone is!

I spent the night at their apartment, and then woke up early this morning to take a roomie road trip. In Israel, there is currently a festival going on called Darom Adom, at Moshav Shokeda. Once a year, around this time, the Moshav is covered in red poppies, and they have a big festival around it. We ended up renting a car, and driving the hour south from Tel Aviv. We were warned that there would be a lot of traffic getting into the Moshav, but we must have been lucky that there wasn’t too much when we first got there.  We had to walk about 10-15 minutes to get to where the main festival area was. There was music, food, and of course camel rides, because what Israeli festival would be complete without them (rhetorical question!!)!

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On the other side of the festival area were the giant fields of red poppies.  We immediately started taking pictures, but as we walked, the poppies got more and more beautiful.  It wasn’t quite the complete sea of red I expected, but there were some incredibly dense areas of flowers that were breath-taking.  We spent a lot of time taking fun roomie-family pictures, along with plenty of pictures of the poppies themselves.  As we continued walking down the paths through the flowers, we crossed a river to start heading back towards the festival area.

As I continued to take pictures, one of my roommates went over a hill, and discovered a whole grove of clementine trees!  She had picked a few and put them in her scarf to “hide”.  When I realized where she had gone, I decided I wanted to pick some as well.  She then told me to grab a bunch, which I had all intentions of doing!  Because it was such an amazing day outside, I was able to take off my sweatshirt, tie off the arms and hoodie, and use it as a bag for collecting the citrus!  I meandered through the trees collecting a lot of clementines when I found a few rows of pomelo trees as well!  I added 4 pomelos to my “bag”, and returned to the group, where we decided I had a large citrus baby that I was carrying around.  On the walk back to the car, we also found lemon trees, so naturally I had to feed the citrus baby, and added four lemons to my sweatshirt.  By the time we got home, I had 4 pomelos, 4 lemons, and 11 clementines in my sweatshirt, and that does not include the 4 clementines I ate on the way home, or any other clementines my roommates ate!

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We had a nice drive back to back to one of our friend’s apartments where we hung out for a few hours watching movies, before we had to head back to drop the car off.  As we were getting ready to leave, I got to FaceTime with my puppy!!!  It was absolutely such an amazing call, and Savannah and I had a great conversation!  She even brought me her rope to play with, and tried to talk quite a bit!  Good thing she had my mom on the other side to actually play with the rope with her (thanks mom!), but maybe one day she’ll figure out I can’t actually play with the rope on my end!

The car then had to be returned to the airport, and we took the rental car shuttle to the terminal to be able to catch the train.  Walking into Ben Gurion was hands down, the hardest part of the day.  I did not like the feeling of walking into the airport, even knowing I was not yet leaving the country.  It definitely showed me that my time here is NOT done, and the end of this year is coming much too fast.  We went downstairs to catch the train which goes to Haifa, where we had to switch to another train for the journey back to Migdal HaEmek.  One of the “joys” of Shabbat, is the lack of public transportation.  Unfortunately, there is only one train from Haifa to Migdal HaEmek on Saturday nights, and therefore there is only one bus from the train station back to our apartment.  To top it off, our train was 30 minutes late, meaning our bus was going to leave without us.  Luckily, we have been truly blessed with amazing friends who live in this area.  We started making phone calls, and one of our friends agreed to meet us at the train station to drive us home.This was just one of the many constant reminders of the generosity of Israelis and the reason I chose to stay in Detroit’s Partnership region!

We finally arrived back home after a long, amazing day of exploring.  Today was such a great, relaxing way to spend Shabbat.  I enjoyed traveling with my roomies, and look forward to wherever our next roomie road-trip takes us!

Halfway There

I truly don’t know how I got here to be writing a blog post about being halfway through my wonderful program.  It seems like just yesterday I was meeting my new roommates and moving into my apartment in Migdal HaEmek.  But, as my roommate so kindly reminded me as I began this blog, today marks our 5 month “anniversary” of living in this apartment together.  I cannot believe how fast time has flown!  These last 5 months have been filled with amazing new friends, memories, trips, and experiences that can only be explained as once in a lifetime!  Since the halfway point snuck up on me so fast, I thought I would take the time to compile my thoughts and share my experiences up through this point.

Most importantly in this journey, has been working in the school.  I am very blessed to have an incredible host teacher that I get to work with almost everyday.  She is always open to new ideas, and we work extremely well together.  I truly feel as though we have become close friends over the course of the last few months.  She has already invited me to spend the upcoming Passover Seder with her and her family.  In the small groups I pull, I am having so much fun.  It is amazing to be able to play games with my students that get them interested in and actually speaking the English language.  Every class starts with a ball.  I ask a basic question, like “What’s your name?” or “What is your favorite food?” and toss the ball to a student, who then answers.  Even though my students know to every lesson starts this way, they are always so excited when they see me take the ball out of my bag!  We recently got 2 new students, a 4th grader and a 6th grader, who have previously lived in Miami for two years.  My teacher is worried that they may lose their English because it is not spoken very often in the north of Israel, so I have been working closely with the 4th grader.  I found some reading comprehension tasks and some kindle books that are closer to her reading level, so that she can continue to progress.  We also spent almost an entire lesson, sitting and just talking, which was truly incredible.  She had so much fun telling me about her pet snake and about life in Miami.  It has been incredible to offer her the opportunity to just sit and talk in English, because none of her friends, and most of her teachers, are not able to offer the same thing.

Outside of school, living in Migdal HaEmek has been amazing.  Our apartment is the perfect size for us and to have friends over from time to time.  And, the first bar in Migdal HaEmek has officially opened, right outside of our building!  A man, who previously lived in the states and had bars in New York and Florida decided to move back home and open a sports bar here.  He gets all of the Israeli games, like basketball and football (the real kind), but also has channels to watch American sports!  The first time I ventured down to the bar, there happened to be a Red Wings game on, and I got to cheer on my favorite hockey team from halfway around the world, even if they are doing absolutely terrible this year.  Maybe my being able to watch them and cheer them on, they’ll be able to turn this season around and actually start winning!  I’m still not quite sure how life will go on if they don’t make the playoffs, I’ve never been alive to see that!  We had planned to throw a Superbowl party there tomorrow, but since kickoff is so late, the game isn’t actually until around 3 am here.

For Shabbat, when I don’t go to Tel Aviv, I have had the amazing opportunity to go to different host families to share Shabbat dinner with them.  The last few weeks, my roommate and I have gone together to three different families, all of whom are amazing.  I feel so connected to both the land and the people here, I am truly feeling more at home in
Israel every single day.

In the next five months, I have a lot that I am looking forward to.  I am planning my first ever trip to Europe, in which I will visit Berlin, Amsterdam, and London.  I get to spend my first Passover in the Holy Land.  Every year, at the Passover Seder, we say “Next year in Jerusalem,” and, this year, I will be in the Land of Milk and Honey to celebrate the holiday.  In addition to Passover, we have Purim, Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day), and Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day).  Growing up as a Jew in the US, I learned about all of these holidays in Sunday school, but getting to actually celebrate these holidays IN Israel is such an amazing opportunity, that I am very much looking forward to.  There is also an upcoming Detroit Birthright trip coming in May that not only will I be helping to plan some of, but hopefully my brother will be on the trip, so I will get the chance to see him as well!

As far as what’s next?  I am still unsure.   While I still have another 5 months left on my program, I can tell you now that my time in Israel is not over.  I just had my second interview for a summer English teaching program here, that would extend my stay at least through the end of July.  While I wait to hear back if I have gotten accepted or not, I am already looking into job opportunities here in Israel, if I were to decide to stay.  I know of another year long teaching program that I have begun to look at, but I am not sure if I am eligible yet.  If I were be afforded the amazing opportunity to take part in both the summer program and the year-long program, I would hopefully have the chance to come back home to see friends in August.  If I end up not being able to do the year long program, I think my current plan is to move back home for a few months while I file the paperwork to move back here.  And, even with that idea, plans change.  I have no idea what the next five months will give me.

Being an American Jew Abroad

Before I left for Israel, everyone sent (and continues) to send me well wishes and told me to be safe.  It made sense, seeing as I would be living in a country where terrorism attacks are unfortunately common.  But, my response was always that I felt safer, especially as a teacher, living in Israel, than I would living and teaching in a school in the US.  It’s not that I don’t appreciate every single well wish and prayer I have received, I absolutely do, but it’s more that I want people to continue to be aware of the world that we all live in.

 My scariest day in Israel to date was absolutely January 9th.  Surprisingly, this was not the day that I traveled to Jerusalem, and there happened to a terror attack in the city.  Rather, it was the day of the first round of bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers around the US.  As I was leaving Ulpan, my Hebrew lesson, that evening, I got an update to my phone from a news app, saying that there were bomb threats in 6 states.  By the time I returned to my apartment, that number had grown to 8 states.  My first thoughts went immediately to my mom.  While none of the reports had said anything about Michigan being targeted, I was unsure how much more the list would grow.  To make matters worse, I was unable to reach my mom, who works at the Jewish Federation and spends time for her job at the West Bloomfield JCC.  I immediately called my dad, who also had not heard from my mom, and said he would also try to call her.  After an agonizing 15 minutes of not being sure where my mom was, or if she was OK, I finally got a phone call from her, letting me know that she was completely fine, and Michigan had not been affected by the bomb threats.  My tears flowed, and the sense of relief was overwhelming.  The next morning I woke up to see the final tally of 9 states and 16 centers affected by these bomb threats .

 Nine days later, I got a message from my mom.  There was another wave of bomb threats to JCCs, and this time the JCC in West Bloomfield was called.  She had messaged me to say that she was fine, and that she was not in the building when it happened.  The West Bloomfield JCC was just one of 27 JCCs in 17 states affected by this second round of terrible threats.  I am still so grateful that my mom was able to be the one who updated me before I saw it on the news.  Two days ago, a third wave of these threats happened, targeting at least 17 more JCCs.  And, to top it of, I woke up this morning to a status update from a friend stating that the Jewish day school in my area received a stand-alone threat.  These disgusting people are targeting children solely because they are Jewish.  

 I have always been lucky to live in an area where I did not have to be scared to be who I was.  All of my friends growing up knew I was Jewish.  Throughout high school, I participated in NFTY, a Jewish youth group, and often shared stories from the Kallot, or weekend retreats.  Even in college, I was able to be completely open about my religion, and enjoyed sharing some of my Jewish customs with some of my curious friends.   Living in Israel has only increased my connection to Judaism.  But, seeing all of these bomb threats going on in the U.S. truly makes me rethink about how open I once was about my being Jewish.  I am still unsure where my life will take me, but if I end up living back in the United States, I will have to do some deep reflection to see how open I can be about my religion, and that terrifies me.  I truly cannot imagine living in a place where I am scared to be authentically me.  Too many Jewish people already lost their lives simply by being who they were, and I refuse to live in fear for how I live my life.

Finally, to all of my friends and family living back home in the United States, please know that I am with you.  I continually try to find ways to fight the oppression happening in our country.  Whether that is going to the Women’s Solidarity March in Tel Aviv on January 21st, or calling Senators and House Representatives to let them know my thoughts on political issues, I try to make sure my voice is still heard, even from half a world away.  If there is anything more I can do to help, both generally and personally, I am just a phone call or message away.  I truly love and miss you all.  Stay safe in this crazy world of ours. ❤

Masa GLI Change Retreat: A Weekend “Away”

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Remembering back to high school, I think about my many weekends spent at NFTY kallot, and spending shabbat with many amazing friends.  This past weekend took me back to those amazing times.  Thursday morning, I was up bright and early to make my way to Kibbutz Kramim, a kibbutz just north of Be’er Sheva, where I spent three days with 90 other amazing individuals who had been at the Leadership Summit back in November.  So, what made the Masa GLI Change Retreat different from the Leadership Summit?  Everything!

While everyone in attendance at the Change Retreat was also at the Leadership Summit, the sense of community was very different.  It was a much smaller group, so not only did I continue to bond with friends from before, I was able to meet many new people.  I was surprised by the amount of people I did not remember from the week long seminar we had previously.  But, even with so many “new” faces, the sense of community was even stronger.  Before, the sheer amount of people was overwhelming, so many people tended to stick with friends from their own program.  At the Change Retreat, however, with less people, it felt as if we were one giant family.

On Friday, we all had the opportunity to go on different exposure visits.  The visit I chose took us to Sderot, a city on the border of Gaza.  This city used to be famous for its musicians and artists, but is more recently known for being a war-torn city.  I was not only excited to be able to see the city of Sderot and the different things they have put into place to try to keep life as normal as possible, no matter the current political situation, but also to see what life is like post-war.  We started at an breath-taking overlook, where we were able to see Gaza on one side, Sderot on the other, and the military zone with tanks right in the middle.  The rest of the Sderot tour, unfortunately was not what I had hoped.  We went to a woman’s house to hear her talk about the urban kibbutz that she started in a section of the city.  After her talk, another woman came to the same house to speak about her musician and artist cooperative that she started in the city.  While both talks were interesting, they both went on for too long, and we did not get a chance to see any of the actual city.  As a friend from the retreat put it, I can now say I have been to Sderot, but I still feel like I have never been to Sderot.  I would love to be able to go back and see some of the things that make up life in this amazing city.  While speaking with my mom on the phone, she told me that JNF has created underground playgrounds inside bomb shelters to try and cut down on the extremely high PTSD rate in children.  That, to me, shows what life would be like.  When our group returned to the kibbutz to debrief about the visit, many of us shared the same feelings about this visit.  I can only hope that our comments will be taken into consideration for next time!

 

The truly special part of the Change Retreat came that evening, when we, as a group, came together to celebrate Shabbat.  Being from all different countries, I loved hearing some of the different melodies to the prayers, but also having so many people sing along to the more camp-y melodies from back home.  That evening, after dinner, we broke into small groups and did a small Beit Midrash, where we all read and learned from different texts from the Torah.  We finished off that evening with some Cards Against Humanity and an incredible jam session.  We sang for hours, and it truly brought me back to NFTY and camp times, sitting with friends, and listening to the guitar.

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Kevin, our mascot, came out to play Cards Against Humanity with us!

Saturday was also a more relaxed day.  We had two main sessions that day, one lead by different participants, and one lead by one of the facilitators.  The participant led session I went to was on food systems and policy.  We discussed some of the different policies in the US, and how they make it difficult for everyone to have access to food.  The facilitator session was all about story telling and how to tell a story in a way to convey a specific message.  Three people in my group were brave enough to share their stories with the entire group.  I am always fascinated to learn more about where people come from through hearing their stories.  After that session, we had some free time, and I got to visit the Kibbutz’s horses!  They have a huge barn area with at least 20 different horses.  Someone brought a bag of apples so we were able to feed them, as well!

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One of the many horses!

Our weekend together ended with the Havdallah ceremony, which I had the opportunity to help plan.  In addition to the prayers, we were supposed to have a bonding activity that would leave everyone feeling good, so we decided to do the “Tap someone on the shoulder who…”  Due to a lack of time, we changed it to “Look at someone who…,” which worked almost as well.  Then we went through a quick explanation of the different parts of Havdallah, each followed by its blessing.  When we finished the ceremony, the entire room broke out into the “camp” version of the blessings.  We sang all the way through, with our arms around each other.  This was just one of the many moments of the weekend where I truly came to realize I have made a new family here in Israel; a family that consists of people from all over the world.  I truly could not have asked for a better weekend or for better people to spend it with.  And, while it makes me sad to know that some of these people are at the end of their Masa programs and will be leaving soon, there are plenty more that are staying that I can continue to share this wonderful year with!

Terror Strikes Again.

I hate to follow such a happy blog post so immediately with one filled with sadness, but I also felt that I needed to express my feelings of what happened today in Jerusalem.  Today, a group of young soldiers had gotten off of their group bus to do some training exercises together.  They had no clue that their day would end by getting run over, not once, but TWICE by a terrorist in a large truck.  4 soldiers have already passed away from this attack, and at least 16 more are injured.  To put it in perspective, these soldiers are not even MY AGE.  One of the fallen soldiers was 22, and the other three were only 20.  These four that left our world today were absolutely too young and did not deserve to come to such a fate.

One thing that truly upset me, aside from the actual incident, was the terrible reporting in the world news and social media.  Yet again, I have seen a world news article from a reliable source, this time BBC, “forgetting” to mention what actually happened in their tweet of the breaking news.bbc-tweet

BBC’s tweet started by saying that the “Driver of lorry shot in Jerusalem.”  Not that the attack was done by a terrorist.  Not that 4 soldiers were killed and over 16 more injured, after being run over twice.  They started with the driver was shot.  EXCUSE ME?  And, this is not new.  I just took a screenshot of this tweet at 8:30 pm, 7 hours after the attack happened.  This literally kills me inside to know that when these attacks finally get reported to world media, they are done so in such a horrendous fashion.  Even when your read the article, it takes BBC until the 6th paragraph to finally call this terrible man what he actually is, a TERRORIST.  And then, BBC refuses to use that word again in the article, referring to him as the driver.  They even decided to talk about the terrorist’s family and the four children he had before even mentioning the victims.  And, in case you are unsure of how these attacks work in Israel, the Palestinian Authority pays a monthly stipend to any family who had a member die while killing Israelis.  The terrorist’s family will now be taken care of, because as Hamas reported, the terrorist “Died in a heroic act.”

In addition to the horrible news reporting, there was nothing on social media about it.  We have all seen in recent months the “_______ marked him/her/them self safe,” on Facebook.  So, why was that not an option for this terror attack?  Was it not “big” enough?  Is it that Facebook thinks these attacks happen too often to allow us to mark ourselves safe?  Either way, I have so many friends and family living in and around Jerusalem, not to mention the fact that it is currently Birthright season, so I have many friends visiting as well.  I am lucky enough to be in close contact with many of these people to know right away that they are safe.  But to all of my friends and family living halfway around the world?  Being able to mark myself safe in such a situation could help put a lot of people’s minds at ease.  Also, I know that Facebook allows this type of thing in Israel.  It is not a matter of location.  During the terrible fires that stuck our nation  in November and December, I had plenty of friends and family mark themselves safe.  But, apparently, terror attacks in Israel are not important enough for Facebook to allow that as an option.

I know these terror attacks are something that  plague this amazing nation that I call home.  But, I hope that the way that the news and social media covered this attack can be a wake up call for all of my friends around the world to try to get a better grasp on our everyday life.

Baruch Dayan HaEmet:

2nd Lt. Yael Yekutiel (20) from Givatayim

Cadet Shir Chajaj (22) from Maale Adumim

Cadet Shira Tzur (20) from Haifa

Cadet Erez Orbach (20) from Alon Shvut

May your memories be for a blessing.

Chanukah with My Parents

For the last week and a half of December, and the first few days of January, I had the amazing privilege of traveling this incredible country with my parents.  For the holiday of Chanukah, the schools in Israel have a break.  I took one day off of school at the beginning of the break to spend as much time as possible with my parents.  On December 21, they landed in Tel Aviv very early in the morning, so I went to school and planned to meet them there once they actually had a chance to sleep.  After I left school, I traveled to Tel Aviv, and got to Abraham Hostel, where they stayed, at the perfect time.  As I called the elevator, the elevator doors opened to reveal my parents, surprised I had made it Tel Aviv earlier than anticipated!  We went out for “breakfast” and then walked around the city for awhile, catching up on life.  We stayed one more night at the hostel, and in the morning, made the trek south.

The drive from Tel Aviv to Eilat is 3 hours and 45 minutes.  We made a few pit-stops along the way to take pictures at various overlooks through the Negev, Israel’s desert.  We got to Kibbutz Ketura, our home for the next few days, and decided to go to Kibbutz Yotvata, a famous dairy farm for dinner and ice cream.  It was a nice way to start our journey through the Holy Land.  The next day was spent in the city of Eilat, where we went to Coral World, an aquarium with an underwater observatory.  We got there just in time to see the shark feeding, and then we continued to explore the different parts of the aquarium.  It was amazing to go into their underwater area and see the actual reefs and fish of the Red Sea.  After the aquarium, we continued back into the main part of town to try to find lunch.  What we didn’t realize, was that it was already 2 pm on a Friday, so many places were shutting down.  We found a pizza place that was still open, but they spoke very limited English, so I was very happy that I was able to make our order completely in Hebrew!  We returned back to the kibbutz to rest for awhile, and then joined them for Shabbat services.  One thing that I love about Judaism, is that wherever you are in the world, you can always recognize the prayers, because they will always be in Hebrew!  The services ended with a communal dinner in the dining hall.  We sat with a family of Russian immigrants who have lived on the kibbutz for many years.

The next day was an incredibly beautiful, but slightly stressful day.  Saturday was the day we went to Petra, in Jordan.  We got to the border around 7:45 am, and had to wait for it to open at 8:00.  We walked up to the Israeli passport control, and of course, I had an issue.  Unfortunately, sometimes the Consulates and Embassies do not communicate very well with the Ministry of Interior, so when I arrived to Israel back in August, even though my Visa is good until July 2017, the blue card that everyone gets upon entering Israel said I only had until September 2016.  The Israeli passport control said that I should be fine, and eventually let me through.  We continued on the 2 1/2 hour drive to the gorgeous Petra.  Words truly cannot express the natural beauty of the place, and there is no doubt in my mind that it deserves its place on the Seven Wonders of the World list.  In total, Petra is about a 4 km walk downhill from the start to the end.  The entrance to the city was created from an earthquake that caused a mountain to separate.  For about 2 km, you are walking along the actual fault line, between the two sides of the separated mountain.  At the end of that part of the walk, the mountain opens to the gorgeous Treasury building.  It is incredible, the amount of work it must have taken to carve that building from the face of a mountain.  The “ladder” steps they carved on the side in order to carve the very top were still visible today.  With every step we took, there was more to explore and more to see.  We continued down to the bottom where we were able to see the Royal Tombs.  Our tour guide then gave us about an hour of “free time” to make it back to the top, where we would meet.  My parents and I decided to walk the 4 km back up, but when we turned around to start our hike, we could see the clouds rolling in from the top of the mountains.  The clouds got thicker and thicker as we ascended, and it felt almost like being in the scene of a horror film.  By the time we made it back to the top, we were fully immersed in a cloud, and pretty thoroughly soaked.  Our tour then took us to a restaurant for lunch that was supposed to have incredible food and a view.  While the food absolutely lived up to expectations, we couldn’t see out to the window because the clouds were so thick!  At 4 pm, we started our drive back to the border, but the clouds hadn’t lifted at all.  We had to drive extremely slow.  The only way we stayed on the road was with the driver watching for the left line of the lane and our tour guide watching the right line of the lane, to make sure we didn’t fall off of a cliff.  Our biggest worry was that we wouldn’t make it back to the border before it closed at 8:00 that evening.  Once we got out of the mountains, we also made it out of the clouds, and our driver did everything he could to get us back on time.  We came rushing into the border parking lot at 7:55, and we were the last group they allowed to cross back into Israel!  Unfortunately, I came across the same issue with my blue card coming back into the country.  The passport control did not take away my Visa, but reissued my blue card with only a month on it, and now I have to go to the Ministry of Interior to get it fixed.  Overall, it was an incredible day!

Day 4 was spent making the drive back north, but this time we made a stop, about halfway, in Mitzpe Ramon, a huge crater in the center of the Negev.  I remember repelling at the crater when I was in Israel in high school.  We spent the night in a not so nice hostel, but it was only for one night!  The next day was spent exploring the crater and with me climbing as much as I could.  I found a set of stairs at one point that led down to a ledge where I found two ibeks (the Israeli “deer”) fighting.  I spent a lot of time taking pictures, until my mom starting yelling for me to make sure I was ok.  We also took time to go into the museum at the visitor’s center, which I had never been in before.  The first half of the museum spoke about Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut that was aboard the Columbia Spacecraft when it crashed in 2003.  I remember hearing the news of Ilan Ramon, and being excited to have an Israeli going to space with NASA, and then the sadness of hearing of the Columbia’s fate.

Our journey then continued north, to Jerusalem, where we stayed for 5 days.  We did all of the typical “Jerusalem” things, including the shuk, Ben Yehuda street, and the Old City.  Our first night, I took my parents to an amazing restaurant, Azura (highly recommend that everyone goes there!)  We then walked around Machane Yehuda, the shuk or open air market,  and we found a giant menorah that was about to be lit.  While standing around waiting, I saw a friend I had met on the Leadership summit back in November!  It was wonderful to be able to catch-up!  We returned to the hostel for what we thought would be a restful night.  Whenever I go on vacation with my parents, I have to were earplugs to sleep, because both of my parents snore.  So, this first night in the hostel, I am sleeping peacefully on the top bunk, above my mom, when all of a sudden, I start to get kicked awake.  I take out an earplug and ask my mom what is going on, to which she asked me if the fire alarm was going off!  As she woke my dad up, I jumped out of bed and opened our door, to which I immediately noticed that (1) yes, the first alarm was definitely going off, and (2) I smelled smoke, and we needed to get out of the building.  Now, our room was right between to fire doors, which is why the alarm was not loud enough to wake my dad or I up, but that also meant we had a staircase directly outside of our door.  We proceeded to the exit, which put us on the rooftop of the building next door.  My dad found a second set of stairs that took us down to the road.  We all congregated right outside the front doors, where we were notified that the dumpster right outside of the building had been lit on fire and the smoke made its way inside.  So, while it was good that we woke up, there was never any actual danger to anyone staying at the hostel.  My view of the whole thing?  Jerusalem really wanted to welcome my parents and I and make sure we were celebrating the Festival of Lights as best we could!

The next day was forecasted to have lots of rain start midday.  We decided to start at Mount Herzl, the military cemetery.  It was my dad’s first time going, and my first time since Shimon Perez’s funeral.  It was truly wonderful to be able to be able to attend such an amazing human’s funeral, and then to return with my parents to see his final resting place.  Our day continued at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Museum, and then we went, of all places, to the hospital.  Hadassah Hospital, Ein Kerem, is an amazing hospital in the outskirts of Jerusalem, and they have a synagogue inside with 12 amazing handmade stained glass windows made by Marc Chagall.  Each window depicts one of the 12 tribes of Israel, and are truly a work of art.  That evening, we could not find a restaurant that was both open, and close (because of the rain), so we went to a grocery store to pick up some food, and I cooked my first “Israeli” dinner for my parents of kafta kebabs, spiced meat sausages, and bourekas, savory cheese filled pastries.  The next few days were spent touring the Old City and meeting up with friends.  Our last night in Jerusalem, we went to Ma’ale Adumim to celebrate Chanukah with some amazing friends.  We enjoyed a fabulous dinner followed by an even better dessert of homemade sfinge, a type of deep fried donut.  It was amazing to be able to catch up with these friends and to spend time with their two wonderfully energetic kids!

Friday morning, we headed back to Machane Yehuda to buy some food for Shabbat dinner before heading further north, to Migdal HaEmek, where I am living.  We took the bus up to the “Capital of the North,” Afula, where we rented a car so we could travel easier while up here.  For dinner that night, I had invited one of the teaching fellows from Nazareth Ilit over (everyone else was busy), and, of course, I made shakshuka.  I enjoyed being able to show my parents my apartment and introduce them to at least one of the people I have been spending my year with.  The next day I took my parents to the Arab city of Nazareth, to show them the best hummus around, and to go to the Church of Annunciation.  The church is said to be built on the site of Mary’s childhood home, and has mosaic depictions of Mary and baby Jesus that have been donated from many countries around the world.  We ended the day with dinner at our family’s house in Haifa.  Last time I was there, I was told that upon returning, I would have to speak in only Hebrew.  I was pretty proud that, while I was not speaking all Hebrew, I was able to speak about 50/50 English and Hebrew!  That night was New Years Eve, so my parents had a quiet night at their hotel, while I went to a friends house to celebrate!  The next day was spent at Rosh Hanikra, and area right on the coastal border between Israel and Lebanon.  They have natural made grottoes along with man made tunnels through the side of the mountain that the border sits on.  The water inside the grottoes are so crystal clear blue, even with the waters being rough from recent storms.  On our way back to Migdal HaEmek, we stopped in Acre, a city that sits on the northern side of the Haifa Bay, for a hummus dinner.  I personally liked the Nazareth hummus more, but the shawarma in Acre was the best shawarma I have EVER eaten!

For our last day together, I took my parents to school to see what my typical day is like.  They saw me take out my small groups and got to talk with my teacher about what the English program is like.  After a coffee and food break at a local restaurant with an amazing friend and colleague of my mom’s, we went north again to Tsfat.  We spent time exploring the small streets of the market, and saw many of the different synagogues of the area.  Last time I was in Tsfat, 2 years ago, I was celebrating the Bar Mitzvah of some of the participants on my Birthright, so this time I was able to find the same rooftop, and take a picture of the incredible view.  We continued to wander, and found the maker of Tsfat cheese, a family that has been making incredible cheese for 7 generations!  I got some white, salty, Tsfat cheese, and some incredible blue cheese.  Tsfat is filled with amazing artists, so as we were wandering back to the car, we stopped in a shop that sold Pandora-type charms, and found a pomegranate charm that both my mom and I fell in love with.  We each got one, so we will now having matching charms, commemorating this amazing trip together!  For our last dinner together, we went to a restaurant in Tiberias, on the Sea of Galilee. My mom has had friends that have recommended this restaurant to her, and by all means, those recommendations were absolutely correct!  By far, this was one of the best meals that I have eaten since being in Israel!  The food was so fresh and tasted absolutely amazing!  My parents then drove me back to my apartment, and we said our final goodbyes.  While this year in its entirety is a once in a lifetime opportunity, my parents being able to come and spend two weeks with me traveling through this country I love was a memory I will keep and treasure for as long as I live.

I love you Mom and Dad!  And, who knows?  Maybe there will be more trips in future years ;)!

Winter Has Arrived!

The last few weeks have been so busy with teaching, trips with Bina, and many trips to Tel Aviv, so I haven’t posted in a few weeks.  But, in those weeks, Winter in Israel has officially arrived!  While it is not like the 8 inches of snow overnight Winter, like I am used to in Michigan, Winter in Israel typically means rain.  Knowing that I am living in a desert, I expected showers, or the occasional short downpour.  Boy, was I wrong!

The cool down started in November, accompanied by the occasional sprinkle.  But December 1st hit with rain I NEVER would have expected!  All day had some pretty decent downpours, and to top it off, we were traveling that evening to Tel Aviv for the weekend.  That night, we had a meeting with our pedagogical advisor, so we had packed for the weekend ahead of time, and decided to bring all of our stuff to the meeting so we could get on the first bus afterwards.  Unfortunately, as we left our apartment to get to the meeting on time, one of the biggest rainstorms I have seen in a long while decided to start, soaking not just us, but our bags as well.  This first rain also showed me that my light rain coat will not cut it this year.  Halfway through our walk, I decided to stop and buy an umbrella, as I did not have one.   We finally got to our meeting very wet and cold, and luckily none of my important things got too wet.  After the meeting, we walked in the rain to our bus stop where we then got on a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to our destination.  Of course, it was also raining in Tel Aviv.  We briefly stopped at our friend’s apartment to drop off our stuff before we ventured out to a bar where we had a reunion party from the Leadership Summit I went to a few weeks ago.  By the time we got to the bar, the streets in Tel Aviv were completely flooded, almost knee deep in some spots.  The good thing was that everyone was cold and wet, so no one really cared!  Then, of course it was still raining on my walk home, and in Israel, I have learned that rain also means wind, and quite a lot of it.  My new umbrella that I had just bought broke the same day I bought it!  Overall, while the rain was inconvenient, it was truly a blessing to Israel, as this was also right at the end of the many wildfires that plagued the country, so the amount of rain was absolutely needed.

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A picture from a taxi in Tel Aviv. Photo cred: Ben Slutzky

Since the first, there have many days with small showers, until this week.  Yesterday, the 13th, I was woken up around 3 am to the sound of thunder and another huge rainstorm.  I closed our shutter to try and keep some of the noise out and hoped that the rain would subside by the time I actually woke up for school.  Of course, I then woke up to my alarm at 6:30, with just as much rain as three hours previously.  Yesterday was also my first day working at the middle school, which is about a 15 minute walk.  So, with a not-good-enough raincoat, and no umbrella, since I haven’t had a chance to replace the first one, I trekked to school, quite thoroughly soaked by the time I arrived.  I only each for 3 hours at the middle school, so I was getting ready to leave at 11:45, when the sky decided once again to downpour.  For the walk home, the English coordinator offered me an extra umbrella of hers, but, I also decided that this was the perfect day to take a bus home.  I do not think that the rain ever actually stopped that night or into this morning.  Luckily, my teacher from the elementary school is amazingly nice and drives me to school everyday, so I did not get wet on the way to school.  The way home, though, was a different story.  My teacher had meetings all afternoon, so I walked home.  To top it off, I checked the weather this morning, which said it would stop raining by 10 am, and be fully sunny the rest of the day.  So, where else would the umbrella from the middle school teacher be, than sitting in my apartment.  Again, the amazing hospitality of Israelis helped me.  The elementary school teacher also had an extra umbrella that she offered me.  But, of course the rain was accompanied by wind.  I have never in my life had an umbrella break inwards before today.  I got back to my apartment wet and cold, yet again.

Living in Migdal HaEmek, all this rain has led to a fun game! Migdal HaEmek is located very close to Ramat David Air Force Base. My roommate and I have started trying to guess whether the sound we hear is a fighter jet or thunder.  But with all of this, I continue to remind myself daily how amazing this rain is, and how incredibly needed it is.  Israel is in a very bad drought, and always needs more rain.  But, I also have to admit, if the Winter continues like this, by mid to late January, I might just miss snow (I said might, so no holding me to anything!)