While I may have just referenced “Pitch Perfect” for my sister, and while I am making sure I am in fact getting some quality shut-eye (don’t worry, mom), it is true that in this country, there is so much to do and so much to see that you are simply missing out when you are in bed dreaming instead of living. And living my dream is what I am doing.
Since I last checked in, I was starting to get into the swing of things with classes and living in Haifa. Now that I am a little more comfortable, I have been taking advantage of exploring as much of this beautiful and diverse country as I possibly can. I kind of hate how I am only here in Israel for three months. It’s just not enough time. It’s amazing how fast time has flown by as well. I’m in my fourth week here in Israel already.
But on to my last two weeks, in which I have made sure that I have made the most of my time and lived to the fullest!
When most people think of Israel from a cultural stance, I’m sure one of the first things people imagine in their heads is an image most-likely comprised of the city of Jerusalem filled with lots of religious people and historical sites. Now take that image in your head and factor in an all-night concert with three of some of the biggest names in the global music industry right now. Yup!
Israelis know how to party all-night long, that’s for sure. Last week, I went to the “Minus 424 Dead Sea Rave” at Masada, which is one of my absolute favorite sites in Israel. To be able to experience Masada in this kind of atmosphere and environment was nothing short of extraordinary and an experience that I will remember for a lifetime. I took a four-hour bus from Haifa all the way down to the-middle-of-nowhere in the Negev Desert just to get to Masada. After almost missing the bus by five minutes because they last-minute decided to change the departure location (and forgot to notify the “English-speaking customers…” whoops!), I finally made it and met up with my cousin Lauren, her boyfriend Yoav, and her little group of friends. We danced the whole night long and had the best time ever. At times, I just kind of stood there in awe as the moon was setting and was like: “Woah! There it is. That’s Masada.” I, personally, can’t believe that we made it to sunrise at 6am, but we did it somehow! We were all filled with such excitement and adrenaline the entire night as we partied with David Guetta, Steve Angello, and Israel’s own Infected Mushroom, so I’m sure that helped us stay awake! Sunrise at Masada is one of the most beautiful things you could ever experience in your lifetime. It was beautiful. Being at the concert was an awesome feeling as I was there with thousands of other Israelis and people from around the world as we danced the night away to welcome in Shabbat. It was definitely an experience that I will never forget.
"The Lowest Place on Earth"
Me with my cousin, Lauren, at Minus 424
Up close at Minus 424
In awe of Masada
In Judaism, the main purpose around our culture is to celebrate life and living. I think that’s why I love being a Jew so much and why my Jewish identity has had such a profound effect on who I am for all of my life. Being at the concert (at Masada of all places) and making my way around this land has made me realize that this is how Israelis live their life. Whether it be sitting down at the table for Shabbat with family and/or friends each Friday night or dancing at a concert, Israelis make sure that they live life to the fullest. They like to have fun, celebrate happy moments, and not waste time living their life. Maybe this is why Israel is “one of the happiest countries to live in.” This aspect of Judaism, to me, is the biggest cultural component I have noticed that has rubbed off in Israeli culture and on all Israelis, religious and secular alike. It’s just not the same in America. It’s hard to explain the feeling that you get when you’re in this country, but you just can’t help but have a smile on your face at all times. It’s contagious! The United States has a lot to learn from Israel in terms of everyday life.
Israeli pride at Minus 424
Once the concert ended, I slept like a baby on the bus all the way back up to Haifa. Traveling never seemed so quick before! Once I got back to campus, I quickly washed up, dressed up in nicer clothes, and quickly made my way down to the train station as I was about to visit this beautiful little town called Zichron Yakov. Once I arrived, I was greeted by the former Israeli Fellow at USF Hillel, Idit Hacham. It was so great to see Idit again, this time in Israel. Since it was Shabbat, she invited me to her family’s house for a beautiful Shabbat dinner. But before we got to her house, she gave me a little tour of her town that she loves so much.
Idit and I in Zichron Yakov
Let me just tell you guys, Zichron Yakov was one of the most perfect towns I have ever seen in my life. As we were walking down “The Wine Road” (Zichron Yakov’s main street), Idit was telling me about the historical origins of the town dating back to the First Aliyah in 1882, founding Zichron Yakov as one of the first modern Jewish settlements in Israel. As you walk down “The Wine Road,” you’ll notice that all of the shops and restaurants look like houses. That’s because they actually are houses! They were the houses of the original founders and some of the first residents. “The Wine Road” is Zichron Yakov’s way of preserving their history and integrating it into the unique culture of the town today, which now hosts close to 20,000 residents. Part of the town’s culture are the wineries (hence how their main street is called “The Wine Road”). I guess you can say that Zichron Yakov is like the “Napa Valley of Israel.” While I didn’t get a chance to visit a winery on my last visit, I do plan to return to Zichron Yakov sometime before I leave to do a wine and chocolate tour at one of the wineries. Many students in my program have actually trekked-on-down to Zichron Yakov already to visit one of the famous wineries.
"The Wine Road" in Zichron Yakov
After we made our way around Zichron Yakov, we finally arrived to Idit’s gorgeous home. Her family could not be any more nice either. They spoiled me big time with an unbelievably big and scrumptious Shabbat dinner. The food was amazing! I definitely slipped into a “food coma” later that night because I stuffed myself until I physically could not put food to my mouth anymore. It was worth it!
Shabbat dinner at the Hacham's
Fast forward a week later to this past weekend and I made sure that I did not waste a moment again. This time, I traveled a little further down to a town called Ra’anana, which is located just outside of Herzliya. From there, I stayed the weekend with family friends who moved to Israel about eight years ago. I grew up with Tali, the oldest child of the family, ever since we were in mommy-and-me together. It was so great to spend time with Tali and her family after all these years. It’s amazing how we were able to pick up right where we left off.
Spending time with them this weekend introduced me to suburban life in Israel. Let me just say that they do it right! While you have a car, you really don’t need it. All of the houses in Ra’anana are very close together, so you walk! Where they live is a town where there are many Anglo-speaking families who have moved to Israel. When I say that though, it doesn’t mean that they are not “authentic Israelis.” They are very much Israelis now in the way that they live their everyday life and have adopted the Hebrew language (as well as their native English language). It’s easy to get bit by the bug! Spending time with them and meeting their friends was so wonderful. I had such a great time learning their new way of life and seeing how they have totally adapted to Israeli society.
During my time with them, we actually went trick-or-treating, something which they say is the “first time they have ever trick-or-treated in their eight years of living in Israel.” The Halloween event was put on by the U.S. Embassy and was attended by over 900 kids. It was quite fun! While I was there, I had the chance to meet the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Ambassador Dan Shapiro. Ambassador Shapiro was a very cool guy! I enjoyed having the chance to meet with him and getting the chance to talk with him about a wide-range of topics inside his own house. All of us there even played “Heads Up” together, which was really a lot of fun. I had to keep reminding myself that he was the U.S. Ambassador because he was such a normal and nice guy. Since I have been in Israel, it is clear that Ambassador Shapiro has become something of a “rock-star” in this country. We even joked around about it as we talked. Part of the reason why Israelis really love him is because he’s a very relatable guy who can speak the Hebrew language like a native and is able to go on these talk shows and paint a different picture of the U.S.-Israeli relationship. He is a very impressive guy and it was an honor to meet him in that type of environment.
Tali and I trick-or-treating with the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Amb. Dan Shapiro
Me in front of the U.S. Ambassador's residence
The next morning, I hopped on an early morning bus from Ra’anana and made my way even more down to Jerusalem, where I met up with my program for a day-tour of the Old City quarters. I had been to the Old City once before on my Taglit-Birthright trip, but it was just as exciting the second time around. What I liked about this visit was how I got to explore all of the quarters in the Old City, not just the Jewish quarter.
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Obviously, as a Jew, I don’t have much of a personal connection to Jesus Christ, but being inside the church was definitely a powerful experience, especially as I watched how it affected other people who were visiting the church for the first time too. For some of these people, they have waited all of their life to visit this holy site. To watch them fulfill this destiny by coming to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was a beautiful sight to see. There were many tourists from around the world jam-packed inside that church (everything from European tour guides with the loud megaphones to the Asian tourists with the big triangle flags sticking out of their backpacks to the South Americans who were telling their whole life story to the actor playing Jesus), but inside those walls, it didn’t matter what language you spoke or what action you were doing, you could see the mesmerizing effect just being there had on everyone, Christian or not.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Later on during the day-tour, we finally made our way over to the Western Wall, which for me, was an indescribable feeling (again). All of my life, I have seen photos and prayed toward this wall. Just being there, it hits you. To some people, it’s just a wall, but to others, it’s something more. While I don’t like the fact that the wall is still split between men and women – religious-politics aside – being at the Western Wall is powerful.
The Western Wall
Now I’m back in Haifa after another weekend full of adventure. I have my first big exam in my Hebrew class coming up on Thursday that I am biting my nails about and I am just making the most of every day in the best way that I possibly can.
In my last blog post, I listed the little things that I have noticed here in Israel. I got a really good response from the last time, so I figured I’d end the blog post with a few more:
I was introduced to this by one of the “madricahs” of my program, Chelsea. (The other “madricah,” Nitzan, is just as awesome by the way). In Israel, chocolate milk is in a bag. It’s pretty funny. On our way back from Jerusalem, we stopped at a gas station and had a “chocolate milk bag drinking” contest. That was definitely an interesting experience.
Chelsea and I drinking chocolate milk out of a bag
- “Mexican Nazi”-flavored Doritos
A few days ago, I was overwhelmed by the amount of flavor options there are for Doritos here in Israel. The colors of the bags don’t match up to the flavors in the U.S. either. So like a good American who is trying to learn the Hebrew language, I whipped out my iPhone and started typing in Hebrew on Google Translate. For one of the flavors, I made one silly mistake that most non-Hebrew native speaking people would probably make too… I misinterpreted an apostrophe for the letter “yud.” What was supposed to translate to “Mexican Nacho” (as I found out later) ended up translating to “Mexican Nazi.” I still was baffled by the translation and bought that flavor purposely because I had to “taste this bizarre flavor” for myself. After questioning the accuracy of Google Translate, I posted a pic-stich of the translation on to my Facebook (photo below) only to be told of the mistake that I had made. It was still hilarious.
"Mexican Nazi" Doritos
Male running shorts here in Israel are extremely short. All of us international students talk about this a lot because every single day you see these guys wearing shorts that are shorter than sophies, they could practically be speedos if they wanted to. It’s a big culture shock for all of us since we are not used to this and don’t see this “style” (or lack of style for that matter) in America. It’s actually really funny though, but extremely weird when you go out into town and see much older guys wearing the same shorts as they run. We don’t need to see that. I guess it gives a whole new meaning to the chant: “Who wears short shorts? We wear short shorts!”
I was watching the Israeli version of “SportsCenter” this past Friday and noticed that they had a Shabbat placement on the news desk since it was Shabbat. I just thought that was so interesting. It never occurred to me that they would do that during a show like that. They even ended the broadcast with a rabbi coming on the show to offer a prayer for Shabbat. I found it rather interesting and quite a culture shock as well.
I am taking this class called “Contemporary Israel.” It’s basically a class about the history of Israel and how it relates to modern times today. It’s a very interesting class. However, I have noticed that I have basically learned all that I needed to know about Jewish history thanks to “Rugrats.” I’m not kidding. “Rugrats” had like these “special episodes” for the Jewish holidays of Hanukkah and Passover (they also had ones for Christmas and Easter too). During class one day, as my professor was explaining the story of Hanukkah in his lecture, the entire time, I kept picturing Tommy Pickles as Judah Maccabee. I couldn’t think of anything else. So thanks, Nickelodeon!
Anyway, until next time, I hope my next two weeks will be just as exciting. I am looking forward to reporting back and sharing my stories and photos with you all. Thanks for following me on this adventure!