Monday, February 12, 2007

Major update #2: ‘Israel Today Seminar’ week/Darom Tiyul/Beginning of Kibbutz

I have had a very busy, but exciting two weeks, so now that I’m getting settled here on Kibbutz Ein Tzurim and have my computer back with me (having been in storage for the past week), I figured I’d update everyone on all of the exciting things I’ve been up to. Here it goes:

Monday, January 29

After leaving Toronto early Sunday morning and connecting in Newark, I arrived home in Israel a little before 7 on Monday morning. I picked up my bags, got in line for a sherut to Jerusalem, but by the time the sherut had made all of its other stops I had missed the bus for our morning tour, so instead I had time to shower and rest a bit. In the afternoon, following lunch and mincha, we went to Geula, a Haredi neighbourhood and met with a member of the Karlin-Stolin hassidic sect, who took us around their girls school, which included a matzah bakery (!), and then sat down and answered our questions. While some of his answers upset or surprised us, it was still informative to hear a representative of this segment of Israeli society

We spent Tuesday in Tel Aviv, and had a mix of fun and educational activities in different places around the city. The day began with a visit to the Dialogue in the Dar exhibit at the Holon childrens museum, where we spent about 45 minutes in total darkness in order to learn about what its like to be blind. With a guide who was vision impaired himself, we used our other senses to feel what a number of different activities, such as crossing the street or going to a snack bar would be like without being able to see. It was an extremely eye-opening experience that I won’t forget for a long time.

We then took a bus over to the neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek, had a lunch of deli sandwiches, which was followed by a question and answer session with an activist from שלום עכשיו (Peace Now) and a performance by the Inbal dance troupe. The day ended with a visit to the Palmach museum, which told the story of the striking arm of the pre-state Haganah through an experiential audio-visual exhibition. Before heading back to Jerusalem, we stopped at the Azrieli Centre, one of the largest malls in Israel, where we had dinner in the food court. I chose to get a double whopper from Burger King, which was pretty tasty.

Wednesday was spent around Jerusalem, as we learned about different important facts of traditional Israeli history. We started out at the Herzl museum, which depicts the life of Theodor Herzl and the history of Zionism through a series of four audiovisual displays. We then went back to Beit Nativ and a had an orientation for our semester on Kibbutz, followed by lunch. In the afternoon we visited the Menachem Begin Heritage Centre, telling the story of Israel’s former prime minister, his values and impact. In the late afternoon, we drove out of Jerusalem to the Neot Kedumim biblical garden near Modiin, where we all planted oak trees in honour of Tu Bishvat.

Thursday was spent at a seminar on the Arab-Israeli conflict held at Giva’t Haviva, an educational centre located in a kibbutz setting between Netanya and Hadera. In the morning we were given a lecture on the history of the ‘green line’ which is talked about so much in regards to a final settlement, as well as the Security Fence and its pros and cons. Following lunch, we heard someone speak about what it is like to be an Israeli Arab, which was followed by a bus ride where we visited a Jewish town in the area and overlooked some of the Arab towns which straddle the line between Israel proper and the Palestinian territories. Late that night, as a bedtime snack, I went out with my friends Josh and Phil to Moshiko’s on Ben Yehuda st., to get our last shawarma before we left Jerusalem.

Friday was mostly spent packing up my things, since it was almost time to leave Jerusalem, and move on to Tiyul and my semester on kibbutz. This led into our final Shabbat in Jerusalem. Friday Night was marked by another intense Tish after dinner, with lots of singing and some nice Divrei Torah. On Shabbat Morning we all davened at Moreshet Yisrael, the American-style Conservative shul on campus, as Mari-Anne, one of my fellow nativers, marked her first Aliyah to the Torah and reading Haftarah. The day continued with a festive Kiddush, studying Parashat Hashavua and Shabbat lunch. After a nice shabbos nap, we concluded with mincha, a not-too appetizing seudah shlishit with some nice singing, Ma’ariv and Havdalah.

Sunday Morning (February 4), we woke up very early, davened Shacharit and ate breskfast. We then began the process of transferring all of our belongings from our rooms to the מחסן (storage area), from where it would be loaded onto a truck and brought to kibbutz on Thursday. We then loaded ourselves onto buses and set off to a four day tiyul through the southern part of the country. Sunday afternoon was spent hiking in the Ein Gedi area. It turned out to be a beautiful day to hike, as the rain which had been with us since Shabbat afternoon had ended and we had a beautiful sun join us as soon as we left Jerusalem heading towards the Dead Sea. However, despite the fact that it rains often in Jerusalem, the Judean desert was not used to this amount of water, and we had the opportunity to see Route 90, which runs along the shore of the Dead Sea, washed out in three different places. Just before sunset, we arrived at a site named Mamshit which contains a camel ranch and a Bedouin tent experience for tourists. After unpacking our bags in the tent for the night, we moved over to the tent next door for Ma’ariv, an explanation about the history and customs of the Bedouin, and especially about their famous hospitality. During the talk we were given small cups of Bedouin tea and coffee. We then were immediately served a traditional (kosher) Bedouin meal, including a main dish of shawarma meat served over rice and vegetables, fresh laffa bread, and some salads. Dessert was baklava and more tea.

I went to bed quite early (around 7:30), partly because it was dark, and there isn’t much to do in the desert, and more because Yossi (our director) had announced that despite everyone’s fears of missing it, we would indeed be able to see the superbowl, live, at 1:30 Israel time, so I figured out a way to get a decent amount of sleep and still see the big game. Despite missing the Adath Israel superbowl party and the amazing barbecuing there, it’s pretty cool to be able to say that I saw the superbowl in a Bedouin ten in the middle of the Negev desert, complete with a projection screen and mattresses to sit on.

On Monday morning we woke up, davened and had a delicious breakfast including freshly made pitot and eggs. We then had some time to pack up, followed by a 20 minute camel ride which was very bumpy and uncomfortable, yet still somewhat fun. The bulk of the rest of the day was spent on a hike in the area of Machtesh hakatan, which was relatively easy except for four ladders which were built into the side of the rock by the Israeli parks authority. These provided a nice challenge which I completed, despite my fear of heights and falling. At the end of the hike we got back on the bus and continued our drive south towards our destination for the night, Kibbutz Ketura, a kibbutz founded by graduates of the Young Judea movement in 1973, located in the Arava valley near the Jordanian border. After getting settled in our rooms, which were brand new and beautiful, we had a nice barbecue dinner and an evening program, for which I chose to watch a soccer game played by my friends from Nativ against some of the kibbutzniks.

On Tuesday morning, we had tefillot in the kibbutz Beit Knesset, followed by breakfast. We then split into groups for a desert arts workshop. I chose to take a tour of the kibbutz’s experimental orchards, where I got to learn about all of the interesting plants that Ketura is cultivating, including some plants that were in danger of extinction. We then came back together and shared what we had learned in our workshops. It was soon time to check out of our rooms and have lunch, which was followed by a tour of the kibbutz by one of its members. On our way to Eilat in the late afternoon, we stopped at the kissufim sand dunes, famous for having some of the purest sand in the world. After walking up the rocky side of the hill, we arrived at the top of the sand dunes and saw the endless expanses of beautiful sand which we got to roll around in for a good hour. As it was getting towards sunset, we headed back towards the buses and drove to the Adi hotel in Eilat, where we would stay for the next two nights. We got our rooms, had dinner, and then were free for the evening, so I went out with some friends to the mall and the Tayelet (waterfront promenade).

On Wednesday morning we had tefillot and breakfast at the hotel, and then got on the bus for a hike up Har Tzfachot, from where we were able to have a beautiful overlook of Eilat, the mountains surrounding it, the Red Sea, and the countries of Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The hike was pretty moderate, considering the amazing view, and we completed the ascent and descent in 2 hours flat. This left enough time for me to take a nice walk along the water before lunch, which was provided for us at the Halleluyah restaurant. Nativ planned an afternoon of water activities for us after lunch, and I chose to take a paddleboat out with my friend Jeff, as well as to lay in the sand for a while. I went back to the hotel to relax for an hour or so, and in evening, we were given money for dinner, so I went down to the Tayelet with my friend Matt, where we bought Baguette sandwiches with meat inside, and ate out near the water.

Thursday was a bittersweet day, as it was our last time with all of Nativ together as we split up into three different groups for the second semester. After tefillot, breakfast and loading the buses, we said goodbye to our friends who were going to Yeruham and Be’er Sheva, and boarded a bus that would take us to kibbutz Ein Tsurim, my home for the next 3 and a half months. After stopping in Dimona for lunch, where I passed on the lunch that was provided in favour of a burger, onion rings and a drink, we arrived at kibbutz around 2:30 in the afternoon. We spent the rest of the day moving in and unpacking, as well as setting up storage units for our rooms, and around 6 had a picnic dinner in front of our cabins.

On Friday we got to sleep in a bit, and spent the day getting acclimated to Kibbutz life. We started the day off with breakfast in the kibbutz dining hall, and Shacharit as a group. During the rest of the morning, we were given a walking tour of Ein Tsurim, by Yuval, a Kibbutz member who was born and raised here. We then ate lunch and had the rest of the afternoon of to get ready for Shabbat. At one point, I headed a short walk down the path, and checked out the Kibbutz’s Kol-Bo, a general store which is really a small supermarket.

We brought in Shabbat with a special Carlebach service held in the Kibbutz’s Yeshiva, which featured a chazzan with a beautiful voice, almost exactly like Shlomo Carlebach himself. Shabbat dinner was held in the kibbutz Dining Hall, and was served to us family style, with a number of yummy courses, starting with a delicious salad selection and continuing with bourekas, soup, chicken and brisket. The meal served pretty slowly, which gave us time to have a nice conversation. After dinner we had a short session and oneg with Yossi Garr, who spent Shabbat with us, and pretty soon after that I went to bed to get some nice Shabbat rest.

Shabbat morning we davened with the kibbutz in their main Beit Knesset. As I would soon find out, they don’t believe in wasting time during tefillot, and starting at 8:30, we ended Musaf at 10:15 without missing anything. Lunch on kibbutz begins at 10:30 on Shabbat, and again progressed slowly through a menu of courses. After lunch we heard again from a member of kibbutz about its history and his personal story, after which we davened mincha and had a few hours of free time, during which I hung out, read and napped. At 5 we had seudah shlishit, which was very delicious, with a selection of fresh salads and Yesrushalmi and potato kugel. We concluded Shabbat with Maariv and Havdalah, and a little while afterwards, we were assigned our jobs. I was assigned agriculture (aka working out in the fields), which was my first choice and I was really happy about. To end off the evening, some of my friends prepared a bonfire in a field behind our cabins, and we sat around for a while chilling and relaxing.

Sunday morning I woke up early so I could daven at the Kibbutz’s minyan at 6 AM before I started work. It’ a good thing I got there on time, because they don’t believe in wasting it and we were done Shacharit, with a repetition of the Amidah, at 6:25! After relaxing for a little while, I went and ate breakfast, and at 7:30, I got picked up with 5 friends of mine to begin our job working in the fields at the neighboring settlement of Massuot Yitzhak. Over the past 2 days I have weeded the parsley fields, and moved around lots of irrigation equipment, and basically had a blast. The weather has been amazing, and I love the work, as well as the group of people I work with. I’m really enjoying living on kibbutz, with the great environment and slow pace of life. I can’t wait to tell you more about my adventures here on Kibbutz Ein Tsurim!

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