I arrived in Tel Aviv on Friday and stayed with close family friends, Cliff and Laura Savern and their two girls Jamie and Jill in Ra’anana, until Tuesday. They were amazing—Cliff helped me buy a cell phone, Laura took me out to several delicious meals, Jamie lent me here fashioista nail polish, Jill introduced me to the illustrious “Milky” (a chocolate pudding snack pack with whipped cream on top), and they snuck around me in the mornings when I slept in their living room until 1pm. On Tuesday morning Cliff drove me to a hostel in downtown Jerusalem where I met my group for a day of icebreakers, paperwork, and preliminary seminars.
Some of the specifics: The group consists of 7 people—4 girls and 3 guys (better odds than I though) including one Israeli and one Brazilian. While I’ve only known everyone for a couple of days I am looking forward to getting to know them better. Everyone comes from a diverse background (Israeli army, a masters in counseling, and tracking monkeys in Nicaragua… just to name a few) and is very passionate/excited about the next 9 months. A pic of my Life-mates below on our second day together. On the couch (from l to r): Nurit, Abby, Phil, Gabe. On the floor: Amy, Alex, me
As for the schedule, we are going to travel around Israel for the next two weeks seeing different parts of the country--going to preparatory seminars, lectures, and classes. Right now we are in Kibbutz in the South of the country called Lotan. It is a community of about 50 people (plus students, volunteers, and tourists) founded in 1983. They live in a socialistic setting with equal salaries, jobs around the kibbutz, and a general attitude of community first. They consider themselves an “intentional community” and an eco-village so they have all of these interesting ways of living to make the place a little Green (in both senses of the word) oasis in the desert. Most of their buildings are made of recycled trash covered with a mud/clay mixture. They compost everything, make their own fertilizer, use solar power, have an organic garden, use their own natural water purifying system, and all of their mud structures are painted with flowers and trees or other hippy-like designs. The best part by far though is the solar oven—a box painted black on the inside with a mirror perched diagonally above it. They used it to bake cookies! Basically, I’m in love.
In general though, it kind of feels like a little bit of a stepford community; there are no streets or cars, and perfectly manicured lawns, and everyone is always talking about community and support. I cannot imagine ever living full-time in such a small, insular place but I can see how it would be a nice place to grow up.
On Friday night we went to their Shabbat services followed by a communal dinner where everyone on the whole kibbutz ate together. Afterwards all of the kids played on the front lawn and the people my age sat and talked. At 11 the kibbutz’s pub opened which was certainly an experience. I was drinking Goldstar (the Israeli version of Budweiser) with people from all over the world, on a dance floor made of tires, listening to Gypsy techno, all in the middle of the desert. That one goes down in the books.
We leave Lotan tomorrow for some time in the Northern part of the country and then back in Jerusalem for the weekend. It’s nice to have some time to get to know everyone but I am definitely ready to get to India already…
So with that said, I thought I would leave you with a list of sorts. Who doesn’t love lists? This week’s theme goes off the idea of culture shock and getting used to a culture a little different from the one you are used to.
Israeli Culture I am Struggling With
1. Realizing that everyone isn’t in a fight. Considering I can’t understand most Hebrew I try to gauge social situations by body language. Unfortunately that is proving to be a little difficult with Israelis because they always seem angry with each other. When two strangers are talking they tend to keep a stern look on their face. They speak quickly, with a certain brusqueness in their voices. For example, an exchange at a coffee shop: Barrista asks a question. Customer answers. Barrisata asks. Customer answers. Barrista asks. Customer answers. Money exchanged. Barrista mumbles something. Exchange over. No smiling, no laughing. Half the time it seems like people are arguing when really they are just ordering a coffee.
2. Reading and talking. The extent of my Hebrew vocabulary is about 20 words, 30 tops. I am trying hard to pick up the language and some of it comes back to me once I am reminded of the word again. It should be relieving that even if I can’t understand everything, at least I can read it. Wrong. All posters, signs, and store fronts are written without the vowels. For non-Hebrew speakers, the vowels are pretty much a pronunciation guide that after about first grade, most people don’t need to use anymore. So after struggling to read the name of a store or a street sign I will say it out loud only to discover I have completely botched the name.
Israeli Culture I Have Not Struggled (nor will ever) With
1. THE FOOD. Cheeses and vegetables and pita oh my! Israeli food is the best. Period.
2. The lifestyle in general. I just love how people are always out on the streets talking and shopping and just enjoying themselves. It much more social than anything I can think of in the US.
Anyways, I’m off for now. Love you all and pictures to come soon!