Holy Moly, I’m Back in the U S of A

I ended my time with OTZMA and in Israel in a perfect fashion. All of the OTZMAnikim and I went up north for the last four days to partake in some hiking, swimming, rafting, relaxing, and just thoroughly enjoying our time together times.

After an intense cleaning and yelling at session with the staff of the Kfar all of the Jerusalemites and I left our apartments and headed to Tel Aviv to pick up the rest of the crew. While on the bus we partook in lovely conversation until we ended up in Beit She’an at the springs. We first ate a delicious once and then, not listening to our grandmas about not swimming after eating, we all jumped into the fresh water.

After some swimming and hopping around we made our way to the hostel we’d be staying at for the weekend. It was a lovely little place right on the Sea of Galilee. After cleaning ourselves up and eating dinner we made our way to a room where we were greeted with a banner we had created on our first day of OTZMA back in August 2010. We also had letters placed on our seats that we had written to ourselves at that time as well. I had recently remembered the letter and was really looking forward to opening it. But I have to admit, I was pretty dissapointed when I did. While I accomplished everything on the list (except that I’m not as proficient in my Hebrew speaking as I’d like to have been) I felt like the letter didn’t account for all that I had wanted it to. Looking back though, I think that was a good thing. It really proved to me how OTZMA and my Israel experience as a whole went way above my expectations, even beyond what I could have possibly thought of.

The next day we went on our first of two hikes. This one was rather easy, we walked along dirt roads, and came across random waterfalls. Nothing to complain about here.

The next day we went on a different kind of hike, one that was filled with many complaints, due to it being fully submerged in water. The elevation of the river was a lot lower than we had expected and thus there was a lot of falling and splashing involved. The next day my wrists were in pain from constantly putting my hands on rocks to keep myself upright. But I have to say, as stressed as some people were, the hike was a blast, and while it was difficult at times, I love to take on any good challenge.

We also had gone river rafting one of the days which was a blast. This is proven by the amazing photo taken of us while going down one of the hills.

One of the nights we were taken out to a lovely restaurant right on the water called Decks, for dinner. A beautiful view, great people, and delicious food. What more could I have asked for?

During Shabat we relaxed; during the day we put our chairs into the water and sunbathed, and at night we all hung around with some wine and good times.

By the end of the weekend we had packed up our things and had begun walking onto the bus in a motionless state. We knew the next morning when we’d wake up it’d be our last day all together in Israel as OTZMAnikim. Our final time together we spent at the Tayelet, which is where we were taken on our first day of OTZMA. It was so very bittersweet, everyone said something and many tears had flown. I couldn’t believe that my time in Israel was coming to an end, and to be honest I didn’t really want to believe it. I think I was in denial the entire time, and it didn’t even truly hit me until I had come back to the United States.

After giving many hugs, kisses, and goodbyes, I made my way to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station. While waiting for a friend to come pick me up I ran into an old friend who is my neighbor and I grew up and went to Hebrew and high school with. I knew he had recently come to Israel but I didn’t think I would have had enough time to meet up with him. I was so lucky to be able to end my time in Israel reflecting with someone from home who could understand what I was going through, and who he himself, had been through years prior.

Upon leaving the airport I took off looking straight ahead into the seat in front of me, tears streaming down my face. When I arrived home one of the first things I did was wait in this thing called a line to get my passport stamped. It was then that I realized and had thought to myself, “Holy moly, I’m back in the United States.”

World Jewish Congress

The following entry was written during my time in Israel. I hadn’t yet uploaded the photos so I didn’t want to post it. But now here it is, photos and all!

I recently had my last few days of work at Lone Star Communications. I ended it in great fashion, attending the majority of the meetings for the World Jewish Congress (WJC) due to the fact that we were hired to do all of the international media for it. And I benefited by being able to go to the meetings and eat the delicious meals. Our fridge broke and it was a perfect time for me to be fed food from an outside source without having to pay any money for it (Seriously, how lucky was I?!) Though the meetings were private and I can not divulge any information I do want to say that while the point of the World Jewish Congress is to lobby for Israel, a bigger role they serve is to lobby for the Jewish diaspora as a whole. Yes, for Jews living all over the world. The president of the WJC is Ronald Lauder, son of Estee Lauder, the creator of the elegant make-up company. He is a W man — witty and wise, and now I have to put it out there that if you are looking to buy Estee Lauder make-up know that your money will be going to a good place.

While Ronald Lauder is witty, he is also a serious man who is very passionate about Judaism and Israel, and always making sure that it’s not necessary to always mix the two together. On the opening night of the Congressional meeting I was fortunate enough to be able to see Shimon Peres, the president of Israel and former three-time Prime-Minister of the Holy Land. Throughout the course of the conference I also saw Tzipi Livni, the former president of Uruguay, Dan Diker, and many other notables speak. I think one of my favorite moments of the conference though was when my co-workers and I walked into the room at the end of a speech given by Tony Blair. We arrived at perfect timing, just as Mr. Blair was walking down and greeting people. My hand shook his hand! His unbelievably smooth hand I should add. What a man, what a smile. This moment occurred on my last day of work and I have to say, what a great way to end my time with Lone Star.

After I gave my thanks and good-byes I headed to the bus stop for what was my last solo ride in Jerusalem as an OTZMAnikim. On the way back to the Kfar I put on my iPod and cried. People around me stared yes, I came onto the bus excited to have just met Tony Blair, and I left with a red, swollen face from my tears. Everything in my Jerusalem experience was incredible, right from the beginning to the end. I could argue that those were the happiest two months of my life thus far. I know I am only 23, but hey 23 is still a significant amount of time. If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten. Seriously.

Food Blog: Seared Tofu with Honey Spiced Glaze

Being diagnosed with Crohn’s a few years ago I thought up until last August I had a great knowledge of food and all that it had to offer. But since coming to Israel I have learned so much more. I have not just learned about what’s healthy and not healthy, but I have learned what combinations of spices, foods, etc. can come together and create a delicious meal. I have learned the importance of how food is grown, and the long process it goes through before it is in your kitchen. I have learned how to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables, simply running them under the faucet is not enough. I have also learned the satisfaction you can feel from cooking, and then eating that meal afterwards. Food brings people together, it fuels your body, if consumed correctly it makes you feel beautiful inside and out. Food is medicine. I will miss Israel for many reasons, but one being at the very near top of my list is the food here.

I’d like to share another recipe with you that Ariel and I have made twice. It is called “seared tofu with honey spiced glaze.” First Ariel and I cooked it for just ourselves one night when I was visiting her in Tel Aviv. But the weekend of my birthday we held an OTZMA Shabbat dinner in my apartment and we decided to make round two of this delicious tofu dish. Even those who don’t typically like tofu loved it. So while you may find the ingredients to be quite weird and contrasting, know that when they come together they taste delicious.

What You Need:
4 Tbsp honey
1 clove garlic (minced) [We added more because we are giant fans of garlic]
1 small shallot (minced)
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp prepared horseradish
1 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt
Some olive oil
16 ounces extra firm tofu (sliced into 8 slices)

What We Did:
First we pre-heated our toaster over to around 325°. Then we put the tofu onto a pan with a small amount of olive oil to let it cook. After a few minutes we flipped it over so both sides were equally brown and crunchy. While the tofu was simmering we mixed all the ingredients of the sauce together in a bowl.

After a little while we poured the sauce into the pan that the tofu was cooking in. We let it all simmer together for about ten minutes, flipping the tofu again after about five. Since there is a lot of flippage action I would recommend not cutting the tofu’s too tiny, as that can get annoying.

After it seemed like the sauce had mixed in well with the tofu we transferred the contents from the pan into a baking dish. We put it into the oven and let it cook for about twenty minutes. Ariel and I like our tofu crispy, but if you are more of a fan of soft tofu then twenty minutes in the oven will be too long. What is so beautiful about tofu is that it is so versatile and you can really cook it to how you like it. We added a delicious tomato and onion balsamic salad to go with it.

While some of you may be afraid of tofu and think it’s weird I want to note that you shouldn’t look at it as a replacement of meat. Rather you should look at it as a food on its own that is a good source of protein. And if you are still afraid of it then I suggest you cook this recipe and then try and tell me you aren’t a fan. To tofu!

OTZMA Final Ceremony

On Sunday evening I worked until around 10:00 p.m. Mayors from over 26 countries visited Israel and came together in learning about each other’s countries and coming up with new and creative ideas. The opening ceremony for that was wonderful and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend.

The next day I continued as a member of the conference and followed the mayor’s to the Jerusalem Municipality where I heard speeches regarding Israel and its education system. I then went to Yad Vashem where the mayor’s had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust. A while back I was having Shabbat dinner at a friend’s house whose dad is a tour guide for Israel. He told me that day he was a personal tour guide for a doctor from India. The doctor came here to do research and decided to spend a few days seeing Jerusalem. My friend’s dad thought it’d be a good idea to bring him to Yad Vashem. When they went the doctor was astounded, he had absolutely no idea that the events of the Holocaust took place. He couldn’t believe he had lived this long and hadn’t known. It’s crazy how some things are SO obvious to some of us because of who we are and where we come from, and to others, they are completely ignorant of it. I am not condoning this doctor, I am sure horrifying events have taken place in the area of India and elsewhere in the world that I have yet to be aware of. It is said that the world is a small place, but I don’t think that saying always necessarily holds true, and here is a perfect example of why.

Anyway, back to the Mayor’s Conference. As we were walking in and out of the rooms of the museum one of the mayor’s asked our tour guide, “Did anyone survive the Holocaust?” After she told him yes, he asked, “Are they still alive? Where are they living?” I think this puts a whole new angle onto the playing field.

After Yad Vashem we sat down to have lunch and I had a nice conversation with some of the mayors. Standing in the background observing, and only conversing with the media, they were quite surprised to find out that I wasn’t Israeli, but had in fact been born and raised in the United States. It was such a great opportunity to have discussions with mayor’s from all over the world, another learning experience for me and furthering my goals of trying to learn and understand in-depthly about earths’ people and their cultures.

One of the mayor’s was from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I asked him about the Scranton Yankees and if he frequently attends their games. I leanred that not only does he go to those, but he is a giant Yankees fan and is a frequent-traveller to Yankee stadium as well. He specifically mentioned how he was fortunate to see Clemens play there when he was on the DL before returning to the Majors.

After leaving Yad Vashem we headed to the Knesset. We received a tour of the Government building, and heard Tzipni Livni, the leader of the Kadima Party, and Reuven Rivlin, a speaker of the Knesset and member of the Likud party, speak. They thanked all the mayors for coming and gave a nice general background on Israel, its governments, and its problems. At the end mayors were able to ask questions, and one in fact, I believe, went a little too far in arguing about the Palestinian/Israeli peace process. Fortuantely Israelis are always prepared to defend themselves, and quite unfortunately, used to this.

From the Knesset I headed over to the Judean Youth Hostel for the OTZMA final ceremony. We all gathered together in nice dresses and collared-shirts, and reminisced over the past year. Before dinner we had cocktails, and even an open bar serving wine and beer. After a long work day I have to say a glass of red wine and being with my best friends was the perfect remedy. Soon we headed inside for dinner where we were greeted by friends of people we had met over the course of the year. One woman from Rehovot who had worked with us had even come. I was also happy to be able to see Ariel’s family who over the course of the year has taken me in and helped me more than they may ever know.

After dinner we had a more formalized-reminiscing ceremony. Richard gave a 10-minute (each speech was only allowed two minutes, typical Richard) long, hilarious, mystery story about our time in Ashkelon. Each person spoke about the cities they spent part two in. Amir spoke for us Rehovotians and used the theme of “the roads we took while there” — since Rehovot translates to English as “roads.” For our part 1.5, when I was on Livnot in Tzfat, Vanessa had made an incredible short-film. It really brought us all back to those magical two weeks, and I couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed.

Towards the end the head of OTZMA in Israel, Dganit, came up and spoke to us. She covered the year and had a personalized message to each of us. She told me I was “the most beautiful blogger OTZMA has ever had” which was incredibly nice and extremely motivating. We all went up after her speech and received a nice paper congratulating us for completing a year of community service to the country of Israel.

I wasn’t too emotional at the ceremony because I do still have time here. But it really made me realize just how much I have experienced, and it’s quite incredible that through all of this I still haven’t stepped onto American soil. I now have less than two weeks left here in Israel. I know I am in denial of leaving, but I think that’s a good state of mind to be in. There is no sense in wasting my time here getting upset about it, instead I am going to continue to enjoy all that this beautiful country has to offer. And that includes dancing oddly with my roommates in our apartment.

Small, Sunny, & Sophisticated

Last Sunday I headed down to Kibbutz Ketura in southern Israel for the launch event of Israel’s first solar-energy field. It is also the first of its kind in this region of the Middle East. The field was built by Arava Power Company, a leader in solar power. One of the co-founders, Yosef Abramowitz, was just named one of the “Top 50 Most Influential Jews in the World” by the Jerusalem Post.

After quite a long bus ride I walked off the bus and immediately felt like I was in a sauna. I then decided that the canyons of the desert are much more beautiful when you are viewing them from inside an air-conditioned vehicle. Some sweaty hours later I was running around helping the media. Unfortunately due to the event falling on the same day as Naksa Day (“Day of the Setback” – a commerorative day for displaced Palestinians after the 1967 Six-Day War) there wasn’t as much media as originally planned. But even still the event ran very smoothly; it was very inspiring, and the coverage of it has been great since the launch.

In attendance were Kibbutz members, friends and family of Arava employees, students and supporters of the Arava school and environmental efforts, and members of the government — Of which included, Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau, the Head of Municipality Udi Gat, Agriculture Minister Orit Noked, and the Head of the Independence Party MK Dr. Einat Wilf.

I’m hoping you’re thinking how great the building of this solar field is — helping the environment, utilizing energy from the sun, Israel becoming more independent, etc. etc. As it stands, there is really only one problem. And unfortunately it isn’t just a minor problem. The Israeli Finance Ministry believes that solar power will make electricity more expensive. Accoring to the solar-kings this is in fact not true, but until they receive the financial backing from the Government they unfortunately can only go so far.

Gil Troy, an author and Professor of History at McGill University, wrote a blog entry just this morning on Yosef and his goals with solar energy. In it Gil said, “Those of us who long yearned for an Israeli Manhattan Project, to find an alternative to oil, which despoils the environment and empowers the Arabs, should be cheering. And the government, which in Decision 4450 in 2009 committed to using renewable sources for 10 percent of Israel’s energy needs by 2020, should be thrilled. Yet, in February, the Treasury Ministry froze the development of all large solar fields and future medium fields, amid Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s silence. Political uncertainty now risks killing an industry the government should be nurturing — and championing.”

Yosef was quoted in the blog entry saying, “”Three ‘S’s make Israel ripe for solar revolution – it is small, sunny, and sophisticated. Instead, “We are a Start-Up Nation that can’t get more than the first major solar field built.””

Being someone who chose not to eat meat because of the harmful effects it can have on the environment I think you know what side of the playing field I am on. I can only hope as time goes on positive progress will be made.

At the event Shyne performed his new song entitled, “Solar Energy.” He wrote the song specifically for the launch of the solar field, but he told me that it is one of his favorites that he has ever written. I have to say, after a long day of trying to get people up on their feet to rally for solar energy, Shyne did the best job at it.

It was a long day, but a very inspirational one. I am looking forward to continuing to read about Arava’s efforts and feel fortuante that I got to work with them for such an important event for not only their company’s history, but also Israel’s.

June Has Arrived

It’s the month of June! This is the same month that my feet will be stepping into U.S. soil. I’ve been recently stepping my feet away from my computer and taking in all that I can of Israel. This unfortunately means I haven’t able to dedicate as much time to my blog as I’d like to. But I’m currently sitting on a bus headed to Kibbutz Ketura (A kibbutz about thirty minutes from Eilat). Since the bus ride is about four hours I thought a nice activity to pass the time would be writing in my journal.

Last week was very busy for me. On Tuesday I attended the Israel Public Relations Awards (ISPRA) because the agency I am interning at won “Best International Campaign of the Year” for our client Shyne. I bet you’re thinking, “Who?! Shyne?!” But you may know more than you think. You can check out, and remind yourself of who he is, here. This past summer he was released from jail, went to Belize to shoot a music video, and around the time of Rosh Hashanah he came to Israel. He has been here ever since, making new music and studying the Torah. His grandma was an Ethiopian Jew and he grew up always identifying with Judaism. Since being in Israel however he has turned Ultra-Orthodox, and is now pimped out in full Haredi-gear. He used to look up to P. Diddy as a role model, and now he looks towards King David. He used to sing very inappropriately about women and now, he doesn’t even touch them.

The awards show itself was great, I got to see the brother of Ehud Barak speak. He is a very well-known PR guy in Israel. I also saw a former IDF spokesman receive an award. There was also a woman who was so into the awards ceremony that she was dressed in a medieval times style outfit. At the end of the night some of my employees and I went out and had a lovely dinner together.

A day after the ISPRA awards was both יום הסטודנט and יום ירושלים. Both of these days celebrated Jerusalem and all the students living in Israel. In honor of the holidays a big concert took place in Gan Sachar park. It began around 9:15 p.m. and continued on until 8:30 a.m. It was also referred to as “לילה לבן” meaning “white night,” meaning you don’t go to sleep. As the night went on the music got better and the more popular artists took the stage.

While I had no idea who many of the musicians were, I still enjoyed being with my friends and dancing around. Around 5:30 a.m. however one of my favorite Israeli, and internationally well-known bands took the stage. Balkan Beat Box. They were the last act of the night and boy did the best get saved for last. I had planned to see them one day in the States but to be able to see them perform in their home country speaking to their audience in their native tongue was quite incredible. As the sun was rising everyone was dancing around and you would have had no idea that we had all stayed awake through the night.

My roommates and I decided that one concert wasn’t enough. On Thursday we headed to Hadag Nahash, an Israeli hip-hop/funk band who performed alongside the Israel Symphony. It was the perfect blend of fast, get up on your feet dancing, mixed with some slow, intimate dancing.

On Saturday night Tracy, my friend David, and I all made dinner together. We cooked a delicious feast of artichokes, salad, bread, and various dipping sauces of yogurt garlic, olive oil and balsamic. We also had some sparkling wine and a lot of laughter. I’ve come to really enjoy the satisfaction of a meal when you put effort into cooking it, especially with your friends.

Today I am headed down to Eilat because Arava Power Company is holding a launch event for the first-ever built solar energy field in Israel and this region of the Middle East. Since I’ve been interning I have been helping with the public relations for the event. Hundreds of people will be there, including Uzi Landau, a member of the Knesset and the Minister of National Infrastructure for Israel. Also in attendance will be other Parliament party members, Shyne (he will be performing his new song that he created for the event), and a good amount of domestic and international media. It will be a long day, and I will be continuing on the trend of busy as I work with the media and try to get the best coverage possible. In the meantime I am going to stop writing in my journal now and go listen to some music. !! יום טוב

Don Mattingly’s Baseball Number

23. In my parents birthday card they mentioned how 23 is Don Mattingly’s baseball number. In my friend David’s birthday card he mentioned three things regarding the number 23. One is how Isaac Newton’s annus mirabilis was his twenty-third year. Another is that each parent contributes twenty-three chromosomes to start a new human life. And lastly, William Shakespeare was born and died on April 23rd. And now 23 is my new age!

Last Saturday, May 28, was my birthday. It was by far one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had. I of course missed being with my family, and the day did feel a bit different due to that. But my other family, us OTZMAnikim, and a few others, celebrated with me and it was just wonderful.

Ariel was the first to visit on Thursday and when we met in the center of Jerusalem we were surrounded by a major influx of Birthrighters. We left the storm and went out to dinner at a delicious fish restaurant that was recommended to us. I got the “fishermans meal” which was mussels, shrimp, crab, and calamari in a tomato sauce. I think you can tell from this that I have not gone Kosher since coming to Israel. The restaurant was classy, lovely, and I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday meal than to be enjoying my food with Ariel. At the meal she gave me a card with a “surprise flap” on the inside telling me how a Starbucks gift card is on its way to Israel. Part of her gift to me was for the first few Starbuck drinks that I have on the states to be from her. How thoughtful🙂

As a surprise for my birthday our waitress gave us each a glass of wine. I have to be honest, for a girl with stomach issues and that is into healthy eating, to me this glass of wine was much more enjoyable than cake. And it was a wonderful addition to an already beautiful evening.

Soon Ariel and I headed home and went to sleep. The next morning Ariel and some of my roommates and I hung around and drank some coffee. While doing so we planned the day ahead, which entailed Ariel, Tracy and I having a fun adventure at the grocery store. I purchased a sink squeegee for our kitchen which I was also excited about. Boy those things can be fun!

Before we knew it it was late afternoon and Vanessa, Rachel, and other OTZMAnikim had arrived! We all hung out, played some music, and cooked dinner. That night we had a communal Shabbat dinner which was beautiful. A few of us made pasta, sautéed up some vegetables, and had honey/horseradish marinated tofu (look forward to a future food blog post about this).

My friend Richard, who is famous for his “cabbage surprise” cooked up a spicier lauren-zink-style version of it in honor of my birthday. There was also vegetarian curry, scrambled eggs with veggies, eggplant parmesan, challah, and arugaleh and strawberries for dessert. Amir, our future Rabbi, started with some prayers as well and we all partook in the Kiddush and the Hamotzei. It was a beautiful dinner and I was so glad everyone could come together and enjoy bringing in the Sabbath.

Soon we kicked everyone out and prepared the room for the party. Eli is leaving tonight =( so it was a joint birthday/going away party, entitled, “Party Day.” Props to Ariel and Tracy for the balloons. Our kitchen/family room was awesomely decorated.

A few hours later and it was party time. We had people, music, drinks, what more could I have asked for? Midway through Tracy surprised Eli and I with a “party day cake” that she had made. My roommates Becca and Trace also did a personalized song for Eli and I to the tune of “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra. At this point I had pulled Eli off his seat and danced with him to the song.

After a few hours we went into the center of Jerusalem and went to a bar/club. Everyone was dancing, smiling, and having a great time. Even those who hate the dance club scene said they had a blast. It was a magical evening indeed!

The next day we sat out on the campus of the Kfar Studentim at Hebrew University and grilled some food. There is nothing better than grilled onions I must say. Later in the day we made mimosas and all toasted to my birthday. To be surrounded by people who have become my second family, and to be able to share in this celebration with all of them, I couldn’t have asked for a better day. Thank you everyone!

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