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!


The American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] is the biggest pro-Israel lobby in the United States. They recently held their annual year-long convention where prominent people spoke, ideas were raised on American/Israeli relations, and progress was made. Some of the prominent speakers included President Barak Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Last Thursday, before the convention, Obama met with Netanyahu to talk about the American/Israeli relationship, and everything that goes along with that, including the peace-negotiation process between Israel and Palestine. Rumors had arisen after their discussion that it didn’t go as well as they’d hoped. The news media claimed Obama called to go back to the 1967 borders (meaning the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights would be given to Palestine), and Netanyahu said absolutely not to this idea. However, when Obama spoke to AIPAC he clarified exactly what he meant by this statement.

“But I said to Prime Minister Netanyahu, I believe that the current situation in the Middle East does not allow for procrastination. I also believe that real friends talk openly and honestly with one another. So I want to share with you some of what I said to the Prime Minister.

No vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state. And the United States will stand up against efforts to single Israel out at the United Nations or in any international forum. Israel’s legitimacy is not a matter for debate. That is my commitment; that is my pledge to all of you.
The ultimate goal is two states for two people: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the State of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people — each state in joined self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.”

He also said how he didn’t mean the exact 1967 borders, but instead spoke about mutually agreed land swaps. Personally I could see the West Bank and Gaza going to Palestine, but the idea of giving away the Golan Heights is something that I cannot and will not, ever be able to foresee happening.

One of the major annoyances I have with pro-Palestinian supporters is how they focus on all the Palestinians suffering, but they never think about the Israelis. Israel has done an absolutely tremendous job protecting itself, defending itself, and amongst all of that struggle becoming a power player in the world of technology, economics, politics, etc. Obama recognized this in his speech which I truly appreciated.

“We also know how difficult that search for security can be, especially for a small nation like Israel living in a very tough neighborhood. I’ve seen it firsthand. When I touched my hand against the Western Wall and placed my prayer between its ancient stones, I thought of all the centuries that the children of Israel had longed to return to their ancient homeland. When I went to Sderot and saw the daily struggle to survive in the eyes of an eight-year-old boy who lost his leg to a Hamas rocket, and when I walked among the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, I was reminded of the existential fear of Israelis when a modern dictator seeks nuclear weapons and threatens to wipe Israel off the face of the map — face of the Earth.”

People can say all they want that Obama may not be as pro-Israel as past Presidents such as Clinton and Bush. But I don’t really see there being a strong argument to that. First off, I think the Clinton/Rabin friendship was rare and typically unheard of. Secondly, Obama has come into Presidency when the Arab world has become an extremely powerful presence. He has come into office when for the first time the U.N. may be more Pro-Palestine than Pro-Israel. He has other factors to deal with in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and I think so far he has progressed beautifully. Yes, saying that a solution may be to go back to the 1967 borders was a strong remark to make. But at least he actually SAID a solution and forced progress to start being made.

On topic of the US/Israel relationship he said, “So when the Durban Review Conference advanced anti-Israel sentiment, we withdrew. In the wake of the Goldstone Report, we stood up strongly for Israel’s right to defend itself. When an effort was made to insert the United Nations into matters that should be resolved through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, we vetoed it.”

In September the U.N. General Assembly is going to vote on whether or not to recognize a Palestinian state. As of right now there is a strong possibility that they will vote in favor of a state. This vote will be mostly symbolic; it will largely just give Palestinians more leverage during the peace talks. However, the symbolism is powerful enough to show how isolated Israel actually is internationally.

Immediately after Obama spoke to AIPAC John Roberts on Fox News spoke on the topic. To start he interviewed a member of the Knesset, Danny Danon, who is one of our clients at the PR Agency I am currently interning at. I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to go to the Fox News studio in Jerusalem, meet Danon, and help see the preparation it takes for these kinds of interviews. It was an extremely rewarding and exciting experience for me, and I could not have asked for a better opportunity to motivate me for my own future career plans.

Also at the studios I met one of two Middle Eastern foreign correspondents for Fox News. After we left John Roberts interviewed him on the topic and this is what Leland had to say:

Before Danon went into the studios to be interviewed an Israeli news station interviewed him. After questions were asked and answers were given the cameraman shut off his camera and immediately started arguing politics with Danon. This would never happen in the states, if anywhere else in the world. But Israeli’s speak their mind, they’ve lived in this unjust world for too long, and no one, no matter how powerful, will stop them from feeling like they need to get their words out there too.

Day of the Catastrophe

This past Sunday was the “Day of the Catastrophe” or in Arabic known as, “Nakba Day.” Some people also refer to it as an “Annual day of the commemoration of the displacement of the Palestinian people.” On this day Arabs from all over the world protest against the creation of Israel. It falls on May 15 every year, which according to the Western Calendar is the birthday of Israel’s independence. In Israel Yom Ha’atzmaut is followed by the Lunar Calendar, hence why the ‘celebration and catastrophe’ can fall on different days.

So who exactly are the displaced Palestinian people who are protesting? Today there are several million of them “divided between Jordan (2 million), Lebanon (427,057), Syria (477,700), the West Bank (788,108), and the Gaza Strip (1.1 million), with another at least quarter of million internally displaced Palestinians in Israel.”

On Facebook a few months ago I was invited to a group informing me that there were people creating groups and event pages on the social networking website to start a third intifada [Arab uprising]. Hundreds of thousands of people “liked this page” and the wall post comments made one believe a major protest could occur. In the past Israel may not have seen this as a major threat. However, due to the use of Facebook for the protests in Egypt, and the onward growing trend, the IDF convened and secured all borders of Israel.

Well, I am not going to lie and say I wasn’t a bit afraid for this day. It happens once a year, and nothing major has happened in a long time, but given the recent revolutions, and the peace talks that are happening soon, I think I had reason to be worried.

Palestinians and other Arabs marched towards the border of Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon. At least twelve Palestinians were killed. In East Jerusalem, and other various cities in the West bank, hundreds of Palestinian protestors hurled stones at the Israeli Defense Forces. Dozens of Palestinians were injured, over 70 were arrested, and one man died.

When I arrived at work I logged online and saw an article about how just an hour earlier in Tel Aviv, an Arab Israeli slammed into vehicles and pedestrians killing one man and injuring seventeen others. All the while yelling, “Alla hu-Akbar!!”

At Hadassah Hospital, near where I live, cocktails were thrown. I received a text from a friend who also lives in the Kfar who said, “In case you haven’t heard, there were some protests by the Hadassah Hospital today so it would be best to use the main entrance when you return home, just to be safe.”

A few hours later I received another text from an OTZMAnikim who is interning at the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz. “Fyi: Hundreds of Palestinians broke through the barrier into Israel, IDF is currently on the ground.”

It is hard to believe that this day exists. But Israel is a democracy, and protests are allowed, so while it’s crazy to think your car could very well be hit by a thrown stone while driving to work, it’s not out of the ordinary. Especially surrounding, and on the day of, Nakba day.

While those of you reading this might be in awe that such a day exists, I want to note how biased I found a lot of the media to be. On the BBC, one of I think, the most objective-based news websites out there, the headline read, “Israeli forces open fire at Palestinian protesters.” Other pro-Palestinian style headlines were also seen throughout the day on news outlets. I would also like to point out the fact that Syria may have used this day as a way to steer away from their own Arab uprisings currently occurring.

One article I read however that I did agree with is from the magazine Internet site, salon.com.

So next time you are sitting on your porch, barbecuing on July 4, just think to yourself how lucky you are to be living in a country where other people aren’t protesting against your independence. To know that you can celebrate and party and not have to worry about venues being closed because of a terror attack threat (this happened on Yom Ha’atzmaut). On July 4 don’t just get excited for the hamburgers, hot dogs, and various summer salads. Get excited to live in a country where this doesn’t happen every year after your Independence Day.

יום העצמאות‎ – Yom Ha’atzmaut

Last Monday night began the celebration of Israel’s 63rd year of Independence since it’s founding in 1948.

A few friends (Ariel came to visit!) and I went to the center of Jerusalem in the Ben Yehuda area to celebrate. It was crazier than New York on New Years. Everyone was out and about, walking around, having fun, and celebrating.

The next day I woke up and got ready to go to a barbecue. Jenn and I made an Asian Quinoa salad with red peppers, mushrooms, onions, and tofu to bring [Look forward to a future food blog entry with the recipe and instructions on how to make it!]

The barbecue was at Jenn and Eli’s friends who has an apartment in the German Colony. He lives on the top floor and has a view overlooking the area which is just beautiful. Every time I am on a balcony like that I realize how important a view can be. Especially crucial to my mornings of drinking my coffee and reading the newspaper.

We hung out, ate delicious food, barbecued (baroor), and I picked some of the students brains on becoming Rabbis. They all are currently finishing up their first year at Hebrew Union College – a Reform Rabbinical school.

After awhile we decided to head back to our apartment, as it felt like the weekend, but in actuality we had work the next day. On our way back we noticed hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people out and about in the parks, barbecuing, socializing, and celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut. It was lovely to see so much nationalistic pride, and everyone coming together in the parks barbecuing as opposed to staying in their backyards.

On the way home Eli and I decided to make a detour and stop at Gilad Shalit’s tent. Although this is a day of celebration, we should also remember those of us that can not celebrate. Gilad Shalit is a 24 year old IDF soldier who was captured by Hamas almost five years (June 25, 2006) ago and has been held hostage in Gaza since then. He is currently standing between two walls and doesn’t even have room to sit. He has been in this position for far too long.

His parents have set up a memorial and protest tent for him in the center of Jerusalem. They sit out there every single day, handing out stickers and ribbons, selling t-shirts, and allowing people to write on the wall for him. But these are all motionless moves I am sure, as their main intention is to advocate to the Knesset to get their son home. While everyone was celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut Gilads dad was in the forefront arguing with the Israeli government to do something about their son.

On the official website that was created for him it says, “Gilad has not been granted any visitation rights by the International Red Cross or any other humanitarian organization, as required by International Law. The Schalit family have tried to send a number of letters, through the International Red Cross. As far the family knows Gilad has only received one letter, which was transferred with the mediation of the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to Khaled Mash’al, Chairman of the Hamas Political Bureau and then to Gilad Schalit.” If you click on the link for this site it tells you ways you can help if you are interested.

The solution to this horrifying situation however, is not that easy. Hamas is asking that in order to return Gilad back to Israel they would like to see the release of hundreds of Palestinians prisoners (the majority of whom are the worst of the worst terrorists) and the deportation of some of them outside the territory controlled by the Palestinian National Authority. In the past when prisoners were released many Israeli citizens were then killed as an after-effect.

Even Israelis are conflicted. In the last poll that was taken 69% favored Gilad’s release with Hamas’s demands. 22% however, want Gilad to be released but not on the demands of Hamas. Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor at Tel Aviv University, made a comment that I think summed up the complications of the situation perfectly.

“Here we see the basic dilemmas between the individual and the collective, and we see victim pitted against victim. Gilad Shalit is a victim who was violently kidnapped, in a way that Israelis do not consider to be a normative means of struggle. Therefore, one side says, he should be returned at any price. But the families of those killed in terrorist attacks and the people who were wounded in those attacks are victims, too, and they say that no price should be paid to the murderers. And it is truly a dilemma, because no side is right, and no side is wrong.”

Any time a holiday is being celebrated, there are many Israelis who also make a point to say that Gilad is not here to partake in the celebrations. His story is depressing, but it is reality. While Israel more than deserves a day of celebrations for their independence, let it be known that there is still a lot more freedom that can be, and I damn sure hope one day, will be achieved.

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