I am currently sitting on a train traveling from Haifa to Ashqelon. I am not tired enough to sleep, thanks to my “large” hazelnut latte from Cup O’ Joe. I thought it would be fun and relaxing to write this blog entry in my journal. It’s a nice change too, being able to write with a pen as opposed to typing on a keyboard.
So life is still nothing short of beautiful. Each day I am feeling more and more comfortable here, and along with that, I am learning more about myself.
On Wednesday a bunch of the OTZMA girls and I volunteered at an event in Ashkelon called “Women Go Far.” We arrived at a spot on the beach around 15:45 and were greeted by the head of a sports facility in Ashkelon where some Otzma people volunteer. We also were greeted by a manger of a gym who invited us inside to sit for a little and have some water. It was really nice being inside a gym, I miss that atmosphere. But I can’t complain, I am loving the night runs with my friends.
After hanging out for a little we began our work. This “Women Go Far” event was held to basically get women off their tookus’s and start moving and grooving. They first did a two-mile walk from Afridar to where we were waiting for them on the beach. When they arrived there were different exercise stations they could join in on – yoga, spinning, pilates, kickboxing, and aerobics. It was our job to take participate in these classes and motivate the women.
This volunteer work was right up my alley! I did kickboxing and spinning . During spinning our teacher played “Spice Up Your Life” by the Spice Girls. We were putting our hands up in the air, dancing, singing, and spinning our feet round and round. it was one of these moments where I thought to myself, “Wow, life is so great. How did I get so lucky to be here right now dancing on bicycles to the Spice Girls with older Israeli women?” At the end, for those who were left, we finished our exercising with a nice stretching session.
Afterwards we helped give away prizes from the raffles. Israeli’s in general like to push and shove, but learned that Israeli women between the ages of 50-75 especially like to push and shove. Boy did they really want their free giveaways!
There is an Israeli TV station that is comparable to MTV in the U.S. Every two months the station where they film moves to different parts of Israel. Currently it is filming in Ashkelon. The winner of Big Brother Israel was the guest star on a show being filmed that day. He decided to make an appearance at our event and these women went absolutely wild for him. Pushing and shoving brought on a whole new meaning for me.
Seeing these women go nuts in turn led me to thinking about how excited I would have been if I met someone famous in the states. Since I didn’t know who this man was, I really could have cared less. If any of these women met Derek Jeter, they probably would have cared less. It’s interesting how fame is so relative to ones area. Do you remember Shaggy? [But she caught me on the counter (It wasn’t me)] He is performing in Israel in a few weeks and the tickets around $50.00! I guess if your fame dwindles in America you can just go to other parts of the world to continue your career. What a good business strategy Shaggy has. Needless to say, I still won’t be attending his concert.
After a two and a half hour train ride we made it to the third biggest city in Israel. Ariel and I said our goodbyes to Ellen and Ariel, we unfortunately were visiting different friends for the weekend. Since we had some time to spare Ariel and I walked our way to a restaurant on the beach and shared a small pitcher of lemonade. About an hour later we were picked up by a cab driver and Eli who brought us to meet Eli’s mom for a lovely dinner. We ate a tasty seafood restaurant and shared in some great conversation. I had a dish of shrimp and mussels in a spicy tomato sauce, mmm! I don’t get to have fish here as often as I’d like so this was especially yummy.
After dinner Ariel and I hugged goodbye with Eli and his mom. We then got in a sherut and made our way to the University of Haifa. I have an old friend from USY (Ari) who is studying abroad here for the year. Israel is so special in the sense that if you are both here you must reconnect. At home Ari’s school is only a little over from mine, but we weren’t keeping in touch so we hadn’t seen each other in over four years. I am so glad Israel brought us back together though. There’s nothing like reuniting with people to remind you of your past and to re-connect again about your present life and wants for the future.
The campus at the University of Haifa is gorgeous. It is built high up on a hill and the views of the city and Mediterranean Sea below are breathtaking. The dorms/apartments are also very spacious and Ariel and I were quite jealous.
I was able to meet some great and interesting people over the course of the weekend. One of Ari’s roommates (Jasper) is from the San Francisco area. One of his good friends is the son of Phil Lesh (founding member and bass guitarist for the Grateful Dead). This was super fun to learn and I of course asked questions about what their home and life is like, and then proceeded to stalk Mr. Lesh’s son’s facebook. Even more interesting was the trip Jasper had recently taken. Over the summer he traveled to Central – Eastern Europe with his family. Eventually they left to go back home, but Jasper stayed. He proceeded to backpack his way through the Baltics and eventually made his way to Israel to study abroad here for the semester. Talk about adventurous!
Another boy I met is from Denver and just graduated from college. He received a Fulbright to come to Israel for the year. The Fulbright Program is about as prestigious as it gets. You must come up with an idea for a way to create peace somewhere in this world, and if the U.S. Government thinks the idea will work you can then go to a most appropriate area in the world and you will be funded to have your idea turn into a real project. Like other students who were studying abroad here, this boy was not Jewish. It was interesting to talk to him, and others, who decided to come to Israel for reasons other than Jewish-related. Israel is such an interesting country and I don’t think enough non-Jews realize how much they too would love to visit and experience Israel.
On Friday we went out for some lunch and coffee and to paruse around Haifa for a little. Haifia is built up in the hills with the ocean below it. This means cooler weather and stunning views. I think I can safely say that Haifa is my favorite city in Israel. To me, Tel-Aviv is very touristy, and Jerusalem is a city in its own world. No matter who controls it, it will always be Jerusalem. While I love both of these cities, Haifa to me best represents Israel. It was also just so clean and I felt really comfortable and relaxed being there.
At the restaurant we ate in I had a tomato soup and quinoa salad. Tasty times! It was a bit chilly outside, but not to worry, the restaurant actually had blankets for those of us who were getting goosebumps. How brilliant.
On Saturday Ari’s roommate from Israel drove us to an Arab/Jewish shuk outside of Haifa. it was fun to go to, but there was nothing I was interest in buying. Which is probably a good thing. I did spot some interesting goods however.
After the shuk we did some more shopping at a store called H&O, quite similar to H&M actually. (I know you immediately wondered). I saw a t-shirt there that I loved and it was 80 shekel without the membership card. With the card the t-shirt was only 30 shekel. I’d save around $13.00 which is a happy cappuccino or two for my soul. Two of the boys I was with also would have saved money. Thankfully the Israeli we were with explained the situation to another customer and after her transaction her and her husband stuck around. She gave the cashier her card number for all three of our purchases. This was a perfect example of how Israelis love to help each other out.
Once Ariel and I get back to Ashkelon we’ll be going to an OTZMA halloween party in our apartment. My roommates and I are dressing up as the four seasons. I have no clue which one I am going to be yet. It’s so weird how you can celebrate holidays your whole life, but once you are in a place where no one around you is celebrating it, it almost feels like it doesn’t exist. I am starting to feel this way about Thanksgiving, as this is the third year I’ll be out of the country for the ultimate American holiday. Although I know that once I am sitting around the dinner table with my relatives waiting to eat some turkey, it’ll feel as though I never left. Happy Halloween everyone!