Before I write about my last few days here in Ashkelon I want to focus on the worst fire in Israel’s history that erupted Thursday from the forests of the Carmel in Haifa. 41 prison guards were killed, they were on a bus that overturned into the fire. Too many others have been injured as well. Fortunately 15,000 people have been evacuated and there has been an outpour of international support. The fire occurred because Israel is currently in a drought, I personally haven’t seen rain once since I’ve been here. I think only twice has it rained where I’ve been, but both times I was sleeping and it didn’t last too long. If you want to help in any way I think the best place to do it is by visiting the Jewish National Fund
The other night my friends went to a bar and when they walked in they said it was completely empty. When Vanessa asked the bartender why this was so he said it’s because “the whole country is in mourning.” It got me thinking, if we were in the United States and forest fires erupted in northern California and 41 people died would people choose to sit at home for the evening instead of going out to the bars with their friends? Doubtful. But here in Israel many restaurants, shops, and bars closed and people sat in their homes and mourned. One of my favorite things about Israel has always been the outpour of nationalism here.
Today is my last day living in Ashkelon! I can hardly believe it. I am pretty much packed, but unfortunately I have a lot of cleaning to do. Tomorrow I am off to Tsfat for a 2-week program. Instead of trying to describe what I am doing exactly, I’ll let the website do it for you: “Livnot is the premiere experience geared towards Jews 21-30+ with little or no background in Judaism. The program facilitates an exploration of Israel and Jewish heritage through the medium of fascinating seminars, challenging hikes and rewarding community service projects. The name Livnot U’Lehibanot, which in Hebrew means To Build and To Be Built, refers to the physical contribution the participants make to the building of the Land of Israel, and to the knowledge and experiences gained during the program. Livnot is a community experience. Participants learn, hike, work, live and explore Judaism together.” Pretty awesome! I am really looking forward to it, especially exploring Tsfat. I heard it’s a really cool arsty city, in fact it is where Kaballah started.
A few weeks ago I went to a meeting for the foundation with all of the head employees and presented my articles. I was given a plaque/flag/future placement on a bookshelf in my library for the work I did. While there I took a picture with the executive director of the foundation and was invited to an employee holiday dinner. Ariel and Vanessa were also invited because of their help at the family club. I was told that I’d be given ‘a big surprise’, ooo la la.
Thursday night Ariel and I went and it was so incredible. We got there and said our hellos and spoke with the people I knew while outside having cocktails. Then we made our way inside to a beautiful, classy room filled with about 200 people. The picture I took with the executive director of the foundation kept popping up over all of the screens, how funny and also embarrassing!
We sat at the VIP table with the head of the foundation, my contact through all of this, the mayor of Ashkelon, a former member of the Knesset, and some more brilliant minds. They each got up and gave a speech to everyone, unfortunately they spoke to fast for me to understand what they were saying. At one point my contact translated for me because the head of the Foundation talked to everyone about the volunteer work I did and the great articles I wrote. They then called me up to accept a present! It was so incredible, but I’ve also never blushed so long in my life. I was kind of like the ‘honoree’ of the evening. At one point the mayor of Ashkelon personally thanked me and gave me two letters, one was written in English and the other in Hebrew.
I also was given an Israeli newsletter for the Ashkelon Foundation. My contact told me that my words inspired other employees to write their own articles for an Israeli newsletter (my newsletter is being sent to the US, UK, and South Africa).
After I sat down I had an incredible dinner of a spicy fish fillet and some marinated vegetables. The caretaker from the family club was at the party because the place is run by the Ashkelon Foundation. She came up to me and was so excited, she said “I was like a celebrity!” While I of course wanted to do all of this volunteer work and never in a million years expected this, it was truly one of the proudest moments of my life.
When I got home I immediately opened the gift and inside was a gorgeous menorah. I am so happy to know that when I am older with my kids celebrating Channukah, I can tell them the story behind this menorah.
On more sour news, we had a drainage problem with our shower and haven’t had one for about a week now. The water leaked into my bedroom and it took about 4 hours to squeegie it all back in. It wouldn’t be as gross, but unfortunately our floors here are disgusting so all the poop, dirt, and grime from them rose up and swam in the water as well. Yum! Needless to say I am glad it is my last night in this place, although I will miss everyone. Bittersweet Symphony, this life.