Wednesday, April 11, 2007

israel

First here is a run down of events, then after I’ll talk about highlights in more detail. (i know this is long but make sure you read the second part at least, scroll down)

1. Tuesday 6am bullet train from sendai to Tokyo

11:30am – 11.5 hour flight from Tokyo to amsterdam

5 hour layover in Amsterdam

4 hour flight from Amsterdam to Tel Aviv, Israel

Arrive in tel aviv 2am Wednesday, meet brian at airport, crash at his place

2. walk around tel aviv, Israeli breakfast. Take bus to Jerusalem to meet Cori. Walk around the city with her and had my first shakshuka (amazing Israeli dish) at a café.

3. head back to tel aviv with cori and her roommate zack and her friend rachel for a concert that ended up being cancelled for "security reasons”, but still went to tel aviv and went out. Fun night.

zack and i in Tel Aviv


4. get back at like 4 in the morning because of daylights savings lose an hour of sleep, wake up early to go on tour of the Old City, Jerusalem. Cori’s friend Coby who is becoming a tour guide gave us the tour. More on this later.

below: view from the old city


below: Arab cemetery in the Old City and the Mount of Olives in the background


5. really exhausted but don’t take a nap and that evening go to synagogue with Cori for shabat services and then have shabat dinner back at her place with her roommates and a bunch of other people they invited. Had too much wine or I was just really, really tired. Probably both.

6. Saturday just took it easy, walked around some, everything was closed because of shabat (observed from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown) and rested b/c was exhausted and still catching up from the past couple days. And I have to mention this for Yehuda (cori's other roommate): Cori and I were lazing around taking it easy and Yehuda came in and said we looked cute being all depressed and later that night Zack and Cori were looking for flights to Amsterdam.

7. Sunday went up north to Tiberias. Didn’t do a whole lot there but it was nice to see the Sea of Galilee and a different area of Israel.

below: sea of galilee



8. came back Monday morning and Monday evening went over to cori’s friends for Passover dinner. Wonderful dinner – more on this later.

me at the seder


9. Tuesday went to some other neighborhoods/areas in Jerusalem which was really cool. One neighborhood is the oldest one in the city, and then the other is a really religious neighborhood where they live and observe like jews did in Russia and eastern Europe. You’re not supposed to walk there if you’re a woman without wearing a skirt or dressed appropriately and not supposed to take pictures, but we didn’t follow any of that of course and got lots of looks and stares, but nothing new there.


below: me in the oldest neighborhood

the really religious area, kids staring at us b/c we look different, and the in the other one there is smoke b/c people are burning bread (no bread during passover)



downtown Jerusalem:




10. That night went to the city Zfat with Cori and her roommate Yehuda. Interesting city, very artsy, mystic, hippie like – located in the north 3.5 hours drive about. Stayed the night and came back the next day.


from bus ride back:

11. Thursday went to the Dead Sea. Very cool. Surrounded by desert and across the sea is Jordan. Went in the water and floated, a very cool feeling. If you don’t know, the dead sea is the lowest point on earth, has a lot of salt density and nothing lives in it, no fish, and when you go in it, you float. We used some of the dead sea mud too on our skin.




12. that night went out in Jerusalem – cori, brian, and me. Went to this cool bar called Uganda. Met some “interesting” (for lack of better word) people there. Then met with zack and went to another bar. Then went back to cori’s place and ended up talking and staying up late and listening to broken social scene. good times.

first photo below: this crazy guy we saw on the bus on our way into downtown Jerusalem to go out that night, and then saw him again at the cafe we were at, photo of him dancing. other photos below at the bar Uganda.

13. last day already – Friday – went to Tel Aviv, had an awesome lunch, walked along the beach, went to a café, saw a drum circle, watched a movie at brian’s place, went back out to this cool bar called rift raft, met some cool germans, and then went to the airport at 3am for my 5:30am flight.

the beach in Tel Aviv



14. 6 hour layover in Amsterdam. This time I went into the city, only 15 minute train ride away. So walked around and hung out for 2-3 hours. Then went back to the airport. I had never been to Amsterdam before, only been to the airport, so that was cool.

15. long flight back from Amsterdam to Tokyo. But the flight was pretty empty and this time it had the individual tv screens so I got to watch movies to stay preoccupied. It’s not always fun traveling alone.

16. so I left tel aviv at 5:30am Saturday morning and got back to my apartment at 3pm Sunday.

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More details aka the good stuff:

1. SECURITY Israel has extremely tight and strict security, but it’s a good thing. Makes you feel safe. Not once did I feel unsafe the entire time I was there. But maybe it was just because i was in this mode where I didn’t care or think about it much. All the main bus stops would have a security person patrolling and asking and checking if everything is ok. All cafes, restaurants, stores, etc would have a security person and check your bag before going in. all big shopping malls, bus stations, etc would have security machines to run your bag through and/or security/metal detectors to walk though. It’s just a part of daily life.


WOMEN MILITARY Another thing was that I saw so many women in uniform and carrying their huge guns walking around. Military service is required at age 18 and they *all* join and take pride in it. Really cool. I mean there are many men too, but the women caught my eye b/c in other countries its mostly men that I see in uniform so it was cool to see just as many women too.

AIRPORT SECURITY – on the way from Amsterdam to tel aviv, they individually questioned every passenger. When it was my turn the guy was looking at my passport very intently, and I was wondering why, and then he said he’ll be back and took my passport with him, and he was showing it to his colleagues. Apparently he had noticed the north korea stamp in my passport and was all interested in it and talking to his colleagues about it. Pretty funny. And later on one of his colleagues started asking me about it so I told him about the DMZ north korea / south korea tour.

On the way BACK from tel aviv to Amsterdam. Before I could even walk in the airport a security guy asked me questions. Then before going to the check-in counter they ran my luggage through a heavy-duty security machine and then still had every person empty their luggage to be searched. I mean I had to completely empty my luggage and they scanned and looked through everything. Then I finally checked in and then walked through the area before going to the gate with my carry on bag and they checked all that too, even taking my ipod out of its case and scanning my passport, etc. and of course in between all that a lot of questions. But I didn’t mind. I appreciated the security and they were really nice about it.

2. TOUR OF THE OLD CITY – this is one of those things where I have all these things in my mind I would like to say but not sure how to put it to words on paper so to speak. It really was a fascinating tour and experience. Coby the tour guide was really informative and knew a lot. There is the Armenian quarter, the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter, and the Jewish quarter – all in the old city. One place that means so much to so many people.

Two memorable experiences:

1. The Western Wall – I walked up to this wall that people have come to prayed at for many years and still do today. I can’t describe the feeling very well. It was very moving. I stood there and looked to the left of me and saw 2 women hugging each other and crying. Who knows what they were so emotional about or what their story is, but it made me emotional, to see such strong emotions brought about from being at the Western Wall. It was really too much to handle that I had to walk away before I started crying. Made me realize it’s hard to be selfish and think about your own problems when there are so many greater problems in the world we live in.

western wall - men on the left, women on the right


  1. the second experience is getting stoned, literally. Coby took us through the Arab quarter which I thoroughly enjoyed. I’ve been to places that look like this before, but it was different, because of the meaning behind it and that it was in the Old City. We went to this restaurant and had amazing hummus and falafel. Then we continued walking around that area. The Muslims were coming out from prayer, so there were tons of people walking out and we were heading in the opposite direction. So we stopped on the side to let them pass, and in the mean time Coby told us some more things. Well while I was standing there and listening to him, I felt something hit my my left leg. So I looked down and I saw a stone at the ground and saw a kid a little to the left of me. I ignored it. Then a moment later I felt another stone being thrown at me on my right side, and a kid standing over there. And then a 3rd stone in the other direction. I mean only the first stone slightly hit my leg and the others were just tossed at me in my direction but didn’t touch me. Cori had told me before that she has heard stories of Muslims doing this to Jews. The more shocking and ironic thing is that I’m not even Jewish and I was the one to get stoned in the Arab quarter in the old city in Jerusalem!! The kids were probably like 8 years old. To think that someone is brought up to learn to hate someone with probably not even knowing why and be brainwashed. I probably looked like a Sephardic Jew to them (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sephardic_Jew). I was wearing a skirt over my jeans like I often dress b/c I picked up that fashion in spain, but a lot of jews in Israel dress that way and that style is associated with jews. I realize and understand that Jews will also give looks and stares at Arabs in Jewish areas, so that's two-way, but the act of violence doesn't occur.
Arab Quarter in the Old City






above: The Temple Mount, right near where i got stoned


3. PASSOVER dinner – The family that had us over for dinner were extremely nice people, Americans who immigrated many years ago to Israel. There were like 20 people at the dinner, including their son and daughter in law and grandkids and other family friends. I felt very welcomed.

Passover is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the Jews being freed of slavery from the Egyptians. A discussion came up of how Jews today can relate to this to their life today. It was a really interesting, moving, and intellectual discussion. I probably enjoyed the discussion even more because it was very thought-provoking and in Japan I’ve rarely had any thought-provoking or intellectually stimulating conversations. Anyway, there was this lady at the dinner named Gurda who is an amazing women. She’s 87 years old and was born in Austria and lived during the holocaust. She was never in a concentration camp, her and her husband escaped to England. However she told of a story where she was 16.5 years old and was sent into solitary confinement for 3 months because of being a communist. She talked about how for 2 days she was a mess but then when she realized being there was out of her control she could at least do something for herself to get through it, so she talked about her daily life there and what she did to get by. She then talked about the difference of being enslaved when it’s not in your control and then when one chooses to enslave themselves, maybe not literally but in the figurative sense. She talked about how when her husband died (I don’t know the story if he was really young or how he died) she said she was completely devastated and she was going to drive herself nuts, so she had to do something about that, and she then moved to Israel where she could feel at home and be in comfort and around people she could identify with and have friends. She said when one is in that situation, you have to do something, whether it’s yoga, or meditate or to go to a better place, etc. You had to be there, but her talk was very moving. She also said how you have to have faith in something greater, whether that’s God, luck, chance or whatever it may be. I felt it was one of those things where everyone could get something out of it and relate it to their personal lives.

this is a good time to also point out that for shabat and passover and holidays in general, there are always people who will welcome you into their homes and to have dinner with them so no one is alone on shabat or a holiday. i found this very thoughtful and really shows the sense of community in israel.


4. ALSO while walking around Cori would point out a café and be like “that was bombed in this year” and the café was running as normal as if nothing happened. People continue to live their lives. It’s what you have to do.

Cori told me this story of her friend. When she was younger, in grade school, she was heading to the bus to meet her friends to go to school when she realized she left her math book at home. So she decided to go get her math book and catch the next bus. It ended up that the bus her friends was on got bombed and her friends died. She thought she was ok because she was studious and so from then she put everything into studying and always put school and studying first. Then in high school she was supposed to go to meet her friends at a pizza place to study, but she thought she always put studying first and this time she was going to go out with her other friends instead of go and study. Well that restaurant was bombed and her friends died. That’s when she realized that you have to live your life and not be afraid.

5. DON’T BE AFRAID TO VISIT ISRAEL – the media portrays it as a really unsafe place and only reports the negative and bad things that happen there, but it’s actually a really cool, amazing, and fascinating country. It’s only about the size of the state of New Jersey but it has so much. For one the landscape differs drastically, one moment you’re in the mountains and greenery and you drive 1.5 hour south and you’re in the dry desert.

THE PEOPLE – such a nice change from Japan. The people are very blunt, forward, outgoing and speak their mind. But not necessarily rude, the only rude people I met were cab drivers, haha, but rest of the Israelis I met were extremely nice. The culture and mindset is just so different. There are many American immigrants and immigrants from all over, many Ethiopians too.

lastly - i recommend to visit cori's blog. she is much more articulate at getting her thoughts out and describing events and everything, her blog is really interesting and part of what made me have the urge to go visit Israel.

i wouldn't mind visiting Israel again - would be interested in learning more, talk to some Palestinians to hear other perspectives, and talk to more people in general, and maybe live on a kibbutz.
overall the best way to describe this trip was an awakening experience.
israel was never a place i thought i would visit, no particular reason why, it just never occurred to me to visit the country. i never studied or learned or read much about the middle east and the politics and everything you also hear in the media. again no particular reason why. but thanks to my friends i gained an interest and i would like to say i learned so much by visiting the country and just being there, more then any other way i could have, and i think that was the best way.


oh i should add: cori and brian are friends of mine that i met while at university of delaware and they made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) in August/Sept 2006.

i probably didn't cover everything, so if you have any questions at all, PLEASE ASK!!


and as always, rest of my photos are here.
ISRAEL photos
AMSTERDAM photos

8 comments:

  1. Fantastic read Tanya! And then I ended up looking at your friends blog for a few minutes too.

    First - I love the photo of the little girls staring at you. It says so much - that feeling of being an outsider, the curious look that only children can give dead on, the innocence of that age yet at the same time the seriousness of it all. Yes, I love that photo.

    Second - the stoning thing is disturbing and your friend also seemed upset by it. It's so frustrating that children are taught such hate that they would pick up a rock and throw it at someone without having talk to them. At least come up and say hello. It's very sad. (Oh, you need to watch 'the world according to sesame street' - it's about the creation of sesame street for other countries and I think you'd really like it.)

    Anyway, great read! I'm happy that you left Israel still so positive about it.

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  2. Wow! Sounds like it was a really enjoyable and fascinating trip!

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  3. Richard Bernard4/16/2007 9:22 PM

    A great blog, Tanya. made we want to visit Israel someday. Sounds like your trip was invigorating and enlightening. Why no intellectual discussions in Japan? What are the Japanese people like, to live with, anyway?

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  4. Sounds like a great trip! I was really hoping to see some pictures of you floating in the dead sea after reading about it, though. ;)

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  5. Very interesting! Looks like a fascinating place.

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  6. I loved this entry, for obvious reasons :) I'm really glad that you got so much out of the trip, and it was really, really interesting for me to see Israel through your eyes. I really hope that you'll come back, because there is so much more to see. Maybe I'll even let you take some pictures of me this time :) I miss you already!

    Also, Israel thanks you for the good PR !

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  7. Hi Tanya! Great pictures and great text, too! You really make me want to see Israel! The Sea of Gallilee is beautiful. Everything looked so bright and cheerful. The white stone against the greenery was beautiful, too. You looked like you really enjoyed yourself. Glad you had so many wonderful connections with the people. The stoning was interesting. I'm glad you got to be in such an interesting place. Jerusalem must have been very interesting. It seems like a lot of travel time to get to Isreal for you but it must have been worth it.

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  8. Tanya......It's nice to read about the rest of your trip!!! I'm glad that you felt so comfortable and welcomed by my 'laws. Gerda really is someone special and it's awesome to read how she has made such an impact on you (and Cori and Brian too, I know Cori has blogged about her as well!)

    Anyway....as Cori says, hope you'll come back again some day.....take care!

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