The Final Countdown

So begins my last few weeks in Israel. I haven’t really gotten emotional yet, probably because it hasn’t really set in yet that I’m leaving.

I think part of the reason why I’m not as sad as some of the other people on my program is because I’m coming back next year. Even if I haven’t tried all the restaurants in Tel Aviv I’ve wanted to or haven’t gone to visit certain sites around the country, I’m not that worried telling myself that I have next year.

As most people are trying to check things off their Israeli bucket list, I’m trying to figure out how to store stuff for three months over the summer. I don’t think it’s safe to leave clothes in suitcases for three months, won’t they get mildewy or moldy?

What did finally hit me today though was how different next year will be. I’ve gotten so used to living and working with people on my program, I haven’t really had to worry about making friends. There’s always someone around to go to the grocery store, the movies with, or shopping with (even though we can’t afford it).

Next year will be totally different. None of the people I met this year will be around, well maybe a select two or three that are staying for another year like me. Some of them live in Australia and South Africa, making me wonder if I’ll even see them ever again. Even the ones that live in America will be halfway across the world once I’m back in Israel. I’ve spent one of the most memorable years of my life with these people whom I might never see again and that’s just…weird.

I don’t know when I’ll get emotional about the end of the program. Maybe it’ll happen when I pack my suitcase, or when I’m on the plane. Maybe it won’t even happen until I’m back next year and have to start all over again making friends.

School has been winding down. The kids are crazy because it’s the end of the year. Most of our days have been filled with rehearsing for the final ceremony and playing go fish. A game I will never be able to play ever again after this year.

I’ll miss the kids but probably not school itself. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time working with these kids. Not only did I teach them English, but they also taught me things about myself. I’ve learned to be more laid back, as no matter how hard you plan things with the students, nothing will actually get done until the last minute. But I’ve also learned to be more optimistic. Because even though all that stuff is done the day before or day of, if somehow always turns out great. These kids really know how to pull through.

I’m not sure if teaching is in my future. For my brother, this program taught him he never wanted to teach again. I on the other hand am still undecided. I had my good days and my bad days. But nothing beats when the kids come up to me to show me their end dress or smile at our matching “friendship” bracelets. And it’s even better when after hours of explanation, they finally understand what I’m teaching them: the figurative light bulb going off.

Tonight we had our closing ceremony for the program. I was extremely nervous about it because my students had to perform a song. Every year my school does a performance at this ceremony, so this year Amanda and I decided to teach them Shiny Happy People. They didn’t like the song at first, saying it was “ugly” and they wanted to sing Rihanna. But in the end it turned out great. They even memorized the words which was an added bonus. There was some breakdancing and silly dancing at the end. I was proud!

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The group!

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Student selfies!

A week from today is my last day in school. We’ll see if the finality of everything has hit me by then!

Newest article I wrote for Pink Pangea!

Last night I went to sleep at 4am and today I woke up at noon. Why? Because I am suffering from severe jet lag after my 24-hour trip from Newark to Israel. Since I teach at an Israeli elementary school, I had a long break for Passover. Those few weeks off, coupled with some personal days I saved for this purpose, allowed me to visit home for the first time in seven months. I spent 18 days at home, playing with my little brothers, venturing into New York City, and lounging around with my bulldog.

Returning home for a few weeks was the best decision I could have made. A few months earlier I was debating between going home or taking a trip around Europe. Ask any of my roommates—I debated these two scenarios tirelessly. I am so thankful that ultimately I chose to go home. If you find yourself facing a similar situation, here is my advice:

If you are given the chance to go home for a few days or a few weeks, take it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel and am currently in the process of booking a weekend getaway to Rome, but trust me when I say that a few weeks in your childhood bedroom, eating home cooked food, and catching up with friends and family will only give you the drive to travel more. It’s sort of like a pit stop during a car race; you’ll rest, recharge, and be ready to go. Living alone abroad is hard and you may not realize how much you miss home until you are actually there. The fresh home cooked meals I received every night were like five-star meals compared to the dinners I make for myself in Israel.

Travel while you can.

The most common question I was asked by friends during my visit was why I chose to live abroad and teach English for a year. The best answer I could think of was, why not? I have the rest of my life to work, sit in a cubicle, and wear business casual clothes and uncomfortable high-heeled shoes.

After telling them about my everyday life in Israel, someone remarked, “What are we doing with our lives? Why aren’t we doing something like that?” Yes, this friend works for a renowned company and makes much more money than my measly monthly stipend, but her mood seemed to dampen slightly with the realization that she is 22 and knows exactly what the rest of her life will look like—unless she does something drastic like quit her job and move abroad (which is actually what one of my roommates, who was a lawyer in Australia, did when she moved to Israel to teach English). But not many people have the courage or drive to do this.

After telling my friends about my everyday life in Israel, someone remarked, “What are we doing with our lives? Why aren’t we doing something like that?”

If you are looking for a year off to travel, some Google searches will quickly turn up numerous opportunities for you to work or volunteer abroad. For Israel specifically, Masa Israel Journey offers some fantastic options.

I am not criticizing any of my friends. I am in awe of their amazing lives in the city that seem straight out of an episode of Girls. But talking to them made me realize that I don’t need that life right away. A steady 9-5 job will be waiting for me once I return from my travels. There’s no need to rush into this right after college.

Don’t stress about the future.

I know it sounds cliché, but it’s completely relevant to people my age who are constantly told that they need to have a perfect resume to land a lucrative job in order to live a successful life.

Unlike my friends, I don’t know what my future holds. But my visit home taught me that living with unknowns is okay. Speaking to friends who both hate and love their current jobs showed me not only how lucky I am, but also how brave I was to move to Israel after college. Although I don’t live in my own apartment, take the subway to work every morning, or earn a steady and large paycheck, I realized that I am much happier traveling abroad at this point in my life. I am not worried about the future because I currently have nothing major to worry about—no mortgage, no big deadlines, no public transportation strikes. It takes courage to leave all things familiar at home and embark on an adventure in an unknown country. But given such an opportunity, I’d have been crazy not to take it.

Protests and Language Barriers

On Thursday night my teacher took Amanda and I out to dinner. One other teacher came with us. It happened to be her birthday so it was a reason to celebrate. We went to Giraffe one of my favorite, if not the favorite, restaurants in Israel. It’s a Chinese place that specializes in various noodle dishes. It’s a chain so they have them all over Israel.

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The amazing dessert I did manage to photograph.

We decided to split three different dishes. I was so hungry and excited that I forgot to take pictures of the meal. However, something very interested happened as we started to eat.  A  protested formed outside the restaurant. It was a silent protest and didn’t target Giraffe specifically. Rather, it was a protest against anyone who ate meat.

It was really awkward because the protesters were holding all these signs in Hebrew. I couldn’t read them but my teacher told me they said various things about animals being our friends and we shouldn’t eat them, or that if all slaughter houses had glass walls everyone would be a vegetarian. It got really weird when the protestors came right up to the window and placed the signs right on the glass. I was sitting right next to the window so I felt really awkward as I placed my fork full of chicken pad thai to my mouth.

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They even held their signs through the window of the restaurant, coming inside. The waiters started to pull down the shades, covering the windows. But of course I sat next to the one set of windows that wasn’t equipped with blinds. Soon enough my window was full even more signs as the protestors flocked to the one open space. Eventually the had enough of Giraffe and moved onto another restaurant right next door.

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Besides my interesting encounter at dinner of Thursday night, I experienced two instances this weekend that involved the language barrier and were really frustrating.

I had to buy some allergy medicine Thursday afternoon, I’ve had the sniffles the past few days most likely due to all the dust in my room. I went to SuperPharm, the CVS of Israel and walked to the Pharmacy. The ticket dispenser was broken (sort of like how you form a line at the deli counter in the supermarket, but for the pharmacy). But, I saw multiple people with tickets. I was so confused and was not sure what to do. After aimlessly walking around the store for 10 minutes, I saw an employee handing out tickets near another entrance. I had a picture of the medicine I needed on my phone, so I went up to her and asked in Hebrew where it was. She responded that it was in the pharmacy. I asked her if I could have a ticket, but she said I didn’t need one. But it’s in the pharmacy I reminded her. She knew, but I still didn’t need a ticket. This went back and forth in my broken Hebrew for a while, until I pleaded with her just to come and show me. She said no, and just gave me a ticket. I waited in line for about 20 minutes until I was helped and successfully given a ticket.

If I had been able to speak Hebrew better I am sure that the whole confusion and frustration would have been avoided.

Later that day the language barrier got the best of me again. It was actually the same night as my dinner with my teacher. I made the reservation for 8 and got there on time. Amanda was waiting for my teacher to pick her up, but had not heard from her yet. Since the restaurant was in a mall I decided I would tell the hostess that I was there (the reservation was under my name), but that I was going to wait outside or walk around until the rest of my party arrived. She didn’t speak any English, and my attempts to use basic sentences and even Google Translate did not work. She had no idea what I was trying to say. So I just accepted my defeat and sat down at the table alone to wait for everyone else. It didn’t help that my phone had died and it took everyone else thirty minutes to get there because of an accident. I was not pleased.

The rest of the weekend was very relaxing. I spend the weekend at my boyfriend’s house, watching movies and baking cookies. Can’t get much better than that, right?

I go home on Friday for about two and a half weeks and I cannot wait!! Counting down the days.

Purim Vacation: Parties in School, Wine & Cheese, and an Amazing Trip up North

Purim is the Halloween of Israel except it’s ten times more fun. Everyone gets really into it here and it lasts almost an entire week instead of just one day. From Tuesday until Saturday of this week I saw little children, angsty teenagers, and working adults walking around in outrageous and creative costumes. The holiday is based on a ancient story that seemingly doesn’t have anything to do with dressing up, but I know you are supposed to drink a lot during the holiday.

On Tuesday all of the kids came to school in their costumes. Amanda and I had borrowed (and washed) shirts from the lost and found and took two school hats so we could dress up as students. The kids seemed to enjoy our costume, their eyes lighting up every time they realized we were dressed as them. My two favorite costumes were mustard and a hot air balloon. The whole day was one giant party and school ended early at 1130. That was it for school for the week, we had Wednesday to Friday off.

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me and mustard

That night my roommates and I spoke about going out. I mean Purim is all about drinking until you can’t tell the difference between good and evil, so we figured we had to go out and try it. We were all going away for Purim vacation so Tuesday was the only night we would all be home and had nothing to do early Wednesday morning. As 8pm rolled around I started to get really tired and had the desire to just lay in bed and watch Netflix. I didn’t want to miss out on a roomie night out but I also did not feel like taking off my sweatpants and putting on skinny jeans and make up.

I asked my roommates if they just wanted to stay in and watch TV with me. Or better yet. I proposed a wine and cheese night. I would go to the supermarket and get all the supplies and all they would have to do was not go out and keep me company. It didn’t take too much convincing, Kayleigh, Mona, and Iris were all done with the new idea. I mean drinking wine counted as going out, right?

The cheese plate was amazing. Mona and I went a little crazy at the supermarket but it was worth it. Basically I paid my friends to stay in and hang out with me instead of going out, but it was definitely worth it.

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the final outcome.

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a random cat we saw sleeping in a stroller in our lobby

On Wednesday morning I took the bus to Tel Aviv to meet my boyfriend. We hung out in the city for a little and ate at my favorite hummus place. It’s just down the street from where my brother used to live in Florintine and it was incredible. Then we just rested as we had a big trip planned for the next day.

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THE BEST

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On Thursday we set off on our trip to the Galilee, or the Kinneret in Hebrew, which is in the North. Ran’s dad’s friend owns a bunch of tzimmers there so that’s where we were staying. A tzimmer is basically a little cabin or cottage on a kibbutz in the north. They have them all over and have them for couples or for families. It’s nicer than staying in a hotel room because it’s more private and also a lot quieter. Tzimmers are really romantic and it’s homey because you are staying on a kibbutz or in a small town where there are only 7 or 8 other tzimmers. Our tzimmer was in Arbel, right next to Tiberias and literally overlooking the Kinneret. It was so beautiful and quiet. We could hear cows a few feet away from us whenever we opened our front door. It was a cute little farm in a tiny town. Very quiet and peaceful and much different from Tel Aviv.

On the drive up we stopped in Haifa for lunch. We ate in the German Colony which is right at the bottom of the Ba’hai gardens. I made friends with a little cat who I kept throwing my leftover grilled chicken too.

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My buddy

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The bottom of the Ba’hai gardens

After Haifa we drove to Mount Tavor (or Tabor depending on where you see it). We drove on these crazy windy roads to get to the top. Some of the roads were so steep I thought the car would flip over backwards. On top of the mountain is an old church or monastery. I know it’s bad but I honestly don’t know. I more so wanted to go just for the view. It was so pretty and I couldn’t believe how high up we were. My ears were popping the whole drive down the mountain.

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Top of Mount Tabor

After Mount Tabor we headed to the Kinneret. I was awestruck when I saw how green the North was. Everywhere I looked there were were grassy fields where cows or horses were grazing. There were giant green hilltops looking over the bright blue Kinneret, it was one of the most beautiful things I had seen in Israel. We drove to Arbel and met Ran’s dad’s friend who showed us to our cabin. It was small and homey. The best part about it was that there was a jacuzzi inside the bathroom. I love taking baths. At home I usually take a bath a week, it just relaxes me whenever I am feeling anxious or stressed. I have not been able to take a bath since arriving in Israel as the bathtub in my apartment is a little scary and who knows how old it is. But the jacuzzi was clean and giant. I took two baths within the first 12 hours of being there.

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our tzimmer

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so much green!

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We hung out in the tzimmer for a few hours. We were tired from all our traveling that day. Then we went down to Tiberias for dinner. Tiberias is right on the Kinneret and there is a pretty boardwalk along the water. The Promenade (as it is called) was really crodwed because of Purim and there were a lot of kids running around, playing soccer, and spraying shaving cream. So, our visit to the boardwalk was short. We ate at this amazing Chinese restaurant for dinner, right on the water with the full moon in the background. After dinner we got crepes on the boardwalk, picked up some snacks for the room, and went back to the tzimmer to watch a movie. The best part of the night was when Ran let me drive around Arbel a little bit. It had been my first time driving in six months and I forgot how much I missed it.

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not actually French, but still good

The next day, Friday, we had a lot of fun things planned. The day started off great with a home cooked breakfast by the owners of the tzimmer. We had a bunch of fresh salads, bread, and omelets with whatever we wanted in them. After breakfast we drove a quick five minutes to the Arbel cliffs. These cliffs are historical because there are caves in them where Jews hid thousands (I think) years ago to hide from the Romans. The cliffs were just insane. I literally felt like I was both on top of the world and in a scene from The Lord of The Rings. The Cliffs had an amazing view of the Kinneret and also the small towns below.

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After the Cliffs we drove a little south to Beit Zera, a small kibbutz just below the Kinneret. We were told that they had a little zoo there and you were able to go into the monkey cages. I was immediately sold. Ran and I were the only visitors above the age of 7 but it was totally worth it. There were turtle, peacocks, and chickens just walking freely around. There was an exhibit of baby goats and I was so tempted to break in and steal one. But the best part was the monkeys. I had to take everything out of my pockets so that the monkeys wouldn’t steal anything. There wasn’t anyone who worked at the zoo monitoring the monkey cages so it was a little daunting to just walk in there. Ran didn’t want to go so he was in charge of holding my bag and taking pictures. I walked inside and immediately one little guy climbed onto my arm and then my head. There were also giant toucans just hanging out in the cage. It was amazing, they were so soft and little (the monkeys, not the toucans. I was a little afraid of the giant birds).

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After the monkeys we walked around a little more and saw some giant turtles trying to mate and two chickens having a fight. I then opted to go back into the monkey cage one more time. I ended up having to help a monkey get back inside as he was stuck in the little hallway entrance separating the outside from the inside of the cage. He grabbed onto my arm and held on tightly unit we were back in the cage. He tried to steal one of my bracelets right off my wrist but I caught him.

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After the zoo we stopped for lunch at a rest stop and drove north to Agamay Achula. It’s a big reserve right near the base of Mount Hermon. There are supposed to be thousands of birds there they fly in giant flocks but I guess it wasn’t the season because we only saw about 10 birds the whole time. We rented a golf cart to drive around the giant reserve. I think the golf cart may have been one of the best parts of the trip. We took turns driving, stopping every so often to take some scenic pictures.

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Although there weren’t that many birds there the area was unbelievable. There were so many flowers and ponds, it was just really pretty. And it had a great view of Hermon which still had some snow dotted around its peak. Halfway through the reserve we were stopped by a family. They told us that their four year old daughter was too tired to keep riding her bike and asked if she could join us on the golf cart. I was surprised she had made it that far on a tricycle to begin with because if I had been riding a regular bike I would have stopped long before. It was really hot at that point and she was wearing what looked like a ninja turtle costume for Purim so she must have been really hot. We said of course, and our new passenger, Danielle joined us on our ride.

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Her family road their bikes close behind us so that she didn’t get scared but she didn’t seem to mind riding in a golf cart with complete strangers at all. She was so cute, I kept on trying to sneak and take pictures of her.

After we finished the golf cart ride we said goodbye to Danielle and her family. We ate some Pita Druzen (Druz pita, which is basically pita filled with labane, tzatar, and oil). It’s Ran’s favorite and I had never had it before. So when we saw a stand right outside of the reserve we knew we had to get some. It was pretty late at that point so we drove back to the tzimmer to of course take another bath and rest before dinner.

For dinner that night we went to another farm area just around the corner from where we were staying. This family also owned tzimmers and a restaurant. It wasn’t like a normal restaurant though because they only served dinner between 7-730pm as it is just a dad, mom, and son running the place. The restautany was so tiny and cute. I didn’t feel like I was in Israel but rather on a winery in the Napa Valley. The food was amazing. We started with some pate as an appetizer. Ran had steak for dinner and I had a veal stew. It was amazing.

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pate

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veal stew

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complimentary mango/orange juice

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On Saturday we woke up late, ate another great home cooked breakfast, and then headed home. On the way we stopped near Beit Shein to go to a kangaroo zoo suitably named Gan Garu. Not only did I get to feed and pet kangaroos, but I also fed baby goats and saw some koalas snoozing away. Ran and I tried the maze they had there but ended up cheating at the end and slipping out between two bushes.

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Then we began the drive back to Tel Aviv. On the way we stopped on the side of the road to pick up more Druzen pita which was more authentic than the stand outside of the bird reserve. There was an old lady making the pita from scratch and then cooking it on a round hot ball as you ordered. YUM!

My vacation up North was so much fun and definitely one of the best vacations I have ever been on! I can’t wait to go back and stay at another tzimmer hopefully one day soon!

Red Flowers, A Botanical Garden, and a Fancy Business Lunch

Yesterday, four of my friends and I decided to take an adventure. We had heard a lot about these red poppies that bloom throughout Southern Israel. Apparently there are just fields of these red poppies, like endless rows of them.

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What the poppies look like in full bloom.

I knew I wanted to go as soon as I heard about them. It was just getting there that was the problem. On my last adventure to the South African restaurant, our sort of simple three bus journey turned into a 2 bus, 2 taxi, and 1 car ride ordeal.

My friends and I decided to rent a car to ease the pain of actually getting to the place. Turns out that renting a car in Israel is really easy and cheap. Both of these things surprised me because they contradict most processes in this country. Between 5 people the car was only 50 shekels each (including a young driver fee and insurance) but an extra 20 when we had to fill up the gas tank.We left bright and early on Sunday, 5 of us squeezed into what felt like a clown car. We set off on the 45 minute drive south.

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Clown car

When we pulled into the Pura Nature Reserve, we had expected to see endless rows of bright red. But instead all we saw was green. I optimistically urged that we probably just had to walk a little into the reserve before we would see the flowers.

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What was left of the flowers.

Well, I was wrong. There were small patches of red flowers throughout the fields of green. Because the season is only the month of February we figured we must have been late. It was as if as soon as the clock struck March 1 (the day we went) all the flowers died. I mean realistically it was probably just a short blooming season, but it felt ironic, almost like we were a day late and a penny short, as the expression goes.

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Sitting in a patch I found.

We still really enjoyed ourselves. The reserve was really pretty and was filled with other flowers besides the red poppies. My favorite part was the lush green grass everywhere. There isn’t that much grass in Israel, or at least not the really nice thick grass I’m used to from New Jersey. I just wanted to roll around in it. Which I attempted until I learned the grass was filled with prickly things that hurt really badly when pierced through my jeans.

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I found grass!

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A nice lake in the reserve.

After we walked around the reserve we decided it was time to eat somewhere. We googled places in the area and found some restaurant on a Moshav about 20 minutes north, so 20 minutes in the direction of home.

Turns out the restaurant was pretty fancy and you could only order a business lunch. And let me tell you the business lunch was not cheap as it consisted of a starter, main course, and drink. We tried to only order one item but were told we had to order the whole meal. So we decided just to split them, thankfully the restaurant allowed us. We kept on pretending every time the waitress came by that we were discussing “important business” matters, laughing under our breath. The meal ended with Blake taking a shot of tabasco sauce off of a dare, so we clearly weren’t playing the part too well.

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Part of our fancy lunch, artichoke salad.

After the restaurant we drove to Holon and visited the Japanese Botanical Gardens there. The gardens weren’t that big but they were really peaceful and definitely had a zen like feel.

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At the Botanical Gardens

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So zen.

We were pretty exhausted at this point. We tried to see the Cacti Garden right next door to the Botanical Gardens but they were closed.

Overall it was a really fun day. I can now check seeing the red poppies off of my Israel bucket list. Even though they were almost completely gone, the few patches we saw definitely count.

I survived birthright day.

Today, Amanda and I hosted 40 Americans on a birthright trip at our school. The point of this visit is for the Americans to see an Israeli school while interacting with the students. The students in part get to practice their English and just have a fun day. Also it’s awesome promotion for the ITF program.

We knew that the day was very important so Amanda and I started planning weeks ago, making a schedule that detailed practically every minute of the day. But, since we are living in Israel we knew that many things would have to be done last minute.

I was so nervous going into the day. Although we had a solid plan, there was just so much that could go wrong. I wondered if the kids would behave well, if the birthrighters would be interested in our activities, and if all the supplies we needed would be there for us.

The day was to start with an opening ceremony at 9am. The birthright group called at 9am and said they were five minutes away. So we sent the students to the gym to get seated and relaxed before the Americans got there. Twenty minutes later there was still not birthright bus in sight. I started to panic, knowing that the kids sitting already for twenty minutes would not be able to handle much more. Right when I thought I was going to have a breakdown, the birthrighters arrived.

I ushered them quickly into the gym and the ceremony began. First our vice principal and teach made a welcome speech. Then some of the 6th grade girls did a dance and it was amazing. Literally, I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face once the dance started, because a huge sigh of relief came over me. The day had started and it would all be ok.

After the dance, 4 of the sixth grade students made speeches about English class at the school, the history of the school (Haviv is the first Hebrew school in the whole world. Meaning, it was the first school to teach all subjects in Hebrew), and just about general life in Israel. My favorite quote from the speeches : “All Israelis want to live in America and speak English.”

After the speeches everyone stood and we sung the Hativka (the national anthem.) The students then had a 15 minute break to eat quickly and run around to let out some energy. We split the birthright group into 6 groups based on color. We had already split our students earlier in the day.

At 10:10 the rotations began. The six groups rotated throughout the school visiting different classrooms with different activities. There was a craft, a mad lib station, word dominos, a dance, basketball, and a soccer relay. The kids went around with the Americans.

The day was a complete success. The kids had an amazing time and most of them got to practice their English with the Americans. Some of the less confident ones even gained some confidence just from playing on a team with the birthrighters. I think our visitors had an amazing time as well. Some of them were interested in learning more about the program, hoping to apply maybe.

I wish I could upload some photos of the kids, I took plenty of selfies today. They were so happy and just really having fun while doing everything in English! However, I’m not really sure what the rules are with that so I’m going to stay clear. But we did get a nice group shot at the end with all the birthright participants.

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So now the most stressful school day of the year has passed. After weeks of build up and anticipation it’s over and it went so well I wish I could do it…well almost.

Also, quick side note from the weekend. Kayleigh, Amanda, and I went to a chocolate festival in Tel Aviv and it was the best thing ever. Just chocolate everywhere, even a bathtub full of chocolate. YUM!

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We went to South Africa!!!

Well my roommates and I didn’t actually go to Sourh Africa, just a kibbutz in the south with a South African restaurant. Also it wasn’t only my roommates and I, we had a fifth adventurer with us. Blake from the apartment upstairs joined too. It was the first of our newly established “Adventure Sunday’s.” And let me tell you it definitely was an adventure getting to this restaurant.

Before I get into the disaster that was us getting to the restaurant, let me give you a little history about the place. Sharon and Mike moved to Israel from South Africa about 20 years ago. Once they settled on the kibbutz they opened up a little bistro which Sharon told us used to be the Ulpan classroom of the kibbutz. They started cooking authentic Soruh African food and it is now the only type restaurant in all of Israel. My roommate Kayleigh had her birthday a few weeks ago and although we celebrated on New Year’s Eve, we had planned to go to his restaurant as an extra celebration. As like all of us, Kayleigh misses the food from her home country. So the trek was a must and we set the date for yesterday when our calendars were free of programming events. So she got in touch with Sharon after someone else on my program went to the restaurant.

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My roommates and I!

The trek there was supposed to be simple, if your definition of simple includes 3 buses. The first two went smoothly. The first bus picked us up in Rishon right on time and dropped us off at the Ramle central bus station. We only had to wait ten minutes before our next bus arrived on time, dropping us off in the middle of Beit Semesh. Then we had a slight issue. We waited for twenty minutes for our bus to come and pick us up, supposedly to take us to the kibbutz. Kibbutz Galon to be exact. But unfortunately it never came and when we checked our transit app it said the next bus wasn’t due until 6pm. We has two options, take a cab (well actually two since there were 5 of us) or go home. The latter wasn’t really an option so we hailed two cabs and spend combined for both 250 shekels, so 50 each for the 25 minute ride to our destination.

I have to say the drive was really beautiful. I couldn’t believe how green everything was, I mean Israel is a desert right? The kibbutz was so quiet and peaceful and had a giant herd of cows there to greet us. We had some trouble finding the Mike and Sharon’s Bistro walking though muddy paths and backyards before we finally got in touch with Sharon who came to the main road to greet us.

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green!

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more green stuff!

 The restaurant itself was decorated in so many South African signs, pictures, and collectibles. There were masks hanging on the wall, signs for different sports teams, old food cans and boxes neatly stalked on shelfs, and interesting graffiti and paintings on the walls. Not to mention the picture hanging on the wall of Nelson Mandela with the owners’ children. The best part about the decorations were the sharpied messages visitors had left thanking Mike and Sharon for the wonderful food. We left our own message as well at the end of the meal.

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our message!

By this point it was almost 1:30pm and I was starving. We sat down and ordered some samoosas for us all to share to start. I ordered boerewors and pap, based on Kayleigh’s recommendation. It’s basically like sausages that are spiced so well with a side of pap. If you don’t know, like I didn’t, pap is made from maize meal. It’s kind of like the texture of polenta but combined with the texture of mashed potatoes. All in like a spicy tomato and onion type sauce. It was amazing. I liked the samoosas so much that after we finished our order I joking told Mike I could eat about 50 more. So he made us another order for free. For dessert we had melktert, which is pronounced milk but is spelled different because of the africanse language. I was so full after that I thought I was going to pass out. So when Sharon offered everyone a free shot of amaurla, a liquor that’s similar to Baileys in the United States, I had to pass.

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enjoying our food

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milk tart

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yum yum yum

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Kayleigh’s dish – potjie (like a beef stew)

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samoosas

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boerewors and pap

 After the meal Sharon invited all of us back to sleep on the kibbutz the weekend of Valentine’s Day. They are having a big party the night before on the 13th, and she really wants us to come. I think my roommates are definitely going, I’m still not sure as it is Valentine’s Day so I have to see if Ran and I will have any plans. Sharon is apparently a big match maker and plans to set the girls up with some nice kibbutz boys, while she already has someone in mind for Blake.

Overall the meal was amazing and Sharon and Mike were so sweet, even telling us they would adopt us all while we were here. It was definitely one of my favorite experiences in Israel so far. We told Sharon and Mike about our bus problems coming down so Mike graciously offered to drive us to a major bus stop only 15 minutes away where we could catch a bus right to Rishon. If only it were that easy. We waited at the bus stop for the 469 bus but once on board realized it would not in fact take us all the way back to Rishon. The 467, which stopped at the same station we got dropped off and and which we could have waited for and taken would have brought us home in once 30 minute bus ride, but of course that could have been to easy. So once again we had to connect at a different central bus station, then take 2 more buses until we finally arrived back in Rishon.  After leaving home at 10:20am, we got back home at 6pm, 5 buses, 1 cab, and 1 car ride later. I stopped at the grocery store and couldn’t move from the couch once I get home. Internet was of course not working so I read for a while and then went to sleep.

Hopefully next adventure Sunday will be just as fun but a little bit easier to get to.

That’s all for now!!