Pride and more from this week!

I had heard a lot about the pride parade in Tel Aviv, so I was really excited to get the opportunity to go.

During the weeks leading up to Pride, the streets of Tel Aviv were lined with rainbow flags. Restaurants and other stores also showed support in their windows.

Last Friday I met my friend Amanda in Rabin Square and we walked over to Gan Meir where the parade was set to begin. It was packed and hot. We made our way to the stage where we watched performances. The park was lined with various stands: companies selling products supporting the pride community, food and drink vendors, and free giveaways.

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One of our friends from Petach Tikva was actually performing at the parade so we stayed long enough to see her dance. The dance was amazing, but the costumes were better.

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After the performances and celebrations in this park ended, the actual parade began, leaving the park and going down Bograshov Street, eventually winding its way down to Charles Clore Garden, near the Shuk, where a huge party awaits. There are floats down the street filled with dancing people. It’s just insane.

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We actually walked in the parade for a while and it was just so cool. There were thousands and thousands of people just walking in the street together. Anyone could join in and there was great music and good vibes.

My favorite part of the day was definitely the outfits. There were outraged costumes as well as scantily clothed men and women. It was definitely a site to see, and I was enjoying the people watching as much as the performances.

Besides the pride parade I’ve been spending most of my free time in Tel Aviv this week, because my brother and his fiancé are here to visit. We had dinner at Vicky Cristina last night, a great tapas restaurant in the Old Train Station in Tel Aviv.

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On Wednesday we are going on our final program trip to the north filled with kayaking and water hikes. And tomorrow is my last  day of school! I can’t believe the year is already over.

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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.

Israel Election Day: My attempt to explain the confusion.

Today, I woke up today at a leisurely 930am instead of the usual grueling 7am. Why you may ask? Well today was election day in Israel, so I had the day off from school. I am sure most of you have read about it online or have experienced the mass amount of campaigning on the streets if you live in Israel yourself, but it’s definitely cool to be here and experience it.

Israel wasn’t supposed to have elections for another two years, but the country was drawn into early elections after a divide in the coalition a few months ago over a controversial bill regarding national identity in Israel. I don’t really understand why they just don’t change the system to call for an election every two years because it seems like the government never actually makes it to the 4 year mark.

But, it’s not surprising that they never make it there. The parliamentary system in Israel is bizarre to me. I will try an sum it up in a few sentences. Basically the Knesset is compromised of 120 seats. There are multiple parties, over 20, in Israel, each one run by a different leader. If this leader successfully forms a coalition, he or she will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. In order to form the majority coalition in the government, there has to be 61 seats. This coalition can be compromised by as many parties as it takes to reach the magic number.

For example, Party A has 25 seats, and its leader, let’s say his name is Jones, is going to form the majority coalition and become the next Prime Minister. In order to do this, Jones has to go around to all the other parties and get the remaining 36 seats (61-25) to form the majority coalition. If Party B has 20 seats, Party C has 10, and Party D has 9 seats and they all agree to form a coalition with Jones then Jones has formed a government with some seats to spare. But it’s never that easy and usually takes a lot of bargaining and promising certain positions within the government. For example, Party B will form a coalition with Jones only if Party B’s leader Cliff can be the Minister of Education. Blah blah the list goes on and on.

It pretty complicated but just to make things more complicated, the President is the one who decides which Prime Minister will form the government. Let’s say there’s another party, Party X run by Smith. After the national vote, Smith gained 27 seats in the Knesset, 2 more than his main competitor Jones. But Party B, C, and D leaders have already told the President they would rather see Jones as Prime Minster than Smith, well then the President would tell Jones to form the government, even though Smith won the main election.

The number of seats each party has is determined by votes on Election Day.

This is the part that really bugs me. I just don’t really understand how there could be a discrepancy between what the people vote for and who actually becomes Prime Minister. Even if someone wins the majority vote and gains the most seat, he or she won’t necessarily become the Prime Minister. But I am not about to start a political debate here.

So today is the big day. I went with Ran this morning to vote just to see what it’s like in Israel. It’s similar to the United States in that you have a card that proves you are eligible to vote and the voting takes place in all the local schools. But what was so weird to me was that Israel uses a very old fashioned way to vote. You literally pick a piece of paper with your choice’s name on it, put it into an envelope and put the envelope in a wooden ballot box. All of the votes are tallied by hand, there is no electronic system at all. Also, when voting you vote for the party, not an actual person.

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The voting slips

There are many predictions about what will happen tonight, many can be found online on more reputable sources, so I’ll save my fairly uninfmored opinion.

But I will say that I am very excited to get to be in Israel on an Election Day. We were at a seminar with our program the other day and someone said that we are actually experiencing history in the making. Whatever happens today will effect Israel for the next 4 years (well probably more like 2). But it is really amazing to get to be here, see all the political posters, and feel the excitement. I know I will be obsessively checking online to night to see what the outcome will be, even though no final results will be known for a few weeks.

Just being in Israel in Election Day is so much fun because everyone has the day off. I went for a walk today and the streets were filled with people walking around, barbecuing in the park, and shopping. It’s one big celebration.

That’s all, happy voting to anyone who can vote in Israel!

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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dust storms are an actual thing.

Israel is a desert. Yeah I know that. But I didn’t know that dust storms existed in the world let alone in the country I’m living in. It was really windy yesterday which I guess was the perfect condition to create a dust storm.

I left my apartment this morning and walked into a hazy brown smog. But it wasn’t smog, it was thick and just disgusting. I had never experienced anything like this before and it almost made me miss the snow. I kept on wondering if this is what Americans had to deal with during the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. I would have been really depressed too.

Amanda and I started our trek to school, and kept walking past people with sleeves and scarfs over their mouths. We wondering if we were also supposed to be doing this so the hypochondriac in me started fearing for my life.

The worst part of the walk was dust kept on getting blown into my eyes.The intense wind was sort of like catch-22. Every so often a strong gust would come and provide momentarily relief blowing some of the dust out of my eyes, only to replace it with a fresh batch a few seconds after. By the time I got to school there was an unhealthy amount of dust stuck in my contact lenses. But since I am pretty much legally blind without them and didn’t have my glasses there was nothing I could do.

After the walk home from school I took out my contacts, but every so often I blink and wipe away some dust particles from my eyes. It just started to rain so I’m hoping tomorrow will just be a rainy day instead of this dusty situation.

Just a short update. Stay warm in the snow everyone at home. And everyone is Israel, good luck washing the dust away!