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!

closing ceremony

The group!

closing ceremony 2

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.

The Most Israeli Week in Israel!

This past week is usually described as the most Israeli week of the year here in the Holy Land. That’s because three major holidays that pretty much sum up the meaning of being Israeli and living in Israel all fall within one week of one another.

The holiday that came first was Yom Hashoa, which is Holocaust Remembrance Day. The six graders in my school performed a beautiful ceremony, focusing on the importance of remembering the Holocaust. It was also the first time I heard a siren while being in Israel. At 10am on Yom Hashoa, a siren sounds throughout the country for about two minutes. I was in school when in happened and all the students and teachers lowered their heads in complete silence as we thought about those who lost their lives. It doesn’t matter what you are doing when the siren goes off, riding a bike, walking in the street, driving a car: you stop, pull over and stand up and remain silent. The siren was a little eerie, as I remembered what happened this past summer and all the sirens that went off then. But it was an amazingly cool experience.

Later that night, my program had a meeting with Israeli students at Tel Aviv University (my future school!!), where we discussed the meaning behind the day and its importance. There was a little debate in my group as to whether the Holocaust should be remembered as one of the leading factors that led to the creation of Israel, but it was interesting to hear the Israeli’s opinion on the day, which was almost a bit more critical than the Americans in the group. I think it’s because of the way we learn about it. In Israel Yom Hashoa is so personal to  everyone, there’s no way to not think about it as a siren rings forcing you to stop your day for two minutes. Whereas in America we learn it out of a history textbook. It’s more tangible here.

The second major holiday that fell during this week was another somber one: Yom HaZikaron, Memorial Day, which was last Tuesday night into Wednesday. We didn’t have school on Tuesday as we had a programming event all day to introduce us to the holiday and tell us a little about it. We spent the morning discussing the importance of remembering those who lost their lives in battle or to terrorist attacks. Then we met with the sister of a fallen solider. It was very interesting to hear her opinion about the day and the remembrance of her brother. I think the most powerful thing she mentioned was that she had just turned 23, her brother was 22 when he died. She remarked that she was now older than her older brother, something that made me think a lot.

Later that night we drove to Latrun, which usually serves as a display area for old army memorabilia, especially tanks. There was a huge Masa ceremony there commemorating the fallen soldiers and victims of terror. Again at 8pm everyone rose for another two minute long siren. The siren meant it was the start of Yom HaZikaron. After the siren the ceremony started. We saw 6 videos detailing the lives and eventual deaths of people who had died. Because the ceremony was for Masa participants, most of the victims had made Aliyah, making it personal for any non Israeli currently living here. There were also musical performances and speeches throughout.

pic 5

Wednesday was the actual day of Yom HaZikaron and is probably one of the most somber days in Israel. Because the country is so small an there is mandatory military service, everyone knows someone that has been affected by the war, someone who has lost a spouse, parent, or child. There was another ceremony in my school. It was really interesting because parents of fallen soldiers who attended Haviv School actually came to the ceremony. At 11am there was another siren. I was already home at that point. I was putting clothes away in my room when the siren went off. I stopped what I was doing and moved to the window. As I stood still I could see everyone else on the street doing the same thing. Specifically I watched this one couple a few buildings over that looked out over their balcony holding hands. I wondered if they were thinking of anyone in particular. Once the two minutes was over, the cars starting moving again and the couple went back in side.

Wednesday started marked the end of Yom HaZikaron and the start of Yom Haatsmaut, Independence Day. This is cause for a lot of debate in Israel, as the saddest day of the year ends with the start of the happiest. Some people believe it doesn’t give the families of the dead proper time to grieve, as they are forced to be happy as soon as Independence Day begins at sundown. Others feels it is part of the Jewish way of life to feel so many emotions at once, to so drastically go from sad to happy. I personally think it is a little bizarre. I understand the connection between the wars and the fallen soldiers and the eventual formation and protection of Israel as the Jewish state, but I think maybe if there was one more day in between there wouldn’t be such a big issue. It’s not like people wouldn’t make the connection between Memorial Day and Indepenednce day if they were just a few more hours apart.

Anyway, that night Ran and I went into Rabin Square in Tel Aviv where literally thousands of people go to celebrate Israel’s 67th birthday. There were shaving cream fights in the middle of the road (including on a police car), free concerts, fireworks, and just a great atmosphere. After walking around in the area for a little we decided to walk the hour long walk home through the park so we could watch everyone celebrating.

pic 4 pic 3 FullSizeRender

The day of Yom Haatsmaut is a day of barbecuing, street partying, or going to the beach. There is an air show that started at 12pm, however it is best seen from the beaches in Tel Aviv. Ran and I heard the planes but couldnt actually see them. We decided to take a bike ride to the port area because it was a really nice day out. After I had planned to meet friends at a day party on Dizengoff. Let’s just say the bike riding didn’t go as planned. First one of the rented Tel Aviv bikes broke, so Ran had to carry it until we could find somewhere to switch it. Then it started to downpour, like torrential rain while we were in the middle of the park with no where to go. In a matter of seconds it looked like I had just jumped into a pool. Then, I crashed my bike into a pole, causing me to fall off the bike and become covered in mud. Needless to say I was not happy. We finally made it back to the house a few hours later after cleaning up in a random building in the park and exchanging the city bike for a new one. I didn’t end up making it to the day party.

pic 1 pic 2

All in all I had an amazing time during the most Israeli week of the year. I had heard about these holidays before but never actually got to celebrate them. It was amazing to be in Israel and just see how important these days are to everyone here.

That’s all for now!

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.

IMG_4929

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!

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.

IMG_2955[1]

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.

11007721_10153618494809606_253591805397027656_n

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.

11001813_10153618489159606_7582018005712759470_n

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.

10987370_10153618496844606_8241722871725884277_n

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.

10441362_10153618495689606_5075039326225161507_n

I found grass!

1654326_10153618495419606_2174311564376903428_n

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.

10981919_10153618490409606_7674086113958796395_n

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.

10995662_10153618497409606_382384006349295207_n

At the Botanical Gardens

11035306_10153618490529606_3488775778603469722_n

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.

IMG_4560_2

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!

IMG_4498_2 IMG_4499 IMG_4502

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!