Monday, April 27, 2009

One minute for a lifetime

Here in Israel, Yom HaZikaron - Memorial Day - takes on special meaning. When nearly everyone has served in the Israel Defence Force (IDF), when nearly everyone knows someone who has died defending this Land, when nearly everyone knows, or is related to, someone who has died as a result of attacks on our country, observing a minute of silence in the evening, and two during the day is a small offering nearly everyone is willing to give.

Tonight I experienced my first Yom HaZikaron for Israel's fallen soldiers. I've watched the videos on YouTube many times of how people rise to their feet and stop what they are doing. How cars come to a stop on the roads, and drivers get out and stand by their open doors. Tonight, as I stood in my window, listening for the siren, I watched as car after car pulled over, anticipating. As I stood listening to the sirens in my town, in the next town, in the town after that, it occurred to me that I wasn't watching the cars on a video, I was standing with them, honouring my soldiers, my fallen, my country.

As compared to Memorial Day in the US, the music on the radio is somber, the restaurants are closed, there are speeches and songs and events commemorating the fallen. It's a sober event, not a celebratory one. But in true Jewish fashion, after remembering and honouring, we then celebrate on Yom HaAzma'ut. But we'll discuss that later.

Right now - may their memory be for a blessing.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Hello, hello birdie!

Two of these were in our backyard on Shabbat.

*picture from Wikipedia

"Backyard" being the field across from our house. And of course, since it was Shabbat, we couldn't take pictures. Instead, we stood mesmerised at the window for nearly an hour, watching the two enormous White Storks strut around the field. One took off and started circling the field, moving further away with each circle. We could not get over the wingspan of this bird. Seriously, it was huge.

Then Morey took Maimo for a walk and went down to the field. He didn't get close to the remaining bird, but from that vantage, he could definitely confirm the size of it. Huge! We watched the circling bird until we couldn't see it anymore, which because it was so large, was a long time. Then we watched the other one meandering around until we couldn't put off kiddush any longer.

Click on the link above to read about them. Their migration is interesting, and we were lucky enough to be in their path. Not knowing anything about birds, we Googled some images and thought maybe we had seen an albatross. After emailing, we were corrected. The Albatross is an exclusive water bird. Neither of us has ever really been interested in bird watching, but we have so many beautiful birds here, that may have to change!

Friday, April 17, 2009

There's just no English word for it

Tiyul. It can mean a hike, but more often it means a particular type of trip that involves visiting a place or places. Usually a day trip, sometimes an overnighter. Always within Israel. The closest equivalent I can think of is if you live in New Jersey, and your cousin from Scottsdale, Arizona is visiting and you can take him or her on a trip to New York City to see the Statue of Liberty. That's a tiyul. Or, you live in New York and you and a bunch of friends drive to Central Jersey to go to Six Flags Great Adventure. That's also a tiyul.

For our most recent tiyul, we went to the desert. First stop, Sde Boker (home to David Ben Gurion, first Prime Minister of Israel) and Ein Ovdat National Park (home to Ben Gurion's grave) and walked to the waterfall. We had a wonderful guide, but wound up doing a lot of standing around to listen to him speak. I don't enjoy standing around, but the information was interesting. The area is beautiful. We only had time to do one route, though.

Then we went to Chan HaShayarot where we listened to a real Bedouin (that's what he said) give a very short speech about the Bedouin way of life. It's a tourist site, so it's not a real Bedouin tent, and he gives the same shpiel a few hundred times a day, but he was funny and it was interesting. I think I would like to visit a Bedouin family in their home to get the real story. The cool part was when he described the coffee routine and how it relates to hospitality. Making coffee for a visitor is very important, right down to how you pour the cup. Apparently, the polite way is to fill the cup about a third. If you want to send the message that the guest is not welcome, you fill the cup all the way. The Bedouin would send a call out to alert travellers that there was hospitality by grinding coffee.

Click here to see a particularly fancy coffee grinder. The drumming sound is made by knocking the pestle on the bottom and sides of the container.

This was followed by a camel "ride." The ride itself was a bit silly; we went from where we got on to a half kilometre away (if that) and back. It wasn't a trail, we didn't go anywhere, and the field that we walked to was literally covered with broken glass - bottle remains with bottoms facing up - and rusted tin cans. I jokingly said it looked like the remains of target practice, and then I noticed the holes in the tin cans. I know camels have hard feet, but still, it can't be comfortable trekking over shards of glass with 300 or more pounds on your back.

It also wasn't very comfortable for me, because my saddle was cracked through the middle and dug into my thighs. I also didn't like seeing the camel in the corral who hadn't been trained yet. Because camels are pack animals and what one does, they all do, a camel who hasn't been trained yet will take off after the convoy, so they keep it shackled by the front ankles. It can only take little shuffling steps. And to eat or drink, it has to get down on its knees. This is probably more humane than some trainers who hit their camels, but still, it doesn't look pleasant. I'm probably totally projecting, but the camel actually looked (and acted) lonely.

If I ever go on another camel ride, it will be to go somewhere.

On the other hand, the jeep ride through the desert was a blast! I truly love the desert and seeing it from trails was amazing. It's still a national park, and the trails are controlled (and well used), but it's nothing you'd enjoy from just driving the highways.

I would love to rent a 4-wheel drive (oh, the irony of having had a 4wd in Vancouver. Trust me, it got used on the logging roads, but still...) and cruise through the desert by myself, without the constraints of a tour (by "by myself" I mean with Morey, of course, but he's afraid of scorpions) and camp overnight. There are tons of ruins in the desert, some set up for tourists, some just there, that I would love to explore.

This wasn't the best organized tour I've been on, or one that made the best use of the time available, but I am so grateful that Nefesh b'Nefesh, the city of Modi'in, AACI and so many other organizations make these trips available to new olim. We've gone to places I just wouldn't think to go to, or gone to places we normally couldn't afford. I can't wait for the next trip.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

For falling off the face of the earth is a big trip

It has been brought to my attention that I haven't blogged in awhile. So I checked, and holy cow! It has been awhile. Many apologies. There was much going on, including my sister getting married! Said event entailed the following:
  • mom coming for a visit. She decided to spend the first of her 3 weeks with us.
  • however, since said sister was getting married, there was a lot of happy shlepping into Jerusalem.
  • and visiting other relatives who were gradually making their way in.
  • and the tichel party
  • and dad arriving
  • and the "groom's family meets the bride's family" cocktail party
  • followed by wedding supply shopping
  • followed by Shabbat, which was in the Old City, where we were staying with my sister
  • which included the Shabbat Kallah; the sister's friends coming over for Seudah Shlishit
  • followed by wedding preparation stuff
  • and the day of the wedding, and all the girlie stuff that goes along with that
  • and all the emotional stuff that weddings bring out
  • then visiting the police because my mother's jewellery was stolen
  • which happened before the first Sheva Brachot
  • and the 100 degree fever I came down with that day
  • which was the day before we were hosting 40 people for the second Sheva Brachot
  • after which we spent a casual day in Jerusalem having lunch with the new couple and the parents (for the first time this visit)
  • where we discovered the jewellery had been returned, coincidentally right after the police informed the hotel staff that they would all have to take a polygraph test
  • which was good news for my parents to return to the States with,
  • which was followed by Pesach cleaning
  • which involved one - count 'em, one! - seder.

I missed a lot of ulpan. But I had a lot of taxi drivers to speak Hebrew with!

For recovery purposes, we resolved to do absolutely nothing this Chol HaMoed. Nothing. And the beautiful thing about being in Israel is almost everyone is on vacation. During Chol HaMoed - the days between the first and last days of Pesach - schools are closed (no ulpan!), many businesses are off, and a sense of festivity abounds. Since you aren't supposed to do any laundry during Chol HaMoed, I had no chores, so I sat around and read and played on the computer and finally caught up on my email. The only problem was, with Shabbat in the middle, and 7 days instead of 8, it seemed like there was hardly any Chol!

We had a trip on Monday, which was our only concession. I love the desert, and this was a trip to the desert, to hike through a canyon, ride camels, and go on a jeep ride through the desert (the best part!). So I happily gave up a day of doing nothing for that.

More on that in the next post...