Visiting Sderot with J Street U

In the theme of my most recent post about a day trip to Kusra, here is a recap of another trip I did recently this year.

Several months ago (yes, this post is VERY overdue), I went to Sderot with J Street U. Really, the trip was for college students, so I was sort of cheating but…oh well! They let me go and I was excited to participate in the day’s events.

Sderot is a city in the Western Negev, and it is the Israeli city that most closely borders Gaza. In fact, there is a military outpost in Sderot from which you can look out and see Gaza. Sderot is often used as an illustration of the ways in which the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict negatively impacts Israeli lives even if the death toll is much lower for Israelis than Palestinians.*

*Comparing the cumulative number of Israeli to Palestinian casualties as indicative of Israel using excessive fire power is, in my opinion, not a fair analysis because Hamas does not have any sort of alert or civilian protection system in place (in fact, quite the opposite as they often use civilians as human shields). On the contrary, Israel has devoted an enormous amount of resources – financial and otherwise – into establishing the most developed protective system in the world. I see it as a very unfortunate misuse of raw data when Israel is criticized by virtue of the numbers alone. 

Israelis living in Sderot deal with a constant sense of threat and, in many cases, trauma from living in an environment where they feel constantly at risk. On the tour I went on in Sderot, the group I was with learned that 20,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, and Sderot has born the brunt of these attacks. Unlike other places in Israel that have the benefit of a siren system that leaves a reasonable amount of time to get to a shelter (in Jerusalem, we have 90 seconds), Sderot is so close to Gaza that there is only about 15 seconds between rocket detection and when it will hit. Given the constant threat and lack of preparation time, Sderot has enacted a series of safety precautions that make the city look very different from other parts of Israel. For example, all of the bus stops are bomb shelters. Every building is required to have its own shelter attached, and outdoor communal areas are made to offer hiding spaces. For example, this park for children is made entirely out of bomb shelter material:

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Besides learning the general facts about life in Sderot, we also had the opportunity to look at some of the shrapnel and piping from rockets fired into Sderot from Gaza. The rockets are generally made from pipes (which are allowed into Gaza for city infrastructure) and filled with nails, marbles, etc. The explosive element is created from chemicals that are given to Gaza for the purpose of agriculture. This type of explosive doesn’t make such a huge explosion, but it creates a lot of collateral damage through the shrapnel.

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It was very powerful to see the ‘leftovers’ from these rockets, especially because it was so clear that were basically entirely made from materials intended for aid. I see this a very troubling ethical dilemma. Israel both allows international aid into Gaza and also provides much of the materials themselves. It seems to be a very sad irony that so many of these materials come back into Israel in the form of rockets, and it also poses a moral question about the boundaries of providing and permitting aid.

At the end of our visit, we met with a representative from an organization called Other Voice. This was a very interesting perspective to end the trip with. Other Voice seeks to find a peaceable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and they believe doing so requires a more conciliatory and compassionate perspective from Israelis. They believe that The Occupation is taking a psychological toll not only on Palestinians but, also, on Israelis in the sense that they have become numb to the abuse inherent within an occupation.

All in all, this was a very moving trip that left me with a lot to think about (and feeling very grateful that I have not lived my life in fear of constant rocket attack, planning my life around where I can get to within 15 seconds!).

Planting Olive Trees with Rabbis for Human Rights

A few weeks ago, Noah and I went to a Palestinian village in the West Bank called Kusra to plant olive trees. Kusra is in close proximity to two settlements: Esh Kodesh to the west and Migdalim to the east. The Palestinians in Kusra have amicable relationship with the Jews living in Migdalim, but there has historically been volatile and violent interactions with those living in Esh Kodesh – a settlement outpost. Members of the Esh Kodesh community have repeatedly destroyed Palestinian olive trees and prevented them from planting and/or harvesting their crop.

We went on this trip with an organization called Rabbi for Human Rights, a group that organizes and leads several events around Israel to defend the human rights of all people. Currently, the group’s primary work focuses on defending the human rights of Palestinians and Bedouins within Israel and the Occupied Territories as well as socioeconomic work within Israel.

The trip to Kusra was a full day event. The group met at 8:30am in Jerusalem to bus an hour to the site. Heading into the West Bank, we saw lots of open fields and areas being used for agriculture:

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At the site, we were met by several Palestinian farmers and a large collection of olive tree saplings. Our job was to help the farmers plant the saplings, thus making some sort of tikkun (repair) for the destruction of their trees done by other Jews and also to demonstrate that not all Jews seek to treat them violently and disrespectfully.

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While everyone in our group tried to be as helpful as possible, we ended up doing a lot of standing around as the Palestinian farmers were able to do things a lot more efficiently and productively than we were. After about 45 minutes of “working” we were invited to sit with some of the farmers to share food (which they graciously offered) and to ask them questions:

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Although I was nervous, I asked the group what their community’s general response was to seeing news of terrorist attacks or other violent acts perpetrated by Palestinians towards Israelis. The question was motivated by feeling disturbed and frustrated by pictures and videos of celebrations by Palestinians following terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, I ended up needing to repeat the question three times due to translation difficulties, which felt very awkward. Once the question was finally understand, the answer was essentially, “we don’t support it.”

Overall, I am very glad I went on the trip. It was a good reminder that – just like within the Jewish community – there is always a spectrum of beliefs and feelings within a community. Not all Palestinians are seeking violence and terror, and it also felt very important to think about the fear and sadness that Palestinians in this village undoubtedly experience when seeing/hearing about destruction in their olive fields.

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Idan Raichel Concert and Cinema City in Jerusalem

Last week was full of great entertainment for me here in Jerusalem- woohoo!

Here is a quick recap of the highlights:

1) The Idan Raichel Project Concert at the Jerusalem International Convention Center

Idan Raichel is an Israeli musician who’s been somewhat of a cultural/national icon for many years. He performs with a group called the Idan Raichel project, and the music is a blend of Middle Eastern sounds. The Jerusalem International Convention Center is in the north of the city near to the Central Bus Station, and it was a huge building with lots of interesting artwork that I hope to have more time to look at in the future. People streaming in for the concert:

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The concert was awesome. Something that I liked was that Idan Raichel wasn’t at all centerstage the whole time – primarily he sat to the side of the stage on the piano and other members of the group took a central focus:

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If you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend seeing the Idan Raichel Project in concert! (if you want to check out some of his most famous songs, look here, here, or here!)

2) Hosting “balls” Shabbat!

On Friday night, Noah and I had a group of people we play basketball with over for Shabbat dinner. Since we are united by basketball, it seemed appropriate to give the dinner a ‘balls’ theme – ie, food in the shape of balls! It was a lot of fun and – needless to say – hilarious. The menu included lentil balls, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, small potatoes, and rice with peas:

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3) Cinema City in Jerusalem

Imagine if Disney World and Times Square had a baby…okay, got it?!

That’s Cinema City in Jerusalem! Noah and I had heard about this movie theater/mall/phenomenon since coming to Israel, and it is truly quite an experience. We decided to go there for a movie and dinner this past Motzei Shabbat (after the end of Shabbat on Saturday night), and it was pretty impressive! In these pictures, the place is just coming alive because Shabbat recently ended:

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Something you don’t see everyday…

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When you walk in, the upper level is where you can buy tickets and there is a mall of sorts with lots of shops and restaurants. Then, there is a lower level with theaters and an impressive concessions stand (serving Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!):

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We saw the movie American Sniper (in English, Hebrew subtitles):

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I thought the movie was very good, although the intense content of the film left me feeling somewhat on edge afterwards. If you want to see something lighter, they are also showing 50 Shades currently…

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4) Days of Togetherness!!

‘Days of Togetherness’ is super cheesy but also amazingly fun. I first read about the idea on Carrots ‘N’ Cake, and I thought it sounded super cute/nice. Noah and I did it last year, and we decided to do it again this year! Carrot does it for 24 days leading up to Christmas, but we’ve done it pretty much whenever seems like a good time! Here’s how it works…

– choose a number of days (we’re doing 28 this year) and think of that number of activities that you would like to do with your partner
– write each activity on a separate slip of paper
– put all of the papers in a container of sorts
– every day, draw and activity and do it!
super easy. super fun.

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So far, we have drawn the following activities: write a note, send a snapchat of a mystery item, play Dominion, play a game (unspecified), and find a recipe for the other person to make for dinner this week.

And…I’m actually just about to go on a walk for today’s activity so, bye. :)

 

You know it’s a Middle Eastern snowstorm when…

About a month ago, there were 3 “snow” days in Jerusalem. School was cancelled, many shops closed, but there was essentially no snow. It was a little disappointing from the play-in-the-snow perspective, but nice from the I-have-a-free-day perspective. This week, when I heard there was going to be snow (after a couple of weeks with weather in the 60s and 70s!), I was quite skeptical that there would much out of the ordinary.

BUT, this morning when I woke up…

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SNOW OUTSIDE MY WINDOW!

Much surprise. :)

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After a quick breakfast of eggs in a hole…

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It was time to explore!!!

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On our adventures, I learned the following:

You know it’s a Middle Eastern snow storm when…

The roads are completely deserted of cars when confronted with the fluffy white stuff:

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People try to go sledding with their surf boards:

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Plastic bags are considered a reasonable alternative for snow boots:

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Plastic bags are a reasonable alternative for a snow brush:

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Construction vehicles are used as plows:

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People shake the snow from trees on top of them because…hey, it’s a novelty!

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The roads have no drainage and become lakes after the mid-day melt:

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Even bell-hops at fancy hotels can’t resist playing with the snow:

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And you know you’re in a Jerusalem Middle Eastern snow storm when the haredim bust out the plastic bag hat covers…

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And the only place to open in the morning is the neighborhood bakery because – OF COURSE – people need their challah and Shabbat waits for no snow storm. <3

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All and all, a fun and enlightening day. The city of gold, covered in white:

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Eucalyptus and the International Book Fair

Last week, Noah and I celebrated Valentine’s Day by going out to a fancy dinner at The Eucalyptus. Eucalyptus is a restaurant in Jerusalem located within the artist’s row on the outskirts of the Old City. I had read about Eucalyptus a few times since being in Jerusalem, and it was often listed as among the best restaurants in the city.

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Eucalyptus is a kosher meat restaurant, and I saw online that they did a few different tasting menus. Noah and I were excited at the prospect of ordering a tasting menu since in the U.S. we usually can’t do that sort of thing since the tasting menu typically includes some sort of trefe (non-kosher) food. It’s sooo nice not having to worry about that sort of thing here in Israel! :)

We settled on ordering the Shir HaShirim feast which was the mid-level tasting menu, including assorted appetizers, three entrees, and a dessert platter.

This was one extravagant meal – definitely an experience for a special occasion!
Side note: the lighting in the restaurant was dim (ooooh, how romantic) so the photos aren’t very high quality

The meal started with some breads and dips as well as a wild kale dish:

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The next round of dishes included roasted eggplant and roasted cauliflower with tehina:

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The last round of the ‘appetizers’ course was a trio of soups, including lentil, tomato, and artichoke soup as well as figs stuffed with chicken and something that vaguely resembled an egg roll (unpictured):

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The entrees were roasted duck with mashed potatoes, lamb neck in a stew with a pastry top, and a chicken and rice dish (which was served upside down in a pot and the waitress told Noah to make a wish on it before we ate!). This is the lamb stew:

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The meal ended with a dessert platter that included sorbet, chocolate souffle, something that vaguely resembled flan with a berry sauce, tiramisu, and roasted pears:

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Wow! What a meal. :)

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On our way home, we stopped by the International Book Fair which was a cultural event happening all of last week in Jerusalem. The event was hosted at the Tahana Rishona, and the book spread was even larger than I had anticipated.

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The fair was held indoors in an extremely large tent, and the book displays were divided up according to country or topic:

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In addition to books, there were also some stands selling various types of art, posters, etc. Unfortunately, we were there shortly before closing time, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity to look around and find something to buy. Nonetheless, I’m glad we went! I love that Jerusalem has so many cultural festivals and activities year round (and that so many of them are nearby to my neighborhood!).

 

Visiting Sachne Hot Springs and Gan Garoo

First of all, I am excited to announce the publication of my new TRAVEL PAGE! It took a while to go back through previous posts, but all of my travel posts from both within and outside the United States are now collected and organized in one travel page – linked to from the Treasure Your Being home page. The full pages devoted exclusively to Minnesota and Israel, of course, still exist.

Second of all, a pop quiz! What tickles and gives you a pedicure at the same time?

Answer: FLESH EATING FISH!

But actually, if you visit the Sachne hot springs, be prepared to either keep your legs moving the whole time or get some gentle nibbles from small toothless fish that like to eat dead skin off feet (have you ever seen them in the buckets used for pedicures? it’s pretty nuts!).

After our morning at Mt. Gilboa, the group I was traveling with this past weekend went to Sachne.

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Gorgeous, right?!

Sachne is a collection of natural pools fed by thermal springs that keep the water warm year round.

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Swimming here was a lot of fun – and I’m not even much of a swimmer! We stayed for about 30 minutes and then headed to the nearby Gan Garoo.

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Gan Garoo was – you guessed it – a kangaroo park and petting zoo extraordinaire. When we got there, we walked quickly past a lizard, bird, and a koala bear exhibit, and made a beeline to the kangaroo park.

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I can’t verify, but one of the people who worked at Gan Garoo told us that this is the only place outside of Australia where you can pet a kangaroo.

At first, we approached with trepidation…

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But things quickly warmed up between us:

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The kangaroos were super soft and very friendly…especially when we bought some of the kangaroo food to feed them:

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After leaving the kangaroos, we checked out the rest of the animal exhibits. This included a visit to a goat petting zoo:

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And a visit with some parrots:

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We were extremely surprised/terrified when the birds started swooping onto us as soon as we walked inside the parrot exhibit. I was expecting to feed them while they remained firmly in a tree!

Noah wasn’t such a fan of the bird contact…

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He was, however, a very big fan of this miniature construction vehicle. 10 shekels bought him an electrically-powered and joyous 5 minutes of moving dirt with this bad boy:

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Visiting Tzfat in the fog and lunch on Mt. Gilboa

This past weekend I went on a trip with some friends to Tzfat and the Lower Galilee. We started our trip bright and early on Friday morning by picking up a rental car in Jerusalem and cramming everyone/everything inside. Surprisingly, the car didn’t have much trunk space, so it was a little tight:

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Nonetheless, we got to our first stop – Tzfat – after a little more than two hours. Tzfat is one of the four holy cities in Judaism, and it is associated with the element of air (the other holy cities are Jerusalem:fire, Hebron:earth, and Tiberias:water). This was a particularly appropriate day to visit Tzfat since the weather gave us a definite taste of its airy quality!

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My friend Sasha went for a private lesson with glass artist Sheva Chaya.
(you can learn about Sasha’s super cool glassworks here!)

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…and the rest of us wandered around the city for a bit:

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Since the weather was a bit cold and rainy, before too long we ended up inside a falafel shop eating lots of delicious fried food:

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Once regaining Sasha, we headed to a grocery store for some snacking essentials and then checked into the Karei Deshe Guest House where we were staying for the night to get ready for Shabbat:

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The next day, we had a full day of activities that started with a hike on Mt. Gilboa. Mt. Gilboa is located in the Lower Galilee region and is particularly known for the wildflowers that grow abundant in the spring. We went for about an hour hike and (although we lost the trail and were mainly just forging through the brush!) had a lot of fun:

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After the hike, we went for lunch at a restaurant called The Gilboa Herb Farm

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The restaurant was adorable with amazing views looking out from the mountaintop. There were so many delicious things on the menu! We ended up ordering focaccia and some mushroom/sweet potato falafel to share as appetizers, and I got gnocchi as a main dish – Noah got a lamb sausage something with mashed potatoes:

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We also ordered a few desserts as a table to share afterwards and everything was delicious! If you are going to Mt. Gilboa, I would highly recommend visiting this restaurant.

Check back soon for a post on the rest of the trip’s adventures including a trip to the Sachne hot springs and a visit to Gan Garoo (can you guess what that is? Hint: it is related to an animal that rhymes in gangaroo!).