January 14th, 2012
I took off from blogging yesterday, so today will be an extra long entry so that I can catch back up.
So the fourteenth was Saturday and Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath). In the morning, the only activity scheduled was a service, but it wasn’t mandatory. The first thing that any of us really had to do on Saturday was go to lunch at 1, but even that wasn’t required, just strongly recommended.
Given that this was the first day in a while that we had to sleep in, my body decided that the ideal time to wake up would be 8:30 AM. When I woke up, I thought for a little bit about going to services. I walked out of my room and saw Jessi standing outside and she looked concerned. Since she was so tired last night, she didn’t stay up for the meeting to find out what we were doing for the day, so she didn’t know what was going on.
I let her know I was headed to breakfast and she decided to join me. There were maybe five of us at breakfast. This was the first meal that I used Israeli butter on a piece of bread, and I have to say that it reminded me a little bit more of cheese than of the butter I’m used to. I also had my usual coco puffs that I had with breakfast virtually every morning in Israel.
After munching on some breakfast, I decided I wanted to go back to the room and either take a nap or go to services. Back at the room (I almost wanted to say back at the ranch, but that wouldn’t make any sense) Kyle had just woken up and was trying to decide if he had enough time to shower and make it to services. I voted in favor and before long he was showered and dressed for services with a funky tie on.
Rather than go to services, I decided to take my American cell phone with charger and try to go use the WIFI over by the bar. I checked Twitter for the first time on the trip and found about a million emails, only a couple of which were important (the important ones were about the documents Dr. Friedman need for Cuba ASAP which my parents were kind enough to take care of). I got sick of that and went back to the room and spent some time listening to my iPod and reading a little bit of the book by Anthony Bourdain that I brought with me.
Soon enough it was 1 and time for lunch. Everyone was finally awake and it looked like we were finally ready for the day. Most of the afternoon was spent just hanging out and relaxing since the last couple days had been so intense and it was Shabbat.
Before long, it was time to head to Havdallah services at the Hebrew Union College. We left early to take a look at Ben Yehuda Street during Shabbat. For stores to be considered kosher, they had to be closed during Shabbat, so in a typically busy part of Jerusalem, there was nobody. It was kind of bizarre to see the streets of a busy city completely empty.
From there, we got back on the bus and actually headed over to the Hebrew Union College. We stood in the lobby for about twenty minutes goofing around before going out into the courtyard where we’d have the service. This was special to me, because Havdallah services are my favorite. For non-Jews out there, Havdallah occurs at the end of Shabbat to celebrate the new week. We celebrate it with a service where we light a large braided candle called a Havdallah candle, have a glass of wine, and smell spices, typically in a spice box.
Several different birthright groups where here together along with one of the Rabbis from the URJ to conduct the service as well as a first year rabbinical student. The spices for this service were passed around and not in a spice box, which was different for me.
Havdallah is a short service, so we were only there for maybe twenty minutes. Once the service was over, one of the other groups tried to be cool and do a cheer, but our cheer embarrassed them I think because it was so good. Or at least, I’d like to think it was (can I get a hoorah?)
We got back onto the bus, drove back over to Ben Yehuda Street where we had until like 11 PM. A big group of us started walking down the street and all stopped inside a jewelry store. I noticed a set of sticks that they put a torah scroll on the inside. I’d never seen them just set out like that which I found interesting. It made me wonder if maybe there was a black market for Torahs or something.
These thoughts quickly faded as we got close to the ATMs. A bunch of people in my group went over to take money out for dinner. One of the guys from our group, Michael had a friend from in town who he wanted to see for dinner and invited a bunch of us to go along, so me, Emily, Hillary, Jen, Sarah, Michael, Lisa, Kevin, Michael’s friend, and Michael’s friends girlfriend all went to this restaurant.
It was a fusion Italian-Israeli place. I know that doesn’t make sense probably at first, but it was really good. We sat there for a while and for whatever reason, they forgot Lisa’s meal. They finally got it out to her, and nicely took it off the bill for her.
Following dinner, we started walking and ran into another couple people from our group and I decided to join up with them, since they were headed to a bar. This bar had to be one of the most tourist places I’ve ever been. The bar was also the first one I’d ever seen the lit on fire using just booze. I ordered myself a beer and sipped it as I watched all of the other birthright kids from various other trips dance and make poor decisions. I watched one girl who slightly resembled Snooki run to get her friends because some guy was giving out free shots.
I got sick of watching all of that and saw Eric standing outside the bar so I decided to join him. Eric was hungry (Eric is always hungry) and wanted to find something to eat and needed to change out some money, so I went with him and got some more shekels. Walking up the street, we found a shop that sold schnitzel and it was like Eric was in heaven. I got myself a Coke, because in Israel, it is hard to resist a Coke made with real sugar instead of corn syrup.
Right after this, I saw one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. There was a man sitting outside of a store on a bench humming into a trumpet mouthpiece that was attached to a conch shell. I didn’t know what to say, so I took a picture of him and gave him a half a shekel for the picture. I took at least three pictures of him as I was completely convinced that this man must be what actually happened to Piggy from Lord of the Flies.
We continued to walk up the street and Eric saw an ice cream shop. I was still happily drinking my Coke while Eric ran to get some ice cream. With ice cream in hand, we walked down the street again and we saw Sas and Sean standing somewhat near the man “playing” the conch. I made sure they had seen him, because I thought it was so hilarious.
At this point, it was time to start walking up to the meeting spot and we counted off (19!) and got onto the bus. I was ready to go back to the hotel and sleep and Yohav got us back there fast, but what do you expect from the Chuck Norris of bus drivers?
January 15th, 2012
Sunday morning was a reasonably early morning. I was really excited, because it was a day about politics pretty much.
We all had breakfast, put our stuff on the bus, and said goodbye to the hotel for the last time as we headed towards the city. Our first stop of the day would be the Israeli Supreme Court.
Let me begin by saying that everything about the government buildings in Jerusalem was thought through and seemingly thought through pretty carefully; the Supreme Court building for instance on the inside got thinner and thinner from the bottom of the stairs as you went higher and higher up in the building. Most of the money to build it was donated by the Rothschilds.
The inside of the building was clean and in most places very sterile looking. What stood out the most to me was the Pyramid-like structure on the inside. I took a really artsy picture of it. What is interesting about the Israeli justice system is it uses the Torah sometimes in determining law. It isn’t legal to have pigs on Israeli land, but if you elevate land onto a platform and put pigs on it, you can do it, because it won’t be land from Israel. Benjamin Netanyah, the leader of the Likud Party became the Prime Minister because he was able to build a coalition. Kadima, the party that Ariel Sharon started years ago got the most votes in case you were wondering. Had Kadima been able to build a coalition, Tzipi Livni would have been the second female Prime Minister of Israel, the first female Prime Minister being Golda Meir.
It was finally time for lunch and we went to this open-air market. Imagine an American farmer’s market, only 100 times better. There were fresh baked rolls, fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fresh fish, fresh kosher meat, dried fruit of every variety you can imagine, and one of my favorites, fresh squeezed juice. I ended up with a nice big cup of fresh squeezed orange juice.
After shopping around for a while, a big group of us walked over towards the ATMs so people could get money.
I sat down for a minute and waited until everyone was done. Led by Daniel (the Israeli one), we started walking. He said he knew what restaurant to take us to, but before long, Katie started to complain we were “off the grid” and we headed back. We ended up at a place at the bottom of the hill from where we started.
At the place for lunch, I attempted to order a schnitzel pita, but the chef was confused and started making me a plate with pita and humus. Megan was nice enough to explain to him what I wanted. About half the group got this strange soup that was tomato based with small dumpling like things that had some kind of ground beef in them. When I go back to Israel, I definitely need to try whatever that was, which is not to say that what I had wasn’t good.
After lunch, we went back up to the market where Katie finally decided to buy a small hookah. I needed to find a bathroom before we left and found Greg searching for one as well. We found one and stopped afterwards so he could buy some chocolate. I mentioned to him that I wanted to buy a cigar and he took me to a cigar shop he had passed walking around.
Inside this small smoke shop was one of the smallest humidors for a smoke shop I’ve ever seen. I looked inside to brands like Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta and my eyes lit up. I decided on a nice Romeo y Julieta from Havana. My thought was why not get myself ready for what I’ll enjoy all of the next semester. After that it was time to head back to the bus.
The bus ride from there took us to Mount Herzl. We had already been to the bottom of Mount Herzl when we went to Yad Vashem. At the top is a grave for Theodore Herzl who many recognize as the father of modern Zionism. We all took pictures of his grave.
Down the mountain from Herzl’s grave are the graves of all of those who have died during wars fighting for Israel as well as the graves of important political figures.
We stopped at the grave of Yitzhak Rabin and his wife. His grave is constantly monitored now by a video camera, because a couple years ago it was vandalized. Near it were those of many other recognizable Israeli political figures including one I mentioned before, Golda Meir.
After walking through the political graves, we got to the graves of soldiers. We walked by the grave of Michael Levine, an American who decided to join the IDF. The story goes that he wanted to be a paratrooper, but he didn’t have the right papers. He walked over to the building where he was supposed to start training without the papers and they wouldn’t let him in, so he climbed a fence and into the building. The story goes that they gave him the papers so he could become a paratrooper, because most people wanted to climb out of the building, not into it and they thought it took guts to do what he did. Michael was sadly killed during the second Lebanon War.
Michael was Levine was buried in accordance with his wishes on Mount Herzl. His family was worried that nobody would show up to his funeral, since most people who knew him were back in the US. On the day of his funeral, thousands of people showed up to celebrate Michael’s life. I for one thought this was really cool.
Things got really intense after this. We walked to another grave close by, the grave of one of Nadav’s close friends and his commander. Nadav described his friend in a way that I’m not even going to try to match. Nadav’s friend was the one everyone wants to be and wanted to be around. Nadav told a story of a night when it was raining and they were all soaking wet and his friend went and made sure the tent was set up properly so they wouldn’t continue to get wet and got everyone new dry sleeping bags. Sadly, a couple years ago, he died. Nadav found out the day after he had been at Mount Herzl with a group and was able to come back for the funeral.
He also told us that every year when he comes back there were more and more graves in the area and less green space and he hoped that some green space would remain.
This really struck me. To think that our best friends could be lost at war like that. I can’t imagine losing someone I love to a war. I just lost it, thinking about how stupid I thought war was. I thought about how all of our problems are caused by greed. I wanted to fix it. I wanted to stop war from happening, but sadly this isn’t something you can just do. I wish we could sit down and stop all the madness in this world sometimes, but sadly it isn’t that simple. I tried to get it together, but it took me a couple minutes before I was okay and had to just move on.
Following a quick bathroom break, we started to drive north towards the next hotel at the Sea of Galilee and after a lot of driving finally arrived. I was happy to be able to sit down, eat some dinner and relax, because so much was still on my mind. I got probably half an hour of sleep on the bus, but needed far more.
Following dinner, I went back to the room and grabbed my cigar. I was able to light it pretty quickly and smoked the thing faster than I think I’ve ever smoked a cigar. I sat outside the bar at the hotel with Andrew, sipping on an Israeli beer and talking about the future. It was a nice night, but I need to get some rest, so with in about an hour, I was headed back to the room.
I decided I wanted to shower before bed, so I went into the bathroom and grabbed a towel. It was a really nice looking shower and I went to close the shower door and it made a terrifyingly loud noise as I attempted to close the shower door as if there was a dog outside barking. I screamed really loud and Kevin sounded a little worried. I let him know what it was while I judged myself hardcore. After that, I dried off, put on some pajamas, and we watched professional arm-wrestling for a couple minutes on TV. I don’t think either of us knew that was a thing before that night.