Sorry for the lack of updates! The internet here seems to have a limited number of connections, of which my phone is one but my computer is not. I figured out a way to force a new IP address tonight, though, so I’ve got some time to finally make a post!
The first day of the program – which I’m counting as the day after we arrived – we spent exploring the local market, known as the shouk. (On day zero, I got to the hostel in Jerusalem five minutes before our 4pm deadline, after paying 65 shekels to transport me and 35 to transport my bike. It was madness trying to get my luggage in, paperwork and visa situation sorted, and then also participate in the required events beginning right at 4pm.)
The shouk was full of interesting characters.
And Japan-esque celebrity product endorsements.
On a break from food-tasting, a bunch of us walked to the local park, where I became the manager and publicist of the newly-formed, up-and-coming alt-rock band, The Playgrounds.
We disbanded immediately after this photo was taken.
This sign seemed odd, given that… you know…. we’re in Israel…
While walking back from the park, a little old lady stopped Avraham and I. She said something in Hebrew (which, if it wasn’t evident, I speak none of), and Avraham immediately grabbed her bag and started walking up hill. Clearly she’d asked for assistance getting to the top. I envied his ability to understand her, and the very Israeli way in which he grabbed the bag without a word and deposited it at the top of the hill, never acknowledging the assistance he’d provided.
After the shouk, we made our way into the Old (walled) City of Jerusalem. Our goal was the Western Wall / Wailing Wall / Kotel, but we stopped along the way for a Career Israel welcome to the program with some prayers and a small glass of wine.
This boy and his friends rode into the middle of our group, interrupting the ceremony, as little boys are wont to do – religious or not.
Eventually we made it to the wall. The last time I was here, in 2011 on Taglit, it was a somewhat emotional experience.
This time, however, it struck me as more of a bizarre place, with so many super religious men and women standing in front of an old wall praying toward rocks.
From the wall we made our way under the city, and into the tunnels that archeologists have been excavating along the outer walls of the old city. (Over the centuries, the city grew around the walls, and as buildings collapsed, others were built on top of them, such that what was once the base of the wall is now dozens of feet below street level.)
This picture was taken while I was marking one end of one supporting block of the wall. In the background, beyond where you can see, is someone marking the other end of the stone.
Weighing 600 tons, the scale was unbelievable – and all the moreso when you considered it was hewn, shaped, and moved into place with nothing but hand tools.
This photo, which I took immediately outside of the wall, I just found head-shakingly stereotypical.
Day two we went to the mayor’s office to meet with the deputy mayor, a 35 year old first-time politician who talked about Jerusalem’s attempts to revitalize their economy and improve services and quality-of-life for the non-religious citizens of the city who, in recent years, have been leaving for more lively and secular parts of the country, like Tel Aviv.
From there we loaded into a bus for the drive to Tel Aviv, finally arriving at our Beit Leni apartments sometime after 6pm that night.
After unpacking and doing some very basic grocery shopping the night we arrived (I got a striped, gay-flag-ish bed set that was the cheapest they had at $18) I went out the following morning for a bike ride south to the port of Yafo/Jaffa.
After the ride, I worked out in the park next to the apartment with my roommate Tony (he bought a floral bed set and our mattresses are close enough in our tiny room that we can hold hands while we sleep). For dinner I bought falafel, and then continued to grocery shop and buy supplies for the apartment, which is furnished with a single hotplate, one pot, and one pan for an apartment of four guys. Decent kitchen knives were first on my list.
That night, Tony and I joined Jonathan from Switzerland on the hunt for a rooftop party that his friend’s brother was throwing. We found the party, which was mostly ex-pats, and had a great time until people decided to head out to go dancing. I was psyched to dance, but cover was 50nis and, since we had already left almost a full bottle of vodka on the roof (that was essentially wasted money), none of us were too keen on spending that much to get into a hipster bar, just to then spend even more on drinks once inside. So we came back to the apartments and hung out chatting outside, with a brief mini-cheeseless-pizza-thing break around 1, until about 2:30am.
Day four I spent the morning at the beach and got wicked sunburnt. BUT I didn’t lose my glasses in the water like I did in Panama, so that was a plus.
On the way back, right outside our apartments, I ran into an activist also named Ben R. who was tabling for an Israeli vegan website. He gave me a bunch of good restaurant suggestions, and told me about VeganFest, which is happening just outside the city on October 13th. If anyone wants to fly out, I’m sure it will be a good time!
(I’m kidding about people flying out, but I’m actually really pumped to go and see what it’s all about.)
That night we had Shabbat services at a hotel in Yaffo, with Mike and Zach leading us in a rousing rendition of Tenacious D’s Tribute.
And Alex looked just like a New Jersey gangster, with Tory and James even posing as his hired muscle.
Dinner was on the roof before we walked back toward the hostel, with some of us stopping at a hookah bar on the way.
Day 5 I rode up to Hayarkon park in the north of the city to find the fable outdoor climbing wall I had heard about. It’s not cheap, and has no bouldering, and you have to go with someone to belay you, but I’m excited to check it out when I have a free day. And they have lead climbing and lead ropes that are included in your day pass.
While there, I somehow recognized an apartment building near the house of the Israeli friend I stayed with for a few days after Taglit in 2011. I gave him a call and learned that he now lives in the heart of Tel Aviv, not far from me, and that he and his girlfriend were heading to the beach.
I biked over and met up with them, borrowed a bathing suit and tshirt, and we walked over to the beach. We drank a beer (you can do that in public here!), talked about fantasy literature, and discussed how attractive Israelis are. (Dror’s girlfriend is Canadian, and she agreed.) Dror and I got burritos in an American bar, Mike’s Place, on the beach, and then I went back to the apartments before heading back out to meet him at a bar where his friend’s birthday was being celebrated.
That night there was a protest out front of our apartment. I have no idea what it was about, but everyone was young and looked pretty alternative, so I assume it was something I agreed with (perhaps Palestine-related). Even still, I made sure to avoid appearing to be a part of the event. There was a sizable police presence, and I have no idea what the laws are here regarding protest, nor do I want to find them out while endangering my ability to stay here on the program.
Today was the first day of Ulpan, Hebrew classes. I’m in the 2nd from the lowest class, where we’re learning cursive script and how to gender and pluralize words. It’s 3 hours a day for the next 5 days, and entirely in Hebrew. It’s intense, but helpful, as I already found myself able to tell the kids on the playground who kept asking me questions during my workout that no, I don’t understand Hebrew, but I do understand English.
They didn’t care and just kept talking to me in Hebrew. When I stopped responding they joined me in my workout. And I’ve gotta say, it’s slightly disheartening when a 6 year old wipes the floor with you in planks.
(I kicked his ass in high knees though.)
So far I’m sunburnt, and have spent a lot more money than I expected. But I’m living a 10 minute walk from the beach, the weather here is amazing (albeit hot), and I have not just a whole new city but a whole new country to explore. I’m excited to be here and learn more about the country and the people, and can already tell that these next 5 months are going to fly by much too fast.