First of all, I want to apologize to anybody who was waiting for another post about my time here. So much has been happening and I just wanted to take a chance to take it all in before I started writing again. There a bunch of new pictures that are in the other section that go along with the blog. With that said, I will still give a brief overview of my first three weeks here in Israel.
August 27th-28th: After getting off the plane I spent the first two days in Tel Aviv at the beautiful Beachfront Hotel. I had the opportunity to see my first Mediterranean sunset, and also start meeting the travelers of Israel. This was my first time staying in a hostel, it was very warming to see how friendly the majority of travelers are. The first evening I met up with Caitlin, Erin, and Gabrielle who are also teaching fellows in Netanya for some drinks. After waiting months to meet my new family, it was great to finally see some faces in person. The second day was spent wandering around the famous Carmel Shuk, the beaches of Tel Aviv, and then drinks and talking to people on the roof of the hostel at night. You hear such interesting stores about everyones travel experiences. The majority of Americans do not take advantage of the world given to them. I feel like all the other individuals in there 20s around the world really take these years seriously, and travel all over.
August 29th-31st: Waking up bright and early, I made my way to the train station to embark on the journey to Netanya. The program still has not begun, but during the summer I found out I had a connection to my new "Israeli grandmother" for the next year. Her name is Harriet, and she was so excited to see me and made me feel right at home. It's great to know that she lives only two blocks away from my apartment (yet I have not seen her since my stay at her home). She welcomed me into Netanya with a beautiful joint Kabbalat Shabbat with two joint congregations during the sunset by the beach. As we were introducing ourselves I said that I was from Long Island, New York. After the service multiple people, including the Rabbi, came up to me and asked how long I was staying for. After explaining to them I am a member of MASA Israel, they immediately thanked me for coming to Israel.
**Side note** All summer I was told I was crazy to go to Israel. People just need to learn that the media tells you what they want you to hear. I stopped watching the news years ago, because all they tell you is that the world is a bad place, and you need to live life in fear. Israel is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and also has the most patriotic citizens. You have everything, the bare desert in the Negev, the greenery of the Golan Heights, and the miles of coastline on the Mediterranean. Our neighbors may not be nice, but that does not mean that Israel is an unsafe place to go. For the three weeks I have been here I have felt very safe. Before you talk about a country and the state they are in, why don't you come here for yourself and see the country first hand.**
Needless to say, the citizens of Netanya, and Israel are so grateful to have Jews from all around the world coming to make an impact on the country. Harriet did an amazing job to make me feel at home, she introduced me to all of her friends, and now say that I have been adopted by a handful of brand new Israeli Grandmothers!!.
September 1st-September 3rd: The program has officially begun!!! Even though I was already living in Netanya for the weekend, I wanted to still meet everyone at the airport. Leaving my bags at Harriet's I took the train back to the airport, and met up with my new family in International Arrivals. After a long five days, I can now to started to get settled into my new life for the next school year. As time went on, the circle of people began to grow as everyone arrived from their flights. After a light lunch and meeting our
madrichim (Raoul) and other MASA employees we loaded up onto the bus and headed to our apartment. It felt like Birthright all over again, except for the fact that this program is ten months and not ten days. Over the next few days we were lead by Raoul around the city as he pointed out some important places we need to remember. These include the beach, Shuk, restaurants open during Shabbat, bars, bus station, and different types of stores. Trying to navigate around Israel was a little difficult for me. I am use to seeing water to the south but now the water is to the west. Netanya is such a beautiful city, our apartment is located right in the center of the city where there is always something to do. I could not ask for a better place to be spending my time here in Israel.
September 4th-September 6th: It has only been three days in the program, but Israel Pathways decided to give us little treat. Israel Pathways is the company that runs the ITF programs in the cities of Netanya Be'er Sheva, and Beit She'an. With the three cities loaded up onto a bus, we were sent to a Kibbutz Gonen, up in the Golan Heights. This Kibbutz was actually located right on the Israel/Syrian border back before the 1994 treaty. It felt weird being sent away already after just arriving in Israel, but it turned out to be an amazing weekend. The first thing we did was go ATVing close to the real Syrian border, we stopped at the old Syrian headquarters and checked out the ruins of the building. While walking around, everything started to be brought into perspective. For such a small country, they have done an amazing thing westernizing themselves while protecting their people. After ATVing we headed to the Kibbutz where we had time to hang in the pool and socialize with all the other Fellows from the other cities. I always enjoy meeting new people, and play the "Jewish Geography" Game. A poolside BBQ was held, and then we cleaned up and headed to the bar located in the Kibbutz. Another great time to connect with all the people you just met. The one thing that these programs know how to do, is to keep you busy. The next morning, we headed onto the bus and started to tour around the Golan, learning about why this area is so important to Israel. We visited sights that I have previously visited during Birthright, but it was great to see them again. Two years later I have a new perspective on everything, and now have a new vantage point on what Israel is all about. After the walking tour, and the highly disappointed "water hike", we headed back to the Kibbutz to prepare for our first ITF Shabbat. After another Kabbalat Shabbat, we had a wonderful Shabbat dinner, and then spent the rest of the evening sitting outside and enjoying the beautiful evening, all while making new friends. The last day, was a day spent on the Kibbutz. We were given a tour, various programs, and more pool time. It felt great to be back in a pool, now if I could only find a cheap pool to train in, that would be ideal. We also were given the opportunity to listen to Dr. Ben Rice speak about different topics pertaining to Judaism (more on that in a future post). As the sun went down, and Shabbat ended, we said goodbye to our new friends, loaded up onto the bus, and headed back to Netanya. During the bus ride, we received our teaching assignments, and partners. I will be spending the year teaching with my apartment neighbor Chloe, in the Alumot School (grades 4th-6th). This school is located in the east part of the city, and a short bus ride away. Finally receiving my school got me really excited on what the year has to bring.
September 7th-September 11th: My first five day week in Netnaya consisted of meeting our teachers and principals, sitting and observing classes at our school, meeting the Mayor of Netanya, and sitting through a variety of pedagogical training seminars. This week was especially hard for me because I would constantly compare the Israeli school system to the New York State school system. I never understood on how different school systems can be, but I am starting to get use to teaching in Israel.
During this week we also started taking our Ulpon classes. Ulpon are classes that will teach us how to read, speak, and write Hebrew. It has been years (before my bar mitzvah), that I studied this difficult language, but I am excited to see how far I will be able to come over the next 10 months learning the language.
This week ended on a difficult day. This was my first time away from New York during 9/11. Some of the fellows even forgot what day it was because we are not near the American media. I decided I had to do something, because I could not go without remembering the people lost 13 years ago. Thursday evening, we had a program with the head of MASA ITF (Lior), and also one of the recruitment heads (Rachel). The purpose of this visit was for us to express our comments we have so far about the program. I did not have any comments, but I did end up making a statement about how different it is being in a foreign country for 9/11. I am glad I did this because later on it opened up discussions about this terrible day. I felt at peace knowing that I helped raise awareness about remembering the day we will never forget.
September 12th-14th: This Shabbat weekend, we had to ourselves. I still felt like I needed to continue to travel and explore. I was invited by three girls I met the previous weekend from Be'er Sheva to spend the weekend with them in Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is the place to be for Shabbat. You have the beaches (they are overcrowded, and not as beautiful as Netanya), the food (Israel food is just amazing), and the nightlife (need I say more). For Shabbat, there is still a lot open, which makes vists worthwhile. Friday was spent at the beach, before we headed back to the Florentine Hostel to prepare for our first night out. On our way home, we stopped by the Carmel Market. All the shops were closing because of Shabbat, but we did some last minute bargaining for some fruits and vegetables. I was thrilled to run into a beer stand where that was supporting the local microbreweries of Israel. I was very happy to finally have another IPA, Israel style. A beer snob can only have Goldstar for so long. There was one major difference with my stay at the Beachfront compared to the Florentine. I felt like the travelers that were staying at the hostel, and even the volunteers and workers at the hostel, tried really hard to make everyone feel at home, and do things together as a group. As we pregammed on the roof of the hostel, we were taken to Rothschild Blvd in Tel Aviv. For a span of blocks, you have are a range of bars, clubs, and restaurants for the never-ending night.
The next day we woke up, and spent Saturday once again at the beach. I really feel like I am back on Long Island, where all you do on the weekend is go to the beach. Once again, we headed back to the hostel, got "lost" exploring the city of Tel Aviv, and prepared for another night out. This time the hostel took us all to a store called Cofix. This place is well known for everything to be only 5 Shekals (There are two of these stores in Netanya). This one was different because it served alcohol. For anyone that is not familiar with the exchange rate from American dollars to New Israeli Shekals (NIS); for everyone $1 it is approximately 3.4-3.5 NIS. Can you imagine a shot in a city bar costing only a dollar and change?
Two very long days did not end there. The next morning, we had to wake up bright and early and took a taxi to our third pedagogical training of the week. After a weekend away from my family in Netanya, it was great to see them once again, while still meeting new Fellows everyday.
September 15th- September 20th: This week, ended up prepping us for what a "normal week" would be like. During the months of September and October, there is no such thing as a normal week because of the amount of holidays during this time period. Rosh Hashanah is right around the corner; followed by Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. Nothing can really happen during this time except say "
acharei ha-chagim". This means "after the holidays". Even teachers use this saying when they are in the classroom planning for the year. Nothing can get done when you have a holiday schedule like this:
I will have a new perspective on these Jewish High Holidays being in Israel. In the classroom, I had the opportunity to continue to observe all the classes for a few hours each day. I will be teaching in the Netanya English Center Monday-Thursday from 0800-1330 with Fridays off. The kids are real excited to have Americans in their classroom, and are the most adorable, but crazy kids I have ever met. Being certified to teach Grades 7-12, these youngsters will be a challenge, but Challenge Accepted!! This upcoming week I will only be teaching Monday and Tuesday because of Rosh Hashanah. A new year is upon us, and excited what the year of 5774 will bring.
My first few days in Israel have been such an amazing experience. Getting dropped off at LGA by my Dad, knowing I would not be back in the states for 10 months was a reality check. Checking into my flight and getting through security was quick and easy, so now I just got to sit and wait for my flight. During this time, I still did not have exact plans on where I would be staying Wednesday and Thursday night. I used the website airbnb, and found this beautiful place to stay...but my reservations did not confirm before I left on my first flight. My first flight was a quick on from LGA to Toronto. I ended up getting on an earlier flight, so that meant I would now have a 4 hour layover instead of 3. Since all airports now are very wifi friendly, I was able to check out my email to see if anything interesting has happened. At that time, I noticed my reservation I wanted to have ended up getting denied. Now, I am sitting in the airport knowing that I had no place to stay, and needed to find something quickly. My next move was to just go search for hostels in Tel Aviv and book the first thing that seemed to fit my likings. I booked it right away and had no problem. But, that was the least of the adventure I had in Toronto. I was sitting at the gate, watching the news (I don't know why I was doing that), and then all of a sudden it came up that a cease fire was made between Hamas and Israel. Could that be a sign that this trip is really going to be amazing? Even though Netanya is in the north, and the alarm has only gone off once (which was actually a false alarm), it is nice to know that the operation was now over. But, that did not stop security. After everyone was settling into the gate, we were told to exit the gate with all of our belongings and line up to get screened again by security. From the looks of the protocol, it looked like they were whipping us all down for explosive residue. This protocol was only for flights to Israel. This was a hassle, but it was a comforting feeling having the extra security precaution.
The flight to Israel was actually pretty relaxing. I was able to fall asleep on the flight, and get ready for whatever Israel will bring into my life. At this point I still have no idea what I got myself into, but I know I will enjoy this journey.