Thursday, February 9, 2012

There's No Place Like Home.

I finally made it home on Monday night after a solid 24 hours of traveling. And, of course, my face broke out. But I knew it would. And it shouldn't really surprise me considering my first meal in the US at JFK airport was Wendy's.

I'm so glad to be home though. It's like a breath of fresh air.

The flight itself was really interesting. I flew Elal for the first time (the Israeli airline) and a large percentage of people on the plane with me were religious Jews. There was one point during the flight when about 20 men got up to pray and the flight attendants sent them to the back to do it. That's where I was sitting. I put the picture on facebook but I don't know how to get it on here because I'm on my mom's mac. How can you save a picture on this thing? I can't right click. So confusing.

My mom and I have been having so much fun since I've been home! The first day we went to lunch at Burger Up and then went shopping all day and then met my brothers and sisters for dinner. Ashley looks so cute pregnant! (This is a test because I don't think Ashley actually reads my blog even though she "likes" the link on facebook every time. She thinks she's fooling me but she's really not.)

Yesterday, I finally got my haircut. I'm letting it grow but since I hadn't gotten it cut in 4 months it was beginning to take the shape of a mullet. Tel Aviv isn't ready for the mullet yet. So I did everyone a service and had it shaped. Then I picked up my mom and we went to Chipotle, which was glorious. I really miss Mexican food. After Chipotle we did a crossword puzzle at Starbucks and then visited Uncle Josh and Aunt Jeannette and Joshi and Zoe. Not long after we ate again, of course, because every time I come home my family works hard to fatten me up.

Thai food = tov.

Serious Time: So I'm in a period of transition. My time in Tel Aviv is up in about 6 months and then I'll be entering into the next phase. What that is, I'm not sure yet. But during times like this when I feel like I have no base, it's refreshing to come home and realize that I actually have a great one.

Family = tov meod. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

A Trip to the North

I just had one of the most amazing experiences!

So I went to Akko this afternoon, which is a beautiful city in the north of Israel, and I took a picture of the sunset and put it on facebook. A friend of mine from Tel Aviv, who is Druze, saw that I was in Akko and called me. Coincidentally, he was visiting his parents in the Druze village he grew up in, which was only 10 minutes from where we were. So he invited us to come to his house because they were having a huge birthday party for him and his twin brother.

The Druze are a religious community who live in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria primarily. It's interesting because one of the tenets of their faith is to be loyal to whatever country they live in, and Israeli's say that Druze make the best soldiers because of that. Arabic is their mother tongue, but they also speak Hebrew and some even speak English too.

Anyways, the Druze in Israel live in villages primarily in the north and are a really close knit community. And they are incredibly hospitable. We joined the party last minute and they could not have been more gracious. It was so interesting because when it was time to eat, the men sat at the table and the women served them. Since I was a guest they wanted me to sit at the table with all of the men but I decided to respect their tradition, so I sat in the other room with some of the girls and ate there. Although traditionally at parties like this the men eat first and then when they are done the women sit down and eat. But since I was American and a guest, some of the women sat down and ate with me while the men ate in the other room.

Eating is a huge part of the culture here in Israel, and the Druze are no exception. All of the women kept telling me that I was too skinny and that I needed to eat more, so I kept eating and eating and eating. They brought out the salads first, and I was told we couldn't start eating until the meat was served. (They were relieved when I told them I wasn't a vegeterian. That's like blasphemy here!) Seconds later they brought out chicken and rice, so I started to eat because to me, chicken is meat. But I was informed that chicken is not "real meat," and that the "real meat" was coming soon. Of course, this meant tons and tons of red meat. It was so delicious. After I was done stuffing my face I rubbed my belly and said that I was stuffed and my friend's mother started laughing hysterically and said, "What are you rubbing? There's nothing there!"

After dinner they served Arabic coffee and knefeh, a delicious Arab dessert. Since I was a guest they didn't let me lift a finger to help them clean up. I was really so humbled by their kindness and hospitality.

This is one of those experiences that I will never forget.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas and New Year's Eve

The holidays here were wonderful!

First, as my last post mentioned, I spent Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and Christmas Day in Nazareth. It doesn't get much better than that. And to top it off, I was with some of my closest friends.

Bethlehem was really interesting. In order to get in we had to go through a security check point at the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel. And once we were in there it was like another world. There were Christmas trees and Santas everywhere! And Christmas music was playing in every store.

One of the most memorable parts of Bethlehem was the graffiti that was covering the barrier wall from inside the city. There are two pictures on the wall that stick out in my memory. The first is of Leila Khalid, a member of the Palestinian National Council who hijacked a plane when she was only 15 years old, holding a rifle and wearing a kaffiyeh. She has a huge smile on her face. I'm pretty sure the mural is a replica of an actual photo.

The second is a picture of a dove wearing a bullet proof vest with a red target light on his chest. This one was done by the famous graffiti artist Banksy. Of course what makes it so interesting is the fact that a dove is symbolic of peace, yet it's wearing a bullet proof vest. And the olive branch... Noah and the flood perhaps? I'm not sure.

After Bethlehem, we went back to Jerusalem and ate Christmas Eve dinner at an Irish pub. It was so delicious. Then we went to a coffee shop until Midnight Mass, but I don't want to repeat what's in my previous post. :)

The next day we went to Nazareth. We visited a lot of churches and even saw a movie theater there named after the one and only Frank Sinatra! (At one point my friend Amy pointed out how crazy it was that we were actually walking in Nazareth. Sometimes I forget what an amazing adventure I'm on.) We ate Christmas dinner at a little restaurant in the center of Nazareth and then headed back home. On the way back, we reminisced about the music we loved when we were in middle school and high school. You can be sure that we sang a ton of Backstreet Boys, Shaggy, and TLC, to name but a few.

A week later, we were ready for another holiday! On New Year's Eve we went to 3 different parties and had an absolute blast. I always get excited at the beginning of a new year because you just never know what it may hold. This time last year I had no idea that I would be spending the end of 2011/the beginning of 2012 in Tel Aviv. So much can change in such a short period of time. We'll see what surprises this year holds!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve

I was going to wait until I was home to blog about my day in Bethlehem, but it was so good I couldn't wait! I'll leave the important stuff for tomorrow, but for now I have to write down some of the odd highlights of my day so I don't forget.

1) In the car this morning on our way to Jerusalem, Lev was telling us a story about his experience in a hostel in Ireland. Without getting into the specifics of the story, within 2 minutes I was laughing so hard my stomach hurt, I couldn't breathe, and tears were pouring down my face. I was basically out of control. But I knew it was going to be a phenomenal day. And it was.

2) Lev struck again when we were at a coffee shop in Jerusalem. This time, all five of us were all laughing uncontrollably. The people at the table next to us actually got up and left, but we couldn't help it. It was one of the best moments of the trip for sure.

What were we laughing about? Well, there was some confusion about memory and mammory. But Lev got it worked out. Thanks again, Lev.

3) When we were heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for midnight mass, it was raining in the Old City and all the shops were closed. It was absolutely beautiful. And I jumped in a puddle.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christmas Cookies and Red Wine

This past weekend several of my girlfriends and I baked Christmas cookies to help us get into the Christmas spirit. Even though it was probably 70 degrees and sunny that day, I think it worked! Of course, all the cookies were delicious, and after we were done baking a bunch of other people came over to help us eat them. We sat around for hours and talked about things that people should never talk about (i.e. religion and politics). During these sometimes heated conversations that I generally stay out of, I remember looking around at all of the people eating and talking in my kitchen and being so thankful for the opportunity to experience Tel Aviv with them.

On another note, have you ever had those moments when you're walking down the street and something funny pops in your head and you laugh out loud? That happened to me the other day because of a hilarious morning I had. Lev and I were eating breakfast together last week and we were talking about hippies. Lev and his family are Russian, which I am learning is a pretty hard and intense culture. So anyways, we were chatting and he tried to tell me that his parents were hippies. I've heard enough of his stories to know that they are definitely not hippies in the American sense of the word. So I said, "Your parents are definitely not hippies." And he said, "My parents are hippies in the Russian sense of the word. They beat their kids and they hate the environment, but they ride bikes and travel and stuff." At first, Lev didn't know I was laughing because it was one of those silent laughs, so he kept talking. But then when I was bowled over in my chair and tears were coming out of my eyes, I think he got it.

I just laughed out loud again while I wrote that! Awesome. 

I'm seeing more and more that it's the people who make the experience more than anything else. Some of the best moments I've had here are so great because of the friends who were there to share the moments with me. If Tel Aviv has taught me anything so far, it's taught me to really enjoy the present. I think that's because I know my time here is temporary, and I want to get everything out of this experience that I can. But here's the thing: life is also temporary. So shouldn't we all make a point to really live in the present instead of always hurrying to the future?

I think the Christmas season is the best time of the year to start practicing this.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Fastest Way to Spread Christmas Cheer is Singing Loud for All to Hear

Thanksgiving in Israel was a success! Me and 17 of my friends got together and had such a great time. We had Turkey and stuffing, cornbread dressing, pumpkin pies, a pecan pie, and tons of other delicious food (but we couldn't for the life of us find cranberry sauce!). It really felt like we were celebrating in the States, which helped fight off the homesickness for all of us for sure. 

One holiday down, one to go.

Now on to Christmas. I am really excited about spending Christmas here because we are going to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and Nazareth on Christmas Day. What better way to celebrate, right? And I'm happy to report that I have found a Christmas tree! It's about a foot tall and I bought decorations and a star for it and everything. It took me about 2 minutes to decorate :)

I'm also thinking of having all of my girlfriends over one weekend so we can make Christmas cookies. It's funny because when you're taken out of what you're used to, any little reminder of the familiar is really so special. The pumpkin pies on Thanksgiving, the mini Christmas tree I found, the smell of Christmas cookies... these things mean so much more when they aren't as readily available.

And I already know that next Christmas I'll probably be nostalgic for Israel. Even now I find myself missing this place and I have nine months left. Funny how that works.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

How the Grinch Stole Christmas (and Thanksgiving) in Tel Aviv

This is going to be the first year that I'm not in the States for the holidays. I go back and forth on how I feel about it. I know all of my friends here, the majority of which are American, are going to do something fun for Thanksgiving and for Christmas, so it will be an experience to celebrate the holidays in Tel Aviv. But on the other hand, I am going to miss celebrating with my family.

Especially Christmas.

There are no Christmas trees, Christmas music, Christmas lights, Santa figurines or anything like that here (obviously), and I keep forgetting that it's the most wonderful time of the year! It's like in Home Alone 2 when the family leaves for Christmas and goes to Florida (Kevin, of course, goes to New York instead). Sure, it's warm and they are surrounded by palm trees, but that stuff isn't Christmasy. One scene in this movie particularly sticks out to me: all of the kids laying on the bed of some dingy Florida hotel room watching It's A Wonderful Life in Spanish. I think it's pouring rain outside too.

The good thing is, Hanukkah overlaps with Christmas, so there will still be a holiday spirit in the air. And I hear really good things about these jelly donuts (sufganiyot) that are everywhere during Hanukkah.

And I have the advantage of being able to go to Bethlehem on Christmas, which I suppose is one of the most Christmasy things that can be done this time of year.

In other news, school is keeping us pretty busy here. We don't do much during the week except for homework, and then on the weekends we get out and explore. This past weekend was filled with that. A group of us went to Mezcal, a Mexcian restaurant, on Thursday night and it was delicious! Chimichangas with chicken :) I have been craving Mexican food since I've been here but they don't have a ton of options. So when I heard about this place I had to go. It's in an "up and coming" neighborhood called Florentine, which is where all the hipsters hang out. When I was walking down the street I felt like I was in the States. I thought to myself,  "Savannah Ellis would love it here!"

Then after church yesterday I was craving pizza, so we went to a place called Tony Vespa's, which was also delicious. They have huge square pans of pizza and you tell them how big of a slice you want. Then you pay based on weight. I got a slice with tomatoes and feta cheese and then another one with mushrooms and onions. It was so yummy. It's still warm here so we went outside and ate in the park. It was a lovely afternoon!