Monday, September 12, 2005
celestial blue, reporting from Tzfat
Frustration is mounting as I find myself unable to get online most of the time. We are kept very busy and given very little time to actually do anything outside of the program. And while the program is great and very “action packed” I am not terribly impressed with the lack of free time. We have been in Tzfat since Sunday night and still I haven’t had time to walk around the town to look around. I haven’t been able to get online to post or check my email and, more importantly, to see what’s going on in the world. Some people enjoy being able to unplug from the world, but increasingly I feel like I am living in a bubble. Anyway, I’ll end my rant there.

Friday was yet another packed day as we headed to the tunnels under the Kotel (Western Wall) and walked the route that was chisled out underground some 3-4 thousand years ago. It was an incredible experience as we shut all the lights off and walked through the dark tunnels for…. I have no idea how long. 30 mins? 40? To add to the experience there was water all along the tunnel (as part of its original purpose was to supply water and it IS underground afterall) and we were walking through water the entire time; sometimes it was only ankle high, sometimes it was up to your… privates, depending on how tall you are. I’m a short gal, so my ‘bits’ got a dip in the cold tunnel water.

What a crazy adventure as we walked in the cold damp dark, with our hands on the walls at all times so we could feel our way as we traveled. What an odd feeling to know that your are running your hands along the same place that someone took carved out with a hammer and chisel thousands of years ago in order to survive. Occasionally we would run into the person ahead of us, the wall as the tunnel made a turn, or smack our head on the ceiling as it was unexpectedly lower in some parts. Sometimes we took pictures and every so often we would flick a light on for a second or two just to help get our bearings and to see the magnificent tunnel work. The water didn’t feel at all cold once you got used to it and in the end we were happy to see daylight again.

After this daring adventure it was off to the Jerusalem shuk (pronounced shoo-k). The shuk (market) is liveliest on Friday afternoon as everyone rushes to do their shopping before shabat at sundown, after which all the stores will be closed until sundown Saturday night.

I was happy to be heading to the shuk in Jerusalem for two reasons: 1) I love me a good shuk, and it’s one of my very favourite things about Israel, and (2) I have not yet been to the shuk in Jerusalem, only the one in Jaffa/Tel Aviv. As was expected it was packed and bustling with shoppers, all pushing and shoving and fighting for the best deal. A couple of us stuck together and found a place to eat before shopping around. I opted for the chicken kabob that was cooked right in front of me on a grill and then put in a pita with all my favourite trimmings. A few of us took a walk across the street to a little park and sat down to enjoy our lunch. And of course, being the bleeding heart that I am, I tossed big pieces of chicken to a stray cat who sat nearby hoping to get a meal. After lunch of my program-mates (classmates?) and I went back to the shuk to look for something to take to our host families for shabat on Saturday (Friday night shabat is spent together but Saturday lunch shabat we are scattered and sent out to spend a meal hosted by a local Israeli family who offers to open their homes to Livnot participants. Nice, no?). My classmate and I picked up a couple of cakes at a very good price and then I headed to the candy store, yet another favourite thing of mine in Israel. I love the shuk, I love the dairy products and I love the chocolate and candies. Once we were all done out shopping (though I didn’t get to see even a quarter of the shuk!) we loaded back up on the bus and headed back to the campus for a nap before shabat celebrations.

Friday evening we all dressed up in our nicest of clothes and headed to the Kotel. Livnot has a place overlooking the Kotel where we are able to set up a meal in a hall and eat as a group right there in the old city. So we set up the tables for the meal ahead and then as a group we headed up to the roof to partake in some shabat traditions. The view was extraordinary and I only wish I could have taken pictures to show you (ah ah ahhh! No electronic items during shabat!). From the roof you could look out over all of old Jerusalem at sunset and it was breathtaking. From high above you could hear singing below as people gathered at The Wall were singing and praying and celebrating. It was amazing to hear it echo all around as others in neighbouring buildings held their own celebrations and singing could be heard emanating from their buildings. Soon enough our group joined in as we sang songs in Hebrew and danced in circles and rang in the shabat evening. After much rooftop singing and dancing we headed down to The Wall to be a part of the scene there. As is tradition, I took a prayer that was written on a piece of paper and I inserted it into a crack in The Wall in the hopes that it be answered (it was a request by one of the fine folks who bought a bracelet of mine in support of this very trip). After pressing my hands and forehead to The Wall and just closing my eyes so I could the vibration and energy of it all, I rejoined the group and we began our dinner.

The dinner was a long process as it involves more singing and ritual and by this point I was getting a bit grumpy. As much as I enjoy the history and rituals I am learning about I also enjoy FOOD and eating at 9pm when lunch was a good 8 hours earlier was not making me a happy girl. Eventually the food came and we all shared in the tastiness of it and laughed and shared stories. At the end we gathered around on the rug on the floor and drank beer (shyeah right! I drank water, of course) and each of us made a toast to someone or something important to us, and after each toast we raised our drinks and cheered “L’Chaim!” (‘to life!’). I made a toast to my grandma and talked about what an important role model she has been to me and about the times I had traveled with her across Canada (car trips with grandma!). It was a nice way to end the evening.

Saturday was a little more laid back as we got to finally sleep in (I slept in until 8:30am!! Oooo!!) and then got dressed up in our shabat best again and headed out to the homes of complete strangers for lunch. Another classmate and I were welcomed into the home of a family that had made aliyah (moved to Israel) from the United States in 1982. They served up a huge and wonderful lunch (I was so full I didn’t bother eating dinner tonight!). There was lots of great conversation over lunch as we talked about Israel, the US and Canada and there was more singing and ritual. After lunch we headed back to campus and of course… I napped.

After naptime it was another outing in the form of a quickie tour of the area. We were taken rooftop so as to see out over the area and were given a bit of a rundown in terms of history for this neighbourhood (Katamon). Then we walked to the nearby park where we sat in a circle and another history lesson of various battles that took place locally. Upon returning to campus we had dinner and we closed shabat (more singing in a circle) with the ritual of havdala. celestial blue’s tip: don’t volunteer to hold the candle. Wax IS hot and you will get it all over your hands during the ceremony.

Overall shabat was an interesting experience but a little intense for me. I’m not much for extreme religious rituals and rules and not being able to tear off a piece of toilet paper or turn on a light seems a bit much. Clearly this is something I need to learn a bit more about in order to really understand the point. Doing it just for the sake of doing it is not enough for me.

Sunday wasn’t all that exciting, mostly it was spent heading to Tzfat. In the morning we headed into another part of Jerusalem to hear a rabbi speak to us for a while about “Jewish ethics”. Basically it was stories from his past illustrating how we should all be nice to each other. Unfortunately most of the group was falling asleep from being out late the night before at a bar.

After that we packed up all our stuff and climbed into the bus for a 3 ½ hour bus ride up to Tzfat, traveling along the Jordan and Syrian borders as we went. We made a quick pitstop by Tiberias so we could take a dip in the Kinneret (aka: the Sea of Galilee) and then it was back in the bus and on to the Tzfat campus. We unloaded and got somewhat settled in our rooms and tried to get sleep for the big day ahead.

Ah yes, today was a great day indeed. Today we headed on a full day hike in the Yehudia reserves in the Golan Heights (along the border with Syria). What a gorgeous green and lush area as we traversed rocky paths, climbed under and over trees and swam in a river. The highlight of the trip was when we all gathered along some cliffs and took a leap from a point about 25-30 feet up and into the water below. Of course, I make it sound easy when really it took about 5 looong minutes of pep talks, negotiations and cheering from my classmates until I finally jumped. I. Was. TERRIFIED. Several times I almost jumped but pulled back everytime. Eventually the pressure of the others lining up behind me for their turn got me to take the plunge. It was amazing to face my fear of heights and conquer it, though I’m in no hurry to pull a repeat performance.

Once we had all taken the plunge and carrying our backpacks across on a raft we regrouped and finished the hike up the mountain. Oy yo yo….. what a hike. It was exhausting and my body is feeling the pain tonight, lemme tell ya.

As for tomorrow……. It’s my birthday. ;-)