Saturday, October 29, 2005
I know, I know... I haven't written here for a long time. I am currently on a week off from the program and I had to hustle to get off the campus and find somewhere to stay. Once again, the campus was rented out to another group so I wasn't allowed to stay there Monday night. I have taken refuge once again at Mulder's place, as he was kind enough to offer me a place to stay.

Crazy things have been happening around here. Another suicide bomber took 5 lives three days ago in the town of Hadera, in northern Israel. I don't think I need to explain how that makes me feel. The terror group Islamic Jihad pledges more to come (but what else is new?). Then the president of Iran called for the destruction of Israel, stating that it needs to be wiped off the map. *yawn* Heard it before, though I hope the world now sees what Israel is up against. My mother completely freaked out when she heard the news about this but I told her that they have been saying that for 57 years or so... this is nothing new. I do, however, find it disturbing how public the statement was. That kind of fearlessness (or stupidty?) has a way of inciting people, and that's something Israel could do without.

So with all this and the fallout of bad circumstances at the Livnot program I am in I needed to just take a few days to step back and regroup. There's lots I wish I could say at this point but I simply can't with the Livnot staff reading this blog. In due time I will talk about my feelings and plans.

In the meantime I hope everyone is having a safe and happy weekend. I'll be back in Jerusalem Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. All going well I will be meeting John for coffee! Anyone care to join? Rinat? Yael? come on... head up to Jerusalem after work. *wink*

Sunday, October 23, 2005
On Saturday I had written an entry to post, but was unable to come online to post it until now. In the meantime a whole lot of shit has gone down in the program and the post I had written 2 days ago seems so silly and irrelevent now. I will post it below anyway, if you are interested.

The co-ordinators of the Livnot program sat our group down on Saturday night and gave us an ultimatum of sorts and told us they were splitting the group up. It's long and complicated and I don't feel like getting into the details but needless to say the group's reaction was large and many are not sure what to do. Stay? Go? What the hell has gone so wrong here?? The staff is unhappy with us and we are unhappy with them. After the staff spoke with our group about their plan to split us up our group had a meeting for over 2 hours, away from the ears of the staff. We tried to sort out our feelings and what we wanted to do. Many were ready to walk out the door, unimpressed with how we were being treated.

This morning three of our group members (that we had chosen to represent us) sat down for a long talk with the staff to try and sort out the problem. In the end it feels like not much was resolved beyond agreeing not to split the group up. Ironing out issues is still very much in the air and tensions are high. Two camps have formed: us. and them.

I don't know what to say anymore, and I certainly don't know what to do. Our group meets and talks a lot now in private whenever and wherever we can. Suspicions are running high and fuses are short. This program is hardly fun anymore, I am sad to say.

It breaks my heart because we have good moments together, like today when we went into a giant bat cave! But no one seems happy anymore and the magic has disappated. The staff blames us, and we blame the staff. I am not here to point fingers at Livnot publicly, so if anyone wishes to know more you may write to me.

I am not sure what I want to do at this point. As a group we talked about our great bond and fondness for each other and how that is driving us to stay and fight to be together. Will it be enough? I can't be sure.

I'll let you know what I decide to do in the coming days, but I'll say this... Livnot has done a great job of leaving a bad taste in my mouth about Israel and about Judaism.

here's the post I wrote Saturday night:

Sadly, Attempt #4 to get a cellphone was met with more failure on Friday. I was told by a few group members that I could take a stroll down the street and that I would find a cellphone store on the right hand side (of Emek Rafaim, for those who know the area). I walked all up and down the area I was told I could locate the store was unable to find such a place. Since shops close up early on Friday (around 1pm) I had no time to go back to campus for another opinion. It seems I am truly not meant to have a cellphone.

Friday night we were sent out to our host families for shabat dinner, rather than the usual Saturday lunch. My classmate and I eventually arrived at our destination after wandering through a few dark alleys (which we mused seemed like a bad idea, as if we were in some cheesy horror film) and asking, in our broken Hebrew, any hapless locals in our vicinity for directions. (in fact it sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, now that I think about it… “A Frenchman and a Canadian and walking around the streets of Israel when…”)

The dinner was great as we sat with a family and a their friends under the carefully decorated sukkah. It was also an honour to share the table with their grandmother, a 93 year old holocaust survivour. Dinner was fabulous and the conversation wonderful, and always it’s touching to be part of such generosity. To have a home cooked meal when so far from home is always nice.

On the way home from the dinner my classmate and I heard a sound as we walked down the street. On the other side of this wall (the wall was stone and cement up to about the waist, and then chain-link for the rest of it) I heard this terrible cry of a kitten in distress. When I stopped and stepped closer to hone in on where it was coming from I called for the kitty to make the sound again. Upon hearing someone near it cried 10 times louder and nearly broke my heart it sounded so scared. I urged my classmate to help me push the chain-link part of the fence in so I could maybe see over the stone wall to see where this poor thing was trapped. He helped me push in the fence as I leaned in, but I was unable to see. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of reaching my hand into a dark area for a scared cat, lest I get scratched up, but I saw no other way around it. I reached in over the wall but was unable to stretch far enough to make contact. My classmate seemed largely unimpressed with my efforts and indeed not altogether sure he cared to be involved. I told him we would go back to the campus and get my old roommate Shay to come and help me. She’s a fellow cat lover with cat rescue experience. She’d come and help me, I said.

Once back at campus I ran around looking for Shay. “Where’s Shay? Has anybody seen Shay? I need to find Shay, it’s important!!”. Finally I found Shay and we dug up some flashlights, a can of tuna, and were on our way back. She asked me how old I thought it was and I guessed around 2-3 months, by the sound of the cry. We arrived quickly at the spot but the kitten refused to make a peep. As we stood and discussed the situation he finally let out a little muffled mew to let us know he was still there. Shay opened a can of tuna and dropped it down the wall to let him know we were friendly. We then made our way through a gate and onto the property where the kitten was stuck between the wall and some kind of big metal box. Seems the little devil was being a curious kitten and hopped down to investigate and realized he couldn’t squeeze around and past the box once he was down there.
Shay suggested we clear the leaves around the metal box to see if we could make enough room for him to get around the box at the bottom since we weren’t too sure we could reach him from above. We shone the lights in to have a look at him and sure enough there was a little grey tabby, maybe 3 months old, cowering in the corner. Shay began to clear the leaves away using a stick I gave her when she suggested she try and gently prod him a little to see if she could scare him into trying to jump up. Sure enough, all it took was a little added terror to inspire the fella to climb the wall and scamper out. YAY!!! Shay and I felt very triumphant as we walked back to campus, feeling all warm and fuzzy about saving a little kitten from his utter stupidity. Hahaha…

Tomorrow we are finally heading out on a hike to some giant cave somewhere, our first hike in almost 3 weeks. We’re pretty excited to get out and about again. I’ll post pictures, of course. Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Little did I know that just after I wrote that post I would be called down to a big group meeting that would change the group dynamic permanently... and not for the better.

Thursday, October 20, 2005
look out, rant ahead!
Well it seems that the powers that be do not want me to have a cellphone while I am in Israel. Three attempts have all been met with failure.

Attempt #1: Several weeks ago while in Eilat with a friend of mine he gave me an old cellphone of his that he had just lying around in his glove compartment in his car. We even went and had it activated and put $25 down on it to use. The catch was that my friend did not have the main charger with him, only the car charger. So the phone got a small charge while we were driving around but a full charge would have to wait until my friend sent me the proper charger. My friend never did. A month later I asked if he was going to send me the charger or if I should just go ahead and buy a cellphone. He never replied, so I decided I had wasted a month already and I had people in Israel I wanted to call; it was time to get my own phone.

Attempt #2: After speaking with my mother on MSN and hearing of her frustration in trying to reach me I assured her I would order a phone online with Talk N’ Save after I finished talking to her (Talk N’ Save is a company that rents phones to those traveling in Israel). Almost everyone else in the program who has a cell got it from these guys so I figured it would be the easiest. By the time I finished talking to my mother and I went on the website it was race against time as my laptop battery was almost dead and I was in a coffee house that had no available plugs. I rushed to fill out the form only to find it wouldn’t accept my “departure date for Israel” likely because it meant that I was already here. I attempted to fudge the form and change the date around but I just couldn’t figure out what the hell the form wanted from me. I wrote a scathing email to the company asking what the friggin’ problem was and then went back and downloaded the application to see if there was a way around the problem. My laptop promptly died.

Attempt #3: Upon hearing that a two of the girls were going to get new phones (to replace the ones stolen from their rooms) I decided to tag along and just go get a phone in person. That way I could get it right away! Perfect, no? Upon entering the phone store we took numbers as it was a huge store and it was *packed *. We waited 10-15 minutes and I was called up first.

I sat down with a young man whose English wasn’t too bad and explained to him that I would need a cellphone for 4 months and that I would be leaving Israel Jan 30th. He asked what I was doing in Israel for so long and I told him I was in a program, etc, etc. We made small talk for a moment and he began to go over some details with me and told of a great plan, very cheap, with a great phone. It sounded amazing and I was very excited. When he was done his sales pitch I dug a little to find out where the catch was and finally asked the right question: “There’s no contract to sign, right? Because as I said in the beginning, I am only here for another 4 months”. He said no, that every cellphone company in Israel asks for a 36 month contract. I reminded him that I had told him from the very start that I only wanted a phone for 4 months and he said they don’t rent phones out like what I was looking for. Now I was getting upset. I said, “Really? Because 2 of my friends are out in the showroom doing *just that * even was we speak”. He said it wasn’t possible, they don’t do that. Confused I went out to one of my friends, got a card with Talk N’ Saves info from her, and went back to the guy I was talking to and showed him. He said that yes, that was Talk N’ save, but not his company. I asked it was then that the girls came here and were in fact in the middle of getting new phones. He said that they work with Talk N’ Save but that Talk N’ Save provided the phone and his company (Cellcom) provided the service. Frustration, at this point, was mounting. “You mean to tell me that you guys work with Talk N’ Save but I can’t actually get a phone with them here??” Yes, he replied.

Now steaming I asked what the alternative was, because I’d be damned if I was walking out of there without a cellphone. He told me I could buy a phone outright and then pay for a monthly plan. Fine, how much is the cheapest phone? 510 shekels (about $135 CAN). Now I am really steaming. How much is the monthly plan? 15 shekels (less than $5). FINE, I said. Let’s do that. He began the paperwork, took my passport info and credit card number. He began to fill it all out on the computer when he hit a problem; my credit card isn’t Israeli, he said. Go ahead, imagine the look on my face. Of course it’s not, I replied. We will need a deposit, he told me. Here’s where I go from a polite Canadian to an angry one. “What the hell for?? I am BUYING the cellphone! You will still be charging the monthly amount to my credit card, yes?” Yes, he answered. “Then why do you need a deposit?? You take a deposit from someone in order to encourage them to return something! I will have nothing TO return!! How much is the deposit??” He excuses himself to go talk to the manager. He returns and writes down a number on the piece of paper. “My manager says normally it’s this much (he writes down 1500 shekels, almost $400 CAN) but he says I can do it for this much (and he wrote down 500 shekels, or around $131 CAN)”. I laughed in his face. “Are you kidding me?? That’s more than I am likely going to spend on the plan itself!! Do you SEE how that makes NO sense whatsoever?? WHAT WOULD I BE PAYING A DEPOSIT ON???”. He said he was sorry but that was unfortunately just the way it was. I told him that I was sorry that I was upset and that it was not directed at him so much as the absurdity of the situation and the utter frustration of not being able to get a phone in a country that has more cellphone users per capita than almost any other country in the world. I said that I was angry and frustrated that I had just wasted 40 minutes for absolutely nothing.

And there you have it. I am still without a phone. I am wondering why, WHY, am I not meant to have a phone while here?? Sorry mom, I tried. I’ll try again later, when I’m not feeling quite so homicidal.

Since I’m in a ranting kind of mood, allow me to share some annoyances about the program today. Before I do let’s just wave and say hi to the Livnot staff who are reading this and to those individuals who found my blog when looking for information about the Livnot program (I’d encourage you not to make any decisions based on this entry. Heh).

Last night the group was taken by bus to Tel Aviv to participate in a drum circle. We met with some guy, we got to bang on some drums, sing a little and even do some group primal screaming and such. A pretty cool event, for sure, but by the time we returned back to Jerusalem it was 1am. And GUESS who was on kitchen duty the next morning? Aye, that’s right… I had to get up 5.5 hours later to make breakfast for everyone (along with my other 2 kitchen mates for the day and one of the Livnot staff). I am a girl who needs her sleep so I was none too impressed with being kept out so late. *sigh* Whatever.

This morning I am downstairs bright and early to meet with my kitchen mates and the Livnot staffer to make breakfast. My kitchen mates and I head into the kitchen to assess what is available so we can decide what to make. The inventory was something like this: 5 eggs, 1 bag of milk, no fresh fruit (we often cut up a nice fruit salad), and frozen bread. Various spreads were available for the frozen bread, but that’s about it. For 25 or so people. We did also manage to find 3 little bags of oatmeal and made that as the hot part of the meal, but it wasn’t enough to feed everyone. Those who managed to get to the milk before it was gone got cold cereal.

To add to the frustration, the girl who works for Livnot did not show up to help out. This person is usually pretty essential since they know where things are, they can suggest alternate food ideas, they can maybe run out and buy needed ingredients and they keep us from ruining a kosher kitchen by mixing things up. This girl, as sweet as she is, has had a habit of sleeping in and arriving late or just not showing up at all, as one of my other kitchen mates pointed out. What especially irked me about this scenario is the fact that I got not one but TWO lectures last week from the group leaders about a hike/tour I elected to miss. I was told I have to be punctual and that attendance is mandatory (at the beginning of the program we were told we didn’t have to do anything we didn’t want to). So what of this staff member setting this example? Will she be asked repeatedly if she really wants to be in this program? Will she get two separate talks about this one incident?

In the end we managed to feed 25 people by conjuring something of a breakfast miracle. One of the other Livnot staff had shown up to pick up the slack that the first had left and we had a breakfast made up of odds and ends. I had 2 pieces of bread with some kind of cream cheese/garlic/dill spread and a small bowl of oatmeal, all washed down by the goodness of water.

Hey Livnot….. are you listening? Feed your program members! There’s nothing in the kitchen half the time we are expected to make meals! Oh, and stop asking us all the time if we want to be in the program… we paid to be here didn’t we? We have stuck it out through thick and thin for the last 6 weeks, have we not? Missing a class here and there doesn’t mean we don’t want to be here. It means we have to go outside the program to get something we need.

/end rant.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005
who you callin' "sukkah"??
Let’s see, what’s happened since I wrote last…..

Ah yes, I had a free weekend and I went to Rehovot to spend it with my friend (and fellow blogger) Mulder. It was exactly what I needed after the last few intensive weeks in the program. Friday I caught a bus from the Jerusalem central bus station at 10am and arrived in Rehovot almost an hour later (the trip usually only takes 30-40 mins by car though). Mulder picked me up at the bus station in Rehovot and we headed back to his place to hang out and catch up a bit. For shabat dinner we went to his parents place and had a great evening there. Afterwards we went back to his place, met up with a friend of his, and headed out for the night. First on the agenda: bowling. Ah yes, bowling in Israel. Something I never thought I’d do. After that we headed out for a drink at the local bar where we chatted, listened to music and watched people. Overall, a great way to unwind and relax.

Oh and did mention? Thanks to Mulder I got to catch up on some tv. Oh yes, I watched HOURS of television shows that he had downloaded. Hours and hours. I got all caught up on Lost (*dreamy!!*), took in the first episode of the second season of Battlestar Galactica (* squeal!*), and tried out two new shows Commander In Chief (with Geena Davis) and Prison Break. Wow, both are fabulous shows, I highly recommend them. In fact ALL of it was amazing and I was in total heaven all weekend as Mulder patiently let me spend hours in front of the tv. Thank god SOMEONE understands my tv addiction. Thanks, baby! You made my weekend!!

After that it was back on the bus Sunday morning at 8:45am and back to Jerusalem. Sunday night was spent getting ready for Sukkot (pronounced: "sue-COAT"), another fine Jewish holiday that marks the end of the holiday madness of the last month. For Sukkot we must build a sukkah, a hut of sorts, outside; "Historically, Sukkot commemorates the forty-year period during which the children of Israel were wandering in the desert, living in temporary shelters. The word "Sukkot" means "booths," and refers to the temporary dwellings that the Jews were commanded to live in during this holiday in memory of the period of wandering"). Sukkot is to be a happy celebration with as much time possible spent in the sukkah eating, sleeping and gathering with friends. We had a blast for the next two days as we erected the sukkah, decorated it and cooked the big meal for the first night of Sukkot. To contribute, I cooked the most kick ass lentil soup ever, if I do say so myself. Monday night it was a party in the sukkah as we all sat on cushions on the floor around low tables and had a feast!

Today, the second day of Sukkot (it’s a 7 day celebration), we went out to host families again to spend time having a Sukkot meal in their sukkah. Always a pleasure to meet new people and see how others do it, so I had a great time. After that it was a nap and free time, so here I am.

One thing to report: we had a thief skulking about the campus today and a few of the girls were robbed. Seems some guy took it upon himself to stroll into our building and found a few doors unlocked. He helped himself to some money and a phone or two. Lovely! The result is the following hilarious signs that a few of the group members posted:

On the front door

Inside the front door

In the common area

In the stairway leading upstairs

Lesson learned! Lock your doors, kids! (as my roommate said to me: “Now I see why you’re so anal about having the room locked all the time!”. Uh, YEAH!)

Tomorrow is pretty much a free day until the early evening when we are all heading to Tel Aviv for a drum circle, I think. *shrug * I guess I’ll see. Next week we have almost a whole week free! What to do, what to do…. who’s doorstep will I land on this time? Any bloggers wanna hang out? Rinat? Yael? Wanna head to the Sinai?

Thursday, October 13, 2005
a 2 day desert hike SEEMED like a good idea at the time..
Let me just tell ya a little something about the desert… it’s HOT. Yeah, I know, that seems like an obvious statement but it needs to be said. I doubt there was much that could have prepared me for the 2 day hike we had in the Judean desert on Monday and Tuesday. Our destination? Ein Gedi. (as a sidenote, be sure to click on the thumbnail there and get a load of that picture I took and tell me that's not one of the best I've ever taken!!)

Day One. We headed out early in the morning from Tzfat, loading ALL our luggage onto the bus (something that takes a VERY long time to do because there is a lot of luggage for 30 people (at least 2-3 pieces each) and the bus was a long walk from the campus. We were sweating our asses off before we had even begun the hike. Our luggage was to go on to the Jerusalem campus while we went to the desert.

Along the three hour bus ride we stopped at a little pitstop along the way, ate some food, had some drinks and enjoyed the view of the Dead Sea. We also got to smell a really stinky camel who was tied up right by our bus. Ah yes, the full Middle Eastern experience!

Finally we arrived at our destination, had a quick lunch and a powwow before we began our descent. Our guide told us the plan and what to expect, and that if anyone had doubts about being able to finish NOW was the time to speak up. One of the guys who wasn’t feeling at all well took the bus back to campus; if you are not feeling well, taking a stroll in the desert is clearly not a good plan. After a firm talk about taking lots of water and making sure you drink along the way, we set off up the mountain.

I learned one thing very quickly while hiking up a mountain in heat like that; it is entirely possible to sweat more than you drink. I mean, I thought I knew how wet with sweat I could get during our three day hike (from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea) but that was nothing compared to the amount of sweat I generated in the first 5 minutes of this hike. It was simply unreal. Sweat behind my ears, running down the front and back of my neck, down the back of my knees, on my stomach… it was *everywhere *. I was quickly seeing why we were made to bring so much water, as one has to be extremely vigilant about replacing lost liquids, something that happens at a phenomenal speed in the desert (let alone climbing up a mountain!). Yes, you can even see the sweat on my shirt if you click on that picture and take a close look. Sexy!

Eventually (I believe it took 4-5 hours) we reached the top of the mountain (after many breaks along the way to cool off and drink water) and we stopped to watch the sun set behind the mountains around us. It was simply breathtaking. We snapped pics, nibbled on some food and sipped some water. As it began to get dark we set off again in order to find our campsite before it got too late. As the night crept it the air was cooler and the hiking more comfortable. We were now walking along the top of the mountain on a fairly flat plateau and the moon and stars were lighting our way. (see the black line running along the edge of the Dead Sea? That's the road we drove on to get to this hike! just a note to help give perspective to the picture)

When we arrived at our campsite I finally made a point of finding some privacy in order to go to the bathroom. While we are a group well acquainted with going in the great outdoors by now, going in the desert presents whole new problems. On the prior hike there was plenty of cover for resting in the shade and cooling off, as well as for finding a little private time to do your business. Such is NOT the case in the desert. There is very little in the way of shade so resting is not usually the cooling experience you’d like it to be. And if you need to relieve yourself you are going to have to hike a fair distance away from the group to go over a hill in order to do your business (and be sure no one has done so just before you or you’ll be catching him/her, pants down). Once we got to the campsite it was quite dark and all I needed to do was get far enough away from the group so that the cover of dark worked in my favour.

We had a very nice chap meet us in the desert in his jeep which was filled with tents, sleeping bags, food, supplies and our overnight bags with a change of clothes. We set up a rug on the ground so we could all sit as a group while others set up a table and light, and set about making dinner. Along with the usual pita, hummus and veggies a soup was prepared in a big pot on a gas stove plate. Sadly the soup was not ready in time for dinner but it later served as a great warm up food before bed.

After dinner we headed out for a night hike under the stars. The sky was filled with stars, a view many of us rarely get to enjoy because the city lights wash out the view. Many of us stood, mouths gaping, as we watched shooting stars go by. The night was cool but so beautiful and quiet. Our group leader took us to a spot where we all sat in a circle. We talked about the desert and the beauty of nothingness it offers. We were encouraged to take some time alone in the desert to reflect on our lives in whatever manner we saw fit, and then we all stood up, turned away from the circle and walked off to find a spot alone in the moonlit dark. For 20 minutes we got some alone time in a way most of us have never experienced, certainly not since we began the program a month ago and have been lived in shared space. I took my 20 minutes and sat alone, stared at the stars a bit, and then meditated. (about the picture.. if you look at the bottom of the mountain at the right you will see a light coloured line tracing around the edge of it, near the greenery; that is the footpath we would take the next day to get back to the start)

When the 20 minutes was up a hand drum was used to signal that it was time to return to the circle, and slowly but surely we made our way back. All of us, that is, but one girl who had fallen so deeply asleep after hiking in the day’s heat. It took 20 more minutes of searching and shouting until she finally woke up and joined us (I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least a little bit nerve wracking!). Once we came back together we shared our experiences and feelings with each other in a warm and non-judgmental environment. The range of feelings, stories and experiences was interesting as each person felt so differently about being alone in the dark and took the time to search their souls in various ways. When we had all finished sharing we stood up for one final exercise. We took the opportunity, miles away from any civilization, to let it all out. On the count of three we all let out the most primal of screams. It. Was. Amazing. Our throats were raw and we felt exhausted, but it was a fantastic release.

Arriving back at the campsite I was never so happy to have a styrofoam cup of soup in my life. Potatoes, carrots, onions and yams… oh, it was heavenly! (and so soothing for the throat!) I ate two cups and climbed into my tent to sleep. We were going to bed in the dark and would be waking in the dark….

Day Two. The wake up call came at 4:30am. “Boker Tov!” (Good Morning!) I immediately sprang out of my tent to be the first to the girl’s hill (aka: the bathroom) before it got too crowded. It was dark, I tripped a lot, but it was SO worth it. I went back to my tent (shivering! it got very cold during the night and now morning) and began to change my clothes, use baby wipes to clean up a bit and packed up my stuff. Breakfast was at 5am. After breakfast it was time to take down the tents, load the jeep and prepare to hike while it was still cool. We took a few moments to enjoy the sunrise, the most beautiful thing ever in the desert (little did I know that by 8am I would be praying for the shade of a tree). Finally we headed out just before 7am.

We made a few early stops along the way to talk about wildlife in the desert. The ibyx is a deer/gazelle-like animal that lives in the desert (which we saw the day before, above us on the mountain ledge) and survives on very little. I was fairly sure they were alive and well given the amount of poop they left all over the desert. We also stopped to look for a black widow amongst some tiny dried up bushes but only found her old web and nest where she had her young. We also saw a vulture circling us at one point which didn't make me feel altogether good about our chances of finshing the trip. A gecko was spotted early on as well and hijinx ensued as it leapt off the rock at one of the guys and then when he jumped back (screaming like a little girl) it then leapt onto the girl beside him and proceeded to make it’s way up the back of her leg and up towards the opening of her shorts. All was well as we rounded it up and took some amazing pictures of it. *Sigh* Oh how I love lizards! I also saw another type of lizard (which is always too fast for me to snap a pic of!) and we even saw a mouse (the leader said it’s a spiny mouse. I had no prayer of getting a pic of it, sorry). Ibyx and lizards and mice, OH MY!

The first part of the morning was spent making our way along the mountain top to the spot from which we were to descend. The heat of the sun comes a blazin’ very early in the day and I soon found that I was absolutely melting. Canadian + desert sun = whining. One of the biggest challenges is that you have to carry even more water with you than usual, so your backpack is just THAT much heavier while hiking through and area in which you haven’t a prayer of finding shade to cool off. Eventually, just as I believed I truly was going to become a human puddle, we reached the spot at the top of the mountain where we would make our way down. Once again we were given a lesson by our leader about the path we were about to take as it was a footpath built over 2,000 years ago by the Romans (who were laying siege at the time on the Jews). It was mind boggling to imagine how they built this winding path along this mountain with whatever equipment they had and under these hot conditions. Impressive.

After the history lesson I was the second in line to hurry towards the descent. I was hot and cranky and was promised a hidden waterfall when I got to the bottom. I headed down the long LONG winding path with no stops along the way for resting. The descent was extremely hard on the legs and knees and my thighs turned to jelly 30 minutes into the hike down. It proved to be much harder than I expected, and much hotter. Several times I considered taking one of the water bottles out of my backpack and leaving it on the path for one of the guys because the weight of it was killing me. However, fear of dehydration made me hold onto it (something I realized later I didn’t need to do) and I pressed on. There was enough space between me and the next person behind me that I could even pull over for a moment for a washroom break.

Over an hour later I was near the end and I could see the riverbed I was to reach and follow down to the waterfall. It was at this point that my brain checked out of the scenario (as happens often when your body goes on autopilot in order to get through something physically challenging) and I promptly found myself lost right near the finish line. At first I wasn’t too concerned because I knew approximately where I was and where I needed to be. I even found the stream that lead to the waterfalls, but it was soon clear that I was no longer on the right path. It wasn’t long before my knee was shredded and bleeding from thorns (because I was off “the beaten path”) and I began to get a little panicked. I needed to get back on the path but there were 12 foot boulders between me and said path. I took my backpack off and assessed the situation. Could I climb the rocks? Probably I normally could, but weak from the heat and with all that water on my back it seemed unlikely. I crouched down and found a gap where the boulders met. Could I squeeze under there? For sure, if I didn’t mind crawling on my stomach and getting my fresh cuts full of sand. And with that I shoved my backpack through and crawled under the boulders. When I came out the other side my knee was stinging and I wasn’t all that sure I was that much farther ahead. It still didn’t look like I was on the right path and I couldn’t hear anyone. Panic was really starting to set in. I climbed a hill in front of me, huffing and puffing from the weight of my water and adrenaline pumping through my veins and just when I thought the heat and stress would overcome me.. I arrived at the top and found the path. I dropped my pack on the ground, stood with my hands on my knees while I caught my breath and drank some water. Ha! I just took a shortcut, that’s all! *wink*

I followed the path along until I got to the waterfall and found my other group mate who was ahead of me for most of my descent (amusingly I found out he had taken the same wrong turn!). He was splashing and swimming in the pool below the waterfall and cheered for me when he saw me. I dropped all my stuff, kicked off my socks and hiking boots and jumped into the water. The cool water was heavenly after spending the last 4 hours in the blistering heat. Eventually the rest of the group trickled in and joined us and I stayed at the waterfalls for almost 2 hours before it was time for us to leave; we still had another hour+ ahead of us before we reached the finish line.

The rest of the hike was tough, but knowing we were so close made it a little more bearable. I was surprised when we rounded this one corner of the mountain like had a hundred times before, and saw the gates of the park ahead. I bought an ice cream bar and relaxed as we waited for the rest of the group. When they all arrived we got on a bus and headed to the Dead Sea for lunch. There we dined, saw several F-15s (?) soar closely overhead (very unnerving and loud) and then loaded back up to go to the Jerusalem campus.

We didn’t have long to settle in as we had to prepare for Yom Kippur. Cleaning and cooking over the next 24 hours was the plan and then we spent last night and today fasting. Being prone to migraines made me weary about trying to go 25 hours without food but I had decided to give it a try. 17 hours into the fast I simply had to eat a couple of rice cakes and take some Tylenol, but other than that I made it (more or less). Never have you seen such a ravenous group as those looking to break the fast when the time was up. We ate yogurt, pudding, cake, pretzels, fruit salad and juice as we waited for dinner to be set up. And of course we stuffed ourselves to the point of near sickness when we finally did get to eat properly. Oh, and yes, I dressed up all nice again and no I am not posting such pictures anymore. Sorry.

From all that craziness we head right into a free weekend and I am heading to Rehovot in the morning to see my good friend Mulder. It’s been over a year since I got to see him last and I am very excited to spend the weekend with him. I called him up after dinner and proposed that I land on his doorstep tomorrow morning and he was more than accommodating. Such a sweet lad!

So that’s the plan. I have more to say about a few other Livnot issues I’m having but it will have to wait until I return, I don’t really feel like getting into it now.

For my Canadian readers, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving on Monday. To my Jewish readers, I hope you had a meaningful and easy fast. To everyone, I wish you all a great weekend!

Sunday, October 09, 2005
Tiberias and Golan
I had myself an interesting weekend! (in Israel the week starts on Sunday, not Monday, so my weekend is over) We took a quick trip to Tiberias before heading to the Golan for shabat.

Tiberias is an eclectic little town situated on the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret). It is obviously steeped in a long history as it has significance for Christians as well. For this reason it is an interesting mix of people, souvenirs, languages, races and food. I saw secular people, religious people, Jewish souvenirs, Christian souvenirs, heard all manner of languages as I saw blacks, whites and Chinese people roaming the street (a BIG Chinese tour was embarking on the town when I was walking around and it made me very happy to see that tourism is alive and thriving. In fact, I read in a newspaper here that the Chinese are beginning to arrive in droves to Israel as tourism and good relations improve between the two countries).

On the hunt for a new pair of comfy walking sandals (to replace the ones the fox ran off with on the three day hike) I wandered the streets and took in the sites and sounds. I found the shuk (market) where everyone was running around and doing their last minute shopping before sundown and the coming of shabat. Fruit, vegetables, candy, meat, fish, clothes, spices, cigarettes, you name it…. It can all be purchased at the shuk (shoo-k). I didn’t buy anything I just walked through and took it all in, as the shuk is my favourite thing in Israel.

As I continued to wander around Tiberias I headed down some cobblestone pedestrian streets lined with cafes, restaurants, stores and boutiques. The atmosphere is very much different on these streets than the shuk, where people are shouting out prices and deals as you stroll along. Here there is much more decorum and not quite such a feeling of hurry. I continued on in search of food, the Sea, and most importantly… a bathroom.

Now, there are all kinds of food stands to choose from to eat. I have found most of these stands are actually pretty good but the problem was that a bathroom was not available in them. This left me with but one choice, an option I swore I would not take while in the Holy Land; McDonald’s. The McDonald’s was right by the water and what with the palm trees surrounding the sign and all, how could I resist? It had a bathroom and it had food, so in I went. In an effort to maintain SOME kind of Israeli experience I opted to eat the McKebab. Oh yes, you heard me… a kebab, McDonald’s style. For those who are unclear, a kebab is basically a hunk of ground beef, deliciously seasoned, and either flattened into little mini oval patties, or formed into fat little rolls, shorter than say a hotdog. I got into these when I had an Israeli friend whose mother made some damn fine kabobs. Behold the McKebab!

Steps to eating a McKebab:

Step One.
Take a second to savour the moment. This is McDonald’s afterall, and this could be the only point where you actually feel good about the food. Experiences can be hit and miss so just pause and take note about how good you feel about it all at this moment.

Step Two. Take hold of the tear strip halfway around the packaging on your McKebab and pull it around and off. This removes the top portion of the cardboard for easy access to the food, but leaves you with a bottom part of the cardboard for holding on to the tasty McKebab without getting your hands filthy. Gander at the lettuce, tomato, red onions kebab and sauce (don’t ask, I don’t know). Smell it. Still seems like a good idea, right?

Step Three. And here you have it… the McKebab. Mmmm.. doesn’t it look good? Of course it does. Bite in and enjoy. Have some fries and Coke with that. Who knew kosher could taste so good?

Ok, so I didn’t finish the whole thing, but I rarely do when I order McDonald’s. It was ok, but I have certainly had better kebabs. It did the trick, filled my belly and then I was free to use the little girls room. Sweet relief!

After dining on a McKebab I walked down the pier a little and got myself an ice cream cone, or more precisely, a banana gelato cone. If it’s one thing Israel is good for it’s banana flavoured food items (gum, ice cream/popsicles, and my fav… banana milk). When my two hours was up I met up with the group back at the bus and it was time to move on to Adve Etan, in the Golan.

Details were sketchy on what to expect for our overnight stay in the Golan except that we would be staying in some kind of Bedouin-style setup and may be doing some hiking around. Upon arriving we found several hut with woven straw (?) walls and one tent off to the side. The girls took the two huts on one side, the boys on the other. The tent was for the group leader and his family. There was another roofed enclave that had a fridge, hotplate and bbq and there was a building with showers and bathrooms. It was pretty simple and the weekend laid back.

We did the usual shabat activities, singing, jumping and dancing while the sun went down and then more singing and table pounding around the dinner table. The food was served up the staff of the moshav (semi-private farm) that we were staying on, which was a nice change (both in food and cooking duties). The food was great and the company entertaining as always. Afterwards we went into another tent/hut where we had our oneg, gathering in a circle on the floor we drank beer (or in my case mint lemonade), shared stories and experiences, and laughed and talked the night away. Heading back to the sleeping huts we heard the sound of the jackals as they continued their bizarre calls well into the night.

The next day was wide open for relaxation. Breakfast was at 7:30am though I was the only one there when I grabbed a coffee and cake. People slept in and basically we lounged the day away. We walked the area, sat and talked, and others took a hike to some nearby waterfalls (I looked at donkeys and feed some rabbits, guinea pigs and goats). Lunch was at 11am (more singning, etc etc) and then it was back to lounging in the light of a beautiful day (though I *really * wished I had remembered to bring a book!). At night we had the usual havdala ritual and then it was time to back up and head back to Tzfat.

Today I skipped the hike that the rest of the crew is on (shhh!) so I could take some time to run errands and get ready to leave Tzfat to head back to Jerusalem. I sent two packages home, a postcard to my grandma and did a little shopping for lunch and snacks. When the group returns there will be Hebrew class, dinner and then packing to leave. Tomorrow morning our luggage heads to Jerusalem as we head to the Judean desert for a 2 day hike. Sleeping in the desert should prove to be interesting…

(a question to those who are smarter with HTML than I: I am having problems copying what I write from Word 2000 to my blog; when I run spellcheck it can't do a proper job because although things look fine when I am reading, writing and editing the post, it shows up all funky in spots that have "...." or an apostrophy (ie: it's). These two cases show up all weird which isn't a problem when I publish the post, but it renders the spellcheck useless, and when I use this post on my blog for friends and family it shows up all jumbled and screwy. Any idea why? The only solution I have found for my other blog is to physically go back into the post and replace the ... and ' with ones that I type in, that is to say, I have to go back in, highlight each problem spot, and retype it.. then it's fine. wtf??)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

So today we all loaded up into the van/mini bus and headed off for a tour of the northern border of Israel. You know, where it borders Lebanon.

I wasn’t really nervous or anything but there were a few times when I questioned the sanity of what we were doing. Perhaps it was when the guide asked the driver to pull over so that we could take pictures, but when we asked if we could get out he said “No, you cannot get out here!”. I am supposing it was because of the Hizbollah outpost 100 metres away on the Lebanon side of the border.

Indeed we saw a few Hizbollah watchtowers here and there (note they use yellow flags.. why? I have no idea and neither did the guide), keeping an eye on the Israeli army outposts, who were in turn keeping an eye on them. Our guide reassured us that they would only watch us and that they would never do anything, especially with the army watching their every move. Our guide was pretty funny as he said such things as “See that? Hizbollah terrorists watching us. So what! Hi Hizbi!” as he waved at them. Hahaha!! Nothing like taunting the enemy every so often.

After that we drove along the Lebanon border (that's a pic of me by the border with Lebanon in the background), stopping here and there for a history lesson, and then we went south a bit to an area with impressive cliffs and caves. The view was simply spectacular as we looked out across the country, mountains and all the way to the Mediterranean Sea! (it’s the band of blue across the top of the picture) We stood right at the edge of this very scary cliff edge and soaked up the magnificent view and talked about the British, the Arabs and the Jews (a big theme in today’s talks).

We also saw a few familiar sites. We saw the Crusader’s castle that we saw during our three day hike, only today we got to see it from an entirely different angle. It was just as amazing as before. We also finished our tour today in the same spot where we finished our 3-day hike… at the Mediterranean! Oh how I love the sea…

The next few days are going to see me slipping back under the radar for a while as plans have changed slightly. Tomorrow we are heading to Tiberias for a few hours and then to the Golan where we will be staying overnight in a Bedouin-style tent for shabat. It’s on a big moshav (a semi-private farm) and apparently there is a nice river nearby for us to explore on Saturday. Saturday night we are to return to the Tzfat campus

On Sunday we will be going on another hike with the same guide we had today though I’m not clear where we are going… all I know is that we should bring our bathing suits and a towel. I believe a dip in some cold (river?) water is in our future. Sunday night we return to Tzfat, pack up our stuff for Jerusalem… but instead of going to Jerusalem on Sunday we will be staying in Tzfat one more night and then leaving directly for a hike in the Judean desert on Monday morning. We will stay overnight out in the wilderness and then we will finally be back in Jerusalem Tuesday night. I will bring back many tales and pictures of my adventures to share. Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next week!

blogger business
a few things of blogging interest:

1) apparently I very nearly met another blogger, IfYouWillIt, by accident on Tuesday night. As most of you know by now we (in this Livnot program) are sent out to host families in the area for shabat and holiday dinners. As it turns out one of the girls in my program met IfYouWillIt at a Rosh Hashana dinner! Too bad I wasn't the one that was sent to that host family, we could have had an accidental meeting of bloggers! I'll drop you a line when I am back in Jerusalem, my friend!

2) I have added 2 new blogs to my blogroll. dark1r is written by a fellow who briefly spent time with me in the Livnot program. I adore him very much and I think you should go show him a little love by stopping by. Say hi and tell him I sent you. The other blog I have added is Dry Bones; some of you may already know the cartoons from the Jerusalem Post, and if you don't head on over for some funny political cartoons!! Great writing and great humour.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005
Rosh Hashana
Ladies and gentlemen, I have survived my first Rosh Hashana (New Year) celebration in Israel. I think it’s safe to say that I surpassed my ability to eat and retain food more than any other event I have ever taken part in. Most assuredly I have put on a few pounds as my pants are a bit tighter and I am moving slower. Thankfully we have a much needed hike tomorrow… all going well we can walk off some of this food we have been packing on. (for those wondering about the picture that's a friend of mine in the program, Jared. We thought we looked so dapper in our white clothes that we had someone take a pic of us!)

It all began Monday night with candle lighting, singing and a sharing of hugs and kinship. We had a large gathering at the dinner table as guests and strangers came to join our table and the evening was spent dining, singing, banging tables rhythmically, and sharing words of wisdom. I also ate my first date, and it was GOOD!! (it tasted like maple syrup and made me miss home!) I don't know why I didn't eat one before... I think because it looked like a prune. hahaha)

My mother will be pleased to know that I used her wise words in the lesson I shared with the group, one of the most valuable lessons I think my mom ever taught me…. “choose your battles (wisely)”. That is to say, don’t make everything into a petty little fight… is the cap off the toothpaste really worth it, for instance? The point I made, as Rosh Hashana is a time for reflecting, atoning, apologizing and forgiving, is that perhaps if we chose our battles more wisely we wouldn’t have to do so much apologizing at the end of the year. :- ) See, mom? And here you thought I never listened!

Tuesday night we were welcomed into the homes of host families throughout the city of Tzfat to share in their Rosh Hashana celebrations and see how they do things. The host family I had was originally from England and moved to Israel 30 years ago. I had a wonderful time at their table and enjoyed a very tasty meal. They showed us great kindness in welcoming us to their table and were simply charming to talk and spend time with over a nice hot meal. It’s host families like that that make this experience so nice. As a note, it seems to be hit or miss with the host families… two of the guys went to one house where they plunked down a whole goat’s head on the table and served up some on everyone’s plate. I was lucky and only had to munch on a bit of fish head.

Tomorrow we begin to get back into the routine again. This will be our first hike since the painful 3-day hike and I am looking forward to seeing what my body has to say about it. Friday we are being taken to Tiberias where we will be turned loose for a free afternoon. That night, as I understand it, we are spending the night in the Golan area, but I’m not exactly sure of where… details are sketchy at this point as no one seems to really have an answer for us. Saturday we return to the Tzfat campus and then Sunday we pack up and head back to the Jerusalem campus for a month. Finally, I can call and hopefully meet up with John and Rinat! (Yael, wanna come up and make it a party??)

Monday, October 03, 2005
Shana Tova!
Well, I think we have recovered from the three-day hike. It took about 2 days for my feet to recover so that it didn’t feel painful to walk on them again but my knees took longer. There are a lot of stairs in Tzfat and my knees were none to happy to be back in this town. However, I feel some benefit from the hike. I feel I have a bit more stamina and when my knees finally stopped complaining about the stairs I found that I could do 150 stairs with at least a little more ease than before. I also got more of a tan….. er, on my arms, that is. I got a slight burn on my legs but only in sporadic spots making me look utterly ridiculous in shorts (the line where my hiking socks were really adds to the look nicely). All in all I can look back on the hike fondly now that the good memories are moving to the forefront of my mind and the pain is receding to the back. And I have to admit, there is a different feeling in our group now, a closeness, since we endured and prevailed together.

The weekend was good, very laid back as shabat tends to be here in Tzfat (everything closes around 12pm on Friday and doesn’t open again until Saturday night after sundown or Sunday morning). I got all dolled up in pink for shabat and had lunch with one of the coordinators of the program and his family. It was a truly wonderful meal with excellent debates and conversations at the table. And of course it was followed by a nice shabat nap. Hey, when you’re not allowed to use electronic devices or phones, what can you do but read and nap??

Sunday was community service day for us and a group of us had decided on a new activity, one that is not only greatly needed in THIS town but in all over Israel; we decided on a group effort to pick up garbage around town. We donned plastic gloves and grabbed garbage bags and headed out into the neighbourhood hunting for trash. I was particularly happy about this activity because I am deeply dismayed and disappointed by the garbage situation in Israel. The sense of awareness and community seems to elude Israelis when it comes to litter as they will toss garbage anywhere, anytime, anyplace and with no regard whatsoever. It is sad and it makes me angry. I am not sure what it’s going to take to get the people of this country to start taking some pride in the appearance and environmental health of their country but it had better happen soon. The lack of caring coupled with the love affair with plastics this country has is a recipe for an environmental disaster (no trees means no local paper products. If you want paper cups you buy expensive imported ones).

Anyway, enough of my ranting. The garbage pickup was a great community service for the day and we took pride in our efforts. Some of the locals asked what the hell we were doing, others said Kol Hakavod! (“Bravo!”). And we even had a stray dog, as usual, follow us around for the day. She was an absolute angel and so small and friendly. We had to keep her head out of our garbage a lot of the time and even picked up a present she left for us in the middle of the street. Eventually one of the girls ran back to the campus and grabbed a big piece of chicken left over from dinner the night before and gave it to her. Ever grateful she gobbled it up and when we soon parted ways.

Last night was a lot of fun as we had a large group cooking session for the upcoming Rosh Hashana (New Year) celebrations. At sundown tonight a new year will be ushered in and everyone will reflect on the past year, make amends to those they have wronged over the past year, and prepare for positive changes in the new year. Group cooking is always a lot of fun as the music is turned up and the group comes together to make a big old mess in the kitchen all in the name of communal cooking. Onions, carrots, celery, broccoli, beets, cabbage and tomatoes are cut, diced and sliced. Meat is marinated and pies and cakes are made. It’s a chaos but it’s a lot of fun and the food usually turns out amazingly well (ok, so the honey cakes didn’t survive this time; they sort of.. fell). However, our efforts are for tomorrow night’s dinner. Tonight we will celebrate as a group but tomorrow night, like on shabat, we will go out into the town and be welcomed into the homes of strangers for dinner and celebrations. This always promises to be interesting as it is a different family every time.

And with that I bid you farewell. I likely won’t be able to come online or call anyone for the next couple of days so I will see you at the end of the week. Sunday the group will be packing up and heading back to Jerusalem for a month.

Shana Tova! (Happy New Year!)