Friday, July 06, 2007

Back in full force

Safe to say that I am back in full force again with the blog. Here's a complete, well a condensed version, of the write-up of my Israel trip. I posted it on facebook this past Tuesday night.

My trip to the Promised Land - Eretz Yisrael

My trip to Israel a few weeks ago was absolutely amazing! Coming into the trip, I only knew maybe two people but that's only because they were facebook friends and at that, only one of those came on the trip--the other had his flight cancelled within hours of the scheduled departure time.

To say this trip was awesome or amazing would be an understatement because words, a week and a half after coming back to America, still cannot describe how I feel. I met the most awesome people and yes, I actually did party for a change--very much different from when I was in high school or even is another story due to staying on campus at a commuter college!

But back to Israel, the first full day we were there, we went on this hike in the Golan Heights, kayaking in the Jordan (or one of it's tributaries) and toured the border between Israel and Lebanon at a Kibbutz. I won't lie about the hike--it was fun despite the six falls I had and I almost twisted the same ankle I twisted just weeks earlier. It gets interesting...I hit my head on a rock since I was looking down at my feet just to make sure I didn't miss a step since I had already fallen a few times. Now, kayaking was the highlight of the afternoon! I went canoeing a few years back but this was so much better!

The first Friday we were there, we went up to Tsvat to tour the city. Just so you know, Tsvat will always be the City of Steps to me in the same way that Chicago is the Windy City (though just don't talk to me about the team on the north side...). After the hike the day before, touring the city felt like a hike only because of all the steps that were there. Tsvat was pretty much the only thing we did that day before getting ready for Shabbas. Because the hotel we stayed at had nothing much going on the evenings, a lot of us got together at nights just to hang out.

Shabbas was relaxing. A few of us went to a beach on the Kinneret nearby the hotel--fun times even when I was hit by the waves I didn't expect. What did I miss out on the past 17 years or so of not being able to go to a beach?!? After Shabbas, we went on a boat cruise in Tiberias. Granted, it was fun but not as much fun as it could have been for me but that goes to the fact that I'm not a fast dancer type of guy...I usually do slow songs, Limbo, and of course, the ones for Jewish songs, but that's another story for another day.

That Sunday, we went on a jeep tour after meeting the IDF soldiers who are awesome by the way. Following our tour, we drove south to ride some donkeys and make pita bread and then back north to tour a winery. The ride down to Tel Aviv was not so fun with all the windy roads (and sitting on a bus trying to sleep with all that wine in your system and lack of food was enough to make one sick). Once we got to Tel Aviv, we had pasta for dinner and I started to feel a bit better. Then it was on to the hotel where we had to rush to get ready to party out at the clubs. Because a lot of us chose to stay later, we all walked back and it took 40 minutes longer than the 15-20 we were told. I didn't mind.

Monday morning, we bargained at the flea market--well some did. After that, we went to Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and I felt really let down at how small the room was. I expected much different--and during the video, everyone behind me was sleeping. After that, it was lunch and then a trip to Rabin Square. I still remember that day in 1995 like yesterday. After Rabin Square, we headed south to Ben Gurion's Tomb, and then onward to the Camel Ranch where we spent the night in Bedouin Tents. Of course, I ran into a cousin and another friend when we left Ben Gurion's Tomb. Late in the evening, a lot of us hiked up one of the hills nearby. That was fun especially with the 30,000 cameras going off. The hike down...not so much especially with hardly any light to see where one was going. One bad step could have been tragic, but hey, I survived despite all my kvetching on the way down!

Tuesday morning, we hiked Masada which was easier than I thought it would have been. I mean, I rarely and I mean RARELY hike, and I was one of the first people up the stairwell before we had our first stop. That was an accomplishment in it's own right but Masada was one of those things I looked forward to just because of all the history associated with the fortress. After Masada, we went to Ein Gedi where I didn't go in the water since I didn't have the right shoes on. It was a fun nature hike and another one I looked forward to since that was where King David hid from then-King Saul in Biblical times. After which, we swam, er, floated in the Dead Sea. This was particularly awesome except for the time I splashed myself...and then wanted to rub my eye afterwards. Word of advice--don't get your face wet at the Dead Sea, and especially don't pee in the Dead Sea. We then made our way to Jerusalem and had an hour or so to get ready for the Mega Event. The Mega Event was awesome especially with all the Jewish music, including Mordecai ben David's "Moshiach," one of my favorite Jewish songs. Since I was internet-deprived, I paid the 10 shekels to check email and ran into two friends from when I was at Bradley as I was logging off. That was awesome, especially since I hadn't seen them in about 3 years.

On Wednesday, we went to the Yeshiva at Mayanot to learn Spiritual Truths from a Prostitute. Following that, we made our way to Yad VaShem, the Israeli memorial musuem for the victims of the Shoah. Right after, we went to Mt. Herzl and paid our respects to the fallen soldiers, prime ministers, and Herzl himself. When we got back, it was time for a Middle East update and Neil Lazarus briefed us on what all happened in the past few days. Afterwards, we had a session with our soldiers and then again, we partied some more. I think I was up til 2:30 in the morning but that was after I had my roommates locked out of the room for 5 minutes or so. I was going to go to the room but then, at the last minute, decided to go for a walk instead and went downstairs and chilled with a friend from the night before. We caught up a little bit. His trip was ending the next day and he was extending his trip.

Thursday morning, I got up early and showered despite how little sleep I had. That morning, we were walking through water tunnels in the City of David in the Old City. After we exited the tunnels, I took a few pictures--one of which is my facebook photo as of July 3rd. I only say that because there's very few pictures in existence where I actually have a good smile, or so my folks tell me...afterwards, we walked to the Kotel and toured the archeological park on the southern side of the Western Wall and then we ate lunch. After lunch, we went to the Western Wall and I just lived the moment in as much as I could. We're talking about the holiest site in all of Jewish history. G-d willing, the Temple is rebuilt within our days. It's customary to place a note in the cracks of the wall so I did that. The Chabad offered us Tefillin so I put some on and went back to the Wall to daven again to recite the Shema. We later went to the Jewish quarter and a five minute drive somehow was turned in to an hour or so due to the Gay Rights parade. After we were dispersed, I ran into a friend from high school and we spoke for maybe 10 minutes as she had to leave and I rushed back to find my group. We ate dinner at some meat place before going to the hotel and then over to Ben Yehuda Street for more partying. I decided to do that one Jewish dance where you and someone else spin in a circle so fast...I lost my grip and woke up the next morning with the sorest ankle possible. Thankfully, it's not broken--as of July 3rd, both feet feel very fine. I was so exhausted that instead of the after party like all the previous nights, I just crashed.

Friday, we went crawled tunnels in Tel Goded. I screamed “sheep” and “frickin’ a” so many times, apparently the highlight for several folks.
Next up was a hike in Sattaf where the terrain was similar to the one from last week after arriving. Apparently, between the water and all the steps, my ankle was starting to feel a heck of a lot better. I was walking near a few folks just about the whole time. Someone, Albert, I think, said I should be a sports caster. Funny, eh? (For those that don't get that last sentence, I was in a sports broadcasting class in the spring). We then went to a mall where they have the worst tables possible...I CLIMBED in and out of my seat. Anyway, we walked to the Kotel for Shabbas and I got together with the same friend I had ran into the past few days. Only in Yerushalayim would I get together with someone I had not seen for THREE years...three days in a row. But the power at the Wall for Shabbas...completely unbelieveable. Once again, I didn't do much of the after party after being advised to stay off my ankle as it looked swolen.

On Saturday, the final day, we had lunch with some folks that lived in the city. Thankfully for my feet, my group had one of the shortest distances to walk.

We got back to the States that Sunday and said our goodbyes. I can only hope for a reunion soon.

With the 17th day of Tammuz starting Monday night, we have entered the Three Weeks period of mourning the siege of Jerusalem and ultimately the destruction of the Temple on the 9th day of Av which everything bad that has happened to us in Judaism, well, happened. We are told to keep Jerusalem in our hearts over the Three Weeks period. That won't be a problem this year...not at all.

Anyway, going into the trip, I was dead set on going into filmmaking. Don't get me wrong, I still am but I'd like to do films relating to Judaism and what not. I wouldn't go as far as saying documentaries or biographies but definitely films with a religious theme.

I've been at this for an hour or so and there's so much to say but then you'd be reading a novel. Compared to the journal I kept each day, this is condensed.

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