The One Lab

Well, I'm actually on my flight now, less than three hours from our ultimate destihnation. I've been sitting in my chair for at least eight of the eleven hours it's supposed to take. Unfortunately, none of those hours resulted in sleep — my fellow passengers have mostly never travelled out of the country, and don't sem to have a clue about sleep. several of them have been taking flash photos of themselves over and ovver again with reckless abandon. Blech.

In any case, I'm very tired already, but the friends I've made so far are prfetty cool, despite their lack of travel experience. One of them is a guy that contacted me before the trip via Facebook — an open source developer by the name of David Strauss. He and I seem to get along well, but he certainly has a really intense personality.

The trip so far has been rather uneventful. I actually arrived in Newark the night before and spent the night at one of the nearby hotels. Since I'm on vacation (and rather sleepy even then) I decided to order dinner via room service. Worked out pretty well, actually, and finished the night off with a showing of I Am Legend and a shower and went to bed.

Anywho, we arrive in Tel Aviv in less than an hour, so more posts will come soon, along with lots of pictures. Until then, shalom!

Yesterday was incredible.

Wen stopped at a kibbutz first thing and had breakfast despite the fact that wehad already had some reakfast on the plane. the food was incredible, yet simple. Hard-boiled eggs, salad, and lots of cheese. from there, we took off to Safed, our first stop on the tour, and a place that had been made holy by the peeople that lived thnere.

As the legend goes, originally, the town was inhabited by Jewish people for a few years and as time went on, more and more Arabs and Palestinians moved in as well. Eventually, things turned to fighting (as they seem to do around here). As the fighting continued, the people there sent a leter to Ben Gurion — the then first prime minister of Israel — to request an elite force of Israeli troops to come save them. When he read this letter, despite thefact that Israel was already fighting a war on five (!) fronts, he sent a small detachment of these forces to save the city.

Once the soldiers arrived, they began bombing the city in very inaccurate ways, and in general making more noise than damage. Once the bombing had stopped, they enteredd the city only to find it abandoned — the non-Jewish residents had become so afraid of the noise, that they fled the city entirely. Since then, it has been named a holy city, because the act of praying is what was actually done to request help. The miracle was the fact that the troops showed up.

With this in mind, we headed toward the first major Temple established by the Rabbi Akiva in Safed. Astonishingly just as the people bowed to pray for the establishment of the temple, a shell went off nearby and the shrapnel flew over them and hit the temple instead of any of them. Since then, people have revered the spot where the shrapnel embedded itself in the wall, and even stuffed it full of paper prayers.

From there, we met upp for lunch at a local falafel stand. Interestingly enough, the owner and the family were actually French, an despite that, made the absolute best falafel pita sandwich I have ever tasted. The French owner was simply amazing and very fun simply by making light of us and our seriousness. Once we had all of our falafel down, we hiked through the unpaved roads and torn up streets to meet Abraham.

Now Abraham is a very nice person, but because of the talk he gave us, he has earned the name "Mr. Awesome." A very laid back man — as if he had walked out of 1970s Berkley, California — and almost an original hippie. In his past, he had been very disconnected from his faith, and had been searching dfor some form of meditation. In his search, he found the Kabbalah, and many translations and english books based around understanding it. As a result, his subsequent speech that he gave us was a strange mix of Kabbalah, unconditional love, and an extreme overuse of the word "awesome". While he continued to talk, he repeated himself several times, running into the most ambiguous sentence ever uttered by a human, "It's so awesome that Ican't describe how awesome it is."

Despite all of his foibles, he was a genuinely interesting person. But like all things, his talk had to come to an end. So onti the bus we went, and headed back for the Kibbutz.

We woke up early this morning, and headed for the northeastern corner of Israel, and the border kibbutz of Mishav Am. The kibbutz is a crossroad for bullets, bombs and missiles (though it's peaceful now for the moment) as it is nestled less than a meter from the Lebanon and Syrian borders. The kibbutz is mostly built of steel reinforced concrete, low to the ground, and hardened against bombs. The outer walls of the buildings are covered with the inverted acne of bullet holes and barred windows, while a flimsy looking tall fence surrounds the outermost border of the kibbutz.

Here at the fence, we met one of the kibbutz members — a rough, grizzled old veteran that has faught long and hard to keep his home safe. Interestingly, there was no malice in his speech to us when speaking of Isreael's old enemies, but only the simple statement of front-line facts that an ex-soldier would stream forth. He simply wanted to continue living where he is, and had no desire to harm the neighboring villages or their inhabitants — only keeping his "powder dry and rifle ready" for any future invasion or attacks from across the borders.

An interesting point the soldier made was the look of the town nearby in Syria. At first I noticed that there weren't any people moving about in the city, or going in between houses at all. Shortly after I zoomed in with my camera lens, however, I noticed something more sinister: none of the houses had windows. According to the soldier, this was so the Syrians living there could fire weapons out from the houses — a fact conveniently overlooked many times by CNN, the Associated Press and Reuters.

After taking a quick tour of the kibbutz, we then loaded up into the bus and headed for the Banyas river.

Banyas river hike

Banyas falls

Kyneret / Tiberius

Kyneret Cemetary

Tel Aviv

"The Chosen"

Purim

Tel Aviv, Purim festival

Rabin square and soldiers

Markets!

Kibbutz

Shabbat

Today it feels as though the entire business world has stopped. Everything is peaceful, the birds are out, fingers are strumming Eitan's guitar, and the wind is playing with the trees. It's days like this that really make me reflect upon my life and life in general.

Today we had hamentaschen, ruggulah, and some bread while we took a tour of the kibbutz. It's been interesting to learn about the socialist culture around the original kibbutzim, and how they have been slowly privatizing themselves to adapt to the changing culture the youth themselves have created inside. Like a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis, the kibbutzim have bbeen having a very difficult time adapting to the more capatalist environment. Bit by bit they've slowly integrated the capitalistic ideals of owning property, and differing things for one another, rather than a communal set of clothing and property.

Today has been much slower than the rest of the trip. Instead of one thing followed immediately by another, we've been given several hours to do whatever we want, and at 5pm, we'll be watching a play about Purim and then taking a hike around the kibbutz to see more obviously what it is, and how it works.

All in all, it's a day that really been set apart by all others, and one that really does make me feel thankful.

Midnight hike

Climbing Mossada

Haifa

Bahai Gardens

David river

Dead sea

Bedouin Woman

Driving to Jerusalem

Yad Vashem

Children's Memorial

Lunch at Yad Vashem

Hiking Mt. Herzl

Goodbye to the Soldiers

Night out at Zion Square

Today we got up later than usual to head out to Jerusalem proper. Unfortunately, due to how Jerusalem was built, our bus driver couldn't stay parked in a permanent place for long. The end result was tons of walking for all involved (though I have to say that all this hiking — while painful — has been greatly appreciated by this birthright participant) and more than a few tired feet.

After getting off of the bus, our first stop was the ancient city of David (though is now encapsulated in Jerusalem proper, it was a completely separate city in the past). Here we saw the direct cause of most of the tensions between Jewish Israelis and the Arabs — homes that were once inhabited by us, but now (since the destruction of the second temple) inhabited mostly by Arabs for centuries.

The largest of these problems simply comes from the concept of roots. The Arabs don't want to give up their homes or property (understandably so), even to find ancient history of what happened there, despite the fact that both our and their histories are forever intertwined. The end result is that the archeologists either have to jump on the property once it no longer is inhabited, or dig directly under the home to find out what it is they're looking for.

The place we stopped at might have been the place where David's palace was located so many years ago. Trick is, the archeologists still don't know fully yet — the ruins we saw were actually the remains of someone's home. A home of someone rather wealthy at the time as it had two levels, but not that of David's.

After walking around the ruins and the city of David for a while, it was time to head out to the ruins of the second temple and the western wall. After some serious hiking through the ancient and then old cities, we came to the ruins.

This place was unlike any other I have ever been to. Despite the fact that I barely can remember any prayers to say (and believe you me, I really couldn't think of any to say aside from the Sh'ma) I approached the wall and prayed my heart out — something I never expected to do. In fact, simply seeing the wall made me hesitate a bit for that very reason. Still, I tried to be as respectful as possible and not turn my back to the wall when I had finished, though I only managed to get about ten steps away before my recalcitrant feet caused a near-stumble. So, against better judgement, I went ahead and turned around — only to be stared at by everyone else in disbelief as I did so (to which I responded that my feet won't allow reverse walking).

Once we all had finished (and after an obligitory group photo-op) it was time for a bit of lunch, and some wandering in the Jewish quarter of the old city. More hiking, and finally stopping at the Co??? subsection, we broke up and went a-wandering. By this point, I had managed to work up a healhy appetite, so I wnet ahead and pursued lunch.

Let me tell you, the falafel and hummus in Jerusalem is the best I have absolutely ever had. The hummus that was put into the pita first was absolutely smooth with almost a peanut butter like texture. The falafel themselves were a good size (think tater-tots), smooth, hot and lightly fried. Ironically, the stand that I stopped at is also run by a Frenchman that had made an aliyah. Coincidence? Maybe, but there was too much to explore to ponder the nature of fate and the universe, so I pushed on further.

It's actually really hard to realize that the whole of Jerusalem is an archaeological tel — layers upon layers of history buit on top of one-another over the centuries — as things are so evenly covered in places that ruins don't stick out that well. In fact, it took me nearly a full fifteen minutes to find and explore the obvious parts of the ruins — even the courtyard near the falafel stand was part of the ancient bits of the city. I just didn't realize it at first.

Wandering the Jewish quarter

The food market (machaney yehuda)

Kibbutz wrap up