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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Still Going Strong

The Mayor's Shwarma
Originally uploaded by Benjamin Ludman.
Well after a three-day stint of guarding on my base I am now home, and still going strong. I’m a little tired, but three days of guarding instead of my usual weekend cocktail of binge drinking and sleep with a twist of synagogue, will do that to you. On my way home from base I passed by the site of last week’s bombing- “The Mayor’s Shwarma”. I was very happy to see that it too was still going strong. Not only was the scaffolding gone, but also, the place was swarming with hungry shwarma eaters- proof of Israeli society’s resilience and that no matter how many times we are hit by terrorism, we will always be strong.

Thursday evening we had a drill simulating last week’s attack. We all had to wake up, put on our equipment (i.e. vest, helmet, etc) and grab our guns and then pretend that a terrorist was heading towards the base. I usually complain when the officer in charge does long, drawn-out drills. It’s time I could be sleeping ahead of my 4-hour long guard shift in the middle of the night, but this was actually “enjoyable”.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

I 25! Bingo!...Or Should I Say- Blingo!

If you search on Google then I have found the site for you! Take a little Bling-Bling, mix it together with Google and what do you get? The answer is Blingo! What is Blingo? Blingo is a search engine that uses the Google API. English: It's exactly the same as google with a different interface. When you search on Blingo, you are searching google. So why switch to Blingo. Well the Bling Bling of course. Every month Blingo gives away prizes to people who search with their site. Every day a computer program randomly selects times and if you happen to be searching at that time you could win a prize. They give away iPods, portable DVD players and other great prizes.

But wait! It gets better! When you register as someone's friend, when you win, your friend wins the same thing! So click the link below and start winning some prizes! Then get your friends to join and win even more!

If you are dubious of this site, as I was, then I urge you to browse their site. Read the literature. They have received a lot of press recently. I know people who have one from this site and it seems to have built it's own sub-culture with people taking pictures of their Blingo won prizes, and posting it on their blog.

Sign Up for Blingo!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

JIB Finals

The results of the JIB finals were posted today. I made it to the finals in 5 out of the 6 categories I was nominated in. So check out the blogs and vote (once every 72 hours). Links for categories I'm in are below as well as in the sidebar.

  • Best Life In Israel Blog
  • Best Post
  • Best Personal Blog
  • Best New Blog 2005
  • Best Jewish Humor Blog
  • Monday, January 23, 2006

    Paradise Now- A Trailer For Terrorism

    For the past week I have been struggling with the results of the Golden Globes. The movie Paradise Now won the Best Foreign Language Film award. The fictional film documents the last two days of two friends turned suicide bombers before being sent on a suicide mission in Tel Aviv. It humanizes these animals and shows their side of the story, attempting to rationalize their actions. I haven't seen the movie and can't begin to remain objective about it so I won't try. I am outraged at the results of the awards and yet I can't really describe my feelings, so I won't. Instead, I would like to relate the very moving words of a father who's son Asaf, was killed by a suicide bomber on March 5th, 2003 in Haifa, when the bomber blew himself up on a bus, crowded with children. Asaf was less than 4 weeks younger than myself.

    An Award for Terror
    By Yossi Zur

    This week the Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film to the Palestinian movie "Paradise Now." The film follows the path taken by two young Palestinians from their decision to become suicide bombers, until the moment they board a Tel Aviv bus crowded with children.

    "Paradise Now" is a very professional production, created with great care for detail. It is also an extremely dangerous piece of work, not only for Israel and the Middle East, but the whole world.

    My son Asaf was almost 17 years old, an eleventh-grader studying computer sciences, when one day after school he boarded a bus in Israel to return home. On the way, a suicide bomber from Hebron, 21 years old and himself a computer sciences student in the Hebron Polytechnic, also boarded the bus and blew himself up. Of the 17 people killed, nine were schoolchildren aged 18 or younger. Asaf was killed on the spot.

    I went to see "Paradise Now" to try to understand what message it was trying to convey. Was it that the murderer is human and is as deserving of sympathy as his victims? He is not. Was it that he has doubts? He has none. After all, he is so sure of his mission that he is willing to kill himself along with his human targets.

    Or maybe, I wondered, the film was trying to give the message that it is the Israelis who are to blame for this horrific act, for the phenomenon of suicide bombing. In that case, are the Israelis also to blame for the similar terrorist attacks on New York City's World Trade Center, the Bali nightclub, the Amman hotels, the shop in Turkey, the restaurant in Morocco the underground stations in London, the trains in Spain and so many others?

    What exactly makes "Paradise Now" worthy of such a prestigious award? Would the entertainment writers who chose to honor this movie have given the same accolades if the film had been about the young men from Saudi Arabia who moved to the U.S., took flying lessons and then underwent Islamic ritual preparations for their holy mission to crash airplanes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon? Would they have dared to give such a version of "Paradise Now" a similar award?

    This movie attempts to deliver the message that suicide bombings are a legitimate tactic for those who feel they've exhausted all other means of resistance. But a suicide-murderer who boards a bus and snuffs out the lives of 15 or 20 innocent people, or who walks into a city carrying a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon and kills 10,000, or even 100,000 people, is that still a legitimate tactic? Where does one draw the line?

    The world should draw the line at one person. My son was almost 17; he loved surfing, he loved pop music. He is now gone because a suicide bomber decided that blowing himself up on a crowded bus filled with children was somehow a legitimate act.

    Awarding a movie such as "Paradise Now" only implicates the Hollywood Foreign Press Association in the evil chain of terror that attempts to justify these horrific acts, whether the number of victims is 17 or 17,000.

    [Original] [Asaf Zur Memorial]

    This past Thursday a terrorist blew himself up in a shwarma restaurant next to the old central bus station in Tel Aviv, wounding 20 people. Thank god there were no fatalities other than the bomber himself. This is the first suicide bombing since December 5th's suicide bombing in Netanya that killed 5. These are the kinds of attacks we will continue to suffer as long as movies like Paradise Now are glorified and given awards.

    The old central bus station has seen terrorism in the past. In January of 2003, 23 people were killed and about 120 wounded in a double suicide bombing.

    The old central bus station is a ten minute bus ride from my base. I drive past it twice daily when I head to and from my base. Not five hours ago, my bus passed 4 meters from the site of the bombing. Windows broken. Scaffolding set up, with repair men fixing the facade of the building. At the time of the bombing I had just gotten home from attending a memorial ceremony for a fallen soldier. I was about to head to the cleaners to drop off my uniform when my CO called to let me know what had happened and to check that I was OK.

    Unfortunately in Israel, very quickly you get used to terrorism. I wager you won't find anyone in the country with more than two degrees of separation between them and a victim of it. It is something we have to live with, because if we don't, if we let it get to us, the terrorists have won. They have succeeded in their mission. They have put fear in us. They have made us scared to live our lives the way we would, were there no terrorism here. And so, I will continue to ride that same bus to work. I will continue to shop at the mall. I will continue to drink at the bars along the beach in Tel Aviv. Because I am not afraid. Because I won't be afraid. Because I won't let them win.

    Sunday, January 22, 2006

    "August...No, Next August..."

    Today Or and I left army (read: work) a little early to go to a kenes mishtachrerim - "discharge convention". It's a convention that soldiers who are about to get discharged from the army attend, to get information about work, universities, psychometric exams and other similar things. I still have a while until I get out ( about 1.5 years +2 weeks, but who's counting), but thought it would be good to get some information about schools for comparison and to check how much money I get from the army when I get out. I am expecting my phone to never stop ringing for the next few weeks as every single person there took my details, and I am just too polite of a person to say "No thank you, I'm not interested". That, and at a lot of places you get entered in a draw to win prizes. I got a lot of free things (mainly markers, pens and keychains) which is always fun.

    I was disappointed to find out that the 16,000 shekel I get when I get out can't be used for school abroad. That leaves me with a few choices. A) Wait 5 years until I can collect the money and use it to pay off my debts which will have formed because I didn't have the money to pay for school in the first place. B) Use the money to take various courses here in Israel before I go to the US in the summer. These would include skydiving (my mom's is not so pleased about this one), bar tending (I think she is less pleased about this one) and various computer certifications. The skydiving would be for fun (yes, jumping out of a plane can be fun) and the rest so that I can get a job to pay for school). C) Launder the money by using it to pay for my family's house here and collecting the money from my parents.

    Haven't decided what I'm going to do yet but I think my mom wants me to do choice A while I am leaning towards B.

    At one booth at the convention (the bar tending course) the guy asked me when I finish the army. After a certain amount of time in the army you can use the 16000 NIS before you actually get them, and then get reimbursed. I told him August. He said that was a bit of a stretch but that I still would qualify for the reimbursement. "Not this August, next August." Was my depressing response. "Oh" was his.

    The convention reminded me how much time I have left. Not to get big-headed about the fact that I'm almost half way done, and more time in the army than most the people on my base.

    In other exciting news: The pipe to the hot water heater (that happens to sit directly above my room) sprung a leak and I just spent the last hour trying to patch it up until a plumber can fix it tomorrow. I would have thought that duct tape designed to seal rooms from chemical warfare attacks, that just happened to by lying around my room (I'm in the Home Front Command, what can you do) would have done a better job. The dripping has stopped but there's not going to be any tooth brushing or showering for me tonight (which I really would have liked after coming down from the disgusting attic in my house). At least it's not nearly as bad as last time (just over a year ago) when many of my possessions got ruined. Here's to hoping tomorrow is a better day.

    Friday, January 20, 2006


    Ren and Katz Dancing Salsa
    Originally uploaded by Benjamin Ludman.
    Ren came up with the idea last week of going salsa dancing. At first I was a little apprehensive about the whole idea, but by last night I was really excited about trying it out. I figured the worst thing that could happen is I waste a little money and make a complete fool of myself. And so we went, Ren, Katz, Nadiv, Ele and I. We went to a salsa club in Herzeliya Pituach called DNA. It was in an office building and at first seemed a little odd, and it was, but once inside it was this fancy dance floor and bar, with a coat check (a lot more upscale than the places I'm used to going to) and some studio rooms for classes. We started off with a 1.5 hour lesson where we learned the basic steps and then we hit the floor for about an hour.

    It's surprisingly tiring, and a little monotonous when you only have a few basic steps in your salsa arsenal. Not to mention daunting to see all the really good dancers there. We left at about 11:30 and decided to hit a bar and hang out for a while. We didn't want to go to Tel Aviv so we were going to stay local. When Katz and Ren heard I had never been to Max Brenner we decided we had to go there. From what I understand it is a cafe/restaurant with a large focus on chocolate. I have had Max Brenner chocolate before, and it is pretty damn good. To quote Katz: "Chocolate is good but this is just Uhhhhuhuh! (groan of ecstasy similar to a sound Homer Simpson would make)"

    Traffic was bad and there was about a 45 minute wait so we headed back to Ra'anana where we decided we were tired. At 1:00 we decided to call it a great night and leave it at that. I hope to go salsa dancing again soon. It's a surprisingly good time and if you have never tried it, I suggest you do.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2006

    Holy Cats and Dogs, Batman!

    Rain in Tel Aviv
    Originally uploaded by Benjamin Ludman.
    Today it absolutely pored! Here's a snapshot of Derech Namir (the street) at Azrieli Center from my bus stop. I had an umbrella and yet still managed to get soaked. There was a hole in the roof of the bus stop so water was dripping. I didn't realize until my pants were completely soaked in the back. Not fun at all.

    Tuesday, January 17, 2006

    A Clean Bill Of Health For The Ego-Boosted Soldier

    Well, today I went back to the doctor and she gave me a clean bill of health. No more sinusitis for me so take that nasty bacteria! Ah, the wonders of penicillin.

    Also today, I was working on a project with my CO's CO (AKA "The Big Boss"). She sat me down and asked me why I didn't become an officer. I explained why (I like my job, don't want to sign on an extra year, etc.) and she said she thought I would make a good officer but that she was happy that she wouldn't be loosing me as her soldier to another base. It was a nice ego boost.

    The bus ride home was not fun at all. My second bus took me an hour and a half (because of the rain?). To top that off, I had possibly the two most annoying kids (12-13 year olds) sitting behind me. They were making noise and playing with there cell phone's ringtones. They were rude- they kept yelling things at the driver, and wouldn't sit still. They were also playing with a toy gun which was probably dangerous. I was going to say something along the lines of "You are on public transportation and acting like a bunch of two year olds" but decided not to be "the guy who yells at people on the bus". That, and someone else said something. Man, I have turned into a grumpy old man!

    Monday, January 16, 2006

    The Table of Birthrighters

    Well, I'm home from guarding and that means I'm tired. I guarded last night for 4.5 hours straight which is half an hour longer than I am used to. I didn't think that half an hour would make such a difference but apparently it does! The time does not move! There was also no power in our room so the heater wasn't working. Translation: I froze my cute little ass off. But enough complaining.

    Today at lunch my table happened to be made up of four people who were just recently on birthright, with the most recent returnee returning last night. She seemed to have had a similar experience to me. She could barely find words to describe the trip and yet at the same time couldn't shut up about what an amazing time she had. We all sat around reminiscing about our trips and after an hour when we were the only ones left in the dining room, and they started putting the chairs on the tables to clean the floor, we decided it was time to leave- so we talked for ten more minutes outside. It was interesting to hear how much the trip really impacted the other Israelis as well as myself and the Americans. Birthright- Kudos from me on a job well done!

    Friday, January 13, 2006

    Why is the Army Sending Me To Sit On a Prostitution Committee?

    This started as a reply to Esther's (of My Urban Kvetch) comment to my post about a sign depicting the word "Zona". Her comment reminded me of a story I feel warrants it's own post.

    To my knowledge, the word zona in Hebrew means prostitute. Although the Artscroll Siddur/Chumash translates it as "inn keeper", I think they choose to go for the euphemism because, well, it's a prayer book. I haven't found any source to suggest it means grocer, and comes from the word mazon- food. I do have a funny story though involving the confusion of these two words.

    Just over a year ago, a few months after arriving on my new base, my CO informed me that I would be participating in a vaadat tzuna. I didn't know the word tzuna and I only heard the "t" from the first word so I heard:" You will be participating in a vaadat zona." I was a little surprised to hear I was going to be sitting on a "prostitution committee". I mean, what exactly do they decide on? How does one get to make such important decisions relating to prostitution? What does the army have to do with prostitution? Isn't that more the police's jurisdiction, or perhaps the Finance Ministry's?

    I went to the committee meeting. I was anxious to hear what we would be talking about. Not so surprisingly, we didn't discuss prostitution. We discussed food. The quality of food on our base, the selection, quantity, etc. We were asked a bunch of questions by some officers and asked to rate certain things on a scale of 1-5. I was the only one who seemed to like the food. Perhaps all those years of eating Yeshiva cafeteria food has developed my pallet for food made in large quantities.

    A few hours later a friend of mine asked me how the committee was and I explained to him that it went fine and wasn't a big deal. I told him that I still didn't understand what the committee had to do with prostitution. He explained that it wasn't prostitution-"zona", it was nutrition-"tzuna". Suddenly it all made sense, and a new word was added to my lexicon.

    Tuesday, January 10, 2006

    Yesterday's Yogurt,Today's Tenth of Tevet Fast and Druggy Doctors

    Yesterday on the way to my base I was greeted with a pleasant surprise when I was changing buses. As I was walking to my bus stop this youngish woman came running up to me and thrust a bottle into my hand. It was a Danone Drinkable Yogurt. "Peach Passion Fruit" flavored- which, for the record, was really good. My first reaction was: "Whoa who is this strange lady and what is she giving me". But then as the shock passed I realized: "Hey, free food! Yah, I'm hungry. I could eat again".

    I'm not sure if it really fits in the category of "eating again", maybe it's "drinking again". I never really understood the whole "Yogurt Drink" thing. It's not really a drink. You wouldn't come in after a jog and go: "Man is my throat parched, I think I'll pour myself a nice tall glass of yogurt drink." Then again, it's not yogurt either. It's too liquidy and it comes in bottles. I guess it fits somewhere in the gray, in the food/drink spectrum. One positive aspect of drinkable yogurt is you get all the yogurty goodness but you don't have to worry about dirtying a spoon. Saves on clean-up time- something I like, or would like if I actually cleaned my dishes instead of just tossing them in the sink.

    As I got on the bus I started to notice people all over drinking these yogurt drinks. On the bus, walking on the street, getting off other buses, everyone seemed to have been hit by the yogurt fairy. I thought it was a nice way to start my day off, and a pretty good ad campaign too.

    Between yogurt and shwarma, I must have food on the brain. Probably because I fasted today for asara betevet- the 10th of Tevet. We fast on this day because it marks the day when the siege on Jerusalem began. An event in a chain that eventually lead to the destruction of the temple and the beginning of the exile.

    The story I have to tell about today didn't happen to me. It happened to my CO and he told it to me yesterday. It's actually a happy story considering it's a sad day.

    When he was in officer training, the second part of the training was several months at the Officer Training School -bahad achat. This starts off with an intense four weeks, designed to weed out the weaker people. For four long weeks you work really hard, for him, most likely in the rain. You have long marches, and navigations at night. All this on very little sleep. It's a very hard time and very draining. It's also hard not seeing friends and family at home and hard on them at home too (but not as hard, I would say). At the end of the four weeks, you finally get to go home for a much needed and much deserved weekend. My COs four weeks ended on a Thursday, the 11th of Tevet, the day after the fast. His COs at the time decided that they deserved to be rewarded, and since fast days in the army are days where everyone who is fasting gets to rest, the whole course would get to go home one day early. So he called his dad to let him know and he surprised his mom by coming home one day early.

    And that leads me to my third and final story. Some of you may wonder how I was home early today. Well because of the fast I would have been allowed to come home at lunch time anyway, but that wasn't it. The "cold" that I have had since coming back from birthright seems to have developed into sinusitis. So the doctor sent me home until Sunday to rest and recuperate.

    You know that this is a Jewish country because the doctors here are all Jewish mothers. She scolded me for having waited this long to come back to her while still not feeling well. She then told me to go home and rest and to do tipulei savta- grandmother treatment. She explained to me that that meant laying in bed with a compress on my forehead and drinking tea and chicken soup.

    The other thing that army doctors are known to do are give out too many drugs. This proved true today. After listing the three she was giving me now (two of them the same as two out of four she gave me last week) she asked me if I wanted any pain killers. I told her no it was fine, I had plenty at home and I didn't like the Tylanol substitute that the army gives out. She said so how about some Optalgin- another, stronger pain killer, that is illegal in the US. I told her no it was fine, I prefer Ibuprofen. She insisted she give me army Ibuprofen, something I didn't know existed, which comes in large round pills. Not something I plan on taking any time soon. At home, I have a whole drawer of superfluous drugs that I have been given by army docs. I think I should open a pharmacy. That would be a good way to supplement my army salary.

    A Sense of Smell For Shwarma

    First a little background:

    December 18th- Sharon suffers minor stroke. Doctors discover a small hole in his heart, thought to have caused the stroke, and schedule him for surgery to repair the hole, January 5th.
    January 4th- Sharon is rushed to hospital after not feeling well, One day before his scheduled surgery. He suffers massive brain hemorrhaging and undergoes 2 operations overnight and another one on the 6th.

    So since last Thursday when this happened I haven't been following the medical part of the story too closely. I know that the doctors had to wait until the swelling in Sharon's brain went down before they could wake him from the induced coma he has been in for almost a week now. As Haaretz reports, they started waking him yesterday, and are planning on furthur stimulating him today, Tuesday.

    "Among the ways in which physicians hope to stimulate Sharon's senses Tuesday is to place a plate of shwarma, the sliced meat dish said to be the prime minister's favorite, close enough for him to smell it, Army Radio reported."
    As you can see this is no regular wakeup. They are doing it the way only us Israelis can, with a big plate of shwarma [pictures]. I wonder if humus is also on the menu. My biggest worry for this is the lack of laffa. Don't know what a laffa is? Think pita, only bigger and fluffier.

    Who knows what state Sharon's memory will be in when he wakes up. He may not remember what shwarma smells or tastes like or even what it is! To experience shwarma for the first time without it being wrapped in a big, fluffy laffa is simply not the full "shwarma experience".

    I'm not the biggest shwarma fan in the world. Now before you start stoning me, let me finish. Shwarma is good but falafel in laffa is better. I like falafel more than shwarma. In a laffa instead of pita, it's the perfect meal. It's also Israel's best form of fast food (and I have issues with Israeli fast food, but that's a whole nother post). So in conclusion:
    1. Falafel is better than Shwarma.
    2. Laffa is better than Pita.
    3. Shwarma on a plate is not nearly as good as shwarma in laffa.
    4. A person's first shwarma should always be in a laffa.
    5. Go get falafel in laffa for dinner tonight.
    6. Thank you.
    7. *Breathe*

    Monday, January 09, 2006

    Let The Voting Begin!

    The voting for the 2005 JIB Awards is officially open! Your mission, should you choose to accept it is to vote- to vote for me. To vote for me in every category I am nominated in. To vote every three days (as per the rules) and help me win one of the coveted "winner banner thingies". Should you succeed in this mission you will be rewarded with more great posts by me. Should you fail, you will still be rewarded with more great posts by me! So really you have nothing to lose. Accept the mission! To quote someone famous: "Tis better to have tried and failed then never to have tried at all". Wait, I think that quote was about love, not trying. No matter. Just vote.

    Below are the links to make your voting easier. While you are there check out some of the other worthy blog nominations. And spread the word- help get more Jewish and Israeli blogs known to the world.

    Sunday, January 08, 2006

    Reflective Vests- The Solution To Our Failing Economy?

    In Israel it's not a rarity to see people selling various goods to people in cars at intersections. I have seen people selling such things as hats, CDs, holy books and today reflective vests. You know those snazzy things that people like crossing guards and security personnel get to wear without people laughing at them (too much).

    As I was heading home today from my base I looked out of the bus window when we stopped at an intersection, and saw some teenagers selling reflective vests. The more I thought about it the more I thought it was a great idea.

    A law was just passed in Israel that all drivers must have a reflective vest in the front seat of their car at all times. If the car breaks down (or gets in an accident), the driver must don the vest before stepping out of the car so that cars driving by see the driver and more damage isn't caused. I personally think this is a really good law, if not a little dorky. I've already seen a few people wearing the vest on the side of the road. The problem with this law is that only recently people found out about it (I think it was only passed a few months ago) and it took effect as of January 1st. What does that mean? Well think of it this way- How many of us have reflective vests just lying around at home? Not surprisingly, there has suddenly been a large boom in the now very lucrative reflective vest market. These kids were just smart enough to tap in to it.

    Think about how big the profits could be. Lets say you can purchase 200 vests in bulk for 5 NIS each. You work 8 hours a day and manage to sell 5 vests an hour, for five days, at a price of 10 NIS each. In a week you have doubled your investment, and made yourself 1000 NIS profit. Not bad for a weeks worth. Now, anyone not driving with a vest in their car is currently breaking the law. So let's say you hike up the price to 15 NIS and manage to sell 10 vests an hour. Now you've made yourself 3000 NIS profit in a week. Did I mention that this is tax free? I think I may just quit my day job (if only I could).

    I'm not really sure how much they were selling them for, or how many they really sold in a day. However, I think one could make a pretty nice amount of pocket money, without too much effort. Kudos to these guys for thinking of it (or to the guy who's making 70% of the profits because he thought of the idea, made the initial investment, and is using illegal child labor to make some extra cash).

    Saturday, January 07, 2006

    Zona Billboard- What are they advertising?!

    Zona Billboard
    Originally uploaded by Benjamin Ludman.
    I saw these posted next to my bus stop. Zona in Hebrew means whore so could someone please tell me what they are advertising?!

    Thursday, January 05, 2006

    Prime Minister Sharon Suffers Stroke- We're Screwed!

    If you haven't heard already, Israeli PM Ariel Sharon is in the hospital in critical, but stable, condition. From what I understand, Sharon was rushed to Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem last night shortly before 11, after not feeling well. He was scheduled to have minor surgery today to close a small hole in his heart. Sharon suffered "massive bleeding" in his brain making his stroke a hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorhagic strokes are caused when not enough blood makes it to the brain because of a hemorrhage. These types of strokes make up only about 10-20% of strokes. Most strokes are occlusion strokes which are caused when a blood clot blocks flow to the brain.

    Only two weeks ago Sharon had a minor stroke (of the occlusion variety). Doctors attribute the cause to a defect in his heart that he has had since birth. He was put on blood thinners, ahead of today's scheduled surgery to repair his heart, which most likely is at least partially to blame for last night's problems.

    So where do we go from here? At the moment, our PM lies unconscious in a hospital bed. Even if he makes a full recovery I don't see him returning to politics. But then again it's Sharon and he makes some pretty rash decisions, and seems to bounce back from anything, so who knows. If he doesn't return to politics, March's election will definitely be an interesting one. Now that so many people have left their parties to rally behind Sharon in Kadima, there really is no looking back for them. But can the party continue without Sharon? Sharon is the main, and possibly only, pillar that holds the party in any sort of balance. I'm not sure anyone other than he, knows what they are trying to do with the party, the government and the country. I'm not even sure I know what the party stands for! Does anyone other than Sharon?! Without him Kadima seems to me just a bunch of politicians who don't agree on anything but thinks it can run a government together. It's the same players just under a different name. And if anything other than this magical name change was actually going to make these people work together, it was Sharon. So for our sake I hope he gets better.

    Refuah shlema to Sharon. I can't wait till March

    Wednesday, January 04, 2006

    Birthright Trip Breakdown- Day 1

    Day one of my birthright trip started on the wrong foot. I am a die-hard procrastinator. Therefore, I started packing that morning. I had to be at the airport to meet the group for 1pm. As i was running out the door (late of course) I couldn't find my jacket. Turns out my brother took my jacket to school with him and so I had to run to his school to get the jacket on the way to the airport. Not fun when this is all done by bus. This also caused me to miss my bus meaning I wasn't going to be able to eat at the airport before they arrived.

    I arrived at the airport with plenty of time (Pre-Hanukkah miracle?) and met the Israelis in my group and one of our guides. We were then informed that we would be greeting the Americans with song and dance. When they came out of the doors into the main room we all started singing Heveinu Shalom Aleichem. Complete with guitar accompaniment. It was pretty embarrassing but I just chalked it up to the experience.

    We all headed to the bus and started our journey down south to the Mitzpeh Ramon area. We did some ice-breaking activities when we got there. Including talking about ourselves and sitting on complete strangers' laps. The night ended off with a party in a room (naturally, with plenty of alcohol) that ended up spilling into the lobby. Everyone got to know one another a bit better, there were some guitars and everyone had a good time. At about 10:30 I headed back up to my room (I think the earliest night I had the whole trip) but then ended up having a three hour discussion on religion with my roommate from Yale. I really enjoyed it and plan to have many more drunken debates in the future.

    Tuesday, January 03, 2006

    Sucks To Be Sick

    Try saying that ten times fast. You just totally tried it, didn't you?! So, so sad. Ok, so it's not that hard. The point is that I'm sick. All of the sharing of nargila and bottles of vodka on the trip seam to have taken their toll. My immune system has capitulated and the virus king has taken over my upper respiratory system. Fun, fun, fun! I can't breathe through my nose and my voice sounds like I've been sucking on helium balloons. My nose can't decide whether it's runny or stuffy and I keep coughing. Overall unpleasant. At least the sore throat and ear ache seem to have gone to Florida for the winter.

    The plus side with being sick is that the army doctor on base sent me home yesterday and I was home today too. Tomorrow I head back in a little late and it's Wednesday so it's almost the weekend anyway. Thursday night I'm heading over to a bar called stage for my friends Chen's birthday (which is today so Happy Birthday Chen!). A little sleep on the weekend and back to work for a full week on Sunday. Sounds like a plan! Now off to shower and sleep before the coughing starts again.

    Monday, January 02, 2006

    JIB Awards 2005- 6 Nominations Is Not Bad, Not Bad At All

    It's that time of year. Time for the Jewish and Israeli Blog awards and yours truly has been nominated in six categories! They are:

    Voting begins on January 9th when you can be sure I will shamelessly whore for your votes. Until then, check out the JIB site and the other candidates' blogs. Check out some of my back posts too if you want and hopefully you will feel I deserve a vote (or at the very least a sympathy vote so my mother and I are not the only ones who vote for me).

    Sunday, January 01, 2006

    Shorashim, Soldier House and Sylvester- How I Love Alliteration

    Get comfortable. This is going to be a long post.

    Some people have wondered where I have been for a few weeks and what exactly my last post was about. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was given the unique opportunity to go on a program called Taglit. Taglit is the Hebrew name for what you may know as Birthright. Birthright's goal is to get Jewish youth who have never been to Israel on an organized trip here to visit and learn about the country, culture etc. As an Israeli soldier I am not eligible for the trip. What I am eligible for though, is the Israeli side of the trip.

    Birthright trips include what they call a mifgash which is Hebrew for meeting or reunion. The idea behind the mifgash is to get American and Israeli youth together to learn from one another's cultures and experience the country together. Depending on the type of birthright trip the mifgash can last between two and ten days. I really think this is an integral part of any Birthright trip because I think the Israelis offer a different perspective and part of learning about the country is learning about the people and the best way to do this is by traveling and living with them. That is why I was so pleased to be going on a Birthright trip with the organization Shorashim- roots. The Shorashim mifgash extends the entire length of the ten day trip. We pick the Americans up at the airport when they arrive and return them there at the end of the trip. Leaving the airport after being with everyone for ten days proved to be considerably more difficult than I expected (as you probably understood from my previous post).

    That post started as me writing down some emotions with no clear direction where it was going or for what purpose. It ended up an open letter to my group which I thought I would share here too. The trip was so amazing. It will be hard to tell all the stories and memories from it but I will try to give a day by day breakdown over the next week, but I have enough to write about that I will save that for a different post.


    Soldier House
    Wednesday I got home at bout lunch time having been up since 6:30 the previous day with only about an hour's sleep. I had stayed up until 5 something and we were supposed to be heading for the airport by 6:45. Once home I checked my e-mail and the usual internet stuff. I fell asleep for a few hours in the afternoon but didn't want to "Go to sleep" as I wanted to sleep that night. I went out with Katz and Ren and showed them some pictures on my camera. I think I may have bored them a bit but I couldn't shut up about the trip. Thursday I returned to Jerusalem for the third time in a week. My cousin Daniel and friend Brendan are here on a Hasbara (Israel Advocacy) trip. Ironically the exact week that they had Shabbat off was the weekend that I was on Birthright and therefore was not home the weekend that they stayed at my house. So I decided to be a bit impulsive and head to Jerusalem with hopes of staying the night but no solid plans. I missed the bus I had hoped to catch at 12:10 so I left towards Jerusalem at 12:50. The ride was average length getting me there at about 2:20. I had to get to the old city to meet the guys where they were staying. The information people at the central bus station told be to take the 1 bus from across the street. They failed to tell me the bus only comes every 50 minutes. I waited 45. The bus went all over the city. Actually it just went through the very narrow streets of Meah Shearim (the ultra orthodox neighborhood), where I was sure we were either going to get stuck or run someone over and hooked around back behind the old city. We went through some neighborhood that had signs entirely in Arabic and then came up the hill that leads to Dung Gate right by the western wall. There was a swearing in ceremony for Nachal and the road were packed. I ended up walking the last couple of hundred meters because traffic wasn't moving at all. I met Daniel at the Sfardic Center where he was staying, close to Zion gate. I had hoped to stay there too but they management informed me there were no empty rooms or even beds. There trip also has a strict "No guests in rooms" rule.

    I got to sit in on one of there sessions, which was pretty interesting even if I didn't understand all of what was going on. We ate dinner, hamburgers (which I had unluckily had for lunch too) and then I continued the search for a place to sleep. I heard there was some sort of army place near by where soldiers sometimes slept. I'm still not sure what the place was but they told me there that it was closing for the weekend and that I couldn't stay there. Strike two. My last idea was beit hachayalor soldier house. These are basically hostels around the country specifically for soldiers. I've stayed in a few when I've gone on trips with my unit but never by myself. I had no idea how the whole thing worked. I called information and got the phone number. I explained to the guy my predicament and he said to just show up and they would find me a place to sleep. At 8 the group was heading to a "Channuka Extravaganza" which happened to be very close to both the Soldier House and the central bus station (in the event I couldn't get a place to stay). My plan was to head with them to this party, make sure I had a room and if I didn't I would hop on a bus back home (via Tel Aviv and not directly because I would have already missed the last direct bus).

    I found the Soldier House, after about a 5 minute walk. The guy at the desk told me that they had no more rooms but he could set me up with a mattress and some sheets in a class room. That was fine for me cause all I was looking for was a place to leave my stuff and a bed to crash in when I finished my night of drunken partying. We headed back to the Extravaganza to see what was going on. Unlike the Birthright trips, their trip did not have a "No Drunkenness" rule and in fact encouraged drinking and partying. This was a very good thing because we arrived to find some Rabbi talking followed by separated dancing. Not really my scene. The plan was to hit a club in Talpiot and avoid Ben Yehuda at all costs. 10:20 and we were on our way to Ben Yehuda street. Because that wasn't obvious. We wandered around a bit and met some people. Tried to decide on a bar. We decided to go to a place called Troy. While on the way I happened to glance into a store and notice someone I recognized. Alli, a friend form Birthright had extended her trip to stay a few extra days with her parents. I didn't know she was in Jerusalem but it was an amazing surprise to get to see her again. We talked for a few minutes but she couldn't come out with us as she had a 6am wake up call. I headed to the bar a little down over the fact she couldn't come out but happy none the less to have seen her.

    The bar was nice but the drinks were overpriced and the only people that seemed to show up were considerably older than us. We were greeted by the owner though with handshakes and big welcomes. I would have preferred a free drink but this was nice too. My friend Ilan H. ended up coming all the way to Jerusalem to come out with us. Nothing was going on in Ra'anana that night as most of our friends were busy with various things (most related to the army) and wanted to go out he came to meet up with us. After a while at Troy we decided to bar hop. We stopped quickly at a place called Egon. Everyone on there trip had said they wouldn't go there ever again as they had been there every night that week but we saw most of the group there (we had split off with mostly non-Hasbara people). We walked back to Kikar Tzion and I met a couple of people from summer camp who are here for trips/school.

    We moved on to a place called Tarabin. There's actually an article about it in the paper today so it must be pretty popular. The bouncer informed us that they were full. We told them that a few of our friends were already inside and after a few people left, they let us in. More overpriced drinks awaited us and we hung around and danced a bit. Ended the night off with burgers (for the 3rd time in 24 hours) at Burgers Bar on Ben Yehuda at 4:30. I had fries. No burger, two in one day's enough for me. My fries almost never came because the guy at the cash got into some fight with some people outside. Something to do with his car. I got a little worried when he slid a steak knife into his back pocket. But I got my fries, said goodbye and me and Ilan headed to the Soldier house for a few hours of sleep before driving home.

    We got the Soldier House and were each given a mattress, two sheets and a blanket. My jacket was the pillow. Not the best accommodations but the mattress was comfortable and the sheets clean and for 25 shekels ($5) who can really argue?! Just as we were setting up our beds another soldier joined us in our (class)room. He heard us speaking English and asked us where we were from in American English. He was from Arizona. He lived on a kibbutz with a adopted family and had come here alone to serve in the Army, Nachal I believe it was. I remarked how weird it was that three American-Israeli soldiers were going to sleep in a classroom at 4:30 am. It was an odd moment.

    Morning came four hours later and Ilan and I went to visit his sister and adorable nephew for about 20 minutes. We hit a gas station and headed home. On the way home we reported a cop car swerving between lanes to the police. We were politely given the phone number for the "Public Complaint Office". They didn't answer the phone.



    What or who is Sylvester? In addition to being a cat from Looney Toons who always tried to eat Tweety, Sylvester is what they call New Years here in Israel. Apparently named after Pope Sylvester (314-335 CE) who is said to have died on December 31. New Years is his feast day in some church communities. He was also an anti-Semite making this a particularly weird name to be found in Israel. Almost all my friends were again busy (army, away with family, psychometric exam today), which bummed me a bit as I took today off so we could party. Katz and I decided to hit Tel Aviv just the two of us. We walked around Allenby street a bit but decided to go to my favorite place, Mike's Place. The place was super crowded and the music was good. Ran in to a few people we know from school. We headed home at around one because he had the army today. Chen, one of the Israelis from Birthright came to Mike's place too but we missed one another by about 10 minutes. On the way home, Katz and I decided to get some food. Yup, you guessed it, Burgers Bar. Unlike Jerusalem though, here in Ra'anana they close and weren't serving any more food at 1:30 when we got there. So we called it a night and I went to bed.

    So with that, I want to wish everyone who celebrates them, a Happy New Year and a Happy Channuka! And since I missed them, a Merry Christmas and a Happy (?) Kwanzaa!