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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!



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