There’s never a dull moment here in Israel (particularly in Tel Aviv)…things are happening all the time and this week was no different. Of course, we had the usual me’mitnadevet (volunteering), shuk visits, and study days, but this week also had some pretty special moments.
But first, a random “nothing-to-do-with-anything” story. So Wednesday I decided to ride my bike to Irony Hey. Let’s preface this by saying that no matter what method you choose to get to Irony Hey (walking, bussing, or biking) it’s always a bitch to get there. Most mornings I leave the house at 7:30 to walk to the bus station, which takes about 15 minutes. I then take a bus up to the end of Nachalat Benyamin, which takes about 40 minutes. Biking, on the other hand, shaves about 15-20 minutes off of the journey. However, getting on my bike and riding for 40 minutes at 7:30am doesn’t always sound like the best of ideas. It’s certainly a trade-off.
Wednesday I decided to go with the latter choice because I was running a bit late. I mounted my bike and took off for the boardwalk by the sea (the fastest way of getting to Irony Hey). Not 5 minutes into my ride the skies suddenly blackened and the wind picked up. Uh oh Alana, possible bad choice. I tried picking up my speed in the hopes of beating the rain, but alas this was not in the cards. The skies opened up and I biked for 35 minutes through an utter downpour. Water was coming down sideways and spraying upwards as I rode over gigantic puddles. At the same time, because of the wind increase, the ocean waves were crashing over onto the boardwalk path. As I was navigating a particularly tight turn, a wave suddenly rose above the rock barrier and completely soaked my pants (which were already pretty soaked, but the salt water just took it to the next level). It was seriously like a scene out of a movie–this beast of a wave drenched me completely. I kept telling myself that this would be funny in the future, but the amount of expletives that left my mouth at that juncture might have shocked a truck driver.
I eventually got to the school and found my roommate Maya sitting there dry and happy (after having taken the bus). We both had a good chuckle at the fact that I was literally wringing my pants out on the floor and leaving wet butt imprints on every chair I sat on. When we left the school at 1:00pm my pants were still not entirely dry. This experience was not great, but I will most definitely be biking to Irony Hey in the future. A morning ocean bike ride to start my day? Not so bad so long as there is dryness involved!
Okay so moving on, on Thursday I attended a Passover seder for refugees. The seder took place in Levinski Park and over 400 people were there!
In regards to Israel’s refugee situation, it’s an extremely touchy subject around here. Israel was founded by refugees on the principal that this country would be a safe haven for Jews. Israel has the “law of return,” which means that any Jewish person can come to this country, make aliyah, and live here no matter what. However, the word “Jewish” is extremely key in that phrasing (which I think is really unjust when it comes to sheltering the refugee population). Over the past few years refugees from all over Africa have come to Israel in search of improved living conditions. Despite coming to a country founded upon the idea of being a “safe haven,” Israelis have not at all been responsive to this influx of immigrants. In fact, almost every single Israeli I have spoken to about the matter has staunchly disliked the idea of refugees coming into the country. A lot of people justify this by saying that the refugees will “outpopulate” the Israelis, thereby bringing about another situation where the Jews are discriminated against. I, frankly, think that this is ridiculous, but unfortunately this is the way a lot of Israelis think.
This past week there was a demonstration near the Central Bus Station against the refugees coming into Israel. You can take a look here. It is really disappointing to see such bigotry in a place created to avoid this exact same situation. By having the seder in the park we were standing in solidarity against the intolerance facing African refugees. I like to think that we made a small difference through our involvement.
Okay, so moving onto happier topics, on Friday my friends Evin, Sarah, Leah, and I went to Jerusalem! I honestly don’t know why I haven’t been yet given that it’s only 45 minutes away and there are shiruts (little busses) that drive back and forth just about every 5 minutes. We briefly walked through the New City before entering through the ancient gates into the Old City.
We eventually walked down to the Kotel and walked up to the women’s side. There two sections, one for men and one for women, which are partitioned off from one another. The women’s side is about 1/4 the size of the men’s side. A little unfair, perhaps?
The experience was still incredible.
The Western Wall is the only remaining piece of the Second Sacred Temple (built after the First Sacred Temple was destroyed). The Wall (aka Kotel) is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism. People come from all over the world to pray by the Kotel and it’s common practice to write a note to G-d and stick it into a crack in the wall. There are notes squeezed into just about every reachable place on the Wall.
I found a spot by the Kotel and placed my hands against the massive structure. The stone was rubbed smooth from years of wear and tear. I pressed my forehead against the rock and felt like I was truly experiencing something bigger than myself. The Kotel has stood as a pillar of Jewish identity for over 2000 years–to be a part of something like that, it’s just unbelievable.
After spending a few minutes at the Wall, I found a crack and pushed my note into place. I then slowly backed away from the Kotel, which is Jewish tradition. Your back should never be to the Wall so people back away until they reach the end of the partition. It’s pretty moving to watch.
We then snuck around to the partition surrounding the men’s side just to see what it was like.
The Orthodox Jews were wrapping Tefillin by the Wall. Tefillin are black boxes containing scrolls inscribed with Torah verses on the inside. These black boxes are attached to leather straps, which are wrapped around the arms/head of Orthodox Jews during morning prayer.
Afterwards we wandered around the city a bit more–we walked briefly through the Muslim quarter and then went back to the Jewish quarter of the city.
We went to Holy Bagels, a famous bagel shop in the city. Surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve had a bagel in Israel. Bagels are a diaspora (non-Israeli) Jewish thing, but they just don’t exist in Israel! What the hell, man.
We found ourselves in and out of shops in the Old City (mostly of the jewelry variety, of course!). One shop, in particular, was very cool. We came upon it almost by accident because it looks very underwhelming from the outside. However, once we entered we immediately knew that this was not a place we were going to leave anytime soon.
The shop is the oldest in Jerusalem and has been owned by the same family for over 350 years. Four of the brothers and their father were working in the shop that day and we basically felt like we were part of the family by the time we left! We sat in the back with one of the brothers while he designed jewelry for us on the spot. It was pretty incredible.
We spent over 2 hours in that shop and bought more than we should have, for sure! Although I don’t think anyone regrets that decision 🙂
After leaving the shop we drove back to Tel Aviv. I came home to an awesome roomie Shabbat dinner.
I’m REALLY excited for the next few days because my best friend ELISA IS COMING!!! So pumped! I have Passover break soon and we’ll be traveling all over Israel together. It’s going to be fantastic! I can’t wait for her arrival 🙂