Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Inner Thoughts of a Yogi

"Only when you're empty are you full"

I had an epiphany after yesterday's yoga class. I had my eyes closed during sivasana (aka corpse pose - a still, resting position lying flat on the ground), with my attention focused internally - physical sensations, thought patterns, stuff. The instruction upon moving into the next posture was to slowly open my eyes while maintaining inward focus. This spoke volumes...

I've been thinking lately about a friend who isn't dating anyone right now because he thinks he needs to be alone to figure stuff out before he enters a relationship. I've told myself that a million times, too. Another friend has crossed my mind lately because she's planning to leave the country for an indefinite period of time - she says she needs to go find herself... another familiar scene.

The problem I run into each time I play this "being single" game or I play the escapism card, is that I'm not really sure I'll ever have myself figured out. Aren't I always a work in progress? Aren't we all?

Maybe it isn't about being single or moving away but it's about learning to focus inward, under any cirumstance. Being single can help, living far away can help, not drinking or partying so much can help, but at the end of the day all any of us are really trying to do is create the quiet and space we need to hear our own selves. To hear our gut instincts, our intuitive thoughts. Isn't that what we're listening for when we take time to "figure some stuff out?"

So when I slowly opened my eyes in class and started to move into the next posture I found it hard to keep my mind focused internally. I was so distracted by everything around me - the people, their clothes, their abilities, their disabilities, etc... and so maybe that's just it right there. Maybe this path we call yoga, or in the bigger picture this journey we call life, is really all about finding that balance - how to be in relationships and hold on to ourselves, how to travel the world and maintain our values, and, at best, how to open our eyes and maintain inward focus.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

And the Awards Go To...

I’ve literally and figuratively hiked mountains and rode waves all around the world this year. While it’s all been a thrill, I undoubtedly have been most impacted not by where I’ve gone or what I’ve done but by the people with whom I’ve shared this experience.
And the awards for Supporting Roles go to…
Nagamani for her role as Aloor Primary School student. There she taught me that even the most simple of things are not to be taken for granted - houses, education, and even birthdays alike.
Srinu for his role as dedicated driver. The language and cultural barriers between us highlighted for me how actions speak louder than words.
Mekor Chaim Gas Station Guy for his role as the unknown identity. We developed a relationship over the 4 months where I would cut through the gas station lot and you would come greet me with a free newspaper and brief dialogue. I never knew if you are Arab or Israeli - that speaks volumes.
James T. Cat for his role as the fattest cat alive. You had such character and still make me laugh when I think of you.
Swadesh for her role as my Mysore mother.  My first and only homestay was with you. What a genuine and unforgettable experience it was!
Bakshi for his role as the boundary-lacking landlord. Your eccentric character and odd habits were, well, eccentric and odd. I’m not sure what I learned from you but I am sure I still laugh when I think about you, too.
The Arab Social Worker for her role as the woman who picked me up when I hitchhiked on Naqba Day… whoops. Our conversation in just 10 minutes gave me so much hope for what can be between Jews and Arabs.
Mo for his role as our Jordanian guide. You were patient as I practiced my Arabic, you opened my eyes to a new part of the world, and you became an unforgettable friend.
Mamoo for his role as Mamoo.
The receptionists at Woodland Hostel in Delhi for their joint role as ideal customer service workers. You locked our door every time we left the room, you slept on the freezing lobby floor throughout the night, and you even jumped out of “bed” to welcome us back to the hostel at 3 am. I think twice now each time I have a complaint.
The Taj Deccan Vallet Guy with the Giant Moustache for his simple role as just a character I don’t want to forget.
The Agra Tour Guide for his role as Mr. Phil’s biggest fan. It was when we got a private tour of the souvenir shop that I knew you had our backs. Good looking out.
And, last but not least, the Mosquitos for their role as the skeets. We got lots of mileage off you guys.

Now, the awards for Leading Roles go to…
Yonatan for his role as the visionary. There’s no greater gift you can give someone than the chance to experience their own lives in a more meaningful way. I am forever grateful for your vision and your dedication to carrying it out.
Noa for her role as the scholar. Aside from being our director and becoming such a great friend, you taught me a tremendous amount about Israeli culture and the different lenses through which I can examine it. You’re not only brilliant but you translate your knowledge articulately and fairly.
Gabe for his role as my rock. No matter what, you were the one who unconditionally supported me and always had my back. You are a true friend.
Phil for his role as comic relief. Your Jordanian flute, Sims characters, language, skeet swatting, and even your ‘cheese-y’ pranks make me laugh.
Alex for his role as retriever. For reals… you definitely met some of the coolest people we befriended this year and if it wasn’t for your initiative we may have never known the IDEXers, Michelle, or even the Scoops staff.
Nu for her role as ambassador. With each day that passes I am more and more moved by conversations we had regarding Israeli culture and politics. Your presence enhanced my year tremendously.
Amy for her role as editor. Editing photos with you was one of the most fun things I did in the entire 9 months. Forget weekend trips to exotic Indian places… on the couch with your editing programs is totally where it’s at. Thanks for all the good laughs J
Rachel for her role as Partner in Crime. Peace Corps, Puzzle, Enchanted Castle, Wingmen, Opposite wingmen, Settlers, cousins, Hatzazuki… we did it all.
Gopal for his role as my Indian date. Through the ups, downs, good times, and challenges, we made it out the other end with sweet memories of weekend getaways, lazy days, and unparalleled adventures. I’m so grateful to have shared so much of my Indian journey with you.
Varun for his role as the Settlers instructor. It’s impossible for me to ever play that game and not think of you.  I think back so fondly on our Sunday Gamedays, your tremendous generosity, and your superior hosting. I look forward to our next re-match… (accompanied with Abbey Roads!)
Kib, IDEX fellows, Rajesh, Rahul, Megha, Sashi, and co., for your roles as such fun friends. You all showed me such a good time in Hyderabad and definitely helped us throw some of the best parties. Good times…
Arvind and the folks at MVF for your roles as my co-workers. The time we drove back from Kurnool and I woke up at 3 AM thinking you all were dead was when I truly realized how much I appreciate you and your work. Your patience, guidance, and friendliness made my experience as an intern incredibly rich and worthwhile.
Zobes for your role as the Energizer Bunny. You are tremendously supportive, always available, and I love that feeling of “what just happened?” whenever you leave the room. Your spirit is lively, energetic, and so warm. You, too, are a gift.
Nikki for her role as my twin. Your energy and active nature inspire me.
Nir, Tomer, Eyal, and Guy for your roles as fun lovers. Your relaxed and fun-loving attitudes are so contagious and make for such a good time! So much of my deeper and positive connection to Israel is credited to you 4. Next stop… Vegas!
Naftali for his role as the supportive supervisor. Your kindness, warmth, encouragement, and enthusiasm created such an enjoyable team to be a part of.
Becky, Asher, Jess, Aunt Charlotte and fam for their roles as the role models. You guys and your families made a tremendous impact on me. You each live your lives with such intention, awareness, and consciousness – I truly aspire to live my life in such a way as you each do. We laughed a lot together, you guys took such good care of me, and it was tons of fun really getting to know you as an adult. I think of you each so often and can’t wait to visit again.
Jomi and Sarah for their roles as lifelong friends. I found so much comfort in knowing you two were just a phone call away at all times. I loved each minute spent with you both and am so privileged to have you both as such dear, lifelong friends.
Aaron and Danny for their roles as passionate Israeli soldiers. You guys showed me what true passion for Israel looks like and demystified so much of the army experience for me. You two are such gentlemen and I think back so happily on that day we spent together. I hope it’s just the first of more to come.
Amanda, Michelle, Alex, Ran, and PresenTense friends for your roles as friends with great perspective. You each do life so differently and all so gracefully. Observing your commitments to social justice and your communities helped me get a better sense of where I see myself personally and where I want to be professionally. There was such a natural click with all our new friendships and I’m blessed that you each have entered my life.

Well… this year rocked my world, rattled it at times too, and through it all I think I’ve experienced something significant – the opportunity to be inspired and forever changed by each of you. It’s incredible to look back at this list and think that you all were missing from my life just one year ago. How much fuller my life is now…
My experiences this year strengthened the parts of myself I already knew and brought to light parts of myself with which I was less familiar. I’m so privileged to have experienced this year of growth, laughter, challenge, and connection.
With gratitude and much love,

P.S. I could watch this a million times and it never gets old...

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Naked Blog

“It’s time to wake up, the time is 8:30.” The alarm… snooze it! It’s distinct and annoying but it’s nostalgic of India, and soon will be too of Israel.

It’s 8:45 and Becky comes to knock on the door to make sure Rach and I are awake. “We can go to Tapuz but we have to leave soon” she said. Yes!! I love that place!!

Before we leave, the three of us facebook stalk this guy I grew up with who’s super good looking now and engaged to this tiny hot girl. He was that one who got away. “They’re cute together” I said in an unconvincing way. Then Becky said, “no they’re not, they’re annoying together. They’re so like ‘I’m so small and you’re so big!’” That one’s gonna get a lot of mileage.

Tapuz was delicious. I’m so grateful for a roommate who knows how to eat. We talked about the benefits of marrying a good friend. “Who’s that best friend you’d marry, Abbs?” Rach asked me. I answered her but what I said doesn’t get to go on my blog :)

Rachel left for Tel-Aviv, Becky went to run errands, and I went home to visit with Ephrat. It’s so nice being in a community where friends here are like family. I miss that in Nashville. She asked me about my plans for the rest of the day. “I think I’m going to Ramallah tonight with my neighbors who coach a school basketball team. Their kids are going to the championship!” “Well, that sounds like fun!” Ephrat said. “You just might want to be careful though because today there are supposed to be a lot of riots there. It’s not Naqba Day but it’s another day like it.” There’s that reminder again… I always have to think twice about what I do here… even when I’ve already thought twice I have to think twice more.

I did some work at home for the next few hours. I got a lot done but I’m not really sure what I did. I napped for an hour and woke up to a phone call from my roommate. He wanted to talk about some recent drama from home with which I’m unfortunately involved. I’ll miss my roommates, I’ll miss the family we’ve become, but I’m pretty sure I won’t miss the drama.

I headed back downstairs, and went outside where Chen put on a dance show for me and Becky. Soooo sweet! Totally Little Miss Sunshine :D

Becky’s friend came over to visit so we sat and talked for a while. I feel like such an adult. Am I? I’m almost 25. It’s not really relative so much anymore, is it? By which standards am I still a kid anywhere? That’s so sad! We talked about the familial nature of their community. Again this conversation arises… I’m not so sure it’s coincidental – clearly I appreciate that and value it a lot. I wonder what it’ll be like when I get back home?

Danny came down and announced the news reported several attempts at breakthroughs into Israel at the Syrian border and that teargas and rubber bullets hit the junction to Ramallah near the checkpoint where there was commotion. I guess I’m not going. This is so sad and so unfortunately frequent. It was also a defensive response to our borders being attacked. How come we never hear about that on the news at home?

The Golan Heights right near the Syrian border

Kochav HaShahar settlement in the West Bank where my cousins Jesse and Hannah live with their 5 kids

We sat, all 7 of us, together at the table and had dinner. This is what I want my family to be like one day. A loving husband who’s my best friend, 4 adorable kids, lots of laughing, normal family ‘stuff’ for some added personality and normalcy, and a tremendous amount of love.

It’s 7:50 pm and Becky dropped me at the bus station. Bus 947 pulled up just as I walked to the stop and I hopped right on. “Le’an?” (Where to?) The driver asked. “L’Yerushalayim.” (To Jerusalem) I said. He clicked my ticket and I sat down in the first seat. That’s my favorite seat on the bus because I can see out the front window and watch all the people who get on and off.

The driver played a loud mixture of classical music and the news. The reporters were hard to understand but I made out every few words. I heard “pitzua” (bomb) and “Weitzman niphtar” (A person named Weitzman died). Is this some historical report or are they talking about the riots from today? No one else on the bus seems to be too phased by the news. Are they not listening or just de-sensitized? Probably a bit of both.
I turned on my iPod at a high volume to compete. I turn right to a recent breakup playlist I made that put me in a reflective mood. “From Where you Are” by Lighthouse and “Gravity” by Sara Bareilles. I’m in a zone. This is depressing. Time for Colbie Caillat. I turn off the playlist and turn on her album,  Breakthrough.

“Todah raba. Laila tov” I say to the driver (Thank you. Good night.). I step down, cross the street, and wait for the bus at the stop that will take me right home. Ugh, I hate waiting for the bus. I'm freezing. What about these elderly people? How unfortunate for them to have to wait for the bus like this and deal with the rushes to get on and off. What a luxury it is to have a car back home with the freedom and mobility to get wherever I want whenever I want in such comfort.

I got home and reached my front door. I hesitated. You never know what could be going on behind that door at any given moment. I sighed, fixed my wind-blown hair, and opened the door. I was greeted with excitement by 3 of the 4 who were home and were glad I was back from my weekend trip away. Even though it’s not always easy living with roommates it does feel really good to come home and know I was missed, have friends to talk to, and any number of nighttime activities to choose from. Maybe I should rethink living solo next year?

We made some garlic bread and popcorn, turned on the season finale of this year’s Real World, had some good laughs, and dispersed to our own rooms. I tried to go to sleep but there was too much on my mind. I can’t believe we’re leaving in 5 weeks. I’m gonna be so sad. What’s left on my bucket list that I need to get to in the next few weeks? I miss India. Will I miss Israel as much as I miss India 3 months from now?

“Rich, what are you doing? I can't sleep.”

“I’m trying to finish my blog about Jordan.”

“That’s a good idea. Maybe I’ll blog about my day. It's nothing romantic or glamorous, just a typical day in my shoes with insight into my thoughts from little steps along the way. Practical and a bit exposing.”

“Yeah well then I want to read it. You should call it The Naked Blog.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Rolling in the Deep

Salaam! I’m back in Jerusalem now wrapping up the final 6 weeks of the program after last week’s amaaaaazing trip to Jordan! There’s so so much to share about the trip so I’ll stick to highlights for now…

For months now I’ve been writing and thinking about those “other” and “normal” themes. I’ve been noticing how so much of what I think of as so “other” from me I actually experience to be far more “normal” than I thought I would, once I get up close and personal with it. Such was the case in Jordan, an Arab country. For example, our first day there we stayed at an Eco-Friendly guest house and going on a hike with several Jordanians and an Egyptian. So, there we are, wandering the wilderness walking side by side as Jews, Israelis, and Arabs. In the conversation we shared, which was just like any conversation I’d have with friends at home, I was so moved by how much more we had in common and our collective enthusiasm around that. On the flip side, it saddens me to think how on an individual basis none of us really know each other but so frequently hear members of our nations speaking of the other with so much hate. It’s understood, it’s complicated, it’s sad, and yet it’s still so hopeful.

Speaking of “normal…” Despite the peace treaty, there’s nothing much really normal about the relationship between Israel and Jordan. As such, our security measures required us to refrain from speaking Hebrew, not tell anyone we were a group from Israel, our Israeli members were asked by our leadership to lie about their nationality, and it was definitely not a smart move to engage in political conversation about the Middle East, even with each other, in public. The relationship between Jordan and Israel reminded me of middle school friendships. It was like Jordan was a part of the popular crowd, which hated that loser Israel, but Jordan was the nice one in the group and willing to quietly befriend Israel as long as Israel didn’t show too much enthusiasm or speak too loudly about the friendship. Understanding that this relationship is complex, I don’t illustrate this analogy to criticize it, rather just highlight my critical thinking about it. Really, I mean that.

So, the food. Really? It was ridiculous. Best hummus I’ve ever had in my life. Probably the most hummus I’ve ever had in my life, too. The tahina was prepared differently with water, yogurt, and onions mixed in (I will be living off that when I get home), the falafel was super tasty too, and generally, I’d say we all ate pretty well :) Ah, and perhaps one of the most memorable moments out at lunch was in Petra when the waiter offered 500 camels for me to be his wife. Well, it was only 13 years ago when my family was offered about 25 for me so if there were no other indicators to prove I'm moving up in the world at least now we have one.

There’s so much more I want to share about some of our visits, but, we were actually told we’re not able to release any information about any of the individuals we met with because several of them could be at risk of losing their jobs if it’s known that they met with a group from Israel. How bout that? So… those good stories will have to wait til I get home and can tell ya’ll in person.

Finally, the last day Phil, Rachel, Gabe, Amy, and I stayed on for a day trip to Petra. It was so so much fun! I have to say though, I still think it has nothing on Hampi given that Petra has so many tourists, is so expensive, and is also so big that it lacks the intimate environment Hampi has, but still it was worth every penny and every minute spent there. The whole trail is 3.5 km and we made it all the way there and back over the span of a full day. There were lots of laughs, mini adventures, and lots of climbing along the way.

Well, I could talk for hours about the Jordan trip and how much I loved it but I think some is best saved for my return home. In the meanwhile stay tuned for the final 1 or 2 blog posts from my year overseas adventure!

Much love,

P.S. I almost forgot one of the most exciting parts about the trip was how much of my Arabic came back! I also learned a few additional fun words and phrases: Zaki is what you say to express the food that you're eating is good, Al HaKefak (also used as slang in Israel) means as you like/wish/so desire/etc., mumtaz means perfect, and finally itcharrafna means nice to meet you :)
P.P.S. Pix aren't uploading so check out my album on facebook and also see the pix I'm tagged in on Amy Milin's album.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dear Israel, I Have Never Loved You More

Written one week ago...

I have never had more of a genuinely Israeli experience than I did this prior weekend.
I spent this past Thursday – Sunday up North in the Golan Heights and Galilee regions as a participant on a program called Puzzle. The weekend was a pilot run to test the vision of this Puzzle initiative that’s in the early phases of still being developed. I can’t imagine the weekend having had been more successful than it was. I had fun, I deepened my connection with Israel, I made tons of new friends and became a part of a new community, and I was so tremendously motivated to continue working on my own projects.

The weekend started on Thursday with an afternoon of horseback riding up in the Golan Heights. It was so much fun to do this with Rachel too because horseback riding is one of her biggest passions, it’s a huge part of her life, and after 7 months of hearing her talk about it, it was just so much fun to see her in her element J After riding we went to a dairy farm where we spent the rest of the afternoon in the rain doing outdoor training activities (ropes course/team-building type stuff), eating absolutely delicious gourmet food made by our fabulous staff, and then whipping out the guitars and drums for a late night sing-a-long under a big Bedouin-like tent. To wrap up the night I tucked myself to sleep in a log cabin with the windows open during a thunderstorm. Needless to say it was a pretty perfect day.

Friday morning I kicked off the day with an hour of yoga at 6 AM. I haven’t felt that good in so long! I miss my practice (especially in Nashville) and look so forward to getting back to it on a regular basis. We had a quick breakfast then went for a tour of where we were staying (Avnei Eitan), saw a robotic cow milker (cool machine ever), fed cows, made cheeses, and then hit the road for a tour of the rest of the Golan and Galilee. We spent that afternoon hiking out in the Golan where we saw the biggest waterfall in Israel and the ancient ruins of Gamla. I got to see the place where Jesus is said to have walked on water and I viewed the scene from a distance where there were vultures flying overhead – what an energetic and spiritual experience that was! We then wrapped up the day by setting up our campsite and working together to cook a giant gourmet meal that was undoubtedly the best one I have ever had. I helped make focaccia bread and the final product was absolutely unbelievable. If I had to pick one food to live off of the rest of my life it might be that bread… No joke. We all ate outside together and enjoyed drinks and dessert around the campfire where the Israeli staff shared stories of their experiences in the army and we later took turns just telling funny and crazy stories from our own travels in Israel and elsewhere.

I woke up early Saturday morning and went for a nice long walk before breakfast with two other friends from the trip then came back to join the group and pack up the campsite. The rest of the day was spent on an off-roading Jeep trip around the Golan, eating a lot, laughing even more, and finally sitting together at the end of the day to wrap up the weekend and say good-bye. It was such a powerful closure and even though it had only been about 2 days with these people I found myself fighting to hold back tears when we had to say goodbye :)

This trip not only affirmed for me how much I love this country but it also highlighted for me the career path that I really feeling a calling to pave for myself. I want to create initiatives where other young adults can be a part of communities like this one that I was so fortunate to be a part of. While participating on the program this year has certainly had it's ups and downs I can confidently say that my experiences with LIFE and the opportunities it's created for me has really helped me realize this career path.

Dear Israel,

I have never loved you more than I do right now. In my trip to the North you showed me your resilience and your vulnerability - I am forever grateful for the chance to get this glimpse into who you really are. Thanks for always keeping your door open to me and I promise to use these next 2 months to get to know you better.

All my love,

Jeep trip

Boppin around the Syrian border with the group. We came across an old tank there and when the Israeli border patrol came to kick us off we asked them to join us for a picture... so they did :)

This is where the ancient city of Gamla was. In the distance you can also see the Sea of Galilee.

Oh man... world's best tentmate

Feeding the cows at Avnei Eitan

Hiking in the Golan Heights

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Breath of Fresh Air

Undoubtedly this has been the best week I've had in quite some time...

Two days ago you could feel the excitement as people were preparing for their Passover seders. The car wash down the street was packed, the streets smelled like fire and you could see a thin haze in neighborhoods where people were burning chametz outside, and the inside of my building smelled like bleach mixed with really amazing Jewish cooking :) YUM! I attended the seder with a bunch of friends from camp and coincidentally was greeted at the seder by someone who knew my great-grandpa and used to go running with him - what a sweet surprise :) It was truly one of the warmest communities I could've spent the holiday with and it felt like such a blessing to be celebrating in Jerusalem, too. It is such a new and incredible feeling to be living in a community (and really an entire nation) of people who value what I value, celebrate what I celebrate, and so on.  It's had me thinking lots about my future and the kind of life I want to continue to create for myself (don't worry though for those of you at home I'm still planning on coming back :) ).

This week has also been a much-needed, nice breath of fresh air. Truth be told, the recent few weeks have been really challenging. With the exception of a few glitches, I'm really trying to remind myself when I get frustrated that it's these things that are hard to deal with now that I might just end up missing the most. I've also really been missing India and continuing to try to make sense of my experience there. I remember saying a while back that I was going to be processing that whole experience for quite some time yet until I could make sense of what it was. Well, I think I've figured it out... Indian culture is so extremely different from anything I've ever known that it made every day and every minute of every day really such an adventure. I never knew what to expect and thus was challenged and rewarded daily on such professional and personal levels. I really miss India, the people I spent my time with there, and the daily giggles of strange situations :) I intend on making my way back there and I look so forward to seeing how I fair at that time given what I know now.

Finally, this has been such a fun week because I've gotten to spend so much time with family! At this point I feel like I've spent enough time with them that we're past the getting-to-know-you-so-we-always-need-to-be-nice-and-polite phase and we've moved on to the real phase of feeling just like family. I spent several days with my cousins who live on a settlement in the West Bank where I got to spend another Shabbat with them, visit with my great Aunt and stay up talking with her until 1 AM, hitchhike to and from their house (it's really not a big deal here but since it's so foreign to my native culture I just have way too much fun doing it), and cooking my mom's Haroset recipe together (big hit!). My other cousins who live closer by to me I've also gotten to see a few times this week. Once I went to help out with the sweet, adorable kids (there are 6 of them under age 10!!),  yesterday for Passover lunch, and today for a mini-tiyul (trip). We hiked down to a spring and made our way through this itty bitty, claustrophobic-inducing, pitch black cave, bopped around in abandoned homes in an old Arab village, and then headed back to Asher's house for a nice lunch and relaxing afternoon. What a gift it is to have them here and a privilege to get to know them :)

The rest of the week I'll be spending in Tel-Aviv with some friends just beaching it, cooking, reading, and generally relaxing. I know, it's a tough life... :) Ema comes in 2 weeks - wahooooooooo - shortly after she leaves I head to Jordan for a week, not long after that my grandma, sisters, and cousins come in town, and then right after that the program is over. Ahhh!  So weird!! I can't believe I'm already talking about the end of the program... yikes!!!

I'll do my best to keep updates coming a bit more frequently. Until the next one I'm sending big hugs to each of you and much much love.

Chag sameach, shalom, namaste, and love,

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today a Bomb Exploded...

Today a bomb exploded at Binyanei HaUma (across the street from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem) around 3:00 PM. At the time I was in a leadership seminar at the Begin Center just 2-4 miles away and knew nothing of the event until about 20 minutes after it occurred. We found out from one of the staff members who worked at the Begin Center and announced it in the hallway during our break. We immediately turned on news reports and it wasn’t too long after that my phone started compulsively ringing with concerned family and friends on the other line. There’s something very surreal about listening to a voicemail from an immediate family member who wants you to call them back to be assured that you’re alive.

Tense. Uncertainty. Fear. Insecurity. Sadness.

It became unfortunately apparent to me today that while the state of Israel is arguably the strongest nation in the world, its existence is yet rather fragile. Rockets are sent roughly on a weekly basis into Beer Sheva and surrounding cities, bus bombings are a natural threat, and terrorist attacks are a familiar scene. Such a significant part of my identity is tied to this country and I feel an underlying sense of sadness today at the new reality of life here to which I’ve been exposed. Every day we continue to fight for this nation.

I remember after 9/11 feeling like there was something I was supposed to do yet I couldn’t define what that “should” was. Well, today that feeling has returned. Perhaps one of the most helpful reminders I received today was that any and all reactions are okay. I’m still confused and trying to make sense of this. Will I feel comfortable getting on the bus tomorrow? I’m supposed to go over to the bus station in 2 days – should I still go anyway? What happens if the situation escalates? I’m not sure I can genuinely resume life “normally” but what else do I do? I don’t want to just freeze my life but I’m also not trying to be a hero here… what does the middle ground look like?

It blew my mind today how many phone calls I received within the first few hours after the bombing from family and friends around the world just checking to make sure I’m okay. How incredibly loved and cared for I feel…

My thoughts are scattered – perhaps that’s evident by the structure of this blog post. I always wondered what it would be like living in Jerusalem and if this sense of insecurity would ever present itself… well, now it has. I wonder what the next few days hold.

The rest of my day has resumed as if nothing happened. I’m okay and don’t want anyone to worry.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Past the Tip of the Israeli Iceberg

I always thought I knew the real “ins” of Israeli culture because I was familiar with words like “sababa” and “achla” and musical artists like HaDag Nachash and Idan Raichel. Well, while I’ve certainly always had a familiarity with the culture here I think it’s fair to say that it was really just the surface of the culture that I knew well. It’s like I could provide a detailed description of the tip of the iceberg yet it was also just the tip of the iceberg. Make sense? I hope so cause it does in my head. Anyway, now that I live here one of the most fun parts of the experience I’m finding is that I'm exposed to this culture on such a much deeper level. I get to see it for it’s beauty, it’s corruption, and everything neutral and in between.

People who know I’m Jewish and have familiarity with Israel often ask: Isn’t it dangerous there? Don’t they ride camels everywhere? And, well, ha, that’s usually all people ever really ask. So, in attempt to dispel the myths, preconceived notions, and in the interest of sharing the beauty and depth of the culture here as I see it,  here’s a list of some of my favorite, most surprising, and most unexpected cultural nuances:

-         Shanti shanti is totally a common term here and I love it!
-         Weekends are Friday and Saturday which still totally confuses me
-         Water conservation is really valued. All toilets have 2 flushers and it’s expected when washing dishes to wash all them with soap before turning on the faucet to rinse. Same goes for brushing teeth – only keep the water on when rinsing.
-         Buses stop on Friday around 3:30 in Jerusalem so you better plan your next 24 hours and all that you’ll need (stores are closed in Jeru) in advance
-         It’s common to wish someone a “shavua tov” (good week) on Saturday evenings
-         Recycling is really encouraged here! Up and down some of the more popular streets you can spot plastic and paper recycling dumpsters
-        The elderly are treated with utmost respect – always invited onto buses before the rest of the crowd rushes on, seats are always given up by the younger passengers, etc.
-         Fresh produce is easy to find and infinitely tastier than produce I've had anywhere else around the world
-         There’s a trend when Israelis finish their military service to travel either to India or South America for several months
-          Iced coffee doesn’t mean coffee with ice but coffee blended with ice
-          Aroma is the Starbucks of Israel only the food at Aroma is much better
-          All the most gorgeous men in the world are concentrated in this country… it’s true :)
-          There’s a push here for many younger people to get involved in politics but there’s so much corruption in the government that younger people are really turned away
-          Already during the month I’ve been here I’ve read several news headlines about terrorist attacks against Israelis and I’ve been disheartened to hear from home that the news hasn’t made it outside Israel (Please take this at face value and don’t look any deeper – I’m making no other political statements or saying anything more other than just simply this.)
-          Many locals assume I’ve made aliya or plan to
-          J-Walking is super illegal—you can and will get a ticket
-          Some of the best sites in the world for bird watching are in Israel
-          While it’s about 3.6 shekels to the dollar the cost of living is just about equal to that in the States
-          Customer service is pretty awful by American standards just about everywhere
-          Tights pants and boots are high fashion
-          Israel serves as an asylum for many African refugees. People who think there’s no such thing as a Black Jew are completely uninformed.
-          It’s always a few degrees cooler in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is also known more for being an academic and religious city while Tel Aviv is where the parties are at
-          Purple is a totally acceptable hair color for Israeli women
-          And… despite popular belief and all the controversy there are actually Jews and Palestinians coexisting peacefully everyday
I'm sure the more time I spend here the more I'll learn about the cultural nuances and I promise to keep you all tuned... 
Aside from all that, take a look below at a few pix from some of my highlights here thus far:
Rach and I went to Binyamina for Shabbat last week to visit a long time family friend. We had an amazing visit full of laughs, rest, and wonderful company. Our last hours were spent exploring the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean Sea just 5 minutes from the house.

Me with Jen and her adorable son Ziv

Chag Sameach! It's Purim here this weekend so we went out last night to fulfill the mitzvah of celebrating the holiday... Rach was a cat and I was an aerobics instructor

We've been on a major health kick in the house and this is Exhibit A - Rach's and my breakfast! We've also now had family dinners at home for the last 5 nights with home cooked meals and contributions from all :)

This is what happens when you're in a house with 6 people and no one has a job yet or anything to do all day... you leave your underwear outside on the drying rack and then find it folded in the kitchen cabinets between the plates! We all better start work soon because I can't even imagine what kind of ridiculousness will otherwise ensue...

Getting ready to go out... from left to right we've got the cat, rock star, and aerobics instructor... so totally representative of our individual and totally different personalities... love it!

5 of my 6 sweet and adorable cousins I met this week! (L-R: Ephraim, Mordechai, Chaim, me, Racheli, and Menachem)

        Last thought: This week I've been missing India a lot... Rachel just wrote the most creative blog that so beautifully illustrates all my thoughts of the week. If it's not posted yet it'll be up in the next few days... Check it out here:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Israel: Where I'm Meant to Be?

This first week in Israel has been more than I could have asked for - I very spiritually and energetically feel as if at this moment this is really where I'm meant to be. I typically don’t deal with transition too well and while the first few days I was really homesick I can say that things have really turned around, time has flown by, and I feel so at home. In just one short week I’ve already accomplished a ton so here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to…

Setting into the apartment
Our apartment is in a PERFECT neighborhood called Makor Chaim in the Talpiyot area of Jerusalem. It’s sooooo quiet and yet really centrally located. Rach and I are sharing a room again which we’ve themed Polly Pockets because we have these miniature sized beds and lots of play toys that the landlord left hanging around in our bedroom. The best part of our room though might be the heated floors! I’m pretty much permanently freezing cold so I love waking up with my clothes laid out on the floor overnight and then getting dressed right into their warmth… ahhh :) Those the little things… We also have 2 giant balconies, laundry in our apartment, and best of all is that we don’t have any 14 year old maids!

Living Room

Makor Chaim 14

Our Polly Pocket bedroom and mini sized beds

The view from our living room window

Reconnecting with friends and family
Many family members and friends I grew up with made aaliya (immigrated to Israel) and I’ve been in touch with most of them this week. Coincidentally, I also learned that I live 2 doors down from a friend I grew up with from K-8th grade and kiddy corner from one of my friend's brothers. One of my other friend’s sisters also lives not too far and so it’s really nice having so many friends who I can get together with who are a) not in my program, and b) familiar from home.

Services at the Gilad Shalit tent
The most moving part of the week… Friday night several of my roommates and I attended Shabbat services at the Gilad Shalit tent. Gilad Shalit was a regular Israeli guy who was serving in the army 4 years ago when he was kidnapped by Hamas and held as a prisoner of war. Since then 1 or 2 videos have been released of him alive, seemingly okay, and reading letters to his family. The last one released I believe was 1 or 2 years ago. There is no proof that Hamas is complying with international law meeting the standards for treatment of POWs and it’s unknown whether or not he’s even still alive. Hamas has agreed to free him so long as the Israeli government complies with particular provisions involving the release of POWs here and since the gov’t refuses to negotiate with terrorists Hamas continues to hold him captive. As a result there’s been a large movement of Israelis who have supported the Shalit family and this cause. There’s a tent now set up outside the Prime Minister’s home where his family spends just about all day every day sitting and waiting. A giant sign reading 1713 (on the day I was visiting) that sits above the tent as a reminder of how many days he’s been gone.
How moving it was to be there and pray with his family. I was struck by the normalcy of how his family and others in my presence treated the situation. It occurred to me how incredibly privileged I am to come from a nation that isn’t culturally infused with trauma. At the same time, with that being the case in Israel the people of this culture have learned such a strong ability to learn how to move forward. People here don’t seem to fixate on much and they also know how to get things done. This is something I think us Americans as a whole culture don’t understand because we’re not in a position of having to learn how to operate that way. Anyway, I hope you’ll take the time to visit to educate yourself on this matter and the symbol he’s become for the Israeli people.

I started ulpan (Hebrew immersion course) this week! I’m in the 4th level of 6 which is definitely a good challenge but not too difficult that I can’t understand what’s going on. Most of the other students in my class have made aliya and they’re just about all ages 55+, which is really nice because it reminds me of grad school in that everyone in the room genuinely wants to be there. It creates for a really warm learning environment and a strong sense of community. We’ll be participating for one more month so I’m excited to see how much I learn by the end of it all.

6.5K Race
So after intoxicating my lungs the last 4 months with Indian air, eating tons of oil and fried foods, it’s about time to get back in shape. Rach and I opted this week to participate in a 6.5K race in Jerusalem. It was such a fun way to start getting back into shape and also just practically to run around the city and get a better sense of my surroundings. Since then Rach and I have been running around the neighborhood everyday and I already feel myself losing the weight I gained in India and most importantly just getting back into a healthier way of life.

All in all I’m getting settled in here so well and hopeful and enthusiastic this will continue to be an amazing journey.  For now I’m off to a MASA leadership seminar for the week and will blog again soon.

So so much love to each of you reading this!

Monday, February 28, 2011

I Know I'm Not in India Anymore When...

I know I’m not in India anymore when…

-          I got in a taxi today and was asked to put my seat belt on
-          I don’t hear “chalo” anymore but instead hear “yala”
-          I can breathe outside
-          I see green
-          I was instructed where to put my recycling
-          I had a hot shower that lasted more than 2 minutes
-          People speak to me in the native language and expect me to respond in it
-          Fresh veggies have real taste
-          Pita is there
-          Saying “xyz is there” isn’t normal anymore
-          Head bobbles are not there
-          I follow traffic rules
-          There are rules
-          There’s minimal to no honking on the roads
-          I can do my own laundry and not rely on a child laborer
-          My landlord knocks before entering
-          Mosquitoes are gone
-          I can drink from the sink
-          When I see white people I don’t get excited anymore
-          Toilet paper is plentiful
-          The grocery bill from one grocery shopping run equals approximately $40 USD
-          Instead of walking single file down the street I can walk next to others on sidewalks next to the street
-          The security line at the mall isn’t separated by gender
-     I don't have to jump on the bus while it's still in motion - it actually just stops for me
-          No smell of burning garbage
-          I have no goats, hogs, or cows roaming outside my apartment door
-          Billboard advertisements are rarely in English
-          It’s not particularly imperative to check the expiration date on foods I buy at the grocery store
-          It costs money to use a cart at the grocery store
-          I’m wearing four layers of shirts/sweaters and I’m still cold

All that being said it’s definitely bittersweet to have left our Hyderabadi home and to now be settling into our Jerusalem apartment. I’ve wanted to live in Israel for such a long time so it’s really a rewarding experience yet it doesn’t take away from the definite loss I feel from no longer being in India. It seems like just when I got life down to a science there it was time to uproot and head out. My experience there was so up and down and right and left and forward and back and sideways and all over the place that I imagine I’ll be continuing to process all that happened there for quite some time… In the meanwhile, stay tuned for upcoming blogs on my new Israeli life :)

Much love!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Update from Delhi

Written 2 weeks ago...

So here I am in Delhi sitting at Barista coffee shop just watching the Indian world go by. I’m 3 days out of the India portion of my program and I came to the cafĂ© here to put final touches on my internship projects. For the first time, maybe since Mysore, I feel like I’ve got some breathing room and space to process the crazy roller coaster that this trip is. Here goes…

The Program Thus Far

            Now that the India portion of the program has come to a close and I’m moved out of my apartment in Hyderabad I can start to look back with a bit more objective insight into my experience. Overall, I’ll say it was an incredibly challenging four months that was resultantly a huuuuuuuuge period of learning and growth. I was stripped of all my coping mechanisms and forced to adapt to my surroundings in ways that had never been required of me before. I now see myself as someone with much more flexibility, much more comfort sitting with the unknown, and an even greater ability to roll with the punches. I have more patience than I did before and I think I’ve become someone who’s able to function better with less structure than I was before.
            Being exposed to the ways that people live in this developing nation has instilled in me even greater perspective of my life, it’s purpose, my values, and what I believe really truly matters. I’m not yet aware of any significant changes, rather just a strengthening of that which I knew before. I am so privileged and with that comes tremendous responsibility. The experiences I’ve had in India have also forced me to beg the question of what ways I can function in society and really create sustainable changes. When a child beggar comes to my window in the auto rickshaw and I don’t give the child money, have I abandoned my responsibility, or, am I being realistic about how much those 5 rupees are likely to actually change the larger systemic issues causing that child to have to beg? Where are my money, energy, and time most likely to make an impact?
            The fact that I’m asking these questions and that I think I’ve grown so tremendously these last several months tells me that this program has been successful and that it was the right choice for me. I struggled many times with practical logistics and have frustrated to the extent of considering alternative options to participating in the program for the next 4 months, but a bit of distance now from it all reassures for me that enrolling in this program for the year was the right personal choice and I’ll benefit most from completing it in Israel.


            My internship is over! Well, almost… I’m just working on final edits right now so I can submit what are hopefully close to flawless presentations and research. I gave my final presentation last week and while I’m not terribly impressed with the content of the work I would say that in terms of the process it was a success. My 3 program directors, all my roommates, and a friend of mine from Hyderabad attended the presentation along with approximately 15-20 co-workers. I had about an hour to present my research titled “Corporal Punishment and Alternative Teaching Methods.” My job was to highlight teaching methods practiced by teachers who do not practice corporal punishment. What I found was that amongst those teachers (of whom there were approximately 50 who I interviewed and observed from about 10 schools in Hyderabad government schools and surrounding districts) they demonstrated awareness of 4 key elements as evidenced by their teaching methods: a) The importance of building interpersonal relationships with their students, b) Emphasizing rewards as much, or more, than punishments, c) Understanding of child development and various learning styles, and d) Value of empathy and compassion.
            The research paper I’m submitting to them is a more comprehensive view of what I presented in my powerpoint. Both are being submitted to MVF this week and they’ll review them, send editing requests back to me, and then they’ll submit it for publication!!  YAY! I can’t remember the exact name of the journal but it’s something like Social and Political Weekly… something like that.  When there’s movement on this I’ll be sure to keep you all posted J  Needless to say it’s very exciting for me :)
            Finally, and perhaps most excitingly for me, I developed a teacher training program for MVF to use and disseminate to other appropriate NGOs and government agencies. The program is titled “Understanding Corporal Punishment and Developmentally-Nurturing Teaching Methods.” It’s most rewarding because a) it’s what I think they can benefit from the most, and b) it’s been the most formal way I’ve been able to use my degree and experiences with teaching and counseling. It’s also been a fun challenge for me to review my presentation and make sure it’s culturally relevant and appropriate in terms of language, pictures, recommended teaching methods, and even just the way I encourage presenters to deliver the information. Lots of fun for me!


            So I’m learning from this trip and my Mysore trip that it’s a good thing I never had an interest in being a travel agent, I’m just not so good at planning vacations… Whomp whomp. I’m in Delhi now with Phil and arrived here two days ago without much of a plan. As a result, we’ve ended up spending more money and not really maximized our time (I’m typically one who maximizes pretty well so I’m gettin a little stir crazy here…). However, lesson learned, AND, I’m still in Delhi and having a great time in the big picture of life so no complaints to be had…
            We’ve done a bit of site seeing around the city Red Fort, the biggest mosque in India, Connaught Place, India Gate, and Old Delhi. Overall this city seems to get a pretty bad rep relative to what we’ve experienced. The people have been nice enough, the metro system is probably the nicest one I’ve ever been on (even beats Europe and NYC), and the weather has even been fine (even though it’s raining a bit now). I’m not sure this is a city I’d be inclined to travel to again but I can certainly see why someone would want to live and work here.
            Without a doubt the best part of our trip so far was the day trip we took yesterday to Agra. We first stopped at Agra Fort, then a little shopping center, then we went to the TAJ MAHAL!!!  The most appropriate word to describe it is breathtaking. Literally breathtaking. I actually had to remind myself to exhale after first glance… As I’ve mentioned before, sometimes I worry that all my fortune and travels have jaded me to life’s beauties but that certainly wasn’t the case yesterday at the Taj. My wish for everyone reading this is that you too have the opportunity one day to be able to treat yourself to visit this site… truly remarkable…

What’s Upcoming…

            So in just a few hours we’ll be heading to the bus station to leave Delhi and head to Pushkar (in Central Rajasthan, Southwest of here). It’s supposedly similar to Hampi in that it caters to tourists, it’s full of rooftop restaurants where you can spend the day just chilling out, and it’s really inexpensive. Our 4 other roommates will be meeting us there at the end of the week so we can all go to a wedding together on Friday and Saturday (Indian wedding are the beeeeeeeeeeest! Can’t wait!) and then Saturday night we’ll take an overnight bus back to Delhi to grab our flight to Goa!!!  We’ll spend all of next week there just beach-ing and safari-ing it up and a few of our friends from Hyderabad are planning on meeting us there for our last few days in India as well. My life is good… no, it’s great… I wouldn’t change a thing.
            We arrive in Israel on Feb 27 and will have a few days to get settled in our apartment and culturally adjusted. We start Ulpan that Monday, which we’ll be doing 12 hours a week for 4 weeks. The second week we’re in Israel we’ll be attending a leadership workshop produced by MASA and then when we return on week 3 we’ll finally be getting started with our new internships. I’m not yet sure what work I’ll be doing but my hope is to work with an organization there that provides support to bereaved families who have lost relatives in military duty. As a Jewish-American I can’t think of much more meaningful work than that.

Soooo…. That’s the long and the short of it for now. I’ve done a pretty good job this past hour procrastinating finishing up my project so it’s probably about time I get back to it.  Much much love to all you at home. I love and miss you all so incredibly much! While I’m really enjoying my time here I look so forward to the day I get back to Chicago (and then Nashville) and can see you each in person and just be together.

Giant hugs and so much love to all of you!