Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Vignette Vacation: Israel through Photos #9

I wrote my final review of my 2013 trip yesterday; I saved the best--the most important--for last.  Yad Vashem was like nothing I have ever seen, and its pairing with Mount Herzl was like nothing I have ever felt. 

I cried at Mount Herzl.  I had gotten weepy-eyed at various points in my trip, but full-fledge tears flooded me on the tan expanse in front of his memorial.  Theodore Herzl's monument was the second one upon which I placed a rock, and at that moment the wind gently lifted the flag above, allowing the sun to peek through and ever slightly illuminate the blue for which this man for vibrantly lived.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Vignette Vacation: Israel through Photos #6

I love Tel Aviv because of its vibrancy.  I have been nowhere else with so much color--from the people and their outlooks to the actual colors of the place.  There were no crayons left in the box when this place was created, or at least not at this juice stall.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vignette Vacation: Israel through Photos #4

One visit was all it took for me to fall in love with Yafo.  A second visit on the same trip only cemented the sentiments.  A third and final walk made it difficult to leave.

Yafo (often also addressed as Jaffa) is the old port city south of Tel Aviv, and technically a part of the municipality (that is why it is often called Tel Aviv-Yafo).  The winding alleyways that corner and coil through with city are now filled with artisans and chefs that perfect their trades often before your eyes.  It really is a treat, and I recommend it so highly that it is a twofer photo day!

First is one of my favorites from last year that reminds me Yafo is only a 5k away...

The second is from this year, which shows the Yafo skyline from closer to Tel Aviv.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Vignette Vacation: Israel through Photos #3

I love summer in Minnesota for the freshness.  So many of us have to rely on frozen vegetables during the months that we are frozen ourselves; lucky for us it is often that which we have grown ourselves or have picked up from a local at the farmer's market.

I love Israel for so many additional reasons, but it also gets marks for the quality of fresh foods. The Shuk HaCarmel (Carmel Market) is were a Tel Avivian (be them permanent or temporary) can find the freshest of fruits, such as these prickly pears, otherwise known as "tzarbar" in Hebrew.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Vignette Vacation: Israel through Photos #2

A really, really cool place in Tel Aviv is Dizengoff Street.  Not any particular part, the whole road.  It is filled with cafes and restaurants, shoe stores and dress shops.  It is the perfect place to get lost in the middle of everything.

One of my favorite parts of Dizengoff is its square.  After strolling around, this is a great little pedestrian space to stop and enjoy an ice coffee or a falafel (I have with both) and watch the iconic fountain do its deal.  It's a must-see in Tel Aviv.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vignette Vacation: Israel through Photos #1

So...American airlines are suspending service to Ben Gurion Airport, eh? That may take a toll on the amount of tourist information needed for a little bit.

But that won't keep me down; not a chance.  I will slow the release of new information until things calm down, but I will not slow down promotion of the little land.

So, in the time being, I will be releasing a photo a day that shows the Israel my Nikon of peace and quiet and beaches.

The first photo in this series is from my first day under an umbrella and the Israeli sky on the sands of Tel Aviv.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Little Laugh Amongst Tension: "Arab Labor" on LinkTV

TV has been terrible since I've returned home.  If it isn't the reruns it's the daytime TV, and that has been often interrupted with news has been less than ideal.  So as I've spent my time here at Blogger or at TripAdvisor, I have been utilizing a Chromecast and multiple streaming subscriptions to fill the background as I look at this computer screen in the foreground (some people like music, I like plots.  It's how I roll).

However, the best I have found is FREE.  And in Hebrew AND Arabic WITH English subtitles.  It even comes with a message.

"Arab Labor" can be found in its entirety at (think PBS for international television, not just British creations). I was familiar with the written voice of Sayed Kashua through his Haaretz commentaries prior to finding this, so when that same newspaper published an article of eight Israeli shows with English subtitles, I was happy to see this (and the link to it) on the list.

I love this show because it is hilarious; I appreciate this show because it is more real than any other  I have seen as of late.

Kashua's semi-biographical show is based on this premise: Journalist and East Jerusalemite Amjad Alian finds himself in a personal battle; he lives and works in an Israeli realm with Arab roots that keep him grounded to where he came from (even if he tries to free himself from them).  As Amjad tries to strike a balance to make everyone happy, the viewer gets to benefit from the comedic situations that arise from this conflict.

Conflict is something, sadly, this region knows too well, so this show does deal with that as well.  The final episode the third season does an exceptional job at addressing the faceted face of this ongoing situation. "The Shelter" opens with those now-too-common sirens that lead Amjad and his family alongside their primarily Jewish neighbors to their building's shelter. What ensues is an escalation of finger- pointing and an emotional release from all aspects on both sides (including from a traditionally reserved Amjad, after he tries his diplomatic best for peace).

What transpires in that basement refuge is a variety of accusations from a variety of perspectives, from feeling as an outsider to the not knowing where home is, from the fears of a simple bus ride to the terrors of the Shoah. I have been in love with this region for nearly twenty years.  I have read both sides, both histories, as far back as I could go.  I get it; both sides have been treated poorly throughout their existence.  I have learned something else during this research: Evil is not an excuse for anything.  If have learned anything about evil, it is an infectious, blistering rash and the more it is scratched, the more is spreads. Treat it, ignore it, and it will go away.  

The best way to treat evil and the feelings that is festers in its sores? I think Amal hits that best:

I come from the Land of the Hot Dish (often known as a casserole, for those of you who don't speak Midwestern); it is the Minnesotan sign of recognition. New to the neighborhood?  Here's a hot dish. You had a baby?  Here's a hot dish. Someone passed?  I'm sorry; here's a hot dish. We recognize each other at all times--be that times of joy or times of sorrow. We acknowledge, recognize, and live in a cream-of-mushroom-covered harmony.  

Recognition is important.  It does not claim responsibility or guilt; it means being heard. If I recognize you, and you recognize me, that gives us ground on which to discuss what "the middle" may be, and how we can get to it. Interpersonal communications tells us that in order for a message to be a message, it needs to be sent, received, and then that receipt acknowledged. If Amjad is anything, he is a sign of a good communicator; he acknowledges, he recognizes, and he hears.  The humor is in the unfortunate fact that his message is not often received by his fellow characters; fortunately for those that view this show, the message of Sayed Kashua is received, and it deserves acknowledgement: These are encouraging characters, and there has to be more people in this world like Amjad and Meir (a Jewish co-worker/friend of Amjad's that married the proudly Palestinian Amal) that blur lines of societal/cultural expectations and break down the suspicion that creates division; I just wish they were louder than the extremes on either side.

To pull out the classic quote: I may be a dreamer, but I am not the only one.  For those that dare to dream of the day we stop talking about what happened to us in the past and talk about what we did to create a future, I suggest watching "Arab Labor."  Sayed Kashua's characters live in an imperfect world, but do what they can to perfect immediate situations, even if it is just handling the battle within.  Imagine what would happen if we all took that chance to meet know our neighbor, see their perspective, recognize their existence, and acknowledge their stance, even if it opposes with out own?   Nadav, friend of Amjad's daughter Maya, knows:

I agree, Nadav. I totally agree.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Perfect Ten: Using the Dan Bus Line No. 10 to Your Tel Aviv Traveling Advantage

“Autobus Essar.”

I was sitting on the corner of Ben Yehuda Street, enjoying a delicious 150 gr Burger Bar 39 creation when this answer to the question “How do I get to the train station from here?” slurred out between chews. 

“Autobus Essar,” or Dan Bus No. 10, is a bus route that runs right along Ben Yehuda Street, and conveniently passes the Artplus Hotel.  A few steps right or left will leave a tourist  at a bus stop that is serviced by the No. 10, taking them from their temporary residence as far northeast as the Tel Aviv Savidor Rail Station (“Tachanat Rechevet Merkatz”) or as far south as Bat Yam with stops at valued visitor locations (such as the Jaffa Flea Market).

To be honest, I’m not a natural bus rider.  I was so afraid of getting on the wrong bus in college that I never once used my free U-pass; I had this feeling that when trying to get to downtown Duluth, Minnesota, I would end up on the wrong bus, and find myself in Superior, Wisconsin (OK, so that's just across a bridge, but still a freaky thought).  When I arrived in Tel Aviv, where I barely spoke the language and I wasn’t exactly sure how to make change, I was hesitant to board; after my first ride in luxury, however, I was hooked (air conditioned cushy seats are a luxury on an Israeli August day, trust me) and haven’t thought twice about the just-under seven-shekel cost. 

In my two trips to Israel, I found that the only times I absolutely needed to take the bus was to (comfortably) get to Yafo/Jaffa, or to get the Tel Aviv Savidor Train Station.  Other than that, I was able to travel by foot.  However, the more I traveled, the more I could see where I would have been able to utilize this bus line a little bit more, and did so in the following ways:

Ben Gurion House: Ride north to Ben Yehuda/Sderot Ben Gurion, then walk to the intersection and take a left.

Rabin Square (Kikar Rabin): Take the northbound No. 10 to Tel Aviv Municipality/Block, backtrack to Ibn Gabriol Street, head south, and Kikar Rabin will be on the right.

Cameri Theatre: Take the northbound bus to Block, then walk via Shilo to David HaMalech to Dubov to Mane to Leonardo DaVinci.

Jaffa Flea Market: Head south to Shuk HaPishpishim/Yefet stop, walk back towards the clock tower; take any assorted roadway and find some element of the shuk (the best parts will be to the left).

Carmel Market from Yafo:  Walk to the bus stop Yafo/Sderot Yerushalayim.  Take the No. 10 north to HaKovshim/Daniel stop, walking north, take a left onto Simtat HaCarmel, then a right onto HaCarmel Street. (TIP: This would be the same bus stop to use when trying to get back to the Artplus Hotel)

HaMadenia Square: Head north until bus stop Arozolov/Weitzman; walk north on Weitzman Street, and Kikar HaMedina cannot be missed.

Need a visual? I couldn't find a map that had this exact information the way I wanted it, so I created this one, just for you!

I am sure there are other places accessible by Dan Bus No. 10, but this is what I know from experience.  As any tourist explores the city from the soft seat of a Merkavim Bus, they’ll learn, too (please share when you find that place). 

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Tel Aviv Homecoming: A(nother) Review of Atlas Hotels' Artplus Hotel

Because I am a creature of habit (and a bit superstitious), I try to keep things the same, such as sitting in the same airplane sit or doing the same ritual upon arrival (grab a Goldstar and head to the beach).  To keep these traditions going, I stayed at the same hotel on Ben Yehuda Street, the one that had been so much like home my first go-around; it was equally as comfy the second time around.  

"A Tel Aviv Homecoming"
By Kayla Lee
A TripAdvisor Review, published July 8, 2014

In my last review, I discussed how the Artplus crew had become like a family; the kind, warm, enticing, and exciting atmosphere of the property was enough to feel like home, but pairing that with amazing people truly creates a one-of-a-kind hospitality. When I planned my returned to Tel Aviv, then, I knew there was only one hotel I would even consider to spend nearly three weeks.

This stay was a homecoming that speaks to the incredible lengths the staff at the Artplus Hotel goes to make their guests comfortable. At my first breakfast I was greeted by a hug from Margot. My first trip back from the beach surprised Stav, who didn’t know I was back in town. It was honestly like I never left, and it is proof that the Artplus Hotel’s customer service is premier; this was only supplemented by the new faces I encountered on this trip.

Housekeeping also granted the same considerations as last year. Many days of my stay I asked housekeeping to “Do Not Disturb” for a variety of reasons. Each day this was beyond respected; on many of these days, I would find a back of fresh towels and toiletries on my door handle when I was on my way or on my way back. Courtesy and comfort are the priority of Artplus, and again that was evident to me from my stay.

While the same exemplary customer service was the same, some aspects of the grounds had gone through an amazing makeover. The two rooms in which I stayed (I initially stayed prior to leaving for Jerusalem, and then returned when I came back to Tel Aviv) were the same décor as last year, but as someone who appreciates the minimalistic trend, that was perfect for me; there were changes that were quite major. There was a newly added gym, fully equipped with Life Fitness weight and cardio machinery; there was also a steam sauna (which is not operable on Shabbat). There was also additional art installations that only add to the creative nature already alive and abound and around this property. This was the only negative during my stay—there was a touch of construction throughout the premise that was a bit of an inconvenience. However, this customer sees the big picture; I know that these settle challenges only add to the overall effort of management to create a hotel that is up-to-date and functioning at the highest level for the guests. I would take that kind of inconvenience from a hotel any day. 

And I would pick this hotel again when in Tel Aviv any day. The proximity to the beach is what drew me here last year, but the stand-up job of the staff is what will keep bringing me back. Like Stav said again to me before I loaded into my cab after checkout, I am part of the family; after this stay, much like the last, I cannot wait until the next reunion.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Pushy Notifications and Peace as Quiet (not a typo): Finding Hope for the Hopeful (Double for the Hopeless)

No, I’m not ignoring the fact that Operation Protective Edge is in progress. Haaretz has making that impossible.

What I am trying to ignore is the fact that's all anyone wants to talk to me about when I mention I just got back from Israel.  No one wants to hear about Masada or the Dead Sea, Haifa or Tel Aviv or even Jerusalem.  Just this latest situation.

In case we haven’t personally talked, you may not know my whole story behind my touristic aliyah to the Holy Land. I will not be telling the whole story right here; it is not necessary. I will leave it at the beginning: Seventh grade social studies, a current events project, and two weeks in the November of 1995.  For some, that time might have instant resonance, for others perhaps not, but anytime I see that iconic picture of Yitzhak Rabin and Yassir Arafat mid-handshake, framing a young idealistic American President, I’m thirteen again, and the hope for peace (and the quiet that it brings) seems gone.

To those that comment “I bet your glad you came home when you did,” hope may be gone again (if it was ever there). I, however, have always had hope, be it the teenage me back then or the nevermind-what-age me of today.

So, to respond to that comment at the local Walmart, Target, restaurant, or where ever I am at: No.

Don't jump to conclusions about my mentality with that statement. My personality makes me a loyal helper, especially for those aspects of life that I love. This feeling since I’ve been home parallels the feelings that are resolved for me during the martyrology service of Yom Kippur. Many that sit in the synagogue seats have heard it all before—not just from the previous year, but from mothers and fathers, grandparents, other older relatives, some of whom experienced first hand the exact theme of the service. Despite the serious and matter-of-fact nature of this program, I appreciate it.  I don’t have that shared personal history; it’s not something that I have heard stories about from generation to generation.  By listening of those that lived for their faith and their existence to their ends, I can carry a bit, taking some from those that have personally been weighted emotionally throughout their lives.

I feel as a part of the two Israels: The people (Am Yisrael) and the country (Medinat Yisrael). The more I am welcomed into both, I know there is more to this land than what meets the media’s eye. And I love it.

Because of this growing connection, the push notifications from Haaretz that tell me the sirens are sounding in Tel Aviv trigger something in me; I feel a bit guilty.  I am not there to be a part of the collective in those shelters or on those streets that I have walked in the best of summertime. Unlike the Ten Martyrs service, I don’t know what I can do for my newfound communities.

Don’t tell me this is irrational.  We make connections daily throughout our lives; some are unavoidable, others unexplainable. Either way, sometimes the mind decides what we want in our lives with the soul choosing what we need. Think about that one place you love outside where you grew up, the one that is like a second home; that is Israel to me.

We all have our Israel. I've talked to people who were miles and years away from their brief life along the Red River Valley who would still ache when she would flood. When the Boundary Waters Canoe Area had their massive blowdown, many Minnesotans, some natural and others naturalized through vacations, mourned for the land and lakes.  I envy these people for they had solutions; they could go and sandbag or head north and manually remove the fallen trees.  

All I can do is write.  And hope for quiet.  

I don’t want this to be a political blog—I want it to be a travel blog—because my Israel doesn’t have controversy; it has coexistence.  My Israel is two people that make it work, because that is what is right for both parties, both families.   I’m not naïve enough to pretend that there aren’t multiple claims to this chunk of real estate, nor will I claim one is right and one is wrong.  This recitation of jousting narratives is interwoven, and neither story can now be told without the other.  In the anthology of the region, both pieces (and peaces) of prose need their respective attention; both voices need to be heard if we wish there to be a next chapter or volume.

Hope is not just my story from middle school, it’s not even just my story now, having experienced the land.  It is the story of anyone, anywhere, on any side, that has cupped a palm of sand, or has eaten the fresh fruit of a date palm, or has even had a date under the thick sky while sipping coffee.

It is the story of anyone that has held this land in their hand and in their heart, and therefore its hope.

As someone who really likes it when things come around full circle, I really appreciate that the martyrology portion ends with the singing of “HaTikva,” Israel’s national anthem. It is a great way to conclude such a service; after all, as Am Yisrael, we still have hope.

Writing has been a great, because it allows sunlight to be shed onto my version of life in the land of Israel. Every hotel and attraction review I write becomes a digital shield to those unpleasant push notifications. Any tourist tip and trick negates the pundits' programmed mongering. Beyond all this though, every click of my keyboard brings you, my reader who must share some sort of interest in this nation, away from the last week and little closer to its boarders, its beaches, and its beauty.

I hope.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

There Really is an App for That: How to Tech Your Way Across Israel

It was somewhere in the Jerusalem shade where I learned I need a portable charger.  After walking in the sun for nearly three hours, saddled down by two bags and finding out that being conservative in a cardigan and maxi dress in August is akin to living in a tea kettle, I swayed off to the side of a science museum to rest.  Sitting, cooling, sipping water, I recharged my lifeline, my iPhone; like a fungus on a tree, it recharged its cells by draining those of my MacBookPro. Awkward, yes; necessary, oh yes.

I didn’t expect to rely on my iPhone so much during my first round in Israel; I had spent tons of time on Google Maps before my vacation, planning and printing so I would be prepared.  But as much as I loved my paper itinerary, there was nothing but convenience with the use of a smartphone and its apps as I tried to find my way to the Knesset that mid-August Sunday.

Especially once I got a portable charger.

With that Anker portable charger, I was able to freely use the six following apps to make the most of my time, my budget, and my vacation.

GOOGLE MAPS:  I found out in 2013 that getting mislocated in Tel Aviv is not impossible, and it is even easier to do so in Jerusalem.  So, by yourself, in a foreign land, with minimal language skills, what do you do?

Open Google Maps, and benefit from free GPS service.

Yes, free.  Even without cell service or Wifi, the GPS aspect of an iPhone will still “ping,” and a user can still see their location on a map.  This was a life saver on more than one occasion last year, but what I learned this year was even more helpful. 

See the real-time changes? Totally free.
I was in Jerusalem during the Israel Festival—a celebration of the music and arts of this culturally rich land.  I was lucky enough to be in town when Nigoi, a jazz ensemble, was performing at the Jerusalem YMCA.  This was not too far from Harmony Hotel, but since I have the directional fortitude of a paper compass in the wind, I knew I would need help.  I opened Google Maps, set my path while still on my hotel’s free Wifi, turned off data, popped in earbuds, and was on my way.  I was surprised to find my playlist interrupted by the familiar voice of Google Map’s navigation; it turned out that not only does the map stay loaded sans data, but the navigational voice does as well.  This allowed me to easily find my way to some terrific jazz.

Viber and XE, together again.
VIBER:  An Israeli creation, Viber is a money saver.  I get an Israeli phone from IsraelPhones, and they provide great service.  However, sometimes the prices can be a bit steep (I get the $1 a day plan where any call I make to Minnesota is roughly 42-cents a minute, which adds up fast).  A nice supplement has been this app.  As long as both parties have it installed and are connected to data, a free call can be made, and since all three of my hotels provided free WiFi, this was more convenient and cost effective to connect to home.

XE CURRENCY EXCHANGE: This was the app I chose to use for currency conversions, and I thought it was helpful.  It has a nice user interface, and will auto-refresh for the most accurate information it can provide. 

Click on the "Free Guided Tours" and
the bottom is what you get
VISITTLV: I believe this is the official app for the municipality of Tel Aviv-Yafo; if it is not, it should be.  This app contains a wealth of information to help guide your body around Tel Aviv—including a list of free guided tours.  This app also provides the user with nearby cafes, pubs, and restaurants for those just can’t decide; it’s not quite UrbanSpoon, but it is something helpful.

The look of full...and then not so much.
TELOBIKE:  Like many European cities, Tel Aviv-Yafo offers daily bike rentals that they cutely call “Tel-O-Fun.”  Not just for tourists, it is a fun, efficient way to get from one end of town to the other; for these wheeled wanderers, nothing is more frustrating than getting to the closest station, and finding few or no bikes.  The app “telobike” solves this problem by giving the user real-time availability of bikes (think of it as “Waze” for Tel-O-Bike).  Station names can be set in either Hebrew or English, which helps those that haven’t quite mastered either.

The many layers of Hebrew in HebrewNEXT.
HEBREWNEXT:  Created by NEXT, a division of the Birthright Israel Foundation, HebrewNEXT to me is a dual-purpose language app.  I say this because it offers a flash card option for those that are intent on becoming someone proficient (or at least committing some Hebrew to memory).  It also has a phrasebook option as well as a search to quickly find what you are looking for. I find this to be a very thorough language app and has the potential to be very helpful; I do feel that at times it is a bit too thorough, and may become a bit much for those in a hurry.  Nonetheless, it does contain a wealth of information, has multiple angles at which to take that information, and comes from a reputable source, so I have no problems relying on it for all my Hebrew needs.

These are definitely not the only free apps that aid your Israeli iadventure, but these are the six I have personal experience with while in the thick of what Tel Aviv and Israel has to offer.  Have your own personal favorite? Comment and let us now so we can add to our devices!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Take Your Invaluables With You: Top Ten Items NOT to Forget On Your Israeli Adventure

During my first pre-Israel blog posts, I published this list to help guide your packing to Israel or anywhere. I still find it very thorough in filling that suitcase of yours with only the very best, the very needed, the very necessary.

I would like to take a moment, if I may, to emphasize what forty days and forty nights in Israel has taught me was beyond invaluable for a fun-filled vacation (because while I am a member of Overstuffers Anonymous and find it hard to forget anything, these are the ten somethings I feel that no temporary Israeli should be without).

1.) BACKPACK.  I tried using a large shoulder bag; I figured that would be all I would need while trolling the markets and hanging at the beach.  What I found instead was massive marks on my shoulders that had already been irritated by sunburn.  It was painful.  Turning to a backpack extended the life of my rest, and thereby made each venture out of the Artplus Hotel much more enjoyable.

2.) WATER BOTTLE WITH A FILTER.  You will see ample opportunities to hydrate while out and about in Israel (and trust me, you will want to).  However, there is no AM:PM on the top of Masada.  There is no juice stall at Mount Hertzl.  You may find yourself without any other option in the 96-degree desert sun. And you will be happy to have this on your side.

3.) TOWER/HANDKERCHIEF.  Remember that water?  It will pour out of you. You will want one of these to catch it before heading into a restaurant with others who are better-aclimated to the heat than yourself, unless you are going for the post-marathon look; some people can really work sweat-matted hair cemented to their face (I am not one of them; ask the Knesset guard who insisted on filling up that water bottle from #2). 

4.) SUNGLASSES. Don't quint your way through the Holy Land.  Please.  You'll miss so much...

5.) BODY SPRAY.  Israel smells nice.  You may not (I am not joking; #3 is a reality, not a hyperbole).  Keep a 3-ounce bottle of perfume/cologne in your 3-1-1 bag and on hand to keep yourself fresh.

6.) SUNSCREEN.  This is non-negotiable.  Do not try Israel without sunscreen. It’s one thing to want to be sun-kissed golden, but the thing about the Israeli sun is that it will French you—give you a metaphorical nice big wet one—until you have passed sun-kissed right to boiled red.  Avoid that situation, and get this in that 3-1-1 bag next to that spray.

7.) SENSIBLE SANDALS.  I had one day this year with 12 miles and 34,000 steps. I repeated that day more than once in 18.  If I would have had only flip flops, I am afraid my feet would have protested earlier than the plane ride home.  Don’t place a thin sheet of rubber between you and Israel, or you will experience much less of the land.  My choice was a pair of Israel’s own NAOTs, which even during the second trip were adequately comfortable, and allowed me to shuffle all through the city and by the sea.

8.) SMARTPHONE. Even without a cellular or data plan, a smartphone may become your best friend in this ever-connected country. The next blog post will explain how handy and dandy that cellular-less phone could be. 

9.) CAMERA. A picture is worth a 1,000 words, and Israel has a lot to say.  Let it speak to you.

10.) JOURNAL.  We already covered that a picture is worth a 1,000 words.  But think of all the moments the camera lens will miss; those words need to go somewhere. Don’t let your memories just drift away.  Catch them in a journal.

This is by no means all you need to have a great time in Israel--these are just the top items I personally found I needed to have to have fun; you may need a hat in addition to sunglasses, and perhaps you are happy with iPhone photos as oppose to carrying around lens tonnage for your Nikon.  Play around, see what works for you, experiment, and learn about yourself while you learn about the land (that's what vacations are for)!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Finding My Chai in a Coffee-Loving Nation

When wrote my introductory (and essentially only) post last year, it was an early August morning, and the only reason why Israel was on TV was because the station was airing a SodaStream commercial (this was pre-Scarlett Johanssen’s SuperBowl situation, so it was a positive advertisement).

Unfortunately, this is not the way Israel has made the morning news in the days after I returned to the United States.

When my Delta 747 landed in Israel, it was a nation full of June and the joys that summer brings—TLV Pride, Israel Festival and Jerusalem Light Festival, Layla Lavan, just to name a few.  When I left, it was a nation full of hope, brought together by the united faith that things could work out.  Now, just days later, it is a nation burdened with questions—of others and the world and, perhaps for some, of themselves.

But when I hear [Insert Whatever News Anchor’s Name HERE] mention Israel and the current conflict, my heart sinks back my time there.  I don’t want to call it a vacation, because it was more than that.  It was more than museums and tours and Bad Hebrew; I spent time living on the land, living with the people, and living for myself. 

From June 11 to the 28th, I was living Israel.  A common symbol for “living” or “life” in Hebrew is Chai--חי (think back to “Fiddler on the Roof” and Tevye’s musical toast, L’Chaim, he is toasting to life). One could say I found my chai in Israel. I found it in the coffee of Aroma.  I found it in the baked goods (and, well, coffee) of Roladin.  I found it under the umbrellas (and the iced coffee) at the beach. I found a way of life that that is similar to the way we swim in the sea: Like the every-present waves, you will bounce and bob, but you can also be carried to shore you if you just float.

Taking this a step further, there is a numerological aspect called germatria, where each letter of the Hebrew Alephbet has a numerical value (aleph is worth 1, bet worth 2, gimel 3, and so on). Chai has its own numerical value, which is 18.  In Jewish culture, giving gifts in increments of 18 is common based on this value given to chai, to life.

(Did you count the length of my trip?  See how many days?  18.  Weird, huh?)

For 18 days I was given the best gift from Israel: The gift of existence.  And now, as clashes and mortars and violence crash onto the American Media scene, I want pay forward that gift of existence—because the American media’s Israel is not my Israel, and its not the one I want you to know.   I want you to see Israel for the land it really is—and how you can find your own existence, so if you choose.

Because regardless of what’s been broadcasted, then and now, there is one definite, unarguable truth I have taken away from my time in Israel: Am Israel Chai. 

The people of Israel live. All people of Israel, in all corners of the country. They’ll show you how, too, if you let them. 

Let me show you how to let them.