Visiting Palestine

There are two kinds of people in Israel: those who are excited to visit the West Bank and those who would absolutely never visit there! While it’s not allowed for Israelis without a second passport to visit, most of them would never visit. The responses I get when I tell them about it are typically …Why??? And Oh my gosh, why would you do that? No one was intrigued and wanted to know what I thought about it. People here are frightened to death about visiting.

When I visited Palestine the first time a year ago, I felt an incredible calm that was completely unexpected. “Isn’t it unsafe? Isn’t it unsafe especially for Jews?” I entered with those ideas and found something completely unexpected. Why did I feel so calm? Why did it feel so peaceful? Why was I not experiencing the fear that I held in my mind previously? Instead of the terrorists, I met people with helping hands, generous offerings, and large smiles. Instead of bitterness and hatred, I met kids with bright laughs, curious questions, and bounding spirits. I met people who lost land, piece by piece over time. Palestinians with many generations of family living in one area, deep and interconnected roots, had to move and they’ve not be allowed back yet. They pray for the return and strongly believe it will happen. As it is now, in Palestine, I saw homes bulldozed multiple times. When they rebuild, they’re deemed illegal and dozed again. Who wants me to believe that these are the fearsome people I learned about? “Ah yes, but there are good people and bad people in every group.” I hear that all the time. But it’s always said about “them”, about the other, never about us, our own people. We’re the good people and we’re just trying to handle the bad ones. Meanwhile if the good ones over there are crushed in the process, well, is that the price for maintaining peace for us, the good ones? And what about the “bad ones” here? What about the good ones there? The more I learned about people’s thoughts, the less value I found they held.

I thought Palestine would be a fun trip. The first time I visited a year ago, I was taken aback to find it was still, calm, and peaceful. I felt it in the air. I saw it in the people. It was everywhere. For the record, Palestine is safe.

I was thrilled about this trip for days before going. When I got there, I felt heartbroken for the first few hours. The wall cuts through villages like a blunt soldier who’s just “following orders.” The wall is gross, obtrusive, and a huge annoyance. 9m high and a constant reminder that those inside are despised. This is not the path to peace.

Palestine is beautiful land. The highways are excellent. They’re new, direct, and very easy to access. Except that they’re for Jews only. Palestinians must drive on the side roads which are not in good condition. They are second-class citizens in their own land like the help who feeds the masters and eats the leftovers in the kitchen.

Palestine is also Biblically cultural. The site of Jesus’ birthplace in Bethlehem is massively touristy and is full of tour groups like Jerusalem or any other major tourist site. Rachel’s Tomb, however is blocked from general access. Rachel from the Bible is Jacob’s favorite wife. While I can see it would take a few minutes to walk it, it’s actually takes an hour to get there by car and foot. The 50m journey takes an hour. Why? Because Jews must enter from Jerusalem and pass through security checkpoints.

There is no plan for peace. Watch. There are water storage tanks, massive tanks that site on the house. Water is controlled by the Israeli government as are all utilities in Israel and Palestine. Palestinians buy water from their land from the Israeli government. They buy it once ever one-three weeks and must ration it. Forget to buy or run out early? No problem. You can buy extra from the settlers who get their water (from your land) first and get water on demand 24/7.

I thought peace was the goal. I felt this goal nowhere. Palestine is safe. But there is no enduring peace. I would challenge you to tell me otherwise after going to see it for yourself.

I met Palestine head on and found no rudeness or unkindness. Instead, I found a world of people war weary and tired from endless tears. I walked in a land of people that just want autonomy, self-rule and a return. I saw and I cried. I felt and I lost my ideas. I had my ideas and after I visited, I felt clarity, compassion, respect, and honor for all the people who live here. 

I don’t want to tell you what’s right and who’s right. All I wish for everyone who is curious is that they visit and find out what’s the truth for themselves. You’ll not be unchanged, I can promise you that.

All you are is very important. What you are is perfect. Leave no stone unturned.

A magic in everyday living

I love this place. It a home to me and I want to be here for all of my life in some way.

Let me tell you about one side of the story. It’s my story, one side of it, and from my perspective.

A few months ago, I visited Rosh Hanikra with my cousin Yana. Being in that place, I witnessed a miracle…

But first about this place itself…

Rosh Hanikra is in the northern tip of the land where Israel meets the southern end of Lebanon, our neighbor to the north. Over the years, water has worn away the rock to form grottoes in the mountain. It was militarily important during WWI as the British used it to transport supplies north/south, but they lost it after a bombing destroyed the railroad track.

Now it’s only a tourist area for civilians and a military post for the IDF.

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Miracles occur in everyday life in Israel. A special place filled with powerful moments. I witnessed two women playing with the young daughter of one of the women. Such a beautiful moment of pure bliss and nothingness. No drama there. No wars at the moment. No missiles. No nothing. Family and friends enjoying a day out. So everyday. This is my Israel. This is how the people who live here behave. Beautiful people come in all forms, all religions, all races. We are what makes us and it’s deeper than skin and religion.

For me, it’s not about trying to fix all problems here in the land of plenty. That day, I had the relief of knowing that in the place I stood, I saw that people can live together without ideas of good and bad, Israeli and Palestinian. We’re standing there, being ourselves. May all people who come and go be happy, free, and unbridled.

I am a miracle. You are also a miracle. You’re a miracle to people who know you, and you make the world better by being yourself. Your being yourself is always enough.

Look for the helpers, as Mr. Rogers said

I want to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one way. In case you don’t read the news, May 15, 2018 was a day where Palestinians in Gaza staged a protest and Israel fought back. There were a body count of 60+ dead Palestinians and 2000+ injured. No casualties on the Israeli side. What’s significant is that it marks 70 years after the Jewish War of Independence/The Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe).

Several of you have expressed concern for my safety, and I want to assure you that I am safe. Tel Aviv is geographically and politically not a main target for attacks. Most fighting and rockets hit near the border with Gaza. It’s strongly advised that no Israeli or Jew enter Gaza, which is smart. No one should go at all. Not all people living there are malicious but a minority are and that’s a place where many of them live. So, be smart and avoid dangerous areas.

While the terror and acts of violence both sides committed are terrible, nothing is ever without its goodness. Regardless of the political agendas or popular beliefs, you’ll always find people on all sides of an issue helping the other sides. Jews for Palestinians. Palestinians for Jews. People for people.

Mr. Rogers is quoted famously: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”

In the wake of the aftermath where dozens of Palestinians were brutally massacred, many Jews stood for what was right in the hearts, domestically and abroad. A former Israeli, now living in the US, beautifully articulated his disappointment in Israel’s retaliatory stance. The country that was founded as a safe haven for refugee Jews is now the opposite for many of its original inhabitants. Violent civilians are allowed to spew hate speech while peace-wielding Palestinians are shoved aside. It’s a tragedy.

More and more, I’m proud to say that conscientious young people are choosing peace as a primary response. Young Jews abroad will look at actions like this massacre and decide whether Israel represents their values and whether to make Israel their home. Personally, I call it my new home because I can disagree with unjustified acts of aggression and say that I am here to bless the land. People deserve to have an opportunity to have a peaceful existence. I am here to honor the sacred land of the people who were here, who are here, and who have ever lived here. I choose peace every day. Most Palestinians are not a major threat. Our being closed to each other is a major threat, no matter where you are. Israel is not an easy place to live. Loving people inside our borders is sometimes a great challenge and it’s what I continue to work out.

Two weeks ago I attended an event with my Destination Israel program called Roots. Their purpose is to provide conscientious discussions on the current state of affairs and what we can do about it. The tour was led by two men — one, a Zionist Jew and the other, a Palestinian. They laid out their beliefs and conclusions so that we could examine them side by side. They disagree with each other on certain things and are able to have intelligent conversations about it. What they both ultimately want is an end to the bloodshed. We want peace, equality, and equity.

We toured Gush Etzion in the West Bank and were witness to the Jewish settlements. Israel builds settlements to inhabit more of the West Bank. Jews, both Zionist and not, live in these areas, pressing against Palestinians. The build laws are very liberal to Jews and extremely oppressive for Palestinians. For the most part, Palestinian homes are shanties where an entire family of 5-10 live in one room under a tin roof. It’s illegal for them to build. Even if their homes are demolished unlawfully, there’s often not much they can do about it, nor are they allowed to rebuild. Building is illegal and nothing is legal so it keeps them in a bind. The hope is that the Palestinian family will tire of this nonsense and move — a win for Israel. Eye-opening as it was, it wouldn’t have been a great day without hearing how things are changing. A case made its way all up to the Israeli Supreme Court for Palestinians’ livability. They were not alone. Many Jews living in the settlement next to them showed up to demonstrate their support for the well-being of their Palestinian neighbors! It’s a wonderful display of “All people matter.” More and more often, Palestinians speak out on behalf of Jewish welfare and Jews rally for the support of Palestinians. We are not alone. We all need each other.

While the prevailing mood is that Israel must maintain an offensive military mentality and Palestinians/Arabs are not to be trusted (racism), remember that in all these scenarios, there are always people helping. No one can do everything. I stand for all people, for the right to dignity and respect for all living things.

May all people speak their authentic phrases and learn to be right in themselves.

How much can a Jew love in a tribe?

Last week, Israel had flooding that led to the loss of ten youth, and the country was in a period of mourning for several days following. In Tel Aviv, there was a heavy downpour that was gone within an hour. In Jerusalem, water rushed through the streets (see the video below for some footage). The worst of of it happened in the Negev, the desert that covers southern Israel.

There was a training exercise for a small group of pre-army teens which took place in the Negev. During the trip, it began raining heavily. Rather than waiting a day for it to pass, the group leader chose to go on, only changing their route to try to avoid the rains. They hiked in a valley. Then came a flash flood. While the majority of the people survived, ten young men and women were killed in the flood. The rest were rescued.

The news covered the story for two days. Candlelight vigils were held all around Israel. People who don’t even know them came out to support, as I saw on Facebook. This leads me to my point: Israelis and especially Israeli Jews hold each other as a big family. We’re not a group of strangers. Israelis aren’t always the friendliest bunch, but they are one of the most fiercely loyal bunches I’ve ever encountered. When an event occurs like this one does, the entire country mourns each one of the losses. I don’t recall feeling that love for one’s own people back home in the States. That said, I don’t ignore how Jews aren’t always so open-hearted to other Jews. It’s sometimes unkind, sometimes brutal, but when they care, they’re passionately invested in other Jews.

It always depends on the person but what I’ve seen on average is that the loss of even one Jew is a tragedy. Every single life is a matter of significance and dramatic importance. Unfortunately, however, this is not the case for the attitude towards many Arabs and Palestinians. All people are not the same. Some Jews are open-hearted and loving. Some Palestinians are open-hearted and loving. Some Jews and some Palestinians are not kind.

We are first and foremost people. On top of that we’re nationalities and religions. The sad truth is that many loving Jews are completely flippant to Palestinians being slaughtered. Ten Jews die, that’s a tragedy. 100 Gazans die in a peaceful protest, for example, no biggie. Jews matter. So do Palestinians. Because we’re people. We all matter. Each person, no matter who they are or where they come from, also has a life: family, parents, and children… They all have people who care for them.

What I love so much about the people I’m surrounded by is sadly not at hand for people outside the tribe. Inclusion is a good thing unless or until it creates exclusion. Then I’d rather be a part of the whole than be included exclusively.

Jerusalem – Holy City in the Holy Land

Jerusalem is a special place, holy to people all around the world practicing various religions: the Temple Mount, the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre… These illustrious institutions tell me that all faiths can be respected. They are not mine. They are mine to honor. I don’t practice your religion. I can practice love which is a common language in all our religions. Most important are the binds that tie and keep us together as brothers and sisters. If there’s anything that Jerusalem can do, it is to be a symbol that I can love my neighbor who looks, speaks, and acts differently from me. May I love my neighbor as myself.

Jerusalem is not a blended city. It is much more a side-by-side, connected area where each of the many great religions have a place for prayer and worship. It feels like a puzzle where each piece connects to the others but they aren’t forming the same picture. As a Jew, I meet more Jews who come to give of themselves and their prayers at the Western Wall, the last remaining wall from David’s Old City.

 

At the Kotel, the Western Wall, I’m greeted as a brother, welcomed as a member of a Jewish family. I can pray at the Kotel but not even visit the other side. Going to the Temple Mount is for Muslims only at all times except special occasions. The third-holiest site in Islam, the Temple Mount, is where Mohammed is said to have ascended to heaven. The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount are literally next to one another. As if that’s not enough, a short walk away is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This church was built upon the two holiest sites in Christianity: the site where Jesus was crucified and his empty tomb where it is said that he was buried and then resurrected.

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I’m not giving a religion lesson as much as I want to show that there are highly important sites for Judaism, Islam, and Christianity in such close proximity to each other. The Western Wall is selected in red. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque at the Temple Mount are to its right and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is to its left and up, all inside the Old City. As close as they are, there’s very little feeling of “Howdy, neighbor. How ya doing?” At the Western Wall, I was welcomed as a member of the family coming back home, offered the tefillin, and told how great it is to have me. That same thing continues for each group in their own site. I found it strange and I don’t fully understand how I can be such a welcome person to some people I don’t know and pushed away by others who equally don’t know me.

It’s so wonderful to be scooped up into my family’s arms in Israel. It’s extra exciting for them because it’s a big deal for many Israeli Jews when additional Jews move here, even on a temporary basis, and when they marry Jewish. The reason why it’s a big deal to marry Jewish is two-fold: Jews want to increase the Jewish population and push the state’s Jewish population higher since it is a state run by a race majority. What that means is that if there are more Muslims than Jews in Israel, they could lose control of the government. So it’s a tight-knit Jew thing and it’s also political. This is not a political discussion.

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The tefillin are a set of small black boxes worn on the arm and forehead as instructed in the Torah and are worn during daily prayers. It’s not common practice from observant Jews as far as I’ve seen and many people wear hats in place of the tefillin. In Deuteronomy, it’s written that these are to be bound upon the arm and in between the eyes. Inside each small box is a scroll with writings from the Torah. The cool thing about being religious in Israel is that it’s not out of the ordinary or looked at weirdly here. Religious Jews praying with the use of the tefillin are far more accepted here, not to say in the state of Israel, but rather in this part of the world. On a side note, women can also wear the tefillin, but I’ve not seen any wearing it.

This past week, Israel commemorated its 70th year as a state and we were in Jerusalem with thousands of other people who made the trek for this occasion. Here I am with Lena, my Russian friend who is in the same Destination Israel program as I am.

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Lena and me

 

The entire Destination Israel group came to Jerusalem for a day. The picture below contains people coming from four different continents – North/South America, Africa, and Western Europe. Add Lena above and that becomes five continents!

While others came to Jerusalem as a day trip, both Rafaela and I decided to stay a few more days.

We spent a majority of our time walking around the Citadel at The Tower of David. Not to be mistaken as a tower for David built by the Jews, it was built in the early 5th century and given the name due to Byzantine Christians believing it to be the site of the Palace of David. The fact that there’s a crescent moon on top (Islamic figure) also proves that it’s not a Jewish tower.

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The Citadel has been preserved and fortunately I get to walk around like Indiana Jones minus having rolling boulders chasing me! No, he wasn’t here. I’m just a superhero.

Look on top of the tower. Very small there… See the crescent moon?

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While an architectural and historical marvel to me, the city’s fortified walls protected citizens from outside invaders.

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I wish this was an Escher piece and I went up/down the side of the walls.

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From the top of the Citadel looking out over the walls, you can see so much of the Old City including the Dome of the Rock with its beautiful golden peak glinting in the sun.

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Opposite the Old City is the New City. Jerusalem is not all religious wonders alone. It’s a bustling minor metropolis teeming with city life, happy hours, and some great dancing!

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We have a famous artist hailing from Tacoma, WA in our midst. The glass sculptures on the left are the works of Dale Chihuly!

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The regular stones are the size of bowling balls. I can only imagine those being hurled at the walls from ballistas by armies sieging the city…

I’m jumping a bit throughout the city here. In the Christian area, the city transforms from a Middle Eastern city to an Italian city. Via Dolorosa, The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

At the Kotel, men can go inside a tunnel where the wall continues. Including the kippah, I regularly see three types of head coverings. Whereas it’s normal for Orthodox Jews to wear the kippah all the time, many Jews only wear it in the Synagogue and at religious events. The second type of head covering is a black hat, mostly commonly a wide-brimmed black hat. The third head covering is a shtreimel, a circular, fur hat, seen above in the left photo. Both hats cover the kippah.

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Right at sundown on Friday night, the Kotel is alive with the sounds of prayer.

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The golden-domed Dome of the Rock.

People pack up shop and leave when the sun sets. It’s time to go home and have Shabbat dinner.

As you might imagine, there’s a Rothchild St. Here’s Abraham Lincoln St in Jerusalem! Also, when your AirBNB hosts have a Batman mask and the Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on vinyl, you do it!

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I crushed it.

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I love the French artwork that pays homage to any big nose. Bless you man with nose. Bless you woman who loves man and his nose.

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Goodnight Jerusalem!

Bless you Jerusalem. And I bless you. May you be at home in the world and love thy neighbor because it’s so great for everyone, all around. Have a wonderful day!

Nazareth

Nazareth, a city in northern Israel, is best known as the home of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It is also where the Annunciation of Mary by the angel Gabriel occurred. The Annunciation is written in several of the gospels as the moment and site(s) where Gabriel informed Mary that she is carrying the child of God. According to the Gospel of Luke, Gabriel arrived to Mary at her home. Another states that it occurred at “Mary’s Well”, an ordinary well situated next to the Greek Orthodox Church. Both sites contain so much culture and beauty, I want to share what I found; what I most love about both, starting with the Greek Orthodox Church.

Behold the beauty of the Greek Orthodox Church. What I like about this church is the solemnity. It carries the weight of duty, piety, tradition, ornate artistry, and worship of Jesus and Mary. Every single one of those words gives an accurate feel of the church itself. Stepping foot outside the front door is like exiting an entire other world – back into the city of Nazareth and outside the world of this church.

There’s one place that every visitor must go to – the Basilica of the Annunciation. This is the site where most agree that Gabriel visited Mary. As compared to the Greek church, the basilica is so much more relaxed and doesn’t carry the same weight.

Enter the church, head around the far side, and walk down the steps. Before you know it, you’re standing in front of the home where Jesus grew up. It was humbling and empowering. Special and not superior. It felt like it was a gift that I was in attendance giving it my presence. Truly benefic and awesome.

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You’re looking at the entrance to Mary’s home. There are two parts to this as I see it. One part is wondering what it would have been like to have been there 2000 years ago in everyday life. The other part is stepping foot near it today. This place is magnificient and I recommend to all, religious or not.

In the 6th century, the Byzantines built a church around Mary’s home. You can see the difference between the old unrefined stone and the more refined “new stone” and pillars. Some of the refined, smoother stone is built as a the new church and some was to provide additional support to prevent a collapse of the structure.

Built as a church, this was in use for about a millennium. As with most things in the world, ownership can change hands by force and the Byzantines did not rule forever. The Ottomans took hold and demolished the existing church for one of their own in 1730. That church stood for over 200 years when it was again demolished for a new structure in 1955, finished 1967. Today, we have a modern and elegant church that offers church services.

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Turn 180 degrees from Mary’s home and look up. The dome is still under construction and all the triangles and quadrilaterals will be filled in. To get a better look (I don’t have pictures here), head around to the spiral staircase which leads to the second floor. While I was sitting up there, a Korean group was present and they were having their own service up front. The second floor is filled with pews to sit and take a moment of silence. Beauty, honor, upliftment, joy… I love being in the church.

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Switching gears now, most people know Nazareth as a Christian city from the Bible. Nazareth is also the Arab capital of Israel with 70% of its 76,000 population inside Nazareth proper.

Did you know that there are 366 million Arabs in the world and 1.5 billion Muslims?

Did you also know that not all Arabs are Muslims? It’s estimated that there are about 1.5 million Christian Arabs. That’s definitely a minority but an important realization that Arab doesn’t equal Muslim and vice versa.

My point, other than the objective facts, is that I’m learning who people are and not what religion they are. One of the most special places I’ve been in a long time is the White Mosque. Dress modestly and enter for prayer. I attended the mid-day prayer. While I was unsure of what to expect, I walked in, removed my shoes, and sat down inside with everyone. As seen in the second picture, it’s very beautiful inside. Prayer last for about 30 minutes and nothing bad happened.

What I liked is that all the men inside greeted each other with hearty handshakes and hellos, a community that is VERY tight-knit. After service, my cousin Yana and I were treated by one of the mosque’s imams, Abu Anas, pictured below. He took us into the office and offered Arabic coffee. It’s like an espresso. Strong, but not overpowering. Bitter in a good way. He told me about the prophet Mohammed and the rise if Islam in Mecca. After twenty minutes, we parted ways, and Abu Anas told me that if I need anything, my point of contact is him and this mosque. Beyond that, I just have to mention that this was an experience of the warmest, most-welcoming community I’ve ever witnessed in my life. It’s a heart overwhelming experience and I wish it upon everyone. When I asked Abu Anas why he thinks it’s this way, his response was that many years ago when people traveled through the desert, meeting a person along the route could mean life or death for the traveler and so people learned to be very accommodating because that could be them in need of food, water, assistance in the very real future. It’s still in their blood today so they continue to have the warmth and hospitality that is nearly unmatched.

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I’ll leave you with a few images from the trip.

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Here’s one view of Nazareth from above. On the left, purple flowers. There is a wonderful amount of purple and green in Israel – so much!

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View of Nazareth from above

I spy with my little eye, a Microsoft store….

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The beautiful, little winding streets, going up to the high ground for a better view of the city.

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If you visit Israel, it’s worth taking a trip up to Nazareth. It’s a top choice destination to visit.

Now, I’d like to hear from you. Do you have an experience similar to or different from mine whether in Israel or another country? What surprised you most about a group of people or religion that you’re unfamiliar with?

Come one, come all. Seek refuge inside with us. You are our family and we are your brothers and sisters.

Hebrew is a Learning Sport

Shalom friends!

!חג פסח שמח

Chag Pesach Sameakh!

Happy Passover!

Pesach begins today and lasts for seven days. The story goes that back in 1300 BC, the Israelites were captives in Egypt where they lived as slaves. It is said that God inflicted ten plagues upon the ancient Egyptians until finally Pharaoh agreed to release the Jews. The tenth, and worst of the plagues, was the death of the Egyptian first borns. To protect their own, Jews were instructed to slaughter the spring lamb and use its blood to mark their doors so that the spirit of the Lord knew to pass over their homes.

This was more than Pharaoh could take so he finally released the Jews. Once the Jews learned of their right to leave, they left in such a hurry that they didn’t have enough time for the bread to leaven (rise) and so the tradition continues that Jews continue to eat unleavened bread – matzoh – to commemorate this holiday.

Pesach is one of the most celebrated holidays among Jews and the whole family gets together. I’m currently in Haifa, which is in northern Israel, with my aunt Inna. Soon we’ll be driving over to her son’s house where we’ll celebrate with his wife and daughters as well as the rest of the family.


Tel Aviv is an amazing city and I recommend everyone to visit. Tel Aviv is the size of Manhattan with a quarter of the population. That means that it’s very walkable and it has a lot of older, one-four story buildings and not skyscrapers. Infrastructure is a challenge with Tel Aviv having some of the worst traffic in the world. The light rail is coming here, breaking ground in 2019, and they will be a welcome addition to this city!

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(Crushing the walking  game!)


I think you’ll be surprised to find what a Jew looks like. Of course there are very Middle Eastern-looking people with large noses. However, that’s a minority of the people here. Imagine bringing together people from all over the world – Europe, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Africa, the United States – and putting them all together. Here I am with my classmates and Din (sound: Dean). From left to right are my classmates from: Brazil, the US (me), Poland, and Brazil. Missing from this picture is our classmate from Chile.

Many Jews in Israel may be only the 2nd or 3rd generation born in their countries. They look like a people of their country as I imagine them to be and not what I would have pictured as a Jew. Before and during WWII, there was a large emigration from European countries who spread all over the world, fleeing the Nazis. A portion of those people now live in Israel. That leads to an incredible amount of diversity among the Jews. I can’t speak to the diversity among the Arabs and Christians in this country.

That said, the big nose is largely a myth based on my observations. Yes, there are more big noses per capita but it’s not an overwhelmingly large percentage of people. We do have good-looking, large-nosed produce though!

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It’s very common for people who move here to go to an Ulpan – Hebrew language school. While my group got one week to learn, people who make Aliyah get much more. Sometimes people go for five months and sometimes two years. Aliyah is the Jewish Law of Return that allows Jews to attain citizenship within Israel. Their Ulpan is pretty intense – at least five months at five hours per day, five days per week. That’s a pretty insane amount of learning and I wonder how effective it is?

I watched an excellent video where a woman examines the most common traits and processes that polyglots use to learn a language. What surprised me is that while some polyglots pick up languages naturally and easily, others who speak 8+ languages didn’t actually learn their second language until after they turned 20. Furthermore, they struggled with learning it up to that point due to bad learning practices.

Since learning the Hebrew alphabet two weeks ago, I found a language app that allows me to move at a quick pace. After only 20 minutes of practice, I can hear the word, know exactly what it means, and write it. I can now write 20 new words at a very high level of competency without having to think how they’re spelled. The recommended 30-60 minutes of self-study per day is enough. Focused, quality learning time can bring dramatic results in short order and lead to speaking the language with others.

Ulpan for new residents is like drinking from a firehouse. After five months, many students still can’t speak it. I would speculate that it’s because they’re not learning to speak Hebrew. They’re being taught Hebrew. That’s an important distinction in learning. When I learn, I’m actively moving on it. When I am taught, I sit back, passive, and wait for the teacher to instruct me. Of course, one can be active in learning Hebrew at Ulpan. Still, I’ve learned that 30-60 minutes every day is sufficient with two-three hours being fully sufficient for those wanting to make rapid gains.

The last two mornings, I woke up and the first thoughts I had were a few words of Hebrew. I hear that eventually as you immerse yourself into a new language, it takes weeks/months to begin dreaming in that language. This is the first step, I suppose, and now my default is Hebrew even though I speak English 90% of the time.


In the U.S., we have “best of” awards in each city – best chiro, best dentists, etc. In Israel, there’s a best shop which can boast that they have the best product for ALL stores in ALL of Israel. There is only one for the entire country. Danny runs a family-owned store Meir in Yafo and he’s won that award ten times out of the last twelve years. That’s to say that he has the best cashews, almonds, pistachios, dates, and other local produce. It’s true. They’re the best almonds I have ever had! Best dates I’ve ever had! The difference between good and excellent is pretty astounding! Anyone who comes to visit me, we’ll go to Danny’s store.


Happy hours generally run until 11pm here as the nightlife starts late and runs later. On weekends, it’s more common to see people going home as late as 5am. At a restaurant we went for happy hour, we got 50% off drinks and 30% off food. That means that pitchers (shown below) are 26 shekels ($7.50) and great craft brews are closer to 31 shekels. Not everything is expensive. Beer and food, there are great deals around. Electronics, $$$.

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Speaking of electronics, some are here in abundance and others are not. Take a guess as to the most common kitchen appliance in Tel Aviv… The answer: hot water kettles! Did you guess that? Nearly every shop that carries appliances has about six different types/brands of water kettles.

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I want an Instant Pot and a juicer. Instant pots don’t exist here. If you want one, buy one from the UK, pay shipping to Israel, and pay 17% tax on top. That’s still cheaper than buying a substitute here that costs much more, even with all the added costs.

I’ve only seen juicers once so far. Expect to pay between $200-$700. It’s 2-3X US prices for the same thing. Electronics – bring them with you.


Lastly, people are weird. Some of us look normal and then some of us live by the maxim “Why be normal?”

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How do you say that in Hebrew?

שלום! .אני מארצות הברית

Shalom! Ani me Artzot Habrit. (Artzot Habrit can be translated to mean “Lands of the Covenant”)

“Hello! I’m from the United States.”

On Sunday, we begin our week of Ulpan – Hebrew language intensive classes. It’s of course not anywhere near enough to become fluent. The idea is to get to the point of being able to communicate with other Hebrew speakers and build a foundation to improve upon. We start Sunday which is the first workday. Israel works a Sunday-Thursday week, and funnily enough, I’ve seen a few TGIF shirts and not TGIT shirts… Go figure. That’s the spreading Western culture for you.

What I’ve learned about Hebrew is that words are written with their consonants and a few vowels and are spoken with all the vowels. For example, שלום is pronounced shalom. Hebrew is read from right to left. The first character in this word is shin – a letter that can sound either like sh or s. It is a consonant and sounds in this case like sha, which includes a vowel even though no vowel is written. The next letter is lamed which sounds like l. No vowel for you! >=) The third letter is vav, a vowel which generally sounds like o or oo. In this case, o. The final letter is mem which sounds like m. In the world shalom, it carries an m sound with no vowel attached. The word could have been pronounced sheeloom by the spelling but it’s shalom.

When kids start learning to read, they use “niqqud”, a system of dots that help determine vowels and consonants. Based on the number and positioning of the dots, the kids will know which vowel to use. Here are a few examples:

is the consonant + the ee sound.

is the consonant + the eh sound.

is the consonant + the eh sound also!

Some characters are used for two letters. ב is the letter bet and vet. Bet is the second letter of alefbet, the alphabet. Bet and vet are both written with the same letter. Sometimes bet can be written with a dot inside the house of the character to distinguish it from vet but generally that’s not done. This too will take time to learn which is which.

Speaking of the alphabet, Aleph is the first letter. Bet is the second letter. The alefbet… alphabet… a b… alpha beta!

As you probably know, March 24 marks my 32nd birthday! I’m grateful for all the wonderful messages from friends and family. It’s wonderful reading the happy birthdays! From my fellow Destination Israel participants, a bagel and a candle to celebrate 🙂 That’s how we do it with Israeli style!

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I’m very fortunate to have such wonderful people in the Destination Israel group. Among those are these two – Hanna from Brazil and Regina from Germany. Here we are enjoying the sun and the Mediterranean Sea.

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I’ve learned since starting the program that there are many, many Jews living in South America. Our program has more people from Brazil than from any other country! Argentina and Chile are also represented.

In a previous post, I mentioned how it can be harder to get things here than in the U.S. The U.S. offers many conveniences such as next day shipping on millions of products from Amazon. I miss that. In other areas, while I find Israel to be challenging in some ways, the Brazilians in our group find Israel to be so much easier than living back at their home! It’s all relative…

Because it can be tough to find exactly what you’re looking for, Israelis rely on a much stronger human network to get what they need. Because most Israelis LOVE to talk and are willing to strike up a conversation at any time, it’s easier to find things by asking around rather than by searching online. Israelis also pass along good deals so I hear that Israelis abroad oftentimes get special prices right off the bat because vendors find that one good deal will spread and drive in many more Israeli tourists to buy. So by the way, if anyone asks, you’re Israeli. 😉

Unlike my 9pm bedtime in Portland, I’m saying good night to you from Tel Aviv at 2am. Nightlife reigns supreme and that’s for a future post!

As always, if you’re not getting posts by email, click to subscribe on the right to get all the updates.

!לילה טוב

Laila tov!

“Good night!”

What it’s like living here (it’s not what I expected)

Shalom friends!

I’ve been in Tel Aviv now for 1 1/2 weeks and it’s been quite an adventure! In that time, I’ve learned that there’s a difference between vacationing for a week and moving somewhere permanently. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I love to visit New York but I wouldn’t live there!” then you know exactly what I mean. For people who’ve made a move like this, kudos to them!

As you might expect, everyone here speaks Hebrew. While I don’t speak it, nearly everyone also speaks English so if you don’t also speak Hebrew, everything will be ok! As they say here, “Sababa!” We use this Arabic word to mean “All good! :)”

Every new experience is automatically compared to what I know. From the time I moved until now, I’ve wondered how I can sum up Israel in in a few words for all of you, and it’s not easy. I find it considerably easier to sum up what it is to live in the US. Maybe that’s because I’ve lived there for so long or maybe it’s because the US isn’t as complex. Either way, I would call the US organized, consumerist, and convenient.

I love when cities are built on a grid system like NYC and Portland. In Portland, you can drive from 60th all the way to the water hardly having to move the steering wheel. In Tel Aviv, straight is more like a winding river and there will be many turns to get where you’re going.

At some intersections, before a red light turns green, it first flashes yellow, signaling it’s about to change. Drivers accelerate immediately on green and they rarely run red lights. Only occasionally during rush hour does a driver continue on after the light has turned red and blocks an intersection. People here are pretty great drivers. They’re focused and they follow the rules, except when they don’t. For example, on one of the main highways, there was a lot of traffic as it was 4pm on a weekday. So, one guy decides to head the wrong way down a one way street and find a detour. Well, that’s Israel.

Parking can be a bit rough so when there’s nothing available within a few blocks, sometimes people just park right on the sidewalk. And the cars are rarely ticketed…

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Beer break! If you need to take a break, buy a beer from the mini market. The open container laws are pretty lax. It’s legal which means that it’s ok to do and the only penalty is that a cop could take it away from you. As you can probably tell, “illegal” is pretty whatever here in Israel.

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One way in which America totally dominates Israel is shopping: both online and offline. Israelis don’t use Amazon, not yet anyway, and you generally have to buy things from a local store. If they don’t have it, and they often won’t, asking the clerk which store might have the item generally doesn’t help. I’m still looking for a few electronics and I’ve walked all over the city for them. I’m search for a 120V –> 220V power converter and an adapter for North American electronics. I found a universal adapter but no converters after visiting nearly a dozen different stores. Never take next day free shipping at Amazon for granted. Here, I want a few cables, a squatty potty. Where is it all? It’s just not available easily. Fortunately, people who live here can tell you where to go to find what you need – if it’s available. Mind your human networks as that’s the way to work here. There’s a very active local Facebook group called Secret Tel Aviv. Post anything you’re looking for and the group’s members will chime in to help point you in the right direction.

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(Cranes are everywhere. Redevelopment is fully underway.)

Shopping for food and goods, you walk to your local spot and pick up the few items you need. There’s limited parking and no huge parking lots for a Target or Trader Joe’s. Down any street, you’ll find a cell phone store, a lot of mini markets, a bank, stores selling other basic necessities, and some trendy boutique shops. This repeats block after block. I imagine that it was built this way because people used to live and work hyper-locally in their neighborhoods and didn’t need to go beyond their neighborhoods very often. However, there are surprisingly few synagogues throughout this (fairly secular) city so you do have to travel a longer way to get there.

The food is good. Last weekend I went with my cousin Yana to Abu Hassan. They serve a family hummus recipe that comes with a side of raw onions, pita, and a pickle/lemon juice mixture. Additional sides include fries, cucumber and tomato salad, and falafels. For the most part, food quality is pretty excellent. It’s more common to have a meal come with vegetables than fries.

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The line is like Sunday brunch in Portland!

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(My cousin Yana and me on our day in Yafo. It’s wonderful having relatives nearby to help you adjust to living in the city.)

Grocery stores as they’re thought of in the US are not available here. I’ve seen one large store in the city. Mini markets are generally enough. Some have meat departments, some have toilet paper and paper towels. For the most part, you get fresh produce and some packaged foods like you’ll find wandering down the aisles of a Trader Joe’s.

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(Avocados come in normal and large. This is large. These avocados stay soft and ripe for days.)

Contrary to what you may have heard, Israel is not expensive – except all the ways in which it is. Fresh produce costs the same as in the US. Oranges cost less and bananas cost more. A 6-pack of 1.5L water bottles is only 12 shekels ($3.50). Restaurant prices are in line with what you’ll pay in any major US city. Israel prices even includes a 17% sales tax!

Real estate is comparable with Seattle, which isn’t cheap. To clarify, it’s comparable for renting but not for buying. An apartment in Seattle may rent for $2,500 and sell for $500,000 but in Tel Aviv, it rents for $2,500 and sells for $1.5 million! Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that apartments will include a dryer, oven, or dishwasher.  Modern apartments have all luxuries standard but most apartments in the city are older. My apartment where I have a room is on a nice street with chic boutiques, awesome coffee shops, and a five minute walk to the beach. Expect to pay $700-1,000 for a room in a 2 or 3 bedroom apartment right in the city.

Wages are significantly lower, from what I’ve heard. Asking around about a few jobs, I’m finding that incomes could be as much as 30% lower than west coast US wages. Beyond universal healthcare (hoorah!), taxes still take a very large piece of your paycheck. Lower wages, higher taxes, same prices for food, and reasonably expensive rental real estate…

The last point of cost of living is cars. Imagine paying $18,000 for a new Toyota Corolla and now add a 50% import tax. Then pay $7/gallon for gas. Wowza..

Edit 3/21: I originally didn’t find any libraries from while all around the city and searched online with to no avail. A follow up search a few days later returned that there are in fact quite a few libraries! I don’t know how they didn’t show up the first time, but there are libraries after all!)

Tel Aviv is a dichotomy in that it is both first world and third world. There are more startups here than anywhere else on the planet except for Silicon Valley and yet finding basic items can be very difficult and super frustrating. That said, I’m loving it here so much. It’s a “wild west” of a place that just leaves me shrugging and saying pretty often, “Well, that’s Israel”.

I do want to assure everybody that it is for the most part very safe living in Israel, even more so in Tel Aviv. The general mood is people are relaxed and no one seems to be on guard. Even the IDF soldiers look more concerned with getting to where they’re going than monitoring their surroundings.

News about Israel paints a pretty grim picture but real life feels quite the opposite! The vibe is normal people doing normal things. Even in the culturally mixed areas where I see Jews to my left and a group of Arab women wearing hijabs to my right, no one looks at each other weirdly, no one is causing problems, and no one really even cares. People want to enjoy themselves, raise their kids, earn a living, and continue to live happily. People from all over the world and all religions for the most part co-exist peacefully – at least in Tel Aviv. I don’t want to discount that there are issues. The weird thing to me at this point is the ideas that we Americans have about this part of the world. Now that I’ve had a personal experience of how regular life is here, it’s rather silly to think how scared I was.

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(Cheesiness is global and Ariel + Mariana’s baby can wear this bib. Ariel also gets the dishwasher detergent bearing his name!)

In then end, it’s hard to compare the US and Israel. It’s easy to draw comparisons but it’s just not right. Israel is its own country, people, and customs. Am Israel chai!

And while staying in shields me from dealing with the outside world, I still need to go out sometimes, and for the roller coaster of emotions I experience by working in and acclimating to a whole new society, sometimes all I need is some good music recommended by my dear friend. Tonight, it’s St. Vincent’s album, MASSEDUCTION. 🙂

Thanks to everyone who messaged me since I made the move. I’ve enjoyed jumping in with both feet AND maintaining my relationships back home. Specifically, to the woman who loves me so dearly, my Sweet Angel Emily, I love you!

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May you all have the fortune to see the world as it is.

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(My love – the Mediterranean Sea!)

What is home but a place where I belong?

Anyone who knows me knows that I can talk a lot! Most recently, it’s all about my impending trip to Israel. For a year, I’ve been pretty obsessed with moving here and it’s really special seeing the reality match the dream. Walking up to my connector flight from bound for Tel Aviv, I saw the people and I felt like I had made it back home. My people, my home… I was already there.

A funny thing happened in the first few days of walking around town. I found a subordination of all preferences naturally. Difficulties are now stepping stones. All the “I like this” or “I don’t like that” are part of a sequence in the adventure. “I would prefer this” and “I would prefer that” are still there but cease to make a difference. Being on purpose here living in Israel, everything else becomes secondary.

I arrived two and a half weeks before the start of my program and because I opted for my own housing, I jumped on that. My program housing places 8 people in 4 bedrooms… It’s not that I don’t like being around people… It’s just that I’m a trained weapon and would not want to unleash flying armbars on my unsuspecting roommates who didn’t clean up after themselves! Therefore, I’ll be staying in one room in a 3 bedroom apartment.

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(I’m CouchSurfing in Jaffa right now and will be taking up residence for the next 5 months up north at Jabotinsky Street 24.)

Fun fact: If you visit Israel, you’ll find addresses listed as [Street Name] [Building Number]. Odd numbered buildings on one side, even numbered on the other. When sometime tells you they live at Jabotinsky 24, ask which apartment number or else you too could find yourself standing outside wondering and without WiFi…

The blue dot is my current location in Jaffa aka Yafo. Jaffa is the old city, as old as 7,500 BCE. It has been the site of one great civilization after another, and architects have uncovered eight different settlements below the surface spanning the last 3,800 years. In the turn of the 20th century as the Jewish population grew, the Jews built a northern city, cultivated from desert, which became Tel Aviv.

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(Jaffa’s famous clocktower. Built in 1906, one of seven built in Palestine under Ottoman rule, it served to modernize the country. Before then, locals used vague times such as dawn and dusk more than hours like 4:30 PM.)

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(Photos above are from the Hassan Bek Mosque. The vibe there is intense and distinctly Arab. I adore the art and would love to visit their countries to see more. If you plan to visit a mosque, don’t wear shorts. You will be asked nicely and firmly to leave.)

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(This is the view of Tel Aviv from the southern end of the city. Not much beach there and it gets crowded in the summer. The Mediterranean is spectacular! The water is divine -warm swimming temps in March!)

Jaffa has a larger Arab community than Tel Aviv. There are a number of mosques here and a much strong Arab representation in the area.

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I was surprised to find that while we are inundated in the US with news of the Arab-Israeli conflict and believe that that’s what daily life is like in Israel, this is simply not the case. With respect to the areas that do experience greater conflict, Tel Aviv-Yafo is rather sheltered from attacks, and it’s just as common to experience a nice day here as it is in most major cities in the US. In my first few days, I haven’t felt any anxiety walking on the streets. While there are more contentious areas such as East Jerusalem and the Israeli settlements as well as near Gaza and Syria, it feels more relaxed in Tel Aviv-Yafo than a typical American might expect.

That’s it for now. Tomorrow, I’m visiting a Hummusya, a restaurant devoted to hummus. Israelis LOOOOVE their hummus! I’ll do intense research and report back later!

Laila tov! Good night!