Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'll take "Uncertainty" for $500 thanks Alex...

Who ever knows if they're making the right decisions in life?

While going for a walk this evening along the tayelet (boardwalk) in Tel Aviv I was stopping along the way to take in the breathtaking view and take some photos too. I watched the sun set and tried to commit this to memory.

One of the best things about Tel Aviv beach in my opinion is you get to see the planes coming in. After seeing hundreds of planes come in you would think I'd be over it by now. You would be wrong. Something was different this time though.

Maybe it was the song on my iPod that made me particularly emotional, but as I was watching another plane fly towards Tel Aviv I found myself crying. I was overwhelmed by sadness at the thought of leaving this city and country that has been my home since I imposed myself on it eight months ago.

Am I making the right decision in leaving and going back to Australia? Pardon my French, but f*@#ed if I know. I do know that I miss Melbourne and all that Melbourne entails, but I guess only time will tell.

Israel has captured my heart in a way that, frankly, I didn't expect it to. There have been a few occasions where I've compared Israel to an abusive husband; no matter how hard it hits me, I still love it and go back to it. If I was Australia, I'd be pissed. Israel totally just cut its lunch.

So the countdown has started and before I know it, it'll be me flying out of Tel Aviv, leaving my abusive lover. But not for the last time...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Time flies eh?

My grandmother once told me that life is like a roll of toilet paper - the closer you get to the end the faster it goes. She's a wise lady. Today, after five months of living in Y.L Peretz street in south Tel Aviv - sometimes cosmopolitan, sometimes scummy - it has come time to move out and be on my merry way again.

Where on Earth did the last five months just go? It's the strangest sensation when you feel like time has gone by in the blink of an eye yet you feel like you've been somewhere an eternity. The program I was on is now over and I'm back to being a free agent in Israel. A little scary coming out of the safety bubble that a program provides, to be honest. But nothing I can't handle, and nothing I haven't done before.

There have been plenty of highs and my own fair share of lows, but that comes with the territory. Living with 15 (wait, 14...hang on, 13...12...err,, guys?) strangers was always going to be an experience. We used to joke that they should have been filming us Big Brother style and what a great sociological experiment we would have been. A few have already departed since the program officially ended three days ago, and as I sit here in my second room for the program staring at my ridiculous luggage situation that took me hours to pack, I wonder what comes next.

A crystal ball would come in handy right now but what's the fun in knowing what the future holds? I've become a bit of a fate-ist since I came to Israel, and without sounding like a crazy person, I think there is some satisfaction in knowing that everything happens for a reason. Except for some why did I slip down the stairs this morning? Massive bum bruise, take 2 (for those who don't know, take 1 happened at Camp CHI when I fell out of the top bunk in my sleep. Yeah, I know).

Anyway, something funny happened on the beach the other day. There I was, lying on Gordon Beach enjoying the sun, listening to my iPod, when the loudspeakers started crackling. I normally don't listen to the announcements, amusing as they are (Shimon, your mother has your lunch ready for you), but this one was different and I pulled out my earphones to listen better. From the loudspeakers was the sounds of the shofar (ram's horn). [Jewish New Year is coming up soon and every day in the lead up to the holiday you're meant to hear the shofar being blown.] And when it was finished the lifeguard said "Rosh Chodesh sameach le kulam" which translates to "Happy new month everybody".

It made me smile to myself as I realised what makes this country special. Only in Israel. For all my gripes and complaints about how this this country runs (or doesn't) there are so many things about it that make me smile. Although, there are still plenty of jaw-clenching, teeth-grinding, hair-pulling things about this place, trust me.

So here's to the next chapter, whatever it may bring. And to the Tel Aviv Spring Machzor for 2010, thanks for the memories.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

You know youre...

My darling younger brother and one of his best friends arrived in Israel about 2.5 weeks ago. I surprised him at the airport and everything. I got excited and shed a tear and we both remarked how I'm turning into our mother (but that's another story altogether).

I like to try and make my brother laugh so as soon as the three of us stepped out of Ben Gurion Airport I unwittingly started my list of "Welcome to Tel Aviv...". It's essentially in the same vein of "You know you're in [insert city name here] when..." but better of course.

So you can unbate your breath, here is my list of "Welcome to Tel Aviv..."

- ... where it's only 30 degrees but it'll feel like 40.

- ... where the airport has sheruts to Jerusalem and Haifa, but not Tel Aviv so the cab drivers can make more money.

- ... where the men have clearly never seen a girl riding a pink bike before and therefore stare.

- ... where all rules and laws are blatantly broken and disobeyed, except everyone will stop at a red pedestrian light.

- ... where you may have just taken a shower but you'll never know about it.

- ... where a box of cereal costs the same price as a pint.

- ... where nobody seems to go to work because the cafes are always full at all times of day.

- ... where any time is beach time :)

You could go on forever, would love to see if anyone has any contributions. Let me know!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Can't see the forest for the trees

It's been an excessively long time since my last blog post. If anyone has actually been waiting, I apologise. You see, I'm just coming out of a hefty dose of "boo Israel", and I didn't feel it was safe for me to write my blog when I was in such a negative state of mind regarding the country in which I'm currently residing and which this blog is centered around.

I'm good now.

For whatever reason(s), homesickness settled in. This only lasted a day or two, but the funk it left me in lingered like a bad smell (it is Tel Aviv after all - cat piss anyone?). Like any bad vibes, you get on with your day just fine. And out of nowhere, a wave of tsunami proportions crashes down on you, leaving you in a not-quite-foul mood, but not entirely pleasant either, leaving you wondering why you suddenly feel like kicking every stray cat (don't worry, I never kicked any stray cats).

It's perfectly natural for the rose-tinted glasses to come off at some point. I just feel like mine got taken off and then stomped on, then one of Tel Aviv's thousands of dogs came by and defecated on them. But like they say, "this too shall pass". And indeed it is passing. I'm not quite there yet. I'm still standing on the platform, waiting patiently (how un-Israeli of me) to get back on the Israel-love train. To be fair, my grievances are more directed towards Tel Aviv, but Israel as a country has some explaining to do, too.

Slowly, slowly, I'm starting to re-appreciate this place. I still get a little thrill out of being mistaken for an Israeli (talk about a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome, I kid, I kid). I've started watching the sunsets again, and remind myself how lucky I am to have this opportunity, to live in this most craziest of crazy cities. Yesterday, when I came to the entrance to a bar, the security guard turned to me and I expected him to ask for my ID or to see what's in my bag. None of that. He turns to me and asks in Hebrew "eich omrim 'chetzi' b'anglit" (which translates to "how do you say 'half' in English?). I think it was the same security guard who a few weeks earlier looked at my ID and shook his head. When I asked him what the problem was he said very seriously (in Hebrew but will put in English for simplicity), "This isn't you. You're much prettier now!" And then his face broke into a big cheeky smile. FYI, this guard was easily in his 60s.

It's these experiences that turn my heart from stone to hummous. Az yihiye beseder (so it'll be alright); I've got my ticket and I'm ready to get back on board.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I think I'm turning Tel Avivi, I really think so...

That was to the tune of "I'm turning Japanese" in case you missed it.

With a little over three months left of my impromptu time here in Israel, I think I've crossed the barrier in terms of turning Tel Avivi. No that's not a typo, residents of Tel Aviv are called Tel Avivis. And I'll try refrain from saying Tel Aviv again for the next few sentences.

Just before I went to the UK I purchased a gorgeous, second-hand-but-almost-brand-new, Trek beach cruiser bicycle. I christened her Sandy for the following reasons; she's pink (metallic magenta to be specific), retro-looking and ridden by an Australian living in the very beachy city of Tel Aviv (oops, sorry). For those who don't get the logic, let me spell it out for you. Pink like the Pink Ladies, retro like Grease, Aussie like Olivia Newton John and finally, where there's a beach there has to got it - sand. Et voila, Sandy.

Considering I hadn't really ridden a bike since my early teen years, this was bound to be a challenge. But I'd decided to get a bike and fully throw myself into proper Tel Aviv lifestyle. You see, along with cats, dogs, dog poo and cafes, this city is full of bicycles. It's the easiest way to get from A to B and you don't have to worry about parking (but you do need to watch out for bike thieves).

So when the opportunity presented itself to get Sandy at a better-than-bargain price, I couldn't turn back. After a few test laps around the park next to the seller's home and a few reassuring words from Doug on my program, I handed over the cash and became the proud owner of this beautiful specimen of machinery.

Riding her home was...hmm...interesting. It took me about an hour to ride the 6km route home. Lots of wobbles, lots of near-misses, lots of dirty looks and "tsks", and lots of jumping on and off when the path was deemed too narrow, or the kerb too high. Never mind the very literal pain I had in my behind once I finally made it back to the apartment. I was hot, sweaty and exhausted but I had done it. I'm not ashamed to admit I was also fairly proud of myself.

Nearly a month has passed and I ride Sandy to work and back almost daily. My confidence is building every day and I can negotiate tight spaces and pesky pedestrians like a pro. Well, most of the time - I haven't crashed into anyone or anything yet. I constantly get stopped on the street by people wanting to know where I bought her. They lavish her with compliments: "
!איזה אופניים יפה" which means "what a beautiful bike!" To which I smile and say "תודה" - thank you.

I've also developed a knack for giving drivers a lot of attitude when they fail to stop properly at crossings. Nothing bad, just a healthy amount of Israeli chutzpah ;) I could almost pass for an Israeli. Until I open my mouth, that is.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Courage Under Fire

I'm long overdue for a blog update and while I was going to write about our group's wonderful 3-day tiyul to the south of Israel that happened a couple of weeks ago, it seemed more pressing that I talk about the issues Israel is facing at the moment.

Israel is no stranger to bad press and controversy. Everyone and their dog has an opinion (good or bad, and often misinformed) about the Jewish State. And this is fine, I don't have a problem with people having opinions that are different to mine, unless, like in this scenario, their opinions have been formed on anti-Israel reporting, propaganda and years of ignorance.

When the newspapers hit the stands early on Tuesday after the disaster that was Monday morning, the headlines screamed "Bloodshed on the High Seas". I was sitting on the train on my way to Brighton and saw the front page of The Guardian with an equally dramatic headline and asked the passenger opposite me if I could have a look. After reading the front page I passed it back to him and clearly looked shocked, but not for the reasons he thought because he said to me, "yeah, it's pretty bad huh?"

I've gone from being sad to frustrated to plain old mad with the way the Gaza flotilla incident has been reported across the world. First we hear it's 19 people killed, then 15, then 10. I believe the final number is nine now? The world is told how Israel "stormed the flotilla" without being given the surrounding circumstances leading up to the soldiers coming on board. In the race to have their articles out first, the truth and all the facts got lost along the way. People read one article, from early on in the piece, and think they're experts on the matter.

I've had several discussions with people I've encountered here in England about the topic, and they just don't have all the information because they read just one paper, or one source, rather than trying to get the whole picture. No one wants to give Israel a chance, and all the Israel-haters start to crawl out of the woodwork again because they feel they can freely criticise Israel at these times without reproach. Because why should they get in trouble when the reporters and politicians don't get reprimanded for their uninformed accusations?

This is nothing new for Israel, or for the Zionist/pro-Israel Jews out there who have been fighting the bad publicity battle in the Diaspora. So the struggle continues. The best thing to do is to arm yourself with knowledge and facts. Don't fight back with mud-slinging or get too emotional. As my dad once told me, knowledge is power, and the most effective way to combat the nay-sayers is to throw facts at them, because they can't argue with fact. The truth will come out eventually and the world will open its eyes and see what we've been seeing all along.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 like hummous?

Forgive the randomness of the title, it's very late here but I felt compelled to blog now.

Life continues in its odd, counter-intuitive, Israeli way here in Tel Aviv and I've again had many reminders of how small the world really is. For example, I met an Israeli by chance through an Aussie guy who's living here for now, and he met this Israeli guy totally randomly in Jerusalem at Machane Yehuda. So this guy is telling me he was getting advice from friends and cousins about where to go when he finishes army and how they all say he has to go to Australia, and how his 1st cousin went to Australia and he's been living there for 4 years now because he met a girl and they're getting married next month. I said, "oh that's nice, are they getting married in Israel?" And he says that they are, so then I asked "what's your cousin's name?" and he says Amit. "Amit *****?" I ask...and he stops dead in his tracks and looks at me like I'm crazy and says "yes?! how did you know?" and I tell him that the Aussie girl Amit is marrying is an old friend of mine who I've known since we were 5 and I'll be at the wedding too! The world is shrinking daily in this little country.

We went on a siyur (excursion) a couple of weeks ago to the Ayalon Institute and the Palmach Museum. The Ayalon Institute was the site where all of Israel's ammunition from the Independence War was manufactured clandestinely under the guise of a working kibbutz, where even the people who lived and worked there had no idea what was going on beneath them.

After the Ayalon Institute we went to visit the Palmach Museum where we learned about the underground Hagana (defence) in its early stages prior to Israel's establishment in 1948. I feel like every time I go to another site or museum I add another piece to the puzzle that is Israel's history. I am getting a more complete and rounded understanding of what makes this country tick and the mentality of the people who fought and continue to fight for its existence.

Last week, instead of going on a siyur, a few of us opted in to go to the MASA Conference in Jerusalem called "The Next Step". It was intended to show MASA participants what comes next after their programs in Israel - whether they decide to stay on, make aliyah (immigrate) or return to their home countries. I don't think they really achieved that but it was an interesting day regardless as we got to see Natan Sharansky being interviewed by a well-known Israeli TV journalist, and also we got to see...BIBI!

Yes, the one and only Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu - Israel's Prime Minister. The line to get through security to get into the theatre to see him took a ridiculous 45 minutes, but he was worth the wait. It was very propaganda-ish, telling the packed theatre that we (the program participants) "are home - welcome home!" to raucous cheers and applause. He was certainly charismatic though. Now I've seen the President and Prime Minister of Israel. Checking off my list as I go along my merry way.

And this week our group had a tiyul (hike) in the North at Mt Meron which has a stunning view and is not far from the Lebanese border.

Once the hike was finished and we'd had lunch we got back on the bus to visit Netua, to see the moshav where Ricky (our program coordinator) grew up to help her brother collect the eggs from his chicken coop. Surprisingly fun, but also stinky.

Getting on the bus again we drove to Rosh Hanikra. Now I've been dying to see this place for ages and it lived up to expectations. It's breathtaking and leaves you in awe of how brilliant nature is. Will definitely have to get back up there to spend some more time in this amazing place.

That's it, all up to date now with our siyurim and tiyulim. Next week we have an overnight tiyul in the South and a trip to Eilat (yay!) and we're all pumped for that. Oh, ve od chag (and another festival), Shavuot is next week too, so chag sameach everyone.

Until next time, lehitra'ot.