The Final Leg of the Journey

I am the unofficial family historian.  As such, I have tasked myself with gathering and preserving my family’s stories.  We are a Jewish family, so that means a story filled with persecution and migration.  The Jewish family has been a transient people for centuries, but now we don’t need to be.

My grandma Adele’s ancestors migrated from Plonsk to Ostrow Mazowiecka, Poland in the 1830’s and from there to the four corners of the Earth in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries.  Around the same time, my grandma Evelyn’s family moved from Grojec to Radom, Poland, though most of those relative’s descendants perished in the Holocaust 100 years later.  My grandpa Fred’s ancestors were driven out of Warsaw, ending up in Lodz, Poland, likely as a result of the 1881 Warsaw Pogrom.

Today I am an Israeli citizen.  I am a citizen of the Jewish state.  I wake up each morning and I am amazed that I live in a country with a Jewish majority, a Jewish government, and a Jewish military protecting me, one that I will be joining on April 26th.  Even though I was born in the fourth decade of the Jewish state’s existence, I am still amazed that we actually have a state to call our own.

After two millennia of wandering (we even have a plant named after our situation!) we have finally come home.  In this case, I define home as a place of safety.  It may sound ridiculous that a Middle Eastern country that has been fighting wars with its neighbors since day one (before, even) can be considered safe, but it is a special type of safety that comes from being a Jew here.  2,000 years later, here I am, surrounded be Jews speaking Hebrew and celebrating their birthdays according to the ancient Hebrew calendar.  It is an amazing feeling that I can not properly describe in a blog post.  Come visit and feel it for yourself.

Tzav Rishon – January 5, 2015

Tzav Rishon is the our first real encounter with the Israeli Military and its associated bureaucracy.  Tzav comes from the same root as the word Mitzvah (commandment) and Rishon is first, so this our first orders, but that doesn’t actually explain it.

This past Monday (January 5th) we woke up at 5:30 so we could be at the army offices by 8:30 (moving 16 people and three staff members less than 23 miles apparently takes three hours).  We started out with a urine test and routine physical (fascinating, right?).  I somehow managed to score the highest health profile number (97), while other more physically fit people scored lower because of things like high glasses prescriptions or asthma.

We then moved on to the interview, which was really just the army collecting information about us and our families.  Included in this interview was a small Hebrew test, which nobody, including the fluent Hebrew speakers were able to complete.  Multiple people told us that even Israelis have difficulties with that test because the words are so advanced.  That was quite unpleasant until I learned that the other 15 people in my group nearly failed as well.

After the interview we were ushered, along with the Israeli high schoolers who were going through the same process, to the Psychotechnical Exam, similar to an IQ test.  Friends of mine who went through this last year made me very nervous because they said there was a math section and two other very difficult sections that could be any type of questions.  We all ended up finishing the test in under 30 minutes (it should take 45 minutes) because there were only two sections all involving completing a pattern of various shapes.  It was a total joke, but I’m not complaining!

The last part of the day was another interview, which we think was just meant to confirm our identities and our familial backgrounds.  It’s entirely possible that I misinformed my interviewer about my sister’s ages.  Oops!

As soon as each of us finished we were free to go, so long as we were back on the kibbutz by 11:30 that evening.  Me and my friends finished at around 3:30 at which point we made our way to Jerusalem for the rest of the day.  We made sure to go to the Western Wall, because what trip to Jerusalem would be complete without seeing it?

The three friends I was with met up with four other members of our Garin (the army program that I am on, designed for non-Israelis) at the bus station in Jerusalem and we all made our way back to the kibbutz.  When I returned I didn’t go back to my room immediately which was a good thing because there was a birthday surprise waiting for me!  My room was filled with friends, balloons, a happy birthday banner, and “23” spelled out in my favorite Israeli confection, Krembo.

The Western Wall at Night

(I decided to put all the balloons on the wall to keep them from popping and getting in my way)



A New Kibbutznik

Wow.  I can’t believe I have only been on my kibbutz for two weeks!  I feel like so much has happened, but at the same time so little.

The kibbutz is something unique to Israel.  The Jewish Virtual Library does a good job of providing an overview of kibbutzim (plural) and the similar moshavim.  Check out this article to learn more.

For the first week and a half we had a lot of free time because our Hebrew lessons hadn’t started yet.  This past Sunday we had our first Hebrew lesson (Ulpan).  at least for the first few weeks I’ll be learning some basic grammar that I seem to have missed in elementary school.  I never got a good handle on these basic concepts yet kept advancing in Hebrew levels throughout my twelve years of Jewish education.  We have Ulpan in the morning from 8:15am to 12:15 when we break for lunch.  My Ulpan is only three people so we have a lot of flexibility in terms of what we learn and how quickly we progress.  We have 20 minute breaks two or three times during Ulpan every morning, usually when the three students start getting rowdy.

I’m obsessed with the food on kibbutz.  Breakfasts are somewhat spartan, but delicious and satisfying at the same time.  Cheeses, vegetables, olives, and pickles are available every morning along with a rotation of various fruits.  Some mornings there are eggs, others have a savory noodle kugel (with eggs inside for protein so don’t worry, mom).  Today we had a treat because they put out avocado!  I made a great open faced sandwich of toast with a delicious buttery cheese spread on it, then avocado, then cabbage on top.  So good!

In Israel, lunch is the big meal of the day.  We have lunch at 12:30 and I literally look forward to it while I’m eating breakfast.  There is soup everyday, so I’m always a happy camper.  They also serve different meat and fish dishes, two or three starches, and different vegetables.

Dinner can be either meat or dairy, depending on what the kitchen people decide that day.  Most of the families eat dinner at their homes instead of in the dining hall.  In the back of the dining hall there are rooms with staples that families can come and take from as they need so they can cook in their own private homes either during the week or for shabbat.  Most families have shabbat lunch in their own homes.  There is also a small store in the basement of the dining hall.  Because the store makes no profit, everything is wholesale prices.  It is kinda like a drug store without the medicine.

If I have one complaint about the food situation it would be the lack of desserts.  I usually like something small and sweet after a savory meal, but this kibbutz doesn’t put anything out.  Luckily the kibbutz store has plenty of goodies for me!

My First Days as an Israeli

I landed in Israel at 6:45am (Israel time) Thursday morning. I then spent about three hours in the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s office at Ben Gurion Airport. I now have a temporary Israeli passport and I’m waiting on my national ID card and health insurance card.
I then took my free taxi to the kibbutz that I will be living on, though we don’t start there until Wednesday the 24th. The taxi driver I had (Arik) was so nice to me!  He made sure I went to the right building on the kibbutz, he used his phone to call the lady in charge of us while we live on the kibbutz and he waited with me to make sure I was all set. He then refused to accept a tip from me!  I only went to the kibbutz to drop my bags off and then I continued on to Jerusalem with a backpack instead of three 50 pound suitcases and two carryons.  There were a few Americans still living on the kibbutz from the summer group from my program (Garin Tzabar) and one of them met me and showed me how to get to the bus to Jerusalem. The kibbutz has a long driveway and then there’s still a walk to the highway where the bus stop is, so she told me to look for cars with the kibbutz sticker and flag one down to get a free ride (a tremp) to the bus. The first person to stop was Arik, my taxi driver!  He was just then leaving the kibbutz because he was picking up a watch for his dad’s birthday. Oh yeah, my kibbutz makes watches AND pickles!
I took the bus to Jerusalem and met up with my friend from Birmingham who went to Michigan State with me. Natalie had me over at her apartment in Jerusalem and it was such a nice place!  We went to the phone store (my number is 058-661-2227) and then to the Western Wall. I could still navigate my way around Jerusalem’s Old City like I had just been there yesterday. It felt great.
Here’s the first of many “Only in Israel” stories.
After the Old City I remembered that I hadn’t lit candles for the second night of Channukah yet, even though it was less then two hours from the start of the third night (remember Jewish holidays start in the evening). I knew that there would be people walking around giving out candles and Chanukiyot, so I just walked around until I found some. I then went in to a convenience store and told the owner that I had to light for the second night and I asked if I could light it there and just leave it for him. He said of course because he had also forgotten to light!  He called over an old man from the street smoking a cigarette and I lit Channukah candles in a corner store with Natalie, the store owner and an old man. I then told him that I had just made Aliyah (moved to Israel) that morning and he gave Natalie and me free sufganiyot (jelly donuts)!  He was so happy!!
Natalie and I went out to a nice dinner and I basically fell asleep at the table. I knew I should stay awake until at least 9:00, so we walked around for an hour. I went to bed at 9:30 and was asleep by 9:45. I slept for ten and a half hours!!  It was fantastic.
This morning we went to the open air market (the shuk), which is one of the only places where big crowds don’t give me anxiety. This is where the middle eastern aspect of Israel really shows. It’s dozens and dozens of people in small alleys yelling and pushing each other. Vendors are yelling out prices and trying to coax you into buying a fish or a box of strawberries. It is especially crazy on Friday afternoon just before Shabbat because everyone is trying to get their last minute purchases in before sundown.
I am now at a friend’s apartment. They are hosting me for Shabbat in southwest Jerusalem.