Thursday, November 29, 2012

May 1st

If you remember the story of how I was supposed to enlist for a year but then the army "messed up" and gave me two then here is a new and exciting twist...

I requested to shorten my army service and get release on May 1st instead of July 21st so that I could make it home for my little sister's prom and graduation and also have time to work this summer before studying next fall. Apparently as the army was looking over my request for shortening my service they realized that I was only supposed to serve for a year and I was 3 months past my release date of July 20th, 2012. Because of this they wanted to give me a release date immediately, and made it for the following day.  To be notified and released in one day was clearly non-realistic so (this was on November 11th) they decided to set my release date for November 20th.

I sat down for a meeting with my commander who asked me what I want to do. Even if I had said that I wanted to take the release date in a week and a half he would never have let me anyway, but at least he asked, haha. He told me to think about it and request a new release date.  He did not hesitate to tell me that if he had his preference I would be his soldier until the end of his service, but I told him that May 1st still sounded just fine to me.

During Operation Pillar of Defense November 20th came around and I found myself opening an email, signing a form in "Paint" on the computer, and emailing it back saying that I accept my release date to be May 1st, 2013.

Tricky thing that IDF is, but in the end I'd say I came out on top of this one. They would only give me a year, then they pulled me along for two, I tried to get out earlier, they tried to get me out sooner, and I managed to stay in longer. Talk about tough love...

Operation Pillar of Defense

I'm sure all of you (my approximately four friends/family members who read this) have been anxiously awaiting an update regarding the recent Operation Pillar of Defense, here goes nothing..

I'm not going to make this a forum for any political stance for or against, if you're interested in this you can message/email me and I will send you my sister's email updates that she sent throughout the operation with facts and figures and true stories.

It all started on a regular old Wednesday, November 14th. I left my base to go to a base in Tel Aviv for a lesson on driving safety and drinking, before going home for the weekend. I reunited with some old friends from my course and caught up with my newlywed friend during the afternoon. We chatted and looked at pictures from here wedding, and of course read the news that Israel had assassinated the head of the military wing of Hamas, Ahmed Jaabari (Chief of Staff, if Hamas was a legit military). I then met up with my boyfriend (who happened to be doing a temporary job in the army in Tel Aviv for a few weeks) and we got on the bus back to Jerusalem at about 6pm. After having read some not-so-settling news about things heating up in the south after the assassination I told him how hard it was to be home knowing that the rest of my friends are on base down in the south dealing with the escalation. I spoke too soon, I guess one would say, as I received a call at 6:30 from my officer telling me I have to be at the Southern Command base the next morning as early as possible.

My sister, boyfriend, and I shared some dinner, desserts, and drinks as a bit of a "going away" evening, since I had already been gone for 10 days and I was sure I'd be gone for at least another 10 (this meant a very quick laundry session for my uniforms, socks, and undies).

Operation Pillar of Defense was already in full force and there were countless rockets falling on southern Israel. I had a very scary car ride when I left the other base for my own with my commander later that evening. I'm used to sometimes being "under rocket attack" and having 15 seconds to run to shelter, but I know my surrounding well and I know the routine like the back of my hand, so when I was in the car with my commander and I heard a siren in a city that is over 40km from Gaza I didn't know what to do. I knew I had about one minute and thirty seconds to run for cover but...where is cover? I followed the lead of my commander and ran out of the car to the side of the road where we lied on the ground and covered our heads. I watched as the Iron Dome shot down rocket after rocket out of the sky. It looked a bit like fireworks, and the technology is so amazing you can't help but get excited while watching, still believing you are in some sort of a movie. Back in the car and on the road again we were stopped twice more by sirens before we got out of the city and back to our base.

The next day I moved to another base, as our forces were split up a bit to be more effective in the extreme circumstances. I stayed at this other base for the rest of the week, working and sleeping in a place that is protected from rockets. I saw and experienced a lot during the week but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was in a movie. I had that I'm-living-through-history-but-I-know-I-won't-understand-until-I-look-at-it-retrospectively kind of feeling. I worried about the civilians in the areas, and I was nervous for my friends, the soldiers on the border with Gaza, constantly waiting to find out if there would be a ground operation or not. One of those soldiers, by the way, was my boyfriend who got called back Friday night to go to the south to join the operation. I had an idea of where he was and was nervous every time I heard that rockets were fired to that area. The fear was intensified during the days when his phone was taken away and I couldn't call to check up with him. It was hard not being able to talk about things on the phone, but it's not worth risking harm to anyone by giving away information over the phone.

The specifics I can't talk about, but I have one, general, resounding feeling from this operation that I haven't felt in the past year. I have spent a year now in the south of Israel, every so often under rocket attack. I know that civilians in the area live a very difficult life and I can't imagine raising my kids in that type of environment. Whatever the reason is for each and every one of them to stay doesn't matter, the reality is that they, civilians, live under constant, intermittent, rocket fire from a terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip. I find it tough, sometimes, coming back to Jerusalem after a week of rockets and realizing that no one even knew what was going on 1.5 hrs south of them. It's been the same old story for many years and it certainly doesn't make headline news anymore. I always felt bad, like I was "escaping" to my home away from the situation. This time I think the feeling in the south was that finally, enough was enough and the government was willing to take the risk of retaliation. One couldn't help but feel like this time, people cared. This time it didn't only make every headline of every local newspaper but also internationally, for good or for bad. It took a week long operation, many, many, many rockets (even to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem), an unfortunate few casualties, many injuries, and immeasurable property damage, but this time the whole country stood together to defend those under rocket fire.

Whether Operation Pillar of Defense accomplished its goal or not is not up to me to decide, I guess we will see in the coming months the results. Let's hope for the ceasefire to hold as long as possible, and for the citizens of the south, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Be'er Sheva, and also Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the rest of the country to go back to leading a normal and safe life.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

L'Shana Madhima

To an amazing year.

The Jewish New Year has just passed and I have had quite the interesting few weeks worth of thoughts so I will sum up the end of 5772, last year, and start off with a bit of 5773, the new year, in this post.

While I was in the states I passed my one year mark in the IDF. It came and went as any other day, barely mentioned and overshadowed by my birthday which was two days prior. I didn't expect anything different, and I almost forgot myself that I was passing the momentous occasion. When I enlisted I planned on enlisting for a year, and only after 13 months did I begin to realize how important it was that I chose to stay in for longer. I had a few epiphanies after passing my year mark, that I am certain that every other Israeli soldier has had by month two of their service, if not by day two. I will try to explain. I chose to enlist, making serving in the army my choice, something I wanted to do, free will. Well, oddly enough it took me 13 months and a few days to have my first "ahah" moment where I realized that it wasn't a choice anymore, it was something I had to d whether or not I wanted to, and it had been that way since the day I enlisted. This thought came about as I was talking to my boyfriend on the phone one evening from a base I was visiting for the week. He is also in the army and sometimes I get frustrated that I can't see him as often as I'd like to. During this pre-bedtime conversation I was feeling particularly sad that I hadn't seen him for a week and a half and I was only going to get to see him for two days before we parted ways again for another two weeks. I thought to myself..."well what if I don't want to go back after the weekend...what if I just don't go back" my more realistic self answered my rhetorical question "you have to lauren, you have no choice." Funny how that works, I have had "no choice" (I could, essentially, 'choose' jail over going back..) for a year, yet it took this long for me to realize that someone else had control over me, that I had, no, choice. If I had been release after a year, I, personally, would never have had this annoying yet very important milestone in my soldier career. It is, after all, part of the 'giving back' and doing something that is 'not just for me'.

After a short few weeks of my army relationship being on the rocks, however, I had another few epiphanies that have since turned things around. (here is the part where we go in to the new year feeling   a refreshed and excited new energy)
At a ceremony on base something made me turn to one of the girls I serve with and ask her if she moved to Israel or just came to do the army. I knew I had asked before but I couldn't remember the answer. "I moved here" she answered. To which I replied with another question, "so you mean you're intending to stay here after your service?" "Yup, that's the plan" she boldly replied, with a small sense of hidden nervousness. Somehow this short, very typical, exchange opened my eyes. It was as if I was looking at myself in a mirror. I found myself thinking...look at this girl, 20 years old, moved to Israel after high school to join the army and is planning on living here for the rest of her life, what ever brought her to this point, what a crazy yet special life path, you go girl! Then it dawned on many times had people asked me these same questions, how many times had I thought about the answers (and thought about not thinking about the answers as well, because sometimes I feel like its just too much to think about and I need to take things as they come, I can't plan out my whole life yet, I'm 24!) People often tell me how proud they are of me for what I did, how much they admire me, how bold and adventurous and how important it is, how grateful they are for people like us, those that chose to move to Israel, etc, etc. I, of course, thank them and respond with something simple like "thank you" because I don't know what to say. I don't look at it as they do, I don't think it's that brave or bold, crazy or admirable, to me it's quite normal...normal is partially defined as what we ourself do anyway, isn't it? To me it's the only "mid 20's" life I've ever know, and ever will know. Talking to my friend however, finally gave me an insight into the other is a pretty amazing thing that we're doing, and I need to get back to remembering that. At the end of the ceremony the "Hatikvah" was sung, the Israeli national anthem, and just as always happens when I'm on uniform listening to the anthem, tears ran down my face. I felt overwhelmed with the beauty of where I was standing, with whom I was surrounded, what I was doing, the words I was hearing (and understanding!!), the language I was speaking, and the life I was living. How could I have taken this all for granted? I thought. Of course I wanted to go back to the army after my weekends at home, who wouldn't want to put on that uniform and have the opportunity to do that job. Who wouldn't want to live the life they had never in a million years pictured for themselves but couldn't be happier to be living it right now. I never even imagined that there was a place in the world with so many Jews and now I was a part of the military defending those people, and that place.

I'm bringing this positive energy and renewed insight back to my job and coming back with a fresh outlook. I will gladly serve for another year, I just got caught up in the wrong type of thinking for a few weeks.

L'shanah tovah, to a good year, may 5773 be another great year filled with peace, adventure, growth, health, love, laughter, and inspiration for all of us, no matter where in the world we find ourselves this year :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Where to Belong

When I first got back here (US) I had a lot of small "culture shock" type things. it's really weird to come back to your own culture and then all of a sudden feel out of the place where you grew up. That's a hard concept to comprehend, I can't wrap my head around what it feels like entirely. When friends talk about specific things that I don't know about/wasn't here for/couldn't care less about (if you know me you know that is mostly everything that is pop culture), when lifestyle choices don't necessarily match up or, I dont know, they don't understand anything that I do in Israel, even when they attentively listen and ask questions...that's hard. At first I was missing Israel a lot and felt out of place here, wanting to go back. That's changed a bit over the weeks and I feel much more "at home" here, which means it will be a bit harder to go back. It's easy to get used to the luxury here...getting in the car and driving wherever to get whatever done, I'm familiar with the places and how things work and I can very easily get to the doctor, eye doctor, dentist, and hairdresser in one afternoon. That would be like my most productive day ever in Israel I think. If I need one grocery or household item I just hop in the car and drive a few minutes to target or the grocery store and have no problem finding whatever I need, in 100 varieties, and 100 different brands, on the same shelf. For some reason it doesn't seem that easy to me in Israel (even though I live a very short 3 minute walk to the center of I guess it is?) There is Whole Foods here, Target, Forever 21, Marylou's, TJ Maxx, all the fun stores I have missed. I have even stopped wanting to throw a rock at the TV when my mom watches "Dance Mom's"...okay, no, I still hate those dumb reality shows. 

I don't want to go back to the army. I know that will change once I get there but I just see how easy life is here (obviously, I'm on a MONTH long vacation!) and just can't muster up the desire to go back to someone telling me what to do and where to be basically 24 hours a day. I will admit though, I still feel proud when I think about putting on my uniform and it has been killing me to read about all the trouble with Egypt lately and to not be there.

Mom's new home feels like home, which is cool and something I didn't expect. I guess what they say is true, then...home is where your mom is.  I feel like I havent spent enough time with friends since I've been here...or I guess I just thought I would have spent more time with friends. Ironically, when you have a month you don't feel as much urgency as a week so it's kind of easier to let the days pass and not get in everything you wanted to do...weirdly enough. I saw most of my friends at least once, if not more, which is good, spent a good amount of time with family, visited Grammy and Bubba a few times, and managed to stock up on the essentials to bring back to Israel. 

Overall, I have to say, I feel like right now I am exactly where I should be in in Israel and visiting the US. Even though it's not easy to feel so torn sometimes (all the time), it's comforting to feel that despite that, I'm in the right place. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

On Leave

I flew to the states on July 9th for my once a service-year 30-day leave from the army. I didn't get my flight tickets until a few days before the flight so that was a bit nerve-wracking! Mom picked me up from the airport, which is always the best feeling, I came home to her new house, got the tour, took a shower and hopped in the car for a camping/kayaking trip up in Maine at Sacco River with friends. The weekend was a ton of fun! The following weekend was my birthday so I had some celebrations with Mommy and Dani and then my friends from home and BC friends and Boston. My third weekend I went to New Jersey for the annual Wildwood Beach Ultimate Frisbee Tournament with (almost) all of my frisbee friends from all of my years of college. We were something ridiculous like 90 people in almost every room at the motel, with an extra person in each room, and 5 or more teams in the frisbee tournament. Wildwood is always a ton of fun and this year was no different, it was sooo good to see all of my friends from those that graduated when I was a freshman or sophomore to those that were freshmen or sophomores when I graduated! Last Thursday night Mom, Al (who arrived in the States when I was in NJ), Dani and I went to the Red Sox game in Boston and then Friday morning we went to Martha's Vineyard for the weekend. For the past maybe 6 years we've been going to the Vineyard for a week, weekend, or some combination of days over the summer or Columbus Day weekend. Usually we rent a house but this year we stayed with Allie's friend's family in Oak Bluffs, Martha's Vineyard. What a perfect weekend spent at the beach, riding bikes, kayaking, jumping off the bridge, lounging around the house, running a surprise 5k, eating Mexican food at Sharky's and delicious ice cream at Mad Martha's and, of course, riding on the "Flying Horses" carousel, the oldest continuously running carousel in the US (and yes, I stole a ring, for those of you that understand the Dispatch reference). During the weeks I've kept myself busy visiting friends, going into Boston, going to the gym, getting errands done, watching the Olympics, and most importantly, spending time with my family. This is my last week here and I'm started to get a little nervous about leaving, I'll write a post tomorrow about my "emotions" regarding the trip.

P.S. Friday we are meeting Penelope's family in Boston for a few hours before I catch my flight! Penelope is the little girl that I donated bone marrow/stem cells to back in December/January 2010/11. Of course I'll write about that after it happens as well.

More to come tomorrow!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

World's Most Amazing Opportunity

I have written before about the absolutely unbelievable, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I was given in December 2010 of donating my stem cells for a recipient who was a random match.

A few weeks ago I finally was able to fill out a form with my contact information for the family of the patient to reach me, if they so desire.

This morning I received the most amazing email I have and will ever receive in my entire life. The mother of the little girl I donated to contacted me! Penelope was 3 when I donated and she is now happy and healthy and about to turn 5 on Friday! If this isn't the most amazing thing one could ever be a part of in their life I just don't know what it. I'll keep you all posted about how my relationship with the family unfolds, I hope to meet them while I'm in the states!

I can't wait until then send pictures, you all know how I am with kids.

And the best part is, Penelope's mom described her as mischievous and strong willed. Is that not EXACTLY how one would describe me?? Especially when I was 5. Simply amazing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

rolling with the punches..

Man, it's been a crazy month.

There has been a bit of escalation here lately on both of the borders, Egypt an Gaza, but...knock on wood...things seem to be cooling off. I had a very short weekend last weekend as I was called back early and now I am going to be staying on base this weekend (my regular weekend) and the next (supposed to be my weekend off) because of a lack of people.  The up side is that afterward I will...knock on flying to the states!! Don't get too excited as nothing is ever certain with the army until I am legitimately on the plane, but if all goes according to plan I'm requesting them to get me a ticket from July 12th to August 10th. Let's cross our fingers they approve me for the army-purchased ticket, which I'm supposed to receive once during my service, cause that's the only thing that will make this trip a reality.

biggest news update: I can call cell phones/land lines in the states unlimited and for FREE from my cell phone now! I switched to the best cell phone plan possible, and I can't wait to start calling you all and catching up!!!

I'll try to post more updates soon, I just haven't been home in weeks and won't really be for the next few weeks. Bare with me, it's the unpredictable life as a soldier...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Meat and Potatoes

Yesterday I ate steak for the first time in (I'm guessing) 15 or so years! I actually don't have any recollection of eating steak but I know I HAVE eaten it at least once growing up at home. I don't have any photo documentation but I did have 3 bites. It actually didn't taste bad, I can even say I marginally enjoyed the taste, but the texture and the idea are still too much for me. It won't be a regular occurrence, but I'm glad I did it.

That's all, I thought it was blog worthy...

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Mini Photo Recap

Al and Mom at Brioche, an adorable restaurant in Nahariya that Al and I frequented last year.

Segway tour on the Jerusalem Haas Promenade!

pretending to be tough getting my new rank, Corporal, from my officer and commander

Israeli Independence Day cookout on base! B'te avon!

Taking a break from work to play on the longest foot bridge in Israel.

Mom and Al on our mini hike at Evan Sappir in Jerusalem

I Think These People Are Crazy...

A few weeks ago I finally finished my 5ish months of job training! A bit of a recap for those who are confused, when I enlisted I had basic training for just under a month, afterward I had my foreign relations course for a month and a half, then I arrived at my base at the beginning of December and I have been in different levels of job training ever since.  I passed my last tests and simulations two weeks ago, which means I am now a responsible for shifts in the ops room, or a 'shift leader' I suppose one could call it. Sometimes I am the only one on shift and sometimes I am with one or two others who are still training, so I am responsible for what they do or what happens during the shift.  It’s great when everything is going well, an easy day or a slow shift, but it is a lot of responsibility if something (knock on wood) goes wrong.

Over 10 months ago I enlisted to the army and had no idea how I would finish basic training with the lack of Hebrew language skills I possessed. Just about 7 months ago I started my course and did not see much hope in ever passing the tests and finishing, again because of the difficulty with the language and the extreme amount of information they were throwing at us in such a short period of time. My first two tests I got a 44 and 48, when passing was an 80. It seemed impossible but, to my surprise, by the end of the 6 weeks I received an 80 and an 84 and finished with a final score of 90 something. When I received my job assignment I honestly thought that was it. I thought, "I know I've passed these two major training periods which I didn't think I could pass but this JOB is so out of my REACH! Are they CRAZY?! They think I can sit in the Ops room/war room and take care of border security, dealing with our forces and the Egyptians, and try my best to avoid some war breaking out on the border? I don't even speak this language!" And I was right, I certainly didn't have the language skills. I've done many things in my life where I thought, "Well, this is going to be really hard, but of course I'll succeed if I just try hard enough." For the first time in my life, when I enlisted in the IDF I legitimately started thinking, "This is ACTUALLY impossible." How the heck am I supposed to manage to learn and master material if I don't understand the language they're giving me the information in. How can I receive reports and pass them on to my commanders and the Egyptians then back again to our forces if I don't know how to say 70% of the words I need.

Who would have thought, you know, when you're given responsibility and simply expected to succeed,  sometimes you actually Whether it means learning 50 new vocabulary words a day, every day, or spending every spare second learning everything I could about my job, working 17/18 hour days and refraining from speaking a word of English for two weeks straight on base just to learn Hebrew as fast as possible...I did, and am, actually doing it. The first few months were, I can confidently say, some of the hardest few months I could have ever imagined. I ended too many days in tears because I was so mentally exhausted and upset with my lack of progress (yea, I know, it doesn't happen over night). I saw where I needed to get to and I was not sure I could get there. Looking back now at how many things I didn't know when I got to my base, and how much more I can do now, with confidence, it's actually amazing.

I have learned an unbelievable amount about myself and my limits in the past 10 months. It is not something I am unaware of, growing up playing sports (special shout out to track), running a marathon and multiple half's, I am acutely aware of my (lack of) physical limits, but this was totally different. No class in college and not even working in social work (although I would say those 6 months in that job were a very, very, very, close second) can compare to what I have experienced, and learned.

I still have so far to go, but who would have known that I could not only finish my training but also take on the responsibility of other new soldiers. Oh, and I cant forget the million reports and documents, (60 slide powerpoints, for example) that we have to do weekly or monthly that were "impossible" for me at the beginning and now I can complete with little assistance.

There is no such thing as impossible, even the word itself says "I'm Possible." So true.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Remembering to Celebrate: Memorial Day to Independence Day

I’ve written before about the powerful and emotional 48 hours in Israel from the start of Memorial Day until the end of Independence Day.  This year I was even luckier to experience the days, and the transition, in the army.  For Memorial Day I attended two ceremonies, one on our Foreign Relations base near Tel Aviv and one on my base.  During both ceremonies it was very meaningful for me to be standing in my uniform while listening to the prayers or stories of past wars or fallen heroes. There are few things more powerful than the one minute long sirens that sound at sundown when Memorial Day begins and at 10am the next morning. The whole country stops to remember and reflect no matter where they are; driving on the highway, on a bus, at work, eating, or anywhere else, in unison everyone stops and stands for a moment of silence while the sound of the siren is heard throughout every part of the country. 

Memorial Day in Israel is much more…close, than in the US, at least for me. More than a few of the guys in my high school graduated and went on to armed services in the US military of some sort, a neighbor, friends of my sister, the number of people I know is not few, including my grandfather who spent his entire career in the US Navy, but I was, and am not close enough with any of these people to understand their experience and to feel the impact, unfortunately.  In Israel military service is mandatory, and therefore many people have been involved in (too) many wars, which have been fought over the land here, even if you only count starting at the Independence War in 1948.  To say that everyone had a story, a family member, a friend, or a friend of the family that has fallen in battle or been affected by terror attacks is unfortunately not an understatement. Knowing this, you can only imagine the type of emotions that arise on Israeli Memorial Day.

As I mentioned, Memorial Day begins at sundown and ends at sundown the next day, leading directly into Independence Day. 64 years and counting! Israel had come so incredibly far in 64 years, but one cannot ignore how far the country still has to go. There is room for improvement in many aspects of life here including but not limited to bureaucracy, the education system, the religious vs democratic conundrum, and extremely low job salaries. One cannot forget all of the achievement though; the second best military in the world, including an incredible air force, the highest number of start-ups per capita world-wide, world renowned inventions in agriculture and high-tech, as well as many more. And have you seen the size of this place on a map? You might have missed it, it’s about the size of New Jersey, a little narrower and longer, population something around 7 million. What a country to be proud of!

I chose to spend this Independence Day in the army, even though I could have gone home for the celebrations. It was more meaningful to me this year to skip the crazy partying and celebrate with my friends and commanders on base. We had an amazing barbeque, played games, and took a time out to reflect on what being Israeli and/or Zionistic means to us. I enjoyed that this time the focus wasn’t on what being Jewish means to us but instead Israeli, remembering that not all Israeli’s are Jewish, and appreciating that. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mommy Meets Our Life

On the last day of Passover Dani shipped off for her Eurotrip (Italy, France, Spain!) and Mom packed up and headed to our favorite Middle Eastern democratic state.

I, like the typical frustrating middle-child that I am, was busy hiking and picnicing Friday afternoon and cut my trip a little too close, arriving home 2 minutes after mom got to our house...way to drop the ball on that one, Lau.  Apparently the first thing she said to Al was, "Where's Lauren," oops. Anyway, all was forgotten quickly and we began our week long Spivack girls adventure.

Friday night we had dinner at my friend Daniel's family's house. Daniel's family is interesting, mom from France, dad from Argentina, kids born in Israel, then throw us, the Americans, in the mix, and you get one big international relations meeting :). Daniel's mom speaks to the kids in French, the rest of us don't understand, dad speaks in Hebrew but in Spanish with his mom, Abuela, and brother. Abuela doesn't know English so I speak to her in Hebrew, and the kids or mom don't know Spanish either. Rachel, the other "grandmother" (not actually related) also speaks Hebrew and understands a bit but doesn't speak English. My mom speaks English, Allie and I translated some Hebrew for her, I pick up some of the Spanish (score!) and Daniel's dad and mom sometimes speak English with me sometimes Hebrew. Gadi was also there who speaks Hebrew, English, and Spanish...he's going pretty well. Got it? No? It's okay, everyone was confused at some point. Anyway, it was a beautiful dinner, Still kosher for Passover so not the typical dishes but still very yummy, and I'm glad mom got to meet one of my adopted families here.  It's actually the second time mom's met Daniel's parents, the first one was when we coincidentally got on the same shuttle taxi as them from the airport in 2010, small world! Saturday for lunch we went to the family that Allie and I have babysat for over the past few years. Ruti, Yonaton, and the three boys have been a big part of our lives and, even though mom and Ruti felt like they already knew each other, it was great for them to finally meet in person! They encourage speaking English in their house so the boys will learn (Ruti's American, moved here 25 years ago or so) so there wasn't much language barrier there.  Saturday night we went to a bar in the market in Jerusalem and met up with a friend of mine for some bread and beer! Yay for the end of Passover!

Sunday morning we rented a car and headed up north to Shorashim to stay with our adopted family, the Morse's.  Last time Mom was in Israel we stayed in Shorashim for a few nights so this wasn't the first visit. We went on a winery tour at Binyamina and then spent some time in Zichron Yaakov before returning back to Shorashim for some good ol' home made burgers (and turkey burgers for those of us that are non beef eaters, score). Monday we went to Nahariya where Allie (and I) lived last year.  We visited Allie's old work and then took a long walk along the boardwalk before stopping for a beautiful lunch at a cute restaurant in the woods-ish. On the way back to Shorashim we did some brief shopping and picked up sushi and Ben and Jerry's for dinner.

Tuesday-Tel Aviv. When we arrived we met up with our friend Yachiel (and Adam, turns out) at the French Cafe they work at for coffee and pastries. Next we went to the market and artists fair for some shopping around before spending and hour or so on the beach. We decided to have Mom's belated birthday dinner in a beautiful neighborhood in Tel Aviv called Neve Tzedek. We went to the cutest restaurant and sat in the middle in a garden/bar area with an open roof, so it was as if we were outside as well. After dinner we met up with Eli and her parents for a bit of dessert, another adopted family of mine here!

Wednesday we got up for run #2 in Gan Sacher then rewarded ourselves with the best hummus in (west) Jerusalem, Ben Sira. We had delicious freshly made hummus with mushrooms, my favorite, hot pita, falafel balls, and veggies. I have spent many a Friday afternoon at Ben Sira with friends and it was great to show mom our favorite spot. Oh, and beer is the cheapest there, of course we had some. We did some other things I forgot and then in the evening mom and I went to the "wine guy" up the street from our house while Allie spent the time setting up her new Iphone. The wine guy is this Russian cafe/cigar/specialty/wine shop that opened up less than a year ago near the center of town. Al and I walked by one day and noticed that the sign said 10 shekel glass of wine, obviously we had to give it a try. He happened to be closing for the day the first time we went in and offered to give us the wine in a to-go coffee style cup, with a lid. Perfect, we thought, we're on our way to the center anyway. He proceeded to fill up the 12 oz cups basically to the top and give them to us for 10 shekel, or $2.50 ish each. He won our hearts and we've been going back for "to-go" cups of delicious Israeli wine since, preferably in the afternoons on the way to the center of town. This time mom and I decided to sit in the cafe and began reading all of the New Yorker editions next to our table.  Mom decided she's getting a subscription, it's a great magazine. We stopped by the market to pick up the most delicious rugelleh dessert ever made and came home.

Thursday we woke up early and headed south to my base.  Wednesday night/Thursday was Holocaust Remembrance Day which made for a special visit. At 11:00am on Holocaust Remembrance Day there is a siren throughout the whole country for two minutes. Everyone, everywhere, stops what they're doing and stands for the duration of the siren, in remembrance and memorial. This includes people driving on the highway, buses, everyone. It also happens twice on Memorial Day, these are some of the most powerful moments to be in Israel, and especially on an army base. After the siren there was a little ceremony on base. One of the girls I serve with is the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor and her grandmother came to base to tell her story. We had the privilege of listening to her speak and Allie translated for mom by writing in English as she was speaking (impressive!) Afterward mom and Allie met my commanders and friends over coffee and cookies and then I gave them a tour of my base. On the way back to Jerusalem we did a little hike at Evan Sappir.  Mom wanted to kill me at the beginning because I clearly underestimated the steep downhill at the start of the path but then the beautiful remainder of the hike made up for it. Later that night we went out for dinner in Jerusalem center and then had some classy drinks at the fancy American hotel. We met up with Al's friends at a bar for some more drinks on the way back home then called it a night.

Friday morning we did a Segway tour! I spent the 6 months I was living at Ulpan laughing at all of the people who did Segway tours but MAN was I WRONG! It was so much fun and I want to buy a Segway now, seriously. The tour was on the Jerusalem Haas Promenade and we heard great stories of the history of Jerusalem and the current situation while riding around on the Segways. Seriously, those machines are so smart, and fun, you should try it. Friday night we went to my sister's friend Tehilla's for our last lovely Shabbat dinner together before Mom got picked up for the airport at 4 in the morning.

What a beautiful week it was. We did a ton of the touristy things last time mom (and Dani and I) visited so this time we did a lot more visiting with friends and family and actually meeting our real life here. I'm so glad mom got to meet so many of our friends and families here, and get a better picture of our lives here. I got a little frustrated with the language barrier sometimes, because I am so acutely aware when someone doesn't understand the conversation in a social setting and it really bothers me (obviously because that once was, and sometimes still is, me). Although Al and I can explain everything to mom sometimes it's still a little awkward, and it's upsetting a bit too to think that even when she is physically a part of my, or our, lives, there are times when she cannot understand because of the language. This is something I was aware of before but until it's in your face you don't have any reason to deal with how it makes you feel. I felt similar when I went back to the states for a week and wasn't speaking Hebrew, a part of my life that I am so used to at this point just doesn't fit together with my friends, family, and life in the States. Universal language anyone? Nah, that wouldn't be any fun...

I'm SO lucky mom got to come visit, can't wait to see her again when I go back this summer (hopefully VERY soon!) and we missed you D, but we're glad you had a blast in Europe!

Isn't Passover About Leaving Egypt?

Last month I had my third Passover in Israel, and I have yet to have one in Jerusalem! In case you are not Jewish, which I'm assuming probably 95% of the 5 people that read this are not...during the Passover meal called the "seder" we say, every year, "next year in Jerusalem." It kind of makes you want to fulfill that statement, no matter where in the world you are celebrating. Well, there is always next year. As for this year...

I spent almost the entire holiday of the exodus of Egypt on base, ironically close to Egypt.  Already a few days before the holiday started the dining hall was cleaned from top to bottom, immaculately, in order to ensure that there is no possibility that something that contains leavened bread, or ingredients that are not kosher for passover, would remain. This means, however, that  few days before the holiday we were already eating only kosher for passover foods--no leavened bread, nothing that contains wheat, gluten, all those good things. Some Jews also forbid the eating of legumes (takes out beans, rice, many nuts, etc) and if some Jews forbid it that means the army forbids it. Not only did the kitchen staff have to clean, though, the entire base had to partake in the biggest spring cleaning session you have ever seen, ourselves very much included. I found myself ending night shifts at 8am by moving closets, drawers, and tables to clean behind them, every inch of anywhere we were going to be during the week of Passover had to be meticulously cleaned, in order to make sure it is all kosher for passover.

Although of course this was a little tedious and annoying at times, I was torn between how amazing it was at the same time. I, half Jewish, converted, raised in an overwhelmingly catholic world, used to be the only kid in school (except my sister) who brought matza sandwiches for lunch during Passover...and boy did people make funny comments. Now I'm serving in a military where it is commanded for every single base in the entire military, to be kosher for passover. How crazy is that? Who would have thought a place like this existed back in the "lame kid with matza sandwiches and no good candy/chocolate on Easter" days.

The seder meal was pretty fun on base, the Rabbi was hilarious, keeping us entertained through the long reading of the Hagada (the book you read before the meal every year about the story of the exodus from Egypt). He played games and gave out prizes to correct answers, even though the commander's families and kids got most of the answers right because they're all religious and the majority of soldiers on base aren't...embarrassing. Anyway, the two most adorable 3 year olds sang "the four questions" which is always sung by the youngest at the meal. It's funny that I could probably only master singing that part of the story at about age...8? 10? and I still had no idea what I was singing, since it's in Hebrew of course.  I hit my peak of Hebrew learning in preschool actually, since I went to a Jewish preschool, and I'm sure I could sing it then...and then promptly forgot.

We finally made it around to the meal at some point, which was overwhelmingly disappointing, unfortunately. Besides the fact that I'm a goofy, I guess you could say picky eater (exacerbated in the army) the food just wasn't very good. A preview to the week to come of potatoes, potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, hashbrown potatoes, potatoes soaked in oil, french fries, potatoes, and probably more potatoes. Oh, and if you wanted the vegetarian option, which I often eat since I hardly manage to eat chicken (red meat-never manage) in the army, then you probably were eating some combination guessed it...potatoes! Did I mention I don't eat potatoes? especially in the army? Needless to say, it was a long week. One night we had sweet potatoes! That was amazing, I was very happy. I managed to make it through the week without eating matza either, now that I think about it...I have no idea what I ate. Lots of rice cakes, and one day we made rice noodle stir-fry.

With two days left of Passover it was time to leave base for the weekend.  Allie made a delicious, kosher for passover, filling and satisfying meal at home, man was I excited! Quinoa salad (best kosher for passover find ever), chicken, vegetable salad, and kosher for Passover wine! The next day Mommy was arriving!!!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

To-Post List

I know I've been terribly MIA lately but it's 3:15 AM and I have to be up at 8am to go back to base in the morning (Thankfully it's a late start, I usually get up at 6 to go back!)

In the mean time, here is my to-post list for the next weekend I'm home:

  • Celebrating Passover on base
  • Mom's visit
  • Memorial Day and Independence Day
  • Finishing training
  • Tentative projected summer/fall plans
  • other things I've forgotten I want to write about and will remember when I start writing

Check back in two weeks for at least one maybe all of these posts :).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Live, Love, LAUGH

The last post was a little serious and potentially nerve-wracking for those of you who are not familiar with the situation here, so I just wanted to make sure I noted how much fun I've been having on base lately.  I manage t find myself laughing so hard I either fall over in my chair, fall or have to sit on the ground, or desperately feel like I have to pee my pants.  All of the above circumstances usually coming with tightened and sore ab muscles. Laughing is such a great tool for happiness...I'm not talking smiling or being happy, but pee-you-pants laughter, and I have been getting plenty of it.  We end up singing or dancing or doing something else weird at least once day, usually toward the 12/1am hour, and I love it.

We just got new girls and they're all great, the only bummer is they changed the majority and now more people speak English I think than Hebrew. This isn't good for me A. because I need to learn Hebrew and B. because all the work is in Hebrew.  I still speak as much as I can and they speak Hebrew with me, which I suppose is the best I can do.

Happy St. Patrick's Day! And my mommy is coming in less a month, YAY!


Last weekend the IDF targeted a terrorist in Gaza, the head of the Palestinian Resistance Committee, while he was planning another attack on Israel.  After the killing came the Palestinian response, a barrage of rockets on the citizens of southern Israel.  The IDF didn't sit back and watch it's citizens living in fear, they attacked back, targeting a total of something like 20 terrorists in the Gaza Strip.  In response over 300 rockets were fired into Israel over 3-4 days.  There was a ceasefire later in the week but rockets continue to fall, thankfully at a much lower rate.  The Israeli Air Force has also struck back after the ceasefire I'm not sure how many times, I think two or three.  That being said, and even though it doesn't make sense, there is still a "ceasefire" so that's at least better than the situation last weekend.

Because of my job I got to be pretty much in the middle of it.  Of course I only really had to deal with things that were relevant to relations with Egypt which came about every so often over the week, including the fact that they brokered the ceasefire, woo-hoo!  I got to know a lot more information though, because of my location, which was awesome and made me feel kind of important.  It's neat to know about things before anyone else, and to know things that other people can't know, and then to see what gets published in the news and what the public finds out about what's going on.  The not as cool part would have to be hearing rockets falling all day and night for a week.  Now a little bit about that...and I apologize in advance if it is a bit order-less, since I'm still processing the whole week in my head and it is still order-less to me...

Backing up a bit...there were 24 hours between the time when we received information regarding a very probable terror attack that was about to happen and when we received information that the IDF was going to try and stop the attack before it could take place.  Those 24 hours, and especially the few hours between when we found out the IDF's plans and when they took place, had a very eerie calm-before-the-storm feel.  It's hard to explain but we were just slowly getting ready, preparing for repercussions that we knew would come after the IDF took the initiative to defend Israel.  We received many talks from our commander about what to do in case of an emergency or a "code red" siren, who would take over what jobs in the ops room, taking down the helmets and vests that we might have to wear, etc.  We were sitting and waiting (not really, we were busy but in a weird, calm, way) for the inevitable attacks to come. 

Thankfully we only had "code red" sirens twice, telling us that a rocket was headed for our location.  Both times they landed a few hundreds meters in either direction and thankfully not on us.  A code red siren means we have 15 seconds to get to shelter before the rocket falls.  The first code red was when I was sleeping, stupidly without pants on.  It was very confusing waking up to the alert, which isn't very loud, waking up the other girl in my room and then putting on my pants while running to the shelter.  From now on I will always sleep with pants on, I learned my lesson.  Anyway, I left my base one day to do something with my commander and the roads were completely empty.  It was a beautiful 75 degree sunny day without a cloud in the sky and no one was outside, it was such a creepy feeling.  Everyone in the area was told to remain within 15 seconds of a shelter at all times because of the heavy rocket fire.  

During the course of the weekend we laughed and joked a lot, played around with our vests and helmets, danced, sang, and had a very typical Shabbat on base.  The booms heard in the distance were a constant reminder of the situation, but even being so close to the action didn't bring our spirits down.  I think you have to do this in order not to go crazy.  Now I have never been in Ashdod, Ashkelon, Be'er Sheva, Sderot, or any of the other places that are barraged with either bigger, more powerful rockets or smaller rockets at a rate of way-too-many per hour, so I cannot say I would act the same in that situation.  Something tells me, though, that when you're faced with a situation like that you have to try your hardest to keep your mind off of it in order to remain in any way sane.  That's exactly what we did, and it worked perfectly.  Now that I've been home for a few days and have been taken out of the situation I have been thinking about what's behind the rocket firing, and how angry it makes me that the situation is the way it is here.  I'm not going to get into anything because I don't have the energy but damnit why can't people just live together without trying to kill each other, UGH! Is that really so much to ask...

Sunday, March 4, 2012


13 hour layovers are my new favorite thing.  It's like a free way to explore a new city every time I fly! I can't wait to book my flights depending on the location of the layovers, now :)
Amsterdam Centraal
Layover Tour Location # 1: Amsterdam
Line to Anne Frank House
I looked up a few things to do in the city before I left the States and planned to visit a few different museums and touristy spots around the city. After figuring out how to get out of the airport (and yes, I had to ask someone how to "get out of here") I took the train to the central station.  I followed the directions I wrote down prior and took the tram to the Anne Frank House.  Thankfully I arrived at 9:15, 15 minutes after opening time, because when I finished the tour at 10:15 or so there was already a long line outside, and I heard it's basically always like that, all day.  The museum/house was amazing, it took me a little bit to get into it but once you walk up one of those narrow, steep staircases you begin to feel a bit what it must have been like to be cooped up in that attic, unable to leave or even see the sunlight for fear of being noticed and sent away.  Honestly the thing I loved most was how many different people were in the house with me, from all over the world, learning about Anne Frank and her story.  Parents teaching their kids about this important piece of history comforted me and made me feel like people care.  Sometimes it's really hard to remember that not the whole world is against you, or hates you, when you live in Israel.
Across from the Anne Frank House
I realized that the Anne Frank House was only two stops on the tram so I decided to walk back to the central train station and get a map in order to spend the rest of my day touring the city by foot.  My next stop was the Van Gogh museum, which happened to be pretty close to the Anne Frank Museum and I did a great deal of backtracking walking back to the central train station, oops. Anyway, it was a great, fairly typical, (for someone who knows next to nothing about art) museum.  Glad I saw it, not much more to note there.  From the Van Gogh museum I decided not to go to the diamond museum because I don't really care about diamonds and I'd rather not support the cause of collecting/producing diamonds which has a bit of a sticky, not-very-humanitarian background to it.  I also opted out of visiting the Rijks Museum because I wasn't much in the art-museum mood and it looked HUGE...but beautiful. Next time, maybe.  Instead I opted for the Heineken Brewery, great choice.

Red Light District
On the way back to the central train station I stopped at a local coffeeshop for a nice cup of coffee. Yes, I actually only had a cup of coffee.  I opted for the outside seating so as not to be overwhelmed with the goings on inside of the coffeeshop, and thankfully I didn't even have to think twice about what I would be ordering since I am a soldier girl now and that makes even certain legal drugs off-limits for me. I thoroughly enjoyed my coffee and book in the warm winter sun.  Kind of by accident my next tourist stop was the Red Light District.
It was on the way back to the train station so hell, why not take a peek.  It was 3 or 4 in the afternoon and I wasn't expecting to see much but boy was I wrong.  I chuckled a little thinking that the girls looked like porcelain dolls in boxes as they were standing in the windows. I like to imagine that all they do is just stand in the windows all the time, that made me feel more comfortable and not sad. The point was to say I saw it, and I did.

I proceeded to make my way back to the airport, bought a Starbucks Coffee, and slept for an hour or so before I could check into my flight back home to Israel.

Things to note about Amsterdam:
There are a ton of bicycles and not a lot of cars. The cars that do drive around with the tram don't beep their horns and it makes for a mysteriously but lovely quiet city. I think there are 40% more bicycles than the amount of citizens or something like that.

There are port-a-potty type things in the middle of the sidewalks for men to pee in. It's kind of weird but better than them peeing on the side of the road I suppose.
A lot of people speak a lot of languages. Or because I don't understand Dutch I thought it was 5 different languages not one, that could also be the case.
There are an unusual amount of falafel shops, guess they're in high demand.

The buildings are flat in the front. Sometimes so flat that they actually lean forward into the street, it's a little bit scary.
The flower market has more fake flowers than real ones, but they're still pretty.

That's all for now, stay tuned for my next layover adventure...

Spontaneous Home Visit

In the past year I've bought two plane tickets, one to Italy and one to Boston.  Both vacations were for about a week and both tickets were bought a week before I flew.  I think I should keep up with this trend of spontaneity...

I flew home to Boston for a week this past month and boy what a great week it was!  I managed to fit a many things in, see a lot of friends, and spend quality time with Momma and D.  Here are some highlights (or just the most of trip in bullet point):

-Seeing mom in the arrivals hall when I landed...never gets old :) (she's obviously taking money out so I can go to dinner with friends later cause I didn't have any dollars, or my American debit card on me, thanks mom!)

-Trader Joe's for delicious wine and a yummy Jewish bakery for rugellah and humentashen
-"surprising" dani at her track meet (although I'm pretty sure she expected me to show up then and didn't believe that I was landing later that evening and going to miss the meet.
-Mexican dinner with the Ruby girls, so glad we could all meet up (minus those out-of-towners, you were missed!!)
-Seeing my grandparents
-Running mild winter day miles on the good old streets of Whitman, MA
-Marylou's for amazing coffee
-Mall with Jen. Forever 21 is great, even though they have one in Tel Aviv now it's still not as cheap.
-Beautiful home cooked dinner with me and mom and Jen and her mommy. And lots of wine ;)
-Going out in Plymouth for Rebecca's birthday with Whitman-Hansoners (and buying Bud Light and a Cadbury Creme Egg on the way down. Both just as delicious as I remember)
-Going out with BC/Fris friends in Boston and truly appreciating the MD 20/20 present that the girls provided me with for the evening, you know me too well. (and moving in to Tom's apt for the night for a sleepover, see picture..)
-Marylou's for amazing coffee
-Quan's Kitchen Hanover for dinner with mom and D, most delicious chinese food in the world.
-Sundae pack from Peaceful Meadows with Pistachio ice cream. Again, girls, you know me too well :)
-Millies breakfast with Kasey Black, just like old times, just as delicious.
-Hanging out with the Somerville apt boys and dinner with Bren in Davis Square (I think?) Amazingly delicious dinner AND no parking ticket for parking 10 hours in a 2 hour spot,'re good stuff.
-Free pilates class with Dani at her work, the Hanover Y.
-NH with momma and D for a relaxing night in an adorable hotel (once we found it through the snow and darkness) and a gorgeous day of skiing/snowboarding at Sunapee.

-Stopping to buy tax free tequila and margarita mix in NH on the way home because it was "National Margarita Day"
-Making delicious margaritas with mom and inviting the girls over to enjoy with us

-Marylou's for amazing coffee!
-TARGET with mom. I do not remember having so many options for things like deodorant, or mops. I was overwhelmed to say the least...

-Dairy Queen cookie dough ice cream and fudge blizzard

 -Making funfetti cupcakes with mom's homemade pink frosting
-Sleepover with the girls <3 <3 (you were missed Mandii..)
-Blueberry pancakes for breakfast
-Haircutttt (even though my friends in the army gave me one a month ago, this was my first actual haircut in over a year...) And Dani cut her longgg hair and donated it to make a wig! You go girl!

I'm sure there were other things that I forgot about that were just as great. And there were a few things that I wanted to do but didn't manage including visiting the Dempsey's (I'm booking you guys for a scrabble game or two in July!) I also wanted to hang out a bit more with BC friends because I feel like we didn't get to catch up enough, but I think I did pretty well for having a week. I ate waaay to much junk food, and ice cream, brownies, cake, REESES, etc, but all in all, I'm glad I decided to have Allie buy the (just a bit too) expensive ticket at 1:30am while I was on base...for the following week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

not [yet] bilingual

I’ve said this before but…I didn’t realize before I moved to a country with a language that is not my own how crucial language is to our lives.  To say that it influences every aspect of every day is true but almost hard to conceive until you are put in the situation.  Friends, work, relationships, grocery shopping, going out to eat, bus schedules, your bank and cell phone company, TV/movies (although I have to admit, most are in English), the person you meet on the street (if you’re in Jerusalem there is also a good chance they are American, too, though), in short…everything.  All of these things are manageable, some much easier than others, with either a bit of knowledge of Hebrew or sometimes even just using English.  Most people know English here and if not, many services are provided in English too…they’re usually just even less helpful or correct than the Hebrew.

A year after moving to Israel one hurdle that continues to stare me in the face everyday is dealing with interpersonal relationships.  If it is a one-on-one relationship with an Israeli I usually have no problems, I know enough of the language to be able to tell about myself, express myself, have them get to know me, get to know them, etc.  It takes time but this is usually not a big concern of mine.  In larger social settings, however, with a group of people, I am often reminded of the language barrier.  It is like the saying, “The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn” or however it goes.  It’s very true, the more Hebrew I learn, the more I am acutely aware of the language, innuendos, or social references that I am missing, and therefore how much more I have to learn.  Under-the-breathe or side comments are something that I often miss and I have begun to realize how much of an insight they can be to someone’s personality, opinions, or beliefs.   If I am not either a. involved in the conversation or b. paying attention to the conversation then I usually do not hear what is being said.  In a second language that one has still not successfully mastered the whole “subconscious listening” thing doesn’t seem to happen.  For example, if I am having a conversation in English and there is another conversation happening next to me in English, even though I’m not actually listening or paying attention to that second conversation, I could probably still tell you at least the main idea of what they are talking about, perhaps even more detail, because I somehow or another still heard it and it partially entered my brain.  In Hebrew I have nothing of this sort going on.  If I am working and people are talking around me there is a chance, depending on how much concentration my work takes, that I probably didn’t hear a word of the conversation around me.  This is more crippling than it may seem.

I find that, as part of the language [I’m ready for it not to be a] barrier, it not only takes me much longer to get to know people but it also takes them longer to get to know me.  I’m much more introverted in a Hebrew setting, which is not the greatest.  It’s very hard to think “if this social setting were in English would I have said something there, entered my opinion, asked a question, etc” but I would assume that generally the answer is yes since, if you know me, you know that I’m not a quiet or shy person.  My friend Daniel is someone who definitely notices this aspect in me, and pushes me a lot to change it.  He’s right, it is only a barrier if I make it a barrier, but it is really hard to ignore the fact that I mishear, misunderstand, or simply miss things.  In this situation, ignorance is bliss and I wish I were more ignorant.  When I was studying abroad here I had the same group of Israeli friends in Jerusalem and I honestly don’t remember feeling such a language barrier, which doesn’t make sense because I barely knew any Hebrew, and most of the friends don’t know English.  It just goes to show that the barrier really is what you make it. 

The social setting in the army, and with my Israeli friends, really makes me realize how much of life happens in the little, in-between, moments; the short quick conversation, the side comment while watching TV, the text message, the joke made in passing, these are a lot of the things that I am still working on understanding, and being a part of.  These are a lot of the times when I am silent, choose not to comment because I’m not sure I understood 100% and I don’t want to look silly, or I’m not sure exactly how to say what I want to say.  These are the things I need to get over.  I look like a fool often enough in Hebrew, I make a lot of mistakes, and I still continue to speak in Hebrew almost every opportunity possible, so why not push myself even further.  Who cares if I look silly…better to look silly 1 year after moving here where I am still very much allowed than to keep going like this and never overcome these obstacles. 

I could choose to speak in English almost all of the time, and people would get to know “the real me” or get to know me a lot faster, but I’m not sue this is the answer.  It is tough to deal with knowing that people don’t get to know me as quickly or as much as I am used to or would like, but I still think that sticking to Hebrew will pay off in the long run.  Hopefully I’ll get to the point where “Hebrew Lauren” and “English Lauren” are much more closely related, and there is no difference on the relationships.  

College vs Army

Someone (I forget who, sorry) told me I should write a blog post about this.  It's one of those things that you're always reminded of in the moment but when you sit down to write about it you can't seem to remember what you were thinking or what you realized.  Well, here goes anyway...

When an American student is in their second, third, and especially fourth and final year of high school they may busy researching, visiting, applying, planning, and deciding which college or university they want to attend for the next few years, and which path of study most interests them (although 50% enter undecided, we'll get to that later).

When an Israeli student is in their second, third, and especially fourth and final year of high school they are busy researching, testing, and deciding which unit they most want to belong to in the Israeli Defense Force.

From experience (in fact, this entire entry is strictly based on my own experiences) I can pretty confidently say that if you asked the average American college student if they could imagine themselves in the army instead of in college, they would probably say no.  If you asked some of the 18 year old Israeli soldiers if they could imagine themselves in university instead of the IDF they would probably answer with something like.."ahlavai" meaning..."if only."  Of course there would be the more Zionistic, nationalist ones who would answer "no" because they've been planning on being drafted into the army at age 18 since they knew what the IDF was.  Yes, many would voluntarily draft even if it wasn't mandatory, and many would die to be at an American university instead of at boot camp, but I'm pretty sure all would say that their path for the next 2-3+ years and an American 18-year-old's path for the next 2-4+ years are basically polar opposites, so they think.

Drinking, partying, studying, "no parents" (no rules)...boot camp, guns, commanders and discipline. But wait a minute...moving away from home, meeting new friends, living with roommates, eating dining hall food, sharing bathrooms with too many people, lack of sleep, learning new material and skill sets, pillow talk, shower parties, gaining weight (yes, the "freshman 15" happens in the army too, and not from beer), learning time management, longing for home cooking, drinking too much coffee, saving your laundry up until you bring it home for mom to do....seems to me like there might be more similarities than differences!  The two big differences are that in University there is a lot of drinking and not a lot of rules or discipline.  In the army there is no drinking and everything is run by rules and disciple.  Besides these two (okay, fine, BIG) differences, everything that has to do with moving out and being on one's own, learning about yourself and how to live with others, make new friends, manage your time, learn new skills...these are all the same.  For the past 6 months I found myself a few times analyzing the behavior or comments of a lot of the friends I am serving with and realizing that I went through an awkwardly similar time in my life when I started college.  Thankfully I have been lucky in serving with a lot of people who are not 18, who took a year off between high school and the army, who have traveled the world a lot with diplomatic or banker families and have a broad world view, who (2 or 3) also have a degree!, who are also American/Canadian/British, or for some other reason are not the "typical" Israeli soldier, like me!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Girl Power!

As part of my job we have a "satellite base" sort of thing, to be vague.  We rotate weekly between the soldiers at my base staffing at this base.  Since we are down in terms of numbers of soldiers right now because of vacations and those that are in courses, I was here about a month ago for a week and I am back already.  There isn't much work here, it isn't super busy, but someone has to be here!  I'm one of the only girls here and at first it was very intimidating but now I'm managing fine, the soldiers come and sit in my office with me and we have coffee together after dinner sometimes.  They invite me to order pizza and sit and chat with them which I may decline more often then is actually nice but I have to try and keep my distance a bit, too.  They are, after all, a bunch of 18-21 year old fighters who don't get to go home often and all of a sudden they have a girl on base!  The only really nerve-wracking time is Shabbat dinner in the 'mess hall' when everyone eats at the same time.  Last time I sat at the table with the officers, per request of the kitchen staff thankfully, and I assume I will probably do that again this week.  At least the officers are only 2 years younger than me and not 4 or 5!

To pass the time last time I was here I brought many books and there is a TV in the office.  I read Exodus in the office and I read The Help in my room as my "pleasure" book.  Yea, I'm a dork for having a "work" and a "pleasure" book.  I am about 2/3rd of the way through both of them, both of which are about 600 pages, and look forward to finishing them both this week.  I brought Hebrew books last time but didn't manage to get myself to read any.  This time I also brought a workbook for studying/learning Hebrew, documents from my job to study, and my COMPUTER!  I realized I can set up a WiFi HotSpot from my cell phone's internet connection to my computer, yayy!!  I wish I thought to bring the USB for my phone as the connection would be better, but I'm excited to see what I can manage to do with the spotty internet connection I have here.  I was seriously hoping I'd be able to skype but I'm not sure about that being a reality.  My WiFi says full strength but it goes slow and struggles opening websites so I suppose that's a lie.

I'm really hope I can spend the week catching up with people, as well as finishing my books, learning Hebrew, and SLEEPING! It's like a mini-vacation being here, the only bummer is that I can't go running.  By the time I leave the office it is dark out (even if I could I don't really want to run around here in the dark) and plus, when I'm here I have to be with a gun and I have no where to double lock it up if I were to go for a run, and I clearly can't just leave it somewhere.  Therefore, I must find the motivation to do workouts in my room this week, last time I did about 3 or 4. Out of the 7 days I have here my goal is 5 high intensity interval training workouts in my room. Not to be overly optimistic or anything...

'Hi sir it's Lauren from the no, not Moren...Lauren, with an 'L' like LIMA.'

I know, it's been a while.

Coming home every other weekend literally makes time FLY!  In my job I'm currently on an 11-3 schedule meaning I'm on base for 11 days (Sun to the following Thurs morning), I come home for the weekend, and leave Sunday morning to go back to base.  It means I count everything not having to do with the army in 2 week increments, instead of daily or even weekly increments like the average "citizen".  If I have plans for a weekend/Shabbat to be away from home then that means I begin to count in monthly increments because if I am not home one of my weekends off then I haven't been home in a month.  I'm not sure if it is possible to follow that but basically...time flies before I even realize I had time.  That also means that every minute I'm home I try to fill it with things I need to get done, things to buy, people to see, relationships to catch up on, many of you already know all too well...I never manage to check off my entire "call and catch up with ____" list.  It seems to be ever growing and never shrinking, and I am truly sorry for being so out of touch with so many of you.  With the time difference, friends/family with school or jobs, and my desire to keep busy/travel around/go out while I'm home it puts me in the position where the most convenient time to call and catch up is at 2 or 3 AM when I get back from the bar or a friend's house on the weekend, and let's just say that rarely works out or ends up actually happening.  I swear though, my intentions are good and I still make the "to call" list every other week before I get home from base seriously hoping I can catch up.  It's a HUGE bummer that the internet fully functions on my phone on base except it is not strong enough for skype, so I can't call people when I have a night off like I am used to.  Don't worry friends, this also means I can't call MY MOM when I'm on base... :(.  We use TalkBox and WhatsApp to keep in touch though, maybe you're also interested in downloading one of those free apps and keeping in touch with me (free voice chatting and sending texts/pictures/videos respectively).

Okay, on to more interesting things...I started my job about a month and a half ago! I'm a Liaison to Egypt in the Foreign Relations Unit of the IDF.  I think I mentioned this in a post before but in English they call my title an NCO, non-commissioned officer, which is hilarious because in maybe every other military in the world it takes a long time to reach that title, not 4 months, haha.  Anyway, because Egypt has no government, or, rather, their government is currently their army, all of the contact Israel has with Egypt goes through my branch of our unit in the army (ohh yea...Israel DOES have that Peace Treaty with Egypt still...).  So that is the base of my job, work out border security and policy with the Egyptians in hopes of keeping the peace treaty in tact and not starting any unnecessary wars.  We also work with a multinational peacekeeping force made up of soldiers and civilians from different countries around the world.  In short...make love not war.

I can't really get into more detail than that, especially on a blog on the internet, so if you're interested or have specific questions feel free to ask me and if I can answer I will gladly do so.  It's going to be a very interesting year for my unit, depending on the official turnout and after-effects of the elections in Egypt.  Last weekend Egypt celebrated the 1 year anniversary of the revolution, yayy!! Let's cross our fingers it turns out well for Israel.  I'm fairly optimistic because the Peace Treaty is very good for both countries, whether either wants it or not.  Ohh, politics. 

I am still in training for another few weeks or a month or so, which is great because I have A LOT to learn.  I'm sure you all understand what it's like to start a new job with new demands, responsibilities, and required skill sets, so that's nothing new.  They keep me, and I keep myself, very busy learning everything there possibly is to learn from 8:30am until midnight or so every day I'm on base.  That's the deal with being on a "closed" base, or a base where you sleep, you work all the time and there is certainly no concept of 9-5 or anything remotely close to it.  This is neither a problem or something new for me, though, I am naturally a person who desires to learn, study, practice, and master whatever tasks I have at hand, and I seriously thank God that I am naturally like that because if I weren't I would never survive in this situation.  Small side-note: in case you forgot and I haven't mentioned the slight complication...I'm doing this job in a language I started learning (beyond the basics) about a year ago.

To keep myself laughing I like to try and understand this concept by imagining a 3-year-old child sitting in a big office with a relatively important military/political job like mine.  With his silly grammar mistakes, funny baby "accent," and general lack of vocabulary, we're really not all that different, this baby and I.  I make a lot of mistakes, which is something I'm not particularly familiar with and it definitely takes a lot of getting used to.  I'm not saying I don't make mistakes in life, or at a new job, but I certainly am not used to making avoidable mistakes, which happens often enough because of the language.  The thing I really try and focus on and so far have been successful at is not repeating mistakes, so at least I have that going for me.  I'm also not used to taking so much time to complete tasks.  I am not exaggerating when I say it often takes me 10 times longer than the average Hebrew speaker to complete a task.  You can probably just imagine how frustrating that is.  It takes forever to read, to type, to write, to understand, etc.  Seriously bless the veteran NCO's at my job, my officers and commanders for not getting upset or frustrated with me and taking their time with me.  Every "shift change" I have to sit and read through all of the updates, the current statuses, what happened during my shift, etc, so that everyone can continue to be on the same page.  You should see me read through these pages of excel spreadsheets, word documents, and emails at 11 at night after a 15 hour stressful shift.  I often can't seem to successfully read a complete sentence in Hebrew, and about once a week I start crying for no reason...I'm assuming mental exhaustion.  I realized last week the extreme lack of rest I am giving my brain during my time at base; working, speaking, typing, reading, socializing in Hebrew. Lunch time is not down time because the conversation is in Hebrew, when I manage to give myself a few minutes to watch TV I read the subtitles because I don't want to miss a learning opportunity, even when I run I talk to myself in Hebrew!  It clearly takes a toll on me, but it's also the reason I'm learning so much so quickly.  I don't necessarily see the progress all the time but everyone tells me I'm getting much better everyday, so I'll believe them.  I have light-years to go, but step by step, or leap by leap, I'll get there.  And if I could only get rid of this damn American accent I have when I speak Hebrew...ugh!

Don't get me wrong, although my job, and being in the army in general, is certainly no walk in the park, I wouldn't have it any other way.  I've said since basic training that I thought I would be bored if I were on the same adventure, in the same situation, in an English speaking military.  I hold true to that, even though I may just be saying it to make myself feel better.  Because I'm so used to this situation of learning and pushing myself so much so often, I can't really imagine what it would be like if it were any easier...maybe less fulfilling.  For what it's worth, I love, and hate, love to hate and hate to love the IDF, but I wouldn't change my decision to join for a minute.

More to come about why I have the time/ability to update on a Monday morning.

P.S. - I must admit I'm quite successful at speaking with the Egyptians and the peacekeeping force (English, duh!), even though it takes the Egyptians forever to understand what my name is. re: the title of this post.