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!!!