Friday, October 1, 2010

Never Stop Dancing

In 2010, a suicide bomber attacked a nightclub on the Tel Aviv boardwalk.  I pass by the skeleton of this now dilapidated nightclub every time I bike along the beach.  It looks grim.  The cement walls have gaping holes, bent metal is protruding out of the sides of the building, and trash lines the parking lot.  No matter how captivated I am by the beauty and vitality of the beach, I can’t help but feel a little hopeless about Israeli politics when I go by.  But, in front of the building, there is a memorial to those killed during the bombing that prompts a very different set of emotions.  It reads, “Never Stop Dancing.”  I love this statement.  Abstractly, it is uplifting, but it means so much more within the context of Israeli society.  Israel never stops dancing, despite the eeriness of what we see on the news.  Israelis seem to be constantly moving to a bold and dynamic rhythm.  Tonight, I took part in that movement.

Every Friday night, there is a drum circle and public dance party overlooking the sea, behind the bombed nightclub.  It starts right before the sun sets.  Percussionists of all sorts roll in gradually.  As the sun begins to set, they start up improvised tunes. Within minutes, dozens of percussionists are playing with intense force.  People dance within and around the circle.  They move freely, sometimes dancing by themselves, paying little attention to the others, and sometimes dancing very communicatively in pairs and large groups.  The event takes place on a hill above the beach where it is so windy that you can relax your body and the gusts will send your limbs flailing as if you were voluntarily moving to the rhythm. 

My friends and I joined in it all.  This girl with incredible moves gave me some East African dance lessons.  Later, we joined a group of backpackers who were dancing in a circle and yelling out these wild, scat-like calls.  At one point, a dog wandered into the middle of our circle.  We all started dancing with the dog, and he began chasing his tail, as if to show off his moves too.  As the night became darker, and it was harder to see people’s faces, the dance moves became increasingly free and uninhibited.  When we danced our way out two and a half hours into the event, there were still no signs that it was letting up any time soon. 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Yom Kippur-Tel Aviv Style

Yom Kippur:  the Day of Atonement for religious Israelis, and the Day of Cyclists’ Paradise for secular Israelis.  The scene is remarkable.  Imagine Snowmagedon in 70-degree weather with a slight breeze.  Cars are few and far between, but the highways and avenues are bustling with pedestrians and cyclists, young and old, from every part of Tel Aviv.  Those who aren’t on the move are sitting in parks chatting, singing, and playing bongos. 

I started off Yom Kippur at a secular, youth service on a rooftop with my housemates.  After the service, we walked right down the middle of boulevards that are notorious for their vicious drivers, heading towards the beach.  As soon as we reached the sand, we realized that we had to jump in for an impromptu, evening swim.  After splashing around for a bit and accidently breaking my fast with a few gulps of Mediterranean Sea, we set off down the beach promenade.  Along the way, we wandered onto a beachside playground.  It was packed.  Kids and adults were running around, seemingly free of any inhabitations.  Five-year-olds and twenty-five-year-olds shared playground equipment with equal energy and glee.  The best part of it all was these two kids that we met.  They were six and six-and-a-half, and they spoke a mile a minute in a combination of Tagalog, Hebrew, and Russian.  Their conversations were hilarious—ranging from epic monologues about their migration to Israel in 1920 and the experience of being 144 years old to twenty minute squabbles consisting only of the word “Smandooza” volleyed between them.  After parting from our new friends, we headed through lively parks back to out apartment. 

The next morning, I went to a traditional Sephardic synagogue on our block.  It was totally new for me—different prayers, tunes, and rituals.  But, it was great to take part in the neighborhood for the first time and see familiar faces much closer.  In the afternoon, I jumped on my bike and toured the streets.  As the sun started to set, I raced back to my apartment to break the fast as soon as possible.  My housemates and I jammed into our tiny kitchens to prep a feast of challah French toast and fruit salad.  Ten of us ate together on the patio.  After dinner, my very musical housemate pulled out early 90’s sheet music, and we all screeched out some Alanis Morsette and Matchbox 20 for a few hours. 

Basically, the holiday was a cultural collage, composed of snippets from nearly every side of Tel Aviv.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

My First Shalom from Tel Aviv

Alright, so, I’ll lay out the scene.  I’m sitting in my room on the second floor of a two-story apartment, which houses nine other participants of my program.  The apartment is in Kiryat Shalom, a poorer, mostly orthodox, Jewish neighborhood.  It’s not uncommon to hear the Chabad van blasting prayers out of a giant amp on it roof as it drives by.  Still, the pounding bass of Arabic hip-hop often overpowers even these amps.  I hear these sounds through a giant window above my bed that looks out to 30 ft. x 30 ft. patio.  I spend most of my time at my apartment under the wooden awning of this patio.   I’ve been in the apartment for about two weeks now, but I still find myself shocked sometimes by the fact that I live in this vacation-like setting.  I’m excited to be living here with the nine others.  I have a lot in common with many of them, and we’re becoming close. 

Over the course of the past week, I have been looking at potential places to volunteer and taking Hebrew lesson.  Both have been really satisfying.   I’ve been impressed by all of the organizations I’ve visited.  So far, it seems to me that Israeli non-profits are more experimental and place more emphasis on client/community driven projects than most organizations in the US.  But, I’ll let you know what I think once I’ve been more exposed to the non-profit world here.  If all things play out as I’d like, I’ll be spending the majority of the time working for an organization that advocates on behalf of Israel’s African refugee/asylum seeker population and then a few hours volunteering at an outdoor education organization. 

The Hebrew lessons are really excellent, and I’m finding tons of opportunities to practice what I’m learning when I’m out and about each day.  I am, of course, having those feelings of being an infant that come with living somewhere where you don't speak the language.  But, I’m happy to have those moments of total confusion.  During previous stays in Tel Aviv, I rarely met someone who didn’t speak English, and so I never had opportunities to learn the language through trial and error.  Before leaving for the trip, I was a bit afraid that I would find myself feeling limited pressure to learn the language that would give me access to so much more cultural depth.  But, in my neighborhood and other areas where I’ve been sending most of my time, I find that English is a lot harder to come by, which I really appreciate for the most part.  

I’ve also already had a chance to take part of so much of the fun that Tel Aviv has to offer—markets that are exploding with energy; exquisite parks that are great for morning runs; a nightlife that ends when the sun comes up; and beautiful, accessible, and diverse beaches.  I just bought this awesome bike after four days of haggling so that all of this will now be closer. 

Okay, I’m of to a rooftop service for Yom Kippur.  Hag Sameach and Shana Tova to all those celebrating the Jewish New Year!  And, my love and best wishes to everyone! 

Ciao for now!