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!