A Travellerspoint blog

Israel

TGIT

In Israel, Thursday is the end of the working week instead of Friday. We worked a half day, grabbed lunch, packed our things for the weekend, and went to the Karmiel bus stop. From there, we all caught public buses and/or trains to wherever we were spending the weekend, which for me was with cousins in Herzliya. Even though I had seen it on the way up, the view was stunning on the way back as well.

One big difference between the US and Israel is that in Israel, all shopping centers have guards checking your bags as you enter. The Haifa train station was in the shopping mall, so I got checked twice before getting on the train. Another interesting thing to note is that when you get on a bus or train, you get a ticket that you usually don't need any more. However, there are occasionally inspectors that come around to make sure that the bus driver charged people the correct amount and that people have the correct train ticket. Most of the time, nobody gets checked. For whatever reason, I got checked on each one of my transfers on the way back today. Good thing I don't throw that stuff out right away. There are tons of people on the way back, but for some reason, I ended up talking to a soldier who has a girlfriend at University of Miami. We made the U together for her and my brother. Very cute.

When I got to Herzliya, I spent the evening just hanging out with the cousins and watching Master Chef. Even in Israel, I'm finding the food TV! After a week of working, it was nice to just relax.

Making the U with a soldier

Making the U with a soldier


The view on the way back

The view on the way back

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Work, Day 3 and Sfat

Again, the food was the same as the days before and so was the routine. However, the Madrichot had spoken with some people on the base and made sure that we had more work and weren't sitting around as much. Also, I think the people in charge began to get a better feel for what we were capable of. In the morning, I was in a group that was rebagging and retagging some supplies. In the afternoon, I met my new favorite soldier. On the base, there is a clothing supply room where a girl, Anastasia, seems to work alone, putting sets of clothing and gear together in bags. In the morning, she has a crew of Russian old folks who come in and help her fold and package items. (When we met the Russians and they found out that some of us were from the US, they turned on the faucet, spashed some water, and said "Katrina, Katrina!" I'm glad they have a great impression of the US.) In the afternoon, she usually is able to do about 20 bags by herself. We did 100. She was extremely pleasant, working along side us, and even thanking us with a hug when we were done. The other soldiers said she was crazy, but my guess is that they think so because she works hard. Also, we found out later that she was married at 16, which makes her exempt from the draft. Yet, she chose to volunteer. Again, for the base that we were on, this made her quite unique.

That evening's activity was a surprise outing to Sfat. Sfat is one of the Jewish holy cities as it is where a lot of the Kabbalists lived and where many of the books that "govern" Judaism were written. We were there to visit a tour center and then take a tour of some of the famous synagogues in the city. The evening began with some song singing. Some guy with a guitar was leading the crowd (us and officers from the base) in various songs. Andy was very moved by the singing. He was singing along, stomping his feet, shouting "hey!" I was quite amused by how excited he was. After the singing, a tour guide gave a talk (mostly in Hebrew) on some of the meaning behind Sfat. He then guided us around the city, taking us outside the Ashkenazi Ari synagogue, a Polish synagogue, and the synagogue/house where the Shulchan Aruch was written. Because it was so late, none of them were open, so we didn't even get to see inside, but we did get to hear stories about each of them. He also gave us a bit of a motivational speech, and then we were on our way back to the base.

Tossing gear

Tossing gear


Sfat at night

Sfat at night


Clapping along to music

Clapping along to music

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Work, Day 2

In the morning, we finished moving more stuff and sat around chatting with a soldier that had been working in the same area. He helped explain to us some of why people were surprised at the speed we were completing tasks. Apparently, the base that we are on is where many people are put if they aren't super-motivated. I had been told before the program that they often put Sar-El volunteers on such bases to help boost morale. The idea is that the soldiers see people who haven't been drafted, but want to give up their own time and spend their own money flying to Israel in order to do the work for free, and then the soldiers start thinking about why we're doing this, and then they get motivated to work harder as well. I don't know how much we'll actually help, but we'll see. After lunch, we sat on our air conditioned bus for a while with no work. I think some of the reason was that the folks assigning work didn't expect us to have already finished the work that they had given us and weren't entirely prepared to have to give us more. Also, the Madrichot explained to us that there was an upcoming inspection that was taking some of their time, so they didn't have as much time to find us things to do. The Madrichot themselves seemed a bit unfamiliar with the base, so they also didn't think of useful tasks for us. Eventually, we were put moving more supplies. Some of us were also later assigned to put together supply bags, although in an incredibly inefficient manner. I think that if the army had an efficiency expert come in and explain things to a couple of the soldiers, they could save a ton of money as some projects would take half the time.

I was beginning to notice a pattern in the food they served. Breakfast was always eggs, cottage cheese or white cheese, bread, and "salad" (chopped cucumbers and tomatoes). Dinner was always eggs, spaghetti, potatoes, and "salad." Either meal might or might not be accompanied by shoco (chocolate milk in single-serving plastic bags). Lunch was hummus or tehina, carrots, "salad," potatoes, meat, corn schnitzel, bread, spaghetti, and another vegatable. The food itself, taken as a single meal, was not that bad. However, having the same thing every day made the food seem worse than it was.

The evening activity was a program on the symbol, flag and song of Israel. Surprisingly, Andy (who isn't Jewish) was the one who was most into the song and knew the words better than the rest of us. Also, I was realizing that he had some of the best Hebrew out of the whole group.

After the activity, we learned some Krav Maga from one of the other volunteers who is actually a Krav Maga instructor back at home. He was so nice about teaching it to us all, even when we were being a little silly and joking around. Afterwards, we sat and chilled with some of the soldiers who knew English. They taught us some Hebrew, by which I mean some Hebrew curse words. Two of the girls on patrol duty took the Big Brother of the group and I on patrol with them in their car. We got to see an amazing view of the surrounding towns. The really amusing part was that this was the first time the girl had driven stick. We stalled a bunch of times, and I felt like teasing that it was good she brought us along so that we could push the vehicle. Despite that, the drive really was fabulous as the cool night air felt great.

Everybody moving stuff

Everybody moving stuff


Krav Maga

Krav Maga

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Work, Day 1

Today was the first day that we were actually going to contribute. After a breakfast that needed some hot sauce, everybody was split up to do various jobs in various warehouses.

Andy, another volunteer (for privacy reasons, I'm not using anybody in the group's real name and all of the pictures have our faces fuzzed out), and I got put into a warehouse where we were counting how many items were on a shelf and labeling the shelf with that number. The soldier girl working with us showed us how to do it and did a few shelves with us. Then, she went on her smoking break and told us to chill. After about 10 minutes, we got back to work, but her break lasted the rest of the morning.

After lunch, we were put with a bunch of the other volunteers in a warehouse moving things from one set of shelves to another. We were told that we did 2 months of work in 1 afternoon, which I would have found difficult to believe if I hadn't seen the girl sitting around all morning.

After dinner, we had an evening activity that the Madrichot put together for us. They taught us about the army- which berets meant which jobs, that the opportunities were, what was open to women, and more. They explained that our base was a logistics base, so most of the work will be related to getting equipment ready for other bases to use.

Again we chilled after the evening activity, but made sure to get to bed at a reasonable time so that we could get up refreshed for work the next day.

Counting items in the warehouse

Counting items in the warehouse

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To the army

Today, I started my program, Sar-El. I woke up early in order to be at the airport at the meeting time, and was actually a little early. As the program director was checking everybody in, I met some people and took a nap on the airport chairs. In all, there were quite a few people from all over the world who were going to go to many different bases. The idea behind Sar-El is that volunteers from other countries can come and support Israel by doing non-comabt, civilian work on army bases. For my base, we had a group of 12 volunteers, several of whom were somewhere in the aliyah process, several of whom weren't Jewish, and several of whom had done the program before. My group was mostly young people, but one of the other groups had folks in their 80s(!) who had come to volunteer. After everybody was checked in, we shared a Sar-El bus with another group and headed off to the base. We made a quick stop on the way for some delicious falafel because we were going to miss lunch on the base, dropped the other group off, and then arrived at our base in the afternoon.

One of the first tasks to accomplish was to get each of us outfitted with an army uniform. There was a little bit of whining by a few of the girls who wanted nicer-fitting uniforms and didn't quite understand that the uniforms just had to function, not look good in a fashion show, but after they were told to deal with it, they did accept things and move on. We then headed to our rooms to get settled. The rooms were in the barracks where the soldiers stayed. They were very simple- 4-5 bunk beds with foam matresses, a window, and a couple of beat up lockers to store stuff. Our room obviously belonged to somebody at some point as there was a bunch of stuff left in it, but we were told just not to bother the stuff and move ourselves in. Because we were only 3 women in a room that could fit 10, we immediately doubled up on matresses and each got 1 half of a bunk for sleeping and 1 half of a bunk for keeping our stuff.

One thing I noticed about the rooms and the various offices we saw were that they were decoreated in Disney, Bratz, and lots of photos of the soldiers, in the same manner that freshman girls at college in the US put up bulletin boards of pictures of their friends. The soliders here are that young. Most are 18-21 and seem like little kids. It makes me wonder if the whole army could be stopped in its tracks by having Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez come visit and dsitract them.

The next step for us was orientation. The 2 soldiers that were in charge of our group (Madrichot) explained to us how the program worked, what the rules were, and what we were going to be doing. Because we arrived at the base so late, we did not have time to do work today, but were promised that we would be able to start work tomorrow. We had dinner (spaghetti, potatoes, and salad) that was tasty, took a walk around the base afterwards, and just sat and chatted. We had a great conversation where I got to know a bunch of the other volunteers better, and headed off to bed. It was a bit of an uneventful day, but was exciting all the same.

View from the base

View from the base


View on the way north

View on the way north


Our room

Our room

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

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