Thursday, 22 October 2009

Tiyul to Jerusalem

A few days ago we got back from our 4 day tiyul (trip) to various places around Israel, which has definitely been a highlight of making aliyah so far. After leaving Ortal on Monday morning, we travelled to a natural spring quite near to Jerusalem called Ein Mabua. It was a really fun afternoon, as we all jumped into these freezing cold springs and went through this pitch-black, narrow tunnel. There were also waterfalls and rivers; and, although unlike some of my other friends, I don't marvel over nature, I did recognise how beautiful of a country Israel is. From there we travelled to Jerusalem and arrived at Kibbutz Ramat Rahel, where we stayed for the night. That night we went out to a bar on Ben Yehuda street in Jerusalem, a place which, as the country's capital, seems so far from the danger that is associated with Israel.

On Tuesday, we visited the Old City, the Jewish quarter and David's City. First we went into the Chain of Generations Center, which is situated next to the Kotel. This interactive museum really got me in the mood for what was to happen next, as the translated narration talked about how for 2000 years Jews have prayed to return to Jerusalem and, even after all the persecution that we have faced, we have made it back to the eternal city. I could feel goosebumps forming and my hairs tingling, but I generally didn't feel like crying, or anything like that. In fact, I think I had worked out that the last time I cried was two years ago. After this museum we were given time to go to the Kotel. I walked there alone and stood facing the Western Wall. As I pressed my head and hands against it, I suddenly and unexpectantly burst into floods of tears. Now I am very passionate about Judaism and Zionism but I honestly can't truly explain the feeling I felt when I was there, but it was amazing; not tears of sadness, or neccessarily happiness, just tears of general emotion. Without shame, I can tell you that I cried like a baby for a full ten minutes. For a long time I wasn't thinking about anything in particular, I was just letting it all out. Once I felt that I was done, I thought about my aliyah to Israel (and the miracle of how easy it is to make aliyah compared to much darker days in the past) and how I felt like my parents were there with me... then the tears started again. It was crazy experience that I will never forget and will hopefully give me the inspiration and determination that I will need in harder times to come.

My Garin at the Kotel

The rest of the day was interesting, even though I saw stuff that I had seen before (on Lavi and tour), I remember thinking that I could have been the tour guide. During some free time, me and my roommate went to the Arab market in order to buy a rug for the room. Although I only spoke a little, it was my first time of haggling in hebrew; we bought a miniscule Persian rug and managed to haggle the guy down from 200 to 100 shekels. From Jerusalem we drove to Ein Gedi beach where we slept for the night. Definitely one of the most uncomfortable nights of sleep of my life; there was no room left for me on the mat so I slept on the rocky ground in just my thin sleeping back, no pillow. I was woken by about 50 flies on my face and, the most annoying birds ever quawing loudly, at 5.30 in the morning. On Wednesday, we did a 4 hour hike in the Judean desert and then went into the Dead Sea, where a rope burn on my palm from the earlier hike was unbearably painful in the water, also, I mistakenly farted while in the water, also very very painful. That night we slept in Bedouin tents, in order to wake up at 4am the next day for Masade. Thursday, we climbed Masade (the shorter trail) and watched the sunrise, been there, done that. Later we returned to Ortal. It was a truly fantastic trip, memorable moments and great times with friends.

During the trip, the girls found out if they got the jobs that they wanted in the army. It was a dramatic scene, as some of my friends were delighted they had received their jobs, while others were distraught that they didn't get what they wanted. It showed how important it is to some people about where to go in the army, for me, I have a preference to a specific unit but I will be happy with any combat unit that I am placed and I will learn to love where I am. I will just feel privileged to put on that uniform. Regarding this, along with my two flatmates coincidently, I will be going to the gibush (trial day) for the paratroopers unit at the beginning of November. This means I need to start training if I want to pass through the physical part of the test, which I have heard will consist of running with sandbags, sprinting up sand dunes and other horrendous tasks. But I still have some time before I start worrying about that.

My host family on the kibbutz, who I haven't mentioned yet, the Shoshana's (Dror and Amir, with their three sons) are amazing to me. I go to their house around four times a week for meals and to play with the children. They really make me feel at home and I feel so lucky to have such a great host family. Along with all the other host families and the rest of the kibbutz, they came last Saturday night to see the garin show that we put on for them. The show was a way of declaring ourselves as a group and generally entertaining the kibbutznikim. It was a great success and here is a link to one of the videos that we made for the show...

A scene during the show

So it was a really fantastic week, with the show and the trip, this week everything goes back to normal with ulpan.

The 'striptease' during the show, I am in pink, wearing the light blonde wig!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Yom Hiyul

Yesterday was Yom Hiyul, which is a very important day in terms of my army service. Officially, it is the first day of the army service, meaning that from 13th October 2009, there is only 2 and a half years to go! However, since I am in a special programme, we don't actually go into our specific units until November.

Yom Hiyul was at the 'Bakkum' in Tel Aviv, we did a number of processes that all soldiers do on their first day.... After lunch and a lot of waiting, we started queing up at these different stations. First there was the picture for the 'hoger', which is the army identity card, I look like an 10 year old Russian immigrant in the picture! Then, we had our teeth pictured, fingerprints taken and skull x-rayed. I asked why they need a x-ray of my skull and the soldier just replied with "kaha", which basically means "because" - you don't ask questions in the army. We also passed the hairdresser, which happened to be closed, to the relief of my good friend; whose long curly hair will be able to stay until November. After that our DNA was taken and we were given two injections. I have no idea what they were, we just sat down and were injected! We gave in our bank details and will start receiving our salary once we get drafted into our units, as 'hayalim boddedim' (lone soldiers) we will get double pay. The final station was where they gave us our 'hoger', already printed, and, in a little folder ...wait for it... DOGTAGS!!! Yes, as of now, since I am an official soldier, I have dogtags, which I will start wearing once I have uniform. So, as you can imagine, all the boys started showing off their dogtags...

My current status is that of a soldier without pay. This is because Yom Hiyul for us was not on the same day as Yom Gious (draft day) i.e. for a regular Israeli, going to the Bakkum, where we went yesterday, is the day that he says goodbye to his parents and goes straight from Tel Aviv (after doing all the things we did) to his base; whether that be a combat basic training base in the south or a intelligence base somewhere else. So, for me, I am now a soldier in the IDF but am still waiting to see if I can go to the tzanchanim gibush in early November, which, if I pass, will get me into the paratroopers unit. However, I still don't know where I will be going as I may not be able to go to the gibush and, even if I do, may not be able to pass. Yesterday was our first step in becoming fully-flegded soldiers and the time until when I properly go into the army is getting nearer at lightning pace. I find it crazy that I am actually less than 6 weeks away from getting into that uniform and defending my country. Mind-blowing.

Last week I was mainly in Tel Aviv as my parents, along with my nana, papa, aunt and uncle, came on holiday to visit me. After the initial floods of tears from my mum, everything just felt like normal, like we I had never left them and that we are on one of our normal holidays to Tel Aviv for Pesach. It was a fantastic week, relaxed and chilled, but filled with me telling stories from my last two months here. I know how important it was for me parents to see me because, being an only child, their lives were pretty much surrounded around me and since making aliyah, my absence has been significant for them, to say the least. Although moving to Israel was my decision to make (one in which they supported), I still appreciate the effect it has on them. Anyway, hopefully when I see them next I will be in uniform with an M16 hanging by my side!!! It feels good to know that since leaving, I have now seen my parents, all three grandparents and others here, before I go into the army.

Yom Kippur on the kibbutz was a really chilled but also meaningful day. A yeshiva from Jerusalem come every year to Ortal to set up a shul and take the service. So, I went to 'shul' (the converted meeting room) and took part in my first Israeli Kol Nidre service. Yom Kippur definitely has different atmosphere in Israel, even in the secular Ortal. It seems as though people are happier, maybe because here in Israel "we" (since I am now one of them) appreciate everything in life, as life in Israel is a gift, every day the army and its civilians are threatened by people who want our destruction. I felt like Yom Kippur was a way of celebrating our existence in the promised, and that of a flourishing existence. Fasting was easy, much easier in the mountains of the Golan than in the grey streets of North London.

It has been a stuttering couple of weeks for the Garin with people leaving to see family and some having tests for specific units in the army. During this time we have been rehearsing for a show that we will be presenting to the kibbutz as a way of declaring ourselves as a Garin. Next week we have a five day trip to Jeruslaem, the dead sea and some other places, which should be really fun but also useful in bringing the group back together after these past couple of weeks. Sam out.

This is the garin before our Rosh Hashannah meal.