Monthly Archives: February 2014

Some things don’t translate

So I  want to post about how amazing this week was – and it really was. But I’m very tired so I’m just going to say this: polite southern nonverbal etiquette is a beautiful thing. I just really wish it was known to northerners and Israelis. I put out every polite sign saying I was tired and wanted my 3 guests to leave for 2 hours…


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Remember that time we had an air raid siren drill and nobody told us?

I had quite the experience today. It was a work day for me and I was lucky enough to be assigned to my favorite work branch – the gardens. It must have been a slow day in the other branches because a total of 7 ulpanists were assigned to the gardens. On top of that high number, only the head lady, Hele, was there today.

When you work in the garden, it really means landscaping around the kibbutz.  So Hele split us up into three groups of 2, 2, and 3. I was with Steve and Georgie, both of who are only on the ulpan as tourists. Hele assigned us some great jobs in the new neighborhood planting new plants and preparing some land for future planting. After she got us going, she went to supervise the other two groups and do other things.

So there we were, having a great, grand old time. Just the three of us planting and working the land, talking about all sorts of things, and listening to music. Then, around 10ish, the air raid sirens that are positioned literally all over Israel start to wail. Steve, being that this is his first time in Israel, asked what that was. I told him it was the warning sirens. His response was something like “is that needed here?” To which I said, “it’s Israel, what do you think?” as I started to run.

When you spend a good amount if time here, you learn your warning time. That number is how long you have to safely get into a bomb shelter as soon as the sirens go off, or if in a newer home, into your fortified room. The number ranges from less than 10 seconds for certain communities near Gaza to a couple of minutes in the center of the country. I never had to run when I was on Lotan but I think they are around 30 seconds or so. It isn’t something to take lightly for obvious reasons.

But back to today: I didn’t really stop to explain to Steve or Georgie that they should be running for a shelter. I figured between seeing this fat American taking off like an African cheetah and the unmistakable foreboding of warning sirens that they could put 2 and 2 together. In my instant state of worry, I made a number of mistakes. Earlier in the day, we were preparing land right around a brand new, beautiful, very secure looking bomb shelter. I even commented on how nice it looked. When I started running, I should have gone straight there as it was only 20 meters or so from where we were then working. But instead, I ran RIGHT PAST IT as my first instinct was to go to the ulpan to ask the director where we were to go since our bomb shelter has been closed up (which going to the ulpan with no bomb shelter was another mistake). When I got to the ulpan, there was a note on the director’s door saying she went to Tel Aviv for the day.

But the siren stopped as I was reading the note so I looked around and realized the advanced students were still in class. The children in the day care across the path were still playing on the playground. I quickly realized I was the only person who had run… I decided I would take a different route back to the new neighborhood so I wouldn’t have to do the awkward walk of ignorance past kibbutznics who saw me running like the dickens just moments before. When I got to the work site, Steve and Georgie were there talking to a guy installing drip lines on the other side of the new bomb shelter. You remember the bomb shelter, right? That beautiful brand new one? Yeah, they were talking to a guy there. Steve had stopped to ask him why he wasn’t running after I took off. The guy told them that it was just a drill. It was published in the newspaper,  announced on the news literally every hour since yesterday and posted on Facebook. So while I was going all Olympic track and field style threw the kibbutz, they just chilled there.

So yeah, a little embarrassing. But it’s good to know I can still run fast if I need to. And the director really needs to work on communication… she should have informed the 20 something people who are here because they DON’T know hebrew when there is going to be drills or other important things that are apparently known to all the hebrew speakers.

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By Andrea Gibson

I wish I was a photograph
tucked into the corners of your wallet
I wish I was a photograph
you carried like a future in your pocket
I wish I was that face you show to strangers
when they ask you where you come from
I wish I was that someone that you come from
every time you get there
and when you get there
I wish I was that someone who got phone calls
and postcards saying
wish you were here

I wish you were here
autumn is the hardest season
the leaves are all falling
and they’re falling like they’re falling in love with the ground
and the trees are naked and lonely
I keep trying to tell them
new leaves will come around in the spring
but you can’t tell trees those things
they’re like me they just stand there
and don’t listen

I wish you were here
I’ve been missing you like crazy
I’ve been hazy eyed
staring at the bottom of my glass again
thinking of that time when it was so full
it was like we were tapping the moon for moonshine
or sticking straws into the center of the sun
and sipping like icarus would forever kiss
the bullets from our guns

I never meant to fire you know
I know you never meant to fire lover
I know we never meant to hurt each other
now the sky clicks from black to blue
and dusk looks like a bruise
I’ve been wrapping one night stands
around my body like wedding bands
but none of them fit in the morning
they just slip off my fingers and slip out the door
and all that lingers is the scent of you
I once swore if I threw that scent into a wishing well
all the wishes in the world would come true
do you remember

do you remember the night I told you
I’ve never seen anything more perfect than
than snow falling in the glow of a street light
electricity bowing to nature
mind bowing to heartbeat
this is gonna hurt bowing to I love you
I still love you like moons love the planets they circle around
like children love recess bells
I still hear the sound of you
and think of playgrounds
where outcasts who stutter
beneath braces and bruises and acne
are finally learning that their rich handsome bullies
are never gonna grow up to be happy
I think of happy when I think of you

so wherever you are I hope you’re happy
I really do
I hope the stars are kissing your cheeks tonight
I hope you finally found a way to quit smoking
I hope your lungs are open and breathing your life
I hope there’s a kite in your hand
that’s flying all the way up to orion
and you still got a thousand yards of string to let out
I hope you’re smiling
like god is pulling at the corners of your mouth
cause I might be naked and lonely
shaking branches for bones
but I’m still time zones away
from who I was the day before we met
you were the first mile
where my heart broke a sweat
and I wish you were here
I wish you’d never left
but mostly I wish you well
I wish you my very very best

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On yerushalayim

We went on out first group trip the other day. I wanted to post when I got back but I was exhausted and coming down with a cold. Yesterday I spent all day in bed so I could kick this bug. So here is what sticks out in my mind:

On the drive in we stopped for breakfast at the Israeli tankers museum.  I really wanted to go in and take lots of pictures for my brother, William. But we weren’t there for more than 15 minutes and only at the rest stop part.

Our first stop was the Davidson Center. The center is in an old palace just to the south-west of the temple mount. I had been there before so it wasn’t particularly impressive.  I did get a chuckle that they still have such lousy graphics for such an important historical center. But the interesting part is what happened after. We went to sit on the southern side of the temple mount where recent renovations have uncovered the 2000 year old steps that used to lead into and out of the temple. Our group sat there as our tour guide explained the geo- and religious importance of the city. But I couldn’t help but notice two young people talking from the mosque above us (the mosque on top of the temple mount, you might think the Dome of the Rock, but the mosque is actually the other building up there). They were not trying to be overtly disruptive but it did seem that they were listening to and/or talking about what our guide was saying. When the short intro was over, we all got up to go to the kotel (Western Wall). One of my teachers and I were the last to leave the plaza and just as we went through an archway, the young people through very loud firecrackers down to where we had been sitting. When the first one went off I was a little afraid because it took me a second to distinguish between firecracker or gunshot. The experience made me empathize with them just a bit. The 3rd most holy spot in their religion is slowly being surrounded. The Jew’s Western Wall is (obviously) on the west. Now, the Israeli government has excavated the southern side and it sees daily tours. It just drives home for me how close and how important these places are to many different people.

Then we went to the UN headquarters for a lunch and look-out at the old city. The spot was amazing, I was looking at Jerusalem and could simply turn my neck and see the dead Sea 1200 meters below and Jordan beyond that. How small and meaningful this place is.

The last stop as a group was Yad Vashem. This museum is so intense and we only had an hour and some change to go through the main building. Even having gone before, I only made it through about 1/3. Fascinatingly,  our director, Yehudit, is the daughter of a survivor (her mother) and a soldier (her father). Her mother is shown in a video clip. She was a sewer in a shop similar to Schindler’s List. Her father, who was the only one of his family to leave Europe before the war, was told how his family died by a friend.  His friend had survived one of the mass killings in which Jews were made to dig mass graves and then shot to death. Yehudit’s father’s family was in the same mass grave and did not survive. This personal connection made the experience all the more moving. Then, we went outside to the children’s memorial. I guess I get this from my mom, but I can’t bear it when children die. The memorial is done with great honor to the children. As you walk in, the surroundings convey the sheer terror they must have felt as they were helplessly lead to their demise. Inside the memorial, you are lost in a world of mirrors and candles.  A voice reads off names and ages of death. It is hard to get through with your wits about you. Upon exiting,  there is one more vestage of the horror.  A larger than life metal sculpture captures a man who ran an orphanage.  He is embracing his choosen children. He chose not to leave them and when the Nazis came for them, he went with them, giving his own life so they would not die alone. Needless to say, I was choked up and shed a few tears. I really hate going through that part of the museum.

Then we were off to some free time at ben yehuda street. It was nice and uneventful.

So that was the trip!

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Ummm, this is awkward…

So I just got woken up… by my roommate… and another ulpan girl… who happens not to be my roommate…

They weren’t exactly playing patty cake. Although, there was a lot of slapping going on!

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A Storm is on the Horizon

There is a storm on the horizon. I can hear the thunder roll out ahead to warn me to take shelter. The air is strange in that the crisp coolness that has marked all of my nights here so far now also lingers together with a faint moistness. From time to time, the lightening portrays a changing dark sky. The clouds are only just peaking over the tops of the trees. But they promise a storm by mid morning.

I can feel tensions coming to a head in the ulpan too. I was deep in sleep when my roommates, a brutish, typical immature American and a suave, semi – confident Brazilian came home. This shabbat, I am in charge of our ulpan dinning room. It is an easy job – unlock the building for lunch at noon and then again at dinner. Put out a small selection that is our staple diet here on the course: bread, fruit, some spreads, and eggs. In their minds it seemed like an acceptable idea to wake me to gain access to the bread at 2:30 in the morning after they had been out drinking. In my haze I gave them the key but moments after they closed the door I became enraged. I clothed myself and went to the dinning room. I told them in rather course language that they are never to wake me up when I’m asleep. But this didn’t soothe my anger and added a bit of guilt onto me. So when they came back to the rooms building I tried to explain that I can’t get to sleep very well and their little snack would keep me up for an hour. I explained further that if I don’t get to bed by a certain time, I have night terrors. I left it there but I wish I had told them of the crippling depression that plays on a horrid cycle of sleep deprivation. The Brazilian was regretful as soon as I first went off on them. But the American still doesn’t understand how to empathize with others.

But his behavior speaks to the greater storm brewing.  There are two types of people here: mature grown folk and little kids parading around as (wo) man-child. The grown folk understand that cleanliness in a community environment such as this isn’t an option. The manchild only thinks of himself without regard to the other 16 or 17 people living here. I find myself having disdain even while they tell stories of their short and privileged lives. I understand logically that lessons are learned at their own time.  But why must I be these children’s father or caretaker? I don’t want to be the asshole who only forces them to be mature, responsible adults who have no fun, but I refuse to walk them into adulthood while holding their hands as if life is all sunshine and butterflies. At the end of the day we are all here for one thing and one thing only: to learn hebrew. Anything outside of that is optional at best and an impediment at worst.

This storm is brewing. A lightning bolt has jolted out ahead of the storm clouds, striking two unsuspecting victims. But they will not be the last. The storm clouds are too high and continue to roll outward and upward in an ominous premonition of things to come…

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Strange monument

There is a strange monument near my ulpan building. Two in fact, separated by about 15 meters or so. The twin structures ofter a glimpse into the not so distant past of this kibbutz.

They bring about obscure questions and looks from those who pass by. They are not meticulously hand blown glass sculptures,  nor are they marble, steal, or copper monuments to any famous historical people. The craftsmanship is more reminiscent of an apprentice on his first day than that of a master whom spent a life molding his hands in sculpture as much as the sculptures themselves. The grooves are rough and apparent from 3 meters away. There are three obvious stages of these monuments: the original frames, the cealing of the doors, and finally the painting of the skin which must have been within the decade based on the color of the paint.

These two monuments are former bomb shelter entrances. When first built, the kibbutznics needed safety – not beauty. The entrances are crude but sturdy. You can almost see the young men and women pouring cement into wood-framed rebar webbing. But as time marched on, the weapons of death became more advanced. Some time ago the shelter must have been deamed obsolete.¬† Now, there is no steal door providing¬† an almost ominous offer of protection. Instead a thin layer of quick-set concrete covers the long ago entrance to the world below the troubles of bombings and raids. One might think this is encouraging … and one might be wrong. I asked the director why these shelters were closed off. She answered with a mere passing comment about the bombs not falling anymore.  But then she took on a more serious tone and stand. She explained that all homes and buildings built now must have a reinforced room to take the place of community bomb shelters. And as if she were speaking for Death himself, she continued. The real threat now is not from bombs, but rather from chemical attacks. We have moved beyond destruction of society’s structures. Why destroy a building just to rebuild a new one? Instead, unleash a chemical attack that will decimate the comunity of choice and leave their possessions in tack for the taking.

How strange these monuments are. We prayed for a time when the bombs would not fall down like a winter’s storm. These structures stand not as a testament to peace. They stand as a road marker on the path to a hell of more sophisticated death techniques.

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