Topics and the blog posts that follow have no scarcity for me here in Israel. There are no lack of ideas or concepts I consider discussing, but as I sit down to write this Sunday, I must stop and simply detail the days that made up an especially spectacular week.
Each day was so different, so dynamic and interesting, that I feel the need to document them and although brief recounts, I hope these little clips from a whirlwind 7 days will suffice as I continue on into my fourth month here in Be’er Sheva, Israel.
At the tail end of a weekend in Ein Gedi, I found myself at the base of Masada. If you aren’t familiar with this landmark, the stage of one of the most dramatic scenes in Jewish history, check out this resource for a basic overview. In light of what we believe occurred on Masada, Jews around the world have named this fortress a symbol of modern Zionism. Although controversial, many believe the story of Masada is one of Jewish determination and bravery which represents the continuation of a strong, Jewish state.
As I hiked up the mountain fortress in the middle of an incredibly vast, entirely tan Israeli desert, I considered Masada’s symbolism on a personal level. The actual story illustrates an incredible amount of resolve to never give in to someone else’s plan for your life. We must all have our own Masada, an ideal or a value we all hold true and strong to our being. The existence of Masada forces us to ask: What are we willing to let go of and what will we continue to hold on to with whatever it takes? My answer is still pending, but even without the philosophical evaluation it was quite a view and a wonderful way to start the week.
In addition to teaching at an elementary school during the week, I have taken on a volunteer position leading an after-school program for high school students in the neighboring Bedouin town, Rahat. After a 30-minute bus ride, I stepped off at the last stop in front of the high school where 10 enthusiastic students awaited my arrival.
It was our second time meeting, and my goal was to get these teens talking, in English of course. I wrote on the board, “What makes you happy?” At first the students were timid and confused, so I drew a line from the title and wrote, “dancing”. A collective understanding flooded the room and then a wave of hands. We quickly filled the board with ideas and then watched a clip from one of my favorite documentaries, Happy. I attempted to break down a few of the concepts like the mention of intrinsic and extrinsic goals and their relevance and importance to happiness in today’s world. It was a topic I felt comfortable talking about and something I didn’t think this special group of students would be exposed to otherwise. Happiness doesn’t begin to explain the feeling I had that day.
The last time I went on a school field trip, I still thought Abercrombie & Fitch was cool. So when I was given the opportunity to go to Haifa for the day with the 6thgraders at my school, I clearly jumped on the opportunity, smelling a faint Pavlovian whiff of A&F cologne as I did so. We filed onto the bus and took the three hour journey to Haifa, a beach city north of Tel Aviv.
All was fairly similar in comparison to the trips I remember taking. Chaperones, bagged lunches and a day full of walking tours with a friendly guide made for a gloriously childish day. I felt even more connected to the kids, especially when I taught them a little chant from my days back at Penn State (apologies for the clips vertical nature).
It was chaos but memorable all the same. For two whole days, my teaching partner and I sat (and danced) through auditions for the school musical, Frozen. With every period came a new set of students, some talented and some who were…enthusiastic. I was in charge of the dance auditions, and as each bell rang its whimsical tune, I would collect the next group of hopefuls and lead them to the outdoor auditorium.
After teaching the groups two 8-counts of moves, I watched them in small groups, reminding the little ones to show off big smiles and tall statures. This was an opportunity to teach them beyond the books. I wanted them to learn what it’s like to be judged and how to keep their heads held high with confidence readily available. Though it probably went over the heads of many, I’d like to think someone came out a little stronger, a little more refined.
Thursday: Sunset #1
As the winter days shorten and light becomes a commodity, the nearby Ben-Gurion University invited a group of international students (in many ways I am considered a student in Israel) to hike in the desert and enjoy an early sunset. Along this hike, I met a few new friends who were open and welcoming. Although they’ve been here for three years now, these Be’er Shevans were still up for getting to know new people. Our conversations swerved through English and Hebrew as we made sense of each other’s slang and other very important information i.e. the meaning of “grow some balls”. We mixed and mingled through the night, with the hike ending in an oddly fun dance party in an even odder location. Most of the group went with it and we danced to a combination of American, Israeli, Latin and Indian music. In that moment I was aware, yet again, of the incredibly unique and awesome situation I am in right now.
I marked the first week in my training for the upcoming half marathon in Tel Aviv. I now have less than three months to run more than I have ever run in my entire life. Challenge accepted.
Saturday: Sunset #2
Last Saturday, I started my morning at 5:45 to catch a sunrise over the Dead Sea. A full week later, I ended my weekend on a beach in Netanya where a friend and I drank from a bottle of cheap wine, listened to music and contemplated where it all went wrong…or right if you tilted the wine bottle just so.
As our conversation sunk deeper into the sand, it seemed like we struck a flick of gold, a pattern in it all. Bad things happen, but in the end it’s usually those moments that make life a little more OK. Memories from years back still hurt like hell if you let them, but when you are feeling the buzz of cheap wine with a winter sunset at your feet and a friend to lean against, all of the angst and trouble feels tinged with, dare I say, some sort of value. Like if you didn’t feel that exasperating pain of a past mistake or cringe-worthy moment, you wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beautiful view set out before you. You wouldn’t have the hindsight and knowledge to think through decisions in a different way. You wouldn’t be who you are at this very moment.