Sunday, June 27, 2010


For setting a goal and attempting to stick to it, I failed miserably. I have not blogged as often as I wanted (at least once a week). The anticipation of leaving Israel, packing up my stuff, actually leaving Israel, spending a week in NYC, arriving back in LA, graduation, being virtually homeless...the excuses abound. I am sorry, and I will try harder. The truth is, I haven't felt compelled to write these past few months, which is sad. I hope I have the desire to write more. I hope...

Sunday, April 11, 2010


After Tuesday's Seder, I decided that my extreme sickness wasn't going to ruin the rest of my Pesach break, and I headed to Egypt.

I took the earliest Friday bus from Jerusalem to Eilat, then walked across the border where I waited for my bus from Taba to Cairo.

After 11 cumulative hours of travel; from Jerusalem to Eilat, Eilat to Taba, and then Taba to Cairo, I arrived at my first destination. In Cairo I stayed with a Couchsurfing friend, Fady. It was a convenient time for me to visit, because he was planning on visiting Sohag and would be able to drive me halfway to Luxor.

So, my first introduction to Cairo came in the form of driving on its incredibly crowded and lawless streets. Fady showed me how offensive driving is necessary in Cairo, and that once you get used to having several near-death experiences each day, you're fine!

Four hours later I arrived in Asyut where I would hop a train to Luxor. At this point, I had seen none of the ancient monuments or historical sites that Egypt is known for, but only had the pleasure of experiencing insane Egyptian traffic conditions, sexually degrading looks and assaults from every person I passed and the inevitable confusion of being a foreigner in a culture with language that I did not understand. I was ready to see some ancient temples and tombs already! But, I was still a six hour train ride from Luxor, so I had to sit tight and try to enjoy the beauty and intrigue of daily Egyptian culture.

At the train station I was on my own, so I had to find someone who spoke decent enough English to help me buy my ticket and locate the correct train. After approaching the man working at the ticket booth and purchasing my ticket, he immediately hailed another individual to escort me to the station cafe where I could wait until the train arrived. With five hours to go, I thought I would explore the city of Asyut and get some dinner before the night train came. After finishing my first cup of tea, I picked up my things and headed for the exit. At that moment I was stopped by an officer in the Egyptian army who asked where I was going. I responded that I just wanted to walk around and get dinner. He told me that it was best for me to stay and wait in the cafe, and he would bring me dinner. I was astounded and a bit disgusted at his protectiveness and possessiveness. I guess it's difficult for me to understand how they view women in their society, considering it would be out of the question for a young girl to travel on her own, just what I was doing on my trip.

My babysitter, courtesy of the Egyptian military

So, there I sat in my train station cafe prison. Luckily, being the equivalent to someone's possession entitles you to certain benefits, like free food and drink. So, I downed 17 cups of tea and read for my religious foundations of Judaism class. Funny.

The exhausting night train ride was worth it when I arrived in Luxor the following morning. As the ancient capitol of Egypt, Luxor is chocked full of interesting temples and tombs, all of which I learned about courtesy of my AP Art History class. The photos that originally introduced me to these sites could barely capture their real life magnificence.
Luxor Temple

Luxor highlights

Queen Hatshepsut's Temple

Valley of the Kings. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia because they didn't allow cameras inside. Boo.)

Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

Karnak Temple

Despite having the opportunity to see all of these historically significant places, the best part about Luxor was my mode of transportation: a bicycle. For the equivalent of $2 I rented a bike that I was able to ride all around the city. The fact that Egypt is virtually void of traffic laws made the adventure that more fun. Also, I think riding a bike, as opposed to walking, spared me at least 30% less verbal assaults from the locals. Whether they couldn't get a good glimpse at my Western face or just didn't see me, I was bothered much less when riding a bike.

Apparently in Egypt Bamboo juice is big. I tried it and it's disgusting, but I can't help but be enamored at the industrial juicer that it requires. You know how I love to juice things...

Typical Egyptian toilet. The lack of toilet paper was the least of my worries.

Muslims love Christmas...?

My luxurious, $2/day accommodations at the Bob Marley hostel in Luxor

After two days in Luxor, I took the 11-hour night train back to Cairo where I would finally see the pyramids. Luckily, this trip was without my Egyptian military bodyguards.

Pyramids at Giza!!!



I couldn't pass up the stereotypical camel ride. Such a tourist.

I visited Ibn Ezra and the Rambam's synagogues'

My day of pyramids and Cairo ended with a night bus back to Taba, where I would return to Eilat and then finally Jerusalem. In six days, I did a total of 41 hours of traveling. Crazy? Yes. Fun? Something like that.

Although the major accomplishments of this trip may seem to be visiting so many important and significant monuments, in truth, it was actually my miraculous ability to not get ripped off. Not even once! Pretty amazing for being a tourist in a foreign, money-hungry country. I bargained to hold on to every last Egyptian pound, which is about the equivalent of 20 cents. So, with the memories of tombs, temples and pyramids, I left this trip with my dignity and dollars.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Tel Aviv Bauhaus

Today I woke up way to early to go to Tel Aviv and apply for my Egyptian tourist visa. Although I was unsuccessful in procuring the visa (damn bureaucracy), I did spend an enjoyable morning in Tel Aviv. From a cafe I noticed the interesting architecture of the city. Mostly Bauhaus, the buildings have an intriguing and unique character.

Nine measures of beauty may have been bestowed upon Jerusalem, but Tel Aviv definitely has something interesting to offer.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Yam l'yam

To begin Passover break I was lucky enough to go on a hike throughout the north of Israel with Hebrew University's Office of Student Activities. OSA organizes activities for Rothberg International students like museum tours, dinners and other events. But, Yam l'yam is known as their best activity, which was clear when the registration was full just a few days after sign ups began.

Just over a year ago, you couldn't pay me to go hiking. Growing up in Lake Elizabeth, surrounded by the Angeles National Forest, I took for granted the nature that was all around me. But since coming to Israel, I have developed an appreciation for the environment, which was ignited during my first trips to the West Bank with Rabbis for Human Rights. Volunteering with Rabbis for Human Rights gave me the opportunity to travel to beautiful and diverse areas of Israel: from the lush, fertile north, to the dry, hilly south. After these excursions I could see that Israel not only offered an interesting political situation, but also incredible scenery. This is what encouraged my interest in hiking throughout Israel.

We began at Nahariya where our Madrichim gave us a hilarious theatrical welcoming to the hike. Off the shores we could see Israeli naval ships guarding the maritime border between Lebanon and Israel.

Trekking across the river countless times during the hike. My TOMS held up well.

Eli, our madrich, showing us the way

The first day we hiked to the top of the mountains in the north where we could see the beautiful skyline leading out to the ocean. These photos hardly capture the magnificent view.
Set into the valley and hillside of the adjacent mountain is the town of Mitzpe Hila, the birthplace of Gilad Shalit and where his parents still reside. Considering all of our madrichim and hiking guides served in the IDF, along with all other Israelis once they become of-age, the issue of the danger living in and serving the state of Israel was brought up.

The following day we hiked Mt. Meron, which lies within the sight of Lebanon. After the expulsion of the PLO from Jordan in the incident known as Black September, the group settled in southern Lebanon and began attacking Israel. The area where we hiked was in rocket range of Lebanon, and was hit many times during the PLO's residency in Lebanon. Israel responded in 1982 with the invasion of Lebanon that began the 18 year occupation of the region. In an attempt to stop attacks from the PLO and defeat their enemies, Israel found itself occupying Lebanon for nearly two decades and created resentment and fueling hatred from its Arab neighbors and groups within the countries, like Hezbollah. It was stunning to be hiking in an area that had so much political significance, which had suffered attacks throughout the 1980s and in the early 2000s that began such important political manuevers and strategies by Israel and the surrounding countries.

Hannah and me

Our hiking guide, Noach

Day two hike trail

At the end of the second day we bussed to a hostel in Sfat where we stayed for Shabbos. Unfortunately, my stomach didn't agree with something and I had to leave early the next day, and was unable hike the final day to the destination: the kinneret.

The purple trail shows the basic hiking path we took

Yam l'yam was an amazing experience where I was able to meet new friends, see different areas of Israel and explore moral and political questions brought up along our hike.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Couchsurfing and Hitchhiking

Instead of attending class this week, I decided to go to Sderot and see an area of Israel that most aren't fortunate enough to visit. Originally, I wanted to see Sderot in order to gain a better understanding of the Israel-Gaza situation and see how life was in an area so close to the conflict. You may think that Jerusalem is the best place to see the Arab-Israeli clash, but in Sderot the issues are not occupation, they're more about qassams and bomb shelters.

The night I arrived, my Couchsurfing host, Roee, made homemade Shakshuka while I watched a football game between Haifa and Tel Aviv. There could have been a no warmer welcome.

The following day I spent hanging out with Roee and his friends in open field near the kibbutz Nir Am, which is just one kilometer away from the border of Gaza. Upon leaving for Sderot my friend Sam, who spent time volunteering there during Operation Cast Lead, said that the area is relatively safe, but I shouldn't go "hanging out in any open fields." It just so happens Roee's photo shoot that I was helping with was set in an open field-an open field quite close to Gaza.

Of course, nothing happened and I spent the idyllic day having my photo taken in awesome hippie, Israeli clothing.

The next day I was fortunate enough to meet with Jacob from the Sderot Media Center. Just by entering Sderot, anyone can notice that this is no "normal" city, with its bountiful bomb shelters and cement-walled schools. But, Jacob and the Sderot Media Center offered a more comprehensive and thorough understanding of how constant attacks from Gaza affect the daily lives of those living in Sderot. He took us to a viewpoint with a clear view of Gaza, and to a street where nearly all of the houses had been hit by qassams. Insane.

Shell of a Qassam rocket that hit Sderot

Smile, you're one kilometer away from Gaza!

Sderot: where the bomb shelters are nicer than the houses

Childrens' playground/massive bomb shelter

Here's a video produced by the Sderot Media Center. It offers a glimpse of the psychological trauma that Sderot residents face because of the constant threat of rockets.

The final afternoon in Sderot was spent hitchhiking to Zeqeem, a beach Roee recommended.
There, me and my travel compadre, Hannah, spent the afternoon enjoying the view of Gaza on this seemingly private beach.

Overall, my week of Couchsurfing, hitchhiking, shakshuka-eating, picture posing and conflict understanding offered a deeper experience and understanding of Israel than sitting in a classroom could have given me.

Think of this as an ode to class skipping and my bout of senior-itis.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Today in Jerusalem...

Today in Jerusalem there were huge protests, and the particularly noticeable demonstrations took place in an area right near Hebrew University in Isawiya. What has been called the "day of rage" by HAMAS, Palestinians are protesting Israel's recent restriction on access to Al-Aqsa mosque and the continued difficulties arising with Israel's refusal to stop settlement building.

Not only were there protests in the city and neighboring Arab villages, tensions were also high at Hebrew University where Palestinian, Israeli and international students encounter one another, and are forced to reconcile how outside political events affect daily campus life.

While some students took this opportunity to express their political views of the occupation and the stalled negotiations between the Palestinians and Israeli parties others, sadly, took advantage of the division in opinions to display their racism and hatred. Throwing stones and inciting violence is not a productive way to advance your cause. Hopefully they'll realize that one day.

Monday, March 8, 2010