Friday, June 26, 2009

... And now for Egypt

    So it's been a very crazy and exciting week, thus to lack of posting.  After completing the Livnot trip on Sunday, which was such an incredible experience, myself and several friends headed down to Tel Aviv for an evening on the Mediterranean.  As with the best travel plans, we had none.  No place to stay, only friends of friends we could contact in hopes something would work out.  As the sun was setting on the sea and an impromptu modeling shoot broke out (see images here finally something gave way and we had a place to stay.  Our very good friend Tehila contacted a good friend of hers and her brother, who had never met Tehila, invited us into his home (four of us mind you) for as long as we needed.  His roommate moved out of his room to make way for us and slept on the couch.  As you can see, the giving atmosphere here is incredible.  So now we find ourselves with access to a beautiful apartment in the middle of Tel Aviv.  Got to love serendepitous travels.
     So we got our Egyptian visas, which took 24 hours, and spent the second day wandering the old city of Jaffa.  We walked through the extensive Shuk (marketplace) and met some incredible people.  We finished the afternoon off with a swim in the Mediterranean and then headed back to the apartment for a final meal with our hosts and then a late night bus ride to Eilat, the southern most city in Israel and the equivalent of Las Vegas.  
      We arrived in Eilat around 6 am, got a hostel and spent the afternoon in the Red Sea.  The next morning we got up and headed to Jordan to enjoy Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world.  After haggling and dealing with quite pushy Jordanian men, we arrived at Petra, for no cheap price unfortunately, and wandered through the ancient ruins for the afternoon.  Needless to say, it was incredible.  It's where they filmed Indiana Jones, the Last Crusade, for those that remember.  Unreal.  
        We left Petra that afternoon, headed back to Israel, crossed back into Israel, caught and cab and then crossed the border into Egypt.  Three countries, one day.  Only the Middle East.  So the evening was spent, once again, haggling and dealing with Arabic men who have little patience for our lack of Arabic language, understandably.  We arrived in Dhaba, a beautiful beach town in Sinai, late last night.  Such a long and exhausting day.  Never been so dirty.  Never been so tired.
        Woke up this morning to the bluest water I've ever seen and calls to prayer ringing from Minarets in every corner of the horizon.  Dhaba has some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, so this afternoon we went snorkeling and verified that fact.  The place is a bit touristy, but the locals are incredibly kind and welcoming of Americans.  They love Barack Obama, that's for sure.  
       So our plan for now is to relax in Dhaba, enjoy Shabbat and then climb Mt. Sinai on Monday or Tuesday.  After Mt. Sinai, it will be on to Cairo and the pyramids.  As you might imagine, this trip is a little too much to process while experiencing it, but there's definitely a perpetual feeling of being completely overwhelmed by everything.  The sights, the sounds, the people, the culture, and just the incredible opportunity to experience this.  My travel companions are amazing guys, both unique in their own ways.  An actor and a surfer.  Entertaining,  down to earth, and hilarious.  
      For those that have been following, sorry I haven't been able to update more often.  It's a bit tough to find internet readily available.  Hope this finds you all well and thanks for reading along. 

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sun Sets on Another Week

        I currently find myself in a town that escapes description but begs to be experienced, every back alley way, every person, every shop and artistic community begging to be explored.  The town is called Tzfat.  It's a quaint semi-magical (that's an understatement) town where almost everything is made of limestone.  The people operate on a different level of consciousness, quite blatantly and unabashedly.  There is no rush, there is no hurry, anyone will stop and talk and deep spirituality is at the core of almost everything here.  We've met with potters, kabbalists artists, painters, Middle Eastern scholars, Arab Israelis and we've listened.  Every day is filled with so much information, so much sensory stimulation, so much to think about that Shabbat could not come soon enough.  The town is now completely silent as Shabbat is only hours away.  All the shops closed hours ago, people wishing one another a good Shabbos, and a calm peace has swept over the entire town.  I'm sitting on the balcony of an ancient building looking over the slopes of the Galilee, watching the sun draw nearer to the hills and I can't help but think how much "better" this feels than the alternative.  The rush, the distraction, the plans and expectations.  People here are fully here.  Many have left their homes in America and other parts of the world to live on this holy ground.  They speak with deep sincerity, listen with honest interest, and live with a highly cultivated sense of self awareness.  As I said when I started writing this... this place escape description, but begs to be experienced.
      I will leave Tzfat on Sunday, but only temporarily.  I have two friends that I have made on this Livnot trip that are going to Egypt with me.  We head to Tel Aviv on Sunday, get our visas for Egypt, and head down to Cairo, Giza and the Nile Valley for two weeks.  From there I am tentatively planning on doing some camping in a few Bedouin villages in Sinai, climbing Mount Sinai, and then meeting another friend I made on this trip, a commander in the Israeli army in Ber' Sheeba for a few days.  I have no idea what will follow that, but I plan to come back to Tzfat and work with Livnot, the community organization that brought me here, to do some work.  The excavate old ruins, teach english to kids, and many other community building programs.  The people are so inspiring, so steady in their pursuits that I'm sure it can only be a positive thing to spend more time here.  
      A brief summary of other things I've done, since internet has been a bit elusive.  We've hiked Masada (Herod's famous desert palace where the Jews had their last stand with the Romans), we've swam the Dead Sea, which is such a bizarre place, reeking of sulfur we bathed in mud and floated in minerals, we hiked Gamla, a historic Jewish village that was destroyed in 67 CE by the Romans in defense of Jerusalem, we hiked the Golan Heights swimming in fresh water springs and pools, we spent two days in the desert where I was one of the few who caught a violent stomach bug and spent the better part of a night getting painfully sick, we went to several Arab Israeli villages with a Middle East educator promoting co-existence and all the while learning so much history, music, dance, and general spirituality that I now find myself slightly exhausted and reeling from two weeks that have been like none other.  
     So this is the update.  I apologize that it doesn't read so light and humorous, but intensity is a bit more prominent at the moment as we reflect on the last two weeks.  I'm looking forward to this Shabbat in Tzfat and then on to Egypt.  Until then....

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Brief Summary

     Well, I'm not sure where to begin this entry.  The last week has been filled with so many intense and incredible events and experiences, processing them is sure to take much longer.  So, here are some of the highlights.  We celebrated Shabbat in Jerusalem, going to the Western Wall Friday evening.  We then went to various households throughout Jerusalem for Shabbat meal on Saturday.  Yesterday we went and hiked Masada, a mountain in the desert where Herod built a palace, but the Jews then used seventy years later as the place for their last stand against the Romans.  After hiking Masada, we went and floated in the Dead Sea.  It's incredible, you literal can't go under water if you try.  There is so much salt and so many minerals, because it's the lowest place on earth, that you just float.  
     Spending several days in Jerusalem was incredible.  Such an amazing city.  We're now up in the Golan Heights, going for a hike tomorrow through waterfalls.  The terrain here varies so drastically from place to place.  After two days here in the Golan, we'll be in Sfat for four days, an ancient town in the north where Kaballah came to fruition.  
     Needless to say, these postings are a bit scattered and not as coherent as I normally write; an indication of my thought process.  Israel is intense on just about every level, so trying to write about it while being completely immersed in it is a bit disorienting.  The people are incredible, the youth are full of purpose.  Anyway, this has the tone of rambling at this point so I'll sign off here.  Thanks for reading.  

Monday, June 8, 2009

Old City, New to Me

      So this posting is going to be brief, primarily because I'm so tired my fingers can barely move.  After a long flight, which began with me thinking myself fortunate for having landed an aisle seat but things quickly shifted a bit more nightmarish as the Jewish version of Jon & Kate plus.... that's right..... 8 came and sat in the row next to me, I finally landed in Tel Aviv at 8 am this morning.  The tantrums of a teething toddler and, we'll just say, very "liberally" parented children left little chance for sleep.  But no worries.  We pushed on and before the day had ended I found myself in the old city of Jerusalem, taking in the Temple Mount and Dome of the Rock.  Two incredibly iconic and deeply moving places to see.  I look forward to going back several more times, when crowds are thinner and silence more near.  This place really is amazing.  If you think New York is stacked on top of itself, you should see Jerusalem, the epitome of invaluable real estate. 
     Tonight I'm going out with some friends into the new city, then a day of hiking tomorrow in the hills and woods of Jerusalem.  There are several Israeli military officers hanging out, so getting to talk to them has been fascinating.  Discipline is a far greater currency here I can already see.  
    I hope to have some images to share in the next few days.  Until then...