post 11: The Inevitable Post

I am going to start by stating that what I am about to write on is a very serious matter here in the Middle East. This is a topic that I have wanted to write about for a while now, but I was never sure how to approach the subject. It is a complicated and controversial topic, and I hope you can all keep an open mind while I express my views about hummus.
Let’s start with a little bit of history…

Hummus is actually the Arabic word for chickpeas. Chickpeas were invented over 7,000 years ago, and they are one of the first agricultural plants ever. So, it makes sense that hummus has a long, long controversial history here in the Middle East, and hummus is also one of the oldest dishes known to man/woman.

The ingredients in hummus are pretty simple: mashed chickpeas, maybe blend in a little tehina (a thick white sauce made out of sesame seeds), a bit of lemon juice, olive oil, maybe some spices, salt and/or garlic.

For Palestinians, hummus has always been around. They usually serve their hummus hot and fresh. Same with the hummus in neighboring places like Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.

Despite the Arab origins, Israelis have recently claimed hummus and falafel as their “National Snack.” This bold claim is obviously causing some controversy in the Arab world. Some are saying that Israelis don’t give falafel and hummus any credit to its real Arab and Egyptian origins and that it is not assigned to the appropriate culture.

In 2008, people in Lebanon actually requested to protect the status of hummus as strictly being a Lebanese food. In terms of hummus being “Israeli’ it is most likely adopted from the Jews who moved from these Arab countries, bringing the recipes into Israel. And only more recently, in the 1990s, did hummus become a prepackaged item for Israelis to keep as a household item.  Did you know that there are actually shops and restaurants that serve only hummus here? They are called Hummusiot.

People back in the States are probably more familiar with hummus as a cold processed product that is served as an appetizer or a dip. But the real hummus here, the warm fresh hummus, is served in a bowl as a meal.

Now, no offense to anyone (both Arabs and Israelis, hummus-lovers and hummus-haters), but I was never a huge fan of hummus. Sometimes I would eat it for a healthy snack, or in college, when it was (maybe a bit too often), the only thing left in the fridge.

But I tell you this from the bottom of my heart: There is nothing like sitting down to a warm bowl of freshly homemade hummus at a Hummusiot here in the Middle East. I’ve had Palestinian hummus, Lebanese hummus, and Israeli hummus here. I don’t care who made it, where it came from, who thinks it belongs to them, because the flavors and the textures (without sounding too much like a redbull commercial) is literally an explosion of your senses, and is an intense experience to not be missed when traveling here.  It is like one of the Wonders of the World…

Okay, I may be over-exaggerating a little bit, but let me explain to you what a real Hummusiot is like, and you can judge for yourself:

First of all, you are destined to wait in line for a good twenty minutes, being pushed and shoved by people who want to get inside the restaurant, or at least order takeout. Once you’re inside, there are never too many tables, so you are probably sitting with strangers, but it doesn’t matter, because no one pays any attention to anything but the hummus here.

Your eyes are treated to a colorful array of ripe red tomatoes, raw white onions, pickles, green olives, and purple beats. You can hear the background noise of the food runners rushing hummus out to everyone who sits down, and instead of the servers writing down your order, they shout it out after you place it, loud enough so that the guys in the back kitchen can hear. Your mouth waters from the thick texture and unique rich taste, and your nose runs from the spicy sauce left out for you to put in your hummus to your preference.

Here you are, your nose is running, you’re surrounded by shouting, and you’re drooling from the delicious warm bowl of heaven- but you can’t wipe your nose, your drool, or cover your ears from the shouting, because one of your hands is filled with pockets of warm pita, and the other hand is knuckle deep in a bowl of hummus. To put it more bluntly, you are one hot-mess.

Tips to the men out there- Hummusiots are not really a good idea for a first (or third) date, (no offense Yosi…) because not only are you a hot mess, but you really only sit down for five or ten minutes, because you have to devour your hummus fast or the people who are in line, waiting to get in, start giving you evil glares.

I know, I know… it sounds crazy and awful, but the hummus is so good that it’s worth it. Worth it so much, that some people (like me) will eventually get spoiled here. I mean, the hummus is so good that I cried. I cried tears of joy over hummus. How can I go back to the below-the-pretzels processed stuff that you can find on sale in bulk in BJ’s?

Okay, I guess what I am trying to get at with this inevitable serious post but not so serious post at all as it turns out, is that hummus tastes really good here. Both Palestinians and Israelis make good hummus. And I am 100% sure that Egyptians, Syrians, and the Lebanese make good hummus too. Not only do they make it well, and serve it well, but it tastes so good- to everyone, both Israelis and Arabs. So, in terms of conflict in the Middle East, who knows? Maybe someone like Barack Obama has his own hummus recipe that he can bring to the next Middle East Summit and everyone will like it, and at least for a few moments, the world will be more at peace.

Click the underlined words to check out the Before and After on youtube.

post 10: The Baha’i Gardens in Haifa

Last weekend I made the journey to Haifa- a city located in the beautiful hills of Mount Carmel, a little less than two hours north of Tel Aviv.

Our main purpose of going was to tour through the Baha’i Gardens. It was a much-anticipated trip for me because I had wanted to go for a while, since I saw some gorgeous photographs of it a few months ago.

I’m not going to lie here, I did not have much of an idea of what ‘Baha’i’ was before I got there… other than the fact that Dwight from The Office is part of the ‘Baha’i’ faith. I just thought I was going to walk through some pretty gardens, enjoy the scenery, take some snapshots, and smell the flowers. Maybe even enjoy a picnic with some fresh squeezed lemonade…

But, alas, I was wrong. I was wrong in so many ways.

When we got to the Gardens, we decided to take an English speaking tour so I could finally learn what this huge beautiful area was all about.

I was not the only one who was curious about these Gardens. There were about 120 people there who also wanted this tour (plus it was free), so they split us into two groups of 60 each. The first 60 people went off with a tour guide equipped with a map and a microphone.

The remaining 60 (including me, Yosi, Noa, and Gilli) were left with a soft-spoken tour guide with a thick accent and no microphone. (Did I mention the tour was free?)

Anyway, The Baha’i Gardens are built on a steep slope on Mount Carmel, and we started the tour at the very top, slowly making our way down by way of stairs.

The Gardens are made up of many tiers, like a big wedding cake covered in a lush blanket of green grass, as if each strand was cut to the very same length. There are red and purple flowerbeds that are meticulously tended to- you will not see one dry petal. There are tranquil fountains placed equally among each tier, where water flows peacefully and slowly down the sides of the stairs.

Palm trees stand like statues from inside of the grassy squares, which are surrounded by such perfectly shaped shrubbery; it really feels like you are in a symmetrical wonderland.

While you are walking down the steep stairs, it is also easy to forget that right across from your face is an incredible panoramic view of the Mediterranean Sea with the Hills of Galilee in the distance.

To start off our tour, we began to walk down the stairs and our tour guide quietly introduced herself to us, and made it very clear that no one is allowed to wander off by him/herself. (Except for the little kid who needed to use the bathroom as soon as we started walking.)

We are also not allowed to walk on the grass, which, trust me, makes you want to roll around in it even more. And we also have to cover our shoulders and keep our voices down.

I didn’t quite understand why it was all so serious, and I was frustrated, because first of all, there goes my picnic idea, and second of all, I could barely hear anything the guide was saying.

My much-anticipated trip to the Baha’i Gardens started to seem a little lame, and my best option was looking like a game of Cut The Rope on my iPhone. But the guide then began to talk about something I have heard only very little about- the Baha’i faith.

Aha, I knew there was something religious going on here. Like that shrine I am standing right next to… and that golden dome behind me… they must have some spiritual significance, right? Oh, and the fact that I have to be quiet and cover my shoulders, that must have something to do with that too.

It occurred to me then that this is not just a pretty garden, it is not even the creative results of some great artists who really really like stairs (there are nineteen flights that extend as they go up!) but The Gardens are a place of spiritual pilgrimage and holy worship. They are kept so incredibly clean and perfect by the labor and hard work from the Baha’i people themselves. Haifa also the home to their Prophet Bahaullahs Shrine, in Bahji (north of Haifa) and Bab is buried in the Shrine on Mount Carmel.

Now, aren’t you curious about the Baha’i faith and what these Gardens are doing here in Haifa anyways? As it has nothing to do with Judaism whatsoever? And because it really is really random?

Well, in short, the Baha’i faith is the most contemporary religion, and a quite beautiful, open-minded one to say the least.

Baha’is believe that there is one God.

They believe in the same God that spoke to all the big guys like Abraham, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Jesus, and Muhammad. As far as my memory goes from the tour, they had this prophet figure named Bahaullah who came from Iran in the 1800’s who preached equality between women and men, and an emphasis on family and nature. The Baha’is believe humanity is one family.  And among many other things, they strongly believe that all prejudice must be overcome, and that science and religion go together in harmony.

The followers of the faith also believe that any work done in service to God is a form of worshipping God, as too through prayer and meditation.

So, as the tour guide told us, the point of the Baha’i Gardens is this: By working hard to build and cater to these Gardens, and then praying and meditating in the tranquil nature that they have created for themselves, they will ultimately be able to connect to God.

Now, this is the part of the tour when things got weird.

The tour guide then went on to ask us, “How many Baha’is do you think live in Israel?”

There were scattered answers among the group.

“Seven-hundred?!”  … “Two-hundred-thousand??” … “Nine-hundred and fifty???” … “Eighty-five?”

Then, the cranky nine-year-old boy sitting slouched in the shade, muttered under his breath, “Seven.” And then rolled his eyes.

“Yes!” The tour guide said. “Something around three to seven Baha’is live here in Israel.”           

Hmmm.

Our tour guide then told us that the Baha’is are actually not even allowed to live in Israel at all, and the few that do have very special permission…

Oh, okay. I guess that makes sense?

Wait… no it doesn’t.

After some research, and from what I remember during the tour, the reason that the Baha’i people are not allowed to live in Israel is because they do not want to get caught up in, or influenced by, the religious and political controversies that so often arise here.

Bahaullah wrote many books and apparently in one of his teachings he clarified  that Baha’is could only come to the Gardens, or live in Israel, if invited by their Center of the World Community.

Then why? You must obviously be asking yourself, are the Gardens here in Haifa, Israel? Why is it that their largest and most beautiful place of worship, where their very own prophet is buried, is located in an area where they are not even allowed to live in?

The reason as to why the Baha’i Gardens are in Haifa is still a bit unclear to me, and I have received different answers.

The one that makes the most sense is that Bahaullah was exiled to Akko in 1868 by the then Ottoman empire and was a prisoner until his death. So that is why their spiritual and administrative center is in Israel now. Some say that God told the prophet Bahaullah to build them there, so he did. Some people think that it is behind the idea that Christ would get around to returning to Mount Carmel sometime in the near future. Some think that they just wanted to be in the ‘Holy Land’ for the main purpose of it being holy. Yosi thinks it is because of cheap real estate. We can all have our ideas I guess.

When the tour ended I felt so much more informed, and maybe even a bit more confused. My anticipated trip to the Baha’i Gardens was ultimately a success, all of this information was completely unexpected and nothing less than fascinating, and my desire to roll around in some perfectly cut grass has been increasing daily.

post 9: An Oasis of Justice

Here in Tel Aviv, I have been constantly searching for a place to seek refuge…

I have been trying to find an area in this city where I can feel a pleasant change: From the loud to the quiet, from the busy to the calm, from the rather unattractive aesthetic to the picturesque aesthetic. A place where I can feel at home, like a local, not a foreigner. Somewhere to feel equal among others. I was basically looking for an oasis of justice here in Tel Aviv.

After being here for two months now, I was beginning to think that this blissful ‘oasis’ idea I foolishly put into my head was nowhere to be found. I was actually beginning to doubt everything, constantly questioning why I am here, which accompany feelings of homesickness.

I was also getting frustrated with myself for even thinking there would be an area of this city where I could actually feel this change in atmosphere, even for a moment.

However, to my pleasant surprise, I found my moment. My blissful irrational ‘oasis’ idea somehow came to life… and quite literally.

Picture this:

It’s 3:00 in the afternoon on a Friday, just hours before sunset and Shabbat.   You are standing outside and the sun is still strong, lingering in an almost cloudless sky. There is a perfect late summer breeze, even though it is early November.

You are walking down a small street, with cars parked bumper to bumper on the sidewalk, looking like a mouth with too many teeth.

Along the sidewalks you see colorful shops and restaurants, blending into cafes and antique stores, all unique in their own respects. The colors are so strong and saturated; it is as if the blue sky itself was there just to flawlessly contrast these colorful buildings.

While standing in the middle of that street, you can smell both the delicate ocean air and the harsh scent of the city. But while walking on the narrow sidewalks, close to the stores and restaurants, you can smell a mixture of perfumes and coffee, food and baked goods.

So… Here you are, happily strolling among trendy tourists and locals alike, most of whom have shopping bags swaying from their wrists while eating ice-cream cones, and all of the couples you see swing their arms hand in hand.

Everyone looks… relaxed. And the whole area is very, very… quiet.

Now, this delightful area that you have peacefully and quietly found yourself in, is just south of central Tel Aviv. Only minutes away from the crazy Shuk HaCarmel food market, only minutes away from the busy highway along the beach, only seconds away from downtown skyscrapers.

But, for some mysterious reason, there is this calmness where you are. It is as if the charm and beauty itself is providing a magical silence, which ultimately takes you out of your element. And it puts you into a place that can be found nowhere else on earth.

When I first experienced this, I was confused. I was so close to the noise and hustle, that if I took a wrong turn I could easily find myself back on the mean streets of Tel Aviv. Did I literally convince myself to feel like this? Or was this area really as magical as it felt?

Well, it turns out, this tiny area of Tel Aviv is called Neve Tzedek. And from direct Hebrew to English translation, Neve – an oasis, Tzedek – of justice. I am in… An Oasis of Justice! Eureka!

As far as it’s history goes, Neve Tzedek is placed here for this exact reason. The founder of Neve Tzedek, who goes by the name of Aharon Shlush, supposedly created this area to be a getaway from the neighboring crowded city of Jaffa. Neve Tzedek is the first Jewish neighborhood of Tel Aviv. It was founded in 1887, twenty-two years before the actual city of Tel Aviv was founded.

Although Neve Tzedek is now one of the most expensive areas to live in in Tel Aviv, and has become rather commercial and ‘touristy’ because of it’s central location and old charm, you can still feel the quaintness in the colorful winding alleys. And on a Friday, you can feel that almost enchanting stillness that comes with Friday’s late afternoons here, moments before the Sabbath.

All in all, this is a place where you can get away from the crowd of Tel Aviv while you’re still in the middle of Tel Aviv.

So, as far as my search for a familiar oasis in Tel Aviv goes, I think I’ve found it. But at the same time, the newness of the city is still settling in for me, and I am still constantly questioning why I am here, but I am also not giving up on trying to feel at home during my time here.

post 8: What Happens on the Jordan River…

I went up North to the Kinneret two weekends ago, also known as the Sea of Galilee. It is Israel’s freshwater lake, that is fed by the Jordan River, which flows through it from north to south.

It was really beautiful, and being there in the peace and quiet felt like a dream compared to Tel Aviv’s loud craziness. We spent time swimming in the lake, we took a gorgeous nature hike, had a great dinner, and I got an amazing night’s sleep.

The next day, a few of my friends and I decided to go kayaking on the Jordan River. (The Jordan River is not only the most famous river in the bible, but it is also a prime kayaking, BBQing, and rock throwing destination.)

So, you know, we rent the kayaks, we put on our life-jackets, watch a quick video about the rapids that we might run into….etc. and we set off on our journey. And by ‘set off’ I mean we got pushed into five inch deep water by a twelve year old Arab boy.

The Jordan River is not that big (and it is not that clean either…) and there are many different kayaking and rafting places scattered along , so you will never really be alone on the river. The stream is probably as wide as a one-way street, and there will be two or three kayaks in front of you and behind you (and next to you, and bumping into you… remember there’s no personal space here.)

There are also people who sit above the river on the grassy patches, who BBQ, swim, and watch the kayakers slowly float by. Sometimes the little kids like to throw stuff at you too. If you get stuck on the branches or in the rocks, which happens every ten or so minutes, there are always Israeli and Arab families that will give you a push. The water never really goes deeper than past your ankles, which I didn’t realize until we decided to stop and swim and ended up just sitting in the water.

There were two people per kayak, and we were all having a really nice time just coasting and rowing along. (Actually, to be honest with you, I was sleeping and sunbathing with my sunglasses atop my head while my lovely kayaking partner was rowing and carrying my useless weight from the backseat.)

Anyway, about halfway through our journey (which totaled to be around two hours), we decide it would be fun to take pictures. As we were taking pictures, a big raft filled with two older couples floated past us. They joked around with us and asked us if we could take pictures of them too. So we did.

As they floated away, the older guy on the raft with gray hair and a great smile yelled back to us, “Tag me! Tag me on Facebook! My name’s Shlomo Bachar!”
We yelled back and said we would definitely ‘tag’ him.

Soon after taking all those photos with Shlomo Bachar, we found a blond girl who just fell off of her raft. She was laughing in a state of confusion, as her friends drifted off in a strong current without her. She looked up at us with big eyes as we slowly passed her by, so we decided to pick her up and drop her back off on her raft.
We pulled up next to her and she clumsily climbed onto the back of our kayak, and we rowed fast to catch up to the big raft of girls. The girls grabbed onto our kayak as their blond friend rolled herself off of our kayak into the big raft.

Honestly, it was pretty ridiculous.

After that odd encounter, about ten peaceful minutes go by until we find ourselves next to Shlomo Bachar’s raft again. He gave us a big smile and waved his hand for us to come closer. It was a little awkward, since we were just kind of floating next to each other, so we began to talk.

He asked us where we were all from, and I told him I was from Boston. He confidently and proudly told me, “My son is in Boston right now working! What a small world!”                                                                                                                         I asked him, “Where in Boston does he work?”                                                          Shlomo said, “Boston, Iowa!”                                                                                              I told him Boston was not in Iowa. He told me he knows that but it’s the same thing since it’s in the same country.

When my other  two friends in the other kayak caught up to us, Shlomo Bachar asked them where they are from too. My friend Arik told him he was from Holon, a city just south of Tel Aviv. Shlomo Bachar got really excited. “No way! I am from Holon too!” he exclaimed. Everyone on Shlomo’s raft was also from Holon, and everyone got really excited, talking at the same time — “Where in Holon do you live?” “What’s your last name?” “What does your father do?” ” —etc.

This led both Arik and Shlomo Bachar to get off of their respective rafts to hug and shake hands.

So as it goes, the two got talking about Holon while standing ankle deep in the Jordan River, and realized that they actually know each other and recognized each other because Shlomo Bachar owns a photo printing store next to Arik’s house.

Shlomo Bachar even told us that we could bring those photos we took to his store and he would print them for us for free.
After the exchange of names and handshakes, we keep coasting and floating, passing by Shlomo Bachar’s family every ten or so minutes to get a friendly “Hey! it’s you again!”

After the kayaking trip was over, we were tired, hungry, and wet. So we ate something, dried off, and went on with our day…

Me, Yosi, Neta, and Arik. Shlomo Bachar in the background

post 7: Getting Hit on in the Holy Land

Another example of how the culture is different here compared to the states is seen through the various ways men try to pick up women.

I am sure being hit on as an American is completely different than being an Israeli, but it is hilariously entertaining to be hit on here because the Israeli men are shameless and confident in all of their endeavors.

Just the other day I was walking to a friend’s apartment for lunch. I found myself getting a bit lost (weird, I know) so I started to text her for directions while walking.

I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. It was a cute young guy, who was looking at me like he knew me, even though he didn’t.

Before I had the chance to ask him if we had met before, he says to me in Hebrew (with a big smile on his face), “Hey, baby, why are you texting me? I am already right here.”

I told him, “I’m sorry but I speak English and am in a rush to meet my friend.” He said, in broken English, “well I can have your number? We can text for the reals?”

When I kindly declined, he protested that I should call him anyway, just to chat. He wouldn’t leave me alone and began to walk with me to my friend’s house. When I realized he was not going to leave me alone, I decided to take his number instead. After that exchange,  he shrugged and gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek, and told me to “enjoy Israel, it was nice meeting you. And if you ever needed anything, let me know.”

All in all, I never really respond when I meet a guy randomly like this, especially at a bar (and even more especially on the street) because they are more persistent there. And it is only on a rare occasion where I will give my actual number out.

From my observations thus far, the men back home are a bit more relaxed and passive, and will back off when you tell them to. But here, and as a  generalization, the men rarely accept no for an answer when you decline them your number.

Because of this, I insist on getting their number instead of them taking mine. So, as a result, I have found myself taking more numbers than I know what to do with. And instead of deleting their numbers after they save them into my phonebook, I will write one or two words after their names so I can remember where we met.

Well, my readers, I can assure you that I have an actively increasing contact list of men with very strange names and places.  It’s almost like a social experiment for my phonebook.

Here is a list of the guys I have met so far (and will most likely never call) that are currently in my phone book:

Amit awkwardclubguy
Eldar fromsomecafe
Micha tallboughtmesandwich
Nadav bathroomline …(my ultimate favorite)
Ohad atbeach
Omer actorandcutebutno
Ofir bathroomline2 …(my second favorite)
Shay jokesatbar
Yaniv grocerystore

Despite this list, there is something really special about the guys (and girls here). Right after high school they serve their country in the army for 3 years (girls serve 2 years). And with that army experience, comes such an intense and passionate connection to Israel. This is hard for me to relate to, because I did not serve the army and go through the experiences that come with fighting for your country.

The men here are also very loving people amongst themselves. When you see a group of guys meeting at a coffee shop, they hug each other and kiss each other on the cheeks as if they were long lost brothers (even if they just saw each other yesterday.)

For example, I was on a bus the other day, and a soldier (probably around my age) stepped onto the bus. A guy who was sitting in the back of the bus recognized the soldier (they must have been old friends, or from the same unit in the army,) and yelled his name. When the soldier recognized the guy, they both ran to one another on the crowded bus and hugged. They stood there talking and catching up the whole ride, and when one of them had to get off the bus, they kissed each other on the cheek and the soldier said, “Love you brother, call me to talk soon!” It was so sweet, and, unfortunately, these bold and loving interactions seem to be rare in the states between young men.

So to be fair, although the men are aggressive and persistent, they are also kind and loving, and most likely love their moms a lot, and go to their parents’ houses every Friday night for Shabbat dinner.

And also, this is a huge generalization based on my experiences so far. There are many sensitive, caring, and less aggressive guys out here too. (One of which I gave my actual number to, and is very special to me.) But more on that later!

post 6: Cashier vs. Dog

Tel Aviv, which is a mix of everything and everyone from everywhere around the world, is obviously bound to be a really interesting place filled with many interesting characters. But, with all of this diversity aside, I can assure you that the encounters you will have with the people here are unlike anything else in the world.

Like I said in my other posts, the people are aggressive here, but also warm and heartfelt. Often times, Israelis are compared to Sabras (cactus fruits), which are spiky on the outside but sweet on the inside. For example, the person who steps on your foot and hits you with his cart in the grocery store without saying he is sorry, will be the same person to chat you up while you’re waiting in line and you will end up at his family’s house for Friday night dinner.

Here is one of the encounters I have witnessed so far, that I quite honestly do not think would happen anywhere else in the world.

It was sunset on Friday, right before the city shuts down for Shabbat. People were packed into a local convenience store getting last minute things. I was there with a friend, getting a bottle of wine. While standing in line, a man came into the crowded store with his big golden retriever. The lady at the cashier told him bluntly, “Get your dog out, it’s too busy here.” The man told her straight up, “No, it’s not against the law, I can do whatever I want.”

The cashier was obviously offended that he did not tie his dog up outside, (plus the dog was not on a leash, no one here keeps their dog on a leash)… so the cashier told the man that she was going to tell the boss to come out.

Just seconds later, the boss (a young girl, with flowing brown hair and a nose-ring,) comes out of the back room. She looks at the dog that is wandering around the store, and casually tells the man to take the dog out. The man protests, “No! He’s not bothering anyone!”

Now, not only are the boss, the cashier, and the man involved in this dog issue, but also other people shopping in the store start to get involved.

They say if you have three Israelis, you have six opinions. (I think it’s more like ten opinions.)

So, one younger guy with dreadlocks said to the cashier, “Let him just keep the dog here, give it up!” Another woman, wearing a nice dress and high heals, agreed with the dreadlocks guy. “Seriously, everyone needs to chill out.” The cashier girl protested, “But it’s crowded! He needs to take his dog out.” An older couple walked in, and argued that the cashier has a point. The couple stammered, “Why is there a dog in here!? It’s so crowded!”

Little did anyone know, that all the while during these arguments and protesting about the dog, the boss has been sitting down on the ground in the middle of the store the whole time actually playing with the dog.  Once everyone realized this, the man with the dog casually bought a pack of gum and a coke from the cashier.

After paying, the cashier smiled up at the man and wished him a “Shabbat Shalom” (in other words, ‘have a good weekend’). He then snapped at his dog, and said “Yalla! (common!) Let’s go!” The boss kissed the dog on the head and ran her fingers through its fur one last time before the dog and his owner left the store.

post 5: Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for us Jews. However, it is not a happy holiday, it is actually a very solemn day where we ask god for forgiveness from all of the wrongs we have done throughout the year. We also forgive others who have done wrongs to us.

Some call it the Day of Atonement, and people spend all day doing intensive praying in synagogue, or reading and watching movies at home, or doing anything to take their minds off of food because they fast all day (as a symbol of cleansing from the past year’s sins).

I, on the other hand, pulled the ‘typical American girl in Israel’… I figured since god is just so happy that I am here in his holy land already, that I don’t have to fast, or go to temple, or do anything for that matter. So, my new best friend, Sharon, and I ate a lot, and went to the beach, and hung out with friends, and had one of the most unique and incredible experiences I’ve had so far.
But most people in Tel Aviv don’t keep the holiday either, (where in other cities like Jerusalem, and even in Jewish communities in The States, everyone fasts and goes to temple) which is what makes Yom Kippur in Tel Aviv nothing less than magical-

The whole city shuts down completely but people still live normally. It is a beautiful mix of modern city culture and ancient religious tradition. Let me explain…

Imagine yourself in the middle of a huge city (let’s say Times Square in New York City) on a hot summer day. It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and people are everywhere- you are among thousands of other people walking the streets. People are rushing in and out of stores, stepping on your toes, brushing your sides with their bags, stocking up on groceries, frantically getting last minute things before everything shuts down.

Around 5:00, people begin to disperse. You are still walking on the sidewalk though, but no one is surrounding you anymore. Cars are still driving on the streets, but the grocery stores are now closed, and all of the storekeepers are locking their doors, and like the domino affect, shops turn their lights off one by one.

By 5:30, there are no more cars on the streets. You step off of the sidewalk and stand in the middle of a usually busy intersection and watch all of the advertisements that cover the city’s big buildings turn off. Now, nothing is flashing, nothing is moving, the only thing giving light to the city are the still street lights.

It was right after Tel Aviv shut off the last of it’s lights when I began to feel the affect of the first night of Yom Kippur. Around 6:00, I took a ten minute walk by myself to my friend Sharon’s apartment around the corner. As I was walking, I noticed that the dirty busy city that I live in is now absolutely serene. The almost setting sun gave off a rosey glow that provided a calming affect to everything. The white buildings were now a soft pink, and the people on the streets were wearing flowing white garments, that swayed gently in the breeze. The more religious families were walking together, holding prayer books on their way to temple. The less religious families were riding bikes and quietly talking on their phones, meeting up with neighbors and friends, wishing each other a happy new year and an easy fast. It was such a special experience to walk in the middle of the streets with everyone.

I went to bed late that night feeling at ease. The whole city was silent, everyone and everything was asleep, resting, rejuvenating, and cleansing itself from all of the negativity of the past year. I woke that morning, the official day of fasting and praying, and instead of getting ready for temple, Sharon and I cooked shakshuka together (a typical Israeli breakfast made up of tomatoes and eggs…so delicious) and then we went to the beach …

The beach was packed on the holiest day of the year- people were on their phones, BBQing, and drinking beers. If you listened closely you could hear praying at the nearby synagogues. But the people that don’t pray come together at the beach and on the streets to hang out all day.

I am not going to lie, at first I felt a little guilty for not fasting or praying, and spending the day rather extravagantly compared to my fellow religious Jews, but this is Israeli culture in Tel Aviv- No one really cares. But- at the same time, even at the beach, there is this unspoken, holy connection wafting around the air. Like everyone understands each other on this day and there is a greater sense of connection that is hard to put into words, that you cannot experience any where else.

It is fun to think about the US doing something like this. If everyone had a day to just reflect on the past year. To not think about materialistic urges, to forget about everything but the people who are important in your life, and as corny as it sounds, to literally just ‘be’- especially in a city that is usually so alive and crazy… To have a day to meditate on things really puts life in perspective.

Even though I did not spend the holiday in a religious way, being in Israel and feeling this intense sense of community made me realize that you don’t always need to fast or pray or obey the ancient religious laws in order to experience something holy.

Maybe, if you can more or less just take one day a year to reflect and forgive yourself (and others) from past wrongs, and allow yourself to move on in life with a clean palate, then that counts as enough. So, with all of my Jewish guilt aside, this Yom Kippur was definitely a special, maybe even magical, experience that I will never forget.