Thursday, February 3, 2011

"Israel is 4 ballerz son!"*

(above, Negev Desert. below, The Old City)
i was very fortunate to have the opportunity to take a trip to Israel this winter. the closest i had ever been to the middle east was the Czech Republic in college. to say that it's a different world is perhaps both accurate and obvious at the same time. i didn't much of an idea what Israeli geography looked like, and as it turned out, i hadn't seen anything close to a lot of what i did see. it seems that the more places i see, the more times i can make comparisons between places, but there are also more times where it's undeniable that what i'm looking at i have never seen before. that's a pretty cool feeling.

instead of write a day-by-day synopsis, i'll just give some thoughts and stories. the pictures aren't in any sort of order, except the one i gave them.
(above, Negev Desert)
so i took my Birthright trip and as such, i was with a group of 40 Americans, 2 group leaders, 1 Israeli tour guide, 1 Israeli guard and also 8 young Israelis - 5 soldiers and 3 students. quite a crew! the dynamics of being on a "tour" are a completely different discussion that i'll leave out of here, but it did allow us to cover a vast amount of ground and see a quantity of sights that i might not have seen were i on my own schedule.
(above, Dead Sea)
for me, the most culturally foreign thing that hit me was the presence of war and conflict. to say that the Middle East has a history of conflict is certainly an understatement and an obvious one at that, but for me, an admitted often passer-by of current events and news, it was an eye opener. in every town or city we passed, we saw Israeli soldiers on guard, or on the move, each with an M-16 over their shoulder. Yossi, our guard carried a rifle wherever we went. the majority of historical sites or sights we went to/saw carried with them a story of conflict. Israel keeps a watchful eye on current events in Egypt.

the road above was the beginning to a canyon hike we did in the Golan Heighs. abutting this road on either wide are Syrian landmine fields.
(above, Sea of Galilee. below, pre-Shabbat market in Jerusalem)
(above, farm fence in the north. below, view through old Syrian bunker)
above, the ancient fortress Masada. of all the history and information we were presented with at this site, i'd like to share one bit about desert warfare. the desert can be a horribly intolerable place, but if you've got water and food, you're set. so if you can keep enough water and food for yourself then the desert becomes your enemy's enemy.
(Bedouin camels)

while milling around in Tel Aviv one afternoon, Roz, one of the Israeli soldiers with us approached me and asked if i was cold in my shorts and sandals. i explained how the weather in Maine was and how grateful i was to be in the sun and 60+ degree weather. she shivered in her fatigues. we shared brief life stories, talking about travel and school and work. at the end of mine she said, "you don't look like someone who works in an office." why thank you.

while on a hike, i was talking with Amir, one of the Israeli soldiers who had joined us. he asked me how i was liking Israel. i immediately said that it was great - i was loving the scenery and also the weather, as i had been wearing shorts, sandals and a t-shirt for most of the trip. Amir responded and said, "This is the Holy Land, you never know what each day will bring." dumb tourist that i am, i nodded my head and was about to tell him about how variable weather in Maine can be, when he finished his sentence: "...war or peace."

*text message received from the big man on the eve of departure

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