Sunday, October 23, 2011

On Safed, Zefat

We embarked on an optional program to the fourth holiest Jewish city (yes, you can quantify holiness), otherwise known as Safed, or Zefat (pronounced Tzfat), this Wednesday and Thursday...yeah. Safed is really a beautiful city, nestled in the hills of the Galilee, with a great view of Mount Meron (see my last post).
Sunset in Safed
Basically, we were dropped off in this hotel and traded over to the chasids (see fig. 1). The occasion was the holiday of Simchat Torah, marking the end of the year-long reading of Torah, and a time to start a new book, maybe Harry Potter. Just kidding, we're re-reading that shit...again and again. Baa-ut, this is a fun chag, a la booze, so I'm not complaining.
Fig. 1
The program these chasids had set up for us was awful sweet and I really did appreciate how faithful they are to some diety and whatever, but I just wasn't having any of it. I'm not about to beat around the bush. I was there for the free booze. So I skipped all the lectures and stuff, and joined in the festivities at night, including but not limited to, getting drunk and dancing with loads of men. God would've smote me if I deigned to dance with a woman...none of that.

It was fun, though. There were a bunch of Year Course kids (think of Aardvark as a sleek, Ford Mustang, and Year Course, a rusty ol' Taurus). No offense to that lot. But the kids on their program were actually real cool and we went out stargazing until late and hung out ever later.
Chilled kids
Thursday, I woke up late and went out on the town and found some neat-o abandoned shit. More of the same Thursday night (drinking and dancing and torah), and then back to Jerusalem I went.
  Time is the Enemy - Quantic

On Sukkot, Old School

Sukkot is a holiday that celibates nature, and more specifically, rain. See, rain is incredibly important to life in ancient Israel, and obviously provided the basis for a few holidays, Sukkot included. Basically, Sukkot is a rain dance, and it represents the last foray into nature before the heavens separate and God takes a gigantic piss. So we took a foray. 

Over Sukkot, Ari and I went backpacking in the Galilee. Our madricha, dropped the two of us off at the Shvil Israel trailhead (Israel Trail) north of Mount Meron, and we were off on our "true Sukkot experience". First thing I noticed about Meron is that it is drastically different from any other mountain in Israel. It's not like the mountains in the Golan, they're too dry. Carmel is too developed. Obviously, it's nothing like the mountains in the desert. No, Meron stands out. First off, it's big...not by hiking standards (at all), but looking at it from afar, it's a beautiful sight. Second, it's green. You hear that, Israel, green. There are trees and shit. Finally, it's on the Israel Trail, which is a pretty sweet hike from the south near Eliat all the way north to Kibbutz Dan, and tons of cool people hike the trail.

Mediterranean in the distance

For the sake of my sanity and your clarity, look at this link. This is our route, with the places we camped as a waypoint. Actually the link isn't working, so here's a file of the map, you need Google Earth, though. Download.

The first night we camped at this pretty legit campground on top of the mountain. There was one other person camping there, his name was Daniel and I smoked a cigarette with him. Cool guy. We made this incredibly warm fire, on a surprisingly chilly night...and then get this, it started raining, so we took shelter in our tent and went to bed. Things were dry in the morning.
Tent nestled in the trees, beautiful campground
After Meron came the Nahal Amud, which is a valley between Meron and the hilly city of Zefat with a stream running through it. See pictures for effect. It was tight. That night we could not quite find the fabled campground our madrich mentioned was there, so we talked to some other people in the same boat and decided to basically camp in the dirt parking lot we're in. I walked to this gas station, re-upped on food, and set up tent. Turns out there were a lot of cows that roamed the land we were tenting on, so we had to be mindful of our steps.
The Nahal Amud under a natural bridge
It was gorges...get it? yeaaah.
Morning broke and we took off towards Mount Arbel, with the intent of camping up there. The hike was pretty nondescript (stole some fresh fruit from a kibbutz...yummy). So we get to the Arbel trailhead at around three o'clock and realize that camping is not only illegal, but near impossible to get away with (it's a really popular hike and the mountain is barren, so hiding amongst trees would be a no-go). These two travelers from Manchester, England offered to give us a ride to the beach, where they knew people camped out. We were in a bit of a pickle with the sunset and whatnot, so sure...why not? Bad choice. We get to the beach and it's loaded with arsim (thugs) and fat people. And they had loads of food...we had none. Anyways, we're pretty exhausted so we decide to crash at around 7. That's when the music started. Ari, a little pissed off, went to the main gate and asked when quiet hours were. The response: "quiet hours? people come to the beach to get drunk and listen to loud music, not to sleep." Fun! Sleep was pretty scarce.
Galilee from Arbel
Still exhausted, we resumed our trek in the morning, summiting Arbel by noon, and finding our way into Tiberias by two. We spent the day hanging out by the sea, reading and whatnot, and caught an early ride back to Jerusalem. Chag fucking sameach.
Caves are cool
Oh, and somewhere along the way, Ari and I caught some bug from some food we ate or something and subsequently spent the next couple days sick as a dog, hospitals and whatever.

Aruarian Dance - Nujabes

Sunday, October 9, 2011

On Yom Kippur

When I say I've never been religious, I've never been religious. I really never paid attention in shul back home. I'd even sneak my iPod in and wire the headphones up my jacket sleeve and listen to music the whole time through. Yom Kippur here is a little different. Everyone celebrates (or atones), and everything is shut down. Everything. The airport is closed, the roads are deserted, no businesses are open, even Arabs don't drive out of respect, so I figured I'd at least fast so I didn't feel left out.

The rules for Yom Kippur are kind of strict. No electricity, no creating (writing, music, art), no destroying (tearing paper, causing harm), no lighting fire (as it's an act of creation), no eating, no drinking, no bathing, no wearing leather, no sex.

I forgot to eat lunch Friday, so I had a small dinner Friday night. I missed three meals…just not consecutively. Friday night a few of us went to Emek Rafaim, which is a major street with tons of shops (all closed, of course). Basically there were a few hundred people just hanging out in the street, playing cards, skateboarding, scootering, and laying down on the asphalt. It was incredible. We just went around meeting people.
No Cars Go
Saturday we went on a walk down Begin Boulevard, which is the major throughway of Jerusalem. Imagine Interstate 84 (or whatever your local highway is) completely devoid of cars. It was something else.

Begin Boulevard - busiest road in Jerusalem
I broke the fast an hour early. I know, I know, I'm going to hell. But I'll be damned if that sandwich wasn't the most delicious I've ever had.

We Aim - Yppah

Friday, October 7, 2011

On Kibbutz Ketura

Each week, Aardvark takes a tsiyur, or trip, to heighten our cultural understanding of Israel, yadda yadda. To be completely honesty, they're a bit boring. This week, however, we did a vacation-style tsiyur to a kibbutz down south for a couple nights. We lodged in the guest house there, which is basically a hotel, but isn't a hotel...know what I'm saying?
Happy Noah at Kibbutz Ketura
Anyways, we left at seven Tuesday morning, napped through the bus ride (which took us on interstate 1 through the West Bank, and then down south on route 90 along the Dead Sea). We got situated at the kibbutz…my room was Andy, Ari, Oscar, Jacob, and myself. Good group. Tuesday was pretty nondescript. We learned about the kibbutz (it's a "green" kibbutz with a pretty big solar field adjacent to it, wiki), did some "organic gardening", consisting of digging trenches in the dirt and filling them with straw, and got lectured one too many times. Tuesday night was where it was at. We had a poolside barbecue, night swimming, and schmoozing. The lifeguard on duty was on Year Course (the original Aardvark, similar program), so after she got off , she brought a few of us up to a bonfire that all the year course kids were having.
Gardening with Oscar
The bonfire was really cool, although it was facilitated by their madricha, so it's not quite like it was of their own volition. Whatever. It was pretty far away from the kibbutz on the desert plain, so I can now say I've been to a bonfire in the desert. The stars out in the desert at night were something else. I'd place them a notch above The Berkshires, but below Montana. Afterwards, we all went back, hung out a bit outside their residence and met some of the other kibbutz people. There were some pretty interesting volunteers there, and a bunch of South Americans doing some strange program in Israel…didn't quite understand their story. I'm kicking myself that I didn't get a picture of the table they all chilled around. A volunteer some time back wrote a list of "rules" to follow on it that served as their commandments. I can't quite remember what they said, something along the lines of, "learn to love arak", "put your shoes in your suitcase, take them out when you leave", "have sex in the pool at least once", "look at the stars every night before bed", etc.
Wednesday morning we did activities we signed up for the night before. I signed up for "film-making", which as it turns out was definitely the best choice. Basically we went around making a really fucking dumb movie about a killer that kills people with spoons; I was a recurring character that kept dying, similar to Kenny from South Park. It was pretty goofy. We had some down time during the day, so Oscar and I jammed a bit with Daniel, a Year Course kid (I lugged my djembe down to the kibbutz).

At about 4:00, the tour guide brought us all into the desert. At this point, both Ari and I were pretty pissed at all the group stuff that had been going on. I felt a bit coddled. So we basically went to the front of the group for the hike and left the tour guide behind us. We all rendezvoused at this shed at the foothills of the Red Mountains in the Negev (about fifteen minutes from the Kibbutz).
Foothills...I climbed up the mountain in center frame
Then something pretty cool happened. We were to do a "solo desert experience". Basically, we went ot on our own to an isolated spot in the desert (an issue I'll address in a second), turn off our cell phones and be completely silent and sit for a half-an-hour or so and write if we felt like it. He told us not to go too far, not to climb up the mountain, etc. Well…I really wanted to climb the mountains. When we were in Ein Gedi, we never actually summited a peak, so my hiking senses were tingling. I needed to see what was on the other side of these mountains. I think about a quarter of the way into my hike, I would have been considered too far away for safety's sake. Impulses kicked in, and I guess I just took off. Basically I started my trek by going up this rock-scramble in a gully of the mountain face. Things got a bit too steep, so I started to traverse, and that's basically how I got up the mountain: hiking until it got too steep and then traversing.
Found this dwelling on my way up the mountain, nestled in a ravine (phone quality)
View from top: Ketura in foreground, Arava Valley, Jordanian Mountains in background
Well I got to the top in about fifteen minutes (I booooked it), so I had a fair amount of time left, maybe an hour or so. I sat on top of this ten meter cliff on the top of the mountain, meditated a bit, wrote a little and tucked my writing into a crevice in the cliff-face. And I decided to continue. The wide desert plain called me. I started to wander away from everyone, and sat in the middle of the desert, not hearing a sound besides the wind in my ears, not seeing a person, no life, no sign of life other than one road. It was incredibly serene. I could see in the distance (really not too far away) a strikingly similar set of mountains as the one I just climbed, so I decided to do the whole thing again. This time was a bit easier, as there was a desert road (one lane, 4x4 is a must) snaking up the mountain that I followed. And I could see everything…To my east lay the Arava Valley, behind it the Black Mountains of Jordan. To my south was more mountains, and a gentle slope down. Had it not been so muggy, I'm sure I would have been able to see the Red Sea and Eilat. To the south-west lay more mountains, a bit smaller than the set I was on, directly west was the desert plain, a flat, rocky, lifeless expanse that Moses wandered through for forty years. To the north was a road, more mountains, and a communications array situated on the tallest peak in my view. It was a fucking panorama.

Desert road (
Now is where I got in a bit of trouble. The sun started going down, and I was daaamn far away from everyone else. So I booked it down the desert road, across the desert plain, to the face I scrambled up. I got there, and said to myself, fuck this, I'm not about to die. Going down that slope would not have been safe. To my north-east lay a mountain with a power line tower on top of it, and up this mountain was a path, so I decided to walk across the plain to the mountain. Shit took forever. It was really much further away than I thought, and there were tons of prominences along the way that I mistook for the desert plain, so I had to double-back maybe three times on that journey. I got to the top, walked down the path, and got a call (I left my phone on) from Paula, our madricha, screaming, saying everyone has been waiting over half an hour for me. Shiiiit. So basically I sprinted down this path and back to them, coming in at a hefty forty minutes late. Thank god I wasn't the only one that was late, apparently a group of people that summited the largest mountain of the "front range" were in the same boat as me (climbing things they shouldn't have been, going way too far, and coming back late). Well they were pissed, and we apologized profusely, and I guess things were mended up at least enough for all of us to go about living.
Trail down
They then brought us to the same place we had a bonfire the night before and taught us how to make pita over a fire. It was pretty neat, and really yummy. We headed back and chilled for the rest of the night, meeting some more of the volunteers and hanging out with Year Course kids. It was a fun night.

I think the bike ride is what really pissed my madricha off. Basically, Aardvark went on a bike ride around the Kibbutz and area, and while we were waiting for everyone to get suited up for biking, I asked Paula if I could jump off this ledge. A resounding, "NO". Well, ADHD kicked in, and when her back was turned, I jumped it, landed it a few times, and, as she turned around, mid jump, I crashed (baby crash), and she freaked. So I didn't get to go on the bike ride. Damn. And that's basically that. I had another conversation with them and got reprimanded a bit, and explained to them how I'm pretty impulsive and I'm trying to work on that and all, and things seem okay now, although they're worried about me, which is not a great position for me to be in. Oh, and they emailed my parents, so now I have to deal with that.
The bike ride I didn't get to go on
Well Kibutz Ketura was quite the tsiyur. I might end up back there now that I know people there; I'd probably be able to crash, but to be honest, there are a few hundred other kibbutzim to visit, and I'm damn glad to be back in Jerusalem.

I should be getting to volunteering. I switched to work at the Lone Soldier Center, basically a non-profit established to provide a "family" to solders here without any family. The boss was going to be an hour late, so I went down the street to this cafe and I just finished my iced coffee. And I'm back on Facebook. I gave in. Phooey.

Minnesota, WI - Bon Iver & True Love Waits - Radiohead