Days Three and Four

As you may have noticed, I missed day three in my blogging. I had a good reason: Day three was long and mentally draining; by the time we were released on our own recognizance (about 9:30pm) I was exhausted. I went straight to bed.

Day three was the day that we visited Yad L’Ksheesh and Yad Vashem, the “Lifeline for the Old” and the “Hand of God” Holocaust (Shoah) Museum and Memorial. This was a long day that started at 7am and lasted until 9:30pm.

We started with breakfast, which was dismal for me; I found myself running very late and exhausted from my medications for my hives. I was able to grab a quick five minutes for breakfast, where I had scrambled eggs and bread (I wouldn’t eat anything else). When we got onto the bus, the wireless wasn’t working so I spent the majority of the ride into Jerusalem in my own world, listening to the Rent Broadway soundtrack and still trying to come to terms with my feelings from the discussions of the night before.

When we got to Yad L’Ksheesh, we got a quick introduction to what the organization is before splitting into two groups for a meet and greet tour. Yad L’Ksheesh is a place for elderly people to come work and to be productive during the day; they train them in artisan crafts and sell what they make to help support the programs. A majority of their budget is paid for by private donations, a lot is paid for by the gift shop where they sell the artwork that the participants create, and about 1% is funded by the Israeli government. They are a complete non-profit, and in addition to offering the opportunity to socialize and work for a small stipend, they offer free trips for participants all over Israel to learn about the country they live in. Most of their 300 participants are actually recent immigrants to the land of Israel; while not all are Jewish, many are.

We split into two groups to go on the tour, and my group went to see first the people who were painting works of clay. The quality of these works was amazing; it looked like they’d been painting and crafting these things for years. Most of them were extremely friendly and ready to talk to us… but many only spoke Russian or Spanish or, less often, Hebrew! It was very fun to talk and pantomime as best I could with them. Many of the ladies remarked on my height and said that I should play basketball, a trend that apparently isn’t restricted just to the US! They taught us to say beautiful in Hebrew (Yahfeh) and I had a lot of fun talking in a polyglot of broken English, Spanish and Hebrew.

I found that I understood more Hebrew than I could speak. It was a really interesting revelation. Occasionally I’d have to ask them to slow down, but otherwise I could understand the gist of what they were trying to communicate.

After the painting, we went upstairs to the textiles; I had a lively conversation with a woman who actually knew about Cleveland Ohio (she’d been there when she was younger) and was a retired doctor. She introduced me to her friends who were the three ladies embroidering with her; two of them were engineers and the other was a retired oncologist! I was amazed at how brilliant these people were, in addition to the quality of their craftsmanship. After the textiles, we went to the metalworkers, which was a group of men who were a bit more… grumpy than the women upstairs! They weren’t very talkative, but the quality of their metalworking was truly exceptional.

When we returned to the shop, I knew I had to buy SOMETHING to support the organization. I found a piece I’d seen one of the men working on in the metal-shop, a circle with a heart in it, and another heart on top of it, upside down (to form a stylized star of David). I also found a gift for a friend; a hand-made knitted kitten that she will just love.

After Yad L’Ksheesh, we went to Machana Yehuda street market for lunch, where I had pizza (yes I’m having pizza in Israel, it’s delicious compared to any pizza I’d ever had in the USA), a wonderful mix of strawberries and blackberries, and fresh grapefruit, orange and carrot juice. I also bought some gummy candies for the rest of the day because I anticipated the need for sugar.

I finally had the chance to buy a hat; I bought this floppy, wide-brimmed white hat with green and maroon flowers on it that looks so awesome but is, sadly, just a little snug. Of course, it is the biggest hat that I’ve found so far, and fits my purposes perfectly.

Yad Vashem. Well. What can I say? I was at Yad Vashem when I was in Israel in middle school and since it’s been majorly redone. I did not like the new museum; I thought it was less effective than the old museum, with the exception of the Hall of Names.

I also thought our guide for the museum was horrific. His pacing was terrible, and he was incapable of tailoring the experience to what we, as a group, needed or wanted. Every time he actually stopped to speak for a while, almost everyone’s eyes rolled. Whenever he skipped a room in favor of another, disapproval was apparent.

I (and others) also experienced the extreme discomfort of condescension again. “Stay with the group!” our midrachim would call out, whenever we tried to move forward into the next room or linger behind in a room that was actually moving.

Honestly, I feel like the experience was stolen from me. In a museum about things like the Shoah, we need the time to move at our own pace, creating an experience that is moving for us at an individual level. Instead we were forced to speed through the museum at a rate that was criminal for how much intention had been put into every part of it. My intention once I return to the USA is to contact Kesher and Taglit to complain, explaining my main issues with what happened.

This hit the chord of condescension, again, that was extremely irritating. In fact, a lot of the group have begun to complain, openly, about this problem. In the 22-26 age group, we expected to be treated like adults. Instead, we’re being consistently treated like a glorified high school summer camp. It’s one thing to be given boundaries and times to return to the group, but to give us no free time or choice in activities is a bit much. For the majority of our tour in Jerusalem, for example, I found that a majority of the group would rather have been shopping in the old quarter a preference I shared, toward the end). It just seems like this trip is over-scheduled, with no choice or free time. Of course, I say this on the dawn of three days of mostly free time to ourselves, but we’ll see how this actually turns out. I know that some of my group members are looking to have a discussion with the midrachim on the subject.

But from what I gather it’s not their fault, they’re following the protocol laid down to them directly from Taglit.

While I did not enjoy (or even find moving) the majority of our trip to Yad Vashem, I did find my heartstrings pulled at the hall of names and children’s memorial. I expected that, though. Our discussion afterward touched on the experiences that everyone had, but the subject of anti-semitism in the modern day and whether or not a genocide/holocaust of this scale could happen again in the modern day.

And you know what? It absolutely could. Maybe not to Jews, no, but the potential for a genocide of queer people, muslim people and, in some areas, poor people is very tangible. Anti-semitism is still very relevant, but what I find interesting is the fact that the state of “passing” for Jews is where it was with trans* people about ten years ago… the goal. The conversations around anti-semitism always focus on whether or not a person *passes* as a non-Jew to see if they’ve ever really experienced it.

I’m not articulating it well.

The conversation made me angry; there are definitely people in the group who have never thought to examine their privilege (white, male, cis and otherwise), and they honestly thought that something like the Shoah couldn’t happen again and that even thinking about that idea cheapens the reality of what happened (!!!). At least I am not the only person whose response to that idea was patent disbelief.

We went back to the hotel, where we had dinner. Dinner was actually just disgusting. There was beef tongue, and peppers in everything. When I say everything, I mean everything except for the desserts and the fried fish.

The fried fish (which was breaded) had bones in it. A lot of bones. Disgusted, I had bread rolls and no butter (since it was a meat meal they refused to give me butter) and carrot cake for dinner. The hotel then accidentally had the room for our program locked, so we got started late on our informational session for Israel’s Current events. Once we were finally in the room, the person leading the program was running behind from traffic but once he got there, it was awesome!

We talked a lot about the current issues in Israel; the European Union’s vote to force Israel to label what produce is from areas that are occupied (the West Bank and Golon Heights), the implications of the world cup and whether Israel was “part of” Europe or not. It was a really interesting discussion, and the man who led it (who’s in rabbinical school) was inspiring. Afterward, it was STRAIGHT to bed, which is why this post waited for the next day.

The dawn of our forth day came later this time; since we weren’t leaving until 9am (instead of 8am) we were given the option to sleep in (and skip breakfast which still ended at 8) as long as we were at the bus on time. I definitely took it, sleeping in until almost 8:30am to get the maximum benefit.

Today was a day with lots of free time. First we went to an open-air market and artisan place. I cannot remember the name, of course, but may edit this later with it. We were given a staggering two and a half hours, which was amazing considering how little free time we had been given previously.

Two and a half hours was WAY TOO LONG. Having skipped breakfast, I hunted first for a food stand that either had English menus or menus with pictures. No good. So I walked for a while. Honestly, I probably wasn’t supposed to, but I walked at least a mile (maybe more?) away from the street/market we’d been taken to. I got to see Tel Aviv as it really is, walking in alleyways with no side walks while having to squash myself against a wall to not be hit by a car, watching people bemusedly as they drove their motorbikes on the sidewalk. One man even had a chihuahua sitting calmly at the feet of his motorbike, speeding along. Eventually I was too hungry to ignore my stomach so I turned back.

I got a little lost, but found the market and purchased two bagels. I only had one, but it was delicious; sesame seed and nice and sour. I decided to take out the emergency bread chips that I’d bought and eat some of them while sitting in a square where a musician and some buskers were doing their acts for tips. The buskers were all dressed up with a woman dressed as a Jester playing the guitar and singing, and three others dressed as animals dancing with and hugging random passers by. It was very entertaining. The magician appeared to be floating in the air and sat as still as a statue… until someone paid them, that is, then they wagged their legs and blew a kiss to the patron before returning to their statue-pose. I must have sat there watching people and the entertainers for almost thirty minutes before my water ran out and I decided to go looking at the shops that had been closed. It was after 12 at that point, so I thought they’d open.

I was right! I went to this very posh burger joint where I sat and drank a bottle of Diet Coke while I waited for my meal. Unfortunately, by the time it arrived I had to leave! She boxed it up for me. I bet you’re wondering what I got! A Bacon and Egg burger. YUM! And it was huge!

It turns out that timeliness isn’t really a virtue that our group has; I’ve been getting very frustrated with this fact, lately, as it lends credence to the idea that we’re children that must be micromanaged and not adults that can be trusted to be on our own. Still, about 15 minutes late the last four people finally joined us and we began our walk to the beach.

This walk took us through the backroads of Tel Aviv, down one-way streets that often had no sidewalks and were barely wide enough for the cars coming through, let alone the 40-some odd people in our party! None-the-less it was gorgeous and when we got back to the bus I purchased a water and drank it in one gulp while people readied themselves for the beach.

Of the beach, I can’t say much; I don’t much like swimming in ocean water and I don’t like sand. At all. Because of this I stayed in the shade with the tour guide and medic, chatting and writing the majority of this entry (almost all of “Day Three”). When it was time to leave again, surprise surprise, there were people who were late. We left behind schedule but, honestly, it was probably better for us in the end because of how little traffic it meant we had to face.

We were given some time to shower and prepare for Shabbat services which we would be having outside. I was very tentative about the services; my experience is that most people who are “reform” typically have very conservative services. Well, I was right to be tentative, but I was apparently looking in the wrong direction.

To say that I was angry about the service is an understatement. I was fuming. Not only did we skip a tremendous amount of prayers, we also sang almost all of them. I suppose it’s very traditional of me, but I do not think that prayer should be sung unless it lends itself to song (such as psalms and prayers written specifically to song). To me it is EXTREMELY disrespectful to “fit” a prayer into a tune when it would be more meaningful spoken or chanted.

Then add to that the fact that almost NONE of the melodies were any that I’ve heard (and considering I’ve experienced multiple reform services, conservative services and even orthodox services) and ALL of the melodies that I hadn’t heard required the words to be slurred and rushed through? Well, I was seething. Luckily I was sitting both in the back and with people who understood my anger.

Then we get to dinner.

Sometimes I think that we are “meant” to be angry and that fate finds ways to induce it.

Everything had peppers in it except the rice and kouskous (which is, y’know, rice). Everything. I had to have three challah rolls for dinner. Again. There wasn’t even any desserts without chocolate.

To say I’m upset is an understatement. I provided Taglit and Kesher both with a list of allergies shortened to the ones that I most expected to run into… sunlight, sanitizer, chocolate, peppers, latex. Either they dropped the ball entirely, or the hotel did. I actually have no doubt that it’s the latter, but I’m still fuming because I have now not eaten dinner two nights in a row, not because I “won’t” eat anything that I can (unless you count rice and kouskous and, honestly, if you think their nutritional value is any different than bread’s you need your head examined) but *because they are only serving things that I am allergic to*.

Right now I’m typing this as the rest of the group eats dinner. Afterward we have the Oneg celebration, which I’m not looking forward to. Apparently they just bought a bunch of wine (and I’m glad I didn’t pay in since I don’t drink wine). After that I’m going to speak to the midrachim about dinner, then go to bed and sleep in tomorrow (since breakfast is served till 10:30 and we have nothing till the afternoon).

I hope that this anger passes, but it honestly is giving me a good amount of practice at keeping calm while my passion is boiling. I’m failing, but the experience is still useful.

Shalom.

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About Michael Robinson

An eclectic person living in a world rife with binaries, opposition, anger and pain and trying to find the spectra, love, happiness and catharsis within.
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