Days Five and Six

You may have noticed that I missed a day again, dear readers.

That’s because for Shabbat (day five of our trip, and Saturday) I was so focused on resting that by the time I found time to blog again, it was time for bed!

I woke up late on Shabbat but still managed to make it to breakfast (which was extended) Afterward we had a torah study session.

It was clear that many of the other participants hadn’t studied torah, tanach and mishna like I’ve done before, thanks to my middle school education. We had the portion where Korach and his followers angrily accosted Moses for not being chosen for the priesthood. It’s an interesting portion.

I found myself coming more out of my shell in this activity, explaining my degree program and the intersections of power and privilege, and how a person can have one without the other and use both power and privilege to promote social change.

Afterward we had a short discussion about meeting our Israeli contingent, being told our expectations (such as “the Israelis aren’t allowed to sit together on the bus; you must provide seats apart for them!”) and generally being given a subtle lesson in cultural competency with Israeli culture. The back of my mind was cataloguing our tour guide’s methods and techniques, as well as the points he was communicating.

After, we had lunch and the brunt of the day to ourselves. I was languorous in my rest and slept most of the afternoon away. After I rose I went to our next program, which was a study of Israeli popular music.

This was FASCINATING and we even got to do some Israeli dancing (which threw me RIGHT back into summer camp), while learning about the different periods and influences of Israeli music. My inner music nerd was quite happy and the woman who ran the program was magnificent.

Afterward we had dinner, followed by Havdallah service.

I was, again, upset by the service. We sang the Havdallah in the traditional “camp” tunes without prayer sheets, and were asked to join arm-in-arm in a circle. I stood outside the circle; I can stand respectfully as someone else prays but refuse to participate in what I see as disrespect, and I also do not enjoy being touched by those whom I don’t know (and, really, how well do I know any of the people in my birthright group? Not well at all, and on purpose). To my aggravation, the madrichim then started to single me out, trying to bring me into the circle to participate in the service in a different way, refusing to take a flat no.

When I say no, I mean no. Remember this, dear readers, it’s about to become a theme.

After Havdallah the rest of the group left for their night out at Tel Aviv, something I chose to stay in from because they wouldn’t be getting back to the hotel until after 1:30am (and indeed, they didn’t get back until after 2am). I had to fight for my right *not to go out* the night before, citing multiple reasons that were more than adequate. I was the only person who chose to stay behind, but I am so struck at just how like children we are being treated. The first madrichim said that I “need to be supervised at all times.” Excuse me? Supervised?

I’ve been a k-8 teacher, I’m going to a Master’s level program, and *I* need to be *supervised*?

This was patently ridiculous and I intend to write birthright (as they DID explain that was their policy) about the fact that they should be treating adults as adults.

I went to bed early in anticipation of waking up early, since we were leaving the hotel by 8:15 to pick up our Israeli cohort and head into the Golan Heights.

Thankfully I was not awake for the antics that transpired with my birthright group. During the day today I heard many stories of just how drunk they got (one person blacked out and doesn’t remember the entire night!) and what they did around Tel Aviv. Why is it so difficult to go five days without alcohol, that you must drink to the threshold of poisoning? It’s shameful.

And I say that as someone who likes to drink.

Anyhow, as you can expect, dear readers, we did not leave by 8:15. I awoke at 6:20am, refreshed and alert and showered, finished packing and went down to breakfast. I had a generous helping of scrambled eggs and got quite a bit of reading done, eating alone until the first person from my group arrived around 7:30am. That was my first sign that our schedule was doomed for the day.

You see, dear readers, we needed to be completely out of our hotel rooms by 8am so that the hotel could check the rooms and assess damages as necessary. This didn’t happen. Instead we had people still passed out at 8:15 while I and a few others of the group waited patiently in the lobby.

I’m starting to find their condescension toward us understandable. If, as a group of young adults, we cannot even be ready to leave by a certain time on our own, are we really ready to be treated as anything but children? Of course, social psychology would say that the fact that we’ve been treated as children since we first met in the JFK airport has started to regress some of us into those roles. I can certainly see it happening.

I’m finding the lack of punctuality extremely troubling. It is more than just a few minutes, and it is dreadfully consistent among WHO is late and HOW late. It’s not a cultural difference in how they associate time, too; they’re JUST as frustrated if forced to wait on someone else.

It’s really just a lack of respect for the rest of us on the trip and a distinct lack of professionalism.

Once we got on our way (nearly an hour behind schedule), we picked up our Israelis and began the long drive to the Golan Heights. The drive took so long that we even had several stops on the way, stopping at one of the old Syrian bunkers that has been turned into a memorial to take pictures and learn of the history of this war-torn part of Israel, as well as a rest stop and the tip of one of the volcanos where Israel has a bunker that is not operational (but could be at a moment’s notice) as a memorial. Our tour guide spoke at length about the Yom Kippur war, where Golda Meir had to make the terrible choice to attack first and ruin Israel’s image to the rest of the world, or to wait for Syria and Egypt’s attack at precisely the moment when a majority of their troops would be in synagogue. She had to make the choice whether to protect her country with a pre-emptive assault or to let her men and women die to preserve Israel’s alliances.

It was a choice that forced her to resign as prime minister. She chose to let Syria and Egypt attack first, solidifying alliances with the USA and other countries that might have crumbled were Israel to be seen as the aggressors. Our guide told us of the valiant efforts by those in the Golan Heights, outnumbered 10 to 1 who managed to turn the Syrians back with little more than luck and brilliant strategy.

After that memorial we got on the bus again, privy to picturesque views as we travelled down the volcano, to our rafting activity. We stopped for lunch at a mall courtyard with very few options that was very dirty, but we were in a hurry.

Of the rafting activity, well, I have a lot to say. First I’ll get out of the way: I did actually enjoy myself on the balance of it. I had a lot of fun getting to be out in the wild, on the water, and without worrying too much about my hives (which did show up but did not get major). The “Mighty Jordan” was actually quite serene and picturesque (minus the litter everywhere), and the group that I was with was fun, engaging and generally very into rafting the way I liked to do it.

When we got to the site we immediately changed (in restrooms that were disgusting). We followed the guides and on our way were many chickens and roosters! For some reason, the same company that did the rafting had multiple coops but let the chickens all run free. We even came across a hen with about seven little chicks chasing after her.

They spoke poor English, so our medic translated for us and we had to put on life preservers. Of course, even the largest didn’t fit me, so I needed to wear a child’s life vest around my neck, straps tied into place. We needed to split up in groups of two, four, five or six. While most of the group split off quickly, I waited and gauged them warily, finally attaching myself to a group with people that I generally like and trust.

I sat in the back of the raft for the entire trip (while others shifted spots) and quickly took over duties in both steering and propelling us forward when our progress waned. At first it was rough going; I had to remember the basics of paddling down a river but eventually I got to be pretty proficient at it and we were able to drift without even needing the front oar. We passed and got passed by a few other groups, bantering back and forth.

Until we came to the second bridge.

I’ve written on this blog, specifically, about the importance of a consent culture, and modeling that culture in everything that we do. I’m not trying to equivocate what happened to rape, however I think it’s important to note the parallels of consent culture, as well as dissent and rape culture (and especially pick-up artist (PUA) culture) where “no” does not absolutely mean no.

Ahead of us two groups were splashing the water at each other, screaming and soaking everyone in both boats with the disgusting water from the Jordan river. My group grew anxious, and we talked about whether they would do the same to us, citing reasons both for and against it. Not passing them was not an option with the current and the fact that we needed to continue making progress to the end.

In the end we settled on the idea that they would not splash us because I and two others were in the raft. We were wrong.

From the moment we began approaching they began screaming about water and paddling water our way. I immediately began screaming back.

No. No. This is not ok. STOP. NO. THIS IS NOT FUCKING OK. FUCKING STOP IT.

I believe that’s actually what I said. The water they were splashing didn’t reach us until the caps, when I began to literally scream.

I noticed that one of our madrichim was with them. Splashing WITH them water on us that we had clearly communicated we did not want to happen to us. She wasn’t even the person who *stopped* them from it, but it was someone else when they noticed, after we were soaked and almost past them, how distressed I was (this group hasn’t heard me swear terribly much).

Upset (literally close to an asthma attack from the screaming), I was fuming and my group tried to calm me down. At first, they tried to say that it was OK because they weren’t being mean-spirited, they didn’t *intend* to cause any harm.

Can you guess my next phrase?

Intent vs. Impact, dear readers. They may not have *intended* to cause me any distress but the impact was clearly that. Even more, if they had *listened* to my explicit attempts at dissent (which were quite loud and actually garnered catcalls back at me from some of the men splashing) they wouldn’t have any question of the impact of their intended course of action. I made it explicitly clear.

Because they did not ASK me whether or not I wanted to participate in this activity, they violated an explicit boundary that I’d set up.

I intend to call the tour organizer once I speak with the madrichim in question one-on-one to let her know my intent. I want to file whatever formal complaints I have to in order to make sure that their lack of ability to control the group spilled out of the realm of punctuality and into actively encouraging and participating in the breaking of an explicit boundary of one of their charges. This was shameful. It should never have happened; the moment either raft started to splash they should have stood up and said “No, this is not ok.”

What few hives I had got worse, probably from a combination of stress and who-knows-what’s in that water. I should never have to deal with my boundaries so violently and thoroughly crossed… and yet.

The rest of the ride was very cold, because we were soaked, and miserable. When we got to the end we road a dirty bus back to the head of the rafting experience to rinse off and change. Then we headed to our hostel that we’re staying in tonight.

Dear readers, expect a similar “seven and eight” update, for tomorrow night we join the Bedouins in their tents (which apparently have running water and showers but no internet) after a lovely trip to Tzfat, the most anticipated part of the tour for me. In day eight we’re waking up EARLY and climbing Mt. Massada to watch the sun crest over Israel, a view that I’m blessed to see for the second time of my life, and one that I would gladly experience every day if I could. Following that, it’s the dead sea and another town. It’s a busy two days, and it’ll be hard to keep up!

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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