December 6, 2013
Wednesday marks a week and a half of our IST group’s journey in Israel, and by now we are well and truly entrenched within the sights and sounds of Israeli culture and life. Our day began with the routine prayers, which of course can never be complete without an inspirational shpiel from the one and only Rabbi Benji, and the all new girls-only Tefilla workshop. Breakfast was the usual Israeli ingenuity- an abundance of salads, breads, cereals, muesli and eggs. Following our morning feast, the group ventured out to our third day at Ulpan Or, where we continued our studies in learning conversational Hebrew with special madrichim. The tiyul we embarked on today as part of our experiential learning at Ulpan was most definitely the crowd pleaser- Shuk Machane Yehuda. Armed with a few key phrases such as “Kama ze ole?” and minimal haggling skills our seperate groups were thrust into the world of the marketplace- a land of endless sights, sounds and smells. This was truly the heart of Israeli culture, a place bustling with the life and passion that is so unique to Israel. Salesmen shouting, “4 shekels for ripe tomatoes,” the enticing smell of Marzipan rogolach, Israel’s gift to mankind, and the quirky presence of street mimes al combined to create a rich and vibrant shuk experience for us all. I can safely say that the vast majority of us ate more than our fair share of delicious marketplace cuisine, and walking along those gorgeous cobblestone streets was such an eye opening adventure into the hustle and bustle of day to day Israeli street enterprise.
Our afternoon held a more sombre note, as our group toured the town of Lod- a low socio economic area on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, in the cultural periphery of Israel. The town suffers from high violence and crime rates, with an alarming majority of youth smoking, drinking and doing drugs from a very young age. The instability and poverty which was entrenched within this society’s culture was evident in the state of the road works and infrastructure, which was crumbling and falling apart. It was really an eye opening experience for our group, as thus far we had only seen the beauty of Israel. It shocked us into realising the dire reality that our precious homeland was no Disneyland, but rather a real country that faced the issues of poverty just like every other nation. We visited the student village that was run by a UIA initiative known as Ayalim, an incredible organization that seeks to aid the youth of the town in participating in healthy activities, by providing them with after school and weekend entertainment. We were guided by young eighteen year old Israeli students who have deferred their army service by a year to complete Shnat Sherut, giving back to the community by volunteering in Lo with the other youth, serving as positive role models to these teenagers. We were given the wonderful opportunity to light the eight candles of Chanukah with them, hand in hand, the future of the light of trhe light in Israel literally in our hands. Our night was concluded with delicious sufganiot, the last we will be tasting for a year, and a burst of energetic Israeli dancing. Tgse celebrations in the most destitute of areas shed light on the bright future that is possible for areas like this, and allowed us to leave the area with a sense of both hope and gratitude for what we have been blessed to receive.
Our day was jam packed with activities that truly gave us an insight into the different facets of Israeli life, and another day of incredible experiences is now complete.