Option Week 1 - Culture in Tel Aviv
After a late night and an early morning, we loaded the buses and drove from where we had been staying in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, to begin our culture experience. The first thing on our itinerary was a visit to One Family, an organisation that provides help and support to terror victims and their families, an organisation that we were all familiar with, to do some fun activities and see how it was run. When we arrived, after greeting Michal Belzberg, a prior Sherut Leumi girl in Sydney who started the organisation out of her bat mitzvah money at age 12, we were lucky enough to be spoken to by people who had been through the unspeakable.
We heard a girl who was actually doing her own Sherut Leumi year at One Family tell us with absolute clarity, confidence and courage about the day that she ran down the stairs in her own house as a child, carefree and happy, to find a terrorist stabbing her mother to death, her screams echoing as she desperately tried to call the ambulance. She told us about her struggle afterwards, about her younger siblings, the baby of the family only 5 years old, and how One Family helped her feel normal and comfortable when she had already been labeled as the girl who saw her mother die.
We were also spoken to by a man who once had been a police officer in a special unit dedicated to combating terrorist attacks. One day he was alerted that an Arab woman, at the intersection he was about to cross on the way to prevent a separate terror attack contained more than 100 kilos of explosives in her car. When some of the explosives went off, a complete miracle happened that due to a mistake they didn't all go off, his car was thrown into the air and although his life was saved, he was in a coma for 27 days, waking up miraculously on the day that his son was born. After hearing them talk, we then did jewellery and origami workshops with some of the volunteers.
After One Family we went to Tachana Harishona, an old train station in Jerusalem converted into markets, restaurants, live performances and a center of Israeli nightlife. We were taught by an instructor how to take amazing photos, and there and at a nearby park we had so much fun trying out the techniques he taught us before heading back to Tel Aviv for a colorful and delicious dinner at Dr Shakshuka.
The next day we had so much fun at Shuk HaCarmel, taste-testing our way through the market. We tried everything from hummus, shwarma and falafel to chalva, dried fruit and nuts, lollies and even some spices. After some free time to wonder around more, we rented bikes and rode all the way along Tel Aviv beach to Jaffa port together.
After we stopped for lunch we also went on a graffiti tour of Tel Aviv, learning the meaning and importance of street art. We were even able to create our own designs and spray them on to walls in the graffiti area of Tel Aviv with the help of our tour guide.
When then had the amazing opportunity to eat at 'Na Lagaat', a restaurant that aims to educate and inform people about the deaf and blind. We ate a meal served by all deaf or hearing impaired waiters and staff and even learned some sign language. We found ourselves sitting around the table, deep in conversation about what we would do if we were deaf, what if it was us, what must these people, who are really not so different from us, go through everyday and how much we take for granted the simple things that we have.
The next day we set off in the pouring rain to participate in a cooking experience in which we had to prepare hummus, shwarma, falafel, Israeli salad, and an assortment of other Israeli foods for judges to test, and which would also be our lunch. Despite the reigning chaos, mess and noise which was mostly laughter, we had lots of fun cooking and then eating together.
Afterwards we went to the Israeli film school Maaleh, where we were shown some of the films produced there. The movies focused on the comedy, and also the issues in Israeli society today, including a film that portrays the incredible hardships and dilemmas that Israeli soldiers are faced with everyday in order to defend their country.
Mostly when we say the word culture, we think about art, music, food, photography, theatre, but actually the most eye-opening thing that we saw during these three days was the real, raw culture of Israeli's in their personalities and in the way they live their lives; their bravery, strength and resilience on the outside, and yet how warm, kind and selfless they are on the inside. In this crazy, amazing, modern, historical, hard, but unstoppable country that we are so lucky to have, thrives a culture expressed in so many ways, and one that I hope through our exposure to it, will be with us forever.