December 28, 2009 - 6:20 AM
Although I have some Jewish background, I haven't paid much attention to it for quite some time. It wasn't until this past year that I started to look at it again as meaningful people kept coming into my life who happened to be Jewish. Then, one of them recommended that I do the Birthright program. Birthright was a perfect idea because a main aim of it is to help reconnect youth with their Jewish background. Some people on my trip were completely clueless about Judaism, but I think they left with at least a little something. I have never really been into, and still am not into, religion. I think religion presents too many problems in the world. It is based around good, but people end up using it for evil. Spirituality, however, I believe is a different story. Spirituality is about feeling connected. Being in the holy land of Israel undoubtedly made me feel connected to something and therefore, the final part of my Israel series will be dedicated to spirituality.
There is a Jewish prayer that is called the Shehechiyanu. It is read as this, "Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha'olam she'hechiyanu v'ki'y'manu v'higiyanu lazaman ha'zeh," and means, "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, and sustained us, and enabled us to reach this moment." It is a prayer that is recited to celebrate new occasions and to give thanks for being able to experience a special moment. It is often read at the beginning of Jewish holidays, but is also recited at other times as well. On the third day of our trip, we reached Jerusalem. Our bus took us up to the top of Mt. Scopus so that we could look our over the entirety of the holy city. As a group, we all hugged in a circle and recited the Shehechiyanu because it was such a precious moment that all of us would reach this place for the first time. It gave me chills listening to everyone and I felt so spiritually connected to the space.
On the eighth day of our trip, we drove out to go hike a crater in the Negev Desert. Our amazing tour guide told us all about the history and richness of the area. Being a product of the Pacific Northwest, it is easy for me to find connection and spirituality among nature. We were in the middle of nowhere, hiking the same rocks as ancestors before us. I never ended up having my Bat Mitzvah when I was younger because, to be honest, I just wasn't feeling it at the time. However, there, in the middle of the desert, I embraced my spirituality and connection to the space and on a flat ledge overlooking a painted desert, I read my aliyahs in front of my peers and finally had my Bat Mitzvah. Some other people in the group did it as well. We also had eight soldiers join the last four days of our trip in order to provide us with opportunities to interact with real Israelis and they were the ones that read our Torah portions. It was a short service and religiously it meant little to me, but spiritually it meant a lot.
If my tour guide and trip counselors taught me anything on this trip it is that Judaism is whatever you make it. You can observe or not observe however you want to. It is about you being spiritually connected in a way that works for you. I think that sounds pretty good. I have decided now that I am home that I will honor this part of my life simply by taking the time to reflect and journal each Friday on Shabbat. It's a very me thing to do and it has already made me feel spiritually connected in the past.
So, there, in short, is Israel. It was an amazing trip that will never fully exist in words.
December 26, 2009 - 11:00 PM
I would say that hands down, the second main thing that I got out of my trip to Israel was friendship. I must admit that I was one hundred percent skeptical going into this trip that I wouldn't leave with any really meaningful relationships. I was sure that I was going to meet a great group of people and have some quick surface bonds, but nothing that would really stand out. I mean, how close can you really get to someone in ten days, right?
Well, this trip completely proved me wrong. It is amazing how on a bus of forty people, you can still find those couple people get you. I realized as well that once I found these people, it was easy to become close fast because we were spending every waking and sleeping hour together, most of the time in the close quarters of the bus.
I ended up forming an amazing friendship with Nora and Lauren, from Kentucky and Georgia respectively. We talked about music, about Israel, about everything. I could tell halfway into the trip that these girls were not just people I would meet and then maybe keep in touch with via Facebook from time to time, but instead incredibly beautiful souls who would become lifelong friends. I don't think that I have ever laughed so much in my life as I did with these two girls. Every day on the bus we would share our inside jokes with each other and be completely roaring in laughter. Our tour guide asked us on multiple occasions what was so funny, but I don't think that even if we had a good answer we could've gotten it out through all of the giggles.
One of my favorite moments with these girls was when we went to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. We went to the Western Wall twice in one day. First, our group went in the morning to tour the area and put our prayers into the wall's crevices. Then we all went back again in the evening. It was Shabbat as well as the eighth night of Chanukah, so it was a very special time to be at such a holy place. The three of us walked into the section of the wall that was dedicated to women and found a place to sit. The area was packed with women and children all praying to the wall. Some were touching it and weeping. Nora, Lauren, and I sat there and just observed, silently, for about thirty minutes. Each of us was in our own world, dancing with our own thoughts. It was such a peaceful time. The sounds of Jewish songs murmured in the air in a meditative trance. Finally, we broke the silence and decided that a good way to sum up the power of that moment we had just experienced would be to say one word that we wanted to create within our lives in the next year. We each thought about it for a bit and then spoke. It was so touching to have each of us just say a single word and then know that it was time to leave. "Hope, Beauty, Respect." We backed away from the wall as even closer friends.
Maybe my Israel trip was not quite the beautiful solo journey that I am used to when I travel, but it's ok because I left my trip having gotten the privilege of meeting two of my greatest friends.
December 25, 2009 - 8:30 PM
A little after five o'clock this morning, my El Al flight landed back in Newark after an eleven and a half hour long flight from Tel Aviv. My feet touched American soil again after having walked the holy streets of Israel for the past ten days. My trip to Israel was what I expected it to be - extraordinary. However, I am used to traveling places for longer amounts of time and being able to have ample opportunities to explore the culture solo. This trip was a short, tour bus oriented version of Israel with a group of forty other American youth. This made it a tad more challenging for me to find those moments where you feel truly connected with the space you are in, but also opened my eyes to things that I could never have seen any other way. This trip truly came to me with perfect timing. I have decided to share my experience here in my blog through a series, each focusing on a particular topic. This post will focus on politics.
Before I left on my trip, I attended a presentation at the University of Oregon that was put on by MPA graduate student, Ariel Lissman. The presentation was entitled "Through Patient Eyes" and focused on the Israel-Palestine conflict. The presentation was a great thing to attend before my trip. It helped me to better understand the geography and history of the area I was traveling to, all while taking an initial glance into the difficult moral issues surrounding the conflict. I think that in the United States, we tend to ignore or not be able to understand many world events that go on. Many people don't pay attention to conflicts in other countries, or even overseas problems that involve the U.S., because they don't feel that these issue directly affect them enough to care. To a mild extent, I will admit that even I fall into this category at times. I have heard about the Israel-Palestine conflict for a long time now, but have never paid enough attention or gained enough curiosity to really dig into the issue, research a little, and try to understand what is really going on. Attending Ariel's presentation and then going to Israel opened my eyes up to see what this conflict is really about, what is really happening, and why it is important to know about. Before my trip, terms like "Gaza Strip," "Palestinians," "West Bank," and "Hamas" all existed in my head, but if you were to ask me to describe any of them, my knowledge would have been minimal. I greatly appreciated what this trip did for me in terms of better understanding the politics in that area of the world and for sparking my curiosity in paying more attention to the events of the world.
Throughout the trip, my Birthright group toured the land of Israel by bus. We soon became known to each other as the Amazing Bus as we quickly bonded with one another. Our bus was lead by arguably Israel's absolute best tour guide, Ran (pronounced Ron). I loved several things about Ran, including his kindness, excitement, and enthusiasm, but one thing that was truly extraordinary about him was his immense knowledge. We soon began to joke around that there was no question that Ran could not answer. He was so knowledgeable and at every stop would explain to us in depth the history of the area. When we were in the Golan Heights, he talked about how it related to the relationship that Israel has with Syria and we were able to physically see why many Israelis are hesitant to give the land back to Syria, as it is a very strategic location for securing other parts of Israel. When we drove through the West Bank on our way to Jerusalem, we asked Ran several questions about who controls what parts of the West Bank, what people's main concerns were over the area, and what was being done for the Palestinian refugees that we would see camped in the desert from time to time. When we drove along the wall that has recently been built between Israel and the West Bank, Ran explained its significance, how much it has truly helped keep suicide bombers from entering the state, and the controversy surrounding it as well. I think the more knowledge I gained about the conflicts and the history just educated me on how confusing of a topic it really is. It is easy to say, "Why don't they just do this?" or "Why don't they just do that?" But each "resolution" has many back falls. Ran told us that if you asked 100 Israelis on what should be done about the Israel-Palestine conflict that you would get 100 completely different answers.
Another perspective on the politics of the area came toward the end of our trip, when eight Israeli soldiers joined our group for our final four days. They did not come to protect us, but instead to tour with us and act as an insight into the Israeli culture for us. We were able to ask them all sorts of questions about their service in the army, what is expected of them, what they think of the current conflicts, and much, much more. The most touching moment for me came when we visited a military cemetery in Jerusalem and the soldiers showed us the grave of a man who had been in their unit and had died in Israel's battle with Gaza a year ago. Hearing our soldiers talk about their friend greatly actualized the severity of the conflict and the strong passion that Israelis feel for their homeland.
So, I guess part one of why my trip was incredible was because it opened my eyes up to politics in the Middle East. I am grateful that I live in a space that does not have to worry about being attacked at any hour of the day. I am also grateful that there are people who are active in understanding and sharing what they know about these types of conflicts. I found all of the information I got out of this trip very interesting and now whenever a headline pops up about Israel or Palestine in the news, I feel as though I will be more inclined to read the full story. I also think that I will be able to better pick out the truth within the article, as going to Israel helped open up my eyes to the fact that the U.S. news does not always give you the accurate portrait of the situation. Is there hope for resolution in the Israel-Palestine conflict? I think that things like the One Voice Movement, a group of younger people getting involved in the issue, shows that there is definitely hope.
The photos that accompany this post are as follows: Looking out over Israel from a war bunker on the Syria border that is surrounded with barbed wire, A note written on the wall in the inside of a bomb shelter, and a sign reading "Danger Mines!" in front of a fenced off area in the Golan Heights.
December 12, 2009 - 6:02 PM
We live in a drug-oriented society. Doctors are quick to prescribe pills and people are anxious to find a quick fix at the bar. People choose their drugs based on varying needs. Some choose drugs to alleviate pain. Others are users because the drug makes them feel alive or inspired. Drugs can help you relax or stop thinking for a moment. People use drugs out of peer pressure, from the pressure of the medical world, or from a self-pressure of being worried to be just oneself. Drugs definitely have their place within the history of humanity. However, I encourage the world to look outside the beer bottle, the prescription vile, the pipe, the coffee cup. I am a drug user. I am addicted. But I find all of these previously mentioned benefits from a single drug. Late last night, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and once again took off on a double shot of travel.
Yesterday was the beginning of my next adventure. I have fully accepted it by this point that this is just who I am. I am a traveler, a wanderer, off to see the world and create something out of it. It is what inspires me, relaxes me, makes me feel alive. I love every part of it, even the parts I pretend to hate. The last minute packing, the stress of simultaneously finishing school, the wondering if I'll make it through airport security without problems, the tender goodbyes that make you stop and pause and reflect on what really matters. This trip started out just like this and I wouldn't have changed it a bit.
My dad drove up from California to take me to the Portland airport and get a last visit in with me before I took off to Israel for the winter. Meanwhile, I ran the final laps of packing as quickly as I could, all the while watching the stormy sky taunt me. I asked the weather gods to please hold off on the forecasted ice storm until my flight had safely departed and was well on its way to New York. My dad arrived and suggested we get an early start for my red-eye flight because the temperatures would drop the later it got and we didn't want to run into road troubles. However, I had a couple of goodbyes left and some Chanukah candles to light, so I shuffled off and said I'd be quick. Goodbyes are so bittersweet. Some never quite sink in until you're well on your way. They're an ending, but also a beginning of something new and beautiful. How do we preserve the beauty of moments, so that they remain with us after the goodbye? I digress.
Post-goodbyes time was about 7:00pm. We had packed up the car and hit the road by 7:15pm. Theoretically this would put us in Portland at around 9:00pm. The scheduled departure time for my flight was 11:56pm, so there would be a good hour for us to enjoy some dinner and then check-in the recommended two hours in advance. In my previous post, I mentioned that I am learning how to let go of ideal situations and just see the beauty in what is presented before me. This schedule was ideal, so let it go.
As soon as my dad and I hit Interstate 5 North to Portland, we found ourselves trapped in back to back traffic and moving at a speed of 30 miles per hour if we were lucky, 20 miles per hour more likely. Assuming it was due to an accident, we hoped for the traffic to clear after a certain point. About an hour later, I saw a road sign reading, "Welcome to Linn County." In all of that time, we had just now left Lane County. We should've been in Salem by then. The issue was not an accident, but the extreme risk of an accident if you chose to drive any faster than about 35 miles per hour. Interstate 5 was a long, black sheet of ice. There were even a couple of times that we could feel our car slip above the ice and, seeing cars on the southbound side stopped and spun in the opposite direction they should be, kept us at a slow speed. I soon released my attachment to my flight and made peace with having to stay the night in Portland and hop another flight to New York in the morning.
We were finally leaving Salem at around 10:00pm, the time I had planned on checking into the airport. However, the road was now dry, the ice was gone. We were, for the first time since we had left Eugene, going 65 miles per hour in a 65 zone! We had survived the threshold. We could theoretically be to the airport by 11:00pm and if I ran, I could maybe make my flight. On this cold first night of Chanukah, I wished for a Chanukah miracle.
The rest was a blur. My dad pulled up to the departure curb outside of JetBlue airlines, I grabbed my stuff and ran through the double doors and up to the check in counter. I handed my passport to the man at the check in counter, smiled, and said, short of breath, "I can't believe I made it here." After parking the car, my dad came shuffling into the airport and met up with me. We walked over to security, hugged, and shared our final thoughts as I concurrently began to take off my shoes and separate my laptop from my carry on. It doesn't matter how many times I travel, I always end up a little verklempt giving my parents that final hug before I head through the security gates, occasionally glancing back to see if they're still watching me.
Once through the metal detectors, I hopped off, still trying to throw back on my belt as I hustled to my gate. I looked up and saw a sign reading "E3," let out a huge sigh, and embraced a gigantic smile. I boarded a plane full of two of my favorite groups of people - Portlanders and New Yorkers. I woke up to a blushing sun rising over a peaceful sea of clouds and hearing the captain say, "We will now begin our descent into JFK International Airport, on behalf of everyone here at JetBlue, I'd like to wish you a good morning and welcome to New York City." What a fabulous way to wake up (neck cramp aside).
Once I was on that plane, I had felt my fears, my nerves, my anxiety, my stress, my doubts, my loss, evaporate into the rising elevation. I knew that this was exactly where I was suppose to be, high on the ecstasy of travel. I have a couple of days to relax in Long Island now until I sip again from the sweet elixir and leave Monday to Israel. I have a feeling that Israel may be just what I need right now.
December 10, 2009 - 5:30 PM
I think this could be the best winter term I've ever had at the UO. I'm trying to stay optimistic, so here are the top three things I am going to use next term to keep my soul warm.
3. Winter Fashions: Ok, this isn't very deep, but it is very important. It's easy in the winter to succumb to the coldness and lose pride in your appearance. It's raining outside, so why bother looking fabulous? It's easier just to throw on some sweats, some Ugg boots, and a couple of Ducks sweatshirts. Wrong! I am looking forward to taking the time to look fabulous, so that I can feel fabulous while Eugene's ice storms nevertheless wreck havoc on my skin. Winter fashion to me means heavenly scarves, all sorts of scrumptious boots, and peacoats that could make your heart skip a beat. Winter is a thousands shades of gray with an occasional splash of color somewhere in the outfit. Getting dressed is how you start your day, so start it fabulously! Winter has too many fun fashion opportunities not to take advantage of it; therefore it receives my third honorable mention in the top three things I am looking forward to for winter term 2010.
2. Exploration of My Major: Don't worry, it's not all about what you wear. I am finally getting to that point in my college experience where the bulk of my remaining classes are directly related to my major. Next term, in addition to continuing my sign language sequence, I am taking two classes through the PPPM department. It is so exciting to feel like I am finally getting to focus on what I'm interested in and what I want to build my career from. I have been working with the internship director for the PPPM department this year and she has greatly inspired me to see all of what I can do with my major and my work discipline. Next thing you know, I'll be completely, joyously engulfed in my honors thesis for the department. I am so excited about studying what I truly want to study and so the exploration of my major gets second place in winter term's top 3 upcoming excitements.
1. Project Homeless Connect: Last year, I volunteered at an annual event in Lane County called Project Homeless Connect. This is a one-day event that brings a huge amount of needed services to the homeless population of Lane County all in one convenient location. I was completely inspired by the event last year. It was an overwhelming feeling seeing that many homeless individuals and families. I knew that the event was something that I wanted to be a bigger part of. This year, I have made contact with a couple of the leaders of the event and they have agreed to take me on as the assistant event coordinator for the event. I had one of my first meetings this past week and it looks like I will be doing a lot of work securing in-kind donations. This will be such an incredible and beneficial experience for me. I am also excited because it relates directly to the type of work that I want to do post-graduation, as well as inspires some ideas for my upcoming thesis. This is such a unique and incredible opportunity that I can throw my passion into throughout winter term, so it righteously takes the top spot in things I'm looking forward to for winter term 2010.