Israel in 10 days

July 30, 2014 § Leave a comment

Through funding from the Israeli government and private donors, the Taglit-Birthright organization allows almost any American with Jewish ancestry the chance to experience Israel through a 10-day trip throughout the country. The possibility of such a trip has been on my radar since I found out about it in college but even though I love traveling, and took the opportunity to study abroad twice in school, I procrastinated until the last few months that I would be eligible. The cut-off age is 27 and my 27th birthday is in the fall, so this summer was the last chance I would have to take advantage of this opportunity. So during the first two weeks of this July, I did.

There were a number of reasons that I initially put off going to Israel through Birthright: I felt like I had plenty of time, I didn’t want to go by myself, I didn’t think I was religious enough. The main reason, though, is the one I imagine most people give for opting not to go on Birthright, even if they are eligible: what if a full-on war breaks out in the middle of my trip?

The safety measures that Taglit implements are no joke. The organization boasts that they have not had any incidents with participants, even though trips continued throughout the 2006 Lebanon War. Despite these statistics, I’m not sure how much it quelled my mother’s anxiety to know that I would be arriving in the country on the day that Israel would be mourning three yeshiva students who had been killed by Hamas and found only a few days before. Only a few hours after I arrived, a Palestinian teenager was lit on fire and left to die in a revenge killing. Three Israeli Jews are now suspects.

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Ilya Zhitomirskiy, your passing is a damn shame

November 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

Finding out that a friend has died from reading the news is strange and unsettling, but that was how I found out. Ilya and I had no mutual friends, except for mutual acquaintances,  people that I introduced him to that he promptly forgot, but who still remembered him, because he was in so many ways unforgettable. Joanne was one of those people. Technically she’s the one who told me, but she found out about it through the news. The only other information I got about it was through the news. My friends knew that I knew him, but none of the people that he was close to for the last few months of his life knew that we knew each other so it feels like the friendship we had might not have even existed.

When Joanne first told me, it felt like a fist had wrapped itself around my heart, or some other ambiguous place in my chest. I never really understood or believed in such a feeling until she said ‘Ilya died’ on gchat and then I felt it periodically for the next two hours, and in a milder form for the next few days as the shock wore off. I say ‘wore off’ like it’s past tense but it still has these weird elements of feeling like parts of my life are in a dream and it’s soon going to go away because I’ll wake up and realize it didn’t happen. I refused to believe it on any level until I saw that the home page of Diaspora* had been modified in his memory. One of the regrets I know I shouldn’t have is that I wished I had called him last week when I thought of it, instead of assuming I could keep putting it off, and do it ‘eventually’. The other thing that forced the reality into my brain was calling his phone, hearing it go straight to voicemail, and hearing the message greeting in his voice.

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Visions of Trdelniks Dancing in My Head

December 7, 2009 § Leave a comment

The Christmas Market in Namesti Miru is my favorite part about going home at the end of a long day. It’s hard to resist being lured over from the metro by the smell of mulled wine wafting towards me as I walk to the tram. Christmas is my favorite time of year and I’m happy to see that I’m not alone in that sentiment in the Czech Republic, even surrounded by so many atheists.

The holiday has never been much about religion for me anyway; food is the most important aspect. And food is featured prominently in the traditional Christmas markets in Prague. The one thing I find the hardest to resist when my dinner is still a five to ten minute trip away is the trdelniks, the sweet and sometimes sticky pastry that is especially popular around this time of year. « Read the rest of this entry »

Dancing at the Hlinsko Disco

November 22, 2009 § Leave a comment

Sometimes it’s hard to see the appeal of a small town. Sometimes it’s especially hard if you’ve only lived in big cities for your entire life and the idea of walking around the block and completing the town tour is suffocating. When I told my friend Jan, who is from Hradec Kralove (a small town), that I was going to Hlinsko for a couple of days, his response was, ‘That shithole? Why would you go there?’

If someone had asked me in August if I wanted to go to Hlinsko while I was in the Czech Republic, I would have responded with a blank look and a similar (yet less insulting) remark suggesting that there’s no reason for me to go to the middle of nowhere to do nothing with country folks. Instead, I ended up spending half a weekend in November with high school students in this off-the-map town considered by some to be the Czech Siberia. « Read the rest of this entry »

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