Monday, May 30, 2011

Israel, Day 2--Shabbat Elevators, Falafel, and Rubens

Our second day in Israel was a Saturday, Shabbat, the Holy Day, Shomer Shabbos, and I sure as shit don't fucking roll.

We started the day off by first waiting for the elevator, and then riding it down, as it proceeded to visit and stop at every floor between ours and the lobby level. Strict Jews are forbidden from pressing buttons on the Holy Day. After a breakfast without coffee, because you can't operate a machine on the Holy Day, we loaded up into our heathen's Bus, and hit the empty roads...making the long haul over the mountains and down down down down, to the Dead Sea.

Of course, one has to eat...but as you can imagine, eats are hard to find in Israel. Strict observers will go so far as to leave their lights on at home all day and all night so that they won't need to turn off the switch. They SURE aren't getting up to make us some hoummous. Luckily, and here is why there should never be a 100% partition between the Arabs and the Jews, the Arabs can cook, drive, clean, and do just about everything else that needs done on Saturday. Hell, they just finished their Holy Day on Friday, so they're just getting started for the week! It's a perfect match. And, indeed, EVERYONE was at the Lebanese Falafel Sandwich shop and market grabbing their falafel, hoummous, and french-fry pitas for the day. The guy who owned the shop was from South Carolina, and spoke with a perfect Carolina accent. So, there you are. My start to our second day in Israel. Eating Arabic food along the formerly deadly Jerusalem to Tel Aviv highway, being served by a Palestinian South Carolinian.

The only thing more absurd, and this is where I take a serious turn, is the walls that divide the West Bank and Jerusalem along the drive between Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea. On one side, Jewish prosperity, exemplified in cute neighborhoods of pools and green grass lawns. On the other side, the dirty Arab towns of Ramallah and others. In-between are the poor Bedouin nomadic peoples, who must literally, feel stuck between a rock and a hard place.

We passed through quickly and quietly, as most do, taking care not to ask too many questions, and not to look too hard, for fear of having to confront the problem for what it is, a global one without any solutions on the horizon.

The land gets stark after Jerusalem, literally a desert, and so we did what countless others have done on the trek down the hill towards Bethlehem and the Dead Sea. We stopped at an Oasis. Literally. We spent the morning hiking around the palm fringed desert canyons of the water supply to Bethlehem, before continuing down-canyon to a Greek Monastery built into the canyon walls. The monastery was another example of just about every Abrahamic Religion claiming a piece of the Holy Land Pie.

After all that hiking, it was time for a soak in the world's lowest spot. The Dead Sea. At 420 meters, 1388 feet, below sea level...your ears actually pop as you drive down to it. We drove to a little resort, where we could lounge in beach chairs, cover ourselves in mud masks, and laugh as we floated with no effort--buoyed by the high salinity of the water. I'm a geek for nature shows, and this one was pretty cool. It's a wild feeling to float in water, with your feet stuck up and your hands crossed behind your head.

Having begun the day with Arabic food out of necessity, the sun had now gone down and the Shabbat was over. It was time to eat some Jewish food. And, is there anything more Jewish than a Reuben? Well, as it turns out, in Israel, yes, there is. In fact, it's pretty damn hard to find a Reuben--not to worry though, I did. At the creatively named Reuben Restaurant, several Jews served me up a steaming hot corned beef sandwich, and were delighted when I told them it was just like how you got them in New York. (It wasn't quite that good, but it wasn't half bad!).

The rest of our time in Israel was spent watching the students debate their Model United Nations resolutions, speaking with teachers from all over the world (Switzerland, Palestine, New York), and feasting on the food provided by our hosts at the Walworth Barbour American International School. They put on an excellent conference, and my students were able to broaden their horizons by engaging in respectful and intellectual debate with their mostly Israeli peers.

Considering that a Turkish charity may soon send another flotilla of aid to Gaza (8 Turks and 1 American were killed by Israelis the last time they tried to send aid supplied over International Waters), we may very well need the relationships these students built over our weekend in the Holy Land.

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