Monday, July 31, 2006

Frustration

The last couple days I have been in an extremely pensive mood, mostly resulting from reading A LOT of online news articles and commentary. I feel mostly pensive because most people are starting to hate Israel, big invader, puppet of the US, etc. and because I can't really do anything to help. At least I don't know. I've given blood, but I don't think it's enough. I've contacted a lot of people I know here, including some I don't, like various blogs I've been reading in America whose bloggers are from Israel. I need another way to help. Even if it's to visit people in shelters and be like, "Hey, what's up? Hang in there , guys. Israel is proud of you."

I only have 11 days left here. It's a scary thought. I really want to do something while I'm still here, but between being stuck at work and coming home and not really knowing what to do, I feel trapped.

Any suggestions?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

My thoughts

Usually, I don't get into political arguments with people. Or at least I try not to, because I end up looking stupid and I don't have enough information to back up my facts. And I'm not a successful arguer. But in this case, it is imperative to state my opinion.

Israel is fighting terrorism, and the world doesn't realize it. I am tired of seeing anti-Israel messages on talkback forums, on news websites, and hearing about it from people back home, but especially from Israelis who stand by the thousands in anti-war protests. What are you protesting? For the big bad IDF to stop operations? Who started this war? Wasn't it the terrorists who kidnapped two (plus one, all of whom we are still waiting for and thinking about) soldiers? What is the army supposed to do? Sit on its hands, like it's been doing for the last six years, waiting for more terrorist bases to build up in Southern Lebanon? Sure, we can do that. Would that be a proportionate response? What would appease everyone? A scenario in where Israel tried to bargain, plead, beg on its knees for the soldiers, and continue to let Hezbolla continue?

Sure, we could do that. But I am tried of being paranoid. In only two months of being here, I have experienced people that I know or that I know through friends being drafted into reserves, seeing waiters turn into soldiers in restaraunts,see the strain on peoples' faces, lie awake at night, paranoid at every noise that goes on under my window, and think and think about people sitting in shelters all day long.

And also of constantly calculating how small the country is-if there is a suicide alert in Kfar Saba, how long would it take the bomber to get to Tel Aviv? If there are rockets in Nahariya, how long would it take them to reach Netanya? If there are terrorists in Gaza, how long would it take them to get past Ashdod? All the time, calculations, looking at the map, seeing how small and narrow and surrounded our little country is, and how, for anyone, there is no where to go, but just to sit it out.

I am here for only two more weeks. And I have already built up a psychological tolerance to any sirens that might sound, to the pangs of panic that sometimes build up, to the fact that Hamas wants to open a third front in the middle of Israel, to everything. And it's sad.

Maybe I have been rambling for a while, but my point is this. Actuall I have two. The first is:
I saw it on a post somehwere, and it says "you can't negotiate with people who want to kill you." And it is absolutely true. And I wish the army best of luck and I applaud what they are doing.

And the second is that, if you are for Israel, speak up about it. We need some good PR right now. Post a comment on a blog. Write something to your local paper. Tell your friends. PR is of the essence. Spread the facts. Spread the truth.

Ok, that was my politicizing for now.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Thought on Aliyah and Mint Tea

As my days here are dwindling, well, not dwindling quite yet, but seriously decreasing, I am plagued by a number of thoughts. These include, whether Nasralla is indeed capable of launching rockets further than Haifa ( http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3281439,00.html), how else I can make an impact on Israel, and how I can transport falafel back to the United States, listed in order of increasing importance.

Yesterday, I bought some Zionist propaganda posters from the 1950s. I really like propoganda, and I have no clue why. I have a lot of it in my room in college. Now I have some Hebrew ones to add. Yesterday, also, when I was walking home from work, I think I saw a K-9 training unit, like the one whose officers we met a couple weeks ago. They were all in plain clothes though, but they had maybe 10-15 German Shepherds near the mall that were severly muzzled and they were just standing around with them near a car. Some children came up to pet them. Only in Israel, only in Israel.


Later in the night, we met up with Talia, who is living in her brother's apartment in Tel Aviv this week, so she doesn't have to commute from Kfar Saba. We were talking about the north, and I wish I could go up to the North to see what is going on. I feel like I always see things in the media, but not ever live. Obviously, you are not big fans of this. But I feel like I'm not doing anything again, just taking, taking, taking from Israel. Giving blood made me feel better, but not enough. I suspect the only thing that will make me feel like I'm contributing will be participating in a paratrooper raid of Bing Jbeil; but for now, I will have to find some way to help out. I'm thinking of doing Table to Table, http://www.tabletotable.org.il/?gclid=CPalwLPrroYCFRJ-Vgod0ECnAg , which drops off food at certain points in Tel Aviv to take to the north. Maybe I can buy some toys for children and drop it off, along with an encouraging note. I know if I were in a shelter right now I would want some warm falafel and a note from someone saying "you are awesome! Keep defending the homefront! More falafel to come later!"

So I will get back to you. But I want to do something big. As I mentioned before, I will also volunteer with the army, to provide any moral support that the soldiers might need.

Other conclusions I've come to: I don't know Israel nearly enough, and I think I am getting the wrong perspective of Israel. I live in the biggest city; that would be like finding out the US by living only in Manhattan. I really think that skews my vision. Sometimes I'll get glimpses of palms or of the beach, and I'll remember how I felt about Israel when I was here the last two times. A feeling of complete love, of peace, a feeling of belonging, such a strong and deep feeling that I can't even explain it. It's the same feeling I get whenever I see Israeli flags in America (although probably not anymore, since we've had an overkill of those since the war started). It's how I think Zionists feel about Israel, when they see past its problems. It is the pure Israel that gets blocked out for me by the everyday noise of just going to work, being treated rudely at the grocery store, not knowing enough Hebrew, feeling lost, feeling out of place. Although I've been feeling less of that lately, and there are some moments when I just think I fit in. The first month was the hardest, and the second month is easier. And the third and fourth would be too, if I were here for them.

The more I think about aliyah, the more strange it seems to me; leaving America for a totally different country. It seems really crazy. And the more I think about the real process, the more distant the idealism that I felt before fades away: getting used to the tax system, never having the ability to even remotely influence or experience the weight that is American policy, feeling trapped by the glass ceiling that is Israel's promotion system, feeling trapped by the smallness of the country and not enough opportunities to advance. etc. But then I think about the things I am giving up: the ability to say to people who have opinions about Israel "i am here. you have no right to say anything, because you are not voting. I am making a statement by living here.", the ability to contribute and volunteer all I want, I guess those are the most important things that bother me about not living in Israel. The fact that, once I leave, I will not be able to say anything for or against it, because I have no right to. Just like right now, American Jews, British Jews, etc, that have opinions about the war sound silly to me because they are not here. They cannot know how they would act. This is why I can't really ridicule yerida (the opposite of aliyah, immigration outside of Israel,) because I don't know if I would do the same. I get very nervous, and I don't think I could keep up the same level of pressure. I just can't say. I will also miss the food. Oh, how I will miss the food. I can tell you exactly what I will miss: Atala hummus, coke in glass bottles, mint in my tea and lemonade, salad at every meal, including breakfast, and falafel. Ahhh.


That's it for now.
I will write more about work later (maybe.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Funny stuff

http://www.tapuz.co.il/North/Game.asp -beat Nasralla

http://www.cagle.com/news/IsraelGaza/images/stephff1a.gif

More to come.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Sushi Rivers and Suicide Bombers

Boker tov la'chem (Good morning to you),

I will relay this entire weekend, including most of the parts I have already related, because I am too lazy to write two separate accounts for you and the blog: This weekend was probably the most productive I've had in Israel. Earlier this week, I decided that giving blood was the way to make a small but important contribution to Israel, so I found out how to do it. In Hebrew. All by myself. This is the thing I am most proud of myself for. I looked it up in the Israeli Yellow Pages, called them, somehow formulated my question, somehow understood their answers, and understood what time I should come in to give blood. I decided to do it on Friday, since this is our weekend (again, I get messed up by the Friday/Saturday thing) On Friday morning (like Saturday morning in America), I got up at 8:00 am. Yes, that is earlier than I have ever gotten up for a college class in my life, excluding the first semester, when I was stupid enough to take English 30 at 8:00 am, but that's beside the point.

Anywayyy, so I got up early, and walked to the building (which I figured out how to get to using the Hebrew map search feature!), and went up to the second floor, where the Bank HaDam (Blood Bank) was. There, I was presented with an application in Hebrew. Obviously, I'm not at the level where I can decipher it yet, so I asked for one in English. The only other one they had was in Russian. Excellent. So, after I filled out the application, I was given a glass of water to drink and a small, energetic old woman named Estri took a sample of blood and ran it through the blood reading machine (I have no clue what it's called) and I was set to go. I didn't have anything for breakfast but I lied and said I did. Obviously, Estri did not believe me, because she gave me coffee and cookies, and then I went in to the actual room where they put me on a bed and hooked me up to a blood machine. There were about 4 other people giving blood with me in the room and the atmosphere was quiet but not serious.

There were also two Tel Aviv University students doing a study on blood, and they took a test tube of mine and also asked me questions about where I was from, how much I exercised, whether I had been in the Yarkon River or not (the River in North Tel Aviv...it is rather toxic,) etc. It was very exciting. Afterward, I sat recovering and the woman who had been giving blood next to me turned out to be from California. Well, she was born in Israel and then her parents moved to California and she finished school there, and now she is back here. She said, "your parents must be terrified-mine are." And her parents are Israelis. I was kind of disgusted with them, that they decided to just leave and that their daughter is now here, but lately, I've been realizing that I have no right to judge anyone about anything because just the other night I wanted to go home immediately.

After I gave blood, I left immediately and decided to go to Azrieli (the huge shopping center) before it closed for the day (3:30 on Fridays), but in the meantime, feeling extremely satisfied and productive, I called my friend Vitaliy, who was also in Israel on an internship with the David Project (http://davidproject.org/), which is a political organization that gives the foreign media backgrounders, etc about Israeli current events and presents Israel to the foreign media in conjunction with the Government. Needless to say, they have been extremely busy the last two weeks. Vitaliy does a lot of research and actually gets to meet with the media, which is very exciting. He's been to the Jerusalem Post office, met with Important Israeli figures, and Eitzan Schwartz, who won Israel's Ambassador program last year (http://www.shaister.com/index.php/?p=506; http://www.keshet-tv.com/hashagrir/),who I've heard smells really good.

Anyway, we met for lunch at the Azrieli Mall (with Vitaliy and his grandma, who lives here) and just talked about what we were doing in the various projects. I kind of felt bad because Vitaliy's grandmother speaks Bulgarian and a little Hebrew and no English (Vitaly is from Bulgaria) and I speak Russian and a little English and no Hebrew, so Vitaliy and I spoke in English. But when he explained things to his grandmother, I could totally understand them! Russian and Bulgarian are apparently very close. So it sounds like he is on a really cool internship, but they had to leave because they were having lunch at home. I was left to frantically buy things for everyone before the mall closed, and afterwards, I took a walk down Allenby Street,which has A LOT of Russian stores, where I bought my movies. There were HORDES of people outside because it was Friday, and in my usual morose mood, I thought," It would be easy to perpetrate a terrorist attack right now and no one would notice." I usually think about things like this. Like, if I'm near a bus I'll think "If there is a terrorist on the bus, how much time do I have to run away from it?" Or, "If Nasrallah decides to strike Tel Aviv, where would be the best place?" Or, "How much time do I have to get to a bomb shelter?" Or, "Did that security guard check my bag properly?" Things like that. But I try not to let them dominate my life.

So, after the Russian store, I went to the grocery store, which was jam-packed before Shabbat, to buy hummus, pita, and grapes. And then I sat out on the balcony eating them. Such is the life.

On Friday night, Batami and Schneid went out to eat (I didn't want to spend money,) so I wandered out towards the beach by myself. I thought about sitting down at one of the cafes at the beach and ordering a plate of watermelon to eat and just sit and watch the ocean, but then Batami called me and said that there was a suspected suicide bomber in the Greater Tel Aviv area. Great. I walked home by myself, extremely paranoid. Every man had a huge bag that was a bomb and every woman was hiding something under her dress. Every loud noise startled me, and I hoped I would get back ok to the apartment. I did indeed, and we stayed there for the rest of the night. I was miserable. Batami and Schneid started saying that if it was fate you die in Israel, then it was meant to happen. I totally don't buy that. You are not fated to do anything. The things that happen to you are a direct result of your actions and if something happens to you, it could have been avoided by making another choice.

The next day we woke up and found this out: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3279470,00.html

And we were relieved. We spent all day at the beach and went to a sushi bar for dinner. That was exciting, because not only was it sushi, but it was ON A RIVER!!! That means that the sushi goes by and you can take as much as you want, as the picture shows:http://www.pre-motion.nl/uploadedfiles/producten/Close_up_sfeer.jpg
. The plates are colored according to price, and they just add up the colors of your plates. Schneid and I were in our element because we love sushi. Then we went home.

Today I am at work.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Me Ha Lev

While it is a little scary living in a country with military operations going on (although none of them near me), it is also interesting to see how people under pressure react. For example, I've reacted by eating falafel and going to the beach....or else the terrorists win. Bank HaPoalim has reacted differently. In the meeting we attended about shivuk (the marketing department) a couple days ago, Eli Mizroch, the head of the department (I think...or pretty high up) told us about the various campaigns the bank has done to remodel its brand image from that of a bank associated with the Histadrut (trade unions) to a dynamic, privatized bank that is flexible for its clients. The results are visible in the red and white colors, as can be seen on the website (http://www.bankhapoalim.com/ or, if you read Hebrew, which you don't, but I'm just throwing the option out there, http://www.bankhapoalim.co.il/) and interesting advertising campaigns.

For example, for Yom Haazmaut (Independence Day), people usually put out TONS of Isaeli Flags everywhere, but in recent years, it has been declining. Bank HaPoalim put an ad out in the paper last year offering people free flags. These are quality flags, mind you; full size and made out of rayon/nylon. They spent about $2 million on this campaign and it paid off for them because not only was it a success in reviving the tradition for the country, it also boosted Poalim's brand recognition. This time, they really outdid themselves. While I can't say I agree with what they did simply for publicity/customers, I can see how it's nice from a philanthropic viewpoint. When the war started in the North, the bank closed about 68 branches, out of a total 318. That's a lot of branches to close. People in the North still have banking needs, so, Poalim organized about 10 busses (pictured here and I'll post the picture that I have later:http://www.bankhapoalim.co.il/icmm/uploads/images/230x160.jpg) and armed them with all types of banking services. Today, they are sending them up to the North. Basically, the vans/trucks will drive around in the North and people can come to them to do banking stuff. When there is a siren, they will drive as far south as they can, and then come back. Obviously, it was very hard to find people who want to drive the vans, but they got this operation together in maybe 3-4 days. This is A HUGE DEAL. However, I'm disappointed that Eli Mizroch told us that the reason they did it was for publicity and to enhance Poalim's image over Bank Leumi, Poalim's main competitor. I really wish they did this just because. But I guess that's how business works. Now watch Leumi come out with something similar. As far as I know, they haven't.

Today, when I came to work, I saw the vans/trucks outside of our building (there was a huge press conference) and a bunch of people wearing shirts that said "MKol halev"-from the whole heart launching the trucks to go to the north. Big deal, lots of security, fortunately I got one picture of the van, which I will have to upload.

Other than that, not much has been going on. I had to go to a hacking conference yesterday which would have been informative for me, had it been in English. Right now I am working with Google advertisements and figuring out if they would be good for e-banking to implement through tons and tons of Powerpoint presentations. I am becoming a Hebrew Powerpoint Pro.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Disregard the last post...

..it was written late at night and in a strange state of mind. I am feeling 100% better today and am not at all paranoid. I will write more later. I just didn't want anyone to worry about me going mental.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tension

Tel Aviv is still the safest place to be in the country, but I've become very paranoid, as someone who has never been exposed to tension will be. Ever since yesterday they said there was a possibility of rockets hitting Tel Aviv, I have been extremely nervous. I shouldn't be, because there isn't a likely chance, but it's always in the back of my mind.

They showed me where the bomb shelter was at work and the safest place to be anywhere: a stairwell. I know what the siren sounds like and that there is one minute from when it sounds to get to safety. I need to be inside, away from windows, preferrably in a staircase, with my head covered. I'm 30 times as likely to survive laying flat than standing up. And I am not leaving Israel. I am staying until my internship is over. Because I will be fine. Even though I can't sleep at night because I think that the busses on the sreet are really missiles, or I get paranoid when I hear people speaking Arabic or I jump at loud noises and I rehearse the route from my apartment to the emergency exit every day. This is how Hezbolla wants me to live, but I am trying not to. It's very hard. And I hate them. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Hate them for making me jumpy at work, for figuring out if I can hear the siren over the movie I'm watching, hate them for making me feel like I am trapped in an area, waiting to die.

I wish the army would hurry up and destroy the installations. I wish that they would stop the stupid Katusha rockets on Haifa. I wish so many things. I wish I didn't overreact like my Israeli friends do, I wish I could be more calm, I wish I could do stuff at work. I'm not as rattled as I sound, but last night I heard people talking underneath my window in Arabic, and I prayed that they would go away. One thing is for sure. I am going to come back to America a completely different person than when I left. But I will not let them scare me out of Israel.

Work on the other hand is good. I finished everything they have for me so far and am waiting for an assignment on google. Today we had presentations about the marketing department, which is very successful, and more about global private banking, so I didn't actually have to go to work. It's really interesting learning about the bank's infrastructure and hearing them use terms I've used in my classes: CAGR, NPV, and other methods they've taken from Harvard. I'm glad my Penn State Education is being put into global use :)

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Hmmm...

Everything is fine with me. However, I found this amusing:

Khomeini praises Hizbullah attacks on "the Zionist tumor"

Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khomeini, praised Hizbullah's rocket attacks and called them, "an attack on the Zionist tumor spreading in the region."

In a television interview, Khomeini added that "the Zionists see Lebanon as meat in their teeth, however recent days and the strong actions of Hizbullah have showed them differently." (AFP)
Too bad the Zionist tumor is destroying most of Southern Lebanon.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Kav Ham

A kav ham is, literally, a hotline. Bank HaPoalim has set one up for customers in the North because four branches were closed. Our office was in a bit of a crisis because we deal with the web aspects of everything, so we were busy setting up stuff to facilitate information on the Internet and Dafna, who was supposed to have lunch with me, was overwhlemed trying to organize the details. It's ok though, some other day. Here are the resutls:http://www.bankhapoalim.co.il/. I wish I could be doing something important like that, but today I only filled out more award forms. Not that it wasn't exciting for me, because we are under deadline, and I had to interview a woman who headlined the "Poalim on time" project and handled over 80 staff members on a very short deadline and budget. That was really cool. I feel like my English skills are coming in very handy.

Important stuff is going on. Here is part of an e-mail I wrote to my mom and Dan about it:

So, there's nothing much going on to report today. Mom, STOP FREAKING OUT. The stuff going on up north doesn't affect me at all. If you were here, you would know that it's true. The radio that's on at work doesn't play upbeat songs anymore. Thousands of hotel reservations because of birthright have been canceled on Army demands. I don't blame any of this, and I don't blame people around the world for being terrified, but unless you live in Nehariya or Maalot or any one of the towns near the border, it doesn't affect you. The only way it affects you is that family members are being called up in the draft. Talia was really upset yesterday is because her best friend had to go and she went to Kfar Saba to try and see him before he left. We went to see X-3 at the movie theater. I wasn't really in the mood for a movie. More like a "sit and contemplate" mood.

I don't feel right enjoying myself right now, and as I keep telling everyone, I wish there was something I could do. I feel so disgusting, like I'm just taking advantage of the State and not giving anything back. It's strange, but I don't feel like I owe America anything, but like I owe Israel a lot that I haven't given yet. Jon called his mom to send his MADA jersey so that he could maybe go help out ambulances up north. Maybe it's a little crazy and probably he'd never do it, but everyone is feeling a little crazy these days. Ben Bloch said if a full-out war broke out, he would go straight to the aliyah office. I would like to think I would do that if something big happened, but in reality, I would probably chicken out. And then when I think about it, I feel disgusted with myself. And this circle of thoughts goes on and on.

What really disgusts me is that France and Russia declared it unnecessary agression. It's nothing new, but I mean seriously. I'm not really sure what Israel can do to get approval, short of all the Jews committing suicide, but before that, cleaning up the country so that the Arabs can live there in comfort. Nothing will ever win Israel international approval and we should stop trying to appease people (the UN, the EU, the US, etc, etc.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

...and here's Lebanon

While Hezbollah was getting ready to kidnap two soldiers, we were at the Dead Sea:

We had to get up at 6 in the morning to leave to meet my building where I work (there are at least 3 Poalim buildings within a 4 block vicinity of one another. This bank owns a LOT of real estate. ) However, the night before that, Jon was complaining of stomach aches/pains and took a LOT of Batami's medicine (she has everything, from Ben Gay, to Pepto Bismol, to Advil.) Right before we went to bed, he came and said he might go to the hospital. We said, don't go alone. If you need to go, we'll go with you. Just wake us up and let us know. And he's like, "No, no, I'll go." So at three in the morning, he woke us up and said, "I'm going to the hospital." We said, "Don't go alone, we'll come" but he left. Obviously he was not there for the trip in the morning. Usually, people from different departments come with us on trips. This time, a lot of people from marketing, some from financial advising, and some from HR came, including Revital, who is just awesome. I would like to start a Revital personality cult.

Anyway, so we all piled into the van that would take us for our adventures (there were maybe 15 people in our group) and Mark, the security guy, told us that Jon's mom had already called him three times. Danny joked, "What, she isn't on the plane yet?" If I ever go to the hospital, please don't freak out.

We left, and I was sitting next to Irit, who works as a financial adviser in Tel Aviv. It was really awkward because I am really bad at holding conversations with people I don't know, especially if I feel like I should be talking to them in Hebrew and they are trying to talk to me in English. The whole way was really awkward for me. Anyway, so I found out her parents immigrated from Romania in the 1960s and she still speaks Romanian, even though she was born in Israel. She lives in Rishon L'Zion and has two children, whose pictures she showed me on her cell phone. They are boys, and she told me about how the smaller one eats dirt and she can't stop him. I told her to teach her sons to be clean, because boys are really messy. And then I told her about how my boyfriend is the messiest person I know. ;) She said she would try, but it was hard when the little one ate dirt from the garden all the time.

Theoretically, the drive from Tel Aviv to Masada is 2 hours, but it felt like a lot more. In order to get to Masada, you have to go through Jerusalem. There are several roads to get to Jerusalem: one that goes through the west bank, and one that doesn't.

We passed Ramalla. Obviously, as you can see by this map, we were in the West Bank
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:We-map.png

It was fine, though, because where we were, the sepratation barrier was in place. It was maybe a 7' tall wall. Obviously I couldn't find any pictures of it because when I did a google search for sepration barrier all that came up were pro-Palestinian sites. So we passed through Arab towns and military check points, and then we were around Jerusalem. None of this is a big deal, I should tell you, and everything you have ever read on the news blows it out of proportion. The blatant anti-Israel propoganda and biased reporting makes me wonder how much more of the world I am misperceiving.

So when we got around Jerusalem, we started driving south...into the Desert! I had never been in the desert, so it was a lot of fun for me. If you've never been in the middle eastern desert, I suggest you go. It is very mystical and romantic and also VERY HOT. VERY VERY VERY HOT. Maybe it was 38 Celcius. Yeah. On the sides of the road, we started passing more sand, and Bedouin houses. I seriously don't know how they live. They have tents that look like they could blow away in the wind, and a rickety fence around the tents. The men and the women live in separate tents, and there are a few camels and donkeys around the tents. And they've continued to live like this, despite Arab wars, despite everything, despite the State of Israel, they just live like they did for hundreds of years. It seriously amazes me.

Then, we stopped at a gas station for cold drinks and to stretch. There were sand dunes and rocky outcrops and very small amounts of brush. It is fun to be in the desert. Except it was scorching hot. There was also a camel tied up at the gas station and I wanted to pet him, except the Arab that owned the camel said it cost 10 shekels, and that made me sad
Pictures cost more, so I didn't take any, but actually, this is probaby the exact gas station and the exact camel: http://i12.photobucket.com/albums/a231/andyko/Israel/Camel.jpg
Although, why are there Asians there? And I think I don't fit in!

Sooo, we all got back in and continued going south. The first place we came to was Ein Gedi, which is WAYYYY in the desert. This place is mentioned in the Bible, and is known for a lot of the water present here, which allowed for farming and agriculture. There is also a synagogue that dates back reeeeeeallllly far and we saw the excavation of it-it was really neat. But it was really hot, so I have no clue how anyone lived there. There was also a kibbutz founded in 1956 that was here. It really makes you appreciate what people went through to found this country-fending off hostile Arab tribes, the heat, the lack of falafel in the 1950s, etc. Yay Zionists!

We left after 15 minutes (we had a tour guide with us who explained everything and she explained about how they found the synagogue, how they excavated it, and how in this synagogue, the women and the men sat together. I am under the impression that people were a lot more lax about everything back in the day. Kashrut? Dude, I'm lucky I FOUND some wild pigs to eat today. Feast time!

After we left Ein Gedi, we drove up to Masada. I've heard the stories and seen movies about it so many times before that all that was left for me to do was to check it off and actually visit it. There was a really nice museum and we went up by cable car instead of climbing either the Roman installation or the snake path (saving time and heat stroke.) We went up with a group of British tourists who made me want to kill them with their obnoxiousness, but other than that, it was good.

I was just in disbelief the whole time that someone (well, a crazy someone-Herod, and later, craaazy zealots) had managed to make a life here. They didn't have a cable car. Our tour guide told us about how Herod had caves dug out to collect rain, which fell three times a year, and that he made a swimming pool from the water, to show the other surrounding kings that he could have a swimming pool in the desert, an enormous symbol of power. He also had enough food (from Ein Gedi) for his people and also had a Roman system of heating/cooling the floors built (I got really excited because I am a Roman achitecture nerd and I remembered learning about the cauldarium and the frigidarium and the terpidarium!!!!!) Lucky for me, there is a lot of Roman architecture in Israel, seeing as to how the Romans basically subjugated the Jews and chilled in Jerusaelm for a while. Not that I'm bitter.

So, we went around the whole site and Shimoni, our tour guide, told the story about how they all drew straws to kill each other, and how symbolic it was. Told us that Herod killed his wife and his two sons. How nice. To clarify, there were two groups of people that lived on Masada. King Herod came here first from Jerusalem:

According to Flavius Josephus, a 1st-century Jewish historian, Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt. In 66 CE, at the beginning of the First Jewish-Roman War (also called the Great Jewish Revolt) against the Roman Empire, a group of Jewish rebels called the Zealots (kana'im, "zealous ones") who objected to Roman rule of Judea (as the Roman province of Iudaea, its Latin name).
And then the zealots followed. You could compare these zealots to the Taliban, except they were Jews. Also, they did not wear the turbans. Also, there was not a satirical movie made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone about them.

So, after we learned about Masada, we left. It was fun. The one thing I am truly surprised by is that Adi, a marketing department member, came with us on the trip. SHE IS 6 MONTHS PREGNANT. And she went on Masada. Is this ok? Again, emphasizing the fact that every Israeli woman is pregnant. This is not bad at all. Where is this Jewish population erosion myth? I really don't see how the Arabs can top that, except that if each Arab woman has three in one go. And that means they are on some wicked hormones.

So, after Mesada, we drove to the Dead Sea. We stopped at this Hotel for lunch:

http://images.travelnow.com/hotelimages/s/039000/039858A.jpg

and the eating was good. Let me tell you about it, because I always do. First, it was a buffet. That should tell you everything you need to know. But just in case you don't, here's what I ate: olives(I used to hate olives, now I eat them every day-you should be proud, mom), humus, Israeli salad, chopped vegetables (tomatoes and bean sprouts), rice with vegetables, fish fillet, black bread (that actually tasted like black bread), more Israeli salad, a brownie and a piece of halva. The eating was good.

After that, Talia, Batami and I went to change for our adventure in the Dead Sea. We went up to the Dead Sea. It is reallllly weird. Realllly weird.Because there are no waves and there is SALT on the shore. Literally salt and the shore for a couple inches is filmy white because of the salt. We went in. It wasn't that bad. I didn't have too many cuts and scrapes, so I felt like I was ok. The water literally tastes like table salt. And you float! It's a lot of fun. But kind of eerie too. After maybe 20 minutes, we were thoroughly salty and we got out. After you're in the Dead Sea and you rub your fingers together, they feel slimy because of the salt. It's interesting.

We washed off and went to the pool. But we were sad that there was no black mud-it's only in Ein Gedi. The hotel has a full range of Dead Sea services, including salt pools, sulfur baths, and mud massages. It must be really nice to come for a weekend to just relax, and that's what a lot of people in the bank actually do. Get away for a weekend in the winter.

After the pool, We towled off and left to go back. I slept the whole way back, except for when we stopped at a cafe and i got ice cream. Because it is HOT.

Now, about work. Work is good. I really do feel that I am being productive. Today, I finished a project proposal about Poalim's check-cashing project that could win a prize (if my writing is good enough-no pressure!) I also summarized a lot of marketing magazine articles into Powerpoint to present to Dafna. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that Microsoft Office is international, and that it is extremely important to learn it. Later on, I will probably be working on a Google-related project. I really don't want to say to much, because I don't know how many Leumi (competing bank) spies are reading my blog :)

And about the current situation: I am glad that the international community finally supports Israel (or it does, from my understanding), because what Israel is doing is totally correct. I mean, I was beginning to verge to the left a little bit-maybe Israel is not always right, maybe there is a reason terrorism exists, etc. But, we gave them the Gaza Strip, right? We started to give them autonomy, right? And what do they do? Kassams and kidnappings. Thanks, guys. Oh, and a big thank you to Hezbolla. You guys are going to pay for it. However, I can't really judge the Israeli reaction because my Hebrew is veeeery bad. I actually think it's regressed since I've gotten here. So I will just give you the straight-up Vicki scoop on stuff. I just realized after talking to Jeff yesterday online that there is a lot of stuff that I talk about that is very Israeli/Jewish, and the terminology may be foreign to some people, so if you don't understand something, please comment!



Sunday, July 09, 2006

This weekend in the life of Vicki

Times are indeed better even though the Gaza invasion keeps getting worse and Hamas has decided to use a few more Kasam rockets.

On Friday, I took the train to Jerusalem. It is honestly the most beautiful train ride I have been on, even outpacing the one we took in Switzerland. This is a picture of it, although not taken by me:
http://iap0.rocketrange.no/~armin/homepage_priv/pics/Israel03/Jerusalem/p20030816_027.jpg


It is a great time to sit and think about things, and to prepare yourself for Jerusalem. You know I am not a religious person. But there is something very spiritual and special about the city, maybe because I don't visit it often, that puts you in a different frame of mind. The other thing is that, as I said before, to go to Jerusalem, you go up, so it also puts you on another plane. When you see it from a distance, it's a nice view. I think we may have even gone into the West Bank! How exciting! Well, probably not, actually. Don't worry. I suspect this because the train stopped at Beitar Illit, which, as you can see on the map, http://www.mideastweb.org/thefence_05.htm , is kind of in the West Bank. It's not really, but it is.

So I got to Jerusalem and went to the Wall. This is always a very important experience for me and even more so now that I got there all by myself. I don't know what it is, maybe I just set myself up for it, but every time I go there, it is like an overwhelming feeling of something greater than myself, of a sense of peace, of almost completeness. After I wrote my note and went up to the wall to put it in, I just stood there, leaning against it, and I probably looked really ridiculous, but it was just such a different feeling from things that I usually feel. Afterwards, I felt calm and relaxed and I left. I will not tell you what I wrote, because it's between me and the Wall. However, I did not ask for a BMW, and I'm beginning to think that I should have.



After I left the wall, I scrambled back to the train station. The last train left at 2 (Shabbat regulations are so annoying) and I had to make it. In the taxi to the train station, when I got in, the cab driver was playing a Eyal Golan CD (one of my favorite Israeli singers) and all was good. I got the train station in plenty of time and sat on a bench and was I pulled out about to Master i Margarita for the 30-minute wait.

There were also two soldiers sitting, waiting for a train (which is free for them, as well as busses) and a girl laying on one soldier's lap, in civilian clothing. All three were obviously tired, waiting to go home for Shabbat (soldiers get leave for the weekend) and it was very touching. Not that I was looking at the soliders.

The trainride back was uneventful, except it was PACKED because everyone was going to wherever they needed to be for the weekend. And by PACKED I mean religious families. You know, the kind where the father has an ENORMOUS kippah and the mother wears a long skirt, long sleeves and covers her hair. And they have like 6 kids. The family sitting across from me had 4, and probably more were on the way. Both of the parents looked at most 30 years old. INSANE. I feel so bad for the kids of religious parents, because they have no choice. They dont' know what's going on, but before you know it, they are circumcised, stuck in kippot and long skirts for the girls, and sent off to yeshiva to be brainwashed, and will spend the rest of their life praying 6 million times a day. They are so restricted in everything, and they don't even have a say in it.

After I got back from Jerusalem, I took the train to Herzliyyah, and Danny picked me up at the station. That was where my weekend of fun began. He drove me to Ra'annana, the town he lives in, which is right next to Herzliyyah, but very very very pretty. I like it 10 million times more than I like Tel Aviv. And if I had lived in Ra'annana the whole time, my bitterness would have been much less, and my thoughts much different. As it is, I literally felt my Zionism recharging this weekend. His town is green and pretty and clean and quiet, with colored street signs and numbered street lights (people got tired of telling their friends which light to turn on for directions, so now they're numbered) and a lot of pretty pretty houses and apartments. It's one of the only towns in Israel with a budget surplus and one of the greenest towns in Israel as well. Obviously, there are few Russians there. A lot of the immigrants in Ra'annana are from America, the UK, South Africa, and Australia, so it's a very Anglo town. Danny's house is nice and quiet, on the end of a street, and he lives across from people from England. It's very English-friendly, and for a minute, I felt like I was back in America-his house has American channels as well as Israeli, they get American newspapers, and they have American cereal in the cupboard.

Danny has two dogs. And they are awesome. I will send pictures. They are both Golden Retrievers, and they are mother and son. The mom's name is Pooch, and the son's name is Gever (which means man or male, so it's funny), and they are bilingual. It's very cute. They are very excited to see you and they jump up on you, but they don't bark like Babe (my dog) does. They just lick you a lot and like their tummies scratched. It's very obvious that Danny misses them a LOT when he is at Penn.

So we all came to his house: me, Schneid, Batami, Talia, Jon, and Ben Bloch (who made it safely from Hevron, despite the fact that rival factions were fighting each other). Elan and Ben Berg were in the Jerusalem vicinity. We sat around and watched TV, and then it was time for Shabbat. He rounded up everyone for the synagogue, and we went late. Talia and I had to sit in the women's section (above the men, separated by a thin gauze curtain,) and it was the worst synagogue experience of our lives. First of all, we couldn't find the books from which to follow the service and no one would tell us. Then, the girls all turned around to look at us. EVIL, HIDEOUS looks. Like, WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN MY SYNAGOGUE. WHO THE HELL ARE YOU. And then THE MEN STARTED TURNING AROUND AND GIVING US POINTED STARES. It was so stupid and horrible, so after 10 minutes, we just left and went back to Danny's house. After that, we had dinner, and then, for dessert, Danny's two friends came over. I forget their names, but one was white Israeli and the other one was Persian. She was really really pretty and we all had a conversation in Hebrew. I understood the gist of it, and was really proud of myself.

Then, we all went to bed and got up late the next morning, ate a little, had lunch, took a nap. We then went to walk the dogs at the park. The park at Ra'annana is awesome. Danny actually had to show his Ra'annana residency ID because the park has started charging money, because the beach at Herzliyyah, the neighboring town, started charging money. This process also weeds out a lot of shady characters who could go to the park. Here are some pictures (I forgot my camera), but they don't really do it justice:

http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/1,7340,L-2950226,00.html

There is everything in the park that you could ever want: an enormous children's playground, an ampitheater, a manmade lake shaped in the symbol of Ra'annana around which a gondola and boats go. The lake also has 10 white swans purchased from Denmark for 30,000 shekels (approximately $4 dollars-just kidding) that have a special hutch. There is a cafe across from the lake, a special children's playground, a mangal area, a train that goes around the park, a garden, basketball courts, a fountain that goes into the lake, and probably a lot more that I am forgetting. It is an awesome way to spend the afternoon, and there are actually A LOT of Israeli Arabs there, as well as the local Ra'annana residents, whose taxes pay for it. Danny was little bitter because he said, "A lot of my friends are in Gaza right now, and look what's going on here." He couldn't be more right. It's a world of difference, although I don't know whether it's bad or good.

We went back home and showered quickly and drove to Herzliya to see a "ballet"-really it was a modern performance with a lot of weird music, like the Blue Man Group, but less so. I don't know what I thought of it, but hey, as long as we got to see it for free, all is good. We got back home extremely exhausted and went to bed. Overall, it was very relaxing and a nice refreshment from the city, which is very not good for a long time.

On Tuesday we are going to the Dead Sea and Masada. Exciting.

PS-Tel Aviv made it to the Economist's guide for financial cities page. Yayy!

http://economist.com/cities/citiesmain.cfm?city_id=TLV

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

In Israel, it's not really the 4th

For all my constant complaining, I really really really like being here. Maybe it's because today is going very well for me, or something else, I don't know, but I love it.

Yesterday was the annual HR Department Person of the Year Dinner, which we were invited to just to see what it was like. Each department has these dinners. I don't know when mine (E-Banking and Business Development and Retail Banking) is, but I don't think I could go again-it was just so overwhelming. The banquet was at 7. Before that, at lunchtime, I called all the interns up to have lunch. Yay for me taking initiative. Talia decided to go to "Benny HaShamen," which means "Benny the Fat." Good thing she knows what's up-the place was great. It was actually behind a building in a nicely shaded yard, away from traffic, and the meal was really good. First of all, there are the appetizers. Israeli appetizers, which I believe I've described to you several times now, consist of at least humus and something to scoop it up with. At Benny's, there was humus, warm, fluffy lavash pickles, salad sprinkled with lemon, little fried noodles, and leaves stuffed with rice. This is just the appetizer, people. It was crazy. Also, we were in the shade of the tree. Anyway, I love having lunch with Israelis because they can read the menu to me. Danny and Talia summarized it, and going back, I understood what everything was. Yay. In Israel for lunch, there is this thing called the "Iskit," the business lunch, which includes a bunch of dishes and is cheaper than just ordering individually. Oh, iskit, I will miss you in America. I ordered the chicken breast, with salad and rice. The chicken breast actually tasted like shaslik, but was very very good. Some people even ordered lamb.

Overall, it was a very good lunch, even though it lasted an hour and a half, instead of the hour we are "alotted to" for lunch. Actually, I don't know how long I have for lunch. I'm assuming it's an hour. I try to keep it under that time. Usually, I'll just buy something from the store near work and read the JPost, which I get every day. It's beautiful.

After Batami and I walked home from work, Talia was at our apartment. Our apartment has become like the crash pad for everyone in the group because it is very centrally located. I love it. Talia lives in Kfar Saba, 20 minutes by car, 45 minutes by rush hour traffic bus, so she didn't want to go back to change for the dinner, and just changed at our apartment. We were all worried about what to wear since it was a fancy HR appreciation dinner, and in the end, we obviously overdressed. When we got there (the Tel Aviv port) we were herded into a reception area with appetizers and wine and mingling. The appetizers were REALLY good (I am sure you are very tired of me telling you how good the food in Israel is. So just come here and eat it yourself ;)-there was sushi! (something I have been craving lately) Aside from that, also bite-sized bread with poppy seeds and olive oil spread on it, as well as tomatoes, so like a pizza, only not.

After the appetizers, we were herded inside to a HUGE hall which had a stage in the front, dinner tables all around it, and dinner on the sides. The walls were white, but there was a projector that projected the image of a rainforest on them, so in the dimly-lit room, it was really cool. We sat at a table near the back, all 9 of us, and went to go get food. Again, dinner was excellent. I had chicken, egg noodles with peanuts, steamed vegetables, apples carmelized in strawberry juice, mashed potatoes flavored with something, and black bread. Oh yes, and also white wine and water with mint and lemon in it. And, all of this was free. That is the best part of all.

So we sat and ate, and afterward, the ceremony started. The room suddenly got dark and a guy came out on stage blowing a shofar. Nearby, someone played the saxaphone and a singer sang an introductory song, actually written especally for Bank Hapoalim, about how we are the best bank and basically eveyrone else sucks. I can't even imagine how much money they put into this thing. Then the presenter came out and introduced a couple of people from HR to speak, including Shlomo Braun, who we met! And the CFO of the Bank, who talked to us about the Israeli economy, also spoke. It was exciting to see people that we had met being up front and important. After that, a group of three guys came out to sing a song and then did a sketch comedy act which I understood maybe 40% of, involving making fun of Palestinians, Gruziny, and Israelis who use cell phones too much. Danny was right next to me, but I didn't want to ask him to translate because I thought he might be annoyed. I caught some of it at least.

After them, the presenter came out again and presented awards to people in HR who had done the best job in whatever the category was. On the walls, the screens showed people like their family thanking them. One woman's childhood best friend congradulated her. One man was congradulated by Israel's most famous weatherman. One was congradulated by his masseuse and yoga instructor. It was funny. The amazing thing was that I managed to read the captions of who the people were and what they did in the time that it flashed across the screen in 5 seconds. It was awesome. After the ceremony, the group of three came out again and they impersonated Shlomo Artzi, a very famous Israeli singer. According to Talia, they did a really good job. Then, it was time for a band to play and people to dance. After a lot of dancing, we all piled into Danny's car (it is so convenient that he drives in Israel! but it's not his car, it's his dad's company car-his dad works for EDS in Israel) and all went back to our apartment to hang out.



We went to bed at maybe 3 in the morning, so none of us got a lot of sleep for work this morning (Talia slept over but everyone else went home) and we had to wake up for work at 9. Glehh. Today is shaping up to be an awesome day at work, though. When I just came in, I said good morning to the people in the office that I see first before I go to my cubicle, Oshrat and Vicki (another Vicki :) and Vicki told me that Shai wanted to see me, and I UNDERSTOOD HER.

Soo after that, I went to see Shai, who said that another department also had a technology they wanted me to submit for the European Web Awards and that he really liked what I had written for the first one, so we went to the 11th floor and I met with two people, a man and a woman, who tried to explain their check-cashing technology to me. They started in Hebrew, but when it was made apparent that it wasn't so good, they switched to English, and told me they had information about the technology in powerpoints and presentations so I could write up a summary of it. However, the powerpoints and letters were all in Hebrew. Shai said, "Oh, ok, well we can send it out to a translating service and have it back tomorrow. " However, me being stupid I said, "No, I'll translate it myself." And that's what I ended up doing. I translated it myself. It's one of my greatest accomplishments and it makes me really excited. Granted, it took me 2 hours to translate a powerpoint with 7 slides, but that's fine. Because I translated it. And that makes me happy.

Feeling even better about myself, I went to lunch. I UNDERSTOOD EVERYTHING THE GUY ASKED ME in terms of what I wanted to eat, what kind of salad I wanted, what I wanted on my salad, etc. I UNDERSTOOD THAT HE WANTED ME TO GET A DRINK. I ASKED FOR OLIVES IN MY SALAD ALL BY MYSELF. I UNDERSTOOD HOW MUCH I HAD TO PAY. It is the most amazing feeling ever to understand when people are talking to you. I am on top of the world.

So hamatzav (the situation) is tense here,if you have been reading, but no worries just yet. I am really hoping Gilad returns home because it will be a huge loss to the country if he doesn't and Israel will launch an all-out invasion of the Gaza Strip. Here is hoping.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Poalim and Politics

Those who have been talking closely with me for the last several days know that I have been experiencing some disillusionment and a weakening of my Zionism due to looking at Israel up close. However, an encouraging letter from my Hebrew teacher yesterday really bo0sted my spirits, and I am ready to go again. Most of my frustrations stem from not being able to express myself in Hebrew (I could do it in English, but what would be the point of my Hebrew minor then?), as well as culture shock in adjusting to life in Israel, and reconciling the Israel of my ideals versus what goes on in real life.

Anyway, so work is good. I finished everything that they gave me and am now working on a summary/analysis of trends in multichannel media from publications we received at a conference in San Francisco. I am particularly focusing on Web channels, as well as telemarketing and cross-channel operations. Again, as I said, I love work. I love doing what I am doing and I feel like I might be of use to the company. I am also learning a tremendous amount about Israeli business practices and how it is to work a 9-5 day. It doesn't really bother me, because I like what I am doing, and I hope to structure my future job requirements around the fact that I would like to work with technology and economics and consulting all at once. We are also doing something with Google in Israel (which was just introduced a couple months ago) so soon I'll be doing a project in that realm as well. I am extremely satisfied, and I feel like everything I do at work pertains to current events, including the recent Israeli banking reforms, which HaPoalim is monitoring extremely closely because we introduced Poalim OnTime especially to help Israelis monitor their bank accounts from cell phones (did you know Israel has over a 100% penetration market rate for cell phones? That's awesome.)

Last week we took a trip to Jerusalem, but mostly to places I've been already, so not a big deal; but I did get to bond with the other interns, which is always a nice experience.

Two days ago was the match between Brazil and France (a BIG deal) and we went down to the beach to watch. It was PACKED. And people were wearing Brazil shirts and screaming and everything. It was really hardcore. It really made me feel like there is something that unites Israelis, even though Israel was disqualified a long time ago. I am really starting to like/learn about soccer. We ordered dinner (I ordered french fries, watermelon, and Maccabi beer-ideal dining situation) and it was me, Batami, Danielle (Batami's friend visiting from Texas,) and the Ben Bloch. Yesterday was a very special night because I got to order my food in the original Jewish language: Russian. Our waiter was Russian, so I finally had a leg up over everyone else. Also, Ben paid for our entire bill, which was 560 shekels ($126). I'm not complaining.

The real reason I am writing this entry is I'm sure many of you are curious how I perceive the current political situation in Israel. The perception is: there is no situation. At least, no one talks about it at work (not that I would understand, anyway ;) and my feelings (which may be wrong because of the language barrier) are that nothing is going on and if it is, it is very far away, even though the Gaza Strip is maybe an hour(?) south of where I work. That's like less than from my house to college. Also, there were three suicide bombers intercepted in the Gaza Strip yesterday, which is a big deal because sometimes you don't hear about the army doing that. But what really got on my nerves today was this article:

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3270024,00.html


A statement published Sunday in the formal internet website of the Jewish community in Iran said that "the Jewish congregation in Iran censures the human rights violations of the Palestinians in the Gaza strip by the Zionists and is grieved by this occurrence."

In response to a question on the interaction between Jews and Muslims in Iran, he responded: "We pray in Hebrew, but speak to each other in Farsi.
It makes me so mad when Jews do this. What do you seriously know about Israel? Iranian Jews have been in Iran for thousands of years, and when things go bad, where is the place they go? Israel. You guys can speak Farsi all you want, but don't come to us when you are being slaughtered. The "Zionists" won't help you then. Ugh.

Ok, I'm done politicizing. Tonight we have an HR dinner reception, which should be really exciting. I will tell you all about it.