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.

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