Monday, June 24, 2013

The Longest Goodbye in the World

OTZMA is over.

It's hard to think about, let alone type that and see it there in black and white.

It's also really, really hard to believe. For more than a year now, June 23rd was a fictional date in the future when OTZMA would end and I would go home to my friends and family in Syracuse. Today is June 24th. That fictional date in the future is now in the past. "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" has been my mantra the last few days. But there have still been quite a few tears. I compared it to leaving CSL at the end of the summer....except longer and you know everyone won't be back next June. And then I cried again. I never could have imagined I make the kind of friends that I made this year.

The thing is, this year was really special. I could go on and on about our tiyul, our staff, the group, whatever, but I won't. I think what happened at Havdallah on Saturday night was the most perfect closing moment, and no one could have planned it if they tried. It's just the most perfect example of the cohesiveness this of this group of people. As the sun went down on Saturday and gave way to a full moon shining on the Kinneret, I tried to light the Havdallah candle. But it was windy. Too windy to light by myself. Aurel came over to help. Aimee stepped in to block the wind. We worked together to light multiple matches at the same time while blocking the wind. No go. A few more people came over to help. We struck the last match. Nothing. We could have given up. We could have done Havdallah without a candle. But it was definitely worth one last try. A perfect analogy to this year, we literally bonded together against the wind, tightening our circle enough to block the wind. As the 9 wicks on the candle caught fire, everyone's voices got louder and joined together. If we started to separate, the candle would flicker. Standing in the middle of that circle with the candle held high, I felt so incredibly loved. Maybe you had to be there, but it just felt so amazing to have so many people around you that truly care about you, celebrating the change from Shabbat to the rest of the week, from a year on OTZMA to whatever comes next. OTZMA 27, it was a heck of a way to go out. So much love for every single one of you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


As I sit in my office in Jerusalem (I just like typing that), I can’t help but think about how to make the absolute most of this last month on OTZMA. About how to soak it in and take every opportunity make memories with this incredible group of people. I meant to write about the future – about next year, about the things I want to share with my participants  and the things I want to take advantage of before I really start working. But then I realized that in order to accurately look ahead, I needed to reflect on the memories first.

Merc Roomies - we barely knew each other!
I’ve learned a lot this year. I learned about myself, my friends and my family. I learned about Israel – its people, its places, its cultures and its quirks. I felt its troubles and I rejoiced in its happiness. I learned some Hebrew (and now I’m learning more), tried new foods and pushed myself to do things I never thought I would. But the biggest lesson I might have learned is that 10 months in Israel can be at the same time the longest and shortest 10 months of your life.

Turning 25 on the beach!
Today marks 9 months to the day since I said goodbye to my family and walked through security at Newark Airport into the unknown with a group of strangers. From my vantage point in Jerusalem, I can look back over the past 9 months and say, “Damn, where did the time go?” And I look forward with a slight sense of dread because I know how fast this last month will go. (Also because I don’t even know where I’m going to be sleeping the night of June 23.) But I can also appreciate the incredible wealth of experiences that this year has given me and when I look back on events from the beginning of the year or even my parents’ visit in March I can say, “That feels like so long ago!”
I’ve been a part of a lot of groups in my life. Countless sports teams, school clubs, the trips I’ve staffed, etc. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING can come close to touching my OTZMA experience. Not with a 10-foot pole. It’s not even a little bit of a stretch to say that it changed my life. Just a few short months ago I thought I would head back to the States and get a Masters in Physical Education. But now, as my friends begin to pack up and look for jobs back home, here I am, employed (well, hired), about to become an Israeli citizen and playing on Israel’s National Lacrosse team. This year has been a series of amazing gifts, and now I’ve been given one more – the chance to pass this gift on to another group of OTZMAnikim.

Literally obsessed with each other - and OTZMA
But while the job is nice (and I can’t wait to start working for this incredible organization), I think the biggest thing I will take away from this experience are the people and the relationships.  Day in and day out I’m surrounded by people who love me, care about me and are constantly inflating my ego (thanks Aimee and Sara). There’s always someone to eat dinner with (hi #JeruCrew) and the sense of community is just incredible. Second to none. Sha-pot lucks for life. I can’t wait to share these traditions with others and incorporate my OTZMA traditions into what ever community I may join next (or in 10 years). It is absolutely what inspired me to change careers and find a job in the Jewish community. 
Good roomies make everything better

We joke about how we all drank the OTZMA Kool-aid from day one. That’s not an exaggeration.  Whether we expected it, were taken completely by surprise, tried to avoid it or embraced it with open arms, OTZMA has gotten under our skin. They call it the ultimate real life experience. But doesn't that imply that it's not actually real life? Because if this isn't real, then I must be dreaming. And if I'm dreaming, please let me sleep a little longer. But actually don’t. Because I don’t want to miss a minute. I can't wait to see what the next month, and the next year, will bring.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Shabbat Shalom :) In the spirit of trying to blog more, I thought I'd fill out this fun little quiz I saw on one of the fitness blogs I read.
Image from

Current Book: "The Alchemist" by Paul Coelho

My sister recommended this to me a few weeks ago and as soon as I finished my last book (Again to Carthage, John L. Parker) I picked it up and have been flying through it. It has a lot to do with chasing your dreams. I read a passage today about how you have your whole life to accomplish your personal mission (I'm paraphrasing) but as you get older it becomes less and less likely that you are going to follow your dreams. It really resonated with me since that's precisely what I'm doing right now - quit my job and followed my dream (living in Israel). It's also exactly what I spent time convincing a bunch of unsuspecting Birthrighters to do last Monday :)

Current Music: It's not music, but I've had my headphones in constantly - every chance I get I'm listening to the Pimsleur Language Program....trying to get in as much Hebrew practice as possible. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to learn a language. I would have been the first to tell you I'm not an auditory learner, but this is working!

Current Guilty Pleasure: Hmm. Not sure on this one, but I just bought some ingredients to make Oatmeal Raisin once those are baked that will be it for sure!

Current Nail Color: The most ahh-mazing shade of slightly sparkly pale gold. I'm obsessed. Snagged the color at the store on Sunday night, painted my nails as soon as I got home, and the color has yet to chip...a miracle! This 9 shekel nail polish has lasted longer than any manicure I've ever gotten. (People in Israel: it's the Careline brand from Superpharm!)

Current Drink: Water! I've been trying to be better about drinking enough.

Current Food: Mom - this one is going to shock you. COTTAGE CHEESE. Only in Israel though. Please no one try to make me eat it in the States. It should be called something else there.

Image from
Current Favorite Show: Still Grey's and Private Practice, but I've started to watch old episodes of Homeland and I might be getting hooked.

Current Wish List: To go skiing in the Golan Heights or to see the snow in Jerusalem (though I might already be too late for the second one).

Current Need: Warmer clothes! Though I just got three sweaters, and I hear it's supposed to warm up a little next week, there's at least a solid month and a half of winter left.

Current Triumph: The Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin and Carrot soup I made yesterday (without a recipe). It came out divine!

Current Bane of My Existence: Hmm. Toss up between the ses pool smell coming from my street and the temperature of the house (always freezing).

Current Celebrity Crush: Meh. Don't have one. I'm just not that into that sorta thing.

Current Indulgence: ? Same as the guilty pleasure above? Or maybe endless cups of tea with sugar to keep me warm.

Current Blessing: My sweet, sweet host family that's coming to take me to Shabbos dinner in a few minutes.

Current Slang: Anything in Hebrew. Mah? Lama? Ain li Koach are all sneaking into my English conversations lately.

Current Outfit: A cute one! Leggings, new turquoise sweater dress, scarf and boots!

Current Excitement: Being reunited with the ladies of 1410 next weekend. Can't wait!

Current Mood: Happy :)

Now it's your turn. What are you up to achshav (now)?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Halfway There...

Halfway there…

I’ve been yelling and screaming and waving my arms at anyone who dares suggest to me that we’re nearly halfway done with Otzma, yet here I am making it the title of my blog post. Ok. I get it. I promise to stop being dramatic. But while I’ve been busy living it up in Rehovot, celebrating Hanukkah (with too many sufganiyot), touring all of Israel with one of my closest friends and attending the wedding of another close friend, a lot of time has gone by. The world was supposed to end and didn’t, it’s 2013(!), we had a fantastic seminar about our options for future engagement in the Jewish Community and I’ve started looking for internships for Part 3 of Otzma.

Congrats Kaela and Maor!
But anyway, the reality that my time here in Israel (and particularly here in Rehovot) is slowly dwindling and I don’t want to let it get away without at least jotting down what’s been going on so I don’t forget what how amazing this experience has been. And you know, for all of the 3 people who might read this (Hi, Grandma!).

Like every Otzma participant with a fear of change (yes, we all see the irony in this fact of life), I was nervous at the beginning of my time in Rehovot. It didn’t help that it started off on a rough foot with Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza and being evacuated from our new home. (Huge shout out to my phenomenal host family in Karmiel, who took me in for a wonderful, quiet Shabbat.) But before I knew it a month had passed and it was Hanukkah and now yet another month has passed and we’re halfway through our time in Rehovot. I’ve been teaching English in a high school here and we’re helping the kids prepare for their Bagrout exams (required for them to graduate and eventually get into college). It’s a 180° difference from my experience in the elementary school in Karmiel, but the Israeli school system is always interesting.

Some of the kids I work with, playing a Hanukkah game
In the afternoons, I trek over to Kiryat Moshe, where I help out in a “Moadonit,” an after school program for kids whose families receive social services. Many of them also have some type of learning disability. I (and the rest of the staff and volunteers) sit down to a hot lunch with them, play quiet games, help with homework and watch them play soccer. The kids can be difficult, but I honestly look forward to going there each day. It’s also been the single best thing to happen to my Hebrew since I got to Israel. Helping kids with math homework (I suck at math) in Hebrew is the surest way to stretch your comfort zone in a new language! There’s a lot of pointing, “zeh, ploos zeh, ploos zeh….oto d’var zeh caful zeh.” (This plus this plus this is the same as this times this, or 3+3+3 is the same as 3x3). Most of the kids are patient with my Hebrew and are willing to speak slowly to me when explaining the rules of a new game – another great way to learn a new language! The best was yesterday, when one of the staff members came over while I was playing a game of Israel Monopoly (think Tel Aviv’s Rehov Allenby instead of New York’s Park Place) with 3 of the boys and commented on how amazing I was doing with the boys and that she felt like my Hebrew was all of the sudden just flowing out! That really made me happy. I kept hearing how eventually you just get it, and so I was waiting and waiting and waiting for it to happen – apparently it did while I wasn’t paying attention!

I’ve also discovered old friends residing right here in Rehovot! It’s so fun to have a conversation with an Israeli friend I haven’t seen in ages, go something like this, “Where are you living?” “Rehovot” “OMG me too!!” Not to mention, Rehovot is also home to another MASA program, ITF Rehovot, so our two groups have become fast friends. It makes living a new city, a new country, without the safety net of being surround by 23 of your newest, closest friends a little less scary and a lot more fun.

Fun, that is, until the biggest rainstorm in Israel’s recent history decided to park itself right over our little plot of paradise in the Middle East. Yea. I came to Israel to get away from the cold, not to hang out at home in a sweatshirt, long sleeve shirt, leggings, sweatpants and UGG slippers while trying to stay warm in a house built to keep the cold in and the heat out. Not to mention the rain…it hasn’t stopped for nearly a week, there is snow in Jerusalem, the only ski resort in Israel is – get this – closed due to snowfall(!) and the Kinneret is just a few meters from being full again after years of being beneath the red line. I get it. Israel needs the rain, and apparently snow in Jerusalem is a blessing. But, it has rained so much here in the past week that no one knew what to do with it all. And Israel knows better than anyone about saving water. But when they built the water treatment plants and rainwater collection cisterns, they never even thought about what would happen if said cisterns filled. Well guess what? They filled! And flooded. And who would have ever known that Israel’s biggest highway was named after a river? Not this girl. At least not until said river overflowed, closing the road, the train stations built along it and effectively closing of Tel Aviv from the rest of the world. Also? Apparently Israel has lakes and rivers other than the 4 we learned about in elementary school. We heard about them one-by-one this week as they all flooded. Oy.

Major tree down on our street. 
Anyway, the good news is that Israel is looking incredibly green and beautiful (during the brief breaks of sunshine we've gotten this week), the Kinneret is (almost) full and if the weather app on my phone is to be trusted, it should warm up soon. 

I’d love to promise I’ll be back sooner this time with more updates and deets about my vacation, but I might be out celebrating the end of the rain. But until then, I’ve got Luke Bryan’s “Rain is a Good Thing” stuck in my head. (Thanks Liza!) I’m not sure which is better….that or Bon Jovi's, “Living on a Prayer” which is what I was singing when I started this post hours ago.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Conflict and Hope

Over the last week I and my fellow Otzma participants have been participating in a seminar called Conflict and Hope. Our amazing staff put together an incredible journey that while tough and exhausting, allowed us to really dig into the conflict and see it from many sides while attempting to form our own opinions. 

We heard from historians, tour guides, the Rabbis for Human Rights, soldiers from Breaking the Silence and the Communications Advisor for the PLO. We also spent Shabbat with residents of Jewish Settlements in the West Bank, toured the Southern Hebron Hills and processed it all through drama.

The following statements/thoughts are things that popped into my head while touring Area C in the West Bank, talking with my fellow Otzmaniks about their feelings on what we were seeing/hearing and my questions that I wish I could have raised when we heard the Communications Director of the PLO speak. Please take them at face value but remember that you haven't seen what I've seen and that this is raw emotion. Also, none of this is edited.

The words the middle eastern peace process, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, have very weighty connotations. I haven't beliefs, but I also feel like who am I to have these beliefs.

Skeptical, conflicted, discombobulated, confused, positive, joyful...I've felt all of these things over the last 48 hours. But now I also feel lucky - to have had this experience, to have met the people I've met, the see the things I've seen.

It makes me want to learn more and do more research, and I feel like that means that all these feelings are worth it.

I believe that if the Palestinians put down their weapons, tomorrow we would have peace. However, if we put down our weapons, we would all be dead. And what does that say about me? What does that say about the people who feel that way? And more over, what does that say about the Palestinians?

The Nahkba??? You (the arab nations) attacked us! You could have accepted the UN partition plan. I have never been able to reconcile this in my has never made sense to me how the PLO could demand that we recognize them and give them rights and land and money and when they chose to start this conflict in 1948-they admit that they are choosing to continue the conflict - peace is in your hands buddy

300%? What are the actual numbers. Percentages don't tell me anything.

How can you promise that if we have a 2-state solution tomorrow, all the rockets and terror will stop?

How can you displace 500,000 people? What do you do with them? Isn't it better to focus on human rights instead if land?

Israel won all this land in wars where they were not the aggressors - so you took a risk and lost and now we should pay the price?

Feeling a little guilty that I hear him speak and this is what I think about - I don't want to be that person who con't see the other side or is totally selfish, but I don't see my opinions changing on this.

You made it up to israel when you refused to accept the partition plan. Don't say that Israel didn't consider your rights - you chose not to accept it.

It's all just semantics....

(The PLO provides Israel with a secure border) Israel insured its own borders!

(He said the rockets into the south were not that bad) It's not that bad???? No own in his right mind would chose to live thy way. You want to live in Rocket range????!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Nike Night Run Tel Aviv

I'm still not sure if this was a rave or a race or a dry land simulation of a triathlon swim, but it was definitely one of the coolest races I've ever done. Nike definitely put on a show! I traveled down to Tel Aviv with a friend and our jaws hit the floor when we entered Rabin Square. 

Excitement had been building since we got off the train with hundreds of other runners, and only continued to build as we walked the mile to the race start. Because the race asked everyone to wear their official race shirts, we didn't even have to worry about getting lost on the way - you just followed the mass of people with "Game On, World" emblazoned on their backs. Coming around the corner to the entrance on the square we could feel the beat of the music, which got louder and louder until I felt like my eardrums might explode. There were lasers and lights and the energy of 20,000 people getting ready to run - it was pretty incredible. 

I was excited to race and wanted to use this race to get a good gauge on how I was doing implementing Kevin's training on my own. I guess I hadn't fully thought out what it would be like to run with 20,000 people in the dark. In a word - crowded! I had planned to start with the 45 minute pace group and then pick it up at the 5k mark, but right from the start I had a problem. Despite pushing myself up as close to the front as I could get, I wound up smushed like a sardine up against the 50 minute pacer with no room to run.

Before the start line got crazy!
After a countdown of, "Five, Hamesh, Four, Arbah, Three, Shalosh, Two, Shtaim, One, Echad!" the air horn blew and we were off! ....Except we weren't going anywhere exactly....You couldn't take so much as a step forward without getting elbowed, kicked, tripped, etc. Have you see this Clif Bar commercial? Because this is exactly what the start of the race felt like (except more crowded and way more humid):

I kept the guy with the giant 45 on his back in sight, and gave myself until the 5k mark to catch him...except I got a little excited and wound up in his little pack within the first 1k. The first four kilometers flew by - I felt like I was just cruising along on this wave of energy coming from the party at the start line. Unfortunately I lost my little pace group at the first water stop when I realized the water was only on one side and it was not the side of the road I was running on. Let me tell you - trying to cut across the stream of runners is hard when it's light out, it's nearly impossible to do at night without tripping and falling on your face.

After I lost my pacer, I kind of fell apart a little. It was humid, I was tired, and I couldn't really pick up the pace without running into someone's back. I'm not proud of how I was thinking throughout this one, but I managed to get myself across the finish line in a PR worthy time of 47:19. Not quite the 10 or 20 minutes all my friends seemed to think I was capable of finishing in (I left my jetpack in NY!), but not too shabby either! I wound up 59th out of 5,208 women.

Overall it was an amazing experience - something I am going to remember for the rest of my life!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Status Update

I know it's been so long since I've written here, but it's not for a lack of things to talk about. On the contrary - I sometimes feel overwhelmed (in the best way possible), because there is just no way to share everything and do justice to the experiences. 

My biggest writing block has been Yom Kippur. I just feel like there are no words for how meaningful it was spend the holiest day of the year in the holiest city in the world. Walking to the Kotel after Kol Nidre services (a 2 mile walk each way, while fasting!) walking in the middle of normally busy streets, their traffic lights changed to blinking reminders that tonight was different. The helpful people we met who walked us to synagogue after we got lost and my group leader's husband who whispered a hushed translation of the Ne'illah sermon. We spent the day synagogue hopping, not exactly sure if we were looking for the place that felt most like home or the most completely different, but by the end of the day it was clear that it didn't matter what you were looking for. The experience itself was enough.
Post Yom Kippur marked the official start of our first vacation. 10 days completely to ourselves! Although it does sound funny to me to talk about a vacation from the program, because despite the volunteer hours, Hebrew classes and Beit Midrash, I often feel as if my life is a vacation. I am so blessed. 

Anyway, we took full advantage of our time off to do some serious relaxing and a exploring. First to Petach Tikvah to visit our friends on ITF, to the beach in Tel Aviv and finally to Haifa, were three of my friends and I took an Israeli cruise line to the Greek Islands of Rhodes and Kos. Being the only Americans was a fun badge of honor, and we were able to meet some great people, eat way too much food, play tourist and relax some more. 

Clock Tower on Rhodes
While we were on vacation, September became October and I fulfilled a promise I made to myself - I officially registered for the Jerusalem Marathon! After counting back the weeks to race day and realizing it was only about 20 weeks away, I jumped head first into my training plan and have since completed two long runs over two hours each and my first official marathon length speed session (30 minutes of hills all alone). I know this journey to 26.2 is going to be difficult without my normal training partners-in-crime, but I know that with their virtual support and the physical support and company of a the runners and friends I've met here, I'll be crossing that finish line on March 1st with a bigger cheering section than I ever could have imagined (even if they all think I'm crazy).

Let's see...what else?

Hiking Adventures right in Karmiel

Beach days in Tel Aviv

Pot Luck Shabbat Dinners
Rock Climbing in Haifa

Taking in a Shlomo Artzi concert like true Israelis, even if we didn't know a single song

So that's much of what I've been up to. What have you been up to? More to come sooner than last time, I promise!