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 head..it 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!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Forgive Me?

My fellow Otzmanikim and I are Jerusalem bound at the lovely hour of 6 am tomorrow, to spend Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, in the holiest city in Judaism. It's a pretty powerful thing, I'm I am honestly looking forward to it despite the early wake up call.

Prior to the start of the holiday, we'll be participating in several Yom Kippur workshops, including Torah Yoga (definitely the one I am most looking forward to) and the option to learn about the different synagogues we will be able to visit for Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur.

But before I can turn my focus to the Holiday itself, I want to take this opportunity to ask forgiveness from anyone that I have hurt, offended or wronged in the past year. If I have done any of these things to you (though I hope I haven't) I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me. You can for sure know that I forgive you!

So to all who are observing this week - I hope you have an easy fast, that you are inscribed in the book of life and that you have a sweet year full of happiness, health and prosperity. (And yeas, I actually learned how to say that all in Hebrew).

G'mar Chatima Tovah!
Lots of Love,

Monday, September 17, 2012

Getting My Mojo Back, Running Israel Week 3

Wow. Three weeks of running posts? The days and weeks go by so fast here, but when I look back on the time as a whole, you'd have a hard time convincing me that it hasn't been a year and I wouldn't have it any other way. I think it means I'm enjoying everyday and living life to the fullest.

So now that I've completed my third straight week of running all over Karmiel, I'm thrilled to be able to say I found my running mojo! I've settled into a routine, chosen to keep Thursday as my speedwork day, found a relatively flat (by Karmiel standards) stretch of road to do said speedwork on and finally got my long run back up to where it should be. My legs are feeling stronger (maybe they got used to constantly running hills?) and I'm actually looking forward to running again. It definitely helps that the evenings and mornings are pleasantly cool, even though the temperature during the day consistently hits the high 80s.

There's been a lot of talk amongst our group about trekking to Tel Aviv for the Nike Night Run next month, which means I've been sharing my training plan and Kevin's Y-Running Demystified with everyone who's thinking about signing up. It's so nice to have a concrete plan to share and be able to encourage everyone to join us. I'm excited to have a short term training goal, in addition to my long term training goal. (Thinking about pulling the trigger on this one October 1.)

5 hours and 3 min! (Yes, that includes two long runs, but still.) Monday's 42 minute run was a huge breakthrough. As my friend and I left to run one evening, the Shomer (guard) introduced us to his friend, a fellow Shomer and former Ukranian immigrant who was looking for someone to run with. Dima showed us how the roads in Karmiel loop back on each other, so doing (in his words), 'boring out and back' runs isn't necessary. He got to practice his English, we got to practice our Hebrew (I learned the word for run - roots or la'roots - to run) and I finally got over the 40 min mark for a base run.

Then, armed with a new cell phone plan with unlimited data, three Pimsleur Hebrew lessons on the iPhone, my fuel belt and a loose idea of a route I thought would be long enough, I set out determined to complete a 90 minute run. I must have been a sight - fuel belt, headphones, repeating after the teacher, "ani rotsa lishtot mashoo" and "ani rotsa l'echol, b'vakasha"as I ran up hill after hill. I hope the people of Karmiel all got a good laugh. I got this at the tail end of the run. Finished just in time!

Hope everyone has a great week and a sweet new year!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Random Thoughts

Been thinking about a few things, but nothing major enough for a full blog post. So, bullets....

- Shabbat here is special. Even if you do nothing to observe it, it feels different from the rest of the week. It's more relaxing than a weekend day at home and I love the way it feels.

- I feel so lucky to be where I am right now. Despite the hectic schedule, volunteering, 12 hours of Ulpan each week, Beit Midrash and long educaction days, the first three weeks of this trip have truly felt like a vacation from real life. I miss my friends and family back home but I have made new friendships that will last a lifetime.

- Karmiel might be the most beautiful place on earth. See example from the end of my long run tonight:

- I had been volunteering on a farm with 5 other Otzmankim twice a week, but the experience wasn't exactly what I was hoping to get out of my time in Karmiel. The work was fun (and dirty!) and I loved our walk to work through a random cow pasture, but the 6 of us were only getting to interact with each other, and not with the school kids who came to the farm. Not exactly a recipe for learning Hebrew. So I worked up the nerve to ask if I could switch off the farm at least one day a week. I'm not sure what I was so nervous about and am happy to report Wednesday was my first day at Hairisim (the Iris) Elementary School. I'll be helping out in the 5th and 6th grade English classes twice a week! This deserves a full post, but my first day was absolutely amazing. The kids and the teacher I work with are fantastic and I think I'm learning as much Hebrew as they are English.
Shayna and Eric walking to the farm
- I got the chance to observe the Galilee Circus - a Jewish-Arab circus that brings kids from very different worlds together in a fun environment. These kids are seriously talented and they do so much with so little. One of the boys tried to teach me to juggle (in Hebrew!) but I was an utter failure. I'm happy to report it had nothing to do with the language barrier. I'm going to be helping out with their acrobatics classes on Sunday evenings!
Not sure if it's clear - he's jump roping on a unicycle!
At the end of our last Education day, someone (I think it was Erika) told us that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur were the end of the beginning, and the beginning of the rest of our year in Israel. I am definitely going to miss celebrating the holidays at home with my family, but it is so nice not to have to ask for vacation time, miss work and explain my absences to people. Although I may not be home to celebrate as I normally do, I'm getting the chance to spend the holiday with my cousin, her husband, kids and her husband's family. There's also a special feeling in the air to have everyone (including the cab drivers and cashiers) wish you a Shana Tovah and know that you can wish them one right back. It's sorta like the holiday season in America, only better and way less commercial. We've dipped so many apples in honey, eaten lots of dates (my fav!) and been to more New Year's ceremonies than I can count. I'm loving every minute of it.
Listening to the Shofar in the Merc!
Shana Tova U'Metukah (A good and sweet New Year) to all of you that are celebrating!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Israel and the Environment, Education Day 2

 Tuesday dawned brighter and earlier than almost every day on Otzma so far (except for our hikes the first two days). We boarded a bus at 6 am(!) for a day of learning about Israel and the Environment.

I have to preface this blog post with a question posed by one of my fellow Otzmanikim at the end of the day. He asked, "If Israel is so environmentally conscious, why is there still garbage everywhere?" 

Unfortunately, it's a valid question. Just last week, at the beach in Haifa, we walked a trail strewn with forgotten wrappers and water bottles, on our way to what was otherwise one of the most beautiful beaches I've ever been on.

Beautiful beaches aside (though we will definitely come back to those!), the focus of most of the day was on the many ways that Israel obtains and conserves its limited water resources. 

We first went to a stream called Nachal Sorek, for a short hike and text study on the importance of rain in Judaism. There were many signs warning us not to swim in the water. Why? Because the water in this stream is treated sewage water. It was an interesting place to talk about the importance of rain and water in Judaism, but living in Israel really makes you appreciate every drop! It's something I can definitely appreciate more after the summer we just had in NY.

After a short break for the text study, we continued on our "hike" as the sand we were walking on got deeper and deeper. Soon, if you listened closely enough, you could hear the sound of crashing waves! Then, we crested a small sand dune and were greeted with this amazing view:

Our hike continued after lunch to the seaside Palmachim Kibbutz (the very same Kibbutz where I spent a day on the beach with a friend 3 years ago!). 

Ok, now that I've gotten your attention with pretty pictures, on to the cool stuff. The State of Israel is doing some pretty incredible things with water. We visited a school where they are doing way more to conserve water than just taking shorter showers. From planting gardens on the roof with elaborate drainage systems to catch and reuse the water (planting on the roof utilizes otherwise wasted space, and keeps the rooms underneath cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter), to reusing the gray water leftover from washing dishes in the cafeteria to water plants. Many plants are natural filters, so they can even grow fruits and vegetables with this water. They also grow vertical gardens on walls - you could reach out a window and pick a strawberry!

In addition to small facilities like the one we toured at the school, there are also several larger Waste Water Treatment Plants and Desalinization plants. We were able to check out one plant where raw sewage is turned into water suitable for watering plants and irrigating fields - making the desert bloom and making incredible use of the limited supply of water. 

Our final stop of the day was not about water, but about energy use instead. Israel (along with Denmark) was chosen to be one of the test markets for a complete rollout of a new electric car concept - Better Place. We visited the Better Place visitor center and showroom and most definitely left wanting electric cars! Thanks to Israel's small size, it was completely feasibly to outfit the entire country with charging stations and battery switching stations, none more than 40 km from each other. Thanks to Better Places' switchable batteries, if you wanted to drive from Tzfat to Eilat, you could, without a lengthy break to charge your car. These cars could truly reduce the county's (and the world's) dependance on oil, which could have some major influence in this region - environmentally, politically and otherwise. We also got to ride in the cars, and they are very smooth and unbelievably quiet!

So that was Education Day 2. Very interesting and informative. I love these chances to get a small taste of life in Israel and some insight on topics I may not have otherwise had the chance to learn about and I'm excited to learn even more. My showers are already shorter than they were at home, and I'm conscious not to waste even a drop of water. 

Our next Education Day takes us to Jerusalem for Yom Kippur. I can't even begin to describe how excited I am to spend the holiest day of the year in the holiest city in the world. Amazing. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Marathon Thoughts and Running Israel, Week Two

Aside from the one line of the really annoying Hannukah song from 3rd grade that is stuck in my head, there has been one constant theme on all of my runs this week. Marathons. Yup, you read that right. I've got marathons on the brain. I've literally been analyzing every minute of every run, thinking about how I feel, if I'm mentally tough enough to basically train myself to run 26.2, if I can handle the hills in Jerusalem, etc.

I think I am. I think I can. I think if I put my mind to this I will make my body do the work. I'm also trying to rationalize the way I've been feeling on my runs this week. Tired body, heavy legs. Then we went to Haifa for the weekend, and I slept 10 straight hours in an air-conditioned room. Oh. Duh. Now I know why I've been feeling sluggish. I just haven't been sleeping as well here as I do in my nicely air-conditioned room at home. Combine that with the late nights, early mornings and way more time on my feet than normal, and my legs are just taking their time to get adapted.

I'm also slowly teaching myself to be a night runner. Cooler temps, beautiful sunsets and not having to wake up so early is totally worth it.

I still didn't really get in a true long run, but I'm working my way there. The tempo was the hardest I've done in a long time. There's really nowhere flat to run here. I found the flattest strip of road I could and ran it twice. About 17 minutes in my legs just weren't having it. I pushed myself to run to the end of the street, but I was definitely not at tempo pace anymore.

So here's my week:

Think I can get from here to a marathon by March 1st?

PS. About that 13 minute swim....We joined a gym, with a nice pool. But I have never seen so many people swimming breast stroke in my life. Every lane had 3 or more people circle swimming, every person was swimming breast stroke. I hopped in the only lane with 2 people and tried to swim. Oy. Those two people I was swimming with? An 80-year-old man and a middle-aged woman, swimming the WORLDS. SLOWEST. BREAST. STROKE. Oy, I spent 13 minutes swimming around them before giving up and going home. Hopefully I can get into a routine that involves getting to the pool at 6 am (when the guard said was the best time to go).

PPS. I found a bike shop! The guy was great and after really awkwardly measuring me because I didn't know my height in centimeters, he called a bunch of his bike-shop-owning friends around Israel to see if anyone had a used bike for me. I'm waiting to hear back. Hopefully soon.

PPS. They sell PowerGels here, but they cost a fortune! ($2.50 each) Anyone want to send me a care package? Does PowerBar want to sponsor me???

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's Not All Fun and Games

So Israel isn't all just running and pretty views, though that is a big part of it. We have also been spending 12 hours a week in Hebrew Ulpan, a few hours on Thursday in Beit Midrash (Jewsih learning), in addition to our weekly education days that we have in conjunction with our ITF buddies.

This past Tuesday was our first Education Day, Minorities in the Galilee. We first drove to a small settlement called Shorashim, just a few minutes from our temporary home in Karmiel. There we had a short discussion about the Israeli Arabs living in the Galilee, whose families were granted citizenship in 1948. The area where we live is actually home to many more Arabs than Jews - it is 20% Jewish / 80% Arab in the Galilee, while the population in the rest of the country is 80/20.  Living in a majority Jewish city full of new immigrants, it would be easy to have never realized this fact, but we are surrounded by small Arab villages that for the most part coexist peacefully with their Jewish neighbors. I was reminded of this proximity tonight during my tempo run, as I could hear the Muslim call to prayer. It's just another small daily occurrence that reminds me what a special place this is.

Next we hopped back on the bus for a short drive to an Arab High School. There, we broke into small groups to speak with seniors at the school and an Arab Israeli English teacher. The students were hard to hear in a crowded room, but I was struck by how similar they were to American teenagers. Many of them really had no interest in talking to a bunch of American tourists, and others simply wanted to know about our boyfriends. They are planning on going to college, or on to work next year. On the other hand, I loved hearing the teacher's views. She spoke about her family (she's newly married, with a baby boy and one of 17 children!) growing up in Israel, and why she choses to wear the hijab.

After a quick pizza lunch and a stop at Safta Gemila's soap factory, we hiked from the Jewish village of Harashim to the Druze village of Peki'in. The hike was beautiful and mostly downhill on Mt. Meron, through there were some pretty steep hills in the village.

After the hike, we ate an incredible Druze dinner in what just might be the coolest restaurant I have ever seen.

The food was great, too! Grape leaves, pita and hummos, rice and lentils, babaganoush, vegetables and many other things I either didn't try or don't remember (a couple of meat dishes). The owner of the restaurant then spoke to us about the Druze religion. The Druzim serve in the Israeli Army, are loyal to the land where they live, and have no nationalistic ideals.

This lack of a desire for their own state was an interesting tie in to our Beit Midrash today, which was all about the ideals and laws of a Jewish State.

Next week we are off to learn about Israel and the Environment. I'm sure I'll have much more to share then!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Running Israel, Week One

At the end of my run tonight, I came to the realization that I just completed my first 6-run week in Israel (and first since tri training picked up in April). The thought made me smile, and also realize that I wanted to start a little series on the blog. Since this is supposed to be a running blog, and I do want to chronicle my running adventures here, along with all the other adventures, I figured I would just sum up a week of runs each Saturday night.

This week was all about getting to know Karmiel, both through group activities and runs. One of the greatest things about my new home is how walkable everything is. There are sidewalks everywhere, people actually stop for you when you are in the crosswalks, and there is certainly no shortage of hills. On the other hand, its walkability is also a downfall when it comes to being a good running city. Unlike the towns in the US where I normally run, it's not as simple as just running from town to town.

See? Very contained. I haven't explored much outside of the main roads, but looking at the map now I can already see new loops and new ways to lengthen my go-to routes (yes, I have go to routes after only a week). The only other small problem I found was the lack of a flat stretch for speedwork. I got through this week's 5>7>3 intervals by doing them on a dirt path our security guard pointed me to, but I found myself very close to a cow pasture at the end of the first half of the 7 minute interval. Luckily there aren't any intervals longer than 7 minutes on the schedule, but a tempo run on these hills will be a challenge for sure!

So here's what my week of running looked like:

The long run was a little short, but seeing as how I haven't truly done a long run since...(Kevin hide your eyes!) Musselman(?) I didn't want to do too much in my first full week back. It was a solid 4 hours and 8 minutes of running this week and I'm hoping it'll only go up!

I finished my "long" run just as the sun was setting, and I definitely picked the right time of day to run. Shabbat was ending, the city was walking up, there were runners and walkers everywhere, and with the setting sun, I was treated to beautiful views and cooler temperatures. An even better reward? Meeting up with some fellow Otzmanikim right as I finished, and heading out for a post-run chocolate milk.
3 shekel Chocolate Milk in a bag, yum!
We wandered around Karmiel for a few minutes, before ending up at our favorite Falafel stand. Not exactly the best post-run food, but at 6 shekels (the equivalent of $1.50) for the 1/2 sandwich and all the salad you want, it's not bad!

Making it fresh, just for us!
Looking forward to next week and finally getting to use the gym membership we got for just $25/month! The gym has two pools, a weight room and a cardio room. I might do some speedwork on the treadmill to avoid the hills. We'll see, and hopefully I can find a bike!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Week

It is incredibly hard to believe that we have only been in Israel for one week. It feels like we have been here for months already! Yet, at the same time, the days are flying by. I think it is because we have been so busy getting settled, learning our way around our new home of Karmiel and starting to volunteer. It's also amazing to me how fast a group of strangers can become like a family. To see our group of 23 interact, you would never know that most of us have only known each other for a week.

So what have I been doing in Karmiel?

We had a scavenger hunt around the city...

Made a potluck dinner in our kitchens that are equipped with hot plates and toaster ovens...

Put on a carnival for the kids living in the Mercaz...

Spread mulch around a city park to help prevent water from evaporating...

Finding great places to run...

And finally started learning hebrew! Yesterday was our Ulpan test, and we were split into two groups. I was placed in the beginner group, but I for sure fall smack in the middle of the two groups. I'm torn between staying the easier class and waiting for them to catch up to me, or moving to the more advanced level and struggling for a little while. Or possibly struggling for a long time. I think I was a little bit disappointed because I have been looking forward to Ulpan for so long, and it was not what I was expecting. Luckily it was only day one, and there are two months to go.

Tonight we are off to meet our adoptive families for dinner. I am so excited to meet them!

Sunday, August 26, 2012


It’s hard to believe it has already been 5 days since I said goodbye to by friends and family. It’s also hard to believe it has only been 5 days since I left. On one hand, the time is already flying by, and on the other, I feel like I’ve been here for a month.

We left the Jewish Agency building on Wednesday and headed south for our Opening Tiyul, or trip. But first we stopped at an overlook outside of Jerusalem called Yamim Moshe, where we said Shechianu. This was also our first real introduction to Israeli weather – it was hot!

From Jerusalem, we made our way south to the town of Arad and the Arad Youth Hostel. On our way, we also stopped to learn about some Israeli current events and taste the fruit of the Locust tree (otherwise known as Carob).

We turned in early that night, so that we could be ready for our 5:30am wake up call the next morning. Yes, you read that right! After downing several cups of instant coffee (for some reason I love this stuff!) we grabbed our 3 liters of water and hopped on the bus for the short drive to Nachal Gov. The hike at Nachal Gov was amazing! Ladders, ropes, steep climbs and rock scrambles. It was exactly up my alley and a real learning experience for many in the group who had to push themselves way outside of their normal boundaries. After hiking we headed to Tsell Harim, a hotel and spa on the Dead Sea for some lunch and swimming. It was the perfect post-hike reward!

Later that night, after dinner and a safety and security briefing, we were allowed to leave the hostel to explore Arad, visit the music festival, or, if you are me, finally go for a run! I was only able to fit in 15 minutes that night, but it was just enough to help me feel like I was not falling into a trap of not working out that would perpetuate more laziness.

The next morning we were up just as early to hike to the Hidden Waterfall at Nachal Agurout. This is an amazing oasis in the middle of the desert. Our sweet reward for this hike was the chance to swim in the waterfall. After a short return hike we were off to our next stop, the Almog Guest House, where we would celebrate our first Shabbat together as Otzmanikim.

A beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat was led by a few participants. To hear a group of 50 voices come together in the prayers and tunes that I grew up singing at home, camp or Day School. It was truly moving to hear all of our voices rise in sync as we all realized we knew the same melodies.

This Shabbat felt really special, and I think it was the knowledge that it was the first of many!

Ok, so now it is getting late on Sunday night and I should be unpacking my room in the Mercaz Klitah (absorption center), but we have wi-fi so I will definitely keep you posted! 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Israel, Day 1

Hey, just a quick post from my phone on my first morning in Ertez Yisrael (the Land of Israel)! We arrived safe and sound in Tel Aviv this morning after a surprisingly smooth and easy(but very full) flight from Newark. There were 20 other Otzmanikim on my flight, so not only did we get to meet each other before the flight, but our staff met us at the airport with a bus to take us to Jerusalem for Orientation.

So that's where I am now - phone blogging from the Jewish Agency Office in Jerusalem while we wait for the rest of the group. It was a little bit harder to say goodbye to all the people I love back home than I expected, but once I was on the plane I was surprisingly ok. I know that I have an amazing network of family and friends back home that will not let me forget them (and I don't intend to let them forget me, either!). Plus, I know that I will soon be making some amazing new friends, too.

Landing in Israel and the feelings I felt was a definite confirmation that this is the right thing for me. I was beaming from ear to ear and definitely singing along when our plane launched into Shalom Alechem as soon as the wheels touched the ground. 

Alright, enough for now. Keep in touch!


Sunday, August 19, 2012

USAT Age Group National Championships

Stepped a little outside of my league this weekend and headed north to Burlington, VT, home of this year's USA Triathlon Age Group National Championships. I had qualified for the Olympic distance race, but opted to race the Sprint on Sunday instead. With my trip to Israel looming very closely (36 hours!) I was glad I opted for a distance that I was familiar with. You're reading the blog of one of the newest member of Team USA!

So here's the race report....

Race morning started out like any other for me. Up and unable to sleep at about 2 am (this time because I was dreaming about not knowing what to do with my wetsuit after the swim since the bikes were racked so close to each other), I was showered, race tat'd up and done with breakfast in time to be one of the first people into transition when it opened at 5:30 am.

Somehow, despite being out of transition before 6:30, done with my warm up by 7:45 and into the wetsuit shortly after, I nearly managed to miss my swim wave. Yes, you read that right. Me, miss type A, always early and anal about time Elyssa nearly missed the start of the race. As a National Championship, I expected someone to be announcing when the waves were lining up and get us into the water on time. However, even though I was standing less than 10 feet away from the staging area, when I looked at my watch at 8:08 am, and started asking around where the red caps were, no one knew. Turns out they were already in the water! This was the only qualm I had with the whole race.

The calm before the swim start - what a beautiful place for a race!
So I went running down the dock, yelling, "wait, wait, it's not 8:12 yet, please!" but the race official blew the air horn to start the wave right in my ear! I was about 10 feet from the end of the dock at this point, just to the left of the group of swimmers. So I threw on my goggles while running, took a running leap into the water and started swimming. Unfortunately, the first two turns on the swim course were rights, so I was now swimming a little wider than I would normally like. I got into the thick of the group and was instantly in the most physical swim start I have ever been in. Luckily I was expecting it, so I tried to just put my head down and swim. The anxiety and adrenaline rush from the harried start got to me more than I would like to admit, so did a tiny bit a breast stroke and tried to calm down. Other than that the rest of the swim was uneventful and before I knew if I was running up the boat launch.

Swim - 14:12 (1:44/100)

I had a great transition spot very close to the swim in, but that meant that I was really far from bike out, so my transition was a little slow. But I was also moving a little slowly. The swim start took a lot out of me!

T1 - 2:25

I hopped on my bike with the plan to go hard, harder and hardest, but my lungs and stomach had other ideas. I was spent! After about a mile, I was finally able to get down a sip of water and start to breath more deeply. Getting passed by a few girls in my age group also helped me wake up! There's really not much to say about the bike - the course was disappointing. No fewer than 4 turn arounds, and the longest stretch was on a highway. The entrance ramp was cool, but the roads were in rough shape. Hearing the "whoosh, whoosh" as one of the men with a sick tri bike and a disc wheel from the wave behind me went flying by gave me some serious bike envy! A tri bike is definitely going to be my next purchase. Now who wants to help me with that....

Bike - 37:28 (19.9 mph)

So it wasn't my best bike ever, but I managed to average just under 20 mph (my goal), and I was actually looking forward to the run. I wanted to tackle it - pain be darned, there was no reason to hold back! I was in and out of T2 semi quickly, and headed for the run.

T2 - 1:28

Right out of transition there was a steep hill. I knew I didn't want to push too hard so early, so I focused on just running up and over it, knowing I was going to turn it on as soon as I crested the top. My plan seemed to work as I passed two girls from my age group by the time I made it to the top. There was a girl in pink just ahead of me with a 26 on her calf, so I set my sights on her. She was about 10 yards in front of me, and I was totally focused on not losing her and maintaining a high turnover. At about the 2.5 mile mark, I made my move and finally passed her. I was terrified she was going to come sprinting past me, which definitely helped me keep up the pace. Sure enough, that was the last I saw of her until after the finish. Hitting the 'red carpet' platform leading up to the finish line was so cool! Felt like the big time!

Run - 23:01 (7:25 pace)

Total time - 1:18:33

Phew! I have never been so glad to finish a race, ever! I have to admit, after the rough start, there were times I wanted to give up. But I wanted to make Kelly, T2, my friends and family proud before I leave them and head to Israel. But it was all worth it in the end. I had my fasted 5k off the bike (23:01), which is something I've been working towards. I had ben feeling like I had this mental block off the bike, where I would always run a 24, even though I know I can go faster. (My stand alone 5k is 21:12.) so to get a minute faster today felt great! The girl I passed in the last 1/2 mile even came up to me afterwards, to say that she couldn't have gone with me at my pace for the end. I thanked her for pacing me through the first 2/3s!

Once I grabbed my phone from bag check I was ecstatic to see all the messages from my awesome support crew back home, who had been group messaging throughout the race. Love them! You should have heard the screams when the message came from home that I was 15th in my age group - which meant I had qualified for Team USA! The opportunity to possibly get to represent the USA in London at the World Championships is so crazy cool to me! After a quick lunch and shower, we headed off to the awards ceremony so I could claim my spot.

We didn't stay for the whole time since we had to get home, but the highlight of the whole thing had to be the guy who got the award for the longest combined transition - 17 minutes! The gave him a lawn chair, which was hysterical. Can't forget the 88 year old man, either, though. I hope I am still rocking the spandex when I am 88!!!!

All in all it was an awesome weekend, cheering for my fellow T2ers and CNY Tri pals that rocked the Olympic on Saturday and laying it all on the line one last time before I leave for Israel. Though I guess now I have to plan my next season around London, September 2013. I better start training!

But as I'm off to Israel in less than 2 days, time to focus on that! I'll be blogging about my trip, marathon training (hopefully) and trying to fit in tri training in a whole new country. I'd love for you all to follow me as I head off on my next adventure!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Final Push

Today marks two weeks until I'm on a flight bound for Israel, which means that my second 'A' race of the season is less than two weeks away. I'm trying to live in the present, enjoying every minute of my two weeks left at home, instead of only looking ahead to all of the exciting changes that are coming. But I do need to start packing. Does anyone have advice on how to pack for 10 months in two suitcases? Each has to weigh less than 50 pounds. I keep thinking I should start, and then I realize that if I pack now, I'll have nothing left to wear for the next two weeks. So for now it'll be lists and piles of winter clothes.

But anyway, with less than two weeks until USAT Sprint Nationals, this is my final hard week of training and I'm all in. Knowing I have a very busy weekend coming up (all good things!) I talked to Kelly about front loading the week.

As I sit here writing, it's just before 5 am and I'm heading out to Boot Camp to kick off a three day training block that has me doing three hours today (lift, run, swim), three hours tomorrow (swim, bike) and two-and-a-half hours on Thursday (lift, run, swim), I guess this is a little taste of what life would be like as a professional triathlete. I am pumped! Who wants to sponsor my fantasy life as a professional triathlete so I can do this all the time?

In other good news, I got some exciting information about my Israel program. From the title of this blog alone, you could probably guess that running, triathlon and fitness are big parts of my life. I've been a little nervous about the track my fitness would take over the next year, and had formulated a bare minimum, focus on the run training plan that I knew I could execute anywhere.

During a group Facebook chat with the staff and other participants, it quickly became very clear that I was in good company with many other like minded people. There's at least one other triathlete, several runners and a few cyclists. Our excitement at finding this out about each other led to several others getting excited about our workout endeavors as well. One of the staff members even sent me information about a Women's only Tri in Herziliya next June. We are talking about the Jerusalem Marathon, and there is an English speaker's running group that meets in our first city. They've already been informed that there are several interested participants arriving in just a few short weeks.

The bike issue (bring it and eat the $500 shipping, find a way to ship it cheaper, buy once I'm there and sell before I leave, buy there and only ship home, rent there) hasn't been resolved but I'm confident that I'll find a solution. That being said, I'm also open to suggestions!

Off to get my butt kicked! Have a good day!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Athleta Iron Girl Syracuse 2012

Athleta Iron Girl Syracuse 2012. My third time at this race. So much for 3rd time's the charm. Here we go again. Another post, another race report with nothing in the middle. This blog is starting to feel like a PB+J with no peanut butter and no jelly. I keep thinking I'm going to have more time and more to write about but then the days go by and all of the sudden here I am, racing again.

I was super psyched to get my race plan from Kelly on Thursday night with instruction to race hard, hard and harder. Use this race as a trial run for USAT Nationals in two weeks. Showed up to the race this morning ready and raring to go, despite having woken up at 2 am, not able to fall back asleep. I was in transition by 5 am, only to discover that the tire I thought I had successfully changed on Thursday was flat again! I headed straight to bike support to have a tech change it, figuring better them than me, since I must have messed something up when I changed it myself. Got it all fixed up and finished setting up my transition area. I was able to rack right next to my friends, which made the morning so much more fun!

Before I knew it it was 6:30 and time to clear out of transition and get in a quick 10 minute warm-up jog. This was the first time I have ever done a warm up for a tri as part of the test for Nationals and I loved it. I was ready!

Swim - 11:28
It seemed to take forever for our wave of 29 and unders to be called into the water, but the gun finally sounded and we were off! I started swimming right away, but it was the most physical swim I have ever been in! We haven't had much rain this summer, so the water is really shallow and a lot of people chose to walk aways, even though the gun had sounded. I finally got out in front of the walkers and had some clear water out to the turn buoy. Got caught up behind some slower swimmers from the wave in front of me, but was able to swim strong and sight well the whole time, so it was a great swim. I was third out of the water in my wave, 1st in my age group and 22nd overall.

Bike - 58:58
The bike started off great. I ran out and got clipped right in, no problems! Headed out on the bike course feeling strong and passed a bunch of people pretty quickly. There is a railroad crossing on this course, just before the 5 mile mark. As I approached it, I started to hear a train's whistle. At first I was in   denial. Saying, "No, no, you've got to be kidding me, this isn't happening, I hope they are kidding, they'll stop the train, right?" Well no, they don't stop the trains, they stop the racers. A group of about 30 was waiting for the train to pass and a USAT official took our numbers so that we wouldn't be penalized for the down time. Luckily it was a short train and I was off again almost as soon as I stopped. I quickly passed everyone in the train group and had an awesome stretch of road all to myself. I was hammering along when everything started to feel soft and my speed slowed. I was in denial again (sensing a theme) for .2 seconds before I realized if I was going to get a flat, now was the perfect time since bike support was right in front of me! I waved them down and they got to work changing the tube and finding the cause more quickly than I ever could have (especially since I was shaking and trying not to cry). While my tire was being fixed I gave myself a little pep talk - "You are not out of this, you are not quitting, race your own race and practice pushing through for Nationals." I got back on my bike and took off with a very grateful thank you to Syracuse Bike! Now I had to go catch all my friends that had passed me while I was stranded on the side of the road. One by one I found them all :) I hate to say it but that setback may have been just what I needed to get refocused to push hard for the rest of the time on the bike.

Run - 24:08
I was in and out of T2 quickly, and almost immediately saw Coach Kelly yelling and cheering for me to run hard. I couldn't help but smile as I yelled out to tell her about my flat. I'm pretty sure she said something about forgetting it and just running. So run I did. It was very unremarkable - flat, one loop out and back. For some reason there was only one water stop (there were supposed to be two) but I have to thank Doug and his wife for remembering I had said before the race that I would be looking for a cup of ice. Sure enough when I came around the turn they were waiting for me. Huge, huge thank you! But the run was the only piece of my race today that I'm not thrilled with. I know that I can run faster. For some reason I just seem to have this mental block racing off the bike. But I know what I have to work on.

Total time  - 1:37:05
I wound up just 6 seconds behind 1st place in my age group and 24th overall, despite the flat. I didn't time the stop on the bike but if I had to guess it was at least 5 minutes. Figuring that in, I would have cracked the top 10 (8th I think?). I am thrilled. This race was an important lesson in not giving up. I have heard so many times, from so many different people, that if you flat in a sprint you should just give up. Well I'm here to prove that it isn't over till it's over. There is no reason not to pick yourself up and keep going. Podium spots are fun, but until I'm a pro making a payday from placing in the money, it doesn't make a lick of difference whether I came in 1st or 2nd or off the age group podium all together (although I do love my Iron Girl charm!).