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!