I realized at the end of my 3 week trip in May to Turkey, Greece & Israel, that I didn’t find the time to write about my daily experiences in Israel. The only one I wrote about was the grotesque experience when camping with the Bedouins. It’s been 5 months since that trip, and I’m finally scrounging to write.
When friends ask how the trip was, and what my favorite country is, I cannot pick one. I loved them equally in different ways. Turkey had the mystique of the middle-east and a liberal insight into the Muslim faith. Greece had the non-stop partying in the prettiest islands with the hottest looking people. As far as Israel goes, I can’t say either. All I could say was that I felt at home. How bizarre that sounds, for a Chinese-American girl to travel abroad to what some call motherland, others call the stolen land, for me to call it the home away from home. Israel is a place that I could actually live at, and raise a family. Like the feeling I have for San Francisco. No other place.
My week spent there did not feel like I was abroad to some mysterious new place, so I didn’t feel inclined to report. It was as if blogging about my daily life here in Los Angeles. There was something so familiar about that place. So relaxed, so educated, so intense, full of life in the citizens eyes. “La C’haiem”, a common Hebrew saying referring ‘To Life’ is the motto they live by.
To give you a quick run down of my trip there, I could surely say 1 week was not enough. From the start of our trip, all the friends we met assured us that we needed at least 3 weeks to tour this small country smaller than the state of California.
Marissa & I arrived 5 am at the airport in Tel Aviv on Sunday morning from a quick flight from Athens. From there, we had arranged plans to stay with her boyfriend’s cousin Dror’s family in Jerusalem. It was a perfect gateway into understanding Israeli culture to the max. 2-3 weeks prior to our trip, Dror’s family had communicated with us via e-mail/facebook/text roughly about a dozen of options, places we could go to in Israel. They were absolutely accommodating. We didn’t have to worry about a thing once we got there, which was a relief from our Greece/Turkey trip vagabonding around with our heavy backpacks, not knowing where our next moment would be.
Arriving in the beautiful Ben Gurion Airport (Tel Aviv), we took a shuttle to Dror’s home in Jerusalem. The street was so narrow, we barely made it up with cars parked on both sides. Finally we found the address which was a triplex and we were terrified of ringing doorbells at strangers homes so early. Thankfully on the second try, we found the right unit and were welcomed by Dror’s mom who immediately acted as if our own mother. “My goodness!!! Where have you been?? I have been up since 5 am waiting up for you!! It’s 8 now! I called Dror, I called California to make sure you girls would arrive safe!” The shuttle had 6 other individual passengers he had to take, and the driver was in no rush, whatsoever to get us to our destination. As we stepped into this humble abode, ‘mom’ had a bedroom arranged for us with fresh towels, blankets, all the toiletries needed. “You want to take a nap first?? I must get to work now, but when you wake up, help yourself to breakfast. Everything is laid out for you, You better eat!!! You have a long day ahead of you!!!! OK!!”
[ The brief summary of Israel’s promise to their people since it’s establishment in 1948 is that there is a ‘Birth right’ for any individuals of Jewish descent to come live and become a citizen. Because the Jews have been living in exile for as long as history’s been recorded, the Brits gave the Jews a land. The Jews are everywhere, approx. 13 million in the world. The majority in the Middle East and Europe. Dror’s family is a mix of Persian, Kurd and some others. Every Jewish family you talk to, you will learn a deep history lesson. ]
We loved Dror’s mom immediately. There was no questioning who this person was or her intentions. She was the ‘mom’ away from home. We took a nap until noon, then wandered over to the kitchen. Sure enough, an open market was laid out all over the table, with notes of how to warm up the food, and to help ourselves to anything. I noticed 2 refrigerators and asked Marissa if it was because they kept Kosher? She took a look and said “nope, I think they just love to eat, and need enough to fit the beverages in one fridge, and food in the other.” We dug into our fresh pastries, eggs, the best feta cheese hands down, fresh cucumbers, tomatoes and so much more.
By 1 it was time to start our journey in this land with a history that practically started history in the West. We found the bus stop down the street with school children getting off and boarded the bus to Old City. As I’ve mentioned before, some of my fondest memories in traveling is when boarding the bus and train, glancing at territory I wouldn’t have otherwise see on my tourist route. The infrastructure of Jerusalem the city was as modern as that of the states. Lower buildings like Southern California and wider streets. The only main difference in the city’s feel was not the outlook, but the people. Nearly everyone was religiously conservatively Jewish, all the men wore yarmulke on their head or tall hats. Many women with head scarfs and skirts below the ankle. Both conservatively covered up.
We arrived in Old City, known to be the holiest place on earth, and toured the 4 main quarters on our own:: Jewish Quarter, Muslim Quarter, Armenian Quarter & Christian Quarter, which each contains their own shrine and interpretation of history. Within the old city walls, is where the mythologies of Judaism, Christianity and Islam occurred. As you wander from quarter to quarter, church to church, you start to really feel the spirituality within yourself. These religions are no longer story books taught to us as kids, or local demographic churches who try to convert you. History is here and is everlastingly evolving. I started to ponder deeply about the footsteps that I was taking, and feeling Jesus Christ, King David, and Muhammad the Prophet’s footsteps and wisdom.
To lighten up the religious load, there were a lot of shopping too in these narrow alleys and colorful markets which reminded me a bit of the spice markets in Turkey. These outdoor markets were the style of the middle-east. Call it the trendy farmer’s market we are all starting to love at home.
By sunset, we were ready to head home to Dror’s house and meet the rest of the family. They were all extremely excited to meet us. No matter where you go in the world, no matter the history of the place and where the government stands with America, they all love Americans. Some out of envy of our liberal lifestyles, other’s simply for our entertainment. Of course Israel would, as our government is backing them up with funds and a lifestyle most surrounding countries could only dream of! Either way, interesting conversations would soon arise and broaden our perspectives.
Dinner was served with an abundance amount of food that would’ve easily served 3 times the amount of company. I didn’t realize this, but most of Israel keeps kosher. It’s not like you need to find a specialty store for kosher food. It’s simply how it is. Pork is rarely found anywhere unless you are at a fancy specialty restaurant. After dinner, we head out to town for some drinks at a cozy sports type bar for a St. Bernardus beer which contains approx 12% alcohol (tastes similar to Guinness). After one of those, we were all feeling pretty warm and ready to find a hookah spot. There we shared conversations about their views on Israel, Palestine, Obama vs Bush (to the Israeli government) and more. Those topics I will not share here as it is TOO controversial. I’ll leave it up to you to engage in these conversations with individuals. It’s a lot more fun that way.
I loved the chill-party life in Israel. It was more European than anything. The late night dinners, and sipping and smoking hookah all night, deep intellectual conversations with friends, a more slow paced life. I felt like I belonged there.
The next day, we joined a hip walking tour-group of about 30 youthful souls and got a more in-depth look at the Old City, Jerusalem as well as the Dome of the Rock at the Temple Mount, one of the holiest Muslim sites where Muhammad was reported to have ascended to heaven on his Night Journey.
(A bookshelf at the entrance to the Wailing Wall. The Jewish religion emphasizes on Education equally for both males and females, a continuous Spiritual growth throughout life. Learning should never stop.)
“The same spot, known as Mount Moriah, is where God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac, and on which King Solomon chose to build the First Temple. This is where the Western Wall, last remains of the Second Temple and most sacred Jewish site in the world, stands today.” At the Wailing wall, we were instructed to write our wish to God on a small piece of paper, and send it through the wall. This was the holiest site for me. Where I really felt the energy of someone, something you’d call “God”. The female and males were sectioned off, and we waited in line for our turn to speak to God. Some individuals were there for hours by the wall, reciting the Torah, shaking their bodies. Finally, when it was my turn, I stuck my note in, and believed that my wish would come true. It was also reported to us that if you miss the wall, or miss a wish, that you could now Tweet or E-mail your message to God. Oh technology, how convenient you are!
As one walks away from the wall, you’ll see everyone is walking backwards. That is because we do not want to turn our back to God.