Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ein Gedi

After leaving Masada we went to Ein Gedi, an oasis and nature reserve near the Dead Sea.  It was just some hiking and lovely scenery, as well as the chance to see two local animals, the ibex (mountain goat) and Hyrax.. a strange little groundhog-esque creature that our guide termed "rock rabbits".  I wasn't able to get a good photo of the ibex, but the hyrax were cute and curious and everywhere!
What are you looking at?


Masada is an ancient fortress near the Dead Sea, built by King Herod between 37 and 31 B.C.  The only story I remember about Masada is that the Romans were able to seize it by building an enormous ramp, but when they got inside they discovered that everyone had committed suicide (actually, drew lots and killed each other, with only the last man committing suicide) rather than be captured.

If you ask me, what's really important about Masada is that it stands on a cliff 1,300 feet high overlooking the Great Rift Valley (and Dead Sea), and the proper way to reach the top is to climb up via "The Snake Path"!

I was having so much fun, wanting to get higher and higher for better views and pictures, that I kind of ended up jogging and was the first one to reach the top.

As usual it was a billion degrees, and I felt pretty successful by the time I got up there :) Those who chose not to climb took the cable car up and were waiting at the top.
About halfway up.

It was just beautiful, beautiful beautiful.
I've never seen a sight like it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Gilad Shalit

At the risk of getting political, I wanted to tell this poignant story. Gilad Shalit is an Israeli, almost exactly two years younger than I am. After graduating high school he entered the IDF (remember I mentioned that it is compulsory) and less than a year later, on June 25, 2006, he was wounded and captured by Palestinian forces near the Gaza border.

His captors held him hostage-- reports of what precisely they demand vary, probably because it has changed over time, but it is something astounding like the release of all female and under 18 Palestinian prisoners, plus 1000 additional prisoners, nearly half of which are to be chosen by name by Hamas (so, the top terrorist leaders).

Israel is known for being remarkable in that they will pay an extremely high cost to protect and aid their soldiers; in 2008 they released nearly 200 prisoners in exchange for Hezbollah's return of two Israeli soldiers' dead bodies. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that while Israel will pay a high price for the release of Gilad, they will not pay any price.

Gilad has been held hostage for exactly 5 years as of yesterday.  He is now 24 years old.  The only contact he has had with the outside world has been three letters, an audio tape, and a DVD that Israel received in return for releasing 20 female Palestinian prisoners. He has been held in violation of international human rights, being denied regular contact with his family and any visits from the Red Cross. 

Though the DVD is from September 2009, Gilad is still thought to be alive and the campaign for his release has intensified in the past few weeks surrounding the anniversary.  One year ago, Gilad's mother and father organized a march from their hometown to the Prime Minster's house, which happens to be literally steps from where I am living.  They set up a tent outside his gate and announced that they would not leave until Gilad is released.  Many of us have visited the tent; you can talk to his mother or father, buy a t shirt to support the effort or tie a yellow ribbon to the fence.

While the merits of giving in to Hamas' demands are easily debated, Gilad has become a national symbol and everyone prays that he will be able to come home safely.

At the time I took this photo, Gilad had been imprisoned for 1821 days, 16 hours, 59 minutes, 35 seconds.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Fish Pedicures, Matisyahu, and Shyne

Reporting on current events for once, yesterday a few of us spontaneously heard word of a place on our street where one can get a fish pedicure, so we headed over.

Basically this is just what it sounds like... you put your feet into a tank of tiny fish, which commence to swarm around and eat off the dead skin cells!  Gross, I know, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity.

And believe me when I tell you that however creepy and ticklish you imagine this experience to be, it was ten times worse!  I think our faces say it all.  (P.S., my roommate and I are completely coincidentally wearing identical outfits haha!)

After a moment though, you get used to the feeling and I actually enjoyed it, and it did have a noticeable effect on my feet!

Then roomie and I went home to get ready for the Matsiyahu concert, which took place outside in Safra Square.  It was only 90 Shekels, about 25 USD... what an amazing opportunity!!

We arrived midway through the opening band and still somehow managed to push our way through the crowd to the very front and center.  I guess Israelis don't take their concerts as seriously?  At home, this would be like trying to push through a brick wall!

Anyway, it was definitely one of my favorite nights in Jerusalem.  We also found out that Shyne, a famous rapper from the U.S., became Orthodox and is living in Israel-- he came onstage for a song.

Today, while a large group of us were walking in Mea Shearim (an ultra-Orthodox Haredim neighborhood of Jerusalem) when we ran into Shyne on the street!! 

He was extremely cool and friendly, stood for 20 minutes talking to all of us and posing for pictures, and even exchanged phone numbers with one of the guys to possibly go out this weekend.  I like him so much more now that I have found him to be such a nice guy.  I felt bad because I attempted to shake his hand-- ultra Orthodox don't ever touch anyone of the opposite sex!  (Hard for me to imagine...)  But it is just such an ingrained habit.

I should mention that he was popular when I was in high school, then in 1999 he was involved in a shooting incident in a nightclub along with Sean Combs and J. Lo (sorry, mom!) where some people were injured.  Popular word is that he was completely betrayed by Sean Combs, and ended up spending a decade in prison.  So it was interesting when he found out we were law students to hear him telling us how important the law and justice system are.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

O Little Town of Bethlehem...

After visiting Jericho we stopped for the most delicious lunch ever at what I believe was a Greek Orthodox Monastery.   Then we traveled on to Bethlehem.  Before my trip I guess I had rashly assumed that the whole West Bank was divided off from Israel by a wall, just as it appears on the map, but apparently that is not the case at all.

I'm still not clear on what the case actually IS, other than that the country is divided into Section A, Section B, and Section C, and individual cities in Palestine have their own walls.

Anyway, though it may be confusing (to some) it's all very interesting.  Here are some photos of the barrier wall surrounding the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.

It was no trouble at all getting inside.  Our first stop once there was at the Milk Grotto.  This church is considered sacred because Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus took shelter here during King Herod's slaughter of the innocents.

It is called the Milk Grotto because it is said that while Mary was nursing her child Jesus, a drop of milk fell on a rock in the cave and it turned white.  There is a large piece of rock in the cave ceiling that is indeed white and chalky, in contrast to the rest, and it has long been a place for Christian women to come who are praying for fertility.  It also contains supposedly the only painting of the Holy Mother depicting her breast.

Next we stopped at Shepherds' Field, identified as the place where the Angel visited the shepherds and told them that Jesus was born.  Anyway, there is a beautiful and quite peaceful little church here.

Palestinian Police Officer

Finally, we went to the Church of the Nativity, one of (if not the oldest) churches in the world, built over the cave where Jesus was born.  The area surrounding the church is called Manger Square, which as you might imagine is a teeeeny bit of a popular place to gather on Christmas Eve.

The entrance! The arch is visible, blocked in in the 6th Century

The inside of the church itself was breathtaking; the different layers of the ages are clearly visible.  There are sections of beautiful golden mosaics on the walls which have mostly decayed away, and on the upper halves of the columns you can see that they were once entirely painted with elaborate scenes.

The original Roman mosaic floor has since been covered over, but there are trap doors in the modern floor which reveal a piece of the original.  It is saddening to see that the church is in such a bad state of disrepair due to its sheer age.

That is true of nearly everything here, really... several of the wonderful things I have experienced may not exist for my children to see someday.  Even the entire Dead Sea.  But at least I'm getting to see it now, and also take lots of  pictures. :)

Touching the spot where Jesus was born in the cave below.

Monday, June 20, 2011


The Thursday before last, several of us got together for a small group tour to the West Bank.  It was an incredible day and I'm so glad I was able to have that opportunity.  Our bus left the mountains and headed lower and lower, stopping when we reached exactly sea level for a photo shoot with a sweet baby (just a few years old) camel by the name of Shushi.

Shushi and I sharing a laugh... clearly we love each other :)

We continued on to Jericho with a second stop to see Zacchaeus' tree.  Here is the gist of the story from Wikipedia--

"Zacchaeus, according to chapter 19 of the gospel of Luke, was a superintendent of customs; a chief tax gatherer at Jericho.  Tax collectors were hated by many of their fellow Jews, who saw them as traitors for working for the Roman Empire.  In the account, he arrived before the crowd who were later to meet with Jesus, who was passing through Jericho on his way to Jerusalem. Described as a short man, Zacchaeus climbed up a sycamore fig tree so that he might be able to see Jesus. When Jesus reached the spot he looked up into the branches, addressed Zacchaeus by name, and told him to come down, for he intended to visit his house. The crowd was shocked that Jesus, a Jew, would sully himself by being a guest of a tax collector.  Moved by the audacity of Jesus's undeserved love and acceptance, Zacchaeus publicly repented of acts of corruption and vowed to make restitution for them, and held a feast at his house."

This is supposedly the same tree from the story.

Jericho is both the lowest and oldest permanently inhabited city in the world.  The oldest archaeological findings in Jericho date back 11,000 years.  There are ruins here from all different periods and rulers, the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. 

 While I was impressed by the antiquities, I will be honest and admit that the fact that there was nobody to explain to us just what we were looking at, coupled with the fact that the temperature this far below sea level was easily into the triple digits, caused us to lose interest rather quickly. 

West Bank Part Two coming soon!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Tel Aviv and a Break In

 At this point I've been to Tel Aviv several times, but haven't gotten around to writing about it.  Tel Aviv could not be more different from Jerusalem; it is a secular city known for its nightlife and beautiful beaches.  So, of course, we students love it there and take the sherut (Israel's awesome, cheap shared taxi system) every chance we get to stay a night or two.

On yesterday's visit, we had ten people going, enough to affordably split two rooms at the fancy Carlton hotel.  An acquaintance just opened a new club this week, Merhav Yarkon, in a former police station, so we spent a lot of the evening there.  I absolutely loved this place! 

The main area was a sort of open air atrium, surrounded by former jail cells looking down.  I know in the photo the flash makes the building look terrible, but in the dark with lights flashing and pictures moving on the walls, the effect was awesome.  It had a very underground, industrial feel but with the night sky breeze!

Found a better picture online... not mine.

This morning we went to a delicious breakfast place, then ran into two of our professors on the beach!  (Tel Aviv is about an hour away from Jerusalem.)  They bought us each a drink and we chatted for awhile.  There are five professors with our group, and they are all wonderful, extremely friendly and interesting people.

Professors Morris and Klein

Later, as my roommate and I were enjoying the AMAZING rooftop of our hotel (it is worth any money to stay a night at this place for these views alone), we received a call from another friend in our group that there had been a break-in at our hostel and several people had had items stolen.  Apparently it was an inside job. 

It was a stressful hour or so as we struggled to find someone who could check on our room as we took the sherut back to Jerusalem.  Our room was indeed hit and my roommate's laptop and cash was stolen, but somehow none of my things were touched... including my laptop sitting out on my desk.  Thank goodness for me, but very perplexing.  Our program director was affected worst of all- laptop, phone, money and passport.  The police came and checked things out but it is likely nothing will be resolved. Crazy evening here at the Agron.