Saturday, December 29, 2007

With my eyes still blurry from the night before when we closed the bar down and ran up a 4,500 sheckle bill, we headed out into the Judean desert. We carved through rolling, rock covered hills, passing through dusty roadblocks and check points. We descended to the lowest point on earth and watched as Bedouin on the roadside turned around from a hostile and uninhabitble desert.

We were headed to Masada, Herod’s stronghold perched atop a mountain overlooking the Dead Sea that served as the last stand of the last free Jews on earth during the first century. The sun was hot and radiated off the ancient stones, your skin tingled as the arid desert dried it out. From the ruins of his palace you could see the mountains of Jordan across the Dead Sea that seemed to bleed into the sky in a sweltering haze. The bright white rock of the desert glowed in the punishing sun and even hundreds of feet above it, caused you to squint as you searched for the horizon above the fast evaporating and shrinking sea.

We then drank from the waterfalls of Ein Gedi where David convinced King Sol that he wasn’t the enemy of Israel. We swam in the spring and were surprised by the luke warm waterfall. After that we bobbed in the Dead Sea and I stung our broken flesh, even my ass stung which gave me cause for concern. After a quick jump in the famous Dead Sea mud and a requisite mud fight, we washed off in sulfer water and headed back to Jerusalem. Like the night before, it was the time of my life, it was then that I received the following email.

Sadly, grandma is slipping away. She has been deteriorating daily. More and more stroke damage becomes apparent. Though she still recognizes us, she can barely respond. She can't eat or drink, as she can't swallow. The option is life support, or letting her just slip away quietly. Jean as we know her is gone. Jeannie and Janny are here.

What you can do, is go to the Wall and pray; give thanks for her life and all the blessings she has been for us. Your grandmother, the enthusiastic traveler, would want you to experience your trip to the fullest. And remember, you did make sure to visit her a lot before you left.

Love Mom and Dad.

Friday, December 28, 2007

In what was dubbed "the day of remembrance" by our tour guides we spent the morning meeting Holocaust survivors and touring Yad Vishem, the Holocaust museum. Now I stood before the Western Wall or "kotel" and craned my neck upwards trying to conjure up the necessary reverence that I hoped would percolate through my soul.

Now I’ve never considered things, or locations as holy, just thoughts and actions. Mindsets that help you throughout your life and here was no difference. Wave of indifference welled inside of me to the point it was palpable, I was shocked at how empty I had felt since touching down. At the site of Jesus burial I smiled and posed for pictures as if it were some knock off novelty that couldn’t possible hold the true weight of what it purported name would suggest.

So here I was examining the branches that grew from the wall and the folded prayers pressed into ever crack. I felt very close to Samuel as he came up beside me, he actually believed in the power of this wall and I wanted him to pray for my Grandma, as all I could do was think about praying…like what I would say if I could buy into the wall before me.

I watched as Orthodox Jews pressed their foreheads to the wall and rocked their heads back and forth to an unheard rhythm. Some kissed it and I gentle stroked it, or would pat it with my finger tips trying to figure out how to extract its magic. I stepped back, never turning my back on the wall, weaving between the desks that young men sat at reading their books backwards. I joined up with a group dancing in a circle, our paper yarmulkes flew off our heads, the wall whirred round and round and the curly ear locks of our new friends stood straight out as we spun. Theres an on going debate about whether people pray at the western wall because it's holy or if it's holy because people pray at it. Dizzy from laughter and the swirling lights, I began to get my answer.

Maybe this was the magic I was wondering about; maybe this is what people prayed for, for all those centuries. Maybe I should have prayed too.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The next day

It seems like all we did was eat, the night before we had an amazing spread of salads and vegetables prepared a million different ways. We were all amazed and couldn’t slurp down enough avacadoes or tomatoes, this morning we sat in front of the exact same meal for breakfast.

We went to the Supreme Court after breakfast, I guess the most notible thing was they don’t have a constitution. They rule according to three basic laws and can even borrow from international precident and make it domestic law. The smell was terrible, and Column made some stupid remarks about waterboarding. The whole group was pretty suspicious of the tours motives and everyone was pretty critical. This was just the start.

After that we went to the Knesset, and took a quick tour. The only real stand out was the how they boast about transparency by recording the proceedings of the house and broadcasting it. Only trouble was its only available in Hebrew and not their other official language, Arabic. They do have some charming tendancies not to repair things or make them ornate. If this is done people criticize them for wasting money. So the PMO looks like a bit of a factory.

We met with some foreign journalists maybe 100 feet from the 1949 green line. We spoke of terrorists that they knew or conversations they had with Arafat on what is the frontier of perhaps the world’s greatest source of tension.

Behind the walls of the old city we grabbed lunch. These walls were erected by the Ottomans in the 1600’s and housed perhaps more history than any other place on earth. We started a tour through the Jewish Quarter, which really was only to find a vantage point for three of the world’s holiest sites. From a lookout point we watched as the holiest site in Judaism, the Western Wall or “Kotel”, propped up the third holiest site in Islam “the Dome of the Rock”. Somewhere the Church of the Holy Sepuchre sat politiely, largely escaping the centuries old conflict.

The trip through the Muslim Quarter deserves a post in of it self as does the Kotel, Via Dela Rosa and C.O.T.H.S. But still despite perhaps one of the world’s greatest eyefuls, I still felt nothing, beyond an perplexing sense of disbelief that these sites were so close to each other, all swarming with devotees all exuding some great sense of holiness that I had yet to feel.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Israel...1st night

Having just brokered a deal between two warring factions within my young political group I felt particularily clever. This being one of the larger annoyances in my life I was feeling close to 10 feet tall. However, I arrived at the airport to realize that my passport was expired, which quickly chopped me down to size. But in what can only be described as the biggest come back story of the year, I was able to get a brand new passport in 20 minutes. This trip was sure to be filled with all sorts of miracles. People wanted to rub me for good luck, or get my business card. I was hoping this would translate into an aphrodesiac for Israeli woman but to be honest would have settled for not having Air France not cutting us off midway over the Atlantic.

Landing in Tel Aviv the air smelled like Play Dough. It made we feel like there was so much history that the air actually had content. Like you could grasp it, and there was something there to shape or influence, or if you pleased it could shape you. I soon discovered just how pliable our minds our, I was perhaps at my most judgmental, condemnation or self-assertion run amuk.

We boarded a bus to Jerusalem, I was under whelmed by the desert as it whizzed past beneath a flat and distant moon. Its only a forty minute drive and I started what would become a common theme of questioning what I knew, this time it was judging distance on a map.

We stood on a hill staring at the old city of Jerusalem with the city of David between us. We listened to our tour guide Michael give us 4000 years of history in roughly 20 minutes. Nothing hit me, no impressions yet, it was like I was at a theme park or something, nothing sunk in. I might as well be in Disney Land I thought.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I've been around the world, been around the block...

Yes, yes, yes, so I’ve finally returned from my tour of Israel. I have many things to say and I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do it. There’s a lot you can’t put into words like the sting of the Dead Sea or the feeling of guns going off around you. I’ll probably try to break it down day by day in the coming weeks. But more important than deconstructing activity is assembling some fraction of a picture for you, or myself.

I’ve said it before, hearts once nourished with hope and compassion have become the fall of every man. Perhaps now they’ve simply become the locomotion for insurmountable hopelessness or immeasurable opportunity. It’s a funny balance. Welcome to the middle east…

Monday, December 10, 2007

Harmony for sale; slightly used

I’m having a perception crisis these days, or maybe it’s a perspective crisis. I think I have been existing with a very ego-centric view of the world that places me at the centre of everything. Like the world isn’t something that has existed forever and its roads I travel or spaces I go between aren’t permanent things and I just a small part of it. I think I’ve regarded the physical world as just a creation of my own mind, like its something for my viewing enjoyment subject to my own existence.

I’ve caught myself zoning out as life happens and I regard it as nothing more than a film or cinematic field passing before my eyes. Like a passive movie going experience, I can turn it off if I want, or be affected by it in only a transitory way. I’ve always known I can’t command the heavens to rain blood or anything but I think I’ve misdiagnosed my place on earth.

Which sucks because I hate relativity, I don’t like the idea of people being able to see what I see and interpret it differently. I hate that subtle nuance isn’t a manifestation of my genius at work but a universally accepted fact, no matter how funny or clever I think I am.

Which is also subject to interpretation…

Sunday, December 09, 2007

This may or may not be my last post before heading to Israel. Tied up as many loose strings as I could before leaving. Spoke with my friend from Israel who just happens to be here while I’m in his home land. He gave me a package to deliver to his girl back home. Here’s hoping it’s not drugs or other illegal substances that will land me with a Palestinian room mate for the next twenty years.

I guess the big thing is still my grandma. Had a rough night with her last night. I’m really pissed off, like everything I could ever want is locked up in plain view of me and I struggle to find the right combination of words to unlock it. I really want to know what she thinks about, but that’s the one question she won’t answer. I asked a few times to the point I think I started annoying her.

Last night she even chastised me (mistakenly) for not being nice to my girlfriend. I was worried that would be the last convo we ever had, I was like WTF grandma, say something to inspire me to greatness not something that will haunt me forever! Luckily today she said “thanks for the help”, again, not really applicable, but still a lot better.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

In the distant distant future…

The not so distant future is never available and suffers from immediate obsolescence. Due to the hyper evolution of robots, events and monumental change happen at a rate that cannot be documented in time thus eliminating the concept of the present.

Birthday gifts are now given in bulk years in advance, and eulogies are performed on the date of birth using mega hypothesis generating computers so as everyone gets a timely opportunity to mourn the loss of their loved ones.

There is now, (or should I say there was) a thriving market in futures. Beings purchase galactic credits in enjoyment to be used at later dates. Despite the giant strides in cognitive conditioning to handle the mass of daily sensory overload, the carbon based mind still is unable to process a holistic view of daily events, and thus the “futures” market became inevitable.

Necessity begat invention which begat evolution which begat experimentation to handle the rate of adoption of new technology which begat even more invention which required both more evolution to perform and more evolution to handle the latest discoveries which begat necessity at a level unconceivable up to this point, and at a rate so fast that not only futures were required to enjoy them but also pasts were necessary to recall them. And as necessity was always only the dominate force of progress, a new paradigm was required to mediate the differentials between an ever present future, a lack of pure or absolute present and an ideal of a past now so remote due to the rapidity of evolution that the concept of the reintroduction of the galaxies most sentimental creatures was considered.

Unfortunately since the destruction of human kind the above happened and no one could recall the inhabitants of the planet earth and thus that concept of sentimentality died once more.

And somewhere God softly shook his head.

FYI - My Itinerary while in Israel


16:15 Arrival at Ben-Gurion International Airport on Air France

17:15 18:15 Drive to Jerusalem

18:15 18:45 Historical presentation and welcome with guides David Wajntraub and Michael Bauer
Walk through Jaffa Gate and view old city in the night

19:00 20:15 Check in and time to freshen up

20:30 Politicos: Dinner at Olive & Fish restaurant with Yossi Klein Halevi

20:30 Student leaders: Dinner at Darna restaurant with Gerald Steinberg, Director of Conflict Resolution Center, Bar-Ilan University

Overnight: Prima Royal Hotel, Jerusalem

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 13, Old / New State

07:45 08:15 Breakfast

09:15 10:15 Visit to the Supreme Court

11:00 11:30 Politicos: Tour of the Knesset

10:45 11:45 Student Leaders: Visit Museum on the Seam

12:00 13:00 Meet with 2 foreign journalists at the Notre-Dame Hotel

13:30 14:30 Lunch on own

14:30 18:00 Tour of Old City: Temple Mount/ Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Via Dela Rosa, “Kotel” (Western Wall), 4 quarters and free time

19:30 Dinner at Grill Bar in downtown Jerusalem

21:40 Politicos: Visit the Western Wall Tunnels

22:00 Student Leaders: Visit the Western Wall Tunnels

Overnight: Prima Royal Hotel, Jerusalem

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 14, Day of Remembrance

07:15 07:45 Breakfast

08:30 09:00 Meet with a Holocaust Survivor

09:00 12:00 Visit Israel's National Holocaust Museum: Yad Vashem

12:15 13:15 Visit Mount Herzl (military cemetery)

13:30 14:30 Lunch on own and free time in the “Mahane Yehuda Shuk” (market)

15:00 16:00 Meeting with representatives of the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit at the Notre-Dame Hotel

16:00 17:00 Meeting with One Voice representatives
at the Notre-Dame Hotel

17:30 Kabbalat Shabbat at the “Kotel”

19:00 Dinner at hotel

Overnight: Prima Royal Hotel, Jerusalem

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 15, Fun in the Judean Desert

07:30 08:00 Breakfast

08:00 09:00 Drive south

09:00 12:00 Guided tour of Massada fortress (hike up the Snake Path)

12:30 14:00 Packed lunches (picnic) and hike Ein Gedi

14:30 16:45 Rest, Lunch and Swim at the Ein Gedi Dead Spa

17:00 18:15 Drive to Jerusalem

18:30 19:30 Meeting with Jerusalem Post's Palestinian Affairs journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh

20:00 Dinner on own on Ben-Yehuda downtown pedestrian mall

Overnight: Prima Royal Hotel, Jerusalem


07:30 08:00 Breakfast

08:00 08:15 Mifgash (meeting/ exchange with Israeli students) starts for both groups

08:15 Check out

08:30 10:30 Student Leaders - Jerusalem security barrier

08:30 10:30 Politicos – Jerusalem security barrier

11:00 12:00 Visit Ma’ale Adumim - the largest Israeli town/ settlement in the West Bank

12:00 15:00 Drive north (lunch on own) – stop to ride camels

15:00 16:00 Golan Heights security briefing from Mount Bental

17:00 19:15 Check-in and time to freshen up

19:30 Dinner at Kibbutz Afikim

Overnight: Kibbutz Guest House Afikim, Kineret

MONDAY, DECEMBER 17, Minorities in Israel

08:00 08:30 Breakfast

09:00 11:00 Visit the Christian Holy Sites around the Sea of Galillee- Mt. Beatitudes, Capernaum etc

12:00 14:00 Druze hospitality and lunch in Daliat El Carmel

15:00 17:00 Visit Givat Haviva

17:30 19:30 Drive to Tel Aviv

19:30 20:15 Check-in and time to freshen up

20:30 Dinner at old port in Jaffa

Mifgash ends

Overnight: Basel Hotel, Tel Aviv

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18, Global Responsibility

08:00 09:00 Breakfast

08:30 09:15 Drive to Holon

09:15 10:45 Visit "Save a Childs Heart Project" in Holon

11:15 13:15 Lunch on own at Nahalat Binyamin (artists market) and free time at Shuk Ha’Carmel and on trendy/funky Sheinkin street

13:30 14:30 Meet with Itai Pinkas: Tel Aviv council Member at the municipality

14:45 16:00 Yemin Orde – Ethiopian village

17:45 19:15 Return to hotel and time to freshen up

19:30 Farewell dinner at Maganda

21:30 Blues by the Beach screening at hotel
Followed by outing to Mike’s Place

Overnight: Basel Hotel, Tel Aviv

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 19, It’s “L’hitraot” (see you later) not goodbye!

08:30 09:00 Breakfast

09:30 Check out

10:00 11:00 Meeting with a representative of the Canadian Embassy

11:15 12:15 Group Summary on the beach

12:30 14:00 Lunch at Banana Beach

14:00 Depart to airport

17:30 Flight to Canada on Air France

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