Thursday, May 31, 2012

Israel: A Guest Post by Matt Reddish

Hey guys ... whats up? Due to popular demand I a here to tell about my adventure to the Middle East.

For those that don't know, my mother is a Jew and my father is Catholic. The birthright trip is a trip designed fly young adults of Jewish descent to Israel for a free 10 day tour of the country. The whole experience of going to a Jewish state was amazing and has really changed some of my views on being a Jew.

Alexis and I first traveled to our grandparents in New Jersey. It was great to get to see them for a bit. They were so excited for us to go, it was cute. My grandparents are selling their home they have been in for around 40 years so it was nice to see the old home one more time. It was also nice to get some real bagels!

We left JFK airport at around 5 pm on a flight to Vienna. Jumping forward seven time zones was a crazy experience. We first flew north across Canada and then cut across by Greenland so once we started East we jumped all the time zones very quickly. We ate dinner as the sun was setting, two hours later they brought breakfast. I opened the shades and it was like 7 am! It is tough to sit on airplane for eight hours when you are 6'4 but luckily I had an aisle seat so I could straighten out my legs. The flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv was hard on the legs but we flew over the Greek Isles so it was worth having a window seat.

After we landed we immediately started driving to the north part of Israel. We stayed in a Kibbutz for the first three nights. A Kibbutz is a community where you give all of your earnings to the community and they provide your housing and food. The communities are very tight knit and it seems like an OK way to live if you are not going to make much money. Here is a picture of our Kibbutz and their community center.

The second day of the trip we visited the Golan Heights and the Jordan River. The Golan Heights was an interesting experience. The Golan Heights are an area of high land that was taken from Syria in the 1967 6-day war. We visited an old Syrian bunker that looked out into Syria. The country looked so peaceful, it is hard to imagine all of the political issues going on in Syria and all of the people being murdered or to imagine 1,000 Syrian tanks rolling toward Israel. While at the bunker we had a discussion about the conflict between Israel and the surrounding countries (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt). We learned about the 1948 war, 1967 war, Yom Kippur war and both Lebanese wars. To learn about how tiny Israel has been able to defend itself against all of these larger nations, and take huge pieces of land from these countries, was one of the first times I felt a lot of pride about being Jewish. Here is photo of Alexis from the Golan Heights with Syria in the background. .
After the Golan Heights we went on a bike ride near the border with Lebanon. It was a fun bike ride through some orchards. We were able to stop and pick fresh grapefruit and mulberries. After the bike ride we went rafting on the Jordan River. We hear the Jordan River mentioned so often that we expect to see a giant river. We were quite disappointed to see that it was closer to the creek in our backyard after a good rain then it was to the Mississippi River or the Tennessee River. The rafting was fun though. There were a lot of Israeli middle schools on field trips and they were a lot of fun to play with. All of the Israeli's kids really love Americans. They would all yell "Americans! We love you! Do you know Lebron James?" Also, there is a show similar to SNL that plays on Israeli T.V. and they do parodies of the birthright trips. The kids would all yell lines at us from the skit. Apparently Americans teens love to yell "FUCKING AWESOME!"  I had my first falafel which was yummy but too heavy considering how active we were during the day. A falafel is pita with balls of fried chick peas and some sauces.Here is a picture from the grapefruit orchard.

The third day we started with a hike up Har Meiron which is a mountain where the founders of Kabbalah hid out to avoid being killed. As you can see in the picture below, Israel is very green and there were a lot of trees. The Israeli's always want us to tell people that Israel isn't a desert full of camels, so consider yourself informed. There was one girl in our group who did not wear good hiking shoes so she kept falling down. After a while she slowed us up so much that eight of us were separated from the group. We spent about 20 minutes lost in the Israeli wilderness before our tour guide found us. I thought for sure Alexis would be the one to get lost first!
After the hike we drove to Tzfat which is where Kabbalah was "born." It was a very old city and smelled kind of bad. After touring Tzfat we had a discussion about the theories of Kabbalah and then split up for lunch. For lunch I had shawarma which was delicious. It was like the falafel except a teriyaki like chicken instead of chick peas. It was again too heavy on my stomach so this was the last real lunch I bought in Israel even though it tasted so good. After lunch we hiked to the top of Tzfat to see where the old fortress was. At the top we all had to pull weeds and clear brush as part of a volunteer activity we have to do. Here is a photo from inside an old synagogue in Tzfat.

Day four we packed up and drove to Haifa. Haifa is a Mediterranean port city. It is the second or third largest city in Israel. We didn't get to spend a lot of time in Haifa but we stopped by the Bahai Temple. We had great views of the Bahai Gardens and the rest of the city. Picture of the Temple and Gardens below.

After seeing the temple we drove to the Carmel Mountains for a hike. I bought watermelon ice cream popsicle which was actually really good! The Carmel Mountains were really pretty, I could do a few more hikes there. After the hike we went to a grocery store to buy picnic food. It was so hard to pick anything out because all of the writing was in Hebrew. I did recognize some things like Doritos and Cheetos but people in Israel like peanut butter Cheetos and I didn't care for them. We ended up buying hummus and pita. After the grocery store we drove to a private beach in Haifa where our tour guide lived. The Mediterranean was everything I could hope for. I can't wait to take Amanda! Below is a picture of the Carmel Mountains and the Mediterranean Ocean.

After the ocean we drove to our hotel in Jerusalem. We got to experience some real Israeli traffic jams! Jerusalem surprised me with how large it is. I always thought it was ruins and its only function was for tourism and religious sites, but it is a city of close to 1,000,000 people. After we checked into the hotel we went to downtown Jersualem to party for a bit. We went to some hookah bars and clubs. The birthright trip participants pour tons of money into the bars so all the promoters would fight to get us into their bars and promise us all sorts of free stuff. All the Israeli guys really liked Alexis. If any girls want to go to Israel and be treated really well by the guys, dye your hair blond. Here is a photo of Alexis and I with the Breite brothers who we became really good friends with.

Day five was our only day to do much in Jerusalem. Our eight Israeli soldiers joined our group in the morning. In Israel everyone must enlist in the army at 18. Guys have 3 mandatory years and girls have 2. It was a little tense at first but by the end of the trip we had bonded with the soldiers so much that it was very hard to leave. After meeting the troops we drove to an overlook where we could see most of the old city. After the overlook we drove to the Jewish Quarter for a tour. We were able to see King David's tomb and the story of his life. We also saw where Jesus had his last supper. While in Jerusalem we could see all of the bullet holes in the walls from when Jerusalem was lost to Jordan in 1948 and taken back in 1967. After the tour we went to the Western Wall which Jews believe is the holiest place in the world. I was able to say a prayer at the wall and place all the notes people sent me into the wall. Below are a few pics of me in Jerusalem.

After the tour of Jerusalem we went to a market to buy dessert and whine for Shabbat. Shabbat is from Friday night to Saturday evening and is the equivalent to Sunday for Christians. On Shabbat Jews do not perform any strenuous activity. Depending on your personal beliefs, some people will not even press a button on an elevator so the hotels had elevators that would just stop on every floor. We start Shabbat by all lighting a candle and singing. Afterward we celebrate by drinking a lot of whine, eating a huge meal and lots of dessert. It is a great excuse to eat terribly. After dinner we went on a walk through Jerusalem. It was amazing to see nobody at all on the road because you don't drive on Shabbat. The only car we saw was a Dominoes delivery man. We went to the hotel lounge for the whine and desert where our group decided to sing. The songs got progressively less Jewish until we were all yelling Bohemian Rhapsody. We got quite a few strange looks but it was so much fun that nobody cared. The picture below is what people call tefflin which is how orthodox jews pray. Some orthodox jews grabbed me, wrapped me up and had me repeat some prayers in Hebrew. It was a new experience for sure!
 Day six was spent in rest for Shabbat. I actually got to take a well needed nap. The only real activity was a political seminar with a lecturer. He basically told us that Israel is going to knock out the Iranian nuclear facilities after the U.S. election in November because then Obama won't have to care as much about political opinion if the U.S. has to assist. We will see what happens. To end Shabbat we went on top of a parking garage and again sang and danced. There are several apartment buildings around where we danced and everyone came out to take pictures of us. Below are all the apartments, you can see the top of the garage where we did our close of Shabbat ceremony.

Day seven we started with Har Herzel which is the Israeli version of Arlington National Cemetery. We heard a lot of powerful stories and it was even more meaningful because we had eight active duty Israeli soldiers with us who knew some of the people at the graves we walked by. We also saw the tomb of a 10 year-old soldier who was shot by a Jordanian sniper in Jerusalem in the 1948 war while running ammo along the roof. It really hit home how hard Israel has had to fight to exist and that every citizen must be prepared to fight. Next we went to Yad Vashem which is the holocaust museum. We spent three hours at the museum, but I felt I needed a whole day to really experience it. It was a very somber experience. We weren't allowed to take any photos in Yad Vashem.

After Yad Vashem we packed up and drove to the Negev Desert which was just like you would imagine a Middle Eastern Desert. Within five minutes of leaving Jerusalem we were surrounded by giant sand dunes and even saw a few camels. We slept that night at an Israeli school house which had packs of goats roaming around. We could see the Dead Sea from our rooms. It was really a pretty view. 

Day eight was one of the physically hardest days of my life. We went to bed at 1:00 am and woke up at 3:00 am so that we could hike up Masada in time to see the sun rise. The hike up Masada is no joke. It only took about 40 minutes but it was so steep as you can see in the pictures below. The hike was definitely worth it once we were on top. The views were great! We toured all the ruins which I really enjoyed. For those who don't know the story of Masada I will give you a quick version. The Romans were conquering the area back in the day. Some Jewish zealots decided to build the city up on top of the mountain in the middle of the dessert thinking the Romans wouldn't want it bad enough to attack them. The Jews were wrong,  but the Romans couldn't attack due to the location of the city so the Romans spent 2 years building a ramp in order to get their siege equipment to the wall. The Romans used Jewish slaves to build the ramp because they knew the Jewish zealots wouldn't kill other Jews. Once the ramp reached the wall all of the citizens elected suicide rather than to be taken as Roman slaves. The Israeli army's motto is something to the effect of "Masada will never fall again" meaning they will never let themselves be in a position where they face a choice between death and having to leave. After talking with the soldiers you can see the meaning holds weight with them and the sentiment plays out with Israel electing to perform so many preemptive strikes against neighboring countries. Below are photos of the sun rise, the path we hiked up and a Roman bathhouse. That is the Dead Sea in the background of all the photos.

After we descended Masada we went for a bike ride through the desert. It was hot and hard especially considering we had no sleep and had just hiked Masada. The views were nice though. After the bike ride we went to the Dead Sea. For those that don't know the Dead Sea is the lowest land point on earth. It is so far from the sun that they say you don't have to wear sunscreen. It is called the Dead Sea because it is so salty that nothing can survive in it. It is actually so salty that you float in it. You can't swim to the bottom if you want to, you really are weightless. It was one of the most unusual sensations I have ever experienced. The only problem is the water is so salty is burns any cut you have no matter how small and so often we don't realize how many little abrasions we have. Also you can't let it get near your eyes or it will burn until you shower off. The Dead Sea is known for this mud with all the minerals that is supposed to be great for your skin. I lathered it on and I assume my skin looked great afterward! There is so much salt that instead of sand the beaches are actually salt. The water looks so refreshing but it is really warm and kind of oily feeling. I managed to smuggle some water and salt pebbles back for Amanda. Below are some photos of the bike ride and dead sea. The fighting photo was a picture of one of me with one of the soldiers named Roy. It is funny to think he is so small but would probably kick my ass with some Israeli combat moves. He is a paratrooper in the K9 unit.

After the Dead Sea we drove way south in the desert for our camp out. It got really cold and most of the group got pretty sick but the bonfire was fun. We were also close to an Israeli air force base so we had several fighter jets fly over.

Day nine started with a hike from the camp site up and down a mountain and the through a canyon. We had to walk in silence and it was so relaxing. After the hike we stopped and meditated for a while. It was probably one of the most relaxing moments of my life. After the hike we went camel riding. It is not as fun as it sounds! Camels smell awful and their hair is so course. Their hair wore through my skin in about 10 minutes making the rest of the ride quite uncomfortable. Still, I guess you can't go to Israel and not ride a camel! I tried to get a photo with the camel but my riding partner took a video so I posted it below.

After the camel ride we visited Ben Gurion's tomb. Ben Gurion was the first prime minister of Israel, sort of their George Washington. After visiting the tomb we drove to Tel Aviv. That night we went out to a dance club in Tel Aviv but it was all American music with American tourists but at least we went!

Day ten was spent in Tel Aviv. We visited Rabin Square where Prime Minster Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated after trying to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians. Then we went to a huge market where I was finally able to buy Amanda all sorts of souvenirs! The market was a lot of fun, but the Israeli's don't like to bargain like the Mexican's in Cancun. They are tough. Next we went to Independence Hall which is where Israel first declared its independence. It was strange how unimportant the building seems compared to its equivalent in Philadelphia for America. I did find a nice statute of Ben Gurion to climb on outside, I wasn't sure if we were allowed to climb on it or not but I think it was allowed. We wrapped up the day with a hike through Jaffa which is a beautiful neighborhood in an old part of Tel Aviv. We had one last reflection session which ran until 1:00 am, then at 3:00 am we left for the airport. Below is a picture of the memorial to Rabin, me probably performing an offense punishable by execution, and the view from Jaffa.

 It was great to get back to the United States but our internal clocks were so far off and I was so sleep deprived that it was very hard to operate for about three days. All is back to normal now, although the whole trip seems so surreal. I was so glad to have Alexis there and to be able to experience all of this with my sister. We have gotten so close in our old age! 

I have never identified myself as a Jew because it is not a cool thing to be a Jew in the hospitable south. This trip really made me proud of my Jewish heritage. The real point of the trip is to drum up support for Israel in America and they certainly do an excellent job at making you feel like Israel is yours as well as America. I don't think I will ever move to Israel, but it is nice to know citizenship is there for me if I ever choose. I hope I can return one day, and this time take Amanda with me!

A few side notes, my law school grades came out and I did much better then last semester. I finally feel all my hours of studying have been validated. This is the first time I have ever made the deans list on any level!

Also, regardless of what Amanda says, our no dessert competition is back on and this time I will not be so easily defeated.

Hope you all enjoyed my blog post, even if it was long. We did so much and each activity was unique and special to me. If you have any questions feel free to message me on facebook or call!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Be Present

I wrote this speech to give to my students. Their last assignment for our English class was to write a speech that talks about a specific experience they had and what life lesson they learned from it. Several students asked me to give a speech, so I did. I think this message is so important to remember, especially for them. My students are so concerned with their future, and I was too at their age. But I want them to enjoy their youth. Of course, I am reminded of that pertinent saying "Youth is wasted on the young."

I am so, so proud of the speeches my students gave. It is hard to explain, really. Many of them shared very personal stories and I was glad to see them take the assignment seriously. They grew up so much this year, and I am already missing them! I am glad I can hopefully be reunited with them at Battle!

Be Present

As humans, we feel the need to always plan for the future and to pine for the past. So often do we just try to get through the week or through activities – to get to the weekend.

This past year, my husband, Matt, and I picked up everything we had and hauled it to Columbia, Missouri. Admittedly, I saw this move as a short-term transition. We were both starting new chapters of our lives, he law school and I teaching in a new district, a new grade, with new students. There was excitement in the air.

Over the year I found myself doing two things: 1) Really missing Knoxville and my life there with my friends and family, and 2) Looking forward to and planning when we would get to move “home”. This focus caused me to fall somewhat into a depression.

I am a master at keeping in touch – the letter and email writer and phone caller. But as much as I tried, the strong friendships were slowly slipping away from me. I started getting angry that my friends weren’t holding up their side of the relationship. I tried to discuss it with family, but I still didn't feel better. No one seemed to understand my pain. I just wanted things to be like before. My friends are such a large part of my life and my identity and always have been.

I got depressed because the people who really mattered, my friends and family, were all in another state and I couldn’t keep us connected. But by focusing so much on my past, other things suffered now. I stopped exercising; I got moody and angry with Matt, and my work suffered. I also couldn’t see the things right in front of me. I was having a hard time because I couldn’t let myself truly be in the moment.

I realized that even if we moved back to Tennessee now, things would not be the same. Everyone had changed, and we weren’t together while it was happening. My “home” had to be a travelling place; it had to be wherever I was. Home is wherever I am with Matt.

Focus on right now. Of course we always need to plan for the future, it would be futile not to. Also, remember where you came from and who got you to this place. But don’t let that consume you. If you do, you will miss all of the fun and terrible experiences that add value to your life right now. Be present.

After every speech, each person got a loud applause, including me. I hope they felt as good and accomplished afterwards as I did. :) Happy weekend.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Book Reviews for May

I am only 1.5 books behind schedule for the year! I am pretty excited about this. Next week I don't have school, so I am hoping I can catch up before June hits. I read two interesting and unusual books (for me, at least) this month so I wanted to tell you about them.

World War Z.
I first heard of this book about a year ago from an English teacher at my old school, HVA. I told her Matt liked zombies and she said she thought it was one of the best ones she had read. I wanted to get him something for being so supportive during my internship year. I am not too into that kind of thing, but I am getting close to have read most of the books in the house, and this one was still there. So I picked it up.

This book takes place after the Zombie War, also called World War Z. They aren't sure where it exactly originated, but a man chronicled several stories from all sorts of people from all over the world. He traces how it spread, what it was like, and how people began to eventually beat the zombies. Like I said, I normally would never think to read this, but it was very interesting. The individual stories are well written and it feels realistic (gawk). It is also being made into a movie starring Brad Pitt, so it will be interesting to see how it transforms into a movie. I believe he will be a character named Todd who is a soldier in the USA. We hear him speak three or four times in the novel, which is more than any other character. If someday we see that movie, I will review it, too!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
This is another book I would not usually choose to read. Last year I heard a lot about this book because it was the One Read for the city in 2011. (Columbia picks a book and there are several events and discussions surrounding it in late summer. I plan to read the book for this year next week called The Tiger Mom.)

This book is a biography of a woman and her family and also a biography of the famous HeLa cells that spawned great research. These cells helped scientists understand DNA, cell development, vaccines to different diseases and also why cancer cells continue to grow. The cells were taken without her knowledge in the fifties, and she died soon after from cervical cancer.  Because the cells were cancerous, they continued to divide indefinitely when in the right culture (kind of like food for the cells). Her family is generally uneducated and live in poverty. They never receive any royalties and go through a lot of turmoil trying to find out who their mother is. They are not aware of the cells until twenty years later. I cried at the very end, but I don't want to spoil it for you-so just go read it!

Have you read any good books lately?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Acrylics class and others

First off, I am listening to Pandora tonight while I do things around this house. This song just came on, and it is love.

Next, I just watched Iron Lady with Meryl Streep. I bawled my eyes out at the end, but it was a very moving film. I recommend it.  She is such a great actress! The movie follows Margaret Thatcher before, during and after her time as PM of England simultaneously through memories of her. She is quite old at the point of the movie, and she is struggling with hallucinations of her husband. At the end she finally packs up his things (after 8 years) and lets him go. She sacrificed so much of her own life in order for the better of the country, and what is typically seen as ambition. It really touched me for several reasons.

It feels like so many things are happening lately. School is coming to a close and I have been busy with that luckily while Matt is away. The dogs and I have had some good cuddle time though. We have been going on a lot of walks.  I also heard today from CPS and I will be going to Battle High in 2013. It is exciting to be a part of something completely new. I am also going to be teaching summer school in June. Matt and I will have one week off together before we both start work again.

 So, onto my acrylics class. I had a nice time! I took it through the career center here in Columbia. It was a small class of 6 people, and we met 4 times, painting something different each time.  We painted: still life, landscape, portrait, abstract.  For my first time painting something ever, I thought I did a pretty good job. I hope I continue to paint because I did find it challenging but enjoyable. I really liked doing the landscape best; the portrait was the most difficult by far. See what you think!

Another post to come this weekend about the wrap up of school, the most recent book I read and whatever else pops up!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Clark Gable

Today, Matt left for Israel. Well, really to New Jersey, but then to Israel on Sunday. Maybe I will have him do a guest post when he gets back about everything he did and all he saw. I've been reading two new books lately: World War Z and also The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lackes. Both are interesting and books that I would not usually read. I'll let you know my final thoughts on them once I finish.

I've been thinking lately about this song I love. It is called "Clark Gable" by The Postal Service. There is a line that I have always particularly loved:
"I want so badly to believe that there is truth and love is real/ And I want life in every word to the extent that it's absurd."
I often find myself humming and singing this song. It reminds me of the days when Matt and I started dating. I love it. Recently, as I was driving to school, another line in the song struck me.
"I know you're wise beyond your years, but do you ever get the fear/ Your perfect verse is just a lie you tell yourself to help you get by?"

Wow. I have a verse. That is my verse I tell myself to help me get by.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

Hello All,

Today is May Day! How exciting. We are not celebrating however. Matt had his first final of the week today. I am anxious that he is leaving and jealous also of his experience. I know he will have a good time. I just starting a job unit with the students at school at it is eerie that I only have 3 more weeks with the kiddos. A lot of trials this year but I know I will miss a lot of them all the same. I already have the jitters about next school year and this one is not even through yet!

I started a painting class and completed my first ever painting. I would say it is ok for a first time. It is a still life of a vase, books and candle. Wednesday we are going to do a landscape and I am nervour about that. I do not know what picture to choose. She said to pick one according to skill level, so something not too detailed. I will take a photo of all the paintings I do and post them once the class is completed.

Last night I finished up Pride and Prejudice. Several people just could not believe I had not read it, so I did. It took me awhile and I blame that on it being my first ever iPad reading experience. It just did not feel natural! And the iPad really is as heavy as a book! Today I started World War Z and I am not sure I will continue, but I will give you a review if I do finish. I am one book behind for April, so I need to get on it!

In other news, still battling the ants in the kitchen...
Also, I saw my parents last weekend and we went to the art museum. It was pretty cool. Check it out if you ever have a lot of free time-there is so much to see! Mummies, armor, cool furniture, waterlillies by Monet, pottery and several other nice pieces are all on display.

How are you spending your first day of May? I hope the weather is beautiful. I'm making vegetarian lasagna tonight or else I'd try for a picnic! Have a great day!