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Monday, August 4, 2014

70 Years on from Anne Frank's Capture ... Whats changed!? Tisha B'Av

Only a few minutes ago I read a tweet on Twitter which stated that it is 70 years to the day since Anne Frank was captured by the Nazis. In the last few weeks as Israel has finally and actively retaliated to the hundreds of rockets fired daily into Israel, anti-Israel protests around the world have taken on the guise of anti-semitic demonstrations. Germans calling for, "Jewish pigs to come outside and face them", French people demanding, "our return to the gas chambers", numerous others around the world aligning Israel with Nazi Germany and so on and so forth.

70 Years ago, Anne Frank was in hiding, 70 years ago to this day, she was snatched from her home and sent off to her death, and 70 Years on from such a tragic day, the last few weeks in Israel has seen the murder of 3 innocent Israeli children. If that wasn't enough, since then, 64 innocent souls have been killed whilst fighting for the existence of our homeland, a war we never wanted, but one that was waged because our enemy refuses to believe in the right to our existence. And yet again just last weekend, one more soldier was captured, dying in the process.

This really sent shivers down my spine, I really question whats changed in the last 70 years.  Perhaps anti-semitism was subdued for a while but it is now seemingly returning as a result of Israel's actions and Israel's obligation to protect its citizens. Within the time it has written me to write this blog, I also tweeted, "70 years ago today Anne Frank captured by Nazislast few months 4 kidnappings of Israelis/anti semitism on rise RT". The Tweet has already been met with responses to the affect of the IDF is a nazi army and therefore we are deserving of this. I look all over my news feed on Facebook and its full of rallies and demonstrations, in which the chant, "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free"is chanted harrowingly by thousands of people. Most of them probably not even fully understanding they are calling for the complete annihilation of the Jewish people. It really makes you wonder ...

In my opinion the future is a sad one, anti-semitism has now reappeared, (i don't believe it ever really went away), and the only stronghold we have is Israel and thank god for it. Israel will protect Jews and Israelis all over the world. They have warned Europe that should they fail to protect Jews, they will not hesitate to do the job for them. Within a few hours the fast of Tisha B'Av will commence. The day in which we commemorate the destruction of the first and second temple and a day which is considered to be the saddest day in Jewish history, as numerous tragedies and massacres occurred on it. And most recently, a day in which a terrorist in a tractor overturned a bus killing one person, and a terrorist on a bike shot at a soldier. This fast I will be thinking constantly of how thankful I am that we now have the most amazing, beautiful and powerful state of Israel to call home. Thank God we have the IDF that fights for us, protect us and allows us to be Jewish. If it wasn't for Israel and our amazing defence force I really wonder what state the Jewish religion would be in - and unfortunately, i don't believe it would be a good one!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Attending a Funeral of a Brother I Never Met - A New Hero in The State of Israel

The last few weeks in Israel the mood has undoubtedly changed. Since the IDF launched its ground operation in Gaza 32 soldiers have been killed in action. 32 individuals who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the state of Israel, 32 future families around a Shabbat table, 32 friends, brothers and fathers who will know longer grace this world with their presence. Everyone is feeling the grief and there is definitely a somber mood in the air. Streets and bars which are usually full are increasingly empty, work places are suffering a lack of business and also a lack of employees as many of them were called up for reserve duty to defend the State of Israel.

Last night I made the decision that I would answer the calls of numerous people to ensure that Max Steinberg's funeral was well attended, to ensure that this 'lone' soldier was definitely not alone in his death and that his family who travelled from America felt the loving support of Israel which becomes ever clearer whenever the security of our state is threatened. I didn't know Max, but after hearing a number of obituaries on him at his funeral I feel that I do. Steinberg who made aliyah from America made the decision to pick up shop and leave everything he knew back home in order to defend the state of Israel. Following his birthright trip he fell in love with this land and upon his return set the ball in motion, planned his return to Israel and his enlistment into the IDF. Max was just a normal American kid who played baseball, football and soccer, he enjoyed listening to Bob Marley, a recurrent theme throughout his eulogies. Given that he made the same move I am  currently making I know that had I of met him we would have instantly shared a common bond. Our shared desire to serve and protect the state of Israel and put our lives on the line to fight for Israel's right to exist.

Max like many other lone soldiers before hand, (Michael Levin in particular) pushed hard for what he wanted. He knew that he wanted to be in the Golani Infantry brigade but when told his Hebrew was not good enough for such a unit he defied time and time again even stating that if he wasn't to get into Golani, "It would be jail, or home". Eventually, his persistence payed off and he got into the elite Golani 13 Infantry Brigade. The pride he felt at that moment will be the same pride I hope to experience in the next coming months, when I hope I receive a combat profile and get into a combat unit. His drive and persistence saw him all the way through his combat training where he was awarded a number of certificates for being a stand out soldier within his unit. Max was already proving to his brothers in arms the commitment he would eventually show on the battlefield, the same commitment that would end up costing him his life.

The sign on Max's grave reading "There is no such thing as a lone Soldier in Israel" May Max Rest in Peace

Hearing Max's parents speak I learnt that he had called them on July 19th at 4 am in the morning. He informed them that he had already been into Gaza and that a tank he was in had collided with another. Him and a number of other people from his unit had suffered injuries, some more severe than others. Max required medical attention but told his parents that although he was sore, "He had to get back to the action and get back to his friends". This was Max's last selfless act before he was killed in action. His determination and drive to serve and protect sent him straight back into the field with an injury in order to help his fellow soldiers continue in the war effort. His return to the front killed him. Max's death was not in vain, he died to ensure that the people of Israel can live free, free of terror, free of rockets, free of terrorists and free of tunnels buried under our homes. MK (Member of Knesset) Dov Lipman, summed this sentiment up beautifully in his eulogy to Max. He stated, "Your son is a Jewish and Israeli hero" - firstly he saved lives, he saved the lives of millions of Israelis under threat and secondly, "he was a newly found hero of hundreds of thousands of young Israelis and millions of Jews around the world, causing young people to refocus on what is important in life". He turned to the parents and siblings of Max and told them to look around, "tens of thousands of people have come in their masses to pay respect to their new hero. Max has helped rekindle the zionist spirit which helped give birth to this state". I don't believe there is any better way to put it than that. Max is a hero, I hear from friends that when in the army, serving alongside Israelis, often the lone soldier in the unit helps them to understand the importance of this state, to remind them that zionism is alive and that there is a reason to protect this country. 30,000 people attended Max's funeral, the vast majority had never met him and now never will but it still stands - he will be engrained in all our memories forever. I will think of him when I become a soldier as I will think of others like Michael Levin whose stories touched me and meant something to me.

Whilst I stood amongst the graves of hundreds of other soldiers who had given their lives for the State of Israel, I felt it important to look at the graves right next to me and to remember those fallen soldiers as well. It just so happened that the one grave next to me was that of Roi Klein. To many people his name probably means nothing but I remembered reading his incredible story and realised that I was surrounded by heroes, each one of them taken too soon, each one of them with their own story, their own future which they never got to play out. Roi Klein died in the 2006 Lebanon War when a grenade landed near his unit, without any hesitation he jumped on the grenade reciting 'Shema Yisrael' and shouting "long live Israel". In this selfless and heroic act he saved everyone else in his unit by taking the full blast of the grenade, all a day before his 31st birthday. I think this story shows the difference between an Israeli as a human shield and Hamas' version. In Israel photos are appearing all the time of Israelis protecting and shielding babies during sirens, becoming human shields to protect someone more vulnerable whilst in Gaza people are complying with Hamas' command to run onto buildings or to accept that rockets are fired from within hospitals, schools and mosques. This dichotomy between our people, and theirs, sums up the situation here. Israel breeds heroes, Israel preaches love and life whilst our enemies call for our deaths and their citizens deaths. All I know is, it is our strength, our love of life, our heroes like Max, like Roi, like Michael and the thousands of other soldiers still fighting for us today that will ensure our continuity. With 30,000 people attending one soldiers funeral, displaying signs saying "There is no such thing as a lone soldier in Israel", this war is only serving to make the ties between everyone here stronger. We aren't going anywhere and the quicker people get used to it and accept it the quicker they can benefit from the amazingness that is the state of Israel.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Life Under Fire And A War We Never Wanted

Given the nature of my last blog which discussed the terrible tragedy of our 3 murdered boys, things in Israel have taken a downward spiral. I hoped my next blog would have been about moving to Ra'anana and beginning the next chapter of my life before my army draft - although the current situation cannot pass by without mention. I haven't written thus far about the situation as it has taken a while for me to grasp the gravity of what is occurring in Israel and around the world and so needed time to process my thoughts and feelings, which are all over the place at the moment.

I will start back on the first day when rockets were first fired by Hamas into Tel Aviv - July 8th. Whilst this date was the day that Israel launched Operation Protective Edge against Hamas following increased rocket attacks from Gaza it was also my 23rd birthday - and one that will not be forgotten in a hurry! Whilst sitting on Rothschild Boulevard with a friend, our conversation was interrupted by the wale of air raid sirens. At first I thought it was just an ambulance passing by on the street but quickly noticed people running to find the nearest shelter and followed suit. This was my first day as a 23 year old, the first day I experienced an air raid siren and the first time I had to run for my life. It was a strange moment where actually I felt more Israeli than ever. I experienced what life is like when Israel is under threat - I was no longer an English university student standing up for Israel back in Leeds, I was no longer an advocate on twitter using #StopTheRockets from the safety of my university room, I had now experienced what it felt to hear the siren, acknowledge you have a set amount of time (around 40 seconds) until those rocket land or thankfully get intercepted and to experience and hear the sounds of panicked people all around me. It might seem weird to some of you that I consider this a point where I felt most Israeli, but I guess you have to understand that this is a common occurrence in most Israelis life, especially those living in Sderot or other southern Cities. Until you've been here and experienced it for yourself, I don't think you can ever understand it. In true testament to Israeli's within a few minutes the fiasco was over, I returned to drink my milkshake and it was as if nothing had ever happened.

The next few days my alarm clock became the air raid siren as Hamas targeted heavily populated areas during rush hour, around 8am in the morning. Along with numerous other war crimes and strategies employed by Hamas ... this in itself should be a sure giveaway about Hamas' tactics to target civilians. On one of these days I didn't manage to get out of bed in time and get to my shelter. Before I had woken up enough to realise I  had arisen to the sound of the siren, I heard and witnessed the interceptions from my bedroom. They were right overhead and my building shook. Within a few minutes people were telling me that one of the intercepted rockets landed at the end of my street. During periods like this in Israel I become guilty of living on my phone and tweeting everything I can about the situation. I walked up the road and sure enough there was a large fragment from a blown out rocket which had been fired minutes earlier by terrorists in Gaza. Had it not of been for the iron dome my building could well have suffered a direct hit. Perhaps something even more shocking and I honestly believe is nothing short of a miracle is that the fragmented rocket landed in a gas station and hit just below the fuel tanks, would it have been only a few inches higher it could have caused a massive explosion. The sad reality which I have come to realise is that at least in places like Tel Aviv where the iron dome has longer to calculate and make successful interceptions, thank God we are fairly 'safe'. Yes we have to run to shelters, yes the stress of running and thinking twice before venturing outside, and once being outside thinking about where the nearest shelter is should a siren occur is stressful, and by no means the way anyone should have to live, but thanks to Israel and their desire to protect its civilians, I feel safe here. Yet, it is this safety which in my opinion actually fails us when it comes to world opinion. If Israel did not invest in the Iron Dome system and didn't invest in bunkers for us to run to I dread to think how many deaths there would be within Israel. And please remember given the nature of Hamas' indiscriminate firing it wouldn't just be Jewish Israeli's who would die, it would be Christians, Palestinians, Israeli-Arabs, tourists, left wing peace activists and right wing supporters, and every other denomination who would suffer casualties and deaths. At least then we would have a reply to the ever questioned 'proportionality' which the world constantly bombards Israel with.

Below are a number of photos I took showing the interceptions above my apartment block on a number of different days... There is more of the blog after so continue reading.

I think in general world media is somewhat more in our favor than it has been in the past but the world itself has taken an ugly turn towards Israel. The amount of Pro-Palestinian and Anti-Israel (and in many cases purely anti-Semitic) rallies that are taking place around the world is a very scary and very real prospect. Videos from France, Germany, Turkey and yes even England make the reality of the war we are fighting far more real. These rallies which are supposedly calling for peace are full of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric. I find it very interesting how violent many of these protests have been whilst supposedly advocating peace in the Middle-East. It seems the Free Gaza notion is merely a cover up to call for the destruction of the Jewish state and an end to Judaism in general. These protests cannot be ignored in fact Jews all around the world need to pay very close attention to the situation around them and rally even more for the State of Israel - the ONLY place in the world where Jews can turn to. With swastikas being daubed on houses in Jewish areas in London, with a pro-Israel supporter being beaten up at the rally in London and with numerous other violent attacks including the burning of Jewish shops and synagogues in France, only reiterates the necessity for the Jewish state, the only state that defends Jews openly and in any way it deems necessary.

A lot of people have been asking me how I feel about joining the army given that the IDF currently finds itself fighting a war. The honest answer is I wish I was already there. I wish I was stood next to my friends who are currently there, side by side, brothers in arms. Knowing I have already made the decision to be a fighter in the IDF makes everything that is about to come a mere formality, the truth is I already want to be on the ground and making a difference, protecting my friends and them doing the same for me. Whilst this is probably hard for my family to read it is the 100% truth. Having around 9 friends currently fighting in Gaza, putting their lives on the line for me to sit safely in my room in Tel Aviv makes me feel helpless. Knowing that my best friend is fighting an enemy who wish him dead is a scary thought and my mind is constantly thinking about him, others that I know and every other soldier who is doing the same.Going to bed I fear the news I might read in the morning, waking up and reading a headline which speaks of clashes and gunfights in which deaths and injuries have occurred and all I can do is sit and wait for names to be released hoping that it is not someone I know is a terrible feeling and something which almost every Israeli now faces everyday. The death toll on both sides is terrible ... any deaths are terrible, but unfortunately it is an expected and tragic outcome of war. The type of war Hamas likes to fight involves the use of human shields, using civilians to protect their weapons and launch sites. In my opinion Hamas knows they cant win a war against Israel in terms of fighting them off, winning the war for them means utilizing human shields effectively so Israel accidentally kills as many Gazan's as possible, thus turning the world even further against us. Hamas are masters at PR manipulation, even when their leaders are openly talking about how effective human shields are the world still seems to focus on other things which portray Israel in an evil way.

My desire to join the army and fight for what I believe in is stronger than ever. Am I scared? Yes... I would be a fool not to be, 25 soldiers have lost their lives since the start of Operation Pillar of Defense. A devastating figure for Israel. But am I sure that this is something I need to do? Absolutely, of course, 100% yes. Israel needs its ambassadors overseas but it also needs some of them to come here, to put words into action and to help defend the land you fight for back home. This threat wont go away, it will continue, and I don't see the situation getting better any time soon. I hope the loss of lives ceases on both sides but at the same time I hope that the IDF don't stop until Hamas are dismantled,  maybe then Israelis and Gazan's can live peacefully without opression from such a disgusting, hateful, terrorist organisation.

Tonight I will go to sleep with a heavy heart and saying another prayer for the soldiers of the State of Israel, I hope you do the same. They need all the help they can get.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Simply Broken ... A nation mourns the loss of 3 innocent souls. Togetherness is our future.

The last few weeks in Israel something hasn't been right. A sense that something was missing hung over everything. Travelling to Jerusalem meant seeing the faces of three young souls on buses or on banners, overhearing peoples conversations about our boys and what might have happened to them was commonplace, sitting around the table with my cousins it was the main topic of conversation and all of this whilst knowing some of my best friends were working tirelessly day and night to find Eyal, Gilad and Naftali. Many of them not having slept properly for days whilst putting their own lives at risk to bring about their safe return. The knowledge that some of your best friends are actively carrying out missions and arresting convicted terrorists meant always thinking about them and praying for their well-being as well.

When the news broke about the Kidnapping Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, outside the parents homes and everywhere else throughout Israel to pray in their thousands for the children's safe return. All Israelis share in the understanding that there is a constant and ever present existential threat and so, when something of this nature and of this magnitude occurs it affects everyone. This scenario is different however, whilst I of course cannot condone any form of kidnapping, the kidnapping of three innocent CHILDREN whose only crime was being Jewish, Israeli and trying to make their way home to spend Sabbath with their family is simply incomprehensible. That three children became pawns in Hamas' sick and twisted plan to wipe out the Jewish Nation simply and utterly disgusts me. To think that whilst over 30,000 people gathered at the Kotel to recite Tehilim and share in the nations grief without knowledge of what was to come, indicates the sense of togetherness Israelis share when bad things happen. Seeing the tough exterior which Israelis so often hide behind come crashing down in a flood of tears showed the real, genuine and heartfelt compassion that all Israelis have and share towards one another. The tears people shed were real, these were tears shed and spilled from genuine sadness and sorrow. All the while, on the other side of the spectrum Palestinians were seen celebrating, handing out sweets in the streets, creating a new 3 finger salute and manipulating common images such as the World Cup logo to resemble 3 hands capturing 3 children ... our children. Words cannot describe how sick this makes me feel! How can a people rejoice in the kidnapping of children, celebrate their supposed 'success' against the Jewish State and be so cruel and hateful that they would walk in the streets handing out sweets and parading their 3 finger salute?!!? It makes no sense to me.

All the while I would sit at home, waiting for news, checking English news outlets and seeing how our 3 kidnapped children were supposedly, 'missing' or 'lost' 'Settlers'. By now I am fairly used to media silence and manipulation but everyone around the world, mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, knows that taking any child is cruel and twisted. Somehow however, when it comes to Israeli children or Israelis in general the world manages to fall silent, and if not silent at least manage to manipulate the story which portrays these children as 'deserving' of their plight.

On Sunday night, thousands of people gathered in Kikar Rabin in Tel Aviv, once again to show their solidarity and support and stand shoulder to shoulder with the amazing mothers of Gilad, Naftali and Eyal. The mothers of these children are the strongest people I have ever seen. How they managed to speak out and stand up for what they believe and not just be a bundle of tears I will never understand. Someone somewhere was giving them amazing courage, perhaps it was the knowledge that the whole of Israel was behind them and that there family had grown instantly by the millions or perhaps something greater ... nonetheless, the strength they posses is simply astounding. Unfortunately however, no amount of gathering or prayers saved Eyal, Gilad and Naftali.

Last night they were found, brutally dumped in a ditch not far from the spot from where they were trying to get home. They lost their lives due to the terrorism and hatred which occurs on a daily basis in Israel and which the world somehow turns a blind eye to. The people the world forces us to negotiate with have proven and shown time and time again that they are not capable of talking nor are they capable of negotiation. All around the world the sentiment "We do not negotiate with terrorists" is echoed by world leaders, and yet, it is those same leaders who force Israel into ever increasing failed peace talks. It is time the world acknowledged the fact that Hamas, an internationally recognised terrorist organisation is calling all the shots (quite literally). One thing we wont let them win at and which they also are not capable of is instilling terror into Israelis. Am Yisrael Chai is just as present now as ever, the bond that links us all is strengthened at times like this and so, with that, we wont be struck with terror, we wont fear Hamas and their disgusting perverted way of achieving their dream of cleansing the Jewish state from the river to the sea. But we will stand here, we will stand here united and we will conquer, as we have done time and time again. This became even more evident to me last night, when upon hearing the news I decided to head to Kikar Rabin. Arriving there at 9:40 some candles had already been lit and a handful of people had gathered to sing songs, 4 hours later, and hundreds of people came together to mourn the loss of the brothers they never knew. Sooner or later news crew and press were on the scene and the crowd was growing. I felt privileged to have been one of the first people there and witness people stop whatever they were doing, watching the world cup, having a beer and so on in order to mourn and grieve together. To cry, sing and support each other no matter if they were religious or non religious, left or right wing - it simply didn't matter. People were getting up and speaking and after a while I plucked up the courage to say something in front of such a big crowd. I said something along the lines of:

"I made Aliyah almost 3 months ago, the day after Yom Haatzmaut. I am joining the army in November and that they should all know that Zionism still exists, that Am Yisrael really is alive and that just this summer alone over 320 lone soldiers are coming from around the world to give their lives for the state of Israel because of it. Seeing everyone gather here today gives me the power for the move I am about to make and the knowledge that when I am in the army I am able to protect Israel and allow people to gather here again but on happier occasions means the world to me"

People applauded me, thanked me, hugged me and at that moment in time I knew like those mothers that I was also part of this family. This support network which may not always see eye to eye but when needed comes together in the most beautiful, spectacular and meaningful way possible. It is this family mentality which Israelis have that makes the grieving so much more real, we are all grieving the loss of a friend, brother or son. But more than that, Eyal, Gilad and Naftali all resembled a future generation, the future of three separate Jewish families who we will never know. I still cant believe this has happened, it genuinely hurts and pains me to think what those boys must have gone through in the lead up to their brutal murder. God knows what the right and next move is for Israel to undertake, what I do know is that Israel wont rest until the people that perpetrated this act of terror will be brought to justice and I await this day.A further sentiment from last night which was mentioned by a crying mother and deeply touched me is as follows. Through clenched fists and a face full of tears a mother got up to speak, yelling saying as a mother she is embarrassed for everyone that was sat around singing last night, that 3 beautiful innocent children had to die for us to come together no matter what side of the religious spectrum we are on and sit around and sing songs together. What she saw she said was beautiful and it was something she wish she saw every night, in happier times and bridge the divide between different people. Another person also commented that when we all first arrived lighting the candles was difficult as the wind kept blowing them out but as the crowd grew in numbers and in strengths sooner or later all the candles from nearby supermarkets were bought and hundreds of candles have been lit and aren't going out, when we stand together, not even the wind can stop us. Both these small speeches touched me incredibly and all refer back to the main point of this blog. AM YISRAEL CHAI ... togetherness is our future and we need to work constantly to maintain it and not just come together at the saddest of times.

For people living in Tel Aviv - the group that got together last night are getting together every night to sing and light candles in Kikar Rabin for the Shiva and I highly recommend everyone go.This is the link to their Facebook group

Below are photos and videos (click on the blue wording below) from Kikar Rabin

Shema Yisrael Elohai
Acheinu with a growing crowd ... incredibly powerful

Photo: People gathering in kikar rabin to remember our fallen boys
When I got there only a few people were sitting and  a few candles were lit


Sunday, June 15, 2014

A Month on from Aliyah, the Final stage of the first stage and the sad reality of living in Israel

This blog will touch on a number of things ... whats happened in my life a month since my Aliyah, the final seminar for Garin Tzabar which I just attended this weekend and the sad news of three missing Israeli teenagers and my thoughts on it.

So, now over a month on since I became an 'offical' Israeli Citizen, honestly, not much has changed. I managed to get a job at a local frozen yoghurt/ice cream place called Anita which I will be doing till August when I will join my Garin in Raanana. Anita has 3 branches in Neve Tzedek and one directly opposite my house in Florentine... pretty convenient. The shifts are fairly long but I enjoy working there as it keeps me busy and the people are friendly. Again, in true Israeli fashion, I have been invited for Shabbat dinners by a number of the workers and Anita herself! One of the biggest changes I have noticed in myself is since working here and using my Hebrew on a daily basis, I am far less embarrassed to talk and make mistakes whilst speaking which has meant my Hebrew has come on leaps and bounds. Weirdly, I now find myself thinking and counting in Hebrew so its clear some sort of transition is happening.

Day to day work as always can be fairly monotonous but one day at work really touched me and I hope the sentiments of it will stay with me forever. Having just served a number of soldiers from the Iron Dome unit their yoghurts (one of whom was a girl from America and a participant of Garin Tzabar), I proceeded to serve an American tourist who offered to pay for all of the soldiers yoghurts. Having told him that they have all already payed he refused to accept it and proceeded to pay them all back for their food and asked me if soldiers come in often as he wanted to leave a large sum of money behind the till to deduct whenever a soldier wants anything. Quite honestly at this moment I was really moved and touched by the genuine, kind and heartfelt gesture of this tourist who felt that paying for all these soldiers was the best way he could give back and show his gratitude. It helped me see first hand how much people really appreciate the guys and girls on the ground that work day and night ensuring everyone's safety (something even more evident with the current situation which I will touch upon later). Whilst at the moment money is hard to come by, I know I will do my best to try and help a soldier in what ever way I can. And when money hopefully isn't as tight I hope I will do the same as this tourist, as I could see how touched these soldiers were and its moments like that which I am sure make the hard and lonely nights more than worth it.

Another night at work I met a family from England who moved to Israel a number of years ago, one of their sons did Garin Tzabar, after talking for a while and explaining the new system and that I will be living in Raanana, they told me that they too live in Raanana and would love to have me round for dinner or should I ever need help, support or food to just let them know. The hospitality out here and growing understanding of the issues lone soldiers can face is really evident and people really do want to help. One last anecdote from work and I promise ill move on! The other night I had the pleasure of meeting an amazing guy from England, he came into the shop with his wife and friend and was incredibly funny and outgoing. When I took my break they still happened to be sitting outside and so he engaged me in conversation asking what I am doing here, after explaining i'm joining Garin Tzabar he told me about his sister who just so happens to be doing Garin Tzabar at the same time as me but is on the European Garin with a number of my friends. After a number of jokes and a pretty hysterical conversation (was nice to be around some English banter) I added his sister, Emma Myers, and since, we have been speaking a fair amount and discussing our journeys, dreams and wishes for the army. She has tough competition for my friendship as her brother is pretty awesome although she seems great as well and I am looking forward to meeting her soon. Garin Tzabar really is a framework that brings people together and I look forward to meeting her along with her friends on the garin and my current friends who are in it. The prospect of meeting so many new people all doing the same thing as me from all over the world is incredibly exciting and special. This story leads me perfectly onto summing up the last seminar in the preparation stage of Garin Tzabar.

I honestly cannot believe that I have finished the last stage of the preparation process of Garin Tzabar. All that is left is the absorption period which is from August 13th-November which is most likely when I will draft. Things are really steamrolling ahead and I am really excited for whats to come.  More new people joined onto our garin and have fit into the mold perfectly! Our garin is continuing to go from strength to strength and I cannot wait to make the big move and begin living with my new family. This seminar was perhaps the most important of all of them as we underwent an interview by a member of Garin Tzabar and an officer from the army. I entered my interview much more relaxed then I thought would be, all thanks to my improved confidence in speaking Hebrew. I was asked a number of questions relating to my family, myself, my reasons for wanting to join the army, medical conditions and so on and so forth. I was very happy with how the interview went, I was able to conduct it entirely in Hebrew and express myself easily and coherently. The seminar itself focused on providing us with more information relating to the absorption stage of the process. We were introduced to Raanana a bit more and how it would work. The time and effort into ensuring our garin is comfortable in Raanana is really impressive, a number of shops have already offered to give us discounts, including local bowling alleys, shopping centers and so on. It seems like the residents and the mayor, who left us a perosnalised message, are really excited to be hosting us and are undertaking a number of initiatives to welcome us and ensure our time will be as trouble free as possible!

 Like all previous seminars, a lot of emphasis was put on team work, and building the garin. On Friday night we had an activity which forced us to take a step back and reflect on everything. We entered a candle lit room with chilled out Israeli music. Around the room there were a number of thought provoking questions for example, what do we want to leave behind before coming to Raanana, what is our biggest fear about the army etc. After going round the room and writing down our answers we then had to sit down and write a letter to our selves which we will receive on our draft date and a letter to the garin. Thinking about how I will be on my draft day was fairly intense ... I always think about being a soldier and being in the army but never about that moment where it becomes real, where I go to Tel Hashomer, hand in my civilian clothes, receive my army uniform, board a bus and start my army life. Being in a situation which forced me to reflect on this scenario really hit home. Every seminar and every activity during them is planned so meticulously and its obvious why each activity is done and why they do it when they do it and how they do it. A further ulpan test was given which would determine whether we would need to go to the intensive 6 week ulpan course, we found out if we will in the coming days. This seminar also had a lot more free time than normal which allowed us to all get to know each other in a more relaxed and informal way rather than planned activities. The end of the seminar had us all reflecting on the journey we have already come on and the journey which we will continue to undertake both individually and as part of a garin. Our leaders for this part of the process said there farewells and let us know that should we need anyone to speak to regarding anything that they would be there to help and I truly believe that. They made us room tags to hang on our doors and a number of other things for us to use as a garin. The job they have done and the effort they have put into running our seminars is greatly appreciated by everyone as without them the Garin would not be as close as it is.
My room name tag with the infamous marshmellow!

My Garin (minus a few) and our leaders ... my new family. Im on the front row 2nd from the left.

It is safe to say the Marshmellow Garin is only going to go from strength to strength and I am really excited to see what the future holds! I am ready for the next step and am excited its just around the corner!

Unfortunately I have to change the tone of this blog post now as I want to speak about the recent kidnappings of three Israeli teenagers. On Thursday night three teenage yeshiva students were making their way home from Yeshiva for shabbat. Attempting to hitchhike home they ended up being kidnapped, most likely by Hamas. This terrible news hits home even more today given that it is Fathers Day. The parents of these innocent children are suffering so much right now not knowing the whereabouts of their children and so we should all spare a thought both for the children, their parents and family. It is times like this that you see more than ever how the population of Israel is one big family, people are saying extra tehilim and are meeting at the Kotel in their thousands to pray for their safe and speedy release and everyone is rallying behind the army, police, intelligence forces and the families themselves in support. It is amazing to see and I pray that we find them soon, safe and sound and that the terrorists who committed such a terrible crime are apprehended. What shocks and saddens me even further about this whole situation is that Palestianians are celebrating in the streets and handing out sweets whilst calling for war in order to stop the IDF finding these children, a truly terrifying and disgusting prospect that people celebrate such a disgusting act. This to me is a true insight into the war we are fighting and the type of people that Israel attempts to negotiate with on a daily basis to no avail. Of course so far the English medias coverage of this situation has been fairly thin but I am sure in the scenario where the IDF has to carry out any attacks it will be quickly reported and distorted. To help, spread the news, let people know about these 3 innocent teenagers before the world hears a different story, tweet using the #BringBackOurBoys or #BBOB, make facebook status' and talk to people. It helps! Its times like these and times where attacks are occurring all around Europe which just ignite my passion to go into the army and protect the Jewish people. We need Israel and Israel needs us to support it, defend it and if necessary fight for it. AM YISRAEL CHAI.

Wishing you all a good week and praying for their safe return.

Peace and Love,


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut ... A truly mind blowing experience ... oh, and i made ALIYAH!

I really don't even know how or where to start writing this blog post ... the emotions I have felt over the last few days have been so incredibly powerful and overwhelming, I will try and encapsulate them within this blog post but it will be hard.

On the night of the 4th is the start of one of the saddest days in Israel, Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day).Yom Hazikaron is a day which affects every single Israeli in a very personal manner - given the minute size of Israel and given that joining the army is compulsory, every Israeli knows someone who was killed, either in military service or in terrorist attacks. This fact makes the night of the 4th and the day of the 5th a truly sad day within Israel. I attended a Masa Ceremony in Latrun, a place infamous for a number of battles between the IDF and Jordanian forces. The ceremony was put together extremely well and the Israeli scouts who performed were unbelievable. The ceremony focused on people who came from abroad to Israel and payed the ultimate sacrifice during their service in the army, of course something which resonated with me more than ever especially given the choices I am making at the moment. It very quickly hit me that this time next year, I will be one of those soldiers, putting my life on the line for the Jewish state, just like all those before me. The emotions I felt and the thoughts that went through my head were extremely powerful. At no point was I nervous, hearing these stories of fallen soldiers, instead I was proud, proud that I could finally give back to all those soldiers who have been killed in order for me to live where I am living today, proud that I will finally wear the same uniform that those who have passed wore and proud to fight for a country which I and all those before me truly believe has a right to exist. I wrote this Facebook status following the ceremony ...

"Tonight and tomorrow is Yom Hazikaron. Remembrance day for all those who have lost their lives serving for Israel or in terrorist attacks. The ultimate sacrifice has been made by 23,169 Israeli's who perished in order to ensure the future of the Jewish state which I now call home. Being at a ceremony tonight and marking this incredibly emotional day for Israeli's was extremely poignant for me given that I am currently in the process of making Aliyah (Moving to Israel) and if all goes to plan, this will be my last Yom Hazikaron as a citizen as next year i will most likely be a solider on base guarding the flame that burns in order to remember those that fell. I thank those that gave everything for the future of the Jewish state and I am proud to say that if all goes to plan I will finally be able to give back to you and ensure the continuation, security and survival of the Jewish state for years to come. YIZKOR"

The following day, still Yom Hazikaron, I walked to Rothschild Boulevard to hear the 2 minute siren that blasts throughout Israel. The siren allows everyone to take 2 minutes out of their day in order to commemorate those who have perished. No matter what people are doing, driving, walking, drinking in a coffee shop and so on, everyone and everything stops. Cars stop in the middle of the street and the driver gets out and stands, everyone in the coffee shops stops their chatter and stands, everyone throughout Israel at the same exact time completely stops to remember the brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, children, cousins who have fallen. It is an amazingly powerful experience, and once the 2 minute siren ends, normality ensues. In those 2 minutes I believe I see exactly why the Israeli people are so special. During the siren they grieve and once its over its as if nothing happened, Israeli's are experts at just getting on with life and I respect that a lot. I recorded the 2 minute siren as I believe it is very important for people around the world to see. Whilst i faced some criticism from people for not being respectful, I explained why I had done it and that it is important to show the world this side of Israel. I have since been proven right and have had a number of non-Jews write to me telling me how powerful it was to see how everyone stopped to respect the fallen. For me, that shows the importance of the video I took because if I have changed even one person's view, which I know I have, then that's a good thing for Israel. I wont post the video on here in case it will offend others, but rest assured that the video was taken with the utmost respect and with only good intentions at heart.

My cousin called me during the day and offered me a ticket to the Yom Haatzmaut ceremony on Har Herzl later that evening. Given that this is a free, invite only event, I jumped at the opportunity to attend such a prestigious night - the official ceremony distinguishing Yom Hazikaron from Yom Haatzmaut, highlighting the transition from a genuine grief and mourning to genuine joy and happiness. The ceremony started with the entrance of the flags of all the units of the IDF, Shiri Maimon a famous Israeli singer performed the song Et Pree Ganech absolutely beautifully. Every time I listen to it i get goosebumps. You can watch her performance here and here is a link to the lyrics . Whilst she was singing I was almost moved to tears. Over the last day the emotions I had felt were so empowering it really solidified my decision and made me realise just how much I want to pursue this dream and give back to the State of Israel and all of its fallen soldiers. The ceremony continued, paying particular focus to the role of mothers and women within Israeli society. Along with a number of Flag processions and performances and other moving musical interludes, the way in which the somber atmosphere changed to one of joy, pride and happiness was mind blowing. People so quickly go from grieving the loss of a loved one to celebrating the existence of our state. The two go hand in hand, this country is supported by those that gave their lives to allow it to exist, it is a simple fact that if these people had not served in order to defend Israel, it would not exist. Therefore, come Yom Haatzmaut it is time to celebrate, to prove to those that perished that it was not in vain and that the survival and the continuation of the Jewish people rests in our hands and next year, rests in mine.Perhaps one of the more powerful moments of the night was at the end where everyone ran onto the square and started dancing, young and old, soldiers and civilians, professional dancers from the show and ... me, with two left feet. Everyone shared in the collective happiness and it was amazing to see! One of the moments that really touched me is when I saw a young Israeli soldier girl take the hand of an old Israeli man and start dancing with him, the happiness on both their faces told a thousand words. Another amazing moment was seeing a group of Israeli soldiers start dancing and taking photographs with a young child in a wheelchair. He was elated to be surrounded and dancing with Israeli soldiers and yet in this moment these amazingly revered Israeli soldiers, showed how they were just normal Israeli teenagers who just want to have a good time! I cannot fully express the dichotomy between the transition form absolute sadness to contagious happiness but it is something I implore every Jew, in particular, every Zionist to experience.

Firework and Soldier Selfie with the Cousins
I came back to Tel Aviv that night and couldn't stop talking about the ceremony, describing the dancing on Har Herzl and people couldn't understand how people were dancing in a cemetery right by Herzl's grave. This never really crossed my mind at the time and when I had a second to think about it, I truly believe that dancing in the square leading up to Herzl's grave where the ceremony took place is the ultimate realisation of his dream. Everyone at this event was a true zionist, a true believer in the existence of the State of Israel, how better to thank Herzl himself by showing him his legacy lives on. This thought empowered me even more, there really is no place like Israel. It might be hard here, but its home, and everyone really is family here. Once I arrived back to Tel Aviv I met up with a group of my Garin and went around Tel Aviv to different bars. The area I live, Florentine, was packed, you literally could not move. It was a great night. The next day I woke up and went to see the Fly-by at the beach. Unfortunately, the sky was extremely hazy but one could still see the aircraft's over head. Every time they flew by everyone cheered them on ... a moment where you truly feel the support Israel has for its army/air force etc. and a real show of strength. The beach was absolutely mobbed and everyone is happy, and drinking and having a BBQ right at the start of the day. From the beach I made my way to two different street parties, both of which were extremely fun. I had my fair share of meat and alcohol and celebrated like a true Israeli for the rest of the day!

Street Party! 

Me and Maya from my Garin

Me and Alec from my Garin and WUJS Girls

This blog post has taken me a while to write because i have been trying to really think about how I feel with everything and I still dont believe i have got everything down, but i can tell you that the day after Yom Haatzmaut became the day I became a real Israeli. After sitting in Misrad Hapnim for 6 hours i received my Teudah Zehut! I became Israeli! My dream is now real, I will be fighting for this country, I will serve it and I will protect it. Nothing helped me come to this decision more than Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut. Words cant describe the feeling here, i can only tell you that you have to come here and experience it for yourself!!!

Wishing you all the best and looking forward to writing my future blog posts for you! I haven't said much about making Aliyah because for me it was fairly straightforward but I will touch upon it and how I feel to be Israeli in future posts!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Penultimate Seminar

Wow ... What a few weeks its been since my last post, I celebrated the Jewish holiday of Pesach with my family, just finished my third and penultimate seminar of the Garin Tzabar program and have just had my last Yom Hazikaron as an Englishman and civilian.

So ... Pesach (Passover), was really amazing. All my family, including both my sisters husband's came out to Israel. We had Seder night in Jerusalem with almost all of my Israeli cousins and it really was a very special night. My Grandpa got to see three generations recounting the story of Exodus from Egypt and the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery and I know both for him and for everyone around the table, seeing how we all interacted as cousins living in different countries was perhaps the most apparent form of the freedom of the Jewish people today. I got to spend a lot of quality time with my family and it was a real pleasure to have them in Israel with me.

Last weekend I attended the third seminar of the Garin Tzabar program. Unlike the other seminars which usually start on a Friday, this seminar started on Thursday when we were taken to a forest up north to camp over night. After a relatively long delay and being stuck in traffic we arrived at the camp and wasted no time in cooking 'Poyke', essentially a 'throw everything in a pot and cook' on a bonfire dish - which always tastes delicious. Each garin had their own poyke and we sat around the campfire talking, relaxing, eating and generally enjoying each others company. We were told to go to bed relatively early as we would be up for 6:30 to go on a hike, ending at the Kinneret. We hastily went to bed and then ended up staying awake for a while sharing funny stories and having a good time - a lot of jokes were had. The next morning we went on a hike, it wasn't a challenging one but gave us all a chance to speak to each other and continue the bonding process. We finished the hike in a cemetery overlooking the Kinneret and heard stories of a few people buried there (2 soldiers in particular), we were given a few minutes to walk through the cemetery ourselves.  Upon finishing the hike we traveled to Givat Haviva (where our first seminar was) for the weekend.
Our pots of poyke! 

Friday was a relatively relaxed day as we were tired from the early wake up (what are we all going to do in the army!? ). We had our first Garin Ma'agal Shabbat in which we were all given one sweet and each color of the sweet corresponded to a different preset question which was given to us by our leaders. The questions varied from a challenge or something hard we had done in the last week, something funny or weird that might have happened and so on... The Ma'agal Shabbat happens every week and gives the garin an opportunity to share their experiences from the previous week in the army - the whole idea is to ensure everyone feels comfortable opening up and venting frustrations, hardships and also the good things that happened. In the evening two people from my garin ran an activity which was extremely fun, very humorous and at times somewhat vulgar ... think challenges with cucumbers and bananas and i wont say anymore - and no its probably not what your thinking.

View on the hike of the Kinneret
After that we were told to get some sleep because again we would be woken up at 6:30 in order to go on a 5K run. We were not best pleased. We tucked ourselves into bed, told our 'bed time stories' as usual and then suffered a rude awakening at around 1 in the morning. Our madrichot (leaders) had tricked us and actually came to wake us up in the middle of the night banging and screaming at our doors and telling us to get ready as quickly as possible and get outside. We were walked to the basketball court and split into our garins, we were then blindfolded and our hands were tied to one another and were told to keep quiet ... something I seem to struggle with. We were then led throughout the Kibbutz over and through certain obstacles where team work was the aim of the game. Being blindfolded and having to keep quiet, we all had to help each other and guide each other so no one would fall and trip or get lost. We ended the activity after what was perhaps half an hour and were walked to a bonfire where we were officially 'welcomed' to Garin Tzabar. We sat around with marshMELLOWS (private joke) and awkwardly sang songs from the 90's. One word of advice which I learnt at this bonfire ... try to refrain from peeing on it to extinguish it ... pee vapor really isn't a pleasant smell. To our delight we were allowed to go to bed and were told that we would not have to be up at 6:30 but actually had a sleep in till 10:30 ... a much needed rest.

The following day we had some more bonding activities and activities that got the garin thinking about different scenarios we might come across and how we might best overcome them. Each seminar deals with something specific and really helps you come to the point where you are as informed as can be about your decision to join the army and that you are comfortable enough with your decision to rely on it at times of need in the army. The way each seminar gets people to open up more and more about all of their feelings is really important, the army is definitely something you cannot do without a support group and given that we are all here without our immediate families it is imperative that we are all as comfortable with each other as possible and feel confident enough to speak freely.

The biggest news that came out of this weekend is where our garin will actually be living! After much hearsay, and my prediction that we will be living in a City as supposed to a Kibbutz ... my assumptions were correct. Garin Tzabar have created a new initiative whereby they are creating a complex of 3 apartment blocks and green areas which will house 5 different Garins (My Israeli Garin and the other, 2 Russian Garins and the American Post College Garin). The complex will be located in Raannana a city which is in the Central District of Israel and is bordered by Kfar Saba and Herzliya. Upon first hearing this news I was very disappointed. I had got myself excited to live on a Kibbutz, after seeing how friends live on a kibbutz, enjoying the scenery, relaxing with little distraction, being with only your garin which help you through the process etc. it was a shame that I would not be able to experience this. After having 1 year on Year Course (during my gap year) living in tower blocks in Cities in Israel, and then going to university living in halls of residences and then having lived in Tel Aviv in tower blocks for a year by the time I join the Garin I was very much looking forward to getting away from cities and having a much more earthly experience. I also feared that with so much else to do outside of the complex (being in close proximity to Tel Aviv etc), and with so many other garins around us, that this would lead to the demise of our Garin. On a Kibbutz when there is perhaps one bar to go to and only your garin you have no choice but to bond and spend time together - in Raannana however, I fear this wont be the case. There was of course many questions, some for and some against the idea and a long question and answer session ensued. The reasoning behind this new project is actually fairly simple and logical ... when people serve in the army all the way in the desert and there Kibbutz is all the way in the North with one bus every blue moon, people drop out of the garin and move to cities ... Garin Tzabar feel that in order to combat this and in actual fact keep Garins closer together, by putting us in a central place whereby its easier for us to return on our weekends off base, then the garin will naturally stay together. I can only hope that with their vast experience and knowledge they are correct! After splitting off into our garins we all aired our opinions on the matter and I have warmed up to the idea somewhat ... ultimately, for me, I want to be wherever my Garin family is because these are the people I want to have support me through what will be the hardest years of my life and wherever they are I want to be. I believe our garin is a truly special one and the bonds we all have are real and strong and so, we should be able to stick together and not succumb to external distractions too much which allows the insular, family setting to fall apart.

All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable seminar and I am really excited to see what the future holds. My next blog post coming up will be about my amazing and emotional time over Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut.

Hang in there, its coming right up!