Sunday, November 18, 2012

"... לא ימיש עמוד הענן"

Thursday night, 6:30pm, H and I hopped on his scooter for a night out in Jaffa.  A short drive from our home in Tel Aviv, we planned to eat dinner at a new kosher restaurant and wander through the charming city using a new app developed by a friend, we had just downloaded as our guide.  Fifteen minutes later, as we cruised into the northern edge of Jaffa  a warning siren blared through the city.  Cars and buses screeched to a halt.  People scattered, seeking whatever shelter they could find.  We jumped off the scooter and ran to a nearby alley and stood against the exterior wall of a large building.  Instinctively, I removed my helmet when I got off the scooter.  An Israeli man standing against the wall across from us yelled at me: "Put your helmet back on NOW!"  He was absolutely right; we were standing outdoors and no one knew where the rocket might land.  After several seconds we heard a large, terrifying explosion. The siren had been petrifying; the sound of the explosion was shocking.  I was no longer able to suppress my tears.  Thankfully, H remained calm, having been through experiences much more harrowing in the army.  We later learned  that the rocket exploded at the beach just outside of Jaffa.

This siren, lasting 90 seconds, introduced the people of Tel Aviv to the desperate reality experienced daily by 1 million Israelis living in Israel's southern communities and cities.  Over the last 12 years, Hamas and other terror networks in Gaza have bombarded southern Israel with nearly 12,000 rockets.  All the while, they continue to stockpile thousands of more sophisticated rockets.  In the last three days alone over 750 rockets have been launched at Israel.  In 2006, I led a solidarity mission to Sderot, a border town with Gaza, hoping that we would soon see an end to the rockets falling on southern Israel.  It is hard to believe that six years have passed and the situation has only worsened.  This, despite the fact that Israel unilaterally disengaged from Gaza in 2005.  It is clear that Hamas and its terrorist affiliates have been raining rockets on Israel with only one purpose: to destroy the lives of innocent Israeli men, women and children.  The recent escalation prompted Israel to launch Operation Pillar of Defense, an attack against terror sites in Gaza in an effort to protect Israeli citizens and destroy the terrorist infrastructure.

Our night out in Jaffa was cut short on Thursday.  After an uneventful morning Friday, we decided to take advantage of the good weather and attempt the walking tour we had missed the previous evening.  We grabbed our bikes and enjoyed a leisurely ride down the coast, with a brief interlude to wade in the refreshing Mediterranean water.  When we reached the northern edge of Jaffa we locked our bikes and headed toward our first stop.  Only moments later the warning siren blasted through the streets.  We rushed to find cover and quickly entered a small restaurant just a few meters from the shore.  Several seconds later we heard the explosion.  I felt the vibration of the explosion and knew that this time, the hit was even closer to us.  Emerging from our shelter, we discovered several police cars rushing to park right in front of us and immediately understood that they were collecting eyewitness accounts from the people beside us.  We listened as a man described watching the missile fall into the water about 50 meters from the restaurant where we took shelter.  Below is a photo of me standing next to the policemen as they try to catch a glimpse of the missile in the water.
The events of the last several days -missiles landing not just in the south, but also in Tel Aviv and even Jerusalem- have forced millions of Israelis to consider what life has been like in the south for over a decade.  Almost everyone I've spoken to, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, has expressed disbelief that the people of southern Israel have lived with this terror for so long.  Over the weekend several more sirens were sounded in Tel Aviv as several more missiles were fired on the city.  In fact, I was interrupted mid-sentence just now by a siren and a large explosion.

The Israel Defense Force is doing a remarkable job precisely targeting underground rocket launchers, terror tunnels, ammunition storage facilities, and senior Hamas operatives involved in terrorist activities.  Throughout this process, the IDF has sent over 12,000 text messages and dropped leaflets warning Gaza citizens to stay away from Hamas operatives and terror sites that may pose a risk to their safety.  

This video, in my eyes, captures the unique essence of the men and women serving in the Israel Defense Force.  The video and accompanying article are in Hebrew; here is my translation:
In one of the many incidents of Day 2 of operation pillar of defense, 3 israeli soldiers were wounded (-their injuries were designated as 'light' to 'medium'-) from a rocket exploding in the Eshkol region.  They were airlifted via helicopter to Soroka hopsital.  As one of the soldiers is evacuated, lying on the stretcher, you hear him ask the army doctor: "Where are my soldiers?"  It is clear from his voice that he has no strength remaining and it's difficult for him to talk.  The doctor reassures him that his soldiers are fine and that he should rest.  Unconsoled, the chayal (soldier) continues: "My wounded soldiers, two wounded soldiers, where are they?"  The doctor responds: "The commander of the brigade is there; don't worry."  The chayal insists: "Speak with the commander and confirm they're okay. are they missing fingers?  legs?"  The doctor finally reassures him once he has confirmed with the commander that his soldiers are fine and the wounded are being treated.

ומי כעמך ישראל
"And who is like Your nation Israel"
(Chronicles 1 17:21)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Yom Hazikaron

At 8pm Sunday night, a one-minute siren sounded throughout the country ushering in Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, in Israel. Yom Hazikaron is always an emotional and inspiring day, as the country collectively reflects on the individuals who were killed serving the State of Israel. Monday morning I went to Har Herzl (Mount Herzl, the national military cemetery,) to participate in the national ceremony, which is broadcast over the radio. I stood erect and silent, overlooking a portion of the cemetery, as a two-minute siren brought the masses of Israelis to attention.

As the siren sounded, I was struck, as I am every year on Yom Hazikaron, by the diversity surrounding me at Har Herzl. The cemetery is packed with hundreds of thousands of Israelis, many of whom are visiting the grave of someone they knew personally. I saw families and friends huddled by individual graves. I saw units of young soldiers, in uniform, crowded around the graves of their friends and fellow soldiers who were recently killed. There were religious Israelis, secular Israelis, young, old, Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews, people from every socio-economic strata. The army is an equalizer, bringing together Israelis from every strain, every background, every corner of the State and of the world. It is truly amazing to witness the unity that pervades Israeli society in mourning those heroes who fought, and died, for the State of Israel.

Though the number of Israelis who have lost their lives for the sake of this country, 22,684, sounds relatively small, in a country the size of Israel, it means that almost every Israeli family has either lost someone or knows someone personally who was killed. Even our prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, is from a bereaved family. His brother, Yoni Netanyahu, was killed in the heroic rescue of hijacked Israelis in 1976 during the Entebbe raid. During the national ceremony, Bibi spoke about his service in the most elite unit in the IDF, the sayeret mat"kal, and his recollections of holding his dying friend in his arms. I was struck by Mrs. Peretz, who, just a month ago, lost her second son, Eliraz, in Gaza. Mrs. Peretz was faced with the dilemma of which son's grave to stand by during the siren.

A mere eight hours later, the country transitioned from sadness and grief to celebration and joy as we celebrated Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Independence Day. I davened the special prayer service in honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut with hundreds of young Israelis, secular and religious, overlooking the Old City walls from a lookout point in Yemin Moshe, one of the first Jewish neighborhoods established outside of the Old City Walls in 1891. The tefila (prayer) was especially moving, accompanied by a keyboard, flutes, drums and harmonicas. With the powerful force of hundreds reciting Hallel together, we danced in circles rejoicing over the miracle that is the State of Israel.

My celebration was tempered as I realized I was standing behind Shaina Applebaum. Shaina Applbaum lost her father, Dr. David Applebaum and sister, Nava, on the eve of Nava's wedding in a 2003 suicide bombing. I was touched by this young woman's personal loss, and by our loss as a nation. The words of Natan Alterman's poem "The Silver Platter" ( raced through my mind. Our celebration is possible in this small country only because of the sacrifice of the 22,684 who have lost their lives.

And my heart sang as we declared together "זה היום עשה ה' נגילה ונשמחה בוThis is the day which G-d has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it."


Here's a guest post from my dear friend, Yael, about her experiences in Tel Aviv on Yom Hazikaron:

As I was finishing up a project on my computer, I happen to glance at the clock and see that it was 7:59 pm. It suddenly dawned on me that in one minute, the siren to commemorate the Israeli soldiers who died serving our country was about to sound. I quickly tried to shift mindsets from graphic design to the topic at hand and stood up just as the siren began. At that moment, I glanced out the window of my work corner to see a silent scene frozen in time. I live at the corner of a normally very busy Tel Aviv street. It is usually bustling with cars, buses, scooters and pedestrians. The rhythm of the AMPM (a chain of Tel Aviv mini markets) scanning machine has become part of the music that surrounds me in my apartment on a daily basis. But at 8:00 pm on the eve of Yom Hazikaron, I looked out of my window to see the AMPM gated shut along with the lights out on every single storefront on the street. An eerie darkness had settled over the almost empty boulevard. The two random passersby who happened to be on the street at that moment were frozen mid step standing in silence to remember. The scene moved me. It touched me to see how the daily grind had ceased in order to give the proper space for people to remember and pay tribute to the brave people who gave of themselves so that we can live in the country we live in today.

A few hours later, I walked over to Kikar Rabin to participate in the memorial concert that takes place there annually. The ceremony consists of famous singers performing songs and ballads of war that every Israeli school kid knows by heart. Interspersed between songs are the stories of soldiers who died in combat. The stories tell us about these brave men describing their beautiful personas both outside and inside the army. As I walked in the streets towards the memorial square, I realized I was being joined by masses of people. As I got closer, I saw that the masses were coming from all directions towards the square. The streets were quiet, there were barely any cars but there were people coming together. As I got to the square, I roamed around looking at the people. There were people of all age groups but the predominant strata of people there were the Tel Aviv Hipsters. There they were in all their glory, skinny jeans, Converses, Funky rimmed glasses, cigarettes in hand but they were there participating in the hurt that belongs to us all. While standing there, it struck me that most of these people were probably politically left wing and therefore most likely didn’t believe in the wars that were and are being fought but nonetheless they were there participating, absorbing the pain that is part of the fabric of our society.

As the stories of the soldiers came to an end, I saw individuals wiping away their tears and young couples holding each other tight. As we all stood together at the end of the ceremony singing Hatikva (Israel’s National Anthem), I heard the loud proud voices of everyone in that square come together. At that moment, I glanced to my immediate left and saw two Israeli women soldiers saluting as the anthem came to a close. Although we were all experiencing the loss, I felt whole.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

my sweet set of wheels

After almost four years of living in Israel taking buses, walking and hitchhiking, I decided it was time to purchase my own means of transportation. I rejected the car option out of hand. It seemed impracticable, expensive and a hassle. I watched my friends spend hundreds of shekels weekly on gas, circle for hours looking for parking, and wait impatiently in traffic at all hours of the day.

An adventurer at heart, the obvious option was a קטנוע, aka a 50cc motor scooter. The first task was obtaining a motorcycle license. Shortly after I made the decision to purchase a scooter, the Pope arrived in Jerusalem for a visit. His presence disrupted traffic and temporarily closed down several bus routes. One morning during his trip, after waiting for over a half hour for my bus to work, I thrust my finger into the street, hoping someone would stop for a hitchhiker within the city. Fortuitously, a generous man in his 70's pulled over and offered me a lift to work. As it turns out, Gabi was just finishing giving an American couple driving lessons. I ended up with a ride to work and a driving instructor who cut through tremendous amounts of red tape and expedited the process of obtaining a motorcycle license.

With license in hand, I was anxious to own a scooter already. I researched the various options and decided that buying second-hand made the most sense. I scoured websites and asked everyone I knew with a scooter about anything for sale. My Israeli friend, Prezman, an expert in motor scooters, graciously accompanied me on many trips to view potential scooters. He advised me on many such trips not to purchase the scooter for sale due to problems with the engine, the amount of kilometers, price, etc.

I had all but given up hope. The license was burning a hole in my pocket as I was still riding buses to every corner in Jerusalem looking for the perfect fit.

One day in the midst of searching, I was riding on the back of Prezman's scooter, returning from yet another failed attempt at purchasing a used scooter. We were stopped at a red light on a main street when Prezman said, "Becky, look, that's the exact scooter you want!!" I glanced to my left to see a Charedi (ultra-orthodox) man sitting atop a Typhoon 2006 gray 50cc scooter, the very model I wanted. "But Prezman, it's not for sale, and there's a Charedi man sitting on it, and the light's about to turn green!" I responded.

"סליחה, אדוני, אתה מוכן למכור את הקטנוע שלך? היא מאוד מעוניינת" ("Sir, would you be willing to sell this girl your scooter? She's very interested"), Prezman addressed the man. "Well, I hadn't thought about it, but why not?" the Charedi man responded. As the light was changing colors, he shouted out his name and his number, which I hastily stored in my phone. There's no way this guy is serious, I thought. And there's no way I actually saved his number correctly.

Nevertheless, I called him several hours later to follow up. I was dismayed to hear a generic voice-mail at the other end of the line. I left a message hoping for the best. Later that evening, Shimshon returned my call. The next day he brought the scooter over for me (and my friend) to check out. Prezman was shocked at its excellent condition, and its low number of kilometers, and strongly recommended I buy the scooter.

The following day I found myself in the post office with Shimshon in order to transfer ownership of the scooter. There I was, standing with a Charedi man whom I'd met at a red light on the streets of Jerusalem! While waiting in line, Shimshon and I exchanged a few words of small-talk and when he discovered I have no religious family in the country, he invited me to come to his family for Shabbat! Only in Jerusalem, I thought to myself as I drove away on my new scooter.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Take me out to the ballgame

Soccer is probably the most popular sport in Israel. Beitar Yerushalaim, the primary Jerusalem-based soccer team, has possibly the largest and most fervid fan base in the country. The Beitar website taunts viewers with the banner 'Welcome to Hell.' Indeed, Beitar fans have dubbed Teddy Stadium, where games are played, "Hell" because of the atmosphere they create for rival fans in the stadium.

The team was formed in 1936 by David Horn, the local chief of Beitar, the Revisionist Zionist youth movement. The youth movement was named after Joseph Trumpledor; it is an acronym for Brit Trumpledor (Covenant of Trumpledor). Joseph Trumpledor became a symbol of heroic Jewish self-defense when he died defending the Galilean village of Tel Hai. He famously uttered "Never mind, it is good to die for our country" in his last breath. This fighting spirit pervades Teddy Stadium during Beitar Yerushalaim soccer games.

On game days one is alerted by afternoon time that Beitar will be playing that evening as the streets and buses become increasingly crowded with fans sporting the team's yellow and black scarves. Earlier this year, I boarded a bus at Hebrew University and sat with a friend of mine, clad in black and yellow, who was en route to a Beitar game. As we wound our way through Jerusalem's streets I asked him about his loyalty to the Jerusalem soccer team, given the fact that he is from Haifa. My secular Haifa friend who is a member of the left-wing Meretz party told me that when he was a teenager he decided to be a Beitar Yerushalaim fan, despite its distance from his home and its reputation as being politically right-wing, because of his love for Jerusalem. I was moved by his devotion to our capital city, which defies logical explanation.

Last week I finally attended my first Beitar Yerushalaim game. I joined a friend and a colleague of mine who took his "Sports and Zionism" class to view the Zionist athletes in action. We chose to buy tickets in the section where the crazy fans sit, akin to the bleachers section at Yankee Stadium. It was an enlivening and wild experience. One of the most popular Beitar Yerushalaim chants calls upon G-d: "We are believers, the sons of believers. We have no one to rely on, except for our Father in Heaven." After watching the fans shout this tune with such fervor, one gets the sense that soccer, Beitar Yerushalaim soccer, has become their religion.

(Beitar fans waving the team scarf)
("We are believers, sons of believers...")
(Johnny- my student, me, crazy Beitar fans)
(Yael, me, Joanna- my student)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Partying with the President

Over the last two days, there have been grumblings throughout Jerusalem because of the disruption in traffic. Several main roads have been all but closed due to President Bush's presence in the city for the President's Conference, hosted by Shimon Peres. Friends of mine have sat in their cars for double the amount of time it should take them to get to work. Thankfully, I left my house early enough each morning to avoid the re-routing. I even enjoyed a surreal jog the other night down the middle of Keren HaYesod, one of the busiest roads in Jerusalem, as the street was closed to automobiles.

I watched the President's speech at the Knesset on television this afternoon. I am often amazed by a seeming dichotomy between the president's statements on "good" and "evil"- dealing with terrorist states- on the one hand, and his actions in attempting to broker a peace accord with the Palestinians, on the other. His speech today shone with a sense of moral and political clarity. The President said: "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before," referring to the Nazi's. And yet, President Bush has said that he hopes, during his current stay, to "shore up the faltering negotiations" between Israel and the Palestinians.

Six days ago, I received an e-mail from a good friend, Yehuda, who lives in Boston. I knew he would be coming to Israel for a visit this week, as he was to participate in the President's Conference. In the e-mail, Yehuda informed me that he had been invited by the White House to an exclusive party at the Israel Museum Thursday night and would be bringing me as his guest. I was obviously delighted; and immediately amused by Yehuda's inimitable way with words: "get out your sunday finest," he instructed me, "we'll be throwing back a few beers with the prez."

Indeed, I put on my "sunday finest" and got myself gussied up for what I was hoping would be a tete-a-tete with the president. Security was so thick that all of the guests had to first undergo a security check at a parking lot several minutes away, before boarding a shuttle to the Israel Museum. I met up with Yehuda and his father, the former United States ambassador to Israel. We boarded the shuttle bus, sitting a few rows behind Rupert Murdoch, and a few rows in front of MK Ophir Pines-Paz.

The party took place on the veranda overlooking Jerusalem. The views were magnificent and the party was elegant, although the brisk Jerusalem night air sent shivers down my spine. The food was definitely the most delicious food I have eaten in this country. Waiters streamed out of the kitchen with platters of fillet steak, short ribs, seviche, carpaccio, spring chicken, mushroom cigars, and other fine delicacies. Yehuda and I spent most of the first hour and a half stuffing our bellies with food while people-watching, as the party was attended by the who's-who of the Jewish world. At one point, I helped Ron Silver with his tea cup. Occasionally we found Yehuda's father, and were introduced to someone interesting.

After about an hour and a half, the President and several Israeli and American dignitaries and diplomats entered the veranda. I stood next to Tzipi Livni as President Bush addressed the crowd. Following his brief remarks, the President slowly made his way toward his awaiting limousine. There was a barrier, and Secret Service men, blocking me from the front, VIP group of people whom the President was greeting personally on his way out.

I tried once to edge my way into the front section, but was physically turned back by the Secret Service guard. Finally, when the guard was distracted, a few moments before the President had departed, I sneaked forward and squeezed through the gaggle of VIP's. I thrust my hand forward and shook the President's hand. The people who had greeted the President before me congratulated him on his speech and remarked about his trip to Israel. As the President shook my hand, I said: "Mr. President, mazal tov on Jenna's wedding!" Tickled, he looked me in the eye and responded: "Thank you! It was such a wonderful day!"

Traffic annoyances and policy differences aside, it was truly exciting to meet the President. While I didn't get to "throw back a few beers with the prez," I am grateful to my friend Yehuda, and his sweet and generous father for inviting me to an unforgettable party with the president.

(President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush)
(Fmr U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Jerusalem Mayor Lupolianski, my friend, Yehuda)
(The President)

(President Bush shaking my hand)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Im Tirzu Ein Zo Agadah

Theodore Herzl, credited with being the father of the modern Jewish state of Israel, ended his 1902 utopian novel about the Jewish state ("Altneuland") with the following line: "If you will it, it is not a dream." This axiomatic statement has become part and parcel of the Jewish people. Indeed, following Herzl's extraordinary efforts -though he did not live to see its realization- the Jewish state was established, the dream realized.

With the arrival of my parents and sister looming before the Pesach holiday, I couldn't contain my excitement. It had been several months since I'd seen my family and whenever we are together, we manage to seek out adventure and share many laughs.

During the week of Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days), we visited sites we had never seen. We traveled to the Judean desert, climbed Herodian and descended into the caves later used by those who participated in the Bar Kochba rebellion. We learned a great deal from (what turned out to be) a private tour hosted by Ir David of sites along the path from the top of Har HaZeitim (Mt. of Olives), descending to the Old City walls. We took in the excellent exhibit at the Israel Museum on Orphaned Art: Looted Art from the Holocaust. We visited the vast Tzidkiyahu's Cave near the Damascus Gate. We traveled around the northern Galilee, stopping in Tiberias, Rosh Pina, Tzfat, the Dalton Winery, and Haifa. My father and I even managed to take an accidental tour of Ras al-Amud (an Arab neighborhood deep in East Jerusalem).

The highlight of the trip, however, was definitely our annual visit to Hebron. As I described in last year's post below, we truly enjoyed the unique opportunity to tour the kasbah, which is not open to Jews during the year. We wanted to give my sister the chance to see and learn what we had learned during our previous visit.

This year, we chose to visit Hebron on the second day of the annual two-day festival. The second day is always busier because many big-name Jewish-Israeli bands perform in front of the Ma'arat HaMachpela. The tour was called for 12:30pm, which left us plenty of time to tour the various booths.

At 12:20pm, I heard a voice over the loudspeaker announce: "Unfortunately, the army has informed us that they are only able to take a small group on the tour due to security concerns. As a result, we will now be giving out tickets. You must have a ticket in order to join the tour." Before I could finish translating the announcement, a large and unruly crowd gathered around the announcer's booth, pushing, shoving and elbowing, in order to obtain tickets. My mother, father, sister and I decided to split up in the hope that we'd be able to penetrate the mob of at least 100 people.

After a few moments, I dejectedly gave up. It quickly became clear that the announcer would hand out a paltry 25 tickets to a clamoring crowd quadruple the size. I was disappointed with the behavior of those around me, and could not contend with the bigger men who neglected to notice my presence. I made my way to the back of the crowd, only to discover my mother busily fussing with something.

"Mom, I just can't get in there. What are you doing?" I asked. Almost too intent on what she was doing to look up, she briefly raised her eyes and responded in a hushed and mysterious voice, "I'm making tickets." Fairly confused, I asked again, "What are you doing?" Once again, my mother responded, "I'm making tickets," and continued to fold and tear thin slivers of paper.

The sight of my Mom, with eager and precise attention, crafting counterfeit tickets for a tour of the Hebron kasbah threw me into a fit of giggles. My sister, after a few minutes, also gave up and joined us in the back of the crowd. Similarly confused, she queried, "What's Mom doing?" Barely controlling my laughter, I informed her that our Mom was making tickets. Soon after, my Dad rejoined us and received the same explanation.

Moments later, those who had tickets set out for the tour. My Mom hurried us along and we joined the group, sticking toward the front. No longer laughing, I worried aloud to my mother, "What if the army discovers we have counterfeit tickets and arrests us?" My mother dismissed my unfounded fear and we carried on with the group.

At the entrance to the area of Hebron in which the kasba is located, there is a huge metal fence. An entire unit of Israeli soldiers, present to accompany and protect the tour, stood by the opening of the fence, letting one person at a time through the opening after taking their tickets. Somehow, my sister and mother managed to enter with their tickets, which resembled everyone else's. A few more people passed by, and then it was my turn. As my heart palpitated, I handed the captain my "ticket" and he waved me through. My father followed.

My family looked at one another with sheer astonishment. My mother, drawing upon her seemingly endless resource of ingenuity, had managed to get us in to the tour. We, once again, were moved by what we saw and learned in the kasbah- the homes that still betray evidence of Jewish ownership, the attempt by several European countries to invest millions of dollars in order to entice Arabs to settle in the kasbah, and so on. My sister particularly appreciated being there as she had not been present during the previous trip.

Herzl applied his bold dictum to founding a Jewish state. Pluck, persistence and a dash of ingenuity. For my family, on a much less grandiose level, "If you will it, it is not a dream" is now synonymous with my mother's concise response: "I'm making tickets."

(IDF soliders accompanying us through the Hebron kasbah)
(The commanding officer of the platoon of soldiers and me)
(Sarah, Mom, and I at the Israel Museum exhibit in Jerusalem)
(Dad and I at our hotel in Tiberias, overlooking the Kinneret)
(Dad, Mom and I at the Dalton winery in northern galilee)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Of Celestial Slopes

two weeks ago, following the snowfall in jerusalem, my friend from school, assaf, sent me a text message saying: "snow up north. we're going skiing on tuesday." not having a blackberry, or even the more traditional calendar, i made a mental 'save the date.' by the next monday i had forgotten that i was meant to be going skiing the following day. thankfully, assaf reminded me on monday, which sent me into a tizzy, scrambling for ski clothes and gear. he added a critical detail: "we're leaving at 3:30am."
since i had plans for monday night, i didn't have time to nap before the early morning departure time. it took all the energy i could muster to leave my warm apartment and brave the chilly night. i hopped into assaf's car at 3:30am. i had to stay awake until we got to tel aviv, where we picked up assaf's friend. from tel aviv to the kinneret, i slept for about an hour and a half. somehow, i suddenly woke up right when we hit the kinneret, only to witness the most magnificent sunrise. i made the boys pull over so that i could capture it on film. from the kinneret until we reached the hermon the scenery was too beautiful to miss and i forced myself to eschew sleep in favor of the gorgeous views.

finally, around 8am, we arrived at the hermon. the highest summit of the hermon is on the border between lebanon and syria, and under syrian control. the southern slopes have been in israeli control since 1967.
when we hit the slopes the conditions were optimal. it had snowed just a few days prior, it wasn't very crowded, the weather was pristine, and the views were simply spectacular. skiing is a frightful sport; for the relative novice, at least, it can engender feelings of utter recklessness and sheer exhiliration all at once. i hadn't been skiing in several years and didn't have high expectations for my skills or performance. shockingly, after a few practice runs i managed to improve markedly, hitting up even the black diamond slopes. the views were glorious and breathtaking. i'm pretty sure i now understand the etymology of the phrase "on top of the world" (-- some wise israeli, skiing on the highest slopes of the hermon--).
we ended the day by skiing down a slope nestled in the 'other' side of the mountain, two chairlifts away from the main slopes. it was quiet, isolated and all of my senses were alert. i couldn't help feeling there was something ethereal about the experience. we returned to the car feeling exhausted, but buoyed by our incredible day. we retraced our path down the loopy roads of the golan, witnessing a gorgeous sunset, to match the sunrise we saw on our way up.
(overlooking the golan, with miscellaneous snow gear)

(becky, tal, assaf on top of mt. hermon)

(view of the golan)

(tal, becky, assaf in one piece at the end of the day)

(sunset in the golan)