Masa Israel Journey Blog

Published : November 29, 2012
 
“Excuse me!” I screamed from the back seat of the Dan bus heading to Hof Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Beach, in Tel Aviv.  “Can you please turn up the music!?” 
“Mah?” the bus driver asked.  
 
Book bag latched onto my back, I ran to the front of the bus, and asked the driver—this time with hand motions and much more enunciation--to turn up the volume.  The driver smiled and turned the knob, while my friends and I attempted to sing the Israeli song we’d heard millions of times—without knowing any of the lyrics.
 
From the second I stepped off the plane from Atlanta and into Ben Gurion Airport, ready to begin my gap year in Israel through Masa Israel’s Bar Ilan Israel Experience, I knew that Israeli culture was perfect for me. 
 
Every goose bump on my body gave a standing ovation to Israeli music, every taste bud in my tongue appreciated the food, and I could push and shove just like the Sabras (Israeli natives).  
 
My favorite days on Bar Ilan’s Israel Experience were Tuesdays.  With only two morning classes, I really had time to soak up the best of Israeli culture.  
 
My friends and I had a tradition: after school, we headed back to our dorms, changed into our beach gear, grabbed book bags and towels, and ran to Aluf Sadeh to catch the 63 bus to the beach. 
 
After spending a few lazy hours on the shore, we walked to Shuk HaCarmel, first stopping by our favorite schnitzel place and then heading off to buy groceries for the following week.
We bought big, green, juicy apples for five shekel a kilo from a man named Nir when his boss wasn’t around, and strawberries from the nice old Arab man who always said, “Ayy Kapara Alaichem!”  
 
We knew to wait for that blessed time when the stand-owners were too tired to argue, but still had a few hours until they could close shop.  We always got the best deals on tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and lettuce. 
 
At 7pm, tired from our day of swimming and deal-making, we dragged our bodies to the Dan bus station, our bags filled with food.  In our hands, we carried a little bag of gummies for the ride.  
 
While educational in the classrooms, my life during my time at Bar Ilan University was educational in life as well.
 
During my time in Israel, I learned how to relate to people of different cultures even when we shared no common language. 
 
I learned how to enjoy life even while getting hopelessly lost in Tel Aviv.  Somehow, the closest friends I made were the random soldiers I sat next to on the bus and I learned the most about life in Israel from them.
 
During my last week in Israel as a Masa Israel participant, I got onto the 63 bus and shouted, “Slicha! efshar tagbir et hamuzika?”  The bus driver raised the volume and my friends and I finally sang the right lyrics to the song. 
 
Published : November 27, 2012
By Ittai Eres, Young Judaea Year Course
 
I hate onions. I really do. 
 
They sit on my tongue like coarse gravel, and biting down on them irks my teeth. Even handling them, with their crunchy brown shells on top of slimy white layers, gives me a teeny case of the shivers. 
 
That’s why I couldn’t help but let out a groan when, on the first Tuesday of Year Course, our bus came to a stop at an onion farm. The volunteer coordinator got on the bus and then told us that we would spend our day picking onions for the underprivileged, so that they could have food for Rosh Hashana. 
 
Charitable, but gross.
 
The coordinator from M’Shulchan L’Shulchan (Table to Table) told us that there were two things of utmost importance that day: we were not to eat any onions, and we were, under no circumstances, allowed to throw them. 
 
At the time, both requests seemed fairly reasonable to me.
 
For the first half hour, all I could do was grunt.
 
And groan. 
 
And whine. 
 
The sun was getting higher and the fields were getting hotter, and I had to bend over to pick up individual onions, and then they had to be carried in a milk crate to bigger milk crates a long way away, and they were smelly and I was getting sweaty, and it was early, and I didn’t wanna.
 
And then, as I bent over to pick up another onion, I heard something whiz by my ear and felt my hat plop off my head. 
 
I looked up, across the field, to one of my friends grinning and running towards the central onion receptacle. 
 
Like wildfire across an onion field, people began throwing onions left and right at friends and awkward first-week acquaintances alike. With the volunteering coordinator long gone, a plethora of onions, and the free shirts already handed out, there was nothing to stop people from going nuts.
 
When throwing onions (quickly) got old, we gathered around and replaced words in various book titles with the word “onion”.
 
 “The Adventures of Huckleberry Onion”. “The Old Man and the Onion”. “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Onion”. Of course, once we ran out of books, we moved over to songs. “Every time we touch, I get this onion”. “I kissed an onion (and I liked it)”. “Apple-bottom onions”. 
 
By the late afternoon, we were singing about how nobody could read our on-on-on-onion face on-on-onion faces. 
 
At one point, one of my friends stacked up several milk crates in order to deposit his onions on top of a stack, only to have the crates totter out from beneath him. He collapsed into a pile of onions and the whole field of people could not stop laughing.
 
It's two years later now, and that day is still one of my best memories from Year Course. 
 
Lots of things, both during my time in Israel and in life in general, start out rough and then end in joy. 
 
In some ways, that’s the story of the Jewish people. More than teaching me to expect things to get better, though, my experience in Israel taught me how to appreciate the rough parts of things. 
 
Even the start of the day, despite my moaning, had its own inherent value. 
 
Throughout the course of my year, I grew to love and appreciate the jagged edges Israel quite clearly has. 
 
Without them, the country wouldn’t be the amazing place that it is.

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