Friday, July 31, 2009

Kibbutz Lotan

"Eco-Volunteer" Josh and "the domes"

I just got back from a few days in the Arava Valley, a couple of hours south of Sde Boker. I stayed on Lotan, a small Kibbutz [50 members, 60 kids, 50 volunteers] located literally on the Jordanian border.

The Arava makes the high Negev [where I'm living] look luscious. Whereas we have some naturally growing plants here...the Arava Valley is significantly drier and more barren. On Lotan, for example, they haven't had any rain in more than 2 years.

Lotan is really cool. They run a "Green Apprenticeship" course 4 times a year, where people come from all over the world to learn about permaculture and green building techniques like strawbale and mud bricks. They also treat and recycle their wastewater [including that from the cow dairy] and compost their organic waste [including human & cow shit] to make mulch...which they then use. "Eco-Volunteers" live in a small neighborhood called "The Bustan," in geodesic domes insulated from the extreme heat by walls made from strawbale + mud. Lotan played a large role in the recent declaration by the Arava Regional Authority that the region will become completely energy independent.

For more photos, click here.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Kibbutz Sde Boker

Kibbutz "Caravans."

Yesterday, I thought I would head over to check out Kibbutz Sde Boker, the other settlement nearby. My [new] cousin Guy happened to be there for the weekend, visiting a friend of his and so I met up with them, for a brief insight into the world of Israeli teenagers. Aside from the fact that they all carry M16's [a constant reminder of their soldier status] hanging out with them was like being catapulted back into my freshman year of college.

Water resevoir outside of the Kibbutz.

Walking in the desert is crazy...there is barbed wire surrounding nearly everything. I guess I shouldn't be surprised, given that all the land in the Israeli Negev is owned by the government, and something like 2/3 of it is designated for mililary use.

After serving as Israel's first prime minister, Ben Gurion and his wife, Paula, moved to Kibbutz Sde Boker. Today, the house they lived in is a tourist attraction, and there is a nice park nearby with these cool reed-thatch-roof huts.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Nitzanim trip

Donna, Sarah, and the Mediterranean.

Last Friday I went to the beach at Nitzanim with a crew of people from Sde Boker. It was a great way to get to know some people from the Midrasha. I also got introduced to the awesomeness that is ultimate frisbee.

I didn't take many pictures, but other people did. To see Iara's pics, click here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

Tour of Sde Boker

I started taking some pictures around Midreshet Sde Boker (the town where I'm living), to give a sense of what things are like around here. (The photo above is of the house where I'm staying in.) I'm intending to add a bunch more photos (there are a lot of crazy experimental buildings and weird outdoor labs that might be interesting to see) but at least this is a start.

To view the photo tour (in progress) in Picasa click here.

In a nut shell, Midreshet Sde Boker (a.k.a Midreshet Ben Gurion) was inspired by the vision of David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, who envisioned a community that would bring scientists and educators to live and work in the Negev. (The Hebrew word "midrasha" comes from the term beit midrash, meaning "house of study;" it is a cognate for the Arab word "madrasah," but lacks the loaded connotations.) Famous quote from Ben Gurion: "We seek to build a scientific research and teaching center which will be a source of moral inspiration and courage, rousing people to a sense of mission, noble, creative and fruitful." Sounds good, huh?

To see what Wikipedia has to say about where I'm living, click here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Go Tel Aviv

Yesterday morning, I said good bye to my new family and took a sherut* to Tel Aviv.

*A sherut, or share taxi, is the only form of public transportation available on Shabbat. It is also an amazing example of the difference between how Israelis and Americans interact with strangers. First of all, a sherut does not run on a schedule, it leaves when all the (8-10) seats are full. (I can't imagine how impatient Bostonians would handle this.) Second, the way it works is that everyone gets in, the sherut leaves, and then everone passes their money up front to the driver, handing it off to the passengers seated in front of them. The driver makes change, which he or she (it might just be 'he'...I don't know if there are female sherut drivers) gives to the passengers behind him to pass back. I mean...can you imagine this happening on a bus in the North East? People trusting other passengers to take their money, give it to the driver, and pass back the correct change?! Crazy.

I spent my afternoon in Tel Aviv guessed it...the climbing gym. 'Performance Rock' -- a bouldering gym owned by they guy who used to run the rock gym in Portland, Oregon (small world) -- had good problems, cool people, and a good vibe. It took about 3 minutes of climbing before I met several climbers, who immediately started giving me beta on which problems to do. Before I knew it we were all projecting a very balancy v6 and collectively dreaming about going (back) to Squamish some day. (Oh...climbers are the same everwhere!) Suddenly...despite beging in the Middle East, I felt completely at home.

"Jew Cred"

I went to Israel for the first time this past March. After I returned home, my mom mentioned to her aunt, Ilene, that I had been traveling in the Holy Land. The next time that I spoke with Ilene she was (of course) thrilled that I had gone (as those of you with Jewish relatives can imagine) but also wanted to know why I hadn't contacted our family while I was in the neighborhood.

Family? In Israel?
I let her know that I meant no offense...I just had no idea that they existed. Well, they do, and before I knew it I was emailing Taly, who lives in Haifa. She assured me that she and the rest of the family were excited to meet me and that I should call as soon as I landed in Israel.

When I related this story to my brother, his comment was " in Israel. Well, I guess at least that gives us some Jew cred."

I did call Taly once I arrived and last week and she invited me up to Haifa to have dinner Friday night with her, her mother, Nahama, and two of her kids, Bar (16) and Guy (19). I took the train up to Haifa on Friday and Guy picked me up from the station (he's in the picture above, on the left.) He and his friend Daniel showed me around the city and took me to a sweet hummus place, and introduced me to a bunch of Israeli music.

At dinner that night, Guy and I made a valliant attempt to figure out exactly how we're related. Apparently my mom's aunt is Guy's grandmother's second cousin...meaning that we are only slightly more related than any two random people on the street...but hey, who's counting? Taly then told us all an amazing story about how, when she got out of the army and was living on a kibbutz, a relative contacted her about some other family member, Jeff (who Taly had never met) who was coming to Israel from the states. Jeff ended up staying with Taly for months and they got along really well and became really close. Months later, when they finally tried to sort out what, exactly, the familial connection between them was...they realized that they weren't actually related at all! Instead, Jeff was related to a friend of one of Taly's relatives. However, by that time she said it didn't matter any more -- he was (and still is!) part of the family.

Anyway, it was great getting to know everyone. And, 'Jew cred' or not, it's really nice to feel like I have family here.

Haifa cable car.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

desert panoramas

I couldn't resist posting a few more pics of my backyard. In the top photo, the building on the far left is the guest house where I'm staying. If you walk a little closer to the cliff edge, you see the view in the bottom image.

By the way, if you want to see a map of where I am, click here.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sde Boker

July 14th -- I made it to Sde Boker.
This is the view from my window.

Back in Israel

Eating Falafel in East Jerusalem.

So...I packed up my life in Boston and came back to Israel. I got on the plane and there was definitely a moment where I wondered to myself "what the hell am I doing?" Since at that point (i.e. after boarding the plane) it was a little late to be thinking such thoughts, I just distracted myself with the 3rd Twilight book and then went to sleep.

I woke up just before landing in Tel Aviv, got my stuff, and took a cab to my friend Zoe's apartment in Florentine. (I met Zoe on Birthright; she never went home.) We hung out at her place for a bit and then walked over to the beach, at which point any hesitation I had felt earlier miraculously disappeared. The truth is...Tel Aviv is a pretty easy city to love...and after 60 days of rain in Boston it's even easier.

I only spent one night in Tel Aviv, before meeting up with a bunch of MIT folks who are interning in Israel this summer through the MISTI program. I spent the past few days on a trip/retreat with all of them, travelling around the North, navigating a jam-packed schedule.

Highlights: Idan Raichel concert in Caesarea; Shabbat in Jerusalem; Church of the Holy Sepulchre (I didn't see any Christian sites last time I was here); discussion/forum with Israeli and Palestinian bereaved families, eating falafel on the street in East Jerusalem, talk by Dr. Rachel Korazim about the role of the Holocaust in Israeli society, German Colony in Haifa, talk on Israel's water situaion by Prof. Emeritus Uri Shamir, touring a biogas plant, and swimming in the Kinneret.

Fishermen and Oil Rigs in Caesarea.

Emek Hefer Biogas Plant.

Baha'i Gardens, Haifa.

The New

The Coliseum, Summersville Lake

Day 4: After 3 days of climbing at the Red, we took a rest day and drove to the New River Gorge, near Fayetteville, West Virginia. Here, we met up with Adam, John, and Sarah who drove down from Boston for the 4th of July. The showers at Roger's* were broken, so as any climbing bums would do...we went swimming. Summersville Lake is awesome and looks something like this:
*Roger's is another institution, well-known by most climbers who frequent the American South.

Day 5: Endless Wall
Honeymooner's Ladders:
Double Flat [5.9]
Snake Buttress:
Discombobulated [.10d/.11a]
(others in our party also did Legacy [.11a] and Baby Rage [.12a] at Kline Wall)
The Cirque:
Graffiti [.12a/b - tr]

Day 6: Sumersville
Perot Wall:
Talk About It [.10b]
Trigger Happy [.10a]
Narcissus Cave:
Narcissus [.12a - tr]
Reckless Abandon [.12b/c - tr x 2...but I really think I could send this with another day's work...]

Adam belaying Matt on Narcissus.

Adam on Narcissus.

Matt at the bottom of Reckless Abandon.

Day 7: Kaymoore [Butcher's Branch]
Springer [.10b]
Mo' Betta' Holds [.11 c/d - tr] This climb is awesome and has a 12' horizontal roof.
Kaos [.12c....ha....I tried to climb this and it was a disaster; it was also our 6th day of climbing...]

Unfortunately, the trip ended in an epic downpour that began the afternoon of the 4th and lasted through the night and the following morning. I say unfortunately, because this meant a very wet night of camping for all of us (which is never that much fun.) But all in all the trip was fantastic.

The Red

On June 27th, Matt and I left for a week long climbing trip in the South. First stop: Red River Gorge, Kentucky. Here is a picture of us brushing our teeth in front of Miguel's. For those of you who don't know, Miguel's is not just a place to's a bit of an institution amongst climbers: pizza place, gear shop, pre- /post-climbing training ground, and all-around for $2/night, you can camp in the goat field around back. (See photo below.) Note about the Red, and specifically Miguel's: Matt and I were the fattest, least in-shape people there...which, should give you a sense of the ridiculous amount of training that goes on there.

Day 1: Roadside Crag
(Some might say the Parking Lot Wall of the Red)
Trouble Clef [5.9]
Kampsight [5.9]
Pulling Pockets [.10d] -- (I thought this route was really fun)
Crazyfingers [.10c]
Ro Shampo [.12a] -- (which I somehow ended up climbing 3 times...none of them clean, but maybe next time...)

Day 2: Military Wall
Sunshine [5.9]
In the Light [.10c]
Fuzzy Undercling [.11b]
Tissue Tiger [.12b - TR]
Left Flank
To Defy the Laws of Tradition [.10a]
Matt also sent Wild, Yet Tasty [.12a]

Day 3: The Zoo
(We tried to go to the Dark Side but failed...twice. Long story.)
Chimp [.10b]
Jailbird [.10d]
Armadillo [.10d]
Put Me in the Zoo [5.9]
Hippocrite [.12a]
(I was quite proud of myself for making it up this one...given that it has an enormous dyno in the middle.)

Here's Matt looking up at the steep-ness that is THE RED:
And here's an example of the crazy pocketed faces for which the Red is famous: