Archive for the ‘Stories’ Category

Broken Nails

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

There is a readiness here, a warming wave of welcoming that simmers under the surface of many people here in Roma, and all that is needed to draw it out is a few words of kindness, a humble jumble of words in Italian spoken with respect if not correctness, or a smile as you walk through open doors. The people here have a kindness in the color of their eyes or the corners of their mouths that spills forth with only a few gentle prods, and for some people with no prodding at all.

I have had a lot of conversations with people here in Roma, total strangers, conversations I started or entirely unwarranted communication that fell into my lap like a small, but confusing present. I speak a little Italian, enough to get by, but no where near fluent, but I try. Trying, to try, provare, is key in Italy and I suppose any foreign country where you do not speak the language. But I am trying, every time I walk in a store, buy food at the market or in the grocery store, I try a little more. As my vocabulary and confidence increases so does my understanding of not only the language but the people.

I stood laughing in the rain today at the absurdity of the bounds of kindness that complete strangers will extend to me. It was nothing really big, and in large part I am sure it was just them doing their job, but still it was a strange moment born from kindness and the building of relationships between total strangers.

I am traveling to Budapest, Vienna and Prague in two weeks and so I have been desperately searching for a good pair of boots for the snow. However, this is a more difficult task than it appears for two reasons: One, everything in Italy is EXPENSIVE. Two, I have very small feet but very big calves so most boots will never fit me. So today a friend and I went out to wander Rome and find boots. I hopped from shop to shop, trying on a multitude of shoes, speaking broken Italian to try and ask for the smallest shoe size time and time again unsuccessfully. Finally I found my way to a small shoe store with three Italian women chatting at the counter and rows of nice Italian shoes lining the walls. I browsed the store and decided to try on some of the shoes and explained my plight to the woman working with me. She and I together found a pair of boots, but as always my calves were too big for them to fit properly, but the woman was bound and determined to help me.

She got on her hands and knees and tried to help me zip up the boots. When she failed, the other two women came over and asked what the problem was. Then they too joined the first women and all three Italian women worked together to make me fit into those boots. With a jumble of harsh Italian murmurings, a lot of effort, and four women working together, we got the shoe zipped up.

Sadly even though we got it zipped up, it didn’t quite fit right but still, when the battle was over the four of us sat in the store smiling and talking about the effort in Italian. The owner of the store held up her hand to me to show me she had broken a nail in the battle, the casualty of war. Even though she held the broken nail delicately in front of her face, a smile clung to her face and a brightness in the corners of her eyes that seemed to collect in the lines made by smiles both present and past. We all looked at her broken nail and in a mixture of laughter and apologies I thanked her and headed out of the store into the rainy cobblestone streets.

Standing in the streets with the rain coming down, thinking about the strange battle that had just occurred, my friend and I stood laughing in the rain. I couldn’t believe the effort and the dedication of total strangers to try and help me out when I was feeling desperate and hopeless. What a strange world, what a bizarre experience, and I am thanking for every moment of it. Thankful for every cobblestone in the street, every stranger that smiles or says hello to me, but most of all, thankful for all the broken nails that were lost in the battle to help me fit into a life that felt impossible to achieve.


Posted in Stories, Travel Updates |

Beheld in the Eyes of a Storm

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

Yesterday was a magical day. It would be easy to say it was because we saw some incredible things. We saw the Coliseum, the Roman Forums, Circus Maximus, and the Pantheon in a single day, but that wasn’t even what began to make this day so special. It was a collection of small moments of awe filled wonder that took my breath away with their sheer magnitude, even though the moments themselves were fleeting and gone in a blink of an eye. It was the very thing that ruined many peoples’ day that for me was the source of true majestic wonder. That thing, the ruiner of a tourist’s day, but the maker of epic grandeur that can even surpass the majesty of epic timeless wonders of history, was the weather.

Yesterday I survived my first Italian storm. Twice in one day, the storm created an evanescent moment of beauty that took my breath away.

Two of my roommates and I voyaged far from our home in Prati yesterday to go to Circus Maximus where we went on a guided tour of Ancient Rome, graciously led by one of the professors at my new university, Professor Corrado. It was sprinkling the whole hour walk over there, and when the tour began the real storm rolled in behind us. The sky darkened and the wind blew clouds past us so quickly it was almost frightening. Then as we were hearing about the old chariot track that Circus Maximus used to be, the torrential downpour began out of nowhere. We all quickly continued walking, huddling under umbrellas attempting in vain to stay dry as it began to rain even harder. The walk between Circus Maximus and the Coliseum was a crazed rush of pounding rain and lightning. Lightning struck right near us and thundered deeply in addition to the rain as we hurried to the Coliseum. Many people abandoned ship and left the tour for drier and warm places, but we decided to hang in there and continue despite the storm. Many tourists had left the area because of the storm, but we stayed and listened to a talk about the Coliseum in a brief hiatus of rain.


We moved all around the ancient ruins, seeing one amazing monument or historical artifact after another that truly was impressive. But the moment that left me breathless came once the tour had finished, and we left behind the crowds for our walk home. Every day to get to class we not only pass the Vatican, we also must cross the Tiber River via a beautiful bridge that overlooks a grand castle. I say this casually, but the walk to and from school everyday is always a staggering event filled with amazing sights at every corner.

This day however, was a different day, this was the day of a storm. Just as we reached the bridge the storm broke for just a second overhead and sun shone through in the rain, creating a double rainbow perfectly arching from the river over the castle. With rain still falling and rippling the water of the great Tiber River below, but the sun shining brightly on the bridge and the castle beyond, it was astonishing. My housemate and I stopped in our tracks and just stared at it, not sure whether to take pictures or just bask in its beauty. We opted for photos so that we could prove that it had indeed happened since it was so magical.


I felt like crying it was so beautiful, so perfect, so pristine and even though it was fleeting and gone in a matter of a few short minutes, it was a moment I will never forget. Pictures cannot capture the actual bewildering beauty of the moment and just how special it felt, but they will have to make due.

IMG_8776 IMG_8773

The rainbows cut the sky in half, dividing into light and dark, the sky darkened with storm clouds, but the first rainbow seemed to cradle the castle below its multi-colored wing, covering it from the storm and casting light across it. Everything stood still in that moment, even the traffic had stopped because people had started stopping in the middle of the road to get out of their cars to take pictures of the beautiful scene.


But just like that, it was gone. Faded back into darkness, a moment of color and light swallowed back up into the very storm that allowed it to exist.


We continued on, shell shocked by how unbelievable the moment had been. We made our way to the Vatican after that because we had decided to attend 5:30 Holy Mass. Needless to say the Vatican was incredible, the marble exquisite and incredibly grand.


The service was very interesting because it was all in Italian and I actually managed to understand most of it.

Ecco, l’agnello di Dio.

At the end of the service, it was again the storm that was the added detail of the day that struck my heart. The bolts of lightning that flashed outside illuminated the windows of the Vatican from the inside and the thundering claps that followed them shuddered the Vatican. As we left after the service a bolt of lightning fractured and split like the branches of a tree across the sky of Saint Peter’s Square followed by a huge clap of thunder.


Humility; the subject of the sermon at the Vatican and subject of my day. I stood on the marbled steps of the Vatican, having just exited St. Peter’s Basilica and looked up at a sky lit up by electric fire. Nothing makes you feel small, humbled, and profound quite like lightning. Standing in a torrential downpour on the steps of the Vatican with our faces turned skyward beholding the natural wonders of a storm touching ground before a temple of God. Humble to my core. Being humbled by my experience in Italy, this amazing blessing I have been afforded. Being humbled by the amazing moments that I was lucky enough to have witnessed and been able to appreciate. Those precious fleeting moments that show the true Italy with the veil pulled back from its beautiful natural face even if it be the fierce face of a storm or the colors of a rainbow doubled in a dark sky. Bit by bit, I am beginning to know the face of Roma. Bella Roma, beheld in the eyes of a storm.

Posted in Photos, Stories, Travel Updates |

You Found Me

Friday, August 30th, 2013


The tremulous touch of God’s presence is the palpable essence of electricity in the air before lightning touches the barren earth and thunder roars across the sky. This was what I felt when I encountered you. The hair raising slowness of breath when one encounters the Divine. Yet you, the unassuming, the plain, the patchwork pattern of a human being, knew not what was hidden behind your graying cataract eyes. Could you possibly have known? Could it possibly have been you? Cross knitted eyebrows and deeply etched forehead disguised in the baggy weightless clothing of a man lost under his own skies; I found God.

I suppose it took me a while to get to this point. I looked and searched for where it was that I found you, made up my own stories or even pretended I never felt your touch, but now I see with eyes wide open when it was that I saw your face truly for the first time. It was here. Tel Aviv, Israel, lost in the whirlwind of pigeons taking flight, creatures finding their wings, that I first encountered the divine. It may sound silly or even slightly deranged, but it is true, maybe even the truest part of me, that has seen within the faces of ordinary men, the image from which we were created. Felt the lightnings grip grab hold of my heart strings and play my soul like a harp into the deafening thunder of life’s storm. This was the first.

Another day in Israel. I walked in a huge group of my peers and as we moved on from one place to the next I noticed the swarm. The ebb and flow of flight and earth, of nourishment and hallowed hollowness. A man stood in their midst throwing crumbs to the birds who encircled him. He, the host of these winged creatures, the eye of the storm. In the flight of the birds he looked up and gazed right at me. Out of the entire group of forty, I was the one he locked eyes with and I felt the staggering weight of a gaze I could not hold.  I thought him homeless, and when he stopped what he was doing to make his way to where I stood, I felt as if I could not breathe. That if I could hold my breath long enough, I could stop the world from spinning, could stop his feet from moving, but he knew the path he had to travel whether I willed it or not. I was afraid of the stranger who approached so directly, who stared deeply into my eyes without ever knowing me, but some how, unwavering and unquestionably he knew. I was afraid as he came so close, and I knew not what to do or where to turn. To shout? To retreat? To escape this force of nature bound in the humble being of this man. I did nothing. I stood still, wired by his electricity that only I seemed to see.

He came to me with open hands, he came to me and called me mother, sister, daughter, he called me home. He looked into my eyes and told me that here, here I would always have a home. He told me he would give me the shirt off his back. He told me that he had nothing, but would give me whatever I asked. He told me I would always have a place to rest my head. He told me that I was home. Why? Because we were family. Because we all were tied beyond the binding of blood, bound by our utter being. We are one, we all have the same Father, and he his son and I his daughter.

He did not even know my name, yet he offered me all he had and beyond that, he offered me what he knew would and always had belonged to me, love. He offered me the obvious, the object of my desire that I had time and time again always failed to see. An eternal love that was beyond me, beyond him into the electricity of non-being.

His gaze never left my eyes as he offered, as he gave, as he sacrificed, as he begged me to understand. I didn’t. Days, weeks, months later, I didn’t understand. But now, now I finally think I am beginning to understand what it was his aging eyes begged of me. He was asking me to come home.

I had long ago lost the way, found myself in a dark wood where the forward way was lost with no Virgil to guide me. I had wandered into the desolation of my own accord, blaming the world, blaming him, and not understanding that through it all and finally at the end of it all, it was Him begging me to come home.

He was not homeless. He had a home that was open and welcome to all who cared to stop and listen to his kind empathetic words. He was direct and almost frightening, but only to the eye that knew not what he was. Strength is frightening, especially when we are so weak, but that does not make it cruel. He seemed a beggar because he was. He was the father begging the son to come home. The mother begging for the life of her children. Begging, broken and bruised, he begged for me, he begged for you. If there be only one righteous, let them live. Let them live let them live.

I didn’t know it yet, but at that very moment the lightning flash of this encounter resurrected me, brought me back to life into this utterly new being. Brought to life in the eye of the storm, I have not yet found my way out of the darkness but with new life comes new strength to forge on into the great unknown. I can, I finally can, knowing that at the end of every road is my ever welcoming home.




Observations from a New Vantage Point

Friday, June 14th, 2013

So I have been in my new home for a few days now and to avoid the stress of moving and adjusting to a new place I have taken to long periods of time just staring out of the windows in my room. The windows of my room are my favorite thing about my new home. One over looks the entire bay, the Berkeley Marina down below, the Golden Gate Bridge in the foggy distance level with my ever searching eyes. The other looks onto the Berkeley campus over the red thatched roofs of the castle like houses between my bedroom and campus. The campanile sits just beyond grasp but fully in view. I can hear the campanile ring out ever hour, so that I never loose myself in time.

From my windows and long periods of observation from these new vantage points I see a lot of weird and interesting things that captivate my attention for hours on end. Here is a small list of the observations I have made in the last few days.

  • Squirrels sit on the red thatched roofs and squeak across great distances at each other. I have no idea what it is they are trying to communicate so desperately.
  • A woman in a house near mine comes out of her house onto the front porch to clip her nails at least once a day. Her nails must grow pretty dang fast. It makes me wonder if she really even goes out to clip her nails or does she do it to avoid being inside the house? I will continue to watch.
  • There is a massive flock of crows that gather on the tree tops near the campanile, ever hour the chiming of the bells disturbs them and they all take flight like a great hurricane of movement. I can hear their cries from my bedroom.
  • There are really fat raccoons that live in my apartment complex. They grow fat on the waste of college students like me.
  • A girl next door, around sunset, will climb out her window onto her roof and sit there as the sun goes down. Depending on the day she will smoke a cigarette.
  • At night only a few lights come on in the houses near mine. I tried to communicate with them via flashlight, no response yet. I will keep trying.
  • The sun creeps through my window, crawling across the floor with agonizingly slow advancement until the sun sets and casts my walls with orange and red.
Posted in Stories, Thoughts |

Holi: Festival of Color

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

The holiday  Holi was a couple of weeks ago but this weekend at University of California, Berkeley the Indian Student Association put on a festival for Holi. Many people have heard of these festivals of color where people by colored powder and in a giant mosh pit of people everyone throws color at each other.


A giant throng of people gathers and takes part in this festival each year; this is my second year taking part and it really is an amazing thing to experience. You can find last year’s story of Holi here

At times there are so many people crammed into one space it is hard to breathe, impossible to see if you are as short as me, and in the mist of color filling the air there are shouts of joy and surprise as color explodes across people’s hair, face and bodies in a huge spray of vibrant color.


A big group of my friends all came to the festival and we all stuck together in the massive crowd, dancing, screaming and throwing color at each other. It really is an experience everyone should have at some point in their life at least once.


Our faces were covered in a huge array of colors, it felt like every part of me had been dyed a different color.


After the war of color is over, everyone looks so different with a mask of colors changing the features of faces that are so familiar yet entirely altered.


I can’t wait for the years to come where we can celebrate again and again the vibrancy of our lives and the world.




Israel: The Bedouin Experience

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

This day marked the end of the first leg of our journey in Israel. We woke up early, bags packed, and lined up on the curb like children waiting to board the school bus for their first day of class. We ate our last breakfast at Nof Ginosaur and watched the waves lap on the beach, our last sight of the Sea of Galilee. It was a sad and exciting moment to leave behind the place we had called home for the last three days in order to branch out and find a new home in Israel. We had one stop on the way before out final destination for the day could be reached; we had eight new members to pick up and join our merry crew.

Everyone knew that at some point in the trip we would be joined by eight Israeli soldiers who would accompany us on our trip to give us a little taste of what life is like in Israel for people our age. They were not coming to protect or guard us, they were coming to be our friends and peers. At first I was a little wary of this, I wasn’t sure what it would be like, whether we would get along, or whether we would really connect at all. What I didn’t know was how much I was going to miss them by the time they left, or how much I miss them still. I never expected to grow so close to people whom I had gotten to know in the span of five days, but I do.

We picked them up at Modin, a modern booming city that is rapidly expanding. At a bus stop around the corner from where we parked, our newest friends waited for us. Full uniforms and army bags, they came onto our bus and very quickly changed our entire experience. We all tried to welcome them as much as possible and talk with them.

We only where with them for a few short minutes when we went to our first stop of the day, an Eco-Farm that is entirely sustainable and zero waste. Everything here is grown and nothing is thrown away. We stopped in this green little oasis full of rows of farming and little huts where people lived. We toured all over the place and even got to make some homemade pita bread on an open fire.

We had some free time so we all wandered around the farm by ourselves and could check anything out that we wanted to see. I wandered off to go to the recycling tent where people leave belongings they no longer want so that others may utilize them as they desire. The tent was dark and not lit but it was in this room where the lives of people where left behind when people grew tired of their old hobbies or old books. A tent full of things brought from all over the world and later no longer desired or useful. I leafed through the discarded  books and found a copy of a Nadine Gordimer short story collection that I tucked away and took away with me. A little piece of literature that had been abandoned in Israel, picked up and brought to a new home across the world.

When we left the farm our conversations with the soldiers really began. Our first real experience with them was trying to play musical chairs… on a moving bus. As everyone ran around laughing our bus driver was yelling at us in Hebrew and it was so much fun but a little dangerous. As we were playing we began to hit windy roads which marked the changing of our surroundings. When we finally found our places again we looked out our windows where there were no rolling green hills any more, instead they had been replaced with deep desert valleys and sand dunes. Scene after scene of desert barren lands brushed by our bus windows for about an hour before we found ourselves descending into a valley surrounded by sand dunes. As we did we could see all sorts of little villages that we were told were from refugees and illegal immigrants who had set up settlements in the desert. Children sat on sand dunes and wild dogs roamed the desert, watching as we went by in our air-conditioned bus. It was an odd unsettling feeling that provoked the ever present feeling that maybe things are not as fair as we wish they could be.

We made our way down winding desert roads to a small oasis surrounded by palms. This would be our station for the night, the Bedouin encampment in the middle of the desert. As our bus pulled in we looked at the stables of camels and donkeys on the outskirts of the encampment that were fenced in with giant tree trunks of palms.

We dragged all of our luggage from the bus and left it aside for later. We had our introduction to the Bedouin experience in a goat hair tent roofed with palm leaves.

Standing above a fragranced fire, we were told about what it meant to be a bedouin. The wandering nomadic lifestyle that was lived by these extremely hospitable people who lived out in the desert in places somewhat like this. The entire time though we were all painfully aware that this “Bedouin Experience” we were able to take part in was at its very foundation nothing like real Bedouin life.  This was a comfy tourist “resort” that aimed at a genuine experience of Bedouin life that could never really get close to the way these people live their lives.

Hospitality and generosity towards visitors was highly important. As we sat listening attentively on the floor we were served tea that was made on the fire right before us. It was probably the best and most interesting tasting tea I had ever been lucky enough to taste. It was also really welcomed because at this point I was getting really sick and my sore throat was killing me. I had basically entirely lost my voice, so to have some hot tea was soothing in the best ways possible.

After our introduction to our Bedouin Experience, we went back out to the front of the encampment where we had previously seen the camels and donkeys.

I got camel number 47; a wily, dusty creature that seemed none too pleased to have something sitting on top of it. As I was perched atop the seated camel I was looking about taking pictures with my camera which I held uplifted in one hand and my other I used to hold the harness on the camel. I was extremely unprepared when our guide smacked the camel and it stood up, but not all the way up mind you, just halfway. So I found myself suddenly sitting at a forty-five degree angle with only one hand to brace me for the sudden jolt. I was nearly tossed over my camel’s head as it remained happily only halfway up with its back legs straightened and its front still neatly folded underneath him. After nearly being tossed within five minutes of sitting on my camel, it finally stood up and I was able to experience what it felt like to ride one of these ships of the desert.

Not another five minutes went by before he tried to bite me. It really didn’t like me and I can’t say I was too pleased with him either. Keep in mind, I am afraid of horses, little did I know how much scarier these swaying creatures of the desert where than horses.

After a rough start we all lined up and headed out into the desert at sunset. The swaying steps of the camels really do make their nicknames, “ships of the desert” seem extremely accurate.

We were led out into the rocky desert hills near where we would be staying for the night as the sky slowly turned pink. The horizon seemed to be lit on fire and the stones cast shadows around us as we made our way into the desert.

I forgot to mention that only half of the group was on camels, the other half got to ride small donkeys. The plan was to switch halfway through so everyone had a turn on a camel. Let me just say, things didn’t go as planned. Within ten minutes of our journey into the desert, which, by the way, was not a long journey, half of the people on the donkeys had been bucked from their backs. The donkeys went crazy and after ridding themselves of their burdens decided to wander off into the desert alone. After the difficultly with the donkeys, which were significantly smaller, those who were on the donkeys decided that the much larger and scarier camels where not worth the effort if the donkeys had been this difficult. So I got to remain on my perch high above the desert floor as my camel swayed its way across the desert floor.

As for the others, they decided to walk. The donkeys went their own way and wandered free of their burden off into the sunset.

Our time out in the desert was not very long at all but it was still a great experience to ride a camel into the sunset and watch the pink tint of the sun touch the desert hills.

It is nice to say I have done it, but I don’t think I would ever do it again. So I will leave the camels to the desert and the tourists still seeking the allure of a specifically tourist crafted experience that really only means something to them.

We returned to the encampment for dinner inside the bedouin tents. Mats were laid out everywhere with stands that would later hold our food. We each sat at tables with about four other people and had what felt like private little dinners in a giant tent filled with masses of people. It was a lot of fun getting to know everyone over an amazing bedouin feast.

After dinner we had free time for the rest of the night which resulted in a guitar and mandolin jam session until about three in the morning. Before that though, we had one little excursion to end our bedouin experience out in the desert. It was easily the most meaningful experience I had the entire trip.

Once it got really dark out and dinner had finished we all wandered out into the desert in a giant group. In near silence we headed out into the dark; blind in the utter darkness without a single shred of light, since the moon was not up. Those with flashlights were clung to like bats by the others trying to use any bit of light to see the rough desert terrain we were traversing. I was one of those with a flashlight and my companion was my friend Plia who was one of the Israeli soldiers who had joined us. I talked with her as we walked about the stars in the night that seemed to be the only thing we could see clearly in the dark. We had a great conversation breathed in hushed tones as we walked through the desert. Finally we made our way deep enough into the desert to lose sight of the lights from the encampment (but sadly not far away enough to lose the sound of tacky music being blasted from a party that was happening back where we were staying). So in (almost) complete silence, we individually found places in the dark to sit and just contemplate life, think about the trip so far, and wonder at the beauty of the desert. Plia and I sat together and lay down on our backs, even with rocks digging into our spines, and peacefully watched the stars. I pointed our constellations to her as we lay there talking. To both of our utter surprise as I was pointing out a constellation a shooting star shot across the sky right where I had been pointing. It was such a movie perfect moment, neither of us really seemed to believe it had happened. We both just turned to each other in the dark and smiled, our eyes asking each other where we had both just seen that actually happen. I can’t explain how much that little moment filled my heart with a warmth and happiness that seemed unbounded.

We split up to have quiet time and I saw yet another shooting star by myself later as I sat looking up at the sky and the desert that was bathed in a deep blue that I feel can only be found in the darkest, deepest parts of the sea. There was truly something magical about just sitting out in the desert near midnight in utter silence. This sand, these rocks, these stars, had seen a history on this soil that I couldn’t even begin to imagine. IT was here, out in this desert that Jacob wrestled with God, here out in this desert that thousands of years of history had unfolded. Even though all we could see was the darkness and the hardly lit landscape before us, that space was not empty, it was full to the brim. It was overwhelming to sit under the canopy of heaven and feel like the stars where so close that they were bending the sky in an effort to reach out and touch you. Never have I felt such a connection to the land before; it was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

After our quite time we all where summoned back together by our group leader Itay playing the guitar and singing a Neguin wordless song of praise. It seemed to resonate in the desert and as we all slowly got back together, everyone seemed to know that everything had changed. Everyone had felt something amazing in those moments, each in their own special way. We all gathered together and made a huge huddle around Itay and we sang out in the desert together. Our voices breaking the silence and reaching out across the land. We sang in Hebrew, we sang wordless songs, and eventually worked our way to cheesy American pop music. It was a wonderful progression from the serious and contemplative time we had had, back into a fun and carefree enjoyment of one another’s company. We sang out in the desert at the top of our voices to American Pie, Brittany Spears, and many other songs. With the lighthearted end to our desert quiet time we returned to the encampment renewed and with hearts filled with our experiences.

Back at our tents we continued the lighthearted singing in a jam session. It was so much fun to just stay up all night, singing, having deep conversations, and really getting to know each other besides the normal introductory questions we had been building our friendships upon. It was a night I will never forget.

We slept on the floor of a giant goat skin tent in sleeping bags for only a few short hours. The next morning was a six am wake up call and a long day ahead. It was a bittersweet end to the night; such a great time staying up with everyone, but the lack of sleep that followed would come back to bite me for the rest of the trip.



Israel: Mountains and Mysticism

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

In the early morning aftermath of our New Year’s Eve Party, everyone slowly emerged, none too happily at that. All of us with little sleep and bleary eyes. It was a hard time to be waking up at 6:30am when you didn’t go to bed until around 2am that morning. Regardless, we struggled out of bed and greeted the first day of the New Year with half-tempered smiles and curious minds for the day ahead.

We took the bus through Tiberias and wove our way up a mountain called Mt. Arbel.

The view from the top of this mountain was magnfiicent, though a little hazy, but still many things could be seen. The Sea of Galilee far below, our hotel in the distance, tiny towns speckling the hills, and lots of greenery. The wind blasting at our backs led us down to the way we would be following that would eventually take us to the ruins of an old fortress built into the mountainside.The descent was much more difficult than I had imagined and it felt like we were going down forever. We had to scramble down rocky cliff faces and at all times could see the countryside around us backed by the Sea of Galilee.

Eventually we made it though and came to a leveling out in our descent down Mt. Arbel where the cliffs now towered over us. Looking up at the cliffs you could see the ruins of what once had been windows, rooms, and a fortress in days long gone by.

Then we climbed up uneven stone stairs to enter into the old fortress that was crumbling but still grand. After going into the cliff dwellings, we descended the rest of the mountain. We all walked down the mountain in great contemplation, deciding not to talk with anyone, we all descended in utter silence except for the loud noise from the town below and the sound of the wind rushing past the mountainside. We went down the entire mountain until we reach the cities that just about an hour or so before hand had seemed tiny and extremely distant. It seemed remarkably to have come that far, to look back up at the whole mountain knowing I had been at the top of it. It felt like so much had been accomplished; and it was only 10am.

Next on our trip was the legendary cit of Tzfat, home to Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah. We wove through the streets of this old city, only stopping briefly before an old British Embassy building hat was riddled with bullet holes. It was in moments like this that Israel really did seem like an entirely different world. A world where it was casual to sit in the shade of a war torn building as if it was a wide shaded oak that we took a brief rest under in the bright afternoon.

Everywhere there are little moments where a single thing, a teapot, a doorway, or a bullet torn building that made this experience feel so surreal.

Tzfat is a city of alley ways, closed doors, and art. All fo the small corridors that people bustle down are lined with tables of jewelry, art, and all kinds of artisan creations. Every other doorway houses a gallery of beautiful art that often harkens back to Jewish mysticism.

After a long day of exploring the city streets of Tzfat, jumping between art galleries and trying out unique foods, we wandered through the market areas that tingled with the ideas of Jewish mysticism. After exploring a bit we found our way to the top of the mountain Tzfat is built upon. We stood in a park that held the ruins of an old citadel, long left to waste away under the pressure of time. It was here we learned about a Jewish idea, Tikkun Olam- repairing the world. Tikkun Olam is the idea that we all have a responsibility to try and fix the world we live in to make it a better place; whether that means doing community service, teaching, or any other form of helping the world, we have a responsibility  We came to this place to take part in our responsibility in trying to restore this old citadel by trying to re-establish this place as a park for the people of Tzfat.

As the sun set over Tzfat we all got together and learned a couple of songs on the mandolin and learned what it felt like to belong in a Jewish community. It really was an amazing moment; bathed in shades of pink and yellow, we all felt like a family.

It was a long day, started early, hiked, worked, explored, but it was a truly a great day.


Israel: A New Place, A New Year

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

On the eve of a new year, I began my newest adventure in the land of Israel. Sleepless night turned into tired morning as the sun wiggled its way under my door. Being jet lagged is never fun, but when you open your door and feel the Israeli sun on your face for the first time, many things are forgotten. I opened the door to a clear crisp sun on a slightly hazy day that seemed to have been sung in by birdsong.

Breakfast was in the same room where we had eaten dinner the night before and the contrast was shocking. The things that we had heard were outside those windows, but couldn’t see for ourselves was now splayed before us in all its splendor. Palm trees and eucalyptus trees swayed in the wind outside of our window, framing the Sea of Galilee and the umbrella spotted beach where the waves crashed down in a slow rhythmic fashion. Hills surrounded us with cities terracing the mountainsides.

The hotel was just the beginning though, it would be our home for the next couple of days, but during the day we would adventure outward and explore Northern Israel. So we hopped on our bus to begin our first day in Israel.

Through the tinted glass of the windows inside the bus I got my first views of the Israeli countryside. In the north, rolling hills and mountains frame the land with their snow-capped tips, which looking down on rows of agricultural countryside in the valleys below. After a ride through the farmlands we arrived at the base of a huge mountain which is now a nature reserve but many, many years ago this was the biblical city of Tel Dan. At Tel Dan, there is a river, the main spring, that comes from the mountain that rushes along tree framed pathways.

It was a beautiful time to be at Tel Dan, fall was still in the air even though winter had made itself a guest here for some time, and the leaves were still yellow. We walked along the paths of Tel Dan that ranged from walkways littered with fall leaves, to pathways made up of individual rocks between which spring water ran, snaking its way between the cracks.

Along the pathways we found beautiful leaves, some in the shape of hearts and others that were large and fan like that came from fig trees all around us.


Finally at the end of the beautiful walk through the wilderness we came to the ruins of Tel Dan. Not much left besides the old crumbling foundations of this biblical city that thousands of years ago was a thriving center of religious activity; second only to Jerusalem in its time.


We took our very first group photo of all of us together at the foot of the Main Spring. It was a truly beautiful place and the yellow accent of fall leaves made it a magical first stop in Israel.

Afterwards we drove deeper into the Golan Heights of Israel where we took an off-road jeep ride through the old occupied land that was and still is a place of tension.

Our jeep driver was a really nice guy with an odd sense of humour who really seemed to enjoy entertaining American kids with off colored jokes and sarcastic quips.

We traversed the eucalyptus spotted hillsides along muddy gutted back roads in an open aired jeep where there was no separation between us and the Israeli countryside.

Oh and the beautiful countryside we were driving through was also an old land mine area. We were let out of the jeep once and they told us not to venture far for fear of land mines. It was quite an interesting experience being in what some might consider an active war zone.

If being near where old land mines were once was a startling experience, then I was not prepared for our next stop, Mt. Bental. Mt. Bental is a huge mountain, once a volcano, that has an amazing view from high above the world. Standing atop it we could see Damascus, Syria, and Lebanon. As the sign below indicates, from here, on a clear day almost anything can be seen.

The view of the countryside below is Syria. While standing atop Mt. Bental we could hear loud bangs in the distance. We quickly learned that not far away we were hearing the sound of bombs going off in Syria because of their current civil war. It was shocking to be that close to a very active war zone, to hear the ear drum rattling sound of a bombs impact. It makes me shudder, wondering what happened when we heard those sounds from so far away. What about the people who were not as lucky as us to be far away? The people who live there, the people who die there? But here we were sitting atop a mountain, listening to what could very well have been the last sound that some person ever heard in their lives.

In the biting wind we stood at the top of Mt. Bental listening to the sounds of war ring out, it was something you don’t forget.

After Mt. Bental we returned to our hotel at the shores of the Sea of Galilee for an early preparation for the New Years Eve Party. We were all exhausted, I was getting sick, but we all went out for a talk by the shore. A great blue heron stood on a pole of the pier and the sun was setting in shades of soft pinks and purples as we listened to the gently lapping waves of the Sea of Galilee.

It was an extremely peaceful moment of reflection, waiting for the new year to roll in on our heels. The history of this place is unbelievable, astounding, and awe-inspiring. The shore was littered with tiny shells and glinted like secret treasures as I sifted this foreign sand through my fingers. This was my new years, spent in a land utterly foreign to me, yet vaguely felt like home. I never imagined I would be spending my last days of 2012 in Israel, let alone the first week of 2013 there. It was a strange bridging of the gap that was utterly unexpected yet invigorating. This new place, opened new horizons, and I welcomed the new year with open arms with no idea of what lies before me.



Israel: The Beginning of a Journey

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Whenever I return home from a trip there is always a barrage of questions awaiting me from everyone I know. I love to return to family and friends that are inquisitive and curious about my experiences, but I always feel a sense of disappointment in my ability to answer their questions. How can I put into words so quickly the things that I saw? How can I explain the ways in which I have been changed by the things that I saw? How can I convey the beauty and complexity that fills the world that we live in and how grateful I am for even a short glimpse into these complexities? This is what I am faced with upon my return from any trip, but I feel these things especially now after my return from Israel.

I was extremely blessed to be given the opportunity to go to Israel for almost completely free with a group of my peers from University of California Berkeley through Hillel and Taglit Birthright. I got to fly out of New York to Israel and tour around the country for ten days with about 50 of my peers including eight Israeli soldiers who joined us halfway through our incredible journey.

So, now I am faced with the problem that I always dread upon my return home, telling my story of what happened during those ten amazing days. It is difficult expressing all that happened on my trip because it was truly incredible in so many ways. I made so many friends and saw such amazing things that I do not think any words that I use can do justice to everything I experienced. But I will do my best, I will do all that the limit of words can do for me.

To begin? Let’s start where I did with an alarm going off at 3:30 am of the day my journey began. The day was long with travel, 3:3o wake up, flight left at 7:30am, 6 hour flight to JFK, 8 hour lay over, and then finally a 12 hour flight that landed us in Ben Gurion Airport, Israel. From there a two hour bus ride to the hotel/kibbutz that would be our home for the first leg of the journey.

We arrived, after over 24 hours of traveling, at the shores of the Sea of Galilee at our hotel, Nof Ginosar. It was strange because I had been in darkness, without sunlight, for over a day and arriving at our hotel we were told of the surroundings. Told of hills that shone with the glittering lights of homes scattered along hillsides in nearby Tiberias. Told of the softly lapping waves on the shores just outside from the great Sea of Galilee. Told of many things, but we arrived in darkness. There was nothing to see, we could only faintly hear in the distance the rustle of palm trees and ever so slightly the sound of waves. But we were greeted by darkness and the glow of our hotel’s lights. We were rushed into dinner and saw our hotel for the first time. I was very pleasantly surprised by our hotel, I had had very low expectations for our accommodations because we were receiving them for free, but it was extremely pleasant. We all stumbled in, not really knowing one another, tired, exhausted from travel, and just a little disheveled from our long day, and were greeted by a huge buffet of Israeli food. Everything was so bright, colorful salads, curries, and lots and lots of bread. Famished and tired we ate and began to familiarize ourselves with this new place and one another.

We all headed to our shared rooms in the dark dragging our luggage behind us, ready for sleep. Ready to greet the new day tomorrow. Our very first day in Israel.



The Spirit of Christmas and Santa Claus Strawberries

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

My family spent a lot of time this holiday season thinking about memories of holidays past. What made things memorable, what things did we hold on to so many years later, was it happiness? Was it disappointment? And if so, why? I have been thinking a lot about this lately and one thing my mother said to me that she remembered from Christmas in her childhood very fondly was when she made things for her entire family. How the act of sitting down and applying oneself entirely to doing something that you just want to do because it would make your family happy. I think that is a good reason to look back on Christmas or whatever holiday is being celebrated during this cold winter season where family keeps us warm and happy; to celebrate not because we feel obligated and tied to disappointment or the gratification of materialistic desires, but the  celebration of loving for the sake of loving. Because they are family, because they are not perfect, and because they are our blood, our flesh, and from them we find meaning.

I realized I do not often give without reason and I really would like to change that about myself. I thought it would be fun to start small, kind of like my mother did in her memory of her early Christmas, by making something for my family to enjoy. What better way to make something they would enjoy than by starting where everyone ends on Christmas? With desserts. I found a nifty little picture on the internet of a little strawberry Santa and decided that would be a great little present to make for Christmas Eve dinner. The website, Operation Santa Claus, had a bunch of fun little Christmasy things to do, but I decided on these cute little bite sized desserts to share with my family.

I took these Santa strawberries to be easier than they actually were at first sight and my adventure in making these began as most attempts to re-create something found on the internet do, with failure. I tried to use just whipped cream as the filling for the strawberries and very quickly realized the error of my ways as they began to deflate, melt, and deform into little haphazard Santas, slightly off kilter and very unappetizing to behold.

The ones on the left side of the photograph are the initial attempts and the right are the later more successful attempts. I realized that the filling had to be sturdier so we made a cheesecake like filling made simply from cream cheese, powder sugar, and a dash of half and half to thin the mixture enough to be piped. Now, with the successful mixture (in a plastic bag used for piping) the strawberries were cut and filled and dressed to look like Santa Claus. The final touch being the sprinkles for little eyes on the cute little bite sized desserts.

They were cute, small, tasty, and a sweet way to end Christmas Eve. It was a good way to give back to my family in a very tiny way that built up our family instead of building materialistic gratification. I wonder if I will look back years from now and remember this fondly as my Christmas memory…