Today marks 10 months since I said goodbye to my family and walked through security at Newark Airport into the unknown with a group of strangers. From my vantage point in Jerusalem, I can look back over the past 10 months and say, “Damn, where did the time go?”But I can also appreciate the incredible wealth of experiences that this year has given me and when I look back on events from the beginning of the year or even my parents’ visit in March I can say, “That feels like so long ago!”
I’ve been a part of a lot of groups in my life. Countless sports teams, school clubs, the trips I’ve staffed, etc. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING can come close to touching my OTZMA experience. Not with a 10-foot pole. It’s not even a little bit of a stretch to say that it changed my life. Just a few short months ago I thought I would head back to the States and get a Masters in Physical Education. But now, as my friends have started to pack up and head home, here I am, employed (well, hired), making Aliyah and playing on Israel’s National Lacrosse team. This year has been a series of amazing gifts, and now I’ve been given one more – the chance to pass this gift on to another group of OTZMAnikim.

But while the job is nice, I think the biggest thing I will take away from this experience are the people and the relationships.  Day in and day out I’m surrounded by people who love me and care about me. There’s always someone to eat dinner with and the sense of community is just incredible. Second to none. I can’t wait to share these traditions with others and incorporate my OTZMA traditions into what ever community I may join next (or in 10 years). It is absolutely what inspired me to change careers and find a job in the Jewish community. 

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How OTZMA didn’t change my life

“I’ve read, seen, heard about (and even thought about writing) an outrageous number of blog posts, articles, and testimonials about the ‘life changing’ experience OTZMA was and is. I’m here right now to repudiate this idea – for myself as well. OTZMA has confused my life even more than I thought possible. I came to Israel for answers but I’m starting to think that was/is a moot goal. I’m sitting here in Jerusalem more confused than I was last year, sitting in my apartment in DC staring down college graduation and the inevitable unknown change that would bring. I watched as my friends made plans to attend law school, work for political campaigns across the country and tried desperately to secure a job offer before graduation. I give them all more credit than they know – I wasn’t ready to do that. To this day, I might not be ready to do that. I was looking for something else, something different, something life changing…”

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Knesset Polls updated for 2013

Well the polls changed this week. There was a meeting between three leftist parties (HaAvodah, Yesh Atid, and Hatnua) and apparently it was a disaster so it’s looking pretty glum for a liberal alliance to control Israel. Because Netanyahu’s Likud party has such a strong lead over any other the real question is will Likud join up with a centrist party or a coalition of conservative parties. Either way it is really interesting to see the political drama unfold here in Israel. The election season is very short here, from just over a week to one month long. However, there is an average of one election every two years. Also, because there are so many parties, well over a third of likely Israeli voters still do not know who they are voting for. Besides the chaos on the left there have been two small political dramas and one moderately sized political drama unfolding. All three controversies are around the definition of Israel. In order to run in the Knesset you must agree to keep Israel both a Jewish state and a Democratic state. Shas is a moderately large political party that is considered religious. All the parties have their own way of creating their lists (the people that they will put into government from first choice to last choice). Most hold primaries amongst their members, others are appointed by the party founder,still some are appointed by different groups or special interests. Then there is Shas who does not have to go through all those beurocratic methods to find out who will be on the list. They have a Rabbi who is so spiritual that not only is he in direct contact with G-d, but the Lord actually tells him exactly who to put on the list and in what order. Apparently G-d told him that it is immodest to put women into the Knesset. A couple of the liberal parties found this to be undemocratic so they sent them to the Supreme Court. The second instance is with Balad. On Balad’s list there is a woman (the first arab women in the Knesset actually) who repeatedly calls for the end of Israel and the destruction of the state, she also was aboard the infamous/famous flotilla that breached the Gaza embargo. So many of the conservative parties sent her to the Supreme Court because they see her as against the Jewishness of the state. Then you have Otzma which is a political party that repeatedly calls for Arabs to be deported to Jordan or worse. I see their signs all over Ramle telling Arabs (In Arabic) “enough” and “Get out.” It was actually Meretz and Hadash that sent Otzma to the Supreme Court because they said Otzma through intimidation was undermining democracy. Anyway we will see what happens to those three parties before the week is out. Below I have the new figures with the percentage of Israelis that support them. At the end I have a symbol that means either the party lost support over the last week (-), gained support (+), or remained the same (~). The parties are listed from largest to smallest and remember: One third of Israelis still are undecided, you must have 2% of the vote to enter the Knesset, parties must form coalitions in order to establish a government and choose a prime minister.

27% Likud: Capitalism and Security -

19%: HaAvodah: Socialism and social justice party +

16% Habayit Hayehudi: Hebrew and Jewish Nationalism party +

8% Yesh Atid: Economic equality and affordability -

7% Shas: Sephardic Judaism with religious and ethnic nationalism -

4% Meretz: Environmentalism, LGBT rights, Minority rights and the status of women ~

4% United Torah: Religious Judaism as law ~

3% Raam: Arab and Muslim nationalists ~

3% Hatnua: Two state solution and moderate economics -        

2% Balad: Arab interests party -

2% Hadash: Communist, environmentalist, and equality party -

1% Am Shalem: Reconciliation between religious and Secularn Israelis -

1% Otzma: Hebrew nationalism Party -

1% kadima: Centrist economics, two state solution, and settlement evacuation -

1% Ale Yarok: Environmentalism, the legalization of Marijuana, and libertarianism ~

1% Ahrayut: Constitution creation party ~

Wait! I’ve totally done this before! That must mean I totally know what I’m doing, right? To be honest, in recent years I haven’t really been super excited or happy in the lead up to my birthday or even on the day itself. In fact I’ve had my fair share of disappointing birthday days. My fault? Maybe. Not the best at adequately and correctly letting the world know what I want. I’m more of a “no, it’s ok, whatever you want! Whatever is easiest for you!” kind of gal. This works out ok enough except when you come around to the day that’s supposed to be all about what you want. Blame it on my twinness, my dislike of making or giving definitive answers (why say yes or no when you can say maybe!) - in the end all I know is that days dedicated to just me, make this gal hella uncomfortable. I’m definitely not a birthday princess and I definitely don’t have a birthday week. This is one of those situations when all you want is to be considered your own person, have people notice and praise only you and then when it happens you just WANT TO CRAWL UNDER THE BED AND DIE. If you didn’t know this already, I’m planning a wedding that will involve max 10 people. Get that spotlight out of my face. I only want to stand out in a way that no one will ever notice.

Moving on, lets talk about my birthday yesterday in Israel! I made no plans, told no one what I wanted to do - in defense of myself, I really had no idea. Remember how bad at birthdays I am? Maybe this is what happens when you share your “special” day with a national holiday and a twin sister - I’m a product of my environment guys! Besides the point, I had a really nice, very low key day. It was our last day of regular volunteering in Karmiel so we headed to the soup kitchen with some treats for the people we’ve been working with and spent the morning “apple picking”. Shhhh nevermind that we were indoors, picking apples from a large barrel on the ground in the heat of Israel. I was with friends picking apples! Plaid happened later in the day. Ate some delicious hummus for lunch, picked up a birthday ice cream on the way home for a birthday nap.

Headed to Ulpan to learn some more hebrew and ended up with a lot of solo birthday attention. I swear my face only got redder as the day wore on. How do people soak up these kinds of things / survive them at all on the regular? This further proves my belief that singers, actresses, politicians etc are probably not real people. I digress. After ulps I was ambushed in the hallway with a beyond amazing cake, baked in a toaster oven! Oh yeah, there was also happy birthday singing. In 2 languages. My poor poor red cheeks. My roommates made me mashed potatoes! It doesn’t get much better than that. I got to Skype with the franks who shockingly and luckily have power after sandy! In some sad news, halloween has been postponed due to crazy storms for the 2nd year in a row in Bethany! What is happeningggg.

In the end, I survived the birthday. Persevered through pre birthday funk and am making my way through post birthday funk. I’m pretending those are legitimate things. I’m pretty much obsessed with the people I’ve met here and and am so happy they were all around to make my birthday special in Israel, away from home for the second year in row. Before I sign off, HAPPY BIRTHDAY LOREN FRANK. Next year we better be together because I cannot handle any more solo birthday attention.

Pictures!: top left - birthday surprises on my door. Middle left - overwhelmed by birthday attention. The board says ‘happy birthday our Rachel’ in Hebrew. Bottom left - mashed potatoes and chicken noodle soup - so much yum. Bottom right - ambushed with singing and cake. Top right - otzma ladies and our boss at Pitchon Lev on the last day.

The Longest Goodbye in the World

OTZMA is over.

It’s hard to think about, let alone type that and see it there in black and white.

It’s also really, really hard to believe. For more than a year now, June 23rd was a fictional date in the future when OTZMA would end and I would go home to my friends and family in Syracuse. Today is June 24th. That fictional date in the future is now in the past. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” has been my mantra the last few days. But there have still been quite a few tears. I compared it to leaving CSL at the end of the summer….except longer and you know everyone won’t be back next June. And then I cried again. I never could have imagined I make the kind of friends that I made this year.

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TLV for the whole day, met with one of the Hebrew University students who helped spearhead some of the economical demonstrations in Israel, visited Bialik Rogozin in south TLV, a school hosting refugee children and children from lower-socioeconomic statuses from 48 diff countries and from kindergarten to high school, met with program coordinator of the African Refugee Develp. Center, and painted on the walls of the house of Israeli street and outdoor mural artist Rami Meiri. Haifa tomorrow for a site visit to my new home, Boston federation reps, and some potential volunteer internships starting in January!