Week 3: A Crash Course on Israeli Politics

I met someone who did “K” this week. This is also known as ketamine, which is essentially a less potent version of PCP, a drug initially developed as an anesthetic agent for medical procedures. PCP is no longer used as an anesthetic, though, because it can cause hyper-aggressiveness, paranoid hallucinations, blurred vision, and dizziness (in addition to decreased pain sensitivity).

Ketamine, however, is still used in children as a pre-surgical anesthetic because the adverse effects are extremely rare in that demographic. In sub-anesthetic doses, it can induce sensations of vertigo, floating, and numbness. One manner consumption may be reinforced is through the activation of midbrain dopamine cell firing (increasing dopamine, especially in the pre-frontal cortex).

One very new discovery about ketamine is that one of its isomers (S-ketamine) may be used as a rapid acting anti-depressant treatment. One dose can markedly reduce depressive symptoms in one hour. Currently, it is used in patients who are treatment resistant, meaning that other anti-depressant drugs did not work. This may be especially helpful in patients that are suicidal (i.e. time is of concern).

Anyway, away from ketamine and on to my study abroad experience:

Sunday, September 15th:

Hebrew is a really cool language! I am enjoying my Ulpan, and would love to continue studying Hebrew when I come back to Wake. At the moment the University doesn’t offer classes in  modern Hebrew, but hopefully, I’ll be able to change that! After Ulpan, I went with Thrive to Mt. Herzl where we learned about the roots of Zionism at the Herzl Museum. Before going on the tour, we went to a special classroom where a prominent political reporter talked to our group about the political system in Israel.

Basically (i.e. the extent to which I understand it), the Israeli government is comprised of 120 Knesset members (think U.S. Senate). Although it varies, I believe there are ten major parties spanning the political spectrum at the moment. There is a president, largely a ceremonial role, who is responsible for appointing the Prime Minister. Typically, this is the leader of the largest party (the party leaders are determined by internal votes) and/or the individual with the most number of recommendations.

The main role of the Prime Minister is to form a government by aligning with enough parties to form a majority in the Knesset (61 seats). The timeline for this is six weeks and it essentially enables that coalition to govern effectively (like having an all Democratic or all Republican U.S. government—President, House, and Senate).

One problem with this system occurred for the first time this year: the Prime Minister may not be able to form a majority coalition. In that case, a new Prime Minister will be appointed by the President. However, Netenyahu (the incumbent PM), in an effort to maintain power, initiated a second election in Israel. He may or may not be appointed the Prime Minister again and tasked to form a new coalition. Only time will tell.

After our crash course on Israeli politics, we went on a tour of the Herzl museum. For those who don’t know, Theodore Hertzl is one of the founding fathers of Zionism, which is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people in the belief that they have the right to freedom and independence in their historic homeland, Israel (for more, and my source, see the World Zionist Organization).

Next we spoke to former Knesset members about their time in office, and their thoughts on the upcoming election. One was very diplomatic in her answers (didn’t reveal anything). The other was very engaging and honest. He served in Likud (Netanyahu’s party) off and on for thirty years, and shared that he never really regretted or got frustrated with the results of a given legislative action. His bills were acted against and his opinions circumvented (by manipulating the existing political framework), yet he said he knew he did his best and—at the end of the day—that’s all he could do. I like that lesson.

After that, we took the Light Rail back to campus (with a pit stop at Japan Japan). Then I did homework and went to bed.

Monday, September 16th:

Ulpan! Afterwards, I met up with Jesse and Alex and we walked to one of the Thrive leader’s house for cooking lessons! We cooked chicken stir-fry, rice, potatoes, and beef stew. It was a lot of fun except I starting crying profusely when chopping onions.

After that, we went to the gym because #Gainz (sorry, I’ll stop with that now). We were there for a little bit and then split up. I went to a crash course on the relevant parties for the Israeli elections (lots of information about Israeli politics this week). 

One of my roommates invited me to go out to the Shuk. I was hesitant at first because I don’t really enjoy the whole party-scene, but I gave it a try! It was an interesting experience. I don’t drink alcohol, so I was the only sober one there (don’t worry parents, the legal drinking age is 18 here). I had great people watching experiences as my friends (group of fifteen or so) interacted with each other and other Shuk-goers. If you’re interested, here is a link to an article I wrote for Wake’s newspaper on alcohol. 

When we got to the Shuk, I got separated from the group but met back up with them after wandering for a little bit. We hung out for a while before taking the light rail back home where I did homework, posted last week’s blog, and went to bed!

Tuesday, September 17th:

Tuesday was Election Day in Israel so no Ulpan, which was a nice break! I went with Thrive to the West Bank and visited Beit El, a Jewish settlement with ancient burial caves and the supposed sight of Jacob’s rock (where he had a dream about ascending the ladder — Genesis 28:11-14.

We heard from a Jewish man who lives in the West Bank and does educational programming all over the world. We dived into the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, focusing on the history of how it came to be (building nicely off the information from the Herzl museum).

As I understand it, Palestine refers to a region of land significant in the Bible. As the Jews were exiled from the area during the Jewish Diaspora (relating to the battle at Mount Masada, which I visited last week), they spread across the world. However, when antisemitism flared up, especially in Europe during the early 20th century, the idea of a Jewish State was recognized. Fueled in part by the 6,000,000 Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust, the State of Israel was founded in 1948, followed by many years of territorial struggle.

The original land, according to the tour guide, was arbitrarily handed to the Jewish people, without taking into consideration cultural or religious significance for any of the other parties involved in the region. He sees this as a disservice and believes that the solution to the seemingly perennial struggle is a one-state solution, which he says would entail the Israeli government annexing the West Bank and granting every denizen citizenship and full rights within the new society. A two state solution, which he didn’t discuss, involves individual countries: one for Palestinians and one for Israelis. This includes formal recognition of a Palestinian government along with the benefits of an army, borders, and an international presence.

After learning about his perspective, we went to “The best winery in Israel.” I mentioned I don’t drink earlier, so I’m not sure why I decided to taste the wines, but my goodness I’m not doing that again! Everyone was like, “wow, this wine is incredible” and I sat there wishing I had anything to get the taste out of my mouth.

One cool thing about the winery, though, is recreating ancient grapes pertinent to this region (instead of growing grapes from Italy, for instance). I don’t know enough about wine to comment, though, so moving on!

We heard from a Palestinian citizen (not integrated into Israeli society) who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize two years ago. There was an interesting dialogue between him and our tour guide, but in all honestly I had trouble understanding a lot of what he said. In order to not misrepresent his views, I’m not going to describe that discussion.

After the end of our program, I took a phat nap for three hours, did some studying and went to bed.

Wednesday, September 18th:

Ulpan! During which, we had a singing session where we learned and sang some Hebrew songs (in present tense, “We sing songs in Hebrew” is אנחנו שרים שירים בעברית, which transliterated becomes “anachnu sharim shirim b’ivrit”).

Then I went with friends to the Central Bus Station where we got personalized Rav Kavs (public transportation cards) so we can get discounted pricing. It took a long time, especially because my clerk at the desk didn’t speak English and I didn’t (really) speak Hebrew. Luckily, my friend knows enough to communicate so, as he says, he “shepherded” the rest of us.

After that, we went to the Shuk where I tried Jachnun Bar (a restaurant recommended by a friend). It was really good! I got memu lawach, which is pretty much a burrito with Middle Eastern stuffing and a fluffy tortilla (see the picture below for a reference). I think the insides weren’t uniformly spread, though, because some bites were just okay while others were incredible. Nonetheless, I would definitely go back!

After the Shuk, my friends and I came back home and I studied for a little bit before taking a nap and going to the gym. After that, I did laundry (I made it almost two weeks without doing that—I hate folding clothes) and went to bed.

Thursday, September 18th:

Woke up about five minutes early so I got to make two PB&J sandwiches (tried to finish the bread before a weekend trip with Thrive) and went to Ulpan! Had a nice lesson and finally learned how to say mine and yours (שלי ושלך, “she-li v’she-lach)! After class, I went back home and made another sandwich (finishing the bread) and packed. From what I can tell, the bread in Israel is not like bread in America; it’s made fresh, and since it doesn’t have preservatives, it starts getting moldy after only a few days.

The bus took us to a few places, including the Jordan Valley and the Jordanian river—the location where it’s believed Jesus was baptized—followed by a Moshav, which is like an agricultural community similar to kibbutzim (but with some private property). While there, we had some amazing dates (תמרים, “tamarim”) and tried argon oil—apparently there are a bunch of benefits of argon oil, including cardiovascular protection (see a review here).

While at the Moshav, we did some manual labor moving rocks and gravel, paving the way for a new greenhouse. After that, we went to dinner at this place called Cafe Cafe which was great! They had all kinds of food laid out for us: pastas, pizzas, salads, etc. From there we went to this national park called Beit Shean, which was super cool!

According to the Bible, the Phillistines displayed the corpses of King Saul and his son on the walls of Bet Shean after defeating the armies of Israel in the battle of Gilboa. When the area was resettled in the Hellenistic period, the city was renamed Nysa-Scythopolis in Greek after the nursemaid of Dionysius, the god of wine (!יין, “yai-in”). Here is a link with my source and explains the historical significance in more depth.

After Beit Sheam we came to the kibbutz where we’re staying for the weekend, got cleaned up, and went to bed. Good day!

Friday, September 20th:

Woke up way too early and hopped on a bus to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu, a traditional agricultural community that pools resources and has a communal dining hall—it’s essentially a socialist community.

Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu helped pioneer organic farming in Israel. The land was extremely impressive! They farm dates and have fish farms and a field of donkeys (though I don’t remember why!). The kibbutz also runs a bio-agricultural sciences company, BioBee, that produces natural products that get shipped worldwide and help improve crop yield.

I also tried organic grape juice there. It was really good! It wasn’t as sweet as I would’ve thought, though, but definitely better than the wine from Tuesday.

After that, we went to another kibbutz, Kfar Ruppin, where we went bird watching (interesting) and learned about their fish farms. From there, it was off to another spectacular meal full of pizza, pasta, and salads!

We ended the afternoon with a really great bike ride (or golf cart ride for others) through the Valley of the Springs. I think it’s a national park, and we wound up at a spring which was a lot of fun to swim around in! They even had a version of the watermelon popsicles from the Dead Sea which was pretty good (though the original was better)!

After the spring, we came back to the kibbutz and showered/napped before taking a group picture and heading to services. It was an orthodox temple which I personally don’t enjoy. I grew up in a Reform temple (called Progressive here in Israel), which is rife with music, and the orthodox community (and most conservative communities) don’t have that element.

Additionally, women are segregated because, as I understand it, their presence is distracting to the men praying. I have an issue with this. If a man can’t focus on his prayers then that’s his own problem and has nothing to do with a woman being there. I think it’s almost analogous to saying “oh, excuse me, I can’t take the SAT because there’s a woman taking her exam in the same room and that’s distracting.”

Anyway, I left with a few people after one prayer because I just wanted to check out the services. One cool feature of the synagogue was the benches! They have foldable elements in front for placing a siddur (prayer book) in a standing and sitting conformation, as well as a storage compartment and a foldable seat.

After the rest of our group finished praying, we went to dinner which was great! Apparently you’re supposed to have meat for Shabbat dinner (who knew!).

After we ate, we just hung out and talked. I then went on a walk with a friend and saw some cool cacti! Then it was off to bed.

Saturday, September 21st:

Woke up and went to a discussion about the meaning of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which included some brief history of the celebration, as well as traits we wish to focus on improving, as is traditional during the month of Elul (which precedes Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the High Holidays). After that, we went to a house on the kibbutz where we had a Shabbat lunch. The family was super welcoming, but between three guests, five kids, and some siblings, it was a little hectic. The food was good, though!

Post lunch, I went to take a nap (of course) and then went on a tour of the kibbutz! They have a dairy farm (I pet so many cows) and a world class carrot growing facility. There was also a miniature zoo with capuchin monkeys (קפוצ’ין קופים, “capuchin kofim”) and lemurs! Very fun!

From there we went to dinner and held Havdallah services before packing up and hopping on the bus back to Jerusalem!

Conclusion

I had a great time last week. I learned and adventured a lot! So far this week (number 4) has been interesting. I’ve stayed busy and have a lot of fun stories to share with you next week! Stay tuned and drop a comment below!

2 thoughts on “Week 3: A Crash Course on Israeli Politics”

  1. The man who “explained” the Palestinian conflict was off base. In 1920 the British were given “Palestine” to run. At the time 80% of the population was Arab and the rest Jewish and Christian (some Jews always remained btw)… In 1923 the Brits gave 80% of “Palestine” to the Arabs. Today this is called Jordan. In 1947 when Israel was created (by the UN after WW II) there were about 800,000 Arabs living in what is today Israel. There were also about 800,000 Jews living in Arab lands — who were exiled, most moving to Israel (Mizrahi Jews). The Arabs who won land put the Pals in camps while the Jews assimilated. In other words: it isn’t nearly as one sided or as simple as you were told.

  2. J-
    Looks like you are having too much fun. LOL!
    Brings back lots of great memories from my previous visits to Israel.
    Keep up the adventures and the blogs.
    Thank you,
    G

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