May 112008

Once Peder had headed back to Turkey, Mike and I met up with Danielle, Alex, Mike, Sammy, Robbie, and Natalya and headed to Rabin Square for Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebration. It was Thursday evening, and the place was absolutely packed. Young kids running around spraying each other with canned foam (I got a bit soaked myself…d’oh), live music, and alcohol being consumed left and right. It reminded me in some ways of Mardi Gras in the Gaslamp District of San Diego – an urban outdoors street party in a blocked-off area of the city (for security reasons, the whole area was locked down tighter than LAX).

After an hour or so all the crowds gathered in front of the government building to watch an hour-long fireworks presentation. People sang, danced, cheered, and cried. Israel reached 60 years. And despite the nature of the event (known as “The Disaster” by some…), the evening went through without a hitch. Which is lucky, because according to some vague inside information from our soldier friends, political pressure behind keeping the evening bomb-free was at its highest level of intensity.

Once the show concluded we split into two cars for a short drive out of the city to a soldier afterparty. Except that when we reached the lot where Natalia had parked, we found a crowd of people waiting for one most inconsiderately positioned vehicle to stop blocking the only exit.

Eventually someone dissembled the rear window and rolled it out of the way. Everyone cheered. I took a picture to commemorate the amusing experience. The “thief” was not happy. I deleted the picture.

That evening’s afterparty was organized by the same crew that throws the Ga’ash events (the soldier party on the Kibbutz I attended a week or so earlier). As always, security at the entrance was a nuisance but the experience well worth it. Someone at the door even recognized me from the previous event – “Hey, you’re that guy from California aren’t you?!”

The only thing that put a bit of a damper on the evening was some racism we witnessed at the door. As we were being ushered to the front of the line, a guy behind me asked if I could bring him in with us. I assumed he was just trying to get a discount as we all had VIP tickets. The reality was that he looks like a Sephardic Jew, and after a few problematic encounters, Sephardic Jews are now either rejected or only let in after Ashkenazi. I suppose I can understand it from a safety perspective, but racism is never cool. Mike was especially upset by this little encounter.

We told security they were with us and got them in without a problem. They turned out to be a couple of really cool guys 🙂

After the party I slept about an hour in Natalya’s car before heading to the beach to watch the big air show – which was just “alright.” Very different from an American airshow, the focus here seemed mostly to be showing off all the fantastic planes in Israel’s arsenal with just a small bit of formation flying tossed in the mix. Much more fun was how we watched it – the beaches were packed with observers, but for some reason almost no one was in the water. Mike, Sammy and I therefore jumped in and relaxed in the waves, watching the planes fly overhead with what looked like a wall of people standing on the sand facing outwards towards the three of us.

Unfortunately, those who’ve read the news lately might know that the show didn’t go off as smoothly as it should have – one of the paratroopers lost control in a gust of wind and plowed into the crowd injuring 10 observers, 3 of them quite severely. I was just a couple of yards away when the accident happened, and was able to see all the aftermath from the roof of a nearby gazebo. Those poor spectators were…not in good shape. At all.

We finished up the day by completely stuffing ourselves at a BBQ on Danielle’s roof – most of us have noticeably decreased our food intake due to the excessively high cost of living in Tel Aviv. We then said a round of sad goodbyes as Sammy and Robbie packed up and headed to the airport for the long flight home. Birthright was down to the final two. It was really sad to see everyone leave.

Mike and I also popped into Sky Hostel to say bye to the man at the desk and to Ash, then made our way out to Natalia’s kibbutz for the evening.

You know, even with all the traveling I’ve done in the last year and all the people I meet in my various destinations, it’s rare that I really feel like I’ve lived somewhere. I totally feel that about Tel Aviv. Hanging out at friends’ houses, attending family BBQ’s, getting invited to local parties, and driving around the streets in private vehicles instead of taxis. Everyone’s family has been so hospitable it’s just amazing, and I love the fact that everything is within walking distance of where I’ve been staying. I even managed to connect with an old friend from 8th grade who I haven’t seen since I was 12 (when she moved from the US back to Israel). She just happened to live one block from my hostel. I found her on Facebook.

The next day was a very lazy day on the Kibbutz: A day of recovery. We saw cows. We ate homemade cake. We listened to Natalia’s family speak Russian (note: there are TONS of Russians in Israel). And since Natalia was off-duty, I got to play with the massive rifle she had laying next to her bed. It was the first rifle I’ve ever held.

Finally, when we at last felt sufficiently rested, it was time for one more all-nighter at the bars on Allenby. Since Alex and Danielle were with us we found ourselves limited to “all-age” venues…that is, until we managed to convince our two soldier friends that we’d be able to sneak them into a 25-and-over bar. It turned out to be a much better crowd. Which makes sense, I suppose – they actually had a girl at the door who outright told me that the criteria for getting in was “being over 25, and being visually approved by me.”

Wow – that kind of thing would not fly in the US. At least not openly.

By sheer coincidence, we ran into Ariel at that bar – a very friendly soldier who we’d met just a few hours earlier when he overheard us discussing Birthright in the hostel hallway.

An hour or so after getting inside he came up to me and said “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a PUA, aren’t you…?”

Haha. Awesome 🙂

The next day was Saturday, the one day of weekend in Israel. We spent it on the beach with Danielle and Ariel. It was, as always, absolutely packed – and a perfect final day in the city that’s taken such good care of me during the preceding weeks. That night Mike and I planned to say goodbye to Israel and begin the trek into Egypt.

Due to a recent bombing by Hammas at the only Northern border crossing between Gaza and Sinai, access has been completely cut off to tourists. This ruled out a direct bus from Jerusalem to Cairo, leaving the only option of traveling all the way back down to Eilat and crossing there. Originally we’d intended to catch a night bus, allowing us to cross around 5am and arrive at our destination in time for breakfast. But some last-minute research showed that we’d first have to secure a visa at the consulate in Eilat. Not wanting to sit and wait in the bus station all night we decided to stay in Tel Aviv and head South in the morning.

But rather than pay for a whole night’s lodging for just a few hours’ rest, we decided instead to go out on the town once more, heading straight for the bus in the morning without a wink of sleep. After a bit of disagreement with the Sky Hostel staff about allowing us upstairs to rinse off and change, we hooked up with two Australian travelers and headed for our night out. Then, at 5 in the morning, we stumbled to the Central Bus Station.

The Israel leg of my trip was at last complete.

(Note: This entry was originally posted on May 14, as part of the previous. I later split and moved them back to fit the chronology of events.)

  One Response to “Independence Day”

  1. As Israeli living in NYC, it’s really cool to see my country described through a visitor’s eyes…

    About the club admission thing: that’s a sore point – there was even a law passed against it in the parliament (which is obviously not really enforced), but it’s not exactly a Sepharadi-Ashkenazi thing. It’s more of a way for club owners to discourage people who they don’t see fit for the crowd they want – if you’re in a big group of only guys or act too rowdy or dress/don’t dress in a certain way etc. It sucks, it happened to me a few times and always felt humiliating, but it’s not really a racist issue.

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