Hard to believe it's our final week in Ashkelon - come Sunday our Otzma group will be split up for the remainder of the program. I'll write more about what's coming up later in the week, but first I wanted to update everyone on the past week.
You might have already seen pictures from our Thanksgiving on Facebook, but if not, here's the link to my pics. It was truly a great way to celebrate a family-based holiday away from home, because even though it sounds a bit cliche, in many ways our group has become a family - we live together, eat together, and yes - make fun of each other plenty. And even though Thanksgiving is not a holiday that is celebrated here in Israel, there was a very festive atmosphere in Calanit all day long, as we all ran around cooking and preparing our dishes. Hallie and Alex, two girls from my program, organized the whole soiree and they couldn't have done a better job. It was a potluck style dinner with a twist. We all contributed money to buy two huge turkeys and some extra parts - and then the girls picked up the turkeys, seasoned them, and cooked them. One of the running jokes on Otzma is that I'm the Dad of the group because I'm older than most everyone else, so Hallie and Alex asked me to help them carve the turkeys...naturally one the perks to carving the turkey is that I was able to taste test the turkey while I carved it (just to make sure it was fit to serve, of course)
We had our feast in the multi-murpose room in our absorption center, complete with decorations, and of course, hand turkeys. In addition to our entire Otzma group, we had the 10 participants in the Israeli Teaching Corps program (a program run in conjunction with ours), our program leaders and their families, and of course, Nana, our beloved Ulpan teacher, who celebrated her first Thanksgiving with us (and who invited us to her house for breakfast on Wednesday morning!) Each person on our program cooked a dish to bring, and people doubled up on the staples, so we had several different kinds of stuffing and mashed potatoes, along with meatballs, rice, pasta salad, my Handsome Kugel, and of course, tons and tons of desserts. The food was not only amazing, but there was an absurd amount...and we had so much food leftover, that we woke up on Friday and had a potluck lunch of all the leftovers.
The other exciting thing from this past week was getting to visit Haifa, where I'll be living from January through March. The focus of Part 2 of Otzma is to live and volunteer in "partnership cities", cities/towns in Israel that have a connection and relationship with cities back in the States. Most of the other partnership placements are smaller towns like Netivot, Kiryat Malachi and Kiryat Shmona, but because Boston and Haifa have had a strong sister-city relationship since 1989 we get to go to the third largest city in Israel and live there for 3 months. I'll be living there with 3 other guys - Tom, who is also from Newton, and Brett and Joseph from Texas, and we're all really excited for what lies ahead. We'll be living in an absorption center in Haifa, and while some other partnership communities have better housing, the opportunity to live and volunteer in Haifa was one of the main reasons I chose Otzma in the first place, so in my eyes, I'm not making any kind of sacrifice to be there.
We met with the Jewish Federation representatives in Haifa, as well as the people who work in the Boston-Haifa connection office, and they told us how excited they were to have us and about all the opportunities we'll have. One of the coolest things is we're going to be involved in the Young Leadership Division, which aims to get 22-30 year olds involved in the Jewish community. They have social events a couple of times a week, as well as weekend day trips around the region, so it's a great way to get to know Haifa and also meet people our age in the city. I took some pics from around town but I kind of erased them by accident...so if you're dying to get a look at what the city of Haifa looks like, click here to see my pics from '06 when I was there with my fam.