Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Turning The Calendar

Hard to believe it's November already (and that it's been a while since my last post), and that we have just 4 more weeks left in Ashkelon. But we have gotten our first taste of "winter" here...we had a  stretch of five "60 degrees and rainy" days, but the rain is very important for Israel, so there's no complaining here. And it's supposed to be warmer and sunnier through the weekend.

It's been a pretty laid-back week or so. I spent the last two Shabbatot in Efrat with Ephraim and Batya. I love spending Shabbat with them because even though I only met them two months ago, it feels like I've known them forever. It's such a welcoming and familiar atmosphere, and Shabbat there is so peaceful and serene. The first weekend I brought my two roommates, Aaron and Derek over, and one of Ephraim's cousins from his mother's side of the family was there with a friend. And then last weekend, Eli, Elisheva and Ma'Or were there. Batya was heading to the States after Shabbat, and she said it would be a pretty simple Shabbat food-wise but as usual, there was so much to eat and it was so so good!

I took advantage in a break in the rain the other day to walk around the Ashkelon Archaeological Park. We walk through part of it every time we go to the beach, but it wasn't until Thursday that I went around to see what everything was. Ashkelon has thousands of years of history - the Phillistines, Canaanites, Muslims, and Crusaders have all left their mark - and archaeologists have been uncovering various structures and artifacts from the 3,000+ years (it's actually a group from Harvard that spear-heads the excavation). I posted some pictures from the journey around the park and the link is in the post below. There are still some sights I didn't get to, but seeing a gate from the Cannanite period from 1850 BCE was pretty cool, and I'm sure I'll have a chance to go back and see the things I didn't get to see.

We have a series of educational seminars throughout the year to learn in detail about the different aspects of Israeli life and culture, including tours of different areas we might not get to on our own. There's a 3-week section called "Politics and Society" and Sunday was the first of the seminars. We went to Be'er Sheva and visited the Dekel Prison, which was quite an experience. First, we met with one of the social workers there, and she introduced us to the prison system and explained the roles of the different people who work there. Unfortunately, Israel has seen a dramatic increase in crime, especially domestic crime in the past 13 years, so prisons have become more crowded.

We got a guided tour of the facility and saw the variation in the way different groups of prisoners live. First was the maximum security ward, where the prisoners are locked in their cells for 22 hours a day. They have 2 hours during the day to shower, make phone calls, and sit in the common area, all of which takes place inside the ward - they are not allowed outside at all. A tray of food is brought to their room, and there are 12 prisoners in one cell (6 bunk beds). Basically these are prisoners who refuse to behave or change their ways, and their free time is staggered to prevent fights.

For prisoners who show good behavior and indicate they want to get their lives back on track, there are other set-ups. There are fewer people in one cell (btwn 4-8) and they're allowed to spend free time outside and have meals in a dining hall. There are also facilities such as a library, computer room (without internet access of course), and there are even Torah classes for people who have found God and are becoming religious and want to study. We also saw the factory where some are allowed to work.

There's also a rehab clinic for prisoners trying to overcome substance abuse and alcoholism. One of the prisoners going through rehab spoke to us. His name is Dmitry and he's originally from Russia. He started doing drugs and drinking when he was a teenager and has been in and out of jail his whole life and finally decided he wanted to clean up his life. He told us his story and also that in 18 months when he finishes serving his time, he's going to go and life in a half-way house that helps former prisoners with histories of substance abuse stay clean after leaving jail.

I'm very excited for this upcoming weekend - I'm going to Tel Aviv tomorrow to see Mosh Ben-Ari in concert. He's one of my favorite Israeli musicians, and he just released a new album less than 2 months ago. This is his official album release party, and some of his musician friends will be performing on stage with him, including Ehud Banai and Avraham Tal. A few different people on my program are celebrating birthdays this week/weekend in Tel Aviv as well so there should be some fun celebrations.

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