The Fulbright program is an amazing opportunity for anyone in academia. At first glance, it is a wonderful opportunity because it allows one to further one’s academic pursuits by allowing students to work with some of the greatest in their fields and to have access to laboratory equipment or archives that is not so readily available in the US. The real purpose of the program is cultural exchange between American citizens and the citizens of the host country (which in our case is Israel), and thus we are considered an extension of the US Embassy. Cool, huh?
The Israel Fulbright Organization schedules programs once a month for the Fulbright students, post-docs, and professors to not only have a chance to see more of Israel but also to develop a sense of comradery between the participants. The first program took us to Tel Aviv, where we met the US ambassador, had another security briefing, and listened to a professor discuss the situation in the middle east. It was really amazing to listen to the ambassador speak; I felt like I was meeting a celebrity. The security briefing basically told us to use common sense about our safety. Don’t go places that don’t seem safe, pay attention to what is going on around you, and be prepared. At some point in the near future I do want to put together a “go-bag.” This bag will contain the essentials for an emergency situation, and I don’t just mean missile strikes. I’m not sure if you all know this, but Israel sits on an active plate boundary. Earthquakes are common, and they haven’t had a large one in a while which means that we should be even more ready for one. The lecture about the middle east was very informative. It is amazing to hear how much is in flux right now and how each country is divided in different ways. It is a bit scary to hear that everyone surrounding us is falling apart, but it is a reality that we all must understand. After all of these talks, we boarded a bus and were taken to Ein Gedi.
This was my first real time in Tel Aviv, and it is amazing how quickly you can sense the difference between it and Jerusalem. Tel Aviv reminds me of New York City. It has very tall sky-scrapers and the buildings look a lot more modern than in Jerusalem where everything is made out of stone and most buildings are low (not all of them). I can’t exactly put my finger on which city in America Jerusalem is most like, but when speaking to a friend about it, she thought Chicago. I haven’t been to Chicago so I can’t confirm, but the way she described it sounds about right. The other difference that struck me was the difference in dress. All over Jerusalem, it is common to see women wearing knee-length skirts or longer, women wearing head coverings or sheytals, and men wearing kippot. There are also parts of Jerusalem where you feel like you are suddenly in Brooklyn. In Tel Aviv, people were dressed similarly to what you would expect in Boston or any other city in the United States. I have heard that Tel Aviv is more secular, so I guess it makes sense. I’m not trying to make a statement about who is more religious than who; I just find it interesting how striking the difference can be.
After all the talks described above, we boarded the bus that was to take us to Ein Gedi. The bus ride took us through the Judean desert, and I have to admit it felt so good to get away from city life for 24 hours. No matter how hard I try, city living is just not in my blood. I prefer the desert landscape to the city skyline. And honestly, there is still something so magical about the Dead Sea. I was so excited to see it from the bus windows. I can’t wait to visit there again when family comes.
Our tour took us to Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which is a spa resort near the Dead Sea. It survives from the waters of a natural spring, which is used to run their agricultural endeavors in addition to the hotel. We were given a tour of the Kibbutz by a founding member. While not all of her statements were geologically accurate, it was wonderful to see her attachment to the kibbutz. Her heart and soul were dedicated to her home in the desert. We walked around the botanical gardens and got to see some interesting species of plants.
The next day we went on a jeep tour of the hills near Ein Gedi. It was the craziest car ride I have ever experienced, but it was so fun! The views were absolutely breathtaking, and my inner geologist was on cloud-9. There were cool rock formations, oil shale, and caves. To make it even better, there is another spouse of a Fulbrighter who is a geologist! We got to share memories of the things we learned in college, since neither of us really use our rock ID skills as much as we did then.
After the jeep tour we made our way back toward Tel Aviv. We stopped at a very touristy “bedouin tent” which was really just a restaurant. The food was amazing, and it was nice to sit and relax after being in the hot summer sun for a while. After the restaurant we stopped at a bedouin village where there is a center for bedouin women to become more independent. Here they embroider bags, dresses, and other objects in a traditional style to earn money and gain some independence. The center also educates the women about their rights and the children in English and mathematics. Many of us purchased their beautiful work. It was nice to get something, but it was even more important to know that our money was supporting such an important cause. Go to the website below to learn more about this amazing project.
After we left the center, we made our way back to Tel Aviv, and then from there back to Jerusalem. We were exhausted and happy to be home, but we had a great time with everyone. It was really great being with people who were experiencing the same emotions and frustrations as we have been since we arrived. It was also great to see familiar faces, to laugh, and to discuss politics, science, and religion. We look forward to seeing everyone in November for Thanksgiving!
Until next time…
Some pictures of our Ein Gedi adventures…