Sunday, October 9, 2011

Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part IV of ?)

Read these first:
Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part I of ?)
Birthright Israel: We’re Coming Back (Part II of ?)
Birthright Israel: We're Coming Back (Part III of ?)

At the Golan Heights overlooking Syria on Birthright Israel
At the Golan Heights overlooking Syria
I learned how Israel gained control of the Golan Heights, and how Syria uses a captured Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit to negotiate back ownership. Israel considers this an option*. Our tour guide tried withholding bias throughout the trip, but here he couldn’t abstain: Syria may agree to peace, but once Israel relinquishes the Golan Heights then Syria would require something else for real peace. The cycle could continue.
* other aspects of negotiation, and other potential negotiations, not named here

Israel's Gilad Shalit
I learned the value of a life. The parents of Gilad Shalit host strangers in their home—more like a living memorial—to pray for the safe return of their kidnapped son. He has been gone for over 1,900 days and counting. And sadly, Israel’s enemies use this against it, knowing that Israel will give up the world to get their soldiers back. Gilad is twenty-five years old.

I learned how nearly all high school graduates enter service—the men for three years and women for two. They talk about their military background the way Americans disclose their University or degree to display status and success.

I learned how proud the soldiers felt to be part of our Birthright group. Whereas I applied for the trip because it was free and promised to be an awesome party, the Israelis felt honored to be selected. At Mount Herzl, each one received a Taglit pin and sincerely thanked us for letting them be a part of our experience.

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum
Artwork at Museum in memory of the death march from Dachau
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum was redone since my Israel trip in 2000. It is interactive and spectacular. Before entering, we had the privilege of hearing a Holocaust survivor speak. It pains him deeply every time he gives a talk, but he feels obligated to share his story to make sure it never happens again. Considering how old this gentleman and all the other survivors are, that may have been the only time I’ll ever hear a survivor speak in person. Although I gained a lot by hearing the man speak, I already knew how unfathomable the Holocaust was. That is something everyone should learn at a young age, though so many Americans don’t.

I learned that despite being surrounded by people and governments that hate them, Israelis move on with life at a 21st century pace. We spoke a bit about the many threats Israel faces. I believe Iran’s nuclear program is the most critical. That wasn’t even a top-3 topic in our discussion. Israelis seem in a bigger rush than Washingtonians or New Yorkers and they don’t have time to fret about Ahmadinejad.

I learned that Israelis wheel and deal more so than Blagojevich. I was rushed through stores and eateries, expected to know what I wanted to buy before entering, buy those items, buy additional impulse items, and then run out of the store to tell others to buy the same stuff. Their cost of living is high, too, but they make up for it by making Coke Zero available most everywhere. That made me willing to forgive the Coke Zero can being closer to 11 ounces than 12.

While rooming with one of the soldiers one night, he was talking to me after he took a shower. He dropped his towel and then stayed that way for several minutes to put on deodorant and such before dressing, still talking and looking at me. I learned that either soldiers in general, Israelis in general, or Israeli soldiers in particular have different standards regarding air-drying.

I learned that, while chasing girls, I shouldn't concede victory just because my competitor is a foreign soldier who drops towel far more leniently than he should. Fiery, my interest on the trip, told me so at the end of the trip when I inquired. On that note, I learned that I am better looking at very low body fat (like I was in Israel) than at just low body fat (like I was in last month’s rejection). Those two examples are a proper sample size to conclude cause and effect, not just correlation, so I expect great things when I once again get low low low body fat probably next month.

When public restrooms are not available and you really need to pee, it’s OK to just go, man. I knew this way before going to Israel, and maybe more appropriately I should say you just go, man, even if it’s not perceived as OK. Despite the temperature in the 40s and the accompanied chilly sensation, this was the most scenic pee of my life. Ahhhh.
Golan Heights sunset