My Final Flag Raising {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #19}

My Final Flag Raising {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #19} | Thursday 28th July 2016 |

It felt so special to complete my 3 weeks of volunteering by raising the flag on the last day. I self-consciously walked over to the rostrum and stood opposite a soldier, waiting for the commander to lead the ceremony. There are 2 commanders who usually call out the standing positions – one guy who half-heartedly calls out a few and then it’s over before you know it, and a girl who thinks she’s the bee’s knees and shouts at us for about 5 minutes before our aching arms can rest. Today we had the moody girl, so the ceremony lasted a while – typical! I let the other soldier lower the flag so that I could have the honour of raising it.

We spent the morning packing, cleaning our dorms, cleaning the common room, returning our uniforms (I was quite reluctant to let mine go…), and I finally went to the “shekem” (tuck shop) to stuff my hand luggage with Doritos and Sappé (the delicious aloe vera drink). The commander of the base came to thank us for our work, and I couldn’t believe that 3 weeks had passed since he first welcomed us here!

We went to the warehouse for a final goodbye, and the lovely workers threw us a leaving party. One of the soldiers made us a huge banner that read: “Dear Volunteers, thanks for everything like warehouse Hhizzit”. We felt bad because they’d obviously gone to a lot of trouble, but we had no idea what the banner actually meant… Oh, and there was an abundance of Bamba, so I had to stay well away! We took loads of group photos (I thought we weren’t allowed to take photos in the work place…) and thanked our favourite managers. Some of them made speeches to thank us for our work. They said they were genuinely surprised that young people actually wanted to work here and didn’t complain about the tasks. They want us to return as volunteers some time in the future, and I might consider it (despite the fact that it would be a completely different experience with a new group). They sounded sincere when they thanked us, and it really meant a lot to me because you can never be sure whether you’re making a difference or whether anything matters in the grand scheme of things. (I also got to speak a bit more to Soulja Boy, and everyone was teasing us as we got a photo together and said our goodbyes.)

We all got on the coach and made our final journey out of the base towards Tel Aviv. We departed at the usual meeting point, and it was really sad to leave the friends we had volunteered, messed around, drank chocolate milk and complained with for the past 3 weeks. A group of us ventured on to Tel Aviv, and my Canadian friend and I checked into a trendy boutique hotel where we’d spend our last night. Before we grabbed a much-needed Aroma iced drink and met up with the Australian boy, Canadian boy and the girl from Calgary, I received a surprise message from Soulja Boy! For the rest of the afternoon, as a group, we were all crowding round the phone trying to reply to his messages. As much as I wanted to meet up, I much preferred spending my last afternoon and evening with my Sar-El friends – he’ll just remain a cute inside joke from my time in the warehouse.

The group of us went to a beach closer to the main stretch of hotels, and the sea there had far bigger waves to ride. We wanted to borrow a surf board from a randomer we named Raoul, and for some unknown reason I screamed “Raaaouuulllll!!!” at the top of my lungs whilst we floated about with the Australian boy’s Go-Pro and got swallowed by the waves numerous times. When I started to get a bit of motion sickness, I managed to find a solitary spot of shade on the sand: the shadow from a swimming rules sign. For dinner, we went to Neve Tzedek. There was such a buzzing atmosphere and I loved wandering around the cute artists’ market, food stalls and shops. We found the one Kosher restaurant there and tried some traditional home made food. It was hilarious when the Australian boy (who was trying SO HARD to be Kosher) asked if he could have chocolate milk with his schnitzel!!!

After our meal, we soaked up the awesome ambience and headed to the military hostel to visit our madricha whilst she was on guard duty. We finally got to see her with a gun! It was so nice to spend time with her off-base. When 2 hours had passed after the meal, we walked to Yafo in search of some ice cream (I had a chocolate soufflé with cookies and cream ice cream); Yafo has a completely different feel to Tel Aviv, for example: it’s so… Middle Eastern! We then returned to the military hostel and stayed there until the curfew (midnight) when we got kicked out. It was a long but fun evening, and I especially enjoyed the hour’s walk back from Yafo to Tel Aviv. I couldn’t believe how busy the parks were by the sea, how peaceful it was to stroll along the promenade, and how alive I felt in that moment.

The girl from Calgary didn’t manage to catch a train to her couch-surfing hosts, so she stayed with us in the hotel, and I had a good rest before arriving early at the airport the next morning. In the arrivals hall, I watched the Genesis trip highlights video before checking in, and I cried a little. I just felt a whole range of emotions all at once; I was so happy about the amazing experiences that I’d had in Israel, but I was devastated to have to go home! I stocked up on snacks before my flight – Doritos, obviously – and actually had a really pleasant flight. The plane was quite plush and the food was great (we were served ice lollies – I didn’t know that was a thing). But enough about the food… arriving in London was, by far, the most miserable moment of the summer. Why does England have to be so… GREY?! I guess I’ll have to start looking into booking another trip to Israel some time soon, because I’m already having severe withdrawal symptoms…

Ken Ha Mifakedet! {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #18}

Ken Ha Mifakedet! {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #18} | Wednesday 27th July 2016 |

It’s the last day of our programme so I don’t think the managers really had anything useful for us to do. I was given the task of making 1000 bags. We didn’t need to pack anything- just make the bags- which seemed really pointless. I cut so many bags that the scissors ripped skin off my fingers – ouch! Yesterday a manager gave us some pre-made bags (but properly manufactured ones) to use when packing random pipe parts and I was thinking “why didn’t they give these to us 3 weeks ago so we wouldn’t have to slave away making them ourselves?!”

It was the warehouse commander’s birthday so the workers threw him a ‘surprise’ party, with loads of food etc. It was really nice that we were invited to celebrate with everyone. However, there was Bamba everywhere and I was so paranoid because my medication was back at the dorms.

In the afternoon, I was absolutely shattered so I went to sleep in the office for a good hour and a half. I felt really bad taking such a long break because we came here to work, but I really had no energy to do anything. When I’d recovered a bit, I helped the blonde German boy put stickers on a few boxes of hammers, which was an easy job for the end of the day. Everyone had helped to clean the warehouse (I started to sweep the floor but then someone blasted a hose so all the rubbish and dust got swept away in the water again and I gave up) and most of the palettes in the middle section of the space in which we worked had been taken away so the place looked strangely empty.

At 4pm we went to the flag raising spot to take some group photos and I think they turned out really well. After that, some crazy people decided to go back to work for a couple more hours!

This evening, we had a debrief session where we gave feedback about the programme and shared our reflections on the experience. Then we presented our madrichot with cards and t-shirts we made for them to say thank you, and they presented us with certificates.

Our main evening activity was very different tonight. Our Russian madricha became our commander and we had to do some simplified basic training drills outside. We had no idea what was going on, so we made jokes, but she was super severe and wouldn’t let us talk or move. After all our commands we had to say “Ken ha mifakedet!” (Yes, commander!) We had to stand in different formations like the letter “Chet” or in equal lines, and we only had a few seconds to run to the correct place and stand in position. When we got it wrong we had to do it all over again! It was hilarious because we’re friends with our madricha and we’d never seen her shout at anyone like this. At one point, she wanted to tell us to stand by a telephone pole but didn’t know the word for it in English and got really frustrated. The Candian boy made her crack up and break the straight face. She had to go off to “take a phone call” but we knew that she just needed a few seconds to have a giggle and gain composure again! It was hard for all of us not to laugh but if we did crack up, we would be kicked out. It was a cool activity to have on our last night.

Afterwards, we had a pizza party, played cards and listened as the funny quotes from the past few weeks were read out. It was great to reminisce and laugh about all the ridiculous, embarrassing, witty and inappropriate comments that we made. I’ve loved spending time with this group and because everyone was so quirky in their own way, I’m going to miss the group dynamics when I go home!

Surprise: Siren! {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day 17}

Surprise: Siren! {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day 17} | Tuesday 26th July 2016 |

Have you ever counted sheep if you’ve found it hard to get to sleep? Well I have, and I only usually get to 50 before I’m out. So imagine having to count not only to 50 or 100 or even 150, but 9200 without falling asleep. Today my friends and I spent most of the morning packing 9200 tiny metal rings into nylon bags (and I thought the 1950 pieces I did in one go the other day was bad…) When I got to lunch, another friend told me she did it yesterday but weighed the pieces collectively in cups so it barely took any time or effort… so you can imagine how frustrated we were that nobody told us that was an option! Can I just emphasise again that we individually counted out 9200 pieces?! 

For our evening activity, we learned about different minority ethnic groups living in Israel (ie. the Druze, Beduoins, Ethiopians, Black Hebrews, Carcissians etc…). It was so funny because our madricha talked about the French population in Israel but called them “Frenches” (we’re always making fun of her English). At one point, a siren blared and we had to duck on the floor quickly for a head count. There’s a new commander on the base who’s really strict about rules, so we had to join in with this army drill and then sit on the floor (amongst the ants, of course) for the rest of our activity. 

Update on the ant situation by my bed: I spritzed them with my bug repellent and apart from the odd woozy ant crawling around, most of them disappeared (hooray!) 

The Best Feeling In The World {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day 16}

The Best Feeling In The World {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day 16} | Monday 25th July 2016 | 

To be totally honest, today was a bit rubbish. I was stuck putting small bags into bigger bags, then packing huge, heavy metallic screws into nylon. The 5 hour morning dragged on and on, and when it came to the afternoon I slipped off to the air-conditioned office to take a nap. I just had no energy to do anything so I was alternating between hiding from the managers behind the fan at my desk, visiting other volunteers at their stations, plaiting girls’ hair and helping Soulja Boy. The worst part was that I finished my tasks at 3pm and could have left early, but nobody told me that they got to leave early so I was there for an extra half an hour that I could have used to take a shower or eat Doritos! 

I didn’t mention it before but being able to take a cold shower here is such a luxury; even after I go for runs or it’s a whopping 22 degrees back in the UK, there’s no way I could face a cold shower… but here, after a day of sweating and slaving away, it’s the best feeling in the world. Today it was lucky I had a shower when I did because we found out a pipe had burst and the base had no water! 

For our evening activity, we had a guest speaker from Yad Vashem who came to talk to us about Jewish leadership, mainly in the Holocaust. I was shattered and barely took anything in. I was pretty sure I’d learned about the same people on the Genesis Poland trip, and she was not an engaging speaker either. All in all, the talk went on far too long and I didn’t find it interesting, unfortunately. Afterwards, I finally watched Harry Potter with some others. It wasn’t terrible (if you forget about the green screen) but it was really weird watching actors who I’ve seen in more recent films as tiny kids with posh British accents. At least now I’ve started my Harry Potter education, even if I am 10 years too late…

Oh and before bed I found a trail of ants by my bed. I am now itchy 99% of the time. I swear these ants are everywhere, even in my dreams…

Thrown In The Deep End {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #15}

Thrown In The Deep End {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #15} | Sunday 24th July 2016 |

Someone didn’t turn up at our meeting point this morning! One of the German boys had a return flight from Eilat but it got very delayed, so his taxi met us at the base entrance. A new boy (from Philadelphia) who had just finished Taglit joined our group today. 

We had a blissful few hours before we were needed at work but the Czech and Slovakian girls wanted to go to work straight away. I personally need all the time out that we get because it’s an exhausting and intense programme, so the fact that these volunteers start shifts early and stay on an extra 2 hours after the rest of us leave seems like madness to me! We already do 7.5 hours a day, so the thought of 9.5 is unbearable! 

This afternoon I packaged another 1200 or so of whatever it was I didn’t finish packing on Friday. I was trying to find (gal gal gal) Galatz on the radio and the sweet manager who gives jobs to the French boys came over to help. However, he kept putting on the same awful heavy metal radio station and telling me it was that one (nope!) He’s so funny but mainly because he doesn’t speak English so we communicate through the odd word and a lot of confusing gestures. Every morning, he gets off his bike and comes to turn on my light, check the radio is to my liking, and manages to make me laugh somehow. 

At dinner, everyone was really hyper. Some boys at my table were trying to land balls of scrunched up napkins into our cups and we were just giddy for some reason. I was worried we were scaring off the new guy because he seems nice and pretty normal, and he’s just been thrown in the deep end two weeks into our programme. 

Our evening activity was learning about Israel geography. We had a team exercise where we competed to stick names of famous cities on giant hand drawn maps. I’m honestly so impressed with the effort that goes into preparing our evening activities – the madrichot are fantastic. We also learned a bit about each place, like what you can find and do there. My geography is terrible so this activity definitely helped me clear a few things up. 

Later on, I ended up watching Harry Potter with some others. The posh British accents made everything over-the-top cheesy and I’m sure the more recent movies must have better green screen graphics, but overall it was quite entertaining and I can finally say I understand a little more about the Harry Potter world I missed out on in my childhood.  

Clouds On Fire {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #14}

Clouds On Fire {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #14} | Saturday 23rd July 2016 |

Like last Shabbat, I took the opportunity to relax for as long as possible. My day consisted of swimming, noshing on Doritos, reading (I’ve almost finished my book now!) and sleeping in the shade by the rooftop pool in the hotel. The others went to the beach but I didn’t fancy getting all sandy, so I joined them later on when they brought the French guys to the hotel. We had a chill afternoon by the poolside, joking around and people-watching as Shabbat’s end was nearing. 

As the pool was closing, the friendly lifeguard let me stay up there to continue reading my book. He came to chat to me and we discussed Israel, my volunteering, intermarriage, and I taught him about the “friend zone”! He’s the kind of lifeguard who does his job but also goes the extra mile to schmooze with the guests and make them feel at home. So yes, I did make friends with a 50-something year old Israeli, but he offered to let all the volunteers use the pool whenever we’re next in Tel Aviv, which was really sweet of him. There was an artist yesterday at the market who also thought it was great that we were doing Sar-El; she said “I am so proud of you”, which really meant a lot to us. 

The sunset was extraordinary today. The sun was setting behind some clouds, so it made the outline of the clouds look neon or like they were on fire. Also, there were huge rays of golden light beaming through the clouds in all directions, which looked stunning both in the sky and reflected in the sea. 

After Shabbat, the whole group of us met up at the Namal and queued up at a restaurant for at least an hour whilst they were opening up. Some people refused to eat because of the bad service, but we were the first table to receive our orders and the pizza we’d all been craving was well worth the wait. 

Of course, we went for ice cream after the meal. But we had planned to go to the pop-up Magnum store where we could design our own Magnums, so this was an extra special ice cream treat. It was such a great idea and we all loved picking out our own unique topping combinations. I think they have something similar in Covent Garden but I’ve never been so this was a cool experience. One of the French boys had to leave us to back to the military hostel in time for the curfew, but the rest of us had a long walk (primarily in search of a rooftop bar but my room mates and I ended up returning to our hotel out of sheer exhaustion). 

Mooching In The Markets {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #13}

Mooching In The Markets {Sar-El 🇮🇱 Day #13} | Friday 22nd July 2016 |

Photo credit: Louise Aron |

Back to the Carmel market and then the artists’ market! We met up with the French guys and hung out with them whilst we all tried to bargain for gifts and souvenirs in the busy marketplaces. It always takes a lot of self restraint not to buy random bits and pieces at the shuk! This time we completed the artists’ market and I loved it. My New Yorkan friend and I took our time looking at all the interesting pieces of jewellery etc, but our Canadian friend was not impressed and kept reminding us that Aroma was waiting for us at the end! Naturally, iced drinks were much needed after all the mooching around in the sun, so we boarded a shared taxi shuttle with our Aroma refreshments and headed to the hotel, followed by the beach. (On the ride back, my friends wanted me to show them English currency so I explained all the coins and denominations.)

Our Australian friend met us at the beach with his GoPro, so we got to take some really cool action shots in the water as the immense waves crashed over us. We had much bigger waves today so it was really fun jumping into them or being carried off by them. The lifeguards kept shouting through their megaphones but we had no clue what they were trying to say!

My Shabbat meal consisted of some supermarket snacks, including pitta bread, humous, cold meats and an aloe vera drink that I was introduced to on Genesis. I love that I can just go into a supermarket here and pick up any meat I want, knowing that it’s Kosher- it’s such a privilege!

I went with my friends to the Namal area (the port) to take some  obligatory pre-Shabbat selfies (the Australian boy dropped his phone into a forbidden access construction site!) and I watched the sunset as they ate their dinner.  The busy week started to take its toll on me and I went back to get an early night, but it was a really great evening and I realised I would miss being in Tel Aviv next weekend!