I still don’t know which way Israeli toilet bowls flush.
“How do you feel now that you’re in Israel?”
“How does it feel to be surrounded by so much history?”
“How does it feel to be walking where Jesus walked?”
I barely had time to turn on my phone and tag myself at Ben-Gurion airport and I was already being bombarded with questions coming from home. What’s the big deal? I know many of you are thinking the questions to be closed-ended. All you must do is answer a simple “great” and the conversation would be over, but I’ve grown to realize most questions are open-ended. They always are. If you answer with one word you’re either cold, mad or an asshole.
So I was annoyed and felt suffocated. I mean, I didn’t even have time to study Israeli toilet bowls to see if they flushed in a different direction than Canadian one’s. That’s an annoyance. I must always see what direction the water flushes upon arriving in a foreign country.
It’s an observation that when finally seen will change my life. If you haven’t already guessed, for the record, I still have not been able to make that assessment. Not because I haven’t gone to the washroom. Not because I haven’t wanted to either. Rather because oh, maybe, I just got off a 24-hour flight without sleep and am being asked to sit through a two-hour midnight Christmas mass with Gregorian chants that are NOT like the one’s I had deductively envisioned would sound like through thorough YouTube research.
Right now, after day 1, dear Facebook and blogging friends, this is where I’m at; an absolute inner conflict between being thankful and feeling guilty for not being thankful enough because, instead, all I can think of is flinging all my spare change towards Jono’s head from across these stiff and uncomfortable church benches.
This is Jono
Jono, formally known as Jonathan Kalles, is the associate director for Quebec Government relations at the center for Israel and Jewish affairs. He’s the organizer of this mission to Israel. You might be familiar with Jono since he blogs occasionally on SDM. Known for his starkyness, wit and that up-to-no-good smirk permanently tattooed on his face, Jono will be our mission “leader”. He will be the disciplinarian, he will be the baby sitter, he will be, by the end of the trip, the one and I quote that, “everyone can’t stand.” I love Jono though, he’s like tripe, it’s an acquired taste.
Now, let’s move back in time a little so you can have a better idea of the events that led up to that “wanting to fling change at head” moment. You can listen to this to refresh your pallet if you’d like. I find this song the equivalent of Ginger when eating sushi. Reset, now bring the rest on!
All my bags were packed and I was ready to get going. While I was lingering around my house waiting for my father to finish getting ready, I asked my mom to make herself useful and snap some pictures of me. I wanted to remember this moment forever. It was a unique moment, an exciting moment, I needed a picture to immortalize it….and to put on instagram.
What I’m Wearing: Men’s Obey Hat, Trailwear by Penfield backpack, Tretorn rain boots, leggings from H&M, sweater stolen from a friend and white wife beater from H&M.
-Quick story diversion-
If you’re wondering, in terms of clothing, I brought my entire wardrobe with me. I won’t get into it, but very superficially speaking, I hate packing. I hate packing because it highlights my deep-seated commitment issues and because it always ends up being an experience worthy of a Run Lola Run sequel.
I can never decide what I want to bring with me and planning outfits is way too logical and pragmatic. You see, I consider dressing myself to be a highly emotional process. The way I’m dressed represents my mood at the moment and how could I possibly predict what my mood may be in the days to come? I’d have to be emotionally stable to do that. So, the natural solution was to pack my entire wardrobe.
My father finally ended up hauling his luggage down the stairs and into the cab. I kissed my mom goodbye before getting into the cab myself. It was a sad moment. I was sad that I couldn’t put her in my pocket and bring her with me. With age I’ve become more appreciative of my family and being my mother, the one who gave me life, I was going to miss her tremendously.
Before I forget, this is my father.
His name is Luciano Del Negro, he’s the Vice-President of the center for Israel and Jewish affairs in Quebec. I’m not too sure what he does on these trips to be honest. Day 1 made me come to the conclusion that he was a silent observer, culinary critic and overall reminder of the effectiveness of what I like to call the parental “wip”.
DEFINITION: The “wip” is my equivalent of the traditional Mediterranean quick, unexpected, fairly painless but highly effective slap in back of the head.
USAGE: It’s normally used when your child’s mind is wandering elsewhere, anywhere but where it should be at that particular moment.
We arrived at the airport and immediately spotted Jono and the rest of the group standing a couple of meters away from us. They seemed to be so many and I was nervous. Most people grow out of social anxieties, unfortunately, with age, I’ve grown into them.
It’s a long story, but I always thought I was an extrovert until I realized I was actually an extrovert hidden in an introverts’ body. Introverts’ being seen as weak and “less” in society I figured unconsciously at a young age that in order to survive in social situations I could not be quiet, shy or reserved. There came a day however where this denial caught up to me and I had to assert myself.
That’s around the same time I decided to drop the idea of attending business school to get rich and decided I wanted to go into journalism and become a writer. Some say it’s when my actual life began, others say it’s when it ended. It’s a debatable subject.
So here I was going to meet a dozen different young people. Not any type of young people though. These kids were all young political leaders, with impressive resumes. The type of kid your parent wants you to be. The type of person that is generally considered to not be a failure in life when asked over wine and cocktails at a networking event what they do in life. And then there’s me; an artsy, student-journalist who doesn’t really enjoy journalism and would rather work for herself and write stories for a living.
When I explain this to people they normally smile at me empathetically. Their empathy is normally highly hypocritical and in fact quite condescending. They smile at me as if I were in a phase and would eventually grow out of it and want to get a “real” job. Normally, I want to deck these people in the face, but I’m a wimp and would never do such.
Needless to say I was intimidated. I felt self conscious and insecure, but as I approached them the anxiety began going down. Everyone was staring at my father and I with huge welcoming smiles.
Sarah, who I later found out would be my awesome roommate, was the first one to great me. We are also the two youngest ones. She’s 21 and I’m 20.
Jono didn’t loose any time and went on to present the group.
The group was built of representatives of the three major provincial political parties. Some have ran in the Provincial elections to be part of the national assembly, some are presidents of the youth wing of their party, some are studying to be lawyers, all in all they are all politically involved. Three of them are from the CAQ, three from the Quebec Liberals and three from the P.Q. Sarah, Brian and I are the neutral voices.
Here is the PQ group
From left to right; Felix, Alexandre and Stefanie.
*The PQ is a Center-Left separatist party. They would eventually like Quebec to separate from Canada.
From left to right; Louis-Charles, Caroline and Gab.
*The Quebec Liberals are a center-right party. Some would argue that they are in fact quite conservative. They are not a separatist party.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec group.
From left to right; Laurence, Andrew and Emmanuelle
*The CAQ is a Center-Right party that was recently created. It’s comprised of separatists and non-separatists. They plan to keep Quebec separation out of the political agenda for ten years.
From left to right; Brian, Me and Sarah.
* If a Zen party that encouraged inner peace and meditation existed, I’d vote for them. Brian will vote for anyone who can just get him on a flight to Miami so he can work on his already orange tan and Sarah , well Sarah just wants world peace.
We all greeted each other and headed immediately to check-in. While I waited in line Jono and my father came up to me looking like mischievous giddy teenagers. They gave me instructions to go through airport security and then meet them on the plane at departure time.
“Where are you guys going,” I asked.
“I’m not telling you,” my dad answered, “just wait and line and make sure you make the flight.”
I put the fact that they were acting weird to the side and went through standard airport procedure. Check-In, Security and then a bite to eat. We broke up into little groups and I alongside the young liberals decided to try the restaurant Cobine by Louis-Francois Marcotte. We sat down at the bar, ordered a bottle of Valpolicella to celebrate the occasion and ate away.
I was looking at the people walk by while sipping my wine and I got lost in thought. The wine was reddening my cheeks at that point also. I always felt airports to be these magical portals. You are not here, you are not there, you are in this kind of limbo of transition. Another way of describing it would be a void. There are protons, neutrons and in between nothingness. But a beautiful nothingness though, because in fact behind the stoic and austere nature of airports lie worlds full of promise. Gates of possibility.
Anyways, we got to the gate and walked onto the plane. As I walked past the first class Isle I saw my dad there. He looked like Lucifer the cat in Cinderella and he was waving at me sarcastically.
“What the hell are you doing here,” I said confused
“Shut up and just go sit down,” he ordered. He then guided me with his hand like some kind of aristocrat towards the back of the plane.
“Seriously dad,” I said annoyed.
“I got upgraded because I’m an Elite flyer…bye, bye,” he said. How sneaky. That’s what him and Jono got up to while we had to follow protocol like regular, honest citizens of the …planet. Gentiles. The proletariat.
Out of coincidence I was seated next to the same girls I was with for my pre-flight drinking session. Everyone was excited, everyone was smiling nervously and by this time the wine had hit us a little more also.
A couple of minutes later the announcements began. I know generally this is a really insignificant detail, but I drank and my mind was in the gutter. Did you ever notice that security announcements sound really sexual? Almost like bad German phone sex. I couldn’t stop laughing. And also, the flight attendant jumped from language to language like Mary Poppins would jump over puddles of water. German to French to English to Italian. I sat there with my mouth open absolutely mind blown.
Now, why did I call this section “Snakes on the motherf*king plane” well it’s because I ordered more wine on the flight and an hour in we hit some turbulence. The turbulence made me internally justify my drinking. The logic was “Well…In case there’s motherf*cking snakes on the motherf*cking plane.” I don’t know, it just happened. I’m just as confused as you are.
I put my earphones on, closed my eyes and listened to music until we arrived in Zurich
We arrived in Zurich and it was about 6 A.M. While I got off the plane I noticed the PQ’ kids were in a surprisingly good mood. They, I later learned, unlike the rest of us, understood how to make a long flight in ridiculously uncomfortable seats go by smoothly. They drank three bottles of wine each during the flight. I made a mental note to hang out with them more often.
The airport was disappointing. We were in a terminal where not much was going on and it was too early to check out to the other ones.
So I had the brilliant idea to make up for lost time. We had two hours before our next flight and naturally I suggested some of us sit down and start drinking. There’s nothing like a good beer for breakfast. A few drinks in, we couldn’t pronounce the Swiss currency so we all agreed that it would be called “Schuffles.”
But then Felix from the PQ made a brilliant statement. The statement was the following; just because the letters CDN are written on Canadian money doesn’t mean its pronounced “CDN”. Phonetically speaking he tried to say that it wouldn’t sound like “canud”. We cracked up for about 15 minutes. I was on the floor crying.
But now that I’m writing this sober it doesn’t sound so funny.
Once we arrived at Gate E-23 happy and overly talkative on booze I laid my eyes on something I was not prepared for. I blinked forcefully in case this was just a hallucination, but it was not. This was real. This wasn’t a joke and it definitely wasn’t a dream. I was absolutely speechless.
People were standing around and sitting on the floor, but at the end of the room near the windows was a large group of people praying in their religious garments.
I will admit, I was in total shock. I’m agnostic and don’t particularly care for people praying in public places, but while I was in shock I was deeply moved. It was beautiful.
I had a strong feeling that these weren’t people travelling to just any other city, That these weren’t people simply going somewhere, that in fact, these were people going back home. Not just any home, a home that they have been fighting to call home for thousands of years. The atmosphere was electric, but yet it felt pristine and sacred. As if every Jew there was were eternally thankful that they could hop on a plane and have Israel as a destination.
At this point it started to hit me. I was in Zurich, but this was a window into the country I was about to step foot on. If this was moving and beautiful, I couldn’t imagine what it would be like once I actually arrived.
The most tourists arrived from the United States (610,000) and the second most from Russia (590,000). Total tourism output this year is estimated at NIS 36 billion (about $9 billion), 4% more than in 2011.
Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot provides more details:
58% was Christian tourism, 23% Jewish tourism.
62% of tourists visited Israel this year for the first time.
29% defined the purpose of their visit to Israel as a pilgrimage, 24%were touring and sightseeing, 9% visited for recreation. In total 62% defined the purpose of the visit as tourism. 20% to visit friends and relatives, 12% for business and conferences.
75% of tourists stayed in hotels, 16% with relatives / friends, 5% youth and Christian hostels and 4% owned or rented apartments.
Jerusalem had the most tourists, with Tel Aviv and the Dead Sea registering the second and third most visits.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said the data “reflect the achievements of the professional and hard work of the last three years.”
I’m proud to announce that after years of nagging my father to invite me on a mission to Israel, he finally succumbed. I won. Victory is among us all. Just kidding. That’s really not how it happened. Just made for a better story. Well, that’s kind of how it happened. Let me move on regardless…
Words cannot begin to describe how happy I am to go to Israel. I’m always looking for stories to tell and I have a feeling I will be overwhelmed with inspiration and material during this trip. Expect to read my blog posts like fiction. I want you to get familiar with certain characters (Jono, myself and who ever doesn’t mind being exploited for creative purposes). I want you to smell what I smell, see what I see, hear the conversations I hear and feel what I feel. Expect to laugh or be annoyed by my dry humor. I seriously hope you laugh though. But, more importantly, expect to read something raw and personal. I write from the heart and I really hope my passion, curiosity and honesty resonates with you all.
I’m a 20-year-old Journalism student at Concordia University in Montreal. I work in the field and am also a freelance writer. Writing is what I love to do and journalism is just a way for me not to starve to death. I like it, but I don’t think any situation or person can be reduced to 500 word articles or 5-6 minute on-air interviews.
Music is another one of my passions. I like any genre, but I have a profound love for electronic music. Not the cheesy stuff, although I love cheese and put ridiculous amounts of cheese on everything.
My posts can also be found on my blog. Let me warn you, I am not much of a blogger. I can’t feed a goldfish every day let alone a blog. I’m planning on using it as a portfolio and it’s still very much under construction so bare with me, but if you like( or dislike) my writing feel free to contact me on it OR by e-mail.
Finally, I just want to say that it’s refreshing to have a platform where I can talk about Israel beyond its politics and conflicts. It’s not done enough and I’m happy to contribute in any way I can.
Anne-Darla will start blogging as soon as she arrives in Israel, to follow her journey click here
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov will host the traditional pre-Christmas reception for leaders of the Christian communities and churches in Israel at Mishkenot Shaananim in Jerusalem on Monday.
The minister will send season’s greetings for Christmas to the Christian communities, and the Christian leaders present will call on the faithful around the world to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Also participating in the reception alongside the Christian leaders will be Tourism Ministry Director-General Noaz Bar-Nir and senior representatives from the Foreign and Interior ministries, who work in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry throughout the year to promote tourism on the Jerusalem-Bethlehem-Jericho track.
According to Tourism Ministry estimates, about 75,000 tourists will visit Israel during the Christmas period. Of these about 25,000 will be Christian pilgrims.
During the holiday, the Ministry of Tourism will offer free transportation, helping pilgrims traveling between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Buses will leave every 15-20 minutes from Mar Elias Monastery to the Church of the Nativity, and back again and will operate non-stop from December 24 at 12 pm through December 25 at 12 pm.
Representatives from the Ministry of Tourism will welcome tourists and pilgrims at Rachel’s Crossing with sweets and cards in the spirit of the holiday.
Tourism Minister Misezhnikov will also host a reception for church leaders and representatives in Nazareth, with the participation of Nazareth Mayor Ramiz Jaraisy. The reception will take place at the Gardenia Hotel Nazareth on December 19 at 6 pm.
To date, the year 2012 will end as a new record year for incoming tourism. About 3.3 million visitors arrived in Israel up to the end of November 2012, and of these 60% were Christian tourists (52% Catholic; 21% Protestant and 10% Orthodox).
About half of all Christian tourists are pilgrims. Most of the Christian visitors to Israel also visit Bethlehem passing through Rachel’s Crossing and the various offices work to facilitate a welcoming, fast and comfortable transfer every day of the year.
According to the ministry’s 2011 Incoming Tourism Satisfaction Survey, about 87% of pilgrims were first-time visitors. Most pilgrims visit Capernaum, Yardenit, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Mount of Olives, Via Dolorosa and Bethlehem.
Source countries where pilgrims represent a very high rate among those visiting include Indonesia (83%), Nigeria (82%), Poland (69%), Portugal (59%), Romania (57%), India (50% and Brazil (49%).
“About 60% of all visitors to Israel are Christian,” said Minister Misezhnikov. “The Christian community is a central anchor in marketing incoming tourism to Israel.
“Throughout the year, the Tourism Ministry works with the communities in Israel and overseas to increase cooperation with opinion-formers, community leaders and the faithful in order to promote and develop pilgrimage to the Holy Land.”
The Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth at 423 meters (1,388 ft) below sea level. It is a natural health resort and has attracted tourists for thousands of years who came to experience its beauty, amazing saline waters in which you can float naturally, and health-related properties. Today, the Dead Sea continues to attract visitors from around the world who either come for Dead Sea tours for the day from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, or stay at one of the many spa hotels at the Dead Sea.
The Old City of Jerusalem has got to be the holiest place on earth. It contains important religious sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all within touching distance of each other. Once tourists enter the walled city via one of its gates, they notice a change in the atmosphere. The Old City is a uniquely intense place where local residents, religious Jews, Christian priests, and Arab traders, as well as thousands of tourists from around the world brush shoulders as they go about their business.
The third quarter of 2012 recorded a rise in most of Israel’s economic indicators: The Manufacturing Production Index, the export of goods, the Local Sales Index for all industries, the import of raw materials, the number of tourists’ overnight hotel stays, the retail trade index, the Supermarket Sales Index and credit card spending.
The import of investment goods, on the other hand, recorded a decline.
According to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics, July through September saw a 12.8% rise in the export of goods according to an annual calculation, following an 11.1% increase in April through June.
Industrial exports went up 9.9%, following a 9.2% in the previous quarter. Service exports fell 2.5%, and business service exports dropped by 2% following a 0.2% rise in the second quarter.
Tourists’ overnight stays in Israeli hotels recorded a 9.2% increase, compared to a 2% drop in the three previous months. Israelis’ hotel stays remained unchanged after a 4% increase in the previous quarter.
The local market demands indicator went up by 6.7% in July-August, following a 7.2% rise in the two previous months.
The Supermarket Sales Index, which constitutes one-third of retail trade sales, increased by 5.1% after a 6.5% rise in the three previous months. The Food Chain Sales Index dropped 2.1%.
Private consumers’ credit card spending increased by 0.3% following a 4.3% rise in the three previous months. The number of available jobs totaled 63,900 a month, following an average of 67,700 available jobs in the three previous months.
The Consumer Confidence Index reached 38% in September (34% in August). The Sales Index for all industries rose 12.5% in July-August, following an 11.2% increase in May-June.
The Manufacturing Production Index went up 15.2%.
The import of goods rose 4%, following a 3.4% rise in the previous quarter. The import of raw materials increased by 10.8% (17.4%), the import of consumer goods increased by 5.7% (2.2%), and the import of investment goods dropped 11.7% after an 8% decline – according to a quarterly calculation – in the past three months.