People certainly make a place. Here, in the busy hum of Tel Aviv, Tamra, Neyanya, Ra’anana, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahour… that couldn’t be more true. In launching myself on this 18-day journey, I certainly felt a certain level of anxiety. As everyone who has ever traveled to this region knows, nothing is every super easy. There’s an added level of complexity that’s added to every task. And I knew what I wanted to do in my time here was all over the place, and that I would need support… and I had faith in the amazing network of truly AMAZING people that make up this place.
I could not be happier with how thing have turned out.
My Sunday morning (3/9), started with an early morning taxi ride to Ra’anana to pick up my rental car. I would have loved to have been able to rely on public transport, but bouncing around to super specific locations is not always easy in Israel. At the rental care agency, all things went to plan, which was especially relieving since I had to use my backup plastic since the night before I went through the fun of canceling my primary plastic. Yup, I certainly called my banks and notified them of my travels, but it turns out that my primary card was used in SoCal. On Saturday. Oh well. Anyway — I got my car, geared up my GPS, and moved north on 6.
While traveling north to Albayan high school Tamra, all I knew was that I needed to get to the city. Alas, there are no addresses in the same sense we are used to in the States. Half way through my journey, courtesy of the wonders of Waze, one of the students I was meeting sent me an exact GPS location, and I was set. The ride was smooth, and for us folk used to driving for 3+ hours to get places, quite quick. In Tamra, I made my way through the busy streets, enjoying the “active driving”.
I parked in front of the school and shot a text out to a couple of the students I was meeting. I set up waiting near the gate, and looked across the threshold to the first student I saw… who was UP CIT Areen! 1/1 on recognizing people. Nice. We were quickly joined by Shada, Asmaa, and Hanan who were my guides for the day.
I ended up going to one math class with Asmaa, and then a second one with a different teacher. Math truly is a universal language, and I managed to keep up with most of the problems. That being said, I do not speak Arabic or Hebrew, so I was well behind in understanding certain moments. I now know, clearly, what some of my new international students feel when they first land in a math class here in the States. The math itself can make perfect sense… but not click. It can be so tantalizingly close. I really get it now.
After class, we stopped as Asmaa’s house on our way to practice. I got to meet her mother and was treated to a round of very tasty Arabic coffee. I now have quite a taste for the potent brew. Now I just need to learn how to make it properly myself.
On the way to practice it started to rain. For the first time in 3+ months. Practice ended up getting truncated a bit and instead of two sessions, one combined practice was run by Abe and Chris. It was fantastic to see the kids in action. I practiced my lefty throws a bit as my right shoulder is still a bit mangled. By the end of practice, everyone was happily drenched. Abe and Chris ran a fantastic show.
After practice, I dropped off a few players and Ali and I went to his house to get cleaned up. Over at Ali’s I met his wonderfully friendly mother and rested up a bit before Ali and I headed out to pick up Shada and Asmaa. At dinner, we were joined by Samir, and we loaded up on salad and pasta.
The next morning, I woke from my first full night of sleep in more than a week, and Ali and I went upstairs for breakfast. I loaded up on a delicious array of food and talked to Ali about our day, all while taking in an amazing view of Tamra. Next, Ali and I drove over to his school, located in the neighboring town of Kabul. At school, we started by meeting with the principal, and then I got to visit 5 different classes: 4 math classes and one Arabic. During the last 30 minutes of the last class, Ali’s teacher gave me the floor and I talked a little bit about myself, and then ran the kids through some of my favorite math questions. We had a blast talking about infinity, irrationality, and famous unsolved problems.
After school ended, Ali and I headed back to his house where we had another fabulous meal prepared by his mother, who also took the time to show me some good technique tips for making Arabic coffee. We all sat around talking for a while. I learned more about Ali’s younger brother, and talked more with Ali. At around 5pm I said my goodbyes, and headed south for Tel Aviv.
In the city, thanks to Waze, I easily found the address for the night’s gathering of UP coaches. Then began the battle for parking, which I found 10 minutes away, in a timed spot in front of the Norwegian Consulate. After getting confirmation on what the sign said from two different people, both of whom said it was okay to park in the spot, I walked back to the restaurant. And of course, while the address was easy to find, the opening was quite hard to see, but alas, this is Israel and some things are a bit tough ;)
The gathering was for Sarah, for the people in the area she impacted. I knew about some of the people that were going to show up… and then they kept on showing up. By 9pm it seemed like everyone was there. It was such a grand experience. Jez spoke as eloquently as only he can. We then had the social fun that Sarah was so known for — the smiling, and reveling in each other’s company. I made new friends, connected with ones I hadn’t seen since last summer (Tomer!)… and had Such. An. Amazing. Time.
Afterwards, I crashed with Chelsea on her familiar couch, and woke up early to find my car… which I was relieved to find still in the spot I left it in! Hooray for not being towed. Then, with another round of help from Mr. Waze, I found the Ra’anana HS with an hour to spare, which I used to down a nice breakfast outside in the sun. The area was quite a convergence given the traffic of kids AND the fact the Purim is coming up… so, LOTS of kids in awesome costumes.
At 9:30 I met the UP Ra’anana CIT contingent at the gate and started off a great morning of visiting classes. I ended up seeing three different classes, at three different levels. The students were super friendly and there was certainly an upped amount of energy in the air due to Purim. I also got to speak to the math chair a bit and talk to a couple other teachers. After classes, I spent some time in the teacher’s lounge ironing out some plans.
Next up, I drove back into Tel Aviv and parked in one of the coastal lots by the pyramid play structure thing made of ropes. I was hungry, so of course I headed for the Shuk where I picked up my favorite Shuk snack of incredible blue cheese and a baguette. Yes, I know, not super traditional, but wow, so yummy. I capped off my snack with a nice bit of reading in a cafe, after which I found the outside atmosphere to have changed from sun to driving wind and some rain. I battled my way back to my car, and then headed to north Tel Aviv to spend the night with Chris Panna.
The next morning I drove north back to Herzliya to meet with Miri, the head of the Origametria program, which teaches Origami to elementary students across Israel to help them understand Geometry. I first learned about her program in the phenomenal Between the Folds documentary. The segment of the documentary that covers Origametria can be viewed right here:
I had an absolutely wonderful time meeting with Miri and her husband Paul Jackson, who is also involved in the program, and an unreal Origami artist. We talked, drank tea, and I learned so much about the program. Miri gave me a mini lesson in the efficacy of using geometry terminology to teach Origami and I was thoroughly impressed. Paul explained his work and the impact of folding on thinking, and how it works so very well with younger children. They are one of the most fascinating couples I have ever met. After a wonderful lunch, Miri invited me to come up with her to Acco next week to observe an Origametria data-gathering session. I cannot wait.
Back on the road, I headed east to Jerusalem. The drive was smooth, even with the rain, and while gassing up the car involved a U-turn in heavy traffic, the the return place was, of course, out of the way and not easy to find, all went well and I got the car all tucked in back at Sixt. Out in the sun I walked the short distance to the Jaffa gate to the Old City, and through the familiar and wildly textured alleys of the Muslim Quarter to the Hashimi Hotel. After dropping off my stuff, I headed out west from the Old City to meet up with Ben, Rachel, and Amanda.
The four of us had a great evening of card games, and then Ben, Amanda, and I headed into the West Bank to meet up with the Daajneh family and some of the local UP kids. It was so great to see everyone again. After chatting with the family, and Ben impressing us all with his Arabic, we continued to Beit Sahour to the UP apartment to eat dinner. Ben then brought me back to the Jaffa gate where I made my way back through the alleys — no map needed — to my hotel.
The next morning I slept in, polished off a torrent of email replies over coffee, and then headed out into the Old City. The rain was coming down, but most of the Old City is covered, so I was pretty protected. Out in the plaza I got my first view of the Western Wall, and then realized it was a great time to get in line to go up to the Temple Mount. Out in the rain I waited, and for short periods there was some actual hail. Surreal. Up on the Temple Mount I walked around the Dome several times, and really took in details of the place I hadn’t noticed before. What a place.
Back out in the streets, I made my way to Abu Skuri and filled up hummus, falafel, and tea. Fueled up, I went back out into the rain, to the Wall, and wandered around inside the side area, soaking in the surreal environment of tremendous faith, believe, history, and… simply, the Old City of Jerusalem. Back out at the Wall, I folder my first crane. Tomorrow, the main folding will occur.
Back a the hotel I warmed up, rested a bit, and then headed south west to the Armenian Quarter to visit my favorite tile and jewelry store. The proprietor was there, and we talked for a while about several topics. What an interesting man. Out in the night, I walked a short distance to a nearby Armenian restaurant and enjoyed a nice meal of lamb, salad, rice, and baklava. Yum!
Back here at the hotel I am gearing up for sleep. Tomorrow I will spend a good portion of the day folding at the Western Wall, but I also hope to meet up with some local friends. Tomorrow I’ll change my base to the UP apartment in Beit Sahour, and from there visit schools and various other sights around the West Bank.
Of to sleep I go.