Math, Ultimate, and Origami – Update 3

Always. More. To. Learn.

There are many things that draw me to this region. First, it was Ultimate and sheerly coming to a new place. My friends pulled me in with something I was familiar with: The power of Ultimate to change lives, with the added bonus of feeding my addiction for travel. I knew I was going to learn. I knew I was going to see and experience “new”. What I really couldn’t have imagined in that early spring of 2012 when I was gearing up for my first trip to Middle East was how much I was going to learn. How my life was going to change.

On Friday morning, March 14th, I slept. What a glorious feeling to sleep in and wake up to the gentle sound of rain in the heart of the Old City. After a leasurely run through of my day, I picked up a small dosage of hotel coffee and joined the scrum on the street. I love being enveloped by the Old City. There is so much going on. Everything is interesting. I moved with a purpose to the south, then east, through a quick security checkpoint, and out into the Western Wall plaza. Out in the expanse, I looked around for  a place to fold and contemplated the weather. It was cold, and blustery, but I saw Torah stands I could use. Also, on this visit I was better prepared: I had my own Yamaka, straight from Zach and Mimi’s wedding. (Oh, by the way Zach, I now have a basic idea what all that interrupting was at your pre-wedding ceremony Tish.)


Out in front of the wall it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to fold inside, so I went into the arch over to the left, into the sea of praying Orthodox Jews. The power of concentrated prayer, in that space especially, is quite amazing. I did feel out of place, and yes, I really was, but at no point did I feel unwelcome. So, I made my way over to the far wall, found a chair and a stand, and began to fold. I folded cranes out of paper with written messages from my mother’s church and a few students from my school. It’s a 3-hour period I will remember forever. As I folded I placed the finished cranes on the seat next to me. The seat was eventually covered. Three times during the stretch something new happened — Orthodox Jews came up to me and spoke to me. At one point, I looked over my shoulder and two were watching me fold, so I picked up a blank piece of paper, folded a crane, and gave it to one.

I then bagged up the cranes and moved out into the plaza, to the outside portion of the wall. I found the crane I left yesterday, and went to work placing cranes around the edge of the same stone. While placing the cranes, I had one conversation with a secular Jew from Tel Aviv who said it was wonderful that non-Jews had faith in the Wall. He said he came here, to be at the wall and charge himself, like an iPod connected to an electrical socket. What a convergence of place and terminology. Wonderful.

I then backed away and looked over the cranes, all of which were now placed. Back in the center of the square as I walked away, it began to rain again. So, I moved north up into the Muslim Quarter, and headed to my favorite spot in all the world (Yah, I think so), the roof of the Austrian Hospice. On this visit I only stayed a short while, soaking in the view of so much… everything. I then walked the short distance north to the Damascus Gate to meet Rachel, a local UP coach. We walked the Old City, ate Knaffe (yum!) and then took in some Arabic Coffee at an expat cafe in Jerusalem.

We then met up with one of Rachel’s friend’s, Lucy, and made out way to a Shul for a Shabbat prayer session. I stood through the packed ceremony, and took in the calling and loved the dancing. Afterwards, the three of us were invited to Shabat diner with another of Rachel’s friends, Dave, a Rabbi and author. There ended up being 10 people at dinner and it was so, so, so over the top wonderful. We ate, talked, prayed, laughed. We laughed until we cried and hurt. The group was incredibly welcoming, interesting, and had such beautiful stories. The whole dinner spanned a solid 3 hours, and there was no down time. I can’t wait to visit Dave’s family again. After dinner, we walked back into the night, which was pretty interesting as Purim was gearing up and there were a healthy number of people dressed up running around in the streets. We saw many Smurfs. Yes, Smurfs.

I made my way to the Jaffa gate, and then through the rain-slicked alleys of the Old City, back to the Hashimi Hotel where I quickly crashed.

The next morning I woke to another easy morning. I got caught up on email, packed up, and before checking out had a nice breakfast in the hotel, right next to a window overlooking a huge vista of the Old City. I then made my way out into the Old City, and quickly treated myself to another round of Knaffe, before moving to my perch on the roof of the Austrian Hospice. I got comfy with a book and read for a while, taking in the view every few minutes.

Back in the scrum of the Old City, I meandered over to the Jaffe gate and sat and watched from the top of the stairs to the David museum. Shortly afterwards, I met up with Rachel and we caught a taxi to checkpoint 300, where Ben picked us up. About 15 minutes later we arrived at the Beit Sahour School, where we setup for practice. Ben did a fantastic job pulling the kids together, warming them up with a fun close-pin game of tag, and then ran them through drills and a couple scrimmages. The kids have game. We had a small space, but they used it well and showed good patience.

After practice Ben, Rachel, Amanda (Ben’s friend) and I had a very filling dinner in Bethlehem. After pulling down lots of hummus, kebobs, and some Taybeh beer, we drove Rachel back to Jerusalem, played some cards, checked out the view of Jerusaelem from the roof of her building, and then Ben, Amanda, and I made it back through checkpoint 300 and to Beit Sahour, to Ben’s apartment. Sleep was grand.

The next morning I woke up and we all talked about what to do. We quickly settled on a trip to the Dead Sea, given that the weather was perfect. So, we picked up Rachel, then headed east and then south on the very nice highway, to Ein Gedi, stopped briefly to load up on lunch on the way. The drive out was notable for the scenery and the 2,500+ foot drop to the level of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. Crazy. Oh, we saw some camels along the way too.

After parking, we ate some lunch and then went down to the rocky shore, and had a blast floating in the water. I noticed the sign that said don’t put your head under, and I didn’t plan to, and now I know… that would be a truly terrible idea given how much salt is in the water it burns your eyes like crazy. You’re so boyant in the water it’s actually not very easy to stay veritcal while floating. There’s also a pretty strong current, which means people tend to drift without noticing. The salt also coats many of the rocks on the shore, which is pretty cool to see.

After drying off the best we could, and accepting the layer of salt that was bonded to us, we got back in the car and drove back to Jerusalem. There we dropped off Rachel and went back into the West Bank. Back at the apartment we got cleaned up and then headed out for dinner, stopping at the local KFC to see how fake it was… only to discover that it was REAL! By that point we were so hungry we succumbed to what was in front of us and enjoyed some American chicken! Back at the apartment we all slept soundly.

The next morning I woke up early, polished off some UP work, and then Ben drove me to the Bethlehem bus station where I easily found a taxi van to Ramallah, which took off right after I arrived. Heading north I enjoyed the view of the valley, and the huge winding  road built with USAID funds. In Ramallah I got out to a familiar sigh of controlled chaos, and made my way to the Manara circle. From there it was a straight shot to the Friends Boys School, the Upper School I was visiting for the day. (The Boys School is in name only. It’s now coed.)

After a bit of exploration, I found my contact, Elizabeth, who then gave me a tour along with another visitor. I then had some free time to explore and then the head of the Upper School, Mahmoud, brought me to an 7th grade math class which was high energy and great fun. Next, I had some time to talk with Elizabeth before I got to see a 8th grade math class which was quite advanced! Right before the end of class I was pulled out and brought to the basketball courts where I got to run a middle school gym class! In all I had 20+ kids running after discs and flying all over the place. All the kids showed great energy and there were a couple that showed some great skill. At the end of the session we took a group photo and then I talked to a few of them while helping them learn how to throw forehands. Such great kids! I left a few discs behind and told them I would be back in June.

I said my goodbye to Elizabeth and then headed out into Ramallah to find the store where I could purchase some FBS clothing. A couple wrong turns and some help from locals later, I found the store, got the jacket I was looking for, then headed back to the bus station where the bus I wanted was just about to leave. Back in Bethlehem I arrived at the bus station and started my journey on foot back to Ben’s apartment. Walking at night, through the crazy streets of Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, I was super happy to take two wrong turns before finding the apartment. Comfortably ensconced back at the apartment, I worked through some UP emails, then slept.

This morning I slept in a bit, packed up, and then walked back to the bus station where I caught a taxi van to Hebron, a new place for me to visit. About 45 minute later I got out of the bus into an amplified version of Ramallah. Everything was busier and more crowded. And more intense. I was immediately approached by someone offering a tour, which I nicely brushed off. I then got my bearings and walked in what I thought was the right direction to find the Cave of the Patriarchs. Along the way I found the tourism office which verified I was going in the right place. I continued down the one street of the Old City of Hebron, and passed through security from zone H1 (Arab) to H2 (Jewish). There I walked up and entered the Mosque section of the building. I ended getting a tag-along with a local guide who was, really, doing it for free. What an amazing place. I saw all the tomb markers, and was particularly drawn to Sarah’s. Through the green grate I saw the large marker, and over to the side the edge of the same type of window for the Temple side. Wow.

I then made my way back outside, and around to the other side of the building, to the Temple entrance. Outside I put on my Yamaka, passed through security, and went up into the Temple. I joined a prayer session, and then viewed the tomb markers — the same ones I saw before, from the other side. The whole experience was powerful and truly surreal.

I’ve found that the place is best described in this line from Let’s Go:

“The allegorical possibilities of this astounding effect—two different groups looking at the same object from segregated areas and investing that object with different meanings—are almost comically endless. Regardless of whether or not you see this place as a symbol of the conflict, it is a foundational site for Western religion and an unparalleled opportunity to compare the differences both deep and superficial that exist between Judaism and Islam.”

Back outside, I walked around the rather empty streets, got a bit of food int he Settler’s cafe, and then my way back into H1, up through many streets, and eventually found the taxi van launching area for Bethlehem. Before boarding I had a great conversation with the driver and one Hamaya security guard. Fun. The ride was smooth and so very interesting. Seeing the constant security as I did in Hebron, where everything was so packed together. Back in Bethlehem I was let out in a new area, but given that everything is so close together I easily found the Church of the Nativity where I met Ben and together we found dinner.

We’re not back at the UP apartment, working away at UP tasks.

Tomorrow I’m going to explore and attend the Bethlehem practice. I am also hoping to visit the Beit Sahour school. In the days after the plan is to attend the first Jerusalem practice, explore and find the Marzapan Bakery, and then go to Acco with Miri, the Origami teacher. Friday night there may be a UP coaches social gathering. Then on Saturday I fly home.

Always. More. To. Learn.

Math, Ultimate, and Origami – Update 1

The Middle East never ceases to amaze.

My journey began early on Wednesday morning when I took off from my parents’ farm in Western, MA. It was certainly quite nice not only having company on the drive, but also not having to eat a huge parking fee in Boston. While I did want to take my little bro along, he’s still a couple years off from his first trip with me to the Middle East.

On the drive out I had a great time catching up with my parents. It really is wonderful to live back in the Pioneer Valley close to home! My flight was at 1pm, but I was heading into the city early to have breakfast with one of my college friends I hadn’t seen in 10+ years! Vanessa and I had a great time catching up over breakfast, and marveling over how much had and hadn’t changed in 10 years.

After breakfast I was dropped off at Logan to begin what would become my smoothest ever ride to Tel Aviv. Everything about my Air Canada journey went as smoothly as it possibly could. No lines anywhere, super easy boarding, and as always, I slept for 90% of my time on each plane. Not only that, my checked bag (Ultimate Peace gear) turned up right as I walked up to the baggage carousel. Nice.

Immediately outside the airport terminal I caught a train bound for Tel Aviv, got off at the Tel Aviv University stop, and found Dan waiting for me right outside with his car. At this point the full awesomeness of the weather hit me as I took off my sweatshirt, then my long sleeve shirt, and enjoy life in my t-shirt. Wonderful.

Dan, his friend Amit, and I bounced around Tel Aviv picking up some supplies for the clinic which was happening the next day. We also stopped for lunch, which in fitting fashion was some very yummy humus and falafel. Before heading to Dan’s place, we stopped off at the IFDA office where I got to see Dan’s two adorable dogs, Pi and Tao.

Later that evening Dan and I headed to his place where we had a small dinner, and then went to practice with Element, one of the Israeli club teams going to club worlds. I had a great time practicing with the team, was only making a moderate fool of myself on the field… and then I went deep, dove high and twisting to the left, stuck the catch but twisted far enough around that all of my weight came down on my right shoulder. That took me out of the practice, and I still have a solid amount of soreness two days later, but my shoulder has full mobility and the pain is ebbing away.

Back at Dan’s place we were greeted by Ben Spears, an American who has been out here for two months working with lots of Ultimate Peace communities. All three of us had a great time talking Ultimate until late, and then I eventually crashed, almost kinda at the right time to get into the swing of things in this time zone.

The next morning (Friday), we woke up at a sane hour, packed up out gear, and headed into Tel Aviv for the Israeli Flying Disc Association coaching clinic. In all about 35 people were in attendance, including, including about 15 Ultimate Peace people!


The clinic took place in a very nice lecture hall, and my section on Spirit of the Game lasted an hour. I was really happy with how the clinic went. It was really dynamic, lots was covered, and there was a bunch of active contributions from the attendees.

After the clinic a bunch of us went to dinner at a high-end 24/7 breakfast place. I treated myself to a Croque Madame, a beer, and an iced coffee. Life was good. We had a lively discussion over dinner spanning current events, Ultimate, and life.

Back at Dan’s place, Abe and Teem joined in on the slumber party and we had a grand night filled with discussion and a viewing of Zombieland. The next morning Tim got picked up early by Ben, and Abe and I drove up to Netanya to the 1st year CIT clinic which was taking place at an American International School.

The group was made up of all Up campers, and they were led by Karym, Abe, and two CITs — Ali and Raz! I spent the day at the edge of the discussions, watching the work get done, mainly in Arabic and Hebrew. As I explained to the kids at the end, even though I didn’t understand too many of the words, I could absolutely understand the bigger picture of what they were working on.

We capped off the clinic with some Ultimate out on a very nice field, and then the kids caught their bus back home. Abe and I dropped off Raz and Noam along the way, and then made it back to Dan’s where soon after Abe was picked up so that he could make it back north to his place.

I’m now at Dan’s place in Herzliya, planning out the details for my next few days up north. I’ll be visiting at least 2 schools in Tamra (Asmaa’s and Ali’s) and then heading over to Buena Nujidat (sp?). While up there I’m going to spend full days visiting classes, and attending practices in both villages. On Wednesday the plan is to come back south to spend a day in a school in Ra’anana. After that I’ll be connecting with the Israeli Origami Center, spending some time in Jerusalem, and then I’ll head into the West Bank for a week to continue visiting schools, coaching Ultimate, and seeing as much of the region as I can.

I’m so happy to be here.

Israeli National Teams Practice – Day 1

I just had a fantastic full day surrounded by Israeli youth Ultimate!

My day began with me hitting the snooze button only 3 or 4 times, so I managed to get up early enough to do a bit of exploring of the shops around the apartment before the walk north to the Sportek fields. With a cappuccino in hand, and a bottle of seltzer packed away for later, I was set. I made it to the field by about 10:15 and started getting to know the Israeli National Juniors teams. For the first hour the teams worked through light throwing and paperwork tasks. (There are 17 players on the U-20 girls team, 17 on the U-17 open team, and 15 on the U-20 open team.) After dynamic warm ups the kids worked through some throwing drills. Next, the three teams worked on different skills. The girls worked on zone O and D, and the open teams worked on more throwing drills.

I had a great time walking around and helping out where I could. I talked to the girls about the right way to turn on cuts, and helped some of the U-17 boys with the form on their hammer throws. Some English was spoken during practice, but for the majority of the time everyone spoke Hebrew. I love seeing Ultimate played in non-English languages! At around 2pm Chelsea, Maggie, and I walked a bit south for lunch and had a round of wonderful hummus and pita. Before walking back I became side tracked with (another) cheese shop and bough a nice slice of a blue chevre.

Back at the fields the three teams were again split up and working on various drills. The U-20 open team did a half field horizontal stack drill, the girls worked on more defensive sets, and the U-17 team scrimmaged. Over the next several hours practice continued as the rest of the park filled up with many soccer games. Space became competitive and there were a few heated discussions about field space. (Unlimited fields in the ideal Ultimate world!) Towards the end of the session, the U-20 and U-17 teams scrimmaged on a large space between two rugby goal posts. The U-20 kids dominated, but the U-17 team was able to score a few times and had some really smooth, agressive motion with the disc.

At around 7pm all the kids were grouped up and we all walked west to the coast, and then south for a bit to an open, lit beach. While the kids played in the sand, one of the coaches went out to get lots of food. Maggie and I stayed around for a bit talking to Abe, and then began our walk home.

In 2006 I saw the first Israeli National Juniors team play at Worlds at Ft. Devens, in MA. The team was small and pretty good for a first year WJUC team. Now, six years later, Israel is sending three strong teams! It will be the first time at the event for the Israeli girls team, who came in 5th at the European Youth Champ last year. You can learn more about the World Junior Ultimate Championships right here.

In a couple hours I’m going to walk back to the Sportek fields to help out with the second day of practice. Then, later this afternoon we’re going to drive to Jerusalem to connect with Karym who is going to drive us to Jericho for a clinic.

I’m heading to Israel!

This summer I will be participating in a grand adventure to Israel. Here is the email I just sent out to my community:


Hello Friends and Family,

This summer I am spectacularly excited to be traveling to Israel to work at CampUP, a youth Ultimate camp run by a phenomenally amazing organization called Ultimate Peace.

For those of you that like things short and sweet, here’s the outline of what’s going on:

– This summer I’ll be in Israel from June 26th to July 16th, working with Ultimate Peace at two consecutive 5-day overnight camps for Arab, Jewish, and Palestinian youths.

– You can find details in the attached document or online at:

– Ultimate Peace operates fully by donations, and each coach is responsible for raising substantial funds to make the camps happen.

– Please consider supporting us at If you do make a donation on my behalf, please put down my name on the online donation form where it says “in support of”. Donations are tax deductible.

– Every last little bit helps, even if it is to just spread the word!

– I will be blogging about all of my Ultimate Peace experiences at

If you are up for the long version, or want to know why I’m taking the uncomfortable step of asking for money, please read below.

Hope all is well,

– Josh

Long version:

I grew up on a farm in North Leverett, MA, a very special small town of less than 2,000 people located 15 miles north of Amherst. In the hill town I called home, I learned to appreciate being away from it all, but as the same time I was pushed by my parents to connect with the greater world in diverse ways. I was encourages to follow my bliss and to try strange new things. By the time I graduated from high school, I had certainly found my share of exhilarating endeavors: I had spent years studying Mandarin Chinese, decided to travel 3,000 miles to college, fallen in love with mathematics, and found Ultimate.

Twenty years later my Mandarin is passably decent, I am addicted to international travel, I spend the bulk of my days teaching high school mathematics, and I am utterly in love with Ultimate.

In my journey from Leverett and Amherst, to Claremont, CA, and then to my current home of St. Johnsbury, VT, Ultimate has always been brightly present. I have played, coached, administrated, proselytized, traveled, and spectated. I have loved every minute of my Ultimate life. Additionally, for the past three years I have watched from afar as Ultimate Peace has taken off, always wanting to join in myself. This June I will no longer be observing from a distance. I will be traveling to Acco, Israel to work as a camp counselor at Camp Ultimate Peace.

The vision of Ultimate Peace ( is to build bridges of friendship and understanding between youth from different social and cultural backgrounds around the world. We focus on fun and education, not politics, using the character building sport of Ultimate Frisbee as our tool. Ultimate is a competitive sport, yet is self officiated and thus promotes conflict-resolution, skill building, and open communication. Ultimate rewards good sportsmanship and instills a strong sense of personal responsibility and teamwork.

2009 was the inaugural year for Ultimate Peace and it was a huge success. A group of American Ultimate players and coaches travelled to the Middle East and hosted a series of clinics for local youth – Palestinian, Israeli Jewish and Arab, together – to introduce them to the sport of Ultimate and the respect between players that’s inherent in the sport.  The kids learned, they played together, they self-officiated and at the end of the day they truly were excited about getting to play more in the months to come. In 2010, Ultimate Peace returned in larger numbers and with a bigger and better program. We hosted a 4 day-long overnight camp for 130 kids, as well as sessions for local coaches, and visits to the home towns of the campers. 2011 was another smash hit. 175 campers and a staff of over 60 came together for an 8-day residential camp. The 12 multi-cultural boys and girls teams that were formed, made up of Palestinians, Israeli Jews, and Arab Israelis, practiced, ate, and competed side-by-side every day. Not only did the kids learn to play Ultimate, they also experienced a cultural exchange through arts and crafts, dance, and games, a talent show, and just over a week of living with their fellow campers.

2012 is going to be even more exciting. Two 5-day residential sessions will be run, the first being a new training camp for more experienced players, and the second a continuation of the highly successful summer camp program. Both sessions will have all the usual features of the Camp UP program: cultural sharing, non-Ultimate social activities, community-building, and an assortment of activities and classes. They will also focus heavily on learning and practicing the 5 values of UP: mutual respect, integrity, friendship, non-violence, and fun.

You can learn more about Ultimate Peace at the following links:
Ultimate Peace Flyer: Right Here
UP Facebook page:
2010 UP Slideshow video:
2012 UP Promo video:

I am so over the top thrilled to be joining Ultimate Peace this summer because it represents everything I love about Ultimate, all in one place. It’s the joy of sport combined with spirited play above all else, centered around an excited, receptive, and diverse population of youth. While I have absolutely adored my many years of playing Ultimate, coaching is now what I love to do most above all else in the world of Ultimate. I absolutely cannot wait to work with the kids at Ultimate Peace.

Some important things for you to know is that everyone that works at Ultimate Peace is a volunteer and that this summer the two campus have a budget of around $200,000. The money I am raising will enable me to cover at least some of my summer costs, as well as to help fund the camp. Donations of any size are greatly appreciated. In addition to monetary donation, other in-kind donations are welcome too such as travel miles, energy bars, shade tends, hats, cleats, discs, and schwag for campers.

Ultimate Peace is hugely reliant on the support of family and friends. We are currently in the midst of a major fundraising effort. I know this is a hard time financially, but if you are able, please join this peace through sport initiative and donate whatever you can at:

Donations are tax-deductible and can be made online or by check. If you do make a donation on my behalf, please put down my name on the online donation form where it says “in support of”, or in the memo field of your check.

I’d be happy to talk to anyone about this endeavor on the phone, via email, or in person. If you know of anyone who might be interested in, or moved by this, please feel free to put them in touch with me or share this email with them. I’ve also attached an easily sharable one page summary with more details.

Thank you so much for considering this and for supporting me – financially or otherwise – in what I do.

– Josh