Posted by: rmschwab | June 2, 2013

Yesh Glidah Basofe! יש גלידה בסוף

Dear faithful followers,

This will be my last post from the land of Israel.  The Israel I have experienced this year has been truly incredible.  I could not have asked for a better experience.  But to be honest, it would be impossible for me to sum up my year all in this last blog post.  If you have been following me all year you know already so much of how my year has gone.  Though I could never capture every experience and put it on my blog I feel as if I got most of the important ones.  So instead of attempting to summarize “my year in Israel” I feel it would be a much better use of space to tell you about my first ever triathlon that took place yesterday in Hertziliyah, Israel.

Yesterday at 6:40 am I competed in my first triathlon.  I don’t remember if I mentioned or not but I have been training for this since I moved to Jerusalem about 3 months ago.  The triathlon consisted of 750 meters of swimming in the Mediterranean ocean (30 laps on a regular pool/ 15 on an olympic size pool), 20 kilometers of biking, and then 5 kilometers of running.  During my training I had set a goal of 1 hour and 30 minutes for a finish time.  I came up just short of that with a time of 1.34.50.



750 meters swimming…in the ocean

The start of the swimming was absolute madness.  When the horn blew we all started running into the ocean and the salt water was splashing everywhere.  Getting past the waves was the first challenge.  I had to decide when was a good time to stop running and finally dive in to swim.  The course was set up in a triangle.  The first leg of the triangle was difficult became the water was so crowded.  Everyone was so close and I was always getting kicked or pushed in different directions.  When we turned the first corner space opened up.  I saw that I had few people around me and space in front of me.  I started to get my rhythm going using long strokes and breathing often just like Yael had told me.  I was so relaxed that my mind started to wander until all the sudden a wave came at me while I was breathing and went straight into my mouth.  I stopped swimming immediately and spit out as much as I could.  When I started swimming again I though to myself that I had better stay focused so that did not happen again.  When I turned around the third corner to head back to the beach I knew the waves would help carry me in.  I swam until my hands touched the ocean floor and then I started to run.  As I exited the water I saw Yael at the started line cheering me on before starting her swimming portion of the race.   Running after swimming, though it was a short distance to the bikes, is very hard  because you feel very heavy.  As I was trudging through the sand I saw Nir who had volunteered to take pictures for us throughout the race.

already in pain...

already in pain…

Biking…uphills included

The biking portion was loop.  I has to circle around the loop 5 times, which means going up the huge uphill 5 times.  When I first got on the bike I felt great.  I was moving so quickly and with so little energy.  The first time up the uphill I thought this wasn’t so bad.  I was enjoying the bike ride so much tat I didn’t want the triathlon to end.  I though about how long I had been training for this day, and how quickly it was passing by.  But the second time on the uphill was much harder.  As I reached the top of the hill one of the event workers was trying to motivate us by yelling “Yesh glidah basofe!” which translates to “there is ice cream at the end”.  Though I knew at the time that there was not actually ice cream at the end it still made me happy.  Even though I didn’t want the race to end (at that point) I thought that it was okay because at least there was ice cream at the end.  This is kind of reminded me of end of year course in a way.  Though I am sad to be leaving Israel, there is something sweet about coming home after being gone for so long. Bittersweet is really the only way to describe it.  The ice cream at the end of year course will be seeing all of my family and friends in a few days.  But it is worth mentioning that by the fourth lap I was dreading the big uphill, and I did not want it to come.

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This was the hardest section for me because it was the last.  The transition from biking to running was difficult, and I felt like I was running at a much slower pace than usual.  The whole time I was running I was just thinking about finishing.  I kept telling myself that stopping to wak even for a little bit would be stupid.  I had to keep running even if it meant just shuffling my feet at a slow jogging pace.  As soon as I crossed the finish line I turned back around and went to wait for Yael and her friend to finish the running portion.  I found Yael towards the end of her run and ran next to her for the last bit while Nir took pictures.

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Now that the race is over I am back with year course for the remaining two days here in Israel.  We are all relocating to a hostel outside of Jerusalem for the last night.  We are not allowed to go anywhere or do anything else on our own.  Monday June 3rd after our closing ceremony we will be driven to the airport.  My flight leaves around 1am (June 4) Israel time, and arrives at JKF at around 8am.  Then my flight to Raleigh/Durham arrives at around 10:30 on June 4th.  I will only be home until June 12 when I leave for camp so if you are in Raleigh and want to hang out let me know! That is all for now because I have to finish cleaning the apartment.  See you all soon!



Posted by: rmschwab | May 19, 2013


Dear selfless followers,

I may or may not have mentioned in an earlier blog post, but I elected not to take any extra elective courses here in Jerusalem.  Instead I chose to be a part of the volunteering track.  Out of the three volunteer placement options I decided to work at a place called Shekel.  Shekel is a place where adults with disabilities work.  Shekel employs these people by giving them small, simple tasks that they can handle.  Two afternoons a week I go to Shekel and, I sit at the table and do the tasks that the workers are doing.  The point of my being there of course is not to complete these small tasks, but rather to talk to the people who work there while they work.

The first few time I went, however, I didn’t do much talking.  Most of the workers do not speak a word of English, and I can’t tell if their hebrew is that good either.  But after a while I kind of found my niche, and I find myself messing around with the workers all the time.  I have my table that I go to that usually has the same people.  I have become close with one of the managers there also.  Her name is Moran and she is 19 years old.  She is religious and elected to fill her army service through volunteering instead of joining the army.  One of the guys at my table is named Nadav.  He was one of my first friends because he has very good English (and Hebrew).  Some of my other friends at the table include Ofir, Rami, Jeremy, and Moshe.  Today myself, Nadav, and Rami started dancing to the music while working.  These small things make them laugh.  I always play jokes like stacking materials very high until they fall or spinning them on the table like dreidels.  Ofir and I talk a lot, but he does not know English well and my Hebrew is not the strongest.  Our conversations move slowly, and I usually need help translating from Moran, but eventually we come to understand each other.

I have really enjoyed my time helping out at shekel.  Some days are very calm like today where there is time to joke around, but other days are hectic and the work is rushed to finish.  I only have a few more days left at Shekel, and I already know it will be sad to say goodbye to my friends there.

Israel has a strong culture of volunteerism.  It is embedded with the youth in the society that volunteering and service to the country is incredibly important.  Many teenagers graduating high school decide to do a year of service before entering their army service.  This means dedicating and extra year of their youth to their country.  And remember they already have to serve two or three years in the army.  Imagine how much good could be done if more high school graduates in America took a year off before college to volunteer somewhere.   I have learned that when it comes to volunteering continuity is extremely important.  It is hard to make a difference in one day especially if you are not used to the environment that you are in.  It takes time to get into a routine, and to form bonds and relationships.   I have enjoyed learning about Israeli culture and society through my volunteer work.  Israel has some incredible organizations that would not be possible without the help of volunteers.  It can be hard to find time to volunteer; everyone already has incredibly busy lives, but it is important (especially for young people like myself) to try and make time for it.  As the great Dr. Seuss would say, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”.

Posted by: rmschwab | May 1, 2013

From Bananas To Bananas

Dear outdoorsy followers,

This past weekend I did something that is not possible in most countries.  In 3 days (and 3 nights) I hiked from the Mediterranean Sea on the west side of Israel all the way to the Sea of Galilee (The Kinneret) on the east side.  Most people who go on this hike in Israel do it in 4 or 5 days, but we were pressed for time because we had to be back in time for class on Sunday.  We hiked for about 12 hours each day for a total distance of about 70 kilometers.  The hiking was tough at times, and took a heavy toll on my body.  It was a long 3 days filled with sweat and blood (mostly sweat, and just a little blood), but in the end we made it through and I couldn’t be happier.

From left to right: Jeremy, Jake, Nir, me, Nick, Ellie, Zoe and Jesse.  Look out point half up Mt. Meron.

From left to right: Jeremy, Jake, Nir, me, Nick, Ellie, Zoe and Jesse. Look out point half up Mt. Meron.

We started our journey on Wednesday by taking a bus from Jerusalem to Nahariya (in the North).  Following my research we made our way to Achziv beach (a common starting point for the sea to sea hike), and camped out by the Mediterranean Sea.  When we got out of the cab, the cab driver pointed to a red light in the distance and said, “You see that?  That is Lebanon.  Don’t go there they don’t like us”.  In the morning we woke up at 5 to get an early start.  I built up the fire and boiled water for the oatmeal.  After breakfast we joined the sea to sea hike tradition by filling up a water bottle with water from the ocean.  The tradition is to pour water from the Mediterranea into the Kinneret once you get there.  We weren’t exactly sure where to start hiking because there was no clear trail, but we knew one thing— we should start by walking east.  So we turned towards the sun that was still low to the ground and started walking in that direction.  We had a map of the area, but it took us a few hours to find a trail to follow.  The first place we walked by was a Kibbutz with a banana farm.  This ended up being ironic when the last thing we saw before reaching the Kinneret was also a banana farm.  After the first few hours we pretty much knew which way to go for the rest of the trip.

Always, always, aways checking the map. (Nick and Ellie)

Always, always, always checking the map. (Nick and Ellie)

The map is very, ver, very large and of course all in hebrew.  Good thing colors and numbers are universal (for the most part)  Nir on left, and Jake on right.

The map is very, ver, very large and of course all in hebrew. Good thing colors and numbers are universal (for the most part) Nir on left, and Jake on right.


Day 1: followed the river, green trail, black trail, road to camping ground

Day 2: road through a Druze village, road next to Mt. Meron, up Mt. Meron, down Mt. Meron,

Day7 3: Sh’vil Yisrael (Israel trail) for the rest of the way (almost all black trail hiking)

*We didn’t realize until the second day that the color of the trail indicated level of difficulty.  But by then it was too late to change our path meaning we took one of the most difficult routes for this hike.

We met a lot of nice people along the way who helped us by filling up our water bottles.  One group of guys had just finished their hike at the end of day 1, and they had extra water left over.  They offered to give us all their extra water and as we were waving goodbye and saying thanks they said, “everyone who hikes in Israel is family”.  Another time we got lucky with water happend half way through the first day when in the middle of no where we happened upon a water treatment plant.  We went in and the men working there were happy to help us out.  On the second day before hiking Mt. Meron we passed an army air force base.  The soldiers there filled up our water bottles.  One of the soldiers was from New Jersey, and was talking to us about where we were from and why we are here.

With Alex, the man from the water treatment plant who helped us out.

With Alex, the man from the water treatment plant who helped us out.

Each day we stopped for a lunch break around 12 or 12:30.  We would find a nicely shaded area to sit down and relax.  This was always my favorite part of the day.  On the second day we all took a nap under the beautifully large tree we ate under.  That nap was the best 30 minutes of sleep I got on the entire trip.  For lunch we always had canned tuna.  Canned tuna is compact and easy to carry.  Canned chick peas are also good because they fill you up and are high in protein.

If you put napkins or toilet paper on top of the oil in the the can, and then light it on fire it will cook the tuna.  It's a gap year favorite and it only takes 15 minutes to cook.

If you put napkins or toilet paper on top of the oil in the the can, and then light it on fire it will cook the tuna. It’s a gap year favorite and it only takes 15 minutes to cook.


Day 1: oatmeal, tuna with pita, pita and peanut butter, rice and beans, trail mix

Day 2: granola bar, trail mix, tuna, chick peas, p’ti tim (Israeli pasta)

Day 3: granola bar, trail mix, tuna, tea

*all dinners were cooked in a pot over an open fire

Up until the morning of the third day the group was able to stay together.  Some hiked faster than others, but we always waited for each other.  On the third day we knew we were crunched for time.  We still had 25 kilometers until the Kinneret, and we wanted to get there before 5pm.  Three out of the eight of us decided they wouldn’t be able to make it, and walked to the road instead.  They decided to hitchhike and met us at the Kinneret.  Myself, Jesse, Nir, Nick and Jake decided to finish the old fashioned way.

My feet

Day 1: My feet were wet because the green trail zig zagged back and forth across the river, and the conspicuously placed rocks were very slippery.  I fell in twice; only Nick made it through without falling at all.  When I took my shoes off at the end of the day the bottom of my feet were white.  A bubble of skin took up bout half of each foot.

Day 2:  I had an average of 3 blisters on each foot.  Every time I stood up it felt like I was standing on 1,000 sharpened pencils.  As I would walk the number of pencils I could feel would go down until it only felt like I was standing on 2 or 3 pencils.  But every time we took a break I felt the pain when we started back up again.

Day 3:  My feet pretty much just felt like throbbing boxes attached to my legs.

Sunrise on Mt. Meron overlooking the mystical city of Tzfat.

Sunrise on Mt. Meron overlooking the mystical city of Tzfat.

Camp Sites/ Random places we slept

Night 1: beach by Mediterranean

Night 2: open space in the town of Abirim

Night 3: on top of Mt. Meron overlooking the city of Tzfat

We began day 3 by hiking at a very quick pace; the pace was almost double what we had been doing the first two days.  I was almost jogging to keep up.  The terrain was very difficult (black trail), and at one point I felt like I was on a rock climbing trip.  We powered through about 15 kilometers before we stopped for lunch.  The heat was getting to be unbearable and water was becoming a concern.  We knew we had at least 7 or 8 kilometers left, and that we needed to find a place to fill up our water bottles.  About an hour after lunch symptoms of dehydration could be seen.  I felt intoxicated as I wobbled across the smooth stones in the dried up river bead.  I had to concentrate on each step making sure to place my foot on sturdy rocks.  We referred to this kind of terrain as “ankle breaking”.  At the end of each break throughout the trip I would always start walking first, and say that I was going to start wobbling forward to get warmed up.  By day 3 some people were referring to it as “the schwabble”.  Jesse and I were schwabbling for most of the last day.  With only 3 kilometers left we could see the beautiful, blue Kinneret. As we passed banana fields we laughed that we hiked from bananas to bananas instead of sea to sea.  As soon as we saw civilization we stopped at a gas station to buy water.  And finally after that we made our way to the Kinneret, and I poured my bottle of Mediterranean Sea signifying the end of our hike.  Though we could barely move by the end (and I am still so sore that I have trouble moving) we had to walk to the bus stop and catch a bus to Jerusalem.  We reached the Kinneret by 4pm and caught a bus at 5:30.

Weight of my backpack

Day 1: 35 pounds

Day 2: 30 pounds

Day 3: 25 pounds

Unfortunately, I do not have single picture of the last day of hiking.  None of us had the energy to take out our cameras so the last day will remain a memory.  In any case the pictures can’t even come close to portraying the incredible scenery from this hike.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it still only covers one of the senses.  To understand what this experience was like you would have to experience it through all the senses.  To smell the flowers blooming at one moment and fresh cow poop at another.  To feel the wind on your face and simultaneously the pain of each step run from the bottom of your feet all the way up your legs.  To taste the combination of tuna for lunch with the sweat on your lips, and then to finally hear the words “we can see the Kinneret from here”.   It all comes together to make one incredibly journey that will not be easily forgotten.  When I see the group picture of us on top of the mountain what I remember is what someone said right before the photo was taken— “Everyone smile so people won’t be able to tell how much pain we’re in”.

Posted by: rmschwab | April 17, 2013

Z’man (Time)

Dear timely followers,

It seems as if once again time has slipped away, and it has been quite a while since I have last informed you of my whereabouts.  I always wear a watch, but somehow I still lost track of time.  Though I hate to say “I told you so”, but I did warn that this may happen. We all know time can be a curious thing; some would even consider it a fourth dimension.  At this point in my year it would be fitting to say “there is so much to do, and so little time”.  Now, there are however two words missing from this phrase in my case— more and left.  There is so much more to do, and so little time left.  Because in reality I have already done a lot here, and I have been here for a fairly large amount of time.  But here I am with only 7 weeks left and so much more I want to experience before I leave.  What if I said it differently?  Certainly 45 days or a month and a half sound longer than 7 weeks.  Only 7 more weekends left?!?  That sounds like nothing compared to how long I have already been here for.  Before I address how I plan on spending the rest of my time, I should answer the original question of what on earth have I been doing for the past month (4 weeks or 30 days if you would prefer to think of it that way)?  The answer is not simple; many different things have happened over the past month.  I will attempt to briefly reflect on them all so try to keep with me.

It seems like so long ago, but back during my second week in Jerusalem I attended the 2013 Masa Leadership Seminar.  Masa (meaning journey) is a government sponsored organization that gives money to hundreds of Israel programs.  If you or someone you know wants to come to Israel for any amount of time I would suggest typing “Masa Programs” in to google and you will find a surplus of programs to try.  The convention last 5 days (4 nights), and took place at a youth hostel in Jerusalem.  The food was amazing, I met tons of new people, and discussed Israel as a topic upon returning to college campuses.  I had a wonderful time; the entire week felt like vacation (especially because Marva was still on my mind).

Then after 3 days of year course classes Passover (spring) break started.  I spent the first weekend of break at one of my roommates’s apartment in Netanya (on the coast).  After a relaxing weekend with my friends, I traveled to Tzofar to be with family for the beginning of the holiday.  I had my first seder completely in Hebrew, and though I had trouble following along I sang the four questions without missing  a beat.  I stayed and spent time with family for a few days, but then headed back to Jerusalem to meet up with some friends.

On March 28th I left with 3 friends, and we traveled to the port in Haifa.  From there we boarded the Mano Cruise line ship called the Golden Iris.  We sailed with the Golden Iris for 5 nights.  The ship made two stops, one is Cyprus and the other in Rhodes, Greece.  Once aboard we ran into 3 fellow year coursers from a different section.  We ended up hanging out with them for most of the cruise.  We seemed to be the luckiest group ever because everywhere we went we ende up getting some kind of free tour.  But for the most part we explored on our own it it always seemed to work out.  We were walking through the old city in Rhodes, and we didn’t even notice that we passed through the Jewish quarter until we ran into the tour guide from the boat and he told us.  Overall, the cruise was a ton of fun, and I even still have a few Euros left over!  Upon returning to Haifa’s port the group vowed that we  would come back and spend a weekend in the beautiful city of Haifa.


The next week was the first real week of classes.  I am taking 4 classes this semester for a total of 19 credits.  The Jerusalem section of the program does have a focus on studying and classes, but I signed up for the volunteering track instead of taking any extra electives.  I volunteer two afternoons a week at a place called “Shekel”.  Shekel is a center where people with special needs work.  They are given simple tasks, and my job is simply to do the tasks with them and talk to them.   It’s very simple, and I find it quite relaxing.  Most of them don’t speak a word of English so it is also a good time for me to practice my Hebrew.  I have Ulpan Hebrew four mornings each week.  Two days a week I have a class called the Power of Persuasion.  It is a class that teaches about the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict from its roots to present day issues, and how to communicate this knowledge on our college campuses next year.   I find this class extremely interesting; we watch many, many videos from both sides concerning the issues, and study delivering techniques at the same time.  The other two classes I am taking are both siyur or field trip classes.  Once a week I have comparative monotheistic religions in Jerusalem, which besides being a long name is also a great class.  We are studying the three main monotheistic religions, and why Jerusalem is so holy for all of them.  We get to visit the holiest sites of all three religions which is something that many people can only dream of. My final class, which is also only once a week, is called Philosophy to Practice and is basically a Jewish studies course.  We started with the basics of Judaism and all the technical terms that I would have know had I gone to a Jewish day school.  The first half of the class is spent in the classroom, and the second half usually involves going somewhere and seeing something or talking to different types of religious (or non-religious) Jews.

Last weekend, I traveled to Haifa with my cruise friends.  We decided very last minute that this would be a good weekend to go, and at 1am on friday we booked a hostel for that very night.  It ended up being an incredibly fun weekend.  On Saturday we went to the Bahai Gardens, which is probably the most beautiful place in Israel.  The Bahai believed in true human equality, and that is why the garden is so symmetric.  This impressive garden cost 250 million dollars to make, and the cost of upkeep is about 10 million dollars a year.   It is not a typical tourists destination on short trips to Israel, but if anyone is ever in Israel for any length of time I would highly suggest going to the Bahai Gardens.


As you can see all these little adventures add up to a lot of time.  During the week when I am not in class, volunteering, grocery shopping, or doing laundry I am training.  Yes, I said training.  On June 1st (2 days before I leave Israel) I am participating in a women’s triathlon with Yael, the head of sports track.  Yael arranged for me to have membership at the pool/ gym on emek rafaim which is just a short 10 minute walk from my apartment.  I swim 2 or 3 times a week, and run on the other days.  The triathlon is 750 meters of swimming (in the ocean), 20k biking, and then a 5k run to finish it off.  Yael is also hooking me up with a bike to train with as well.

In exactly a week from tonight I will be embarking on a very exciting and interesting journey.  Myself and 7 or 8 friends will be going on a hike known as the yam l’yam hike which means sea to sea.  We will be hiking all the way across Israel (from west to east) by started at the Mediterranean Sea and hiking to the Kinneret on the other side of Israel.  I also already have plans for the next weekend.  I will be running in the Be’erShevah Glow Run, and raising money for victims of terror.  Besides the cost of registration I would like to try and raise a little more money especially with the recent event in Boston.  Though terrorism is more often associated with the middle east it can clearly happen anywhere, and it is important to support those who have lost everything to terrorists.   I am posting a link to the donation site for the year course “team” that I am running for.  The race is the night of May 2nd, and my birthday is May 3rd.  On behalf of me for my birthday, I ask anyone who is able to contribute a donation.  The money we are raising goes to the Koby Mandell Foundation.  I have also posted the link to their website if you would like to check it out.

Donate !

Check out the cause!

I have 7 weeks left in this amazing country.  Things are moving so quickly and I don’t plan on slowing them down.  I will jump into every opportunity just as I have been doing all year.  Though I am preparing for camp and college, I will not let this precious time I have left slip away.  And hopefully, I will blog again soon… hopefully.  Only time will tell.

Posted by: rmschwab | March 19, 2013

Living The Holy Life

Dear religious followers,

Well here I am!  I have finally arrived in what some would consider the holiest city in the entire world.  I am happily moved in to my apartment in Beit Ar El, which is the name of Young Judaea’s campus in Jerusalem.  It isn’t much of a campus; our area is very small and is comprised of two apartment buildings, one classroom building, and one small building with a meeting room.

Now I know all of you thought that I would come back from Israel and march around North Carolina with a long skirt that covers my knees.  And I know that most of you thought that I would return from Israel refusing to eat bacon or use my phone on Shabbat.  But I am here to inform you that this is not the case; I will not have any novel orthodox religious intentions upon returning from the holy land.  On the other hand I have come to some important realizations about my Judaism and my Jewish beliefs.

On my first Friday in Jerusalem, I went with a few of my roommates to a local modern orthodox synagogue for services.  Now you may recall my experiences with orthodox temples in Bat Yam towards the beginning of the year.  I did not like them in the least bit; the tunes were foreign to me and the women were treated like second-class citizens.  The temple I went to in Jerusalem was different.  The men and the women were still separated, but instead of putting the women on the second floor, the bottom floor was divided in half equally.  One side was for women and one for men with a white curtain dividing the two sides right down the middle of the room.  At one point a woman even led the congregation in prayer (though she was not a Rabbi because it is still an orthodox temple).  Now that my concerns about equality were met I could focus on the reason I went to temple— to pray.  Although I went to the temple with the intentions of praying, I ended up putting the book I was reading in the siddur, or prayer book, and reading instead of praying.  Ironically I was reading Night by Eli Weisel because I realized I had never read it earlier that day when I saw it in my apartment.  It is a fairly short book, and I ended up reading it all in one day, but a good chunk of that was from when I was in the synagogue.  Every so often I would hear familiar prayers and look up from my book.  The congregation chanted in tunes I had never heard before, but I could still recognize which prayers they were singing.   This experience confirms my suspicions that, to me, being Jewish is more being a part of a culture or way of life than anything else.  I love cooking a nice meal and having Shabbas dinner with my roommates on Friday nights, but I consider it a cultural tradition instead of a religious obligation.

Although I will probably not find myself in temple on Shabbat too often when I come home, I will however be increasing my Jewish practices in another way.  And of course everyone is different, but time and time again I have found that I relate to my Judaism more as a culture than as a religion.  The state of Israel has a Jewish culture because Jews are a majority.  I grew up in a Christian culture because the Christians are a majority in America.  For example , my 26 year-old Israeli cousin does not have the slightest clue as to what and elf is.  I know, and have always known since I was a child, that elves are the small people that build toys in Santa’s workshop all year in order to prepare for Christmas.

It takes a lot more effort to grow up in america with a Jewish culture. Here in Israel being Jewish is easy because it is around you all the time.  Every single day I am reminded that I am Jewish simply because I am living here.  I realized i have been missing out on some of the Jewish traditions and holidays because of lack of time, and that they didn’t seem important in America.  I never dressed up for Purim or ate fruit on Tubishvat as a child.  In Israel I learned more about these holidays and the traditions associated with them.  I will be sure to carry these traditions with me across the seas and participate in them back in the states next year.

This past saturday was a normal Shabbat for most year coursers who slept away the day, but I decided to take the high road.  Literally, I walked on the high roads of the Jerusalem hills with some friends from my apartment to the old city of Jerusalem.  I thought everything in Jerusalem was closed on Shabbat, but I was very wrong.  We walked through the Arab shuk (market) which was bustling with people just like any other day of the week.  Then we found ourselves inside the Church of the Holy Seplecure.  This is the holiest site for people of the Christian faith.  We felt like tourists as we starred at the crowds of people surrounding the stone.  They were rubbing random objects of theirs on the stone.  My madrich, Gal, told us they do this because it makes the items holy.  Then they take the items back to their children or whoever else they were going to give them to.

The stone that Christains believe Jesus was layed on before he was brought to his grave (which is also located inside the church).

The stone that Christains believe Jesus was laid on before he was brought to his grave (which is also located inside the church).

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock

The Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock



And of course within a few minutes of leaving the church we found ourselves in front of the Kotel.  The Western Wall is the holiest place on earth for Jews to go to.  I have of course been to the wall quite a few times already, but even on my first visit I felt like I knew what I was doing and why I was there.  As we left the old city I could see the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is the third holiest mosque in Islam.  Within three hours on a random Saturday I had been to three of the holiest religious sites in the world.  (I’m not actually allowed to go to this Mosque due to year course safety regulations.)  It was all so casual simply because all of these sites are located in my back yard.  This is one of those times where my friends and I would look at each other laughing and say, “only in Israel”.


Posted by: rmschwab | March 1, 2013

קורס מרווה קכ״ג

Dear disciplined followers,

I am writing to you now as an official graduate of Course Marva 123 (קורס מרווה קכ״ג).  And with this experience comes multiplex emotions that I find difficult to explain.  My opinions concerning Marva change with almost every day that passes.  When I look back to what I thought the course would be before it started I couldn’t have been more wrong.  To be honest, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.  And that is exactly what I thought on that first night in tent six about 8 weeks ago.  But now as I sit on my living room couch in Arad and think about everything Marva has taken me through I realize that in the end it was excatly what I needed.

My mental strength and personal motivation during Course Marva closely resembles that of when I go on a run.  Usually when I elect to work out I run a distance of about 5 kilometers, which takes around 30 minutes.  Before I start the run the task seems like nothing; I see it as something I can easily breeze through and continue on with my day.  The first 10 minutes are always the worst.  I think what the hell am I doing out here and why am I not sleeping right now.  With only a mile down it seems as if I will be running forever, and I am already tired of it.  When I hit 15 minutes there is hope.  I think hey I’ve made it half way, only one half to go!  But at that same moment I look up from the ground and realize the steep incline of the massive hill I’m approaching.  My heart sinks and my feet feel heavy as I brace myself for the pain of the obstacle ahead.  And finally the time comes when I only have 5 minutes left of running.  I can see how close I am to my goal and this knowledge gives me a second wind.  I suddenly pick up speed and feel as if I could run forever.  I start thinking about what a good idea it was to go on a run, and all that I can get accomplished now that I feel awake and energized.  The rush of endorphins may be clouding my mind, but I don’t care because I made it through.  And I could do it again too.  If you recall, my first blog post about Marva was not the most pleasant.  There wasn’t a girl in my tent that didn’t cry and think about quitting during the first two weeks.  By the end of the course, just as my runs, I marched through the final ceremony with my head held high.  And as time passes I remember more and more of the good things about Marva and forget the bad.  And you can be damn sure that I am proud of myself for finishing the course.

Course Marva confuses a lot of people.  Neither Israelis nor Americans understand what it is exactly or why it exists.  People are generally confused about why someone would sign up for this voluntarily.  Some people wonder why the Israeli army would spend their time training foreign people instead of focusing on other important projects.  One of my fellow Marva participants said during week three, “they shouldn’t be so mean to us if they want us to make aliyah and join the army”.  But the point of Marva is not for us to want to move to Israel after it is over.  The overarching goal of Marva is to educate foreign zionists about the true spirit of the IDF so that we may return to our home countries one day teach the rest of the world the truth about the Israeli army.  The truth that is often hidden behind tv screens across the world filled with smoke from rockets and bombs.  This is all the information the world has on the IDF and it is not enough to show the whole story.

A few days ago my mefakedet (commander) “broke distance” with us.  In Marva breaking distance refers to the moment at the end of the course when the mefakdote (commanders) finally smile at us and talk to us a friends instead of commanders.  This is the moment we realize that these robots who have been yelling at us for 8 weeks are actually normal people who have feelings and like to joke around.  For most of us this is a shocking revelation.  My mefakedet’s name is Snir, and the only word I can use to describe her is adorable.  She is only 4 feet and 10 inches tall, but let me tell you she has the strength of a giant.  The following excerpt is from a letter she wrote to our sevet (team) and gave us at the end of the course.

Over the last year and a half I’ve been a Commander in both the Gadna and Marva.  As a commander in the Gadna, I encountered mainly young Israeli youth, who didn’t want to enlist; but eventually will have to find themselves in the military.  The main issue with them and the values I chose to stress were love for the country, and the fact that we have no other place in the world.  Then I moved to Marva, and let me tell you, it is the complete opposite.  In Marva I met youth from all over the world who came to learn about Israel and the IDF, young individuals who would have enlisted the moment they could if it hadn’t meant leaving everything they know behind, boys and girls that knew what this country means to Jewish people without me even having to explain.  I marvel at this course each time anew.  You can’t define Marva as “Gadna for two months”.  It is a different world  In the Gadna you get to influence the youth of Israel, but in Marva I feel like I can really change the world— because the way you experience the IDF and Israel will be passed on to your entire community.  And who knows maybe people will start seeing Israel in a different light…

*Note: This letter was originally written in Hebrew and later translated into English. (Snir’s English was not to strongest)

Course Marva 123 was Snir’s third Marva course as a commander.  On February 27th, the day of the final ceremony, Snir turned 21 years old.  She only has about 6 months left in the army (finishes in August).  Her parents travled all the way to S’de Boker for the ceremony.  (She is from a kibbutz up north and S’de Boker is in the south)  During one of the practices of the ceremony I had my usual thoughts that come towards the end of a run.  Maybe I could enlist in the IDF.  Maybe I should serve the army before I go to college.  After all I made it through Marva basic training, the hardest part of the army.  I already know what I would do and which unit I would be in: a rescue paramedic in the Homefront Command unit.   But something happened on February 27th that made it very clear to me why this was not the right thing for me to do.  I starred at Snir, my mefakedet, as she embraced her mother at Ben Gurion’s grave, the location of our final ceremony.  Snir introduced us (the sevet) to her mom, and we all couldn’t help but say “awwww” in unison when this proud mamma leaned over and kissed her daughter on the cheek.  I looked around and realized that my mom wasn’t there.  And that’s when it all made sense.  My mom wasn’t there because this isn’t my country.  I’m Jewish but I’m not Israeli.  If I were to join the army my parents would never be there to see me do it.  They wouldn’t be proud of me the way Snir’s parents are proud of her.  My mom asked me for only one present for her birthday this year which was February 26th.  She asked me to blog.  The best way for me to serve Israel AND make my parents proud  is to do it back in the United States.  In the states I can fight for Israel in a way that is very different than serving in the IDF, but just as important for an American girl like me.  So happy birthday mom!  I’ll be home in just 3 short months, and as a lifetime member of Hadassah and a freshman at UNC chapel hill I will be eager to start fighting.  Don’t worry I know what I am doing; I’ve been trained by the best.

I will always remember my time in Marva.  It truly was a once in a lifetime experience that I will tell my kids about someday.  If anyone has any questions about the IDF please don’t hesitate to ask.  I know so much more than I did before, and for things I don’t know I have a surplus of soldiers who I can reach out to for more answers.  The next step for me (year course) is to move to Jerusalem after the weekend.  Besides posting this blog the only things I have left to do before I leave are laundry and packing.  I can’t wait to make the most of my last three months here in Israel.

Before I part I would like to share a short playlist I have compiled  that I like to call “My Marva Playlist”.  These songs will forever remind me of Marva and here is why.

She Wolf by David Guetta

This song was the Mefaked Samal’s ringtone for most of the course.  His real name is Shahar and he was in charge of discipline throughout the course.  As a big, tall guy we would always chuckle when his phone rang with this song as his ringtone.


Just One Last Time by David Guetta

This was the ringtone of the Mefakedet Samal’s ringtone (the girl commander in charge of discipline).  We realize now that they both set funny ringtones on purpose.  She could be completely serious while yelling at someone and then this song would go off.  While she would have to keep a straight face everyone around would be smiling.

The Start of Something New from High School Musical

During the last few weeks of Marva my tent (tent 6) started a tradition of singing in the mornings.  It stared one morning at 4:45am when we started singing this song from the movie High School Musical.  We acted out everything in the video I posted (including the beginning part).  Even though we only had 15 minutes to get ready and be outside we still found time to play around in sing in the mornings, which helped to bond our tent together.

I Wish by Matt Palmer

This song also reminds me of tent 6.  Every morning a symphony of phone alrams would sound about 20 minutes before we had to be outside in our chets.  But my favorite alarm was my friend Jessica’s; her phone played this song every morning.  Most people would be yelling at her to turn it off if she ever slept through it and didn’t turn it off before the words started, but I always wanted to hear the whole song.  Every time  hear that song I will be reminded of some of the most painful mornings of my life, but also some of the best.


Posted by: rmschwab | February 2, 2013

You Live & You Learn

1) ALWAYS carry toilet paper with you wherever you go.

2) ALWAYS go to the bathroom before getting on the bus (even if you don’t have to go at the moment).

3) ALWAYS wait at least 30 minutes or until the line dies down if you are going to shower during shatash (free hour).

4) ALWAYS sleep in the clothes you plan on wearing under your uniform the next day.

5) ALWAYS wake up 15 minutes earlier than the official wake up time so you have time to use the bathroom and brush your teeth.

These are 5 things that I learned during my first two weeks in Marva, and trust me knowing them really makes a difference.  Besides the weather, I think my first two weeks were particularly uncomfortable because I wasn’t used to the conditions or the routine yet.  They always say the first two weeks of Marva are the worst, and now I know why.  These past two weeks were much better all around.  Don’t get me wrong the mornings are still as painful as anything, and my tent is still freezing cold, but I think I am adjusting well now.

After my incredibly relaxing weekend off in Tzofar I was not excited to return to the army lifestyle.  I arrived at the designated meeting spot at 8:30am (the central bus station in Tel-Aviv) and at 10:30 we were all still there.  There is so much waiting involved in the army.  I was debating whether or not to take out my book or not, but I decided not to because I didn’t want to get yelled at the early on.  When we finally boarded the bus we were headed north for north week.  The first stop was the Yigal Alon Museum Center.  As we sat outside in perfect circles divided by sevets (our teams or groups) eating lunch tourists that walked by took pictures and videos of us.  Some of them even took pictures with us.  We all thought it was funny because they thought they were taking pictures with real Israeli soldiers.

Later that day we arrived at a base called Michva Alon.  This is a base for Olim, or immigrants, who come to Israel to join the army.  The base offers a few programs that include basic training (similar to Marva) and learning Hebrew.  Base Michva Alon is not only twice the size of S’de Boker (the base I had been on) but it is also like paradise compared to S’de Boker.  We were all so happy when we found out we were sleeping in beds in a heated room, and that the bathroom was right outside the rooms.  It was pretty exciting stuff.  The food at Michva Alon was also significantly better.  Besides the base, I really enjoyed north week because wwe did a lot of activities and learned a lot each day.  Some of the activites we did are as follows.

– A visit to a Druze village to talk to a representative about the Druze role and place in Israeli society and the army.

– Talking to soldiers on Michva Alon, most of whom were participants in Marva and decided to make aliyah and join the army after.  A group of guys decided to enlist in the IDF after this talk including my friend Zander.

– We went to the memorial site of the IDF’s biggest tragedy, and heard the story of how two Israeli helicopters crashed into each other during the second Lebanon War.  (73 soldiers died)

-We had a lesson on Israeli society and the makeup of the army.

– We had a debate on Israel’s army as an army of the people (mandatory service) or a professional army (voluntary service) such as the US army.

– A visit to the historical site of Tel Hai, which I had learned about earlier in the year in my Zionism class.

And last but not least, one of my favorite activities of the week, a visit to a base called Havat Hashomer.  This is a special military base for people with low socio-economic backgrounds as well as a history with crime.  This is a base for boys only who are not disciplined eough to join a normal army unit.  Most of the boys have lived hard lives, and many are not even interested in serving the Israeli military, but they are forced to because of the law.  The course they take at Havat Hashomer is 10 weeks long, and often not all of the boys make it through.  I think this base is a great example of the lengths Israel goes through to make sure that everyone has a place in the army, and everyone can be accepted by the society if they serve the army well.  The course at Havat Hashomer offers the boys a chance to finish high school (after their basic training), and even to join combat units if they behaved well enough during their course.  The program helps integrate them into the army based on their strengths.  Not only does this integrate them successfully into the army, but also into Israeli society as well.  After serving the army with a meaningful job it is easier for the boys to find a good job after or to continue with their education.  We got the chance to talk to a few of the soldiers who had finished the course and were training to be in combat units.  I thought it was interesting how they said the first day of the course was the hardest for them as well as the first two weeks in general.  They also said that besides the discipline the most difficult thing to get used to is waking up in the mornings.  This is all exactly what I experienced in Marva.

Overall north week was great and seemed like a vacation to me.  On Thursday I woke up from a big bump the bus went over, and when I looked out the window the endless desert mountains depressed me.  The feeling was even worse when we pulled up to S’de Boker’s entrance  and my head was flooded with uncomfortable memories of the first two weeks.  As I stood in my sevets’s chet spot I looked up to the sky and saw that the sunset made the clouds look like cotton candy in the sky.  I remembered how during the first two weeks I had seen almost every single sunrise and sunset.  Even though I was back on possibly the crappiest army base in Israel, I had hope that things would be better this time around.  Shabbat was just around the corner, and the weather was fairly mild.

We were told that the Friday’s wakeup time would be 6:30am.  We were ecstatic about the extra hour of sleep.  We were all so happy that we were completely blindsided by the event that took place the next morning.  At 5:30 we were woken up by the sound of rocks raining over out tent and the words “Shabbat Rasap” being chanted by our mefakdote, or officers.  We knew an extra hour of sleep was too good to be true.  They started yelling at us to get up and put on our sport clothes.  Nothing like a nice run in the desert at 6 in the morning.  I was running out of my tent to the bathroom with toliet paper in my hand.  But right as I was about to turn the corner the mefakedet from sevet 3 saw me and said “Rachel NO!”.  I turne around to face her, and I started laughing because I knew I would not get the chance to use the bathroom and that was not good.  But somehow I found the humor in it at the time.  She said “Run to your Chet ACHSHAV (now)!”  So with the toilet paper still in my hand I ran to my group’s spot and found everyone except for our mefakedet there.  Quickly I ran behind the huge pile of junk and yelled to my sevet “don’t judge me it’s an emergency”.  I made it back just in time to stand in my spot before my mefakedet walked up.  I was very thankful that I took that risk becasue no one had the chance to go to the bathroom until after the run was over.  We ran past David Ben Gurion’s grave.  The first prime minister of Israel wanted to be buried in the desert because he believed the desert was Israel’s future.  I recognized the important spot because I had already visited there with year course.  The view throughout the run was pretty incredible.  It wasn’t the beautiful green mountains of the north, but the giant desert mountains were breathtaking as well… or maybe I was just out of breath from the run.

When the entire group got to a large open area of flat desert we lined up to do some very long sprints.  The Mefaked HaSamal (discipline officer) picked Zander and I to be examples and show everyone what to do.  He told us to sprint to him (about 100 yards away), do five push ups, and then sprint back to the line.  Zander and I reached the HaSamal at about the same time, but as I was doing my push ups the HaSamal whispered to me “Rachel, pass him”.  So I quickly hopped up from my fifth push up and sprinted back.  “And Alexander, next time win” A chuckle could be heard across the line.  I’m not sure if I actually beat Zander back (it seemed more like a tie to me) but I knew the HaSamal wanted to make that joke.

The rest of south week included a tour of Ben Gurion’s desert home, a hike, planting trees at the Gaza boarder, a tour of the Gaza boarder, numerous workouts, a class on ranks in the army, and a class on using the gun during battle.  I enjoyed these activities as well but North week is still my favorite so far.  I also received a message from my mom during south week telling me my good friend from home Rachel Hammond got into UNC.  Congrats again Rachel!

The next week of Marva is called sports week.  This is basically boot camp week.  We will be doing a lot of obstacle courses as well as competing against the other sevets.  I think it is going to be sort of like an army color was because each team was given a color and told to bring a lot of clothes in that color.  My sevet’s color is PINK.  I only have one pink shirt with me so I will need to go the to Arad mall and find more pink clothing because I am some what competitive meaning my sevet better not only win all the games, but also look the best.  Though I am sad to go back to base already I know each week will be better than the last.

Also, Yael the head of sports track, has arranged for a bus to come to S’de Boker at 10pm on Sunday to pick us up and take us back to Arad. We get to watch the superbowl with the rest of year course (which starts at 1am our time) in a local bar called Muza that will be playing the game just for us.  Then I get to sleep in Arad and be driven back to the base at 8am Monday morning.  I honestly don’t know how Yael convince Marva to let us off for the night, but I couldn’t be happier.  An extra night in Arad is a precious gift, and I am extremely grateful for it.  I must apologize again for this post was written quickly and very sloppily, but it is a sacrifice that had to be made in order to have time to do my laundry.  I’m half way there and that in itself is an accomplishment.  Hopefully these next two weeks will fly by.

The classroom we slept in for the first two space to move.

The classroom we slept in for the first two weeks…no space to move.




The girls don't want to see the inside (or smell it)

The girls bathroom…you don’t want to see the inside (or smell it)


The pile of junk i peed behind before our morning run.

The pile of junk i peed behind before our morning run.

The area my sevet makes our chet in.

The area my sevet makes our chet in.

tent chillin with zoe (warning: beds may collapse at any minute)

tent chillin with zoe (warning: beds may collapse at any minute)

Bags must be lined up perfect on the beds each and every morning.

Bags must be lined up perfect on the beds each and every morning.


Sophie (on right) and Albira (on left)

Sophie (on right) and Albira (on left)


About to shower...must always have your gun with you.

About to shower…must always have your gun with you.

Posted by: rmschwab | January 19, 2013


LO MEDABER! (No talking), TAFSIKU LAZUZ (Don’t move), KOL HA’ANAYIM ALIE (All eyes on me), ANI LO CHAVERA SHELCHA (I am not your friend)

Stand in ACHSHEV!  Shalosh, Steim, Echad ACHSHEV HAMEFAKEDET!

Technically speaking the first day of Marva was only half a day because we started after lunch, but it felt like three.  I was cold as we were standing in achshev waiting for specific instructions on when to go put on the uniform we had just received in our kit bags.  As I had just learned achshev is standing straight with your feet in a Dorothy like “V” position, and your hands clenched into fists with arms straight down by your side.  Also, your canteen must be on the ground touching your heels with the indent facing forward and the plastic loop holder facing to the left.  You can never move without your water bottle.  Even if you only need to take a step to the left it must come with you, and it must always be full.  After we changed in seven minutes and ran back to our chet positions it was getting dark already and the wind wasn’t backing down.  My feet were so cold I couldn’t feel my toes…a non-existent feeling that I would have to get used to.  We were broken up into different sevets or teams and the only person from my program I am with is my friend Zoe.  After a long chaotic half of a day we were taken to tent 6 where we joined 16 or 17 other girls for the night.  The flaps of the tent could not protect us from the wind and the there was barely any room in the tent to move.  I had been thrown into a completely different world in a matter of hours.  I guess I wasn’t paying attention when my Madricha said goodbye, and that she was no longer in charge of us— the army was.  As I crawled into my army sleeping bag my body was still clenched to try and protect myself from the wind and the cold.  My feet and my face were both still numb, and that was the first moment I realized that the cold was not going away.  I could be cold for the next 8 weeks.  I lay there as the rest of the tent began to settle into their sleeping bags and suddenly a warm, tingling sensation spread across my cheeks.  It was the first warm sensation I had felt since I got there and it was as if my face was thawing from the cover of the sleeping bag.  It was only when I looked down and saw a small wet spot on my sleeping bag that I realized it was a tear.  My first feeling of warmth came from a hot tear running down my face.

The next few days were also a blur.  I was learning all the different rules of the army and the base, but most of the time I was just standing waiting for instructions.  I learned that mornings there are absolutely miserable not only because we wake up at 5am, but also because leaving your sleeping bag is like opening the freezer door and sticking your face in.  I create a hot box at night when I completely engulf myself in my sleeping bag to stay warm.  I also sleep in my gloves, neck warmer, and hat as well as layers on layers of clothing.  After the first night, we were moved to the classrooms to sleep because the tents were too dangerous.  Three of them had collapsed and flooded the first night.  We were in the middle of Israel’s biggest storm from the last 20 years, and we were getting news of snow in Jerusalem, and Tel-Aviv for the first time ever.  It only rains about 12 days a year in the desert, and my first week of Marva was 6 of those days…

On day three our Madrachim came to visit us, and to be at the opening gun ceremony.  The only useful things I had learned were from the two classes we had on guns.  The classes were interesting, but it was hard to focus because we were inside and sitting down.  Even sitting in the uncomfortable achshev position was not enough to keep us all from dozing off.  We were not used to the early mornings yet, and the classrooms provided protection from the wind and the rain.  At the opening ceremony we finally received our guns that we would be carrying around with us for the next two weeks.  We were standing outside in the freezing cold with spiting rain for about 2 hours before my name was finally called to get my gun.  I ran back to my spot with the m-16 that had my name labeled on it in Hebrew.  I thought to myself, see I knew this would all be worth it. But then 5 minutes later when my hand was frozen in its position holding the gun I was already over it.  Then the Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem, began to play and I felt like it was a good experience again as I was singing a long with everyone to close my first ever military ceremony.  Approximately 8 minutes later my arm was killing me from the gun, and I no longer thought it was cool.  We have to always be with our gun.  We eat and sleep with it, and you have to be looking at it even when you shower and go to the bathroom.

Day four was one of the most miserable mornings because I had to stand and wait an hour and a half for breakfast with the unforgiving wind and rain.  But later that day I had the most fun activity I could possibly think of—kitchen duty!  I am not joking when I say kitchen duty was the most fun I had up to that point.  I washed dishes for three hours and I honestly could not have been happier.  My entire sevet asked if we could do kitchen duty again.  Kitchen duty was inside and I got to have my hands under hot water for three whole hours!  Having completely pruned hands for the rest of the day was definitely worth the three hours of warmth.  We also had a class that day on the Israeli army motto “purity of arms”.  As our discussion escalated and someone said something unexpected and the room busted out in laughter.  Our mefakedet, or commanding officer, had to turn around because even she started to smile.  Once we all saw her smile for the first time we began to be obsessed with trying to make her smile.  She only smiled two more times during the first 12 days.

On day five they started giving out punishments for things we did wrong.  Before they would just yell at us and say in Hebrew “in Marva that will be punished”.  There are three types of punishments.  The first is push ups which you can get for moving when standing in achshev, laughing, talking, being late to a chet, or disrespecting an officer.  The second type of punishment is called tikniyut and it means you have to wake up 15 minutes earlier and be ready outside in the morning.  You can get tikniyut for anything you did wrong involving your uniform.  If you move with your hat on after 5pm then you can get it.  If your zipper isn’t zipped all the way up.  I got it the first day for having a blue hair band in instead of a black one.  I also got it the next day for forgetting to take my hat off the second I walked into a building.  The last type of punishment is called komemut, which involves showing up 15 minutes early in the morning but with your army vests from our kit bags.  One can get this punishment for not having their canteen filled all the time or for not having their hat or canteen on them at all times.

On day six the sun came out for the first time and it was just in time for Shabbas.  The army observes Shabbat meaning though I had to stay on base I was free to do what I wanted (sort of).  On a normal weekday we only get one hour to ourselves each night.  This time is to change to sleeping clothes, shower, brush our teeth, and call our loved ones.  It seems like a long time, but the bathrooms are a few minutes walk from our classrooms and the lines for the showers are long.  There are way too many girls sharing two small bathrooms.  On day seven (Shabbat) I finally had time to take my first shower on base.  And even then there was a line for the open showers.  In the showers everything is open and visible to everyone and the shower is more like a spicket of water but it was still one of the best showers I have ever had.  I didn’t even care that my feet were soaking in everyone’s dirty shower water that wouldn’t go down the drain because at least they were warm.  As I was dressing in the stall I was listening to all the Spanish kids speaking in the bathroom.  About 85% of the Marva participants are from Spanish speaking countries so as English speakers we are a minority.  I hear Spanish every day now, and it reminds me of my good friend from high school, Elise Karsten.  Elise and I had Spanish together since sophomore year, and our senior year we had all six of our classes together.  We were also co-captains of the soccer team meaning I spent a lot of time with Elise.  Fortunately she is waiting for me at Chapel Hill and when I get there next year we are going to rush together and try out for the club soccer team.  I was still putting all my layers back on when an American walked in and the conversation switched to English.  The conversation was typical for Marva including discussions on how we can be friends with our mefakedets when Marva is over, and arguments on how old they all are (probably somewhere between 18 and 22).  I put on my “clean” second uniform shirt and pants, and stuffed some emergency toilet paper in my lower left pants pocket and my upper right shirt pocket.  My upper left shirt pocket always has my toothbrush and my toothpaste because I don’t have time to brush my teeth in the morning if I don’t carry it with me all day.  I quickly put on my neck warmer, ear warmer, hat, and gloves because I felt more naked without them than I did when I was in the shower.  I had finally made it through the first week of Marva and I was proud of myself for that, but I was nervous because I knew the next week would be even harder.

Some general information from the first week includes the following.  I hadn’t changed clothes at all.  I always had on leggings, long johns and uniform pants.  On top I always had on two long sleeve shirts, a sweatshirt, my uniform shirt, and my uniform jacket.  I slept with all that and my hat, gloves, and neck warmer.  I washed my hair in the sink once, and I washed my face every other day.  My feet were so cold at every point of the day that they felt wet.  Even though they were dry and I had two pairs of wool socks on they were so cold the felt wet through and through.  My heels hurt from standing in achshev all the time, and my left shoulder hurt from carrying the gun with the gun strap.  The only good thing was the tea.  They had very good hot tea at breakfast and dinner.  We all would put it in out canteens and hold it to our faces to get some warmth for 10 or 15 minutes.  But when the tea got cold and I took a sip it kind of tasted like good ol’ southern Bojangles sweet tea.  I’m sure it didn’t taste exactly like Bojangles, but I haven’t had anything that close to sweet tea in a while so it was good enough for me.

Day eight was the first day of shetach or field week.  It was too cold to go the field so we just stayed on base on got yelled at all morning.  Lunch was fun because we ate outside the meal that soldiers eat in the field, and it was a bright and sunny day.  The food I ate all during field week was the same as the boxes of food I packed for soldiers during the operation.  It includes tuna, beans, bread and corn.  We ate the same meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner…actually we were lucky if they gave us a box for breakfast.  Breakfast during field week was just chocolate milk and chocolate pudding.  It made me miss the crappy cornflakes and hard-boiled eggs we got during the first week in the chader ochel.  During lunch outside some of the soldiers on the base were blasting music through a sterio.  Beyonce’s Love On Top started playing and it reminded me of my Shaina girls and all the good times we had together.  By this time I had realized that Marva was a roller coaster in terms of my happiness and emotions.  When I was miserably uncomfortable and cold I was not very happy, but a little warmth changed everything.  I figured this is how it would be for the rest of the time, and I will feel very good when it is all over.

Day nine was a sad morning as I watched Scabies claim its next two victims.  For those who don’t know scabies is a mite that causes an itchy rash.  There had been a bunch of cases of Scabies on the base, and the rumor was that the sleeping bags and blankets they gave us had the parasite living in some of them.   On day nine my good friend Zoe and one of my new friends Zander (from Texas) were diagnosed and sent home with Scabies.  Luckily for me day nine was the first day we actually did cool army activities.  They took us to the shooting range and I shot an m-16 gun for the first time.  I hit 8 of my 10 bullets on the paper, 2 in the small black bulls eye area, and 1 directly in the middle of it.  The distance was 25 meters, and I was very proud of my results.  Later the same day we had our first army physical examination.  We were told to do as many sit-ups as we could up to 86 and as many push ups up to 48.  Then we all went outside the base to run 2km.  Not only did I feel free from running outside the base, but also to be running in normal clothing and not my uniform made it even more of an exhilarating feeling.  I was 10th to finish out of about 60 people and I ran the 2k in about 8 minutes. I had forgotten how much I missed exercise.  Only two more days until my first weekend off.

On day ten we finally made it out to the field.  We started by poring water on the ground and rubbing the dirt all over our faces to camouflage ourselves.  My mefakedet told me to put dirt on my lips, and that the really good soldiers even put it on their teeth.  We stuffed desert vegetation in our vests and pockets to try and make our shadows look less like human figures.  We practiced walking and crawling during the day and night, and we built a shelter in 30 minutes out of rocks and dry plants.  After lunch we had an hour visit from our madrachim from year course.  When they pulled up with pizza, soda, and cookies it was like being in a completely different world from Marva.  I washed off all the dry dirt on my lips with the pizza and soda.  It was so nice to see their smiling faces, and to hug them.  But per usual it was over so quickly and before I knew it they were pulling away and I was back in the field with my sevet standing in achshev.  The night was quickly approaching, as was the cold.  The desert sunset behind the mountain was beautiful.  The color was a dim orange that faded into a light grey which turned into a light purple almost like lavender, and then to a soft Carolina blue before the top layer of the sunset which was a dark blue.  We were standing as my mefakedet taught us the signals and code for communicating at night without talking.  As I continued to listen the starts began to sprinkle the sky, and the sunset was gone.

On day 11, our last full day before a break, we went on our first masa meaning journey.  It was kind of like a hike but we were constantly stopping to crawl or lay in shooting position.  It would have been easy to run that distance normally but doing all of that stuff with all the clothes, and the vest, and the gun and everything else made it very hot and very difficult.  Basic training is a lot harder then it looks.  The fact that everyone in Israel has to go through this when they turn 18 still blows my mind.  Not only do they have to do basic training, but also they actually serve in the army for a few years, and possibly die for their country.  In America we often take for granite that we live in a country that is safe and doesn’t need national protection and fighting to be secure all the time.  I was thinking about all this as we continued our journey to the shetach.  We had green, black and brown war paint all over our faces and we looked like a real army unit marching and kneeling in shooting positions all down the side of the road.  Cars would honk as they passed us, and some would slow down to get a closer look.  When we finally made it to the field we had a race among the nine sevets to see who could do everything we learned the best and then run to the top of the mountain.  This race was the other two times I saw my mefakedet smile.  She is a bit competitive so I’m glad we made her happy by winning the race.  After we ate dinner in the dark we were told to climb a different mountain again but in silence without getting seen by an officer.  By the end of the day it hurt to move.  Every muscle on my body was sore, and I could not wait to start my free weekend the next day.


The state of being dependent for existence on or determined in nature, value, or quality by relation to something else.

The classroom I slept in was warm relative to outside, but cold compared to my apartment in Arad (which is usually pretty cold as well).  The gun I carry is light relative to the 20 pounds of water I carried during the first half of the masa hike.  The chader ochel food is good relative to the field week food.   And the tea…well the tea was just pretty damn good.

Everything is relative.  My knowledge from psychology class senior year crossed my mind.  I remembered Mrs. Koch’s lesson on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  And though I often slept late and skipped psych class I always seem to remember everything I learned from that class.  Maslow said that certain needs come first such as food and water. Other needs such as love/belonging and esteem come only when your basic needs are acquired.  Everyone’s needs are relative based on what they already have.

Living conditions:

-crammed in the classrooms (very little space to move)

– cold in the classrooms

– dirt all over the floor/ mattresses/ sleeping bags/ everything

– scabies in the sleeping bags

– no toilet paper in the bathrooms

– mud and dirt all over the bathroom floor

– few bathrooms for a lot of girls

– eat on the ground without plates

– everything is shared

– wait very long before we get food, sometimes hours

– basically we live in a disease pool

Everything is relative.  I am reading a book my mom brought me called it happened on the way to war.  It was written by Rye Barcott a former Marine who attended UNC Chapel Hill.  Compared to Rye Barcott who spent his summers in Kibera, Kenya (one of the biggest slums in Africa) my living conditions are amazing.  I am guaranteed three meals a day.  We have running water.  I am safe during the night from thugs and criminals.  I may be living in incredibly dirty and unhealthy conditions, but I know if I wake up one morning too sick to move that I have access to a doctor and medicine on the base.  Everything is relative.  But no matter what my conditions are (and they are always changing) it is important to remember what my friend Yoav said to me on day four or five.  He asked me how I was doing and I told him I did not like the cold.  He looked at me and put his hand on my shoulder (but not for longer than 3 seconds so we didn’t get punished for touching) and he said, “Rach, happiness is a choice.  You can choose to be happy.  So just do it”.

And with that I have attempted to explain what the last two weeks have been like for me.  This only begins to cover everything that has happened to me in the past 14 days, but this post is already too long and there is much to do in what little time I have left before returning.  Next week is North week so I will be on different bases up north, and then south week after that.  My Israel phone is the only way to contact me so if it is urgent then give me a call, and I will try to call back when I can.  If not then call my parents because I am usually in contact with them on most days.  I apologize for the numerous grammar mistakes but I do not have time to edit this.  I hope you enjoyed hearing a taste of the army luck and wish me luck and warmth in the coming weeks—because I will need a lot of both.


Posted by: rmschwab | December 20, 2012

Sar-El Israeli Army Volunteering

Dear ecstatic followers,

In about 5 hours my family will be landing in Tel-Aviv, and I will meet them at the hotel in about 6.  Although I have a long bus ride from Arad to Tel-Aviv in between I am incredibly excited to see them.  I can’t wait to show my brother around Israel since it is his first time.  But if I can contain my excitement I would like to tell you about this past week.

This past week I have been volunteering (and living) on an Israeli army base.  My commander has asked me not to post certain things on the internet and this includes the name of the base I was at.  All I can say is that it is about 15km from Gaza and 15km from Egypt.  Sar-El is the name of the army volunteer program, and a week long participation in Sar-El is mandatory for everyone doing Marva (which is the two months of basic army training I will start after break).  Sar-El is a part of the logistics unit of the army meaning that soldiers can spend their entire army service in Sar-El.  I had to commanders from this unit during the week.  My first mefaked was Ben.  Ben was born in France and made aliyah to Israel to be in the army.  English is his third language behind French and Hebrew which is always interesting to say the least.  My second mefakedet (female commander) was Hila and she came to us half way through the week when Ben was released on his holiday.  They were very kind and I enjoyed getting to know them.

There was 8 of us (year course) at this particular base and we all got very close through this experience.  We were kind of like our own special unite since we did EVERYTHING together.  We ate together, shared a bathroom, and basically saw quite a bit throughout the weak.  We all were in uniform and were split up during the day to volunteer with different soldiers.  I was paired with my friend Jesse, and we followed orders from Yaron.  Yaron has been on the base for two and a half years meaning he only has 6 months of service left.  We also worked a bit with soldiers named Afik and Shlomi.  Working with Shlomi was very interesting because he doesn’t know a word of English and he barely knows Hebrew.  He reminded us of a caveman because he mostly just grunted to communicate.  We organized a few storage closets on the first day, but we didn’t do much else.  We were surprised to see how laid back all the soldiers were; it was different from what we expected.  As you know a few weeks ago was Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation.  During this operation 75,000 soldiers were called from the reserve.  The base I was just on is a reserve base meaning it is built for times when reserve soldiers are called.  About 11.000 soldiers were at this base just a few weeks ago.  Every truck tank and sleeping bag at the base was being used.  This means that the base needs to be put back together now that the operation is over.  Putting the base back together will take a few months a least but that’s why we were there to help.  Yaron was telling us how crazy it was during the operation.  He said men were sleeping all over outside due to limited space.  The line for food was out the door and around the building.  He said he wa working from 6am to 3am almost every day.

The second day we were there we spent about 7 hours patching up windows with cardboard so pigeons don’t get in and poop everywhere (like they already did).  Most of the sheds only had two or three broken windows but one of the shed had all of its windows shattered.  When we walked in there was glass everywhere (as well as pigeon poop).  Yaron pointed to a tire just 10 meters away from the shed and said that is where a missile from Gaza hit a few weeks ago.  That was where on soldier was killed because he didn’t have enough time to close the door of the negmash (tank that transports soldiers).  The missile hit only a few meters from him and since the door of the negmash was open and he was the lat one in he was killed.  The missile shattered the windows of the shed and as I swept the glass out of the shed I couldn’t help think of the poor soldier’s family.  Yaron was saying how the soldiers were given vests to protect them if a rocket hit near them.  But there wasn’t enough for all 11,000 of them so he ordered more when the operation began.  Unfortunately the soldier that died did not have a vests, and the extra vests did not arrive until a day before the operation ended.  That is another thing I have learned.  The army operated very slowly sometimes and it takes a while for things to get done.

Yaron was kind enough to take us on a tour of the base on our last day.  He showed us a lot of things that I was not allowed to take pictures of but they were very big and there was a lot of them.  As we passed sheds and sheds full of tanks and jeeps and trucks Yaron was telling us how during the operation every single vehicle was in use.  Overall I had a great time this past week.  It’s not every day that one gets to live on an active army base for a week.  Sar-El week was a little bit like summer camp compared to what Marva will be like, but I am ready for the challenge. Here are a few photos I was able to take. (There are about 40 photos here)

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I hope everyone enjoys their Christmas (because I do believe it is that time of year).  And hopefully I will find time to post after break before Marva starts.


Posted by: rmschwab | December 9, 2012

Bye Bye Bat Yam

Dear bittersweet followers,

Moving from Bat Yam leaves only the taste of bittersweet in my mouth.  The sweet being the warm, soft, freshly baked banana bread that my roommate Debbie just made.  Debbie always did the baking whether it was cookies, cheesecake, zucchini bread or any other tasty treat she decided to make.   The sweetness of the first piece of gelt I ate as our apartment lit the candles of the menorah for the first night of Chanukkah.  The warm chocolate melted in my mouth as I attempted to eat and sing the words of the Shachechianu.  There are many aspects special to Bat Yam that I will miss.  I’ve grown attached to the corner store at my street, and the kids at Shazar.  I finally mastered the busses, and it’s time to leave.  I will miss all of this and more, but I will grow accustomed to and learn to love my new environment in Arad.  There is one part of Bat Yam that can’t be replaced, and I already know I will miss her more than anything.  My Israeli scout Shani has become one of my best friends on this program.  I remember one night when Shani and I were the only two people still awake in the apartment.  We decided to play a prank on the rest of our roommates.  So we moved ALL of our dishes (pans, plates, cups, bowls, etc) to a different place in the apartment (not in the kitchen).  In the morning we waited to see the reactions as everyone went to get bowls for cereal, plates for eggs and cups for tea.  I was late for the morning activity because I spent so much time laughing that morning.  Once my roommates figured out we didn’t get robbed they laughed and everyone agreed it was a good prank.


I’ve only been in Israel for 3 months, but from my station in Bat Yam I have managed to see almost all of Israel.  From the Kinneret up north all the way down to Tzofar with Jerusalem and Tel- Aviv in between. I have explored many places in this country just as I planned.  Some of them were the most beautiful sights one could wish to see, and others were not as pleasant but still important for us to experience. And after all these trips, numerous hikes, one mini war, 4 college classes, one crazy middle school, soccer in Hebrew, extreme tonsillitis and friends to last a lifetime I can assure you that coming to Israel on a gap year is by far one of the best decisions I have ever made.  Click on the link to see a few a the places I have been.

Bitterweet. I’m excited to see my family in a few weeks, but it is sad knowing that 1/3 of my year abroad is over.  The good news is that Israel is a pretty small country so I can always make my way back to Bat Yam on a free weekend.  I already have plans to see Shani on one of my weekends off of Marva.  The next 72 hours are going to be a bit crazy.  Packing has already created chaos in the apartment.  Cleaning tomorrow should be very interesting.  Then monday night all 270 year course participants will be together sleeping in a bedouin tent in the desert.  (This is so year course staff can get all of our luggage moved to our new apartment locations.) On Tuesday we will wake up early and go on a hike (typical).  And then hopefully, sometime on Tuesday, I will be happily unpacking my things in my apartment in Arad with my new roommates (still don’t know who they are quite yet).  There is never a dull moment on year course.  I’ll be checking back in (writing again) sometime before winter break which starts on December 19th.  I wish everyone a happy Chanukkah, and I’ll be thinking of you.

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