Backstage Travels

All the world's a stage…

Welcome to Paradise!

Okay, I’ve actually been on the ship for about 2 months now. I really needed to finish the Israel posts before I did any other ones, I told myself.

Really, it’s been pretty mundane, up until a couple cruises ago, when this happened:

Cruise ship rescues 24 stranded Cubans

We were actually getting ready for our first show of the evening when we heard our cruise director say something about a tiny boat that appeared in distress, so we all went out on deck to see.

That’s the Celebrity Silhouette in the distance. Maritime law states that any ship within a certain distance of a distressed vessel must respond. There was also another ship that we could barely make out on the horizon heading toward us as well.
Most of us had never seen anything like this before…
All photos courtesy of Scott, our bass player.
There were 23 men and one woman. They were brought onboard and subjected to a security search, after which they were looked at by the medical staff and given fresh clothes, food, and water. They’d been stranded for 5 days, with very little to eat or drink. They stayed in the Officer’s Mess where they were watched by security overnight, and disembarked in Grand Cayman when we arrived the next day.
I hope they’re alright now.
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Day 11: The End.

We started packing early. I had to check and double check all the souvenirs and chocolates.

Oh, did I not say anything about this amazing chocolate?

 

Not only is it delicious, but it also has Pop Rock candy inside. I bought some at every single opportunity. Seriously.

We had a last chance to shop a bit, and get some food.

Then we were also supposed to go see a presentation at Yad Lakashish, but the weather held us back, so we missed the people. When we did get there, there was a video presentation about what they do. Basically, they invite elderly people to come and create items to be sold in a shop. The artistry is beautiful, and I wish I had brought my wallet. There were some beautiful mezuzas with embroidery and cross stitch. I’d like to see if I could do that.

For our last activity, we all gathered in a classroom and sat in a circle. Shira took out a ball of red yarn, and as we tossed the ball around, each of us shared an “aha” moment.

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I think I had a few, but I know that one of them was in Yad Vashem. I saw a picture of an interfaith couple (one was Jewish, and the other was not), and ti really struck a chord, because that’s how Frank and I will be. What if that was us? He’d be ostracized and terrorized just as much as me. That’s terrifying.

We were all holding the same yarn for a moment. All of us. Then we each broke a piece off, and tied it around our left wrist. The idea is that you put out energy with your right, and take in energy from your left. The yarn was supposed to help filter out any bad energy trying to enter.

I took all the rest, and made this:

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This was really the last time we were all together. Some left at the airport to extend their stay. Ofer met us at the airport because he just couldn’t stay away. These 40-odd people are so close to me now, and I knew them for ten days. We are all connected on facebook, and we share things everyday. This trip really was all about “taglit,” discovery.

I definitely felt more of a connection to this part of my upbringing. I’m not a particularly religious person, in general, and I was raised interfaith (Jewish and Southern Baptist…what a mix, right?). I feel like I was more inclined to start thinking about the future because of my upcoming marriage…and what that will and might bring. I’d like to share some traditions and holidays and food with my new family without being overbearing with this new feeling.

I’ve been encouraging everyone I know to be Jewish to take this trip. I even met a family on the ship who was Jewish with a young daughter, and I spoke to them at length about it. Do this. You will never regret it.

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Day 10: Remembering

The morning was spent traveling to, and touring Yad Vashem. We could not tour the whole campus because the snow damaged some tree and was blocking parts of the property. It wasn’t all bad, though. That gave us more time in the museum itself.

The entire building is a symbol, all the way through. It’s a triangle, one half of a magendavid; the Holocaust took half of a people away. When you walk in, you can see the end of the building, but you can’t get there straight away, because it’s blocked by several installations that are surrounded by wire fencing. There were a few skylights that allowed natural light in certain places that showcased tiny rays of hope in a terrible, dark time in history.

There were no pictures allowed in the museum, but that’s just fine. I don’t think I’d ever want to see pictures of the inside, nor would pictures capture what you see in there. There are the the things that everyone expects, like the Nazi propaganda and the pictures of the camps, but it’s the subtle things that really got me. There were antisemitic artworks and board games. There was also an installation about some of the worst Nazis…but it was about how they were well-educated, otherwise normal people. That was really difficult to see. It’s so easy to think of these people as monsters…but isn’t that how they saw us in the war?

When we got to the Warsaw Ghetto exhibit, we saw where they had installed bricks and rail road from the actual place. We saw videos and pictures of how terrible conditions were. However, it was still kind of like a town…and the people naturally got bored. The most striking things for me to see was how these people amused themselves. They put on plays for each other, and we saw photos of the casts. They played for each other. They painted and drew and thrived as a suffering, terrified people. As a theatre person, it’s fascinating and refreshing to know that art was, is, and can be used as a tool for relief from terrible social situations. It’s also heart wrenching, because that was all some people had.

We saw diaries and letters. Heart breaking and inspiring alike. Then I saw a hand drawn board game. A personalized version of Monopoly called based on their ghetto. It struck me, and I had no words. It was like they accepted this life as truth, but felt they also deserved a semi-normal life…and a game based of their life.

The last room is dedicated to remembering those who died. There are photos, and books that the Foundation is trying to fill with biographies of those people. Unfortunately, so many records were destroyed, and so many towns were just flat out destroyed that we might not ever be able to name them all.

The view outside the place is phenomenal. It’s representative of the future for Israel and the Jewish people.

 

It was astonishing that there was a gift shop. It wasn’t garish, though, which was refreshing. There were many books, even if there were a few souvenirs. I flipped through one book full of poems. One was written by a woman who watched men take her mother and her sister’s son away. She confessed that she traded her elderly mother for her sister to stay, because the men were taking the son and one other regardless. I couldn’t read any more after that.

The bus ride was a nice buffer for lunch, which we had in the shook in New Jerusalem. We walked all up and down the marketplace, and negotiated for some very delicious pizza challah rolls. There was also a bit of shopping where I bought some beautiful artwork. (I’m on the ship, and the artwork is at home, so pictures some point in the future.) It was fun to haggle, but I don’t think I’m very good at it. At one point, our Israeli soldier guard/guide, Ziv, was with us, and helped us with some of the prices.

 

We got back on the bus, which has long since felt like our home away from home, and drove by the security fence, and learned a bit about Israeli security.

Then we stopped by the bus stop where there was a bombing in 2002. I just can’t imagine, even after 9/11/2001, going along your day and having to be fearful of the buses, even.

 

We had dinner at the hostel, and then blew off some steam with another night out in Tel Aviv. We “accidentally” bumped into some people we knew, and had a grand time in another bar. Ofer and I got into another deep conversation, and it lasted almost the whole time we were there. At one point I was telling him and some others about the way Frank proposed to me, and it really touched him. He felt a deep connection with me, and he decided to give me a great gift: part of his IDF uniform. It is one of the best things I have to remember my experience.

 

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Day 9: Subdued and winding down

This morning started later than usual, and we gathered to watch a documentary about a young man named Michael Levin. He was American, but felt deeply about Israel and what it stood for. So when he was old enough, he made alliah (making pilgrimage to Israel), and joined the IDF to support and even fight for Israel. He made quite a mark on the people that he worked with, and died in the line of duty. It’s a really moving story, and I recommend looking it up.

This was our warm up for visiting Har Hertzel, the military cemetary for the IDF.

We didn’t even start the day with Sha-La-La. The bus ride was subdued and long. Snow had been dumped exactly where we were heading, and drifts were getting almost 4 or 5 feet tall. We finally arrived two and a half hours later, and started walking though the place, at one point ducking under some CAUTION: KEEP OUT tape (though it was in Hebrew). Officials came and kicked us out, almost. We stayed in the front courtyard area, where the Israelis performed a short ceremony in honor of the fallen soldiers.

Obviously the feelings of the military is different there because every citizen is required to join for two years, unless they have strong religious aversion, in which case they perform other civic duties for that time.

We had a short lunch break in the city, and I had shwarma for the first time. So good.

We went back to the Old City, and toured Mt. Zion. This place is sacred to all three of the major monotheistic religions

There’s a small Orthodox synagog inside.

Afterwards, we went to the Western Wall for a small good bye ceremony. The Egalitarian side of the Wall was closed because of the snow, so we went back to the Orthodox side.

There was a full moon.

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We all took pictures with the Israelis before we said our goodbyes.

We then went into the tunnel to the Muslim Quarter to be a little more sheltered. Everyone shared something about the experience with meeting all these different people. I was really sorry to see everyone go. We were told at the beginning that once the Israelis joined us, we’d wonder how we ever felt that our group was complete without them. We were skeptical at first, before they arrived. Now, we totally believed it.

We finished and then all got on the bus to drop them off at a bus stop. It seemed so strange to just leave them on the side of the road. The rest of the ride was subdued, but differently from the beginning of the day.

When we got back to the hostel, after dinner we had a meeting to prepare ourselves for the next day. We were going to go to the Israeli Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. We started talking about why it’s important to remember, and modern antisemitism. So many people, including myself, shared stories. Shira told us that if the Israelis had been with us, they’d be surprised at all these stories. While they might be rare for us, it’s commonplace compared with how Jewish people are treated in Israel.

Each of us were given a piece of paper, and a candle. On each paper was the name and biography of a different child. A child that was killed in the Holocaust. We lit the candles and set them in front of our chairs, then went around the circle to read out the names and ages of the children we were given and blow out the candles.

We were told to leave when ever we felt like it. I sat for a long time.

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