Saturday, July 27, 2013

Race Day

It has actually been a couple days since our Maccabiah track meet ended, but it has taken me some time to really reflect on how to approach my commentary. If we are friends on Facebook, you probably saw my post that night, and honestly I think that sums it up best, so I will copy it again here.
So tonight was a mix of highs and lows. I felt ready to go, but things changed shortly after the gun went off. I stayed back from a blistering pace but even the more relaxed pace proved too fast for my legs once dehydration set it. I was a last minute sub on our 4x4, a decision and a race rooted in pride and anger that resulted in a silver medal and one of my fastest splits in years. The balance of one of my worst runs and one of my bests leaves me with mixed emotions but also allows me to take in the whole experience beyond the oval.
 I'll start with my personal reflections on the my races and then give an overview of the meet for Team USA. I still a few days later am at a loss for what transpired in the 5,000 on Thursday night. The best thing I can come up with is I was/am just tired. When I found out I was appointed to team USA it was late June of last year and I was coming off 6 weeks of physical therapy for my foot. The injury plagued me for the better part of 2012, and I was not able to train much at all until late October. Since then, all eyes were focused on Thursday. Everything was about getting healthy, staying healthy and getting fit. Once I was fit it was about getting faster. A few early races showed I was a bit behind where I wanted to be, but in late May/Early June things were starting to click.

I ran a 3k in 90+ degree weather, and ran a respectable time. A week later I went to Boston and ran my fastest 5k in 2 years, less than 15 seconds off my PB (or PR whichever term you prefer). Things were looking up. I had about 6 weeks till the games, and that was plenty of time to get into PR shape. John (my coach) never felt like I fully recovered from that 5k. I kept pushing with workouts and mileage despite feeling tired and maybe even a little sick. Everything was focused on Thursday. I had another 5k in NYC and I did not finish, stepping off the track just after 3k. I was worried, but still felt there was enough time to get my act together. I had two decent workouts before leaving for Israel, and my two workouts in Israel were great. Everything was starting to click, and I thought I was ready to go on Thursday. However, it just was not my night. I made a promise to myself and perhaps even more importantly to my parents who flew 6,000 miles each way to see me, that I would not drop out of this race, no matter what.

The gun went off and two African-Israelis took to the front and made it obvious that tonight was not going to be a tactical affair. I could sense the pace was fast so I stayed back. I was still out in 70 seconds for the first lap - a touch too fast. Soon another two African-Israelis would come around and lead our pack settling into a pace that should have been much more comfortable - 73 seconds/lap or thereabouts. We came through 1k in about 3 minutes even, 2k in just over 6 minutes, this should have been a fine pace for me, but as every additional lap went by and I tried to think positively or even better not at all, the race and my body was crumbling. It could have been the heat or the humidity or that I have been hammering my body for the last 9 months straight - I really couldn't tell you. What I do know is that for that race, it was not my night.

I finished the race in my slowest time ever for 5,000m on the track a time that is almost painful to type - 16:10.99. A few weeks before leaving a buddy of mine promised to buy me a beer if I could break 16, citing that in the conditions that would be an accomplishment. I scoffed at this suggestion, knowing that my goals were much bigger. Little did I know... After the race, my immediate reaction was to beg for water, to quench my thirst, to cool me off, anything. Then came the disappointment and even a level of embarrassment, I wanted to just hide away and pretend like it never happened. However soon there was talk of a 4x4. At the start of the meet we seemed to have a very strong 4x4 relay team, but as the meet went on more people were tired, hurt, or some other reason that they could/would no longer run. It made absolutely no sense, but I agreed to run on the relay.

I had not run a 4x4 relay since college, Sophomore year to be exact, when we were DQed for a lane violation at our conference meet. I had not broken 60 seconds for 400 in at least a year (although I had only run them in workouts). Oh and I was completely dead from my race, my muscles felt as depleted as I could ever imagine, still I could not allow my Maccabiah experience to be defined by that 5,000m race. I would be our second leg, ironically the same leg that caused our 4x4 team in college to be disqualified (I was not our 2nd leg that time). I took the baton and set off, I felt like I was going fast, but would not have been surprised if when I crossed the line I was told a split in the mid 60s or slower. Our relay would finish 2nd, in a time that is less than stellar, but still 2nd meant a medal.

This meet was less about medals for me and more about racing. If I was to run a good time or compete well tactically then that was good enough for me. I was happy to receive a medal but I wanted to feel like I earned it. I finally heard from our coach my split - 54.01 seconds. Is this crazy fast? No, but it is perhaps my 3rd fastest 400 ever and better yet, it was the fastest split on our relay (although 3 of us were all very close to one another). I was especially shocked that I was able to get my legs to move that quickly after their performance in the 5k. I can only imagine that a mix of anger and pride led to that effort. I needed a feeling that I belonged at this meet and following my 5k, that feeling did not exist.

Standing to receive my medal, I had mixed feelings. On one hand, it was not how it should have been. It was not my race, it was not a fast time overall for the relay and countless other thoughts of negativity. On the other hand, I was here, I was on the podium, I was getting and medal and I had every reason to be happy and excited about it. The experience goes beyond just the 2 or so days of Track and Field competition, and I knew that soon I would realize that. I tried to explain to myself, that the 3 weeks I was here were not for that one night of competition but rather the other way around. The whole experience had been great up until that point and I need not spoil it with negative thoughts.

As a whole the meet was a good one for the team. We had some upsets and we had some great triumphs. Sean completed the 100/200 meter sweep, Danielle won the 1500, Greta the 800, Cameron won Gold in the 10k and Bronze in the 5k. Kathleen won the 10k, while Leah won the 3k and in one of the most exciting finishes of the meet, Jeff out-leaned an Israeli for Bronze in the 800 by .02 seconds. We took home a bunch of medals in the throws, Ziggy on the women's side, Jacob and Mike for the men. Maya won the high hurdles and Adam placed in both hurdle events. Kara took Bronze in the pole vault and I am sure I am missing countless other medals. I know we had our defeats too, people expecting big things and coming home empty but like I said before, there is no need to dwell on the negative.

Since the meet, we have been enjoying the Tel Aviv night life, something I think we will continue to do until we come home. In fact there is a big celebration tonight that we are getting ready to leave for so Lila Tov (good night) and I will fill you in on more next time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Where have I been...

So I stopped blogging for a few days, in part because there was very little to blog about and also, I kinda just got lazy. We have been in Tel Aviv at our new hotel for about a week now and we have settled in nicely to not having much of a schedule. The first few days here were a bit hectic, with the opening ceremonies and then shabbat, but thankfully with the exception of a workout on Sunday, I really did not need to get over to the track at all, so it has not been too bad.

We have had a little bit of time to explore the area, or just hang out. I have walked around the city a bit, visiting a market, a more modern mall, and some beach shops. There are actually a lot of running/sporting goods stores and many carry Saucony in a big way. It is fun to see the brand in Israel, especially shoes that I have never seen before (like an American Flag Ride 5, that was never released in America) but I have to be careful not to slip back into work mode. Pictures are fine, but that is where I draw the line. I also passed a bar that had a bunch of American license plates hung up outside including one from Delaware, so naturally I had to take a picture.

I have tried to stay out of the sun as much as possible so to not drain my energy, especially on days when I am running in the evening, however, I did spend one day out on the beach and in the Sea and it was very nice. The beach is about 2 blocks away and the water is extremely warm, it is like taking a nice bath. Oh and the waves are just as good as the beach we went to on one of our first days here. Apparently there can be a bit of a Jelly Fish problem at times, but thankfully I have been lucky so far.

On Sunday I had my final workout prior to the meet. It was a simple tune-up workout that I have done many times before 2 x 600/400/200. The times John gave me were a little on the easy side, ideally to keep me fresh. It is important to remember that the race is on Thursday, not Sunday in the workout. One problem was this was the first time going to the track during the open training time with athletes from many other countries there, and when I stepped onto the track I just felt really good. I ended up running considerably faster than I was supposed to, but I felt good and comfortable and that is what matters. I really think I am ready to roll on Thursday.

About a week ago, the sprinters found out that there was going to be a surprise additional day of Track competition with prelims for the men's 200 on Monday. We had 2 runners compete both in the first heat, Sean and my roommate Colin. Sean won the heat running 21.6 into a strong headwind and Colin finished third, both advancing to the final. This brings us to today's first Hebrew word of the day (I feel like I owe you more than one, given the long lay off). Mazel Tov, actually directly translates into Good Luck, but it is said as Congratulations - or a declaration that one has already had good luck/fortune. Last night we said Mazel Tov to Sean and Colin on their great races.

Today however we actually must say good luck to our Half-Marathoners and 10k runners, both of whom are competing tonight. To wish someone good luck in the future, you say B'Hatzlacha which literally means "with success." We all received our bib numbers last night and since the Half-Marathon and 10k are both on the roads as part of a large local road race they also received their separate bibs, chips and race t-shirt. Who would have known that the race is sponsored by Saucony, and these athletes all received Saucony tech shirts. I must admit I am a little jealous, I might have to make a trade with an athlete from another country.

The main session of Track and Field will be contested on Wednesday and Thursday, with my race (5,000m) running at 8:30pm local time on Thursday. It is possible that you will not hear from me until then, as I enjoy a little more rest before race time.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Let the Games Begin!

So I know I have said there have been a number of long days and nights so far during my time in Israel, but last night takes the cake. Like every other day we were up early to head to the track for practice and then had a few hours to eat and relax before heading to Jerusalem for the opening ceremonies.

This was the first day when we were totally in the hands of the Israelis/World Maccabiah and there were certainly some logistical issues. Our track time was set to be 8-10am, however our return bus did not arrive at the track to pick us up until closer to 11. We are staying at the same hotel as the Canadian team (which is much smaller than ours) so we had some time to try to find some shade and get to know them a bit better.

We departed for Jerusalem at 3pm, well ahead of the 8pm start to the Opening Ceremonies. It took a little longer than normal to get there from Tel Aviv because of traffic. Thursday is somewhat like an American Friday in Israel, since many people do not work on Friday or Saturday for Shabbat. We had similar traffic the previous Thursday when we traveled from the airport to the Kibbutz. We arrived at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem with PLENTY of time to spare. Thankfully there was a big tent set up with food and water to keep us relatively occupied for the remaining 2-3 hours we had until the ceremonies started.

Since yesterday officially started the Maccabiah it seems fitting to have today's word of the day be Ruach which means Spirit. Heading into the Opening Ceremonies there was plenty of Ruach on display not just from the USA delegation but from all of the other countries as well. Also by the way, if anyone wants to see the Opening Ceremonies (I meant to tell people this yesterday), but check to see if you have JLTV. I know Fios and Xfinity both carry the channel although it is pretty high up. It was played twice yesterday (once live) and I am sure they will replay it again, or perhaps it is even on demand. If not you can stream it on their website. The channel and website will both also show many of the sporting events during the Maccabiah.

One big highlight of our time before entering the stadium a certain assistant coach of the Canadian Basketball team. Perhaps you have heard of him? Amar'e Stoudemire, you know the one on the Knicks. He was getting absolutely mobbed, and understandably so. Eventually he posed for some pictures with groups and I was lucky enough to get a picture with a couple of my teammates. While a lot of the guys were really into meeting Amar'e, most girls (at least on our team) were looking for Steve Solomon - the Olympic 400m runner from Australia. After a few hours of running around trying to trade pins (or being begged for pins by Israeli scouts (similar to boy/girl scouts) we were ready to line up and enter the stadium.

The order is based on how the country is spelled in Hebrew, so America was early on, second only to Australia I believe since it begins with the first letter in the Hebrew alphabet - Aleph. Walking into the stadium was crazy. We walked around a massive stage set up in the center of the stadium in front of the nearly 30,000 screaming fans, many of whom were friends and family members of those competing (including my parents who I tried to pick out, but was not fortunate enough to find). Eventually we made our way all the way around the stadium and up into our seats to watch the rest of the countries march in.

The final country to enter was our host - Israel, with the largest delegation and receiving the largest cheers. Once they made there way into the stadium and the Israeli Flag was raised, the ceremony was set to begin. Everyone joined in the singing of Hatikvah (Israeli National Anthem) and then a number of Israeli singers and musicians took the stage. They also had a great rendition of one of my favorite songs - "Hallelujah" by a finalist on the show "X-Factor"

Once much of the music was done we were spoken to by some of the top members of the Israeli government including the Prime Minister and President. Much of the speeches were in Hebrew, but a few words were eventually spoken in English, emphasizing that while many folks around the world say "next year in Jerusalem" we are fortunate enough to say "this year in Jerusalem". Following the speeches by the Israeli politicians, the video screen turned on with a special message for Team USA from President Obama - this really got our delegation going. The Brits also received a message from their PM, I almost felt bad for all of the other countries, but I guess that's just how it is some times.

Finally it was time for the torch to arrive. A number of successful Israeli athletes passed the torch around the stadium until it was handed to the final torch bearer, the one that would light the Maccabiah Flame. To me the Maccabiah flame represents something even bigger than that of the Olympics because of the Maccabis story. For those who do not know the story of the Maccabis and Hanukkah, the holiday is set to commemorate amongst other things, a time when a small amount of oil, that should only have lit a candle for one night actually stayed lit for 8 nights (the length of the Hanukkah). There is a lot more to the story, but that is the relevant part for this post. Since a big part of the Maccabi history revolves around oil and light and flame, it seems that the Maccabiah flame is the most appropriate symbol for the games regardless of what occurs at other sporting events.

The final torch bearer was not an Israeli athlete but rather an American. Aly Raisman, the U.S. Gymnastics Olympian from London lit the torch in the center of the stadium which sent the flame up to the large torch that was just above the athlete section of the stadium, where I believe the flame will stay lit until we return to Teddy Stadium for the closing ceremonies. We are still not sure if Aly will compete for the U.S. gymnastics team here in Israel, but regardless it was awesome for our delegation to have one of our own hold such a prestigious honor. Perhaps it will give us just a small taste of home field advantage on foreign soil.

Departing the stadium became super hectic, trying to find the rest of our team and eventually our bus that was hidden in a lot across a semi-major road, down below a gas station. If that seems a little hard to follow, you can just imagine what it was like in the moment. We eventually found everyone and our bus and made our way back to Tel Aviv, finally arriving at the hotel around 2:30am, nearly a full 12 hours after we left. It was late and we all got straight to bed. Many of us took a chance to sleep in an will run later today after it cools down a bit. I still have 6 days before I compete, so I should have enough time to catch up on sleep. Today was a lazy day, hanging around the hotel and relaxing, so I am already in the process of making up for lack of sleep the first week here.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Transition Day

So yesterday was all about transitioning - from touring mode to competition mode, from Maccabi USA's hands to that of the Maccabi World Union. The transition was not a total cluster, but also was not as smooth as it could have been. This goes for both myself and in general.

We packed up all of our stuff from the Kibbutz and made our way to Kfar Maccabiah for a final lunch with all of Team USA together. It was pretty hectic trying to get everyone from the one hotel to the other all at the same time, especially because once we arrived at Kfar, we would have to transfer all of our stuff to another set of buses - not all of which were at Kfar when we arrived.

Eventually our bus arrived and we were able to make our way to our new hotel in downtown Tel Aviv. All in all I think we arrived at our new hotel about 2 hours later than we had planned, but we got here. After staying at the Kibbutz for a week, we had built up our new hotel to be a palace, and while it is much better than where we were, I think we created unrealistic expectations for ourselves. It is a European style hotel, so the rooms are small, with not much in them, but this time I only have 1 roommate so I am not complaining.

Since we have officially moved to our downtown hotel, today's word of the day will be Malon - the hebrew word for hotel.

When we got in we were all excited to check out the pool. I went to grab my bathing suit, and assuming that it was in my laundry bag, I went looking for that bag. There was some good news and some bad, I found my suit, but I could not find the laundry bag. We called back to the Kibbutz but it was not there. It turns out my roommates grabbed it and somewhere in all of the craziness it never got to me. So alas I have already had my first casualty on this trip. Thankfully there was very little in the bag, just a few t-shirts and some boxers. It could have been a lot worse. I guess I am just a bit embarrassed that I would lose something considering how much I travel for work.

I also forgot to mention that this was not the first hiccup of the day for me. Before we left the kibbutz we were all given our official Maccabiah credentials, and after they were all handed out, 3 were missing - one of which was mine. Our coach searched all over, and talked to the necessary people to have them re-issued, when all of a sudden we got up to walk to the bus and they were under someone's bag...that time a crisis was averted.

A little before dinner at the new hotel, we had a meeting with many of the other athletes from other teams and some other sports. We were introduced to the staff and told of some of the events that would be taking place throughout the next two weeks, one of which was a night at a local club. Many people on the team decided to go, as it would be one last hurrah before really getting into competition mode. We also seemed to think that Maccabiah had rented out the club for just us - this was not the case. We did get to go in without a cover and through the VIP door which was fun, and we were given 10% offour outrageously priced drinks, but that was about it. For a Wednesday night, this place got absolutey nuts especially as the night went on. We drank and danced and eventually headed back to the hotel a bit after midnight, to hopefully get decent sleep before waking up and heading back to the track.

The club was actually a lot of fun, perhaps even more fun than I expected, but now it is time to get serious, and block out many of the distractions going on around us until after the competition. Most of the team has already signed up for a rafting trip down the Jordan River on the Sunday after we compete and there are a few parties the two days following our competition, so we will certainly have plenty to do after our races.

Tonight is going to be another long night as we will head to Jerusalem for the opening ceremonies which is expected to be an amazing event. Our flag bearer is a 2 time Olympic Gold Medalist in swimming from the 2008 games who is competing for the Maccabi USA swim team. I will have more on the opening ceremonies tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tisha B'Av

Yesterday was a somber day, not just because of the sites we saw, but because of what the day itself represented. I mentioned this a bit in the previous post, but yesterday was Tisha B'Av one of a few fasting days on the Jewish calendar. It also serves as somewhat of a memorial day and a day of reflection especially for the Israeli Orthodox, which is why our touring sites yesterday were a bit more crowded than just any other Tuesday.

The track was closed yesterday so mostof us just ran here neat the kibbutz on our own. There are not a lot of places to run - a dirt path that turns to thick sand pretty quickly was out, so we were down to the small stretch of road, lasting a bit over 2 miles. The bright side is that it leads to a small park with some very interesting sculpture work.

After the run, we took off to return to Jerusalem once more, but this time, we stayed outside the gates of the old city. Our first stop would be the National Cemetery. It is very interesting to see how it is laid out. I have never been to Arlington, to know how it compares to its American counterpart which makes it more interesting to me. Laid to rest here are members of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) along with high ranking Military officials, and those members of the IDF who fell while in service. Government stones are black while Military stones are white. There is one exception to this rule - Yitzak Rabin, who has a black stone for himself and a white stone for his wife (spouses of high ranking officials are also laid to rest here). Rabin's stone is unique for a few reasons. First he not only served as Prime Minister but also held high ranks in the Military, earning him the right for both a Black or White stone. However, he was also assassinated, an event which shook the country, and therefore this unique circumstance deserved a unique resting place.

From here we made out way to Yad Vashem (The Israeli Holocaust museum). I have been on these grounds twice before, but I do not recall going into the actual museum (the current building did not exist on my first trip here). It has been many years since I visited the museum in DC, but I can not imagine a more impactful site in any other city. Even the architecture and design of the structure is done with specific intent. Everything in Jerusalem is made with specific Jersusalem stone...EXCEPT Yad Vashem which is made on concrete. Pictures are not allowed in most of the Museum, but you can see one picture of the very end, a room full of binders. These binders are filled with names of those killed during the Holocaust, and remembering everyone is a process, one that they do not expect to ever be complete. There are thousands of binders in this room and seeing the rows and rows of binders is certainly a moving site.

Afterleaving the main exhibit, we gathered as a large group with other buses in a memorial hall for a small presentation. As a group we read the mourner's kaddish and sang the Israeli National Anthem - Hatikvah. A few athletes were called down to read off just a few names of Jewish athletes - just like us who were murdered. I think this really hit most of us hard, I know it did for me.

Once we left Yad Vashem, the day would turn eventually to that of celebration. We were off to a beautiful facility somewhere between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the B'nai Mitzvah ceremony. This was a chance for folks who never had a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to have one, or for those who chose, to have another (to reaffirm etc.). I felt that I had my Bar Mitzvah at 13 and did not want to diminish this event, so chose to watch rather than actively participate...a choice shared by many. It was a special night for two of our track athletes, Sean and Danielle who were being made Bar and Bat Mitzvah for the first time. The ceremony was followed by one of the better dinners we have had yet this trip, so that was also a plus.

Yesterday ended the Israeli Connect portion of our trip and today we move to our new hotel. This meant we would say goodbye to Muki our tour guide for the last 5 days. Muki was great, so great infact that during Yad Vashem we picked up people from other buses and even an older orthodox man. After the museum we all sat together and reflected and at the end we did not say goodbye but rather L'hitraot which will serve as today's word of the day. L'hitraot roughly means see you later. So we've come to the end of another post. Next time you hear from me I will be at my new hotel in downtown Tel Aviv, so until then...L'hitraot.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Tempo and Floating and Hiking oh My!

Wow was yesterday a long day! Up before 6 to get to the track, and back just before midnight from our day of touring. I guess its a good thing that my next two days are relatively easy, at least running wise.

Yesterday morning we headed back to the Olympic stadium where I had my first of two pre race workouts while in Israel - a 20 minute tempo. Usually I do tempos on the track, but with a really nice path at my disposal and my garmin to tell my pace, I considered going on the path to keep myself controlled. One of my roommates - Jordan, offered to join me for part of my tempo. Jordan is one of if not the best athletes here on the Men's side. A Haverford graduate, he is headed out to the Oregon Track Club as soon as he gets back and has run 13:59 for 5k and 3:45 (4:03 mile equiv.) for 1500. I was happy to have him join me as I expected he would be quite a bit better at knowing pace than I.

Jordan took the first mile, and we were a little quick especially for the first 400-800 but then we settled in. I took the second miles and he was right on my heels, I could tell he wanted to go faster, so when he took over for the third mile I just let him go. I finished the 20 minutes on my own, feeling good and having averaged a bit faster than I initially planned (under 5:30s). Overall I am very happy with my workout and it shows I am adjusting to the weather etc. quite well.

When we got back to the Kibbutz, we had a little bit of time before heading out for a very long day/night. We left around 12:30pm and would not get back till just before midnight. Our long journey to and through the desert was set to begin.

We traveled through the west bank on our way to the dead sea which while I am sure I have done before, I never really recognized. It was an interesting feeling, but like most places our bus was let through security rather easily knowing we were with the Maccabiah. Finally after 2+ hours in the bus, we arrived well below sea level to the Dead Sea - the lowest place on the earth. There was even a sign signifying when we went below sea level, but I couldnt catch it in time...oh well.

While I have been to the Dead Sea twice before, there is one thing I have never done...put on the mud. This time, I was not going to let the experience escape me. I covered everything except my face (I had to draw the line somewhere) and then floated around in the Dead Sea. It is so cool everytime. You just take a few steps out and then just lay back and float. For the runners out there, this would be the greatest place to aqua jog in the world. The sea is 35% saline...this compares to a normal sea/ocean which is just 3% saline.

It was getting later into the afternoon and hotter as well...the perfect time for a hike around a moutain in the desert. But this was not just any mountain, this was Masada so the fact that it was 40 degrees C (104 F) would just have to be ignored. Thankfully we took the cable car up the mountain, which was new to me as both previous times, I had hiked, this was a welcome first for me. We toured around to see all of the former palaces and other building that once stood on Masada and saw some of the most beautiful views I have ever witnessed.

Finally we ended the night at a Bedouin Camp. This was quite a bit different than on Birthright (although very possible it was the same place). It seemed like I was in the Israeli version of Colonial Williamsburg. It appeared as this place was very commercial, as it had shops and electricity etc. My assumption was that it was an Israeli owned tourist attraction (the business cards on the tables helped with this hypothesis). Never-the-less it was a fun experience. Being a picky eater I only nibbled at the main meal but was able to snack on some bread, and cookies and dried fruit while looking at Camels (no riding them this time around). The night was finished with a dance party with a Bedouin band (playing some Israeli songs I actually knew/remembered) and then off for a long bus ride (aka nap time) back to the Kibbutz.

Today we did not go to the track because of the Holy Day Tish B'Av which means 9th day of the Month of Av. This is basically a day when many terrible events in Jewish History have occured. In fact both Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed on this same day, many years apart. It is appropriate that we head back to Jerusalem today to visit Yad Vashem (Holocaust Memorial) and other somber sites)

Let's not forget the word of the day from yesterday...Mahyeem - this means Water. Water was very important yesterday. I had to drink a lot of it and I swam/floated in it. I will be drinking a lot of Mahyeem everyday because it seems the cold spell (80-90 F) is over.

The Old City

The word of the day today is Sleecha - this means excuse me. Again this is a word I should have learned before coming to Israel, but I am glad I know it now for my last 2+ weeks, since many of the sites we are seeing are very crowded. Since one of my biggest pet peeves is slow walkers, I think I might be putting this word of the day to use a lot.

Yesterday we explored the Old City of Jerusalem, including perhaps one of the most recognizable sites in all of Israel - the Western Wall (Kotel). The Old City is a very interesting place, rich in history but also filled with touristy places such as t-shirt shops. I have included a picture of one of my favorite shirts so far.

Like many of the other sites we have visited, I have been to the Old City before, and craming everything into just a few hours is tough, but I was thankful that I was able to see some things that I had not seen on my pervious two trips. We learned a bit more of the history than I had before dating back to some of the first few kings of Israel. There are a number of archaeological digs happening around the city, and we toured one that is believed to have been the palace of King David. It sits high on the hill, but not all the way up so that it can still be close to the springs below. Only part of the palace is exposed so far, but we were able to see perhaps the most important part..the Kings Thrown. Oh if you were thinking about the ornate kind of thrown, you are mistaken...we are talking about the you remember how to say bathroom from yesterday? There is a test at the end of the 3 weeks.

After visiting the dig of the palace, we swung around to see the steps that led up to the former temple. This was a side (literally) of the old City that I have never seen before. We were told a couple of interesting facts. There were two doorways leading into the temple but three leading out, because as our tour guide explained, in thousands of years nothing has changed about Jewish people. We show up to services whenever we please, but we all leave at the end together. Also the first man on the moon Neil Armstrong visited these same steps and as a devout Christian, believe that Jesus had once walked up these same steps, he claimed that walking these steps meant more to him than the steps he walked on the moon. To him, experiencing history meant more than making history.

Finally we made our way to the Western Wall. There is no "right" way to experience the wall but there are a number of traditions. A few things however are mandatory - heads must be covered, and women, should be dressed modestly (shoulders and knees covered). Men and Women also pray in separate areas, the Men's being more than double the size of the Women's. One of the big traditions is putting a note in the wall, these notes are often some sort of personal prayer. I once again for the third time in my life, came to the wall, left my note and enjoyed the highly spiritual location as a time to collect my thoughts.

Soon the day in Jerusalem came to a close and we arrived back at the Kibbutz earlier than most other nights which meant getting to bed on the earlier side and hitting close to 8 hours of sleep for the first time all week. This was a good thing as this morning I had my first workout on Israeli soil, but more on that next time as we are off to the Dead Sea and Masada. Today is going to be a very, very long day and a late night.