Monday, January 31, 2011

Petra: 8th Wonder of the World

Well, alright, Petra may not officially be recognized as the 8th wonder of the world, but it certainly is up there on my list. And I'm not the only one. This historic desert city has already made a name for itself by ranking highly on current and updated lists of the world's "new" ancient wonders of the world. I can guarantee you that it is certainly something to see - and it's only a short journey from anywhere in Israel. It has been over 2 years since I last visited Petra with my husband, but I was reminded of this magical place earlier this week after a classmate recently took a journey there. I decided it's imperative that all of you catch a glimpse of this impressive wonder that many have only heard of in passing and in storybooks. It is very much a real place and one of the most surprising that I have ever been to in terms of its grandeur and awe. Petra is without a doubt Jordan’s most valuable treasure and greatest tourist attraction. It is a vast, unique city, carved into the sheer rock face by the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab people who settled there more than 2000 years ago.  Petra was supposedly an important junction for the silk, spice and other trade routes that linked China, India and southern Arabia with Egypt, Syria, Greece and Rome.

When you embark on a trip to Petra from Israel, you will usually drive south to Eilat (a wonderful beach city on its own that is great for snorkeling, scuba diving and vacationing). 

Before your tour to Petra you will have to pass over the Israeli border and then walk the 30-second walk, by foot, to the Jordanian border:

Leaving Israel, by foot
Approaching Jordanian immigration, by foot

After paying a small fee for the visa (you can get this upon arrival at immigration) you will get a little red visa (looks like a postage stamp) in your passport, along with a regular immigration stamp, allowing you to set foot into Jordanian territory. The whole process takes no more than five minutes:
Once you set foot into Jordan, you immediately sense that you are in a different country. I mean, there are endless desert terrains and sand dunes everywhere you look and no modernity in sight. It's exactly what you picture the desert to look like:

From here, you hop on your tour bus (this should be prearranged) and start your day tour. It will take between 2-3 hours to get to Petra, with brief stops along the way. Throughout your journey, you feel like you have stepped back in time. It's hard to believe there are places in the world that still live this way, completely out of sync with western civilization:

Of course, you'll stop a few times along the way and you will find that the town closest to Petra itself has been built up western-civilization style in order to accommodate tourists from around the world. A piece of advice: use the restrooms here in this town because it is the last chance you will have for a few hours! After a short bus ride, you finally make it to your destination, wondering what will lie ahead, because at first, it doesn't look exactly as you thought it would:



Soon enough, the surrounding scenery starts to get a lot more interesting as you walk through the Siq, a narrow gorge, over 1km in length, which is flanked on both sides by soaring, 80m high cliffs. Just walking through the Siq is an experience in itself. The colours and formations of the rocks are dazzling:



As you reach the end of the Siq you will catch your first glimpse of Al-Khazneh (the treasury) which is the most well-known of all of Petra's many sites. It is an awe-inspiring experience as your eyes begin to put together the massive facade which stands somewhere before you, through the cracks. Carved out of the towering dusty, pink rock-face, the treasury completely dwarfs everything around it.  Allegedly, this famous ruin was carved in the early 1st century as a tomb for an important Nabataean king. 


And then, as you round the corner, your eyes come to feast on the great wonder itself, that you have traveled from so far to see. Luckily, the view does not disappoint:


Though nothing can top the treasury, the more you walk, the more you will be awed by the natural beauty of this place and its outstanding architectural achievements. It supposedly takes between 4-5 days to explore everything there is to see in Petra. There are hundreds of elaborate rock-cut tombs with intricate carvings that tempt you as you file past their dark openings.



Don't forget to stop for a photo-op with the camels at Petra, and also, be sure to wander through the open-air markets where you can find local artisans and Bedouins selling local handicrafts from the nearby town of Wadi Musa. 



I hope you will one day have the opportunity to visit this magical destination and to see with your own eyes what many are calling the world's 8th wonder!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Deal On: Best Kosher Deals in Town

Word on the street is that another new website is on its way shortly that will be working hard to bring us the best deals in town. I'm talking 50%, 60% and upwards from there! If you're here in Israel and you've liked what you've seen before on GroopBuy since its November 2010 launch date (see my previous post), then you will likely also appreciate the great deals that Deal On is claiming to bring to users in the Israeli marketplace. Not only will you discover great finds on restaurants, spas and salons, but ALSO, Deal On is reportedly going to be advertising awesome deals on hotels, resorts, shows and places of entertainment. The countdown is on, so be sure to visit the website and sign up for tempting daily deals to be sent to your inbox beginning in the Hebrew month of Adar (February 2011).  Currently, it looks like there are four zones within Israel to sign up with: Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa/northern Israel and Beer Sheva/southern Israel. Just a few short weeks away! I know I will be keeping me eyes peeled for whatever is in store.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the way these sites work, the concept is easy as 1-2-3! A daily deal will be offered (i.e. let's say a bagel shop offers a coupon for 60 shekels worth of bagels for the price of just 15 shekels). If you like what you see, you put your credit card information in, authorizing the 15 shekels to be charged - but the charge only goes through, and the deal only goes through, if a minimum number of people sign up for the deal. Otherwise, the deal is off and your card is not charged. Sometimes, there is also a maximum number of people who can buy the deal, so get in on it early! Lastly, once the deal goes through, the voucher is yours to keep and to spend! The fun starts all over again the next day. Sound good? I certainly think so. If nothing else, you will be introduced to new places to check out around town that maybe you've never tested out before. Enjoy! And sign up! 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Taglit Birthright Israel

Many of us back in the US, whether we are Jewish or not, have heard of the landmark program Birthright Israel which has brought over 250,000 young Jewish adults from around the world to the Israeli homeland over the last ten years. Did I mention that this 10-day trip is.....FREE. No strings attached, seriously. No really, there are no hidden agendas. I realize how mind boggling this is to hear, but that's the truth. So, basically, this leads me to my next point, which is the fact that despite the widespread knowledge and awareness of the program's existence, not many people actually know the details of how it is funded and how important of a program it really is. Just yesterday, my mom forwarded me an email blast from Birthright Israel which announced the following:

You read that correctly: (US) $100 million. Quite a pretty penny to spend on giving young adults a free vacation, isn't it?! What this means that over the next three years, the increased funding will allow the Birthright Israel program to send approximately 50,000 young Jewish adults to Israel every year, rather than the current approximation of about 30,000 individuals per year.  This means that by 2013, 1 out of every 2 young Jewish adults will have participated on the Birthright Israel program.

Clearly, the Israeli government, along with private funders and philanthropists, would not contribute such immensely extravagant sums of money unless it was for good reason. There are plenty of other causes out there in the world in need of much monetary help. So why does the Israeli government, private philanthropists and Jewish communities throughout the world continue to open up their pocketbooks? The answer is in the name of the program itself: birthright. Literally, every Jewish person on Earth has a G-d given right, by birth, to be a part of Israel. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 voiced the preference for the creation of a Jewish state, and in 1948 that vision became a reality with a vote agreed upon by the United Nations. Every Jewish person from that point forward would have a right to the Jewish homeland for both political asylum as well as cultural unity. After the massive losses from the Holocaust (6 million), the time was fitting for this state to finally be established. 


It is difficult to fathom how many Jewish people would be living today had the Holocaust not happened. Imagine the children that would have been born to each of those 6 million people, and then their children's children, and then those children's children. On and on it goes. Have you ever really thought about what was lost? How many future children never had the chance to be born? How many unborn artists, writers, doctors, soldiers and scholars did we lose?  Every Jewish person, whether they can trace back their ancestry or not, lost masses of family. Only recently has my father been able to locate a few distant relatives from what should have been today nearly one hundred people (factoring in those who were lost, their unborn children and future families, and their unborn grandchildren, etc). A massive hole was punctured within this community that we share; and it is a hole can never be refilled. The concept, when you really think about it, is truly disheartening. I heard somewhere that the Jewish population worldwide is only now resurfacing the numbers that existed worldwide pre-Holocaust, in the early 1940's.  Imagine that; it took nearly 70 years just to get back to where we once were nearly a century ago. 

Now, stick with me here for a minute. I'm about to take a little tangent but I promise to bring it all back around. The losses incurred actually remind me a little bit of Bowen's multigenerational theory, a throwback to my counseling degree. This theory basically says, in a nutshell, that emotional issues  and family patterns are passed down through generations. It also implies that there is a sense of responsibility that families bring with them down through the generations. For instance, let's say that your grandparents were refugees who moved abroad to escape persecution and to provide their family with a better life.  You, being the grandchild, might feel a lot of pressure to keep the family traditions intact and to be extremely successful. So too is the story with the case study of New London, Texas; a town in which a 1937 school explosion killed the entire city's population of children. Thus, literally an entire generation from one town was entirely and completely and forever lost. Imagine what this would do to the survivors, and to the survivors children, mentally. This is muligenerational theory, and the Holocaust is an example of this, but on a much larger scale.

So, this brings me back to my original point, of why Birthright Israel is such an important program. There was so much lost, and so many generations of families that would never come to be, that it is imperative now, in today's time, to preserve the tradition, the history, the culture and the identity of the Jewish people. That is why Birthright Israel forks out millions of dollars every year. They are trying to rebuild a culture that was severely amputated. And, you know what? I think it's working. I am currently reading the novel, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, which basically discusses how some ideas turn into phenomenona that spread like wildfire. I think we are in the midst of watching this program, Birthright Israel, unleashing into a firestorm of its own, much like the concept discussed in Gladwell's book. After participating in Birthright Israel, people say that they feel more connected to the religion, more proud to be part of a tradition and an historic culture, and more aware of their place both in the world and at this time in history.
Thus, that is why, every year, Birthright Israel sends - what will soon be - 50,000 young adults between the ages of 18-26 on a ten-day, free trip to Israel with peers their age.  Nearly 50,000 Israeli soldiers have also participated on these trips in order to bridge connections between foreign Jews and Israeli citizens. Everyone is affected differently by the program, but I can tell you that I am living proof of the program's success. I am living in Israel, after all, aren't I? And I am not the only one. Just come and meet my classmates in my ulpan and the hundreds of thousands of alum around the world. The impact is worldwide, neighborhood by neighborhood, person by person. And I guess the hope is that the inspiration that we honed from the trip will be passed on through the generations to come. I really think it was a brilliant business plan and after ten years in the making, it is exciting to finally be seeing the results of this risky and expensive yet utterly life-changing experience.

Now, are you curious to see what the trip is like? Allegedly, the trip is valued around $5,000 US per person. That is no cheap vacation! You can choose what type of trip you want to go on: non-denominational, reform, conservative or orthodox. And you can choose what time of year you would like to go: winter or summer. Competition to get on a trip is fierce, because, as I mentioned, it's FREE! Everything from the flight, to the hotels, to the  entrance fees and the food. And get this, they even give you a small stipend of "spending money" to be used on food when they let you loose in certain places. Since space is limited, there are some insider tips as to how to get booked on a trip on your first try. Take a look at just a few of the many sites you would see if you were to participate on one of these trips:



As you can see, the trip is incredibly fun, filled with a spirit of camaraderie and togetherness that most have likely never felt before. After all, visiting a country where nearly the entire population is of the same background and beliefs as you as literally a foreign concept for most of us. That is why most, if not all, participants have agreed that the experience is life-changing. If you are between the ages of 18-26, GO! And if you're older, there are still opportunities for you, and A LOT of them. Check out the many study, internship and graduate options available for young Jewish adults out there: Birthright Israel NEXT. Be sure to click on "browse all" when you follow the previous link. You will learn about dozens of cool opportunities!