Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Presenting Israel

Your favorite Israeli team in Belgium gave today a presentation about Israeli at the International Students Club in KU Leuven.

We prepared a presentation using www.prezi.com which was a great idea. The preparation took less time than expected with Power Point. J was looking for images and reviewing the texts while D was responsible for the texts, the list of images and the presentation setup.

We had to prepare some 'Israeli' food and really had hard time figuring out what 'Israeli' food could we prepare here in Belgium. Eventually, we prepared white cheese dips with paprica, za'atar and black peper, as well as olive oil with za'atar + bread for dipping. Kudos to the J for the idea as well as for carrying the spices from home.

When we were gathering I expected some harsh reacts from the public,as I've seen a kefiya.Though, eventually it was a young student with no malevolent intentions.

A nice guy named Yuki presented Japan just before us. His presentation was very nice and gave a good overview of Japan. About 20 Japanese came to listen to him and maybe only to him. After his presentation it was hard to get them make silence when I wanted to initiate mine. I'm wondering whether they'll come for the next presentations or came only for the presentation on Japan. I'm probably pessimistic and will have to apologize later. Let's see. I promise a public apology is needed.

Now back to our presentation. Ehud Banay's "דממה דקה" was the song I used to try to get everyone concentrated at me. I got the attention of some people.....Hands clapping and shouting did the rest of the work. Once I had 80% of the people focused, we started. Even though the presentation wasn't polished, it went great. Prezi made a good impression and it seems that people were really eager to hear about Israel beyond the news. The title of the presentation was "Israel - That Place from the News". The main idea of the presentation was to talk with people about the things they less know about Israel. Culture, Music, Food, brief History, communities and diversity in Israel, etc.
People seemed to attentive (or polite....)

I didn't have a group of Japanese with me, but I had my amazing J and my also amazing group of friends from the hostel. Love them! I think they earned the dinner we'll have together later this week.

When we got to the questions session all the questions went to me. A certain guy took the lead and it was going towards confrontation from the first moment. He happily praised the Israeli technology, just to mention that all of it is related to the army. I answered, that everything in Israel is related to the army when all the population has to give its 3 best years.
He further recommended to everyone reading Theodor Herzl's book, claimed there was no real presence of Jews in Israel since the Romans times and that who's the owner of the land should be clarified. Ha yeah, he had another interesting claim - that the two stripes in the Israeli flag are the Nile and the Euphrates - funny we know nothing about it. Just from the mentioning of Herzl's book, I knew the guy is speaking after being loaded with the basic anti-Israeli, quasi intellectual, regular material. They use to find in Herzl a diabolic master plan followed till today to create a huge empire or whatever other blatant invention.
Some quite focused responses seemed to make the required effect - it seems that the crowd appreciated more quite answers over a heated debate.
After a few ping-pong strokes the hostess stopped the questions. The Flemish girls organizing the evening (all cute, sweet and very well organized) seemed not to enjoy the sudden middle eastern heated debate.
Some past reading into Anti-Israeli sites turned out to be worthy.

J approached he guy and explained him why some of the things he says are unrelated to reality. He then had no choice but to approach me. He turned out to be a nice young Egyptian, with a strong will to voice his ideas (very well informed on some things, but dis-informed on others). He tried to continue the debate about Herzl and claim that Gaza is a 1.5 million people jail. I asked him to read some newer Israeli literature and about Gaza, told him that the Palestinians are big children and it's their call what kind of relations they want over their border (rockets or economy).
At the end I got a grim and late advice - 'I understand why you did the Shalit deal. But it was a mistake. Now you made Hamas big and you will have to live with it for years to come'.

Got pleasant reactions from people from Burundi, India, Japan, Belgium and Poland. I again and again feel that the liberal approach works much better than the aggressive-defensive approach. Most of the people here have no preset idea about the middle eastern conflict. They appreciate getting more information and sympathize with a logic, reasonable and honest discussion of the state of things. The main message 'we are like you', does a good job. The clips used where also fondly accepted by the audience.

We presented Israel as we love it, varied and complicated, great music, great food, great industry, talked also about bad things like the effects of brutal capitalism. It seems that love works.

Next presentation will be better now that we have most of the material, are trained and getting to know Prezi even better.

At the end, people enjoyed the cheese dips (huge success) and Japanese snacks and tea. Yummy!

We skipped some drinks in the Old Market with friends celebrating Abhi's birthday. In our way home we ran in total some 200 BA who were drank after a party in the exact sciences campus park. We almost saw a 'live' example of a guy running is bike into a water canal. Slightly funny we must admit.

A 25 minutes walk home at midnight, 12 degrees outside, was great. Now we head to sleep. Tomorrow D has class at 9:00am.

Love you all and GN,

1. On the same note, the bank official who opened D's account turnd out to be an 'Israeli Dances' instructor. He's cute and again not the only one with some kind of affiliation to Israel. Hope you'll meet him when he comes to visit Israel.
2. Next time need to talk more about the Christian community in Israel, give a food recipe and about vegetarianism/halal food in Israel (how easy the life of veggis and muslims his)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Amsterdam on the water

It has been ages since we blogged. In this time, we managed to get  several 'almost posts' that are awaiting a rewrite before being posted.
Given the very probable risk that they'll never be posted, the general assembly has hereby decided to post from now on, and only if possible to cover backwards the unfinished posts.

As you could guess from the title, we are in Amsterdam, enjoying a weekend of amazing weather. About 14 degrees but clear sunny skies.

Amsterdam is definitely one of the most beautiful places we have been to. The canals, the houses amazingly well maintained, nice people, Rembrandt House, State and Van Gogh museums.... We'd stay more if Dario didn't have to return for classes and if the B&B wouldn't cost almost 100 euro per night. The B&B/Hostels prices in Amsterdam are very high as you understood already and it took us an awful lots of time to find a place to sleep - everything was full one week before.

We arrived to Amsterdam by train with a connection in Mechelen that allowed us time for a draught Leffe Brown in a bar in from of the train station. After 3 hours, we were in Amsterdam. The first impression was a shock. First, as soon as we got of the train we became passive weed smokers - not even 5 seconds of grace. We guess that it was someone taking his last smoke before heading away. I read somewhere that Amsterdam's police planned to allow smoking pot outside of the coffee shops. Well, it seems this isn't imposed in any way. Second, the building of the train station is beautiful and perfectly light (we arrive at 20:50). Third and most important - the city was full at 21:00!!!! Somehow, after almost a month in Belgium we almost got convinced that everyone should be asleep at 20:00 :-)

Maria, the Swiss born house owner, came to pick us with her Vespa and led us through the red-lights district to our sleeping place which was perfectly located in a quite alley nearby the last eastern-most canal of the district.

So, what did we have: a night stroll in the canals, a day walk in the city, a cheese shop, Anna Frank's house with a street long queue, eating haring (smoked and non smoked) and smoked makarel, a visit to the state museum, Heineken's official store, french fries in a place called Chipsy Kings and a night sleep. The day later was also crazy - Van Gogh museum, with a great and very well focused Van Gogh exhibition + a cool guest exhibition on the influence of photography over modern drawing. Later we ran to Rembrandt's house - a great reconstruction of the house according to pictures by Rembrandt himself and a very detailed list made by his creditors when he went bankrupt. A nice walk in the canals took us to the train station and on to the more rural outskirts of Amsterdam to see windmills, numerous sheep, a cheese factory and a klompen (clogs) museum.

Pufff...that was a race, but the weather was on our side and we enjoyed every moment.

We collapsed into our train seats and headed to Belgium. We mistakenly get off the train in Mechelen to try to get a non-existing connection and finally made the connection through Brussels. It was midnignt, so we were lucky that the last train from Brussels towards Leuven was over half hour late. This made us feel two things:
1. Lucky
2. Feel at home, back in Belgium - probably there was a queue of trains somewhere, or there was a need to convince the driver to work after 20:00 :-)

In Leuven we quickly took a cab (something to remember) and arrived home for a late dinner and a short nap...classes at 9:00am....


PS - we managed to find a coffee shop that really sells coffee!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Hostel - Homeless Anonymous

From Sep-19 till Sep-28 I stayed in a Hostel.I found a rather neat place with lots of friendly faces (of the guests) and in a great location. The hostel was crowded with students who were all doing their first baby steps in the city, looking for a place to rent and exchanging tons of information. It turned to be the best support group I could expect to get. Only Matthias from the International Office gave them a fair fight over friendliness, but these people were staying with me hours over hours at the hostel and outside, thus became my definitive survival kit. Many decisions and researches were saved when someone else already did that and shared with everyone, including in which university residence has free places in order to tell so to the housing office.
The group included people from Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia, Brazil, Fiji, Albania, India, Pakistan, Czech Republic and your humble servant of course.

The hostel itself was weird in certain things. First of all it looked cleaner than any hostel I've ever been to, had a nice public space, a fully equipped kitchen and a nice yard. On the other hand, the so called 'breakfast' was merely bread, jam, butter or chocolate spread, apples and cornflakes. Ha...and there was the hot drinks machine.

The hot drinks machine was the first place were we all met the Belgium deadline…8 pm...no more hot drinks. Everyone in Leuven go to sleep…sorry, did I say 8 pm? I should have said 7 pm. I promise to keep complaining about this.

So, the rules of the hostel said that the kitchen and hot drinks machine aren't allowed to be used after 8 pm. It felt a bit like a military camp - if you want to cook you need to arrive at 19:00 and get done by 20:00. The official explanation was fire security, i.e. that the reception is getting closed.

In two cases the owner went nuts, shouting all over the hostel. B/c of a misunderstanding he threw an Albanian girl to the street in the middle of the night and kept shouting for minutes. In another case Portugues-Spanish lads used the hot drinks machine after midnight (plugged to another power outlet) and later rudely handled the security camera. In the morning the owner was again roaming the place and interrogating everyone who appeared in the night cctv-tape of the kitchen as soon as we finished to brush our teeth.

There were also some none students. Those I remember most, were the two Hungarian villagers who drove all the way from their village nearby Budapest's airport to the UK to meet their daughter and now they stopped for a rest in Leuven before driving back. We had a pleasant conversation, in which they were explaining me why I should believe in god (b/c that what the bible says) and telling me that once there were lots of Jews in Hungary and that they contributed a lot. They also asked whether it's right that we (Jews) 'learn all the time'. I got a very tasty sweet defined by them as 'cottage cheese covered with chocolate'.

After finishing talking and drinking a tea, the two went to sleep in their room. Moments later they hesitantly approached me. The man mumbled 'there is black man in my wife's bed'. His wife kicked him and he soon made a significant change to his recount of the events 'sorry, a brown man is sleeping in my wife's be'. I went with them up their room. The Indian guy who was peacefully sleeping, was very nice and moved to another room (another girl was by mistake in his bed, and he took what he thought was a free bed).

In the past days some of the girls from the hostel complained they got bitten by bed lice. I didn't experience it.

We are still meeting with the hostel people. In a place were you are a foreigner this is like an adoptive even if defective family - after all, you don't chose your family nor did I in this case.