So that was an intense weekend….

It all started with 2 Israelis, 3 German Girls, and a few Americans. At 11pm we piled into a 1970’s Volkswagen van and headed out. 20 minutes later, we were driving along the border between Israel and Jordan. As the minutes passed, the road narrowed to 1 lane, and we were between empty forest and the security barrier. 20 minutes later, the van stopped, and we all got out, virtually in the middle of nowhere. We followed the Israelis under a locked barrier, and literally into a hidden path in the forest. Slowly we entered farther and farther into the forest. We passed a 2000-year-old roman bathhouse, and it looked like no one has seen it in hundreds of years. A few minutes later we passed some abandoned houses that I was told they were a part of a Syrian kids summer camp back in the day, before the land was taken over and controlled by Israelis (still currently held by Israel).They were run down and stripped clean of anything valuable. All we could see with were a couple flashlights and our phones. All of a sudden, we saw a broken down house, where parts of the walls were missing. As we got closer to the house, we could see the roof caved completely in, and it looked like it was barely standing. We heard voices coming from inside. As we entered the house, we saw something truly amazing. It was just a giant hot spring, kept hidden throughout the ages. We were met with joy coming from 7 Israeli Commanders, enjoying a night off. We were in this amazing diamond in the rough for a few hours, then eventually made our way back away from the Jordanian border at 3am. (Update: after talking to the Israeli that took us, it turns out that the hot spring is on the border with Jordan, but it was on Israeli land, not the other side. The locked gate we went under was for the road to the old spring and Roman ruins, which until a few weeks ago were closed to the public, but now open but not “advertised”.)

The next day we climbed a mountain…

And that was my weekend at Tiberias. How was yours?

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A Loaded Weekend: The West Bank, Elections, and Difficult Tensions

Hello Fellow Readers,

Before reading: Know that this post touches on some hard issues, and there are a couple challenging and dark stories to read. It will be hard to understand if you don’t have any background on the topic, so if anything doesn’t make sense, I am just a message away.

This blog post comes in at quite a challenging time in my Israel exploration. If you didn’t know, last Tuesday we had elections here, and this weekend I spent my time with Nachshon at Alon Shvut, a “settlement” in the “the West Bank”. To be honest, and I can say the other people living there can agree, it is a village in Judea. This whole weekend was focused on not only the politics of the middle east, but also the conflict from both sides, and getting over the barrier that people picture when they think of the West Bank.

Let’s talk about this first. Yes, Judea and Samaria are now commonly called the West Bank, and yes, you can go there safely with no problems. Alon Shvut is only 20 minutes away from my apartment, yet it is a different world. BUT, it is NOT just Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. There are Jews living all over the west bank, and by no means do all of these places feel like a 3rd world country.

The village was beautiful, the homes were absolutely amazing, and the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. While we were here, we had a chance to stay with locals, and they were as nice as can be. They were all very educated. Not just a Master’s degree, but I’m talking a Doctorate or PHD. Most were doctors and lawyers that commuted to Jerusalem for work. During the time in Alon Shvut we had a chance to meet a lot of amazing people, including a 25-year-old Palestinian woman who talked to us about what she went through with the Israeli soldiers. On the ride back to Jerusalem, I had a chance to get the other perspective (Being and Israeli Soldier and serving in the west bank) as well.

It was very interesting (and challenging) to hear about the woman’s experiences she had to overcome. She talked about times where she had to get the family out of her house at 3am for security checks, and how the Israeli soldiers would treat her family and home very poorly. Then she talked about her uncle passing away from a conflict with an Israeli soldier, and having her brother beaten for hanging a picture of the uncle outside of his home. Hearing a Palestinian speak about how the soldiers made life so difficult for her just cringed inside for me. But after all of this, she still has faith for peace, and understands that the acts of a few soldiers does not represent the country.

On the other side, the former soldier talked to me about how the mistreatment of Palestinians (physical force and violence without first being attacked or probable cause) was punishable by a significant amount of time in prison. They did have orders to search the houses for suspected terrorists, but the physical mistreatment was not an order by the army, and that some Israeli soldiers are acting upon anger (which again is punishable). He talked about not forgetting that the soldiers also provided meals for the hungry, and something like that never makes the news. All that is ever shown is the violence, and many times it is inaccurate.

It is clear people have done many wrongs on both sides, and you need to get over the idea that every Arab is a terrorist, which is absolutely not the case. There are always extremists that carry out the bombings in Israel, but the majority of the population are bystanders stuck in the middle of the tensions. So how can we guarantee the security of Israel while making sure not to tear apart the lives of many civilians? That really is the question, and a 1000-word blog post doesn’t even touch the surface. I haven’t even talked about the impacts and difficulties of the people living in the settlements. I have always supported a two state solution, and still do, but now I have to think about what would happen to the Jewish neighborhoods that are in the West Bank.

If the Palestinians did agree on dividing the land, what would happen to all of the Jews living there? And even if we created an agreement with the Palestinians, what stops the terrorists such as Hamas Isis and Hezbollah from continuing to carry out bombings? The conflict here is like old house piping. You may be able to stop one leak, but another will just pop up, and sooner or later if you do one wrong move, the whole pipe could burst. The situation with Israel is very delicate, and has more layers of conflict than I could have ever imagined.

This has been quite a rollercoaster of a weekend. I wish I could have talked about some of the other amazing things that happened, but I would need double the length of the post, and I am just happy that you are reading this far. This topic needs more detail than I could put in now, but if you have questions, are frustrated by what I wrote, or have comments, don’t hesitate to chat with me. I hope you enjoyed the post, and until next time,

Best Wishes,

Aaron Spiro

P.S. to end on a happy note, I also got to make homemade teriyaki for my friends, see some amazing views, zip-line across a valley, and see some Jazz. image image image image   image image image image image

Keeping an Open Mind: Israel and its Uphill Battle

Hello Fellow Readers!

I can’t believe that my semester in Israel as part of the Nachshon project is almost halfway done. It feels like just yesterday when I got on a flight to Israel, not really sure of what I was going to be doing. While there have been a lot of ups and downs, there has also been a lot of new knowledge gained from these experiences. Of all the programs that we have done thus far, one definitely stuck out the most: our meeting with Avraham Infeld.

It started just as any other introduction would, with remarks about all of the amazing things Infeld has accomplished. During the introduction, I kept my eye on Infeld, and he showed no pride or happiness to hear about himself. After the remarks were completed, he sat up straight, and yelled one single word: PASSION!

We were all startled and amazed. The first word out of the former director of Hillel and Birthright was passion? I didn’t even know what to make of it. It came out of left field. And he really did yell it. After our hearts slowed back to a somewhat normal pace, we started hearing about his experiences. The whole time he talked, the same theme kept reoccurring: Jews. Not as a religious entity, but as a people. He had a very good point. Judaism has become a religion with such a variety of sects: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform etc. But back to its roots, it is about the Jewish People. I fell in love with this idea, because lately I have felt as if I am surrounded by people in Jerusalem that don’t even believe in crediting Reform or Conservative Judaism. As a reform Jew myself, I feel as if I am in 1947, fighting not just for recognition, but acceptance. According to Infeld, we are all Jews, and the sect is irrelevant. So how can I call myself a Jew, when others of my kind are still dividing men and women during service, and not even accepting all people?

In the few short months that I’ve been here, Israel has shown me that there are many different types of people in this World, and it is imperative to remember that wherever you come from, know that you should not judge someone based off of race or religion, but who they are as a person. It is true, some Arabs have done bad things, but so have Israelis, and so have Americans. No one is perfect, no one is even close, and for sure everyone has his or her flaws, quirks, and idiosyncrasies. If you keep an open mind, you will find amazing people from all over the World, regardless of the things you may not agree on.

On a completely different note, the album is coming along great, and it will be out in May! I bought all of my tickets for the Spring Break trip to Europe. Here is what is on the docket: Geneva, Interlaken, Basel, Amsterdam, Rome, Florence, Venice, and Prague. It will definitely be a fun adventure!

Thank you for spending the time reading my blog, and I can’t wait to see what is coming next.

Best Wishes,

Aaron Spiro

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Just Awe-Inspiring

Hello again fellow readers,

It has been an astounding last few weeks since I have checked in. Over the time I really have come to appreciate every opportunity given to me while in this trip. If you don’t already know, I am in Jerusalem because of a program called the Nachshon Project. It has given me amazing opportunities that I will never forget. Multiple times a week I get to be apart of programs taught by the real movers and shakers in Israel. Last weekend all 21 of us in the program were up in a Hasidic neighborhood near Tel Aviv called Bnei Brak. Here we had a chance to talk with rabbis from the Ultra-Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Israeli movements. I definitely don’t agree with a lot that was said, but to hear about their traditions and values has definitely opened my eyes.

Not only did the group gain new insights from the experience, but we also bonded even more. To think that these people were strangers to me a two months ago, and now some of my best friends, is just awe-some. I cannot wait to grow even more throughout the next few months, and see where I go with my Jewish identity.

On a completely different note, from a musical standpoint, a lot is new! My new website just went public (aaronspiromusic.com) and I have a lyric video coming out in a couple weeks. On top of that, the cover is completed, I have multiple recording sessions set for the next three weeks, and the album will be completed and released in May! I am lucky enough to have the person who created multiple Quincy Jones albums, and even a Guns and Roses album as my mixing and mastering producer. The album is being fully recorded here in Jerusalem, and edited back in the States. There are some amazing singers and musicians on the program here as well, so I can’t wait to have them perform on the album.

Well that is it from my end. The last few weeks were amazing, and the next few will be even better. Until then, keep up the great work World, and I’ll see you next post!

With Satisfaction,

Aaron Spiro

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Jerusalem on Shabbat: Quite an Experience

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Hello Fellow Readers!

I am checking in from Jerusalem, where I have settled into what somewhat qualifies as a routine. Currently, I am studying at Hebrew University, where I will be for the next four months. Transitioning from the Nachshon emersion into classes was definitely quite an adventure.

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First, I have to say that having a room all to myself again is quite amazing. In the apartment there are five rooms, and my other roommates are quite amazing! They are all on the Nachshon project as well, and it feels like I am living with a big family.

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Being in Jerusalem has been eye opening since day one. I live just a bus ride from the Shuk, where I can buy any delicious fresh fruit or vegetable I want, and the Old City is just a walk away from there. Seeing so much culture and history packed into such a small place has given me a chance to emerge myself in a completely new environment. That being said, there are always great things to do here, just like home. Yesterday a group of us went to a Debbie Freedman memorial concert, where we heard beautiful music all night. (The photos below are actually from an open mic we went to)

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We arrived at that event from Rabbi Zeff’s house. He hosted us Friday night and all day Saturday. What an amazing and generous family! We had a delicious home cooked meal, and on Saturday we all went to a beautiful park.

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Speaking of Shabbat, Jerusalem is definitely different than anywhere in the US. During Shabbat (Friday evening to Saturday evening) everything is closed…. I really mean everything… No public transportation, no restaurants, no supermarkets, nothing. The Streets are quiet, except the singing that comes from all of the apartments. I cannot play my guitar or use my public during this time either. Definitely a new experience for sure.

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I hope you enjoyed the update, and as always, if you have questions about any part of the trip, or want to hear more, PLEASE feel free to comment below. I can’t wait to hear back from you!

l’shalom,

-Aaron Spiro

The Snowball Effect

Hello again fellow readers! Today I am checking in from Tel Aviv, where I am wrapping up this city and starting my adventure in Jerusalem! Over the last week I have been here with the 21 fellows in my Israeli program. I have made some amazing friends that I can’t wait to get to know even better over the semester. But, to be honest, that is not what I am going to talk about today. The real topic is: Snowball. image image To elaborate, Snowball Studios is an animation company based in Tel Aviv. Today I had the chance to hear a presentation from none other than the CEO himself, Yoni Cohen. It wasn’t just a presentation about the start of the company, but a story of his life’s successes and challenges. It was amazing to hear his motivation throughout different stages of his life. Even as a thirteen year old, he knew he had a passion for animation. Seeing how he pushed and worked throughout his life made me want to strive for success each minute. image image He started with local businesses. When he was in high school, he found success by asking what seemed to be the obvious question, yet, had no forward answer. Yoni realized the potential of 3-D digital modeling in production plants and capitalized on it. Just by going out to businesses and showing his skills, he found a bountiful supply of work during his high school career. Once he entered the Air Force, he knew that it wasn’t where he was meant to be. (He also got kicked out for spending too much time designing…) Once the Israeli Defense Forces saw the potential of his skills, they made a whole separate unit just for 3-D modeling and animation for uses such as promotion to field technologies. Yoni talked about how great it was to be able to grow the new unit similar to starting a new business, but without having the personal risk involved. After the IDF Yoni started his own business. image image Just like high school all over again, he took to the streets to find clients by making meetings to show his work. Thinking in the United States, I could never imagine success from this tactic. But Yoni knew that the uses of Animation were applicable in so many areas, and he did not have any competition in Israel. His business became and still is thriving with over 50 people now working under him. It really is true that Israel is the “Start-up” nation. I have never seen such drive to create new and revolutionary ideas from so many people in such a small place. image image   Over the next five months I cannot wait to learn even more about what makes Israeli start-ups so successful. Just by being with the Fellows I can tell that each one of them is just as passionate to learn and discover all that Israel has to offer. When I ask someone in the States what they think of when I say Israel, the answer usually results in tensions, or missiles, but they are missing so much more to the country. My hope is that through my travels I can share with everyone the amazing accomplishments that Israel has to offer, and not just the headline story of the week. Take Yoni for example, he never gave up, and look what he created: A success that will live on for days to come. image image Thank you for reading today’s post, and keep an eye out for more to come! Stay Motivated, Aaron Spiro

That Perfect Combination

Hello fellow readers!

I am blogging this time from Barcelona, where I have spent the last few days exploring. What a great city overall. There is a great combination of city life and nature. Plus, the nightlife is awesome.

I have made a lot of new friends. From the airplane and hostel to the walking tours, I can always find warm and welcoming people.

Unfortunately I am coming to the end of my Europe trip. Tomorrow I am hiking all day, and then I go back to Israel (with a transfer in Italy for a day).

Traveling alone has been quite an experience. The great thing is that you can meet people doing the same thing you are from all around the world. I am definitely glad that I took the chance to see Europe, and I can’t wait to spend 2 weeks going through Italy in April.

Thanks for reading today’s blog post! Don’t worry, I am continuing to update my blog through my Israel journey as well, so more to come!

Until next time,
Aaron Spiro

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