The end of the Israel Connect Program

I haven’t had time to keep up with this blog over the past week because it has been incredibly hectic and exhausting. We basically had four half days to see the biggest sites in Israel, and we still had to practice almost every morning at 6:30am.  It was a great experience but I’m glad it’s over and we are finally moving on to the competition stage of the trip!  The opening ceremonies for the Maccabiah Games are tonight but the field hockey games don’t start until the 21st.  Luckily, we were able to organize a scrimmage with Holland this morning.  I was excited but also nervous.  It’s been a long time since I’ve played in a game that actually mattered.  We won 4-1, which was great but the main purpose of this post is to recap the Israel Connect program.  I took about 200 pictures so I’ll try to only post the best ones.

My last post was about our trip to Tel Aviv and the beach so I’ll start with our second day where we explored some very, very old caves. Unfortunately I don’t remember a lot about the purpose of the caves, but I took a lot of pictures because they were really cool looking.  It was hard to pay attention to the tour guides at times because it was ungodly hot, we were all exhausted from getting up early, and my feet hurt both from practice and walking.  Also, we had so little time at each place that they had to fly through the explanations and since I’m not familiar with biblical stories, it was too much for me to follow.  Here are some pictures:

These were just the first set of caves we went through.  We also went through some dark caves where birds and water were stored but my pictures didn’t come out very well.  After that we went through some caves that hadn’t been fully excavated, which meant we had to crawl through very small tunnels and we couldn’t bring anything with us, even cameras.  They told us to wear clothes we could get dirty because we would be practically lying in the dirt, but our coach must’ve done a face plant somewhere along the route!  Actually she was trying to be funny.  Classic Tonj (inside joke on the field hockey team).

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The next day we went to Jerusalem.  I thought Jerusalem was really beautiful, both because of the geography of it (it’s built in a valley surrounded by hills) and the old buildings, but to be honest, I didn’t really have a spiritual experience or feel like I was home.  It’s the holiest city in the world but to me it was just interesting and beautiful.

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Of course the highlight of the trip to Jerusalem for most people is the Western Wall.  However, it was actually really difficult for me.  I wanted to feel something like a higher power or a deep emotional connection to the spirituality of the place, but as I was walking in and I saw the sign indicating where the women had to enter to go to our special, smaller section of the wall and after I had to change into an outfit that covered my knees and shoulders but men could walk in wearing whatever they wanted, I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly the kind of stuff that I hate about religion.  I don’t have a problem with the idea of believing in God as a concept of course, but it’s how God has been used to oppress people that I cannot stand.  I don’t want to be part of a religion that says I’m not as good as a man, and in orthodox Judaism women are horribly oppressed, and not even allowed to study the Torah because that is only for men.  So the Wall was a bit hard for me to swallow.

Luckily, the next day was an adventure day: the Dead Sea, Masada, and dinner in a Bedouin village.  I was not expecting to be so incredibly blown away by the Dead Sea and Masada.  I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting but the vast beauty of the place was almost overwhelming.  If I had any kind of spiritual experience on this trip, this is definitely where it happened.  I was just in utter awe of the beauty and strangeness of nature, as well as man’s ability to accomplish amazing things like building a giant temple on top of a cliff in the desert thousands of years ago.  I definitely want to go back with Wes when he arrives.  The Bedouin dinner was fun but we were all just completely exhausted.  I basically stuffed my face with the delicious food and wanted to pass out, but had to wait an hour or so for the buses to take us back to the hotel.  Thankfully, we did not have practice the following morning.

The last day of our tour was a somber one: Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and Mt. Herzl, the national cemetery for the Israeli military.  Yad Vashem was very moving of course, and it was good for me I think because it helped me realize that, even though I am not a practicing Jew and I don’t really want to be, I will always be Jewish because it is my heritage and I am part of this community that was victim to one of the most horrific atrocities in history.  As far as I know, all of my family had already left eastern Europe before WWII.  In fact, most of them were already in the U.S. during WWI.  Yet, those who died in the Holocaust were just like me.  It could have been me.  No matter what I think or feel about religion, I will always be Jewish and there will always be people that will hate me for that fact alone.  So in some ways, ending the tour with Yad Vashem was a great reminder to me about why I am here competing in the Maccabiah Games with thousands of other Jewish athletes from around the world.

For the competition phase of the games, we have switched hotels and are now located on the beach in Tel Aviv. Not too shabby, eh?

View from our hotel rooftop

View from our hotel rooftop

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Israel Day 2

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It might be a bit challenging for me to type this post because I may or may not have a broken finger, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Day 2 in Israel started with a 5:45am wake up call, since we had to be downstairs to meet the buses and head to our practice field by 6:10am. Our field wasn’t too far away though, so we got there pretty early.

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walking to the field

Unfortunately, the field doesn’t have any field hockey goals or lines, and it’s grass.  I think my experience with club hockey has prepared me more for these kinds of hiccups than the other girls. Even the high school girls are used to turf, which is a far cry from the lumpy baseball outfield we played in at Seneca Valley.  Anyway, I’m fairly used to having to improvise in terms of lines, goals, and field quality so it didn’t bother me but the coaches are looking into getting us some goals.  It’s probably best so the goalies can get some practice in defending an actual field hockey goal instead of the smaller futsal goals we have access to.

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practice field

We started off doing some interval runs, during which I felt pretty good, then we hit around for awhile to get used to the field and went into drills.  As usual, my fundamentals were weak but I have a lot of opportunity to work on them.  We ended the practice with some 3v2s, which I usually enjoy, especially on defense. I started the drill on defense and the first time I went out I played alright I thought, but the second time I felt totally lost. There was one play where I thought my fellow defender was going to clear it but she didn’t and then I got stuck kind of flat footed. So when I got another chance to go I was

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determined to fight like hell for the ball. I succeeded but I went in for a jab while the girl on offense was swinging for a shot and my finger got caught in the middle, and of course I wasn’t wearing my glove at the time.  I’m used to getting hit in the finger and i usually play through it but it started swelling up really badly and much more quickly than I’ve ever experienced before. Also, practice was about over and I figured it would be best to just ice it and see the trainer back at the hotel. Unfortunately, the trainer didn’t have great news. Although she said she doesn’t think it’s broken, she doesn’t really know and unless I want to go to the emergency room, I should just wait to see if it gets better in a few days. She put it in a splint and told me to come back before our afternoon practice to figure out a way I can protect it while I play. The only silver lining in this is that because it happened on the first day I have a lot of time to heal before our games start. Hopefully I will still be able to play while it’s healing.

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Where we spend our time between games

After we got back from practice we had breakfast and then got to spend some time at the pool before lunch. It felt great to relax and cool off in the pool. Unfortunately I had to keep my hand out of the water because of the splint, so swimming was a bit challenging.  Overall though, not a bad way to spend a day: field hockey in the morning, pool in the afternoon, and more field hockey in the evening. I could get used to this.

Welcome to Israel!

So here I am on my first night in Israel to represent the USA field hockey team in the 19th World Maccabiah Games. I tried out for the team last summer so it’s been a year since I first decided to do this and now it’s finally here. So far we haven’t done anything but check into the hotel, unpack, eat dinner and have an orientation meeting. Training starts tomorrow at 7am.

I’m really excited to see Israel and play field hockey for the U.S. team, but I am also apprehensive.  If I had to guess, I would say the average age of the girls on my team is 19 or 20.  There’s one 15 year old, several recent high school graduates, and a handful of girls going into their junior years of college.  One girl is a 5th year senior and another girl graduated a year or two ago. I am BY FAR the oldest.  I have been playing field hockey longer or as long as many of them have been alive.  This doesn’t intimidate me on the field. I think that my years of experience will serve me well, especially because a lot of that experience has been playing against and with strong competition, including playing with men who are faster, stronger and sometimes more skilled (if they come from a country where a lot of men play field hockey).  I do think that I have some issues with my fundamentals because I have not been coached for the past 13 years (and when I was coached, the only good coaching I got was at summer camp), but I think I can hold my own overall.

No, I would say that the biggest apprehension I have about my age is just how out of place I feel. These girls are SO young that I probably have more in common with their mothers than with them.  Not only am I 30 years old and 9 years out of college, but I’m married with a full time job and I own a house.  That said, I’m not exactly a boring old fart. I still go out and stay out late and despite my marital and living situation, I would NOT consider myself “domesticated”. I do like to cook but I could care less about window treatments or gardening, and I don’t even use pinterest.  But when I looked around myself at the Philadelphia airport yesterday and I was awash in a see of acne, braces and awkward spindly arms & legs, I could not help thinking to myself “what am I doing here??”

I do think that there are a number of older athletes coming for the games, I just haven’t had the opportunity to interact with them yet.  Sports like soccer and basketball are sending multiple teams of many age groups, and I think we were just stuck on the plane with the younger teams. Also, only a handful of teams are coming to Israel this early because we are participating in a special pre-event training camp. There will be a total of 900 athletes from the U.S. and only 300 are coming to the training camp. Hopefully I will meet some people my age, but it will be a little difficult because I’ll have to branch off from my team. I’m not quite sure how to do that though. Can I just go up to the Rugby team and say, “Excuse me, but you guys look old. Are you over 24?” That would be weird, right?

Anyway, our first day of two-a-day training starts tomorrow. We do that for four days and then the rest of the athletes arrive and the Israel Connect program begins.  That will be when I get a better opportunity to see the country. Until then, it’s hockey, hockey, and more hockey.  Here’s hoping my 30 year old bones can keep up with these youngins.