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Freedom Fighter

I'm back in the states and I'm pretty much over the blog but a few people told me it needs closure. Below is an email from my friend Guy (Israeli that I befriended on birthright) detailing my last day in Israel and our trip to the gun range. I got a lesson from a passionate german-israeli instructor and fired mini uzi's and glock handguns.

"...Which brings me to the next part of my tale.. Guess who came around my 'hood on his way back from traveling Europe with Jen, his name starts with a B and everyone called him Blaze?

That's right! 'Twas the Blaze hisself.

'Course, he timed his arrival on the dates I was in Eilat, so I only saw him
on his last day here. Took him to an Indian lunch (the real Indian, not Native Americans. Stupid Columbus, they're not even vaguely similar! Didn't he watch Bollywood movies?).

The place was established by Israelis that spent a few months in India, then came back and created an atmosphere that tries to mimic the experiences they went through, which was hanging out, eating, doing drugs and having sex. Kinda like the 60's, I guess. Basically they just put lots of mattresses and couches together, and cook the food right there. Was actually pretty good.

Anyway, I don't remember how it popped up, but he said that he never fired a gun before, which is weird for me cuz I fired my first gun at 15, but whatever. So I took him to the olympic gun range in Hertzliya, and he got a weapons instructor\guide all for himself. What a character... the guide was old-school, and had a personal quest to make sure every Jew that came under his tutelage would be able to react under extreme circumstances.

Ths made for an interesting combination. Take one Blaze, which is as laid-back as you can get, pair him up with a prosthetic-legged, 50-year old moustached ex-paratrooper, and you'll get a Blaze shooting a mini-uzi on automatic while having Alla Akhbar screamed in his ear. Now that's something to remember..."


Book Club of One

For years I've been talking about starting a book club. Basically, the vision is to get a group of somewhat intelligent and inquisitive people together in a coffee shop or apartment and discuss a book, share some thoughts, nosh a bit, etc. I'm a big fan of reading and literature, and believe it is one of the most overlooked and underrated activities of our generation. Anyway, so far I’ve been all talk and not sure if I will ever get the book club off the ground but in a perfect world...

I did do a decent amount of reading on this trip. Reading is great when you are traveling. Your mind is wide open to accept anything, you have the down time and it is easy to get lost in a book. I, who will never be mistaken for a chit-chatter, ran out of things to talk about with Jen by around Day 20 and therefore got deeper and deeper into books. In some cities it was hard to find English books, so I basically read whatever i could get my hands on. Below is a quick review in chronological order.

The Source by James Michner
This was on an Birthright recommended reading list. I started it a few weeks before i went on Birthright and was glad that I did. The book goes through the history of the land of Israel from the beginning of time till the book was published (mid 60's). There are about 15 different stories that take place in different eras and it gave me a sense of history of the holy land. The climax of the book is when a few of the main characters are part of the battle to win Tzvat, a mystical city that we had visited earlier in the week and saw where the decisive victory took place (the police station at the top of the hill). Historical fiction is great because you get to learn a great deal with all the excitement and drama of a fictional tale.

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
I thought this was horribly dumb. I liked Da Vinchi code, but this was the boogie league version. Bad story, the cryptic symbolism stuff was kind of lame as well. Only positive was that I read it right before Rome and therefore had a little more understanding of some of the landmarks and monuments that we visited.

The Zahir by Paulo Cuelho
Cuelho, the author of the Alchemist, isn't at his best, but the book is still pretty good. The story of a withdrawn husband who is abandoned by a wife that has grown apart from him and his obsessive quest to regain her love. The story isn't all that good, but every so often there are passages, or ideas that really resonate with the reader and make the book worthwhile to read.

The Covenant by Naomi Reagen
A pretty good thriller (although somewhat of a girls book) and plays well for the Israel motif that I was on. Jamie gave it to read in Milan. It is the story of a Jewish family living in a settlement in the West Bank. The Dad and daughter get kidnapped by Palestinian terrorist and it takes the power of a grandma and her holocaust survivor friends to pull some strings to try and rescue the kidnapped. Naturally, all these women invoke a long-standing covenant to always protect and fight to keep their lineage strong.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Borrowed from Marni when she joined us. Marni had doubles of this book and why you need doubles of a bad book when your traveling I am still trying to figure out. In the form of Angela's Ashes and all the "I was so poor and now I am a proud author" memoirs, the book is a decent story but I wasn't feeling it much. Basically, Jeannette and her siblings lived a trying childhood, moving from place to place in extreme poverty. Her tight-knit family and loving parents just didn't have what it takes to fit into society and therefore always marched to their own drummers.

The Partner by John Grishmam
Borrowed from Greenblatt in Switzerland. I usually stay away from Grisham books because I consider them glorified movies and not really "reading". Like all his books this one was pretty suspenseful and interesting. It's about a southern lawyer that swindles his firm for 90 million and dissapears to Brazil. After plotting his own capture and extradition to America, he is able to get off all the charges with 15 million in his pocket only to be swindled by the women he loves (who has all his money). Typical bitch.

A Plot Against American by Phillip Roth
Bought in a London airport on the way back to Israel. The plot here is that the Nazi aviator Lindbergh runs against FDR for the presidency and wins. From there it is an all out shitstorm for the Jews of America. I'm not the biggest fan of Roth's style of writing (don't get the humor in the humorous parts and overall not that enthralled in his writing). My favorite part of the book was the creative plot.

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

Picked this up at Beyda's. I had heard so much about this book that I figured it had to be overrated. Plus, it has come out that this guy Frey is as legit as your local dope dealer. I actually really enjoyed the story though. First, whether it is all true or partly true doesn't really matter. The book really gets into what it is to have an addiction and how it feels to go through rehab. It does this in a way that is easy and enjoyable to read.
Sidenote: If any of the book is true, and with all the criticism that it has inflicted over the last few months, I think this guy Frey definitely has had to have had a relapse by now. Life sucks.


LittyHoops in Israel

There are two professional basketball teams in Israel. Maccabi Tel Avivi and Hapoel Tel Aviv. I have good stories about both teams and I’ll be kind enough to share with you.

Maccabi - Maccabi Tel Aviv is akin to the New York Yankees of Israeli basketball (money and domination). Fans either love them or hate them. They have won the Israeli league like 20 out of the last 21 seasons and have also won the Champions Euroleague the last two seasons. This past fall they even beat the Toronto Raptors in an exhibition game (first time an NBA team lost to a non-NBA team in a long while). Maccabi gets all the best Israeli players and also has some of the best Americans in Europe (Will Solomon from Clemson and Anthony Parker). Isn't it great that there is a black dude on the team with the last name of Solomon. Last year their star was Jesekevich (sp?) who now plays on the Pacers.

I was real pumped to see a Maccabi game and set out yesterday afternoon to do just that. I left Beyda's apartment at 3 p.m. with the intention of going for a stroll, coming back to the apartment and then taking a cab to the stadium. I started walking into Tel Aviv and then just figured I would get something to eat, finish my book and walk to the game. Bad move. I walked for about 2 hours (those 4 inches on the map sure did take a long time to traverse) and I got myself real lost (started to have visions of fining myself wondering into a Palestinian outpost hanging from my feet -- no, Israel is not like that and you don't just stumble into an Arab stronghold.) Let Bygons be Bygons (don't know what bygon means by itself but when you put them side by side I'm golden), I jumped in a cab and got to the stadium a few minutes before tip-off.

This was a Israeli league game (as opposed to an euroleague game) so nobody cares. There were only about 2,000 people in the 10,000 person stadium and wasn't really much energey or excitement in the crowd. Maccabi had doubled up their opposition by halftime and went on to cruise by a 30 point margin. The basketball is somewhere between the college and pro level, and I left kind of unimpressed.

Hapoel Tel Aviv - This is the workers team and is also the team of one Mr. Marcus Hatten -- the inspiration for Littyhoops itself. Hapoel has fallen on hard times and recently announced plans to tear down their barn box of a stadium to play in the same arena as Maccabi. Unfortunately, the fanatical Hapoel fans aren't having any of this and they are boycotting all Hapoel home games. How do I know all this you might ask, well I could have looked it up on the internet (http://www.answers.com/topic/hapoel-tel-aviv-basketball?method=6). But no, I Littyhoops got the scoop in person.

To get from Beyda's apartment in Ramat Aviv to downtown Tel Aviv it is about a 25 minute walk. Each time I make this journey I pass by this shitty rundown gym, with a bunch of signs and graffiti and about 20-30 people standing outside protesting. Once I realized that these were the Hapoel Ultras fans, I went down to investigate.

Trip #1
I stare and stare and stare and try and figure out what is going on. I don't dare go down to talk to these people because who knows what they are protesting...last thing I need is to get into some occupied land rally. I have a suspicion is has something to do with Hapoel Tel Aviv but not really sure.

Trip #2
After some detective work on the internet I assume that this is the old stadium they are tearing down. I walk up to a kid and start talking about it with him. He was telling me about how a new owner bought the stadium, doesn't give a shit about the fans, and is getting money from the city to move so they can tear it down and build a park. The fans protest outside of the gym, and are doing anything possible to keep the city from tearing it down -- including boycotting Hapoel home games. They do go to all the road games and were planning to trek up to the Golan Heights that night for a game.

More Importantly, I ask about Marcus Hatten. His reaction is lukewarm. Says Hatten can score, but shoots too much, is inconsistent, and that the team has no chance unless he is on fire. I try to tell him about what he did to the likes of Duke, Georgetown, UConn and Rutgers, but he doesn't feel me. I tell him Hatten is clutch and will lead them to a Championship but he says that Hapoel is a bunch of losers just like the New York Knicks. Jeez!

Trip #3
After going to the Maccabi game I get the idea that I need a Hapoel Hatten jersey with his name in Hebrew. Unfortunately, Hapoel lost the night before so not sure how friendly these guys are going to be. I pick my target, a young kid carrying a basketball hoop and ask him a few questions...

LHoops: Why are they tearing down the stadium (ice-breaker)
Israeli: Because they are all Nazis (keeps on walking)
LHoops: You like Marcus Hatten?
Israeli: Nah, he isn't good, maybe ok (keeps on walking)
LHoops (scrambling to keep up): How can i get his jersey?
Israeli: (icey stare and no response)

Guess the Israeli hatten jersey is going to have to wait. It has broken into my top 5 of jersey's I must have

1) 92-93 Malik Sealy Home St. John's jersey (#21)
2) 93-94 Serge Zwikker Carolina blue UNC jersey
3) 05-06 Marcus Hatten Hapoel Tel Aviv jersey (hebrew lettering)
4) 00-01 Ron Artest #15 St. John's jersey
5) 02-03 Rickey Paulding Missouri jersey


My return to Eretz Yisrael

Right now I'm back in the holy land, staying at Beyda's. It's nice to be in Israel for a bunch of reasons.

1) The weather is perfect. It's been in the low 70's and sunny the last two days and I've hit up the beach twice. This is a welcome reprieve after sightseeing through Europe in bitter cold, rain and snow. It got especially bad over the last 10 days as we continuously got stuck in the rain in Rome and then had to fight off hail storms in Amsterdam.

2) I have my own room! Beyda has a two bedroom apartment so i get the royal treatment in the guestroom. After months of sleeping in crowded hostels, floors or couches of friends and friends of friends, overnight train cars and squished in a bed with my platonic friend Jen.

3) It's a nice way to chill out before i return to the real world and have to figure out what to do with my life next. Tel Aviv is a great city, with a young and hip vibe and great places to eat, drink and hang out.

Tomorrow I plan on going to see Maccabi Tel Aviv play basketball. They are the reigning champs of European Champions League and excited to see what the Atmosphere is like in the arena (supposed to be awesome). Unfortunately, Hapoel Tel Aviv, the team of the one and only MARCUS HATTEN (the leading scorer in the Israeli league no less) does not play this week. I have mixed feelings as it would have been amazing to see my idol play in person, but at the same time there is no way hatten can live up to the fantasy i have created, and no need for my heart to be crushed only days before i come home.


Check out this emai below....

Im in israel now but almost went back to florence instead , upon invitation by the wonderful alix colby, and be the new BGB, already got the name.

Basically these girls went from "who the heck is this kid on our couch" in florence to "we love you litty" and stay with us forever after a weekend in interlocken.

Im not the hearthrob that colby and troy are, and Im not the funny man greenblatt is (their rumor is he sucks when his girlfriend is around though) but i almost pulled off the old guy on the couch move.

Subject:COME BACK!!!!
Date:Thu, 02 Mar 2006 06:16:33 -0500


Please come back... This is our last attempt to get you to move in with us. Andrea spruced up the skank room for you and it is ready and waiting...

Don't worry, we have you sweater and we will keep it safe (if you come live with us it will be yours in a jiffy!!!)

we really miss you and let us know your plans,

Love you tons,
Your favorite girls


My last few days

I'm in a Kinko's in London right now and fly back to israel in a few hours. I haven't written in a hot sec but will do a brief rundown now and try and add some good stories later.

I arrived beaten and battered in Interlocken last friday night. I met up with Alix Colby and her friends at Balmers Herberge (hostel) who rolled in their crew of 50 to switzerland for the weekend from florence. A few girls and I went to a Swiss pub of some sorts across the street and had a dandy time. We were the only patrons under 60 and nobody spoke English. But on this cold, snowy, Swiss alpian night I feel like we bonded with the locals. Perhaps it was the free rounds of beer, perhaps it was the nine-finger man that shared a dance with Alix or perhaps it was the girls turning the night into a karaoke party with splendid renditions of the Beetles "Let It Be", perhaps it was the state of our minds. Anyway, too bad nobody had a camera because their were some amazing pictures begging to be taken.

The rest of the time in Interlocken was pretty mellow. We stayed at Funny Farm, which is supposedly this awesome hippy commune. It didn't seem like anything that great but i guess the best time to go is when the weather is warm and some recent legislation makes partying a bit more difficult in the town.

I didn't really do anything extreme (Interlocken is know for sky diving, bungee jumping, etc.). Jen, Justin and Marni went canyon jumping, which is like bungee jumping but better. I was too sore from skiing, too big of a pussy, too lazy and too broke to do it.

I did go on a hike with me and myself to some castle ruins across the river. But then my groin cramped up and I got lost and was about to cry before i found a bus station and got a ride back to the hotel.

From Interlocken we took an overnight train to Amsterdam. Amsterdam is exactly what you want it to be. We quickly got ourselves immersed in the culture. Went to Van Gogh museum, Ann Franke Haus, and walked the Red Light Districts (Hookers in a window -- why didn't my entrepreneurial mind think of that). Food in Amsterdam is amazing

Best foods in Amsterdam

1) Dessert Pancakes with ice cream
2) Dessert Waffles with ice cream
3) Anything next to a coffee shop
4) Anything edible

Last night i took the train to Brussels and stayed over for a day, ate some waffles, and then flew to London this afternoon. Next it's on to Israel.

I got a bunch of good entries planned that hopefully I'll get to in Israel. Jen flew back to NY today and Marni and Justin are somewhere in Italy (god knows what is going to happen to them.....they open a subway door and give each other a high five for accomplishing something on their own!)

I'm glad to be resting in tel aviv for a few days. Got to get my brain firing on the right cylinders again. Otherwise, i would have gone back to great neck for a few days - broke out a map of middle neck road, walked to the saddle rock gristmill and the Persian mansions and then taken the LIRR to managed to look for a hostel.