Ankit Thakkar, 23, and Sunal Padal, 28, from Vadodara, India; fying to Mumbai
There are so many Israelis in India and so few Indians in Israel ? do you have any idea why?
Ankit: Not really, but I can tell you that this is my first trip abroad, and I found it very pleasant here. I will return if the opportunity arises.
What did you do here?
I was a volunteer on Kibbutz Yahel, near Eilat.
For how long?
And now you are both returning to India?
Sunal is not going. She is staying here for another month and only came to see me off. The volunteers come for a nine-month program.
Have you met Israeli backpackers in India?
No. There aren’t many Israelis where I live. Maybe I met one or two in my life. They prefer the north, Ladakh, or Goa in the south. I live in the east. India is a big country; Israel is small.
What made you decide to come to Israel?
A friend of mine visited Israel two years ago and liked it very much. He told me that the people are nice and that it’s a wonderful experience that I will never forget. He was right.
What did you do on kibbutz?
I packed dates and worked in the dining room and the general store.
Was it fun?
I am a computer programmer with an undergraduate degree in computers, so at first the kind of work I did on the kibbutz ? standing up all day and selling ? was quite hard. But slowly I learned how to do it. It was completely different from everything I am used to, both in terms of the work and also the high temperatures and the hours.
When did you get up?
I got up at 5 A.M., worked an hour packing dates, three hours in the store and five or six hours in the dining room. I cooked, cleaned up, did dishes. In India I am used to sitting in a chair in front of a computer all day and not budging.
Do you think anything will change when you get back?
No. I will go back to the company I worked for, sit on a chair and play with the computer.
Were they willing to give you so much time off?
Yes, but on one condition: I had to sign a document stating that I would return within eight months.
What exactly do you do?
I work for a software company that provides services to large business firms. We analyze the state of the market, financial data. The program checks how much money the client makes. It’s good work because it’s a global company and they pay in dollars.
Did the kibbutz pay you in bananas?
Something like that. It’s a volunteer program. But we got food and board, of course.
I didn’t know there were still volunteers in kibbutzim.
Sure, there are a lot. We were a big group that lived and ate together ? something like 60 people from all over: Africa, Holland, Argentina and India. They were very nice, and we got along well with the kibbutzniks and also in the group.
What did you do for leisure?
We sat and talked. There was a clubhouse there for the volunteers with computers and Internet access and all kinds of games, like snooker. We also played soccer and tennis, went to the beach in Eilat and went a little to Tel Aviv.
What place did you like best in Israel?
Haifa. I liked the port. There is also a place next to Haifa called Kiryat Yam that I liked very much. I sat there on the beach; I felt very connected to the sea. It wasn’t so different from any other place ? there were people around ? but it wasn’t crowded like Tel Aviv or Eilat, and you could at least hear yourself think.
What do you think of Israeli food?
Hmmm. I know you here think it is excellent. I ate hummus and falafel, which was nice, but ? how to put it? ? I like Indian food very much, I think it is the most marvelous food there is. When I worked in the kibbutz dining room, I taught them to cook a little and made all kinds of dishes.
I made dal, chapati, sabji. After they ate real Indian food, they also said it was the tastiest.
What about masala dosa?
That really is very tasty, but also very difficult to make. Now I’m hungry.
So am I.
Tal Rosenthal, 20; arriving from Berlin
Hi, can I ask you to be in my column?
But I just landed! And my hair is a mess!
You look fine. Where are you coming from?
What did you do there?
I finished my army service a month ago ? I was a paramedic in intelligence. My idea was to fly to Scotland to visit the university to which I was accepted. I have European citizenship and I really wanted to study there, but during the registration process I found out that because I hadn’t lived there in the past three years, the [cheaper] European tuition rate would not apply to me. So I switched flights and went to Berlin to enjoy myself.
My father is a travel agent, so it wasn’t so hard.
And how was it?
Great. I was supposed to be there four days but I stayed for a week and a half.
What do people study in Scotland? And is it full of sheep and men wearing kilts?
More or less. It was supposed to be textile studies.
Does it have anything to do with fashion design?
It’s a four-year degree in its own right. The only place it exists in Israel is at Shenkar [School of Engineering and Design]. But what place can be better for knitting and weaving than Scotland? They have an ancient heritage of wonderful textiles.
What’s on the curriculum?
You start from the beginning ? how fabrics are made. I think it’s interesting to study everything from the ground up, to know how to make the materials. And then, if you want, to move on to fashion design.
What was the difference in tuition?
For Europeans it’s 1,800 pounds sterling a year, and for foreigners 13,000 pounds.
Yes, it’s six times the cost of a degree in Israel, according to my calculations. Every year of study there is the equivalent of a degree and a half here.
Are you depressed now?
Everything is all right. Berlin was good compensation. Textiles have been my only interest for a long time, and I have never lived in Europe, but never mind. But now I will have to work hard on my portfolio to get into Shenkar. Hire a private tutor.
Is it hard to get in without a private tutor?
Very hard, and it’s expensive, so I work at three jobs. I am a paramedic at the Tzahala Country Club, I waitress a little and I am a salesperson at Top Shop, which is ready-to-wear for the masses. It may not be the height of quality or elite craftsmanship, but it is definitely the height of fashion. I don’t think there is anything more than that in Israel.
Apropos fashion, I want to talk to you about your shoes.
They’re stunning, right?
Amazing. Where did you get them?
It’s a story. I first saw them in a store in Paris but didn’t buy them. Then I was really upset for not buying them. After searching the Internet for a month, I found them in a store. They are made by a company called London Underground, and besides being beautiful they are also comfortable. I always take them on flights.
Do you like to shop on the Internet?
Yes, especially when I was in the army. It’s a good way to pass the time.
So, as a professional in the field, can you recommend a site?
Well, everyone knows Asus, so I will recommend a store called The Scarlet Room. It’s based in Singapore, and has a collection of all kinds of clothes from different boutiques in the very specific taste of the store’s owner. Incredible things, and quite cheap.
What are people wearing in Berlin these days?
The young people are wearing a lot of punk and Gothic, black in layers, and long skirts. I bought an amazing wool skirt that reaches the floor. I bought a lot of secondhand [clothes], which they sell by the kilo.
Where did you live?
I have friends who live in Friedrichshain.
We’ve heard about that neighborhood ? it’s the new Kreuzberg [the alternative, trendy area].
Yes, but the truth is that I wasn’t crazy about Friedrichshain. I spent all my time in Kreuzberg.
I understand there are huge numbers of young Israelis there. Did you see them?
It’s true: There is a terrific young Israeli community there. I met all kinds of friends. It’s really cheap to live there.
What did you do?
I went wherever my friends took me. Last night was someone’s birthday and I was up all night until the flight.
Did you have anything good to drink?
A drink called Berlin Air – a funny one with a peppermint taste and 18 percent alcohol content.