Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Blackout dinner and a show at the Nalaga'at Center in Tel Aviv


Sunset over the Dead Sea this morning 
Even by our never-endingly eventful Travelife standards, it would be hard to beat this very interesting day in Israel that began with a warm swim in the salty water of the Dead Sea, and continued on to Tel Aviv for a look at an award-winning installation by an Indian artist at the Venice Biennale.  Then I went for a test drive of the world's first electric car with a replaceable battery.

That's me driving the car,
with Elad, the instructore, next to me.


You would think that would be enough for a Travelife sort of day. But after driving the car around some Tel Aviv neighborhood (and you'll read more about this in a later blog entry), we went on to the Jaffa Port to have dinner and watch a much talked about show at the Nalaga'at Center.

A MOST MEMORABLE EVENING


I'm going to recount tonight's experience before anything else, as it was truly memorable for me. It was full of new experiences and it made me think about so many things in my own life -- and that's what travel should really do for a person.

Travel should give you opportunities to push your own boundaries, and also opportunities to reflect and contemplate. Tonight I had all these.

Adina Tal, founder


The evening began with a meeting with Adina Tal, founder of the Nalaga'at Center, and Talia Winokur, Resource Development Manager, over simple cocktails that were served by deaf persons at the Cafe Kapish next door.





This is how I learned about Adina's heroic efforts to give lives back to the deaf-and-blind of Israel.



GIVING BACK A LOST WORLD

Adina is a theater professional. Several years ago, she had the opportunity to conduct a workshop for the deaf and blind. This was her first contact with people with these kinds of disabilities. And from then on, she never looked back. She helped train them to perform in a show that has received rave reviews and is traveling the world over. In January 2013, the group is headed for New York for a series of performances.

After the show, everyone is invited to taste the bread
and to talk to the performers

These shows are literally a reason to live, for these people who are both deaf and blind.

Many of them started out as deaf -- either they were born deaf or they became deaf early on -- and then their illness caused them to eventually become blind.

Scroll down to read more...




I tried to imagine -- and, I must admit, not without horror -- the terrifying and terrible experience of being both deaf and blind, or of gradually becoming both deaf and blind.

In such a situation, your mind is alive and you have so much to express, but you have almost no facility for communication. Your world is slowly and literally closing in.

Talia
Talia admitted to me: "It is a terrible experience to be deaf and then to grow blind as well. Many of the people who come to our center admitted to thoughts of suicide."

SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR



But happily, the Nalaga'at Center and the regular shows they put on by the Jaffa Port as part of the Deaf-Blind Theatre Ensemble are able to give back to these people some part of their lives.

I watched them onstage tonight performing the show "Not By Bread Alone," helped by interpreters and assistants. You must remember that they are performing as regular actors but they cannot actually see or hear anything.



When I saw them onstage and I thought about their situations, I felt like crying.

Yes, it's been a most emotional visit to Israel, and beyond the historical sights and religious backgrounds -- or perhaps because of these? -- Israel is truly an emotional country.




DINNER IN THE DARK


To heighten the experience to a depth I can't even begin to describe, I decided to have dinner at the Black Out restaurant next door, which is affiliated with the Nalaga'at Center but run independently. It's a restaurant for about 30 persons that operates in complete darkness, so you eat your meal as if you are blind.

There are several restaurants like this around the world, but this one is special because the waiters and waitresses are all legally blind. So whether they are in the kitchen or in the restaurant, they really can't see anything.

In other hip cities like Paris or New York, there are also restaurants resembling Black Out -- but the servers wear night-vision goggles or use some special technology to get their way around the dark. Here in Tel Aviv, the servers are truly in the dark whether they are in the restaurant or not.

Scroll down to read more about dinner in the dark...




A LIFE OF CHALLENGES


I decided to do this, although as it was a last-minute decision and there were no other seats available, I had to go alone. As I actually have claustrophobia, this was a very big deal for me to spend over an hour in pitch darkness with complete strangers.

However, as I have decided to rise up to all sorts of challenges this year, I took the plunge.

First let me explain that it really is utter, utter darkness. You can't bring cameras or phones, no one turns on any kind of illumination, and it is so dark that you can't even see your finger in front of you. Pitch black.



ECHOES IN THE DARK

You enter by holding the shoulders of your server. Immediately, your sense of hearing is heightened because you have lost your sight.

I became aware of dozens of voices all over the room, echoing like in a theater with good accoustics -- but there was not one word I understood because no one was speaking English.

This, of course, increased my sense of isolation further.

My server, Maya, who is of course legally blind, led me to my table, where I sat in front of an Israeli couple. She had already told me who she was seating me with, so I knew it was couple in front of me, although I couldn't see them.

Maya told me, as I sat down: "You can talk to them. They speak English."

Scroll down to read more about the couple in the dark...




DETAILS IN THE DARK

So we began talking in pitch darkness, which was truly surrealistic. I found out that they were both engineers who were living in the seaside town of Haifa, and that it had been the girl's birthday yesterday -- so this was a surprise for her. What a surprise it was, indeed.

They were midway through their meal when I came in, as I'd come from the cocktails. While waiting for my food, I asked them: "How is it to eat in utter darkness?"

The guy answered: "Very interesting. I'm eating with my fork and one hand."

JUST LIKE HOME

Maya, my legally blind server tonight

We talked about all sorts of things, and Maya joined us every so often. She was especially concerned about how I was feeling, as I told her I had claustrophobia but I was determined to do this.

Earlier on, I'd also asked her: "How do you manage to walk around?" She walked around completely normally, you see.

She answered: "What's so difficult? This is just like walking in my own home."



When my food came, I was surprised that I had not too much trouble eating it. But I did ask Maya: "Is it better to eat with your eyes open or your eyes closed?" It didn't really matter, right, as you can't see anything either way.

She replied: "I prefer to eat with my eyes open in the darkness, as I find that I get sleepy if I close my eyes." On the contrary, I realized that I ate better with my eyes closed, as my sense of taste and hearing got stronger somewhat.

IMAGINATION TAKES OVER


Tonights's dinner companions in the dark:
Birthday girl Adi Fuchs and her boyfriend Micha Milshtein


Talking to these three people but not seeing them was an interesting experience, indeed. It's surprising how the mind can form images of people even before you can see them.

By talking to the couple in front of me, I had a sense of what kind of people they were -- including how old they were and how they looked.

After dinner, we left the restaurant together so we could finally see ourselves. I was completely surprised to find out that they looked completely different from what I had imagined!

This is definitely a must-experience in Tel Aviv, especially the Black Out dinner and show combination.

Just another day in our never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife. Good night from Tel Aviv.

NOT BY BREAD ALONE
at the Nalaga'at Theater


BLACKOUT
A unique experience of dining in the dark
escorted by blind waiters.

www.nalagaat.org.il



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