Lehitraot, Israel. Thanks for everything!

Well, it seems like just yesterday I was sitting at the Starbucks located on Tamiami Trail and Honore drinking my final Starbucks soy no foam lattes and writing my first blog post, and now, here I am, four and a half months later, sitting in the Aroma located on Yaffa street near Ben Yehuda drinking one of my final soy iced cappuccinos.

What a semester it has been- it is insane to believe that it has come to an end. From traveling all through Israel and learning Jerusalem like it is my second home, to then traveling through Europe, these past four and half months have been the greatest few months of my life. None of this would be at all possible with the loving and unconditional support for my fabulous parents. I can only hope that I am one day able to give my children the semester of a lifetime like mine gave to me. Aside from this semester teaching me and showing me how wonderful Israel is, it has also showed me that I really do have some of the best family and friends in the world and have been so lucky to attend IU these past three years.

 Anyways, instead of including some emotional and sappy shit in this blog, I am going to share with you the list of things I am going to miss most about Israel. This list doesn’t include everything or touch on nearly half of what I was able to experience this summer, but here they are in no particular order: 

  1. Finding random pieces of aroma chocolate in all purses, pockets, and drawers

 Yep, like previously mentioned, Aroma gives out free pieces of chocolate with their beverages. Always comes in handy during a chocolate craving, and most of the time I can find some pieces located in any of the aforementioned locations.

  1. Havdallah at the Kotel

 There is no cooler feeling than reciting Havdallah, at one of the holiest places in the world, with a bunch of strangers (including men) that suddenly feel like family. Not sure if it is because we don’t know each other, but know the prayers and can unite as one, or if they are all looneys like myself and go to the Kotel all the time on Havdallah whenever I’m in Jerusalem, so their faces just look the same.

  1. The Shuk and everything it is and stands for

The one location in Israel where all of Israel’s many faces, colors, foods, and personalities shine bright. And yes, pushing and shoving on a Friday in order to get the tastiest and hottest Challah from the bakery that has the word “pear” in it is indeed one of Israel’s personalities. *No, I never learned what the bakery was called in the four months of living here…silly me

  1. No humid air in Jerusalem

That’s right, this Florida girl is OBSESSED with Jerusalem weather. No frizzy hair and also, it is May and has not reached 90 degrees..yet.

  1. The colorful clips that keep my pretzels fresh and pretend to be replacements for zip lock bags (news flash: there are no placements for zip lock bags)

So, who knew there were no zip lock bags in Israel? Not me and it didn’t fly so well, so I invested in these fancy clips, however, they are still no replacement for the one and only zip lock bags (but they do come in fun colors!!).

  1. My super cool falafel friend, Barista Doran from Aroma, and North Gate Security Guard at the Kfar

Israeli interaction and all people interactions in general have been a highlight of this semester. But three people who made my semester extra special are the guy from French Hill falafel who knows that I like EVERYTHING in my falafael and most importantly, gives free samples. Next up is Doran from Aroma who knows my order, and finally is the security guard who gives me high fives and hugs and tells me he misses me when he doesn’t see me in a few days (also, the minor language barrier always makes things interesting). PS- Doran wants a pair of beats headphones if anyone is coming from America….

  1. Being able to travel internationally for the same amount of money it would cost to travel domestically in the State 

Go to New York for $300 or to someplace in Europe for the same price? Decisions, decisions…. 

  1. On the topic of traveling, the Ben Gurion Airport and Ben Gurion Security

Well the airport is basically a 24/6 (limited on Shabbat) international fun zone. At 4AM everything is open and gorgeous like normal. Best part, not having to take off my shoes going through security and definitely not having to get a full pat down…

  1. Seeing Hebrew all over and either understanding it, trying to understand it, or just passing by clueless

Four semesters at IU, Ulpan, and three months at Hebrew U….I’m a lost cause except on those lucky days where I can order in Hebrew, give directions in Hebrew, and speak to cab drivers in Hebrew.

10. Clapping when landing in Israel

Is everyone excited to be back in Israel or excited we landed safely? Either way, I’m down for a good clapping session.

11.Seeing anyone and everyone in Israel

Before Birthright season and now during Birthright season I run into SO many people. I recommend everyone just pick Israel as a meeting place. Great times and there is no greater feeling than seeing a familiar face in a place that is sometimes foreign.

 12. Israeli Style Kosher Sushi

Just delicious. Aside from being able to consume everything on the menu, it is just the best stuff ever. I recommend the crunchy roll from Sushi Bar and the sushi sandwiches from Sushi Rehavia. If you’re looking for Japanika…it is now at the Cinema City

 13. Cinema City

 Come to Israel and missing Disney World? Go to Cinema City where you will be greeted with every Disney character you could imagine as well as SUPER comfortable theaters and YUMMy food (more delicious than Disney World food). Movies are in English with Hebrew subtitles…what more could one ask for?

14. Call to Prayer

I have no idea what they are saying, but it sounds super cool and I love it. Friendly reminder that I am indeed in the Middle East and there are different religious and cultures all around me.

15. The few days when Egged counted the Omer

This is the only place where that could happen. Why did they get rid of it? Things I will never understand….

 16. Jewish Holidays in Israel

 First of all, learning about and seeing the true meaning behind the holidays is unreal and so cool. Having days off of school and work to spend time with family and experience the holidays is also beyond amazing.

 17.For once in my life, not being the minority

AKA not being the only one who wants to take a day off to celebrate a Jewish holiday, having Shabbat basically show up every week in all of its Israel glory, walking around and hearing everyone say Chag Sameach literally EVERYWHERE.

18. The way everyone stops what they are doing when an elderly person walks on the bus or train and jumps up to give them a seat

It’s a mitzvah, people.

 19. Practicing a Hebrew project in a Sushi restaurant and having the girls at the table next to us help us

Nice people do exist all over this country (that is, once you get over their aggressiveness)

 20. Intentionally or unintentionally shoving and pushing my way through every line and trying not to feel bad about it, but releasing my inner American semi normal self and still feeling bad.

As much as I tried to become Israeli, deep down I am an American or maybe just polite….Thanks Nana J for those manners!

21. The Israeli flag 

It’s beautiful and a friendly reminder that I am indeed in Israel

 22. Shabbat in Jerusalem

 Unexplainable. Just come and experience it for yourself. Oh and don’t even get me started on the Challah….

 23. It will be okay- בסדר יהיה

 Everyone thinks that just about everything “will be okay”. Great mentality, but will everything be okay now that I am being forced to board an airplane and return to America?

 24. LIVING in Israel

Who knows if I’ll ever have the incredible opportunity of actually living in Israel and this semester has allowed me to establish relationships with people and get to know this country in a way that would not have ever happened if I did not live here.

 25. Being constantly asked the big question: Are you going to make Alyiah?

 So, to all of you who I have ignored this semester when asked the question, here is my current, yet subject to change answer.

 When I was little, we went to Disney World what seemed like every single weekend. No worries, parents, it was always a great time (except when you made us bring lunch from home), however, eventually the magic from Disney faded away. Four and a half months is a long time to live in one place and I am dying to know the next time I will be back in the land that has done me so much good this semester, however, to answer the mystery question of will I make alyiah…the answer is probably (at the moment) no. Just like Disney World, if I moved to Israel/ Jerusalem, I feel that I would end up taking the country for granted. As time passed, I worry that I would forget how special and remarkable Israel is. By having the constant desire to find a way to get back to Israel, I feel that I am keeping the country special to me in my own way. I feel that it is m responsibility to return at least once a year to visit, support, and spend time in the country, and to work towards finding ways and supporting others to come experience Israel for themselves.

 So, I will try to accept that I am coming home, to America. Even though I will miss Israel everyday, thankfully I have an incredible family to be reunited with upon landing in Florida. This summer I am also so fortunate to have the greatest summer job ever of staffing another USY on Wheels bus and that will for sure help with my transition back to the real world. Thanks to my family and super cool friends for your continued support this semester and for staying in touch- it has meant so much. Can’t wait to see all of you soon!! Lots of hugs!!!!! XOXOXO

A few weeks ago, I went to Prague.

DISCLAIMER: This post was started weeks ago and it was quickly finished tonight. 

After a very moving, spiritual, and exciting week, it was time for my next adventure: PRAHA.

I was so lucky to travel in Europe over spring break, but I never made it to Prague. My best friend and I picked one of our free weekends and decided to have one final adventure. Things here are really picking up with finals around the corner as well as a lot of visitors that are starting to show up, so this past weekend ended up being the perfect time to go.

 At 3:45AM our shuttle service picked us up from our apartment and brought us to the airport. We had a smooth check in and security process since one thing Israel has under control is the whole airport situation. We boarded our plane and learned we were lucky enough to be in emergency exit rows. I swear there was enough leg room and space for me and probably a few other bodies. A few hours lader we landed in Praha! Public transportation was super easy and one bus ride, one metro line, and a few steps later we checked into our hostel. We ended up in a penthouse suite with more room than we would ever need, but no complaints!

After we checked in, we wandered around the streets, had some lunch and STARBUCKS, walked around the Old Town, and then toured one of the synagogues, followed by another synagogue located across the town. The Jewish Museum in Prauge consists of about 5 synagogues, but a few of them aren’t on the list, so we did those first.

The Old New Synagogue is one of the oldest synagogues in Europe and was also the one we returned to for Shabbat services the following day. It has been in the community for over 700 years. In order to get into the synagogue we were asked questions for 5 minutes, basically like security at the airport in Israel. Because it was an Orthodox Synagouge from 700 years ago, the women’s section was insane. There were little peep holes to hear and see out of so I basically spent the entire service trying to hear so I could follow along. After services we met some girls who we have mutual friends with….of course….

The next day we toured all the synagogues, continued to stroll around the city, took a canal tour on a boat, and climbed the top of the Old Clock Tower located in the Old Town. The city was so beautiful and it was a relaxing day looking at the beautiful architecture that Prague has to offer.

Finally, We crossed the Charles bridge and explored the Castle area. We also had lunch at a vegan restaurant…love me some yummy vegetarian food (since Europe always has some weird stuff to offer). And then continued to explore. We could have probably spent one more day in Prague, but overall we saw the majority of the city and got a good feel for the vibe of the people and the city.

After returning to Jerusalem, things have been none stop moving. I’m now entering finals week and then will have a few days to pack and say my final farewells to the city that has given me so much this semester.

I went to the movie theater here- that was also INCREDIBLE. It is gorgeous and the movie was in English but the script had some hebrew in it. The whole theater started laughing when the actors read the hebrew words before it was translated because they all understand hebrew…too coooool

 The Pope arrived today (may 25)- that was cool- everything was shut down and hundreds of police and army people were everywhere.

 Sorry for the brief blog- stay tuned to my farewell to Israel blogs coming up later this week. Back to studying….b’hatzlacha to me.

 

The Series of Communal Remembrances and Celebrations

When asked about my semester abroad, my academics are not the initial thing I rave about. Yes, I attend class on a beautiful campus (but of course, nothing as stunning as IU), and I am taking one class that I am over the top obsessed with, but sitting in class has not been the highlight of these past four months. This is simply because there is so much more to learn and see outside of the classroom. My thoughts on this could be a result of my passion for informal education, but over the past few weeks, I have been so lucky to be in Israel, specifically in Jerusalem, for Pesach, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), and Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day for the Fallen Soldiers and Terrorist Victims) followed by the quick transition into Yom Haatzmaut (Independence Day), which have granted me the opportunity to learn more about Jewish and Israeli culture from firsthand experiences that are outside of the classroom.

These series of days depict the culture of memory that is so unique to Israel. For so many years, I have read articles online and watched YouTube videos about the different ceremonies and events that take place on these important days, but being able to live them doesn’t even begin to compare to the virtual world I have been attempting to live vicariously through for as long as I can remember. I decided that I wanted to be in town to witness the siren for Yom HaShoah. Places of entertainment were not open, but aside from that everything was the same. Classes were in session, but I emailed my Hebrew teacher telling her I would not be in class. I thought it would be an experience to be in the Shuk for the one minute siren that sounded at 10:00AM, but Monday was delivery day, so after running into some friends, we all started to walk down to the intersection of Jaffa and King George (a normally busy intersection where one can see people walking, cars, and public transportation). Right before making it to the intersection the siren sounded. Everyone stopped- cars, public transportation, and most of the people on the streets all came to a complete standstill. The only sound I could hear for the first 45 seconds was the ticking of the street crossing. Just before the siren ended, some Arab women and children walked by all the still standing people, not even attempting to recognize or respect the rest of the people who were taking the one minute out of their day to remember and reflect on the events of the Holocaust.

After the siren, I returned to school to finish my day of class. Later in the afternoon, I came into town and visited my friend who works at a local electronic store. They were playing solemn music in the store, but the store- owner walked in and requested the music be turned off. The rest of the open locations also were playing very solemn music as none of the radio stations were allowed to broadcast their normal shows. People were also conducting different Yom HaShoah projects in town. I took part in writing a message that was placed in a time capsule about my thoughts on Yom HaShoah.

The emotions that I experienced that day were unlike anything I’ve ever felt during Yom HaShoah in the States. I was beyond disappointed to learn that my own Hillel did NOTHING for Yom HaShoah this year except publicize the day via social media. According to an article from the Indiana Daily Student, “Since the day fell towards the end of the year in America this year, we didn’t want to plan anything so close to the end and not have anyone show up,” Rabbi Sue Silberberg said. “It kind of says something worse if no one shows up than if we just don’t have anything.”

To me, Yom HaShoah was all about taking a few minutes out of the day to commemorate the victims, the survivors, as well as allow myself to reflect both internally as well as on the best ways to educate others and pass on the stories to future generations. In Israel, everyone carried on with work and their daily activities, but took the time to actually stop and to listen to the siren as well as possibly attend one of the many events that took place.

A week later was Yom Hazikaron. Not only does this day honor the soldiers who fought and continue to fight, but all victims of terrorist attacks. I attended the national ceremony at the Kotel. There were different memorial ceremonies all over Israel, but since who knows if I will ever be in Israel again for this day, I decided to go to the Kotel and risk not understanding any of the speeches since they would all be in Hebrew. My friends and I arrived at about 6:45pm and the ceremony did not start until 8pm. At first, I kind of felt like I was about to watch a Disney parade, but after seeing the snipers surrounding the Old City, all of the soldiers in uniform entering in mass quantities, followed by some really important looking people, the mood drastically changed. At 8pm the first siren sounded. As everyone came to a complete silence, I stood behind hundreds of soldiers, all of whom are fighting so that Israel continues to exist, and all of whom either know someone or know someone who knows someone that has died while fighting for the amazing and beautiful country I have been living in for the past few months.

Shortly after, the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, was escorted into the area. He gave a speech that I only understood bits and pieces of, but later read online. After a few more speakers, we collectively said the Kaddish followed by Hatikvah. As the ceremony was in front of the Kotel, the wall was blocked off and no one was praying. It was so interesting to see this place transformed into something totally different. Saying the Kaddish for the thousands of brave men and women who fought and continue to fight for the peace and security of Israel followed by Israel’s national anthem left me with indescribable feelings. As we left the ceremony, nothing was open in town. It really proves how important and serious of a day it was as well as the respect that (most of all) people have for the country and for the people who fight for its right to exist.

During the day on Yom Hazikaron the feelings and emotions were felt from Har Hertzl, where so many of the soldiers are buried all the way to the cafés and restaurants. Ceremonies were happening all over the country. Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to the US said the following, “In Israel, the day of remembrance for our fallen is a day of national mourning, condolence, and unity. In America, Memorial Day–which will be marked later this month–is a day largely of barbecues and shopping. Hundreds of thousands of young American men and women have died in battle, but their sacrifice is often forgotten. In Israel, the entire nation remembers the 23,169 of our sons and daughters who gave their lives. The difference between the two is a citizen’s army. Less than 0.5% of Americans serve in the military and a deep psychological and culture gap exists between the few who wear uniforms and the great majority who do not. In Israel, where the majority serves, soldiers are our children, our spouses, and our parents. A citizen’s army is a pillar of Israel’s democracy. On this day of collective loss, let us vow to preserve it.” I think that his words describe the difference in a very respectful yet truthful way.

Towards the end of the day my friends and I got ready to go see how the day of mourning would transition into a day celebrating Israel. The fast change from somber to celebration reminds us how Israel exists as the Jewish Homeland because of all the men and women that defended and continue to defend this precious land. As soon as sunset arrived, stands were opening selling Israel spirited items and all the streets were packed with people. I somehow managed to get a free falafel for dinner (wonderful story) and then we went to a family’s house for their Yom Haatzmaut BBQ. It was so fun to see how a local Jerusalem family with kids my age celebrates this incredible holiday. After we left, we walked the streets soaking in all the celebrations, music, and people. Left and right there were music stands and large groups of people. Everyone was celebrating and having a good time. I still have not processed everything I saw and there is no way to describe the feeling of nationalism that is shared between all these people.

It is not fair to compare these holidays to Memorial Day or 4th of July in the United States, but at the end of the day, the sense of community and pride for Israel is unlike anything I have ever seen before. As my semester slowly is coming to a close, it is more clear than ever that this is a one of a kind place and I could not be more grateful for having the opportunity to be here this semester. This week, I only have one day of class and then I’m off to Prague. Hope all is well with everyone! Until next time….xoxo

 

 

My European Spring Break

“If you’re twenty-two, physically fit, hungry to learn and be better, I urge you to travel – as far and as widely as possible. Sleep on floors if you have to. Find out how other people live and eat and cook. Learn from them – wherever you go.” – Anthony Bourdain

The famous American chef says it all! I just returned back to Israel from my 10-day trip traveling around Europe. Due to Passover, my spring break is about three and a half weeks long. All of this free time allotted for the perfect opportunity to travel, see new cultures, meet new people, eat new food, and learn about the history of each new place. 

As I sit here reflecting on my trip, I could not be more pleased with my decision to study abroad in Israel. My trip actually really put this entire semester in perspective. I constantly struggle with and am sometimes very frustrated with American Jewry. Jewish life in Israel just comes naturally and that is something I love about this semester and want to cherish and appreciate for the remainder of my time here. However, it was very refreshing to see other countries in Europe. I am so fortunate that I traveled with an incredible group of friends and have the absolute most wonderful and amazing parents who supported my trip.

In each country we saw the typical tourist sites, including anything and everything Jewish that the country had to offer. We saw different Jewish communities, visited the ghettos, and also the synagogues. Some of the countries have more active Jews than others, and so many of them are now in Israel. It was almost as if I was tracing back the history of the people who have helped make Israel what it is today. Upon landing in Israel, I could not have been happier to be back in my new home and begin preparing for Pesach, one of my favorite holidays.

It is impossible for me to fully describe my adventures that took place during the past 10 days. We saw and did so much each day and I am even still trying to recap the entire trip. I will try to provide a brief description of the places I went and some of my highlights.

We left on a Friday morning to go to Paris. We had a short layover in Greece and landed in Paris at around 11am. Approximately 10 minutes after landing, I had a Starbucks beverage in my hand and was a VERY happy camper. It has been so long that I thought the cups in Europe were bigger than America. I asked the barista and they are the standard size- I guess cups in Israel are just smaller. Anyways, we headed to our hostel, checked in, and quickly learned the subway system. We went to the Arc de Triumph, walked up and down Champs- Elysees, climbed to the top of the Arc de Triumph for a fabulous view of the city, and then hopped on a bike (with a driver) and headed over to the Eiffel Tower. Our driver was even so kind to take some photographs of us in front of the Eiffel Tower.

The following day we headed to the Louvre to visit the Mona Lisa (semi disappointing, but hey, I saw Mona) and see a bunch of other art. The museum was MASSIVE and easily could have taken all day. We all split up to go see each exhibit that interested us the most. I went to go check out the Islamic art section, as I was a little homesick from Israel and thought that art would remind me of the Middle East (and it sure did). For the rest of the day we walked around, saw some bridges and the Notre Dame. My friends’ French friend met us up for dinner and since France doesn’t really cater to Kosher/vegetarian or even normal food (sorry, I guess I just don’t appreciate French culture…except the French know how to make great crepes), we ended up at a Japanese place. Little did I know that Paris had good sushi (didn’t compare to the excellence that is Israeli sushi though).

Our time in Paris was quick but in my opinion the perfect amount of time. Our next stop was Amsterdam!!! After arriving in the Paris airport, I got in a little fight with the baggage man because apparently my carry on bag was too big, so I’m now 30 euro poorer and never flying airfrance again. No worries though, upon arriving in Amsterdam, a Starbucks was located right outside of my gate, so all issues were shortly resolved.

We picked up our “I am Amsterdam” cards that provided us with free entrance to a ton of museums, a free canal tour, and free public transportation. After checking into our beautiful hostel, we basically flew to one of my favorite sites of the entire trip: the Anne Frank House. Before I entered the museum, I was greeted my two of my camp friends who made a special trip just to say hello. It was such a special moment and it was so great to see them if only for a few minutes. After I said my hellos and goodbyes, I started my journey into the museum that shared a very special story.

Before I describe what I saw, I want to mention that I have studied about the Holocaust in college, visited Holocaust museums all over the US and Israel, as well as visited the camps in Poland. However, I have never been to a museum that showcases such a personal and well-known story. I had to take a second before continuing through the museum to realize where I was and what an incredible experience I was about to have as I retraced the steps of the Frank family.

The house that we visited was where Anne and her family hid during the war. The museum was filled with quotes from the diary all over the walls in each room, and showcased artifacts and letters that were saved after the Holocaust. The quotes that were selected matched each room so perfectly. Otto Frank, Anne’s father, requested that the furniture be taken out before the house became a museum, but the house was filled with other information. I applaud the designers of the museum for showcasing an extremely special and personal story in a beautiful fashion.

After the meaningful tour, we debriefed, critiqued, and complimented the museum and then we went on our free canal tour of the beautiful city of Amsterdam before heading to dinner.

The next day in Amsterdam was jammed packed as we were leaving that same day for Italy. We did the Van Gough Museum (I was very disappointed as all my favorite Van Gough paintings were on loan), the Jewish Museum, and the Botanical gardens.

The Jewish Museum was in a former synagogue in Amsterdam and even had a children’s museum attached. Since I was traveling with a group filled with Jewish Studies/ Education people, we obviously also went into the children’s museum and it was SO INCREDIBLE. Since I have been studying Jewish education this semester, I was able to look at the museum through a different lens and thought it was something very unique. Never have I been in a museum that is solely focused on teaching children about Judaism in such a fabulous manner.

Our time in Amsterdam was super quick, but we definitely saw the city and did as much as we could do. We headed to the airport in the afternoon to fly to our next destination: Venice, Italy.

We landed in Venice and headed to our hostel that was located off of the actual Island. We checked in and learned that on Monday nights the city of Venice is literally dead. There was one pub open that we went to for some small snacks. The owner felt so bad that he couldn’t cook us a meal because the kitchen was closed, but he provided us with some small and delicious snacks.

We woke up early the next day since we only had one day in Venice. We headed to the train station to go to the Island, but someone gave us wrong directions so we ended up asking a nice man to tell us how to get to the train station. He was actually going there so he told us to follow him. Instead of just dropping us off at the entrance, he helped us buy the train tickets and showed us the platform, and then sat with us until we got off the train. He was from Pakistan and is studying at the university in Venice. As he said his goodbyes he said, “I don’t know if I will see you again on this mother Earth, but enjoy and good luck”.

We did a gondala ride in Venice, walked around, and then toured the Jewish ghetto. We saw three gorgeous synagogues that are built above apartment complexes. There is no way to know these are synagogues, but each one is very quaint and only used for one holiday each year. We learned where the Jews hid all the items during the Holocaust and how they were preserved. We finished our day in Venice by eating at a local kosher restaurant and purchased some Venetian Murano Judaica glass items. I should also share that I fell in love with the work of a local artist who moved from Israel to Italy. I met her husband and she has a piece of work that shows a bunch of Synagogues around Europe. I have now visited and toured almost all of them and am adding the poster to my wish list. If anyone misses me a lot and wants to buy me something, get me that (cough, cough, Dad).

Next up was Florence. One of my friends from USY on Wheels in 2009 met us at the train station and took us to a delicious local Italian restaurant for some pizza. I haven’t seen my friend since December of 2009 and it was so nice of him to meet us and show us a little of Florence. I really am so lucky to have met such incredible people during my summer programs with Ramah and USY. Who would have thought I would go to Europe for 10 days and reunite with all these people?

After stuffing ourselves with delicious pizza, we woke up early to go see Michelangelo’s David and a lot of Jesus artwork at the Accademia. It was great to see David, but I thought that overall the museum was very overrated (and expensive). We did what we needed to do and then headed to the Duomo where we climbed 463 steps to have an incredible view of the city. Following our long climb up and down (it really wasn’t that bad), we headed over to the Ponte Vecchio and did some people watching, and of course had some gelato. We also stopped in the leather market and visited a store that a friend of mine and also a friend of one of the girls I was traveling with recommended. We walked in just to say hey and the owner pulled up both of our friends on facebook…it was hilarious.

The next day we went to the Great Synagogue of Florence and let me tell you, the word “great” doesn’t do it justice. No photographs were allowed inside, but it was probably one of the most beautiful synagogues I have ever seen. There was a museum on top, but unlike Amstedam the synagogue is still active (they asked if we would be there for Pesach). And unlike Venice, it kinda- sorta looks like a Synagogue, but in my opinion it looks more like a Mosque.

We ended up meeting up with some friends from Indiana who are studying in Florence before heading to Rome. We were in Rome for three nights and by this time of the trip we were all exhausted. Because we knew that there was so much history in Rome, we signed up for an “Ancity City Tour of Rome” through a Jewish perspective. We met our guide at the synagogue in Rome (which was also spectacular) and he took us all around Rome leading us to the Coliseum.

Our guide told us the history at each site and then added Jewish context. I learned that Jews were forbidden to go watch the fights in the Coliseum unless a Jew was fighting so they could try and save his life. Our guide gave us an incredible speech about the Arch of Titus and explained both Roman and Jewish history to us in the three hours. We also learned where Versace lives..how cool!

My European trip was a once in a lifetime experience and I am so fortunate I was able to see so many new places. It is now Passover and it is hard to believe that THIS year I am in Jerusalem. Of course I am missing the wonderful seder that I grew up with in Sarasota, but If I can’t be in Israel next year, let us all hope I can be at home with my family!

I attended my first Hebrew seder (no worries there was english translation, but I did read my part in Hebrew) with my best friend’s cousin and it was quite the experience. The chag didn’t start until around 8pm so the seder went until the wee hours of the morning. Overall it was a great experience with lots of yummy food. 

I still have another 8 days before my classes resume, so I need to catch up on some sleep, homework, and do some more traveling around Israel. Time is flying and I only have about 6 more weeks left. I’m making my final bucket list of things to do in Israel and figuring out the best ways for me to soak in absolutely everything. After seeing new cities, Jerusalem is so very unique and a city that cannot be taken for advantage. I wish everyone celebrating a great Pesach and hope all is well with each of you! If you made it this far in this post, I give you lots of credit! Thanks for sticking around! Lots of love and until next time…xoxo.

 

 

 

Pre Europe Post

Shalom again. Since my last post not too much has been happening in my life. Unfortunately, I have come down with what I think is equivalent to the plague. This put quite the damper on my weekend and the few days I reserved for knocking out my three take home midterms. No worries though, after hours of complaining to my parents and requesting that mother fly out to Israel to take care of me, I somehow managed to get myself together to attend services on Friday led by one of my friends from Indiana who is at Cantorial school here in Jerusalem. I have heard her lead services and sing in IU Hillel’s a cappella group, but there is no way to describe how GORGEOUS her voice was and how beautifully she led the service. She still has a few more years of school- but all of her future congregants are going to be some lucky, lucky people. If only I could have grown up with a cantor that had a beautiful voice and heart like the one and only Julie Womack.

About an hour before Shabbat ended this week, I once again magically got myself together to walk to the Kotel for Havdallah. Mother didn’t recommend it and requested I continue to rest (even though she is miles away she still thinks she knows best and is probably right), but honestly, how could I pass up Havdallah at the Kotel?? It is becoming one of my favorite things to do in Jerusalem. This time there was a larger crowd and they were davening maariv when we arrived (men and women were arranged side by side separated by the mechitza, but the women were silently praying..what’s new there..nothing). Minutes later the men started putting besamim (spices) in the mechitza and it was time for Havdallah. I guess the reason I enjoy this so much is because time and time again I am surprised at how comfortable I feel joining a community of strangers to say the prayer that people all around the world say at the conclusion of Shabbat.

The rest of my weekend was made up of a lot of sleeping and a lot of homework. I have had very minimal work this past semester (and that is probably an exaggeration since all I have had are a few readings and some Hebrew homework) so being assigned three take home midterms and one in class midterm in one week just didn’t seem like real life. Sadly I had to face reality and knock out the assignments. Good news is I only have one more left and it is due after Passover break.

Yep, that’s right, my spring break is quickly approaching (3 DAYS UNTIL STARBUCKS!!!). It hasn’t really hit me yet because I’m not in much need of a break. I’m basically living a five- month vacation here, so my upcoming travels are like a vacation in a vacation. In a few short days I will be on my way to Paris, Amsterdam, and Italy. When I get back to Israel, Passover starts the next day. This country is already starting to get in the mood for the holiday and it is great. My friends went to go buy dried kiwi at the Shuk and our favorite nut and fruit stand that ALWAYS has kiwi did not have any. When my friend asked where it was, the man told us that it isn’t kosher for Passover so they don’t have it. As we continued to walk around the Shuk we saw endless “Kosher for Passover” signs on so many of the stands. A few of the other stands have tons of macaroons and other goods out that are ready to be purchased.

Even the Coke bottles say “Chag Sameach” and “Kosher for Passover”. I discovered this last week when the IU students were asked to meet with the VP of International Affairs in Bloomington who was in Israel for a little lunch. We had a very short lunch with him and I had to leave early to attend class. Before I left I asked why he was here visiting Israel. None of my other friends have had people like this visit from their schools, so I was curious as to why Indiana University located in the middle of nowhere Bloomington was paying all this money to send the guy (and his wife) out here. His response was that he came to meet with Hebrew U and other Israeli universities to basically network and build relationships that can be used for research, teaching, and of course study abroad. He was a very cool and knowledgeable man who was willing to learn and wanted to hear about our experiences. I could not be any prouder to attend a school that continues to support Israel, and not only provide, but also encourage opportunities for students, teachers, and researchers to partner and benefit from this remarkable country. Go Hoosiers!!!!!

I am really struggling to accept that it is April and I go back to Florida “next month”. I am far from accepting it and really need to know the next time I am coming back here before I leave. Of course I am unbelievably excited to go explore Europe, but I think I am going to miss the comforts of Israel. This country has really become my second home (or just home if you want to look at it that way) and it is going to be a whole different experience traveling to a new country. I really hope I don’t slip in an extra “Todah” (or as mother says “toto”) when making a purchase.

Here are some “It’s Israel” moments before I close out this post:

I got a pedicure today (must travel with pretty toes) and the person in the chair next to me was an Orthodox man. Really is a first time for everything.

Last week I stopped at a McDonalds. I realized they are one of the few places in the country that has fountain soda and I reallllyyyyy wanted a Diet Coke from the fountain. It was just as delicious as I envisioned and even had super chopped ice! Ice in this country is also a luxury…Best part of the adventure? My friend was eating ice cream outside and respecting the kashrut issues; I ordered her drink and mine. The cashier literally bagged the drinks for me in a plastic bag. It was hilarious.

Well, that’s it for now. Hope everyone is enjoying whatever Spring weather has come your way. Miss you all! Until next time (after all my travels)…xoxo

Some Moments of Reflection

Last week in Jewish Education class we had a guest speaker who works for Hillel-Birthright. She spoke about how she only has 10 days to make an impact on each individual in every group. In order to do this she said, “In Judaism, we have moments. We don’t let time pass us by”. The speaker used the prayer of seeing a rainbow as an example of a way for her to take one moment out of a crazy day or week and turn it into a Jewish educational moment.

Her quote really resonated with me. When I was younger, I wore a watch every single day. Sometime over the past few years I stopped wearing a watch (the reasoning behind it was probably so I could wear a more fashionable bracelet on my left wrist, or something along those lines). For those of you who are “watch wearers”, you know the horrible feeling of forgetting your watch or for whatever reason not always having access to what the time is.

Similar to a watch obsession, my planner goes almost everywhere with me. Thinking about this has has made me realize a few things: I frequently look back in my planner to recount particular events, while at the same time, I am always looking forward to the next “exciting’ thing in my life. I recently asked myself if I think I have really been living in the present and enjoying each and every special moment instead of always looking forward to the next thing, whatever that may be.

I have officially been living in Israel for two months. Since I arrived I have been counting down the days until one of my best, best, best friends as well as my parents arrive. However, I have also been stretching out every day to it’s fullest and trying my best to do as much as I can each and every day. Instead of being concerned about the time or what paper/ tests I have coming up, I have really been able to take advantage of what Israel has to offer and bask in the special “It’s Israel” moments, while not stressing about school (mostly because school is a semi joke- however, I now have four midterms to study for…WHAT?!?).

Last Friday my best friend arrived. She texted me when she landed in the airport, but then I was not going to hear from her until she arrived. As Shabbat was quickly approaching I decided I would go stand outside and just wait for her. Of course it was freezing cold and windy that night so instead of standing outside, I stood in the guard gate hoping that he would not kick me out. Much to my surprise, after about 15 minutes he asked me if everything was okay and then asked me to sit while I waited. He doesn’t speak much English and I only speak so much Hebrew, so there was some language barrier, but eventually my friend arrived. The best part of this evening was now that the guard knows me, he doesn’t make me flash my ID when I enter the building, and always greets me with a big smile.

I had a few days of quality time with my friend before my parents arrived. We did a lot of walking, a lot of eating, a lot of shopping/wandering, and a lot of much needed catching up. I really am one of the luckiest people in the world to have a best friend fly out to Israel just to visit me for an entire week (a big todah rabah to her parents and grandparents for making this trip possible)!

One of the coolest experiences (quite possibly one of the coolest top 10 Jewish experiences of my life) happened to us last Saturday night. We walked into the Old city a few hours before Shabbat ended. About 30 minutes before Shabbat was over, we headed to the Kotel and just sat and observed. Suddenly men started putting besamim (spices) into the empty spaces of the mehitza. A man then came over and summoned the ladies over to the mehitza. He gathered both men and women together for Havdallah. For the past few weeks here I have been having an internal debate about my thoughts on the Kotel. However, this one experience really hit me. I was saying a communal prayer with a group of people who I don’t know and yet still felt like I was part of a community (of men and women) at one of the holiest places in the world. Where else would something like this happen each and every week?

Once Sunday rolled around, I had one more morning with my friend before the parents arrived!! We woke up super early to try to go to the Dome of the Rock, but plans fell through because there were hundreds of people waiting to go up even though we got there at the crack of dawn. It was basically like waiting for a ride at Disney world. We decided to leave and go make a stop at Hadaya, (the jewelry place that all young Americans are beyond obsessed with) so my friend could place an order. Because we were the first ones there, my friend got 50% off her order and they made the jewelry on the spot. It was awesome. I also got some other things engraved in the jewelry I purchased my first time in Israel (this meant that they polished my 5 year old stuff…how nice..gotta love some shiny silver).

At around 5pm, mother and father showed up in the holy land! This started a week of craziness. There was SOOO much to do and see in only a short period of time. We went to museums, my favorite hot spots in Jerusalem (mom also tried all my Shuk favorites), as well as some of my favorite restaurants, and they got to see Hebrew U as well as my apartment (mother obviously thought it was disgusting since nothing can ever be clean enough to the Dina Phillips standard). On Thursday they headed to Tel Aviv in the morning and I met them later that afternoon. Let me tell you all…sleeping in the bed at the Hilton was AMAZINGGGGGG. If there is anything I am a little bit excited for when I go back home, it is my bed.

Earlier in the week was Purim (aka my first “big” Jewish holiday in Israel). It was crazy and it is impossible to describe the things I saw. However, I did manage to run into four people the first night of Purim that I didn’t know were going to be in Jerusalem. That started a streak of running into someone new every single day. It was hilarious. Some might say that it just proves how small of a country Israel/ the Jewish world is, but there had to be some other factors involved because the timing of everything was too perfect.

It was incredible to have my parents here in Israel with me. It is really scary that my time here is halfway over. Spring break is in a week and a half. I will be traveling to Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Florence, and Rome. Before I left IU, a wonderful friend told me to do something different everyday and not get into a routine. I have kept this in mind these past two months. I plan on stopping to truly recognize the incredible moments that are happening around me even more so than I am already doing while I am in Israel, as well as when I return home. This semester really is a once in a lifetime opportunity and I am so incredibly thankful I was able to share a snapshot of experiences with my friend and my parents.

I’ll conclude this post with two “only Israel” experiences that have happened in the past few weeks:

1) During the second night of Purim, my friend and I were out late with some friends and got in a taxi to go back to my apartment. The driver and I agreed on a price. Unfortunately I didn’t have exact change and the driver decided not to only give me back half of the change that he owed me. I was not pleased and yelled at the driver in a polite manner until he gave me the rest of the money. Apparently this is very typical for Israel, and I believe that, but I was very proud of myself for getting the money back that I deserved, and returning safely to my room.

2) I was wearing a headband while getting my nails done. My nail lady wanted to know if I was married because she thought I was wearing a sheital (wig). I personally thought this was hilarious because I am not married and simply really like my headband.

Hope everyone is doing well, wherever you may be! Keep in touch! Until next time…xoxo

 

 

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Jewish Educational Experiences Through My Personal Lens

It all started when I was in fourth grade. My best friend’s mom took us to the synagogue to hear a presentation about a sleep-a-way camp located in the mountains of Clayton, Georgia. I watched an outdated video and read an itinerary of what a typical day was like at Camp Ramah Darom. In the car ride home, my friend’s mom told us stories about her summer camp days, basically trying to persuade us to go to camp that summer. When I was dropped off at my house, my parents were not so in love with the idea of sending me to the mountains for a month. Side note: mom and dad were not against camp either as they would never stop me from doing something, but to say the least, my dad told me there would be rats in the bunks.

Most of you know how this story ends. I went to camp that summer, cried everyday for the first two weeks, and then returned for six consecutive summers. I am almost positive that I would not be in Israel today if I did not go to Camp Ramah. Sure there might have been other factors that led me here, but I know for fact that I would not be studying at Indiana University and probably would not have the same interests, career path, or love for Judaism that I do today.

One of the highlights of my semester so far is my Jewish Experiential Education course. A large focus on the class is on camping and youth movements, two separate groups that have impacted my life to the point that I would not be who I am today without them. We just finished a lecture series given by Shalom Orzach who currently serves as the Avi Chai Foundation Project director and Director of Education in the Israel Fellows Unit of the Jewish Agency. His lectures spoke about why camp works and the long- term impact of Jewish overnight camp. Orzach also has a history with both USY and Ramah and held a discussion on Ramah camps. One of the coolest things about this class is that aside from it reaffirming my love for Jewish camps and teaching me that the Jewish camp business really does work in the sense of Jewish continuity and identification to one’s personal Jewishness, it has given me the opportunity to reflect on my upbringing and how my family as well as my experiences as both a camper and staff member has helped sculpt my Jewish identity and journey.

All of my Jewish experiences really hit home when I attended the Women of the Wall Rosh Hodesh (new month on the Hebrew calendar). My friend’s cousin was involved and she asked if I would go with her. We woke up way too early and headed into town with some friends towards the Kotel (don’t worry, everyone, stopped for coffee before we returned to campus). We walked through the Christian quarter and the Jewish quarter and because it was so early it was so quiet and calm- a totally different experience than a regular weekday afternoon. When we arrived at the women’s side of the Kotel, a group of about 30 women were just starting with the morning prayers, we were handed a siddur, and joined in prayer.

 I am not here to discuss political issues about the Women of the Wall organization.  I am here to share that for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to join in prayer, out loud, with a group of women at one of the holiest places in the world. I have prayed at random gas stations and some of the most beautiful places in America (shout out to Crater Lake) as well as some extraordinary places in Israel; however, I have never been part of communal prayer at the Western Wall. I have witnessed men taking part in spiritual and ruach filled services, but have never myself been able to have the same experience at the Kotel. Without a doubt, my morning with Women of the Wall would not have been the same if there were protestors or if I was not able to follow along with the service, but luckily there were only two protestors (one man and one woman who blew her whistle at us) and I was familiar and comfortable with the service. Overall it was a very moving and meaningful morning.

For the rest of the week, I have been reflecting on the community versus the individual. This was a long week filled with lots of class and some afternoons in town walking around and exploring with some friends. However, on Thursday, my four- hour class was cancelled so I was done with class at 10am. A few of my friends were going to Eilat this weekend, but I decided to stay in Jerusalem to catch up on sleep and get my life together since my best friend and family arrive in Israel this week (SO EXCITED!!!!). So after a two- hour nap, I grabbed a falafel and headed into town. I walked around, went to the Shuk, and just wondered alone. I guess this was the first time since I got here that I had really been alone for a substantial amount of time. However, I realized that I really wasn’t alone. I think Israel is the only place where I feel like I am part of a larger community at all times. I’m not sure if it is because I know I’m surrounded by so many Jews or because I see Hebrew everywhere or even because people really are just so helpful and welcome, but in an almost indescribable way I feel as if my life is more meaningful here than in any city in America. So, after my afternoon alone, my Israeli co staff from the past summer picked me up and took me to a coffee shop (Tachanat Hacafe) and then to a place that was playing live music. It was great to spend some time with an Israeli as well as reminisce on the summer.

Friday morning I woke up early and continued on my solo adventures to get a manicure and pedicure. I then met up with my friend and did some shopping (no worries mom and dad, didn’t really make any purchases…waiting until you arrive for that). This was the first weekend in a long time I was able to explore Jerusalem on a Friday. We had brunch and walked around feeling the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem as everyone was preparing for Shabbat. Later in the afternoon we headed to the Kotel to welcome in Shabbat. On our walk there we heard the Shabbas siren. When we arrived at the Kotel, I did some more of my personal reflection. We first walked around listening to the men pray my favorite service, Kabbalat Shabbat, and saw the women pray silently. We actually did join in with a group of Israeli women soldiers who were briefly singing some songs. Once that ended we just sat down and people watched. We saw tourists (love the American Jewish women who just talk and talk), religious men and women, soldiers, families, and other groups all flock to one area to sing, pray, and observe (some even observed by attempting to take photographs until they were yelled at).

Shabbat at the Kotel was very black and white. Men were dancing, singing and praying together as a community. Women were for the most part individually praying, quietly singing out loud, or chatting about what they saw around them. I was very engaged in my people watching and observing because I realized that I am starting to naturally look at things here from an educational perspective. The other day in Jewish Education class, we broke out into groups and tried to pick 6 places and experiences we would provide for a Birthright bus. I actually had a Birthright guide in my group so it was very interesting to hear what Birthright allows guides to pick as well as what is mandatory for each bus. Almost every group in class wanted to provide the participants with a Shabbat experience and most of them said that the Kotel was the place to do that. I completely agree that Shabbat in Israel is an experience every person needs witness, but I question if the Kotel is really the best site in Jerusalem if only given one Shabbat. Without a doubt there are incredible moments that take place at the Kotel everyday and especially on Shabbat, but I definitely saw it through a different lens this past Shabbat.

It is starting to hit me how quickly time is moving. I am almost half way through this semester and I really don’t know how that has happened. I am finally to the point where I enjoy going on adventures alone as well as exploring new cafes to work on my small amount of homework, so to me that means I am extremely comfortable and settled here. My best friend arrives this week and my family (minus my brother..still bitter) a few days later. I can’t wait to show them around Israel through my eyes. Even though I still have a great deal of time here, I need to start planning my next trip back. There is something addictive about this country. I just can’t get enough of it. Who knows…maybe alyiah is in the future…..so until next time, xoxo

 

disclaimer: i apologize for any grammatical errors (that’s for you, mother).