Israel Lovin’

Well, here I am again. I just discovered the silent floor of the library (always my favorite floor). To be clear, I am not in the International school library but in the main Hebrew U library (just have to mention how cool this place is- there is an exhibit of different menorahs and other Jewish traditional items in the entrance to the building… I love it). Having to do work while studying abroad is just silly, although I can’t really complain because I get to read articles like “Camp Works: The Long Term Impact of Jewish Overnight Camp” and “The Philosophy of Jewish Education”. If you’ve been out of the loop, I finished my first week of class on Thursday. It is really nice because I have no Sunday, Tuesday, or Friday classes, and end class at 2pm on Thursday. It is slightly unfortunate that I’m trapped in the Rothberg bubble all day on Monday and Wednesday, but whatever, I’ll get over it and at least I’m enjoying my classes.   

I keep forgetting to write about the program I participate in every Monday. After class, I go to “Hillel” to get free dinner, listen to a speaker, and then meet one on one with a partner to discuss different Jewish topics. Last week I heard Dr. Dan Tirze, the former Central Commander of the IDF who was in charge of planning the Israeli Security Fence. It was super interesting (and that says something since it was after I was in class for 9 hours prior to hearing him speak). After the lecture, we studied Judaism’s view on free will (bechira). Sadly, I’m not providing a d’var in this post to tell you all my thoughts on the matter.

Anyways, in between the endless hours spent in class, I had the chance to meet up with one of my USY on Wheels friends from 2009. I haven’t seen her in five years and it was so great to catch up. For those of you that read my friends post from a few years ago, this is a prime example of how my friends from years past will always be part of my life even if time goes by and we lose touch. After class on Thursday, it was a BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL day. My best friend and I decided to go to the shuk to visit our favorite smoothie man. We picked up a challah from one of the most delicious bakeries, and then went on a four- hour walk (#not joking #legit4hours #beproudofmedad). We walked from the Shuk through a few small neighborhoods that eventually led to the German Colony and then to a new area in Israel: The First Train Station. It is no longer a working train station and serves as a place for “food and culture”. There are shops and restaurants. It was late at night, so after roaming around, we decided to walk back to the center of the city and eat dinner at one of our famous Hummus restaurants.

 On Friday friends from IU who recently got married and made alyiah picked up me and two other friends and took us to their apartment for Shabbat. We ended up returning to the train station for brunch and walked around a weekly art fair and then proceeded to walk around the German Colony where I ran into one of my old co counselors from Ramah. He recognized me from a block away and I was too busy engaging in some Judaica store window shopping (overly obsessed with them) that I didn’t even hear him call my name (really was too engaged in appreciating the awesome besamim holders). After my mini reunion, we returned to our friends’ apartment to get ready for Shabbat. We attended a beautiful service at a synagogue called Yakar. It was an incredible service. My friend said she strategically picked her apartment in a neighborhood close by because she loved that service. This Shabbat was so relaxing and it was much needed after a long week at school.

Last week was called “shopping week”. Just to my disappointment there were no stores set up on campus (although there is some fair currently in the main forum of the University), instead it was more of a week to shop around for classes. I have mastered a strategic way of planning my schedules each semester and did not need to take classes just to take them last week, so I didn’t really do much “shopping”. I think I did a pretty good job this semester with the options I was given. If you know my taste in Jewish studies classes, the list below should not be a surprise.

Feel free to read about my “academic” life below:

Hebrew: I’m still taking Hebrew. Instead of 20 hours a week, I take 7 hours, and well it is Hebrew. Not much more to say about that except my teacher assigns too much work. Guess even Israeli professors don’t realize I am indeed taking other classes.

 Marriage and Sexuality in Ancient Judaism: This course is a study of marriage and sexuality in the classical sources of rabbinic Judaism. We will focus on the development of these concepts in the Judaism of antiquity and compare them to similar ideas of sexuality in the surrounding Greco-Roman and Christian cultures. 

 So, I did actually switch into this class today and it was awesome. Originally I was taking a Kabbalah course, but the professor was too much of a space cadet and was just going to cause me unnecessary stress and work. So today instead I learned the origin of the Ketubbah. The professor is very young and very relaxed. I also know a lot of people in the class, so I guess that is always fun.

Jewish Experiential Education: This course will introduce participants to key issues in the emerging field of Jewish experiential education, with a particular focus on camping, youth movements, Israel travel, and rites of passage. In attempting to grapple with some of the underlying questions facing the field, attention will be paid to fundamental sociological, philosophical, psychological, and religious questions that are emerging and generating debate and controversy. The program of study will include case studies, field trips, as well as a host of experiential activities. A weekly half-day internship in Jewish experiential education will be an integral course component and will allow participants to acquire tools and knowledge to become reflective practitioners and enable them to attain a more rigorous and nuanced understanding of the field.

This class is remarkable. It is actually a graduate level course so there are people of all ages and all backgrounds in the class (really struggling to get along with the “know-it-all tour guide” who really just shouldn’t be in the class, although she does provide some good responses). Some other students are in the one year MA program I am looking into doing once I graduate IU, some are full time Hebrew U Israeli students, and the rest of the class is in my undergraduate program. The reason I was eligible to take this course is because I am participating in a program through BJE (read more here http://www.bjela.org/index.aspx). Along with the class, I am interning at the USY office in Israel for a few hours each week.

My professor is involved in numerous areas of the Jewish education world but he is also bringing in guest speakers to several of the classes. Last week we went on a tour of the campus with a skilled Jewish educator. This was unlike any campus tour I have ever been on as instead of pointing out buildings, we analyzed and formed relationships with Hebrew U, Jerusalem, and the founders of the university. It made me appreciate Hebrew U even more and feel so lucky to have the opportunity to study here this semester. Overall, I really can’t express how much I love this class. My professor is so engaging and is so knowledgeable in the field. The hour and a half goes by so quickly which is a great thing since it is my last class of the day.

An Introduction to the Cultural History of Jerusalem: The course objective is to follow the history of Jerusalem chronologically, a city which for thousands of years was, and still is, a meeting place between cultures and creeds. Through a series of lectures and field trips, using a multi-disciplinary approach, the students will explore political, cultural and geographical topics related to one of the holiest cities on earth, in order to better understand the complex processes which shaped both its history and its present situation.   

This class takes me on field trips and is one day a week, so that is basically why I am taking it. While the class is four hours long, half of the classes allow for active and visual learning. We go visit the locations of the places we learn about the class after the lecture. What better educational technique could I ask for?

Before I close off this post, I’ll attempt to entertain you all with some “It’s Israel” moments:

  1. Accidently went to the express lane with about 20 groceries. The man behind us was not pleased. Just think about what you would do at Publix if someone with over 15 items was in the express lane…(it was hard to tell this was an express lane, the conveyer belt was the same length as the rest of the lanes).
  2. I have Hebrew three days a week. It is in a different room each day as are all of my classes. Why? I need to make flash cards or something to memorize the classroom number for each class on each day of the week.  
  3. While I was in a coffee shop, I was listening to music and a man came up and started speaking Hebrew to me. I couldn’t hear so I took out my headphones and instead of saying “mah (what)” responded in English asking him to repeat himself. He felt so bad for assuming I spoke Hebrew, even though it is the national language and then he proceeded to speak in English. What did this man want? A pen. Normally I would not want to lend out one of my three Pilot G-2 0.38 pens (Israel doesn’t sell them) because chances of receiving it back would be slim, but in Israel, trust is a big thing. Needless to say, I got my pen back
  4. Our internet died one night this week. My friend called the help center. The man told her to play a board game that night instead of spending time online.

Well folks, that’s about it for now. Time is FLYING. I only have 3 free weekends available. Everything is getting booked and the bucket list is being accomplished. It is a semi- large adjustment having homework and managing time exploring/enjoying everything Israel has to offer, but I’ll be fine. I need to start working on my next trip back to this glorious country.

Dad, want to get on that? I’m thinking quick trip in August or maybe 22nd Birthday? Hellooo Rosh Hashanah in Israel. If all else fails, I won’t attend graduation and we can just fly to Israel. We can discuss it in three weeks. Yes, everyone, the two greatest parents in the entire world are landing in Israel in less than three weeks!!!!!!!!  

 Oh ps- if you need to text message me, please imessage amandafallon@mac.com …couple technical difficulties over here…

 Have a wonderful week, everyone! Much love. Until next time…xoxo

 PPS. This happened today: http://www.timesofisrael.com/schools-to-undergo-defense-drill-at-10-a-m/. ….we were told to ignore it and resume with our regular schedule. But good to know the rest of the country prepares accordingly. 

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Happy One Month, Israel.

I have officially been in Israel for a month. This is the longest amount of time I have been in this awesome country for as I was here for about four weeks in Summer 2010 and only for about 10 days last summer. Even though I have traveled and explores for an extended period of time before, this time around is completely different. I am learning how to live in Israel instead of following around a pack of 40 teenagers or my personal travel agent, my wonderful dad. I am loving every minute of my time here and I am becoming more accustom to the Israeli lifestyle. While things are not always easy and take lots of time, there is no way to describe how it feels to finally be living in Israel.

 I find myself saying that it hasn’t hit me that I am here in the Jewish homeland. I have taken the public transportation, I have eaten in the restaurants, I have visited the museums where the history and lessons that I have learned in college suddenly came to life (and I appreciated them even more so than when I was 16 years old), I have perfected my coffee order and love all the cafes, I finally went to the nail salon (two weeks overdue), I went to the dry cleaner (thank you to my wonderful, knowledgeable, and awesome friend), I have thought about buying all the beautiful paintings and Judaica Jewelry that I see everywhere (if only), I have shopped in the Shuk on a regular basis (I know it like the back of my hand now), and I have tried to see and do as much as I can in one day while attempting to remember that I am a college student. Even with all of this, I have felt like I am in some fantasy world.

 Growing up, Judaism has always played a role in my life through many different venues. The essence of a community filled with Jewish tradition and culture has drawn me closer to Judaism through the years and allowed me to have a passion to continuously pursue my Jewish journey, identity, and career in the Jewish world. My family, Camp Ramah Darom, USY, and IU Hillel have each granted me numerous experiences to live a Jewish lifestyle and participate in experiences where I can explore my Judaism. I often seek out tight- knit Jewish communities, as they are where I feel most comfortable, and where I know I am surrounded by people with similar beliefs and values as myself. Hillel has served as a hub for my Jewish life these past 2.5 years at IU. Hebrew U does not have a Hillel (equivalent to IU), which is totally fine since I am living in the Jewish state. However, I have appreciated the weekly opportunity to attend Hillel for Shabbat. I always know that services and dinner will be provided for me and the only effort I have to make is to show up.     

 The way I “do” Shabbat is always evolving. Camp Ramah is responsible for originally creating my love for Shabbat (mom, you did a great job with “Tot Shabbat” when I was a toddler). After I returned home each summer, I would attend services and try to mimic a Shabbat similar to camp, but I always failed. USY then served as a place where I celebrated and loved Shabbat during my high school years, as it was the closest thing to Camp. When I arrived at IU, Hillel was the first place I turned for my weekly Shabbat services and dinner. I knew that coming to Israel would provide me with hundreds of opportunities for Shabbat and over the past month I have done something different each week, however, this past Shabbat was one out of the ordinary and when I think it finally hit me that I am in Israel.

 At 6pm I met some of my friends to walk to a family’s house that was about 20 minutes away from the University. Two of my friends met this family on a Shabbaton last weekend that I did not attend, but they asked if some more of us could tag along. As we embarked on our walk to the family’s neighborhood, we had to stop and ask about 5 people for directions. Keep in mind that by this time Shabbat had already started, so all the people we asked were on their way to and from services as well as getting ready for Shabbat dinner. Each one kindly stopped and helped us on our journey. We could hear different families eating, praying, and even singing as they walked in the streets. Because of the neighborhoods that surround Hebrew U, a good amount of cars still drive on Shabbat, but about 7 minutes into our walk, there were no more cars driving on the streets.  When we finally arrived at the home, three young children and two warm and welcoming parents greeted us with hugs and invited us into their home for what would become one of the greatest Shabbatot meals of my life (and for more reasons than just the delicious food).

 After we briefly introduced ourselves, we sat down, said Kiddush, the father blessed his three boys (it was one beyond adorable, no worries, everyone, I held back the tears), and then it was time to eat. The wife informed us she makes everything from scratch, including but not limited to the beautiful challah, salads, salad dressings, salmon appetizer, meal, and dessert. After we ate the salads (three different types) and salmon appetizer, I was introduced to an ancient custom I was not familiar with. Before the meat meal (and vegetarian meal) was brought to the table, we threw out all the utensils that the fish touched and then said a L’chaim with a delicious beverage the husband created, before the main dishes were brought to the table.

 As we were eating, we went around the table and introduced ourselves as well as shared a funny/memorable story about our families. The husband and wife shared a handful of stories and then they related some of them to moral lessons and Jewish laws. We spoke about hospitality, passing judgments, as well as the meaning behind our Hebrew names. After about three hours of eating and talking, dessert was brought to the table, we said birkat hamazon, and finally called it a night.

 On my walk back to campus, as we were all retelling events from the evening, I realized that Israel is one of the few places where events like this happen on a weekly basis. It is so fascinating to visit different families and see the way that each one of them does Shabbat. It amazes me time and time again how so many people open their homes to complete strangers, serve delicious meals, teach and engage us in Jewish/ Halachic discussions, and create the atmosphere to feel so connected to Shabbat as well as feel so separated from the work- week. I can only hope that I am able to someday open my home to people for a Shabbat dinners as wonderful as the ones that have been provided for me.  

 The weeks here are going by quicker and quicker. After Shabbat ended I decided it was time to get my life together as classes start this week. There were countless numbers of errands that had to be done and since there is an Israel way to everything (aka the simplest of things such as printing one page of paper turns into an hour ordeal), I needed a full day to get it all done. I just returned back from a trip to the nail salon, the bus station to get my light rail/bus pass (thanks to the young man that gave us a ticket allowing us to skip 36 people in line, and no, I don’t feel bad, people push and shove here), a trip to the Shuk in the pouring rain (much better this way, less people), a trip to get some school supplies (for sure missing Office Max right now), and the grocery store (also miss Publix, where shopping is a pleasure. Throwing all my groceries into my longchamp bag while simultaneously paying for my groceries is also an experience worth seeing).

 This past week I also finished Ulpan, visited Masada and the Dead Sea, and took a trip to Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust museum), as well as explored more of the Old City. I have had many more “It’s Israel moments”, and continue to just laugh about them. I’m starting to think that in return this country is making me a little more relaxed in my daily activities (even though the finances here are way too much money…there goes ever moving here).  Today marks the first day of classes as well as my one-month in Israel. My spring break flights have been booked (thank you, parents) and things are really in full swing. I can already tell this semester is going to be exhausting- today I have about 9 hours of class plus some extra activities. Stay tuned to hear about how my classes go next week. So until next time…xoxo

 

 

The 5 Senses of Haifa

Last week was a jam- packed week with activities every afternoon. I had an internship meeting, spent an afternoon in the Shuk, visited the Israel Museum (must go back soon), and reunited with one of my former Roshes (group leader) from Camp Ramah. Immediately after class on Thursday, my best friend and I headed to the central bus station to board the bus to Haifa for our first mini vacation. After two weeks in Jerusalem it was time to explore some of the other cities that Israel has to offer. While we were on the bus to our guest –house/hotel/hostel, I saw a decorated menorah on the sidewalk and just as I was about to tell my friend how cool that was ( yes, I have a minor obsession with Judaica artwork and yes, I know Hanukkah ended weeks ago), I realized it is totally normal. I’m in Israel. I guess it really still has not sunk in that I am actually in Israel (or even that I am here for school). This weekend allowed me to get out of the so called “Jerusalem bubble”, see some new sites, become more experienced with Israel’s public transportation, as well as reflect on the past few weeks. In doing so, I concluded that my 5 senses: hearing, taste, sight, smell, and touch each continuously play a huge role in my everyday life allowing me to explore, appreciate, and better understand Israel and Israeli culture. With this being said, I present to you my 5 senses of Haifa with bits and pieces of Jerusalem:

Hearing: From the Israeli music in the cafes to hearing Hebrew in restaurants or in passing in the street, I just love every minute of it. While I understand only minimal amounts of Hebrew, it is just fun to be constantly surrounded by the language. I really can’t wait until I have some readings and papers to write so I can go sit in some coffee shops while listening to the random Israeli music playing. I also have encountered a few language barriers with Israelis who don’t speak English and ask me questions on the street. Sometimes I am able to help, but if I’m walking around Haifa with a massive backpack and a shirt that reads “Indiana University”, do I look like a native?

Taste: Well, to say the least, the food here is incredible. After we checked into the guesthouse this weekend, we asked the receptionist for a good restaurant that had some vegetarian options. Please note we were staying on a strip with about fourteen restaurants so when the man gave us the name of a place, I was convinced that they had some kind of deal and he recommended the place to all of the guests. Little did I know, that Fatoush would become one of my top favorite restaurants. We liked it so much that we went back the second night for drinks and dessert. Aside from Haifa, there are no complaints in the land of fresh fruits, vegetables, and endless amounts of eggplant. **One thing, I do miss pineapple. Mom and Dad, bring some in March?

Sight: While in Haifa we walked around many neighborhoods (encountered a strange flea market), toured the Baha’i Gardens, Hafia Children’s Museum, Haifa Art Museum, Artists Home, and the Hafia Museum. The gardens were beautiful and learning about the people of the Bahai faith was also very fascinating. My favorite exhibit from the art museum was by Batia Shani. Read more about Batia and her interesting work here:

http://www.hma.org.il/Museum/Templates/Showpage.asp?DBID=1&LNGID=1&TMID=841&FID=524&PID=5762

All of my touring and sightseeing in Jerusalem has also been great. I definitely have succeeded in leaving the campus everyday to explore. Also, one of my friends from IU has been in Israel the entire year and just returned from his winter break of traveling (hallelujah). I’m so lucky and happy that he is here and can’t thank him enough for taking me on some adventures.

Smell: I can’t get enough of the incredible smells that exist basically anywhere and everywhere that I go. While we were walking around Haifa, I was so close to inviting myself in to some of the nearby apartments as amazing aromas were radiating from their windows. I also love the smells of my morning coffee shop and the walk from the light rail to the Shuk. The sweets and unique spices are very rare and special to Israel and easily enhance my day.

 Touch: This might be a stretch, but here it goes. This weekend I was so fortunate to meet so many warm people who helped us out on our journey. This was a last minute trip so not much planning was involved (kind of shocking since I’m a planner, but last week was just so busy). From the mother and daughter who told us a better stop to get off at on the equivalent of the Haifa light rail to the mother and son who invited us to join them at an opening exhibit at the children’s art museum and explained to us what the artist with the 3D printer was saying, and then to the aroma barista who served us coffee before they officially opened (sorry, lock your door if you aren’t open), I was reminded just how many awesome people are in this country. Side note: we did accidentally walk into the home of the guesthouse we were staying at thinking it was the hostel. The family was sitting in the living room eating a fruit dish. Their faces when we entered their house were priceless and it was confirmed that we were not the first ones to mistake their home for the guesthouse. Thanks to the Haddad family for their hospitality.

Overall, this weekend was much needed and very relaxing (even though I returned to Jerusalem super exhausted from the endless amounts of walking and early mornings). When we got back,I felt a certain sense of comfort. It might be that Jerusalem is starting to feel like home, but I instantly felt different than I did in Haifa. I am looking forward to planning some more trips around Israel as well as finalizing spring break plans. Great news- only THREE more days left of Ulpan, ONE week until classes start, and about 4.5 weeks until the parents arrive!!!! That’s about all for now so until next time….xoxo

It’s Israel…

I have adapted a new phrase: It’s Israel. This is my new explanation for everything during the next few months. It is not news to me that Israel is a unique and special country, but I recently have had a few episodes which have lead me to accept and embrace the Israeli culture. 

#1: Last week I met one of my friend’s in the Old City. She is a cantorial student and has been living in Jerusalem since August. My friend told us that we were going to visit her favorite shop- little did I know that entailed all of the shop owners greeting us with hugs and kisses. They showed us the jewelry and scarves and then taught us how to tie scarves in all sorts of ways and also served us delicious tea. Of course I had to buy a scarf and promise to return soon to buy a tapestry for my room. I am planning for them to know me by name at the end of these few months. We then walked to the Kotel and marriv was happening. I have never been there for a service and it was just too cool and a very powerful few moments (I witnessed the longest Amidah ever).

 #2: Once Shabbat ended, we got ready to go to a dinner at a family’s house that hosts all Indiana University students each semester. My friend called asking for two cabs at 6:15pm. We arrived at the gates by 6:12pm and a cab was already there. My friend asked if it was our cab and of course the driver said yes because he wanted our business. Group one got into the cab and two seconds later two more cabs pulled up. Four of us got in the second cab just as the driver of the vacant cab got out of his car and yelled at us. He was livid that the first group got in the other cab leaving him with no business. After he basically bitched us out (pardon my language), the driver started to drive us to our destination and as we were entering the neighborhood the previous cab was leaving. Our driver decided to stop and yell at him. This would have been all good and dandy except that the meter was running and we ended up paying for their screaming match.    

 #3: Once the dinner was over we then had to take another cab back to campus. Luckily we had better luck this time. I knew from the second we got in the car and a “Shavua Tov” song was playing that this car ride would be one for the books. Our driver was an old cute man and told us his entire life story. He gave us the name of an apparently cute coffees shop in some neighborhood and then agreed with us that Ben Sira Hummus was the best hummus in Jerusalem. We asked for his business card and found out his son is also a cab driver. We learned that his son has a one year old daughter and when we asked what her name was, the driver forgot and responded with a, “uhh..oh..no…oy vey”. Good news: he finally remembered her name. This driver really won me over when he took us the short cut way and saved us some money.

 #4: When my three IU roommates arrived back at the apartment some of our friends were waiting for us to go out to celebrate another friend’s birthday. I walked into my room and 30 seconds later my room was bombarded with people and the door was slammed shut. Why? A cat somehow made its way into the apartment. Israel is filled with hundreds of stray cats and anyone who has been to Israel with me before knows that I am terrified of them and want nothing to do with them. Thank you to my friend with a brave soul who magically removed the cat from the apartment.

 #5: I ordered coffee at Aroma in Hebrew the other day and the cashier responded in Hebrew. It was only a few words so I was able to follow along perfectly. The next day I decided to continue ordering in Hebrew. Instead of just taking my credit card and moving on, he had to make a conversation with me. He asked if I made allyiah, to which I said no. Then he asked if I was in Ulpan, which I am. Then he kept going and asked what I was doing after Ulpan. By this time I lost him and had to switch to English. It all turned out well though because he gave me not one, but two pieces of chocolate with my coffee.

 #6: At Shabbat dinner the other night, I got up from the table to go perform the ritual washing of the hands. A girl behind me decided to ask if she needed to TEACH me how to wash. I was very taken back by this since it is a custom I am very familiar with. I decided that since it was Shabbat to politely say no thank you, wish the girl a Shabbat Shalom, and realize she was probably just trying to be nice since there are people here from all sorts of backgrounds.

 #7: I went into town for a meeting (this meeting was the only thing getting me through Ulpan. I’m going through withdrawal from not having my various weekly meetings like I do at IU). Once I was finished with the meeting I decided to walk around a little by myself. I stopped in an art gallery to see some work by one of my new favorite artists. The saleslady wanted to know if the $18,000 picture was for my parents (hey mom and dad, I’d love one of them by the way…). After my personal art exploration I went to a drug store and got yelled at for testing the lotion. Then I learned that average products that would cost $8-10 in the States cost about $20-30 in Israel. Since I am still not over the stressful 50lb- packing extravaganza, I decided to purchase what I needed and move on with my day (aka make my second visit to Aroma).

 This concludes the first of my “It’s Israel” stories. All in all everything is going smoothly and I am sailing through Ulpan (9 more days!!!!!!!!!). I really don’t even think it has hit me that I’m in Israel. When I finally had my first three hours of alone time and was walking around Jerusalem it felt like some sort of dream. Who knows if it will ever really hit me that I am here living, studying, and exploring one of the most incredible countries. This week I have a few things planned as well as a few reunions with friends who I haven’t seen in awhile. I’m looking forward to getting my schedule finalized for when classes start (Feb 16 can’t come sooner) as well as finishing some Spring break plans (hopefully…..). Stay tuned for these exciting announcements. Happy Superbowl Sunday! You know I’ll be watching from start to finish…not. Hope all is well with all of you! Much love xoxo

P.S. My first FOMO moment of the semester happened. I found out that I’m a grandma! My little in ADPi, Molly (aka the world’s greatest gal ever) just got her little!!!! Welcome to the family Bari!!!!! Skype date ASAP!!

First Weekly Update

 Hello again! Since my last post things have really picked up over here. I am about 93% settled into my room and apartment. The clothes have been folded and put into the closet, a few pictures have been hung up  (I need to work on purchasing some Judaic artwork to spice up the white walls), and I did my first load of laundry! My roommates and I collectively purchased the necessary items and are figuring out if there is anything else we need. We also finally figured out how to work the a/c and heat. Everything is slowly falling into place and I am getting more adjusted each day (even to the cats and endless smoking). As I write this post I am sitting in aroma café (still working on the internet in the apartment) listening to the awesome Hebrew music playing in the background and chatting with my new friends while we all catch up on emails and the many social networks. Here is my update on the past few days:

 Friday afternoon I returned from a great trip from the desert. After my super easy test in Ulpan on Thursday we headed back to the apartment, grabbed our stuff, and boarded the bus for our 24- hour excursion to Mitzpe Ramon and Ein Ovdat. From the second we boarded the bus and I was yelled at for not having a hat (sorry, no room for hats with the 50lb limit), I felt like I was on another summer program. Between the schoomzing, endless games of Jewish geography, and just attempting to get comfortable with each other, the three -hour drive was just like the first few days of a USY on Wheels/ Pilgrimage program. I must say that it has helped having some great friends from IU and has made it easier to make to new friends.

 We arrived around 6pm to the hostel and I was instantly reminded of the time I stayed there while on Pilgrimage in 2010. We ate dinner and left for one of my FAVORITE hikes of all time. When I was in Israel with Pilgrimage we did a 24-hour desert experience and let me tell you…it was quite the experience. Anyways, we slept under stars that night and they were the absolute most beautiful stars I had ever seen. The image from that summer night has never left me and I was so lucky to see those stars during this trip. It was a little foggy in Israel on Thursday so I was worried we wouldn’t be able to see the stars shining so bright and so clear, but have no fear, they were there and as beautiful as ever. We walked for a little bit (in the Havarim Galley), laid down and star glazed (hilarious moment when the Israeli smelled someone smoking and told him he was going to put the cigarette out on his face if he didn’t do it himself- I got a kick out of this since I am learning to adjust to constantly walking around smelling like an ash tray from all the smoking). I still can’t describe how gorgeous the stars are in the desert and wish there was a way to photograph it for all of you to see.  

 Friday morning we woke up early (after only getting a few hours of sleep because the Israeli staff members were talking SUPER loud in the hallway that night until 3am…), ate breakfast, and boarded the bus for the second hike and a visit to David Ben Gurion’s grave. We hiked for about two hours and it was very nice, especially since it was not 100 degrees out. After the hike we came back to Jerusalem and got ready for Shabbat. I really wanted to go explore a synagogue before attending the Hebrew U Shabbat Dinner, but because of timing, I decided to rest a little and meet up with my new friends for Shabbat dinner. After dinner, my apartment hosted a small oneg so we all continued to schoomze for the rest of the evening. It was the perfect end to the first week!

 Once Shabbat ended a few friends and I headed into town for a night out with one of my friends from IU who is currently in cantorial school here. I have been anxiously awaiting our reunion and it was definitely a great night catching up and hearing everything she has to say about Jerusalem (she even gave me a business card for a manicure/pedicure place).  I plan to see her very frequently and we have already planned to meet up in the Old City this week.

 Sunday started my second week of Ulpan and it has completely thrown me off because a) I have had three- day weekends for a while and b) I never have class on Sunday. Luckily I registered for classes today and I do not have any Sunday classes. So here’s to continuing three- day weekends and a work week starting on Monday! After Ulpan, I went on a four hour walking tour of Jerusalem. We walked through little neighborhoods (and my favorite Yemin Moshe) and major streets. The tour guides just wanted to give us a taste of the city as well as show us how to get from place to place. Once the tour was over I went to a free BBQ, hung out with some friends, and then had a visit from one of my co- staff members from the summer who is an Israeli student at Hebrew University. I have been trying to take advantageous of the free events on campus this week to see if there are any I want to get involved in this semester. I am also making it a goal to get out of the “Rothberg bubble” and enter the city a few times a week. To say the least, I didn’t come here just to do homework and there are plenty of things to do and see.

 This week is an extra long week because I have Ulpan on Friday morning, but it is already flying by.  I have another two weeks of Ulpan and then classes FINALLY start. I am really looking forward to having a variety of subjects (instead of Hebrew for four hours a day) as well as an internship. Having two days a week with no class will hopefully allow plenty of time to do my work, travel, have some free time, and catch up with all of you.

 I hope you are all having a great week and staying warm! Until next time…xoxo

 

 

 

Forever Friends

This post is dedicated to my best friend of 19 years.

 

“Friends are guides at certain points in your life, standing next to you for certain, sometimes multiple, sometimes limitless chapters in your life”

 I recently read an article titled “Friendships Aren’t For Ever”. I thought the title was a very bold and daring statement and continued to read why the author believes friendships aren’t forever. The article went on to explain that there are a handful of people who were best friends in her past, and are no longer in her present. She does not describe these people as “ex- best friends” but rather as people who have had a role in her life for years, but for whatever reason, is not a friend that she keeps today. She tells how we grow up, we change, and the friends we thought we would never grow out of just simply don’t make sense in our lives any more.

 I don’t really agree with the author that friendships are not forever. It is not fair for me to judge her and her friends (or lack thereof), but I believe that just because someone does not play an active role in my life does not mean he or she is not a friend. For me, my friendships are one of the most treasured and special things in my life. No matter if it is my friend of 19 years or only a few months, I can’t imagine my life without these individuals. I have been very fortunate to make different friends from all over the country through many different experiences (as well as learn how to maintain them through the distance). Currently, I am making new friends, reuniting with friends I haven’t seen in months or even years, as well as creating more memories with friends who go to school with me. I know that when I return in May, I might lose touch with some of these people or never see them again, but I do know that they will have helped create my semester abroad.

 Some of you might be asking why I am sharing this with you in my blog. I feel that while I have some friends I speak to everyday or some only a few times a week or month, I am carrying a piece of each one of them here with me in Israel (along with many memories from my summer with Group 7 on USY Israel Poland/Pilgrimage). Yes, I have the many pictures as frequent reminders, but each friend has impacted my life and helped shape my experiences that one way or another that has played a role in leading me here. It might have been the contagious passion and love for Israel of some that has rubbed off on me, the sheer excitement that others had when I told them what I was doing for the semester, or just the love and support from the rest as I said my goodbyes.

 Today is the 21st birthday of my oldest and closest friend. Tons and tons of great memories from our friendship come from our birthday celebrations (remember the salad, L?). I wish I could be in the states to celebrate this one with her today. This is not the first birthday we have been apart, but as I have started my semester abroad and as I write this post, it is weird to think this is only like the second or third program I have participated in that she has not been by my side. This only makes me realize that as we create our own paths in life, no matter where we are, we will still be friends.

 While of course there are people who were once best friends of mine or even just friends that don’t play a role in my life today, I don’t think our friendship is over. If I have learned anything by being in Israel these past few days and after a few reunions of friends from my past (talk about running into a camp friend from years ago after I left Hebrew class the other day), people really do enter your life for a reason. Even if you lose touch, there is still time and space for them to reenter, if you allow it. Luckily, I know that my 21 -year old best friend is a lifetime friend. I am so fortunate and lucky to have her and her family be such a huge part of my life. While we have grown up and changed, I believe that regardless of how often I speak to her or any of my other friends, each individual person has come into my life for a purpose (even if I don’t know what it is). I am so thankful for all of my amazing friends here and in the states and can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store for all of us!  

 So, Happy Birthday, L! Have the best day ever and as your wise dad once told me, “enjoy 21 responsibly”. I love you! xoxo

 

Greetings From Israel

Shalom from Jerusalem. It is currently Wednesday, January 22, 8:36pm and I am officially in Israel. There is no way to describe the emotions I have gone through these past three days. I don’t even think it has hit me that I have arrived and the semester has begun (and that I have homework to do each day).

The plane ride was great and I could not have asked for a better trip. I was expecting us to sit on the runway for over an hour like I did this past summer when I flew to Israel with my dad, but it was smooth sailing and we took off only 20 minutes late. I was on the group flight with about half of the participants in my program so when we landed we all got our luggage and boarded a bus with the destination of our apartments next to the Hebrew University campus.

I walked into my apartment alone (my two friends/roommates from IU had to go take a Hebrew placement exam) and was greeted by my two other roommates who I did not know. After just a few days I feel like I have known them forever. They are absolutely incredible. A day has not gone by that we are not so grateful for the good luck we received of being placed together. 

The rest of Monday is a total blur however that is probably a good thing because it was one of the most overwhelming days of my life for more reasons than can even be explained through writing. After the rest of my roommates returned to the apartment we went to participate in some mandatory sessions. Following the sessions we were brought to a mall to go on a hunt for random things we needed such as pillows, blankets, kitchen utensils, etc. Normally I would have been beyond thrilled to be at a mall within 24 hours of arriving in a new city, but by this time I was beyond exhausted and was not totally pleased with the items that were in the store. No worries though, I managed to find a pillow to sleep on that night even though I did not get much sleep. Thanks to you wonderful friends who spoke to me that night and kept me entertained in the wee hours of the morning when I should have been getting some sleep.

Anyways, each hour of each day has drastically improved. On Tuesday morning (the next day after I got maybe three hours of sleep) we began ulpan, the five -hour a day Hebrew program. It took me about three hours into the day to realize that I had started school. Also, I luckily was put into a class that is giving me a great deal of review and better foundation. After taking four semesters of Hebrew at IU, I decided it was best for me to relearn some things. My teacher is so great. I use to be terrified of Hebrew class but the structure of the class here is so much more relaxed (as is everything). I also would describe my class as a bunch of people who have different backgrounds in Hebrew and are to the point where it is a big mush in their heads and that perfectly describes me. No worries though, I have understood everything the teacher says and she even sometimes speaks English which really throws me off since my former Hebrew teachers would rather us not understand something than speak English (luckily I met some of my best friends in Hebrew class at IU and they were always there to help). Today Anat, my teacher, informed us we have a test tomorrow. It is suppose to be review so wish me luck….less than 72 hours in the country and I already have a test.

During the time I haven’t been in class I have learned how to use the light rail, which I can best describe as an above ground subway to go into the heart of the city to walk, eat, and shop.The light rail goes straight through Jerusalem and is sooooo convenient (except when you get kicked off due to an apparent suspicious item on board…no worries, everyone, all is totally fine, and it was simply a welcome to Israel message). Because I have ulpan from 9-2pm each day, I plan on going into the city and exploring as well as checking out coffee shops to do my hebrew homework. Must get the homework done before I can have some fun! Last night we had an incredible dinner outside and spent the rest of the evening hanging out in the city and this afternoon we went to the shuk (market) to purchase some fruits and veggies as well as some apartment appliances.

  Because we got kicked off of the light rail on our way to purchase an unlimited light rail pass, we ended up going to dinner and taking a break for the first time all day. I feel like I have been on the go since I got here and it isn’t stopping as I am going out of Jerusalem tomorrow to go on an overnight hike. I am currently sitting at a cute café down the street from my apartment with my roommates as we don’t have internet in our apartment and long story short…it probably won’t be happening for a long time. Thankfully my phone has allowed me to stay in contact as well as respond to all necessary emails.

 On the plane one of the flight attendants told a girl in the row next to me that there is an “Israel way” to ask for things. She had kindly asked for a glass of water and he told her that in Israel you say, “I want water” because in America people are too nice and Israeli’s don’t have the same level of manners. While that may come off to be somewhat cold, and yesterday I did get yelled at for taking to long to purchase a light rail ticket, the amount of positive Israeli encounters I have already have had are simply beautiful. From waiters, to random people on the streets, to my handful of Israeli friends that have offered help, to the barista that just gave us free dessert, and finally to the other barista at aroma that has helped me figure out  (only took two visits) how to order the equivalent of a Starbucks iced soy latte (for those wondering, it is an iced cappuccino). This semester is already off to a great start and I can’t wait to see what is to come. Miss and love you all! Until next time, Shabbat Shalom. xoxo