Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Real classes plus high holidays equals a crazy time

So I know it has been a really long time since I've written anything on this blog. What can I say?... It's been really busy here. I finished ulpan a couple of weeks ago and since then have started real classes. After ulpan we got a couple day break so I traveled to Eilat with a few friends. Eilat is a beautiful city all the way south (basically in the desert) in Israel that has some great beaches. It was a wonderful chance to relax and just lay out in the sun while not having to worry about anything. The one thing about going to the desert in Israel at the end of the summer was that it was HOT! We all basically melted, but being by the ocean helped a lot, and overall I had a great time.

A lot of great things did happen while ulpan was still going on, so I'm going to attempt to give a little rundown of the major ones (it's been a while so hopefully I don't forget anything, but if I do it will be my own fault for not writing sooner, and you won't know the difference anyway). Some awesome events:

1. The Israel wine festival: The Israel Museum, which has just re-opened after a multi-year and multi-million dollar renovation put on a wine festival with all of the local Israeli wines. Israel has a bunch of vineyards/wineries in the North, and they actually produce some pretty decent stuff. The festival was outdoors with a beautiful view of Jerusalem. Basically, once we got inside, we got a wine glass (which was ours to keep - desperately needed for my apartment where there was only a single glass when i got there. maybe the people before me went to the wine festival the year before and that's why they only had one???) and then we were free to wander around for hours to a bunch of different stands that represented different wineries, AND taste them all! It was definitely a wonderful night.

2. Ulpan class performances and Beit Cafe: Ulpan was divided into levels/classes called kitot (kitah is the singular). For the middle and end of ulpan each kitah had to perform a Hebrew song. Our kitah just happened to be the best out of everyone (you can ask anyone - they will tell you). The first song was a well known Israeli song, and for the end we re-wrote hebrew words about our class to the tune of thriller and did some awesome MJ choreography. The Beit Cafe (kind of a talent show) also involved singing. I have never sung so much in my life as I do here! Me and a couple friends put together a great little song poking fun at how much we pray to the Beatles' 8 Days a Week. I have a youtube account http://www.youtube.com/alexisinisrael where the videos are up/being put up. They are also all on my facebook.

Jerusalem Art Festival and Tel Aviv Art Fair: There was a two week festival in the artist's colony in Jerusalem which just happens to be down the street and down a big hill from my school. Each night they had a different musical performance. The people who performed were actually REALLY famous Israeli musicians such as David Broza and Ivri Lider. I mainly went for the art/jewelry and I would say I was pretty successful. The next weekend I went to Tel Aviv on what happened to be one of the hottest days that I've been here for. There's a great art fair that happens every Tuesday and Friday in Tel Aviv, so since we always have school on Tuesdays I took a little day trip on a Friday. I left early in the morning and was back in time for Shabbat. Tel Aviv is always hotter and more humid than Jerusalem so I, as well as everyone I was with essentially melted (the art fair is of course outdoors). Two of my friends actually bought necklaces just because the person selling them was giving out wet-wipes. Besides from the heat-stroke and the melting, I loved the art fair, got some really cool pieces from an artist that I had been seeking out, and I plan to go back again sometime soon now that the weather is cooling down here.

This week is the first full week of classes. It is technically the third week we have been in school but the first one was short because we had a half week after ulpan break, and last week got cut short by Rosh Hashanah. So far, experiencing services in Israel has been a really interesting experience. We have services at HUC which are very standard/Americanized like what I'm used to at home, but there are also countless places in Israel outside of the HUC bubble to explore. I've liked some of them a lot, and strongly disliked some others, but I'm glad to be exploring places outside of my usual comfort zone. All the teachers here are always telling us that we are here for the year to be able to take advantage of all that Israel has to offer, and that we should take advantage of what is available here, because while there is a lot of Jewish culture in America, we wont be able to find the kind of variety that exists here anywhere else. I am definitely working to get out and explore more, but it is hard to get out of the HUC bubble when we are spending soooooo much time there everyday and always have a whole lot of work to do.

This was my first Rosh Hashanah outside of America, and I really had no idea what to expect celebrating the High Holidays in Israel which is so far away from home, with people other than my family, and in a place where Judaism in ingrained within the daily functioning of society. For Erev Rosh Hashanah (the night when it began - Jewish days/holidays start at sundown) I had a really nice dinner at my house. People are always having potluck Shabbat dinners here, but since some people keep kosher, are vegetarians, etc; the meals often turn into vegetarian dinners based around pasta. Those can be really great, but I wanted something different that made it feel like a Jewish holiday to me so I decided to make brisket. I was pretty worried about if it would be logistically possible... but it turned out perfect and was actually a bit of an adventure. I've already talked about the shuk on here (the market), and that is where i went to get the brisket. First I had to do some serious metric system conversion and figure out how the amount of pounds I needed converted into kilos. Then when I asked the butcher if he had brisket, he pointed to a chunk of meat that looked nothing like any brisket I had ever seen. I was a little worried, but bought the meat, a brand new pot that could actually fit all of it (like 2.2 kilos), and preceded to cook away. I also made a great salad that I remembered my mom always making with oranges, pomegranate seeds, and goat cheese (pomegranates are a traditional/symbolic food to have during Rosh Hashanah and were absolutely everywhere in the stores/markets). The dinner was a great success! The next day I went to services at HUC, and then one of my friends had a new years party/cook out at his place. All around it was a pretty good holiday.

I forgot to mention that for Slichot (a service that is basically translated to forgiveness. The High Holidays are a time to ask for forgiveness for any wrongdoings and repent which lead to Yom Kippur which is the day of atonement) I went to services for the first time. Slichot happened the Saturday night before Yom Kippur, and traditionally there is a service that falls late at night so that it is midnight during the service allowing you to go from one day to another. HUC had a really small service in the evening to allow us to venture out into the community later that night for other services. One really nice things about the High Holidays (HH) is that the cantorial students all get pulpits around Israel where they help lead services. Some of them are at HUC, and it was so nice to have their music added to the services in conjunction with the traditional HH melodies. When one of my classmates Sarah sang Aveinu Malkeinu (a traditional HH prayer/song) at the end of the HUC service, after which I felt completely transported into the HH mood. Another one of my classmates got a spot performing in the choir at the Great Synagogue which is a very famous, very giant, very ornate, and VERY orthodox synagogue that just happens to be right up the street from me. The choir there is very prestigious and well known, and they have a very famous cantor. I decided to go to check it out (I figured it would be a good chance to check out an Orthodox service with the assumption that I could then cross that off of my check list) and support Isidoro (my classmate who was singing - it is a huge deal that he got that gig). That service definitely re-confirmed that I just plain do not like orthodox prayer. The women were in a section above the men (basically in the sky we were so high up). The other really interesting/big deal detail of this service was that the chief rabbi of Israel came to speak. Israel is partly run by a religious authority, and this guy is the head of it. He is basically ultra ultra orthodox and opposes everything I believe in. Among many other things he doesn't recognize reform judaism as having any kind of legitimacy, and especially would NEVER recognize me as a rabbi because I am a women. Basically this guy is not my friend, but it was still really interesting getting to see him. ( I couldn't hear what he was saying of course because I was sitting in the sky.) To be fair, the Great Synagogue was a truly beautiful and ornate venue and the music there really was beautiful. It is funny because the Slichot service there is know for people coming with video cameras etc to record the service (this would not be allowed on Shabbat when they are not allowed to use electricity.) The service started at 10 and I got home around 12:30 am after leaving early.

My classes so far have been really great. To get an idea of my schedule, I have class Sunday - Thursday. Each day we start at 8:30 and go till variations of 3 to 6:15. It is basically like being back in high school with having class straight through the day. Yom Kippur is starting this Friday evening and I am really looking forward to it. Services are in a beautiful part of HUC that looks over the old city and happens to be one of my absolute favorite views of Jerusalem. I can only imagine how amazing it will be to have Kol Nidre (the first service of Yom Kippur), which is one of my favorite services, while watching the sun set over the old city of Jerusalem. I will definitely post about it after it happens.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The School Part of Rabbinical School has Begun

So I have officially started rabbinical school! Ulpan (summer intensive hebrew class) began last week; so I'm about a week and a half in now. I'm originally got placed in bet (the 2nd level) but moved up to gimel (third level) because bet was wayyyy too easy. I've already had my first test (yesterday) and I think it went pretty well. I know I haven't written anything in a while, but I have been unbelievably busy! I will attempt a brief overview of the last week and a half.

Orientation week Shabbat (7/16/10):
Two Shabbats ago our class was altogether at HUC. We had Friday night services on campus followed by a great dinner outside in the academic building area (pictures of my beautiful campus can be seen on facebook). Somehow a song session broke out after the dinner, and even though I never went to Jewish summer camp, my experience on my NFTY trip (youth group Israel trip) and at Hillel definitely helped me to know the tunes and happily participate! Saturday morning I went to services at HUC again (it is basically "strongly recommended" that we go to all of the summer morning services if we are in town aka we have to). After services I went over to some friends' apartment and made what has become our traditional Shabbat morning brunch. I'm having it at my apartment this week! There is a really cool park/garden/view point behind my school, and we organized Havdalah there (the ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat). If you've ever heard a stereotype about reform rabbis playing guitars... it's kind of true. There were soooo many guitars in one place, but it worked out really nicely!

Ulpan Week 1:
Ulpan began two Sundays ago (July 18). I already mentioned that ulpan is hebrew but it is basically 4.5 hours a day of class that you can only speak hebrew in (sometimes english pops up if there is a word that has to be translated that we don't know). My teacher's name is Oznat, and I like her a lot. We have her Sun - Tues and then have a different teacher Sarah on Wednesday. Sarah is a lot less great, so I guess it's a good thing she's only once a week. On Sunday I also had my first cantillation class (ulpan and cantillation are the two summer classes and they last for 6 weeks). Cantillation is the class where we learn trope which is essentially what you need to chant from the Torah. They had two sessions of the class; the first being for people with little to no experience with trope/reading music and the second one was for people who did. I of course went to the first one. The teacher's name is Cantor Tamar Havilio and we came to find out that her name used to be Heather Phepher and she changed it to Tamar when she moved to Israel. The Havilio part came in when she married and old Sephardic family that has been in Israel for 900 years (she really loves telling us about this part, and we can't help but love making fun of it a little). Cantillation was slightly terrifying but I got through it.

That same day (I was gone from 8am - 10pm) I went on a great tour through the old city called "Walking the Psalms in Jerusalem" with Rabbi Wilfond (HUC staff member also known as "Gingy"), where we used the psalms as our guidebook through the ancient part of Jerusalem. It was amazing! I also have pictures from that on my facebook and am in the process of creating a youtube channel to put some videos up.

Sunset Monday - sunset Tuesday was the holiday of Tisha B'Av which commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples (among other tragic events in Jewish history). It is supposed to be the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. It was really cool to be in Jerusalem so close to where the events that the holiday is based on occurred (the kotel/western wall/wailing wall in the old city is the remnants of the platform on which the 2nd Temple used to sit). I still can't understand why we had school that day considering it is a major holiday where people traditionally fast. The main school offices were closed, and even our teacher said it sucked that we had to be there. I think she felt bad for us so she didn't give us any homework. Definitely a bright side to the "saddest" day of the year.

We have ulpan Sunday through Wednesday and then Thursdays we have various other activities. This past Thursday the interns organized a Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day) where we got to choose an activity in Jerusalem from a bunch of things that they had put together. I chose to go to the Tavor House and then the Museum on the Seam. The Tavor House is the Swedish Theological Institute, and my group (of 6 people) met with a guy named Neils who showed us around, told us about the history of the institute, and then facilitated a great interfaith discussion about Jerusalem and Israel. I really enjoyed talking to Neils, and plan on being in touch so that we can get together in the future and talk more.

From the Tavor House our group walked to the Museum on the Seam which is a socio-political contemporary art museum. They are actually the ones that came up with the "coexist" bumper stickers with the different symbols in place of the letters that can be seen all over America. We had a little bit of an adventure when walking from the Tavor House to the museum. Jerusalem has a VERY religious neighborhood called Meah Shearim which is basically home to only ultra ultra ultra orthodox people. Some of these people are the fanatics that often set dumpsters on fire in protest of things like building parking lots that will be open on Shabbat. Unless you are completely covered up... you do not want to walk through this area. If anyone saw the movie Bruno, this is the neighborhood where he gets chased by religious people for basically wearing underwear. When we were walking to the museum, I saw that we were going in the direction of this neighborhood, and made sure we did not go in. We basically ended up walking in a street that borders the neighborhood so we walked a little faster than normal, kept our heads down, and avoided getting too close to any balconies (Meah Shearim is know for pouring dirty water on people that they don't think are dressed appropriately). We finally got to the end of the street which was a little bit of a dead end so had to jump over a short wall to get to the main street. It was a small step up to get onto the wall, but then a pretty legitimate jump down. When we had to meet back up with all of the other groups at school at the end of the day and talk about our experiences this was definitely one of our highlights.

Shabbat/Tel Aviv:
This past week's Shabbat was great! There is a weekly progressive Shabbat service on Friday evenings at the Tel Aviv port, and we picked this past week as the time that everyone from school could be there together. I got to sleep in Friday morning which was AMAZING after getting up early every day. There are very few days that we get to sleep in because the week is Sunday-Thursday and we have to be at morning services on Saturdays at 9:30. Friday is really the only day to sleep late. I got up, got brunch at a great cafe right near my house where I had shakshuka for the first time. It's basically an egg dish with tomatoes and other stuff thrown in. Wikipedia defines it as "a Middle Eastern dish consisting of poached or fried eggs cooked in a sauce of tomatoes, peppers, onions, and spices (often including cumin, turmeric, and chillies), and usually served with white bread."

After brunch we caught a sherut (inexpensive van taxi) to Tel Aviv which is less than an hour away. It is extremely amazing but also weird how easy it is to get to Tel Aviv especially because of how very different it is from Jerusalem. It really is like going to an opposite world. Where Jerusalem is very religious, Tel Aviv is all about the fun and party. I traveled with my friends Liz and Yael, and we went straight to the beach where we met up with some other classmates. Getting to relax at the beach after my first week of ulpan was so amazing and necessary. When the day started turning into evening, we went to the port where the service was. This service is known to attract a crowd at least ten times bigger than any single progressive service in Israel. There were a bunch of instruments and singers leading the services as the sun was setting. While it may not have been the most prayer oriented service I've been to, it was absolutely beautiful to be able to watch the sun go down over the water. Another highlight of this trip was that after services, I went out to dinner where I proceeded to eat three different types of shellfish (this would never happen in Jerusalem). I absolutely love Jerusalem but there was something about being in Tel Aviv on Shabbat where I was listening to live music and eating non-kosher food that just felt so amazing and freeing after only being in Jerusalem for so many weeks. (It's ok that I'm saying this because I was having dinner with a current 5th year student, other classmates, and another rabbi who were all enjoying it just as much!)

Shabbat morning I went to HUC services and then went back to Liz, Nina, and Yael's apartment to make brunch. In Jewish tradition Shabbat is a day of rest where if you follow Jewish law more traditionally, you don't do any work or use electricity or fire of any kind. This really doesn't leave a whole lot to do, so a lovely tradition known as the Shabbat nap developed. While I don't keep Shabbat in the traditional sense, this past week I decided to fully embrace the tradition of the Shabbat nap, and I think this will become a regular thing. To lay it out... my basic Saturday schedule now looks like this: services, shabbat lunch, nap, wake up and do something outside, go to havdalah, and then various evening activities.

This past week I also discovered an amazing restaurant right across the street from my neighborhood called Restobar that is open on Shabbat which equals non kosher meaning that I got a salad with grilled chicken AND cheese (kosher food doesn't allow you to mix milk and meat). Everyone I was with basically decided that this was our new favorite place. After dinner there was havdalah in the same location it was last week, and then some people came over to my place to watch a movie (the movie of choice was Hair which should be shocking if you know me well).

Ulpan Week 2:
This past week was pretty quiet considering we are really getting into the swing of things with school. As I already mentioned I had my first test yesterday. It was on a lot of grammatical concepts that were review but the fun part was the 75 word vocab sheet that the teacher gave us to know for the test (of which i probably knew 5-10 of the words beforehand). I also had my second cantillation class this week. Surprisingly I am nowhere near the worst person in the class and actually hit all of the notes I was supposed to.

I realize that my attempt at being brief didn't go so well, but I will really try to stay more on top of posting so that I don't have to put so much in one post. If you are regularly reading this, follow me or feel free to leave comments.

L'hitraot (goodbye for now)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Shabbat, Start of School, and Sabras

I know it's been a while since my last post but I have been super busy. This is my attempt at a recap of the past week.

Last Shabbat was my second in Jerusalem, and I had a great time. I went to services at Har-El synagogue which is a reform synagogue about 5 minutes away from where I live (that was a great discovery!). I am pleasantly surprised by the number of progressive synagogues that I am coming across/hearing about. I didn't know of any in Jerusalem other than Kol HaNeshama where I went the first week. Har-El is definitely more my cup of tea. There is an American cantor who graduated from HUC and a female Israeli rabbi. Most importantly... there's a guitar which I absolutely love in services!

After services I went to dinner at Josh (our rabbinical intern's house). His fiance who I have met a couple times in Cinci is in town so I got to catch up with her and get to know the other two interns and a few of my classmates a little better. Dinner was surprisingly amazing! It turns out Josh is a great cook and he made us figs stuffed with chicken and vegies in a tamarind sauce. Yum!

Saturday I went to a great park called gan saker. It is kind of near me meaning that it is walkable but a crazy curvy and steep hike downhill. Of course that meant that to come home I basically had to climb a mountain. No matter where you go in Jerusalem, there will be hills! Everyone in our class says that regardless of what we get out of the year, we will be leaving with some very defined calves. In the park my friend Brian taught me how to play sheishbeish (backgammon) and we threw around a frisbee for a little while. It was a perfect way to spend the afternoon. This week I will be exploring a different park that I used to hang out in all the time when I was here two summers ago.

Last Shabbat also happened to be HUC alumni Shabbat. They had speakers and events going on all day but I just went to havdalah that evening. Havdalah means separation, and it is a beautiful ceremony at the end of Shabbat that symbolizes the separation of Shabbat from the rest of the week. We had the service outside by the fountains, and it was really nice with all of the current/future rabbis, cantors, and educators participating. If you have looked at the pictures of my campus that I put up on facebook, you know it is gorgeous!

On Sunday I entertained people in my apartment for the first time! We have more common space than anyone's apartment that I have seen so far, so I definitely have been trying to take advantage of it. I cooked my parmesan crusted chicken with white wine lemon caper sauce for five people and I would say it was received extremely well! One of the best things about cooking here is the shuk (market place). Last week I went and got 3 tomatoes, 2 cucumbers, 2 giant ears of corn, and about a kilo of grapes for 11 shekels (less than 4 dollars). It is cheap and amazing because everything is so fresh. I swear vegetables taste ten times better here than they do back in America.

While the Israeli week starts on Sunday, HUC gave us a break and started orientation this past Monday. Although I had gotten to know most of my classmates in the past week, orientation was a nice chance to meet everyone else. The week has been super busy! We have basically had 9 hour days filled with speakers, small breakout groups, tiyuls (hike/walk things), and of course praying. While this definitely wasn't the most fun week, they did break the days into clever categories with a different theme related to why we're here/who we are each day.

On Tuesday we had a picnic lunch where we brought a main course for ourselves and then something to share with the group. This was the day where I discovered my extreme hatred of sabras. Many people are at least familiar with the word sabra because it is the name of amazing American hummus. A sabra is like a cactus fruit and also happens to be a nickname for native Israelis because they are sharp and prickly on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. Someone ended up bringing these to the picnic and no one was exactly warned about their cactus-like features which lead to many of my classmates (myself included) with a bunch of tiny and almost invisible spikes in our hands. While they are really really small, they really really hurt. I have definitely learned my lesson about touching sabras, and will never make the same mistake again. I'm pretty sure I've still got a spike or two left in my hand.

To backtrack a little bit, Monday was Rosh Hodesh (the beginning of the Hebrew month of Av). There is an organization in Israel called Women of the Wall who are progressive Jews that pray at the kotel (western wall) while wearing tallit, kippot, and singing loudly. The kotel area is under the control of the chief rabbinate who are ultra-orthodox Jews that basically don't believe that women should be doing any of those things. The WOW (women of the wall) often get yelled at and have things thrown at them by the charedim (ultra-orthodox) people that are praying in the area. This past week the leader of WOW Anat Hoffman was arrested for carrying a Torah and singing (the chief rabbinate also believes that women should not be allowed to read from the Torah). I wish I could have been there, but I definitely will be going every month from now on.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

My Soldiers

I've already mentioned that I live on the same block with BB (Netanyahu... the Prime Minister). So basically every time that I need to leave my neighborhood, I walk past two security posts. For people not used to Israel, there are many soldiers that routinely carry around very large guns (I think they are m-16s but really just don't have the gun knowledge to know for sure). I had really hoped that since I walked by every day, the soldiers would recognize me and we would learn each others names to be able to greet each other. While many said that this was complete wishful thinking; it has totally happened! Yesterday I had many errands to run, so I was going back and forth through the gates to the same exit (probable 2-3 times within a couple of hours). When I was going back in the second time I looked to say shalom (hi) to one of the soldiers sitting at the post and she asked me in Hebrew where I was going/what I was doing. I explained (in perfect Hebrew) that I lived on Balfour (the street we were on) and was going to my apartment. She said yom tov (basically good day) and I went back home. When I came back through the next time she asked me what I was doing. I wore out my Hebrew pretty quick and soon switched into English. I then got into at least a 20 minute conversation with the two guards about America, Israel, what I was doing living here for a year, some politics, music, etc. It was awesome! Since I haven't had Hebrew in a while I was rusty and explained to them that I would be starting ulpan in two weeks and would be able to speak to them in Hebrew soon. They are both 20 and the guy's name is Tomer and the girl is Nofar. I can't wait till they are on duty again :-). When I passed by the next guard who is on the other side of the prime minister's house, I said shalom to the guard and he asked me if the others had asked why I was walking back and forth. If anything... I feel unbelievably secure in my neighborhood. If anyone enters the area there is constant walky talky communication about who is there. This security guard (whose name is Baruch) immediately looked at my necklace, asked it if was Hadaya (a jewelry store in the old city), and told me that his wife worked there. I've now decided that we have to become best friends so that his wife can hook me up with some more Hadaya jewelry :-). We talked some more and I explained that I had just moved in less than a week ago which is why he didn't recognize me.

When I was walking home tonight (different set of guards), the one closest to my house said lyla tov (goodnight) and I heard a kesha song coming from the radio in his booth so told him that I liked his music. He started talking more and asked me if I had heard about the soldiers. I had no idea what he was referring to so he told me that recently a group of soldiers had posted a video on youtube where they were dancing to the song and that it had been all over news stations such as al jazera (i guess i missed that broadcast). He told me what to look up so of course when I got home I did and found this:


That was a great end to my night, so I hope you enjoyed it too. To conclude... I freakin love my Israeli soldiers and my mission to become bff with them has officially gotten off to a great start.

Lyla Tov

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Getting Settled In

So the past couple days since my last post have been very busy. Although school and orientation haven't officially started, I've been running around getting things for my apartment, having campus tours, etc. Before I go over what I've been doing lately, I thought I'd fill whoever is reading this in on some funny things that come with the territory when living in Israel. First; I had to get basic supplies which included this handsoap. Try to figure out what is wrong with it...

In Hebrew the description definitely doesn't say anything about being "soapless." I'm really not sure how a soap can be "soapless" or what on earth they were trying to translate this too... but i'm pretty sure whatever english message that was supposed to be on the label did not work out like it should have.

The next fun fact is that to get to school I go down Lincoln street. Here Lincoln is pronounced link-o-lin. You have to love awesome mispronunciations and bad translations.

This past Sunday the HUC interns (older students who are here for the summer to help get us acclimated) put on a 4th of July bbq/picnic. We went to a really cute park called liberty bell park where we had a giant potluck. It was a great chance to get together and spend time with everyone that had arrived in Israel so far. Since then, many of my other classmates have arrived, and more continue to get here daily. Orientation starts Monday, so I think everyone should be here by the end of the weekend.

On Sunday I also went on a tour of my amazingly beautiful campus. The campus is located right outside of the old city (ancient part where the western wall, dome of the rock, etc are located). When HUC got the land in the early 1960's it was considered no mans land because of it's proximity to Jordanian territory where it would receive a lot of cross fire. The Israeli government really did not support the Reform movement, so it would only give HUC land that was considered crappy real estate. That crappy real estate has now turned into one of the absolute best bits of land in the city. From one of the buildings on campus, there is one of my favorite views of the old city. I'm having problems putting more pics on right now... but I have a bunch of pics of campus on facebook.

On Monday I walked around the old city. From campus into the old city takes maybe 10 minutes. To get to the kotel (western wall) from the Jaffa gate where I entered, you have to go down hill a lot. So naturally to get back you have to go up again. I was with a group of people and we were all content to wander, so somehow our wandering took us on an uphill journey that must have lasted at least an hour to get back out. (It DEFINITELY shouldn't take this long.) That night I went to a lecture by Rabbi David Hartman at the Hartman Institute. I really had no idea what this was going in; but was just told that he was really important and old, so it would be good to go. While I still am not a hundred percent clear on the Hartman Institute, I do know that it is a big pluralistic organization that supports Jewish thought and education. The room was full of rabbis from all over America, and everyone around me was running into people that they knew. I had no expectations of this because I knew that none of my rabbis were in Israel. As the doors were closing and the lecture was about to begin, I saw the mom of a girl I used to go to preschool and middle school with. It really is a small world, and in Jerusalem it is ten times smaller.

Speaking of running into people, I was with a group of people going to a nearby mall to get things for our apartments and I ran into another friend from home. He has a place in Jerusalem that he and his family stay in for the summers, and it turns out we are basically neighbors. I ran into his parents again when I was walking to school this morning. So far I have been here 6 days, and have already randomly run into three people that I know. I absolutely love this city!

Tuesday night is official HUC bar night. Since this is not America; soccer is a really big deal here so everyone watches the world cup. We all met up at a cool bar where the entire area outside of it was basically transformed into a theater. There was a giant projection screen onto the building, and hundreds of chairs set up. It was packed! I just got back from watching another game (Spain vs Germany), and I actually followed it pretty well. If you know me... you know I don't watch sports (unless it's the nola saints this past year); so this is a pretty big deal.

Lyla Tov (Goodnight)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

First Days

So I've now been in Israel for three days, and it's been great so far.

After an 11 hour flight where I only slept about 2 and a half hours (even after a sleeping pill that was described to me as being very fast acting and strong... woops), I landed in Tel Aviv, went through customs, got my baggage, and went outside to find a sherut. A sherut is basically a ten person taxi and it takes people from Tel Aviv to anywhere in Jerusalem for about 12 dollars. This is about a 50 min ride, but when you have to wait for multiple people to get dropped off all over the city.... it takes a quite a bit longer. For anyone that doesn't know, Israeli drivers are insane! I honestly though we were going to crash (either into other cars, bicycles, or people) at least once every five minutes. I did end up making it to my apartment which I did completely in Hebrew. It was great to see that I was able to get back into Hebrew mode after not really using it in a while.

So besides from being insane drivers, sherut drivers aren't necessarily the most accommodating people. When I got to my street, we couldn't see the building numbers but knew that it was somewhere close. The driver did help me get my stuff out, but put it on the opposite side of the street from where I needed to be, and as it turned out about four houses/buildings down from where I needed to be. This wouldnt have been a problem if I didn't have a ton of stuff, but I had 2 GIANT duffels, a big rolling carry on, a backpack, and a purse. No one person is capable of handling all the stuff I had at once. Luckily my landlord's husband happened to be home, came out to the street, found me, and helped me with my stuff. While I've not had a lot of landlord experience before that I can go off of; that definitely gave him a lot of points.

I ended up jumping right into stuff as soon as I got here. My orientation starts the 12th and then I start ulpan (intensive hebrew program), and then regular class a couple weeks later. There have been about 15 students here for the past month doing a pre-ulpan for people that needed more help with hebrew, so I met up with a bunch of them as well as some other people that had just arrived for dinner at one of their apartments about five minutes away from me. I live in a really cute area called Rehavia. I have a lot more exploring to do, but from what I've seen there are a lot of cute coffee shops and stuff around. While I've been to Israel four times before, and knew my way around parts of Jerusalem very well, I had no prior conception of where Rehavia was. Turns out it is amazingly convenient to just about everywhere I would need to go and a lot of other students live near by. I managed to stay pretty awake functional during the dinner and made myself stay up till about 11 so I could get on the right time schedule. I ended up waking up at 4:30 the next morning so that didn't work out too well.

Sundown on Friday is when Shabbat starts, and since Jerusalem is a very religious city, everything shuts down by an hour before Shabbat. I had a lot of stuff that I needed to get before everything shut down so I planned on going to the store. I have two other roomates; Ari and Andi. Andi has been in Israel for the past year so she moved her stuff in, and went back to America for a few weeks, so I was basically the first one to be at the apartment this week. Ari got in in the morning, so when he got here we went to the Supersol (name of the grocery store) with one of my other classmates and picked up some essentials.

One of my favorite things in Jerusalem is the shuk (basically a market that has tons of fresh produce and many other food items). Friday afternoon before Shabbat is when EVERYONE goes to buy the food that they will cook for dinner. It is absolute chaos and i love it! Since it closes right before Shabbat, the merchants are desperate to get rid of their produce so you can get amazing deals. In past trips I often took advantage of getting a melon for a shekel (slightly more than 25 cents). Since I needed food for the weekend (shabbat lasts from sundown fri to sundown sat) I went to the shuk to stock up. At this point I still didn't really know where my apartment was in relation to everything. I met up with a friend to walk there and asked for directions (in hebrew!) as we headed out. The first guy I asked looked at us like we were crazy and told us it was 30-40 minutes away and would be a very long walk. We kept going and asked some soldier/guards who also gave us kind of a weird look and said it was far. When asked they said about 20 mins away and recommended taking the bus that had a stop next to us. We gave in and took the bus, but on the way I realized where we were so I knew how to get back. Had a great time at the shuk, got a bunch of fruit (among other things lychee which is AMAZING and some tamarim which are dates), and even ran into someone I knew from the states. We decided to walk back home because it didn't seem like it would be too bad. I meant to time it but we got very side tracked by an artist market on the side of the road that apparently happens every week. The walk back was definitely do-able. It really made me question how much walking Israelis do because of how intimidated by the distance both looked when asked for directions.

I got back that afternoon, had a little bit of downtime and then went to services at Kol Haneshama which is a Reform synagogue in Jerusalem. Israel is basically under the command of a religious authority called the rabbinut who are ultra-orthodox. This means that religious organizations that are not orthodox such as the progressive movement are not at all supported, so it is really nice to find a vibrant reform community. While I've gone to reform synagogue my whole life, it has been in America so English as the primary language has been a big part in the service. Being in Israel where the primary language is Hebrew makes things much different because every thing is in Hebrew. It was a nice service but since I had been up since 4:30 and hadn't gotten a whole lot of sleep in what I think was the past 2 days (kind of confusing with the time change), it was extremely hard to stay focused. The good thing was that if my eyes started to shut a little bit, I figure it could have looked like I was just really into praying at that moment.

After services some of the students that had already been in Israel a while hosted Shabbat dinner, and I got to meet a bunch more of my classmates. It turns out the apartment I ate dinner in was actually a friend of mine's apartment when she did her year in Israel four years ago. What makes it a really small world is that I had actually stayed there with her my senior year of high school, and that happens to be the same friend I ran into at the shuk that afternoon.

Saturday (Today):
Today I went to campus for the first time since I've been here to go to morning services. It turns out I live a less than 10 minute walk away which is awesome. Another cool thing is that I am basically neighbors with the prime minister. His house is a couple seconds down the street from me, and I pass it along with many soldiers with extremely large guns on the way to school. I spent the rest of Shabbat relaxing. One of my classmates had people over for lunch which ended up being fours hours of hanging out. I just got back from Ben Yehuda Street which is basically a very popular/famous street with a bunch or restaurants, bars, stores, street performers, etc. At about 8:00 when Shabbat ends, everything opens back up and it gets swarming with people.

I am back in my apartment now which is great. Compared to all of the places I've seen so far, we definitely have the most common space. It has its odd downfalls like not having mirrors in any of the bedrooms, but I figure I can work that out somehow. I can honestly say I have never wanted I swiffer more in my life. Israelis seem to have different standards on the condition of a place that they rent, and while the apartment is great, there were unbelievable amounts of dirt and dust everywhere. It was actually shocking that so much grime could accumulate on a floor, but I really think that there is magical multiplying dirt in this country. I will take pictures soon and then post them on facebook. I will try to put them on here if i can figure out how to do that.

L'hitraot (good bye for now)

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Travel Day

This is my first attempt at keeping a blog, so here goes. I'm writing from JFK airport in NY where I have just gotten off of my flight from Atlanta. I have about 6 hours to kill until my ElAl flight to Tel Aviv. From Tel Aviv I will be traveling to Jerusalem where I will start my year as a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College. It has definitely been a journey getting to this point. I had been freaking out about how on earth I would bring all of my stuff with me, but I ended up working it out. Since I had a domestic flight before my international flight, I was worried that I would have to follow the domestic baggage rules (which definitely would NOT have worked for me). After calling delta and finding out that they would follow ElAl's baggage rules, I had to stop myself from declaring my love to the delta agent I was talking to. She pretty much made my day.

The next step was actually packing. I could have 2 bags up to 70 pounds plus my carry ons. I soon discovered how much suitcases actually weigh. I found a giant suitcase in my basement, preceded to weight it, and when I saw that it was almost 20 pounds I quickly decided that duffel bags were the way to go. Then came the actual packing. When you're trying to plan out what to bring for an entire year, it requires a whole lot of planning. I figured I can get most basic toiletries and essentials when I get to Jerusalem, so I really just had to go through all of my clothes, pick out what would go and what would stay at home, and then figure out what other items I wanted to bring that might be harder to find in Israel (for me this meant sheets that lived up to my softness expectations and my own pillows). I managed to eliminate a lot of clothes, but shoes were a different issue entirely. I will not admit to the actual amount that I ended up taking. In all fairness though, I did cut out MANY of pairs.

It was an extremely tight squeeze, but considering I have already lasted the first leg of the journey; I would say it has worked out. One of my duffels was exactly 70 lbs (I weighed it many times in advance to make sure), and the other was about 64. I was really hoping that the bag was bigger so that I could use up that other 6 pounds. I had to eliminate my photo album and some other things from my carry on to make room for the little bit of stuff that couldn't fit into the duffel. It's ok though because my parents are visiting over Sukkot (holiday that falls late September/early October), and I am going to have them bring me an additional bag with some more winter appropriate clothes, and all the stuff that I couldn't fit the first time. As far as winter in Israel goes, we have been told to pack really warm things because it does get cold, and that people from warmer climates (which would be me having lived in Atlanta and New Orleans my whole life) should not underestimate this. I really have no idea what to expect.

I have never been so impressed with how much I managed to squeeze into a suitcase. I couldn't even fit another sock into that bag if I wanted to. My bags are checked all the way through to Israel, so I don't have to deal with them now. The fun part will be when I get to the Tel Aviv airport. I know that I can get a luggage cart at baggage claim, but don't know if I can take it outside with me to where I have to catch a sherut (which is like a taxi that gets you from the airport to wherever you need to go for very little money).

There really isn't too much else to report at this point.Things will get much more exciting once I'm actually in Israel. For now I get to kill more time in the airport. I have a friend going to Germany today and it turns out that our airlines are in the same terminal. Hopefully we will get to meet up, and that will cut down on my boredom. Thanks for reading this far. I promise it will get much more interesting once I have real things to report on. Next time I will try to put up some pics of my apartment!