Saturday, June 26, 2010

Tourist for a Day

Even though I have been living in Jerusalem for the past few weeks, I could really be anywhere. I go to school, sometimes go to the market or the corner coffee house and then I come home. Not too terribly exciting. I often think that HUC could have put us on a Kibbutz or even at a stateside URJ Camp and give us the same educational experience without our having to pack up and move halfway around the world.

But this week I finally got out of my daily rut. A group from Temple Emanu El in Redlands has come to Israel and they invited me to spend some time with them this week. On Monday evening, soon after they arrived, I met them at their hotel and went to dinner with them. It was wonderful on so many levels. First: it was fantastic to finally have a delicious meal. The restaurant was called Olive and Fish and the fish I ordered was perfect. Second: I loved talking with my friends, feeling like a peer and not like someone's mother (or grandmother!). Rabbi Kohn very kindly treated me to dinner which I appreciated since my financial aid package STILL hadn't come through.

I struggled through the rest of the week with my Hebrew. Each day is more of a challenge but I am plugging away.

On Friday morning, bright and early, I met up with the Emanu El group again. Our bus first took us to the Knesset where we took pictures in front of the famous menorah which is known as the symbol of the state of Israel. We then traveled to Yad VaShem, the holocaust memorial. I had been there several times before but it was totally renovated a couple of years ago so I was interested in going again. We spent about three hours there with Shimon, the fantastic guide, giving us so much information. Of course, it was a very sobering experience. As I went through the rooms that chronicled Hitler's rise to power and the systematic extermination of the Jews of Europe, I couldn't help but wonder if some of those faces that looked out at me from photographs and newspapers and film could have been my relatives. I remember my parents telling me that, when their parents left Russia for England, many of their other relatives went to Poland. After WWII, they never heard from those relatives again. At the end of the tour, we were taken to a room where binders circled the walls from floor to ceiling with names of some of the 6,000,000 Jews that perished during the Holocaust. Only 4,000,000 names have been recorded so there are still 2,000,000 names that are not known. That is why I stand for Kaddish even if it is not a Shabbat when I am commemorating a death in my family. I stand for those who have no family left - whose entire family was wiped out during the Holocaust.

As a total change of pace, we left Yad VaShem and traveled to Machane Yehudah, the busy market in the center of town. At any time, on any day of the week, the market resembles the day after Thanksgiving at the mall but on Friday afternoon, as people are rushing to prepare for Shabbat, it is like the most crowded mall you can think of...times 10! People are wall-to-wall and it is hard to buy anything as the lines are long and people are pushing. We did manage to get to the end where Shimon bought us the most delicious rugela we had ever eaten.

After this incredibly long day, the bus dropped me off at the top of my hill and I walked home...too tired to go to tired to make Shabbat dinner...but so happy that I had such a wonderful time. The rest of Shabbat I studied...and studied...and studied!

This week will mark one month that I have been in Israel. Was it just a few weeks ago that I was home with Sheldon and Lucy? I'm still settling in and feeling things out but it is becoming more comfortable. What will July bring? First of all, about 50 more students will join us for the regular summer session. That will certainly change the dynamics of our classes. I will also begin a cantillation class in addition to Hebrew. I have been looking forward to learning Torah trope so this is very exciting for me. I also hope for that little light to go on over my head which will signify that the Hebrew is becoming easier for me. We'll see.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Musings from Week One of Pre-Ulpan

Jerusalem of often have I heard that phrase, sung that song? But I haven't yet seen any of the Jerusalem of Gold on this trip. I have seen the Jerusalem of massive construction projects all through the center of town. I have seen the Jerusalem of noise with honking horns and neighbors loudly speaking outside at all hours of the day and night. And I have seen the Jerusalem of cats. Stray cats wander throughout the streets of the city and I wonder where they all came from. It has been a pretty insular couple of weeks for me - I haven't ventured much farther than my own neighborhood and HUC but I am beginning to know the local shop owners and others who I see every day on my way to and/or from school and they are beginning to know me.

It was such a difficult first week of Ulpan for me. The Hebrew was much more advanced than I had anticipated and the other students were far beyond my rudimentary understanding of the language. Thank goodness for Rivki, our teacher, and her unending patience and for the other members of my kitah who have been incredibly supportive. After several major meltdowns, I ended the week feeling cautiously optimistic that I might eventually "get it." I read in class this morning and realized that I was reading at a normal speed (not sounding out every word). It's not much but it's a start. And we had our first exam today. I'm not sure if I answered even one question correctly but I was able to understand the directions and come up with some sort of answer for everything. For me, it was a triumph!

Did you know that root canals here are a better experience than root canals at home? I would have been happy to go the entire year without finding that out but I broke a tooth this morning and had to go to the dentist. She was absolutely fabulous - an Australian dentist who has lived here for many years. She was gentle and kind and did the work quickly with very little pain for me. Of course, the novocaine and nitrous oxide is just wearing off and I have already taken a pain pill so I can't be 100% sure about the painless part but it was not a horrible experience. And the cost for this, while still high, was lower than in the United States. They were also willing to spread out the payments over three months which never would have happened with my dentist at home. Let's hope that I don't have to spend much more time with Dr. Jacobvitz this year - but it's good knowing that, if I do, it won't be a horrific experience.

So I come to my third Shabbat in Jerusalem. I won't be going anywhere this week as I will be recovering from the oral surgery but I am looking forward to the group from Temple Emanu El arriving on Monday and spending some time with them as they explore Jerusalem. Rabbi Kohn will be bringing my good camera and lenses so I also hope to start taking pictures around the city. There are many sites here to be documented on film.

And what do I know for sure right now? I know that I miss my husband with an intensity that I didn't think was possible. It almost feels like a piece of me has been taken away and, sometimes, the pain is unbearable. But I am thankful for Skype and the fact that we can look at each other when we speak.

Dan Nichols sings about his heart being in the east. My body is in the east but, for now, my heart is still home.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Nightmare on King David Street

Well, it finally arrived...the day I have been waiting for. Today was the first day of our Hebrew pre-Ulpan. I'd like to tell you that it was a great day and a wonderful learning experience. I'd like to, but I can't. It was a total nightmare for me. From the moment our teacher arrived in class and told us that she (and we) would only speak in Hebrew, I sunk deeper and deeper into knowing that I am incredibly far behind every other student in the program.

Part of the problem is that most, if not all, of the other students have had a couple of years of college Hebrew. The only formal Hebrew education I ever received was from Cantor Feldman at Sherith Israel OVER 45 YEARS AGO! And, of course, it was prayerbook Hebrew. Everything else I have absorbed has just been by osmosis. To get through the entrance exam, I studied specifically for the test and was surprised that I did as well as I did since I left entire sections blank. Now I am in the "faster class" and it is clear that they are all passing me by at a dizzying pace.

The teacher came to talk with me as I was sobbing at my desk during our first break of the day. She said that she is going faster than she had planned because the other students are able to handle it and there is the possibility that I will switch to the other class on Wednesday. She was also very kind and encouraging and said I would have extra tutoring and that everything would be all right but it didn't do much for my self-esteem.

Once we get through Ulpan - if I get through Ulpan - I have no doubt that I will be able to hold my own in classes in history and bible and trope, etc. I welcome the challenge of writing a sermon and leading the congregation in prayer. But this conversational Hebrew is just deadly for me.

If it was feasible, I would have come home today, packed my bags, and slinked back home, never to show my ashamed face again. But, that's not going to happen. There are several of my classmates who have been very kind and have offered to study with me so, for the next couple of months, I am going to take every single opportunity to study my Hebrew.

I am not in Israel to sightsee. I am not in Israel to go to cafes and bars. I am not in Israel for any other reason but to learn Hebrew and be able to get on with the program. I don't know how but I WILL SUCCEED.

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Saga of the Cooking Fuel

I have been in Jerusalem for almost a week now and still have no cooking fuel in the apartment. It seems to me that the previous tenants might have told me that the fuel was totally out or that the landlord may have checked before my moving in. I would have been more than happy to pay for it to be here when I arrived

My old Sherith Israel friend, David Bernstein, came over yesterday and he was a life saver. He was tall enough to change all of the light bulbs that were not working in the apartment (something else I think could have been handled before my arrival!) so that my dark, depressing home suddenly turned bright. He also spent tons of time on the phone with the gas company and the internet/cable people. Everything was set to be turned on and/or delivered today.

This morning David came back and took me to a large supermarket in Talpiyot, more like our supermarkets at home. I was able to buy some staples like toilet paper and paper towels as well as the correct kind of yogurt and cottage cheese. I even got a package of filet of sole so that I could enjoy some delicious fish for dinner tonight.

After the market, David took me to Ace Hardware where I was able to purchase a stepladder to change my own light bulbs and a standing fan. It's not that it is too hot right now - it's just humid and the fan makes a big difference.

The cable guy came as scheduled and it took no time for the internet and my television to be set up. How different to Skype when not using someone else's slow connection from down the street! There are also lots of tv channels and many American tv shows with Hebrew subtitles. I will consider watching television - both Israeli and American - a way for me to improve my Hebrew!

By 5:15 the gas people still had not shown up so my idea of fish for dinner is out the window. David is going to call them for me tomorrow to see why they didn't come. I have a couple of HUC meetings tomorrow afternoon and will probably go out to dinner but I am hoping to have the fuel by the time I get home. Thank goodness Joni taught Joel how to make a pretty good scrambled egg in the microwave and he taught me! It's egg for dinner tonight. It may not be much but it's better than my usual Special K and peanut butter on bread.

After a week, I am beginning to feel at home in my neighborhood. I am able to wave to the felafel guy across the street and the people at the coffee shop on the corner already know my order (iced coffee, milk, no sugar, no cinnamon). While it doesn't feel natural to be living here yet, it is certainly getting better and I am anxiously anticipating starting classes on Sunday.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Starting To Feel At Home

Well, I've now been here for several days. This morning I got up early to go to the SuperSol for challah and other Shabbat goodies. As I was walking to the market, it suddenly dawned on me that I am actually living in Jerusalem! I don't think that it had sunken in until that moment.

It has been a rough few days. I miss Sheldon, the boys and Steph immensely but am grateful to Skype that I can actually see their faces and talk to them daily. I was pretty sick on Wednesday night and most of Thursday but my stomach is settling down now and I'm actually able to eat a bit.

Figuring out things I need for the apartment and how to get them has been my biggest challenge so far. Apparently, the stove needs cooking fuel to work. It has to be purchased and they bring something that looks like the propane tanks that we use for our barbecues. Unfortunately, I have not been able to do this yet because the phone instructions are all in Hebrew and I can't figure out which button to push on the phone to get to the right department! The same with the internet people. So, I've had to figure out how to eat without using a stove or oven. I've been pretty much relying on cheese sandwiches and some Special K.

One of my classmates whose husband was a rabbinical student last year has invited the newbies over for dinner after services at a reform synagogue this evening. It will be nice to finally put faces to the names that I have heard about and been speaking to online for the past few months. It is about an hour walk so I will have to see how well I do. My shins are killing me but I know it will get easier every day.

My old friend from Sherith Israel, David Bernstein, is coming over on Sunday to help me figure things out around here. He has lived here for many years and has said he will help me get things together. I will be counting the minutes until he arrives!

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My First Full Day In Jerusalem

This time last night I was ready to take my bags, run back to the airport and book the first flight home. Since I never could have lifted those bags again, I'm glad that I decided to stay!

After the guy across the street made me the world's biggest felafel and a great night's sleep, things looked much brighter this morning. I got up and took my first walk to HUC. The walk really wasn't as bad as I heard. There was more of an incline than an actually hill and I got there very quickly. I was able to get my new phone which meant I could finally call Sheldon. It was so comforting just to hear his voice.

On the way back from school, I made my first stop at the SuperSol. I bought some food (turkey, cheese, bread, etc.) but I'm not sure about all the things I got. For instance, I bought a small package of butter but have no idea what kind of butter it is since they had about a dozen kinds and everything was written in Hebrew. I'm sure I'll figure it out soon.

I also stopped at a bakery for a loaf of bread and at the coffee shop on the corner of my street where they made me a delicious ice coffee (thank goodness for that. I don't have a coffee maker yet). They appear to be open very early and very late so I should be able to get my coffee fix with no problems.

In terms of the apartment, I figured out how to recharge my computer and how to work the DVD player and television so I'm watching one of my movies and getting ready to make some dinner.

Jerusalem is having a heatwave right now. After living in Palm Desert for a year, it shouldn't bother me but it is muggy so I'm dripping! If the weather cooperates tomorrow, I plan to take my Shuk cart (like the grocery carts old ladies carry at home!) and stock up on more things at the market. On Friday, I hope to walk to the Old City.