Friday, July 23, 2010

What I Learned This Week

I learned that I have the potential to learn modern Hebrew. Our regular Ulpan started last Sunday and I was pleased to see that I was able to keep up with the class. Perhaps all we learned in the pre-Ulpan finally clicked, or perhaps it was because some of the information was already covered in a previous class, but I wasn't lost. This first class gave me the confidence I needed to speak out in class, ask questions and interact with the other students. I am hoping that this continues and that I am able to get this "Hebrew thing" after all.

I learned that I shouldn't eat any more chicken from SuperSol. SuperSol is the largest supermarket chain in the area. The first week I was here, I purchased some already cooked chicken thighs which made me violently ill. I attributed it to the fact that I had just arrived in the country so I bought some uncooked chicken and roasted another chicken thigh for my dinner on Tuesday. BIG MISTAKE. I was sick again and had to miss classes on Wednesday. So, there will be no more chicken from SuperSol for me. I am finding it difficult to get my protein here but I will keep searching. Any suggestions would be more than welcome.

I learned that there are two sides to every story. On Thursday, for our Israel Seminar, we split into groups to look at different areas around Jerusalem. I participated in a tour arranged by Rabbis for Human Rights which took us into East Jerusalem. We met with some Palestinians then went and looked at the wall which was erected to separate the municipality of Jerusalem and East Jerusalem neighborhoods. I could go on and on about what we saw and heard, but, for now, let it suffice to say that the trip was disturbing on many different levels. I do not consider myself to be a political person but I had heard just one side of this debate for many years. Now I was able to hear the other side. I am sure that both sides slant the information in their favor but, this time, I was looking these people in the face. The women were offering me a chair and some tea and the children were playing at our feet. They weren't militants in the streets or suicide bombers. It was difficult and heart-wrenching and something I will be thinking about for a long time.

I learned that a little bit of socializing time is a good thing. I finally went out with some people on Thursday evening and had a terrific time (even though Dave found some glass in his food!). I have been hiding in my apartment and studying all the time and that hasn't been too good for my morale. An occasional evening out with friends is a good thing. Next week I hope to go to an evening art festival in Emek Refaim and out to dinner at Burgers Bar (non-kosher burgers!).

I learned that the mall still makes me happy. Even though money is tight, I found out that I still love to wander through a mall. On Friday, I took the bus to the Malcha Mall which is the largest in Jerusalem, with 250 stores on three levels. It was just like an American mall - many shoe stores and a nice food court. I wandered around for a couple of hours and even found a People magazine to buy. It was nice to do something I consider so "American" in my new, temporary, home.

It was a week of learning...some formal and some pretty informal...but it was a good week. Coming up: my first Hebrew exam, picking our Truma (community outreach) projects for the year, a lecture by Danny Siegel (one of my all-time heroes). It should be another interesting week in Jerusalem.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

That Was The Week That Was

My mind is reeling from all we were exposed to during Orientation week.

First of all, the rest of the students arrived. Now we are almost 70 - rabbinical students, cantorial students and education students. We will be studying in New York, Cincinnati and Los Angeles as well as the Leo Baeck School in London and the Geiger School in Berlin. We are from all over the United States, Canada, England, Argentina, Brazil and more. We are single and engaged and married. One of our spouses had a baby just last week. We are so different but have so much in common.

A good portion of the week was spent getting to know each other and getting to know ourselves. We are going to be involved in a journaling project and we began that during this week. The Dean of the Jerusalem Campus spoke to us about her amazing heritage (generations of rabbis on both sides of her family). The Israeli author, Yossi Klein Halevi spoke about his journey and his deep feelings about Israel. Various professors presented lectures on different aspects of Israeli society.

We also left HUC and traveled around Jerusalem to be exposed to history on the spot where it happened. And we even spent some time with the poetry of Yehuda Amichai (my favorite Israeli poet). It was intense and exhausting but I loved every minute of it.

For me, the most exciting part of the week was finding out that we will have the chance to spend Pesach in the former Soviet Union, leading seders for Jews there. I can't believe that I will be walking in the steps of my grandparents and making that connection to my family.

Kabbalat Shabbat was spent at HUC with our classmates - studying Torah, participating in Services, eating a delicious dinner and enjoying an old-fashioned "camp-like" song session. By the time I walked home on a beautiful Shabbat evening, I was ready for our classes to begin.

We start Hebrew and Cantillation on Sunday. I am in Kitah Aleph and I just hope that I will not be as lost as I was during pre-Ulpan. There are others who appear to be in the same boat as me so we are planning to getting a tutor and devoting ourselves to mastering the Hebrew. The school is behind us 100% and wants us to succeed so I am sure we will. One of the things that kept being said this week was that each of us was chosen to be here. It is where we are meant to be and I believe that - I just have to keep it in mind as the difficulties arise!

I also am buying a guitar. It has been a long time since my songleading days but I want to play again and there will be many opportunities here for music. It will be fun to reconnect with the songleader hidden inside of me!

This afternoon I am hosting my first Shabbat lunch and tonight there will be an opportunity for us to observe Havdalah as a group. Monday brings Tisha B'Av and it is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience to commemorate this day at the Kotel.

I'm sure I will have lots to write about next week!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Hmmm...Random Musings

I have some random thoughts and questions (not meant to be answered!) this week. But first, a short song parody with apologies to Meredith Wilson and Robert Preston:

"Well we've got trouble, right here in Jerusalem
With a capital T and that rhymes with B
And that stands for BAKERIES!"

All the walking that is done here is great for the body and the wonderful fruits and vegetables are terrific for the diet but a huge bump in the road are the many bakeries that line the streets of Jerusalem. On almost any street, you will see and smell fabulous breads and sweets that are practically irresistible. There are lots of bite-size treats so one can convince oneself that they won't do much harm...but that is pretty dangerous. As of this week, I am cutting out the goodies, 100%. I won't allow all of this walking to be in vain!

Now, for some things in Jerusalem that make me go "hmmm:"

Are there more stray cats or more pregnant Orthodox women in Jerusalem? If one were counting, I think it might be a close one. I have already told you about the huge number of cats on the streets but each day as I walk to and from school, I see dozens of pregnant women, many with three or four other children who look to be younger than 5. There is definitely a population explosion going on here but it appears to only be among the ultra-religious population.

Has pushing become an art form here? If you wait patiently to get on or off the bus, you will inevitably be shoved by someone who feels it is necessary to get in front of you. And that someone is usually an elderly woman so you don't push back. One of the first words I learned in Hebrew as a child was "b'vacasha" - please. I just don't hear that often enough here.

Is underwear in short demand here? Whenever Israeli men (and many women) bend down, there is the ever-present butt crack. Not a pretty site. Some women have such low-rise jeans or shorts, that the butt crack is present at all times with not even a thong in site).

I am thirsty 24 hours a day and in constant search of the one drink that will quench that thirst. I do water, sparkling water, iced tea, iced coffee, diet grapefruit and orange drinks, diet coke and all they do is leave me wanting something else to take care of my ever-present thirst. I think it might be the heat mixed with the humidity but, if I don't find the magic drink soon, I may float away without the benefit of a boat.

Pre-Ulpan ended on Thursday. We have a week of orientation with all of the new students who just arrived and then we start the regular Ulpan as well as cantillation class and an Israel seminar. So now the real "fun" begins.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Lost In Jerusalem

Lost in Jerusalem...not necessarily a bad thing, but first, let me explain about the picture that accompanies this post.

Those of you who know me well, know how much I love my iced coffee. It is my biggest pleasure to get a large one with just a splash of cream and some Splenda. I had heard that they don't have Splenda in Israel so I brought a pretty hefty supply with me. What I didn't know is that the iced coffee leaves a lot to be desired. Asking for iced coffee here will get you a sugary concoction that resembles a frapuccino. When I ask for coffee with ice, I get a shot of hot coffee with two ice cubes and the rest of the cup filled with milk. The cost for a small one (the only size they have) is more than a large at Starbucks! During my wanderings this week, I found the only Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Israel and, great news, they make iced coffee my way! I won't be able to go there often but it's nice to know that it's here if I need it.

I have now been in Jerusalem for a month. While I still don't feel like it's home, I am much more comfortable, both at school and navigating around the City. But I had a whopper of an experience this week.

I usually walk to and from school. There is a long hill on the way that causes a lot of havoc with my back so I have started taking the bus up the hill and then walking the rest of the way. The incline on the way home isn't as bad so I walk the entire way back. One day this week I decided to take the bus all the way to Machane Yehuda (the large outdoor market selling fruits, vegetables and tons of other things). There is a coffee shop there that opens early so I got coffee and a roll and then took a second bus to school. It didn't take long and I enjoyed the experience.

The next day I decided to do it again. This time I wasn't paying attention and got onto the 22 bus instead of the 32. BIG MISTAKE. The 22 doesn't go to Machane Yehuda and I didn't notice until we were well into one of the ultra-religious parts of town. I got off the bus and began to walk. I had no idea where I was going so I approached two young boys who couldn't have been more than 11 or 12. One boy actually turned away from me and the other refused to speak to me. I had forgotten that religious boys/men will not associate with me! I kept walking and walking and everyone I asked gave me different directions. I finally was directed to a bus whose driver told me he would come near HUC. He told me to sit behind him and he would let me know where to get off. Well, we kept going and going and going. We passed the area I felt was near HUC but the driver didn't say anything so I figured that he would eventually turn around and I would get to the right place. As we were leaving the city of Jerusalem (!), the driver turned to me and said, "where did you want to get off?" When I told him, he said "oy" and apologized for forgetting me. He gave me a transfer and told me to go to the other side of the street and get on the bus there. When I asked him if that bus would get me to school, he said it wouldn't but would get me close. The place he said it would take me was around the corner from my house! I had spent two hours in one huge circle. By this time, I was almost late for school so I just flagged down a taxi. Usually, this would be a fine solution but this driver decided to take three other passengers. The last one who got in wanted to go to the Knesset which is at the other end of town and he took her there first! Finally, I made it to school and was only 15 minutes late - I felt that I had been wandering for days.

And the best part of this event? Well, there are a couple of good outcomes. The first is that I did not cry or lose my composure. I just took it as an adventure. The second is that I was able to relate most of this story to my teacher IN HEBREW! It may not have been grammatically correct but she got the gist of what I was saying. Hooray for me!

The next day, I was determined to get back on the bus just to prove that I could do it. I correctly got onto the 32 but, after several blocks, our bus driver hit a man on a bicycle. The way that people drive here, I'm surprised that it doesn't happen more often!

Another week awaits. This will be the last week of our pre-Ulpan and the rest of the students are beginning to arrive. We will have several days off (when I will try and speed read my way back through the Hebrew we have learned during the past month) and then the year in Israel program officially begins. In addition to Hebrew, I will be taking Torah Trope for the rest of the summer and I'm really excited about that.

On Sunday, we are all getting together to celebrate July 4th with a bbq at Liberty Bell Park. It will be fun to do something "American" for awhile.

Shabbat Shalom and Shavua Tov to all!