Friday, December 14, 2012

Hanukkah in Haifa

Hey everyone, I know it has been over a month since I blogged last, but I promise this post will be long and thoughtful to try to make up for that as best as I can.  The truth is that midterms snuck up and sort of took over, leaving me with very little time, and then some things here started to change.  I have been processing a lot in the last few weeks and I think I am now ready to put them down on "paper" and out to the web.

First, my classes are continuing to go well.  I had midterm tests or papers in all of my classes, and even though one of my scores was a bit lower than I liked, I did well on all of them and I feel like they solidified a lot of the information I have been taking in this semester.  I realized that a lot of the courses here are very unique and taking many of them is a really special opportunity.  Having 4 hours of Hebrew each day has given me so much time to practice reading, speaking, and to learn new grammar concepts and put them to use.  I remember when I had just started taking a language at Brown and how nervous I was, but all of my teachers from then until now have been incredible and created a relaxed environment where I could make mistakes and get the encouragement I need.  Also, my Biblical Theology class is something totally unique to the University of Haifa.  As much as I love the Brown Judaic Studies department, the professors are so intent on never mixing personal belief and connection to the religious material with an academic standpoint.  I understand why, especially in America, there is such a strict division, but I have learned far more from the professor/rabbi who teaches this class than I thought possible.  Other classes are going well, just a ton of reading an writing, but all about topics that I enjoy.

Me eating a Rolladin
sufganiyah. It has a chocolate
injection inside!
More importantly, it is Hanukkah in the Holy Land :)  I thought that I would miss Christmas lights, music, and trees, but they are the furthest thing from my mind.  When Christmas comes around in America, I feel like an outsider, never knowing where I stand and trying to show that my holiday can be just as much fun.  Here there is no question about it; Hanukkah is everywhere! There are giant hanukkiot on the street, shops selling sufganiyot, and Hanukkah specials in the stores.  No candy canes or santa hats, the goodies are all gelt or things shaped like driedels.  I feel so at home here.  But it is not just the general culture that makes me feel that way; I have started to feel like I have a community here. Every night I get a call from some Israeli friends who live a few apartments away and we all hang out, chat, and light the menorah together.  To see so many "sabra"-types chanting the prayers and then singing other Hanukkah songs is amazing, especially when they say "a great miracle happened here" (and their driedels read the same).

This brings me to the bigger-picture things I have been processing.  I realize that the more I step outside of the international program and find connections to Israelis, the more I feel comfortable and at home.  I love the culture here, even with its pushing and shoving.  I love how upfront people are, the juxtaposition between being carefree and able to get serious when there is work to be done, the warmth and genuine welcoming.  I love being surrounded by Jewish culture, hearing Hebrew everywhere I go, seeing cooking shows making sufganiyot rather than Christmas cookies.  I don't know where my path will take me, but I know that I will be back here.  Even though adjusting to being here was difficult at first, especially when I felt like I was stuck in an American program that happened to be in Israel, branching out has introduced me to some incredible people.  Don't get me wrong, people in the international school are great too much of the time and I have good friends there, but I love feeling like I am planting roots here.  I still have time to go back at Brown, and I will enjoy every second there, but after that phase of my life is done...who knows where I will end up?  All I know is I really took to heart something a friend told me last night: Ultimately, you are the one who must make and live with your decisions.  People are always going to have their opinions about what you do, but you need to do what is right for you.  I certainly don't know for sure, but in many respects, Israel feels right for me.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Classes and Concerts

After two weeks of shopping classes, I finally decided on the ones I am taking this semester and officially registered.  I am taking Leadership and Organizations, Biblical Theology, and Terrorism and Response.  I am also enrolled in Hebrew level 6, but still attending level 7 every day as well, just not for credit.  That leads to a whopping total of 4 hours of Hebrew instruction each day.  It is a bit overwhelming at times, but I am really happy to have the opportunity to improve quickly from all of this work.  We actually just had our first Hebrew test, and I felt really confident after hours of studying!

Leadership and Organizations has a fairly laid back atmosphere, and the class is not always as talkative as I would like, but the readings are fascinating.  They are a combination of psychology, political science, and international relations.  We just read a study on George Bush's speeches before and after September 11th and the way the incident affected his use of language, and subsequently his measures of charisma.  Biblical Theology forces me to read the Tanach closely, so closely in fact, that we have spent three-hour-long classes studying only the second chapter of Genesis.  Still, I have never interacted with text like this and I come out of each class feeling enlightened...and a bit dizzy! Finally, Terrorism and Response is taught by one of the most accomplished and impressive professors I have had to date.  He approaches the subject with very specific and strict definitions and, while he welcomes argument, he rarely wavers on his approach or opinion.  The topic is fascinating and looking at its overall effectiveness leads to some unexpected conclusions.  This professor is very high up in the Israeli military, and he agreed to meet with me and help with my independent study project about women in the Israeli army.  I am looking forward to that meeting!

In terms of cultural events, I went with the university to the Masa opening event in Jerusalem, which was an Idan Raichel concert.  It's "world" music, with a lot of unusual instruments and singing in Hebrew, Spanish, and Amharic.  Joey has played his music for me before, but seeing the group perform in concert showed how even their great recordings did not do justice to how unique and talented they are.  Interestingly, before the concert there was a long opening ceremony for the Masa program.  The first 10 minutes or so were typical Zionist advertisements and calls for unity and such, but as the ceremony progressed, it became more exclusive and offensive.  I know a lot of my friends, both Jewish and not, religious and secular, left with a bad feeling from the ceremony, as enjoyable as the concert itself was.  It certainly gave me a lot to reflect on when I got back to the university.

I am off to write my second Hebrew presentation, which I am delivering on Tuesday. I will post the content later...wish me luck!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Shabbat in Jerusalem

After a long week of shopping classes from 8am until 6pm most days, I headed off to Jerusalem for Shabbat.  I was excited to get out of Haifa, a city that seems to be getting increasingly smaller the longer I stay here.  I left on Friday morning from the university to the central station and caught a bus right away to the holy city.  The ride only took about 2 hours, and with my ipod playing and beautiful views passing by, the trip seemed very short to me.  I got off at the central bus station and walked along the train tracks (which run in the middle of the main streets) to the shuk (outdoor market).  The shuk in Jerusalem  right before Shabbat is incredibly busy and the sights and smells passed by in a whirlwind while I tried not to get trampled by all of the other people.  Shopkeepers shouted in Hebrew about their goods and prices, and the stands of challah loafs quickly started depleting.  I purchased a whole wheat one for my host and proceeded to Jaffa Street.  After about thirty minutes of walking I sat down at a cafe and ate a salad, drank some water, and read a book for my Terrorism and Response class.  I received a call from my host that she was returning in an hour or so from a trip to the West Bank, so I started walking toward her apartment.  I was very proud that I found my way around without any problems.

My host was Elana, an HUC student that I had met on Yom Kippur who spoke with me a lot on that day because at one point she was deciding between JTS and HUC, the Conservative and Reform rabbinical schools, respectively.  When I came over, we immediately stated making cookies together to bring to dinner at another student's apartment later that night.  We packed up an Israeli salad as well and headed to Shira Hadasha for Friday night services.  This is a famous Orthodox community which uses a mechitza (physical division between men and women) only when necessary, and has a woman lead Kabbalat Shabbat and a man lead the rest.  Essentially, they permit women to do everything that they are lawfully allowed to, while most other Orthodox communities limit a woman's role in the community simply out of tradition.  I have never felt so comfortable in an Orthodox community nor so inspired by the strength of pluralistic practice.

Afterward, Elana and I sat with a friend who is attending Pardes in the park, and then we left him and headed to an HUC student's apartment for dinner.  The meal was great, and about fifteen people were there.  We all sat around and spoke about pretty much every topic I could imagine.  The people were incredibly welcoming and interesting, and I did not feel separated at all because I am not in their program.  The next day, I attended their student-led services as well as Yom Sport, where the students play basketball and do homework in the park before attending Havdallah services in the evening.  Even though Shabbat observance varied across the board, but appeared light in general, I felt that they really celebrated the spirit of Shabbat, connecting with friends, family, and newcomers through prayer, conversation, and play.

For the evening, we walked back to the school where there was an interfaith Havdallah service.  A group of Muslims, Christians, and Jews from New York/New Jersey came to the school and asked the students all about their program before they took out guitars and we lit candles, smelled spices, etc.  Everyone put their arms around each other and swayed, and I felt like I was back at summer camp.  All around, this was the best Shabbat experience I have had in Israel, and I cannot wait to return to HUC as long at my invitation stands.  Returning to Haifa, I felt a bit disappointed about my city choice; I would have wondered what Haifa was like if I had chosen Jerusalem, but knowing what I do now, I cannot wait to spend as much time as possible back in Jerusalem.  Still, many programs, HUC included, stand open to me for graduate school and have campuses in Jerusalem, so I know I will be back for an extended period of time in the near future.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

First Days of School

Shalom everyone! School has started up here (finally) at the University of Haifa and I am so happy to have something to do!  Yesterday, I took my Hebrew placement test from 9-12pm; it was really long and rather difficult, but I ended up placing into the highest level of Hebrew offered.  As great as I felt for doing well on the test, today in the first day of class I felt a little insecure about my level of Hebrew. I am currently working on a reading assignment and I understand very little of it, so I might have to move down a level, but either way I will have a great teacher and a good class.  I am mostly just excited to get back into learning Hebrew, which is the reason I came to study abroad in Israel in the first place.

The first day of shopping classes was long, and I was not overly impressed with the quality of the classes.  I shopped one on Rabbinic Literature, which was alright.  I really want to learn Mishna, but I am not sure if that classroom was the right one for me to delve into that material.  Afterwards, I went to one called Leadership in Organizations, which had a really bubbly and sweet teacher and the readings look amazing.  It is a combination of psychology, international relations, and political science; it is especially appealing because this is one of the only classes not specifically on Israel or Judaism, and a little variation is nice.  Still, the workload was quite small from what I could tell, but that is not necessarily a bad thing if my other classes are more demanding.

Today, I was way more inspired by the classes I looked at.  At first, I was planning to attend a class on Holocaust History, but it was postponed until next week, so I looked at one on the Social History of Israel.  Originally, I did not think this would be appealing, but the teacher is the awesome feminist professor who really knows how to command a classroom.  The topic is not the most intriguing to me personally, but the class is 3 hours once a week, so I think that the quality of the professor is a very important factor.  Finally, I looked at Biblical Theology and I was totally blown away.  At first, I sat in the class unsure of how to feel, but the professor/rabbi touched on so many advanced concepts and really started to alter the way I interact with religious text in just one session.  I decided to take that class to fulfill the ancient studies requirement of my Judaic Studies concentration, and I bought the books (basically just the Hebrew Bible in English and Hebrew) and I am quite excited.

Overall, the courses here are good, with some a little sub-par and some really amazing.  I have another week or so to shop for more classes to fill my schedule, but suffice to say that I am much more excited today than yesterday to continue shopping for them, and generally in higher spirits than when I was sitting around with nothing to do during Sukkot.

Also, in terms of social activities, we participated in a drum circle last night, which was really fun!  We got to pound on some bongos, use other percussion instruments, and generally laugh and have a good time.  I also found out about volunteering opportunities in the city for the semester, and I have an interview tomorrow where I will pick which is best for me...I will keep you all posted!  Now back to Hebrew homework...

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sukkot in Israel

Since the study tour ended and Sukkot began, life at the university has been relatively slow.  A lot of the Israeli students who were living here before went back home for the break, some of the other Americans decided to travel to Europe, and many people simply don't arrive until the end of the month. Still, those of us who are living on campus have tried our best to keep busy during Sukkot/the holiday break.

One nice thing about the holiday is that its focus on time outdoors translates into a lot of festivals and street fairs here in Haifa.  I walked from the university into the center of town (about a 1.5-2 hour walk) with a handful of friends to get froyo.  We ended up passing a film festival and stopping by after eating mounds of yogurt, fruit, and chocolate.  Not only did we see crowds of people all around, but an outdoor craft market was also set up, and we spent our time walking around the stands, checking out the art, and playing some really cool handmade instruments.  Another night when we passed by, on a mission once again for froyo goodness, we saw a Charlie Chaplin film playing on the side of one of the buildings, just one of the many free showings that week.

Ivri Lider in Haifa!
Besides eating froyo, we have enjoyed other meals in the center of town and had fun hanging out at pubs downtown.  We also go out dancing from time to time, but because there is only one club to go to, some of the novelty has worn off.  Still, I love dancing as opposed to sitting in a bar, so it is hard to convince me to get off the dance floor :)

Another night, I headed to a different part of town somewhat close to campus, and there was a music festival going on with a big stage, flashing lights, and loud speakers.  I got there with some friends just in time to hear Ivri Lider sing a song.  He is one of Israel's biggest pop stars, and certainly my favorite, and he is the face of gay rights activism in the country.  I was so happy to see him perform; that was definitely a goal of mine before leaving Israel.

Brown is always with me,
even in Haifa!
Otherwise, I have been hanging around the university, talking with friends here, keeping in touch with others back at Brown and those who are also abroad, and speaking with family regularly.  I also started work on my independent study project about women in the Israeli military and I have plenty to read and learn.  It is great to have the time to get ahead of some assignments before classes start here; that is definitely not something I get to do a lot back at Brown.  With all of the downtime I am certainly missing Brown and my communities there, but I am also looking forward to the start of the semester on Monday!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Post-Study Tour

Since the study tour ended on Thursday, life in Haifa has been relatively slow.  Still, we are all trying to keep busy, especially because the campus is so quiet.  In fact, the study tour participants are some of the only people on the campus right now.

Having fun at Loft
Some good friends :)
On Thursday night, we all went out dancing at a club called Loft.  It was a New York-themed night, which made me miss home a bit.  Still, I stayed out until around 2:30am there, dancing the whole time.  We went out with a handful of Americans and some Israelis on campus who I had not met before.  They were all so nice and really fun to dance with.  One of the guys belts out the lyrics to all of the songs, which is pretty funny.

Me very sweaty after a night of dancing!
On Friday, I went out to a few bar/restaurants with friends.  On Saturday we went out to Asian fusion food and then returned to one of the places and there was a big concert in the park happening outside.  We sat out playing cards on a picnic table with the concert in the background, and some local kids came up and asked to join.  One of the boys looked like he was ten, and he cursed a lot in Arabic and was pretty fresh, but entertaining nonetheless.  After the concert we met up with a few of the guys in the group and chatted and continued playing.

Sunday was pretty slow too because everything was shutting down for the beginning of Sukkot.  Becky (my suite-mate) and I still wanted to be social, though, so we invited some people over for a potluck dinner of pasta, sauce, chicken, and veggies.  After that, I watched a really terrible movie at another friend's apartment on campus and fell asleep.

All in all, not the most exciting time in Haifa, but I am getting a lot of work done, which is a good thing before the semester starts up in just two weeks.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hiking and Yom Kippur

Hello everyone and sorry about the relatively long time between posts.  The time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur was a bit crazy, but I am settled back in at the university and excited to write about a great final study tour trip and my time in Jerusalem yesterday and today.

We had our last study tour trip (the last on campus seminar is tomorrow).  We traveled to a development town where my professor lives in Karmiel.  He talked with us about the communal ethos in his town and how it stemmed from kibbutz mentality, but today the residents retain their own income and raise their children in their own personal homes.  As we walked around, we saw a group of pre-school or kindergarden students wandering outside with their teachers to learn about trees and nature.  One teacher was cracking open a walnut as we passed by, and all of the kids were gathered close to see the insides; it was an adorable scene.  After, we continued to wander about and consider what living in such a place would be like.  I think that as a 20-something year old, it is not appealing because it is rather quiet, but it seems like a lovely place to raise a family.  Everyone has a say in the government of the town and everyone pays taxes according to his/her means, but they always pay something (even just a symbolic amount) so they are full-fledged members of the community, even in times of economic hardship.  In all, I was very impressed by the area and the individuality expressed in dress, apparent religious observance, and architecture in the small socialist (ish) community.

Next, we hopped on the bus and went to hike in the Golan.  This was my favorite hike so far because it ended at a chilly and beautiful waterfall.  I changed into my bathing suit and scooched into the ice cold pool around the falls.  It took me a few minutes to catch my breath because the chilly water made my chest constrict.  Still, I had a big smile on my face the whole time, especially when I felt the mist of the falls blow around the area.  I swam up to the waterfall itself and went under the stream of water to an alcove where I climbed up with friends and looked out through the rushing water.  It was gorgeous; definitely one of my favorite sites so far.  I felt so small compared to the scene around me, and I really like that humbling feeling.  The hike back up was pretty steep, but I was so content from the swim that I was in a good mood for the rest of the day.

After Monday, I transitioned into Yom Kippur, and headed to Jerusalem to stay at HUC-JIR (the Reform rabbinical school).  I stayed with a really sweet first year student, and we talked about her experience so far at the school.  Because I am a prospective student, it was really helpful to hear from her and her peers about their year in Jerusalem so far.  We went to services in the evening and then walked through the city streets because there are no cars that drive on Yom Kippur.  We saw a bunch of secular kids biking and they looked like they were having a great time.  Naturally, we ran into people we knew in the city, and it turns out one of the HUC students used to song-lead at Crane Lake Camp when I was younger.  Small world!  That night, we returned to my host's apartment and her middle-aged Israeli landlord/suite-mate had friends over and we all spoke Hebrew together.  I was shocked at how much I understood and participated.

Today, we went back to HUC for services all day.  I left with some friends to see the Kotel, which was surprisingly empty in the afternoon, but it was cool to be there on a high holiday nonetheless.  After a long day of fasting we devoured challah, bagels, fruit, and brownies and headed back to Haifa because I have class tomorrow at 9am.  And because it is close to 1am here, I should really head to bed to be awake tomorrow morning.  Laila tov, and I hope everyone had an easy fast/a meaningful day!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Shabbat and Rosh Hashanah

Shanah tova u'metukah to all!  I have not written a blog in a few days because Friday was Shabbat (pretty standard at this point haha) and then Rosh Hashanah started on Sunday.  Although I have experienced a handful of Shabbatot here in Israel, but both ended up being pretty new experiences.

On Friday, I spoke with some friends at the university who were interested in experiencing Shabbat services in Haifa.  We used google maps and searched "synagogues" near the school.  One showed up that was right down the hill, so we decided to meet at 5:45 and walk together.  We got a little lost, but we spotted some men in kippot and sort of followed them for a while before asking them outright where the shul was.   They were very nice and walked us to the building.  It was an Orthodox synagogue, so I went behind the mechitzah with some friends, which left the one boy, Jakob, who came with us alone in the men's section.  He isn't Jewish and only speaks some Hebrew, but the men in the synagogue were so welcoming and they found a man who speaks English well to sit with him and help him out.  That same man, Aaron, invited us to a more Anglo shul the next 8am.

Not surprisingly, a lot of people wanted to sit this one out, so it ended up just being Jakob and I who walked to shul in the morning.  There was a bar mitzvah that day, so there were many more secular people in the room and a lot of candy throwing, which was fun.  This was an Orthodox shul as well, and despite the fact that there were more English speakers there, I asked for help with page numbers in Hebrew, which I was pretty proud of.  After the service, a couple invited me and Jakob back to their house for tea and cake and told us all about places to go for Sukkot and Simchas Torah.  All in all, I was so impressed with how welcoming the community was, but there are still many aspects of Orthodox practice that make me uncomfortable not matter how kind the people are.

On Sunday morning, I hopped on a bus to Jerusalem and got off at Harel to meet my friend Noa, who I stayed with for Rosh Hashanah.  She was the Israeli emissary to Providence last year, and I saw her in Jerusalem when Joey was visiting, and got an invitation to her house for the holiday.  Her family was so sweet, and when I first got there her father showed me around the city.  He took me inside a government building and I got to see the outside of Netanyahu's office, which was so cool!  That night, we went to a kibbutz just a few kilometers from Gaza and had a great dinner with apples and honey and pomegranates, just as you are supposed to for a sweet new year.

The next morning, I went to a Reform shul with Noa and her father.  It was so nice to be in a liberal religious environment after an Orthodox-filled weekend.  The rabbi was female and many of the people who led the service and read from the torah were as well; I felt more at home.  We had great lunch with more family, tons of food, and many little kids and babies.  It felt great to be in a family environment after so much time at the university.  The rest of the day was pretty calm and ended with a trip to a hookah lounge (I had tea) and Grey's Anatomy.

Finally, Noa and I woke up the next morning and headed out to Tel Aviv to meet up with some of her friends and sit on the beach.  We tanned (I burned) and went swimming in the sea.  We also bought some food later in the day and went to see some other friends Noa has in the city to make dinner.  I was asked there if I would prefer that they speak English, but they continued in Hebrew a lot of the time anyway.  I had a bit of trouble understanding at first, but after a couple of minutes, I caught on and could understand a majority of what was said, which felt great.  At night, I got on a train back to Haifa and met up with some friends from the university on our way back up the hill to the school itself.  I was a great weekend and holiday, and I am looking forward to Yom Kippur in Jerusalem as well.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

5 Days of Adventure!

Hello everyone!  Let me start by saying that I am sorry I have not posted in a few days; I was on a series of excursions and overnights away from Haifa with the study tour program.  We started on Sunday and I just got back now, on Thursday night.  There is so much to cover, but I will try my best to summarize each day with a few highlights:

Wall of Names
Sunday: We loaded on the bus at 6:45am and headed to an armor museum in Latrun.  Israelis lost several battles at this site, but now it hosts dozens of large, out-of-date army weapons, as well as information about the battles that occurred there and all over Israel during its founding.  While the machinery was interesting to see and fun to climb on, in a weird kind of way, what struck me most was the Wall of Names.  There, the names of every soldier who fell in Israel's wars from 1948 until 2010 were engraved.  At the same time we were touring, a group of Israeli soldiers was learning about their history and the units they are currently part of.  Blending together past military history with those currently committed to defend this country formed a moving and somewhat frightening sight.  After Latrun, we made our way to Kastel, followed by Ammunition Hill, and we spoke more about the price people have paid over the years to establish and defend this nation.  Finally, on Mount Herzl (the military cemetery), we spoke about the famous leaders buried on the grounds, as well as some of the everyday people who fell in order to protect these ideals.  Many people were moved when we saw the grave of an American who came to serve in the IDF and did not make it out; that really brought the situation closer to home for a lot of the group.  For me, it made me consider the difference between mandatory service for Israelis and optional entry for other people around the world.  I understood the extra impact that the death of a volunteer from our home country had on the group, but I couldn't help but consider all of the graves we were passing by of Israeli soldiers and the attention they deserved as well.

Monday: This day was dedicated to Jewish ancient history in Jerusalem.  We walked around the Old City and went to enter King David's grave.  Unfortunately, there was construction at the tomb, but I saw this area last time I was in Israel, so I did not feel like I was missing out.  What I thought was so interesting is that archeologists have more or less proven that King David is not really buried in that place, yet religious people are not deterred by their findings, and they continue to pray there anyway.  While it might seem illogical to some, I really appreciate that kind of faith.  Later on, we went to the Davidson center and saw the Southern Wall of the 2nd Temple.  This wall is attached to the Western Wall, and in fact, about a third of the Western Wall is within this museum.  Seeing this area without people praying actually gave me more appreciation for the section where they do.  I realized that while it may seem idolatrous if someone is praying to the wall, rather than to G-d at the wall, what makes the place holy is not the structure itself, but the energy and hopes that millions of people have sunk into that space over the years.  With this understanding, I prayed at the Western Wall again, and had a much more enjoyable experience than last time.

Tuesday: Today was dedicated to Christian history in Jerusalem, but when we study the life of Jesus, we do so through a Jewish lens.  This is fairly easy to do, because Christianity really became a major religion when the Roman empire adopted it in the 4th century, well after Jesus's death.  Still, there are several religious Catholics in the study tour group, so my teacher was mindful to recognize the religious significant of many places we visited.  We walked through the 14 stations of the cross, starting with Pontius Pilate and ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was stripped, crucified, and resurrected.  Christians believe that Adam, the first man, is buried in this area, and that when Jesus bled, his blood dripped down underground and touched Adam's skull, thus absolving mankind of sin.  I liked how interwoven the Old and New Testament became in this story, even if Jews believe Adam is buried in Hebron.  After the tour, we loaded on the bus and headed to the Negev to sleep out in a Bedouin tent.  I had already done this before on Birthright, but it was really fun and the food was just as amazing as I remembered, with really sweet tea to wash it down.  After some time around a campfire, we headed to bed.

Ein Gedi swimming pool
Wednesday: We woke up bright and early, at 4:15am to hike Masada to watch the sun rise.  I was not expecting to love this part of the trip, only because last time I did this, I was given my Hebrew name on top of the mountain, and I did not believe another trek up would be as meaningful.  While it did not feel as significant or moving, the hike was fun and I learned more history this time around.  This is the place where Jewish zealots fled from the Romans, but were ultimately surrounded and decided to choose suicide over enslavement.  The men held a meeting and decided to kill their wives and children, so they never should know the pain of defilement or slavery, and then draw lots to kill each other, with one falling upon his sword at the end.  I always think of the women and children, who had no say in the decision and still had to abide by the choice made.  It was heavy stuff, but fascinating at the same time.  Later, we went to Ein Gedi and hiked up to beautiful natural swimming pools with waterfalls.  This may have been the most beautiful thing I have seen in Israel.  We cooled off in the waters and had some amazing views.  After, we went to the Dead Sea; I floated but it was so salty and painful that many people did not spend a ton of time there.  Finally, we arrived at my favorite place in the world (that I have seen so far): Sde Boker.  This is a field school attached to the kibbutz where Ben Gurion lived.  Every time I look over the mountains and dunes and up at the stars there, I fall in love with Israel all over again.

Thursday: The final day of the trip!  We went to Ben Gurion's house and his gravesite and talked a bit about him as a leader and as a kibbutznik.  Later, we went on a hike at Ein Avdat, which involved some ladders embedded in the rocks where you climb straight up and down the mountain face.  The views were spectacular, but it was also very hot, so I was glad it was a relatively short hike.  After, we went spelunking!  Well, I think a spelunker finds new caves, but we went in already-established I guess we went caving!  I was nervous at first, because you are stuck in a small rock tunnel most of the time with someone in front of you and behind you who are not moving if there is a hold up (and there is much of the time in a group of 25).  Still, the madricha was really encouraging and I climbed through, sometimes shimmying on my back just to fit through a certain tunnel.  This was one of several hiding places the Jews used when Romans were hunting them centuries ago.  It was terrifying to think of the conditions they lived in, with constant fear and little food.  Many times, the Romans smoked them out in order to kill them, burning up all of the oxygen in the caves.  We ended the tour by entering a small alcove barely big enough for us with no ventilation where the Jews hid when the Romans found the tunnels.  We turned off all of our flashlights for one minute and sat with hot air, dripping in sweat, unable to see; the Jews there had to do this for days on end in the past.  This stood as a solid contrast to Masada, with survival instincts defying all else.  Finally, we ended in Tel Aviv for a short swim and then drove back up to the university.  Even though the trip was fun, I am happy to be home :)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Israel's Founders

During the past two days of the study tour, we have been focusing on the events leading up to the founding of the state of Israel.  Since I already took a class on Zionism from the Modern period (1800s) until 1948 at Brown, a lot of the material was repetitive.  Still, my teacher here added some details to my understanding, and more than anything, being on the land itself taught me more than any books or articles had in the past.

On Wednesday we had a class moving from the beginning of the Diaspora all the way to the start of the 20th century.  We covered Herzl, Gordon, Borochov, and all of the other great and argumentative early Zionist thinkers.  At the end of class, we spent extra time on the socialist and communist underpinnings of a certain influential strain of Zionism called Labor Zionism.  The colonizers with this ideology formed much of the 2nd and 3rd Aliyah and created much of the infrastructure for Israel today.

All of this class work was in preparation for our field trip today to the first functioning kibbutz (commune) and to the Kinneret more generally.  We were faced with a lot of difficult questions throughout the day about idealism, sacrifice, and the difficulties of uprooting oneself and moving to a new land with an entirely different way of living.  Perhaps the most difficult part was going to the graveyard of the kibbutz and seeing a row of stones for children, many of whom were toddlers.  When we hear about the courageous Zionists draining the swamps in Israel and making the desert bloom, we rarely hear of the number that caught malaria, or whose children died from this or other diseases.  It really means paying the ultimate price for ideology, and I am still processing my opinions on the matter...although I suppose it may not be my place to have one.

After that stop, we went to the Sea of Galilee, changed into bathing suits, and swam in the water.  The sea was quite warm, but it was still cooler than the air, which was swelteringly hot.  We stayed in the water for about an hour, with fish nibbling at our toes the whole time.  One girl screamed because of the sensation and the lifeguards called her over and then fed fish near her and had her catch them with her hands, to allay her fear.  We all laughed a lot, and seeing all of the flopping fish and chuckling Israeli lifeguards was pretty entertaining.  Afterward, we went to Tiberias, one of the four holy cities, and got lunch.  I had a fresh-squeezed orange juice at the end, which tasted great in the heat.

Finally, we walked up a mountainous area where Jews had hidden in cave towns during the rule of Herod.  In a book I am reading, the author describes these dwellings as carved into a mountain with nearly vertical drop-offs, but not until I saw them myself did I understand how steep and dangerous they were.  A disturbing and infamous battle occurred there, with Herod pursuing the Jews and many taking their own lives and those of their family members in order to escape slavery under the Romans.  The sights were breathtaking, but mixed with all of the tragic history, it is hard to name the emotions I felt throughout the hike.

All in all, it was a great day, and far less tiring than our first trip day.  I am looking forward to class tomorrow followed by a restful Shabbat.  For now, I am going to pop in a DVD and call it a day.  Goodnight!  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tzippori, Nazareth, and Safed

Today was our first field study day in the study tour, meaning we left campus to go and see some of the sites we are reading about for class with our own eyes.  As liberal and unique as the educational experience at Brown can be, living in a place with so much history just a short bus drive away makes for a completely new and hands-on type of learning.  We met up at the buses at 7:30am and planned to be out until 7:30pm, so I was understandably both excited and a little nervous that I might get tired or cranky.  Good news is, I remained pretty enthusiastic and perky despite the long hours and hot weather, probably because the tour was so interesting and covered some places I had not seen before.

First, we went to Tzippori.  For a little historical background, when the Jews rebelled against the Romans, leading the the destruction of the Temple, many cities fought against these Hellenized forces.  The Jews were even winning after the first year, but a rabbi in Tzippori said enough was enough, he wanted no more war or bloodshed, so when the Romans landed on banks near his city, he went to them immediately to surrender.  As such, when the Romans defeated the Jewish forced, they laid waste to every city except Tzippori.  The surrender was looked upon as an act of cowardice by other Jewish cities at the time, but because it survived, so did the remnant of the Jewish people, including a rabbi who would work to codify Jewish teachings while they were in Diaspora.  This led to the development of the Talmud.  Today, religious Jews see this not as an act of cowardice but as a wise move and even an intervention by the hand of G-d.

Aside from learning all of this history, at the actual site we got to see the work of years of archeological digging in which the city was uncovered and used to verify certain historical theories.  We got to see where the people of the town lived as well as the prominent citizens and a famous mosaic.  We learned about how mosaics are made and the tremendous amount of time, effort, and skill that went into even the simpler ones during that period.  It made me think about how quickly we want things built and created today in our culture and the immense amount of patience it took to work on a piece of flooring for, let's say, fifteen years.

Next, we drove to Nazareth, which is where Mary was informed that she would give birth Jesus.  The Church of the Annunciation was built there (using Christian, Jewish, and Arab labor).  It was very pretty, and all different countries had shipped pictures of Jesus and Mary to the church, each making both of the figures look like people of their nationality.  There was Korean Jesus and Spanish Jesus and Thai Jesus and more...basically Jesi galore!  The whole thing was a great symbol of global connection and inter-religious cooperation.  It is also the center of the feminine side of Christianity, with Mary emphasized (because Jesus's mission was in Bethlehem, not Nazareth).

After, we went to Safed, which I have toured around twice already.  We learned about Kabbalah, but there wasn't a whole lot of new information that I learned.  Still, it is a beautiful city and I love the feeling I get being in such a spiritual place with so much religious history.  Finally, we got on the bus back home and I called my grandparents and then made dinner with a friend.  I made hamburgers with avocado, rosemary potatoes, and garlic green beans (I was told I write a lot about food, but oh well, I like to include the little things I guess).  It was delicious but now I have to write a journal entry for class about the trip today.  Good night!

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Study Tour Begins!

The September Study Tour began on Sunday, but before class started, all of the new people arrived on Friday and Saturday.  On Friday, we had a group pizza dinner/Shabbat dinner.  The Dominos pizza was alright, but meeting everyone was definitely the highlight.  Finally, after a month of Ulpan, more people have arrived who will be staying for the full semester.  And the good news is that they are all really sweet and fun to hang out with!

After meeting each other, shaking hands, and exchanging the typical information about where we are from, where we go to school, our major, etc., we talked about what we are hoping to get out of the study tour and the semester and why we came to Haifa.  It was really cool to hear about the different paths that people are on that all led us to meet here in Israel.  Also, among the new arrivals is my friend Noah who I met on a program earlier this summer in Washington, D.C.  I was so happy to have him arrive!

On Saturday morning, we had a breakfast activity and watched a movie.  The movie was called The Bubble and it was absolutely incredible and heart-breaking.  It is about two gay men, one who is Israeli and the other who is Arab and their relationship, immigration issues, leftist politics, and radicalism.  I wont spoil the end but it takes a huge unexpected turn and it definitely worth watching.  To take my mind off of the sad movie, I went to the gym for a bit and then met up with people from the program and took them on a hike.  I felt a bit like a tour leader, but in a good way.  It was kind of nice to see people at the same, less settled place where I was only a month ago, and to now be the person telling them which busses to take and restaurants to go to.  I feel like I have come pretty far in a short amount of time.  We ended the day at the beach with shawarma, falafel, watching waves, and strolling the boardwalk.

Class began again on Sunday, and the teacher is really engaging, which is important because it lasts from 9-3pm every seminar day.  The professor covered centuries of history in a concise and clear manner that kept most of us really attentive.  Tomorrow we are going on our first field study day to Nazareth and Safed and somewhere else...I forget...but I will update again soon!

Friday, August 31, 2012

End of Ulpan

This past Wednesday I woke up early in the morning, said goodbye to Joey as he left for the airport, and went to my last Ulpan class.  After doing review activities from 8:30-1pm, I went back to my apartment, ate lunch, and studied from 2pm-11pm.  And all for (drumroll please) my Ulpan FINAL!!

Yes, the end of Ulpan came and, while I was sad to say goodbye to my class, I was happy to have this incredibly intensive language program come to a close.  I learned more in these 4 short weeks than I ever thought was possible, and I had such a wonderful teacher and really sweet and engaging classmates.  Still, after hours of class, homework, and vocabulary memorization each day, a bit of a break is very welcomed.  I will be continuing with Hebrew during the semester, but it is only 2 hours each morning Monday through Thursday, which is far more manageable.

So, while I don't have my final grade back, I feel really good about the test.  I know that I worked hard and did the best job that I could have done.  It is a new feeling, being in a course where learning all of the material is neither expected nor possible, but I think I absorbed a lot and I am thankful that I had such a positive experience in the course.

After the test on Thursday, my suite-mate and I decided that it would be fitting to blow off some steam. Because of Shabbat, when the buses run on a strange schedule for Friday night and Saturday, Thursday is the night to go out.  Even though we were tired, we met up with her cousin and a friend of his and headed to a dance club.  There were separate boys and girls lines, which I had never seen before, but I was happy to be on the girl's side because it moved very quickly.  We went through security and bought a ticket before entering the club.  Inside, there were lights everywhere and many different rooms playing a variety of music.  We moved between the main room with techno-top 40 music and the hip-hop room (where they played a lot of English and Hebrew rap songs).  It was so loud and so bright and exactly what I needed to get re-energized!

The perfect 3am snack!
We arrived at the club around 11:30am, which is relatively early in Israel, and stayed out until 5am!  We danced the whole time and my knees were killing me by the end.  And, in the middle, just when we felt like we were fading, suddenly employees at the club come around with ice pops and the entire room stopped dancing to have a sugary cold snack break.  It was the funniest thing!  Anyway, after getting back to the dorm at 5am I was in desperate need of an ice cold shower, and after cleaning up and drying off I fell asleep around 6.  Then, I got up at 11am to go to the bookstore and library to find some reading materials for my study tour, which begins on Sunday.  The main point is, I had a blast, but I am exhausted so I will end this blog entry here and head to sleep.  Goodnight everyone!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bahai Gardens and Other Haifa Adventures

View from the Top of the
Bahai Gardens
After our weekend in Jerusalem, Joey and I decided to check out some more sights here in Haifa.  After class on Sunday, we found a bus to the Bahai Gardens.  This is one of the most famous sights in Haifa, and it is also a holy place for people who practice the Bahai religion.  Still, they let tourists come into the top level or so.

We got on the bus after having a good lunch, putting on sun screen, and packing water.  It was incredibly hot because we left around 3pm, but the bus was air conditioned.  Still, there are no signs for the gardens until after the stop, we discovered, so we got off the bus one stop too the bottom of a steep hill...without shade.

We walked up the hill and even though it was hot, it was hard to complain with such beautiful views of the harbor.  We went into the gardens at around 3:40, and took some pictures before realizing that the site closes at 4.  Feeling a bit silly traveling for such a short period of time, we decided to walk around a bit.  We ended up finding a really beautiful promenade overlooking the water where we sat in the shade.

After cooling off a bit, we continued walking on what appeared to be a main street, which turned into one of the central shopping areas in Haifa.  Pretty convenient!  I recognized this place immediately because it was the only place in Haifa that my Taglit/Birthright tour stopped.  There were falafel stands, ice cream parlors, shops, and of course a McDonalds.  Joey and I went into an Aroma (the Israeli version of Starbucks) for the mazgan (air conditioning) and something cold to drink.  I had an iced shoko for the first time, which is like an airy chocolate milkshake.  It was delicious but way too big and it filled me up past dinner time.

Yesterday, Joey and I went back to the shuk and purchased some food for a potluck dinner with friends.  We made rosemary potatoes (they were a big hit last time), and we had some fresh squeezed orange, mango, and peach juices.  I tried to get some studying done yesterday, but I did not have any homework so I got some other work done (event planning, email catch up, etc.) before cooking and heading out to a bar/restaurant with the program.  We hung out and tried our best to speak in Hebrew to the madrichot (kind of like RAs for the program).  We headed back with enough time to get some sleep before class today.  Now I am off to study for my final on Thursday!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Weekend in Jerusalem

On Friday morning, Joey and I got up early, headed toward the central bus station, and hopped on an intercity bus to Jerusalem.  My program was going to Jerusalem on the same day, but for insurance reasons Joey could not travel with the group, because he is not on the Ulpan program.  Still, public transportation was really easy and for about $15 we found ourselves in the holy city a few hours later.

We met up with a friend from Brown, Jonah, who is on an awesome fellowship program.  He essentially receives money for rent, food, learning, and whatever else he would like to do here in Israel. He said they want him to find his "fireworks," new passions and such, but that it is a little paralyzing to have the means and the time to do so.  I imagine that having nothing to hold you back from finding your passions puts pressure on someone to find them right away, even though that process usually takes time to develop.  Anyway, we had breakfast and great conversation at a quaint restaurant near Ben Yehuda...I think on Jaffo street, but I am terrible with remembering those kinds of things.  We had scrambled eggs, pesto mushrooms, cheese, warm rolls, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  It was quite a feast!  Still, I did not fill up too much because I had a lot of eating plans for the day...mainly I wanted to each a lot of rugelach from Marzipan (it is chocolatey and oily and delicious...a must-have in Jerusalem).

After saying goodbye to Jonah, Joey and I walked to the Old City.  I came prepared with a long skirt and a shawl to change into.  We went to the Kotel and it was crazy to see how small the women's side has become.  I don't know if the mechitza was moved since I came on Birthright, but it was difficult to find room against the wall and even in the chairs there.  Joey and I split up to pray/visit our respective sides.  I had a very moving experience at the Wall on Birthright, but, while I still feel moved now, something about the experience just wasn't the same.  Maybe because this time when I looked at all of the people there, I thought that it appeared a bit idolatrous, kissing a wall and believing that stuffing notes containing your prayers there makes them more likely to be answered.  Still, I understand that being in a location filled with so much history and connection to the past has an effect; and maybe putting oneself in that particular location changes one's energy or thought process and really does connect them more with G-d.  I don't know, I am no religious expert yet.

Joey and I met back up and walked to the shuk.  I have never been in Jerusalem on or pre-Shabbas, and I was told the market would be crazy.  It did not disappoint!  There were people everywhere and a ton of produce to buy.  We picked up avocado, mangoes, pita, and apples.  Right before entering we had purchased a container of Marzipan rugelach too, so I was a happy camper.  The shuk had so many smells that changed so fast, too.  One second it would smell like fresh bread, the other like fruit juice, and then suddenly like eggs that have been in hot weather for too long.  It was a cool experience to take in, and if I ever live in Jerusalem, I would love to go back when it is bustling like that.

Later on, Joey and I got some shawarma for lunch and checked into our hostel to clean up after baking in the sun all day and before going to services and dinner for Shabbat.  A professor from Brown who is here for a year hosted us for dinner, which was really sweet.  Joey had had his son as a student in religious school and the daughter was in Jr USY when I was the advisor last year.  We walked about 30 minutes to their shul, where we experienced a really beautiful and progressive service.  The prayer books had a lot of wording options and the room was actually packed with people singing along with the rabbi.  I was very impressed.  We then walked with our professor and his family to their apartment and ate a wonderful meal.  It was very nice to be in a family setting for a change.  After the meal, we walked back to the hostel and fell asleep quickly after so much walking.

The next day, Joey and I took our food and walked to a park.  We spent the rest of the day alternately walking, eating, sitting in the shade, and exploring the city.  It was new for me to be in Jerusalem on Shabbat, and I was actually surprised by the number of cars I saw driving in the streets.  Granted, it was not a ton, but I did not expect to see almost any.  Around 6pm we met up with an Israeli friend who was in Providence this past year, Noa.  It was great to see her in her home setting, and we spoke in a combination of Hebrew and English, and I was proud of what I understood.  Noa extended an invitation to me to come to her house on Rosh Hashannah, and any other time I am in Jerusalem.  It is really nice to connect with a friend here in Israel!  We finished talking around 8pm, which was perfect timing to head to the bus station and catch the first bus back to Haifa after Shabbat ended.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and I was really happy to have Joey here to help me navigate the transportation and housing situations for my first trip to Jerusalem since I arrived this semester.  Now I am headed off to class, but I will post again soon! (And I am figuring out how to upload my pictures from the weekend...I will update when I can).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hosting a Visitor

Everything in Haifa is going very well, and I am really feeling more settled in here.  Not only did I buy kitchen supplies the other week, but I have started making big meals.  To be honest, I probably would not have started doing so if I wasn't hosting a visitor.  Joey arrived on Tuesday morning!

My suite-mate had her boyfriend come last week, and because he does not speak Hebrew, she had to pick him up from the airport.  I was happy that Joey speaks Hebrew, because his flight got into Tel Aviv around 2am, but he could navigate to Haifa on his own.  He called me at 7am from the top of the hill at the university and I had just enough time to pick him up, get him through security, and get to class while he fell asleep.

We went to the shuk (outdoor market) on the bus.  I had gone once before with the university program, but this was my first time on the city buses.  I was a little nervous that we had missed it at one point, but Joey was calm and confident and got us there easily.  We bought a lot of food like dried fruits, nuts, cucumber, onion, potatoes, and fresh pita.  That night I made grilled chicken with rosemary and pomegranate and chopped salad.  We also bought shoko-b'sakit (chocolate milk in a bag), which is so delicious and a must have in Israel.

Yesterday, Joey and I went with my suite-mates and a few other girls to a music/beer festival down by the beach.  It was really fun even though I hate beer and didn't understand the music.  Still, it was nice to be hanging out by the beach, eating shnitzel and drinking mango juice and talking with friends.

Just so you all don't think all I do is travel around and eat and go to the beach, I will also talk a bit about class.  Ulpan is still very intense, but the homework hasn't been taking so long this past week and I am starting to feel much more confident in class.  Maybe it's because this week was not super grammar-intensive, but it wasn't stressful at all.  I really like my teacher and my peers, and I think the school does a wonderful job at making students feel comfortable while they are working hard and advancing.

That is all for now!  Joey and I are most likely headed to Jerusalem for Shabbat, so I will update on that soon!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ulpan Presentation

Hey everyone, below is the Ulpan presentation I gave today in Hebrew...I will also roughly translate it in English:

הרבה ילדים בארצות הברית הולכים למחנה קיץ
אני הלכתי למחנה קיץ "קריין לייק" או בעברית: "אגם עגור". זה מקום יפה בין ההרים במסאצ'וסטס. בני הדודים שלי וגם האחות שלי הלכו לאותו מחנה קיץּ וכשהייתי בת תשע ההורים שלי שלחו גם אותיהיום הראשון לא היה קל בשבילי, אבל עם עזרה מהמשפחה הִכַּרתי הרבה אנשיםהחברות שלי אהבו את הבנים אבל בשבילי, הבנים לא היו חשוביםעד שהייתי בת שְׁתֵים עֶשְׂרֵה, כשכל הבנות האחרות התחילו להתנשק עם בחור.

אהבתי רק בחור אחדהשם שלו דן והוא שיחק בייסבול ולקרוסדיברנו ולפעמים אהבתי לשחות איתו באגם. יש לו שיער ג'ינג'י (אדום) והוא היה נחמד ומענייןורציתי להתנשק איתו. זאת היתה הנשיקה הראשונה שלי.  

יום אחד קבוצת הגיל שלי נסעה לבוסטון באוטובוס. ישבתי באוטובוס מאחור, עם החברה שלי אלכּס. כל הבחורים התחילו לשחק את המשחק "שבע דקות בגן עדן."  היה כיף וצחקנו הרבהאז אלכּס אמרה שאני צריכה להתנשק עם דן.

היו שירותים באוטובוס ושָׁם כל הבחורים התנשקו עם הבחורותדן ואני היינו עצבניים אבל הלכנו לשירותים. 

סגרנו את הדלת והתחַלנו להתנשקבאותו רגע האוטובוס עצר וירדנו ודן נתן לי נשיקההיה דם על הפנים שלי וכשרצתי מהשירותים, המדריכה שלי ראתה אותי עם הדם ושאלה אותי "צ'לסי מה קרה?!"  עניתי לה, ש"זאת היתה הנשיקה הראשונה שלי!"

"A lot of kids in America go to summer camp.  I went to Crane Lake camp, which is located in a beautiful place between the mountains in Massachusetts.  My cousins and my sister went to this same camp, and when I was nine years old, my parents sent me there too.  The first day way difficult, but with help from my family, I met a lot of people.  My girl friends were very interested in boys, but they were not important to me...until I turned 12 and all of the other girls started to kiss the boys.  

I liked just one boy, and his name was Dan.  He played sports and we used to talk and sometimes we would swim together in the lake.  He had red hair and he was nice and interesting...and I wanted to have my first kiss with him.  

One day, my age group went on a trip to Boston, on a bus.  I sat in the back with my friend, Alex, and all of the kids started to play 'seven minutes in heaven'.  It was fun and we laughed a lot.  Then, Alex said that I should partner with Dan and kiss him.  

There was a bathroom on the bus that we were using for the game, where all of the boys were kissing the girls.  Dan and I were nervous, but we went into the bathroom.  

We closed the door and we started to kiss.  At that moment, the bus stopped short, we fell, and Dan bit me.  There was blood on my face and when I ran from the bathroom, my counselor saw me, with the blood, and asked, 'Chelsea, what happened?!'  I answered her, 'I just had my first kiss!'"

The presentation went well and the class laughed a lot at the story.  Also, for the past two days, I have completely understood what the teacher has presented in class, which is a great feeling.  I also went to a lecture today about current events in Israel and got an interesting and comprehensive perspective on various domestic and international issues, including Israel's budget issues, the ultra-Orthodox and the military, and of course Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  All in all, another successful and informative day in Haifa :)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Becoming a Real Person

Today was a great day.  I spoke to my mom and little sister Hayley on the phone, completed all of my homework early, went to the gym, and most importantly, bought kitchen supplies with my suite-mate.  These all might sound like very small tasks, but to me they feel like big accomplishments; completing all of these things in one day is helping me feel settled in and, a real person.

Starting from the beginning, today I woke up early to stop by the international office and ask some questions to the staff there.  I had to talk about some class stuff, the September study tour, and general safety things.  The news recently may be a bit unnerving, but after talking to someone in the office, I was reassured that the school has our safety as a top priority and that everyone knows the procedures to follow should anything happen.  So, in case anyone out there is a bit worried about my safety, don't waste the energy...they pay people here to worry and plan and coordinate everything.

Anyway, I went to class afterward and had a really relaxing day.  Of course, that term is relative because Ulpan is very intense, but it was not a grammar-heavy day, so I had a lot of fun.  Also, we all wrote little notes about ourselves/any topic we wanted at the beginning of the program, and the teacher has been reading them to the class periodically, and then the person who wrote the note needs to answer questions from everyone in class about his or her story.  Today was my day.  Surprisingly, I was able to understand most things and form coherent answers.  I definitely could not say everything without some help, but everyone was really nice and the whole thing went well.  We also went to a lecture about media and terror and the difference between central cities and areas on the periphery, and I was able to understand a fair amount of the talk.  I know tomorrow will be a more intense day, but I am still relishing in the chilled-out time today.

After class, I met up with my suite-mate, Becky, and we took the bus to the Haifa mall and bought:
-2 pans
-1 cutting board
-2 knives
-2 dish rags
-2 bath mats
-1 strainer
-Lots of yummy food from the SuperSol (grocery chain)
It looks like a short list, but having these basic supplies makes me feel much more at home here in my dorm.  My room may still be a little bare, but now I can make myself food.  Oh, and we figured out the laundry machines.  So, basically, we are like native Israelis now.  Just kidding...but we wish :)

Now I should go and prepare for my presentation tomorrow in class.  I have to speak for about 10 minutes on any topic I choose, and I picked to write about my first kiss.  It's a great story involving a bus stopping short, braces, and a fair amount of blood, and I was amazed that I know enough Hebrew to translate the whole thing.  Hopefully it will be funny for the class!

Li'hit'ra'ot for now!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shalom From Haifa!

Shalom from Haifa everybody!  I intended to set up this blog before leaving, but between flights to Israel, the start of classes, and iffy wifi connection, it took about 2 weeks.  My apologies, but I am connected now and excited to let everyone in on what it is like here at the University of Haifa. (Just a note, my Hebrew name is Chava, and the first letter is the same in Hebrew as that for Haifa, thus the name of the blog.  I hope it doesn't throw anyone too much).

First of all, it's August so it is incredibly hot!  This isn't a big problem when you are relaxing in the water at the beach, but seeing as the university is on top of a mountain, a bus ride away from the water, it's hot here a lot of the time.  Still, my classroom is air-conditioned, and I invested in a big fan after 2 nights of restless, sweaty sleep.

My first night in Haifa was a little rough.  I arrived at the university 20 minutes after everyone in the program had left for their first night out together, so I was waiting around for about 3 hours in a sticky hot new room with no one around.  Still, once those three hours passed and everyone returned, I met my suite-mates, and they are AMAZING!  One, Becky, is staying all semester too, which makes me really happy.  She is from Wesleyan, so naturally we have already covered topics like gender binaries and heteronormativity (these talks always make me feel at home).

Becky has a cousin here in Israel, so we met up with him and some of his friends just a few nights into the program and hung out on the beach.  We even went swimming at night!  I thought the water would be cold, but the Mediterranean is so warm and beautiful, it felt like a bathtub.  Since then, I have gone to the beach every couple of days, which is something I just couldn't do back at home.

Me rocking a skirt, tie-dye shirt, and hiking sneakers; ready
to visit a temple then hike a mountain, naturally.
We have been on a few trips with the program, too.  The first was to Caesarea, and the second was to Safed, followed by a long hike.  Both were informative and fun, but Safed is one of my favorite cities in Israel, so that one definitely was a winner for me.  I love that city because it feels so spiritual all of the time, and both times I have visited were Fridays right before Shabbat, so there is a certain electricity there that you can't find in a lot of other places.

Finally, I will talk about classes so people don't think I am just lying on a beach and walking around awesome cities (although, that is a big part of the time here).  Ulpan, the Hebrew intensive course, is, well, intense.  We have class from 8:30-1pm most days, followed by a lot of homework and studying.  I just took my midterm, and I know I didn't do so well, but it is nice being in a challenging class just to learn.  I am trying not to worry about the grade, but it is definitely in my nature to do so a little.  Still, learning so much Hebrew in so little time is pretty cool, and I think the program and my teacher especially are really impressive.

That is all for now, but I know I will have plenty to write about soon.  My future posts will be a bit more descriptive because I wont be covering two weeks in one post.  Anyway, l'hit'ra'ot from Haifa!  I hope everyone is having a great summer!