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!