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.