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.

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