Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Day 88: Israel is a very small place

It's been a little while since I've updated - all sorts of things have been happening here! A few quick highlights include:
  • Ulpan classes are in full swing and are going very well! Hebrew is flooding back into my brain, which is a great feeling.
  • I've started writing for the new Pardes student blog (along with seven or so other students), which you can read here.
  • Tofu! Pardes has a tofu co-op which I am currently organizing (taking orders from students, placing the order with Simcha-the-tofu-lady and dealing with sorting out the delivery). I get a free kilo of tofu with every order, so it's pretty worthwhile for me.
  • Vegetables! Miriam and Sarah and I joined a CSA called ח'ביזה עלי (alay chubeza - I don't actually know what it means) and now a lovely box of vegetables gets delivered to my apartment every week. It's fantastic. Last week there were eggplants, sweet potatoes, a big piece of squash, corn, lettuce, rocket greens, scallions, bell peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, and radishes. And cilantro. I'm in vegetable heaven.
I have a lot of stories from the last two weeks, but here are two particularly good ones. The first one starts on the Friday night before Simchat Torah (October 9th, for those playing the home game). Miriam and Sara (Gunning) and I all went to our friend Jessica and Amy's apartment for Shabbat dinner. We had a really wonderful evening - one of the other guests was actually someone that Sara taught with at Beth Emet, which was a nice surprise. While we were there, Amy asked us if we had met her friend Jeremy yet - he works for Btselem, a human rights organization here in Israel. The answer was no - or at least, not yet.

The next day, Sara and I went to Nava Tehila for Simchat Torah services - Nava Tehila is a Renewal minyan here in Jerusalem, which mostly means that there's a lot of really beautiful singing. The service was very spiritual and joyful, and at one point we unrolled the whole Torah scroll and held it up in a circle with our tallitot. Sara was standing on one side of me, and there was a gentleman I'd never met before on my right, so I introduced myself and started chatting. His name is Jeremy, and it turns out that he works for Btselem, and knows Amy and Jessica... Small world, right?

Jeremy is also a central figure in the second story, because it's actually mostly his story. Jeremy's father is Israeli by birth, but his family moved out of Israel when Jeremy's father was two years old. Jeremy came to Jerusalem to work for Btselem, which is a great human rights organization that doesn't have the best relationship with the Israeli government, for a lot of reasons. Anyway, after Jeremy got here, he went to apply for a work visa, and was asked where his parents were born. Upon mentioning that his father was born in Israel, Jeremy was informed that he couldn't apply for a work visa because he's actually an Israeli citizen, and so what he needed to do was make aliyah.

For a lot of complicated reasons, and also some pretty simple and obvious ones, Jeremy didn't actually want to make aliyah, but it wound up being his only feasible option for the time being. And so on Friday I found myself hanging out on the Tayelet with Miriam, Sara, Jeremy, and Jeremy's friend Avital having a little mock-aliyah party, celebrating the insanity that is the Israeli government. And in another example of the world being small, it turns out that Avital, who went to Berkeley, knows Kelly (one of my AVODAH roommates and current good friend). Crazy!

Beyond the fact that the world is fairly small, I think Jeremy's story is really interesting because it highlights a weird part of being in Israel. I get the sense sometimes, both from Israelis and Americans, that in order to be a good Jew I have to want to live in Israel forever. Which, frankly, isn't something I think I'll ever want. I have far too much of a life in the United States to ever really be comfortable with the idea of moving to Israel, and that doesn't even begin to address the ideological problems I have with making aliyah. Anyway, talking with Jeremy about his situation has just reminded me how complicated living here actually is, and how far from home I really am. It's easy to forget you're living in a foreign country when you spend most of your time with other Americans, but it turns out that things are really different here! Who knew? :)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Day 72: a new month is here

The last time I posted, I was planning to take a trip to Tel Aviv for the Nachalat Binyamin craft fair and some quality time at the beach. I wound up going with Lauren and Shira, and had an absolutely fantastic day. First of all, the Nachalat Binyamin craft fair is amazing - it's all Israeli artists, and while (as at any street fair) some of the stuff is less than stellar, there's also a large quantity of really beautiful work. Jewelry, Judaica, toys, wall hangings, scarves, paintings... Lauren and Shira and I walked through the fair for almost two hours, and had a really good time. I didn't wind up purchasing anything, because I just couldn't make a decision about what I wanted, but I will certainly be going back there in the future.

That afternoon, we went to the beach where I put my feet into the Mediterranean for the first time in my life. Lauren, in all her rabbinical student glory, even knew the blessing to say upon seeing the Mediterranean for the first time, so we had a nice moment when we put our feet in the water.

As I lay on my blanket in the sun, I came to the realization that I am a little bit of a beach addict. I have always thought of myself as a mountain girl - mostly because of my love for the beautiful, beautiful Appalachian mountains, but also because I love hiking, and camping, and being surrounded by trees. However, as I lay on the beach soaking up the sun and swimming in the warm water, it occurred to me that I felt more relaxed than I have felt the entire time I've been in Israel. There's something about being next to a large body of water that's so soothing - the sun, and the smell, and the sound all combine to make one happy Naomi. In Chicago, I made a point in the summer of spending my Sunday afternoons at the lake for a lot of the same reasons (the water is not quite so warm in Chicago, even in July and August...). I guess it's just something to keep in mind when I work my way back to the States in the spring.

Since that afternoon, I've been thinking a lot about how to bring that level of calm into the rest of my life here in Jerusalem. I'm not absurdly stressed out, but getting through the holidays in Jerusalem is a bit of a long haul, and I feel like I'm only just able to really start settling into life here.

One of the big issues I'm currently tackling is my relationship to the Hebrew language - I am, for the first time that I can remember, nervous about speaking to people in stores. As a child, I was taught all of the same lessons my friends were taught - don't speak to strangers! Don't approach people you don't know! But in the South, there's a sense of familiarity that we all grow up with - when you're in a grocery store, it's alright to chat with the person next to you looking at cantaloupes, or the person in front of you in the check-out line. Commenting on a museum exhibit to the person standing next to you is totally socially acceptable, whether you know them or not. When I was at Brandeis, I often had strange interactions with people in public spaces, because I would talk to everyone, and they had no idea how to react to that. But here, in Jerusalem, I find it genuinely difficult to open my mouth in public.

Mostly it has to do with the language barrier. I'm scared of making a mistake, and having people know that I'm *gasp* American. I don't have a lot of confidence in my Hebrew fluency, so I don't speak, so I don't get better, so I don't have confidence... It's difficult for me to reconcile feeling so comfortable with the neighborhood I live in in terms of knowing how to get from Point A to Point B, and not knowing how to ask for directions if I wander off of my path. I don't really have that much of a problem looking silly in public, but when checking out in the grocery store involves me answering questions by looking bewildered and shrugging, it starts to feel a little uncomfortable.

I'm definitely getting better - not necessarily at speaking, but at learning the right words so that I can understand when people speak to me. Also, I just started an ulpan (modern Hebrew class) that meets twice a week in the evenings at Pardes, so I'm getting in a lot of practice in a safe space. My first ulpan class was so much fun - it was such a relief to be sitting in a classroom where the only thing I had to think about was speaking modern Hebrew, as opposed to biblical Hebrew and the Torah, or struggling through Aramaic in the mishna. I found that I remember a lot more than I think I do - I just need some practice accessing that part of my brain again. And then I need to start speaking in public, but that's definitely a future step in the process.

The next two days are Rosh Hodesh Cheshvan, Cheshvan being either the second or the eighth month of the Hebrew calendar (it depends on who you're asking...). Cheshvan is often referred to as Mar Cheshvan (in Hebrew, Mar means bitter) because it is a month without any Jewish festivals, and therefore a month without rejoicing. I went to a Rosh Hodesh group tonight, where we talked a lot about the positive aspects of Cheshvan - for example, the fact that there are no chagim in Cheshvan means that you can actually settle into a routine, and begin living up to all of your Rosh Hashannah resolutions. And with that, I think I'll get started on one of my Rosh Hashannah resolutions, which is to get more sleep!

Hodesh tov! Enjoy the new moon!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Day 59: this might get long

"The real problem with Israel isn't the Arabs - it's the Israelis."
I came out of the woods with this written on my arm - it's a quote from Dan, the hostel owner's son who helped us out while we were staying up north. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago, Miriam told me that she and a few of her friends were planning a trip up to Haifa, or maybe to the Galilee. Cool, I said. Let me know if it's actually going to happen, because I'd love to come with you. I had no idea what I was signing myself up for. Last Tuesday afternoon, after our Sukkot Yom Iyun (day of learning), Miriam found me and let me know that she and Laura, Lauren, and Evelyn were sitting down to plan their trip leaving the next day and coming back Friday morning, and would I like to join them?

The plan was to rent a car, leave Jerusalem early Wednesday morning and drive to Moshav Almagor, home of the Sea of Galilee Guest House where we stayed Wednesday night and Thursday night, and then leave Almagor early on Friday so we would get back to Jerusalem in time for Shabbat.

Things started off a little rocky - we planned to leave at 9, but it wound up taking about two and a half hours just to pick up the rental car, so we didn't actually leave until 11:30ish. And then, about fifteen minutes into our exodus from Jerusalem, we got in a fender bender. Not our fault - the person behind us wasn't paying attention and rear-ended us. There was almost no damage, and we were paying an arm and a leg for insurance, so it wound up not being that big of a deal, just a little dramatic.

We got to the moshav in the mid-afternoon, with just enough time to run over to the moshave grocery store to pick up some supplies. The hostel was absolutely gorgeous - orange trees and flowering bushes and multiple hammocks for lounging. We stayed in their dormitory, which was both cheaper and more convenient for us, because there was no reason to split up - you can see pictures here.

On Wednesday night we drove up to Rosh Pinna for dinner at a restaurant called Indigo. There were figs and mushrooms stuffed with goat cheese and shakshuka and stuffed artichokes, and Lauren and I shared a fantastic chocolate cake for dessert. Reasons this restaurant is awesome include: amazing food, a sukkah!, a waitress who spoke to us in Hebrew even though we used English menus, and excellent placement near a mall so that Laura could buy herself some shoes for our hike the next day.

Thursday morning we got up and called Dan, the son of the hostel owner who had checked us in the day before. On Wednesday he had mentioned that if we needed help finding a hiking trail, we should feel free to call him and he would come by to help us out. Dan was a pretty stereotypical Israeli farmer - long hair, very tan, very laid back... We asked him for a water hike, and he directed us to a trail that runs through\near some of his fields (he farms pomegranates and mangoes). It was an adventure from top to bottom. A majority of the trail was actually in the water, generally somewhere around mid-calf, but occasionally getting up to mid torso. It was fairly well marked, and we managed not to get lost (some people I was hiking with might tell you a different story, but I'm pretty sure I knew we were on the trail the whole time...), but it was definitely a commitment. We wound up not finishing, mostly because we got to yet another section involving almost-swimming, and the majority of the group was too tired to go on.

We called Dan for a rescue - he came to pick us up in his truck, along with his two employees (both migrant laborers, probably Thai, potentially undocumented) and some freshly picked pomegranates that he cracked open for us on the spot. He was polite enough not to laugh at us for not finishing, and to give us a tour of his fields on our way back to our car. And that's when the opening quote was uttered, because we drove through the campgrounds on the moshav only to find them totally trashed by the previous weekend's campers. There was garbage everywhere - and not just a few empty bottles, but a broken chair, half empty bags of charcoal, and bits and pieces of tents strewn about. It was a little shocking to see nature that had been so thoroughly destroyed after spending four beautiful hours in the Jordan river.

Rather than go back to the hostel and change, we drove straight to the Golan Heights Winery for a wine tasting. Dad, this is for you - we tasted a Sauvingon Blanc (I liked it) a Cabernet Sauvingon (I didn't like it) and a Muscat (I liked it in small quantities) - and yes, I swirled and sniffed all three. It was pretty funny to be sitting in the middle of a winery dressed in all of my damp hiking clothes, but we were pretty much the only people there because it was pretty late in the day, so it didn't really matter.

We drove back to the hostel to clean up and do a little journaling\resting, and then we drove to Tiberias for dinner. If you come to Israel, don't go to Tiberias. I'm sure it has redeeming qualities, but I haven't found any of them yet. The part of Tiberias we were in is pretty much a giant tourist trap, and it was unpleasant. We decided to go there in search of good fish and chips, and while we found fish and chips, it wasn't the best I've ever had. They did serve us whole fish, which I wasn't really expecting - generally when I've had fish and chips the fish has been a little more processed... My photos from the trip are up here - none of me, because I don't take pictures of myself, but you can in fact see the whole fish both before and after I ate. :)

Friday brought its own set of surprises - in the car on the way back from the Galilee, I got a phone call from a woman named Judith, inviting me to come to lunch on Saturday. Judith who? I said, and then told her I would call her back later. It turns out that Judith and I are related, distantly. Her daughter Rivka is my father's second cousin, and I think if you had to diagram my relationship to Judith it would be my paternal grandfather's first cousin's wife, making her my grand-cousin-in-law. Or something like that.

Anyway, Judith lives in Holon and Rivka lives in Tel Aviv, and they were gathering the family for a big Shabbat\Sukkot lunch and wanted me to join them. So on Saturday morning I took a cab to Yaffo street and hopped in a sherut to Tel Aviv, where Rivka picked me up at the central bus station and drove me to Judith's house. There were probably 25 people at lunch, all of whom I was related to in one way or another. I spent the most time talking to Adi, Rivka's daughter, and my (I think) third cousin. Adi is starting school in Beer Sheva in a week or two, and is a little nervous about moving away from home, but I think she'll do well. I'm certainly looking forward to developing more of a relationship with her (hopefully, eventually in Hebrew!). Lunch was a great experience, and everyone was very welcoming to me. I hope to see them again some time while I'm here in Israel.

Tomorrow I'm heading back to Tel Aviv for the Nachalat Benyamin craft fair, and potentially some time hanging out on the beach, and other than that, I have no plans for the week! It's nice to have some fluidity in terms of where I need to be and what I need to be doing

And that's more than enough recapping for one blog post - moadim l'simcha, and chag sameach to everyone!
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