A week ago now I saw Gary Yourofsky, radical vegan activist and lecturer, speak at BGU. To sum up, Yourofsky does not believe you should eat animal flesh or products (eggs, dairy, honey) under any circumstances for any reason, ever. Apparently his Youtube video is one of the most popular in the country, but for his first time speaking outside the US, Israel was an interesting choice for a few reasons:
1) one of his biggest talking points is to make the comparison that the mass murder of livestock for food and the treatment of animals as a commodity began well before the Holocaust, has continued well after, and is yet the largest “Holocaust” to ever be;
2) he doesn’t believe there is any reason that animals should not get exactly equal treatment for being sentient just as we are, and insists that humans cannot justify their actions with the argument that they are superior and animals were created for their use, which Jewish teachings definitely infer (Adam’s naming, Kosher law and all that); and
3) Kosher law states and so Jews believe that an animal used for dietary purposes must be killed in the most “humane” way and lays out how this is to be done, yet Yourofsky counters that if you don’t want to perpetuate animal cruelty, there is no reason why you should kill animals at all.
Let’s just say this lecture definitely had an impact on me. He called meat eating an addiction, just as alcohol, etc. is…which I can’t really think of an argument against, as you can see how many people go red in the face defending factory farming, insisting they’re good people despite their culinary inclinations, as soon as it’s threatened. I love this quote by him: “Religion condones speciesism […] Good people don’t pray about kindness, about love. They give it directly, and they know that peace begins at the dinner table.”
Though I am not sure I will/can ever cut out meat and dairy entirely, I’d like to get to the point where I am integrating vegan meals into my diet in a way that I eat less and less of animal-based foods, maybe settling at once per week. Of course, I need to work up a repertoire of vegan cuisine beforehand so that I do this in a healthful and safe way (being anemic and all), and I think for this reason (and all the veggies I’ve been munching on for breakfast) spending time in Israel is a chance to become healthier – yes intellectually and spiritually if it’s not too much to ask, but particularly – physically and dietarily. There’s no reason why eating a ton more veggies, fruits, and legumes is not a great idea, and I pledge to start thinking towards this now so that my roomie and I can cook up a storm when I get back to NYC 😉
For some bangin’ new recipes I’m itching to try: http://mouthwateringvegan.com
It was a great lecture and though I don’t agree with him to the last detail, I have a lot of respect for his obnoxious outspokenness, genuineness, and ability to stand his ground with research he’s done himself. Apparently a question he gets asked a lot, by non-vegans/vegetarians to boot, in apoplectic fits of defensive righteousness is: “What about the fruits and vegetables? They’re reproductive organs of plants! How do you think they feel? That’s not right at all!”
Sir Yourofsky’s response: “I’m not even going to entertain this stupid question. Next.”
Last Wednesday was the official last day of Ulpan, and we had a deliciously catered ceremony/”graduation.” We ate and then each class made little performances/skits about typical days in the classroom. As such, my role was to enter late eating rice cakes, then to look pained and confused every time we start a new verb binyan.
This was also sad because it was our last night with the German group! It’s so quiet around here now…
On Thursday I left for Jerusalem. I went to the allergy doctor and found, not to my surprise, that I am not allergic to any common allergens! Conclusion: a combination of strange soap, heat and stress. I just need to be more observant in the future. Then I journeyed to Mahane Yehuda for some Challah, olives and dried fruit, and most importantly a KUBE stop! I walked down Jaffa Street alongside the light rail towards the ever-famous Ben Yehuda Street and happened upon Tmol Shilshom (“time past”), a fairytale-like bookshop/coffeeshop that’s a treasure for hobbits like myself. (Aaaand what’s coincidental about that is that I just started reading The Hobbit, a long-time goal of mine – and much happier read than Ray Bradbury short story collections – that I’m so excited to actually be fulfilling so I can finally watch the LOTR movies; it is a shock that’s it’s really as amazing as they say?!) I wish I had had more time there but I will certainly be returning for some quiet coffee and reading and hibernation time…
Another awesome thing about this weekend was discovering Darma (דארמה) yoga in Rechovot, a place that felt so familiar. I took a great vinyasa class and my first Iyengar class…though this was cool, I think it would have been a bit more helpful in a language I understand…kinda my fault…
Incidentally, there is a great quote from The Hobbit to sufficiently explain my 5-day reprieve at Michal and Tibi’s (my family away from family) in Rechovot:
“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway. They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave. Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever – even supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole without trouble. Yet there is little to tell about their stay” (Tolkien 58) <–can’t quite stop being an English major even on my blog.
My time in Rechovot was beautiful, refreshing and rehabilitating. I hang out, I read, I did yoga, I ate a lot of Michal’s incredible cooking (including homemade Kube!!!), I was really full, I watched Michal repeatedly make fun of Americans for always saying “I am so fuuuull!”, I played with a 4-year old and 8-month old, I watched “Blue Valentine” and “Eyes Wide Shut” with Steph’s cousin Alex and his wife Esther, I took lots of naps. I drank a lot of this:
Speaking of which, I just “discovered,” if you can call it that, HOW HEALTHY IT IS TO DRINK HOT WATER WITH LEMON EVERY MORNING. I am going to do this as often as I remember, because the Vitamin C can ward off all kinds of crazy germs as well as help with my iron absorption…it’s like a miracle cure to everything was hiding right in my fruit drawer my whole life:
and ate this at River, a sushi/Asian cuisine restaurant:
and for Rosh Hashana I fulfilled one of the best obligatory actions of a Jew:
Apples and honey to symbolize sweetness… Good for the Jewish “head of the year,” good for any time of year.
We watched the sunset go down on Alex and Esther’s balcony on a beautiful Rechovot evening.
Finally, today was our first day of classes. Wednesday’s my “rest” day so to speak because I only have Hebrew from 8:30-10am and then lots of free time! untiiiiiiiil… I need to wake up 6am Thursdays to catch a 7:20am bus to Sde Boker for my Israeli Mosaic class. Because I’m lazy and would never EVER get up this early back at Queens, part of me would have loved to drop it but I know it’s going to be great in a way I won’t regret, and it’s important Anthro credit.
What’s interesting about autumn in Israel is that we just had Rosh Hashana break and after classes this coming Monday, we essentially have a Yom Kippur leading into Sukkot vacation for almost two weeks. My two goals are to visit Petra and see Idan Raichel =) By the time we get back it will be almost mid-October which means the Israelis will be almost coming back to campus and we can get the party started. So excited for it all!
This post in so many ways has a lot to do with progress. So we’re at the end of Ulpan: today was my final exam (and it was REALLY REALLY HARD). It’s incredible to me that 6+ weeks have passed…the amount of time I have left to be here has been reduced to the much less intimidating number 3 1/2 months. Classes are starting a week from today, after the Rosh Hashana break. But I really have a hard time with endings. This trip is a way for me to challenge my expectations of myself, my boundaries and comfort zone. Despite the honest fact that during these six weeks I have struggled to win the confidence to speak and am only beginning to understand snatches of conversation (being monolingual, it’s a slow process), Ulpan has been an extremely helpful and large step forward. I came here and I was like a walnut. Yes, a walnut. Ilana my teacher has cracked open my shell, and though I’m not fully out of it, I’m peeking through, and that’s no small feat. Despite being miserably exhausted almost every day in Ulpan, I feel that she made it a very supportive and safe space to learn, and I am sad to see that go. I wish I were progressing (להתקדם TAKE THAT SIX WEEKS OF ULPAN) faster but perhaps part of life is realizing that you don’t always adapt to new spaces, places, challenges and areas of study as quickly as you’d like. And by you I mean me.
Let me be depressing for a moment before writing about the piñata of awesome the last two weeks have nevertheless been. I’ve been dealing with some shitty medical problems since Day 1 that have only intensified, and with which I’m trying to find some peace and acceptance. For the first 3-4 weeks here, my stomach barely cooperated. About 3 weeks ago I developed an allergic reaction that I think started with an unfamiliar soap but which was maybe irritated by heat and stress. After going to the on-campus clinic a few times (which ended up being way less intimidating than I feared, though the doctor speaks only Hebrew and Russian) and taking a blood test, they were unable to tell me what the rash (by that time mostly cured by some steroidal pills) was caused by, but they did tell me that my iron count is really low. “You’re anemic!” Yep, been that way for years but apparently I am not taking very good care of myself. I have felt tired for the entire trip so far but daily functioning without frequent naps had been getting difficult the last few weeks; now I have an answer. Despite the fact that taking my iron pills should have been a bigger priority earlier, I have become extremely frustrated: with the doctors, with myself, with my health, with learning Hebrew, with everything. It’s been non-stop and I had just been starting to feel a bit more comfortable when this occurred, just to feel knocked down a notch, to lament that my energy could be being spent so much more effectively, like devoting my time and attention to studying and learning Hebrew hardcore instead of sleeping. My madricha Sarah (HI!) gave me some food for thought when she said it’s easy to blame everything around us rather than focusing on the real root of matters, namely your perspective on happenings and the way you choose to react to them. I think it’s important to acknowledge that my anemia is not something I did to myself by being irresponsible at the same time that I get to choose (at least to a decent extent) my mood and my drive during the day. SO THANKS SARAH. =)
Another lesson learned is that when I get back to NYC the love of my life, I am going to turn my default laziness around and do all of the activities I’ve been putting off, because life is way too short
to do your homework to not be self-motivated to improve yourself and have positive and meaningful life experiences.
Anyway, the temporary conclusion is that I’m still a bit itchy and going to the doctor in Jerusalem tomorrow. It’s all about the experience, right? =P
FUN TIMES! If you don’t understand the title of this post, you are probably American (and not one that was in my Ulpan class). Hee hee. It’s a joke on a children’s story (דירה להשכיר) by the amazing, late Israeli poetess Lea Goldberg. Here’s us performing it in class!
I also finally got to go to a dance bar! Sidenote: I found a new fave beer, Leffe Braun, to compete with my love of Sam Adams.
On another note, ISRAEL HAS BEEN RUINING MY SHOES. God Israel. But I’m excited to invest in some Naot Teva, a great Israeli brand.
Last Friday was fantastic.
I spent the morning sleeping in and catching up on some DNC/RNC videos (though I’ve yet to see Bill Clinton’s speech!). Then I headed off to Maimon Spices in the BIG center, about which some tipster (Adi =]) told me I can find gourmet coffee beans there. It did not disappoint. Like for real this store is my new best friend. I also have a life.
Then I made my way to DraftBar, an awesome pub I hope to return to at nighttime, for FASHBASH, a showing of original Israeli designs of clothing, bags and jewelry…
I made two purchases (a pair of earrings shaped somewhat like calla lilies with a pearl in the center, and a sexaaay blue long-sleeved romper) and will re-update this post when I have the photos of me modeling them =)
I bought the romper from a really awesome lady named Lital who designs her own brand, Isidora Anne. In case you’re interested…
I returned to the Meonot for a fantastic Shabbat dinner with Shoshana, Doug, Vishna, Zoe and Zoe’s friend Tal.
Afterwards, I called it a night and then spent the entire Saturday prepping for my 20min Hebrew presentation, which I think I nailed wooo.
Also this week I got my tragus piercing which I am irrationally and disproportionately excited about! סוף סוף! (Finally!) And I can always remember that I got it here in Beersheba, by a dude named Avi who was so pleased to have our business that he rushed through (don’t worry, he did a very good job actually) my tragus and Nisha and Zoe’s helix piercings – while I tried to look like a concerned, dissatisfied American, which does not work in a country where customer service is barely a priority – saying to me afterwards, “We hope you like your piercing; if you don’t, it’s your problem!” When I asked if he sterilized his needles or used new ones he told me that he bought used ones from Beit Cholim Soroka (hospital) across the street from BGU. Sir, I do not understand your sarcasm delivered in a heavy accent. Ah, the Israeli way.
Some things I’ve been eating/making as I finally grew the ovaries to legit cook:
Actually, this was super controversial: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4276987,00.html
The wine fest was scheduled to take place right outside a mosque that was “confiscated,” so to speak, by the local government. Muslims litigated, wanting to reopen it to practice there, but the courts ruled against them, in favor of making it a museum I believe. Though the wine fest has taken place here for six years, this recent contentious decision must have renewed anger. They did move it a bit further from the Islamic site but held it despite threats of a terrorist attack.
The last few days have been משוגים! I had a really full, fun weekend.
Last Thursday after Ulpan, about 12 people left Be’er Sheva for the Jerusalem Beerfest. While intercity buses, run by MetroDan, are the equivalent of only a little over a dollar to ride (whaaat?), cross-Israel Eg’ed buses are similar to MegaBus/Greyhound; at $7.50 for an hour and a half ride to Jerusalem, the price is right.
Israel holds approximately 3 places of the 5 most beautiful views I’ve seen so far in my tiny life, and one of them is the winding path up the Judean Hills surrounding Jerusalem with a view of all the white houses cluttered and tucked into the ridges.
When we arrived, we checked into Avraham Hostels. This was my first time ever being in a hostel, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that there was an (albeit subtle) icky feeling in my stomach thinking about it because of the horror movie, which I’ve never even seen. Although we only stayed a night, it was really clean and had lots of fun tours and activities. Light rail runs on the street, and if you walk along the main road you get to the major attraction among tourists and locals both (and for good reason): Machane Yehuda Shuk.
It’s difficult for me to express how I feel about shuks (open outdoor markets). Basically, I love them. It takes about five minutes for you to get over the gurgling feeling at your stomach at all the flies buzzing around, but then you see the extent and variety of the merchandise, all the beautiful colors, freshness and low prices. It is nothing like a Union Square Farmer’s Market. It is loud and obnoxious and sweaty, crowded and claustrophobic and absolutely glorious. Pictures will help:
We both hung around a little bit the night of Beerfest and then had a cultural/culinary tour on Friday morning. For dinner, Clarissa, Doug and I ate at אמא (Ema, meaning mother, a name that I assume refers to the home-cooked feel), a small מסעדה (restaurant) in the market that sold a food that I have never heard of before, have had nothing like before and am utterly unable to describe, except to say that it was delicious… This ain’t yo momma’s matzoh balls. (Well, really, it’s Kuba.)
On our culinary tour, we explored the history of the market niches and of some of the small neighborhoods that compose Jerusalem. In the shuk, there is the the “touristy,” bright, colorful and variegated section; if you walk a little further you see a less bustling, less colorful in an anxious-to-please-way section where the, how you say, authentic Israelis shop. As our BGU Anthro prof explained to us, these sections of the market do not interact for a reason; in fact, many Orthodox neighborhoods (despite living right across the street from the market) are constantly protesting it because of immodest displays such as jazz shows (lol). There is also an Afghani section and a smaller, budding Ethiopian section which expands with the culinary customs of the new immigrants. We talked about the cultural “hummus” wars between Israel and Lebanon/Jordan (here’s a short summary: http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/hummus-boycott-2012-4/). In the area directly surrounding the market, there are both ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods and less religious, up-and-coming gentrified neighborhoods (kind of like Williamsburg!), all with their unique relationships to the market.
The Beerfest was unfortunately not as hoppin’ as I would have liked, but I did have a good time. Gotta be real and say that Israel does not have the greatest beers (although there will be a local Beersheba Wine Fest next week that I’m excited about! Kosher wine yay!) (also I have tried this Belgium one, Leffe, that is incredible), but some were pretty rad. Among them:
Afterwards at around 11pm, Ilana, Doug and I went to the Kotel (The Western Wall). It was an interesting experience at night, all lit up and with a lot more people than I expected. I had no idea that people go all night to see and cry and pray and touch the wall. I regret to say that I had had quite a bit to drink and had a horrific time attempting to go through all the winding streets to get there in the first place, although I did laugh to myself a little bit when thinking about how I was drunk at a really sacred place. I am five years old, except not because that would be super illegal and irresponsible unless I lived in Italy. However, the quiet of the location did inspire me to think a bit about what it means for me to be a secular Jew in Israel. Next time I go, I might write a bit of a political commentary about it on here; don’t have the motivation for it in me right now.
But in fact, I really find something to identify with in Jerusalem. It’s possible it has to do with the warmth that I feel emanating from the familiarity of Judaism and Jewish customs, but it’s less religious than something a bit more unconventional. Religious people here are not necessarily quiet or outwardly pious on the streets- like the market, they are loud and forceful and pushy and want the best price. I think this aspect of it, the hustle and bustle and close-togetherness of people and shops reminds me of NYC, and it feels a little bit more like home (though this is clearly a stretch of a comparison). Interestingly, I think both Israelis and New Yorkers can come off as being rude in ways, but for different reasons. New Yorkers because they legitimately want space and though they’re used to crowding are uncomfortable with the more intimate aspect of proximity with strangers, and Israelis because they are used to crowding but are all too eager to get into your space and close the gap between being strangers and acquaintances or even friends. This does not stop them from being intimidating, though.
At the market, I bought re:bar (Israeli goat-milk yogurt parfait/shake brand) and then olives and whole-wheat challah the next day to bring to Shabbat dinner at Steph’s aunt Michal and uncle Tibi’s apartment in רחובות (Rechovot, meaning “streets”). Both were DELICIOUS. I sometimes forget how much I love olives. Stephanie, if I could transport them telepathically, I would.
My weekend in Rechovot was amazing. Back in 2010, Justin, Steph and I extended our Birthright stay for a week to stay with Steph’s family. Being back felt like walking into a dream; it’s such a great feeling to know that you are always welcome somewhere safe and comfortable, especially when you’re far from home. Michal, as always, stuffed me to the brim. I spent two days talking almost entirely in Hebrew with 4-year old Danielle, playing Monopol, doing puzzles, drawing pictures of zebraot, and being chastised: “Amarti lach!” (with all the force of “I already told you”) when I asked her to repeat the word “elephant.” So cute. On the positive side, listening to a family speak Hebrew and attempting to break into the conversation myself helps me pick up subtle, invaluable patterns necessary to learn.
Michal made me this amazing jumble (Salad for breakfast, something I would only do in Israel) to take back with me to Be’er Sheva:
On the train back at 7am Sunday eating my ירקות (yerakot, veggies), I had that feeling like sometimes when you’re eating and you think you’re chewing too loudly because you can only hear the sounds in your head…on a bus full of sleeping soldiers, that got kind of awkward.
Meanwhile, back in Be’er Sheva… A place I’m really looking forward to spending more time is this little corner café called Ashan Hazman (עשן הזמן) or what I think means “Smoke of the Time.” It has live music shows at night that I want to catch and its shelves are lined with books. I started reading Milan Kundera’s The Joke last week; I gotta resolve to go back and finish it!
Some exciting things:
Conclusion: after getting another taste (literally) of Jerusalem, I’ll definitely be going back many a time. Biblical Zoo whatup!
Three week mark exactly? Damn behbeh.
I’m really excited for what’s coming up in the next few days. On Thursday, a bunch of people are staying overnight in Jerusalem for the Beerfest, complemented early Friday with an OSP food tour of Jerusalem. Then I will be spending Shabbat with mah best friend Steph’s family in Rechovot.
All I can say is that Ulpan hurts my brain. I am in class constantly doing fist pumps in my head when I understand what the teacher says, then I get out into Real World Israel and basically make the “Scream” face and freeze whenever anyone talks to me. I think I need to relax and maybe the words will be translated like magic.
Last Sunday, we had a tour of the Old City (עיר העתיקה) in Beersheba. There’s some nice history there, and I hope to be back to visit the art gallery and “Abraham’s Well” (I’ve heard some skeptics) when they reopen, as well as to try some authentic eats and do some shopping. I had heard there was a coffee shop that ground its own coffee for sale, which obviously got my heart pumping, but it is now called Café Lola under new management and though my bubble burst momentarily, it was a beautiful café that made a mean cappuccino (my hot beverage of choice when Turkish coffee will upset my stomach and the only other option is Nescafé). It was fun hanging with Clarissa, Zoe and Francesca. I’m definitely looking forward to spending more time here!
Afterwards we had our Pub Night at a Tapas Bar down the street. This was my first time ever having tapas, and I must say that while I will give it one more shot in NYC, I have no doubt it will be any less expensive. Despite the indubitable deliciousness of my raviolis, I 90% regret paying the equivalent of $10 for 4 tiny ones. However, they had an impreeeeessive beer selection.
Our head counselor Sarah also organized a rat race for us to get to know Beersheba. A rat race is when you get an envelope full of clues/actions that you need to carry out, taking a picture of yourself while doing so, and need to return with the fastest time. While in hindsight this night is hilarious, it gave me fodder for a list I will one day make about “Most Mortifying Moments of my Life.” Yeah…
My partner was Nisha. Our *adventure* started with finding a machtesh in the Daled Neighborhood, at which we eventually succeeded! Our next challenge was to test the hospitality of the locals by finding free glasses of water. We asked and received (that was rather easy) at a nearby pizza place…then we opened our next clue: “Find a grandmother to give you her favorite recipe.” We approached an older women and in my broken Hebrew I tried to communicate to her what we needed: “The food you like best…can you write it down for us…how you make it…?” She didn’t speak any English and didn’t understand us, telling us to wait for her daughter…who also didn’t speak English. We tried repeatedly to communicate without any results, at which point we were starting to attract the attention of everyone else in the surrounding area. A man who must have owned/worked at the pizza/convenience store looked right at us and said: “Have a nice day! Goodbye!” At which point I apologized to our traumatized strangers and we peaced the hell out of there. Long story short: we did not win this competition, especially after we stopped at a (very cool!) vegetarian shwarma shop.
On Friday OSP drove an hour to do a hike at the Nitzanim Dunes, a beautiful system of sand dunes ending at the Mediterranean sea. While hiking uphill in sand is torturous, the views were approximately 2936% worth it, especially when Sarah, Francesca and I rolled down a sand dune and when we finally got to jump in the sea, which was like a huge wave pool. …too bad I slept for like 3/4 of the time we were at the beach.
That was one of the greatest showers of my life. That night, Shoshana and Ilana prepared a really awesome Shabbat meal that Doug, Lea, Shoshana’s roommate Cherry, and I joined. We also went Saturday afternoon for a Shabbat lunch at Rakefet’s apartment, which was delicious. We played Taboo this time and maybe next time I will learn how to play Settlers of Catan! One of my favorite things about Shabbat here is that it’s like time is set aside and, in fact, intended for you to just hang and talk with people you like.
Unfortunately, I also had a bit of a stomach bug this weekend and have ever since been experiencing what I have dubbed “Grandpa Syndrome,” which makes one feel tired, grumpy and crotchety and disposed to saying, “Eh, sonny?” (I did not do this).
Here are some of my favorite places so far:
the BIG Center
Little India (הודו קטנה, Hodu Katana)
Today was the first day that I got up the nerve to cook in my room (and there were no cockroaches)! I made lentils (shout-out to Steph) and REAL COFFEE THAT I GOT AT EDEN TEVA (shout-out to Kareem).
On Sunday, I went to my first yoga class in Israel…taught almost entirely in Hebrew. I caught the names of body parts and “right” and “left.” But I’m sure it’ll improve as we go! It’s of course different than what I’m used to: a little less than half was meditation and the rest was some slow asana. The environment and energy of the 11 yogis all in a circle was amazing; the class took place in this small treehouse-like upper deck of the teacher’s house, and because it was open-air, I may have actually meditated for the first time in my life, just closing my eyes and listening to all the SOUNDS (dogs, cats, birds, wind, airplanes, banging noises, etc) and smelling her lovely incense and breathing. Also, 4 classes (you pay per month) are 140 sheqelim, like $35, which is nuts. At the end of class during savasana, Ayelet came around and placed a heavy stone on your heart shakra and banged a gong. That part was interesting.
Peace and wellness til next post.
So I literally have only gotten time to write this blog post, which will be disproportionately long because it’s been a busy first week.
I know that I came here to get out of my comfort zone, and I certainly am out of it. I don’t like that, but I do love Israel. It’s so cool to walk outside and see all signs, etc. in another language, which for some mystical magical reason I am actually beginning to understand…
First things first: it is super hot here. We’re at the middle of the country, top of the desert (מדבר or midbar). While I’m here, it may never rain. It’s 90+ every day. Anyone who knows me knows that historically I hate heat…and yet, I am starting to get used to it. To enjoy it even, because it is very dry, and as long as the heat is cool with me, I’m cool with it.
I did get over my jet lag quite quickly, and we really had to because our first weekend (8/3-8/4), we took a trip to Kibbutz Lotan in the Arava, an even hotter part of the desert in Southern Israel on the border with Jordan. A kibbutz (קיבוץ) is basically a communal community (redundant much?) that originated in the 50s when Israel was a new state, with the idea that everyone would live and work together, belonging and contributing equally, and regardless of the amount of work one puts in, everyone takes the same. Kibbutzim were agriculturally self-sustaining and did not use money, though in recent decades as things have privatized and perspectives have changed, they have become significant economic butter-churners.
There are 270 kibbutzim in Israel today and ours happened to be an eco-community. On Friday in Lotan, we participated in a tour during which we were used as free labor making clay bricks for a new project (but really, it was fun). We got super dirty, mixing equal parts sand, clay/silt I can’t remember which, and water, and then adding straw. When dry these bricks are crazy sturdy and are used to make the houses volunteers live in. They also have composting toilets. You know what that means: no flush, baby. Our guide told us the most important thing regarding easy sustainability initiatives is to share the knowledge, and he’s totally right.
Later on in the day we attended a small, casual Shabbat service. Something crazy I learned before leaving for Israel was that 60% of the Jewish community is secular; I had been worried but amazingly, most people don’t judge you here (unless you happen to be in a really Orthodox community). For many, it’s enough that they live in the Promised Land, where they can BE Jewish without having to outwardly “prove” it. It sounds like it would be a cop-out, but really it’s this laid-back sense of just belonging.
On Saturday morning, I and a few other crusty-eyed brave people rose at 5:30am to go on a desert nature walk with this apparently crazily robust older man, Michael. You cannot go outside in Israel without putting on sunscreen, which is a huge bummer for me because I hate it, but I am the definition of Ashkenazi so I have to. We learned about different types of deserts: sandy, stony, rocky, etc and looked at animal tracks.
Everyone has communal meals so when we got back, the cottage cheese with jam and challah stuffed with goat cheese, both made by the kibbutz, was extremely welcome. Our group later had a Parsha discussion with a kibbutznik about the week’s Torah portion, the seven commandments. It’s interesting that very few of the commandments are positive (“Do be a cheerful butterfly of inspiration to the world”) among the mostly negative (“Don’t fuck your neighbor’s wife, you got that?”). Our conversation brought up some amazing questions about the nature of Jewish volunteerism and the ethics of charity in the developing world.
It was dark while we readied ourselves to leave. But there was one thing left to see- the desert sky, which is honestly one of the reasons I’ve returned to Israel. Too bad I can’t post pictures of that, but on the other hand, you have to see it to believe it. There were no lights, just this immense spiderweb of stars like a dome above us, and only the susurrus of wind through the palm trees. On this night, the middle of the Jewish month of Av (the Jewish months are lunar), a 98% full moon rose as we watched. Incredible.
Sunday, the craziness started (classes here are from Sunday-Thursday, which is a lot to get used to). We were given oral placement exams for Ulpan, the Hebrew language-learning program, and I am in Rama Gimel (the third level up out of four). Honestly, it’s a struggle. I am the least advanced in the class with one year of Hebrew under my belt while the others have one and a half or two, but I’ve already begun to study like a madwoman to stay in, because Rama Bet is too easy, my morah (teacher) Ilana is super nice, and because I’m here to kick ass like duh. Today in fact, I translated “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” into Hebrew. I’m really proud of myself.
One cool thing about Beersheba is that fewer people speak English/speak English well than in other Israeli cities. Most students are better in English than I can probably ever hope to be in Hebrew, but I try to pretend it’s not true. This is a college town and all of the people attending are in their mid-20s+, out of the army and ready for careers. The campus has great food and it’s all Kosher, AND I’ve already had a few run-ins with people with whom I’ve had to use my limited Hebrew/miming to get service. Surprisingly fun.
Some new things I did: try Goldstar, the token Israeli beer, too mild (I’m going to Jerusalem beerfest 8/23 though!). Hookah, which was interesting in that it fills you up with euphoric smoke, but something I don’t think I could become obsessed with. Watch Giv’at Halfon Eina Ona, a ’70s slapstick comedy of the Boureka genre about the lo tov side of the IDF.
Things that have sucked so far: the process of my body getting used to the food and water, and the jitteriness of being in a new country. The ant infestation in my room. The first cockroach I think I ever saw in real life yesterday in my kitchen, which I killed with Raid and then spent an hour crying about because I was homesick for a place where there are no cockroaches and because I am clearly not cut out for surviving in “the wilderness.”
Getting up to speed on the last few days. On Thursday, we hiked in a place called Mitzpe Ramon (מצפה רמון) which is mistakenly called a crater but is really something more of a machtesh, or a geological formation unique to the Negev of vast layers of gypsum, dolomite and limestone eroded by water and time. We saw the sunset there and that was really beautiful. At night we had a poike dinner; all I know about that was that the potatoes, rice and spice dish was delicious, but I have been made to understand it is supposed to be something like, you take whatever ingredients you have, throw it in a pot in a fire pit and let it cook.
I also visited a shuk, or market, which has super cheap, super fresh fruits and veggies:
Last night was my second Shabbat here. In Israel, most everything closes from mid-afternoon Friday through Saturday. I elected for a Friday-night host program where you get a Shabbat meal with Israeli students living nearby, and went with my fellow OSP students Sam and Francesca. I’ve gotta say, the night was super awesome. I find Israelis to be really open and friendly so far. There were 8 Israelis there besides us, all in a large friend group that is obsessed with foosball and drinking. We had challah, techina, roasted veggies and shepherd’s pie (which I was excited about because I haven’t had it since the 8th grade in Canada), some cheap Kosher wine courtesy of us, some more wine courtesy of our hosts, Irish iced coffee and some shots. All mellow, we sat around talking about various things. I’m happy to make Israeli friends/neighbors and hope that with time I’ll feel increasingly comfortable talking in Hebrew. For now, everyone’s getting free English practice 😉
KITTENS I MADE FRIENDS WITH!:
By the way did everyone see my cat video. I mean. I really miss you all. I will leave you with one thought: Why does Israel have fruit-shaped Trix and we don’t anymore?!
Countdown to Israel: 4 days.
I’ve decided that while abroad I want to blog to chronicle my experiences both for myself and the people I love. It’s a great option especially because I don’t have the attention span or time to keep a journal!
My flight leaves at 7pm this coming Wednesday, 8/1. I’m excited and very overwhelmed. It is not fun to run around last minute horrified that I won’t have enough dental floss.
So, I’m spending the semester at Ben-Gurion Univ. of the Negev (BGU), which is located in Beersheba (בְּאֵר שֶׁבַע), in the middle of Israel and the tip of the desert. It’s an amazing and unconventional location (not Jerusalem or Tel Aviv), and a city that I haven’t already visited on my previous Birthright trip in June 2010.
Beersheba/Beersheva/Be’er Sheva/etc is a place famous for having been the home of the patriarch Abraham. Its name can be variously translated as “well of the oath,” referring to an oath made by Abraham and Abimelech, “seven wells,” referring to wells dug by Abraham/Isaac, or “well of the seven,” all of which have biblical significance I hope to learn about. It’s the largest city in the Negev and the 7th largest in Israel with a population of 200,000. It was occupied by the Ottoman Turks before independence in 1948, and is the diversity equivalent of NYC with Israeli Jews, eastern European and Ethiopian Jews, Arabs, and Bedouins.
BGU is highly liked and from all accounts seems to have crazy facilities all over campus (tons of coffee shops and eateries, a gym, a cinema, a pub in each dorm, a train station 5min away) that I am looking forward to using. I hope I can take yoga and Krav Maga =) Ulpan (intensive Hebrew language learning program) goes from 8/5-9/15 and classes start 9/18.
There are so many things I’m looking forward to, and I can’t wait to get started. =)