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 we had a horrific time attempting to go through all the winding streets to get there in the first place. 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?!