Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On A Sour Note

I don't want to end vacation on a sour note. Instead I'm going to start school with this one. This way it is only up from here.

We got a phone call from our landlord telling us that there was a very large leak in the apartment and that there was some water damage. It's okay, it all got dried up. Right.

So when I got home, I looked at the damage that's there right now because it's gotten worse as the evening has gone on. Right now my wall is swollen and there are disgusting brown spots all over it. See the pictures below. My room smells musty and we are very concerned about the possibility of mold. I'm going to sleep in my room tonight and reassess in the morning. I hope this isn't that bad and I don't want to worry about what may happen.

Until then, enjoy the pictures of my wall and the ceiling in the bathroom.

Tomorrow morning school starts. So too will my morning routine. I need to start treating myself better in the mornings so I'm going to get up and do some yoga.

Lila Tov

Last Day of Vacation

Well, I'm sitting in the dining area of our vacation house getting ready to head back to Jerusalem. I thought it would be a good time to quickly say how great Haifa is. I really enjoy the atmosphere here. For those of you familiar with parts of Minnesota, there is a Duluth-esque vibe. Only based on the the fact that the city basically falls off a mountain into the sea. It's almost impossible to get anywhere without a car or taxi because it's a very round about hike to get you up the hill.

But you overlook the Mediterranean Sea and it is beautiful. The water in the sea is so warm with a riptide that tugs at you when you stand in the water. Yesterday we went for a short hike down to the beach (more about that coming on a much later post) and spent a good few hours just relaxing.

I could see myself living here. I'm not planning on making Aliyah, but if I were to move here, it would be to Haifa. The city just has a great mix of everything and although it is thoroughly modern, there is still a religious presence here. I also love the fact that the Jews and non-Jews work together and from what we saw, there was no overt aggression between the groups.

It was Allie's birthday so we went out for dinner at a Pan-Asian Restaurant called Giraffe which was really good. I had a great spicy dish called Spicy Philippine Dish. Not quite sure what exactly was in it, but it was really tasty and a little on the spicy side. Perfect.

I don't have time to fully reflect on Rosh HaNikrah (you will see pictures in a moment), but when I have the chance to, there will be a long, detailed description of that amazing place. It will come as an addendum to this chapter of the year.

I will put the closing lines to this chapter as such;

Summer ulpan was a very good way to get accustomed to living in Israel. I've started to get the feel for the cycle of the day in Jerusalem. Israeli Bureaucracy is very fun (sarcasm alert). In the end, it was a pretty painless process to get my student visa. I will need make time to cook, to shop and to do many other things to have a relaxed year, but it's starting to take great shape.

Vacation was very necessary. It was great to spend time with this group of friends and I had a very relaxed few days and got to experience some great places.

Pictures -

Inside the Beha'i Gardens, Looking back towards the top

The Beha'i Gardens with the city of Haifa in the background

The lower Beha'i Gardens

Panorama of Rosh HaNikrah, Click the picture to enlarge it

Water swelling in the Grotto at Rosh HaNikrah. Low Light - bad quality

White Cliff at Rosh HaNikrah

Border Crossing into Lebanon at Rosh HaNikrah

El Jazzar Mosque at Akko, Panorama, click to enlarge.

Fortress Wall at Akko

Monday, August 30, 2010

In Joshua's Shoes: Home Shul?

I just realized that I never posted that I had a new article up at TCJewfolk.com.

It's all about my experience trying to find a comfortable community to pray with outside HUC.

Check it out here atl


Anyone reading here have any interesting ideas that I could write about there, give me a heads up.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

It's A Shabbis

Yesterday's Shabbat was nearly perfect (emphasis on nearly, it would have been perfect with one specific person here).

Dusty and Leah had organized together to make a very good breakfast; french toast and frittata. It was very well done and was very tasty. The whole group of us sat together to eat breakfast and it was very pleasant sitting on our back porch. After breakfast we had a short Shabbat Schachrit service in our living room.

I love the fact that on vacation, instead of everyone sleeping in as late as humanly possible, we had breakfast together and made a point of holding a service for Shabbat. It was very nice and it felt like almost everyone was able to do something that they really needed to do during services for it to work for them.

Then it was a beach day.

The beach in Haifa is a lot nicer then the one we were at in Tel Aviv. It was less crowded and the water was a lot warmer. A major difference though was that there was actually undertow. I've never felt anything like that before. The feeling of having the water come crashing over you and then a few seconds later the undertow tugging at your ankles. The warm water was so relaxing.

We sat around and played Phase Ten (a game I needed to relearn) and just chilled in the sun. We were on the beach for a good five hours and I didn't get burned one bit. The rest of the night is when the action started.

Brian A and I went to get lighter fluid and vegetables from a grocery store. We thought we'd go to the semi-main drag and catch a bus up to the city center to find the Super Saul (an Israeli grocery store). When the one bus that came by passed us, we decided to walk up Mount Carmel towards the center and maybe catch a taxi up.

Alas, no cabs came on our way up so we walked about 25 minutes. At the little grocery store we found the attendant asked if I needed help. I asked for vegetables. His response was, "Lo kahn," meaning, "not here". Strike one. We kept looking for lighter fluid. When we gave up searching and asked for help, the man at the store was very confused and wanted to sell us lighters and then something else that I didn't understand. It took Brian A, a customer and myself all trying to get across to the attendant what we were looking for. Then, SUCCESS! We found lighter fluid and caught a cab home.

Except for one small problem. There was a woman already in the cab on a hurry to get to work. The driver wanted to take her all the way down the mountain to drop her off first and then take us home. For some reason he didn't understand that if we took a side street, our house is on the way. Halfway down the mountain we asked him to stop just off the road from our house so we could get out. We most definitely overpaid for the ride, but hey, we got home quickly.

We tried to start the grill with charcoal and lighter fluid. This was a lot more complicated than we thought it was going to be. It took three rabbinical students, one cantorial student and one education (possibly rabbinic) student to light the fire. I know there needs to be a joke in this somewhere. I will also give props to the woman that actually got most of the grill started -NICE WORK ALLIE!

We made Havdallah as the grill was burning down to coals and barbecued way too much meat. Yet somehow 10 grad-school students who spent the day chilling on the beach managed to finish off all of the burgers, hot dogs and veggie burgers.

I think this is what Judaism means, honor the Sabbath and keep it holy;
Kabbalat Shabbat Services
Fantasic Dinners with new friends
Sleeping late (until 9:00 AM woohoo!)
Home cooked breakfast
relaxing shabbat morning services (complete with Torah reading and Haftarah)
friends and fun

Really a great day!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Random Brain Droppings

So our house in Haifa is slowly waking up at 9:45 in the morning. Surprise! I guess I'm now a morning person. When did that happen?

So I just wanted to share a few random nuggets from the last few days. Things that didn't really fit into the flow of a story.

1) There was a very cute couple at Or Chadash celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. It was very very sweet to see them standing there together. I hope I make it to that point in my life with someone that I still glow while standing next to them.

2) I need to keep working on my Hebrew. The hard part is just sitting down and doing it. I really just need to use the language and stop worrying about all of the mistakes I will make. This means I need to chill with Israelis more often than I have been.

3) I'm giving in on Fantasy Football. I wasn't planning on playing, or caring at all about football anymore, but it's the end of August and it only feels right to be looking at statistics and mock drafts. Oh where or where did my will power go?

4) Beha'i is an interesting faith. We learned a lot about them at the gardens yesterday and they are very interesting too me. I want to learn more about their actual practices and about them as a people. They have a solid, universal message. But I want to learn about their actual practices.

5) I still have a major aversion to cabs and busses. I was trying to explain it to friends the other day. My real issue is that I would just rather take care of getting somewhere myself, on my own two legs. I feel like I get to know a city better on foot and it's healthier. I dunno.

6) Pick your battles. While at dinner with the host family last night, it was really interesting to talk to some of the people my age. One of the daughters was very anti-Arab. Being in the army, this is an understandable position. Although she was in the minority of the people at the table expressing that opinion, it was a good chance to pick your battles. Not worth arguing with her at that point. The same goes for when a very conservative Jew stops you on the street and asks if I have wrapped T'fillin. Instead of arguing on the street, or telling them that I don't want to do it, it's just a lot easier for me to say, I did it this morning.

7) Taglit doesn't count. I used to want to count Taglit as visiting Israel. It was a great chance to see a lot of the country and to come here for free. I would reccommend it for anyone who wants to come here. But for myself, it doesn't really count. It's not the same as getting a chance to live here. I need to work more to get outside the HUC bubble, but I really think it's tough to get a feel for what Israel really is on Taglit. It could have been my experience on Oranim that was like this. It could also be that I'm getting a chance to be here in a much different capacity. I think I may stop counting it as previous Israel experience.

8) I miss Joselynn. I brought my guitar, Callie (the mellow, soft toned, Ibanez Classical Guitar) to Israel with me. I miss Joselynn. Callie is too quiet, and not as much fun to play. Maybe I need to have someone come out here with a guitar for me and send the other one home.

That's all for now.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Beha'i Gardens & Shabbat in Haifa

Today was a pretty good day. We took some time to get going in the morning and finally headed out the door to check out the Beha'i gardens in Haifa. Again expect pictures when I get back to Jerusalem. The internet connection is pretty terrible here and I don't want to mess around with loading any pictures.

The gardens were amazing. They are set up with a beautiful symmetry with the exception of a circle of cypress tress near the tomb that houses the first prophet of the Beha'i faith. There is this incredible running water and picture perfect greens. It really makes me want to go hit some balls around a golf course. The flowers were beautiful and there is almost nothing better that I have been able to see in one place.

We also got to learn about the faith a little. It sounds interesting and it was pretty cool to experience it.

After we got back home, which was a very long and stressful process for me, we got ready to go to services at Or Chadash. A few of us decided to brave the heat and walk the whole way there. Although the directions I found online were not perfect, was able to get find the road we wanted and we showed up at services.

Their T'fillah was great! It reminded me a lot of the services back home. If only it wasn't so far away from Jerusalem. The Rabbi invited all of us on the Bimah to sing Mi Chamocha and play with tambourines for the entire community. I really had a great time at services there.

After Kiddush, the Rabbi split us up into groups of two and sent us with congregants to have dinner. Dusty and I went with one congregant who started off by asking if we were in a hurry because we were going twenty minutes out of Haifa to meet up with a large group of his friends that were getting together. It was a lot of fun.

First of all, the food was great. Really, everything was tasty. There were salads, fish, chicken, beef and I don't even know what else. It was so full. Then they brought out the desert spread. Wow. I didn't think the food could be much better, but it was a great way to finish off the night.

Then there was the conversation. I would like to say that I understood everything that went on, but my Hebrew is not that good yet. I was pretty confident that I understood the majority of what they people we were sitting with said. They spoke mostly in English, but when they spoke Hebrew I could mostly follow what was going on. The conversations were great too. We touched on a lot of really cool topics. We talked about Arab-Israeli stuff, Army service and I don't really remember everything. It was just very refreshing to talk to people outside of the HUC bubble.

We talked a little bit about being religious or secular. Dusty had an interesting talk with our host on the drive back to Haifa from Kriat Tivon. Honestly, this was one of the best parts of the trip so far.

On the down side, I'm missing the Minnesota State Fair this week and I'm starting to go a little crazy. Good night and shabbat shalom.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

It's Over, We Survived

I'm writing this from our amazing house that we're renting for a few days in Haifa because HUC Summer Ulpan is over!

We all had a very big exam Wednesday morning and I was lucky to have received my grade before the end of Ulpan celebration. I passed and passed pretty well according to my Hebrew teacher. I realized something important while I was studying for this exam, I need to shift my ideas about what success means this year. I need to focus on learning and not so much on achieving. Although grades are important, a solid B is actually a solid grade. All things considered, I was successful with the summer's sessions.

I learned all of my course placements for the fall. I pretty much placed myself where the school placed me too. I wasn't that worried and I know I will have a lot of fun. I really like the classes and groups of students that I have been placed with as well. I'm already pretty close with a bunch of people that are in my classes. I can't wait for the intense classes to start next Wednesday.

In the last few days, I had another blog post put up on TCJewfolk, you can read it here. I've been trying to find a place that I can feel at home for services this year. I've explored a bunch of places and may have found one that I like.

Speaking of services, we're checkout out a new place tomorrow; K'hillah Or Chadash in Haifa. Yep that's right, I'm in a new place for now. Since we're done with Ulpan, a few of my friends and I went up to Haifa today after our seminar about the High Holy Days. Allie found this great place near the city center. It's totally walkable and easily bus-able to anywhere in the city that we would like to go.

The bus ride was really chill and pretty painless to get to our house. We have a spectacular view of the city. I didn't get a chance to take a picture from the room or of the place yet, but there will be some shots to come shortly. I don't have that much to say about it so far. Not much has really changed.

We're just chilling around the house and watching a movie. We've got a lot of things planned for the few days that we have to spend on vacation. B'hai Gardens are tomorrow.

Lila Tov,

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Count Your Blessings

There have been some tough things going on back in the states this week. Sunday morning I needed to take a little extra time thinking about things before I went to school in the morning. Since there is really nothing that I can do about things at home, on my walk to school I started to think about my blessings. There are aspects of my life that are fantastic.

Here is the short list I came up with on the walk to school.

I am blessed to;

have an amazing, loving family that I can turn to when I need help and that I continue to learn from (this includes everyone in my extended family)
have a sweet, caring girlfriend that I have been able to share the last three plus years of my life with her (and her family).
have incredibly reliable and good friends both at home and here in Israel.
be generally in good health.
have discovered what I want to do with my life and I am on the path to realizing that dream.
be mostly free to do just about anything that I would like to do.
have the skill and ability to take enjoyment in many things in my life.
be spending a year in an incredible place.

This is not an all-encompassing list, these were just the things that came to my mind on the way to school

One thing that I hope is that through all of the situations that I will face in my life is to stay true to who I am and to continue to count my blessings. I truly believe that if I stay a good person at heart, try to make morally and ethically righteous choices and stay true to who I really am, things will work out for the best.

Stay true to who you are and keep it classy,

Monday, August 23, 2010

Me? A Choir Boy?

I've played musical instruments since I was 11 years old. I always enjoyed singing, but I didn't want to be one of those kids that was in choir and in band. That would have been way to much music for high school. What I didn't realize back then was how much fun it really is to sing.

My last year in college I needed to fill out my schedule and took a singing class and I have to say that it payed off so far. I was approached by one of the cantorial students to sing with them during the High Holy Days. While I am not claiming to have a great voice, I jumped at the chance to sing and to hopefully learn from these very talented students while I have the chance to sing with them.

I had so much fun on Sunday in the first rehearsal, but I also found my limitations, where there are quite a few. For example certain notes at the bottom of the Bass Clef and below the staff are a little tough to hit correctly. Certain high pitches tend to fall a little flat. I also have a hard time looking at a note and putting the specific pitch into my head to get it though my voice.

Luckily I had talked to Dave, one of the School of Sacred Music (SSM) students about this on Wednesday night last week. His advice was to just play around with a guitar or piano, pick a pitch on the staff and try to hit it with my voice. Eventually I won't need the guitar. I played around with this exercise a little bit this afternoon. While I don't know if I've actually improved, I'm having a lot of fun with it and can't wait for the next chance to learn, practice or rehearse.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Failures of Zionism

Today we got to hear a very interesting lecture from Rabbi Michael Melchior. During this he talked a lot about the failures of the two modern forms of Zionism and the growing distance between Jews in Israel and the Jews in Diaspora (everywhere besides Israel). To summarize a very complicated lecture, the failures of Secular Zionism and Religious Zionism need to be heeded by those working to create an atmosphere that inspires people to love Israel and to feel a part of a national identity.

Although he expressed some very good goals and presented logical ways of attaining them, I'm still not convinced. After being here for a month and a half I believe that Israel is an important place for us as Jews. You literally cannot walk around a corner without finding something that contains the history of the Jewish people. We were reading my ulpan class about the connections between the date that the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered to be what they truly are and the date that the United Nations voted for partition of Palestine -paving the way for Israel to be created.

Yet there are so many maddening things that keep popping up here. Rabbi Melchior talked a bit on the Rotem Conversion bill, which was a very hot button issue and it will be again once the Knesset reconvenes after the High Holy Days. During this explanation, he fell upon a phrase that sums up my current frustrations with the government of Israel. Since I didn't get the exact quote, I won't pretend to quote Rabbi Melchior, but the essence of his statement was this; I [Rabbi Melchior] don't accept a conversion performed by a Reform Rabbi in my synagogue. I do not consider it a valid conversion. The state, however, should.

In sound byte form, to me this means, In the Knesset it shouldn't matter, but in my Beit Knesset (synagogue) it does.

This is where I get frustrated. For some reason the Israeli government panders to a minority of Jews who practice an incredibly closed-minded version of Judaism. This is how we end up with laws of a country that ban people from praying in their own way in a public space (see my Women of the Wall blog post), this is why there is the issue of settlers stealing homes from families of Palestinian heritage and of course the Rotem bill.

While the Israeli government continues to enrage Liberal-minded Jews in Diaspora, Israel continues to face harassment from other groups throughout the world and this is a huge problem. The question remains, how do we make Judaism and Israel not only relevant to people coming of age today? How do we connect connect the two magnets that are pushing each other away?

I don't precisely know. I don't have the answer. I would assume that like magnets, one of them needs to be turned around a little. We need to find a way to connect through our similarities and work together with passionate people finding a way to reignite the intense love of Israel that was embodied in the spirit of the early Zionists and Chalutzim. It was their desire to be in a place they could call home. It was not their desire for a place to practice extremely conservative Judaism. Their desire was to be in Israel. Maybe this year can help me answer this question.

Maybe this is why they brought us here.

Not Everything Is All Roses

I know that being in Israel is important. It is crucial to the development of me as a leader and as a professional. Yet there is a lot going on back home and I wish I could be there in person.

Maybe we can make the sun go back down and rewind so I can start this week over again. Maybe I can somehow put a new separation between last week and this week.

My thoughts and prayers are with everyone that needs them. I love you guys.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Beer Festival

I can't believe I forgot about the Beer Festival!!!

So on Wednesday night there was a beer festival. Tons of local bars had various kinds of beers and they were offering some very small samples and have some decent beers to drink. It was a lot of fun.

New beers I tried? I actually don't remember all of them that I had but here were some of the ones I really liked;

Chimay, Dark Kozel and the third one that I bought a full beer of I don't remember the name at all. It was something very flavorful as a doppelbock, they had another version that was really weak. This one was from Germany and there were a lot of letters that I just don't remember how they were arranged. I know if I see it again, it will don on me. And no it has nothing to do with the quantity that I don't remember the name of it. It will come to me eventually.

I had a great time with everyone tasting six or seven different drinks.

Just one more experience that we have had in Jerusalem.

A Long, Long Week It's Been

This week has been long, very long. I haven't really updated too much.

Ulpan is almost finished. This week is our last week of the Hebrew only section of our school year. To finish up, I get to work with a partner to create a game to play with our class to help study for the Ulpan final. The final is next Wednesday and I'm pretty nervous about how well I will be able to do on it. At this point, I can just study and hope for the best.

Another part of the finishing of Ulpan is that on Wednesday we will have a chance to perform again for the rest of the HUC Year in Israel class. As a class, we are rewriting the words to David Broza's, Mitachat HaShamayim including jokes that have come up in the last six weeks.

We weren't sure if we would have the same teacher for the Hebrew we will continue to study throughout the year. As a class we were lobbying for her to stay because she is fantastic! Luckily, we get to keep Zohara for the rest of the year and our class is very excited. We learned this for sure during our Academic Orientation last Thursday.

We got to look at our schedule, which this year we have no choice in what the classes are. I knew this was graduate school, but this course load is intense. I am really excited to get started on studying though. We get to have classes on Bible, Biblical History, Liturgy, Modern Hebrew, Biblical Grammar, Modern Israeli History, Rabbinic Texts and one more that I can't really figure out from looking at the grid. Yep, that's eight classes and an optional course with Rabbi Zweibeck that I want to take over lunch on Tuesdays. This is a lot more than the four or five from High School and University of Minnesota. I guess that's why this is grad school and not a vacation, right?

What else has been going on? Rabbi David Ellenson, the President of the College-Institute, was in town and gave a lecture during the week. It was great getting a chance to meet him again. The lecture was good and it was a good introduction to the college. Some of what he mention caused some controversy with some of my friends here. It prompted some good discussion that distracted from studying for the exam we had Wednesday. But maybe that was the point, to get us to start thinking on a different level.

I went for a bike ride on Friday morning. Let me put it this way. Jerusalem is not the best place for a biker. It was a little bit crazy. I really enjoyed the ride with the other people who will be going on the Ride for Reform. One little anecdote though.

I was riding and didn't realize that one of the medians was raised. I noticed that it was up as I was coming up to it and immediately reverted to the last few years of riding a road bike. I braced myself for going over the top of my bike. Here's some great news though, mountain bikes have front-fork suspension for a reason. I barely felt the little bump as I rode over it. No biggie, it's a mountain bike.

Now it's time to get to some homework and studying.

Shabbat Shalom,

Sunday, August 15, 2010

I Bought It

Last week I blogged about wanting to buy a bicycle. Once I put my mind to something, I had to go out and get it. After a lot of thought I just decided, I had better spend the extra 500 Sheck to get a nice bike with better breaks. So I went back to Eldar Cycling and bought the bike.

I'm pretty happy with it. It's nothing special. Just a nice 28-speed (8x3) set of gears. The front suspension is alright although while I was biking up the hill home, I noticed that if I pedal the wrong way I put some of my momentum into the suspension and not all into the pedals. I am really happy with the purchase though and it already has a name, thanks Dusty and Leah. The bike is going to be called the Orange Dream-Cycle. I haven't quite decided if it's male or female though.

Riding home though was tough. Not the hills, I can manage those, especially once I figure out how the gear ratio works a little better. It's the atmosphere. This is not a good biking town. You are supposed to bike on the sidewalks, which don't always have an easy way to get onto them. People also park their cars all over the sidewalks. This complicates the situation that involves a lot of trees, dumpsters and other just random stuff in the way. Not to mention the people you need to dodge because they walk like they are daring you to hit them. It's is for this reason I decided to pick up a helmet now and not wait for someone back home to mail me my helmet. Check out the "amazing" helmet I get to wear here.

Since buying the bike, I've taken it out on the streets a few times. I cannot get used to riding on sidewalks. It feels so wrong to be on the sidewalk. On the plus side, it is possible to bike on the wrong side of the road when you're on a sidewalk. Nobody really cares and they stand in your way no matter which side of the road you're on.

The other thing that is taking a while to get used to are the shocks. I'm not used to having a suspension in the front fork. It feels weird not needing to brace when you come across something in the road, or when the path has some change in gradient. Eventually I will get used to this, but I can't wait to get out on the trails.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Challah From Scratch

I don't think it's my recipe to give away this time, but I emailed my mom asking her for her challah recipe. I just wanted to make some that reminded me of home. If you're wondering this is a very simple break recipe. It takes a little while to get things going and letting the dough rise and re-rise. By looking at the pictures I am providing here, you can tell there is a trick to getting the braids to work out the right way.

After preparing the dough I made a four-braided-challah. That did not work very well. The challah plumped up a little better but it's not that easy to make a 4-braided challah. For the second challah, I made a five-braid. This one worked a lot better and the rolls ended up turning out really well.

I love Zatar. It is a great spice to toss on just about anything. So I figured, why not?
Mom also suggested to put it on there, presumably because she knows how I feel about this flavor.

It worked really well and I loved the taste of both of the Challot. She did leave instructions on how to make sure that the Challah rises better and gives a more airy texture. I will do that next time. Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rosh Chodesh Elul and Women of the Wall

This post is long and full of multi-media. I apologize for the length up front.

There was tension in the air when I got out of bed at about 5:15 in the morning on Wednesday. Marina and I met a group of students and we walked towards the Old City to meet Women of the Wall at the Kotel for a Shacharit Service for Rosh Chodesh Elul. As we descended the steps towards the Kotel, the sun started to crest over the top of the The Temple Mount, over the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa Mosque with the Western Wall at the base.

Once we arrived, due to the Mechitza, the women went to their side and the few men I walked with joined the group of mainly HUC students standing near the women at the Mechitza. There were enough of us to make a minyan. The women were close enough that we sometimes could hear them and we tried as much as we could to continue to pray with them. As the women got louder, an orthodox man heard their voices, picked up his books and a small table and moved over near us and began shouting the words from a book. He was trying as hard as he could to drown out their voices.

The video is shakey, but you can hear the women and the man reading at the top of his lungs.

As the women in the group prayed louder, a congregation of Sephardic men rushed over to start their service. I couldn't tell if they typically recite their prayers this loudly or if this was their protest. As the women were louder, the men got louder. I was emotionally distraught at the way that words of prayer were being used.

Being Reform Jews, we continued our service and enter the T'Fillah (the 18 prayers that are the central part of a service). There is a prayer traditionally called the A'vot which recalls the memory of the first Jewish Ancestors (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). The Conservative and Reform Movements have changed their liturgy to also include their wives as well (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah). Loud enough to drown out the men, we chanted this prayer OUR way. This enraged the men who had finished their loud service and the few that hung around began to yell things at us as well as the women. I apologize for the coarseness of the coming language. Some of the phrases I was able to understand include; "You're not really Jewish", "You (Reform Jews) may as well be Muslim", "Faggots and Lesbians", "You are ruining Judaism" to name a few of the horrible phrases screamed by these "righteous" men. Disgusting.

Because there were some disturbances there were always policemen standing near us, sometimes directing some of the people who came too close to leave. This includes some of the women from the other side of the wall that came to stare through the Mechitza and yell at us too. They mostly were telling us what we are doing in support is wrong and we shouldn't be there. So much for "separating" men from women to pray, right?

There was another point in the morning that a man decided to come stand on one of the benches at the back of the Kotel area to stand and take turns yelling horrible things at the women and at us. Another man joined him and tried to restrain him, tried to calm him down. He continued to push this man back off the bench and there was a security officer standing there that did nothing until it looked like this second man was going to be hurt. At this point, he walked up to try and "control" the situation a little.

Not only that, but these religious men were distracting other people from their prayers. Another man from a point far away at the Kotel came to ask one of them to stop shouting. Apparently this was the man reading from the Shulchan Aruch. His response? I couldn't here precisely what it was but after watching his gestures, it was apparent that he was doing it to try to drown out the women on the other side.

There was no major violent outburst, no arrests nothing horrible that happened during the services. I was just completely disgusted at the reactions of the men on our side of the wall. Yes, I do understand that Israel has decided to stand on the side of the religious men and say that the Western Wall is to be treated a certain way. At the same time I am struck by the hypocrisy displayed. The circular arguments I've read online since that day have very limited and weak excuses for why the Women of the Wall have no right to do what they want. Despite the treatment that all of us received that morning, I hope to continue to join them for Rosh Chodesh services.

I doubt that anything will change in the year that I will be here, but that doesn't mean I am allowed to walk away from the situation.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

David Broza at Sultan's Pool

I had never been to an outdoor concert before and I had no idea what to expect. Having heard some of Broza's music (I only have his greatest hits CD) I knew he is an incredible guitarist, but I had no idea what to expect. I didn't spend any time wandering the art fair before heading down towards the amphitheater, we were hungry after Havdallah and needed grab a bite to eat before the show.

The Sultan's Pool Amphitheater sits below the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem and is a large space that easily accommodates a large stage. We thought we needed to be there really early and as it turns out, it was a good idea to get there as early as we did. We got to stand incredibly close to the stage.

Not only was it awesome to be there with a good sized group of HUC students, with a guest appearance from Steph, the show was incredible. Sorry 311, I think you've just lost out to David Broza as the best concert I've ever seen.

There was just an intense passion on Broza's face as he belted out his songs in Hebrew and Spanish. Without taking much of a break from his showmanship, he played for almost two-hours. Keeping the crowd near me moving and entranced at the music he was making. It was incredible. Then there was the music.

I spent a lot of the show staring at his fingers trying to understand how me makes them fly across the strings with such speed and accuracy. At times It really looked like he wasn't even touching the strings his fingertips were flying across the neck so quickly. The band included a variety of other instruments ranging from a simple, wooden flute, saxophone, trombone, trumpet and violin. You could tell the group was having a lot of fun playing together.

The violinist also could dance. In her Flamenco shoes and very Spanish looking dress, Broza got up from his stool and gave her a lot of room. Then she started dancing. I commented to some of my friends around me that I hadn't seen anything that cool since the summer I was in Spain. She was fantastic at it. Broza clearly was having fun with it and danced with her and encouraged his bass player to do the same. They were just having a good time.

They finished off with a great song and a very extended ending complete with solos from every member of the band which was a lot of fun. Then the crowd continued to shout for an encore, which Broza happily obliged. I took some video of it, but we were too close to the stage and the bass overpowered the input on my camera. With the same enthusiasm of the rest of the night he told the crowd that we needed to be quiet so he could tune his guitar. After getting into a groove he concluded with the song Mitachat La'Shamayim (Under The Heavens). After playing to the crowd, Broza turned up the passion one more time and the song took on a new life of its own. It was absolutely insane.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

It's A Cat, (Meow)

I do not like cats. Between the hair-balls, the licking, litter-boxes complete indifference to their "owners" and the minor allergies to them, I think I have some legitimate reasons for disliking these creatures. To quell any questions, when I was a lot younger we did have a cat. Nowhere near as good of a pet as a any of the dogs I've ever had.

Pets are completely irrelevant to Israel. I was not even going to consider having one here. The time it takes to have a pet, to train them and to care for them are just insane to try to do this year. Plus the whole issue of bringing it back with me to the states. But then I got here and to my surprise there are cats everywhere. For those of you who have been at the University of Minnesota, the best comparison I could give you is that the cats here are like the squirrels that populate the entire U of M campus.

They live in the streets, eat out of trash cans, hide from the heat under cars. They are everywhere. When I first got here, I was disgusted by them. I can sit at night and listen to the females in heat calling for a partner. Sometimes I can hear when they are successful - yea, MORE cats for Jerusalem. Other times I can hear them fighting and hissing at each other. Presumably because another cat has encroached on someone's territory.

They swarm around apartment entrances and cry for food. This wouldn't be so bad except for the fact that someone in my building was feeding them from their door. Yes, from the inside of the apartment building. Since our front door doesn't close, the cats wander around inside the building meowing for food. One morning we even found a nice pile of cat-sick on the ground level of our apartment. This is just plain disgusting.

Before I continue, you may be wondering where did these cats come from? How did this get so bad? I don't know how true this anecdote is, but it's a good story that I've heard since coming here. To run with a great line from one of my favorite radio personalities, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story." The story goes back to when the British were running this part of the world. They were so disgusted by the numbers of rats running around they brought in cats to chase the rats (who ate the spider, who swallowed the fly...). Well, the cats in Israel did such a great job killing off the rats that you don't really see them at all.

But here is the rub (you know there would be one or I wouldn't be writing about it); they are starting to grow on me. Yep, that's right. The cats are starting to grow on me. Sometimes they are actually a little but cute to look at as they sit at the gateways to apartment buildings. Watching them struggle to get enough to eat is heart-wrenching. I saw one cat a while back that looked like he had been so mangled in a fight, his eye was scarred over and looked like he had been run through hell and back. There is something a little endearing about these filthy pests that roam the street.

The inquisitive way the little ones look up at you when you walk close by, much like the squirrels at the U of M, they look up to ask for a small morsel of food. I haven't softened to the point that I am going to feed them myself, but I do feel bad for them sometimes.

I will leave you with an amusing link about cats. Thanks to Brian A for this one. It's a Cat (meow) Flushing A Toilet
And no, I will still not be adopting a cat any time soon.

Friday, August 6, 2010

I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride My Bike

In the last few years I've been getting into biking. Being that I needed to fly to Israel, I chose not to bring my bike with me. Additionally, Jerusalem is very hilly and you don't see a lot of road cycles around because it's really tough to ride one around here.

[Enter Dusty]

She is one of the other students and is taking the lead on organizing the HUC group for the Ride For Reform . This is a 5 day bike ride that covers different parts of Israel every year. Participants raise funds that are donated to promote Progressive Judaism in Israel and I'm really excited to take part in it this year.

From what I understand, she knows someone back in the states that has worked with a bike shop down in the Talpiyot area. Steven, another of the Rabbinic students, knew about this shop too. This morning a bunch of us went down to look and shop around a bit. Walking into the store, there was a fantastic smell that burst through the door when we opened it. It's that smell of rubber and oil that you can only find in a garage or a bike shop. It was great!

The guy working there was very helpful. He showed us a few bikes, talked to us about why we were going to need them and what is our price range. Since none of us really have a clue about off-road biking, we started from the beginning and looked at some of the different types and talked pricing. It turns out I may be getting in deeper than I want to here. The bottom of the line that we looked at will end up costing around 500 dollars. Not brutal, but not cheap either. I also need to think about whether or not I want to bring it back to the states with me or to try and sell it here.

We were measured and the guy working at Eldar Cycling said he will call us when they get some new ones that he thinks we would be more interested in. Overall, it was a pretty exciting morning and I'm really tossing around the idea of whether or not I should just go for it.

Since I don't have a lot of time before Kabbalat Shabbat, I can't really type much more.

Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Internet Problems

I'm writing this right now as I'm struggling with my internet. The problems started about the same time the heat wave kicked in around here and they have slowly gotten worse every day. It's taking forever for webpages to load. The other day I had to give up on uploading pictures to my blog because it took 20 minutes to upload the pictures. The worst is Skype. The long distance relationship is hard and with the wonderful advents of modern technology, I thought it would be relatively easy to stay in contact with people back home, especially Kaitlin.

What started out as a minor nuisance, losing connections when we were using the video function, has now become a complete pain in the rear. I have been trying to just tough it out, but what should have been a simple 30 - 40 minute conversation has now turned into an hour long struggle to connect, be disconnected and reconnect to the Skype servers. There are times that I will sign on and I don't see anybody on. I know for a fact the person on the other end has logged on since we've talked about it later, or I was talking to them seconds earlier and they just disappeared.

I don't know what the deal is. I've tried to reset the router, restarted the modem and restarted my computer and nothing is working at all. I have never had this kind of internet problem before. There are two things that I think it could be; either Skype is poor technology that doesn't have all the bugs worked out and we have a hard time connecting or the heat in this country is making the internet fail. I know there have been other people expressing issues with Skype and internet service, so maybe it's the heat.

While I was checking the wires and stuff on the back of the modem, I touched the "splitter" at the back. It was hot. Not just warm to the touch, but it hurt to pick it up. I'm thinking this has something to do with the heat. I can't really think of anything else that I could blame it on. If you have any ideas or possible solutions I would be very grateful for anything that could help get this internet situation worked out.

For now, I'm just going to take a deep breath because, "y'he'yeh b'seder." יהיה בסדר
It will be okay.

UPDATED (19:33 on Aug 5)
The connection is so bad that googlechat has now disabled itself.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Gilad Protest, 1500 days

The walk home from school was an interesting one today. I got to the top of Karen HaYesod and I could hear a horn yelling something I couldn't fully understand. There was a large group of people at the Gilad Shalit demonstration. Usually this amount of people show up on Shabbat when there's not much else to do and people join with Gilad's family. Gilad Shalit is a Sargent in the Israeli Army who was captured towards the end of June, 2006 and is held somewhere in Gaza by Hamas militants.

Just before I got to Israel an march was organized throughout the country to bring people to The House/Office of the Prime Minister (think #10 Downing Street in England). At the demonstration site, both of Gilad's parents stay and the tents have taken more and more space on the corner and has even spread to other sides of the intersection (there are like 6 or 7 corners in the area). It is really an impressive show of support for Gilad and his family.

Their goal? They want the release of their son. Today marks his Hebrew Birthday (the Hebrew calendar is a little bit different than the Gregorian one, needless to say he is 24 years old). Today is also the 1500th day since his abduction from his Army Base on the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border. The demonstration today was an attempt to have 1500 people be there and circle the blocks. The family is trying to gain momentum for Israel to somehow negotiate for his release from this terrorist organization. Without talking about my specific thoughts on this topic, I will say it was a very powerful protest to see his parents wearing numbers 1 and 2 with a mass of people walking behind them. I didn't see all of the numbers but I know for sure there were around 1300 people that checked in. People were wearing masks with Sgt. Shalit's face and were making a lot of noise.

I know it's a pipe dream, but I hope he is returned to his family. Hopefully something can get done soon.

Gilad Shalit's Parents Leading the Protest March

The Gilad Shalit Protest Tents, They'll be there until he comes home

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Attack of the Chamsin

Hebrew has a special word, חמסין (Chamsin).
It describes the exact kind of heat wave we've been having here in Jerusalem. Before you say something like, come on Brian. You're in the desert in the summer. This is quite possibly one of the worst heat waves I have ever dealt with in the last three days. This comes on the heals of me telling Kaitlin on Skype that I was cilly walking home at night and it was in the low 70s.

To be fair, I haven't checked an official weather forecast in the last few days to see just how bad it has been getting, but the reports that I've been hearing from students that have checked are that we're getting near or over 100 fahrenheit. Back in Minnesota it gets that hot in the summer, but there is literally no relief the last few days from the heat AND we've been getting humidity too. There is no chance it will be raining any time soon to break the heat. There are basically no clouds to grant some shade and the heat is just oppressive.

Making matters worse, my walk to school is up hill both ways. No I'm not making that up. We're up hill on Derech Aza all the way to Karen HaYesod and from there it is downhill to David HaMelech. This means that on the way home, it is uphill up Lincoln (pronounced lin-ko-Lin, yes you say the second "L" in Hebrew) and Eliot to get back to Karen HaYesod. What I'm getting at here is that I've consumed almost a gallon of water as well as other liquids and I still feel dehydrated. It got to the point today that I took a very very long nap today and I'm not really a napper.

In the end, this heat wave will break and there's only one to two months left of this oppressive summer heat. Not that I'm complaining too much, because I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. I guess this is just a welcome to Israel, surprise for us.

Tahini (Tchinah) & Hummus Round 2

Tchinah (Tahinah)
2/3 cup of raw tchinah (Sesame Seed Paste)
2/3 cup of water
1 lemon (juiced)
4 garlic cloves (chopped)
10 parsley sprigs (chopped)
3 scallions (chopped)

On Friday afternoon I made a large trip to the Shuk and bought a bunch of products for making my own Tahini. I started it from scratch. I picked up the supplies that I needed from Mister Zol the day before the rest of the fresh ingredients. Since I was also prepping to make the Hummus before hand, this time I was prepared, I turned on the stove to start cooking the Chick Peas before I set in on the Tahini.

I used a recipe found on the same blog that I discovered a recipe that I found for Hummus.

I played with the standard recipe and ended up using the following.

This was pretty easy. Basically you just mix everything together. The recipe recommends that you take your time and mix everything in slowly. Ha. I'm not that patient and I mean, it's mixing. Let's get real here. I mixed everything in and as I was adding salt, I realized that I didn't really have a lot left. This was at about 4:00 on a Friday afternoon. In Jerusalem, the city is effectively closed at that point. I thought I could make it happen anyway so I just kept going.

Once you mix all of the ingredients together you let it sit in the fridge to cool down. You just need to make sure that everything is mixed in really well together.

At this point the chick peas were about done. Let me just say that it works really well when you actually use baking soda and cook the peas in boiling water on the stove. That worked really, really well.

2 cups of chick-peas
1 cup of freshly made tachina
2 lemons (freshly squeezed)
1 garlic clove
garlic powder
3 teaspoons of cumin
1/2 bunch of parsley (chopped)
olive oil

This time worked so much better than the last time I tried to make Hummus. I ran into a small problem though. You see, I needed a lot more salt than I thought I would. So the final product is a little under-salted. I will also note that the chick peas dry up just about any liquid you put in with them. If you try to make this following this recipe, make sure to add the cooking water back to the mixture until you get a rather loose texture. It should seem to be way too moist. I ended up also needing to keep adding olive oil to the mixture as it sits in the fridge. I love the fact that I keep practicing with this recipe. Some time soon I should have it very close to perfect. Just make sure to add more salt and oil than I was planning.