Friday, May 27, 2011

I'm Home -

While I know I haven't put anything up on here for quite some time, I wanted to provide a bit of a wrap up from the year. The last few weeks of the term were some of the most hectic that I had all year.

I wasn't really stressed about finals, there was a lot going on. I was running around trying to see things that I wanted to check off my list before coming back to Minneapolis, friends were leaving and I wanted to see them one more time before they left. Then it started to hit me, some of my classmates I will not be in school with next year.

Once that started to hit me I was spending every free moment with people. Dinners at favorite restaurants, ice creams and just being with people. But I kept trying to keep in mind that I will keep seeing these people. It's not a "forever goodbye".

After finals finished, we had some end of the year programming and wrap up for the year. I had a day or two to pack all of my belongings, a bunch of presents that I have carried back for friends and family and hopped on a plane to surprise my brother for his birthday.

I got home at 1:00 in the afternoon on Wednesday and I'm still working on getting my life in Minnesota in order before I start looking towards Cincinnati.

This will be one of my last updates on this blog, but keep a look out for one last blog on TCJewfolk and probably some sort of final wrap up when I've had the chance to process the year in Israel a lot more. Until then, check out more of my life and my thoughts at my main blog, Behind My Blue Eyes.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Note to Self: Read More Books

Here I am, sitting in the library working on study guides. I was pouring over books, reading through notes on my computer and I noticed something strange. When I was trying to read notes on my computer, or go over what I had typed already, I had to put on my glasses.

I'm near-sighted, but my vision isn't that bad. I mean, my computer is maybe a whole two feet away from me. But when I tried to read from my books, I had to take off my glasses so I could read that comfortably. My book was maybe 6 inches closer to me but has smaller writing.

Do I really need to start thinking about bifocals already? Seriously?! I can't need bifocals... That can't be right...

I'm not the World's Biggest Fan of e-readers, or doing too much reading on the computer. I like the feel of a book in my hand. There is something so much more satisfying about turning a page instead of clicking a little mouse. It might sound weird, but I like the smell of a new book, or an old book for that matter. But maybe it's that I have a hard time reading on a screen that makes me want to run to the nearest printer when one of my instructors e-mails a hyper-link to a newspaper article.

Never mind the fact that I can't really write notes along the side of my computer screen the same way I can scribble all over a book, newspaper or even magazine.

I guess I'm rambling a bit, but I think I needed a little study break.

Back to the "books".

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Purim, a "Little" Late

I know. I know. Purim was a really long time ago. I was thinking about putting something together for TCJewfolk but that never came to fruition. So here are some of the thoughts and notes that I jotted down about Purim in Jerusalem

It's a two day celebration in Jerusalem. There are two dates in which people celebrate Purim, one is designated for cities with walls and the other designated for cities without walls. It was interesting to see the different people celebrating in different ways. Kids in and out of schools dressed in costume. Even people I didn't expect were walking the streets in costume. I was stopped by two men while I was walking who wanted to tell me about a Megillah Reading (the celebration and ceremony when we read and retell the story of Esther) that I could join them at.

In public spaces there were many celebrations. Fireworks going off all night and people celebrating all over the places. Even at the Shalit family tent there was a celebration and a megillah reading. The Mamilla Mall was turned into a carnival with events for kids and it reminded me of the Purim Carnivals that I usually go to at synagogues.

A large group of us went to Holon, a city near Tel Aviv, to watch their annual parade. It was a pretty typical parade, much like parades we have for the 4th of July. Many different dance studios had put together performances as well as schools and groups that had made floats. I had to laugh pretty hard and say to myself, "only in Israel" when the marching band passed us playing "Heiveinu Shalom Aleichem".

Dana, one of my classmates, worked together with a group of people on a Purim Schpeil in the setting of Avenue Q. It was pretty hilarious! Kol HaKavod to everyone that worked on it and participated!

Afterwards we made our way to a pub on Avenue Shushan for a Migillah reading. It wasn't full of just the HUC students! The place was packed with Israelis who had come to hear the story and to celebrate Purim. I'm stuck between trying to define it as a combination of a religious celebration and Halloween. Comparing it to Halloween feels like it cheapens the celebration, but at the same time it had a similar feeling, aside from just the costumes.

Since I'm writing this about six weeks late, that's about all I can remember. I had a really good time and it was a great holiday to celebrate here in Jerusalem.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Shabbat Services

Earlier this year I had signed up with one of my classmates to lead services for Shabbat morning. We spent a lot of time putting together what we thought would be a meaningful and enjoyable experience. I know that I had a lot of fun working with a cantor (cantorial student) for the first time. It is quite incredible working with someone else who can help lead, especially someone with such an amazing voice.

A few weeks ago two of my classmates had used an arrangement of Dan Nichols's Or Zarua. We decided to use Dave's arrangement for our opening song before services started. Working with Ari, Ben, Brian, Jay and Mike I had a lot of fun preparing and I think we did a really good job with it.

Or Zarua video on Youtube

The service itself, I think, went really well. As always, there are things that I need to work on, but that's the point of school. Right? We've spent all year studying and working hard at improving our skills for leading a community in prayer. I had the chance to share the melody Rabbi Dr. Levine shared with my class a few weeks ago, which I also think went well.

I cannot wait until next fall when I have the opportunity to continue leading services for a community. I received my pulpit assignment for next year and I am very excited to get to work!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

My Passover Seder

This year (almost) in Jerusalem. Our seder always ends with the line, "This year in Jerusalem". I was so close to that this year, but I have family living in Omer (near Be'er Sheva) and I went to Nanci's house for the seder. However, she is a Messianic Jew, so the night was very different than I had anticipated.

To the best of my understanding, Messianic Judaism connects itself to the early followers of Jesus. They still consider themselves Jewish and therefore celebrate Jewish Holidays, but they have also accepted Jesus as their savior and the Messiah. This does not mesh with my own beliefs and views of the world, however, I thought it was important to be with family for the holiday.

The experience was interesting. The seder was similar to what I am used to, but there were nuanced differences and some very obvious changes reflecting the beliefs of the community I was in. I still don't know exactly how I feel about the seder itself, but I respect the right of that community to celebrate the holiday in the way they see fit.

I'm glad that I was with family and it was an interesting interfaith experience. But I was left wanting something else. I guess there is always next year. I hope I can find time to make a Passover Seder at my apartment next year in Cincinnati.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Yom HaShoah

Today is the designated Holocaust Remembrance Day. With ceremonies in many places around Jerusalem and around the world. We come together to remember the victims of the Holocaust whose lives were senselessly ended during World War II. It is a time to remember those to whom we are connected, and those that have nobody to remember them. But it is a day not only to remember the atrocities committed against millions of people.

For me it is a day to reflect. I think about the marginalized groups of people who were forced to leave their lives behind and rounded up into ghettos across Europe and I start to ask; why? These people were executed for committing crimes; being Jewish, being gypsy, being political dissidents, being homosexual and many other things. Their crime was being undesirable in the eyes of Hitler, the Nazis and the Third Reich of Germany.

It wasn't anything these people had done.

These people were killed because of hatred.
These people were murdered because they were not understood.
These people were slaughtered because they were different.

As I sit and think about these things I can't help but think about the losses this world suffered because of hatred, fear and misunderstanding. People suffered because other people were whipped into a frenzy and followed along.

In some ways this was a Jewish tragedy. In other ways it is a global tragedy. And it can serve as a lesson for us about the dangers of hatred.

May all of humanity never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

In Joshua's Shoes: This Year in Jerusalem

As I've started to celebrate Passover as a celebratory holiday, I found that very easy to do this year. The city of Jerusalem is designed to let you have an easy passover.

You can read some of my experience at this link: In Joshua's Shoes: This Year in Jerusalem

While you're at TCJewfolk check out their other stories and blog posts about being Jewish in the Minneapolis / Saint Paul area.

Return to Haifa Haifa

On my last day of break I had the chance to head back up to Haifa. I love that city. Yes you need a car to get around, which is a little bit annoying, but the city is just beautiful. The weather was a little humid when I got off the bus, but really not that bad, and it was a nice change from Jerusalem's chilly air.

I tried to get ahold of my friend Ayelet, who was coming to pick me up at the bus station and surprise! I found my friend Zohar who was also meeting to hand out for the day. We talked for a little bit until we met Ayelet to go around the city.

We checked out the Behai Gardens, which are done with their renovations on their shrine, and it was really cool to see that again. We didn't take the entire tour, but hung out on the steps at the first level. After a short coffee break in the German Colony we went towards the Druze Village nearby for lunch.

I'm really starting to like this hummus with Ful, but I don't really know what ful is. It's a little spicy and look like beans. But I don't really know what they are aside from good!

We went to the Carmelite Monastery to look at the amazing view from this height. The pictures don't do it full justice, but I can't really describe the valleys, mountains and cities that we looked at. As it turns out, this monastery is the location where the Prophet Elijah battled against the Priests of Ba'al. More random history I didn't expect to find.

After the monastery we walked along the beach. The boardwalk was very cool to walk up and down. None of us were prepared to go in the water so we just hung out for a while talking on the edge of the water. It was a great way to end break. I had a lot of fun seeing friends from camp and seeing other parts of the country I hadn't been to in a while.

Since I've already had a few days back to school and we have lectures again tomorrow, I should probably get to a little homework and reading for classes. Finals are on the way soon, so perhaps I should get a little ahead of the game this time.

Shabbat Shalom,

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kiryat Shmoneh, Day 2

Not only did I get to sleep in incredibly late, 10AM, but once I work up Ariel made an awesome breakfast. As soon as breakfast was finished we needed to start thinking about lunch. We made a salad and some hotdogs to bring with us. We tried to find these hot springs, but after an hour or so of searching, we gave up and headed into the Banyas.

As a school, we had the option to go there while we were in the north. I had gone with the group up the mountains to see the Syrian border from a mountain lookout. Being back in the north I wanted to see the Banyas Park. It was a beautiful forested area and a nice river flowing through it. Not one of the little trickles one usually sees, but a river with a quick enough flow it feels like it could sweep you off your feet.

It was pretty amazing. We spent a very long time just hanging out in a nice area next to the river, lunch was great.

We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening just hanging out at their apartment, playing games on the Wii, talking, and working on Labaneh (a cheese made from yogurt, stirred and left to sit and drain until it becomes a cheese).

The next morning the Labaneh was our breakfast with some olive oil, zatar and menta on Matzah. I got to hang around with them for a few more hours before I had to get on the bus back towards Jerusalem.

I learned my lesson about which bus to take. A little note to myself, make sure you don't take the one that stops at every single stop on the side of the road. It only took four and a half hours to get back to Jerusalem. Instead of taking a cab back from the bus station, I decided to walk since it was so nice.

It turns out that the walk is about 40 minutes, and if I didn't need to go to the station early in the morning I'd take the walk instead of dealing with a cab. I really had a good weekend in Kiryat Shmoneh and I'm glad that I was able to spend so much time with Michal and Ariel.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Nice Break

It's been great having a lot of time off of school that last week. I really have a good chance to appreciate parts of Israel and even parts of Jerusalem when I don't have the weight of classwork in the back of my mind.

I hadn't seen any of my Israeli friends for a while, so for the weekend I went up north to Kiryat Shmoneh to hang out with Michal, one of the shlichim (Israelis that come to work at summer camps) that I became really good friends with. Even though I hopped off the bus in the rain, the backdrop of the city is beautiful!

You have the mountains in the background and if you look off into the distance you can even see Mount Chermon, the highest peak in Israel, if the sky is clear enough. The city itself is a sleepy little town in the periphery of Israel (this has been one of the themes of Israel Seminar this year) and there isn't an overwhelming number of things to do.


We went for a drive on Friday afternoon to try to find something called Knafe. I will write about that at another time. On the way to Masadeh (a town up in the hills) we picked up some hitch hikers, and this is something completely normal. When you live out on the periphery, often times you have no way to get around when you don't have a car. The answer is to walk and hope a car passes that is willing to give you a ride somewhere. It was really interesting talking to these two guys who were out on the week of leave from the army to hike trails in the Golan.

After trying Knafe at a two different restaurants in the Druze Village we went for hike to see the ruins of a Syrian town, I don't remember the name of it, that appeared to be have been abandoned after the borders moved in 1967. Nature really conqures everything in the end. The houses that had been damaged, apparently due to fighting during the war, were filled in with grasses and the woods creeping back in to retake their land.

Standing inside one of these ruined houses we could see some stunning views of heights. It was absolutely breathtaking.

For dinner, Ariel, Michal's boyfriend, cooked an amazing vegetarian, Indonesian flavored, dish. It was a little like a stir-fried, Asian Chipotle. But instead of a burrito, it is wrapped in rice paper.
(For those of you wondering why I'm eating ride, it's passover. I do not exclude Kitniyot from my diet during the holiday)
I have to say that Ariel is an amazing cook, dinner and the trekking that day was amazing.

That was just day 1.

I'm writing this from the bus ride home (yea for having internet on the busses), so there will be another post later with more of my break and a few pictures as well.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Yad Vashem

She knows somebody who works there. That was the excuse our Hebrew teacher came up with for us to visit Yad Vashem. It doesn't really take much for us to be convinced to visit there. But her friend works at a part of the memorial that I had never heard about before. The Valley of the Communities is a labyrinth that has the names of communities that were affected by the extermination during the Holocaust.

It was a pretty powerful exhibit to wander through. The walls are probably 30 feet high, and there is no roof or ceiling. Greenery growing on the edge and inching their way down into the labyrinth.

We were there for Hebrew class, and our guide walked us through the maze and told us pieces about the exhibit, entirely in Hebrew. It's starting to dawn on me that I am getting better with this language. I know I'm not that great, but I'm mostly functional. I'd say proficient, not fluent. But that's not the point today.

Orna, our teacher, took us to see the exhibit that is built to remember the Adolf Eichman trial (another thing we've read and talked about in Hebrew class). That's the third time I've been to Yad Vashem, and I still haven't repeated large sections of the memorial. It's still a very moving place to go.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

There's Something in the Water

I've been having pretty bad heartburn all year this year. I've tried cutting out some of the spicy foods. I've tried waiting until I've had something to eat in the morning before having coffee, reduced my coffee and soda consumption. I've had more dairy products after meals (the base is supposed to cut the acid). I've even blown through a few bottles of tums and nothing has been working.

I noticed it was a bigger problem the more water I drank. It was really bad during the Ride4Reform when I was drinking 4 or 5 litres of water every day. Then I finally made the connection.

Our Israel seminar class invited a speaker to talk about environmentalism in Israel. One of my classmates asked about the drinking water in Israel. She had heard from someone that there are issues with the drinking water here and that was why she only drank from bottles. While Dr. Alon Tal assured us that the water here is more than good to drink, there are increased amounts of sediment or other things that build up because it is harder water than in the states. They also use different additives than we're used to.

I started thinking, maybe it's the drinking water that's getting my heartburn going. So I bought some big bottles of water. In fact, I bought 6 2-litre bottles for about $5. I'm surprised to find that I've had much fewer issues with heartburn now that I'm drinking most of my water from a bottle instead of from the tap. I know this is only empirical evidence, and don't take this to mean I don't trust the water in Israel, but it's one of those things I just haven't been able to adjust to in the last 10 months of living here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Swedish Theological Institute

Two weeks ago a group of students were visiting Israel from their Seminary, the Swedish Theological Institute. They came to HUC to share lunch with us and to have an interfaith conversation. It was really interesting to learn about their program, what they are studying and compare their school with ours and what we have been working on this year at HUC.

The lunch was fantastic and I really enjoyed learning about the Church of Sweden. One of the common things that kept coming up was how beautiful their building is. The STI has a building near Yaffo that you can't really see outside the gates, but all we heard was that the space was amazing and that if we had the chance to take a visit there, go as soon as possible because they were moving out in a week to renovate the building.

Mike arranged a visit for us last Friday, and they weren't kidding. The building is gorgeous. It is set up so people can come to study in small groups. The visiting students come for a week, a few weeks, or months to learn and to see many different religions interacting in Jerusalem. They run some very interesting programs out of that location.

It was originally built as a family home, and the designer did not really have his architectural chops worked out. Our guide kept pointing out things that he said no architect would approve of, but somehow it works in this building. The dining room, for example, had three distinct styles or arches holding up the rooms, a lot going on in a very small space.

I was really amazed by the gardens they have in their courtyards, beautiful flowering bushes, an amazing lemon tree in one of the gardens. Quite an awesome place to come to learn for a few weeks at a time.

It was just another one of the hidden treasures you can find in Jerusalem, if you're looking for them.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Pre-Flight Checklist

I've done checklists before. Enough times to know that I might not get everything on this list finished. But that isn't going to stop me at all. A few of my friends started a list of things to do before we return to the states. I slimmed down the list that we made together down to the things that I really want to do. I'm going to start trying to take things off this list as soon as possible.

Here's to experiencing Israel before I go home!

1. Beach Weekend in Haifa/Eilat

2. Camping/hiking somewhere up North

3. Israeli food-themed potluck Shabbat dinner

4. Group ride on the light rail

5. Museum on the Seam

6. Biblical Zoo

7. Caesaria

8. Wine tasting somewhere

9. Full Day Ein Gedi Hike

10. Attend Israeli Soccer Match

11. Visit Tzfat.

12. Play Shoots and Ladders on the board in the park on Azza

13. See Hadag Nahash perform

14. Bike/Hike trials around Jerusalem

15. Walk Via Dolorosa

16. Day Trip to Abu Ghosh

17. Latrun

18. Tel Aviv Museums: Diaspora and Rabin

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Gift

While I love many of the professors that I have had this year, there are a few that I have really enjoyed learning from. On Thursday at the beginning of my Late Antiquity History and Rabbinic Literature lecture, our teacher started talking about services that morning and talked about certain prayers. He brought a copy of Nishmat Kol Chai from Siddur Sim Shalom and talked about the beautiful poem that precedes it in Sim Shalom.

I'm on a mission to write my own melody for it, the poem is incredible.

Then he told us that he had one more gift to share with us. After a few seconds to compose himself he started singing a niggun. Slow, quiet, mournful and beautiful. It took more than 5 minutes to sing through the entire prayer, and it was one of the best moments of the entire school year.

Some of my classmates made recordings of him singing, and my goal is to try to learn this melody and find a way to use it in services. The words in Sim Shalom are slightly different than we have in the Reform Movement's Mishkan T'fillah, so it is going to take a little work to make sure the melody still fits with the words we have, but it is worth the work. It was one of the most incredible things I've heard.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Rhythm of the Seasons

It's baaaaack!

I've jumped the gun a few times and said that summer is here. Probably because I've just wanted it to happen so badly. But after a few days in a row, I'm pretty confidant that I can say we're done with the damp cold of winter, working our way through the last of the spring showers and on to early summer here in Jerusalem.

I said before that Spring here isn't the same as springtime back home, and I really miss parts of the Minnesota thaw. Being here, I've gained a much better understanding of the concept of Jewish time. The seasons are demonstrated in the Jewish calendar and we're about to get to Passover and celebrate the onset of Spring.

The last week has been warm during the day and pretty nice for most of the time. Then there is the evening, chilly and a little windy, yet nothing terrible. I finally broke out my summer uniform (thanks Allie), because the last three days have been absolutely amazing! The sandals have come out which means I'm really close to not wearing shoes anymore and that means it might be time to finally buy some Na'ot that I've been waiting for since it got cold.

Spring is here! I've been doing some cleaning and the windows are open.

Summer is close by and I think it's about time to put the heater away and take down the fans!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Homesick, For Real This Time

Well, it took 9 months, but I realized today that I'm ready to go home. It's not that I don't like being here in Jerusalem, although there are obvious problems, complaints and grievances that come with living in a new country and starting a new career as a student at the same time. I realized it today while I was working on a midterm and listening to a podcast of my favorite talk radio station.

It's getting to me that I'm a day behind the news cycle back home. Things happen and I just don't know about them until sometime the next day. It doesn't help that my newspapers have all decided to start charging to read them online.

Another factor is that it's baseball season. I was really excited last week to go to Mike's Place -a restaurant/pub that is a nice little slice of Americana, although way too loud for my taste- to watch the first game of the baseball season. But after the Yankees/Tigers game was finished, ESPN America decided that Americans throughout the world want to watch taking heads talk about NASCAR... That's what the America's population around the world wants to see on MLB opening day?! A day where there are baseball games starting all day from 1:00 Eastern until the late games start at 7:00 Pacific time, and ESPN puts on NASCAR?!

Since the Twins aren't a team that will show up on channels here, I caved in and bought the MLB.TV package that lets me watch games in real time, archived or in shortened highlight reels. But it's not the same. I just finished writing a midterm, and it's about 7 o'clock, about the right time to put on the ball game, right? Wrong. I can watch a replay, but it's not the same.

Israel doesn't have a winter like we do back home. The cold is miserable here because the buildings aren't insulated well (trust me, it's worth it for the summer), but I missed the real winter. The 3 foot high snowdrifts at the end of my driveway, the nuisance of putting on an undershirt, t-shirt, sweater, jacket, hat and gloves just to walk to my car in the morning, having to leave my home 10 minutes before I want to leave so my car can warm up and not make strange noises. Sounds miserable, but I miss that.

I miss it even more now that we're having this transition from winter (read: rainy and cold) to spring (read: rainy, hot during the day, cold as soon as the sun goes down). Back home it would be warm, but the weather would be a change from what it was last week, and every day would be getting warmer and warmer. The snow would be melting and it would smell like spring.

Spring has a smell and I miss it. I'm hoping our nice long break for passover will help and I can stop missing home so much, but I'm pretty homesick right now.

*PS - Mom and Grandma, I know you read this, but don't think I'm asking you to send me anything. I probably won't get it before I come home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hot Spiced Wine

A few weeks ago I went to a shabbat dinner at Kibbutz Gezer. The amazing family that we ate with made a really tasty drink for us to have at the start of dinner. It was really good. I asked for their recipe, but didn't get an exact one from them.

I had a very small group of people for dinner last week and decided to give it a shot.

In a large pot I placed,

Sweet Red Wine - .75 liters
Dry Red Wine - 1 liter
Sugar - 12 tsp
Cinnamon - 3 small sticks
Clementine Rind - .5 of a clementine

Bring the wine to a boil, stirring intermittently at the beginning to get the sugar to dissolve.
Boil it for 5 - 15 minutes. Most of the alcohol should boil out, but you need to taste the wine to know if the taste is right for you.

Filter the rind and cinnamon out or serve it with a ladle.

I think I did a pretty good job this time. I can't wait to make it again!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bartering for a Drum

I needed to get a drum this year. These things are for sale everywhere around the Old City and I really don't like the plastic and metal drum that we have at school. I had a little time to spend before going to the Jerusalem Food Festival on Wednesday.

Brian and I went to shop around a bit.

My strategy for bartering requires knowing a bit about the value of the item in the first place. So I checked at a few shops on the main street to see what they would quote me. Without even trying, one guy worked his price from 150 down to 100 sheckels. For similar drums I was quoted as much as 400 NIS (for those keeping score at home I had heard anywhere from $28 - $112.

We finally found another shop that had a few of them for sale. I started looking at what he had and found a few that I wanted to buy. When I asked for prices, he wouldn't give me one until I picked one that I wanted.

I finally decided on one and here is where the fun began.

(This isn't direct quotes, but the gist of the exchange)
Salesman: 200 sheckels, but a special price for you. 170 sheckels.

Me: Really?! This is two pieces, it's not very good. This other one is the same and is broken. I will pay you 70 sheckels.

Salesman: This is a good drum! For 70 sheckels is a small one that you bring back for kids. This is a real drum. 120 sheckels.

Me: That's way too much money. I can spend 75 sheckels.

Salesman: No, no, no! 100 sheckels.

Me: The most I can spend is 80 sheckels.

Salesman: That's not enough. 90 sheckels.

Me: 90 sheckels? Not low enough.

At this point I turned and walked out of the shop. Slowly making my out, I could hear the guy coming out of his shop telling me to wait. I said to Avner, "Tell me if he comes out of the shop after me."

Brian said that the guy was coming out. I turned around and as the salesman was waving saying, "Come back, come back, come back."

I walked back to his shop and he said, "Okay, okay."

Just to make sure we were agreeing on my price, I repeated, "80 sheckels?

Salesman: Okay. Yes. 80 sheckels.

I thought I did a pretty good job with that one, until he started cracking jokes with me as we were exchanging money. I'm pretty sure that I paid more than it was worth, but I'm happy with the price that I paid for the drum.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jerusalem Food Festival

On Monday we got an email from one of our staff members about an Old City Food Festival. I had to go.

Starting at the Jaffa Gate Plaza there were about a dozen different food booths selling everything from Kubeh (something like a corn dog but with a meat-ball inside instead) and stuffed grape leaves to candied nuts and olive oils. The city was packed with people trying all of the different foods available.

The four quarters of the city had different foods that were intended to represent the different cultures in the old city.

I tried a sugared, candied walnut thing in the Armenian Quarter. There were other things there, but I wasn't really ready to have a real meal that early in the night. I walked around with some friends for a few hours and we tried a bunch of different things.

At the Austrian Hospice, in the Christian Quarter, I split an apfelstrudel while we sat on the roof of the hospice. While we were ordering we listened to a string trio. It was a nice little taste of Europe in Jerusalem.

Near the Damascus Gate, there was no food, but live music. Some people singing in Arabic and some people dancing. There was a food market, but it was really similar to everything you can buy in the shuk. Nothing too impressive there.

Just off the Cardo was a recreation of a 2nd Temple Period Market (536ish BCE - 135ish CE). The kids' arts and crafts looked like they would have been a great way to entertain ourselves for a little while. But we were hungry and wanted to get some real food.

The Hurva Synagogue Square had the most booths selling real food. Moroccan Doughnuts, Kubeh, Soups, Chicken and Rice with different flavorings, Crepes, Popcorn and I don't even remember what else we could find. So much food and so many people. It was a great atmosphere to be in, especially as the live music was wrapping up for the night.

When I went the second day, I had a stuffed peppers, grape leaves and kubeh at the Jaffa Gate. We didn't explore nearly as much this night, but we spent a lot of time listening to a live performance. The band was pretty good and one of our instructors showed up to listen as well. It was a lot of fun and just one of the random things that pop up around here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I love Shakshukah! It's a combination of eggs and tomatoes that is a great breakfast or lunch dish. At the little coffee shop at school they sell a version of it. And I have had it in other restaurants around Israel. It's a pretty popular dish. So a week or so ago I decided that I wanted to make it and the recipe is pretty easy to do. It just takes some time.

I found a recipe at My Jewish Learning and of course changed it.


Tomatoes - 11 On the vine (a little more than 2 lbs)
Fresh Garlic - 9 cloves
Large Red Onion - 1/3 of an onion
Spicy Paprika - 1 tsp
Olive Oil - 6 Tbsp
Salt - 3 tsp
Eggs - 4 large


Cut the tomatoes into chunks, a little smaller than a quarter of the tomato. Chop the onions and the garlic.
Combine the olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, onions, paprika and salt in a small saucepan.
Bring to a simmer and cook UNCOVERED over low heat until it thickens, stirring intermittently.

AT THIS POINT I took a large portion of the sauce and put it in a container to have ready to go for another day.

Transfer to a small, frying pan and bring it to a simmer
(Use a larger pan if you are making the dish all at once).

Crack an egg and put it on top of the sauce.
Break the yolk (unless you like it runny) and cover the pan to poach the egg(s) until they are cooked.


Yields 4 servings, but you can use medium eggs and serve less sauce and make it go for 5 or 6.

How was it?
The Taste was pretty good. I like the spice from using spicy paprika instead of sweet. The extra garlic was good too. It was really good with a pita! This one was a little runny. I think I may have over done it with the olive oil. Maybe take it down a tablespoon or two. As far as the presentation goes, I don't know if I poured the egg on the wrong way, or if I broke the yolk too violently. It didn't look quite right.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Settlers of Catan

So there are times when I'm looking for something to do. I like to play games and there are some people here that like to play too. Usually I've been playing a lot Sheish Beish (Backgammon) and earlier this year it was a lot more Banana-grams or Scrabble.

A few months ago, I finally learned to play this complicated board game. One of the best parts about this game is that on the basic level there is a wide variety of strategies that you can employ to try to win. To make the game even more interesting, the board changes every time AND the value of each item changes each time you play the game.

Daniel doesn't like when it is described this way, but it feels like a combination of Risk and Monopoly. It's really been a lot of fun.

I'm really nerding out a little bit, but I really love playing this game and I can't wait to pick it up when I get back to the states.

Even better, though, is that there are expansions that you can add to the game. Even though it makes the game much more complicated and adds more strategic thinking about how you can win, it actually makes it a lot easier to learn. It's really a lot of fun and if you like to play games, I would highly recommend picking it up.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

In Joshua's Shoes: The Ride of a Lifetime

I hope you've been enjoying the long long posts I've posted about my time on the Ride4Reform. Not only was it an amazing way to see Israel in a very different way, I had the opportunity to get to know a lot of amazing people. Even more than that, I was very happy to help raise money for the IMPJ and Progressive Judaism in Israel.

Aside from the pictures and posts on this blog, I have a post available at discussing that part of the experience. You can read it at this link or from their website that contains a wide variety of posts about Judaism in the Twin Cities.

I had an incredible time on the Ride4Reform and I hope that I can make it work to come back and do it again some time soon. Next year it starts in Haifa and ends in Mevasseret Tzion. It looks like it could be an amazing trek.

To learn more about the ride visit their site at riding4reform. And enjoy a few more pictures from the ride or if I'm friends on facebook you can see them there.

The Standard View

The View On Top of Tel Gezer - Day 1

Pit Stop in an Orchard - Day 2

Dirt Roads Through Fields - Day 3

Riding Down a Desert Hill - Day 5

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ride4Reform: Day 5

It was chilly and windy when we convened in the garage of our hotel in Arad. We received final instructions and information about the route that morning. One of the most important things to take note of was the wind, especially at the beginning when we were going to bike directly into the desert and the wind.

They weren’t kidding.

We fought our way to the Arad Airfield against the wind the entire way uphill. On the airfield the wind got worse, and I thought that it couldn’t get any worse. That was until we turned into the desert. Rolling hills of sand-swept off-road path threw themselves at us.

Struggling uphill I had to orient my bike hard to the right and lean into the right in order to stay upright and on the path. At one point I was blown off to the left the wind was so strong.

Once the wind had settled a little bit, we came out of our hiding place to continue on the route down to the Dead Sea. The further down into the desert we went, the warmer it got. There was also less wind the further we went, so we pressed on.

When the organizers said that the last day was going to be the most technically challenging, they were not joking at all. Paths were hard to navigate because you couldn’t get the tires to catch traction and it was littered with rocks on top of the track and poking out of the sandy road.

After finally reaching desert we made our way towards the Dead Sea. Twinkling in the distance it was a goal we needed to reach. Up and down through the valleys of dried out river beds we would our way around the hills until we finally made it to an overlook to see Ein Bokek. It was an incredible view to see.

But we didn’t look at the view for too long. We needed to make it to Masada. Deeper into the desert we went.

We approached one last descent that we needed to tackle before our last small climbs before dropping into Masada. I knew it was going to be a challenge and waited to be one of the last to go down. I had been having a hard time riding in the pack because some of the younger riders were not always looking to their sides before changing their direction.

Down the hill I went. I was careful to keep my hand near the rear brake, but I wanted to feel the air whipping past as I went down the hill. Like the day before, I picked a line of attack and went for it. Passed the point I had picked out, rounded the corner and picked a new line to ride down.

I worked my way down the hill and saw that I was at the last descent of the ride. That is it and I was done.
We were only 8-10km from Masada and I was ready to Cautiously I worked my way down the steep path as rocks skidded out from under my tires. I could see the bottom of the last descent, I picked a line I wanted to follow around the rocks at the bottom, loosened up on the brake a little and started down.

It was going great until I realized that I didn't have the best approach towards these last few rocks I needed to get around. I tried to correct my path but I couldn't change direction even though I was moving pretty slowly. I hit the rocks and expected that the shock-absorbers would do the trick and get me around it.

I felt my front wheel stop short and the back wheel start to come off the ground. The next thing I know I'm upside down and my bike is coming right after me. I had the presence to kick it away so it didn't land on me and I hit the ground with a thud. I looked to see if anyone was coming behind me, and it was clear. I made sure I wasn't broken anywhere, and I was fine.

Then I picked up my bike and started walking it towards the group that was waiting. The shifting mechanism on the handlebars was bent, and the deraileur was bent into the spokes of my rear wheel. With only 8 km until Masada, I thought I was going to hop into the truck and be taken there.

I think these are the rocks that I couldn't avoid. I don't remember which ones exactly

I don't know if the resolution is good enough, but the derailleur is bent into the spokes.

Instead, our amazing volunteers did the best they could to bend the deraileur back into position and perform a mini-tune up to let me ride it out.

It took a long time to get through to the end because I was fighting the machinery on my bike. It didn’t shift as quickly as I hoped and I was stuck working in gears that are not good for riding down hill, especially into a headwind. But I finally made it out of the desert paths and onto the road.

A short, snaked, paved road and I made it to the end. Waiting at the bottom of the hill was a group of the Israeli Rabbis who had been staying in Arad for their convention. They were singing and clapping as we flew into the park and hopped off our bikes for lunch in the shadow of Masada.

About ten minutes later a bus full of HUC students joined us to celebrate the completion of our long journey. It was amazing!

Ride4Reform: Day 4

The Ruins for the Pit Stop

It was a cold, rainy morning. I have never put on that much gear to go for a bike ride. Layered and capped off with a raincoat I was as ready as I could be. We knew that the morning was going to have a long climb, followed by forests and then another long climb to the peak of a mountain for lunch.

Five minutes into the ride the leaders ordered us to stop and wait under some trees because it was raining too hard for us to keep biking. So we waited for the clouds to pass over us. With drizzle still falling on us we moved towards our first objective; Climb Number One.

At the beginning it didn’t seem like it would be that big of a deal. I hadn’t looked at the chart for the day. I reached what I thought was the peak and the road started to turn. As I made it around the corner I saw that we weren’t done yet and it was just getting steeper. YES!!!

I continued climbing, and climbing, and climbing the hill. By the time we made it to the top I was exhilarated! Not that tired, just excited to be at the top of the hill. It was an incredible view and completely worth the effort. I kept thinking about the climbs I watch during the Toure de France. This one felt really steep and I wondered what the grade of the incline was. It averaged between 14% and 19%. This is not nearly the same inclines that professionals ride, but I have to tell you, it was intense and a lot of fun!

A few kilometers later we met another part of our group that didn’t want to deal with this climb, but they wanted to tackle the highest climb of the five-day-ride. Working our way through another forest we started to go up Mount Amasa.

Working and working we finally made our way to the top of the mountain. The peak we sat on was 850 meters above Sea Level and we had climbed 500 meters of it! Again we were fighting against the winds that whip around the peak of a mountain and I was very thankful for the structure we sat in.

As we were preparing to leave, the guides explained to us that part of our descent would be incredibly technical. This meant that we needed to pay a lot of attention to the rocks that could be in our way. I was excited that we had practiced on many smaller technical descents and I was ready to roll.

The entire descent (that wasn’t only a descent) was all off-road. The path was rockier and harder to keep a grip on the ground. Until we hit the technical part.

They asked us to get off and walk our bikes over a small section of it because the wind was blowing too hard and the path was very challenging. But once we got through that, it was back on the bike. I set weight back on the saddle, gripped the handlebars and eased off my brakes.


At times I intentionally pulled up on my handlebars so I could jump over some obstacle that was in my way. There were other times that the rocks themselves tossed me into the air. The trick to getting down was to keep your weight back and your hands on the rear brake only.

You cannot really waver, you need to make a decision about the line you want to bike down and go for it. If you’re too nervous, it’s best to walk for a little while.

Safely at the bottom, I was out of breath and my calves were on fire. I spent the whole descent standing, it’s best to stand to absorb some of the shock instead of taking all of the bumps you hit. This was an amazing thrill and I was so glad I had decided to do it.

After waiting for everyone to catch up we continued towards Arad, where we would stay that night. To get there we moved through some desert towns and one of the cutest things I had even seen happened.

In one of the villages we passed through, a bunch of kids came running after us. I had a massive smile come across my face when one kid ran into his house and came out on his bicycle. He started chasing after us and it was hilarious!

Fields Before Hills

On the way towards the hotel we would stay at we were surrounded by amazing views and more rolling hills.

Finally in Arad, we got to stay overnight at a hotel and meet with some of the Israeli Rabbis that were meeting at the same hotel for a conference. What a way to wind down for the last segment of the Ride4Reform.

But if you think that was a tough day, Thursday was insane. Look for the day 5 post to come soon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ride4Reform: Day 3

We stopped near collapsed train tracks for a pit stop

The morning of the third day of the ride we were confronted with a lot of long rolling hills and they were mostly off-road. We were on the sides of farms that kept trying to steer us off to towards the left. It was still an adjustment trying to stay on course while dodging rocks and loose patches throughout the morning, all the time leading up towards a nice little climb on gravel.

I must admit that I wasn’t completely adjusted riding on this type and after a few minutes of climbing this hill, my legs were burning with lactic acid. When I get to the top of a hill, I like to just go down again. I can keep churning my legs without working that hard down a hill and try to clear some of that out. We stopped.

Rather annoyed, I hopped off my bike to look around the beginning of this forest. I found an incredible ancient well and cave site that we stopped near. The views were incredible, even though at times I didn’t always have the chance to look around because I was working on the paths.

We left the forest by descending through it. It was incredible!

Quickly down the hill with a little bit of skidding around the corners I got to the bottom safely. Being the third day, they had told us to be careful since most people started to feel comfortable on their bikes and they start to take risks that they don’t really need to. I have to admit, I may have fallen into that trap. But I was safe the whole way down.

After waiting for the rest of the group to meet us at the bottom of the forest, we crossed onto the road. I was really happy to be back climbing on pavement until Itay, our leader, said that we were turning off to head up another hill, a pretty good sized one.

It wasn’t terribly challenging, but I was starving and had way too much water. I worked so hard to get to lunch.

At the top of the hill the wind was whipping around and it was cold, really cold. But our hosts for lunch had a Bedowin style building set up that shielded us from the wind. They were fantastic and had prepared some fresh Lavinah for us. Lavinah is a warm Laffa (large pita that is similar to a Chipotle wrap) filled with Zatar, fresh Goat Cheese and Oil. Amazing!

Most people went on a tour of the Winery, located below us, but I decided to stay above and stretch out. My legs were getting tired. But once everyone came back topside we hopped back on our bikes and started towards another long climb to finish off the day (this was in preparation for the wicked climb we would have on Wednesday).

On the way down from lunch I started to feel that my front tire was low. I kept checking the level from the top of my bike and it didn’t look that bad. Then I made a wide left turn. I needed to stop and fix it.

We filled it with air and I started our climb. I love climbing!

I caught a good chunk of the group, but by the time I got to the top of the hill I was just about riding on the rims again (riding on the rims: a tire that is so low that the metal structure of the rim is almost touching the ground).

A puncture. Ugh. Luckily the support staff pulled up behind me to lend me a bike to finish the day. It was mostly a long descent towards our Kibbutz, Kibbutz Kramim,

After fighting with my bike all day on Monday, I missed it at the end of the day on Tuesday. There was something different about the balance, the shifters, the shock-absorbers and the handlebars. Something just didn’t really feel good about it. I only had 3km to finish, most of it downhill. But I was really happy to finish and not get picked up by the support truck.

After some long stretching, I was glad to go to bed early. Wednesday was going to be a tough day.

Wednesday, Day 4, is coming soon.

Terrorist Attack

Something strange happened today in class.

I was sitting and listening to a lecture about the current Social Worker Strike in Israel. We were learning about the public service sector of the Israeli economy. A little bit after 1500 IST, Dan turned his iPhone towards me and all I saw was a vague headline on Haaretz announcing that a bomb had exploded near the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem.

I was taking notes on my computer so I started to pull up new sites, Haaretz, the New York Times and BBC. The first story I read said that there was a bomb that exploded and 18 people were injured. Quickly I went to Twitter and Facebook to post that there had been an attack and I was safe.

Slowly but surely the teachers in the room started to get phone calls and texts. The students that have kids in school here started getting calls and Dan and I were still trying to get more information waiting to be told what was going on. One of our instructors was sitting behind me and she tapped me on the shoulder and asked if something happened.

Not wanting to disrupt the class, I quickly scrawled her a note.
near central bus station
18 injured
nothing else on Haaretz yet"

As more people were in and out of the classroom, and some of the administrators were coming down and talking to people at the kindergarden that is on campus, our speaker started to catch on to the fact that something was odd. She asked if something had happened, and the few of us that had been able to get online explained that there had been an explosion near the bus station. Haaretz was then reporting that 25 people were injured, 4 of them severely. But that was the best I could get at that point in the afternoon.

We were told that we could leave the room to call people if we needed to, and we continued a discussion while the instructors tried to figure out what to tell us. They hadn't received any good information either.

When class ended, they told us to make sure to have any HUC students that were not at school at that point to check in so they could find everyone and make sure we were all safe. And we all are okay.

The latest story I read reported that, 1 woman had died, more than 30 more were injured. And that's the best I can find.

I continued to read other news stories online and they said that there was increased violence on the Gaza border since last weekend, including Palestinian Civilians and Militants killed by the Israeli Air Force (IAF). Additionally I read about many more rockets that had been fired from Gaza into cities and territory in the south of Israel.

Then there is the terrible murder of the Fogel family in the Settlement Itamar two weeks ago. I know it might be jumping to conclusions, but it's human nature to think that these events must be linked somehow. If they aren't, these are terrible coincidences.

I continue to hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But as I'm studying the conflict that has started in the 1930's, I have begun to realize that the situation here is not so black and white. A lot of the rhetoric I hear wants to paint the picture that way. As it is in most cases, there is a lot more to the story than 2-sides.

I don't have a solution to solve this problem and I don't know that anyone does. What I have come to understand is that it takes discussion and understanding. Extremism on any side will get us nowhere. I firmly believe that we need to be able to look at a situation from many angles at once. Only when you try to understand the other perspective (not agree with, but accept that another person has a different perspective) can you begin to solve problems like this.

These thoughts kept racing through my head as I walked home this evening. My eyes could have been playing tricks on me, but I thought I could still see lingering smoke in the direction of the Bus Station. But when the bus I was passing backfired, I jumped.

I'm not scared. I don't think that I am in any danger living here for the next few months. I am a little worried that these senseless, violent acts could escalate. For now I will continue to do my work, go to school and avoid crowded places.

It's weird. It has been three years since the last attacks. Haaretz and Reuters have collaborated and created a timeline of attacks.

Right now, I'm safe. My friends are safe.
My thoughts and prayers are with the people that have been affected by the bombing today.
But for the next few days I will just put my "Israeli Face" on and go on.

Ride4Reform: Days 1 and 2

I'm more of a road-biker. In fact, before this year I had never been on an off-road trail since I was 12 or 13. Yeah, I'd been out on my mountain bike a little this year to train for the ride itself, but we didn't do any actual trail riding.

As we got started we hit a hill or two. I really quickly got the hang of not pushing down on the handlebars, since that's just wasted energy. But that shock-absorbers in the front of my bike really came in handy once we started to get out onto trails. About an hour or two into the ride we came to Tel Gezer, an amazing view of an ancient settlement. And that wasn't the only thing there.

Lunar Park is the term that Israeli Bikers use for a trail that's set up like a roller coaster path. Short, steep climbs followed by short, steep descents and some nice embanked turns. I was really nervous at the start of it, I'm not a huge fan of roller coasters, but it was totally worth it once I dove head first into the first descent.

We finished the 55km of the first day and ended up at Kibbutz Galon sore and exhausted, but it felt awesome to roll into the gate of the kibbutz. And if I thought I was sore that night, that was nothing compared to the pain I felt in the morning when I hopped back on my bike. After spending about 4 and half hours in the saddle the day before, I wasn't really happy sitting in the exact same position the next day.

That soreness became numb after the first twenty minutes of biking (and slowly but surely, I stopped noticing that pain every morning when we hopped back on the bike).

It wasn't more than 10 minutes or so into the ride on the second day that we ran into a real obstacle. There was a tunnel we needed to go through, but there had been some rain and combined with bad drainage, it was flooded!

Can't go over it. Can't go around it. Gotta go through it!

It took us a very long time to get everyone through this mess. We could only really go one person at a time and many people didn't want to get themselves that dirty. We tried different tricks, but in the end, there was nothing you could do. You just had to get muddy.

Then came something I was really excited for: Rolling Hills! Slightly steep, but short climbs followed by quick descents only to go up another hill. There was going to be a series of four of these in a row and I was really excited to get after them. But there were a few problems I ran into.

There was mud all over my derailleur (derailleur: the device that changes the gears on your bike) and it wouldn't let me shift quickly. On top of that, I was coming at this ride with the mindset that I ride my road bike with. My deraileurs on my road bike are much nicer and it is a lot easier to shift. So to my shock, I couldn't climb!

I love climbing and I couldn't do it. I was so bummed that I just couldn't get my bike to respond to me the way I expected. By the time I got up to the end of the last climb, after dropping my chain two or three times (dropping my chain: when the chain falls off the gears). I was really frustrated. Sharon was there, so I staged a nice picture showing my feelings for my bike. Don't worry I didn't actually kick it.

By the end of the second day, I had performed a little road-side maintenance with the help of our guides and I was able to finish in good spirits. Especially after our last few kilometers.

Single Track was an amazing way to finish the day. At the widest, the patch was the width of a tractor tire. At the narrowest it was as wide as a bike tire. Complete with quick turns, hills and descents, rocks and trees in the way. Single track was so much fun and took us almost to the end of ride.

It was a quick finish to Kibbutz Ruhummah. One of the most satisfying things was leaving through the gate of one kibbutz and riding almost to the door of our room at the second kibbutz.

Check back soon for day 3.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Black Tea

While I was on the Ride4Reform they served us a really good tea at all of our pit-stops and meals. It may have been the fact that I was exhausted and parched, but the tea we had was incredible!

On the last day of our trek I asked for the recipe. Here goes it;

Black Tea

I made some of it the other day. I still need to perfect the proportions, but it depends on what you like in your tea.

I put a little more than a cup of water, a tea bag, a teaspoon of Nana, a teaspoon of Zuta and a teaspoon of sugar.
For me this was not quite sweet enough compared to what we had on the ride. But it was close. I'm thinking a little more sugar and it will be perfect!

I wish I could give you the English names of the herbs, but I still can't quite figure them out. Nana is close to Mint, but it's not quite the same. Zuta is a larger problem. The word translates as something small or a small brick. It looks like sage, but isn't quite. The smell is like Nana but sweeter.

I was told that Nana is only really available in this part of the world. The question is, do I try to bring some of it back? Anyone know what the laws for transporting Herbs?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Back in Action

I realize it's been quite a while since I put much of anything up here. As you may know, I spent all week last week on the seat of a bike riding all over the center of Israel. That also meant that I missed an entire week of school. Between mid-terms and making up all of the work I missed I've been a bit overloaded, not that I'm complaining.

Compounding that problem, the cord to charge my laptop broke. I think it had something to do with the fact that I take the cord everywhere so I can keep my computer running. Although I was able to borrow cords at school to give myself some more juice, I had to be judicious about how much time I spent on my computer aside from using it for class.

A special thanks to one of my classmates that was back in the USA, I have a new cable and everything is good again. I have a few days off for Purim and I'm almost completely caught up on my course work. Look for a few posts in the coming days to update on what's been going on for the last few weeks.

Also look for a new post about the Ride4Reform on in the next few days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hand-Washing Laundry

My clothes were really muddy. There were a couple of days on the bike ride that we hit some strong rain, and a nice mud puddle. It was disgusting. Just muddy, sweaty and gross. So I threw them into the laundry and hoped for the best.


After running through one laundry cycle, my stuff was still muddy. What was I to do? I spent an hour or so washing by hand all the the shirts and jerseys that I wore. They're pretty clean now, I couldn't get everything out. I even used some spot cleaner and I didn't get it completely clean...

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Achey Friday Morning

There is so much to say about the Ride 4 Reform. It was so much fun. I got to see incredible places all over Israel from the back seat of my bike. I took a pretty hard fall 8km from the end of the trip, so I'm pretty sore this morning. But on the whole, it was fantastic and I feel great and so accomplished. I don't have too much time to write about it now, I have two mid terms the first two days of the week and there will be a blog post for TC Jewfolk to come out with some information. I don't want to duplicate that post before it runs, so... more to come soon and you can see pictures on facebook already!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Riding for Reform Today!

Blogger has an incredible feature I've been abusing every so often. I can write a post in my free time and have it upload while I am nowhere near a computer. By the time this goes online, I will be on the seat of a bike somewhere in Israel. I have no idea where I will actually be, but we start around 7AM Israel Time.

If we're running on Israeli Standard time, that means a lot closer to a 7:30 in start time. Our last news letter gave us the route we'll be taking along with some information about the elevation and the steepness of the climbs. If you want to check that information, you can get it here The Route.

On Thursday last week, we picked up our Jerseys from Dusty, who has been one of the point people on our end. Of course we took a few pictures to have a good time with them.

A special thanks to Sam and Allie for taking the pictures and to Steven for sending them out to all of the riders.

I'm really excited to get on the road for the ride. And if you are able to support me at all, I'm still working on fundraising. You can donate and support me at this link Donate Here. Any support you can give is greatly appreciated.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


For the first time in a long time here I finally feel like I'm having a Shabbat I really enjoy.

Thursday night, after another great conference call with the Cincinnati campus, I joined a bunch of people out for dinner to celebrate their birthdays. The 2nd dinner of the night was for all of us that are doing the Ride for Reform (starts tomorrow morning, and I'm still raising funds, if you can donate check out this link) and followed that with hanging out with some more friends before heading home.

Friday I cleaned and got ready for Shabbat which I got to spend in the city of Tzur Hadassah. Two of the Year in Israel Cantorial students help lead services with one of the Israeli students in this community. They worked with her to organize home hosting for a Shabbat Dinner. It was amazing.

We had a very Sephardi (Spainish, North African heritage) dinner with our family. Complete with fish, soup, chicken, beef, salad couscous, tea, wine and dessert. It was incredible. I'd love to share with you the "blessing of couscous" with you, but I want to keep that in my back pocket as a story to use as a Rabbi. Maybe I'll put it up on here later, or maybe I can prepare couscous for you sometime and I can tell you then.

Not only was the dinner amazing, but I also got to help lead services for the community and bang of my drum all day. It's so much fun adding that to services, especially Kabbalat Shabbat (Friday Night Services).

This morning I had a hard time dragging myself out of bed to get to HUC on time to rehearse a little more. Running a few minutes later than I wanted to be, I got to school in time and joined in the closing song, "Say" by John Mayer, that Mike really wanted to use. It was a lot of fun, although non-traditional, I really liked it as a closing song. He might put it up online and if that happens I will find a way to link to it.

Services were great, and I really like the Sermon that Beni delivered. I know I'm going to miss all of my friends that are going to be at other campuses, but I am excited to keep learning with the people who will join me at Cincinnati.

Lunch was also really, really good, and I just got back to my apartment. I need to clean and pack up my place so I'm ready to go on the Ride 4 Reform, which starts tomorrow, but the day is just perfect. I don't really trust the weather reports that I get here, so I'm going to venture a guess that it's mid to high 70's right now, and a perfectly sunny afternoon. If I wasn't about to spend 5 days on the back of a bike, I'd be out riding right now.

It might be that I don't have homework to do for tomorrow, since I won't be in class. Or it could be that this is really just an amazing day. But in my world, and in my Judaism, this is Shabbat and what it is supposed to be like.

I know that according to Orthodoxy, Shabbat and the afterlife is a time that there will be no work and complete rest. To me, that misses the mark by a little bit. Shabbat is a time to be with friends, to enjoy the world. It is a time to enjoy the company of other people and to recharge for the next week.

This has been a perfect Shabbat!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Batteries Are Weird...

Now I'm confused.

Before I came to Israel, my computer battery started to get weak. Not staying charged for long periods of time. Luckily I had the Best Buy "accidental damage plan". They set me up with a new battery at no cost to me and it was great. I had two batteries that were all charged up and ready to go.

Within a few weeks of being here, the "new" battery stopped working. Ugh. The good news is that I had another one, so no biggie.

Under Kaitlin's advice, I've been using my charger to mostly charge my computer instead of using it to keep my computer running at all times. Apparently that's bad for the battery. So when I started to have issues on Sunday, I was shocked and glad that I had my charger.

When I took out my computer to use it during Liturgy class for notes it said that there was only 90 minutes of battery left. What?!?! The day before it had lasted over three hours while doing a wide variety of things, downloading a podcasts, watching YouTube or whatever.

So I drained the battery two or three times yesterday, realizing that it took almost twice as long to charge as it did to drain, I thought I did a pretty good job. I shut it down all the way before coming to class this morning and was surprised when I got to Bible class and turned it on.

It said I had over three hours of battery life again! I'm not complaining, I'm just shocked.

Batteries are weird...

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Unintentional Naps

I'm writing now because I have no motivation to do any homework. I was having a snack this afternoon with my heater blasting in my room watching a little TV on my computer and the next thing I know my phone is going off. It's two hours later and I need to get my shoes on to go to dinner. What happened?!?!

No, seriously. I don't know what happened. I'm not big on the napping. I sleep at night and I have stuff to do during the day. The only exception being when I'm sick. I'm not going to complain because it felt great. I woke up with a lot of energy. But there goes my afternoon plans to get some homework done.

Now I'm back from a great dinner with great people and I have a lot of homework to do. It's 10pm and I have absolutely no motivation. I just don't want to do anything. Arrgh! What happened to my motivation? This is why I don't take naps usually.

Hopefully I get some sleep tonight and don't start off a bad cycle the week before I have to bike 300km from Modi'in to Masada on the Ride for Reform.

By the way, I'm still working on raising money for the ride. Any support you can donate is greatly appreciated. Visit their site to donate online.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Kibbutzim in the Aravah

While down in the Aravah, we stayed on Kibbutz Yahel. It's a reform, religious kibbutz, that still functions as a kibbutz on some levels. They still have a community pool of money, and each member of the community has responsibilities at different times. But they have privatized to a great extent. There is actually a very small number of members that live on the Kibbutz.

But it was incredible. The guest houses we stayed in are very dorm like, but they were pretty nice. It was cool to be staying so close to so many people, but in very small groups. It didn't feel like a hotel at all, unlike the last time we went on a tiyyul.

We got to meet their rabbi, who had a very interesting take on his job as a rabbi in the region. One of our instructors used to be the rabbi there in the past. I don't know that I can see her doing what he does, but I think it's cool that she still has a good relationship with the community.

The place was quiet, and it was really nice to be there. It was almost like an oasis in the desert with a surprising amount of trees and covered spaces. It was really great!

On their large property, they have access to a bunch of different pieces of desert. On the first night we were there we had an outdoor meal and a campfire. It was a lot of fun! The food was fantastic and the energy was incredible. A great way to start the trip. Although I was a little surprised at the fact that the fire was basically large pallets just tossed on a budding fire.

In the same area is another Reform Kibbutz. Kibbutz Lotan has a much more clear mission. We didn't spend much time there, but there was less of an open feel and a much more of a strict adherence to ideology. They are still in the early kibbutz idea that all decisions are made by the community and affect the community.

This is a very interesting way to live, and I don't know that I would like to spend my life living on a kibbutz like that.

They are doing some really good things there. In the Kaki Classroom we learned about their flushless toilets. Yep that's right, a toilet that doesn't flush.

The first images that pop into my head is either a port-a-potty, or their joking sign they have in front of the stalls with plants growing out of the toilet. The latter is closer to the truth.

The waste gathers in bins behind the bathroom. With other material, an interesting process and about six months of waiting, the human waste is turned into soil. Usable soil and fertilizer that is derived from human waste. They don't use it on the gardens because it weirds people out, but they use the soil on the trees. Interesting...

And speaking of gardening, we got a chance to plant a garden, Jewishly. There are sections of the Talmud and the Mishnah (collections of Jewish texts that Jewish legal code is derived from) that describe the appropriate way to plant a garden. What seeds can be planted how closely, and how you should divide the field so you can sow differing varieties of plants.

That was a really fun experience. I learned how to grow garlic, and you better believe I plan on having a small herb garden next year.

Another cool thing that happens at Kibbutz Lotan is the use of straw and mud brick construction to make homes for people to live in. The domes are built around a metal framework so they are slightly more stable. THey are covered in straw/mud bricks and then lacquered so they don't dissolve in the rain.

They aren't bad places either. I don't know that I would want to live in one of them for a large point in my life, but if I was here while I was in college, I would have loved to get down there and volunteer for a semester or so to help out and live in one of these eco-domes.

The kibbutzim were really interesting to visit. And they are very different from each other. Totally worth checking out if you're around here and want a cool experience.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Bedowin Experience

During our Tiyyul to the Aravah we stopped and met with a Bedowin woman who talked to us about her life and experiences living in Israel. Since she isn't affected by Israel in any way, she only had positive things to say. She even pointed out that Israel has given her so much, what right does she have to complain. This seemed to surprise some of the people in my group because they had just heard a completely different narrative from a different group of Bedowin people closer to Jerusalem.

We heard about Salima's life, her aspirations and a lot about education.

Some of the striking things to take away from the discussion was that she will not tell her kids to either join or not join the Israeli Army, but she would prefer them to do National Service. She did not like the idea of her kids being put in a position where they may need to kill other Muslims.

She also expressed a hope that her daughters could grow up and continue to learn, especially Hebrew. It is really hard for them to work in Israeli society without knowing Hebrew. Salima had a very tough time trying to learn Hebrew and achieve education because her society doesn't see it as important, especially for women.

While we were talking with her, her husband came into the building and served us tea. That doesn't sound like a big deal, but let me paint a picture here for a second. The typical, traditional Bedowin society does not want a woman to be educated at all. The fact that she was sitting with a large group of foreigners and having a conversation in Hebrew was a special circumstance and is fairly rare.

Even more incredible was the fact that her husband came in and served us. During our conversation she told us how lucky she is to have a husband that allows that to happen. He not only is okay with what she does, but supports her doing so.

The entire time we were there, I sat and thought about the"Bedowin" group we met on Taglit. The version and story we are presented in that encounter is incredibly fake. It's a show! For an example, the best I can think of is the Wild West shows you can find all over South Dakota in the Bad Lands. It is a very glorified version of their life and doesn't accurately portray what they are really like.

I don't think we got the "real" Bedowin experience talking to Salima in her "reception hall tent". But looking at the surrounding camp, it was a very different picture than the one I saw on Taglit.

This experience was awesome though. It's good to know that there are people working towards an understanding between different groups of people. It further affirms that in order to exist together, people need to sit down with each other and talk. Not judge, leave loaded language at the door. Have a real conversation. Learn about the other person's aspirations. Understand their history. Ideally this would involve sharing cultures as well. This instance, we shared tea.

Bedowin tea is incredible. Before I come home I want to find out what herbs they use for brewing. I believe they add a bunch of sugar to the mixture too.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Chicken Rub

It's been a while since I've had the time to sit down and cook much of anything. I've taken advantage of the fact that the last two days I've been feeling to gross to go anywhere as an opportunity to get into the kitchen for myself.

I had a bunch of chicken sitting in the freezer so I started throwing spices and herbs together to make a rub. I'm still working on the right proportions, but I found a great rub that I want to duplicate. It involves a mixture of Zatar, garlic powder, parsley, oregano, salt and little bit of ground black pepper.

I've been playing around with more Zatar than anything else, but that makes it a little too strong. I've put too much black pepper in, and that is obvious when that happens. The garlic is tough, and might not be necessary.

The first time I made the chicken, it was great with a little cheese on the top. I tried making it as a sandwich and in a pita. I'll keep playing around and maybe eventually it will come together as a perfect mixture.