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.