28 November 2007

Picking up the Politika

I wandered into a political rally. For the religious right.

Prima Kings Hotel in the background, Conservative center to my left (outside of the picture)

The day after my unsettling bus experience, it seems that my fate was not to ride a bus all the way to Emek Refaim. At first, I stood waiting patiently for an acceptable bus after I got to King George Street. After about 15 minutes, though, I looked at a (handwritten) sign that I'd originally taken as a roommate ad or something, and picked out of the 20 or so words 2 that I knew -- "Not Travel" and "Autobus". The sign also listed all of the buses that went to (or near) Emek Refaim.

I sighed, and figured with an Iced Aroma (I've given in to the smoothie coffee movement in Israel), I could make the trek. I started walking, and noticing things. The police blockade of the road. The lack of any cars or buses at all on the street worried me for a few minutes, until I noticed the hordes of dati (Orthodox) teens dashing down the street all around me. Easily identifiable in their strata of religiousity, they sport hooded sweatshirts with Hebrew writing, and either baggy pants or jeans with tzitzit hanging out or knee-length denim skirts, and big Jansport-ish backpacks bouncing on their backs. They carry cell phones and key chains, hang in large groups, and many have orange ribbons hanging from their backpacks, an artifact from the disengagement from two years ago.

I heard a dull roar as I walked with these kids, that eventually turned into a loud array of sound. I thought I was walking to a parade, or a street fair at the Great Synagogue, and only as I approached the main stage did I realize I had stumbled on a political rally. Thankfully, I ran into a classmate from Hebrew U named Itay, who took me under his wing and explained to me the ideas behind this rally. I welcomed his (Austrailian) English interpretation, as my Hebrew is still spotty at best.

This rally was by and for the religious right parties in the government. They are opposed to Annapolis and refuse the idea of a two-state solution. Their slogans include (paraphrased and some translated from Hebrew):

* We don't discuss Jerusalem. We don't divide Jerusalem. We don't give up Jerusalem.
* Ehud Olmert ran from the police to Annapolis (it rhymes in Hebrew, too).
* Condaleeza Rice, we don't want to be the next Iraq.
* Leave Israel Alone, God Takes Care of Us.

Itay explained to me what was going on, and translated a few of the speeches from different settlement (Israelis live in areas the West Bank and other highly Palestinian places in Israel) leaders and politicians. We talked to a few girls who explained what they don't believe in (giving up land), but had a hard time telling us what they do believe in (your guess is as good as theirs).

I think that it was good I attended the rally. I wasn't so much a participant as a sociologist, but there's really nothing like this. I can take pictures and "blob" about my experiences, show pictures and teach constructively, but when push comes to shove, my learners are never going to truly understand the circumstances of the rally, and what it felt like to see it and be a part of it. Thanks to Itay, though, I'm starting to think I can begin to discuss the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As I bid him a "g'day mate," in traditional Austrailian fashion (Just kidding. I'm not that cheesy. But I did thank him profusely, and think to myself, "I want him to be MY teacher!"), by the gas station where our streets diverge, I walked home and really thought about the people at the rally.

The makeup of the rally (about 30,000 people, and right in front of the Conservative Center in Jerusalem) was mostly 15-20 year-old Orthodox youth who have already started, or will soon start, their Army or National service. There were few "children" and few "adults". The adolescents ruled the scene, and reveled in their freedom at the one youth event where they can mingle openly with boys. There was an area of males-only and females-only, but that was optional -- and these kids enjoyed their freedom.

Maybe one day everybody in this region will observe the freedom they deserve - freedom from injustice and freedom from terror.

A settlement leader or Knesset (former?) member speaks on a beautifully Israeli stage. (Sorry, I don't know names.)

Picture of one of the main slogans. Sorry my camera didn't adapt to the nighttime hullaballoo.

25 November 2007

SBB's Dose of the Israel Reality

Brace yourselves, it's going to be a wild ride!

Thanksgiving weekend was glorious, and all four pies were successes at their respective meals...Shabbat was restful, the Gators beat FSU, and I was pretty prepared for a "standard" week at school (ain't no such thing).

This morning, I woke up, did some Hebrew homework and got myself off to school. I only had Hebrew class today, and it was pretty fun. I have two ulpan teachers, and the one I have on Sunday and Monday is hilarious. Today, we learned all about advertisments. We even wrote our own slogans on a worksheet. Here is my personal favorite (translated from 100% Hebrew!):

Worksheet prompt: Beer for "Young People"
My slogan: The Beer the Underaged Drinkers Drink!

After Hebrew, my friend Melanie* and I got talked into attending a social action lunch and learn at Hillel. Sadly, the food didn't arrive until MUCH later...but we did learn about the kidnapped soldiers and about the Geneva convention laws about kidnapped soldiers and other prisoners.

* It's not a real Hebrew class unless I have a friend named Melanie...Shout out to JTS Squirrel Mail Melanie!

As I mentioned before, the food didn't arrive for the 2:30 start time of the lunch and learn. At first, it was presented to us as the Rabbi bringing the food was stuck in traffic. Over the course of the good hour and a half I spent with the group, waiting for the food, I learned a little bit about what a terror warning means.

The rabbi was stuck in traffic, because checkpoints had been set up around Jerusalem. Checkpoints were meant to thwart an Annapolis-thwarting-related (says Rafi) terrorist plot to attack Mahane Yehuda (the shuk, or open-air marketplace), Ben Yehuda (the downtown shopping strip), or somewhere else in Jerusalem. They also brought traffic to a near standstill. The rabbi eventually arrived, and we thoroughly enjoyed the lox and bagels. His thirty-minute drive to Hebrew U took over 2 hours, and we were hungry, but better we wait for lox than a bad guy gets through.

I left the group disquieted -- was the threat over? Or did the rabbi just finally make it through a checkpoint because they're not complete traffic blocks? I made my way to the bus station at school, thinking it was quieter.

Then I realized I wasn't fighting tooth and nail to get on the bus. No, maybe 20 people boarded the 4Aleph with me, instead of the usual crush of 100. Some other interesting characters boarded the bus, too. Three security guards, one for each door of the super-long bus (think crosstown). They checked people getting on and off at each stop. I was a little nervous, and put my book away. I was going to pay extra attention on this bus ride.

I noticed many little things. A girl in a Gators warm-up jacket walked out of the student village. Other buses didn't have security guards at every door. The Jerusalem sky shines with a radiant pink at sundown. The guy next to me needed to take a shower.

Rafi called me and scolded me for being on the bus. I told him to back off, there were a lot of security guards. Just as I said good-bye to him, there was a BOOM, and for a moment, I was terrified. Somebody had closed one of the little windows above my head. Such a terrible sound, something so mundane that would've never bugged me in Gainesville, sent my heart racing for a good 15 minutes. I didn't settle down until two of the three security guards left the bus in the center of town, and we made our way to Emek Refaim. I walked to Talpiyot and bought a (bright yellow) skating helmet at a sporting goods store by the mall, and went on with life as usual.

Safety first.

For now, I'm happy I took a taxi home from the helmet purchasing experience. The driver said Rafi sounded like Abba Eban. Rafi's happy about the compliment. But both of us are wary and curious about what transportation holds in the next couple of days.

This isn't like a New York terrorist threat, where you avoid the subway for a few days, and then get used to basking in the warm glow of the Amber Alert. I have a feeling that skating the miles to Hebrew U in this weather is not the best way to get back in the in-line skating saddle after 6 months. I may have to temporarily switch my method of travel to taxi.

22 November 2007


I could write about my Thanksgiving experience in Jerusalem (lovely), the dinner with bunches of new friends and a Gator or three (so tasty), the perfect, chilly weather (karir is Hebrew for chilly), the 4 pareve pies I baked today (delicious), the whipped pareve I sprinkled with ginger (hilarious, but tasty if you ignore the consistency), or even the in-line skates I've acquired through Janglo (Yes, I know that I have to get a helmet before I go out skating).

Instead, I'm going to write this:


Due to my obsessive habit of storing everything in plastic bags, it was hidden safely in a high cabinet. But now, when it rains again (please, water Israel, great heavenly sprinkler!), I will be prepared!

21 November 2007

Jerusalem Stone Is Like Easy Mac...

It's rainy season in Jerusalem, which I am aware is a blessing. It only rains 7 months a year, and this is the desert. If there's no water, then the desert won't bloom. Bring on the geshem (rain)!

That being said, I lost my (super cute) umbrella (I WILL find it!) and had to make do what the tools I found around my apartment. It wasn't all bad, because I do have my rain boots, and they are spectacular (I made quite the splash walking up my driveway tonight, for example, maintaining the delicate warmth and dryness in the boots.). I also have a variety of hooded sweatshirts and my North Face brand Expensive Fleece With Armpit Zippers. But none of these items helped me when it came to navigating Jerusalem stone, which is notoriously slippery, and also mandated to be the material of all buildings in this fine city.

This picture was actually taken at Fire Extinguisher training at camp this past summer, but you can see my North Face in all of its armpit-zippered glory! (I really just love this pic, so thanks to camp for documenting it.) Red Crocs added for an Israeli feel.

Rothberg takes this building code VERYSERIOUSLY, so even the stairs leading up to the building that houses all of my classes are of Jerusalem stone. One of my favorite lines from the very funny, but underwatched and subsequently cancelled show Huff, came from a bit where two characters slipped on some spilled Easy Mac. It went a little something like this:

"It's the Easy Mac! It's delicious, but it's treacherous!" (uttered by Oliver Platt's Russell.)

If Jerusalem stone is Easy Mac, and delicious is beautiful, then you know what's coming...I lost my footing and slid onto my hands, arms and knees onto the stones, thus being initiated into the historical club of Jerusalem dwellers who had lost footing on the slippery, wet stones. Nobody was around to witness the event, which leads me to think that if a Sara Beth falls on the stairs, and nobody is around to laugh, it happened if she wrote about it on her "blob." (Love you, Zayde!)

Zayde and Mark Salute my "Blob" (This is one of the best pictures ever, and has very little to do with Israel. Oh well.)

I'm even so lucky as to have a little knot, a bruise on my forearm, to remind me (probably for a week or so) of this initation rite.

Thank you sir, may I have another?

20 November 2007

"I Will Ask To See Your Blob!" - Zayde

Those of you who know me, know how tickled I am by nearly everything my Zayde says. Today, I called him and I told him to go to my blog to see my stories and pictures from Israel, and particularly my trip to Egypt. He then said that on Thursday (happy thanksgiving!), he would ask my parents to see my "blob." I want to dedicate this "blob" entry to my illustrious grandparents from Column-A and Column-B.

Today was not one of my Tel Aviv Tuesdays...instead, after exploring all of the pareve pumpkin pie recipes and ingredient choices on the internet, and then three local markets, I got dressed up in warmish (it's getting cold, and it rained today!) clothing to pay a visit to my favorite Har Nof cousins, with a bonus of a Chicago cousin, visiting for 2 weeks, and his daughter, who also lives in Jerusalem!

Dinner was chag-like (holiday meal, fit for a king!), with all sorts of kugels and quiches and salad and cake and veggie chopped liver (to DIE for!). Even better, Rafi met a group of my my cousins, and everybody had a great time.

Cousin David has his digital camera nearly surgically implanted (like David, it takes a day off on Shabbat), and he got a candid and a not-so-candid set of pictures of Rafi and me at the dinner table. I feel like a minor celebrity -- so many pictures!

Hamming it up -- it's the only treif in this kosher home -- and feeling like a celebrity!

I love visiting with them. I get a different slice of family stories and history, instead of coming from Mom and Dad or Bubbie and Zayde, the stories come from David and Gloria about Aunty Lottie (Bubbie) and Uncle Seymour (Zayde).

I just wanted to record this for my "blob" and send love to all of my family, reminding them that their family in Jerusalem wants more family visits! Mom, Dad, Boys...when are you coming?!


I wrote this in November, and forgot to post it, saving it as a draft. Since I'm going to London tonight, I figure it's due time I post Petra, so London and then Rome, will follow shortly.

The first glimpse of the Treasury at Petra, Jordan.

I promised to chronicle my day-trip to Petra, so here goes...

Ari, Allison and I arrived at the Yitzhak Rabin Border Crossing just before 8AM, to meet up with our tour group for the border-crossing. Our group, it turns out, was mostly retired, loquacious Americans, peppered with a few French and Canadians. Fun stuff. We crossed the border with relative ease, following a friendlier path than was found in Egypt.

Happily up at 8AM and at the Border to Jordan.

Maybe we shouldn't have taken this picture, but hey...it was a fun line!

This way to Jordan!

This reminds me of the crossing in the movie The Syrian Bride, but with less dirt.

The guy that processed all of our passports was inexplicably wearing a Gators Shirt. I was so excited, but I doubt he had any idea why I was so taken by him. I am pretty sure he though I was asking to be his wife. Nonplussed, I still got him to take a picture with us.

The University of Florida is in Gainesville, but the Gator Nation is everywhere!

We boarded a bus just outside of the border, and started the drive through Aqaba (it's the Jordanian Eilat) and on to Petra. It was a pretty fun ride, beautiful Negev-y Mountains and all, but I was tired and slept for a large portion of the trip. We stopped at a restaurant/store/rest stop where some of the retirees revealed they are from Florida (woo) and didn't stop talking about until we got back on the bus (boo).

Once we arrived at Petra, we were absorbed by the beauty of the place. I should probably state that before I went to Petra, I knew it was one of the 7 Wonders, and I knew it was beautiful. Petra is also the set of the movie Indiana Jones. I did not realize it included a 6-mile walk. That being said, it was not too hot out, and the walk was nice. My feet begged to differ, but as usual, I shut them up long enough to have a really nice time.

Look at how COOL this place is! Caves! Woo!

Another pretty picture of the mountain-side.

An elephant is naturally carved out of the sandstone here. And then there's me.

Petra is basically an ancient town in Jordan, with temples and other cool structures carved out of the soft sandstone (see the pictures for the smooth edges of the mountains). The colors are beautiful, with oranges, reds and yellows that shine from the rocks. The sand, however, likes to float up and assail your nose, and very much like in Egypt, the popular population-control tool, the cigarette, assails you from all sides. Seriously, I think if our tour guides didn't smoke every 10 minutes they would collapse from nicotine withdrawl. I wonder how they sleep through the night...

Sit down for a second, and your punishment is the ancient sandy-butt of Petra. Note the dusty sand floating in the darkness like so much warm-weather snow.

Bedork. Yup. One of the many touristy shops that peppered the walk.

Time for Temple!

The crown jewel of Petra is the Treasury, carved out of the side of a mountain and incredibly large and impressive. There is also a bathroom built into one of the caves that has a beautiful ceiling of the layers of sandstone, but it was most certainly not the most beautiful bathroom in the world. Liars.

The bathroom wall really was spectacular, but the bathroom itself...YICK.

After the treasury, it is entirely possible that we say Steven Spielberg working on Indiana Jones: The Sequel's Sequel's Sequel, but I'm not convinced. Also, after the treasury, we were taken to a "lovely" restaurant to eat more rice and tzatziki, and then walk back to the bus. Also, after the treasury, our guide has less to talk about, so he latched onto Ari to ask him if he wanted to:

1. Buy the restaurant.
2. Buy some camels.
3. Sell his women.
4. Go into whatever business with the guide.

Ari, a businessman to the end, reminded our guide that he would probably have better luck with the mass of retirees in our group. I don't think it registered.

The walk back was arduous, and we missed our chance with camel / donkey / buggy ride offerings, but we didn't really feel like spending a ton of Jordanian Dinars (about $30), when we needed the exercise. When we emerged from Petra's park, we sat outside of the visitors' center, waiting to go to the buses, and back to ISRAEL!! WOOOOO!

Baby, you make me wanna walk / Like a camel. (I should’ve walked, baby, with a camel.)

While we were waiting, we had some time, so Ari and I purchased what is apparently the latest in hipster fashion, Khaffiyahs-as-scarves. Mine is navy, teal and white, and you cannot really tell it's a khaffiyah, until you see the "Made in [an unfriendly-to-Israel-country]..." tag, which makes me psychologically uncomfortable, but also makes me think that the maker of my khaffiyah-scarf would be horrified to learn that a nice Jewish girl living in Israel for the year is wearing his wares. The corner tassels may also give it away. I can't decide if I'll ever actually wear it. (SBB notes: I've worn it, and people have made fun of me for it.)

I also I FINALLY found some bottles of Diet Coke and CocaCola with Arabic labels, for which I asked if I could pay 3 Dinars. The proprietor of the shop looked at me quizically, and then said, "I thought you were Jordanian. I was going to talk to you in Arabic." I told him he had to be kidding, even had him wave at my "brother" Ari, sitting 30 feet away, and he said, "No, you both look Arabic. Want to see what you'd look like in a khaffiyah?" I told him I had no intention of buying the khaffiyah, but I had a few minutes to spare, so he could certainly show me how to put it on. That is how I ended up looking mamash Jordanian at the end of my trip to Petra.

Yeahhh, I look Jordanian. MmHmm.

19 November 2007

Facebook Judges You, Too

I have mentioned previously my loving relationship with the networking website Facebook. I like knowing when people I haven't seen since Maplewood Elementary school get engaged, I like perusing pictures of trips to places I've never been and I like playing Scrabulous.

As somebody who joined Facebook in 2004, just a few days before graduating from the fabulous University Of Florida in Gainesville, I was content with just simple news. I welcomed the pictures. I celebrated when Facebook administration allowed me to be referred to as "Sara Beth" and not just plain "Sara" (I HATE being called just Sara.). I even installed a few applications, celebrating my Gators, my Scrabble problem, and the crazy music tastes I stole from my good friend Leah. But I generally don't like the applications, and I don't really feel the need to have a virtual fish tank on my otherwise neat and clean page.

Today, I received a request from an old friend, who is constantly inviting me to play with Ninjas and bake virtual cupcakes on my profile. I politely decline most of them, but this one is different. The text reads:

Elana D. sent an invitation using Hanukkah Lights:
I invite you to come and celebrate Hanukkah with me! Light the holiday candles using the Hanukkah Lights application!

Then come the options, the proverbial "Yes" or "No":

"Celebrate Hanukkah"

Facebook is telling me that if I say no to Hanukkah lights, then I am ignoring my obligation to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah (Which, by the way, is that the tiny Jewish Maccabean army beat the huge Syrian army. Not that the oil lasted eight days.). It said similar things when I didn't add the Hebrew Date application (Is it wrong that I don't really care?), and the Hebrew Name application (I can just type that with the help of my cool, new keyboard stickers - pictures tk).

I have decided not to add Hanukkah lights onto my Facebook page. It's nothing personal, Elana D. I just feel like I am in Israel (or, really, wherever it is that I live/will live/have lived), and I will be celebrating Hanukkah in the traditional style -- offline. With each sufganiyah (Jelly donut -- or, in Israel, sometimes dulce-de-leche donut. What matters is that it's fried.), each candle lighting, and each gaze up at the windows in my neighborhoods, filled with Chanukkiyot (Hanukkah candelabras), I will be celebrating Hanukkah.

And let's be serious...I'm probably going to be posting pictures of Hanukkah celebrations on Facebook.

18 November 2007

Mmmm, Ice Creame (sic)

Another Salute to Tel Aviv!

This past shabbat, Rafi quasi-surprised me with a Shabbat at the beach! I say quasi because he decided on like Wednesday that he wanted to do this. He thought it would be a nice present, and he was totally right, but I didn't think he'd pull it off so last-minute.

Pull it off, he did! We got to Tel Aviv, watched the sun set over the Mediterranean, ate serious Yotvata (famous kibbutz by Eilat, used to produce all of Israel's dairy) Ba-Ir (in the city) for dinner, and we even had some sushi!

After one of those Israeli hotel breakfasts, we spent Shabbat day at ChoFrishman (Chof = shore, Frishman = the name of the street. I figured out the clever name in Hebrew!).

It was the perfect beach day. It wasn't too hot, but wasn't too cold to go swimming (he did, I didn't). It wasn't too crowded, and we had plenty to eat and drink.

Things we enjoyed about the beach:
1. The incredibly fine sand. It was like flour. I didn't even mind lying on it. Which I did. For hours.

2. An assortment of Israeli salads and deli for lunch.

3. Plenty of SPF 50 (neither of us got burned AT ALL!).

4. So many dogs on the beach! So fun!

5. The family sitting right in front of us was hilarious. The daughter changed into her bathing suit (under her skirt and top, camp-style), which made me giggle. Then her father stripped down to his underroos, and then, nonchalantly, tugged them down (moooon!), sat in his chair, and pulled on his grape-smuggling banana-hammock (don't click of this if you haven't seen Borat, it's terrifying.), the bathing suit of choice at ChoFrishman.

6. Really, what's the deal with the bathing suit choices? I don't feel self-conscious, or a little chubby, or whatever, when I'm at the beach with people who look all bloated, except for the contents of their microscopic bikini bottoms, but really...why don't you just get a pair of bike shorts? We'll still get the idea, I promise.

7. Ladies, too...say no to bathing suits up the crack, whether or not that means thong or paying attention to your tush-covering bathingsuit. There was a woman in a full-on one-piece that included pants (kind of like the unitards I used to wear in dance class). I loved her.

8. The lifeguards got on the RamKol (microphone) at 2PM and said "Shabbat Shalom, Shavuah Tov [and some more hebrew, hebrew, hebrew]," as they closed down the lifeguard posts at 2PM, saying "have a peaceful Shabbat and a good week". On a Saturday. Who stops lifeguarding in the middle of the day? Good thing I'm a lifeguard, and under my hat, shirt, pants and long-sleeved shirt I was wearing a bathing suit, ready to save a life!

Finally, I would like to salute the guys working on the beach. It's not a bad life when your beach-centered job doesn't end when fall comes (I went to the beach on the 17th of November, while it was apparently 40 degrees Farenheit in Boston), but it's weird for me to encounter working Israelis on Shabbat. How much for the bathroom? A sheqel. (I HATE paying for the potty!). How much for a beach chair? Three bucks! (Good thing I brought a sheet and a towel for each of us!) How much for the snacks? I didn't find out...but I do know this...

Rafi loved the man with his "Ice Cream, Shoko Shoko!" chant. He never gave up, and was still peddling his wares after the sun set on Saturday afternoon. He was like one of those guys at the ballpark, with the box hangin from around his neck...with this one declaring, loud and clear, in English, its contents:


Thanks, Rafi!

15 November 2007

Tel Aviv Tuesdays

There is no Hebrew class on Tuesdays, so I made it my business to make Tuesday my free day (since I have school on Sunday). Since school started, Tuesdays have been for very important matters: exploring Hadassah, doing work for JTS, and, my personal favorite, going to Tel Aviv!

Anyway, Tuesday is the perfect day to do work in the morning, and then a trip to Tel Aviv in the afternoon and evening (it's only about an hour on the bus one way). I love Tel Aviv Tuesdays!

Going to Tel Aviv is similar to going to Connecticut/Westchester/Rockland County (hereafter referred to as Connecticut for simplicity's sake) for the afternoon from Manhattan. Here's why:

1. Lovely friends / adopted family-types in Connecticut and Tel Aviv make the visit a happy, homey experience.
2. Train ticket (one way) = $11-18. Bus ticket = $ 4-5.
3. Dining in CT = free refills. Food in Tel Aviv = Ethiopian and KOSHER or provided by my adopted family (Shiran's family loves to feed me!).
4. Connecticut has malls. Tel Aviv has malls AND a shuk (sort of outdoor market)!
5. More people have dogs in Connecticut / Tel Aviv. I haven't had any pug-spottings in Jerusalem!

Last week, I went to Tel Aviv to spend a little more time with Ari and we happened upon a kosher Ethiopian restaurant. Delightful! I am sad that Ari is back in the states, but I'm glad we got to hang out that one last time...until I'm back in NY.

This past Tuesday, I went to Tel Aviv to spend some time with my friend Shiran (from CRD) and her sister. We ate some amazing food (they LOVE feeding me. really.) before going to Nachalat Benyamin (an outdoor crafts kind of market that's open two days a week), and, when that didn't work out (they close early!), the Dizengoff Centre (a mall with a really weird layout). I even got to see my friend Neta-li from Interlaken. I am a big fan of the Jewish Agency's summer shlichim, as you can see.

Long Live Tel Aviv Tuesdays!

13 November 2007

Walk Like An Egyptian

Walk Like An Egyptian (The Bangles)
You Make Me Wanna Walk Like A Camel (Southern Culture on the Skids)
[Insert Desert Country Mantra Here]

Blaspheming at the temple at Sakkura.

All three of us, walking like Egyptians at the Sphinx.

Soon after the adventures at the local hospital (which, by the way, coincided with the first week of school, sweeet!), I was off on a vacation. Well-deserved? Not really…I’d been sitting around on my tush for the better part of two months. No matter, my friend Ari was in town, and we had PLANS. Here is the story of my whirlwind weekend in the more friendly neighbors of Israel.

Wednesday night, after Ari’s arrival, and Allison’s rental of a Hyundai Getz, the three of us were off to Eilat. After a quick stop at the 101 rest stop, with dis-gust-ing sandwiches, we made it to Eilat, where we hung around on the Red Sea shore, and then crashed for a few hours in the maximum-kitsch Corinne Youth Hostel.

The lovely decorations at Rest Stop 101 (101 KM to Eilat!) This picture tastes better than the sandwich I purchased.

Ari demonstrates the tough life at the hostel.

At 5:30 in the morning, we were off to the Taba Border Crossing to Egypt. The hired guides from both sides of the tour company – Israel and Egypt – facilitated the crossing. Getting a visa to travel into Egypt beyond the Sinai requires two weeks of paperwork, something that we had gladly handed off to our guides. Crossing the border, we were immediately entered into everything that Egypt isn’t – clean, smoke-free, Israel...People were smoking while operating the x-ray machines, while stamping our passports, while driving, eating, whatever. Smoking is all about population control, I decided. It's so gross, and it makes me sick, as I am allergic to tobacco (really, SBB, you're allergic to something ELSE?), but I guess I have to be Darwinian about it.

After the border crossing, where for some reason Ari took about $400 in Egyptian Pounds from the ATM (thereby becoming the Sugar Daddy of the trip), we boarded our own, personal minibus for our roamings around Egypt. First stop? Breakfast! And what does one have for breakfast in Egypt? Why, FALAFEL of course! Who doesn’t eat falafel for breakfast at 7 in the morning!? And not just any falafel. No, this was the GREATEST falafel EVER created. Egyptian falafel is the best falafel ever. Sorry, Israel. We also got guava nectar (an Egyptian delicacy I now notice they sell in the Rothberg cafeteria at Hebrew U) and bottles of water. Then we drove for like 6 hours to Cairo.

Guava Nectar in a cute little glass bottle. This stuff is the PERFECT solution to low blood sugar!
Falafel. The best falafel EVER! This picture is timestamped at 7AM, just as an FYI.

When we arrived in Cairo, I thought we were going to have lunch, but it was a fast day (Not fast as in quick, fast as in “lunch is for losers.”) for our tour guide, so there was no lunch. Instead, we went to the Egypt Museum. The first thing I noticed about the museum, other than the great camera confiscation, was the upkeep. It was similar to the Met in size and stuff to see, but the paint was cracking on the walls and it seemed kind of dirty. We had fun learning about King Tut-Ankh-Hamen, and although the fast-breath was fierce, we went along with the tour, enjoying it. I even identified the largest underwear I’ve ever seen! We paid extra money (well, Ari paid, and we batted our eyelashes) to see the mummies. Here’s what happened in the mummy rooms:

ME: You are a bad, bad man.
Mummy: [Silence]
ME: Bad man, Raamses II.
Mummy: [Silently summons a jackal to attack me from beyond. Fails.]

I was bummed when, the day I got back, King Tut’s mummy was moved into these rooms, but whatever. I could’ve checked for myself to see if he looked like a man-woman. I still got to see what mummies look like. I also learned that some religious ideas about the dead are just too ridiculous for me to comprehend, but seeing the riches and pyramids was pretty sweet, so I’ll stop judging.

After the museum, we visited the oldest church and synagogue in Cairo. We even took a picture on the steps to the Cairo Jewish library (not the Geniza for the burial of old books, sadly) just behind the shul. Pretty cool.

Anat looks on as Ari, Allison and I enjoy the Jewish library's porch

After that we visited / learned about the Citadel, also known as the Muhammed Ali Mosque (now I know where Cassius Clay got his name). They even let you go into the mosque, as long as you take off your shoes and put on a lovely, green, locker room-smelling drape. The Citadel was incredible, with really special views, and we had a crazy fun time, after which, we FINALLY had lunch (at like 5pm). Lunch was lame, but dessert was good, AND I took more bottle-and-can pictures, as I’ve developed a thing for documenting product labels in languages other than English.

The Citadel. Pretty impressive.

We look pretty in shapeless capes.

The views from the Citadel are pretty awesome, and great for photographers to get Cairo shots.

Me blocking the view from the Citadel.

Soda Cans in Arabic. This makes me happy, for I am a simple creature, simply documenting labels in the Middle East...even if the cans are all Pepsi products. Bleh.

Then we were off to one of our many I-introduce-you-to-my-“friend”-and-then-you-buy-some-crap-in-his-or-her-store trips. Here’s the thing about guided Egyptian tourism: it consists of your guide taking you to the Number-One-In-The-Whole-World-Store-Of-[Insert souvenir item here]. I was interested in the papyrus-making demonstration, but I sincerely doubted that this was the one place in Egypt where they make good papyrus. Later, when we went to the carpet school (Motto: Getting Kids Off Of The Streets By Engaging Them In Child Labor Since 1924!), the perfumery, and wherever else, I was annoyed. Bored. Sweaty. Hungry. [Insert adjective that indicates displeasure here.]

Child Labor.

After the papyrus pusher, we were about a block from the Sphinx, so naturally, our guide whisked us back into the van to go to our hotel, in Giza. We settled into our hotel rooms, and decided to roam Giza to see what Egypt was really like. The answer is: Gross, but funny. A hotel employee befriended us, and joined us on our trip to Giza, in a cab and then a shared-cab-thingie where he paid off cops to watch over us, as we embarked on our little outing, which in hindsight was not the best idea. But I did manage to purchase castanets and a jangly scarf – instant Purim! Also, Egyptian taxis all seem to have been created in the early 1900s. It’s a miracle they still move.

Amil, who took us to this tourist trap shop. I did not get the dress, just the scarf around my waist. Thanks for paying off the cops, Amil!

Dinner was gross, and with the threat of shellfish lurking at any corner (however unlikely), I stuck to bread, butter and dessert. No big deal. The food was like this through the whole trip. The only food I liked that was to be found sometimes was rice and tzatziki. I had discussed the shellfish issue with Rafi the week before:

ME: I need to learn how to say "I am allergic to shellfish" in Egyptian.
Rafi, smirking: You mean Arabic?
ME: NO! There is an Egyptian language! It's written in birds!

In the morning, we visited pyramids at Sakkura and at Giza. Amazing stuff. I recommend to you go to Egypt. I also learned a few lessons, so I’ll include them here:

1. Pee before the pyramids. They may be a wonder of the world, but they have no plumbing anywhere.
2. If you want to pay 25 Egyptian pounds to go into a pyramid, knock yourself out. Just know that the power supply snaked into the one tunnel at the foot of this monstrosity will give you a tiny bit of light and NO air. About 10 feet into the tunnel, you can really feel the heat, and at 20 feet, it’s worse than a July day in Gainesville. Also, the amount of light snaked into the pyramid does not fill the tunnels, and as a result, I had somebody grope my chest, and another grab my tush, in the time I was in the tunnel. Most likely, this was the best 25 Egyptian Pounds I’ve ever spent.
3. Pyramids were originally houses for the dead surrounded by benches of decreasing height (see Sakkura). That’s how the structure was first used.

The Stepped Pyramid at Sakkura.

SBB takes on Egypt! Here I am at Giza!

Ari's camera has this neat fast-shot feature, which is how we got my exuberance for visiting the pyramids in this shot. This is at Giza.

We finally got to visit the Sphinx and the Cairo Shuk (soooo gross!), and then it was off to the Sinai for the night! Another 6-hour drive with our driver, Dale Earnhardt, Junior, Junior. Did you know that Egyptian highways are the perfect place to maintain a speed of 100MPH? I sure didn’t! I didn’t feel safe until we were out of that van and at our hotel, which was pretty on the outside, gross on the inside, but came with a sweet view. And that, my friends, was Egypt.

The Cairo Shuk. Yhuk (sic).

I had a conversation with the tour guide about driving in Cairo. Cars weave in and out of globs of other cars, as there are no real dividers between lanes. It went a little something like this:

ME: About how many car accidents do you have a year?
Osama the Tour Guide: Well, we don't really have that many.
ME: But driving here is intense.
OTTG: We don't drink here.
ME, under my breath: Ah, yes, as 100% of accidents are alcohol-related, I should know because I am an alcoholic American Jew.

I have a theory that hieroglyphics are really an ancient comic strip about a character named Sphinxy.

Petra later.

11 November 2007


I am blogging about my experiences in Israel (and surrounding countries) this year, and I wasn't sure how to approach the situation at hand. Should I blog about Florida?
In this case, the answer is yes.

To be fair, those of you who know me know how much pleasure I get in making fun of Florida. It is not a place I would settle after graduate school, as I find it hot, boring and generally not New York (although Broward County is a lot like the boroughs). But there are a few holy things in Florida that do not ever merit my mockery:

1. The University of Florida, the greatest school EVER. (Sorry, JTS, I love you, but you don't have a football or basketball team like UF's.)
2. My home shul, Beth Am.

One of the reasons I am able to study in Israel this year is because of a generous scholarship donated by my parents' shul, Temple Beth Am in Margate, FL, where I grew up. I am eternally grateful for the support Beth Am has given me over the years, and I hope that lessons learned in Israel can be used to benefit future generations of kids coming out of Beth Am.

So when stuff goes down in Florida, I find out. On Monday, I heard through the UF AEPhi network that a sophomore had passed away in a car accident over the weekend, a girl who ended up being from my shul, with whose family I am familiar. Z''L. (Zichrona Livracha -- may her memory be for a blessing)

Motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), I got news that was worse for me, personally, as it involved the tragic passing of a dear younger-brother-type in a fire at his off-campus house in upstate NY. Seth, a fourth-year at RIT, was a cute, quiet kid. I am familiar with his terrific family, as his older brother and my younger brother were pretty close growing up.

What does one do in dealing with the sadness? Well, some create and join Facebook groups in memorial (a fascinating sociological phenomenon of late), some sit and cry, some peruse local newspapers for stories that explain how, WHY could this happen to such a sweet kid?! Some book tickets for a holiday weekend to pay respects to an honorable kid from a lovely family. Some of us...write. (And Facebook -- it's a verb. Who are we kidding?)

Usually, when I hear news from Beth Am, it's "This person is getting married" or "So-and-so's daughter got into dental school." Idle chatter, nice news...it doesn't really make a dent. My dad would say, "That's nice," and if you ask me in person, I'll tell you his whole "that's nice" joke. It's actually good.

I am trying to figure out how the finality of death makes the news coming from Florida suddenly impact me. It makes me wonder what really went on this past fall, when I was at minyanim around Jerusalem, when people gathered in our shul to pray to be sealed in the Book of Life? Was there a leak in one of the vents, a slip of the proverbial pen when God got to Beth Am? Was the AC blasting too loudly for God to hear (The answer is no, it's never too cold in shul, and yes, I'm talking to you, L.)? I know enough from studying theology with Gillman and Brown to know that I can't answer that question...I just have to believe that God is not omnipotent, although I prefer in this case to believe that God sucks at Life. (I probably would get an A for this rambling, because I always did well when I admitted I didn't know what the hell I was talking about.)

Back in the day, I sped in Gainesville, I lived in an off-campus house, and I even escaped a (minor) fraternity house fire. And here I am, in Jerusalem, listening to terrible stories of college students that are..were...just like me.

May the memory of Seth provide comfort to his family and friends, and may the lessons of his life bring blessings to those who knew him. Z''L, kid.

08 November 2007

Turn Your Head And Cough...

I have a post here that’s been a few weeks in the making. I promised the main character of this post that s/he would not be identified, so I will preface this by saying that this post, about my friend “Jamie,” is totally OK. By much better, I mean s/he is doing well, is back to school, etc. Please don’t ask who Jamie is. And don’t post some comment if you know who Jamie is. I will delete it.

So, as I mentioned in my Shprockets post, I wanted to try to get out of the first session so that I could be with a friend in trouble. Jamie was pretty sick, and ended up going to Hadassah Ein Karem. Jamie was accompanied by an Israeli friend who speaks fluent English, and Jamie was admitted for a couple of days. This is the chronicle of lessons from a stay by proxy at HAK in Jerusalem, in October 2007.

I can divide my lessons learned into categories:

The People – There is a great cross-section of Israelis at the hospital. Jamie’s roommate was a Russian, and on the floor were religious, secular, and Conservative Jews. Some Arabs and a guy that I think was a Druze priest all wandered the floor. Russian Roommate’s wife was a caricature of herself – complete with too-tiny miniskirts, a terribly dyed mane of crunchy hair, an aversion to ceiling fans and a cell phone that rang incessantly with “Listen to your heart, when he’s calling for you…”

The Doctors – There is a pecking order like in any hospital in the states, from med student up to Professor. What is so amazing about the doctors is their ability to answer questions and give advice in a wide variety of languages. It’s impressive, it’s spectacular. Doctors come from South Africa, from England, from Haifa, from the States.

The Nurses – Ah, the nurses. Arabs nurses, Russian nurses, Jewish nurses. The Russian ones are brisk and quick, and they can get an IV working in 2 seconds. The Jewish nurses are nice and friendly. And the Arab nurses…some are cute, some are hot. Every Arab nurse was great…and we all developed a group-wide crush on the main Arab nurse. We adore her.

The Care – The care at HAK is different than in the states. I came prepared with ammunition / excuses to stay the whole night, to be there for Jamie, but nobody questioned me. In Israel, in the hospitals, they consider it sad and wrong if you don’t have somebody staying with you. The reclining chair wasn’t so fabulous, but it was fine. The reason they expect people to stay there is because the guests do work. Nurses don’t help patients to the bathroom, guests do. Guests are meant to find nurses to change IVs, to clean up after meals, to change sheets (sometimes), and to generally make sure that the patient is safe and secure.

The Meals – The meals are very Israeli. Each meal came with a plate of sliced cucumber and a tomato, some bread and then the main course. Only lunch is meat, as it is Israeli style to have a big lunch and a light breakfast and dinner. On Shabbat, though, even in the hospital, there are the three big meals, which means that Friday night dinner is meat.

The Jews – Unlike Coral Springs Medical Center, HAK is rife with Jews. Jews that are patients, Jews that are visitors and guests, Jews that are doctors (so far, this really does sound like CSMC), and Jews that are visiting for the sole purpose of visiting the sick.

Visiting the sick at HAK takes on all forms. People give out sandwiches and snacks to patients and guests, dedicated to the wedding of this and that person, as it’s important to do mitzvahs before / in honor of your wedding. There is the haredi (ulta-Orthodox) man who pokes his head into every room, saying simply “refuah shleima” (get well soon). Jamie thinks that this man was doing a good deed so that he could get in good with God, maybe so he can have a son. There is the Orthodox man from the states, circulating the floor, asking patients if they would like to put on tefillin (these are hard to explain to the non-Jews…they’re leather boxes that strap onto a person’s head and arm, and they’re worn during morning prayers). This guy was really special, helping patients place the tefillin correctly on the arm, and wrap it AROUND the IV port. His mitzvah is to help patients put on tefillin once a week, and he expressed his hopes to “never see you again.” On Friday afternoon, two men from Chabad stopped by, talked about the weekend’s Torah portion with the patients and gave challah for the blessing over the bread for Friday night dinner. They even offered patients special dinner of “real, haymishe food” (meaning super-Kosher) for that evening.

Friday night, I went in search of the real, haymishe food. I rolled down my leggings, put on a longer skirt, and threw on a really fabulous green Ramah Darom sweatshirt. With my hair in a messy orb on top of my head, I wandered to the first floor in search of services and dinner. After a little accident in following a haredi guy down the stairs (Reefs without traction + marble staircases + moving too fast = sore tushy + sore heel), I found another haredi guy to follow all the way to the shul in the -1 floor. The shul, as it turns out, has Chagall windows! I did not really blend in, but I still went into services and then waited for dinner with the whole haymishe crowd. I walked into the meal, looking for take-out, but they were gung-ho about shuffling me into the womens’ side of the meal (Really, separate seating at meals! I had no idea!), and I went back to the ladies responsible for take-out. (Jamie was tethered to an IV and it was too much effort to leave the room.) They gave me a great meal, including a little take-out container (like for soup) with grape juice for the blessing over the wine. The food was traditional Ashkenazic (Poland), complete with a terribly grey and gross-looking kugel (I’ll tell you a secret, those gross-looking kugels are always the tastiest…I love Ashkenazic food.)! It was a great dinner, and thankfully, it was a great end to a too-long stay in a hospital.

The Lessons - I learned a lot while visiting Jamie. Something that you learn very quickly in the hospital in Jerusalem is that everybody can work together. Arabs, Israelis, Palestinians, it doesn't matter. What matters is your health. Israeli hospitals can demonstrate to people (if they will just look) that everybody can work toward a common goal of health and peace. HAK is a lab for tolerance and change for the better. Maybe everybody who's going to Annapolis can spend a day or so in the hospital here first? They'd get a whole new perspective?

HAK has their own scrubs and sheets (see pictures). There are many wonderful people who mean well, visiting sick people they don’t even know. The hospital is connected to a mall, which is brilliant, if you have to bring food or a present to the person you are visiting. I learned pretty high-level Hebrew words like “irui” (IV). And, best of all, Jamie is better. Much better.

The Pictures -
The insignia on the sheets

And, just in case you could forget that you were stuck in the hospital, here is "Hadassah Ein Karem" spelled out, nice and big, so you can see it right next to you on the bed at all times.

07 November 2007

Try A Little Tenderness...

(Thank you, Otis Redding)

Today, I was in the computer lab at Hebrew U, trying to print something for a friend.

Anyway, I couldn't find my copy card (I think I took it out of my wallet before I went away last weekend, yes that post is coming, too.). So, I submit the one-page document and then ran over to the machine, where I'm supposed to scan my card for the 20 agorot-per-page fee (this is approximately 5 cents, but approximately 5 million dollars annoying), or use a credit card. I was hoping I wouldn't have to scan my credit card for a teeny tiny 20 agorot charge, since my MasterCard is already kind of lame...and then I saw a girl there, with a copy card. I pulled out a sheqel and asked if I could give her 1 sheqel to pay for my one-page print job...80 agorot extra, just out of the goodness of my heart. She told me to keep the sheqel.

I said thank you, paused, and then said again, "Are you SURE you don't want the sheqel?"

"It's a mitzvah," she said. A good deed. And what a simple good deed and gesture it was. Document in hand, I thanked her again, and walked out into the surprisingly cold night.

05 November 2007

This Is The Part Of Shprockets* Where We Dance…

*Now, this is the part of Shprockets where we dance. Click to see a YouTube video copy of SNL’s Sprockets Sketch, circa…um…a long time ago. Maybe 1990.

The second day of school continued to be more exciting than the first. After the degel experience, I trotted off to Introduction to Rabbinic Literature, a group tutorial. The sign-up sheet said something to the affect of: this class will be taught in German, unless there is one English speaker who signs up, and then everybody will hate her because the class defaults to English instruction. This may or may not be exactly how Professor Shprockets* phrased it, but that’s how it felt.

I tried tracking down this professor in vain, as I felt desperately needed by a friend in trouble. Sadly, however, this professor is not listed on any of the Hebrew U search engines. Not by first name, not by last name, not by nickname (and this was before I deemed him Professor Shprockets). Nothing. I was starting to believe that this class at 16:30 just wasn’t going to happen, because the professor clearly doesn’t exist.

I knew I couldn’t leave school, though, because on the off chance that this professor proved to exist, they would prance along with their Herr Mishnah this and their Fraulein Bibel that, and leave me in the dust. So, in I walked to my class, at 16:30 / 4:30 PM (Something not lost in translation! Whee!), to find that it was me, the professor (who looks 25 but is at least in his 40s), and the many Aryan faces of the German theological students’ study abroad program. That’s correct, kids…right here in Jerusalem, Sara Beth is studying the words of Talmud, Midrash and Torah with the future priests and ministers of Deutchland. Do NOT tell my grandmother.

I did learn from them, though. I learned that German teaching methods lends classes to long pauses (or maybe that’s so they can translate to English in their heads first?), and that when the Swiss kid reads the letter “v” it sounds like a “w” in the most endearing way. I also learned that the Fraulein next to me hates me and my lack of German language knowledge. I also learned that Europeans should just get over their sexy musk, or whatever it is they think they smell like, and get some deodorant. It’s unholy to study the Torah in such smelly conditions. Really.

It’s been two weeks since I wrote the above, and two weeks of Shprockets have gone by. Each week, the class gets better, and I enjoy discussing Torah, etc., with my classmates and professor. I have learned some more cultural things, such as:

1. I don’t know if it’s just Professor Shprockets, or if it’s a German thing, but there are really long, uncomfortable pauses as he waits for us to pipe up and say something. It’s sooo awkward.
2. Apparently they all say “W” instead of “V.” It makes me giggle…I can’t stop it. I’m so embarrassing.
3. At the end of the lecture, everybody knocks on the tabletop, basically applauding the professor. I think I love this.

My classmates are getting used to me and to speaking English. They’ve taken to asking me to translate. Today, I explained the difference between a hearing and a trial (Remember that time I wanted to go to law school? Hah!). I also defined the worst English verb ever: to cleave . It is an antonym of itself. That was fun to explain. One of my classmates went shopping in the Old City and bought himself Fullah sheets (They’re pink and Barbie-esque, but she’s wearing a full-on head covering. Read the article. It's totally worth reading. Very interesting. Also fun is this post on MJL). Another classmate took down my email to invite me to a birthday party for another classmate and Professor Shprockets. So, I’m starting to make friends.

And, as I measure my success in life, so do I in Shprockets: Today in class, we studied the first Chapter of Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the (Jewish) Father/Sages. The fourth pasuk (passage) warns against talking to women, and later, when we were discussing another pasuk, Swiss and I started talking at the same time.

I said, “Go first,” to which he replied, “no, you are a woman. You go first.” (That’s the German-to-English equivalent of “Ladies first!”)

My reply? “But if I’m a woman, you shouldn’t be listening to me talk at all.”

And the class laughed.

I’m making friends with Shprockets.

This post, like the last one, is a message for peace and understanding in this world.