31 December 2007

My birthday and a birth day!

"You're breaking hearts,
And you're breaking guitars,
Today's your birthday,
And you don't even know how old you are."
-Happy Birthday Ralph, AAHP

Last Friday was my birthday, and indeed, I couldn't forget that it was my 26th, since my campers at Darom in 2006 nicknamed me "S-B-B is O-L-D". I had a great time baking, cooking and preparing my apartment to have a big Shabbat dinner and a bigger oneg Shabbat. When Sarah arrived, as my lovely Davidson bed buddy for the weekend, we wandered on Emek to the ATM and through the shuk at Beit Sefer Adam where I managed NOT to buy anything! (Except for lunch).

Before dinner, we attended tefillot at Shira Chadasha, housed at the Shalom Hartmann Institute while they're doing renovations on their Emek Refaim building, I had a chance to say hi and get tons of "happy birthdays" from everybody I know. Then, we collected the group of diners, and walked back to my apartment.

Sadly, the laws of Shabbat prevented me from taking pictures at the event, but here's a little summary of the fun! Over the course of the evening, there were people talking in German, French, English and Hebrew, and I had a conversation with Spanish, French and Italian words as Guillame (from ulpan) and I tried to figure out the correct way to pronounce "Sangria." (My joking answer: "Fruit salad".)

All of my worrying about not having enough [insert food or drink item here] to serve my guests, I was amazed at the amount of food when we set it on the table. Everybody brought more, mainly to drink, but also to eat. Dinner was terrific, and at about 10PM, people started showing up for the oneg. Friends from ulpan talked with visiting Davidson students, while enjoying what I understand is some very fine scotch, while a visiting Davidson/Rabbinical student made a bid for my apartment. There were people from Texas, Japan, France, Israel, New Jersey, Canada, and New York, all in my little apartment in the German Colony.

I spent most of the 28th waiting for my nephew to be born, as I figured it'd be pretty neat to have a twin nephew. Alas, that was not to be. But yesterday was his birth day, and I do know how old he is -- less than a DAY OLD! Pictures will be coming soon, but I'd just like to announce that my 10-lb nephew (that's about 5 kilo, or more than 2times the amount of rugelach I bought in Thursday) was born last night in Washington, DC.

And if that doesn't say happy new year and happy birthday, then I don't know what does!

27 December 2007

The Adventures of Gezer Girl and the Fabby Cabbie

I should be asleep, but seeing as how I'm spending my birthday doing things I love, I am up at 2AM and I just took a nice, hot shower. Another thing I love to do is write things about myself, as I am a self-proclaimed narcissist, so here I am, on the blob.

On Wednesday nights, I enjoy the Conservative Yeshiva's learning community at Hebrew U. The way it works is they bring Schechter students (Rafi and some of my other favorite future-rabbi friends) to teach Torah to unsuspecting Hebrew U students looking for a free bagel. I've been joking that I'm Rafi's volunteer project, because if I don't go, he won't have a chevruta (friend/study partner) to teach. Deep down, however, I love the one-on-one attention, the text study, and the eating and schmoozing with my peers and the Rabbi who runs the program.

This week, Raf taught me how to read Rashi script. For those of you who either (a) know Hebrew fluently or (b) know about my passion for Israeli carrots, and the carrot in general, or (c) think I'm funny, will appreciate this vignette. I was (apparently doing very well at) mumbling out the right words with the screwy script (as if Hebrew isn't HARD ENOUGH TO READ), and translating , word by word. "Shmuel. Samuel." and "Hoo. He." and so on and so forth. Then I read "גזרותיו / g'zeirotav" and looked up at Rafi. "His carrots?" I said.

My carrot. Oh, I'm so very classy. Taken back when I was 25. Photo courtesy of Elana D., I believe.

After Rafi stopped laughing, he explained that that word means "His decrees" where "His" = God. I protested, saying that if a word has the root (get it? root! double meaning strikes again!) of G-Z-R / גזר, then it should have to do with carrots.

Ami, Rafi's California classmate explained that Sephardic (Spanish) Jews eat carrots on Rosh HaShanah to reverse any evil decrees. I'm going to start doing that! Ami is awesome. I love these Rab students....

Today, my Hebrew tutor told me that the Z / ז is actually adapted from a very ancient language that was folded into Hebrew, almost seamlessly. Funny how my "fun" learning and my "sooooo unfun" academic Hebrew learning lined up this week.

After learning, the CY funds cabs to take us back to town, which is nicer than taking the hour-long bus. Rafi and I piled in with his neighbor, the inimitable Gideon. Our driver this week, by chance, was driving a Benz (not so unusual), and I happened to perk up my ears to hear the music he was playing on the stereo. Usually, the cabs in Jerusalem play Galgalatz or some other popular music station. This guy was listening to the world's most offensive music, on his own, burned CD, so naturally I was in heaven, and started singing along and dancing around the backseat as much as the seatbelt allowed. The driver noticed, and turned up the music really loudly.

Not the cab I was in, but a cab nevertheless. This one was in Tel Aviv on 25 Dec 2007.

That's how I ended up driving by the Old City, just by the Western Wall, with the wind blowing through my hair, as Rafi, Gideon and I all boogied in the cab to classics such as "Smack Dat" by Akon (featuring an Eminem rap that includes the terrificly rapped "puddy-cat-dawls.") and "Fantasy" by Ludacris ([insert an inappropriate "lick" quote here]). It was ridiculous. But it certainly exposed one of the many polarities of Israel, which is currently my proposed thesis topic. I don't think I'd use those lyrics with campers. Or adults. Or anybody that may think it disgusting that I (a) know these songs and (b) find them, instead of offensive, highly entertaining. (HA! I JUST COMBINED OFFENSIVE MUSIC AND MY THESIS IN ONE PARAGRAPH.)

It reminded me of Larry, the Hebrew School driver from last year, who loved to show us his latest rap videos on the Escalade DVD player. He also often threatened to report to Rafi on Wednesdays (I worked on Tuesdays) how I knew all the dirty words, and that my dance moves were too good for a Hebrew school teacher.

This driver's name is Jeki. Let me know if you want his card. He's TONS of fun! But don't expect to be able to hear when you reach your destination.

Time for me to do something else I love, because it's my birthday. It's time for BED!

26 December 2007

Tel Aviv Tuesday (Yuletide Edition)

I sorely missed my friend Shiran and her amazing family, and I had just survived a pretty wretched midterms / finals / rewrites / thesis forming / stupid strike, so after writing the last midterm (!) paper and doing more work on my thesis (I think I may be getting somewhere. Thank goodness for my advisor!), I headed to Tel Aviv for the afternoon and evening.

I arrived at the Tel Aviv Central bus station and, to my amusement, my shock, and my delight, I found massive Christmas displays in the bus station's mall! The lights! The trees! The boxes of ornaments! I felt like I had wandered back into a South Florida mall -- just add the stench of cigarette smoke and ambiguously connected floors, nudge an inter-city bus terminal off of one corridor, and you've got Tel Aviv's Central Bus station on Christmas Day!

Coral Square Mall? No...Keep Guessing...

Aventura Mall? No...One more try...

Tel Aviv Central Bus Station?! BINGO! Yuletide glow is felt all 'round this secular city!

Na-nac-nachman meuman followed me to Tel Aviv. This graffiti is very popular and found ALL over the place in Israel.

I left the bus station and made my way down to Nachalat Benyamin, a crafty street fair that is open in Tel Aviv every Tuesday and Friday. I got a huge Diet Coke at Burger King (ordering in Hebrew) and wandered around the fair's pretty displays for a long while. I ran into a bunch of Florida kids on Birthright, and the new UF rabbi, ordained at JTS last spring. It was fun to see the FL kids, and to hear that Yoni's enjoying UF Hillel! (Also, Go GATORS! Wooo!)

A fine retail establishment, close to Shuk HaCarmel and Nachalat Benyamin. There didn't seem to be any books inside, so we can chalk this up to crazy Israeli translation skills (like when you order a "beagle with lox").

I also wandered through Shuk HaCarmel (FYI, Davidson Chevre: This is actually fun when it's not raining!), and up and down Sheinkin Street, which has funky shops. I FINALLY got new leggings (or, as they say in Hebrew, "tights"), as I discovered that Tel Aviv is the leggings capital of Israel. Jerusalem is not the capital of leggings...or Israel, for that matter, at least according to my home country. I'm just trying to raise the intellectual bar a little, seeing as how I'm just talking about shopping here. But really. Leggings are hard to find in Jerusalem. And so is the US Embassy, because it's in Tel Aviv.

Anyway, the leggings came in this fabulous bag: Sometimes, when Israelis put English on things, they just throw words together that they think look cool. I was half mortified, half elated, to be carrying such a disgusting and ridiculous bag, filled with, not sex, but two pairs of leggings and my fleece jacket.

When Shiran met me as the sun was setting on Allenby Street (Sheinkin, Nachalat Benyamin and the Shuk are all spokes off of an intersection at Allenby), we got her some backpacking pants (she's going to India!), and then I made her convince me that I needed not only a new necklace for my birthday, but a new wallet as well. Happy birthday to me!

"It's a fine neck-LACE," as they'd say on the State.

Look, I got a wallet for an adult! For the first time since high school, I will be using an adult wallet! I'm growing up, I guess:
Big Girl Wallet outside!

After all this, we amused ourselves with the finer things in life: גרבי חברות / Garbei Chaveroot / Friendship socks. See:

גרבי חברות / Friendship socks!

We also had a jeans-trying-on adventure in Castro (um, zippers at the ankles are just not OK), which is like Express in the States, and we got fruit shakes before our bus ride back to her hometown.

Dinner was great, and I feel like I can actually talk in Hebrew with Shiran and her family. I told them what it was like to prepare for a hurricane, and we conducted much of the conversation in Hebrew. It was awesome. With ulpan back and school (supposedly) operational, and my visits to my Israeli pseudo-families, I just may be able to converse with Israelis wherever we may meet!

After watching most of the Israeli Try-Out-For-Grease-Idol, I was tired and got on the bus back to Jerusalem. As the bus rolled back to Jerusalem, another successful Tel Aviv Tuesday spun to a close.

PS - I love Shiran and her family!

24 December 2007

Sort of Bringing SBB Back

Rothberg was liberated from the strike today, so as the Israeli government and Senior professors continue to ruin lives, they have decided to spare mine. I'll be in Israel until June. Sorry, Mere and E and everyone else in NYC that I miss...

I'm not so much done with my work for my thesis, or with one of my midterms, but I figured it was time to post SOMETHING. Below are pictures of things that happened in Ulpan, before the strike and during Hanukkah. There are also pictures from visiting a funny falafel/schwarma place on Ben Yehuda street (a precursor to my Birthright Season post, coming soon!), and from the shuk, where I often find things interesting, or hilarious.

Countdown to 26: 4 days! Also, Merry Christmas to all of those non-Jews that turn to my blob for Jewish education.

"Do you think I'm on Birthright? Because I'm not." -- Fun at a schwarma place on Ben Yehuda. Highly recommended because of customer service and flavor of the food!

It worked on me, as you can see from the picture above. Also, I've been documenting ridiculous Israel spellings in translations of things here. Translation errors may be my most precious joy in life...

Fellow Ramah Aleph students join the guitar guy on the stage at the front of the classroom during our 8th-day-of-hanukkah shirah session. I felt like I was at camp. It was amazing. And it ended with free donuts. Heaven.

Mr. Ulpan Rockstar.

I walked into my Hebrew class to see my worst nightmare: Math. In Hebrew. And not even calculus!

The past two Friday nights, I have going to services at two different Breslav shuls -- one in Har Nof, which is super-dee-duper religious, and one in Katamon, which is also pretty religious, but not as fun. Their mechitza involves an upstairs, a separate door, and a latticework wall between you and the air above the men. It's pretty extensive, and not as good as the Har Nof shul. Points to Har Nof! (Rafi liked Lecha Dodi better at Katamon, but what can I say...he's cute, not perfect!)

Rabbi Nachum of Breslav was the big deal rebbe for these chasidim, which is why he has his own song. In the Hebrew it is: ...נ נח נחמ נחמן or in English: Na, nach, nachma, nachman... It's pretty sweet, it's just adding another letter each syllable. I find myself humming it when the Breslav mobiles blast it from their Ram Kol (microphones, like on cop cars, but louder) when they're going down the street. The other thing I like about Breslavers is that they wear Shtreimels. I LOVE these beaver (yes, I said beaver) hats. They're super-expensive, super-warm, and super-hilarious.

Signs like these let me know that I'm enjoying super-shmittah carrots.

I Know Better...

My mother taught me, at some point, that if I don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.

As usual, I am disregarding that statement. The Israeli Senior Educator strike is trying desparately to ruin my life. Will I go back to NYC? I don't know yet...but time is running out for me to make a decision. I'm FURIOUS at Israel and socialism and bureauocracy and corrupt govenment and people that are more stubborn than I (who knew such a thing existed?).

Michelle says the drop-dead date for the strike is Dec 30th. JPost reports it's January 13th, or they'll cancel the semester.

I'm still trying to get stuff for on my thesis, and working on a midterm that is due on Wednesday, even though my teacher isn't teaching. I've had off from Shprockets for 2 weeks, because the professor was sick, and tonight he's doing Christmas services in Amman, Jordan (he's so cool). That class will be back on in a week, so no worries. I've also taken advantage of the strike-freed time to go to an academic conference, which taught me that I am not a fan of academia, although it was interesting. The best part was the mini-concert and conversation with Shaanan Street, from HaDag NaChash.

The Davidson trip is in Israel, so I hung out with some of my classmates last night in Jerusalem. "Birthright Season" started last week, and soon, I will post pictures of my great-great grandlittle and my great grandlittle, my 2002 Wheelnik (who was STAFFING), and my old Wheels 1997 friend Miritski. As Birthright Season continues, I hope I'll be here to play with them.

For now, it's papers and preparing for my birthday Oneg. Just a few days until I'm 26!

19 December 2007

"Do I Look Like A Prophet To You?"

"Do I Look Like A Prophet To You?"
(A high-up member of the Hebrew department's response when asked about the next 6 weeks / months of my Hebrew education here at Hebrew U.)

A visit to the Hebrew department proved to be more frustrating today than helpful. The person we spoke to was nice (well, mostly), but just like EVERYBODY ELSE in this ridiculous country, they have no clue what's going on with the strike, that has metastasized to the international school, thereby ruining my life. As a good friend points out, I was once an observer of the strikes in Israel. Now, I am another victim.

Here's what I do know:

1. Some of my professors are striking, including 1 of my 2 Hebrew teachers.
2. My striking education professor has pledged to meet with me to discuss my papers and grant me full credit at the end of the semester. He is stellar.
3. If they cannot guarantee me a Spring semester with normal, uninterrupted classes, I will be returning to NY, and JTS, in the spring.
4. The offices at school claim they will know more on Sunday.

While TiVos across the states, during the current writers' strike, lie sadly empty, forcing reruns on my beloved, fellow Americans, Universities across Israel lie sort-of fallow, with some classes happening, and some not happening. Tomorrow is the 2-year anniversary of the irritatingly freezing NYC transit strike of 2005 (and, coincidentally, my 2-year anniversary with Rafi). That strike was cold, and ridiculous, and over in, what, 3 days? Not having new episodes of the Office and Grey's Anatomy makes me sad, having to Rollerblade to work in 10 degrees F is crazy, but getting screwed out of education is a CRIME. And I will not sit idly by and let Israel ruin my year and my graduate education.

What happened to negotiations? Why can't the lawyers and representatives get together and work something out BEFORE it gets to semester-long strikes? Why does everything have to be so dramatic here?

Should I be surprised that a country that has never been able work out a peace agreement with hostile neighbors cannot find a way to properly pay their professors, or at least, not force a catastrophic stop in business, the after shocks of which will be felt for years.

What the hell is wrong with this country?

17 December 2007

[Insert Expletive Here]

Let me preface this entry by saying that I'm most probably overreacting.

I know I said that I'm on a Hafsakah from writing on this blob until I'm finished with finals and midterms, but there is some breaking news that gives me time to write:

In a turn of events that can only be described with adjectives that are not appropriate for my parents, my grandparents, schoolchildren and any civilized, public conversation, the Israeli University שביתה / shvitah / strike has extended to the International school. I woke up EARLY today to get to my Hebrew class, only to find it was cancelled.

Now, you may think that this enhances my cultural experience and that now I understand better the plight of the Israeli university student. This, however, is not the case. It just makes me angry.

If I am to complete the credits I need to transfer to JTS, to be on schedule for my third year of the MA program, and to graduate on time, then I have to complete the classes I'm taking in Israel. The repercussions of this strike could be personally disastrous, nevermind that the senior lecturer strike is putting the entire Israeli higher educational system in peril. Israeli Universities may have to cancel the ENTIRE academic year if they cannot reach an agreement, as they've already pissed away more than half of the regular schools' semester.

I understand they don't get paid enough. I understand being a teacher or professor in the Israeli education system, from K-PhD, is rough. What I don't understand is what I have to do with this. I'm not Israeli. I paid (and I was given a generous scholarship) to learn at Hebrew U. Not to show up at a teacherless class.

I may have extra time to write my papers, but what happens in a few weeks, if there's still no school? Will I chance it out and stay here for a Spring semester that doesn't happen, screwing me out of, among other things, a semester of grad school, a timely graduation, and that pie in the sky, a salary with medical and dental? Will I have to leave Israel and return to New York to take classes at JTS for the Spring semester, so I can still graduate on time? At this point, it's all possible.

There are a lot of things that piss me off about Israel. Yes, I'm having a good time, and I'm learning a lot, but that doesn't mean I don't find certain things frustrating. Why can't Israel have normal water heaters that heat water all the time? Why can't the whole world just speak English? Why don't my schools' calendars line up, rather than land me in midterms AND finals at the same time. And WHY, oh WHY, did I not have my Hebrew class today!?

13 December 2007

Hafsakah / Intermission

I am taking a break from my thiny-veiled narcissism, displayed as ramblings on this fine blob, in order to focus on my finals and midterms. Did I mention I have both to do right now? Because I do. It's really fun. Or not.

Anyway, I am taking an intermission, a hafsakah, from my sbb-centered writing. Shabbat will be a nice break from writing (Raf and I are visiting the famous HarNof cousins!), my birthday is coming soon, and Birthright Season began today, so I have plenty to do, many people to see, and no time in which to do it! As much as I love chronicling my Israel experience, it's just another diversion (like rollerblading and shopping) that I will have to place on the back-burner until I turn in all of my papers.

At some point, I'll write about the last day of Hanukkah surprise that we had in ulpan (Aleph-wide Shira, complete with sufganiyot), my visit with an old friend (Tebow Talk!), and the discovery about the value of the Winter Ulpan to a year-long student (Not so useful, apparently).

Until then...have a nice week or so!

PS-I also refuse to give up Scrabulous. I'd need full-on rehab for that.

11 December 2007

The Special Bus

No Tel Aviv this Tuesday -- this week, it was Jerusalem Tuesday!

Anyway, Rafi (at his suggestion) said we should go on the double-decker Jerusalem tour bus ride. Now, in New York, I actively scoff at those buses, particularly when they pass underneath the windows of my Hebrew classroom, and I can hear the tour guide blabbing on about the historic whatever on 122nd Street. In Jerusalem, I am willing to play the tourist, and play tourist I did.

After a disgusting, but perfect (for Hannukah, perfect = fried) lunch of Chinese-esque food in the Central Bus Station*, which apparently doubles as a mall, we went to wait for the bus. The bus arrived, and some woman tried to steer her pipsqueak son to knock Rafi out of his way, in order to get the best seats on the bus, but I threw on a little New York attitude, elbowing Rafi and me onto the bus first. We were rewarded with front-row, upper-deck seats.

Sweet Chariot. Included in the fare is a narrated tour, punctuating Israeli/Jerusalem music. The music is Hebrew. The tour is in about 8 languages.

This was the best part of the bus ride for Rafi, who whined the entire time about how boring the ride is when you're familiar with the city. I pointed out that the stop-and-go traffic feel he was getting from the ride actually afforded us quite beautiful vistas. I also mentioned that had he not ditched his little narrative-delivering headphone, then the musical interludes would be keeping him occupied. He just sat quietly, fidgeting instead. No worries, though, as this wasn't my idea. AND, if I were forced on one of those buses in Manhattan, I would LOVE it. Because I LOVE Manhattan, now and forever.

Front row seats, before Rafi gave up on the narration. Wasted on Rafi, delightful for me.

Beit Ha-Sheonim / בית השענים / The House of the Clocks is just outside of the shuk. I learned about it in ulpan, and I finally got a picture (this time, before I was bogged down with bags of, what else, carrots!)

After the tour, I took a quick stop at the shuk, lit candles with Rafi, and went home to work on finals / midterms. Being enrolled in two graduate schools at once allows me to experience the joys of midterms and finals SIMULTANEOUSLY! It's a modern miracle, courtesy of the Internet. Thanks, Al Gore!

Say Happy Hannukah one last time, Kookies! It's the last night of Hannukah...until next year!

Rafi's Hannukiyah also shines bright on the eighth night!

*The Central Bus Station has tight security, so you should know that everybody's bag gets checked and many get x-rayed. Purses get a quick poke, without an x-ray, and the security guard today told me that my bag is cute. That was sweet of him.

In other security guard related news, I was asked by a guard recently if I had a gun in my bag. I told him I had books. He actually laughed.

10 December 2007

חנוכה, הוא חג טוב / Hanukkah, Hoo Chag Tov

חנוכה, הוא חג טוב / Hanukkah, Hoo Chag Tov
"Hanukkah, Good Holiday"

This is the second year I am spending Hanukkah in Israel, but the first where I'm really spending it here. Last year, I lit Hanukkah candles all over - in Greenwich, in NYC, at Heathrow, at Kibbutz Keturah in the southern tip Israel. I ate gelt in the airports and purchased presents on three continents. This year, though, Hanukkah is an isolated holiday, contained in the highly political boundaries of the State of Israel.

A Brief History of SBB's post-college Candle-lighting (speaking of college, go TEBOW!):
Lincoln Center Xmas Tree and me, pre-LOL. The real Hanukkah miracle in this picture, which lasted for over 2 years, is that I lived in an apartment with a view like THIS from my BED. (2004)

The good 'ol 18M roommies light the candles in a window that showed them to Broadway and Lincoln Center! (2005)

Lighting at Kibbutz Keturah with the Davidson Trip. (2006)

Leading up to Hanukkah this year, I experienced something new. For the first time, Hanukkah was just Hanukkah. It was not Hanukkah vs. Christmas. I've been standing on this platform for years: Hanukkah is not as big of a deal as Christmas. It's a celebration of victory, of maintaining Jewish life, culture and identity. Hanukkah is another triumph of the Jews against the bad guys: in this case, the Greeks. Christmas and Easter are THE Christian holidays, while Hanukkah is not even mentioned in the Torah!

I'm all about Hanukkah. Clearly, I enjoy the candle lighting. Clearly, I like the donuts (shocker). Clearly, I like singing and, of course, I like presents. This year, however, I like it more. Thanksgiving came and went (with 4 pies), and there was no instant transformation into THE HOLIDAY SEASON. THE HOLIDAY SEASON was in September and October, when Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot took place. THE (Hanukkah) HOLIDAY SEASON started out being indicated gently in local bakeries, where one could find sufganiyot (jelly donuts) on every corner, for a month leading up to the holiday.

Nowhere was a sufganiyah display competing with a tray of candy canes or Santa cookies, or whatever else you may find in a bakery in the states (fruitcake?). Nowhere were the colors green and red screaming at me, with the obligatory blue and white poking out from around the corner, crying, "Don't forget about the Jews, or we'll say you're being anti-Semitic!" There are no marketing geniuses (like the person behind this amazing display in Manhattan) in Israel who are responsible for selling sufganiyot AND making sure that the poor, minority kids that celebrate Christmas have equal displays of candy and presents and ways to make minorities feel less minor.

Like I said, I love Hanukkah. I plan on going to the shuk before tomorrow night to pick up a few dreidels that indicate that the great miracle happened HERE, not THERE. I have eaten more latkes (which is actually Yiddush. Levivot is the Hebrew word. Mind-blowing, I know!) and donuts than I would like to admit, although, as Shakira points out, "hips don't lie." But I love Hanukkah SO much more when it's not the Jewish answer to Christmas, which is an impossibility in the States. I love when candles are lit in restaurants during meals, as all of the patrons pause their conversations to participate in the lighting. I love that my Hebrew teacher handed out chocolate gelt in class, which was tasty and also helped me learn the word for candy. I also love that when travelling through Mea Shearim (super-religious neighborhood) OR Emek Refaim (both religious and secular / my neighborhood) after dark, you can see almost every window glowing with a 9-branch candelabra.

I learned last week in one of my Education classes at Hebrew U that Hanukkah may have occurred around the time of Sukkot (which is the real holiday season, let's not forget!). Can you imagine the marketing implications of a Hanukkah celebrated in October? How pure. How beautiful. How simply Israeli and lovely Hanukkah could be in the States!

Seventh night and the guys still look surprised!

I would like to admit that I also prefer Chanukah when it's earlier in the month. When Hanukkah coincided with my birthday as a kid (OK, and as an adult), it sometimes meant fewer presents. But this year, that is not a problem! Wooo!

09 December 2007

Photo Essay

Nothing Says "Day Off" Like Midterm Prep......but Rafi wouldn't let me sit idly by, missing out on my one day of vacation this semester.

(because of the midterm, this is a photoessay-blob)

Rafi loves the Old City.

Via Dolorosa -- just a few days before Christmas, when this street gets crowded!

I love eating in the Old City!

Nothing makes Rafi smile like eating his way through the Old City.

Yummies. Please keep in mind that this ample meal (only 35 shekels and we couldn't finish it!) was AFTER a large plate of cheese baklava (yes it exists. yes it is better than anything else ever.)

When I think "Old City" I think "Internet Cafe." How is this here?! I couldn't believe we found this.

Soon after, Rafi found a jewelery store and he got me earrings. They're opal studs in the shape of Jewish Stars. Rafi is super...it's not a 6-pack of Dr. Pepper, but it's a Chanukah present to be loved!

View of Jerusalem. You can see Montefiore's windmill at Yemin Moshe to the left, which I learned about in Ulpan, and you can see the King Solomon Hotel, where I slept for many a night during the Davidson Trip last winter. All of this view is from just outside of the Yaffa Gate.

We went from the Yaffa Gate into the mall that's right outside the Old City in about 100 quick steps. The Old-New Land contrasts here are clear, as just steps back we were drinking tea and looking at hand drums, and then in the mall, we were sitting at Aroma and we could have (theoretically) been shopping at the Tommy Hilfiger store (no, really, they have a Hilfiger store).

My special little guys keep on enjoying Chanukah! I know they look terrified, guys, but it's just an act. They love Chanukah!

Six candles bright!

The entire restaurant was shushed for the lighting of the Chanukah candles. We had the best seat in the house to watch! It's standard operating procedure to light candles in the restaurant for Chanukah. It was fabulous to watch them light, and then go right back to waiting tables. Israeli secular Jews not only know the blessings, but also know cute little Chanukah songs to go with the lighting. Really great.

06 December 2007

From the Ancient to the Modern...

...From the Old City to Modi'in

Today was a great day! I ran into a friend on the way home from school yesterday, who said he was going to the old city today for some searching around. I joined Mike at 8:30AM, and got some cool shots of multiple Torah readings at the Kotel. See below!

Self-Portrait: The Old City

Welcome to the Kotel...

Sweet view of Torah reading at the Kotel -- girls in jeans on chairs, faces all up in the men's side? They didn't have this when I came to Israel in '99!

After traipsing through the Old City, Mike, Johannes and I walked to downtown, for Sufganiyot, coffee and then to the buses to school. Hebrew class was fun today, as I got to play "Waitress" when we were working on our conversation skills!

After Hebrew, I went home so I could travel to Modi'in with my roommate and our neighbors, to have dinner with our professor from JTS and his family, as they made aliyah last year. It was wonderful to hang out with the whole family, lighting the menorah, and having a really terrific dinner with Davidson people! I got to see some of my favorite children, from teeny-tiny baby to elementary school math genuis. It was fun to hold a tiny twin and equally cool to read Isaac Bashevis Singer stories to my bilingual pal in Kitah Aleph. It was amazing to pull Stories for Children, a book by Singer, off of the bookshelf, remembering it as the one book I got for Hanukah that I still read. Babysitter's Club books were fun, but Jewish folk tales last forever...and we agreed that the fools of Chelm really are foolish.

Our cab ride home was something else. Allison nearly lost it when I called our driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Jr, like our crazy driver from Egypt. This Modi'in cab driver got seriously lost in, um, I think Haifa? Seriously, this part of Jerusalem was so nowhere near anything else. It was nuts!

Day 3, with the Davidson Chevre

05 December 2007

"Celebrity" as Defined by SBB

Today's the second day of Chanukah! See? The Kooky Family glows a little brighter today!

School was OK today. In class, I said that I was "moderately religious" and one of my classmates said, "Aww, that's so cute" and I didn't smack her for being rude, so I considered that a success.

I was kind of bummed that I wasn't going to see Chancellor Arnie Eisen from JTS, as he was speaking at Hebrew U during my Hebrew class. I came to Hebrew and said hi to Yanik, the French guy who is a rockstar at learning Hebrew. He asked me what was up (all in Hebrew), and I told him I was sad that the "President" (Nasi / נשי - not sure how to spell that) of my school in NY was speaking during Hebrew class. I later learned that the word for Chancellor is Nagid / נגיד. I keep a-larnin'. Anyway, Yanik told me I was being silly, and I should go to the speech. So I talked to my teacher, and she told me it was ok, took my homework, and sent me to the speech. I really do have wonderful Hebrew teachers.

Eisen spoke about social activism, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and Martin Luther King. It was fascinating, and I think he's such an articulate, engaging speaker. I learned new things about Heschel, like that he marched with MLK (see the picture on wikipedia!).

Normal people get excited over star sightings (and even I'll regale you with my story of my John Linnell, of They Might Be Giants fame, sighting in a Manhattan Starbucks), but for me to hear a Jewish Educator speak...well, that's the real excitement for me! Furthering my excitement, Eisen was introduced and MC'ed by none other than Michael Rosenak, whose articles on Israel trips for teens and whose term "flooding out" describes how I operate. It was incredible.

I went to the last 15 mintues of Hebrew and picked up my assignments. My last class of the day started with homemade sufganiyot (jelly donuts, remember?) and we talked about Jewish identity and I said things that some of my classmates found appalling, so all in all, that class was good, too! The professor let us out a little early so we could light candles closer to sundown, and I lit with Rafi a little while later.

Rafi, Rafi's brother's girlfriend and I had dinner with some of Rafi's family friends, which was really special and tasty. It was nice to meet some of the celebrities of his family's collective life. Special foods for Chanukah were served, and since I'm a sucker for a good latke, I was very happy with the meal! Homemade applesauce like Bubbie and I make, and special Chanukah cookies closed out the day.

I hope everyone is having a lovely Chanukah wherever you're celebrating it, or if you're not celebrating it, then you're enjoying a jelly donut! They are, after all, really famous.

04 December 2007

Chanukah! Now With 100% More Kooky (and Donut)!

Tonight's sunset ushered in the first night of Chanukah / חנוכה and I couldn't be happier! Like I mentioned yesterday, Tuesday is Yom Chofshi / יום חופשי -- no school, no obligations, just time to get whatever done. Since I was not off to Tel Aviv , I knew had plenty to do in good old Jerusalem.

And get it done, I did. I started off at 9:30, meeting Melanie from ulpan so we could go find Yad LaKashish, the Lifeline For the Old. This Jerusalem workshop and giftshop provides daily employment for 250 elderly and disabled people, and the stuff they make is TERRIFIC. Also, learning about what they do there sometimes brings a tear to your eye. Check out the website. It's good stuff, like "Pimp My Ride," which I'll get to later.

I knew that I'd find good stuff there, and in searching for a Chanukiyah / חנוכיה (a Chanukah menorah, with 9 branches), I was not disappointed. I couldn't decide if I wanted one with candle holders shaped as pomagranates, or one with crazy, kooky characters as candle holders. I'm sure you're shocked at my decision, displayed in picture form, below.

Aren't I kooky?

I am the world's kookiest Chanukiyah! Yes I am!

After the visit, we wandered the city and ended up walking all the way to the shuk. This was all sorts of fun, because in the shuk they sell Sufganiyot (fried donuts)! For those of you who don't know, one of the miracles of Hanukah (yes, it can be spelled in many different ways) is that when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple, they lit the menorah there, and the oil lasted for eight days. Following typical Jewish logic, oil lasting -> oil -> oily food -> fried things -> eat as many donuts and as many latkes as possible, showing your connection to ancestral military domination over the bad guys!

We wandered the shuk, and I showed Melanie the Iraqi section, where the veggies are amazing and cheap AND, as she pointed out, shmittah-friendly (shmittah is pretty complicated. let's just say that Israeli produce purchases this year are a religious statement). I didn't realize I was being so frum (religious) about shmittah, I just like the carrots this one guy sells in the Iraqi shuk. And, as we know, I love Israeli carrots (I have a two-or-three-a-day habit).

Just as we left the shuk, I picked up two fabulous sufganiyot for Rafi and me. Mel and I parted for a few hours, where I picked up some groceries, wrote a half of a paper, watched TV, nearly cried at a particular touching episode of "Pimp My Ride" (really, they redid the guy's car, which he inherited from his late brother, and they had the Governator talk about BioDiesel and saving the environment...I love MTV.) and did a few loads of laundry. I also finally put my Hebrew stickers on my keyboard, which is why you'll see more עברית on my posts, now.

Neon Green Hebrew and English on my keys. I can FINALLY do my homework by blacklight, like I wanted to in 1995!

Night fell and I headed over to Rafi's with my new Chanukiyah, a box of candles, the donuts, a baggie of gelt (chocolate coins) and a 6-pack of Dr. Pepper as a present for Rafi. We lit candles, placing the chanukiyot in the windows for everyone to see, and he regaled me with all 1029321 verses of Maoz Tzur / Rock of Ages, just like how Bubbie and Dad like to sing it in Florida.

Maoz Tzur Yeshuati...(aka the verse I know)

...yemai minah, yemai shmonah...(aka the verses I don't know)
(Rafi does his best Berman impression, succeeds.)

The evening closed with a trip to a Kosher Ethiopian Meat Restaurant in the center of town with my pal Flags and Melanie. I also got some books, as I've joined a book club, and I got a new hairbrush. The brush reminds me of summer 2006, and my Nivo girls, because it is SO life.

Nivo '06 -- It's so life!

Castro, an Israeli store that is similar to Express, displays a lit Chanukiyah in the window of their Ben Yehuda shoes-and-bags outpost.

Happy Hanukkkkah, Y'all!

03 December 2007

Found in Translation!

The sign says "Education for the Nation, Not Limited." It doesn't make much sense unless you see the play on words. Am is Nation and limited is B"Am (the initials).

(Thank you to my cousin Gloria for this translation, regarding the signs found at Hebrew U during the Shvitah / Strike.)

That's right! Education is for the nation (whichever nation you're affiliated with, as I am not picky, and I am a fan of education in general), and education shouldn't be limited! Find the money to make your education system the best it can be.

OK, I'm putting my soap box away for now. It's time for bed -- Tuesday is Yom Chofshi, and I have to be ready to galavant around Jerusalem (b'regel / on foot), before the sun sets and it is Hanukkah!

A Day Without Sunglasses

This was written, and I thought posted, on 3 December 2007. But for some reason, it's been reverted to draft format. So, I'm reposting.

Once again, I find myself in the grips of the "people plan and God laughs" paradigm. This morning, I woke up (on time!) and emerged (not tired!) from my apartment at just the right time to get to school.

You know when you leave your apartment, and you've forgotten something, and you do a cost-benefit analysis of whether or not you really need that water bottle / notebook / scarf? Well, as I emerged from my apartment's driveway, I realized I'd forgotten my sunglasses (which proves my point that if you put stuff away where it belongs, then you're never going to FIND it.). I paused, and looked at my watch. 9:08. Hmmm. Do I walk back up two flights of stairs and get my sunglasses from their neatly closed case in my closet? Or do I save the time and just deal for the day? I decided to deal.

I was promptly rewarded for my saved time when I turned the corner to see my bus taking off for Hebrew U without me. Figures. I sat in the bright sunlight, cursing Murphy's Law, squinting down the street for the next 4א. I studied vocabulary (I know, I'm so studious!) from the time that the bus picked me up until we pulled up to the bus entrance at Hebrew U.


I'd read an article earlier this week about the strikes (yes, plural) and how they were going for all parties involved. The high school teachers' strike is going to extend to lower schools. The Professors' strike was going to be counteracted by the Hebrew U student union by - get excited - shutting down the University! Shutting down the university, you should know, NEVER includes the International school.

And the University was SHUT. Students in neon green shirts (the stamp of the student union), most of whom are former soldiers, stood in front of locked gates and barricades. "THE UNIVERSITY IS CLOSED!" screamed the signs in Hebrew. And it's easy to lock down the university, since this is a high-security country. It's not like shutting down the University of Florida. It's more like shutting down JTS by merely blocking the front doors.

Nothing says "come to an agreement and end the strike" like keeping students AND teachers off campus. It's like saying "I know you have been on a forced half-vacation. Today, let's make it a full vacation!" Excuse me while I run and make things right...suuuure. (Michelle voices similar opinions on her aliyah blog.)

These are up all over school. I took a picture of these two when I finally got to school. I need an Israeli to translate this poster, although I know most of the words: "We Need Education To The ____, Not Education ____." I'm pretty sure those missing words are important. Who can help me out here?

I did what any able-bodied student would do: Ani Halachti B'Regel / אני הלכתי ברגל / I walked by leg/foot (literally). I walked all the way around the university. Now, if the bus had pulled into the regular stop on campus, instead of letting us off outside of the barricades, then I would've been on time for class. But walking around the perimeter of the university takes time (about 20 minutes), and I was hurting for my sunglasses. I followed the Bezalel (art school - they're not on strike) students to the proverbial back door - a gate behind the University. After quasi-enjoying (running late ruined the fun for me) the vista surrounding Hebrew U, including desert mountains, Arab villages and Jordan in the distance, I made the last leg of the walk (an uphill punishment walk) to the lovely International School Building, which included a shameful, backdoor (ok, gate) entrance (how DARE you try to LEARN today). A protesting student tried to hand me a flyer written in Hebrew. I somewhat mournfully, somewhat scornfully said, "I can't understand that" and I think he genuinely felt badly for me. Maybe that one guy realized today that the International students are just little pawns in their shutting-school plan.

I'm a little unclear as to why I find myself fighting to get onto a campus with this many stupid, disgusting, horrible wild cats. (Can you tell I dislike cats?)

The first half hour of Hebrew class was a discussion of teacher salaries, as classmates trickled into the room. Did you know that teachers in the states get paid way more than teachers in many countries? I got a fresh perspective on what it means to get paid a good, liveable salary. Teaching in Israel (even after 40 years) is close in salary to entry-level publishing. It's a total joke.

Living in Israel is learning about strikes. Israeli teachers and professors, when it comes down to it, deserve better compensation. Israeli students deserve the highest-quality teachers and professors that their country has to offer. I realize (as my classmates from three different continents pointed out) that tuition in the USA is ridiculously high. But somewhere between a $120,000 undergraduate education and a maybe $6,000 education lies the answer. Charge the Israelis a little more for their education...maybe then everybody will be a little more successful, a little happier and able to live, and, like most of my friends, they can pay off school loans with their hard-earned money at their university-graduate job.

It's time to go make the effort, so to speak, of walking up the stairs to grab the sunglasses. Because while it may cost you time and money, in the end, you'll be much more comfortable and better able to approach your daily life. And you'll be happy that you fixed the problem.