30 March 2008

Bubbie Power!

I learned how to embed a YouTube video! Read to the end to enjoy it!

My Shabbat this past weekend was terrific. It started with Friday night at Elie and Micah's bible-scholar apartment. (They rent from the guy who is the authority on Leviticus.)

I joined the boys at shul in Nachlaot, a religious and crunchy neighborhood close to where they live, and close to the shuk. The shul, which came highly recommended by both boys, was tiny, with what I describe as a "friendly mechitza" meaning, that it divided the room in half, and the shaliach tzibur / service leader was right in front, and could be seen and heard from both sides of the curtain. I was sitting in the back corner of about 10 seats, but there area in front of me was filled with women during services.

I was still getting over a cold, but I didn't have a cough...until Lecha Dodi. Then, I was wracked with one of those coughs that can only be controlled with a bottle of water and a package of tissues. I had to elbow my way out of the services so I could blow my nose. The girl who told me the bathroom was unoccupied did so in English, and I remained surprised when, after services, everyone started speaking with each other in English. Another Anglo community!

Elie is a master-chef, and dinner was amazing. It is always fun to spend Shabbat with team Gainesville, minus Rafi (he was in the North). The walk back was surprisingly easy. I'd never walked from Rechavia to Emek before, and, as it turns out, it's not all uphill.

The next day, I went off to the Sheraton to visit with the Simons. It was quite the march uphill, but it didn't take nearly as much time as I'd anticipated. I used to babysit for the Simons back in the day (Their youngest son, of course, is in college.) and we spent lots of good time together in the hallowed halls of Beth Am. Anyway, Michael is now a rabbi of a congregation in Palm Beach, and I stopped by for a talk with the group, and then fruit and snacks and hanging out with the Simons. I kind of let the talk go where they wanted it -- what is it like to study in Israel for the year, and why I'm doing it -- and it was a pretty nice presentation. The participants seemed to enjoy it.

After the presentation, I spoke to a few members of the group one-on-one, and I started to pull their familial relationship structures out of the ether. The one large group of people related to the very-talkative Bubbie had a surprise in store for me.

After I finished speaking, I went upstairs with the Simons, and Bubbie's family asked me if I was a fan of Ben Kweller. Of course, I said yes, and all of a sudden, I was getting the life history of an artist I'd discovered (ok, Leah had discovered) back at UF. They showed me a cool photo spread of Ben in Death and Taxes, a new (?) magazine, and I learned that he is an alum of one of the super-cool Jewish summer camps with which I had the pleasure of working last year. The Kwellers were delightful, and it was really fun to learn about one of "The Bens" (Harper, Folds and Kweller) from proud Jewish parents, an aunt and a grandmother.

After enjoying long conversations with the Kwellers and the Simons, they were off to a walk through Nachlaot, where I had davenned the night before. I went back home to do some reading about Jewish Schools, Communities and Families. When Shabbat was over, I wrote an essay due the first week of camp (since I'm going to camp 3 weeks before school ends), and looked up the Ben Kweller music video, recommended by the star herself.


29 March 2008

The Ring, the Wall and a Local Call

Last Monday, I was feeling kind of tired, but I knew that if I didn't go to the Old City to pick up my middle-finger ring, a birthday present from Rafi, then I would probably not get to Hadaya for at least another week. Just in case you were wondering, I just wanted a ring from Hadaya. It is merely for decoration. So, I went to the Old City, and picked it up. It's perfect! Below please find pictures of my new ring, and a picture of me and the ring of which the FCC just would not approve.

Look at me...
...I'm in Hebrew (a line from the Song of Songs) and I'm pretty...
...and I'm Sara Beth's lovely new Hadaya Ring...

[Image removed, because I am, apparently, an adult.]

...and look, she's NOT engaged...

Anyway, on my way out of the Old City, I decided to walk by the Kotel, the Western Wall. There was a sign there, telling me that God lives there -- right there at the wall. I didn't see God, but it's always nice to see the place where we direct our prayers.
The Divine Presence is here, so you best be wearing a skirt. (I was.)

When I was in Rome, Aaron and I got off the bus across the street from the Colosseum. I asked him what it was like to switch buses to get to school right in front of an ancient ruin. He said that he has to remind himself that it's not just some place where he switches bus lines, and that it's a historical landmark. So, too, when I went to the wall. This visit wasn't spiritual for me, but it was a reminder, as my cousins put it, that the most important of ruins in Jewish history, for me, is a local call.

Just a little reminder that I live a quick walk from the Old City. I could get here in like 20 minutes, on foot.
A picture of the Southern Wall, or as I call it, the Davidson Kotel, because the guy who funds my grad school also funds the Egalitarian end of the Western Wall. Shout out to Uncle Bill!
It was REALLY sunny. Behind my head is the Southwestern tip of the former exterior wall of the Temple, built by Herod. I learned this week that Herod was crazy, but he was good for ancient public works.

28 March 2008

Budget Your Time

"Budget your time." I'm pretty sure this quote came from my awesome 5th grade teacher. Shout out to Maplewood Elementary School.

Anyway, since I did not learn everything I needed to know in kindergarten, or 5th grade, for that matter, I am utilizing vital elementary school guidelines to get my work done here in Jerusalem.

Below is a picture that proves my efforts in this regard. Notice the purple homework pen (it has since been retired for a green homework pen). I am doing Hebrew work on the bus. Because it is spring, you can see a lengthy stretch of sun-free leg, displayed what I would call a miniskirt and my friends would snicker and call a knee-length skirt. May my paleness serve as a reminder to all of us to wear that sunblock.
Pen is power! I work on my Hebrew homework, while getting over my fear of the back of the bus, after my Purim experience. Long live the clean, cool 4א.

Pale is Power! From the back row of a double-long bus. Are YOU wearing sunblock today?

This particular bus ride, earlier this week, was an experience in both time budgeting and time squandering. I did about a half hour of Hebrew homework, and read for one of my classes for the remainder of the ride. But, because our good friend, master marksman and cardiological (is that a word, dad?) marvel VP Cheney was in town, I was still sitting on Emek Refaim when I finished my homework. I really dislike politician-related traffic. I also dislike being late for Hebrew.

I finally arrived at school after an hour and a half total travel time. I've been having some bad bus luck recently, and this reminds me to budget my time and not only leave earlier for the bus, but also to have plenty of reading in my NorthFace Brand HikingSnob backpack of fun!

25 March 2008

Cat Rant

So, my neighbors have this cat. And when I say "have" I mean they have a basket, outside of their door, in which it slumbers. They also feed it cuts of meat I cannot afford to feed myself, and it is these bits that I see on the landing outside of my apartment on a regular basis. I figured at some point I would write about this cat. Today is that day, because I am in the middle of a hundred-page reading about the history of the Talmud, and I need a break.

Earlier in the year, when I arrived, the cat had just survived a fight. I wouldn't say that it was victorious, but it did manage to escape with both of its eyes, a feat in the Jerusalem cat-fighting arena. That being said, my neighbor cat lost a bit of one of its ears and looked generally nauseating, even if you like cats, which I don't. This cat also remains the kind of off-gray that can only come with wandering the streets all the time.

There's a few things I don't get about this cat. First of all, I cannot comprehend why people keep cats as pets in general (Sorry to family members and family members of Rafi, I just don't get it.). All the more so in Jerusalem, when there are like 10 million of them roaming the streets, for the sole purpose of reproducing (loudly) and jumping in and out of garbage dumpsters. Further, if you are going to have a cat as a pet, why keep it in a basket outside of your house, and NEVER let it inside? During the coldest days of winter, days when it was zero degrees Celsius, my heat was on, and I was wearing socks, sweatpants, long sleeves, sweatshirts, a snow hat and 2 blankets to bed, this stupid cat was sitting in its basket, now supplemented with a fleece and an umbrella to hold back the wind. If you are going to feed your cat trays of chicken breasts, shouldn't you like have a warm corner for it to slumber in the middle of winter? Finally, I am allergic to cats. This specific cat spreads allergen all over my front door area, and has attempted to enter our apartment in the past. This makes me angry, not mention sneezy.

Jerusalem cats are a real problem, and they are totally gross. Lots of these cats have one eye, or fur-free tails, and they can be seen EVERYWHERE. I mentioned a couple of months ago about the cats on campus at Hebrew U. Nothing makes your pizza or salad taste so good as when you are eating it with a stupid cat staring at you, waiting for you to drop a crumb, because of course there are cats indoors on campus. During a snow storm, there was a post on Janglo, an anglo website where you can list things for sale, and see announcements for classes and stuff. This post on Janglo reminded us to feed the poor cats who will not be able to find food during the snow storm, citing the cats as the reason there is not a mouse problem in Jerusalem. At least you can trap mice in traps.

Oh yeah, and one time the cat disemboweled a mouse and left a trail of organs from the bottom of stairs to our welcome mat. I think it was a warning. My friend Dave was nice enough to sweep away the organs, something for which I will forever owe him.

This cat has an attitude problem. It glowers at me every time I leave my apartment. "Get out of my space," it seems to be hissing. "You do not belong in MY house." Yes, cat, clearly you are paying tons of rent to make my front doorway a festering mess of cat food, fur and fury. Oftentimes, I say something like "nobody likes you" in baby-talk (so as not to truly hurt the cat's feelings, as I am not really a bad person) as I rush by the smelly feline on my way to miss the bus. I figure if its "owners" really liked it, then it would get to sleep inside.

A couple of days before Purim, I was walking out to miss the bus, as usual. The cat had made its way out to the stairs, as it was warmer and sunny, and this is where grungy, formerly-white, sort-of-owned cats go to enjoy the weather. As I walked down the stairs, I had to maneuver around the walking pile of dander, and I froze in my tracks. Why did I freeze? That horrible little feline had the nerve to reach out and swat at my leg. There was contact. I had avoided this cat, rushing by it on my way in and out of the apartment, and I would never in a million years touch a cat. But this cat, this half-eared, grungy, fine-meat-eating cat had the nerve to hit me.

This is the cat in its fleece basket, looking not so vicious. To the right, you can see the foil on which probably rested chicken livers or some other delicacy.

Purim came and I ran out wearing my jangly scarf. The cat bolted to action, running fearfully down our long driveway to avoid my dangerous-sounding scarf. I hadn't planned on a swat-related retaliation, but I have to tell you, it was nice to see it running so fast away from me.

I definitely will not miss this cat, or any Jerusalem cat, when I go back to the states.

23 March 2008

The Whole Megillah

Purim in Jerusalem is special, and I know that. Going into Purim Meshulash (three days of purim), I was prepared for three days of parties, and three days of Purim celebration stretched from Thursday night until Sunday. Unfortunately, I had a very negative end to Purim, but I'll try to be happy about the good parts before I get to the bad ending.

Purim is a post-biblical holiday, which means that it is not in the Torah, like Chanukah. Therefore, Purim is not a holiday that you have to observe like Shabbat, and as a result, I am posting MANY pictures. Other important facts: Jews are commanded to observe and commemorate Purim in the following ways: hearing the megillah of Esther read twice, wearing costumes, drinking until you can't tell good guy from bad guy (or, go to sleep and therefore you can't tell the difference, my preferred method), give gifts to friends and the poor, and have a festive meal. Purim Meshulash happens when Purim would be on Shabbat, and since you can't give money / gifts to the poor, Purim gets pushed back and forth, leading to the three-day celebration.

Purim started on Thursday for me. I left school after another (I think) successful Hebrew test (I've been getting A's every week, not to brag, just to track progress), I met Rafi in the Old City. We had plenty of work to do in a short amount of time, as we grabbed an "eat to bite" (Terminal joke), two Coca-Cola shirts in Hebrew (mine Diet/grey, his regular/red), and a pair of fezzes. Our costumes read and in order, Rafi and I went to a jewelery store to order my birthday present (finally), a ring with something written on it. Feel free not to read into that, as this ring is going on my middle finger. I can't wait to show it off, flippantly. (Get it?)

Anyway, our costumes in order and my ring ordered, we went back to Emek, and took an hour to get our costumes into order before the megillah reading. Rafi and I decided to save our costumes until the Sunday seudah / festive meal at his school, so he dressed up like "a really cool guy" which just meant that he had an excuse to wear my sunglasses. I wore the castanets and jangly scarf I'd purchased for Purim when I was in Egypt in October. I decided, as I got dressed, that the rest of my outfit seemed to be subpar in comparison to the jangly scarf. The bikini-of-scarves was born. Below, please enjoy the finished result.

My belly-dancing costume from Thursday night's megillah reading.

After the megillah reading, Rafi and I went to the HaDag NaChash concert, which I wrote about in this blob's previous post. Here's a picture of us at the concert. I toned down my belly dancer costume and just kept the shirt, while I changed the skirt, the shoes and kept the scarf.

I lost most of the belly-dancing costume, put on my grey-yom-miniskirt, and left the jangly scarf on over the skirt.

Friday came too soon, as I woke up for what I thought was a 9AM megillah reading at Pardes. I was going to support Lisa, my latest in roomates, but when I went downstairs to wake her up, she informed me that the reading was at 11. Seeing as how I was already dressed (in my Aleph-Bet t-shirt, because I didn't want to deal with a costume), I decided to start cooking Shabbat dinner. After cooking Yemenite green beans (or my best imitation thereof), and sauteeing onions and garlic in wine with some mustard (yes, I hate mustard, but I like it in sauces), I cut up 10219201 onions, carrots and garlic, and set two pans with schnitzel-grade chicken (I love that I can get that here, at any butcher counter, and it's going to be KOSHER), covered it with white wine, and set it to marinate as I joined Lisa at her reading. She was beautiful and it was great, but I rushed back right after so that I could cook for my 10 dinner guests. I got pretty much everything done, and it was good, because Lisa wasn't feeling well, and I had to help her cook for her 11 lunch guests for Saturday.

We were cooking down to the wire, and I went to shul with wet hair. Shul was nice, as was dinner. It was nice to have people other than the usual suspects at a dinner, and the boys from Gainesville complemented the girls from South Florida, the Oleh, the Sabra husband and the Sabra boyfriend, rounded out by a Canadian and a surprise appearance by Lisa, who was starting to feel better!

Saturday, I slept until right before lunch, and lunch was nice. There was a great group of people from all over. The food turned out really well, and after the meal was over I got to finish Someone to Run With by David Grossman. It was terrific. Read it. A nap later, Shabbat was over and I was off to eat with Rafi at a great Italian place in the center of town. Eschewing the myriad Purim parties at every bar and restaurant in town, I came back to do some homework, and then I was off to sleep, in order to prepare for the big day ahead.

Rafi and I went to Schechter (his school) bright and early so that we could attend Shacharit / morning prayers. There was talk of me trying out his tefillin (phylacteries) for the first time, since it was Purim and I otherwise refuse to wear them. After the prayer where you can pass your tefillin on to someone who hasn't worn them yet, he leaned over and asked me if I wanted to put them on. I decided to say no. Mainly because his head is large, and filled with Torah, and since my head is small and filled with rumors from gossip blogs, I figured his tefillin wouldn't fit. Also, I just don't wear tefillin. Besides, Rebecca and Eytan arrived with their twin girls, dressed in peapod costumes, and I was more interested in holding one of the girls than messing around with leather straps on my arm and head.

After services, the room was set up for the shpiel, which was a series of skits, meant to be totally zany. This was lots of fun for the Schechter students, and less fun for me, as I don't go there. Since I'm dating Rafi, though, I got most of the jokes...even the ones about gemara / talmud, aka arguments by rabbis. The best part, for me, was my friend Sarah's Eulogy for Sunday, a joke about the Pillsbury Doughboy dying from a yeast infection (courtesy of huge scholar David Golinkin), and eating really fabulous Yemenite meat food for "lunch" at 11 in the morning. I also loved the costumes. Rafi and I debuted as Coke and Diet Coke, and you can see below other costumes and pictures from the festivities.

Rafi holds a HammerHoff girl -- one of the two peas formerly in Rebecca's Pod.
Lovely, lovely little pea.
Coke, Diet Coke, complete with bottle cap hats and a HammerHoff girl (Rena?) after the peapod costume got too hot.

Dena and Dan as Mikveh / Ritual Bath Lifeguards.
Deb dressed as Rafi's roommate, complete with boxers sticking out of the pants, beautiful curly hair, a Yankees hat, rippling muscles and an huge need for attention.
Noam, Rafi's terrific roommate, getting that attention he so desperately craves, whilst running the show.
(Hair is a fro wig, hiding what is a much more beautiful collection of curls underneath. I love Noam!)

Cece as an Israeli soldier, enjoying her locker-door picture.
Coke and Diet Coke. Hot.
The Great Gemara Race.
Rafi started reciting Robert Frost and Cece poured water on his head.

Rafi and I connect with our inspiration.
In an ideal world, I would not be holding Lemon Diet Coke, but you take what you can get.

After Schechter, Rafi and I made our way to HarNof to our second seudah of the day, with my cousins! It was really nice, there was so much food that I can't even begin to describe it, and the company was lovely. After the company left, Rafi and I hung around a little while longer, so that we could help the cousins by relieving them of mishloach manot gifts of food given to them by friends and neighbors. We were doing them a favor, as they are on a strict, healthy diet -- they are both slim and looking fabulous, so Rafi and I helped them in their quest to be healthy by taking cookies, crackers, cakes, chocolate milk, and tons of chocolate (no, I am not making this up) home with us. I also talked to my Bubbe in Florida, and she is hilarious and upbeat as usual.

This is where the fun of Purim came to an abrupt halt. Gloria, one of my glorious cousins, had warned me that people take that "drink until you can't tell the difference" thing very seriously in her 'hood. They also shoot cap guns, light off fireworks, sing and dance in the streets, and elementary school kids light up cigarettes for what I can only pray is the first and last time ever. I witnessed this all, today, on the street today in HarNof. In fact, that is one of the reasons my cousins hosted the seudah, as they didn't want to leave their house. So when Rafi and I couldn't get a taxi, we simply hopped on the first bus that we knew ran to Yaffo, making it a simple switch to an Emek bus. This bus was filled with revelers and was 99% ultra-Orthodox. Rafi and I stuck out like red, sore thumbs, and found seats at the back of the bus.

After a while, the bus driver, for some stupid reason, let on a guy who was so drunk he was INCAPABLE OF SCRATCHING HIS OWN FACE. This guy stumbled to the back of the bus, and collapsed into a seat across from a mother of 10 (Yes, 10. They were all over the rows around us.). The mother and her children giggled at the guy, as he waved around the air surrounding his face, attempting to scratch his clearly senseless nose, while I wondered what the hell was wrong with EVERYBODY on this bus. Clearly, that guy needed to be sitting on a bench somewhere, or on his way to an ER for a nice stomach pumping and a fresh banana bag.

Not too much time passed before the two bottles of wine that had incapacitated this Hasid-turned-Hoover-Dam-Leak made a repeat appearance, all over the floor of the bus. The mother continued to giggle, and shoved her kids who were sitting with her over the back of the seat to her other kids that were closer to the front of the bus. I turned into a shaking pile of goo, as my fear of food-related repeat experiences reared its ugly head and trapped me in the back corner of a bus filled with streimels. Eventually, the bus turned off of its usual path, making everybody get off somewhere in the middle of a neighborhood where my red Crocs identify me as a whore, a neighborhood where the guy who put his tallis bag nearly on my head during my flight to Israel totally must live. Before this happened, of course, I had to climb over about 5 rows of seats, so as to avoid walking in...well, you know. Sadly, this acrobatic maneuvering was difficult on a moving bus, as I not only hit my head on a pole, but my beautiful fez-turned-bottle cap fell onto the floor. The floor that I was walking on SEATS to avoid. Rest in peace, vomit hat.
I did a pretty nice job on these fez-turned-bottlecaps (Mine of blessed memory is pictured. Rafi's was regular, mine said "Diet."), if I do say so myself.
I even copied the "Diet" logo from the bottle. I'm very sad about the loss of my fez.

Rafi, by the way, managed this maneuver the seat-climbing with grace, dignity and aplomb. He is very, very impressive and I love him.

Everybody got off the bus, and the driver drove away, with that drunk idiot passed out in the back section, even though everybody else got off the bus. If I were the driver, I would've called the police to get this guy off of my bus, and to get his name, rank and serial number so as to pay for the extensive bleach-cleaning that was now necessary on this particular vehicle.

After struggling to get a taxi, as we were lost in streimel-land, Rafi and I finally ended up with a cabbie whose dad is the cantor at the small shul two buildings over from Rafi's apartment. The cab driver was nice, but I was fighting off stress-related tears and headaches, and I was only partly able to enjoy myself with the cabbie. (FYI -- I generally love cabbies here, as they help my Hebrew, tell me exactly how to bring peace to the Middle East, invite me to their synagogues, and, my personal favorite, try to understand my religious affiliation by asking whether or not I am shomer negiah / no touching with my boyfriend.)

In conclusion, Purim was mostly awesome with a really horrible ending. I had nothing to drink the whole time, except for a little Shabbat wine. Most everybody else in Jerusalem threw up, either on buses or in more acceptable places, like your friendly neighborhood toilet. I think they should all take a healthy dose of Rambam, and not drunk dial me in the morning.

22 March 2008

The Chorus and The Fish Snake

For my 100th blob post, I'm trying something new...video! I apologize in advance for the quality of the sound and lighting on the video, but that's what you get from a camera purchased in 2004, in a large, crowded performance space filled with smoke and fun lighting.

I'm going to post about Purim AFTER tomorrow's festivities, but for now, I'm going to write about Thursday night. Enjoy!

Below please find 2 clips from the Purim הדג נחש / HaDag NaChash / The Fish Snake (I'll explain in a second) Concert at HaMa'abadah - The Lab, in Jerusalem. Rafi called at like 5 or 6PM to see if they still had tickets, and we were shocked when we found they weren't sold out, and jumped at the chance. So, after attending Megillah reading and getting a nice, quick bite at Adir Falafel, we were off to the Ma'abadah.

So, הדג נחש / HaDag NaChash / The Fish Snake is a play on words.
נהג חדש / NeHag ChaDash / New Driver (see how the letters are just rearranged?) is put on a little card in the back window of new drivers in Israel. Shiran's sister has a card for when she drives that is in the feminine form: נהגת חדשה. Nice!

We thought it was funny that פיזמון/ Pizmon / Chorus, the admittedly fabulous Jewish A Capella group from Columbia University, opened for HaDag NaChash. We thought it was funny because what do Israelis know from A Capella, and how could they possibly warm up the crowd for one of the most popular and successful Israeli groups? But warm they did. The group of at least 10 did a short set of three Israeli pop songs. When they shuffled positions on the stage for the second song, I squealed with delight to Rafi, "That's one of the kids from my Hebrew CLASS!" Indeed, "Zechariah" was one of the freshmen with whom I took Hebrew at JTS last year, and as it turns out, he's a Pizmon soloist. He's the kid who asked me last year if I knew Elie, and I said, "yeah, I'm dating his brother." His response? "I know." Freshmen are so cute. As soon as Pizmon finished, HaDag NaChash took the stage and Rafi and I danced for most of the time. I don't think he and I had ever really danced before the concert, other than at weddings. It was pretty sweet.

Pizmon's Audacity: Performing One Of HaDag NaChash's Most Famous Songs.

When they took the stage, it was not like the normal beginning to any concert. It was special. Each band member came out in some form of costume. I imagine their electronic music guy (DJ?) usually wears bright pink shirts and big, orange beta-blocker-looking glasses, but their guitarist, I believe, does not usually dress like a big-hair rocker from the 80s. Anyway, Shanaan Street, the lead singer, wore a Dracula cape over his usual performance uniform of a soccer jersey, jeans and a pair of skater sneakers.

The most interesting part of the concert was the Purim aspect of it. Shanaan announced that he's not religious, but he takes Purim "very seriously." This, he said, was because of the obligation on Purim to drink until you can't tell the difference between Haman (the bad guy) and Mordechai (the good guy). Then, throughout the concert, the band would break out into Purim songs, which I had thankfully learned in Ulpan the day before. It was terrific. Below please find a short video of HaDag NaChash singing bits from Purim songs.

HaDag NaChash Sings Purim Songs.

18 March 2008

Waffles, Waffles Everywhere

When we first arrived in Jerusalem, Rafi and I went to get waffles at Babette's downtown.

Last week, after months of a lovely, waffle-free existence, all I could think about was waffles. Waffles with ice cream. Waffles with whipped cream. Warm, gooey waffles. Waffles, waffles, waffles.

So here is a peek at the two dates Rafi and I went on last week (one with our buddy and pal Dan D.), as seen through the eyes of a waffle-hungry student.

Waffle #1 - Aldo on Emek Refaim. Ribat Chalav / Dulce De Leche sauce, Oreo ice cream and hard chocolate shell, with a side of whipped cream. Shared with Dan D.

Waffles #2 & #3 - Babette on Shammai, just off of Yoel Solomon. One Ribat Chalav / Dulce De Leche Waffle, one Vanilla Cream Waffle. We shared, but I like Ribat Chalav better.

Rafi and I look surprisingly fit, considering that all we do is eat waffles. And drink hot chocolate. The hot chocolate at Babette's was ridiculous. Realllllly rich.

By the way, Babette's wins the tastier waffle contest, in case you were wondering.

15 March 2008

I Believe in Matt Bar...

I want you to go to www.purimrap.com and www.bibleraps.com. I want you to love Matt Bar and what he is doing. I want you to bring him in to perform and teach at your religious school / summer camp / college / university / old age home / party / Israel trip.

I went to his video release party tonight in Jerusalem. It was incredible, and it made me believe in PICZ, the PresenTense Institute for Creative Zionism, and the work they are doing. Matt is one of their fellows, and he's continuing his work through the school year, studying at Pardes and writing AMAZING new bible raps.

As an unabashed fan, I can say his raps are wonderful to listen to. As a dedicated educator, I can say his raps are INCREDIBLE TEACHING TOOLS and wonder why you aren't showing the YouTube video (It's G-rated! Kids and Parents Approve!) tomorrow morning to your Sunday school kids?

This will not be the end of my Matt Bar promotion. I really think he (and Naomi Less, another fresh new Jewish music artist with a good message) is amazing. I have seen his work, in its nascent state, hook kids at our Hebrew school last year. I am now seeing his work, more polished, ready for release in the world of Jewish Education. You need to see it, too.

Click here to see HamanSong. You will be humming this one on the way to your Megillah reading this coming week!

One note -- the Hebrew in the song means "And it was overturned."

Playing Catchup...

I have been writing for so long, it seems, about my Backpacking experiences in Europe this past Chufshat Choref / Winter Break, that I have barely been writing about Israel, which is actually why I originally started this whole blob thing. Well, that, and I like reading my own writing and hearing the sound of my voice, and this was a new narcissistic outlet for me.

So, what's been up? In short, I'm in Ramah Bet / Level 2 Ulpan now. My friend Melanie helped me keep up my Hebrew learning, as I maintain that I cannot learn Hebrew without a Melanie by my side (I have JTS Mel and Hebrew U Mel and I love them both). You see, we were not put in the same Hebrew class, and she went during the first day of class and switched into my section. Ezeh ahavah / that is LOVE. So that's been good. I like Bet a lot, as there is a lot more work than Aleph and I'm learning enough for a test every week. I like this. I must be bonkers.

The Bet Book - the red cover means I'm learning!!!
(Image courtesy of booksinternational.com.)

I accepted a job as a Rosh Eidah at CRD this summer. It was sad to say goodbye to CIL, but I am SO excited to be working at CRD again. This job precipitated me finagling my way out of the last 3 weeks of school in Israel. It's been kind of crazy, and I'm missing a few days with the Roshes at CRD, but I'll be getting there at the very end of May!

The weather has been back and forth, and it'll warm up soon. Before it gets too hot, I am doing a lot of walking. My bus pass finally expired, so now I have to pay by the ride. That means my laziness will be taking a backseat to my tired feet. I even tried to get my orthotics (fancy-schmany arch supports that make my life worth living) resurfaced, as their top layer of the finest foam is peeling away after 6 years of use. That was a ridiculous, Hebrew-only experience. It didn't work out, but I did have many the interaction with the shoe guy downtown. He was wearing velvet pants with glittery silver pinstripes, a shiny shirt, and a little top hat when I went back to find out he couldn't do the resurfacing I wanted. The trips back and forth were 100% worth the costume changes, the Hebrew conversations about ha-chomer ha-zeh /THIS material, and the loud, Russian arguing on the radio in his little shop. I would still go to him to reshod a pair of shoes, but I refuse to have my orthotics injured by a non-expert.

Reasonable depiction of the Shoe Guy.
(Image courtesy of usatoday.com.)

And they ARE tired, as Rafi and I spent Shabbat going back and forth from different meals and events with the visiting group from Gainesville, his hometown, and the home of my college experience. I worked at the shul, he grew up there, and we both love Gainesville in different ways for different reasons.

Last night, at Shabbat dinner, we talked about a favorite thing in Gainesville. A million snapshots flooded my mind, as I thought of eating at AEPhi (LOVE the Mac N'Cheese, love the salad bar), putting a parking cone on some girl's car because she stole MY parking spot, Gator games, Gator buses, glitter and pajamas, Gator gear, Dirty Lexington, Jennings, Broward, the fire alarm I set off twice Freshman year, Exceptional People (best class EVER), my Chalutzim kids, Rabbi Kaiman, the three years of the Red1 parking decal (thanks, Mark), the time I bummed a ride off of UPD...I could go on forever. But when I opened my mouth, this is what came out: "Micah's going to laugh at me, but I loved spending time at his house, with his family." I miss them, and it's nice to be in Israel with Micah, the brother-esque pancake-eating powerhouse who always amused me when I was in Gainesville.

I also saw one of my Chalutzim kids, and it was a reality check. Just like my Wheelniks, one of whom is now in medical school, the Chalutzimers have grown up, too. One of my kids was there, and he is a sophomore in High School. They grow up so fast! It was great to see ALL of the people from Gainesville. It was a mini-reunion at dinner, with 2 Gator Olim, Rafi and me, Elie and Micah, and their honorary-Gainesville girlfriends, and my friend Jen, from undergrad. I was SO excited to see her, as I was told the trip was mostly middle- to upper-middle-aged. Sadly, I didn't take any pictures, because it was Shabbat, but trust me, seeing Jen made me smile, really widely!

In the Gainesville blog, linked above, Rabbi Kaiman describes my rendering of havdallah as "soulful" and not "nearly off key." He's very nice. I got another compliment, too. On Friday night, one of the congregants said to me how nice it was to see Rafi "with such a beautiful young woman." I am pretty sure I blushed. I'm lucky to be with such a nice and smart guy!

I am also doing a lot of work, for JTS, for Hebrew U and for Ulpan. I read a hefty piece of the Apocrypha (short description = not from the canon) last week. I liked the end of the book of Judith, but other than that, it was hard for me to get to into it. I'm more into modern media...as you'll see in my next post.

Today is the Ides of March and the birthday of Rafi's mom. Many returns, and wishes for happy times, JS!

09 March 2008

Backpack, Day 10: Of the Ghetto and Customs

My last day in Rome, I woke up with the boys and got my backpack all sorted out before I went to see the last things I meant to see in Rome. I left and went to the Jewish Ghetto of Rome. And by "went to the Jewish Ghetto" I mean that I kept on looking for it, and kept on getting turned around. Eventually, I bought a cookie (the apricot version of a linzer tart = delightful) and a large bottle of what I thought was water, but was actually seltzer. I spent the rest of the day trying to shake the bubbles out of the foul-tasting water (I hate seltzer).

Refreshed by the cookie and irritated by the water, I finally found my way to the ghetto. Shaking the bottle with every step, I found myself outside of a restaurant called Yotvata. There is a chain of restaurants in Israel named Yotvata also, after the dairy kibbutz in the south of Israel. This Yotvata did not look like the others, and I wasn't hungry. But I did take a picture for proof.

I don't know...Mehadrin. Chalav Yisrael. Many hints that make this Yotvata a lot like the Yotvata(s) I know and love...

Then I found the streets of the Ghetto. Just off of the river, it was really fun to walk through and see the signs in Hebrew and Italian. Much like Golders Green in London, though, when you come from Jerusalem, seeing Hebrew on signs isn't exactly the world's biggest deal. Then I walked over to the synagogue / museum. I walked around and took some pictures of the exterior, because I thought it was majestic and pretty cool. A security guard followed me for a little while, before I turned around and asked him what the big deal was. He wanted to know why I was taking pictures. Clearly, I looked like a terrorist plotting....

"And this is the gate to the heavens." (Above one of the doors to the shul.)

After I got accused of plotting to destroy the synagogue, I went to enter the building. I apparently stood in the wrong part of the line, because after the security guard made me take off my coat, scarf, and show him my wallet, which I had tucked into the waistband of my jeans (just pickpocket-proofing, as advised by our good friend Frommers), he sent me to the end of the line. He gave me more crap when I got BACK to the front, messing around with me and asking me where I'm from.

Here's the thing. I go to Hebrew U. I go through metal detectors every single day at school, so let's be serious. I know what is going to set the metal detectors off, and as an American Jewish student at the Hebrew University, I'm pretty much the last person to do bad things to a synagogue. Not to mention my getup in a pink-and-khaki coat and a so-Israeli messenger bag.

So when I got inside, spent about an hour waiting for a tour to start, only to be told that I had just missed the tour because they gave me the wrong time (even though I'd been standing around waiting for it), and then told me that I couldn't join the other tour for SECURITY reasons, I was DONE with Italian Jewry. I was out of that neighborhood faster than you can say "go get another gelato."

I followed my heart back to the Spanish Steps, except this time, I went the back way and up to the top of the steps. The walk was nice and the view was breathtaking. I was getting plenty hungry by then, so when I finally happened upon a place with a good lunch deal (soda, bruschetta, and pasta), I plopped down happily. Lunch was great and then it was time for a walk back to Piazza Navona.

The view from the top of the Spanish Steps!
Typical Sara Beth, looking down on the world in front of her.

I may dislike Pepsi, but I was enamored by the foil top to this can.

I had spent the day looking for fine Italian shoes or purses or some quality Italian leather but I couldn't find anything. So instead I went to Piazza Navona to get necklaces. There were the best murano glass I'd seen on my whole trip, so I got two necklaces for myself. On this walk, I walked down the Spanish Steps, past the Pantheon, by the Trevi Fountain and to the non-wedding-cake monument. I then enjoyed Piazza Navona before passing the Colosseum on my way back to Aaron's.

After that, I was pretty beat, so I went around looking for more GELATO (gelato count, 4). I delighted in the snack and went back to Aaron's, stopping at the neighborhood pizza place to buy more pizza, and then the grocery store to purchase more M&M's (yes, I have a problem) to bring back to Israel. Aaron came back from school and we went up to his apartment for a few minutes, to get me ready for the airport. He walked me to the train and then I was off to the airport.

The final gelato and the flattering poses that it inspired.
Strawberry and vanilla, topped with tired tourist.

I was excited to get to the airport, as I was sure I'd finally get the gelato (almost 5) that my friend had recommended, but my late-night flight meant that most of the stores were closed. Alas. Instead, I went through duty free to buy Rafi a present, and then boarded my flight. The flight was fine, and when I landed in Israel, I was happy to be back.

I set the camera's timer to take this fabulous off-to-the-airport picture. The classic physics problem of how many books can Sara Beth carry on her back (and front) is solved! Contents: 11 book, including 2 travel books, 1 siddur, and a variety of fiction, as well as a few days of clothing.

I waited a long time at customs, maybe the longest I've ever spent in one of these lines. I thought if I was getting in at 3:00 in the morning, that nobody else would be arriving at the same time. I was wrong. When I finally got to the customs agent, I talked to her in Hebrew. After the usual eyebrow-raise at my Egyptian travel visa (it's really quite pretty), I got the standard questions. Why are you here? Where are you studying? I said I study at Hebrew U and I'm studying Jewish education. "Tzadika!" She continued, "Shabbat Shalom!" I thanked her, and then realized that she was saying I was a righteous person for studying Jewish education, and was wishing me a Shabbat Shalom, as it was Friday morning in Israel. She was dressed in pants and looked pretty secular. Even the secular customs agents like a Jewish educator. Who knew?

After I found my way to the baggage claim, I encountered ads that I'd seen many times before. They're for the tiny soup nuts found across Israel. You can also find them in Chabad houses worldwide. The ad says "From London to Tel Aviv, Soup Nuts That You Have Only At Home." This was my first time in the airport where I took the time to read the whole ad, and realized I understood it. I smiled at the ad, and thought back to just a few days before. I had been in London, in Dalia's kitchen, and her dad took out a container of Osem soup nuts. Just like in Jerusalem, New York, Florida, and every other place I've seen these soup nuts, Dal's dad took a fistful and crunched on them gleefully. "They're a great snack," I said. And I realized that the ad wasn't really true, because Osem ships worldwide. But I was home (sort of) again. In Israel. Where they make the soup nuts.

"Time to make the soup nuts."

The Nesher ride back to Jerusalem was kind of bad. I had trouble staying awake even to give the driver directions to my apartment. He saw the neighborhood, and asked me a question. I was groggy and I just kept on saying yes. When I finally got out of the taxi, I pulled out a 50-sheqel note to pay him. He didn't give me the 5 sheqels of change I was owed. When I asked for my 5 sheqs, he said that I would be giving him a tip, since I have, I thought he said, roommates. It was 5:30AM, and I was tired, and not looking forward to walking up stairs with the backpack on, so I just said fine. I doubt I could have argued very well in English on so little sleep. He drove away. Later, in my apartment, I realized that he had been saying "ashirim" (rich people) not "shutafim" (roommates). He assumed that because of where I lived, that I was rich, and therefore owed him an extra dollar on my cab fare. Now I knew I was really home (sort of). In Israel. Where the cab drivers are always causing some sort of trouble, but usually help with your Hebrew.

There was morning. There was evening. There was morning.
The tenth day.

07 March 2008

Babies and Bullets

So there was a terrorist shooting yesterday in Jerusalem. I wrote about it yesterday to let my adoring fans know that I am ok.

But, as Shabbat is about to descend upon Jerusalem, I have to put the story into my own context. I had a great dinner last night. Rafi and I had dinner with his classmate / my pilgrimage Rosh Eytan, his wife Rebecca and their delightful twin daughters. They had invited Rafi and me to join them at a very meaty dinner in a mallish place just by the Central Bus Station and entrance to the city.

Dinner was great, and both of the girls had colds like I had, so I was allowed to hold them. They are really getting big (I remember when they were just 4 lbs). Also, I was surprisingly unruffled by the amount of baby barf that ended up on my arms and jeans. After dinner, Rafi and I stood around by the Central Bus Station, waiting for our transport back to Emek.

Ary's the serious one, Rena's the cheery one. Both barfed on me. Both are fabulous!

An hour later, news broke of a terrorist shooting. It was at a yeshiva by the entrance of the city. Read the article. Anyway, the visuals on the TV were chilling, with ambulances lined up were Rafi and I had stood an hour before. We were close. Not so close. But too close for comfort.

I'm sad about the attacks, and I am horrified at the killing of unarmed, teenaged religious students. There was one terrorist, not two, as I had previously posted, and he was shot by either an off-duty security officer or a part-time soldier-student. It's unclear, but we know that the terrorist, a neighbor from East Jerusalem (This isn't meant as a pun, but...a stone's throw from Hebrew U / Mount Scopus), is dead and will not terrorize Israelis anymore. His status in the city was chilling - as the possessor of a blue identity card, he is allowed to roam freely through (West) Jerusalem.

(There is tons of protesting this year about not dividing Jerusalem, but let's be clear. It's divided. East Jerusalem sits on the other side of a fence.)

I was overwhelmed by the IMs, emails, and other messages I received from friends and family within and without of the State of Israel. I'm safe. I'm going to remain safe. And now...it's time to wonder. I wonder what is going to happen next. For today, I didn't go to the center of town today, as I had been planning, and I stayed close to my apartment. There was extra security at the Beit Sefer Adam shuk, and the pita people were there, as usual.

Sderot is close, Ashkelon is closer, and Jerusalem is HERE. I am hoping for a stop in the terror, not just in Israel, but in the whole world.

06 March 2008

FYI: I'm Alive and I Hate Terrorism.

This is an Israel blob, and not a Rome-and-London blob, so I interrupt my regularly scheduled Europe entries to announce that I am fine.

There was a terrorist shooting in Jerusalem tonight in a Yeshiva. I will figure out how I want to frame my experience regarding the incident.

I think that hate isn't the answer, and I'm generally non-violent, but I really hate Hamas, I hate their response and I would love to punch Hamas in the face.

May the memories of those lost (minus the one terrorist the authorities killed, one is still on the loose as of 11PM Israel time) be for a blessing.

02 March 2008

Backpack, Day 9: Of Vatican and Various Drinks

Aaron and I have been planning our visit to the Vatican since he told me he was studying in Roma this semester. I have a minor Vatican-and-Catholicism related obsession, courtesy of Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, and I was so excited to go see to the Vatican.

After a late wake up (like Shabbat at camp, except with the Pope and zero Yiddishkheit), Aaron and I made a quick stop at his Metro Station's cafe so he could have the world's smallest cup of coffee before taking the train over to the Vatican. It was pretty cool to cross from one country to another with just a crossing of the street. The Vatican's borders are pretty loose...no passport stamp! =(

World's smallest cup of coffee. Or, as the Italians say, "Breakfast."

The first thing we did was go to the Vatican Museum, where the guy behind the desk gave me the student discount by assuring me that I was 19 (I hear that a lot), even though I needed an international student ID card. Aaron and I wandered through such a huge priceless store of artwork, it blew my mind. We took a lot of funny pictures, in the school of AndrewES-and-SBB-go-to-the-Museum (acting out artwork), and I commented at one point that the Vatican smells like feet. It did...but just one hallway.

I love sculptures because I make faces with them.
Self-portrait fun in the Vatican Museum.
I love art.
Absolutely amazing.

Not 100% sure what we're seeing here. I want to say Da Popa, but then I know that I'm missing something. Pretty artwork with great lighting? That's for sure.

I love me some art. And blasphemy. Let us not forget my fondness for blasphemy.
We ARE capable of normal-faced pictures. Must've been subdued by the Holy See.
Noah's Ark, actual size. This is actually why you never see unicorns.

We followed the maze around until we got to the halls leading to the Sistine Chapel. We took plenty of pictures of the frescoes and other artwork, but they're not that good, and I hate to tell you, but you're just going to have to go to Rome and the Vatican yourself. (I know, I know...I'm SORRY.) When we finally got to the actual Chapel, it was the following things:

1. Small.
2. Crowded.
3. Impressive.
4. Marked by a bima (Hebrew for stage), and a Jesus-menorah (No, really, it was a sculpture of Jesus on the cross, with three candles on either size. He was the Shamash / tall candle. Bizarre.)

The Sistine chapel also had a mechitza (traditional Jewish congregations use these to separate men and women during prayer) that probably wasn't for what Jews use it for, and prophets frescoed at the tops of the walls. I felt like it could be turned into a synagogue pretty easily. Maybe I'm just used to Judeo-Christian worship space construction? Probably.
In the Sistine Chapel. I think this one is called "Yom Kippur". Just kidding.
The pictures would've been prettier, but the guard kept on telling me not to take pictures.

Sara Beth loves being silly with artwork.
Those are some LCD screens for Da Popa!

Aaron and I enjoyed the guard, who knew one English phrase: "No photography, please." Then we went to the big courtyard outside of the church and to see St. Peter's Basilica, which is shockingly NOT made out of basil. But we were hungry, so we peaced out and went to get food. We walked all the way to by his school, and got some pizza, at a place recommended by a friend. Again. So good. (Gelato count still at 2, sadly.)

St. Peter's Square.
Pretty bridge over the Tiber...on the way to get more food. Shocking.

After the pizza, we walked to the Trevi Fountain, but first we got GELATO (Gelato count: 3) at "the best place in Rome" - Aaron. It was pretty good. I think that time I got strawberry and chocolate, and this time, I got it in a cone. Yum! Anyway, the Trevi Fountain was crazy. It was so huge, and kind of just squashed in some little intersection. It was crawling with tourists, so I took a few pictures and then Aaron and I went to the Spanish Steps. They were pretty, but we were at the bottom of them, so they were not breathtakingly impressive. Just pretty cool.
Ahhhh, a delicious drink in a long, narrow can. Apparently, I like taking pictures of Aaron drinking.
Hi there, Trevi Fountain!
Trevi Fountain. Lovely. Beautiful.
More pretty fountain.

After the steps, we were both pretty beat, so we started on our way back to his apartment. We stopped at the Colosseum (amazing place to meet up, right?) to see his work friends. Aaron works for Pub Crawl Rome, which brings tourists on a trip around to a few bars and one club EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Aaron has school, so he doesn't work every night. He said hi to his friends and we went back to his place to chill out before we had a great Italian dinner at a place across from his apartment. I love pizza. (I think the pizza count will surpass gelato, but I don't feel like going back and counting.) And panna cotta. And tiramisu. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmm.

After dinner, we were off to Pub Crawl! The Pub Crawl meets at the Spanish Steps and that's where I sat, waiting for the party to start, when some crazy people in pajamas started doing some performance art. Afterwards, seeing as how I am more of an occasional sipper, I did not pay the full fee for the unlimited power hour and reduced cost drinks, but I did hang around with the group, and took a pretty crazy detour to the Tiber with Aaron to walk and talk. The rest of the evening included some youngin' girls on the crawl who complimented my dancing skills (I should go out dancing more) and then the inevitable rush home to crash into bed.
Kind of like Improv Everywhere, people filed into the Spanish Steps and they were "sleepwalking" around for a while, pretending to fall asleep on people's shoulders.
Aaron becomes a "victim."
Then they started with the tooth brushing concert. Their leader conducted with a toothbrush.
Instruments READY...and for the finale, they gargled and spit on the plaza in front of the Spanish Steps.
Night Tiber.

I had to get ready for my last day in Rome...and my trip back to the Land of Israel!

There was morning. There was evening.
The ninth day.