Sunday, December 30, 2012

Five Month Mark in Israel/Three Month Mark in Yahel

I have officially been in Israel for 5 months and doing the Yahel program for 3 months. A lot has happened in these last 5 months. During our most recent check-in, we talked about narratives of our time here. I had some trouble writing my narrative at the moment, but after reflecting on it, I've been able to identify different parts of my story here.

Part I. Jewel
My first month in Israel, taking part in a Jewish studies program for women, I learned so much about Judaism that I didn't know before. I started learning about Jewish theology and connecting to Judaism in a different way. I simultaneously feel so close to and so far from Judaism, and I have realized that I want to continue learning and growing.

Part II. Travel
I had the opportunity to travel around Israel and see a lot of the Christian sites with a friend of mine. Then, we traveled to Greece, took a cruise around the Greek isles, and flew to Budapest. Getting back to Israel, I spent nearly a week in Eilat with a trip to Petra before spending Rosh Hashanah with a family near Tel Aviv. I took a lot of time to reflect on being away from the US and in a new country that I barely know.

Part III. Beginnings of Yahel
I was excited about the beginning of the program and getting to the know the community, but felt insecure about being able to connect with people along with a frustration with getting acclimated to living with 7 other people.

Part IV. The War
Experiencing what I had only previously heard about on the news, I gained a new perspective on the conflict here in the Middle East. To stay clear of the rockets, we fled to the north, which was so peaceful and beautiful and completely different from the south. After news of the bus bombing (on the day I turned 26), I had again a new perspective on what it is like to live in Israel.

Part V. Making Progress
After getting back from Chanukah Break in Germany, I have finally started to feel like my relationships here are strengthening, especially with my host family and my shabab (the girl I tutor one night a week), along with a few others I've met. I've also begun to feel at home in Israel. While my Hebrew is still incredibly limited, I feel like I know my way around and not frustrated as much as when things are slow or inconvenient, don't work the same as in the States, or are not what I prefer.

Though there are still lots of frustrations, I'm looking forward to the next six months of the program, where I feel like I will continue to learn, continue to strengthen relationships, and continue to make an impact. Cheers to the new year!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Complexity. Hineini.

One of my favorite quotes is the following:
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief.
Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
-Unknown (attributed to the Talmud)

Another translation I found for the last line that comes from the Talmud is, "It is not for thee to complete the work, but neither art thou free to abandon it." (Fathers of the Mishna - Tractate Aboth, II).
The quote in Hebrew for those who want it:
ב,יט  [טז] הוא היה אומר, לא עליך כל המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל

I think we are all thinking about the enormity of the world's grief right now, whether it is politics, gun laws, mental health, civil struggles, refugee crises, natural disasters, or accidents. Many people ask why. Why do these things happen? Why is there poverty and sadness? Why do bad things happen to good people? If you believe in G-d, you may ask why wasn't there an intervention? If you don't believe in G-d, you may ask what is the role of society and the individual to change things? Why haven't we done enough?

I really don't think it matters why things happen. It may help you feel more comforted in some way and that's great, but I think the more important thing to consider is that quote at the beginning of the post. While I love the version I stumbled upon, I think there is something to be said about the other translation.

We will never complete our work, according to the second translation. And it's really important that we acknowledge that. We will never complete our work. But neither are we free to abandon it. Even when we feel completely overwhelmed because there are too many problems. Even when we feel there is no possible way to change the world because problems are just too complex.  Even when we feel absolutely depressed because we are burned out and frustrated. We still need to remember to keep going. Even the smallest, seemingly insignificant act of kindness does make a difference. Giving your time to a cause you believe in, saying thank you to someone who helps you, and being involved in your community all make a difference.

There will be events that we can't stop, can't predict, can't change. Showing compassion, supporting each other, and continuing to recognize the good in life and in people can help keep you going.

This morning, my cohort and I discussed different interpretations of Chanukah. One interpretation is that for Hasidic Jews, Chanukah is "about seeking one's inner life and rededicating oneself to that small burning candle" (Rabbi Steve Greenberg), or to remember your goal and the path you are taking to get there. I'm here in Israel this year to see social change playing out in front of me and being involved in it as much as I can. I am recognizing that my actions are minute on the scale of social change, but they count.

Here I am, Hineini

I am present in this world. I am trying my best. I am putting forth the effort I can to do tikkun olam, to repair the world, in a way that I can, with the ability that I have. And that's all I can do. I'm going to end this post with some thoughts on Hineini, which translates to Here I am. I hope that you, too, will be present and remember that there is good in the world. All over the world. But it is much easier to focus on the bad. Focus on the good, aspire for and seek the good, and remember to be here.

Happy Chanukah.

 The quotes below are taken from:

Here I am, Hineini
Hineini is the moment of crossing the line, of making the decision, of claiming the path. Hineini is that moment of response to a situation in the world, to the cry of another person. There are many reasons to ignore the cry. There is only one reason not to: the clear knowledge that it is for this reason that you are here, that responding to that cry is part of what it means to be a person created in the image of God.
I recognize this moment in a black-and-white photograph of Diane Nash from 1961. The snapshot shows Nash as a young, courageous civil rights organizer in Nashville; she is looking straight ahead and her face is projecting both an understanding of what is ahead and an indomitable determination.
Diane Nash organized the second wave of Freedom Riders after the first wave was stopped by violence in Anniston and Birmingham, Alabama. Even though most of the first group ended up in the hospital as a result of racist violence abetted by the police, Nash defiantly organized the second ride to prove that massive violence was not going to stop the nonviolent campaign.
That black-and-white photograph of the beautiful 20-something organizer, looking determinedly into the coming maelstrom, screams in its silent dignity “hineini.”
Rabbi Aryeh Cohen, a Sh’ma Advisory Committee member, is a professor of Talmud at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. He is author of the forthcoming book, Justice in the City: Toward a Community of Obligation. In July 2010, he was arrested for civil disobedience while demonstrating in support of Unite Here, the workers union fighting the Chicago-based Hyatt Hotels Corp.

Here I am, Hineini
Hadar Susskind
"Hineini” means “here I am” but the power of the phrase is far greater. It is the acceptance of a charge; taking on a task or responsibility. Hinieni. I was enveloped by it as I stood guard in Beaufort in Lebanon, buttressed by it as I rose to speak as a delegate at the World Zionist Congress, inspired by its ancient call as I walk the halls of Congress. Like my ancestors before me, I am here. Hinieni.
Hadar Susskind is vice president of policy and strategy at J Street.

Here I am, Hineini
Erica Brown
In a world full of distractions, the proper way to translate “Hineni” today is “I am fully present.” I am fully present in my life. I am fully present with my children. I am fully present in my job. I am fully present when I am in conversation with you. I am fully present as a servant of God. This means paying closer attention to the sacred duties I assume and trying to live on higher ground. I am fully present as a Jew. I am fully present as a citizen of the world, partnering in its perfection. Being fully present today — with the challenges of technology — cannot be assumed. It is hard work; an aspiration.
Erica Brown, scholar-in-residence at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, is the author, most recently, of In the Narrow Places: Daily Inspiration for the Three Weeks (OU/Koren).


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Reflection on the Past Week or So

I've received more than a few messages in the last week asking if I'm safe, how things are here, what is actually going on, and if I want to come home yet.
The short answer: I was/am completely safe, things are good, on-going rocket fire (which has now thankfully stopped), and no, I don't want to come home yet.
The long answer:
Since last weekend in Acco, we reconvened with our group in Zichron Ya'acov, where the ED of Yahel lives. We then took a bus to Kibbutz Hanaton, a kibbutz associated with the Conservative Judaism movement. The north is green and beautiful, and it didn't seem that we were in Israel anymore. We originally were supposed to have a seminar in the north next week on community, and luckily, we were able to just move it up one week. While we kept watch on the news, we used the time away from Gedera in the best way possible.
Our topic during the seminar was community, and we visited the Druze community along with exploring the kibbutz where we were staying and two more kibbutzim. The Druze follow a monotheistic religion, and they do not have claim to any land, per se. Our guide served in the Israeli army for more than a decade and was committed wholeheartedly to protecting Israel. There are Druze communities in Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan that would serve in those armies, too. Our guide for the day told us about the community and the work his organization does in the city of Mughar, which is similar to work that Friends by Nature does with the Ethiopian Israeli community, in an effort to combat at-risk behavior among youth and to instill a sense of pride in Druze youth. Our guide's family ran an olive farm, and we had the opportunity to not only eat a delicious meal at an olive farm, but we also got to harvest some olives ourselves! To do this, you use a stick to hit the branches while the olives fall to the ground onto a tarp. It was hard work!
On Wednesday (my birthday), we traveled with a tour guide throughout the north to look at the history of kibbutzim in Israel and see an urban kibbutz. We started the day at a cemetery where pioneers of the kibbutz movement were buried, many of whom died under tragic or sad circumstances. It overlooked the Kinneret, which was beautiful. We visited the first kibbutz in Israel and an urban kibbutz. The urban kibbutz differed from the traditional idea of a kibbutz that we know, and the individuals were passionate about social justice in Nazareth Illit. They were looking to move into one building, but currently live in rented apartments throughout the community. Smaller groups of about 10 people share money and work together to create a smaller intentional community. There is a total of about 80 people in the kibbutz. I found this discussion incredibly intriguing, and I liked the idea of an intentional community.
After harvesting beets for food donations and taking a bike ride through the country, we spent a peaceful and restful Shabbat also on Kibbutz Hanaton. Even so, I'm glad to be back in Gedera. The week away gave me a lot to think about - not only because of the rockets, the bus bombing, and my birthday, but also I was able to read books from the library and enjoy seeing a different part of the country. While learning about intentional communities, I was also prompted to think about our own intentional community. We have problems, but we also have strength, and I think our commitment to success this year in Gedera (regardless of how we define success) helps us work through our problems, even when it's rough. Being a part of an intentional community isn't easy. If it was easy, social change would probably come about much quicker.

Olive Farm


Sunset on our bike ride

Sunset on our bike ride

Friday, November 16, 2012

Things change so quickly

We first heard sirens on Saturday, November 10. They weren't directly in Gedera, but just south, where a rocket landed in I believe Gan Yavne or near the highway near us. We huddled into the safe room, even though we hesitated at first because we weren't sure what it was. Even though we had had the test the week before and talked about it, you still aren't sure if what you hear is the siren. Since then, there were more rockets fired at southern Israel, and we followed the news to see what was going on. We were shaken, but thought things were okay since we were on the periphery of the zone deemed to be targets for the rockets.

On Wednesday, we traveled to Jerusalem for the Sigd celebration. My blog about that will be up on the Yahel blog early next week (I will link to it). After getting back to Gedera, we heard about Operation Pillar of Defense. Southern cities of Sderot, Beer Sheva, and Ashkelon, along with cities closer to us like Gan Yavne, Kiryat Malachi, and Ashdod, have been hearing sirens and suffering from rockets. Numbers of rockets falling in Israel are cited at 120 just last week and over 800 since the beginning of the year.

Wednesday night, we didn't really think about what was going on south of us, but sometime after 11pm on Wednesday we heard another siren. We went back into the safe room. It stopped after less than 30 seconds but our program coordinator said to stay for at least 10 minutes after the sirens stopped. We were better prepared this time, but still unnerved. My adrenaline was rushing that night and I stayed up longer than I wanted to, though I was tired. That night, we could hear a lot of Air Force airplanes going over head. Gedera is next to an Air Force base. At 6am, I woke up to the sound of an airplane and checked the news, then finally went back to sleep around 7. We were woken to the sound of louder sirens at around 8:15 and went into the safe room. Those were the Gedera sirens, but nothing fell near us. We were scheduled to have learning sessions at the house (a lively discussion on Zionism went as planned but our second was cancelled). We heard more sirens again later that morning and booms that were probably the sound of the Iron Dome shooting down rockets, but they were definitely farther away. We were tense, mainly because every sound outside was perceived to be a siren, even when they weren't.

MASA and our program staff made the decision to have us leave the area as a precaution, since we didn't know what was going to happen and we were in the so-called grey zone. MASA programs south of us had been evacuated already. I'm now staying in Akko and we are waiting to hear what happens next.

Here are my thoughts on the situation:
1. The media in the US is so skewed. It keeps talking about Israeli aggression, but only down at the bottom of the article, if even, do they mention rockets coming from Gaza.
2. Things are more complicated than they seem. Yes there are issues from and on both sides, but please don't see one side as being completely correct or completely wrong. I have tons of questions and some skepticism around news reports, but I also know what has happened here in the last few weeks.
3. Now that rocket fire from Gaza has been reaching closer to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, I think this will be a bigger thing than we had anticipated. Even so, I want my friends reading this from outside of Israel to know that rockets coming to Israel are not targeted in certain places. It isn't like they are pointing rockets at military bases, etc. The IDF is at least trying to take out ammunition stockpiles. The sad thing is that the rockets are appearing to be launched from areas with high population density.
4. I'm hoping that things calm down soon. I'm concerned for our friends in Gedera and I don't want to leave Israel yet.

Feel free to email me or message me with any questions about what is going on here. If you are interested in reading the news, check international news sources, such as ynet news, Times of Israel, and others. Always check multiple sources to see what the facts are and read critically.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

עורית Hebrew, Zionism, and Identity

Hebrew is one of the two official languages in Israel. It is the language of the Jews, the holy language, and the ONLY "dead" language in the world to be resurrected as a spoken language. It is also inherently Zionist. When the first immigrants started coming to Israel, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda was one of the proponents of Hebrew instruction in school, and apparently it was to help make a distinction between Israel and the Diaspora.

I learned basic Hebrew in Hebrew School growing up, mainly the letters and enough to be able to read prayers during services, though the transliteration was the most helpful. For a long time, I could say I read Hebrew, but I didn't know what I was reading (still don't most of the time). Over the years, prayer books having English and transliteration became more important and I frequently only knew prayers well enough to follow along with the transliteration, singing the tune by memory and getting help with the words from transliteration.

As I've grown older and started to explore Judaism more, Hebrew has become more important for me to know and to understand. Modern Hebrew is different from Classical Hebrew, but I feel that it will be helpful regardless. Since coming to Israel, I started thinking about the political implications of speaking Hebrew, and I've started to learn more about Zionism. Zionism defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a movement for (originally) the re-establishment and (now) the development and protection of a Jewish nation in what is now Israel." The definition on Wikipedia states, "Zionism is a form of nationalism of Jews and Jewish culture that supports a Jewish nation state in territory defined as the Land of Israel. Zionism supports Jews upholding their Jewish identity and opposes the assimilation of Jews into other societies and has advocated the return of Jews to Israel as a means for Jews to be liberated from anti-Semitic discrimination, exclusion, and persecution that has occurred in other societies." I'm slowly learning about Zionism and its controversies. I spoke recently with a friend about opposition to Zionism on the basis of how problematic nationalism is, but I also have spoken with people about the importance of maintaining Jewish identity and culture(s). For me personally, I know my Jewish identity is very important to who I am as a person, and I want Judaism to be a source of strength and community for myself and my future family. However, I don't think that it is a problem for Jews to live in the Diaspora, and in fact, I think it is beneficial for the both us Jews and the world. Israel has its place in the world, but so do Jews living in the United States, Argentina, Australia, and South Africa.

Throughout my time here in Israel, I think I will be learning more and more about Zionism and figuring out my own beliefs on the topic. It is controversial and it is not perfect. My knowledge of written and spoken Hebrew may be political, but it also contributes to my Jewish identity. Essentially, a question I hope to continue to explore is, what are the political implications of being Jewish and maintaining an outwardly Jewish identity in this world, both in Israel and in the Diaspora (another political term)?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Jerusalem and Rockets & Sirens

It's been a busy last week, since we started most of our placements. Last Thursday, we went to Jerusalem, starting at Mount Herzl to see the memorial for Ethiopian Jews who died on the way to Israel. The memorial is in a weird place and you have to walk through a gate to get there, but you can't get back through the gate, so we walked through the woods to get back on the path. We don't know if that was an intentional part of the visit or not. I'm not convinced it is. The memorial had stone dojos (traditional Ethiopian houses) and written testimonies of some individuals' experiences. I read a prayer and a short poem I found online and then we had a short discussion about what we thought. I liked that we saw a part of Mount Herzl that we hadn't seen on Birthright. Apparently, many Israelis don't even know that it is there (and it was only completed a few years ago to commemorate those who died on the trek in 1984). So, it was pretty cool to see it.

We then met up with a tour guide to hear more about Ethiopian Christians in Israel. It was an educational day! We toured the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and learned about the struggle over the claim to the roof between the Coptic Christians and the Ethiopian Christians. After eating the best hummus in the old city (I'm not even kidding - it's across from one of the stops of the Via Dolorosa trail), we walked through the Arab market to the Ethiopian Church. Unfortunately, it was closed, but we still got to see the outside. The tour guide left us then and we went to meet Kasa, an Ethiopian Jewish activist who lives and works in Jerusalem. She told her amazing story and we were able to ask questions.

I stayed in Jerusalem for Shabbat and had a lovely time with my Hebrew teacher from Jewel and her family. I also met another girl who is living in Jerusalem. So good to meet new, cool people! Then, it was back to the grind Saturday night - back on the bus, that is. The transition from Shabbat to the rest of the week I think is much harder when you keep Shabbat. All of sudden, you are thrown back into life of technology and transportation and it absolutely breaks away from that calm and quiet you have during Shabbat. I don't keep every Shabbat, but when I do, it's always new and I always learn something about other people, myself, and the world in which we live.

Monday night, we went back to Jerusalem for the MASA opening event, which included one hour of MASA promotion and then the Idan Raichel Project came on. The beginning was ridiculous and over the top. But the Idan Raichel Project was so amazing. I wish we could have stayed longer, but alas, we had to get back to Gedera. I'm hoping to get some of his music because it was really great!

On Tuesday, we had ulpan as usual. In the middle of the class, after break, the siren starts going off. We all stop and wonder what we need to do. Thankfully it was just a drill, and apparently the other ulpan teacher knew about it. Our program coordinator came in and confirmed that it is just a drill, no need to worry, and we will have a discussion about it later. Our ulpan teacher didn't seem too fazed by it, and we briefly had a discussion about better to have rockets than natural disasters which you can't get away from, really. I thought about the tornado sirens at home and how scared I always am when I hear those sirens. The sirens sound the same here, and everyone knows what to do when they go off. In the States, I always had a plan for what to do in case of a tornado. While you can't really escape either, the point the ulpan teacher made about better have rockets than natural disasters really made me think. Is it better? I don't know. It's just a different threat. I'm sure an Israeli in St. Louis during tornado season would be terrified (although probably not because Israelis seem to know what to do in case of an emergency). Regardless, while the chance of rockets coming to Gedera are very, very slim, it is good to know exactly what to do when sirens go off, and we had a discussion after ulpan to remind us. (Don't worry, Mom and Dad! Everything is good here!) Just another part of life in Israel.

By the way, I'm working on uploading photos from my trip thus far. Please be patient and I'll post the link when I have them all online! Have a good rest of your week and Happy Halloween for those celebrating it!

Monday, October 22, 2012

בית ספר ומשרד

Last week, we started our major placements in the community. One of the places I will be volunteering at is the Pines school (pronounced like penis or pea-nes). I feel that there are so many differences between the schools here and the ones in the US. The biggest difference which I feel I'm going to have a problem with is classroom management and discipline The classroom is chaotic. Pure chaos. And it doesn't seem to me that the students really listen to authority. When the teacher asks them to be quiet or sit down or do a certain exercise, there is a constant struggle. It seems like there is a lot of threatening of repercussions but there is no punishment that will make a difference. The teacher tries to give positive reinforcement but it doesn't seem to be enough. Stickers or small candies are not enough to make students want to behave. I think it is just part of the culture. All the classrooms seem to be the same. At the least the few that I have seen. I will need to start bringing games that will hopefully catch the kids' attention more. It was so hard. I'm comparing this experience to when I worked in the first grade class in Atlanta for a few months. In the US, there is respect for authority. The students call the teachers by their last name and when you are misbehaving, there are consequences that matter. Also, the students want to please the teacher. There is order. Kids are not all over the place. They don't all crowd around the teacher and yell to get their way repeatedly. I feel it is going to be a challenging year but I hope I can help with English (and as my Hebrew gets better, it will be easier).

I also started working in the חברים בתבה (Friends by Nature) office. This is the nonprofit that facilitates the projects in seven Ethiopian communities throughout Israel. I will be working on a project to help Ethiopian Israelis prepare for the application for the shluchim program. This is a Jewish Agency program that brings Israelis to work at Jewish summer camps. Ethiopian Israelis are disadvantaged in the application process and we are trying to prepare those individuals who are interested in participating in the program in preparing for the intensive interview process. The application deadline is in the next few months so we don't have much time to pull everything together.

I haven't begun my shabab, where I will be tutoring English in the home, and I haven't started another English teaching group where I will get the opportunity to teach older men and women (25-50 years) whose Hebrew is more advanced but the learning will all be oral. While it will be challenging, I think it will be really rewarding for all involved.

This weekend I am going to Jerusalem. We are having a one day seminar on Thursday about Ethiopians in Jerusalem and then a few of us are staying Thursday night at a hostel (that's the plan anyway) and I will be spending Shabbat with my Hebrew teacher from Jewel and her husband.

שבוע טוב!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Neighborhoods and community

I have lived in a few different types of communities. I grew up in a suburb, went to college in a semi-rural area with fewer than 18000 people, lived in the mountains for a few summers on a camp, studied abroad in a city on a harbor with about 394,000 people, spent a year in St. Louis in the city, and I'm now living in Israel in a town with fewer than 20,000 people. While it is not rural like Carlisle, it is not a city like St. Louis. All these places have had different vibes and perhaps different definitions of community.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, it was quiet. People knew each other, maybe not everyone on the street or in the neighborhood, but we were close with people who may have lived a few doors down and we checked in on own neighbors who were older adults. Kids could play in the street, well some of the streets and I remember riding bikes in the neighborhood with friends without parental supervision a few times. Our suburb was definitely a community and worked to become an independent city by 2005.

College was different from this, obviously, and it could be louder into the night because of parties or people up and about late into the night. There were pockets of friends and you sometimes lived with your friends and sometimes not. In the dorms, we may have regarded each other at times and not at others. We didn't get to choose where we lived or who we lived with until we were upperclass, but it still worked. We were Dickinsonians and if we run into others who went to school there, even if they were in a different year, we are all members of the community of Dickinson alumni.

Last year, living in a city for the first time, I got used to noises from the street, and I remember being woken up by a domestic dispute one morning in winter when it appeared someone was kicking another person out of their house. My apartment building for the first 6 months there was filled with half young people in their 20s and half over 40. I didn't know my neighbors. For the next 6 months I lived in a building filled with mainly young professionals and graduate students, and again I didn't know my neighbors. While the neighborhood was quiet sometime, it was clear that I was in a city and there were times of day I wouldn't go out by myself and places nearby that I wouldn't go alone. I was involved with a nonprofit and a community of Jewish young adults who lived in different areas throughout the city and worked or studied different things. Being Jewish, we had a connection that brought us together.

The neighborhood I am living in now is different yet again from all my previous experiences. It is often loud, mostly with the sound of children. Sometimes it is playful, but I hear a fair share of crying children and yelling between adults. Most mornings I am woken to the sound of a particular child who is always crying. Children hang out in the streets in large numbers with one or two adults and stay out even when it is dark. The Shapira neighbors where I live in Gedera seems to be small, but welcoming.

At a barbecue the other night, we had a discussion about what makes a community a place where we want to live, and many of the answers had to do with knowing your neighbors, feeling safe, good facilities and schools, and a general sense of belonging in the community. Every place I've lived has been different but I have been able to fit in somehow. While many the above observations are concerned with the physical surroundings, and Gedera definitely is different than anywhere else I have lived, I think that the feeling of belonging is important and as we get more involved in the community, I hope that I can feel like more of a member of the community rather than an outsider Just before sukkot, we talked about temporary living, like the Jews wandering the desert for 40 years. This is my home for the next 9 months and while I am only here for a short time, it is important to me to feel like a member of the community, both within our house of Yahelnikim (the Yahel participants) and in the Gedera community. The group of Yahelnikim go together because we all have an interest in social change and what we are doing here, but we also are a group a strangers getting to know each other and live harmoniously in a house for the next 9 months - like the Real World but actually unscripted and hopefully without the drama.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Beginning of the year

Not only is this the beginning of the new Jewish calendar but it is also the beginning of my year as a Yahel participant. For those of you who don't know, Yahel works with partners in Gedera and other nearby cities in Israel to work with the Ethiopian Israeli population. For more information on their programs and the organization, check out

We are now three days into the Yahel program and I could not be more excited about this year. There are 8 of us participants living and working together, and we are from all over -California, New York, Virginia, Canada, and Georgia. We are three men and five women with varying Jewish backgrounds and Hebrew ability. I am the oldest and most of the rest of the group just finished college.

We are living in a house with 5 rooms and 2.5 baths. We have a nice kitchen and an outside patio. We have air conditioning downstairs but not in our rooms. That isn't going to be a problem in the next few weeks because even now it gets chilly at night.

Gedera is a small town with about 20,000 people south of Tel Aviv. The neighborhood is nice and everything we need is within walking distance. The big thing about Israel is they don't have one-stop shops like Target or even the big grocery stores where you can get almost everything you need from one place. Stores here are small and have a speciality for the most part. There is this great spice and bulk food store nearby that we found. At the grocery store, there are mainly only groceries although they have a bigger selection of shampoo than the pharmacy. Need envelopes? I went to a store that had kids' toys and they had some paper goods there. There is a health food store that sells Tofutti and seitan but it is pretty expensive. Sometimes I just miss going to one store and getting everything I need (CVS, Kroger, Target)!

Our orientation for the next few weeks will discuss the Ethiopian Jewish experience in Ethiopia and coming to and living in Israel. We have already discussed what our schedule will generally look like once school is in session. We are going to have ulpan (Hebrew language study) every week for the entire 9 months including a four day intensive beginning session during orientation in a few weeks. We will be volunteering much of the week in a few different capacities and learning about 10 hours week. There are a few overnight trips and seminars throughout the country, as well. In the last few days, We also had a traditional Ethiopian meal with injera, lentils, a dish made from chickpeas, and a potato and carrot stew. We also had buna, a traditional coffee "ceremony" from Ethiopia. The coffee is offered in small glasses about the size of shot glasses and we drink 3 rounds though we were told that you don't have to drink it all if you can't handle the caffeine. People typically drink it three times a day and is a time when mainly the women apparently sit and chat.

From the little information we have received about Jewish practice among Ethiopian Jews, we learned that Ethiopian Jews follow a more biblical Jewish practice. Because it is not written in the Torah not to use the radio on Shabbat, that is not prohibited in Shabbat, and because most Ethiopian Jews did not have electricity in Ethiopia, the practices are pretty different from what I have been learning about lately. Also kosher has a different meaning because the Torah only says not to boil a goat in its mother's milk; hence eating chicken and cheese is not a problem. It is so interesting knowing that all the oral law written down by rabbis after the Biblical period are not followed by this Jewish community yet they are very much Jewish and have always been identified as such in Ethiopia. Only after the community has come to Israel and encountered the other Jewish communities has their identity been questioned by the Ashkenazi or Sephardi communities.

I'm looking forward to continue learning this year and I am so excited about how the next 9 months are going to progress. I know the 9 months will be over before I know it.

I hope everyone has an easy and meaningful fast this Yom Kippur!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rosh Hashanah

Shana tova everyone! I spent the holiday with a friend of mine from the Jewel program. It was a thoroughly Latin American/Israeli holiday. The first night we went to the home of a rabbi from Argentina. Everyone spoke Spanish (and some English and some Hebrew but mainly Spanish). Since my Spanish is much better than my Hebrew, I understood at least some of the conversations. Monday morning we went to shul and heard the shofar blow. For lunch we went to a family from New York, so I could participate more in the conversation but for dinner, we had guests over and the conversation was mostly in Hebrew. I am picking up a few more words here and there but I need to study more. Looking forward to ulpan starting next week. We had played a lot of Monopoly (the travel one with the cards instead of the real monopoly) and I read a bit. We went back to shul on Tuesday and then chilled the rest of the day. Tuesday night after chag was over, we watched a movie.

I tend to use this time of the year To reflect on the past year and look ahead to the next year. I usually participate in 10Q (google it) that gives prompt questions every day between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It's amazing how much of a different place physically, mentally, and spiritually I am this year than last year. I think we often forget to stop and reflect on how life changes and where those changes influence you as a person. I'm learning so much about myself and what I want for myself in the future but also I'm leaning about the vast difference and similarities between people and among cultures. Being a backpacker, you meet so many different people and hear their stories. We are all typically trying to make the best of our experiences.

Anyway, I wish you all a happy and healthy new year and year to come!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Travels through next week

I haven't written in a while. I've been too busy traveling! After our cruise, Helen and I spent a day in Athens to see all the sites there and then took a day trip to Delphi. Both are really neat and I really enjoyed learning about and seeing some of the ruins. It is just so crazy to think that these structures were constructed over 2000 years ago and are still standing. Then in Wednesday, we went to Budapest. We got there in the evening and were too tied to really do anything. Plus I started to come down with a cold. By Thursday, my cold was full blown, but we did a 3 hour walking tour, mostly of Buda, then found the Great Synagogue in Pest and went to the Széchenyi thermal baths. That was exciting for a while until I started thinking about all the people in the baths and the bacteria. Then I was ready to get out. We ate dinner at a place that my friend Libby suggested since she lived there for a year and then we went back to the hostel to pack. Some travel stress ensued due to the Lufthansa strike, but everything turned out okay. When I got back to Tel Aviv after midnight of Saturday, I was exhausted. My cold got worse and I spent Saturday in bed. I'm feeling better thanks to medicine!
I've been in Eilat since Monday. I waded in the Red Sea (which is not red but is gloriously chilly) and you dry off within 10 minutes of getting out of the water. Tuesday, I took a jeep tour to Timna Park, a desert near Eilat that has wall carvings from ancient civilizations. Today, I went to Petra, Jordan. It was cool, but a long day for only 3.5 hours at the site. I'm going diving with dolphins tomorrow and then back to Tel Aviv before spending Rosh Hashanah with a friend and her family. I'm hoping to go to Jerusalem next week for a few days before ending back in Tel Aviv to meet up with my group for my program. Looking forward to doing laundry, unpacking, and settling in one place for a while!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Not an upscale ferry

Helen and I booked a four day, three night cruise in the Greek islands a few months ago. My mom was convinced that it was an "upscale ferry." At last, I'm glad to say that it was not an upscale ferry. We started in Athens on Friday morning and left the port around 11am. We spent the day on the boat (I went to the pool and laid out in the sun) and arrived in Mykonos around 4. Mykonos was adorable and we walked through town for a bit. Watching the sun set was gorgeous but there is no way my camera would capture it well enough. Even so, I took lots of pictures. We went back to the boat for a three course dinner and went to bed early. The ship was rocking pretty hard in the middle of the night. We got up early Saturday morning to join our excursion in Kusadasi, Turkey. In Kusadasi, we saw Ephesus with one of the wonders of the ancient world. It was so great to have a tour guide. We wouldn't have known anything that we were looking at without one. They also took us to a rug store (Turkey is known for their rugs) and we watched a demonstration of the different rugs available. They were so amazing but incredibly expensive. I chose to buy a small square that you can put on a table or something. Then we walked through the bazaar on our way back to the ship for lunch. Again I went to the pool after lunch but got sunburnt - oops. In the evening, we stopped in Patmos and we just walked around for a bit. Sunday morning, we woke up to for our trip to Oia Village in Santorini. The island is very pretty and full of shops. I bought a lot of souvenirs and we ate on the island. After getting back to the ship, we promptly took a long nap before dinner. This morning, we had to get off the boat by 7am so we got up early again. The cruise was so nice and relaxing and it actually was not very expensive, even with the excursions.

Today we are finally seeing the sights in Athens and tomorrow we want to take a tour to Delphi before going to Budapest on Wednesday.

Have a good week everyone!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Israel in four days

Helen and I have been traveling for a few days already. We started at the Dead Sea, swimming there for all of 10 minutes until it burned too much to stay in any longer. We stayed at the youth hostel and there was only one other woman in our room but she spoke zero English and zero Hebrew. I think she spoke Korean but I couldn't be sure. The next morning, we took the cable car up to the top of Masada and spent about an hour there. Then we said good bye to the Dead Sea and drove to Jerusalem. After spending too much on parking (and driving in circles) and then finding the hostel parking, we made our way to the Old City and walked along the Via Dolorosa, which is the route Jesus is said to have taken when he was arrested and eventually crucified. We ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and had to read through the guidebook a few times to understand the significance of everything. I still don't understand everything but that is ok. We spent the night at the Abraham Hostel, which is much more like the hostels I remember staying at while traveling in Australia and New Zealand. They had activities, a hang out area with a bar and a pool table, laundry (I love clean laundry so much!), and bigger rooms. We stayed in a 10 bed coed dorm and met one guy from Belgium who was not enthused with Egypt and one guy from California who is considering going to the Aish yeshiva but hadn't made up his mind. At the end of our "what are you doing in Israel?" script, he asked if he could ask a political question. Sure, why not? What do you think of the settlements? ... Um really? I said I didn't know enough too have an informed answer. Which is true. I don't know what he was expecting to hear. He was just out of college from UCLA so I don't know what he was going for. We left the hostel and drove around the Old City (no easy feat when street signs are not visible) and parked close to the Mount of Olives. I was terrified that the car was going to get broken into, but thankfully it did not. We went into the Church of the All Nations and then walked up the hill to see Jerusalem from above the cemetery there. It was breezy but warm and the view was nice. We drove quickly by the Garden Tomb and then headed out of Jerusalem to make our way north to Nazareth. Let me say that our GPS hasn't been the greatest help, but has gotten us at least to the somewhat right direction where I can find the correct signs to point us on our way.
We made it to Nazareth and of course the hostel we are staying at is not located on a street with a name so we drove in circles until we found some signs and parked. Then we checked in and had to move to car. I was completely stressed about damaging the car and having to pay for it but luckily we are okay. Found parking and saw a few churches here that were very cool. Even though we didn't do as much walking today as yesterday, we are both beat. Hopefully it won't be too hot and too noisy to sleep tonight.
Tomorrow we are going to explore Capernum and the Sea of Galilee before heading back to Tel Aviv. I am so excited about going to Greece on Thursday!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

End of program and beginning of vacation

I haven't written in a while. Sorry about that! My first program has officially ended. I'm so glad I went on it. I've learned so much more than I had anticipated. What it has really taught me is that I want to keep learning. There is so much I realized I don't know about Judaism and what I want. One of the big points that we discussed was living a life with gratitude. Everything we have and every experience we have, good and bad, happen to us for a reason, whether it is to make us stronger emotionally or recognize that we aren't being grateful for what we do have - health, love, and sustenance. While I still have so many questions and I'm still learning about myself and what I believe, this program has really shown me a part of Judaism that had never been discussed with me before. We spoke about many philosophical questions that were not talked about in Hebrew school, and we spoke about relationships in a way that I had never thought about before. Of course we would not have talked about that in Hebrew school, but I think that the topics we covered are really helpful to me now in identifying what I want out of life and how I want to lead my life. I still don't know yet, and I'm still learning and growing, as I will throughout my life, but this program has made me begin to consider things I have not before or has given me the opportunity to begin to understand how to begin thinking about Judaism's role in my life.

The next two weeks will be spent vacationing with my friend Helen! We are in Israel now and then we will head to Greece for a cruise and to Budapest for a day and a half before I return to Israel to travel some more and she returns to the States to go back to work.

Monday, August 13, 2012


This past Shabbos, we had a free weekend, meaning we could leave Jerusalem and do what we want from Thursday evening through Sunday at 1:30 when we were expected to be back for lunch. One of the other participants and I went to Tzfat. The entire ordeal was so typically Israeli and bizarre.

We left Friday morning to catch the bus that should have departed at around 9am. On the website for the bus service, there's a note that says all departure times are approximate. We assumed that meant 5 or 10 minutes or so. Actually that meant that 3 full buses passed by the stop, late, and then they sent for another bus. Before the fourth bus came, at one point, we were pushing to get on a bus and Elle grabbed my hand and said we are either both getting on this bus or neither! Luckily, we got on the fourth bus (leaving about an hour after the original time) and had seats. The driver was incredibly angry and yelled at some British travelers, though we didn't understand what was going on because it was all in Hebrew. When we finally made it to Tzfat, one passenger got off and dropped her sunglasses so she requested that the driver open the door again. They were not on the bus and he yelled at her. We were just sitting there laughing awkwardly.

We figured that would be the extent of the weirdness, but it just continued. We arrived at the hostel and all the receptionist did was give us the key. We had given our credit card number over the phone but she didn't ask to see them or anything. We dropped our stuff in the room and went for a walk down to the artist's colony. After eating some great falafel and Elle buying gifts, we went back to the hostel. There were a lot of people around. There was a short lecture that I didn't understand and then there was an "orientation" during which the few English speakers including Elle, two girls from our dorm, me, and then two Hebrew speakers introduced ourselves and were prompted to say when we felt G-d's presence. We English speakers were like uhh. The other two girls were cool. One was from San Francisco living in Israel for the summer to get inspiration for her art degree. The other was on an 8.5 month round the world trip with her boyfriend who was in Portugal and was going to meet her soon. She was from Melbourne, Australia and is starting a job in law in March. We received our directions for the family we were going to for the Shabbos meal, and we followed a group who were supposed to take us to where we were going. Elle and I were together. Actually, though, the guy directed us down the wrong street and we had to ask 4 or 5 people for directions. We finally made it to the apartment. However, when we got there, we found that the family did not speak English, except for the mother and the 17 year old son who knew English from rap songs. It was a bizarre meal, though we were able to talk about American music and movies a bit. At one point, the son turns to his 15 year old sister and says, "fuck you bitch!" Elle and I were like, we understand that! It didn't appear the sister understood the meaning and we were shocked and didn't know what else to say. What was so interesting about this family was not that they were religious and had 8 kids, but that oldest son did not wear a kippah and was typical Israeli through and through. He was ecstatic to be joining the army next year. He wanted to be a fighter and said so. I wondered what his family thought about him not wearing tzitzit or a kippah. His mother was not religious until after her army service, so that might make a difference. The fact that I am vegetarian also was not passed on to the family, but I had rice and a potato and lots of the salad from the first course. It was nearly 10pm so I wasn't that hungry anyway.

After dinner, we walked back to the hostel and sat on the porch. It was beautifully breezy and cool. A huge group of Israelis showed up and we started talking with a few in English. That was great and we ended up chatting with them until 1am by which point we decided it was time to go to bed.

The next morning, there was another class, a big second meal, and then we promptly went back to the room and took a glorious Shabbos nap. Afterwards there was more food, and a women's circle, which we thought would be a good discussion but we ended up just singing and talking about ways to overcome adversity and rough times. It was pretty intimate for having a discussion with people I don't know. I watched the sunset instead which was so beautiful but by the time the circle was over, I had decided I was ready to go back to Jerusalem. We had the Havdalah service, which was actually fun with music and dancing (gender segregated).

After 36 strange and uncomfortable hours, we assumed it would be easy to get back to Jerusalem but we were wrong! We woke up early Sunday morning to catch the first bus back to Jerusalem. It was full and by the third stop there were people standing. There was a commotion with one guy trying to get on the bus and again, the aggravated speech was in Hebrew so we weren't sure what was going on. Apparently, there was another bus that might come. The driver turned the bus off for a few minutes and another passenger went up to try to get this guy off the bus. We weren't sure if there wasn't enough space or what. Finally after 5 minutes, the driver started the bus again and people clapped and we were on our way.

I'm not sure this post really conveys the feeling of the bizarre weekend, but I definitely experienced some culture shock and was incredibly glad to get back to Jerusalem.

Things I learned about Israel this weekend:
1. The bus system is not standardized. It can take much longer than you expect to go places if you take the buses.
2. My limited Hebrew really makes it difficult. Not everyone speaks English. Even so, I had a great conversation with an Israeli Friday night in English.
3. I think Israelis are New Yorkers on steroids. Think about how they drive (like they own the road and you are obviously in their way), talk (passionately and with chutzpah), and act (no real manners). On the other hand, Israelis can be so incredibly welcoming even when they know nothing about you or your story.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


I apologize for not writing in a few days. A lot has happened since I last wrote, though. I had my first Shabbos in Israel for the year, and we have taken a number of really great thought-provoking classes.

For Shabbos, we went to the Aish building and lit candles then sang Lecha Dodi before heading down to the Kotel to pray or dance or sing or simply experience Shabbat. I have gone to the Kotel for Shabbos before and it is really amazing. There are Jews from all over who are observant, non-observant, just passing through, or Israeli and they all come to the Kotel to celebrate Shabbos. It is really do amazing and I think everyone should have the experience of celebrating Shabbos at the Kotel at least once. It is loud and you can hear the singing and praying and feel the fullness of the energy even when you aren't at the Kotel yet. We ate Shabbos dinner at Aish and then walked home.

On Shabbos, we slept in late and then had meals, a few classes, free time, and eventually Havdalah down the street.

Sunday is like the beginning of the week again. We had to get up early and we had some amazing classes. Starting with an ongoing class on women's role in Judaism, we spoke about the feminist movement. I didn't agree with the interpretation of the feminist movement, but it helps to identify how the Orthodox movement in general views the feminist movement. We will be touching upon all the questions of Jewish womanhood in the next few classes on that topic. Next wad a bit of ulpan, or Hebrew class. I thought it was so helpful and I have a few phrases I can say. Clearly I can't speak in long conversations but I can ask simple questions and know some of the responses. This week our themes of the classes have encompassed G-d, the physical world, the spiritual world, and the divine origins of the Torah. These are ideas and arguments I have never heard before and it has been so incredibly interesting and made me really think. I have so many questions, but I am starting to understand the idea of G-d and Torah from the Jewish perspective, and what I find most intriguing is that these are topics and discussions that we have never had in Hebrew school or other Jewish discussions I've had. This is the core of what Judaism believes yet my Conservative Jewish synagogue did not even touch on the idea of G-d or why we believe what we believe. Yesterday, we participated in the Aish Discovery program, a one-day seminar that seeks to prove that the Torah was divinely given. The three afternoon sessions really were intriguing. The first was given by the professor Dr. Gerald Schroeder who wrote the book, The Science of G-d, a New York Times best seller. In it he essentially argues how the Bible is correct on creation looking at science and using science. One session was on Torah codes and that section really threw me. This is different from Bible codes in general, and the speaker spoke about peer-reviewed articles in nationally published science journals that discuss the validity of the Torah codes that have predicted everything, from the diabetes solution to terrorist events and natural disasters, along with the names of prominent rabbis and the dates of their deaths. I am so interested in getting my hands on these articles. Finally the last session discussed history and the land and nation of Israel. I bought the book that discusses all these points again so I can reread and process everything we discussed that day.

Today we discussed the purpose and meaning of life. What I liked most about it was that the rabbi spoke that he is not there/here to convince us that G-d exists but rather to be open with our emotions to what we believe. Are we looking and hoping that G-d doesn't exist? If so, then nothing else is going to matter. We spoke about purpose and justice. He essentially said that even though he doesn't feel that there is justice in the world and we get what we may deserve, he is saying that there must be justice elsewhere if a G-d exists. He compared life with games. In all games there is a game designer. Soccer, basketball, monopoly, etc. it is because of the rules of the game that you know when and how and who has won. There can't be purpose in randomness and there must be a game designer who also knows the purpose. If life is random, why are we here? What is the reason? The only way life has purpose, the rabbi argued, was if there is a game designer. We may not understand the goal, but we can strive for it.

Today we also spent about an hour packing boxes of food for the needy in Israel and we had a short discussion on chesed or kindness.

It has been a few very eventful days in class but I'm exhausted, since living in a dorm makes it difficult to sleep. Also sickness has been making the rounds and I'm trying to stay well. Of to sleep! Hope everyone is doing well in the States!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Aish classes

We had our first classes today. In the first, we discussed Shabbat. I know a lot about Shabbat, but as a liberal Jew, I don't feel obligated to keep all the rules and regulations surrounding it. Instead, I celebrate it by staying off Facebook to remind me about making and keeping real relationships rather than technology-driven relationships. Sure that is harder since I don't live in a city with my family and I have friends all over the world, but to me, it is more about face to face, intimate interactions between people. We can hang out together and not necessarily discuss important things, but having a conversation and understanding the nuances of human interactions are very important.

Then, we had a class using the Cain and Abel story to discuss jealousy on a basic level. This will be an ongoing class during which we will explore themes of jealousy in the Torah and how that relates to our lives.

After lunch, we boarded a bus for the Old City where we took a tour of the Aish HaTorah building. The roof has a great view of the Kotel and Temple Mount. We took pictures. One thing that came up was when we heard the call to prayer. I think it is so amazing to hear the call, but I get the feeling that other women in the group have clear biases against Muslims and/or feel that the call to prayer is offensive in some way to their own experience here, unnecessary or illegitimate in the state of Israel. I don't have the language (yet) to explain why I disagree with the views of the other women in the group, but hopefully by the end of my year here, I will be able to say something to this.

The first class at Aish discussed Abraham as the first monotheist. The same idea of questioning everything arose in this class. The second class was the most interesting to me, and it followed the ideas of the Five Levels of Pleasure as written by Rabbi Noah Weinberg that I found on Aish's website at <a href="">this link</a>. The ideas follow Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs somewhat closely, in that physical pleasure is the least advanced form and it goes up to love, doing good for others (or having passion about a cause), creativity, and  then having spirituality, specifically with having a relationship with a higher being. Pretty similar to the Hierarchy of Needs in my opinion. Finally, the third class was taught by a professor from New York, who spoke about the upcoming election and what it means for Jews. I liked the class, but he spoke like a political science professor and it was hard to keep up. It was really his opinion on how Israel and the Jews figure into the upcoming election, in politics generally, and the meaning of that. It wasn't necessarily new information, but good to consider nonetheless.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

First day of Jewel

We had a late start this morning at 10am, which was good because people stayed up late. Everyone is on weird schedules, and I'm hoping that changes soon. People were up until 4 or 5 am when it finally got quiet.

We had an orientation and discussed our schedule for the next three weeks. The education director gave this talk today about the attitude and perspective we should have during the course of the program, and how only we control our mind. She encourages us to question how everything works within our own ideology, but to be open to what is being discussed. What I found interesting is that she said she is so cynical and critical. The point of education is growth and not necessarily just to take blindly what the teacher is saying. Being open to new ideas is important, though. If we know where we are going to be at the end, what kind of journey is it?

It seems that many of the classes are about Jewish concepts, prayer and texts, women in Judaism, and Israeli politics. I'm looking forward to learning more about the conflict which I feel I know almost nothing about.

The women are from all over and from different backgrounds,which should make for interesting discussions.

It is so hot here, but it is a dry heat. So I'm constantly drinking water. I'm amazed at how much I can drink but still need more.

We went on a short tour of Jerusalem today and went to the Kotel for the first of many times. We saw the city from Mount Scopus and then ended at the educational director's house for dinner. Tomorrow we start with our classes.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Old City, Yad Vashem, and Jewel

I walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre today that is in the Old City. I weaves through some alleys and eventually made it back to the Kotel. I heard so many different languages today - Spanish, Italian, Chinese, Greek, English, Hebrew, Arabic, and French. So many people come to Jerusalem since it means so much to each of them. It is really quite amazing.

After the Old Coty, I decided to venture out to a museum. I wanted air conditioning and I wanted something inexpensive. So I found the light rail, which was actually being built the last time I was here, and went to Yad Vashem. I went there before with my Birthright trip, but I got to look around for as long as I wanted this time. There is only so much Holocaust thinking time one can handle. I ate at the cafe there and toon advantage of the free wireless. I considered going to another museum, but I only had two hours and that included travel time. I didn't want to try to figure out the bus system yet, so I went back to the hostel, got my bags, and caught a taxi to my first program.

There are young women from all over on this program - New York, California, Toronto, Ukraine, Minnesota, South Africa, and Israel. Not everyone is Orthodox but some are. I think the mixture may make for interesting discussions. Some women are just out of college, some are still in college, and some are over 30. Tomorrow we will have orientation and get a better sense of what our schedule will be like. We will also go to the Kotel, have a class, and do some sightseeing/orienting to the area and to Jerusalem.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Day 1

I don't think I actually got excited, nor did it actually hit me that I am spending the next year in Israel, until the flight from New York to Tel Aviv took off. I saw the Statue of Liberty as we took off and it was great. I won't see the USA until July 2013. That's a big thing to think about.

Today, being jet lagged, I walked around the Old City and went to the Kotel (Western or Wailing Wall). I walked in circles in the Jewish Quarter attempting to stay awake and hydrated throughout the day. I had forgotten about the number of stray cats and babies. There are children everywhere, hanging out with other kids, unattended by adults, and with their parents.

While many people speak English, it is better to know Hebrew and I unfortunately do not. I'll be working on that.

There will be a lot of spiritual discussions during these first three weeks; we are already having them in this hostel. I don't buy into much of the ideology that will be discussed. I'm incredibly cynical and critical so we will see how this goes.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Previous experiences and initial thoughts

I'm a writer. Always have been, and for every international trip I have taken, I have maintained a journal. The last time I was in Israel (the only time), I was a Birthright participant. I found my journal from the last trip and read through it. I'm amazed at how much that trip has influenced my relationship with Judaism. I slowly introduced certain Shabbat practices into my life - staying off Facebook is the biggest, going to Shabbat dinner if I can, and going to services if I want. And also the idea that I can personalize Judaism to fit me and my life in the way that I see fit. My relationship doesn't impact someone else's relationship or the way they view Judaism, and we can both strongly identify as Jewish.

I don't expect in this next year to find how I see myself in Judaism or how I want to practice Judaism. That isn't necessarily the goal. I expect to learn a lot about the state of Israel and the politics going on there and gain knowledge about Jewish texts, social justice with Jewish values, and learn about what I want in the future. I'm hoping that my volunteer experience with Yahel will help me to determine different options for future jobs and learn about migration and racism in Israel. I'm hoping this Jewish study program I'm starting next week will help me gain textual and cultural knowledge, and I'm interested to hear the experiences of the other women on the program.

I'm a feminist, and that perspective has influenced my view of Judaism greatly. I've learned a lot in the last six months, taking a Jewish class and going to Shabbos lunches in the Orthodox community in St. Louis. Still, my feminist background and perspective on life are not going away, just evolving.

I will be in Israel in less than 4 days and I'm looking forward to it. At the same time, I was/am sad to say good bye to St. Louis and see you later to people who have become important to me in this last year. On to the next adventure!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Leaving St. Louis and Looking forward

For the past year, I've been living in St. Louis, completing a year of service with AmeriCorps. It has been a challenging year, and I am in a completely different place professionally, personally, and mentally than where I was in July 2011. I'm in the process of packing up my belongings to prepare for the move back to Atlanta (for all of one week). Then it is off to Israel for the next 11 months. During the course of my travels, I'll be blogging, reflecting, observing, and exploring.

Here's the tentative plan:

For the first 3 weeks (July 31-Aug 23), I'll be in Jerusalem participating in a Jewish study program for young women under 30.

My friend Helen is coming August 26 and we will travel in Israel for 4 days before heading to Greece on Aug 30. On Sept 5, we'll head to Budapest, and I will be back in Israel on Sept 8.

Then, I'm hoping to go hiking/camping with a group in southern Israel for 5 days.

After that, I have a week that includes Rosh Hashanah and then about 4 days free before my program, the Yahel Social Change Program in Gedera, which begins on Sept 23.