Thursday, March 24, 2011

Today a Bomb Exploded...

Today a bomb exploded at Binyanei HaUma (across the street from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem) around 3:00 PM. At the time I was in a leadership seminar at the Begin Center just 2-4 miles away and knew nothing of the event until about 20 minutes after it occurred. We found out from one of the staff members who worked at the Begin Center and announced it in the hallway during our break. We immediately turned on news reports and it wasn’t too long after that my phone started compulsively ringing with concerned family and friends on the other line. There’s something very surreal about listening to a voicemail from an immediate family member who wants you to call them back to be assured that you’re alive.

Tense. Uncertainty. Fear. Insecurity. Sadness.

It became unfortunately apparent to me today that while the state of Israel is arguably the strongest nation in the world, its existence is yet rather fragile. Rockets are sent roughly on a weekly basis into Beer Sheva and surrounding cities, bus bombings are a natural threat, and terrorist attacks are a familiar scene. Such a significant part of my identity is tied to this country and I feel an underlying sense of sadness today at the new reality of life here to which I’ve been exposed. Every day we continue to fight for this nation.

I remember after 9/11 feeling like there was something I was supposed to do yet I couldn’t define what that “should” was. Well, today that feeling has returned. Perhaps one of the most helpful reminders I received today was that any and all reactions are okay. I’m still confused and trying to make sense of this. Will I feel comfortable getting on the bus tomorrow? I’m supposed to go over to the bus station in 2 days – should I still go anyway? What happens if the situation escalates? I’m not sure I can genuinely resume life “normally” but what else do I do? I don’t want to just freeze my life but I’m also not trying to be a hero here… what does the middle ground look like?

It blew my mind today how many phone calls I received within the first few hours after the bombing from family and friends around the world just checking to make sure I’m okay. How incredibly loved and cared for I feel…

My thoughts are scattered – perhaps that’s evident by the structure of this blog post. I always wondered what it would be like living in Jerusalem and if this sense of insecurity would ever present itself… well, now it has. I wonder what the next few days hold.

The rest of my day has resumed as if nothing happened. I’m okay and don’t want anyone to worry.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Past the Tip of the Israeli Iceberg

I always thought I knew the real “ins” of Israeli culture because I was familiar with words like “sababa” and “achla” and musical artists like HaDag Nachash and Idan Raichel. Well, while I’ve certainly always had a familiarity with the culture here I think it’s fair to say that it was really just the surface of the culture that I knew well. It’s like I could provide a detailed description of the tip of the iceberg yet it was also just the tip of the iceberg. Make sense? I hope so cause it does in my head. Anyway, now that I live here one of the most fun parts of the experience I’m finding is that I'm exposed to this culture on such a much deeper level. I get to see it for it’s beauty, it’s corruption, and everything neutral and in between.

People who know I’m Jewish and have familiarity with Israel often ask: Isn’t it dangerous there? Don’t they ride camels everywhere? And, well, ha, that’s usually all people ever really ask. So, in attempt to dispel the myths, preconceived notions, and in the interest of sharing the beauty and depth of the culture here as I see it,  here’s a list of some of my favorite, most surprising, and most unexpected cultural nuances:

-         Shanti shanti is totally a common term here and I love it!
-         Weekends are Friday and Saturday which still totally confuses me
-         Water conservation is really valued. All toilets have 2 flushers and it’s expected when washing dishes to wash all them with soap before turning on the faucet to rinse. Same goes for brushing teeth – only keep the water on when rinsing.
-         Buses stop on Friday around 3:30 in Jerusalem so you better plan your next 24 hours and all that you’ll need (stores are closed in Jeru) in advance
-         It’s common to wish someone a “shavua tov” (good week) on Saturday evenings
-         Recycling is really encouraged here! Up and down some of the more popular streets you can spot plastic and paper recycling dumpsters
-        The elderly are treated with utmost respect – always invited onto buses before the rest of the crowd rushes on, seats are always given up by the younger passengers, etc.
-         Fresh produce is easy to find and infinitely tastier than produce I've had anywhere else around the world
-         There’s a trend when Israelis finish their military service to travel either to India or South America for several months
-          Iced coffee doesn’t mean coffee with ice but coffee blended with ice
-          Aroma is the Starbucks of Israel only the food at Aroma is much better
-          All the most gorgeous men in the world are concentrated in this country… it’s true :)
-          There’s a push here for many younger people to get involved in politics but there’s so much corruption in the government that younger people are really turned away
-          Already during the month I’ve been here I’ve read several news headlines about terrorist attacks against Israelis and I’ve been disheartened to hear from home that the news hasn’t made it outside Israel (Please take this at face value and don’t look any deeper – I’m making no other political statements or saying anything more other than just simply this.)
-          Many locals assume I’ve made aliya or plan to
-          J-Walking is super illegal—you can and will get a ticket
-          Some of the best sites in the world for bird watching are in Israel
-          While it’s about 3.6 shekels to the dollar the cost of living is just about equal to that in the States
-          Customer service is pretty awful by American standards just about everywhere
-          Tights pants and boots are high fashion
-          Israel serves as an asylum for many African refugees. People who think there’s no such thing as a Black Jew are completely uninformed.
-          It’s always a few degrees cooler in Jerusalem than in Tel Aviv. Jerusalem is also known more for being an academic and religious city while Tel Aviv is where the parties are at
-          Purple is a totally acceptable hair color for Israeli women
-          And… despite popular belief and all the controversy there are actually Jews and Palestinians coexisting peacefully everyday
I'm sure the more time I spend here the more I'll learn about the cultural nuances and I promise to keep you all tuned... 
Aside from all that, take a look below at a few pix from some of my highlights here thus far:
Rach and I went to Binyamina for Shabbat last week to visit a long time family friend. We had an amazing visit full of laughs, rest, and wonderful company. Our last hours were spent exploring the beautiful coast of the Mediterranean Sea just 5 minutes from the house.

Me with Jen and her adorable son Ziv

Chag Sameach! It's Purim here this weekend so we went out last night to fulfill the mitzvah of celebrating the holiday... Rach was a cat and I was an aerobics instructor

We've been on a major health kick in the house and this is Exhibit A - Rach's and my breakfast! We've also now had family dinners at home for the last 5 nights with home cooked meals and contributions from all :)

This is what happens when you're in a house with 6 people and no one has a job yet or anything to do all day... you leave your underwear outside on the drying rack and then find it folded in the kitchen cabinets between the plates! We all better start work soon because I can't even imagine what kind of ridiculousness will otherwise ensue...

Getting ready to go out... from left to right we've got the cat, rock star, and aerobics instructor... so totally representative of our individual and totally different personalities... love it!

5 of my 6 sweet and adorable cousins I met this week! (L-R: Ephraim, Mordechai, Chaim, me, Racheli, and Menachem)

        Last thought: This week I've been missing India a lot... Rachel just wrote the most creative blog that so beautifully illustrates all my thoughts of the week. If it's not posted yet it'll be up in the next few days... Check it out here:

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Israel: Where I'm Meant to Be?

This first week in Israel has been more than I could have asked for - I very spiritually and energetically feel as if at this moment this is really where I'm meant to be. I typically don’t deal with transition too well and while the first few days I was really homesick I can say that things have really turned around, time has flown by, and I feel so at home. In just one short week I’ve already accomplished a ton so here’s a rundown of what I’ve been up to…

Setting into the apartment
Our apartment is in a PERFECT neighborhood called Makor Chaim in the Talpiyot area of Jerusalem. It’s sooooo quiet and yet really centrally located. Rach and I are sharing a room again which we’ve themed Polly Pockets because we have these miniature sized beds and lots of play toys that the landlord left hanging around in our bedroom. The best part of our room though might be the heated floors! I’m pretty much permanently freezing cold so I love waking up with my clothes laid out on the floor overnight and then getting dressed right into their warmth… ahhh :) Those the little things… We also have 2 giant balconies, laundry in our apartment, and best of all is that we don’t have any 14 year old maids!

Living Room

Makor Chaim 14

Our Polly Pocket bedroom and mini sized beds

The view from our living room window

Reconnecting with friends and family
Many family members and friends I grew up with made aaliya (immigrated to Israel) and I’ve been in touch with most of them this week. Coincidentally, I also learned that I live 2 doors down from a friend I grew up with from K-8th grade and kiddy corner from one of my friend's brothers. One of my other friend’s sisters also lives not too far and so it’s really nice having so many friends who I can get together with who are a) not in my program, and b) familiar from home.

Services at the Gilad Shalit tent
The most moving part of the week… Friday night several of my roommates and I attended Shabbat services at the Gilad Shalit tent. Gilad Shalit was a regular Israeli guy who was serving in the army 4 years ago when he was kidnapped by Hamas and held as a prisoner of war. Since then 1 or 2 videos have been released of him alive, seemingly okay, and reading letters to his family. The last one released I believe was 1 or 2 years ago. There is no proof that Hamas is complying with international law meeting the standards for treatment of POWs and it’s unknown whether or not he’s even still alive. Hamas has agreed to free him so long as the Israeli government complies with particular provisions involving the release of POWs here and since the gov’t refuses to negotiate with terrorists Hamas continues to hold him captive. As a result there’s been a large movement of Israelis who have supported the Shalit family and this cause. There’s a tent now set up outside the Prime Minister’s home where his family spends just about all day every day sitting and waiting. A giant sign reading 1713 (on the day I was visiting) that sits above the tent as a reminder of how many days he’s been gone.
How moving it was to be there and pray with his family. I was struck by the normalcy of how his family and others in my presence treated the situation. It occurred to me how incredibly privileged I am to come from a nation that isn’t culturally infused with trauma. At the same time, with that being the case in Israel the people of this culture have learned such a strong ability to learn how to move forward. People here don’t seem to fixate on much and they also know how to get things done. This is something I think us Americans as a whole culture don’t understand because we’re not in a position of having to learn how to operate that way. Anyway, I hope you’ll take the time to visit to educate yourself on this matter and the symbol he’s become for the Israeli people.

I started ulpan (Hebrew immersion course) this week! I’m in the 4th level of 6 which is definitely a good challenge but not too difficult that I can’t understand what’s going on. Most of the other students in my class have made aliya and they’re just about all ages 55+, which is really nice because it reminds me of grad school in that everyone in the room genuinely wants to be there. It creates for a really warm learning environment and a strong sense of community. We’ll be participating for one more month so I’m excited to see how much I learn by the end of it all.

6.5K Race
So after intoxicating my lungs the last 4 months with Indian air, eating tons of oil and fried foods, it’s about time to get back in shape. Rach and I opted this week to participate in a 6.5K race in Jerusalem. It was such a fun way to start getting back into shape and also just practically to run around the city and get a better sense of my surroundings. Since then Rach and I have been running around the neighborhood everyday and I already feel myself losing the weight I gained in India and most importantly just getting back into a healthier way of life.

All in all I’m getting settled in here so well and hopeful and enthusiastic this will continue to be an amazing journey.  For now I’m off to a MASA leadership seminar for the week and will blog again soon.

So so much love to each of you reading this!