December 23, 2011

Christmas cookies!

My friend Emily had a Christmas cookie baking party at her place last weekend. WIN.

There were about eight girls there (and we didn't mind including a few of our Jewish friends to enjoy the sugar-y Christmas treats). We made a LOT of cookies. And then ate them all.

I made my favorite family recipe- thumbprints (bottom right). A little taste of home went a long way in curbing some of the homesickness. Also, cookies for dinner curbed the "I've been eating so healthy in Israel" feeling.

Worth it!

December 19, 2011

All I want for Christmas is you.

It struck me today that Christmas is less than a week away.
I wore shorts yesterday. There's a palm tree outside my window. It doesn't feel like Christmas.
Spending Thanksgiving as an ex-pat brought about some unexpected emotions. I'm going to hazard a guess that Christmas away from home will be a whole different animal. I'm not sure there's any way to really prepare myself for how I'll feel.

Here's a quick list of things I already miss:

1. our tree.

2. snow. 
Only because it makes Christmas feel like Christmas. I don't really miss winter.

3. being with my family.
I love you guys. I seriously miss you. And the food. Mostly you...(but the food....)

This could go on for awhile, 
but I don't want to give you the wrong impression (or make myself too homesick)- 
there is plenty I am looking forward to about Christmas in thing in particular tops this list:

1. Beth is visiting!!
maybe we'll go to Bethlehem... hahah. I'm so serious, though.

I have known Beth since we were wee. As one of my oldest friends, her visit to Israel will literally be a piece of home here in my arms. I cannot wait. She arrives on Christmas day, and will be here for over a week. I could not be more excited about showing off my new world (and my budding Hebrew skills) and sharing all of these new things that I love with someone I love who has known me about as long as anyone. 
Who could ask for a more wonderful Christmas gift? 

So, this holiday will be strange for me- homesick, a little sad, and devoid of the traditions that have made Christmas my favorite time of the year. But, as with every experience I've had here so far, I'm certain that experiencing Christmas in Israel will create memories for which I'll always be grateful. 
So, here we go. I can do this. I'll be ok. 

December 17, 2011


(sunset over the Gaza strip)

Our most recent study tour took us to sites near the Gaza strip. Brig. Gen. Shalom Harari was at the top of his game: we discussed the security issues Israel faces from within the Gaza strip, the history of the area in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and what civilian life is like in towns near the Gaza strip (among many other things). 

This is a security wall outside of a town just north of the Gaza strip. Painted on one side, soliders on the other. 

As Shalom was lecturing he pointed out the remotely-controlled artillery along the security wall (left-hand picture below) we were standing nearby and said (I kid you not): "It's almost 3pm, so if you hear them testing the weapons don't freak out. But if you hear more than three bullets, get on the ground."

We drove by a prison housing convicted terrorists at one point in the afternoon. We didn't stop, but our bus driver, Hezzi, went slowly so we could take pictures. In the picture below the words "emergency exit" are on the window of the bus, not a sign outside of the prison.

Below is the port at Ashdod, along the Mediterranean. 

One of our stops was Sderot- a town that lies 840 meters from the Gaza strip. For the last 10 years this town has been a target of daily rocket attacks from militants within Gaza. When the siren is sounded, the residents of the town have 15 seconds to get to shelter. For this reason you can see that they have had to construct bomb shelters all over the town. Below you can see the bus stops that are reinforced (and decorated to add a little levity) outside of the school pictured next to it which has been reinforced on the walls and roof to protect from kassam rockets that fall on the city. There are bomb shelters on the playgrounds here.

We also drove through an area near Ashdod that is one of Israel's satellite centers. There are high tech companies which manufacture and operate the country's intelligence and defense satellite systems. This area happens to be across the street from an Orthodox religious community. It was an interesting juxtaposition of tradition and modernity.

This was by far one of my favorite tours so far. Our guide was able to provide some fascinating insight about the security issues faced by Israeli decision makers and citizens alike when it comes to the Gaza strip, and I feel so fortunate to have opportunities to learn like this.

I'll leave you with a few more photos of the stunning sunset we watched over the Gaza strip before heading home.

December 8, 2011

Waxing philosophical. Heads up.

There are a couple of things my cynical-self poked fun at not too long ago...if not out loud, most definitely somewhere in the track of sarcastic inner-monologue which continuously streams through my deep dark semi-consciousness.
                                                       yoga .......

Ironic, huh?

I began this blog to keep in touch with friends and family, albeit reluctantly, when my move overseas became eminent and cemented. I immediately began regretting my (sometimes verbalized) mocking disdain towards personal blogging and and made amends to the handful of blogger-friends who graciously and knowingly said "just wait. You'll get it someday."

I did. 
Turns out most of my cynicism towards blogging disappeared once I got over my own fears and insecurities that come along with revealing honest bits of your world with people. 
(Although, I still feel a little strange when I see stats that 
someone from Latvia or Haiti has viewed my blog.)

Another mocking preconception which this year turned upside down for me, literally, was of yoga.
I remember my first was a struggle not to laugh out loud during the "ohm's" that bookmark each practice.  Pretty quickly I realized that the disdain came from my own self-consciousness and insecurity...and therefore was probably not worth holding on to. I also felt so tired and completely exhausted physically that I couldn't worry about how sweaty and disgusting I looked- I just felt so good it didn't even matter.

That was my first life lesson from yoga...
does it matter what other people think if you're doing something that you know is good for you? 


I was fortunate enough to have such talented teachers at a studio near where I lived and worked that yoga eventually became a part of my routine... now without yoga (at least a little stretching once a day) my whole attitude is thrown off.

I knew I had crossed over and now qualified as a "yogi" when my friend Mary said to me "you're one of those people now who will just do yoga anywhere. At random times. When did that happen?" I think I was doing a headstand in her living room. Hah. I would've scoffed at this version of myself two years ago.

When I left my little studio in Boston and moved to Israel, yoga became integral for maintaining some sense of consistency in my life. It's been a struggle to find anything that compares to Sadhana in Boston- I tried a lot of places around Tel Aviv before school began, but I haven't found anything really affordable or convenient. 

It's been frustrating, but it really has forced me to develop the mental discipline of practicing at home. I've had to dip into my memory bank of poses and try to create challenging and creative workouts for myself. In doing this I'm learning to really pay attention to how my body feels- what is sore? What can I do right now that will make me feel better.

For the last few weeks I've felt pressure from myself to be working harder, sweating more, challenging my strength. But tonight I was so exhausted from my day that I decided to try and recall my friend Dorian's "Restorative" classes that I used to go to on Sunday evenings- holding poses for longer stretches, breathing deeper... and then I had an epiphany. Suddenly I had a totally different perspective. In some ways holding a pose for a longer time (one or two minutes rather than thirty seconds) can be a lot more challenging. It takes more concentration to focus attention, but it provides a chance to figure out where my boundaries are, and carefully push them a little bit. Staying put for a little longer than usual allows me a glimpse into where I'm carrying tension unconsciously. Once you feel that tension you can, with a deep breath, let go of it. 

This is my next huge yoga-meets-life epiphany. 

It is not in my nature, but with yoga, I'm learning what a worthwhile exercise patience can be. 

Thank heavens I brought my mat with me to Israel.

December 7, 2011

More Jerusalem pics.

Nicole and I took a lot of pictures in Jerusalem.
Here are some more. Nicole happens to be a pretty fantastic photographer,
so I take no credit for the photos in this post, except for the ones of Nicole herself.


December 5, 2011

show me the camels.

Neither my friend Nicole or I have classes on Wednesdays. 
So last week we decided to capitalize on the free day and be tourists in Jerusalem. 
We took the sherut on Tuesday after class and stayed the night with my friend's Na'ama and Ari- who I babysat for over Yom Kippur. They graciously hosted us, and I was so happy to have a chance to visit with them and their little boys. 

We began our morning on Wednesday with breakfast at a bagel shop- the baristas here are so talented.

Then we made our way to the Old City. Even though it was Nikki's first time in Jerusalem I was just as excited to explore, and we did some classic tourist-y things I haven't done yet. 

First on our list was the Ramparts Walk- you can walk along the top of the Old City walls, which were built by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 16th Century to fortify the city. It was incredible. You just don't experience  history of this magnitude in Boston. 

Next up- the Temple Mount. The Muslims who control this site only allow non-Muslims up to this area during limited hours, so we had to wait in line (in front of some Russians who were not respecting my personal space) but it was totally worth it to see the Dome of the Rock

This is the 3rd holiest site in the world for Muslims. The building behind me (with the gold dome) was built to commemorate the site where, according to Islamic tradition, the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. It was built on the Temple Mount- the site of the Second Jewish Temple. 

Needless to say, this place is a huge deal to a lot of people, and it's hard not to feel lucky that I can just travel here on a day trip. 

How is this my life?

Afterwards we went to the Western Wall to say a prayer (or two). I've been here before, but Nicole hadn't yet- and to be honest, I will never tire of visiting this place. There is something about Jerusalem, but the Kotel in particular, that just has a calming effect on my soul. 

God is just more palpable here than anywhere else I've ever been.

We spent some time walking around the Old City afterwards, just drinking it all in. I stopped at Shorashim, a Judaica/jewelry shop that I'd been to the first time I visited Israel in 2005 and chatted with the owners, Moshe and Dov, for a few minutes. They know some of the professors I had at Gordon College, and it was nice to share fond memories of mutual friends. 

Nikki and I met my friend Ze'ev for lunch and then wandered around the Muslim shuk for a little while. We didn't end up buying anything, but its definitely a worthwhile experience just to meander through.

Nikki finally had the pleasure of experiencing what its like to have guys catcalling "gingi!" at me everywhere I go- one shop owner actually left his store to come over to me and propose marriage. The conversation went something like this:

Arab merchant: 
"I'll give you 55 camels and you will be my lovely gingi wife."
"Really? You have 55 camels in that little store? I'll need to see them up front in order to consider it."

Dad, you should be offended- I'm worth at least 300, right?

November 28, 2011

Giving thanks.

I have to say that Thanksgiving has never been my favorite holiday. 

When it comes to the food, yeah it's tasty, but there are other meals (like my family's traditional prime rib Christmas dinner) that I prefer. Also, I don't hate football- but I'd rather go to a game (or tailgate one) than watch it on TV. Also, I went to college nine hours from home, so I haven't spent Thanksgiving with my family since I was 18 years old. 

There are things, of course, about Thanksgiving that suit me just fine. I heart long weekends, for sure. As a grown up, I enjoy the freedom to day-drink and have it be socially accepted. I really have come to love the satisfaction that comes with cooking a big meal (including mastering some family recipes) and watching others enjoy it. I also relish the inevitable food-coma and nap which follow said meal. 

Chiefly, however, over the last nine years Thanksgiving has become a holiday to spend with friends, new and old. None have been with the same exact group of people around the table, or had an identical menu. 
But each has been special, and this year was no exception.

Being an "ex-pat" (as a friend recently called me) in Israel on an all-American holiday unexpectedly made my observance of Thanksgiving imperative. I kind of figured before I left that it wouldn't be a big deal for me this year (there are, after all, plenty of Jewish holidays to celebrate while I'm here), but the opposite was true. All of a sudden I was willing to do whatever it took. 

A friend from my program, Daniel, lives downtown, in an apartment with a full kitchen (something my dorm room is lacking), and graciously offered to host. So I assembled a group of new and old friends and in a true team effort we made it happen. Nicole's roommate Carmel is an incredible chef and offered to help plan/execute the menu if I assisted her. Noa's mom lives in a nearby town with the only grocery store in Israel which sells canned pumpkin (that piece was HUGE) so the pie became a reality. Libbie was looking for a group of Americans to celebrate with, and I was so happy to introduce her to some of my new friends from school- she also donated some bakeware from her grown-up, real-person inventory (thanks, Lib!). We ate like kings, had some drinks, and shared what we are thankful for. 
I was thankful for another Thanksgiving memory that is as unique as it is special.

It was a wonderful way to spend a holiday that has never been my top priority, but has never failed to be one of my favorite memories of the year. I have to admit to a twinge of homesickness. But, at the same time, making Thanksgiving happen this year helped to add another brick to the emotional home being created for me here. Another little piece of this place is mine. So, this year, I'm grateful for the family I'm finding in Israel. 

Thanks to each of you for making this feel a little more like home with each day.

November 22, 2011

I like learning this way.

So today was our second study tour, and this week we learned about areas in and around Jerusalem that have held specific importance in the long history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Our guide this week was Brig. General (retired) Shalom Harari. He served in the IDF for twenty two years in intelligence (and still performs reserve duty). Now he serves as a senior research fellow at the Internationoal Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the IDC in Herzeliya,  as well as a senior research fellow at the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Also- he's totally hardcore. He speaks fluent Arabic (which he whipped out many-a-time today), had his own wireless mic and speaker (which he made someone carry for him all day), and gave us a unique perspective on how the Israeli military works and the realities Israel faces from the enemy of radical Islam.

Here is my photo homage to our teacher:

Our (very full) day began in Letrun- a point along the via Maris (way of the sea) that has been a strategic military location for thousands of years. Located along the natural geographical route from Tel Aviv (on the sea) to Jerusalem, Latrun is high up on a hill and whomever controlled that location was at an advantage to defending their control of the region. Today there is an Israeli military museum at this location- we walked through an old British fortress, wandered through rows of tanks and military equipment and viewed a memorial to the fallen Israeli soldiers from the many wars Israel has endured in her short modern life (which Shalom compared to the Vietnam Memorial in D.C. as far as the structure of the memorial).

While we were there an Israeli black hawk helicopter flew overhead from the direction of Tel Aviv towards Jerusalem. Shalom explained (from his experience) that based on what it was, and the time of day, that the helicopter was likely carrying the Minister of Defense or the Prime Minister. Awesome.

After the museum we drove on to Jerusalem. We spent the afternoon driving around different suburbs of Jerusalem located in areas which are either in dispute during peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, or have been the sites of periodic violence during times of upheaval in the area (areas to the south of Jerusalem which border the West Bank/Bethlehem). Shalom explained to us how issues of demography affect the conflict (i.e. a village or neighborhood that is home to Jewish residents but is close to Palestinian-inhabited areas and changes hands when borders are re-drawn during peace negotiations), we discussed the security fence that Israel built to protect civilian populations from terrorism launched out of neighboring Arab areas, and got to see first-hand just how close these quarters are. 

We also learned about how holy sites in and around Jerusalem have effected the stability of the region- holy sites must be kept safe not only for the tourism industry that is so vital here, but also to protect the whole region from melting into a war between religions. After lunch we drove into Bethlehem to visit a holy site- the tomb of the matriarch Rachel. The last time I was in Israel in 2005 this area did not look so heavily fortified. Unfortunately, terrorism has forced Israel to step up security to protect tourism and the citizen population. 

In this picture you can see the high cement walls with the stone walls of a the shrine:

Apparently, praying at Rachel's tomb is supposed to grant women fertility. I went in to see the shrine, but decided not pray for fertility. I'm not looking to start a family anytime soon.

We also stopped at the ruins of a church which had been built around a rock. Shalom explained that this rock was (according to legend) the place where the Virgin Mary stopped to rest on her way to Bethlehem. He also told us that religious lore states any woman who sits on this rock will allegedly "become like a virgin" again, no matter how many children she has given birth to. I'm not convinced, but some of my classmates gave it a shot.

The day ended with Shalom taking us to the highest elevation point in Jerusalem- an old church turned mosque turned intelligence satellite location (also an archaeological dig). Some of his Arab friends provided tea and coffee (it was really cold today) and we enjoyed a spectacular view before driving home.