October 29, 2011


For days my new friend Jared has been vying for a feature on the coolest blog around. I told him, you have to do something worth writing about for that to happen.

Last night he beat me at Bananagrams.
I lost by one letter.

So pleased with himself (it could be the cold medicine high, though...)

Next time, Jared...next time.
Your win secured a blog spot, but don't get too comfortable with victory.

October 26, 2011

Back to school.

Monday finally marked the beginning of orientation week at Tel Aviv University, praise adonai. The last several weeks have been a vacation of sorts, and while this time has taught me a lot about myself and given me a chance to become acquainted with a new city, I am absolutely ready for this next chapter of my life to commence. 

I feel like a freshman in college again- in the last few days I've introduced myself to a hundred new people, had so much information (ID cards, health insurance, course schedules) thrown at me, engaged in more small talk than I usually care to stomach, and been scared pretty much the whole time. That may be a bit hyperbolic, but do you remember what it felt like during your freshman orientation? Every feeling is amplified (fear, excitement, exhaustion). There are new faces at every turn, and you have (almost) no clue who will become a permanent character in your world when everything whittles down. It's terrifying- in an exhilarating way. And if we're being honest (we are, right?) it's really comforting to know that we're all in the same boat.

The overseas program (OSP) here has drawn about 300 students from all over the world (TAU has about 30,000 students total) participating in over a dozen different specified programs. My particular program (Political Science in Action: Leadership, Communications, and Elections- its a mouthful) has all of eleven students. Nobody enjoys some solid me-time more than yours truly, but I have been so grateful for the chance to make friends this week, and I'm encouraged by how easy it has been. It takes a special type I think to move abroad for graduate school- particularly to Israel. That's not to say that there isn't a variety of perspective or opinion to be found regarding geo-politics and current events, but I'm meeting people who share a passionate interest in these topics. This is why I came here.

Classes won't officially begin until next week, so this week has been one endless social mixer. Like I said, I haven't been in this position since freshman year of college and I think I have to be careful about how strongly I hold on to first impressions especially in situations like this. But isn't it funny how you can sometimes just tell about someone? It goes both ways- positive and negative impressions. For instance, there are two other girls living in my suite. They both seem like very nice people, and I think as roommates we'll be able to get along just fine. But one of them I can just tell, I don't have a whole lot to say to her. I'll make an effort to get to know her when our paths cross, but I just don't get that kidred feeling from her. 

On the other hand, I met a girl named Noa in my department meeting on Monday, and her roommate Nicole happened to be in a random tour group I was placed in later that afternoon. With both of these girls there was an almost instant sense of "yeah, I'm definitely going to be friends with this one." We have similar senses of humor, we have no trouble holding conversation, we make each other laugh, and (so far) I feel like we view the world around us through a shared lens. Obviously we can't know each other that well in only three days, but with each of them I find myself excited to learn more about who they are, where they are coming from, and the things that make us different and the same all at once. 

So, let me introduce to you- Noa and Nicole. Making friends, yessssssss.

(the quality of this photo does not meet my standards, but I didn't take it, a drunk girl did)

Last night the OSP held a party for us all at a bar downtown. I will say that while people were trying to figure out directions and transportation options, I felt totally great about myself for being able to give advice rather than seek it. All the time I've spent wandering around by myself has paid off! It was the first time I felt like a resident here rather than an outsider, does that make sense? Who am I? I'm that girl who can tell you which bus to take. Cause I've already taken it. Shazam! Anyway- the evening was fun, it was nice to dress up a little, have a few drinks with all of these new friends, and just unwind a bit. After a few hours, when some of us were fed up with fighting the growing crowd (the bar opened to the general public after awhile), I ended up  getting beer at a convenience store and walking down to the beach to sit and drink with a couple of guys from my department. Have I mentioned there are no open-container laws here? I love Tel Aviv.

This afternoon I spent with Noa and Nicole- we had lunch together and went for a walk down to the river park I mentioned in a previous post. We didn't have any official orientation activities, and it was nice to just spend a little bit of time talking and getting to know one another. We also introduced Nicole to Krembo


Noa has family here, so when she left for the evening to visit with them Nicole and I went to the grocery store and did some laundry. I want to give Nicole kudos here for tackling an obstacle I haven't yet been ballzy enough to take on- ordering from the deli in the grocery store. So far I've just stuck with pre-packaged cheese and cold cuts.

This might sound silly to you, but put yourself in my head as I approach the deli in a foreign supermarket: the guy behind the deli counter probably doesn't speak that much English. Even if he does speak English, what measurement system do they use here? Can I order a half-pound of sliced cheddar or do they use kilos or something I've never even heard of? Or should I just say "ten slices"? What if they don't have cheddar? Shit! Why didn't I ever take the time to learn metrics! What if he doesn't speak English?! 

Well, Nicole and I decided that this was the time to bite the bullet and just go for it. Nicole- I feel like your accomplishment this afternoon is partly mine, and I was happy to be your moral support as you faced this hurdle. I can't wait to go grocery shopping with you again- next time, deli meat!

So, the theme of this week has been doing things that scare you because you're in a foreign country- meeting people, ordering at the deli, etc. The lesson? Sometimes the unknown is delicious (and cheaper than the pre-packaged kind). 

October 22, 2011

The final days of my endless summer.

So these are the final days of "freedom".
My classes begin on Oct.31st, and next week I'll have orientation at Tel Aviv University.
I'm really excited to begin my studies,
but I'm trying to soak up the vacation while I have it.

I spent the last several days cat-sitting for Libbie and Tzahi while they headed north to the Galilee for a 'mini-moon'. I stayed at their place in Giv'atayim- and it was so nice to live in a real apartment. I especially liked the view of Tel Aviv from their 7th floor balcony.

I spent the week going to yoga classes (SO happy to be back on my mat) 
and hanging out with this guy:

Like most insolent children, Nunchki looks really sweet when he's asleep.
Libbie and Tzahi rescued him from an animal shelter, he used to be one of those street cats I've mentioned before...and he's still got a little of that edge to him.
Never before have a been in charge of anyone (child or animal) who played more mind games with me.
But we bonded, mostly cause we both love naps.

Libbie and Tzahi reurned Wednesday, and on Thursday night Lib and I met her 
mom for dinner in Tel Aviv. We ate at a fantastic restaurant in the Yemenite quarter,
we enjoyed moussaka, goulash, schnitzel, and sweet potato patties.
My goodness, the food here is incredible.

After dinner we walked around the Yemenite quarter, Libbie used to live there
and wanted to show us around.
It really is a neighborhood in transition- it's gentrifying but the process
is definitely not complete. 
These two buildings are literally across the street from one another.

Somewhere along the way we decided that the only way to finish the evening was
So we walked to Max Brenner and indulged. 

So, the countdown has begun. As my friends back stateside are celebrating Halloween I'll be sitting in the library, trying to keep up with Arabic, Hebrew, AND a full M.A. course load.
I cannot wait (for serious).

Until then, I'm going to spend a few final days at the beach, napping,
and pretending this is real life.

October 18, 2011

Gilad Shalit- home after five years

On June 25, 2006 Palestinian militants from Gaza raided an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) base in southern Israel. The attack left two soldiers dead, and one was captured and taken into Gaza as a prisoner of war- his name is Gilad Shalit.

In the five years that followed Shalit's capture the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) repeatedly requested to visit Shalit and determine if his detention and treatment meet international law- Hamas blatantly ignored these requests (a violation of Article 126 of the Third Geneva Convention). In addition, Hamas refused to disclose the location where Shalit has been held (a violation of Article 23 of the Third Geneva Convention),  and refused him regular communication with his family- a right afforded by the Laws of War. Since kidnapping Gilad five years ago, Hamas has allowed Shalit's family only three letters and one voice recording from their captive son.

This ordeal has served as a brush stroke on the backdrop of mid-east politics. While the leaders of the Palestinian authority decry Israel as a great human rights violator, they hold a 19 year old boy in flagrant violation of international law and use his life as a bargaining chip. Well, today the bargain has been reached. In exchange for the life of one lost soldier, the Israeli government has agreed to release 1,027 Palestinian prisoners- and not just any prisoners. These are some of the worst murderers the IDF ever captured.

The cost of this prisoner exchange will only be told with time. Public opinion in Israel has been, characteristically, varied. Many have protested Netanyahu's decision, saying that the deal will lead to countless more deaths when these released terrorists inevitably return to their chosen trade. Is negotiation with terrorists ever a winning game? Many say no. On the other hand, many celebrate the deal, saying it is a perfect representation of the ethical standard held by Israel, a display of the premium Israel places on human life. I think that regardless of politics, today Israel is celebrating. Calls for Gilad Shalit's return have not wavered for five years. His face has remained in the collective mind of the Jewish people, and today he has been returned home.

It is this dichotomy that makes Israel beautiful.  Today is a day I will look back on and be able to say "I was there when..."

I want to close with a poem.

"Gilad is Coming Home" written by an American-Israeli friend of mine, Libbie Sagiv
The absurdity

Absurdity in its absolute purest form

Of the ultimate trade
The ultimate measure of a Jewish life
The demands put upon us, expected upon us
Speak for themselves.
What is the value of a Jewish life?
How far are we willing to go, to stand by what we cherish?
The decision we have made today
The headlines we put into print that we never thought we’d see
Spell it out for us,
In black and white,
That at the end of the day
There is good and there is evil.
There is one Jewish life, and there are a thousand Palestinians.
There is no scale
To measure justice, because ultimately there is no justice –
There are just declarations
Of what we stand for, what matters to us, what we believe in
And at the end of the day
Those who want to kill, will kill
Whether it’s the thousand Palestinians we release today
Or a decade ago
Or a decade from now
They’re all the same
And the one thing we have proved today, if anything,
Is that there is only one Gilad Shalit.
We gave meaning to the saying
“If you save a Jewish life, it is as if you have saved the entire Jewish people.”
If there’s anything we have proved
In our 5,000-year-plus history
It’s that we will always beat our enemies, in the end
Anyone who chooses to rise against the Jewish people, in the end,
Meets their demise.
So to the thousand Palestinians being released today, I say to you:
You are irrelevant.
In your so-called victory, you equal one-thousandth of a Jew,
if that. No one knows your name, or will remember you.
Gilad Shalit,
Even if your freedom means I am now in one thousand times greater danger,
I have to accept that.
Because at the end of the day,
You would have done the same for me.
That is what it means to be Jewish.

References- More Info
"Holding Gilad Shalit as a hostage is a war crime"– B'Tselem press release (25 June 2007)

October 12, 2011

Poisoning. Puppies.

No, silly! I didn't poison puppies. Do you think I'm crazy??

I got food poisoning on Monday. Ugh. (Note to self: don't ever eat cactus fruit again). I stayed inside being sick until Wednesday (today). And then, when I finally ventured out for an attempt at lunch with Libbie, guess what we saw on the street?!? 


The dude selling them said they were six weeks old, and I'm no expert but I think they must have been younger- they were so little! When we were standing around (with the other children and awestruck onlookers) Libbie ran into someone she knew who bought one. The one I wanted. I've never been more jealous of a stranger. 

October 9, 2011

Yom Kippur

For my non-Jewish audience, this weekend was Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement)- the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. The most detailed description of observance of Yom Kippur is in Leviticus 16- which happens to be the chapter at the mid-point of the Torah, which shows the centrality of this holiday in Jewish religious life (and yes, I did go through some of my old notes from college to re-learn this stuff...) When I try explain it to my non-Jewish friends I usually compare Yom Kippur to Christmas for Christians- not in terms of what the holiday IS but in that even people who aren't particularly observant in everyday life tend to observe this holiday. Jews traditionally observe Yom Kippur with a 25-hour period of fasting and prayer, spending most of the day in synagogue services. In Israel on Yom Kippur everything shuts down. Literally. There is no public transportation, no cars on the roads, and many people don't even use electricity. People (generally) dress in white, in an effort to make themselves as akin to angels as possible- they are, after all, fasting and praying for the Lord to seal their names into the Book of Life for the coming year.

The holiday lasted from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, and on Friday night I went for a walk in Jerusalem (where I was staying for the weekend). What I found was hundreds of people out walking in the streets- cause they could. There were tons of kids out riding their bikes around in the abandoned streets and every once in awhile I'd even see someone just laying down in the middle of an intersection.

It was kind of eerie, and really cool. There was a palpable current of joy in the air, and I felt so fortunate to be in Jerusalem on such a special evening.

 I was invited to spend Yom Kippur in Jerusalem at the Applbaum's (friends of mine from The David Project). Ari and Na'ama have twin 2.5 year old boys, and this year Na'ama was in the States for work, so Ari was in need of some help caring for them so he could observe the holiday. I was more than happy to oblige. People kept telling me that I would move over here and be smitten by the handsome Israeli boys....

They weren't kidding. Look at those faces! I ate those faces for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Their names are Yuval and Roni, and it did not take long for me to fall head-over-heels. Yuval (bottom right) is sensitive, a little moody, but generally easy going and gentle. Roni (bottom left) is higher-octane, mischievous, and a total sweet-talker. Both of them had me wrapped around their little fingers- they're so sweet, terribly smart, and had me in stitches all weekend.

One of my favorite things to do when one of them seemed like he was headed down the tantrum-path (where one goes, so goes the other) was to yell out "belly bump!" cause this would happen:

I'm so into them.

So, basically I had the best weekend ever. I got to spend the holiest day of the Jewish calendar in the holiest city in the Jewish faith, and I fell in love with two of the cutest kids mine eyes have ever seen. Winning.

October 6, 2011

Highs and lows. Shana tova!

Before I begin my (admittedly late) Rosh Hashanah post, I must send my congratulations from afar to one of my oldest and dearest friends, Holly. It seems like just yesterday we were silly schoolgirls playing pranks and goofing off. But today you became a mother, and my heart is bursting. I am sad I cannot be by your side as you begin this next chapter, but my joy for you far outweighs that. Mazal tov, to you and Mike. I can't wait to meet your beautiful little boy.


Last week I celebrated the Jewish New Year in Jerusalem with my Israeli friends. We learned about the holiday traditions, ate a delicious meal together (thanks Na'ama and Ari!), and then spent time sharing the highs and lows of the past year as well as our hopes for the year ahead.

For me, the highs and lows seem to have come side by side. Change is always difficult for me, and this last year has been rife with change and uncertainty. Living and studying in Israel has been a dream of mine since I first visited this country in 2005, even though I knew it would be scary and difficult to leave my friends and family. After spending some time working and living in Boston after school, this year seemed like the right time to pursue a higher degree (if I wanted a chance at employment other than nannying or admin work, grad school was an imperative). The road that led me to Tel Aviv University was long and winding, and after four years of living on my own I found myself hauling all of my worldly possessions back to my parents' house in Erie for an indefinite period of waiting to find out if I could attend school overseas or if I would have to start from square one- literally. 

Living with your parents again is not any young adult's ideal- I had no income, no car, and was living in a town that hadn't been my permanent residence since I graduated high school. But lo and behold! The Lord blessed me with the opportunity to rebuild relationships with childhood friends, and the gift of spending five whole weeks of quality time with my mom and dad before I would spend a whole year further away from them than I'd ever been. This unexpected time at home was a real high point in my year- and a gift I will always be grateful for. It was during these weeks that I learned my dreams of moving to Israel would come true- WIN! This was definitely another high point in my year...hell, in my life. However, the same news meant I would have to begin saying my goodbyes. Bidding farewell to my friends and especially my family was probably the most difficult thing I have done in a long time. Low, big low

Since moving (you may have noticed) I've been on a bit of a roller coaster- I am so happy to be here in Israel, and loving it more every day...but I also am missing home a great deal, and it's definitely been lonely. School won't begin for another few weeks, and until then my social options are limited. While I've enjoyed exploring Tel Aviv, hanging out on the beach, and studying the language... there is only so much that one can do alone before the loneliness and boredom become overwhelming (highs and lows...) Today was a microcosm of this roller coaster- this morning I cried for awhile cause the loneliness caught up with me, and tonight I spent time with Jen, we laughed and talked and I walked home feeling exponentially better about life. 

So, what are my hopes for the year to come? I'm pretty sure that the emotional roller coaster isn't about to slow down. Being a poor student in a foreign country is challenging. However, I am fortunate enough to have friends and parents who, during those emotional valleys, provide support and encourage me to press on. Their pride in me reminds me to be proud of myself.  My hope for this year is that I will drink in every moment of this dream-come-true while I have the chance. I hope I will continue to take the difficult and necessary steps on the road ahead, to become the woman I want to be- someone who faces her fears and learns how to overcome them, a person who refuses to accept a life that is less than what she wants, and who insists on leaving this world a better place than the way she found it. 

So, to my friends and family near and far- may the coming year be for all of us a sweet and happy one, filled with joy and blessings beyond the hopes we may hold for ourselves. Shana tova!!

And what about you, dear reader? What were the highs and lows of your year? What goals will you set for yourself in the year to come? I'd love to hear from you.