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?