Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Home Again, and Sick Again

Here I am back in Jerusalem, home from a wonderful (and very full) week back in Cleveland. I realize I've been very slack in keeping up here, but my whole life feels like it's on hold at the moment: I am super-behind in all my classes, Jef is here (the best part of it all), my radiator exploded while I was out of town, leaving me with a room submerged in a rust-puddle, and to top it off--I have the flu. The horrible, body-aching, throat-searing, fever-inducing, cough-shaking, moan and groan flu. So I am missing more classes, and falling more behind. Oh well. There is very little I can do about it.

And I certainly wouldn't trade my time at home with my friends and family, and my time here with Jef, for anything. If you want to know of Jef and my adventures, he's been writing more than me, so click here.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Flying Tonight

It's freezing in Jerusalem tonight. For the past few weeks I've been wearing t-shirts to school, and today, thinking it was to be the same, I went out in just a light sweater. The wind was blowing fierce and I ended up running to school blinded by sleet. When I got home this afternoon, it was hailing and thundering, and it got me worried that my flight would be cancelled. Luckily, Ben Gurion's website says all flights out of Tel Aviv on time.

So, now that I'm on my way home to true winter, finally Jerusalem feels like Christmas. Tammy and I threw a party the other night, and around thirty guests crowded into the apartment, most of them new to the concept of Christmas. But they ate our cookies and listened to carols and drank egg nog, and we danced and ate and talked about nothing much, just like a Christmas party should be.

Now, in about five hours, I fly home to my house and my family and this distant other life of mine. I have never felt so completely at home in two different places before. I'm not the first to say that about Jerusalem. Maybe since it's been a part of my life since I was a child, the mythology and the history of this city, but from the moment I arrived here, it has been familiar to me. I will only be gone a week, but I will miss it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Two Hundred Shekels

Yesterday I went into the Old City for yet another round of Christmas shopping, and somehow managed to spend the better part of a thousand shekels (a little over $200) in the course of a few hours, while also finding myself the unfortunate victim of the pushiest of salesmen for the first time that I can recall. Here is how it happened (keep in mind that at the time of my story, I had been up since seven in the morning after a night of four hours sleep, had been in two two-hour classes, was stressed out about finding something for everyone, catching up in my classes, planning a Christmas party and packing for home, and had already been walking around the Old City for several hours, bargaining to the point of exhaustion): I was on my way out, laden with gifts, when a man passed me on the street and asked me to come look in his shop. I said no. He said just come take my business card. I was so tired, and just wanted him to go away, but finally I sighed and followed him. Next thing I know, three Arab salesmen are showing me things, talking to me, confusing me, and in a few short minutes, one of them is packing up a necklace, and removing from my outstretched hand 200 shekels. I have no idea what happened, how I could have been so weak and discombobulated that I actually finally agreed just so I could leave. I actually burst into tears when I walked out of the shop. It reminded me of a few times in India when I had felt so utterly taken advantage of, and so manipulated, that control suddenly flew from my hands to some stranger's and I was left with this feeling of violation. It was awful.

So now I have this necklace, which is actually quite beautiful, but which I never wanted in the first place. I had a few thoughts of trying to return it, but I know how futile that would be, and besides--I will never set foot in that shop again. From now on I limit myself to one hour of shopping, on a full night's sleep, and only when in full command of all my mental faculties.

Monday, December 15, 2003

Egg Nog

Spent last night decorating Christmas cookies and making egg nog with Tammy. We didn't have any cookie cutters, so we ended up having to sculpt our own cookies. Among our best creations were a donkey, Bart Simpson, and the Baby Jesus, all of which were covered with festive blue and pink frosting and colorful orange sprinkles (I couldn't find red and green anywhere). The egg nog, for my first attempt, turned out pretty decent. Just needs a little rum and a little nutmeg, and it should be perfect.

I have to finish my Christmas shopping today, and then head home to get ready for the big party. I have no idea how many people will show up--it could be ten, ir could be thirty. But either way, there'll be plenty of food, and plenty of Christmas cheer. Tammy is so excited. So far, she seems pretty impressed with Christmas--the carols, the cookies, the decorations. Strange how easy it is to leave the actual Jesus stuff out of will be nice to be home where I can put him back in again.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

We Got 'Im

Such a strange day. I am baking Christmas cookies for the party I'm throwing on Tuesday, and I am listening to carols that are all centered around the land I am living in right now. The Little Town Of Bethlehem is just four miles down the road. To top off the surreal nature of my thoughts tonight, my head is swimming with images of pathetic Saddam Hussein being examined by a doctor, bedraggled and defeated. What does one do with days like today? Enjoy them, I guess.

I am happy to report that I somehow managed to get A's on both my language midterms. Hooray--a major source of stress for me now gone. And I go home in five days! I can't wait to see everybody I miss so much...

Saturday, December 13, 2003


I just spent an hour and a half writing this long post, and I clicked on a link in order to check on one of my facts before I posted, and subsequently the "back" thingy took me to every site I'd been on today EXCEPT of course, my brilliant post. I am so so so upset about this. I mean, where the hell is it? I actually want to throw things. Or hit things. Or break things.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Yom Rivi'i

My black mood has finally passed, and I am back to (somewhat) normal. My mom's comment made me smile, made me remember what I haven't lost. She has been telling me the same things for as long as I can remember, whether I woke her up in the middle of the night after having had a nightmare, or whether I called her up crying after breaking up with a boyfriend. Having my roomate back in town helps a lot as well--this week was mainly difficult for having been by myself most of the time. But now, I have friends over, my apartment is Christmasy, my plans for the weekend low-key and relaxing, and my midterms have passed. I actually think I did pretty well, but I won't know for a few more days. Although I suppose anything would be better than a 51.

Tomorrow I go into the Old City to procure some Christmas presents to take back to Ohio. I shall be armed with 500 shekels and ready to bargain. I've become quite good at the art of haggling over the years, though sometimes I tend to get carried away with the competition of it, and I have to consciously remind myself to give a little bit. I have to force myself to pay more for things than I need to, remembering what I would pay for the same things elsewhere, and keeping in mind the slowness of business here--I can afford the extra ten shekels.

For now, I must get back to my studying. Tonight I must finish Aisha, Beloved of Muhammad for my course on Islam, and I've got to try to make a dent in Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism for Kabbalah.

Sunday, December 07, 2003

December Already

I received a Christmas package in the mail from my Mom and Dad, full of cookies and candy and decorations and, best of all, Christmas music. I may be the only one of my friends who still loves Christmas music, but I hold fast to the belief that it is wonderful, magical, altogether lovely. Maybe it's just that I am one of those peculiar people who had a blissfully happy childhood, but I think there is something to be said for maintaining the innocence that allows us to enjoy the trite and cheesy kitsch of life that most people, so set on seeing The World As It Is, choose to regard with such disdain. Of course I could just be trying to defend my affinity for sappy movies, happy endings, and all things Christmas. But I proceed.

It's odd though, I can't seem to listen to the music of my memory without feeling, of all things, sad. Nostalgia is a nasty little illness. The unfortunate byproduct of said happy childhood is this nagging feeling that something has been lost. I know I'm not the only one who's felt this way, but sitting in my apartment by myself, decorating a miniature Christmas tree and listening to Nat King Cole, it feels like I am. Is adulthood just meant to be loneliness? I'm not a lonely person at all; I have an incredible family, great friends, and plenty of people to talk to--but on certain nights, in a certain mood, with a certain scent or a certain melody, I feel so disconnected from everything else, almost lost. Maybe I took a wrong turn somewhere way back, and if I'd gone the other way there would be newness in every minute rather than this constant tug-of-war between experiencing the present with joy and excitement and thinking of the past with sadness and regret.

I know I'm taking a bittersweet mood and waxing it to death here, but I'm not sure what else to do with it. I'm so accustomed to bringing these feelings to God, these inklings and yearnings all too big for me, and asking Him to make sense of them, to bring my life back, somehow, to that place of security, to return to me whatever it feels like I am missing. There is such a comfort in being able to do that. To trust in this Being, this Power that is working everything out for good just for me. There's a promise in it that has made these moods--which come all too often to me--bearable. But now, now with this handful of doubt I'm dealing with, there is only me to go to, which doesn't help at all, since I have this strange feeling that it's me that's the problem from the start. I guess what I mean is, while nostalgia for most people may be warm and fuzzy and merely bittersweet, for me it is all these things, coupled with this tiny little pocket of hopelessness. And when I have to sit, listening to "O Come All Ye Faithful," and secretly, quietly praying that This Whole Thing is true--whereas I used to be able to fight this tiny pocket off with such confidence--the hopelessness feels like it's gaining a bit of power.

Enough of this. This is a happy day. I have cookies to munch on, a party to plan, a test to study for, a visit from my best friend to look forward to, and I'm going home in less than two weeks. What's the sense in these drops of despair?

Saturday, December 06, 2003

Viva La Israel

Am very happy today. I slept in till 12:45, got up, tidied, read the paper, surfed the net...just as Shabbat should be. Then Matt and Eugene came over bearing pizza with onions and eggplant, and we all sat down and watched "24." Now they're gone, and my apartment is quiet and clean, and finally, finally, I feel ready to sit down and study. (Never mind that I'm online at the moment).

Last night we went to the party we'd been invited to the night before, in a ramshackle, wonderful apartment in the city center. The previous owners had built a wall around the front yard, covered the ceiling with plastic, and pronounced the courtyard a living room. So we sat in the front yard/living room, staring at the wall--entirely painted into a green, black, and orange mural of trees or something, drinking, dancing, and alternating languages.

The owner of the apartment, and our host, was a young Isaeli named Nimrod. I found that fascinating. Correct me if I'm wrong here, but isn't that sort of like naming your daughter Jezebel or something? Anyway, he's nothing like his name--a really nice guy--and all of his friends were very welcoming and open. I ended up dancing with this crazy guy named Daniel, who made me laugh with his utter un-self-consciousness. I also saw Yoni there, the guy who decided I was Jewish, and I still haven't confessed that I'm not--even after he called me a JAP when I told him I'd never smoked out of a bong before. I suppose that's what you get for such presumption.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Okay, a Little Play...

Last night I attempted to ease the Hebrew-induced pressure in my head by drinking lots and lots of alcohol. At the time, it worked wonders--my Hebrew was flowing beautifully--but this morning I am being punished for it. Blech.

We started out the night in Ksenia's room, performing a little Polish tradition for St. Anne something-or-other's day (at the end of November). All the girls sit around and take part in a few games that are supposed to tell us about our future, whether or not we'll get married (and when...), how many kids we're going to have, etc. We opened up a couple bottles of wine and dug in, and my future appears to be bright.

After the ceremony of St. Anne something-or-other, Ksenia, Helen and I headed out into Jerusalem to meet up with a couple friends. We started out drinking Israeli beer in a bar no bigger than my bedroom, and ended up drinking Palestinian beer in a bar that looked like it was carved out of the wreckage of an old building. We danced until four in the morning, and met a few Israelis who invited us to a party tonight. I was talking to one of them in Hebrew, and he noted how he was certain I was the only Jew in my little group of friends. He said he could just tell, and not because I was the prettiest. Apparently I just exude Judaism. I asked him if it was because of my--shall we say--Aquiline nose, and he said that wasn't it either. He just knew, something about sweetness. I didn't have the heart to tell him he was flirting with a Protestant, especially one particularly fond of Jesus.

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

All Work and No Play

My Hebrew midterm is tomorrow and I can't bring myself to study. I have been memorizing and memorizing words, trying to catch up with the rest of the class--five or six chapters a day. The combination of that with my Arabic class, which suddenly feels like it's getting faster and faster, has been turning my brain to mush. I feel like a sponge submerged in water--there's only so much I can soak up. For the past day or so, I can't seem to learn any new words. There is simply no more room. I am full. Capacity reached. No more studying for a while.

This is really a shame, however, since on my last Hebrew test a pulled in a paltry 51%. I can't remember the last time I got a 51 on a test. Luckily, the highest grade in the class was a 54, so I don't feel so bad. And: Hebrew doesn't count. We don't get credit for it; we just have to learn it. So I suppose the number doesn't really matter. Maybe I can manage a D tomorrow. We'll see.

Sunday, November 30, 2003

Belated Holiday Cheer

I realize I have been pretty pitiful in updating the past week--but my Internet was down. What can you do? Now, is better. So I write.

Well, another Thanksgiving has come and gone without my family. It gets easier every year to be abroad when one is supposed to be home, but I still hate it. But it's either Thanksgiving or Christmas, and, well, the food's basically the same, and Christmas has presents, hence....Thanksgiving is relegated to second place.

I had over a bunch of people for Thanksgiving dinner--two of whom were actually American. I must say, for my first attempt at actually preparing Thanksgiving dinner, I did a damn good job. I've never made stuffing--or even mashed potatoes--but they turned out pretty good. Never mind that I bought already roasted chicken. (I hear there's turkey somewhere in Jerusalem, but come on, it was a schoolday...) And there was no pumpkin pie. So we improvised (brownies and ice cream). But the point is: it was Thanksgiving. Matt told his rather odd version of the Thanksgiving story (including scalpings...what?!) for the foreigners, and I repeatedly had to remind everybody that the pilgrims did not kill the Indians after the feast. In fact, the pilgrims never killed the Indians. That, of course, was some other colony of white people. Anyway, the dinner was great fun. Plus my family called from their own table in the Pocono Mountains, and it was (almost) like being there, only not as tasty.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Sick Sick

Well, after having been a little bit better for about a day and a half, I am now sick again--worse than before. I feel like I'm walking around with my head in an aquarium. Everything's all muddled and I'm sleepy sleepy sleepy.

It started on Saturday morning. I spent Shabbat evening (that's Friday) at a friend's house, where we ate till our bellies hurt and ended up dancing to reggae and house music, passing around a two-liter of vodka. When I finally left and started walking down the street to catch a cab home, I tripped on the heel of my shoe and fell flat on my face in front of a group of Israelis just coming out of a bar. I was all by myself, so there wasn't even anyone to laugh it off with...I just kind of had to stand up and keep walking. A taxi that was stopped at a traffic light honked at me, and all the passengers inside waved and smiled. Another thing to add to the list of stupid things I've done here.

Also included on this list, and having nothing to do with my IQ:

1) Walking to the Post Office to pick up a package and forgetting my ID--and having to run the 1/2 mile home to get it and come back before the Post Office closed.

2) Dropping off two unused rolls of film to get developed.

There are more, but I suppose that's enough for now.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Katka in Katamon

Tonight I went to a party for my friend Katka's birthday. She is one of a number of Polish people I've become friends with, and at the party in her Katamon apartment I was the only American among a large group of Czecks, Polacks, and Israelis. We drank Czeck vodka (a strangely thick yellow liquid that tasted like cloves and cinnamon), red wine, and cherry liqueor, smoked out of a huge communal hooka, and sang "happy birthday" in three different languages. We talked about politics (of course), the American accent versus the British accent, the fascinating circumstances that led us each to Israel, and Katke's dog, a mix of--unbelievably--a Daschund and a German Shepherd. Nobody knows which parent was which, but I think we all secretly hope the father was the Daschund. And what a brave, desperate little Daschund that must have been.

I also got into an interesting discussion about religion with a British/Israeli Jewish educator, and I found that, in spite of my recent spiritual quasi-ennui, I described and half-defended my faith with a vigor I don't actually feel. You can take the girl out of the religion...

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Sad News

Miriam Scheffer, the head of the graduate department here at Rothberg International School, passed away this weekend. I never met her, as she was already out on sick leave when I arrived, but apparently she was the one who kept this place running. Classes were cancelled on Monday, to allow the graduate teachers and students to attend her funeral. The mood of the week thus far has been somber, but also business as usual. She was herself a student here twenty years ago. In fact, almost all of my teachers were students here. Kind of makes me wonder where I'll end up--whether I'll be able to escape this place, or get sucked in like so many others I've met here who came for a semester and stayed ten years.

Sunday, November 16, 2003

My Famous Roomate

This morning Israelis throughout the country received glossy copies of the new Geneva Accord, a semi-grassroots initiative aimed at bringing an end to the cycle of violence here. Prominent leaders on the Israeli side (including Yossi Beilin, Amram Mitzna, and Amos Oz) as well as on the Palestinian side (including Yasser Abed Rabbo and Nabil Qassis) were apparently holding "secret" talks in Switzerland through mid-October, drafting a peace proposal that is the supposed answer, at last, to the situation here.

The proposal itself reminds me of a more tightly-reined version of the proposal from Gush Shalom, with specifications that include Israel returning to its pre-1967 borders, with the exception of some of the largest settlements, which will be "traded" for more tracts of land in Gaza, as well as the Palestinians giving up their right of return in exchange for a few refugees being allowed to return (with strict Israeli approval) and compensation for the rest. Under the Geneva Accord, Jerusalem would be divided, serving as the capitol for two different and sovereign nations (although if I read correctly, the word "sovereign" is never actually used to describe the Palestinian Nation. Mine was a short perusal, so correct me if I'm wrong about this). The Temple Mount would remain under Arab control, and the Western Wall under Israeli, with an International mediator of some sort to ensure the safety and accessibility of both.

There's certainly a lot to digest, and not just from the Accord itself, but also the manner in which it was presented to the Israeli people and the world. This morning, the Italian news correspondent who lives down the hall from us knocked on our door and asked us if he could interview Tammy (that's my roomate, of course) concerning her opinion of the Accord. So now, my illustrious and artistic roomate can be downloaded the world over on a Swiss/Italian news website, sharing her opinion. Her main problem is not with the ideas presented themselves, but with the fact that people who are not elected officials, and therefore not true representatives of the Israeli people, have met with foreign leaders and drafted these proposals as if theirs were the voice of Israel. An understandable position. It certainly makes Israel more vulnerable should the people ultimately reject the proposal, as it has gained--how should I put it?--illegitimate legitimacy from having already been seen and approved by outside sources.

Check out Tammy here: And click on "Israele: la pace di Ginevra" It's in Italian, but it's also in my apartment and with my roomate! Watch it!

Saturday, November 15, 2003


I've been feeling under the weather for a few days--not exactly sick, but abnormal, with the promise of imminent illness--and last night was the most awful night I've had since arriving in Israel. It started out perfectly normal; my friend Ksenia came over to study for our Hebrew quiz, after which we ordered in burgers from the new kosher place across the way and watched Jumpin' Jack Flash. But then, after she left, I started feeling queasy. I talked to my parents and grandparents online for a while, but my discomfort was increasing the whole time, and I had no drugs in the house and no way of getting any. Turns out I just got violently ill, all alone (poor me) in my apartment, moaning. Blech. I skipped class today--and I had a quiz in Hebrew and Arabic. Oops. Still, if my digestive system refuses to cooperate, what can I do?

Korea House and Cafe Hillel

Went out with Matt and Eugene again last night, this time to a restaurant near Zion Square called Korea House. Eugene (who's Korean) ordered a set menu for us, and it was delicious. I tried to remember what the dishes were called so I could tell Jef, but I've gone and forgotten them all. So here I am in Israel, eating Korean food, and there Jef is in Korea, buying a plane ticket to Tel Aviv. It's as if we never left each other...sigh...

After dinner we walked down Ben Yehuda street in the city center, which is beautiful. It was my first time into the city, and while most things were closed for Shabbat and the streets were nearly deserted, I still had that feeling of familiarity, still felt so privileged to be living in such a place.

We kept on walking to the German Colony, an affluent neighborhood full of beautiful old homes and coffee shops and restaurants, most of which are closed on Friday nights. But in my voyeuristic way, I enjoyed looking in the windows of the houses and apartments, and seeing families gathered around tables for Sabbath dinner.

We walked past the rebuilt Cafe Hillel, sight of a suicide bombing in September. I remember reading about it in Cleveland, how a Cleveland native, Dr. Applebaum, who had made Aliyah to Israel years ago, was killed there along with his daughter, who was to be married the next day. I thought about that standing outside the cafe, which is really nice--a place where I would go to sit for hours and study. It's hard to think of something to say about such a place, normal as it is, and yet completely foreign--a place that could be on any street corner in Cleveland, but ended up in the middle of a war zone.

Thursday, November 13, 2003


Last night Matt, Eugene, and I went to the Malka Mall to try and see Matrix, but we were too late. We were taking a gamble anyway--we had no idea what time it was playing and our feeble attempts to decipher the Hebrew online were (obviously) unsuccessful. We know the words for theater (kolnoa) and movies (seretim), but our feverish clickings of these words never actually seemed to lead us to any kolno'ot or seretim, at least not any in Jerusalem. So we didn't see the movie; instead we just sat in the food court eating pizza and talking about Kabbalah and school. It was surprisingly fun.

Monday, November 10, 2003


I have to admit, I often feel like an idiot here. I mean, here I am, a graduate student in religious studies, with absolutely no knowledge of religion from a scholarly perspective. Everything I know about religion I learned in Sunday school and on my numerous mission trips. Until now, my religion has been based on my own experiences, my own interpretations of scripture, and what I've read from Christian books that can (sadly) be described as somewhat-less-than intellectual. It has been far more personal than anything else.

The point is that I thought I knew a lot, and, as it turns out, I don't. I know next to nothing of this religion I profess, and even less of the religion that gave birth to it. I sit in these classes, and everyone's discussing pseudepigripha and Maimonedes and Shekhinah, and they all know what they're talking about, and it's taken for granted that I should know too. And I suppose I should, but this is all new to me. Nobody talks about how they feel about God. That's what I'm used to--warm fuzzies and unconditional love, not the transformation of the Ein Sof--or invisible, unknowable, infinite nothingness--into the personal God that interacts and creates.

But this, after all, is why I came. This is exactly what I want, as far behind as I am and as ignorant as I feel. I can no longer satisfy the questions of my intellect with the rhetoric of Wednesday Night Bible Studies or Vacation Bible School. If I am really, truly going to believe what I have always believed, then I need to challenge it, scrutinize it--detach from it even. It's too close for me to see clearly. And here, every day, I feel like I'm taking a step or two back. Whether this will lead to a more focused picture or a more confusing maze I can't yet say.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

View of the Judean Hillside

The view outside my door on a cloudy day

Saturday, November 08, 2003


Last night I had a few friends over for Shabbat dinner, and we ended up talking politics until two in the morning. The major consensus: Labor good, Likud bad. Well, that pleases me anyway, even though I wouldn't be inclined to describe any party here as actually good. But I've already admitted to not knowing very much, so my opinion doesn't carry that much weight at the moment. I'm still learning, still trying to sift through the myriad of very strong, very opposing opinions I hear everywhere I go.

Today I wandered through the Old City again, winding my way through the Arab market, buying a few things here and there, touching everything. At one point a picked up a copy of the Koran at a shop in order to impress Ksenia with my knowledge of Arabic, and the shopkeeper came over and asked us if we were Muslims. We said no, and he took the book from me and said "No Muslim, no touch Koran." He wasn't rude or anything, but I felt pretty dumb. Here is a rule I did not know. Oops.

Eventually we ended up on the Via Dolorosa. I didn't stop at all the stations, didn't sit and ponder what had transpired on that same street two thousand years ago. I surprise myself with my current detachment from all the religious themes that have been the center of my life. Now, here I am, in the center of it all, and I can't tear my eyes from the scenery long enough to contemplate where I really am. I'm cutting myself a little slack--there's a lot to take in. I just hope one day these two strands of my life will fuse here: the beliefs I've held forever, and the city I live in now.

Friday, November 07, 2003


We are now into the third week of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, wherein righteous Muslims from all over the world abstain from food, alcohol, smoking, sex, and music during daylight hours. What this means to me is that every evening, right around seven o'clock, I hear guns going off right outside my window. My apartment building overlooks an Arab village that comes alive with celebration every night--music, dancing, fireworks, and gunshots included. It's taken me a little while to get used to, but in the end, it sounds like a lot more fun than sitting in my room, reading, reading, reading....

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Coming Home

Well, I bought a plane ticket to come home for Christmas. This means missing a week of school, as the only day off for the Holidays here in the Jewish Homeland is December 25. The original plan was just to stick it out, but I can't. How can I miss Christmas? Or more importantly--how can I concentrate on the Akkadian pantheon and the epic of Enuma Elish on Christmas Eve? I just can't.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

The Pope's Doorman

I've learned a few more sentences in Arabic. Ibni bawaab bayt Albaba: My son is the doorman of the pope's house. Literally it says my son doorman house the pope. Hmmm.

I went to a party for graduate students the other night, and met a bunch of people...Two Australians, an Indian Brahmin, A Finn (is that how you say it?) a few Germans, a couple Eastern Europeans (Polish, Hungarian, Russian) a Canadian, and a grand total of two Americans. We are extremely underrepresented in the graduate program, which I actually like. I am not accustomed to being a minority. Luckily the conversation never turned to America and how badly it sucks (a conversation I'm used to having when I meet Europeans especially). Instead we focused on safe topics, like our majors and how many languages we speak and what we make of Israel. But I could tell beneath the surface there were opinions and arguments just waiting to come out.

It's just something about Israel. I remember at home how often people would shy away from outright arguing about religion and politics (with the exception of a few), not wanting to "get into it." Not so here. It's as if Israelis are just looking for a good fight. They talk loud; they talk forcefully; and they talk a lot. And yet, nobody ever gets mad. The argument can blow up, be huge, and then be over and everyone wants pizza. I find it fascinating, and it's having an effect on me, and all the other strangers here. We're all ready to argue. Not that I've ever been afraid of sharing my opinion, but...

Sunday, November 02, 2003

Old City

On Thursday night, Tammy and I had our first official party at the apartment. We went all out--three different types of pasta, fried eggplant, hummus and pita, mediterranean salads, foccacia bread with feta dip, and lots and lots of wine. There were a little over twenty people crammed into our living room, which we had hastily cleaned by moving all the still-moving-in boxes and trash into our bedrooms. There was a little too much Hebrew for my taste, but after a few glasses of Israel's finest I felt a bit more comfortable. Most of the people were Tammy's friends, artists from the Hebrew University's Betzalel Academy of Art, and they're offbeat and a little crazy, even in a foreign language. It was the most fun I've had since I've been here.


I spent most of the weekend cleaning and trying to catch up on my Arabic and Hebrew. I missed the first few days of Arabic, which put me further behind than I thought. But I have successfully mastered ten letters, and can now say simple sentences such as Bibayti tine wa toot. Translate: In my house there are figs and berries. (You only have so many words to work with using ten letters). Anyway, I figure I am well on my way to reading the Qu'ran. As for Hebrew, I missed the first three or so months of classes (after some sneakiness on my part--mainly, attending the advanced Hebrew classes for a few days before consultiing the director--I have been given permission to move up a level) which means that I understand about 1/16th of what goes on in the classroom. Never mind. How hard can it be?

On Shabbat--Saturday--I finally went into the Old City. I had to find one of the more adventurous types to go with me, since I am not allowed to take buses and had to walk. That wouldn't be such a big deal, except that to walk to the Old City the quickest way (about twenty-five minutes) means walking through Arab East Jerusalem and entering through Damascus Gate--again, Arab--and making one's way through the throngs of beggars and vendors in the Shuq (market) to get to the better known parts of the city. Most Israelis won't go this way at all, and very few students. I think it's ridiculous. Aside from the awesome religious sites, the Arab Quarter was my favorite part of the city. It was strangely familiar to me, maybe because of the time I spent in India and Morocco--the odd scent of sweat, spices, smoke, and shawarma, the jam-packed stalls selling entire carcasses of sheep(?) along with socks and makeup, the windows full of exotic foods and glass tea-sets and stone-carved chess boards and persian rugs, the vendors calling out to you in English (where you from? you buy nice gift!) or Arabic (I'd rather not know). It was a tangible change leaving there and entering into the quiet, clean, and utterly uncrowded Jewish quarter.

Of course we started with the Western Wall. I had thus far separated myself from the history of the place, content to enjoy the very much alive present, but you can't see the wall without going back two thousand years in an instant. I have much too much Sunday School and Judeo-Christian culture in my blood not to be immediately transported back to David and Solomon (never mind that this isn't the same temple) and straight on to Jesus Christ. I touched it. I put my face against it. I wasn't thinking anything at all. I wandered around the rest of the city that way, not really thinking, semi-aware that if I started to think maybe Jesus walked here or these walls have seen entire empires rise and fall or some philisophical/emotional whatever, I would never make it out.

Today I had my language classes, and now finally some time to catch up on this site before I go home and start studying again. I am knee-deep in Tobit, one of the books of the Apocrypha, Roux's Ancient Iraq, and figs and berries for my Arabic class. Hooray.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Back to School

I am halfway through my first week of school, and I have only been to two classes. The first day, I missed my classes because the Israeli students were all on strike, chained together in front of the gates, pleading with international students not to enter and hurt their cause. And I'm no scab, I'll tell you that much. So I skipped out. The next day I went to my first Hebrew class and found that I was to learn seven whole new letters. Considering I already know all the letters, I left. I went to my advisor, who suggested that I weasel my way into the next level Hebrew so I can graduate on time, even if I have no idea what's going on. I meet with the Hebrew Big Shot tomorrow to argue my (admittedly pitiful) case. Wish me luck. Then he tacked on two more courses to my schedule, and advised me to take the Literary Arabic course I had previously thought I couldn't take because it meets at the same time as another class of mine. So we worked something out, whereby I just go late to the other class (of course!).

So now that I've got most things ironed out as far as classes, I have an actual schedule--something I have not had in three years. Strange. My classes are as follows: Hebrew--8 hours a week; Arabic--4 1/2 hours a week; and 3 hours a week each of the following: Approaching Classical Jewish Texts, Eros and Kabbalah, God Man and History in the Ancient Near East, and Victory and Surrender: A History of Islam. Whew. I am a student again. I carry overly expensive textbooks, write in college-ruled spiral notebooks, sit through lectures taking extensive notes, eat in a cafeteria, and have homework, actual homework.

So I guess it's just your average graduate school, with a few exceptions: The textbooks are in Hebrew, or, if they're in English, I have to know Hebrew to find them in the bookstore at all; the spiral-notebooks all open backwards; the lectures are all three hours long, with about nine students each (no chance of dozing and/or doodling), and I have to have my bags and person searched to enter the cafeteria.

I just finished lunch in the Frank Sinatra cafeteria actually--the same cafeteria that was destroyed in the bombing of July 31, 2002. That was strange. Something new, I guess. But I've already gotten used to handing over my purse to enter anywhere: a grocery store, a movie theater. And it's not so bad that getting onto my campus is like getting on an airplane: show id, bags on the table for inspection, walk through metal detector, have a nice day. At least I feel safe here.

Friday, October 24, 2003


Last night I had Shabbat dinner with Tammy's family. Her Hungarian grandmother and uncle were here from New York, and they cooked up a little Eastern European feast--culminating in chestnut paste (strangely reminiscent of egg nog) and whipped cream for dessert. I suppose this was my first real Shabbat dinner, complete with candle lighting, challah, and a few rather light-hearted prayers from the secular head of the house, probably thrown in for my sake. I loved it.

After dinner, Tammy, her boyfriend Yoni, his best friend Gabi and I went out, and after a few stops and starts finally ended up on the beach in Herzlelyyia with a bottle of whiskey. We started out perfectly respectably, but somehow ended up rolling around in the sand and singing "Starry Starry Night" -- rather well I must say, considering we only knew the first three words. By the end of the night we were back at Tammy's house, discussing religion. I'm pretty sure I remember the discussion being wonderfully intelligent and stimulating. Yes. I'm pretty sure about that.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

First Things First

I am spent. The past month has been so exhausting, both physically and emotionally, that I haven't yet been able to make sense of everything that's happened. I have left my home, my loved ones, my sense of security--everything easy and understood--and moved to a distant and dangerous place. I don't even know exactly why I'm here. I know the facts: I am a grad student; I attend the Hebrew University; I am studying religion. These I know. What I don't know is why, ultimately, I felt that I was meant to be here for these things, and what I don't know is where this will all take me. (Hmm...a Masters in Religion...fascinating...but what are you going to do??) So I suppose what we have here is two journeys in one--a pilgrimage, and a quest.

I have been here for a week and a half. The majority of that time I have been in Ra'anana--a suburb of Tel Aviv--with my roomate Tammy's family. It was the perfect way to transition, spending my first few days in a real home with a real family, as opposed to staying in my not-yet-clean-or-cozy student apartment in Jerusalem. Tammy and I have been back and forth, cleaning, unpacking, painting, and hopefully we'll have everything done by the time school starts on Sunday. Right now I still feel like I'm on a trip, not like someone who will be living here for two years. I need to settle, put down feet, stake a claim on this place somehow. Then maybe I'll begin to believe that I'm actually here.