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.