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.