Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Druze Village

Yesterday my Arabic class took a field trip. They chartered a bus for us and we drove up north to a Druze village in the Galilee. It was absolutely beautiful, the real milk-and-honey deal, perfect except for the cement wall to the right of the highway.

We went to an olive farm, and the Jahsan family gave us a tour of their factory, and we all loaded up on fresh olive oil to take home before heading out to eat at a hummous restaurant. We stopped at another village and took a walk through the hillside before heading home. It was a long day, tiring, but very fun.

Arabic Class Trip!

Eating Olives!

I am also halfway done with my second paper. I've been plodding through, despite my efforts having been hindered by my computer's sudden decision to quit. Well, just Word quit. It no longer exists somehow on my laptop. So I have to go to the computer lab, which is actually better as I work without distraction.

Tomorrow is my last day of class before Pesach break. Hooray!


That's all.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Lots going on

It's been a busy couple of days. As far as school is concerned: I have only to write the conclusion (arguably, for me, the hardest part) and my Ancient Near East paper will be complete. I finally finished the outline for my Jewish Classical Texts paper. I got a 43% on my first Hebrew test, which was much higher than anticipated, owing to the fact that I am a year's worth of Hebrew behind (not to worry--last semester I failed the first four tests until I caught up). Arabic has come to a standstill; my capacity has been reached. I absolutely love my seminar courses, and finally my brain feels thick again.

Other stuff: On Thursday, I went to Yad Vashem (literally: a memorial and a name), the Holocaust Memorial. We spent two and a half hours wandering through the history museums, the separate memorials, the hall of names, etc, and it was quite difficult. None of this is new to me, but it's fresh and raw every time I have to face that time in history. I'm sure you've heard about the eerie children's memorial, but nothing compares to walking through that dark hallway, where mirrors have been set up behind eternally lit candles giving the affect of infinite points of light in a pitch black room, where two voices slowly read off the names and ages of the Holocaust's one and a half million child victims. It was quite an intense visit, and left me pretty incapacitated for the rest of the day.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Do I have a sleep disorder?

So I'm still having nightmares every night. I have no idea why. They're not necessarily scary nightmares, but I'm always feeling some sort of negative emotion: fear, worry, anger, stress. I'm always in a situation over which I have no control, and I am always powerless, usually alone. It's horrible--mainly because I don't ever feel rested. I wake up remembering vividly all these dreams I had during the night, and I feel like I ran a few miles, not like I just woke up. Which means that I'm always tired.

And here's the strangest part: one of the results of this anomaly is that I still have to take a nap during the day, even if I slept eight hours, because I just can't make it. And, when I take these naps during the day, the dreams are even worse. I don't know how to explain it except to say that I don't quite fall all the way asleep. In my dream, I wake up in my bed, but I can't move my body. I am paralyzed. I want to reach over and see what time it is, but I can't move. And then, when I do manage to get out of bed, my movements are sluggish and take all this energy. Then suddenly I'm back in my bed where I started, and the whole process starts over again. I also really wake up several times, and have the same problem: I can't move. And yet I know that this time that I am actually awake, and that I am too tired too move. So I drift in and out of consciousness, experiencing varying degrees of paralysis, until finally I wake up and I'm breathing in these huge hysterical gulps, which is pretty frightening.

Okay, that last part only happened today and is not a regular occurance, but it's still odd. And the rest of my day is colored by it--suddenly I feel a bit surreal, a little out of place, off-kilter, what have you. And more tired than ever. Yuck.

There is more to write about, but I am exhausted, and think I shall sit upon my couch and do nothing for a while.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004


Ariel Sharon was at my school today, which was pretty annoying if you ask me. Policeman, soldiers, and security gaurds were everywhere, as were makeshift blockades cutting off entire sections of the campus--the result being that I had to walk around in circles for twenty minutes, unable to find a way out, until I finally snuck out well below the campus in the tunnel used by buses to whisk students off on their journeys home. When I finally came out into the fresh air, I enjoyed a pleasant breeze from the far too close army helicopters patrolling the skies. Delightful, really.

I didn't get to see Sharon, don't even know what he was doing there. I just saw the results of his presence, including a spontaneous protest against the assasssination of Yassin. All in all, every day here is surprising. And it appears that Spring has finally come. There's not a cloud in the sky, if you don't count the black smoke of burning tires wafting from the Palestinian territories.

Monday, March 22, 2004

I don't have any answers

At five o'clock this morning, Israel assassinated the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Achmad Yassin, in an airstrike as he left the mosque where he was saying morning prayers. He and some seven of his bodygaurds were killed.

Thousands and thousands of Palestinians marched at the funeral, crying and vowing revenge in the usual colorful terms--declaring that Sharon had "opened the gates of hell" and that they will not stop until they "cut off his head." Yassin was the founder of Hamas in 1987, jailed by the Israelis shortly thereafter, released in the late nineties in a peace aggreement with Jordan, and had already survived a previous assassination attempt in September.

All the students at Rothberg got an e-mail today warning us to steer clear of--well, pretty much everywhere--for the next few days at least. We talked about it endlessly in stilted Hebrew during Ulpan, and everyone has a different opinion.

I couldn't say what my opinion is. Certainly I believe this man was horrible, a hateful man who sent countless people to their deaths in the name of Islam, promising them however many virgins they get in the afterlife or whatever while he went on living quite comfortably. But even so, before I came to Israel, I was dead set against Israel's assassination policy, which flies in the face of democracy. Capitol punishment without a trial. But then again, the greatest democracy on Earth invaded a whole sovereign nation without trial or legislation, so there goes that argument. Apparently democracy has its limits?

But then again, it's different here. To many people, this is a war. In a war, the rules of democracy don't apply. Whether or not I see it as a war...I'm too close to it to make a just decision. It's too easy to stand on either side, when the reality is probably somewhere in the middle. I know that Hamas doesn't want a border at the green line, no matter what their rhetoric. I know that once they get it, terrorism will continue until Israel is no more. I also know that that will never happen. Israel is not going anywhere. The result: this.

I'm more scared than usual. Mad at everybody. Frustrated that I can't get at what is true here. All I know is that I'm going to lay low for a few days. See what happens.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

I hate shabbat

I'm feeling a bit down today. I've decided that I hate Shabbat. Everything is always closed; my roomate is always in Tel Aviv; all my friends are out of commission with schoolwork; and I am all by myself at home all day long. It's not entirely bad, as my apartment is now clean and my paper is only a couple of pages away from being done, but I am so lonely that I just want to sit on the couch and do nothing. No. I want to sleep. I'm too lonely to watch TV or even exist. I wish we had power switches and we could just turn ourselves off for a few hours to make days like these pass faster. Blech.

Th Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade claimed responsibility for the shooting last night, and apologized for their error--they accidentally shot an Arab. Oops. Sorry everyone, thought he was Jewish! Our bad! He was a twenty-year-old student at my school, out jogging on a quiet evening. They drove by and shot him in the head and in the stomach. Apparently they mistook him for a "settler" (as all of West Jerusalem is considered a settlement to them).

I am a little bitter about it all. I'm sad to say this country is turning my dovish heart into a hawk. How can you be liberal when some idiot might shoot you on your evening jog? Of course I have to remember to maintain some sort of perspective, but I'm in a bad mood to begin with.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Luise evenings

I had a (relatively) quiet evening tonight. I was lazy all day long--sleeping, day-dreaming, calling Jef--leaving my work for other days. Finally I pulled myself together and hailed a taxi to Luise's. We got stuck in a huge traffic jam, which ended up being a soldier check-point. The radio was on in the cab, and with my small knowledge of Hebrew I managed to pick up a few words: Terrorist attack. This evening. French Hill. We spent ten or fifteen minutes in a long line of cars, finally waved through after a few brief questions from heavily armed soldiers. Turns out a young man was shot in the head while he was walking around in my neighborhood, in fact right near the post office where I walk to pick up my packages. There were police and army everywhere. I don't know if they caught the guy, or how they seem so sure it was terrorism. Odd to think how much I'm hoping it turns out to be crime. Please let it just be a harmless criminal murder. Don't let it be that terrorists have taken to shooting pedestrians down the street.

We live in interesting times.

The strangest part: the rest of my night was quite normal. Luise and I went out to dinner, then to a bar for a drink, and headed home. My taxi driver taught me proper Hebrew on the cab ride home, and now here I am. I'm feeling rather tired and think I will go to bed. History goes on down the street, and I worry about my paper, the dishes.

Interesting times indeed.

Thursday, March 18, 2004


I'm having serious trouble concentrating. Must be Spring Fever. So I've been doing all sorts of things to keep me from having to work on my paper. The other night I made dinner for a bunch of friends, and it actually turned out pretty well. I'm surprised to learn that I can cook. Perhaps I have other latent talents I never knew about. I was always convinced growing up that I was a child prodigy in something, I just could never figure out what it was. Maybe I should start trying a bunch of different things until I finally hit upon my genius. Because, while I am pleased to discover that I can throw some tomatoes and onions and chicken together and somehow make it taste good, I'm pretty sure that cooking is not it.

But anyway, the dinner was nice; we alternated between Hebrew and English--felt very cosmpolitan, very ex-pat, very Hemingway. Well, except that we were speaking Hebrew. Unfortunately the dishes are still sitting on the counter while my paper collects dust. Ah well.

Last night I went for dinner at Luise's, then we got into her nieghbor Shimi's car and drove down to Talpiot for a CD release party. I had to pretend that I was Sabina, who was sick, so that our names would be on the guest list. I was instructed not to speak, because Sabina is, after all, German, and while I am picking it up a bit, I don't quite speak it just yet. Inside the band was playing some kind of electronic something-or-other, with a little light show and a small screen on which an odd loop of English words was playing. Butter. Contract. Bubble. Mister. Mouse. Coupon. It was very odd. I danced a bit, and ended up talking to another German all night, until we took a cab back to Luise's and I crashed in a heap on her bed.

Now I'm home, staring ruefully at the dishes and the notes for my papers, nursing a little hangover, and writing in this blog. I am happy. The sun is out. If I'm not careful, I'll end up calling Jef and talking for an hour like I did yesterday, just to hear his voice. I definitely have Spring Fever.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

A brief and total beauty

The other morning I heard this strange trilling noise coming from my shower. It would go away, then I would hear it again. It sounded like some kind of bird, but not any I'd heard before. Finally I climbed up onto the tub and peeked out the tiny window above the shower, and found myself face to face with this enormous, beautiful hawk perched on the ledge outside the window, literally inches from me and staring me straight in the eye. But when I moved to adjust my own precarious perch, it flew away. Still, that kind of thing doesn't happen every day now, does it.

I am skipping Hebrew today. I have a quiz in Arabic and must needs study. I did get an A on my Arabic final, but it was a low A and I am determined to do better. I shall lock myself in my room and read Arabic till I see squiggly script everywhere I look. I shall speak only in Arabic, even with my rather limited vocabulary...(happy, university, eat, drink, student, apartment, friend, guest)...One needs very few words to effectively communicate. I do not, however, possess the correct font to write this blog in Arabic, so unfortunately you will have to continue reading it in English. I also just realized that I'm not sure if I spelled the word "possess" correctly. Posess? Hmmm.

Friday, March 12, 2004


I wish my roomate stayed in Jerusalem on the weekends. I think I need human contact in the morning before I can do anything productive. Otherwise I just end up drinking coffee, surfing the net and talking to myself, while my work sits untouched and my apartment sinks into messy oblivion. I can't even do the dishes without a bit of conversation. How did this happen to me? Ah well.

Speaking of human contact, I've called Jef every day this week. We are supposed to be taking some time off so I can get my act together, and he's behaving very nicely with enviable self control. I, on the other hand, am apparently addicted. I cannot stop! We must speak! When I wake up in the morning, and again when I go to bed at night. Sometimes I can resist the urge, but last night, after two araks (a dangerously deceptive drink) there was simply nothing I could do. The phone was in my hand...I was dialing...and suddenly, there he was! Just like magic!

I really like this one. I might keep him.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

It's finally the weekend

For some reason I am really stressed suddenly. I know I have until April to finish my Mesopotamia paper, but I feel so pressured to get it in as soon as possible. The thing is, I am so accustomed to literary papers, being an English major and all. I like being able to trumpet my opinion, using unconventional evidence, as well as the text, to "prove" my stance on a relatively small aspect of a single work. With this type of paper, I am spanning millenia, in a subject on which I am definitely not an expert, dealing with actual fact, as well as interpretations of fact, tens of scholarly opinions, and with very little right to my own opinion at all. The result is that I have no idea what I am doing here. I am playing it entirely by ear. Twelve pages thus far by ear, twelve more to go. but I have noticed, unlike the papers of my past, that simmered inside me for two weeks, finally to boil over in a matter of hours into something hand-in-worthy, the longer I take with this one, the better it gets. But also, the longer I take with it, the more work I have every day as the assignments in my new classes build up. I know I had to deal with an unusual situation last semester, and that it won't always feel this way, but I feel rather submerged--and who knows when I'll get to breathe again! ARRRGGHHH.

An aside: I added a new photo album or two from my recent experiences with Jewish security and Jewish holidays. I also finished (finally) the long overdue Christmas album. Check 'em out, down and to the left.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Purim Sameach

Yesterday was Purim, a holiday I have come to love. Certainly the most festive of Jewish holidays, it celebrates the saving of the Jewish people by Mordechai and Queen Esther, who approached her husband, King What's-his-name, on their behalf when Haman had convinced him to have the Jews destroyed. Instead, it was Haman who was put to death on the very gallows he had built for the Jews.

Hence, the happy, carnival nature of Purim. Purim is celebrated on the fourteenth of Adar all over Israel, and on the fifteenth of Adar in Jerusalem (due to the fact that residents of walled cities were to be killed a day after everyone else, I forget why) On the secular calender, this usually falls in the end of February, or the beginning of March.

The rules concerning Purim: Everyone must be happy. It is actually a commandment. It is also a commandment that people give gifts to friends, alms to the poor, and hear the Megillah, or the Esther scroll, read at synagogue. One is to eat a great feast, and many people dress up in masks or costumes, as Esther hid her Jewishness from Xerxes. It is also an actual rule that on Purim, one must drink until one can no longer tell if one is cursing Haman or blessing Mordechai.

So, the entire weekend was one long party, with people dressed in strange costumes on the street, making lots of noise, and gleefully obeying the drinking statute. Last night we all had a great feast, started early due to the fact that the feast must be during the day, and were all quite comfortably obeying the drinking rule by seven. We painted our faces with bright colors, got all dressed up, and made great plans to go to several different parties, none of which actually came to fruition as we couldn't bring ourselves to leave the fun in our own apartment. Eventually, however, the party moved on, and I headed home to my own place where there was currently another party in progress. The drive home was wonderfully surreal, with large groups of Hasidic and ultra-orthodox Jews weaving and stumbling their merry, drunk way through the streets, sidelocks swinging, dresses trailing through the dirt, hats off heads and into hands. Everyone was happy, even the soldiers and policeman stationed every few feet or so.

I feel so happy and full these days. I truly feel like I am home, like I have made a life for myself here. First semester was difficult--adjusting, dealing with homesickness, trying to make my home feel like home, but now I have finally gotten past all that, and have really...settled. I am aware of this happiness all the time, as I have this tendency to suddenly and without warning separate myself from everything going on around me and mentally assessing my situation. Stop, look around the room, and yes--I am happy. Then come back to brain and start to live again. All is well.

Friday, March 05, 2004

The Propaganda Machine

This morning I went to see the "separation fence" with some other students from my University. I assumed that the trip was sponsered by my school, and it would just be a small group of us going to see it and discuss it. Turns out it was part of a huge tour planned by the Israeli government for foreign students in Israel. There were over a hundred students, mostly American Jews still in college, and they shepherded us into a building, passing out fliers titled Saving Lives: Israel's Security Fence, and led us into an auditorium, where the fence was vigorously defended by members of the Israeli government, and where Natan Sharansky addressed us and encouraged us to get involved in student activism in support of Israel when we returned to our home countries. He himself was freed from a Russian prison after thirteen years due to political pressure from "students and housewives."

In spite of the obvious propaganda being hurled at us, I did manage to learn some interesting facts, such as the fact that 97% of the barrier is chain-link fence hooked up to an electronic surveillance system, meaning only 3% is actual ugly cement wall--not something I would have thought from the media's portrayal. Also the fact that since the security fence was built around Gaza in the nineties, not a single suicide bomber has passed through the fence to attack Israel (a sort-of exception being the two bombers of Tel Aviv's Mike's Place who passed through the checkpoints with British passports--the point being that they didn't get over the wall). These were interesting and convincing facts, and in truth, I am not entirely opposed to the wall (much to the horror of my more dovish friends, I'm sure), but I certainly did not like being fed this information in such an obviously slanted manner.

After the speeches, we set off in several buses to view the fence from Gilo, a neighborhood in southern Jerusalem. Here it is merely a fence, barely obtrusive on the landscape, and the soldier in charge of the security fence (not separation fence) in Jerusalem spoke to us, spouting more facts about dead Israelis and the drastic steps Israel has had to take to protect itself.

After this, we headed to Abu Dis, an Arab neighborhood near Mount Zion, one of the most disputed areas home to a huge concrete wall that looked to me over fifty feet high. We were most shocked to find when we got there that Israel had placed bus number 14, destroyed last week in a suicide bombing, right in front of the wall as a grim justification for its existance for all the Arabs to live with every day. (Another such bus was shipped to the Hague, Israel's only contribution to the International Court discussion of the fence). So here we were, staring deep into the bowels of this decimated bus, with all its twisted metal and blown out windows and seats stripped from their places, where seven people died a mere week ago. It was a bit more than I could take.

I was looking around at the Army Jeeps and the soldiers checking the IDs of the Palestinians passing through, at the graffitti scrawled on the wall (no to another wailing wall...from warsaw ghetto to Abu Dis ghetto...paid for by America...etc), and then at all the students, crowding around the bus, cameras flashing, people posing in front of the wall...it was hard to keep my thoughts straight. I was angry with Israel, angry with the Palestinians, angry with the students. I don't know why. Maybe because I find it so impossible to get to the truth here, when I'm surrounded by so many arguments from both sides--I just don't know what's right. Of course this wall is horrible, awful, should be taken down, but then again, if it works...if I can take buses here one day...not worry about blowing up...things are so much more complicated than either side is willing to admit.


Thursday, March 04, 2004

First Week

The first week of school is over, and I'm exhausted. I've taken on another heavy schedule, and am still dealing with some of last semester's work, so I've been either in class or in the library for most of the week. It's a good feeling though--I get so much more done when I'm busy.

The courses I'm taking this semester include Early Christianity and the World of Late Antiquity; Early Jewish and Christian Interperatation of the Bible; Godfearers and Judaizers: The Problem of Boundaries in Early Judaism and Christianity; and Maimonedes' Guide for the Perplexed. I am also continuing my Islam tutorial, for which I will be writing a seminar paper on either Islamic philosophy in the 10th through 12th centuries, or asceticism in Mystical Islam, as well as Hebrew and Arabic. It all seems a bit daunting, but it's really exciting as well. My intellectual curiousity is piqued anew.

Tonight it's over to Ksenia and Helen's for dinner, and then tomorrow morning, bright and early, I'm off to see the much-disputed separation fence

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Palestinian Film Festival

Yesterday evening, after school, I went to East Jerusalem to meet Luise, Shadi, and Fadi at the Palestinian Film Festival being held at the YWCA there from February 26-March 2. Shadi had acted in a short film, and it was playing along with several other short films.

Shadi's film was excellent--twenty minutes long, about a group of Palestinian film-makers trying to cross the border from the West Bank into Jerusalem. Shadi played an Israeli soldier, much to the chagrin of his family. All of the other films were pretty depressing, without relief--but Shadi's took a difficult and depressing situation and, pretty accurately I'm told, managed to find as much humor as frustration. It was definitely an interesting experience. Afterward we walked to a sandwich shop and ate outside, and I was altogether content and happy.

In other news, my electricity got turned off today. Apparently the bill never got paid. So I was in the dark for a few hours until we paid it and they turned it back on. I have a hard time with the bills, since I can't read all that technical Hebrew. Tammy has a hard time with them because she's in and out of town all the time. Together, we are somewhat incompetent in that area. We also have no phone at the moment. All such good fun.