Sara Over There-a

Location: Jerusalem, Israel

Monday, January 30, 2006

Like Spinning Plates

Good morning! I am waking up after my second night of sleeping in my own bed! My landlord finally came to deliver the second bed on Sunday night. Not that Deborah and I didn't enjoy the closeness, but, my own bed is nice too. And...we have plates and soup bowls! I'm proud of this one - I left Pardes during lunch yesterday, around 1:45, and was starting to walk towards the store, when I saw a group of vendors. I went over to check it out, and as I walked down, I suddenly found myself in the middle of a huge shuk! Apparently, they set up there every Monday, with everything from shoes and clothing to toys, judaica, and kitchen stuff! I managed to bargain and get 8 plates and 7 bowls for 92 shekels, which is about $20. I'm guessing they don't bounce when you drop them on the floor. I didn't want to bring them all the way back up to Pardes, so I decided to walk them home. I am a 15 minute walk, I left at 2 and had to be back at 2:30 for class, so it counted as my workout for the day. In fact, when I made it back for class, right on time, my teacher asked me if I had been at the gym! I joined a gym, by the way. It's cool, I feel like a real person, not a tourist. It's an all women's gym, with machines, spinning, aerobics, belly dancing, and all of that cool stuff. No tap dance, I'll have to pursue that elsewhere. Shabbat was cool, I forgot to write about that. One highlight was Saturday morning, we went to a synagogue called Yakar, which has really beautiful singing. After the service ended, they announced that a group of people would be going to visit the sick. Deborah and I went along, and a group of us went to a hospital for elderly people who cannot take care of themselves, and don't really seem to know what is going on. We wished them Shabbat Shalom and sang songs and did a lot of smiling, because they didn't all speak English or even Hebrew, but it was really nice. Not much else to report right now, I guess I'll post again when we find a can opener and salt & pepper shakers!

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Post Not About the Elections

Shalom! I'm sorry it's been a couple of days, the wireless that we get in our apt from some unknown location is not working. But I'm here at "The Coffee Shop" sipping a yummy coffee and dropping an update. I am really feeling like I'm settling into a routine and getting to know people and all of that. My classes are going wonderfully - I'm learning everything from the useful, the fascinating, the fascinating but useless, and the confusing and relatively useless but with good intentions in mind. Yesterday, I went to the shuk (open market) for the first time. I bought a kilo of kumquats for 10 shekels, and the person that I asked in Hebrew if they were good, and how to eat them, wasn't lying when she said that they are quite tasty and you can eat the peel! I hadn't been downtown since my trip to Israel in 2000, but Ben Yehuda street was as lively as I remember. I can't believe they let us loose there as 15 year olds, but I suppose we all made it back to the bus. I took the bus back, and it was a nice, shaky stop and go ride that I got to take standing up. I think the highlight was when we stopped short and my cellphone slipped out of my hand into the lap of the seated couple that I was sitting next to. I could see "stupid American" written all over their faces, but they were quite nice. Yesterday afternoon I met the coordinator of the place where I will be doing my community service project. It's a community center about 10 minutes from school that offers a lot of services and programs for the low-income neighborhood. I am going to be working one on one each week with a student (the same each week), helping him or her with English homework. Michal, the coordinator, is going to try to find me someone a bit older, whose English will be better, so that I don't have to rely solely on my Hebrew to communicate. Other Pardes students who volunteer there say it is lots of fun, and I'm definitely looking forward to it. Last night, the Pardes students who are going on the trip to Poland did a sushi dinner fundraiser. Someone who had lived in Japan gave a talk about proper chopstick ettiquite. DO NOT stick your chopstick upright in your is an offering to the dead. That one is crucial, the others were more minor, if you are really curious than I can send you the list. Apartment-wise, Deborah and I spent a disgusting amount of time today buying kitchen stuff. We were having a hard time selling plates, but we found out that plates are out of season right now, and that more won't be ordered until before Passover, when people buy an extra set to use so that they don't have to make their regular dishes kosher. Who knew there was a dish season? I really like Fridays here, everyone is chill, even though all of the stores are very busy. The atmosphere is just different. Even people who don't observe Shabbat strictly get things done on Fridays and just sort of chill out. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, Shabbat Shalom!

Monday, January 23, 2006

What do the Rabbis say about jaywalking and cereal?

While I'm waiting for the water to heat up so that I can bathe, I thought I'd check in. The week is going well so far, just as I predicted and as all of you told me, I can concentrate on class much better now that I have a permanent place to live. The days are still really long and tiring, but I've heard that you build stamina and get used to it. One of the great things about college is not having class all day, but Pardes is 8:30 - 5:00, with optional prayer at 7:15 am and optional classes after 5:00! I'm searching for the balance between trying to get involved and get the "whole experience" and knowing my limits and pacing myself. The classes themselves are challenging. I was not entirely prepared for how difficult they would be, because it's a different kind of learning than I have ever done before. Knowing that something will be difficult is one thing, but actually trying it and getting lost and confused right off the bat and then trying to make sense of it is when you actually feel how hard it is. Anyhow, the challenge and newness (did I make that word up, and have I forgotten English already?) keep my mind constantly working and occupied, and I'm really enjoying all of my classes. In other news, I'm trying to quit jaywalking. Now I know how smokers feel. In Israel, of all places, where nobody has any patience for anything, I crossed the street because absolutely no cars were coming, even though there was a "red standing man light," and not a "green walking man light," and I noticed that the people on the sidewalk next to me did not cross. I thought it was strange, but that maybe they were daydreaming or something. The incident, however, was not isolated, I began to notice that people were waiting to cross until the light was green, even when the coast was clear. Finally, I asked someone, and it turns out that the police actively give jaywalking tickets. How else would Israelis resist crossing a clear street because the light told them not to, when they don't even drive in their lane? Part of me values all of the time I'm saving by jaywalking more than the shekels, but then again, I don't know how many shekels the ticket is, and I'm not really trying to get in trouble with the cops. So, I'm trying with all of my might to wait for the green light...I'll let you know how I do. If anyone hears of a gum or patch to help me out, I'd be very appreciative. Finally, I lied for the first time about my Hebrew speaking ability. I was in the grocery store, buying cereal, and I saw that the kind I wanted was on a shelf above my head (if you can imagine) and was stacked very precariously. I took a box, and thought it was clear, but three boxes fell. Only one hit me in the head, so that was cool. I took the time to put them back, and just as I was putting on the last one, a guy from the store came up and started telling me something in Hebrew. I couldn't understand what he was saying, but I decided that since I had fixed the cereal situation, it couldn't really matter much what he had to say to me. He could tell that I had no clue, so he asked what language I spoke. I really just didn't want to talk about the cereal anymore, so I told him that i speak Hebrew and English, and kept acting like I knew what he was saying. The crowning moment was when he took the box down because he didn't like the way that I had stacked it (which was prob. what he had been saying in Hebrew) and when he fixed it, it fell down again. Haha. I think the moral of the story is to take cereal from the bottom shelf, but then again, I'm not sure. I promise I will put up pictures soon, but I have not been home in the daylight this week, so as soon as that happens I can show you my home!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Chillin' on the Kibbutz

Shalom everybody - I hope you are all having a nice weekend. Mine was really nice. We left Friday to go north to a religious kibbutz. On the way, we had a tour guide show us some historic places, so the trip was broken up into a few different segments. The first segment of the trip was "naptime." I liked that a lot. After that, we looked at a place that they called the "Gateway to the Garden of Eden." During the day we got to see fortresses, areas that were ruled by Romans, Ottomans, and Jews at different times, and some of the agricultural progress that Israel has made on the land. While some people feel very Zionist, or pro-Israel, when they do something religious in the land, for me, I feel very Zionist when I see the amazing things that the settling Israelis did with the land. It's just impossible to describe how greeen and beautiful these areas are, and so impressive how productive Israel is, especially since 70 years ago, much of the area was a wasteland, and the country itself is so young. I won't go on too much more about that, but it is really striking to me. When we got closer to the kibbutz, we got to tour their fish ponds. Now I can say I've done that. The kibbutz itself, Kibbutz Shluchot, is a very pretty place. It is one of the few kibbutzim remaining that are still socialist. Most have gone on to give salaries and things like that. We had Shabbat services with them. While I didn't like that the women were on a balcony, above the men, because it was difficult to hear what is going on, I don't think I'll ever get over being blown away by the unifying factor in Judaism of prayer. I love that if you know your way through a traditional prayer service, then anywhere you go in the world, you can find a service to participate in. Even if some things are different, for the most part things are the same. It's very powerful to be able to come to Jerusalem, and say prayers with new people for the first time, and have it be the same prayers that I would be saying at home. Even many of the tunes are the same. It's really beautiful. Saturday was relaxing, and very warm! The sun was shining, and some of us took a nap on the grass. We came home refreshed and ready for a new week! Shavua Tov, Have a Good Week!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sara Has an Address!

I don't know the zip...but it's a start! Deborah and I found an apartment from a former student at Pardes. It's basically perfect :-) It's in Baka, a cool neighborhood less than 15 min from Pardes, and less than 10 from Emek Refai'im, the street with all the cafes and some nice restaurants and stuff. It's off of a street called Derech Beit Lechem, which has lots of tiny stores. It has a very residential feel, but is so close to busy places, so it's the best of both worlds. Right on the corner is a fruit stand, with a makolet (tiny market) across the street and another fruit stand across the street. You can smell the strawberries and oranges and everything when you walk by, it's wonderful! The apartment itself has a nice sized kitchen, living room, bed room, bathroom and foyer. We are sharing the bedroom. It really is big, and this way we have a room for tv, studying, guests, etc. The apartment is fully furnished, with linens, towels, dishes, cable, internet and all that. We don't have a solar power water heater, so that add some expense. Basically, when we want to take a shower, we have to turn on the water heater about 1/2 an hour before. There's no central heating, which is also normal for Israel, so we have two space heaters. It will take some getting used to, but it's nice to try and be more energy efficient. And we have a washer and a clothesline, which I think is great! I received a lovely complement today, while I was at the mall looking for a phone card. An American man came up to me and asked me if I spoke English. I said yes, and he asked me where the movie theater was. I answered that I wasn't sure, and he thanked me anyway, and then said, "Your English is really good!" I thought he was kidding at first, because he could tell I was American, but I really don't think he was! We are going on a trip to a kibbutz this weekend, stopping for a hike on the way. It will be nice to see some different parts of Israel. It's hard to find other time to travel here, so it's nice when they build it into the program. I'll definitely take pictures this weekend and of my new place so you all can see! I'm going to get some rest before the trip, but have a great weekend everyone!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I'm Homefree!

Well at least it sounds more positive when I say it like that. The search continues. I found a cool place last night, furnished and in a great location, in a two bedroom apartment, the other room being occupied by a middle-aged, recently divorced man...but darn it the kitchen wasn't exactly kosher, so I'm just not sure it would work. Fortunately, we have a few more leads. I had a fun conversation with one potential landlord. I was speaking to him in Hebrew, which he could somewhat understand, because let's face it, I can only somewhat speak, so he kept asking me to speak in English. When I did, however, he couldn't understand me at all! He asked where I was from, and I told him I was American, and he didn't believe me, because he apparently he can understand American English, but not mine! He wanted to know where in the US, so I told him near Washington, but he didn't recognize Washington DC. I tried to say the capital, and where the president lives, but no dice. Did I mention that he had a severe stuttering issue? Good times. The people in the apartment now aren't moving out quite yet, so he'll call me when the time is closer. I went to the psych evaluation today. It was weird being the person that I've learned about in so many of my classes! I got to do all sorts of things...remember sequences of numbers, make up stories based on pictures, replicate drawings using blocks, ink blot tests, and the MMPI, where you answer approximately 560 true-false questions that range from "I feel confident" to "I know that people are plotting against me." Now I don't know exactly what to make of this, but after one of the sections, the psychologist did ask, "Was this test difficult for you?" Uh...does that go in the category of things you never want to hear after a psychological evaluation? Hmm... If I was at all crazy when I got to the interview, it would most likely be due to the bus ride I took to get there. In Israel, they don't sweat things like the safe placement of people in moving vehicles. I personally was standing directly next to the driver, which I suppose gave me a nice view of the traffic and honking cars, but behind me were people still on the stairs! As long as the door shuts, they are on the move. With all of it's craziness, the bus routes seem to be thorough, and are useful when a place is too far to realistically walk. I hope that everyone is having a pleasant January. Let me know if you get some good snow!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Getting "Psyched"

I'm going to skip telling you about the rest of my Shabbat. It was lovely, but there will probably be others much like it that I'll want to tell you about. In the meantime, do I have a story for you! For HUC I am required to have a psychological interview, just to make sure I have all of my marbles (or at least most). I worked out a day with the psychologist before I left, but I called her back on Sunday to work out a time. She called back with a message that the test has to be moved to Tuesday, instead of Wednesday. I mentioned this to my Talmud, or Jewish law, teacher, because it was during her class, and she was not very happy with me missing the first day. I'm not too happy either, because I got put in a higher level than I had expected, because of my Hebrew ability, even though I don't have any background in Talmud. The first day was going to help the new people catch up, and it's just not good for me to miss it. I called the psychologist and left a message to see if I could reschedule. In the meantime, I spent the afternoon after the orientation just walking around the Baka neighorbood with some people who are all looking for apartments. We had called a woman on Friday with an apartment that was unfurnished (and therefore not ideal) and she said she would call back to schedule a time for us to look. Someone gave us the advice that we should look for ads on bus stations, so we walked around doing that and killing time until 8:00, when a Pardes student was having a welcome party that we were all planning on going to. My cell phone rang, and it was a woman who didn't introduce herself, and whom I could barely hear. She said something about setting up a time, and that she could do it at 8:00 pm, so I figured it was Dorit, the psychologist. I got the address, and asked if I should bring anything, and how long it would take, and she said it would take 15 minutes. I was happy to hear that her office was very close to the party, so I could just swing by, do the psych thing and then meet up with everyone. I hadn't eaten dinner because there was going to be food at the party, but I decided to stop and get some food because I wanted to be in good shape for the interview. At the cafe, around 7:30, my phone rings, and it is Dorit, the psychologist, saying that she got my message and that she is sorry, but my test has to be on Tuesday morning. Huh?????!!!!! Whomever I spoke to before was not Dorit! I checked the number in my phone, and compared it to the people that I had called, and I realized that the person who had called me while I was walking was the woman I called on Friday about the apartment. No wonder she sounded strange when I asked her what to bring, how long it would take, and that I was calling her Dorit and thanking her profusely for agreeing to meet with me at 8:00! I called her back and cancelled, because we really do need a furnished place anyway. But even better, is to imagine what would have happened if I had actually shown up at this woman's house, thinking I was there to take a psychological exam. At least, I would have been confused as to why she was showing me her kitchen and bathroom! The thing is, I can't really blame that on Jerusalem or Hebrew, minus that I am looking for an apartment, but it was definitely an entertaining situation. Other than that, I took my first bus ride and my first cab ride. The cab ride was because I stared so long at the bus going back, trying to figure out if it was the right one, that it closed the door and started to drive away. I knocked on the door, but it was a timid American knock, not a hearty Israeli bang. It was a good learning experience though - I've never even hailed a cab by myself in the U.S.! In conclusion, arrange all of your psych evaluations in writing, and in Israel, point your finger out and down, not up, to get a cab :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Locked Out but Well Fed

I hope everyone is having a nice Sunday, if you are reading this and it is still Sunday. Because here, it is Sunday, and Israel's Sunday is a work day (our Monday) and I miss watching Best Week Ever in my pajamas and doing the crossword! Today will be a busy day - I am taking the Hebrew exam for HUC (rabbinical school) and Pardes is having an orientation, where I will get to meet the other new students and fun things like that. My first Shabbat in Jerusalem did not disappoint. It didn't begin on the greatest of notes, but it rose above! On Friday during the day, I met up with a friend of a friend Deborah, who also graduated early to come to Pardes to study. We were comparing apartment search notes and things like that in a cafe on Emek Refaiim, the cool street of restaurants and cafes for the 20-30 year old crowd. I still take the long, easy routes to places, because I would rather walk longer and not get lost, so it took me 1/2 hour get there when it is really 15-20 minutes. I didn't leave until close to 3, and had to be back in that area at 4:30 for services, which start shortly after candlelighting, regardless of what time that might be during the year as it changes. Anyhow, I was in a huge rush, so I power-walked to the apartment and was locked out! In Israeli homes, if you leave your keys in the door in the inside, which you need to do to lock the door when you come in, then a key doesn't work from the outside. I knocked an all of that, but somehow they didn't hear, so I couldn't get ready for Shabbat. I was a little steamed! I called Deborah, and she took me in and gave me clothes, but it was not the best situation. We met another new Pardes student, Rachel, at services, which was a congregation called Shir Chadash. The service was nice, the women sang as loudly as the men, which is hard to find. A fuse blew just as we were leaving, and because it was Shabbat, no one could fix it. Apparently in Jewish law, although I don't see how, it is ok to ask a non-Jewish person to do this for you, so the rabbi went out to find an Arab cab driver. It seems embarrassing to me, but perhaps I don't take Shabbat seriously enough. A Pardes student name Abbi hosted Rachel, Deborah and I for dinner. Abbi has her PhD from Cambridge, on the topic of Contemporary North American Yiddish Song Lyrics. Huh indeed. She's British, not even from North America! Anyway, for such an esoteric (I used it, Julie) topic, she's down to earth and a lot of fun. Other attendees were a student from Poland, from the Czech Republic, and from somewhere in the US where she had a chance to become friends with people I know from Hillel! Small world, which I am reminded of here every day, because it seems like everyone knows everyone! More about Shabbat in the next entry. Thank you to everyone who has emailed me or posted replies, it means so much that you are reading and giving me feedback. You will all be happy to hear that the people in the doggie apartment have decided to rent the room out to people short term, so I will not be living there :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Day One!

I started off the day with the most important part of any day...breakfast! You see, breakfast is the real reason I came. It's just wonderful. All of the fruits and veggies are so fresh, with good cheese (primarily goat) and bread and all of that. We won't talk about the instant coffee (what am I going to do?!) After breakfast, I went to Pardes for the first time to do some paperwork, meet people, etc. I got there right in time for a shiur (Torah study/lecture/discussion) about leadership. It compared the leadership styles of two rabbis back from the days of the Talmud, one very autocratic and the other democratic. The teacher used this as a platform to discuss the importance of having an open community, among other things. I started meeting people, which of course turns into a game of Jewish geography, but that's not news. I left Pardes and went to get a cell phone. I knew Orange, one of the main companies, had a store close by, so I went into the mall across the street from Pardes. I wandered around there for a bit, and didn't see it, so I asked a woman at a kiosk. Now, here's the thing that makes asking questions tricky. I want to practice and improve my Hebrew, so I've been using it as much as possible. That's all good, but when you ask in Hebrew you get an answer in Hebrew! And I don't know what the heck the nice lady said, but of course I nodded like I did and started walking. It's strange what comes to me automatically. Nodding at things I don't get is one thing, another is saying "hi" to people or "excuse me" or other things in English. Of course, it will be even stranger when Hebrew "shalom" or "s'licha" is automatic! Anyhow, I asked the guard outside of the mall about the Orange store and he said a lot of stuff in Hebrew too, but he pointed. And I didn't find it, but I found a makolet (market) and I was thirsty so I bought some oj and asked the clerk, and he pointed the same way as the guard and added a corner to turn right at, and so I followed that and there it was!! I'm now the proud user of a Nokia phone. I looked at an apartment today, they'll let me know by Sunday if I'm chosen. They asked if I liked to clean and I told them I used to be a maid...that went over nicely. The place is cheap and near Pardes, but the bedroom is tiny and they have two dogs, which is new to me. But I'll take it if they offer for sure. I rented a video from the machine (like at McDonalds). All the directions are in Hebrew, so I hope I can figure out how to return it, the late fees are high and they have my credit card number! Also, I'm officially on the "I don't know what anything at the store is so I'll just make a sandwich" diet. I think that will improve when I go to the store a few more times and when I have a kitchen where I can cook. As of right now, I have not found any veggie burgers, but at least I found chocolate with pop rocks, and my favorite Nature's Valley granola bars! Tomorrow is Shabbat, and I have a place to go with other new Pardes students for both Friday dinner and Saturday lunch, so that should be nice. Good night!

The Journey Begins

As you probably know, I am studying in Jerusalem at a place called Pardes. Why Jerusalem? Because that's where Pardes is, because I didn't take all of that Hebrew at UMD for nothing, and because it should be a challenging, educational, and awesome experience. Why Pardes? It's a non-denominational, not exactly traditional, center of Jewish studies. I know very little about classic Jewish texts, and feel that having a time that is purely devoted to study, rather than the occasional Shabbat afternoon at school, or as one of many things to learn while in rabbinical school, that I will really be able to focus and absorb what I'm learning. So here I am. I won't bore you with all of the details of the flight. I had all of my possessions in two big suitcases, a carry-on bag and my purse, and when I woke up this morning, I felt like I had gone to the gym, because I was so sore I could barely move my arms. Here's what I gleaned from the journey: -vegetarian food on swiss air is atrocious, and i'll eat almost anything (besides meat) -having an exit row is sweet! -changing planes at 2:30 am is not sweet -luggage carts are your friends -people in Israel are the most hospitable that I've encountered - the person next to me on the plane and on the taxi, both total strangers, gave me their phone numbers if I need a place to stay When I got to the B&B I got settled, then took a walk to find a market. I got lost and then eventually found a supermarket, hardware store and natural food store! The entire trip was 2 hours of dark, cold, and rain, but I suppose it's all part of the process. I'll cut this off for now, so you don't all get sick of this a stop reading!


Shalom, and welcome to Sara Over There-a!