Hello wonderful people!
It is incredible to think I have already been in Israel for almost three weeks. The “newness” of studying abroad is still overwhelming. And frankly, as exciting as that is, it is also quite tiring. Today was much appreciated, as it was the first day since I have been here that I have been able to take a breather. I slept in this morning, worked out at the gym, packed a picnic lunch and met my friends at the pool. We listened to our friend Felice play the ukulele, discussed a trip we are planning for our ten day Sukkot vacation in October and had some incredible conversations about the Holocaust and genocides (I love hanging around epically smart humans for just this reason— what other 20-year-olds talk about this by the pool?!). Then, later this evening, we made dinner together while reflecting on our favorite moments from the last week— there are so many!
One of this week’s highlights was listening to a lecture by Dr. Rony Berger, a clinical psychologist who studies and practices trauma psychology. He has worked at Stanford and Tel Aviv University and is now at Ben Gurion. His lecture was focused on the characteristics of people who are immersed in countries, cultures or institutions that are causing large-scale harm or terror. While there has been a lot of research done concerning people who conform to participating in causing harm (think of Stanford Prison Experiment), Berger was more interested in studying the people who didn’t conform to the norm, stepped aside, and said “this is wrong, we are not going to participate” (think of Germans in the Holocaust who helped Jews). He has worked extensively with Philip Zimbardo (who conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment) to research this phenomenon— focusing especially on terror organizations in the Middle East and people who are at risk for being indoctrinated or enticed by the “glory” of terrorism. Berger concluded that the best way to create a good person who is able to say “no” to evil groups (in a nutshell) is to make sure he or she is well educated, taught empathy and mindfulness, shown different cultures and customs, and given positive, good-natured role models in life. Needless to say, all of us students left the lecture thankful— feeling like we had been gifted these things as a child in one form or another. Thanks, Mom and Dad!
In other news, we had our first Hebrew test on Thursday, so I spent most of Wednesday learning verb conjugations and memorizing vocabulary. Luckily I’ve made friends with Hannah and Hannah (yep, two Hannahs!) who are Hebrew wizards and kindly tutor me every night at dinner time (which has mostly consisted of us sitting on the floor eating applesauce and mushroom omelets made on crappy dorm stoves #college). The most difficult thing about learning Hebrew so far hasn’t been reading the language right to left or getting used to a plethora of new throaty-sounds, but instead working with the ridiculous alphabets (sorry to all the native Hebrew speakers reading this, but your language is loco). Once again, my teacher, Michal, came to the rescue and spent hours this week writing the vocabulary again and again until we got it. We also found out during class that Michal will continue to be our teacher for our university Hebrew classes in the fall, which was the best news of the week as she has such a practical, humorous approach to the language. At one point this week I asked her to define a few words for me in Hebrew that are beyond our current vocabulary level. She turned to me and said, “Oh my darling, I cannot give you those words in Hebrew yet. I won’t allow it. They are too complex for you, darling. They will make you cry!”
Luckily, I didn’t cry and felt good about my test on Thursday. As if Michal couldn’t get any more wonderful, she handed out chocolate to us while we were taking it. That soothed some pain. But, in all honesty, it was actually gratifying to take the test and realize how much I’ve learned in just the past two weeks of Ulpan. The intensity of Ulpan is overwhelming, but I am walking away with a solid foundation that will help me when class begins in September. Major shoutout to Michal and Hannah^2.
After our test, we celebrated with lunch down the street at Hummus Shal Trina, which locals swear has the best hummus in the Negev. Endless bowls of hummus garnished with everything from chickpeas, eggplant, and mushrooms, to eggs, sauces and tomatoes rotated around our group’s table. We feasted on the bowls of glory with fluffy pita, pickles, french fries and the most perfect falafel I have ever tasted in my little life. In summary: Israel is setting the bar ridiculously high in the food department (Mediterranean Falafel and Oren’s at home and Sam’s the Mediterranean and Chickpea in Davis don’t even compare). Life will never be the same.
The most memorable adventure of the week came late Thursday night (special props to you if you’ve read this whole darn thing and made it to the Thursday night section). Jonah, Hannah, Hannah, Maya and I had decided earlier in the week to take a bus to Mitzpe Ramon, a city about an hour and a half south of Beer Sheva, late Thursday night to watch the meteor shower. While getting on the bus Thursday proved challenging and involved some pushing and shoving (half of Israel was said to be headed to the city that evening) we made it to Mitzpe Ramon shortly after midnight. The city and its suburbs had turned off their lights for the meteor shower to intensify the contrast between the stars and the sky. We got off the bus at the last stop, near the Beresheet Hotel and crater edge, and walked out on a desert path for a while before settling down. All we had were a few sleeping bags and our sheets from the dorms, so we created a makeshift sleeping area and all lied down to watch the sky. The next few hours were filled with snacks, wine, stories and shooting stars (or meteors, still confused on this part). We looked upwards forever. There was something so meditative about looking out into the universe for such a long period of time. Every thirty seconds or so, a bright streak of light would sail across the sky and the thousands of people in the desert darkness around us would all gasp quietly in awe. Truly unforgettable.
As soon as the sun rose on Friday we packed up and headed back to the bus stop, past the crater, some camels, and people still sleeping on the ground. While we waited for the bus I spoke briefly on the phone with Mom and Dad, who had had Jack, Christian, and Kelly over for dinner, dessert and Olympics. Mom was so happy they came to hang out at the house even though I wasn’t there. What loving boys and good friends! (I tell you if you need somewhere to raise a kid, come to the Los Altos Village, we do it right.) Eventually, I hung up, we got on the bus, and made it back to Beer Sheva by 9am.
After a long week of activities, we took time to wind down Friday night during our potluck Shabbat dinner. We ate, shared stories and humored each other. It also gave me time to reflect on the past few weeks here. For me, the most incredible thing about studying abroad so far has been finding people from all over the world who care about things that really matter to me. They are people who have an ever-present desire to learn, who thrive off of new experiences, who are happiest with the simplest luxuries in a foreign land, and who love the thrill of a new culture surrounding them and a fresh landscape under their feet. They are intelligent and authentic and inspiring. In every way possible I feel so lucky to be in this country, with these people, doing what I am doing.
Laila tov from a very sleepy girl.