Hello to all of my favorite people!
I continue to think (perhaps foolishly) that life here will settle down. Certainly, Beer Sheva and Israel have begun to feel increasingly familiar and comfortable, but the energy, excitement, and busyness of our group and program have shown no signs of slowing. No complaints here! I did, however, enjoy a few quiet hours by myself this afternoon to work out, mentally recharge with some yoga and wash my clothes. Currently, I’m sitting in my itty bitty room, which smells intensely of lavender laundry detergent, staring at my clothes that are hung on every corner, knob, and nail in the room trying to dry. There’s a major tradeoff between having the window open so the clothes can dry, or having it closed so I can have the AC on in the 100 F heat (cold air does not dry clothes…at all). Anyways— you’re not reading this to hear about my laundry conundrum, so let’s get to it!
Last Sunday was Tish’a B’Av, a Jewish holiday that commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem. Traditionally, the holiday is a fast day, so many of my friends here fasted from Saturday night at dusk until Sunday night at dusk. Fasting involves not eating food or drinking water. Going outside without at least a liter of water is a big no-no in the Negev, so I spent most of the day inside with them watching movies and doing homework. After the fast ended we went across the street for burgers at Agadir, the most American restaurant we have yet to find in Beer Sheva. I had a tasty mushroom veggie burger (hard to make a good veggie burger, so props to Israel), green beans and garlic (they’re oddly obsessed with this here), and a large serving of my new favorite dessert, salhab (coconut milk pudding doused in rose water with nuts and shredded coconut on top).
Because Sunday was a holiday, and we had no Ulpan, getting up Monday morning for Ulpan was a little rough. Luckily, we woke up to the best news ever: it was Beer Sheva’s annual Hummus Day! After Ulpan, Hannah and I headed back to Hummus Shal Trina (mentioned last week), which was serving free pita and hummus all day. Can you say H-E-A-V-E-N?! The tiny restaurant was an absolute scene— hoards of people were waiting outside, waiters were rushing around with trays of hummus and pita, the manager was passing out free shots, and all the customers were on hummus-highs (I swear, I think this is a thing). We got seated and ordered a bowl of hummus with sautéd onions and mushrooms, and their signature red and green sauces. No sooner did we begin to rip apart pita and dig in, when one of the employees came up to our table with a massive video camera, asking if he could film us for their Hummus Day video. Thinking that he would get a quick shot of us eating and move on, we agreed. Instead, he spent the next half hour directing us (kindly, I may add) to get up close shots of the pita scooping up the hummus at the perfect angle, then us smiling and eating it. Basically, this meant that we had to constantly be eating hummus for half an hour. It may sound appealing, but Hannah and I got ten minutes in and thought we were going to hurl. Never the less, our director brought us another basket of pita and encouraged us to continue. When he had finally got the shots he needed (and when we felt that we legitimately had pita babies growing in our tummies) he went to the kitchen and got us free desserts as a thank you. Somehow we ate those too and then headed back to the dorms where I promptly passed out in the most debilitating food coma I have ever experienced.
Thankfully, Tuesday provided some relief in the food department, as I cooked all of my (appropriately sized) meals in the dorm (without a director telling me to eat like Michael Phelps). In the evening Hannah, Hannah, Maya and I combine ingredients from all of our fridges and made a stir-fry with rice noodles, veggies, and eggs. After dinner one of the Hannahs and I booked flights to Crete for Sukkot break in October. This Hannah reminds me of so much of my friend Kia (hey Kee!), which means I know she is going to be the best little travel partner there is! Buying flights also prompted the trip planning phase to begin, which, as many of you know, I adore. I also booked my flight to Madrid for Hanukkah and Christmas with the Weiners. I know by that time I will be missing home, so it’s nice to know I’ll have some family to meet me half way. I am also in the process of planning out my two months of travel once I leave Madrid, which loosely consists of traveling to Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Sweden, Spain, and Morocco. Needless to say, I’m getting hyped. Happy Cass!
By Wednesday at lunchtime, we had recovered from Monday’s hummus overload and ventured back out onto Ringlebloom Street (main restaurant street in the university neighborhood) to try a sandwich shop locals had raved about. We got in the lunch-hour line and watched as the man making the sandwiches cut loaves of challah in half, and then sliced them open. It took us a few minutes to realize that each sandwich was made on an entire half of a loaf of bread. Insanity. In typical Israeli fashion, when we got up to the counter to order, the man told us what we wanted to eat and refused to make us what we had intended on ordering. Israeli pro tip #1: don’t be offended when strangers tell you exactly what YOU want, even though they only met you ten seconds prior. So, in essence, we rolled with it. It turned out we got a sandwich that put every deli, everywhere, to shame (yes, including you, Italian Deli and Ike’s). The toasted challah bound together a plethora of sauces (fermented beet, plum BBQ, peach-whiskey jam and pesto) and ingredients (portobello mushroom, roasted tomatoes, onions, avocado, and grilled nectarine slices). How I will ever eat a simple PB & J again, I do not know.
We were all thrilled by the time Thursday came around (TGIT), as we were tired from studying for tests (the test this week actually made me want to cry) and eating our own weight in food. After Ulpan on Thursday Hannah, Hannah, Mimi and I got on a train to Tel Aviv to meet up with Hannah’s boyfriend, Yoshi, who is in the army and had the weekend off. We got a quick dinner at the Serona Market (basically Ferry Building on steroids) and walked around the different stalls tasting every sample of vegetable, nut, cheese, and dried fruit in sight. I also found a little organic store within the market that had my favorite shampoo and the all-mighty Dr. Bronner’s lavender soap I love. I bought them and got made fun of for being a “typical” natural-product loving, health-conscious Californian (which happens almost daily). But, as Jordan would say, #worthit.
After dinner, we went to Yoshi’s apartment. Many of his friends from his unit came over for the evening, along with a bunch of Hannah’s friends from when she did a gap year in Israel. It was a great mix of native Israelis and Americans who had made aliyah, and we had a blast talking to everyone about life in Israel compared to life in America. The next morning we went out to breakfast at an American-Israeli brunch spot, where I had yet another incredible meal (will spare you the details on this one, as I’m sure by this point you’re either very bored or very hungry). Afterwards, we walked down the main boulevard of the city, poking into little shops here and there before getting on a train back to Beer Sheva.
Last night we wound down and had our weekly potluck Shabbat dinner— complete with sweet rice and mango spring rolls, shakshuka, challah, roasted eggplant with tomatoes, salad and hummus. As with every Shabbat, I appreciated being around a group of people who weren’t constantly checking their phones, or anxiously waiting for an activity later in the evening. Simple, meaningful conversations are always easier to have under the conditions and tradition of a Shabbat dinner. It is undoubtedly one of the customs I have enjoyed most since being here, and it is something I look forward to each week. Love.
Whew! That’s all I got for now. And for all of you asking if I miss home yet…well, I miss the dogs, hot yoga, biking, ripe avocados, and limitless bananas, but that’s about it. They are all #californiaproblems that I am more than capable of dealing with!
Sending a big hug to whoever is reading this. Love you.