Hello, my humans!
When I woke up this morning (and immediately grabbed my phone, as we millennials do) I realized that I have been in Israel for over five weeks. I freaked out a bit. If I I had chosen a typical quarter-long study abroad program my time in Israel would be halfway over. I laid in bed this morning and tried to wrap my head around that idea (virtually unimaginable) before I was summoned fully awake by a nasty catfight outside my window, #justIsraelthings. Over breakfast (which consisted of standing over the stove eating scrambled eggs out of the pan) I found myself thinking about all the people (and little voices in my head) who encouraged me in one way or another to take the massive leap of faith to go abroad for a year. I am so thankful I listened close and made the right decision.
Undoubtedly, my past week here has only reinforced my confidence in the decision I made to come to Israel for a year. The week started with our first afternoon (of many to come) in Jerusalem. I felt pleasantly relieved when I arrived in Jerusalem and found the climate was, indeed, cooler and drier than Beer Sheva. I had been told this by virtually everyone, but for some reason, I had hesitated to believe it until I experienced it myself (people here talk about 99F like it’s the new 80F, so you really never know). Upon arrival in Jerusalem, we toured the Israeli National Library and spent a considerable amount of time in the “map room” with a curator discussing how changes in the political and national lines of the Middle East have been portrayed by mapmakers over the course of thousands of years. It was especially interesting to contemplate the perspectives of the mapmakers— as two maps, of the same geographical area, at the same time period, by two mapmakers of “opposing” views, looked very different. I’m sure all my friends who are geographers and historians out there could say this far more eloquently, but hopefully, you get the point.
After the National Museum, we visited Mount Herzl, the site of Israel’s national cemetery and a memorial to Israeli civilians who have been killed in terrorist attacks. Much like walking through Arlington cemetery, walking around Mount Herzl brought out a deep sense of reflection and contemplation in all of us. I left with a mix of emotions— ranging from anger and sorrow to thankfulness and uncertainty. Luckily, the other students here are always eager to have the difficult, opinionated, and often heavy conversations about the intersection of politics, emotion, and society. I always feel that should I want to, there is someone ready to either listen to me share my opinion, help me flesh out an argument, or explain to me the logic behind the way things are. It is truly one of the greatest aspects of this program thus far.
Needless to say, after Mount Herzl, we were all searching for a little joy and optimism. Luckily our program leader had organized dinner in Jerusalem at Mahane Yehuda, commonly referred to as “The Shuk”. After a drop-dead yummy dinner (falafel really does make you turn that frown upside down) we explored the shuk’s seemingly endless stands of dried fruit, fresh produce, jewelry, and baked goods. One of my favorite stalls had over ten different kinds of homemade, full-of-goodness granola. I bought an embarrassingly large bag of it, and thus the California-girl jokes commenced (though, it’s all flattery if you ask me). After stocking up on an unhealthily large supply of rugelach (google it if you are not aware of the heavenly treat you are missing out on) and fresh fruit we were loaded back on the bus to Beer Sheva with full tummies and big smiles.
The next day a group of us headed to the Grand Canyon, the biggest mall in all of Israel, to attempt to furnish and beautify (freshmen year all over again) our ugly, bare, cement dorm rooms. I had been sleeping in my sleeping bag every night since I arrived, and realized it was probably time to end the whole “backpacking in a prison cell” scenario I had been living day and day out. Thus, the shopping trip involved purchasing sheets, a warm (what was I thinking) comforter, an extra pillow, cooking ware, and some thumb tacks so I could finally hang up my treasured crayon drawings (thank you Naomi) and the many pictures and letters everyone sent with me. I spent a few hours that afternoon when I got home situating everything, followed by falling asleep, with my shoes on, on my newly made bed. It must have been my subconscious telling me I felt human again.
The rest of last week was surprisingly low key. Perhaps I spoke too soon in my last blog post (when I said things weren’t slowing down). On Sunday, after a calm weekend in Beer Sheva (complete with a neighborhood block party and the always lovely Shabbat dinner), we began our final full week of Ulpan classes. We have been focusing on expanding our vocabulary and conjugating verb tenses, AKA every verb we thought we knew just got 10,000 times more complex. It feels far harder to learn Hebrew than it did to learn Spanish. This is either because I forget the early horrors of learning Spanish all together, or because Señora Kavinoky was so methodical and fine-tuned in her teaching protocol that we soaked up the language without realizing it (likely, a mix of both). Or, maybe, Hebrew is just ridiculously hard. Regardless of the reason, pardon my cliche, but I feel like an old dog learning new tricks. Special shout out (perhaps more like sarcastic blame) to our life-long neighbor, and my adopted-second-father, Amir, for not teaching all of us Ray Avenue rugrats Hebrew at a young age. #shoulda #coulda #wouldabeenfluent
Putting Ulpan, and the “catastropha” that is Hebrew aside, this week I have enjoyed getting back into my workout routine, practicing yoga, spending time at the pool, and expanding my friendship circles. Some late additions to our group, Anna (environmental science) and Ryan (linguistics), have just arrived, who are also both staying here for a year. It’s great to have some new faces around. I’ve had a blast getting to know them these last few days, especially Anna, who’s obsessed with rock climbing and invited me to tag along with her to Beer Sheva’s bouldering gym this afternoon. She attempted to coach me, and then scaled some ridiculous routes on the other side of the gym, leaving me alone with my easy foot holes and bleeding, uncalloused hands. We climbed around for a few hours and then bowed out when my arms gave out and she got hungry. On our walk back to campus we picked up a few fresh pastries from the best bakery in Beer Sheva. We relished in the glory that is the taste of rugelach and bourekas while listening to the hum of the city and watching another peaceful Negev sunset.
And now, after all that, here I am, writing to you all (my favorite humans in the world) and slowly falling asleep despite the glow of my computer screen. Wishing you a great rest of your week, and sending a big hug to wherever you are.
Lila tov and so much love,