My apologies for the longer-than-usual time that has elapsed since my last post. I must admit, posting a weekly blog isn’t easy. It’s a lot like keeping a diary, meaning that as time goes on it has become harder to keep the habit of putting aside time alone to sit, think and write each week. Processing so many experiences, emotions and opinions in one sitting isn’t easy. Never the less, here I am, trying to get back into the swing of things! Given that the past two weeks have encompassed so much, I’ve decided to narrow this blog post to six highlights as to not bore you with every second of my (oh so fantastic) life. So, without further adieu (and after quite a bit of procrastination) here are a few updates and favorite moments…
#1 You all might be thinking— is Cassidy ever even going to start really courses? (After what felt like an endless six weeks of Ulpan, I was wondering the same thing.) The answer is yes, real courses actually did commence! Two weeks ago we had our first day of the official school year. Here, my school week begins on Sunday morning (yep, remember the whole Sunday thing?) with a course that I’ve deemed my favorite thus far: “The Impact of Security Factors and the Search for Diplomatic Solutions in Israel’s International Relations.” The title of the course speaks for the nature of the course itself. It is taught by a 70-something-ish British historian and politician, Dr. Natan, who made aliyah (Google term if you’re unfamiliar) and moved to Israel 30 years ago. Dr. Natan reminds me a bit of an older, larger, Robin Williams, with glasses, a few more professional degrees and a British accent. Each class he wanders in a few minutes late, relaxes back in a desk chair (which we all nervously wait to tip over), puts a single photo up on the projector, and, coffee in hand, just starts talking. We all sit there enthralled. Two hours later— after discussing anything from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to his interviews with Margaret Thatcher to resource security in the Middle East (and its habit of sparking war)— his iPhone’s British Siri voice goes off, telling him class is up. Each time I walk out surprised, informed and downright curious. It’s great.
My second class of Sunday is “Topics in Environmental and Natural Resources Issues in Israel and the Middle East” taught by a South African professor, Dr. Lipchin. Dr. Lipchin is a leader in the “water world” of the Middle East, focusing on everything from desalination to the politics that surround water use. So far, I’ve found the course to be everything I wanted it to be, namely an in-depth look at environmental security issues in the Middle East, with a focus on water and clean energy. I’ve really enjoyed debating the weekly case studies and listening to his expert opinions on everything under the sun (literally).
On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I begin my mornings with the beloved Michal, working on my Hebrew. The structure and vibe of Hebrew classes haven’t changed much from Ulpan. The only obvious difference is that we have class three times a week for an hour and a half, versus five times a week for four hours. While this means a bit less time with Michal (who’s still cracking jokes and threatening us in sarcastic tones), it’s a good mental break from the “balagan” that is Hebrew. New languages are exhausting! Not to worry, though, I’m still making progress and, more importantly, making a fool of myself with my ridiculously strong American accent. On Wednesdays, I continue after Hebrew with the second weekly session of the two initial classes I mentioned, followed by an “Environmental Policy in Israel” class, taught by an Israeli lawyer. While being taught by a professional, rather than a professor, sounds promising in theory, fellow students and I are skeptical about this class (let’s just say he’s breaking rule #1 of PowerPoints— don’t put all the text on the slide). Bottom line: interesting information, horribly presented. I’ll share more later once we’ve figured out what’s up with this dude. And with that, my classes for the weekend late Wednesday afternoon, giving me Thursday, Friday and Saturday off to explore, rest, cook and study.
#2 While two Sundays ago was the first day of class, it was also the day that we met the highly anticipated “new people,” AKA 20 European students who had just arrived to join the study abroad program for the fall semester. Those of us who were here for Ulpan and are staying thru the semester (about 25 of us) had been talking this meet up for weeks.
It turns out that almost all of them are from Germany (they’re everywhere!), with a few others from Spain, Lithuania, Ireland, and South Africa. Many of them are studying politics or literature. From what we have gathered, hardly any of them are here to study Middle Eastern history, Jewish studies or environmental studies, as most of us are. This, combined with the tight bond that those here during Ulpan had formed, has created an interesting dynamic between the “old people” and those who have just arrived. Regardless, it’s been wonderful having new faces and personalities around. Watching everyone who’s just arrived get their bearings also makes me realize how much I’ve acclimated to Israeli people, culture, and routines since July. Even though it’s only been two months, I feel so assimilated into both the student life here and the lifestyle of Israel itself. Loco poco.
#3 Now onto a fun event! Last week we took a train to Tel Aviv one evening to check out a make-shift Oktoberfest in Serona Market, which is like the Ferry Building on steroids. We arrived in time for dinner and indulged in some drop-dead-delicious sweet potato ravioli with garlic sauce from the market. Afterwards, we got pretzels and beer and sat down at big picnic tables to enjoy the scene. Some guys sat down next to us with two pet rats (yep). Mimi and I asked if we could hold them (Anyone remember the Craford family rat circa 2004-ish? Checkers?), and they obliged. One of the rats fell asleep on my lap and I, in a weird way, was in animal bliss (#justIsraelthings, or maybe #justCassthings). The Israeli band on stage was singing lots of old (and random) songs from the US, at one point very seriously preforming Cotton Eyed Joe. We got a kick out of that. We finished our beer and danced for a while to throwback songs from our teenage years, and then headed back to Beer Sheva, exhausted, happy and full.
#4 I have been reminded by one of my friends here to include “The Pancake Dinner” on this list, so here it is! Last Thursday, after everyone had finished their first week of classes, I decided to make a big batch of cinnamon pancakes for our main girl gang. I don’t usually like pancakes (waffle lover over here), but the newness and glamour of studying abroad had worn off, and everyone was feeling a bit overwhelmed and homesick. Something told Mamma Cass that we needed a good old American breakfast-for-dinner meal! We pooled ingredients and I made a seemingly endless platter of fluffy pancakes— that was subsequently topped with everything from pomegranate seeds to chocolate chips, nuts, honey, fruit and (imported) maple syrup. After downing a few pancakes everyone had smiles back on their faces and spirits had been lifted. #missionaccomplished
#5 The final major highlight to mention is our trip to the moshav (Israeli town) of our program coordinator, Yael, with all of the new European students. We set off last Friday on a bus to the moshav, which is situated a stone’s throw from the Jordanian border (but actually, you could chuck a tennis ball over there easily). We toured the agricultural research center of the moshav, which was mind-blowing. The technology Israel has to grow produce in greenhouses in the middle of the desert is beyond insane. Afterwards, we visited a local winery and then had a delicious Shabbat dinner at our inn (which was actually a set of massive tents dreamily constructed in the middle of the desert). After dinner, Yael announced to us that her childhood friends wanted to put us in the back of pick up trucks and take us out of the moshav into the open desert to look at the stars (pros of having the tiniest study abroad group in existence). Of course, we all agreed and sped Indiana-Jones-style off into the darkness of the Negev. Upon arrival (to nowhere in particular) Yael’s friends told us they were going to set off a magnesium bomb (sorry to all the moms out there reading this). They assured us it was completely safe, as long as we stood far away, and that these bombs were routinely dropped from helicopters during army operations to light up the entire desert and survey the land. It made all of us students a little nervous, as we knew we were literally on the Jordanian border. What did border control think of this? We didn’t know what to say, so we just stood as far away as possible and watched it go off, make very loud bomb-like-sound and light up the desert hills for hundreds of meters around. While it was an interesting experience, I do hope it is the last bomb I will ever have to see in such close proximity. #eek
#6 And for number six, a realization that I have been in Israel for two months! Time flies here. “October is almost here, which means it’s basically Thanksgiving. Guys, Christmas is next week.” That’s sure how it feels, at least. As I mentioned above, watching the new Europeans get their bearings has made me realize just how much I’ve acclimated to my life here. A girl on this program last year told me that it takes three months to adjust to life in Israel, three months to enjoy life in Israel and three months to realize you have to leave Israel. So far, this couldn’t be more accurate.
In terms of my personal opinions of different aspects of Israeli culture, daily life and politics, the jury is still very much out. I’ve been asked so many questions by all of you. What do I think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Do I feel Jewish? Am I acting like a ‘typical’ Israeli yet, rude on the outside and sweet on the inside? How do I feel about guns being everywhere? Do I feel safe? Do I see violence? Do I miss home? Some of these questions I can answer somewhat straightforwardly. But I’m still hesitant to respond to any, as everything here is more complex than it appears. Others questions I am completely unqualified to answer and feel it would almost be a disservice to my own experience to form opinions on so early into my time abroad.
There is much more for me to do and see, many more people to talk to, stories to listen to and experiences to be had. Hopefully, eventually, I can come to form some concrete personal opinions on the answers to these questions. For now, though, I am content sitting on the sidelines, watching the whole game of the Middle East, Israel, and the world play out.
And with that, happy Sunday! I do miss home, avocados, dogs and sub-90-degree Fahrenheit temperatures (and of course you all) dearly. While life here is different, I must assure you it is just as good, and I am just as happy.
I love you all.
P.S. A special shout out to all my friends on the quarter system who are starting school now (especially to my attention-seeking bestie, Emma, who’s been begging for a shout out for weeks). I’m missing my little town of delicious food, bike circles, humble friends, hot yoga and farmers markets (AKA Davis) more than ever. Live it up for me.