It’s been a quiet, relatively uneventful week for me here in the Negev. I’ve settled into classes for the most part, and I’m gearing up for October, the month of the hagim (Jewish holidays). Between Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot, we only have two days of class in the next four weeks. When I first saw our study abroad schedule I had expected this break to feel awkwardly placed and unnecessary, but it turns out that it’s perfect timing. After ten weeks of instruction (Ulpan and classes), which translates to a quarter on the college system I’m used to, my mind and body are ready to rest.
We had a typical school week, complete with lots of reading and in class discussions. One of the real blessings of being on such a tiny study abroad group is the small class sizes. While introductory courses at UCs can easily be in the hundreds, all my classes here are less than fifteen students. It’s been nice to get a taste of what learning at a small school would be like. Definitely has its pros and cons. The greatest advantage, undoubtedly, is our ability to get questions answered and ideas clarified in the moment. With a mix of controversial material (politics), hands-on projects (environmental sustainability) and living in one of the most opinionated societies in the world (ding ding— ISRAEL) this is very important.
Classes went as usual for most of the week, until a slight detour on Wednesday when we woke up to the news that Shimon Peres, a former foreign minister (and by American terms a “founding father” of Israel) had passed away. Dr. Natan, our international policy and security professor, decided to throw his class agenda out the window and spend class explaining to us Peres’s career and relationship with the people of Israel. While I had read quite a bit on Peres that morning in the New York Times and Israeli newspapers, it was interesting to hear the always objective Dr. Natan explain to us Peres’s strengths and weaknesses. If you’re interested in learning more, I would highly recommend looking up the New York Times obituary article, as it seems fairly accurate and was well written.
Due to Peres’s passing (and the Jewish tradition of burying the dead virtually immediately), this week Israel became the hot spot for international leaders and foreign ministers. The country was flooded with security, delegations, and people from all over the world. Our guy, Obama, even made an appearance! If you want to see something downright adorable go find the video of Obama wearing a kippah while giving a eulogy for Peres at the ceremony in Jerusalem. President Clinton also attended, though his kippah-wearing skills were lacking. We couldn’t stop laughing (Google a picture if you are so inclined). Anyways, after the ceremony, Israel calmed back down and security declined (as much as it ever really declines here), but people all over the country continued to celebrate and honor the sometimes hated, but often loved, Peres.
The remainder of my week has been peaceful and relaxing— the perfect vibes to get me into hagim-vacation mode! Yesterday morning Hannah and I went to Beer Sheva’s old city for brunch at an adorable outdoor restaurant called Lola. It took us a while to decide what to eat (I swear they brunch better here than anywhere in the world), but we finally settled on a pesto tofu salad and spinach shakshuka. The restaurant had classic American songs playing, and we relished in the ambiance while downing multiple glasses of fresh orange juice and eating our meal.
After brunch, Hannah headed off to the train station and I decided to walk back to the university (about 35-minute walk) instead of taking the bus. I realized a few minutes after I started walking that I 1) hadn’t done the walk alone before and 2) hadn’t been alone much at all for a very, very long time. Spoiler alert: it was awesome! I forgot how much I enjoy exploring places solo, taking my time to look at things I want to, rushing past things that don’t spark my curiosity, eavesdropping on strangers (perks of knowing some Hebrew now) and having time to think on my own. I felt so oddly meditative and centered after that walk that I decided to drop off the grid for the rest of the day and have some much-needed Cass-time.
Yesterday evening, after my marvelous #MEday, I joined the rest of our study abroad group for a special Shabbat dinner in honor of Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) that begins tomorrow evening. We had an unusually large group attend last night, which is always fun because it means more types of food and more people to talk to. I filled my plate with Spanish tortilla, German spaetzle, spring rolls, salad, apples and honey (New Year tradition) and, of course, a lot of challah, before sitting down and talking to some of the newer European students. It was wonderful.
Today proved to be yet another low-key day, with banana pancakes this morning and an afternoon at the pool. Tomorrow my friend Mimi and I are heading up north of Tel Aviv to spend Rosh Hashanah with family friends. We are looking forward to getting out of the dorms, relaxing, laying on a couch (maybe?!), eating home cooked food and being under the care of an American momma for a few days.
That’s all for now. Love to all & Shanah Tova!