the shortest, longest year of my life

In a perfect world, I would have written an extensive, detailed reflection by now. I’ve sat down a variety of times over the last week to try to pull something together, but continuously found myself too emotional, distracted, or overwhelmed. As one could imagine, summing up a year (or 339 days to be exact) is not particularly easy. But I do feel that it would be a disgrace to leave this blog without a closing note, so here I am to give you a few last words.

Predominantly, I would like to thank you for following me along on this journey. I won’t lie, writing the blog has been a challenge. It’s much like writing in a diary— exciting when you start and progressively more daunting to keep up with as weeks and months go by. Still, the accountability I had to you all forced me to process and preserve many of my thoughts and experiences, something I know I will be immensely grateful for as years pass and my time in Israel becomes more distant.

Already as I type this, sitting aboard Jet Blue, flying above Nebraska, Israel is becoming more distant. This feeling breaks my heart in all the right kind of ways. Israel was the shortest, longest, best year of my life. I feel blessed to have had an experience that is so hard to walk away from. I feel equally lucky to have a beautiful place, a loving family and an incredible group of friends to come back to. What more could a human ask for?

I love you each and can’t wait to see you soon.



…and then it was June

Wait, what? June? Yes. Time is truly out of control. The pace has picked up these last few weeks as I zero in on what now is, officially, my last month abroad. The weird funk I was in (of feeling uninspired, normal and somewhat bored) has morphed into a rollercoaster of nostalgia, appreciation, and desperation to check everything off the list. The past few weeks have been chalk full of holidays, activities and some new, fresh memories that we will carry home with us when the time comes. We’re determined to keep this ball rolling to the point that we have weekly (if not daily) conversations while staring at the calendar to go over what, exactly, we have planned for each of our remaining (now 24) days in this land.

As I mentioned, though, the past few weeks themselves have been packed. One of the most interesting experiences we had was a field trip to Bnei Brak, a city east of Tel Aviv with one of the largest concentrations of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel. While there are ultra-Orthodox Jews in all areas of Israel, and I am in their presence frequently (especially in Jerusalem), I hadn’t visited an area as concentrated as Bnei Brak before.

In comparison to Tel Aviv, or even to Jerusalem, Bnei Brak is another world. While driving through the streets of the city’s center I was immediately struck by the uniformity within the population. Again, it is not uncommon to see traditionally dressed ultra-Orthodox Jews, but usually, they are one in a sea of many other traditionally dressed and modernly dressed people. In Bnei Brak, it was practically impossible to find someone not dressed according to the ultra-Orthodox dress code. For men this generally means black suits and white shirts (with no ties), wearing black hats, displaying payot (Hebrew word for sidekicks) and tzitzit (knotted fringes attached to undergarments). Women typically wear skirts past their knees, modest tops and cover their hair— whether that be with scarves, hats, or wigs. Needless to say, upon arrival seeing absolutely everyone dressed as such was a quick indicator that the community was just as insular, traditional and uniform as it was rumored to be.

We met with a variety of community figures during our trip— most fascinating, perhaps, was our meeting with the head rabbi of Bnei Brak’s hospital. Our group had a long dialogue with him about his role in the hospital, which is known to be the place to go to get ultra-Orthodox medical care within Israel (the hospital keeps Shabbat, serves kosher food, abides by Jewish law, etc.). We learned that the rabbi essentially serves as the highest power in the hospital— interpreting Jewish law (while also considering medical knowledge) to make the most difficult decisions between life and death. He had plenty of wild stories and appeared to be incredibly experienced— not to mention incredibly busy. His phone must have rung a dozen times during our conversation. In typical Israeli fashion, sometimes he silenced it and other times he picked it up with no hesitation and started speaking into the phone in front of us. #classic

After our time with the rabbi we wandered through the streets of Bnei Brak, stopping at stores selling Judaica and ultra-Orthodox items. Kippah shops, head shawl shops, bookstores, kosher butcheries…you name it— it was there. To get a sense of the perspective of the youth of the community we also made a stop at a yeshiva and spoke with a young American-Israeli who had made aliyah a few years ago and now is devoting his time to studying the Torah and Talmud. One of the great things about Israeli culture is that you are encouraged (and expected) to ask any question that comes to your mind at any time— no matter how absurd, blunt or (albeit) rude it may be. This is an especially beneficial part of the culture to have on your side when you interact with communities that appear, (at least externally) a little extreme and off-the-rocker. Thus, we felt comfortable asking him ALL the questions we could about why ultra-Orthodox youth don’t enter the army, what their perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are, how their dating world works (truly crazy), what a “typical” ultra-Orthodox marriage looks like, how some ultra-Orthodox gain satisfaction from studying religious texts all day and what drawbacks he sees in terms of his religion and way of life. His answers were thorough, and while I personally find the community for the most part un-relatable, I did walk away with a clearer understanding of the community’s logic, values, and beliefs. In a land as multifaceted as Israel I feel that this is always a HUGE plus.

A few days later the cultural pendulum swung in the entirely opposite direction when Maya, Mimi and I traveled to Kibbutz Sedah Mash’abei, south of Beer Sheva, to spend Shavuot with Maya’s friend Aviv. He had kindly invited us three American girls (I suppose we are a bit charming, eh?) to spend the holiday of Shavuot, the harvest holiday, with him on his kibbutz. We couldn’t resist the offer, especially because we had heard that kibbutzim are the place to be on Shavuot.

We arrived in the heat of the afternoon after bussing south from Beer Sheva through our beloved Mars-like-desert (which still somehow shocks me in its vastness each day). Aviv gave us a tour of the kibbutz as the temperature outside cooled, walking us through the winding paths that led to the pool, dining hall, schools, library, laundry room, workshed, and, most importantly, COWS. Obviously the best part of the tour. As the sun began to set (the signal of the beginning of the holiday) we gathered with other kibbutz members and their families in the dining hall for a Shavuot feast. Being the harvest holiday, the feast was extensive— olives, roasted vegetables, burekas, cured fish, wine, treats… The best part of the evening, however, was the hours-long Israeli folk dancing party that followed the feast. We sat on the sidelines for the first few dances but quickly joined in, embracing the Israeli shamelessness and confidence we’ve all acquired. Some of the songs sounded familiar (we ROCKED the Macarena) but most were new. We spent hours following in the footsteps of the dance instructor and the old kibbutz ladies who knew what was up. Truly, truly, such a blast. We were wiped out by the time the music ended and finished the night with a bowl of popcorn on Aviv’s back porch, taking in the silence and darkness of the desert. How lucky we are to call this land home.

The next day was spent at the pool, followed by a ceremony in the afternoon where the kibbutz presented all the new things that had been added to the community since Shavuot in 2016. The ceremony was filled with dancing, songs, and poems, not to mention a parade of shiny new tractors, golf carts, and tools. Perhaps the most adorable part of the ceremony was the presentation of the new babies that had been born on the kibbutz in the past year. Think Simba and the Lion King but even cuter. Once the ceremony ended and the sun set we were back on a bus to Beer Sheva, exhausted, happy and with yet another kibbutz experience checked off our list.

Okay, first, if you’ve gotten this far in the post, congrats. Second, listen up, because I’m about to tell you about one of the most interesting communities I’ve visited since who knows when.

First, a little background. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some African Americans started establishing spiritual groups in the United States, labeling themselves as Black Hebrews. The Black Hebrews believed that the African Americans in the United States were descendants of the ancient Hebrew Israelites. They identified as neither Christian or Jewish, and focused on spirituality rather than religion, but held practices that mimicked both religions. In 1966 at the peak of the Civil Rights Movement a man named Ben Ammi, a Black Hebrew in Chicago, had a vision that the Black Hebrews needed to return to their homeland of Israel. The result was pretty astounding— over the next two decades nearly a thousand Black Hebrews made their way from the United States to Israel. Because they did not qualify for Israel’s Law of Return, they often stayed illegally in Israel after their tourist visas expired. And, because they didn’t have work visas, some participated in illegal activities as a means to support themselves. As our professor, Dr. Klein, put it: the Israeli government “doesn’t quite know what to do with them.” While many of the Black Hebrews’ immigration and work statuses are still in limbo today, over time they have managed to build a flourishing community in Dimona, a city south of Beer Sheva.

We visited the Black Hebrews last week as part of a field trip for our Lost and Isolated Jewish Communities course. Arriving at their main community in Dimona was bizarre. A large portion of the Black Hebrews live in one location, a renovated Russian and Moroccan immigrant absorption center that now functions somewhat like a kibbutz. The pathways of the community were filled with kids running around and yelling at each other in the most American accents I’ve heard since last July. English books sat on tables. Bob Marley played on big speakers. Basketball and horseshoe games were in full swing. Groups of ladies sat and gossiped on benches. The sound of English cut through the air. It was, indeed, the most American thing I’ve seen since America itself.

Make no mistake, though, the community is one of its own. We met with the Black Hebrews’ main PR representative to learn about their lives since moving to Israel. He was a bit out there, but very kind, peaceful and opinionated. He explained to us the reasoning behind many of their unique practices. For instance, the Black Hebrews are the ultimate yogis, embodying “your body is your temple” to the extreme. Thus, they are devout vegans, adhering to a strict vegan diet and wearing clothing only made from natural fibers (imagine a dozen kids running around in hemp suits, it’s freaking adorable). They have weekly “no salt” and “no sugar” days to assure that their consumption of either is not out of control. They drink no alcohol besides their own homemade wine. Furthermore, they are committed to exercising a certain number of times per week, keeping themselves in sound mental shape and performing no harm to their own bodies. They have a polygamist society that is ever-growing in size (the PR rep had 22 children himself), generally, marry within the community, celebrate holidays that are both included and not included in the Jewish calendar and frequently join together around song and dance. They are deeply connected to their pre-slavery African roots, particularly to communities in Ghana and Liberia. They have a predominantly peaceful outlook on life, emphasizing love and light and all those mushy gushy things…Anyways, I could go on and on about all the unique caveats of the community, but I’ll let you Google them if you’re interested in learning more. Ultimately, I found their whole backstory and culture fascinating (there is much debate over whether they are actually genetically linked to the Tribes of Israel), but found them admirable in many respects. Just goes to show you that you never know what kind of people you’ll come across in the world!

After all those exciting trips, we took Shabbat to recover here in Beer Sheva, laying out by the pool, cooking and going on evening walks in the city. Tomorrow Mimi and I are off to the West Bank for a few days to spend time in Bethlehem and Jericho. We are interested to see what the general sentiment is and security levels are, as today marks 50 years since the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestine/the territories/the West Bank/Judea/Samaria (call it whatever your politics drive you to call it). I’ve been hesitant to share political views on the blog (predominantly because I am all over the board on Israel and its actions), but I thought this New York Times Sunday Review piece highlighted the situation particularly well. I feel that it is accurate and reflects many of my opinions.

And with that, I wish you a fantastic week. Best of luck to everyone heading into finals! Counting down the days until I get to see all your shining faces again.

Love you.


a few realities (and a plea for ideas)

Shabbat Shalom, wonderful people!

Hopefully you’ve been on some social media platform in the past month and thus have been assured that I am, indeed, alive and thriving! I know I’ve been away from the blog for a (long) while. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it boils down to a few realities I’ve been grappling with. This evening I’ve finally forced myself to sit down to write. And, in doing that, it seems like the best subject of this blog post is perhaps the reasons why I’ve been hesitating so long to write in the first place. (Apologies in advance for any rambling. You can click that X button if needed without judgment from yours truly).

Reality numero uno: ten months into studying abroad doesn’t really feel like “studying abroad” anymore.

My choice to go abroad for a full year had always been rooted in my desire to actually live somewhere versus quickly jump in, and then be yanked out after a month, or a quarter, or what have you. In making this choice, I knew that eventually, Israel would no longer feel like a constant adventure. And, while I told myself this last July, I suppose I didn’t realize what the stage of actually living would look like. Alas, here I am.

Sitting here, ten months in, Israel doesn’t feel like an experience pulled away from the rest of my life, or a specific year carved out in time, but rather a continuation of the life I’ve always lived. Daily tasks that used to be experiences all in themselves— shopping at the supermarket, going through security at the university, packing onto trains filled with armed soldiers— feel normal. Cultural differences and interactions that originally would have turned into anecdotes all on their own no longer seem so shocking or hilarious. I hesitate to say that life here has become rudimentary— because nothing about this land is rudimentary— but I have come to a place of immense familiarity, if you will.

I recognize that this is the experience I was (and am) looking for. I feel privileged to have reached a point where I feel local, I feel Israeli, I feel like I belong. There is undeniable joy and comfort in this. But there is also a lack of excitement that evolves. This is something I’ve really been struggling with this past month and much of the reason you all haven’t been receiving weekly blog posts with new and interesting stories. It would be an exaggeration to say that I am bored— but I definitely find myself frequently uninspired (something that never happened in my first months here). Learning how to acclimate to feeling “normal”, seek out new experiences, continue to roll the dice and change things up has been a challenge.

Reality numero dos: Coming home is going to be weird.

In less than two months (!!!) I’ll bid adieu to Israel. Trust me, it’s got me feelin’ all sorts of ways. My emotions surrounding leaving this land could be pages on their own— but if one sentiment rises above the rest it is the absurd anxiety I feel towards returning to a different America and home than I left. Thus, I use the word “weird” in its truest meaning.

Mostly, I’m curious and concerned and hopeful and freaked out about how I will fit back into the life I left last July. I’ve acquired many of the characteristics of Israeli culture. I am more blunt, more honest, more direct, more loving, more happy to enjoy life in the moment. With these adapted characteristics (or perhaps, enhanced parts of my internal character), life has become increasingly comfortable here with regards to my interactions with the culture and other Israelis. But what does that mean upon my return? How do I fit in? I’m still me, of course, but will I morph backward as I settle into California life and Davis? Will I shed the characteristics I’ve acquired, will I re-obtain the (dumb) American characteristics I’ve lost? The questions go on and on.

If you know me, you know that overthinking things is something I am particularly good at (wait, really?). It may not be at all surprising that this questioning about what’s to come has made reflecting back on what’s happened (or staying present in what’s happening) a big challenge. Thus, I present you with reason number two for not being as dedicated to writing blog posts as I’d like to be.

Okay, but what have you been doing during these past two months of silence beside overanalyzing life?

While I’ve spent the past two months grappling these two realities— caught between figuring out how to make the “normal” exciting again and dealing with the weird emotions revolving my return to American life— lots of shizzzz has been going down. For one, the whole family (Grandma included!) make the trek to the Holy Land in April for three weeks of food, wine, hiking, holidays, history and time together. Such a blast. Classes are in full swing here at the university— I’m particularly enjoying my course on conflicts over water and my course on lost and isolated Jewish communities. My professors this semester are especially gifted. I also made my final international trip a few weeks ago to Rome with Mimi. We ate alllll the yummy food, walked 15 miles a day, checked every touristy thing off the list, met up with the BELOVED Abigail Keenan and enjoyed spring in Italy (does it get better?)…Now we’re back in Israel for the final haul, the weather is heating up (casually 104 today), the pool is pumping, daily dips are essential for maintaining a viable internal temperature and everyone is getting tanner by the day. Life is good.

Anything else?

Considering my recent general lack of inspiration for blog post topics, I’d like to hear from you all what you’re curious about. It can be anything to do with my experience here (Israel, politics, academics, classes, culture, food, friends, emotions, etc.) With this final stretch of time, I’d like to write posts more often and have these posts be centered on specific topics rather than describing my past week chronologically, etc. So, I invite you to comment on this post, send me a message, tie a note to a pigeon, do whatcha gotta do, just tell me what you’d like to hear about!

Missing each and everyone one of you. And love, love, loving you more than you know.

Shabbat Shalom.


P.S. My little, beloved, prehistoric iPhone 5 has gone to sleep for the last time (AKA dead for the indefinite future). This means your best bet for reaching me is iMessage (to my computer), email, or FB message. I will be a phoneless millennial (unheard of) until I return to the USA, at which time I will be back to using my American number. Currently accepting well wishes for the challenge that this entails. #RIPphone

Cyprus, Buda Buda Buda Pest and back to the holiest of lands

Shalom wonderful people!

It’s been a while! Life has been a little loco poco these past few weeks, but I’ve finally settled down in my own bed with a cup of nana tea, a hefty slice of halva and a blank word document. In other words, it’s writing time!

Three weeks ago, after a 24-hour turn-around in Israel from Spain, Mimi and I hopped on a plane to Cyprus— an island 45 minutes from Israel’s coast. I’d like to say that we were taking the whole 24-hour turn-around thing in stride, that we had glowing happy faces and that we were brimming with energy. In truth, though, we were beat. We had such an early flight out on Friday morning that we had to take the last train to the airport on Thursday night and snooze on the airport floor. Trust me, it was just as unglamorous as it sounds. None the less, we arrived in Cyprus Friday morning and took a bus to Limassol, a port city on the southern, Greek side of Cyprus. Limmasol proved to be restful and just what we needed. We spent our first few days there, walking along the coastline, visiting the Kourion ruins, befriending the barista at a local artisan coffee shop, admiring street art and eating lots of fresh fish (you know how I do).

We took a bus to Nicosia, the divided capital of Cyprus, on our third day. Nicosia had a more energetic vibe than Limassol. We crossed the border to the Turkish side of the city one afternoon and explored a beautiful mosque before buying a few homemade desserts from a street vendor. We were far from the touristy area by that point, meaning we got lots of questionable looks, hollers and suggestive honks while we sat on the bench in the town square to enjoy our deserts. After having been in Europe for so long it was a bit jarring to be thrown back into a public place where we were addressed in such a manner. I have never experienced cat-calling or this type of attention as a woman anywhere else in the world to the same extent that I have while living and traveling in the Middle East. Sometimes I find it jarring and uncomfortable, other times I find it humorous and nonsense. That afternoon, though, Mimi and I were so wiped out that we just sat there, shook our head and sighed. The next day we headed back to Larnaca, the city we had flown into. We visited a few art galleries, had an amazing platter of calamari and shrimp and hopped on a plane to…..Budapest?!

Yes, Budapest. I am aware that the Cyprus-Budapest combination is funky and not too logical, but when cheap flights come knocking at yo door ya gotta string them together as best you can! In this case, we flew from Cyprus to Budapest for $23. A total steal. Anyways, we arrived in Budapest and checked into our hostel right off of St Stephen’s Square. The hostel turned out to be more like an apartment, so Mimi and I got our own room. The biggest pluses of this were that we had our own TV so I was able to watch the women’s downhill skiing World Cup (held at Squaw Valley this year) and that we weren’t woken up by any random people snoring (the greatest downside of dorm style hostels). #thankful

Budapest. Was. Awesome. We logged an easy 10 to 15 miles a day wandering around the city. Notable excursions included the Holocaust memorial, the Great Synagogue, the Hungarian Parliament building, the National Art Gallery (I am officially museumed-out at this point), the gorgeous river and the insane food. Who knew Budapest held the key to culinary success in Eastern Europe? We dined on smoked salmon, poached eggs, tasty smoothies, homemade almond milk and exquisite pastries for breakfast. Mimi found boutique coffee everywhere, and I was on the hunt for the perfect teas and hot chocolates. Lunches and dinners ranged from roasted lamb with coconut cream mashed potatoes to salmon with pesto risotto and real sushi. The best meal of all (which has officially made the “top ten meals of my life” list) was from a tiny restaurant that served Jewish Hungarian food with a modern twist. It was a perfectly cooked branzino (whole fish) stuffed with garlic and lavender, complemented by artisan mushrooms and fennel. Simple. Tasteful. And absolutely divine.

After five days in Budapest, we boarded our final plane (for now) to Israel, arriving just in time for the beginning of second semester. It’s been a whirlwind of readjusting to school schedules, remembering Hebrew (eek), settling back into dorm living and getting to know all the new second semester students. The student demographic is completely different than last semester. We have far fewer Americans and Jews in the group. In this sense, it’s a lot more diverse. We have students from Germany, Ireland, France, Netherlands, Denmark, Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Canada, China, and Switzerland. Truly a melting pot! I love it!

In addition to getting to know new people, I’ve also been spending time getting to know my new classes. I’m stoked on the lineup, which includes a class on water resource conflicts in the Middle East, a class on the organizational structure and operating of sustainable businesses, a class on lost and isolated Jewish communities and a class on the legacy of the Holocaust in modern-day Israeli society…plus Hebrew, of course! A perfect mix of environmental sustainability and Jewish studies. PSA ya girl has officially picked up a Jewish Studies minor!

Putting ALL of those exciting updates aside, the coming weeks may prove to be even more wonderful…because…spoiler alert: the one and only Gretch and Grandma Dianne touch down in the HOLIEST OF LANDS this Thursday (and then a week later Hannah and Padj arrive). You can’t imagine my excitement. Get ready to read about a whole lot of happy moments!

Love you all. A lot. A lot.


Spain, Morocco, and a whole lot of go go go

Shalom wonderful people!

Yesterday I returned to Israel after ten weeks away. I think I might have (well I know I did) shed a tear when the plane hit the tarmac and the Hasidic Jews onboard began clapping. If there is any verification that Israel feels like home, that was it. Being back in the Holy Land is just plain good. And now that I’ve done a few loads of laundry, broken up a cat fight outside my door (literal catfight), got yelled at by few strangers (oh, Israel) and hugged by another stranger (again, oh, Israel), it’s time to rewind and fill you in on my gallant explorations since leaving Berlin.

Two weeks ago I bid adieu to Germany and hopped on a flight to Spain to meet my friend Mimi (Middle Eastern history and religion major), who is also spending the year at Ben Gurion. We met up Thursday morning at our hostel in Madrid’s Chueca neighborhood— a hip, modern area with lots of good food (major selling point here) and a vibrant cultural personality. Mimi and I hadn’t seen each other since December and were SO happy to be reunited. Our small and tight-knit overseas student program provided me with many wonderful friends last semester, and Mimi undoubtedly tops the list. She’s adventurous and active and patient and prepared and brilliant and ethical and likely the kindest human you will ever stumble upon. She also happens to be the most ideal travel partner. Ever. So obviously she makes the ultimate best friend!

Anyways, back to Madrid. In an attempt to kick Mimi’s jet lag we hit the ground running and filled up our short time in the city with loads of activities. We cruised through the Prado and the Thyssen, which both were amazing but unfortunately had lots of Jesus paintings (if you’re a regular reader you know this is a big no-no in my book). One morning we took a long stroll through Buen Retiro Park, enjoying the sunshine (after being in Berlin, Madrid’s temps were #fuego). Another morning we visited the royal palace and checked a string of cathedrals off the list. One evening we met up with Carlos, a friend of Mom’s who lives in Madrid, and his family for dinner at a “food art” restaurant. The experience was kind of wild and consisted of a dozen small tapas-like-dishes that were artistically designed. We had a blast discussing Israel, Trump, and European politics. So fun!

Mostly, though, Mimi and I just wandered around the city talking, catching up on each other’s lives, logging 10+ miles of walking a day, stopping in tiny cafes for tea and eating yummy treats (gourmet mushrooms, vegan cakes, grilled octopus, salted shrimp). Notable Madrid observations included the fact that people walk really, really slow on streets (Mimi the New Yorker did not like this one bit), the city’s population is far less diverse than in major U.S. cities and Israel, Spaniards definitely have a smoking problem and the city’s cab drivers are reckless as hell. Needless to say, three days in Madrid was enough, and I was ready to hit the road and get out of the concrete jungle. (Can you tell I’m not a city girl?)

The night before leaving Madrid for Granada, Mimi and I checked our hostel’s address for the following day only to find our hostel was actually 13 kilometers outside of Granada in a tiny town. We freaked out for a second. Then, in typical study abroad fashion, we decided it would probably turn out to be a blessing in disguise. We arrived in Quentar (population 1,000) by nightfall the next day after a full day of schlepping. We were greeted at the hostel by the most Hidden-Villa-esque granola man you could imagine and promptly settled into our quaint room.

The heavenly forces must have known I needed a little nature in my life because the hostel’s location had spectacular views of the valley, cherry blossoms, olive trees, and beautiful grey stones. We spent our first day in Quentar. We bought fresh vegetables to cook (a day’s worth of groceries for two people allotted to 3.08 Euros) and enjoyed a seven-mile hike to the town’s reservoir. Late in the day, we came across a goat herder and his black lab taking the flock (pack? herd?) of goats for a stroll. I couldn’t help but smile, look out at the beautiful Napa-like landscape and realize that I would be completely content, come seventy years old, hiking around a foreign country with goats and a black lab all day. Retirement plan, check!

Day two involved a trek into Granada, which turned out to be less of a balagan than we had predicted. In the morning we visited the Jewish Sephardic museum, a tiny four-room home-turned-museum nestled in the old Jewish quarter. We had a nice conversation with the sole museum worker, an older gentleman who was very talkative and enthusiastic about the history of the Jews in Spain. Two things struck me about this conversation. One was that the Spanish language I love and have grown up learning is drastically different from what is spoken in Spain. The gentleman was virtually un-understandable to me (in my humble opinion I enjoy the sound of Latin American Spanish far more). The second was that this man was a devout Catholic. Mimi and I have been talking a lot about the way that Jewish history is represented in Spain. From what we have observed, the majority of the history and storyline is controlled by Catholics rather than Jews, other groups or secular people. The Catholics seem to celebrate Jewish history and culture up until the inquisition, but the buck stops there. In no way did we get any sense there was sorrow or regret from the Catholics we spoke to about the inquisition. If anything, we felt the opposite— Jewish history was dealt with as history, in a clinical, matter of fact, “had to happen” sort of way. While I do not want to make generalizations (as it’s very possible we just talked to a few rotten apples), I will say we found these observations very interesting and quite disturbing.

The rest of our day was spent at the magnificent Alhambra, wandering through gardens, across courtyards, up intricate stairways and along pools of water. The Alhambra was my design dream come true. I was virtually silent for the length of our visit, completely enthralled in the whole ordeal. The sustainable environmental designer and architecture lover in me could barely hold it together. Truly special.

Next, we were off to Seville, where we were scheduled to board a bus for Morocco. We spent a few days in Seville, exploring the Alcazar (impressive, but not the Alhambra), strolling through Parque de Maria Lucia and eating yummy squid ink paella. On Friday we made our way to the meeting point for our bus to Morocco, which was part of a programmed trip recommended to us by a friend of ours. Upon arrival at the meeting point, we realized we had gotten ourselves into something that wasn’t particularly up our ally. We showed up to find a group of a hundred loud, white, obnoxious, questionably-sober American students from Seville study abroad programs congregating in clique-like fashion screaming things to the likes of “OMG can you believe we are going to AFRICA!”, “What language do they speak in AFRICA?” and “Will there be tigers?”. I kid you not. Anyways, we boarded the bus, skeptical, but curious to see Morocco and embark on what was beginning to seem like the ultimate American-observation experience. (FYI everyone, Africa includes a whole lot of other countries besides Morocco.)

I could probably write hundreds more words in a slightly judgmental tone (Wait, me? Opinionated? Never.) regarding the ridiculousness, ignorance and general annoyingness of our fellow companions. But I’ll (try to) stop here and change gears. Morocco, or the little we saw of Morocco, was beautiful. We spent time in Chefchaouen, a city known for its plethora of blue buildings. Mimi and I dipped away from the selfie-taking, profile-picture-seeking group and wandered the quieter, residential streets. Arabic flowed through open windows, the strong essence of spices mixed in the streets, kids kicked the soccer ball around outside and yelled and laughed at tourists. In a strange, though not a particularly surprising way, I felt like I was back the Middle East. My heart fluttered a little.

Other notable activities included a day in a beachside town looking at street art, shopping for metal hamsas in an artisan market, watching a native Moroccan dance performance, sampling olives, drinking sweet mint tea, riding camels and, of course, talking to our fabuuulooous new American friends. Almost everyone on the trip was studying in Spain, meaning that people were pretty surprised (as they always are) when we told them we were studying in Israel. Mimi put it best, “When we tell people that we’re studying in Israel they look at us as if we’re studying in Syria.” Wide eyes. Furrowed brow. Sometimes dropped jaws. “That’s insane” or “that’s interesting…” or “wow, is that safe?” are usually people’s initial responses. The first night, for instance, Mimi and I got seated at dinner with a group of sorority girls from Arizona. When we let it slip we were studying in Israel they asked all the typical questions (and we gave them all the reassuring, educated, clear answers), and then they spent the rest of the dinner silent, staring at us like we were members of Seal Team Six who had just walked in from a commando mission.

By Monday we were back in Spain. We spent a quick day in Toledo doing Jewish-y things and ate the last round of octopus and salty green peppers before heading back to Madrid for our flight home to Israel. By that point, we were, as one could imagine, thoroughly exhausted…

With that in mind, you probably wouldn’t believe me right now if I told you were back in Tel Aviv at the airport about to catch another flight. Alas, here we are. After twenty-four hours at home and a night in our own beds, Mimi and I are departing on another adventure— first Cyprus and then Budapest. We’re excited to tick a few more places off our list, but I won’t lie, we have our sights set on March 12th: our return, for good, to Israel. We can’t wait to settle back into the routine, culture, and land we love.

Updates to come. Big hugs to all. I love you each very much.


when MOMMA came to town (& other stories)

Hello, all my favorite humans!

So what was the most exciting event of 2017? Momma came to Berlin! Truly the best thing. Ever.

We picked her up last Tuesday morning at the airport. While I may have not appeared too excited on the outside (I had caught some nasty cold on the subway #suburbanchild), I was so happy. I hadn’t seen her in person since last July when she dropped me off at SFO. Almost-seven-months is a long time to go without seeing yo Momma!

We laid low Tuesday and let my little bug run its course. By Wednesday I was up and running, Mom had kicked her jet lag (she’s an expert at this, by the way) and we were ready to go. We headed off to the Deutsches Museum to soak up some history. I must admit, after four weeks of going to museums almost every day, I was a little museum-ed-out. One can only see so much Jesus art, World War II memorabilia, and Berlin Wall photographs… Luckily, Grandma Carol had recommended the trendy, delicious cafe (no surprise there) within the museum. Mom and I dipped out of the exhibit and had a ladies lunch, discussing the latest Los Altos “village” updates, summer plans and Israel experiences. After a quick round of shopping in the center of the city, we headed back to Spandau to cook dinner for Marion and Lucki.

The majority of Thursday we spent in Potsdam, outside of central Berlin, exploring a fabulous new art gallery. When Mom and I entered the gallery’s sleek, white-on-white, modern lobby it became clear that I was undoubtedly the youngest person there…by say, fifty years…grey hair was everywhere! Luckily, I’ve gotten used to being surrounded by lots of older people while exploring Berlin (after all, who is going to museums at 2 PM on a weekday besides a grandma and her girl gang?). Anyways, the gallery was breathtaking. The art was la creme de la creme, but what stood out to me most was the impeccable harmony between the collections of paintings and the wall colors of the gallery. Thus, I spent most of my time in the gallery standing really, really close to walls admiring someone’s expert color-swatch-selection skills. #justCassthings

Friday morning my friend Emily Sims from high school, who’s studying abroad in Barcelona, flew in to join Mom and me for the weekend. I hadn’t seen ESIMZ in over a year but quickly found that she is, indeed, just as sassy, brilliant and stylish as she was in our high school days. Gotta love old friends! In typical weekend trip style, we hit the ground running, and packed in as much as we could. We checked Markthalle Neun, the East Side Gallery, the Holocaust Memorial and the Brandenburg Gate off the list. Lots of walking, talking and freezing was involved. For some reason, Friday was especially cold, meaning I slightly resemble someone from the Walking Dead in all our photos. California girls aren’t meant for the cold!

Friday evening Mom made a delicious chicken noodle soup for the whole gang. I felt like I was home and it was the holiday season— the aroma of soup filling the kitchen, old friends sharing memories, cold temperatures outside, good wine, yummy food, the works. Both Emily and Sam joined for the evening, adding even more fun and conversation to the gathering. We had a blast recounting high school memories, sharing college experiences, laughing at each other and most definitely laughing at ourselves! We even FaceTimed Jordan (the last fourth of the historically dynamic Talon foursome) into the gathering for a while, which involved lots of question asking and iPhone grabbing (mostly from ESIMZ, obviously). So fun to have the Talon crew virtually back together (#punny)!

The weekend continued with visits to the Pergamon and Berliner dome on Saturday. We had another delicious dinner that evening, this time at Lucki’s. Emily and Sam joined again, and we feasted on a traditional German meal of pork, potato balls, and green beans. Yum! After dinner, we watched Hannah’s Freestyle video from school, which may or may not contain passages that are questionably similar to an essay I wrote Junior year of high school…hmm…The video was followed by a long conversation between us regarding how different countries deal with military service and military culture. It’s always interesting to have conversations about the military now that I’ve spent a significant amount of time in Israel— where most Israelis my age are currently completing their mandatory military service. We had a great time exchanging different perspectives and opinions. Lord knows that between Emily, Sam and I (not to mention Marion, Lucki, and Mom), there was no shortage of opinions to be shared. Gotta love a group of strong personalities!

We bid adieu to Emily Sunday morning. Mom, Marion and I braved the cold and took a walk by the river, ate a scrumptious Turkish dinner and settled down for a cozy movie night. Oh, how I missed simple weekend days with the Momma! She left the next morning, with a big hug and a bit of a teary goodbye. Good news is that this time the goodbye is more of a “see you later,” as the Craford clan will reunite in its entirety come April in the HOLY LAND. Get hyped!

Whew, what a whirlwind week, and month! This afternoon I did my last load of laundry, scoured Marion’s apartment for anything I may have forgotten and packed up life here in Berlin. A huge shout out to Marion and Lucki for making this month easy, comfortable, exciting and enriching. And a big thank you to the number one Momma for flying across the world to come to see me. From friends and food to culture and conversations, Berlin has been so good to me. How lucky am I to have studied abroad, from my study abroad!

That’s all for now. About to board a flight to Madrid to meet up with my friend from Israel, Mimi. And so begins the final month of adventuring before I return to Israel for #roundtwo!

Love you all a wholeeeee bunch.


three weeks in the world of Cass: Berlin edition

Shalom wonderful people!

Okay, let’s hop to it: Berlin is sick. The city is as international as it gets. The food scene is freaking on point. The public transportation system is easily accessible and almost always on time (I’m giving you the evil eye, Israel Railways). The combination of different architectural styles and large public murals is the shizzzz. The network of museums is so extensive it’s overwhelming. And people speak the most perfect English you will ever hear. Even the icky parts of the city (muddy slush, cold rain and vomit in the subway station) have been sort of fun. As we say in Israel— it’s all for “the havaya!” “The Experience!”

Most of my mornings here begin with the ultimate trio: eggs, avocados (yes, plural) and a healthy dose of international news. After I’ve adequately informed myself on the latest of our nation’s demise, I hop on the Ubahn for my daily hot yoga class while listening to my recent favorite podcast— Bulletproof from Dave Asprey. I swear I am turning more into Pete Sullivan every day! By the time I’ve arrived at yoga, I’ve clocked a good half an hour of listening to the latest health and wellness info. EMFs, sleep cycles, food intolerances, and meditation, the list goes on and on. Oui, sometimes I disgust myself with how interesting I find it all.

Anyways, back to yoga. In the past three weeks, I’ve been reminded that hot yoga is truly one of the most humbling experiences ever. Slip out of practice for a week or a month (not to mention six months), and you come back to find yourself teetering on the edge of death, sweating your brains out and almost positive you’re about to faint. Fine, so it sounds horrible, but after three classes you get back in the groove and it’s actually fantastic. I can’t tell you how good it is to have (almost) shed the weird chubs that come from eating too many falafel, have my skin finally feeling normal and have daily meditation back in my life. Okay, this officially marks the end of my rant on health and yoga, so if you’ve been unengaged in the post thus far, wake up.

Let’s change topics. Berlin is quickly becoming the art scene of Europe (just ask Grandma Carol, she can recommend you about a trillion modern art galleries). Thus, my post-yoga and post-lunch plan typically involve some sort of museum excursion— Pergamon, Nues Museum, Jewish Museum, National Art Gallery, Checkpoint Charlie Museum, Topography of Terrors exhibit— you name it, I’ve been there. Usually, I roll up to whichever one I’ve chosen for the day, drop my stuff in the coat room, put on a mood-appropriate Spotify playlist and start walking. Sometimes I get lucky and the museum has lots of unique German memorabilia, modern art, photographs or an exhibition on the Holocaust or Berlin wall. Other times I get stuck with endless floors of Jesus paintings and marble statues (Sorry to all you Jesus-painting-lovers out there. That sh*t is too repetitive.). The only saving grace in museums like these is if the museum itself has an epic layout and architectural design. In general, I’ve been far more fascinated with the buildings than the art itself. More often than not, I find myself taking pictures of lighting angles and window panes versus hieroglyphics and sixteenth-century sketches. Oops!

All of this to-and-from yoga and museums also requires A LOT of walking. Walking this much has had some interesting consequences. Predominantly, because the sidewalks are slippery and the streets are slushy, walking leads to frequent almost-eating-it-in-public-with-everyone-staring episodes. Let’s just say my lack of bodily coordination skills has been serving me especially poor thus far. And yet, I remain unbroken and unbruised! Walking also provides for extensive people watching. Three weeks in, the Berliner fashion style still perplexes me. People somehow make themselves look entirely put-together and not at all homeless (channeling their inner Casey Vanneman) while wearing clothes that would make me look like a total scum or 1990s-hipster-wannabe. Ugh. Maybe in my next life.

Of course, my daily routine has been heavily interspersed with a variety of awesome excursions, meals and meetups. Marion and Lucki have been the #ultimate weekend warrior tour guides. One Saturday we spent walking around a picturesque lake outside of Berlin, complete with a stop at the homiest boathouse restaurant you ever did see. Another Saturday we spent at Markethalle Neun, a food market in central Berlin (think Off the Grid), eating Nepalese curry and fresh German meats. Other highlights include a day at Potsdam, the first sushi I’ve had in six months, meeting up with my good friend Sam who’s studying in Berlin for the quarter, navigating German supermarkets and finding tacos (again, the first time in six months) at the international food hall.

Whew! What a good life! Other minor updates:

I miss Israel more than humanly possible. Homesickness has a whole new meaning when you feel it for two places.

My Accutane medication (for skin) is absolutely destroying my digestive system, my hair and my ability to consume alcohol. Good news is my skin is on the uphill climb. Crazy drug. My Israeli dermatologist gently reminded me over email (in ALL CAPS) to be avoiding dairy, gluten, and beer. I feel like I am sinning every. single. day. living in Germany and avoiding these German staples.

And, finally, the most exciting event of 2017 will occur this coming Tuesday. I won’t spoil it for those of you who don’t know what it is— you’ll have to tune into the next post to find out. (And no, it’s not a reelection for our beloved United States of America.)

Love you all,



alive, thriving and 21 (and traveling)

Hello hello!

After four weeks of bouncing around, I’ve finally arrived in my temporary home for the next month— Berlin! Now that I’ve unpacked my bags, done some much-needed laundry (thanks to my German momma Marion), picked up groceries (obviously made a beeline for the avocados) and gotten myself sufficiently lost in the city (suburban child right here), I thought I would share what I’ve been up to since we rang in 2017!

Maggie and I had a lovely New Years Eve in Vienna— eating fried potatoes, drinking mulled wine and watching fireworks over Vienna’s city hall. Afterwards, we took a train to Prague, a city so many of my friends who have studied abroad have raved about. As if the ride there wasn’t gorgeous enough (light snow falling, big open dusted fields, frozen forests), Prague exceeded every expectation I had. It was simply overflowing with history, music, and food. We filled up our days, walking miles and miles (another apology goes out to Maggie), checking the Grand Palace, cathedrals, bridges, monuments and restaurants off of the list.

One day we took a tour outside the city at Terezin, a Holocaust concentration camp. Terezin was known as one of the “propaganda” camps— meaning portions of the camp were renovated and outfitted to appear as if victims had a good standard of living (think big sinks, separate showers, mattresses, etc.). When the Nazis needed to show the Red Cross or other international aid organizations that they were not mistreating people, they showed off Terezin. As I’m sure you know, these renovated areas were not representative of daily treatment and quality of life.

Concentration camps, death camps, and Holocaust memorials inevitably make me immediately sad and angry. Hours or days after a visit, however, I always come to a state of fear. It is a fear that history could repeat itself, a fear that anti Semitism is still alive (it undoubtedly is) and a fear that large groups of people can do horrible things and people and countries (such as our own did) will turn a blind eye. In some ways, after spending time in Israel, these emotions towards the Holocaust have intensified. Living in Israel for months on end has allowed me to embed myself in the culture and observe countless national trends and sentiments— perhaps no one ringing clearer than the collective memory of the Holocaust. I feel more connected to the Jewish people and history than ever before.

I wrapped up touring Prague with Maggie (big shout out to Mags Mun for embracing the fast-paced travel life!) just in time to fly to Switzerland to meet none other than….PADJ! We met in the Zurich airport and immediately took a train to Zermatt— a ski and resort town in southern Switzerland along the Italian border. We skied six days in a row (#KILLINit) resulting in lots of sore muscles, but no concussion, sliced open booty or an obscene amount of stitches, so we’re good! A few afternoons we dropped over the ridge into Italy (casual), but spent most of our time in Switzerland lapping groomers and wiggling our fingers and toes so they didn’t freeze.

Zermatt’s food scene could be an entire post in itself, but I’ll limit it to the highlights. First off, they LIVE to lunch in Switzerland, and I’m not talking about Wildflower, Olympic House or Gold Coast Lodge (dropping some Squaw Valley references right there). I’m talking about a full on French Laundry, Los Altos Grill, Terun situation. Big time. We skied through lunch on most days (I was skiing with Padj after all), but stopped twice at a gourmet chalet only accessible by ski lift, high up by the Matterhorn. Dad had an egg-potato dish and pork, and I drooled over an insane shrimp salad (worth every one of those 32 freakin Francs). The chalet was packed with people of every age and nationality, sipping on wine, downing fondue, and rare meats, ordering 20 Franc desserts and enjoying the picturesque winter wonderland outside. Safe to say Dad and I were in high-class heaven. Okay, I’ll stop elaborating on that now— other notable foods included fondue at a famous restaurant in Zermatt, Swiss chocolate (need I say more), falafel burgers and a darn tasty bowl of homemade linguini and bottle of wine for my 21st birthday. Holllaaaaa I’m 21 y’all (on a continent that doesn’t give a sh*t)!

I bid goodbye to Dad on Saturday in Zurich and hopped on a flight to Berlin. Marion and Lucki, our dear family friends who live here in Berlin, picked me up at the airport and brought me back to the apartment for a tasty meal of pesto pasta and shrimp (hands down, 100%, 10/10 my favorite combination of foods). The past few days I’ve spent getting settled into the apartment and starting to make a list of all the museums, monuments and restaurants I want to go to. It’s been great to catch up with Marion and Lucki and spend time relaxing. I also found a hot yoga studio (priorities) and attended my first Bikram yoga class this afternoon since leaving the US in July (#gbless). I’m looking forward to the next month of putzing around the city, meeting up with a variety of friends in Berlin and around Germany and maybe heading up to Sweden for a quick visit. Needless to say, I am a happy, happy camper!

That’s it for now! Looking forward to sharing more “big-city, suburban-girl” experiences with you as the month goes by.

I love you all A LOT!


Madrid, Vienna, New Years #theblessedlife

Hello wonderful people!

I hope everyone is recovering from Christmas and Hanukkah and gearing up for New Years! I’ve been over here in Europe diving into a few months of travel— hopping on and off flights and meeting up with many of my favorite people. Needless to say, I’m feeling truly blessed!

Two weeks ago Friday, after wrapping up finals, consuming as much falafel as possible (how I am going to last without it for two months I do not know) and packing up my backpack, I was off to Madrid to meet up with our closest family friends and neighbors, the Weiners. I met them at the beautiful Air B&B they were renting right off of Plaza Mayor and immediately was surrounded by an essence of family, conversation and care that I have been missing since July. We spent our days exploring Madrid (museums, cathedrals, markets) and eating fantastic food (specialty mushroom restaurant, Christmas dinner at the oldest restaurant in Europe and more hot chocolate than anyone could keep track of).

We managed to sneak in some tradition too— celebrating the first night of Hanukkah on the 24th. Naomi even relinquished her “youngest child gets to light the candle on the first night” privileges and insisted that I take over. What an honor! Christmas packages and breakfast followed the subsequent morning, along with a leisurely walk around the neighborhood before attending a professional flamenco show that evening. Such a treat! Other highlights of Spain included day trips to Segovia and Toledo, exploring the Jewish history of Spain, cuddle sessions with Naomi, in-depth political discussions, laid-back family time and conversations about Israel.

Early Thursday morning I bid goodbye to the Weiners and flew to Austria to meet up with Maggie. Bless her soul for flying across the world (and out of her comfort zone) to come to find me! Although, I’m not sure I’ve expressed my thankfulness adequately yet, as she likely currently hates me for dragging her around outside all day to kick her jet lag. Truthfully, I failed on this account today when we came back to the hostel for a midday snack and I found her asleep at 5 pm. Oops! (Hi Mags, you’ll read this when you wake up!)

In other news, we have spent the past few days walking around Vienna, visiting museums, getting lost, wandering in and out of cathedrals, drinking mulled wine and enjoying the weird holiday spirit that occurs between Christmas and New Years. It’s been fun for me to experience the wonders of European culture again through her fresh, new, untravelled eyes. “Why is there so much smoking?” “They eat a lot of meat.” “All the cars are small.” “They aren’t as rushed as Americans.” “Jet lag is so weird.” I smile at each observation— realizing how (somewhat) accustomed I’ve come to jumping in and out of countries and cultures. I suppose I’m still as observant as ever, but less surprised by the differences themselves. In that sense, it’s been a treat to have her here and give her a taste of the life I’ve been living for the past few months. The jury is still out on her opinion! I’m not sure if I’m converting her into the curious world traveler that I am anytime soon, but lord knows I’m trying.

As far as New Year’s Eve plans, this evening we are headed out to a large street party in the center of the city— complete with music, lights, fireworks, hot drinks, sausages, potato wedges, treats and just about every white-bread-meat-beer combo one could imagine! Europe at its best. We’re hyped! (Although Mags is probably currently praying I won’t make her drink any beer or walk too many more miles.)

And with that, I wish everyone the most fulfilling and positive last day of 2016. What a year it’s been! Globally, it’s been a rough one. Personally, it’s been a great one. I climbed some tall mountains (really tall mountains), spent lots of time outside, moved to a new country, began to learn a new language (shoutout to עברית), ate amazing food (obviously worth including), excelled academically, made new life-long friends, enjoyed my family and home and said “yes” to many opportunities outside my comfort zone.

I am blessed for this life I lead and the people I am surrounded by. I am incredibly excited to share 2017 with you all. Here’s to another year of #doingthings! There is so much ahead.

Happy New Years & much love to you and your families.


Petra, the North, and a nearly finished first semester

Hello wonderful people!

I hope the holiday season is off to a festive and relaxing start. Here in Israel, things are winding down as I begin the last two weeks of my first semester. It’s always amazing how fast time passes! I thought I would give you a quick update on what I’ve been up to these past few weeks before buckling down for finals. So, without further adieu…

Last Wednesday Hannah, Mimi and I hopped on a bus to the south, eager to check one of our final first-semester travel destinations, Petra, off the list. We had a subpar kosher sushi dinner in Eilat (an area of Israel many rave about but I failed to see the beauty in) and spent the night at a funky inn close to the Jordanian border crossing’s security complex. At first light the next morning we crossed the border by foot, first clearing Israeli customs and then obtaining our visa from the Jordanian security once we reached the other side. I had never crossed an international border on foot before— so I guess I get to cross that one off the bucket list! Crossing the border (which was designated by a change in the shade of grey asphalt between Israel and Jordanian security checkpoints) also was a reminder of how close Israel is to other Middle Eastern countries. Sometimes Israel (like Silicon Valley) can be very bubble-like. Even though Israel has its own set of conflicts within its borders, the high level of security within the country and on its borders make me forget how close it is to other conflicts. Beer Sheva, for example, sits half an hour west of Gaza, twenty minutes south of the West Bank, three hours from Egypt and four to five hours from Lebanon and Syria. Right in the heart of it all.

Our Jordanian tour guide, Ali, met us on the other side of the border. “A hundred welcomes to Jordan,” he exclaimed upon seeing us and the other Israelis on our tour, “a thousand welcomes to Jordan, a million welcomes to Jordan!” He helped us onto the bus and explained to us Jordanian history (from a Jordanian, rather than Israeli, perspective, which was great to hear) on our two-hour drive to Petra. Upon arrival at Petra, we explored the many wadis , carvings, tombs, and artifacts. We were especially blown away by the “Treasury”, which is the most famous portion of Petra that is still intact— you may recognize it from this Indiana Jones scene. #soepic

After walking around Petra for five hours, Ali took us to have a traditional Jordanian lunch. One of the funny things about the Middle East is that every country or group of people claim foods as their own. Hummus and falafel, for example, are served all over the Middle East, but each place will assure you that it originated from their culture. That being said, we had some hummus, Jordanian salad (or Israeli salad, depending on which side you want to take), grilled fish, potatoes, beets, and lentil soup. Ali made sure we got a good helping of dessert (which consisted of custards and bread galore) and drove us back to the border crossing. We arrived at the security checkpoint just as a sandstorm hit— coating our teeth, nostrils, and eyes with grainy sand and desert dust. We were sweaty from hiking all day, tired from spending hours and hours in a car and grimier than you could ever imagine. Needless to say, while I was thrilled to do a day-long whirlwind Petra adventure, it was nice to arrive back in Beer Sheva late that night to a clean bed and hot shower. The little things in life!

Perhaps the only other notable experience of the last two weeks (besides scrambling around putting the final touches on presentations and papers) was our trip to the north this weekend. We spent Thursday night at a moshav outside of Haifa— sleeping in heated tents (major cringe from me regarding this “glamping”) and cooking an Israeli dish called pooikey (basically a vegetable stew with rice and every spice you could imagine). Friday we went on a hike through the vineyards and fields surrounding Haifa, absorbing all the beauty of a landscape that strangely resembled northern California. It made me so homesick for hikes on Skyline and in Napa. The rest of the afternoon was spent at a spice farm picking spices for homemade pizza baking and taste testing (and purchasing) different granolas. Obviously a day in Cass heaven!

Today we had a low-key day in Acre— an ancient port city north of Haifa. We ate a lot of hummus, wandered through the shuk and took a boat ride along the port’s ancient walls. It was enjoyable, but everyone was a bit anxious and tired, preoccupied with the amount of work we have to get done for finals in the next two weeks. Such is life while studying abroad!

Now it’s time to buckle down and get into the finals groove. I will be finished with tests and presentations a week from tomorrow. After that, I’ll have four days of freedom to wander around the country before I have to pack up my bags and jet-set off into my next adventure on the 23rd— Hanukkah and Christmas in Madrid with the Weiners (our neighbors and second family)! I am beyond excited to see some familiar faces, have sleepovers with two of my three sistas, get lots of Naomi hugs, eat yummy tapas and explore a new city. Estoy tan feliz!

More updates and maybe even a comprehensive first-semester reflection (wow, that sounds professional!) next week after finals cease to exist…

Big hugs and lots of love,