Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas in Jerusalem

Sunday night we had Beit Midrash for the first time in a few weeks. It was fun learning with Yonina. This program has been a very successful one, and it's nice to have Sunday dinner covered by Nativ.

Monday was its usual long day. When I got home, however, a number of us decided to go to see Avatar. Gabe Co, Joshy, Miles, Gelb, Joe and I went to Talpiot, to the Rav Chen cinema where we saw the movie. Avatar is one of the most incredible movies I have ever seen. The movie is a 3D epic about coexistence between enterprising, colonizing humans and the locals of a planet called Pandora. The basic idea is similar to that of the marginalization of Indians by the United States in the 19th century. The 3D in this movie is not a gimmick that is needlessly employed; the audience's immersion in the beauty of the planet Pandora is critical to the development of the film. There are some pretty cool fight scenes too. Avatar is the most expensive movie ever made with a budget of around $300 million. To date, it has grossed over $400 million - it deserves every penny; it's well worth seeing.

I woke up Tuesday still marveling about how good Avatar was. After Hebrew I went back to the room and watched an episode or two of lost with Adina. We also went to the Mister Zol down the street to buy stuff for one of her friends. I also picked up another bottle of apple juice. So far this year I had chosen to forego apple juice because in Israel it always lets me down. A few weeks ago I was out shopping with Brian at that same Mister Zol and he bought a bottle of a kind I'd never tried before so I figured I'd buy one too. It's the most similar to American apple juice that I've found. It is great to have real apple juice again, hopefully I'll be able to find it once we're down in Yerucham. Tuesday night was Erev Nativ. We did a program when we went around the circle answering questions asked by our staff. People were encouraged to be respectful to others and truthful in their answers. After we all answered questions the staff asked who people thought was most truthful, who we were most similar/different to, who loves life the most, who would be the best leader. I think that the program was very interesting. After the program Rachel, Adina, Debbie and I discussed everything in my room. There were definitely some problems with the program, but there were also some very good aspects.

On Wednesday we had the first part of our Hebrew final, the oral exam. I spoke for about three minutes on one of the stories that we read before my teachers cut me off and told me I'd done fine. It was a good feeling to know that the oral went well, especially since I wasn't sure what to expect with the written exam on Friday. On our way into Alick's class, there was a group of Christians singing carols. I got there a little too late to hear them, which was a let-down, but once he got there Alick said "I dare anyone to name a Hanukkah song that is even half as good as Silent Night." Not sure if that's the Christmas song I would have picked, but they certainly are wonderful. Another one of Alick's gems was when class discussion turned to the (quickly overturned) arrest warrant in the UK for Tzipi Livni for war crimes. "War crimes?" Alick scoffed, "I've committed more war crimes that Tzipi Livni." A lot of the class laughed, but then he reminded them that 18 years of combat duty (reserves included), including both Lebanon wars, adds up. A rather sobering realization that this funny, sweet, learned man is also a battle-hardened warrior - Israel makes for some very interesting people.

Thursday is a day off. I woke up at 1:30 PM and hung around the room working for a while. Thursday night Gabe and I headed over to Lev Yerushalayim to see Raffi, Alex and Elan. It was great to see them (and not just because Alex had a bag with pumpkin bread in it for me) and I'm excited to spend the next couple weeks hanging out with them. I got back to my room a little bit after midnight and was able to fall asleep pretty quickly, despite having only been awake for 12 hours.

On Friday we had our Hebrew final. Josh Goldberg pointed out that you know Israel is a special country when it seems weirder to you that you're coming in to school on a Friday than on Christmas. I think the final went well, but it's always hard to tell with these things. For sure, my essay was really good, and so was the oral, I'm not sure about some of the finer grammatical exercises but we'll see. Friday afternoon I spent some time in the Shuk walking around with Raffi, Alex, Elan, Gabe and others. While I was waiting to buy Marzipan, the guy behind the counter handed me one steaming hot, right out of the oven. It was the most delicious thing I have ever tasted. After I got home and got dressed for Shabbat, Tyler, the Gabes, Joe and I headed over to Josh apartment for davening and Shabbat dinner. We had a wonderful time with wonderful food and cool people. After dinner, we played Settlers and sung zmirot and then we headed home. Raffi and Alex came to base and Gabe and I hung out with them for an hour or so, catching up.

On Saturday I slept through a wake-up knock from Adina, and slept until 12:40. I made it down to lunch just in time to grab something. I hung out with Joe for a while and then Joe, Gabe Co, Tyler and I headed back to Josh's for wiffleball. I had a lot of hand trouble, but it was still fun. Saturday night a lot of us went out to celebrate Shara's birthday. A lot of visitors joined us a Herzl and all over downtown having a good time.

This morning the Silicon Seven (minus Joey, who isn't feeling well) had our usual lunch followed by class. This is the start of finals week, so we'll see how things go. Navah is here in addition to Alex and Raffi, so I'm looking forward to spending lots of time with them in between studying. That's all for now.

Talk to you soon,

Sunday, December 20, 2009

G-ma and Uncle Danny Come to Visit!

This week was the beginning of a long string of visits. Grandma and Uncle Danny were in Jerusalem for the week and I spent a lot of time with them. In the last post I talked about dinner with them on Monday at Hashipudiah. On Tuesday after Hebrew at Heb U I went out to lunch at Hashamen (a schwarma place that I mentioned here) with Grandma and Uncle Danny. I think Uncle Danny really enjoyed the schwarma there which was good because he was the person who first took me to Moshiko's to share one of his favorite places with me. Tuesday night was Erev Nativ which was the Nativ Hanukkah party. It was a pretty fun program planned and run by fellow Nativers (great job Gabe, LeeAnn and Ilana!). We started off with announcements from Yossi and then split up. My group played a "How Well Do You Know Your Fellow Nativers" Jeopardy-style game which was fun and funny. Once that was over, we went back to the auditorium and watched the Rugrats Hanukkah episode. I had forgotten/never realized just how clever it is. After that it was time for the sufganiyiot eating contest. I wasn't feeling well so I didn't even put my name forward to compete. The performance was a little weak, and I felt like I was letting my family down by not taking up Greta's mantle and dominating the eating contest. Oh well. After the program ended we went to the -3 hallway to pick up gifts from our Nativ gift exchange. I got a lovely dreidel from Yad Lakashish that I later found out came from Ariella.

On Wednesday I had my usual long day of classes. I picked up my Freshman Writing paper and was quite pleases with my grade - if anyone wants to see this opus of mine, just let me know and I'll be glad to send it to you. After school, I had the honor of going out to dinner with Grandma, Uncle Danny and Uncle Danny's friend Ralph Goldman. Ralph was instrumental in the founding of the State of Israel, working hand-in-hand with people like David Ben-Gurion and Teddy Kollek. Where the two of them decided to go into Israeli politics, Ralph instead turned to international Jewish non-profit, working for the JDC (the Joint) for decades. Now, at age 95, he is still a working man, Blackberry and all. He has known every Israeli Prime Minister personally and is just such an incredible man, filled with incredible stories. The four of us ate at Beit Ticho, part-museum (part of the Israel Museum; Ralph is on their board) part-restaurant. I had good french onion soup and gnochi.

On Thursday I had lunch with Alexis and her three boys, Shemer, Meitav and Osher. Alexis was my babysitter when I was a baby and now she and her husband Charlie live in Jlem. It was fun playing with the boys, and Alexis made latkes, which are very hard to find in Israel for some reason. Thursday evening we had a social action program. Kibbutz went to an old age home in Me'ah Shearim and Kehillah went to Shalva. We got a tour of the facilities and then spent a little time working with the disabled children. The building is beautiful, but despite that they are moving to a new center so that they can accomodate more children. We sung Hanukkah songs with the kids and they did Kabbalat Shabbat and lit candles (Shalva is closed on Fridays, so in order for the kids to get a chance to celebrate Shabbat they do a little something on Fridays. Shalva also has occasional Shabbatonim). It was really rewarding to talk to some of the kids (not all of them talk) and clap along to the songs with them. I had yet to give the $30ish I had been given to give as tzedakah in Israel and I decided to give it to Shalva. One of the beauties of Shalva is that its services are provided free of charge to all kids in the program. As such they depend on government funding and donations to fund the program. I felt that it was very very deserving place for the money.

One of my Shalva friends and me

On Friday I hung out all morning, working on my Silicon Wadi presentation. Joshy and I lit candles for the last night of Hanukkah and Shabbat and then walked down to the Dan Panorama to pick up Uncle Danny and head over to Shira Hadasha. Services were good, and Uncle Danny enjoyed them and saw three or four people who he knew. Joshy joined Grandma, Uncle Danny and me for dinner at the Dan Panorama. The food was good, as was the company and we all had a good time.

On Saturday, Josh and I picked up Uncle Danny and went to the Sefardi shul in Yemin Moshe. It was great to see Benyamin and Menashe and to see the shul. The building is beautiful and very unusual for a shul in Jlem. Benyamin and Menashe were overjoyed to see me, as was I to see them. I had an aliyah which was pretty cool and Menashe led Musaf. Once davening ended (at 10:14), Joshy and I headed back to the room for a little Shabbat nap, and then I went back down to the Dan Panorama for a big lunch. I spent a little more time with Grandma and Uncle Danny and then Uncle Danny walked me back to my building on his way to visit Ralph.

It was great having them here. Hanuakkah is a family time to me, so it was nice to be with some actual family in addition to my Nativ family.

After Shabbat ended we went out to celebrate Brian's birthday! We had a good (but cold) time hanging out downtown. Today is Brian's actual birthday so it's not too late to say Happy Birthday Brian!

Today we had a make-up Hebrew class so we needed to be at school at 10:30. Hebrew went fine and then the Silicon Seven had lunch and went to Silicon Wadi. Today was presentation day for our projects and I think that it went well for Joey and me - time will tell.

That gets me caught up to the minute, talk to you soon,

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hamshushalayim, Yeruham and Hanukkah - The Most Guttural Week Ever

Again, I've let a week go by without blogging, and for that I apologize. So much has happened that I'm excited to tell you all about. The beginning of the week was pretty normal, but the end gets exciting. Monday was a fairly regular day. Lots of classes, then I came home and we hung out and watched LOST a lot. On Tuesday I only have Ulpan in the morning and after that my day is free. I think this week I will crash some classes at the Yeshiva, but last week I just hung around base and did a little work. Tuesday evening was Erev Nativ, and we spent a little time learning about Hanukkah in breakout groups and then we all came together to decorate Hanukkiot (pictures of mine to follow). On Wednesday I had a lot of classes and then came home for my final Mark Lazar JET session. We had fun learning about the constant balance a teacher needs to maintain between remaining task-oriented and maintaining their relationship with their students. Jordana and I now point out task/maintenance situations to each other when they arise. On Thursday I had no class and loved having a day to laze around. Thursday night was the start of the last of the three weekends of Hamshushalayim. Hamshushalayim is a portmanteau of Hamishi (fifth), Shishi (sixth) and Yerushalayim - it is basically Hebrew (or Yerushalmi) slang for a 3-day weekend. Starting last year (I think as an initiative of new Jlem mayor Nir Barkat) the three weekends leading up to Hanukkah are a special cultural celebration in Jlem. There are free concerts and art festivals and many of the museums are open late for free, lots of good stuff. A bunch of us - Josh, Joey, Rachel, Aaron, Ariella, Gabe, LeeAnn, Jesse and I - decided to go see an a cappella concert in the Shrine of the Book. We got there with about 45 minutes to look around before we took seats around the room for the concert. I knew something was wrong when a man with a guitar went up on stage...there are no instruments in a cappella! The music was pretty awful - the language of the words was indistinguishable, the sopranos were too shrill and the men not powerful enough. Still, the experience was pretty fun because we all had fun being together and taking advantage of Jerusalem experiences.

Check out the Shrine of the Book in the background.

Once we got home, everybody split up. Gabe and I went up to our rooms and then realized that we were hungry. We decided on a walk and eventually ended up at Sushi Rehavia on Emek Refaim. It was a nice nighttime snack and Gabe and I always enjoy our one-on-one reminiscing sessions.

On Friday morning I had to wake up earlier than usual for a Friday because even though it was a closed Shabbat, my track was going as a group to Yeruham. We got on a bus for the ride down (or up, as Ben Gurion would have said) into the Negev. We got to Yeruham around lunchtime and ate in a small forest by the lake. I know that "forest" and "lake" aren't words usually associated with deserts, but there they were. Many of you many be aware of my love for JNF, well this is just one more area where the work that they do really has a lasting effect on the Land of Israel. After lunch we met our Yeruham guide (Yoram from Yeruham) and were given a look at the lake (fit for swimming by next year), and Be'er Rahma (Well of Mercy), the well that some believe is the same one from which Hagar drew water after she and Yishmael were sent away by Avraham. We headed into town then and it was already really upsetting to hear the groans of people who thought that Yeruham was simply too small for them (pop. 9,500). It would be an overstatement to say that I had fallen in love with the town, but it is very cute and I didn't want to hear people complaining about it. We got into our rooms at the hostel and got ready for Shabbat. I stayed with Joshy, Joey and Tyler this Shabbat. The hostel is not where we'll be staying next semester, we'll have apartments, but for now it was an ok place for Shabbat. We lit Hanukkah candles and then I led Kabbalat Shabbat and then we did Maariv and had Shabbat dinner (the first of a series of awful meals, courtesy of the Yeruham hostel). After dinner, Joey and I shot around on the basketball court for a little bit (he made shots and I put up my best effort). Then we needed to go back to our group room for a limud session with some famous woman from Yeruham. She made a big deal of winning a Supreme Court case to force the town council to appoint her to the religious council. She was a little annoying and insane and loquacious, but I paid attention as best I could. Once she left, a local rabbi came in and led our tisch (his yiddish accent made everything a little weird). He was extremely impressed that we knew all of the songs he led and he told a few stories - I think most of us would have preferred he told fewer stories and we sung more, but it was what it was - a pretty ridiculous change of pace. Our staff for some reason deemed it impractical to get marzipan rugelach or sufganiot for the tisch and we found this egregious breech of protocol to be unforgivable. Once we got to our room, the four of us got ready for bed and then spent some time talking about Shabbat and God and lots of deep discussion. The four of us come from very different places religiously, but we are all either already quite observant and knowledgeable or trending in that direction. Everyone had a lot to say and it was pretty interesting.

In the morning we woke up and headed off to shul. Even though the shul was basically down the street, our staff got horribly lost leading us there. It was ok in the end though, because we got an impromptu tour of the town. We showed up at shul in time for the seventh aliyah. The shul seemed nice and there was a lot of sefardi going around - it made me feel right at home. The building itself was pretty and it should be a nice place to spend a little time when we're in Yeruham on Shabbat. After davening, we went to an all girls school down the street to have a session with a woman named Debbie who runs an NGO (with Yoram from Yeruham) to promote something or other in Yeruham. She taught about Tikun Olam with a specific but subtle emphasis on the importance of moving to the Negev. Lunch was a little better than dinner, but not by much. We had a few hours to chill, and then Yoram from Yeruham took us on a walking tour around town. We saw a number of interesting things - some of the 27 synagogues in town, the young adult center that JNF is building, several schools, and two of the places we'll be staying next semester. I'm gonna focus on a few of the places we saw. One of the apartments was actually a small freestanding house that looks fairly decrepit, but would be lots of fun to clean up and decorate together. The other was an apartment on the third floor of a walk-up. It was pretty small and there was a hobbit hole inside - if you know Lord of the Rings, you'll know what I'm talking about. We passed by Eli Cohen neighborhood. Yoram from Yeruham said this with no additional information but as Eli Cohen is one of my favorite modern Jewish heroes I walked with YfY for a little bit to learn more. He told me that Eli Cohen has no particular connection to Yeruham, but because he was Moroccan (like many of the Yeruhamites) they were very proud to have an Israeli hero of their own (someone not Ashkenazi). We walked to the top of a hill and saw the white towers of Yeruham. These tall, thin, pointless towers, are a piece of art to help give some personality to Yeruham. They are spaced about three feet apart, with stairs and a slide in between to make them less menacing. The spacing in between, also forces the eye to look out at the forest, hills and lake, which the artist described as the true art of Yeruham. For some reason the Negev has never gotten proper credit for being the playground capital of the world. Everywhere settled that I've been in the Negev has simply incredible playgrounds - Yeruham has at least four. Tanni should love it here.

After the tour, we came back the hostel and davened maariv and did a little singing. We made Havdallah and had dinner. There was some extra time, so I spent about half an hour having a catch with Joey and Noah. Noah is a lefty and so we traded gloves and he got to test out being a righty and I got to work on throwing lefty. We then got ready to head over to the community center. There, in their brand new facilities (theater/concert hall, cafe, maybe other stuff), we listened to an Indian band perform and watched a young girls Indian dance troupe. The performance was lovely. I talked to a few residents and they seem so nice and I just can't wait to get to Yeruham for real.

On Sunday we got up and davened (I read Torah), and then had breakfast, made lunch and got on our bus. The bus took us to Sde Boker where we did stuff about Ben Gurion. It was pretty comical. Our guide greeted us and asked how many of us had been to Sde Boker before - all but two or three hands went up. The rest of our time there was pretty useless, except we watched the movie which I like. Our guide pulled me aside as we were walking between places and told me that she had noticed my accent and wondered if I had any British in me. I guess maybe she meant that I spoke intelligently, because I certainly don't have a British accent!

We got back on our bus (without actually going to the graves of David and Paula, which was weird) and traveled to Ein Ovdat for a short hike. It was really more of a walkabout - there was nothing strenuous about the hike at all. I guess it was a little pretty, but I like hikes to be challenging and climbing, not just walking. It was still pleasant, the weather was lovely.

Our bus driver home decided that it was so pleasant that we didn't need air conditioning on the way home - he was wrong. Jordana slept on my shoulder the whole time (just as she did on the way down) and the bus got uncomfortably hot. It was great to get home, especially since I needed to get to work on an Isaacs essay. When I got to my room, I was too antsy to get down to work, so I went with Joshy, Jesse, Joey, Asaf and Jordana on a sufganiyot tour of Jlem. We went all around the shuk and that general area looking for a custard-filled (Boston Creme) donut. I packed away five sufganiyot during our search (two jelly, one vanilla, one caramel and one glorious custard filled one), and in total, the five guys ate 21 1/2 sufganiyot in the hour or so that we were out. We also restocked on gummies.

Today It was off to class (Heb U was closed yesterday for Hanukkah vacation). Classes went as usual, and then I got home, lit candles, and headed over to the Dan Panorama to see Grandma and Uncle Danny! They are here for the week, and I'm so excited to spend time with them. They gave me some Hanukkah presents and then we went out to dinner at Hashipudiah. Hashipudiah is a skewer place that they both like a lot and now I do too! Dinner was lovely and we had a great time talking and eating. It will be really nice seeing them many times this week.

That's all for now, talk to you soon
Seffi Kogen

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Intel, LOST, Whiffleball, Chimps, and a Hot Tub

It's been over a week since my last post and so much has happened! I last posted on Thanksgiving. That was a Thursday (obviously), so on Friday I woke up around 11:30, the usual Friday hour, just in time for lunch. I went downstairs and had a little lunch and then walked with Brian over to a brand new Mister Zol's supermarket that opened up a couple of blocks down RaMBa''N street - not as close as Supersol (Shufersal) right across the street, but significantly closer than the Mister Zol's across from Ben Yehuda in the shadow of Lev Yerushalayim. The prices there are great, especially compared to those at Supersol. Shabbat came quickly (after a lovely Skype session with the fam) and I headed to Shira Hadasha with a number of people. We played Risk and went to the Tisch and then a bunch of us (Gabe Co, Aaron, Nadav, Adam, Jonny and I) hung out for a few hours. Saturday morning I went with Gabe Co and Nadav to Yemin Moshe (wonderful kiddush) and then to Josh's apartment for lunch. We had a delicious meal and then we played Settlers (Gabe and I decided to buy one for Yerucham) and, with our initial group joined by fellow Nativers Gabe Ci, Meir (and his brother David and David's girlfriend Yael) and Aaron as well as several of Josh's friends, I davened Mincha. A bunch of us then headed down to the vacant lot by Josh's apartment for a game of Whiffleball. Over the course of the game, I had WAY too many strikeouts relative to skill level, pitched some good innings and some not-so-good ones, and the ball got cracked and then destroyed. There aren't too many places to buy whiffleballs in Israel, but we may try and find somewhere that sells bats and balls because it would be a good way to pass the time in Yerucham.

After Shabbat was over, there was a big rally, organized by the Masorti movement (for most intents and purposes, the branch of the Conservative movement that operates abroad) protesting the Haredi control of Jerusalem. The papers the next morning generally labeled it a protest of Hilonim (secular Jews), which I found rather offensive. There were over 2,000 people there, ranging from totally secular to what Americans would call Modern Orthodox. We marched from Kikar Pariz (Paris Square), across from Beit Nativ, down Rehov Keren HaYesod, made a right to go down Ben Yehuda and then ended at Kikar Zion (Zion Square) at the bottom of Ben Yehuda. Aaron, Jonny, Gabe Co and I peeled off a little bit early to go get dinner, but we got in lots of rallying before we left.

Back row: Asaf and Jonny, Front row: Marc, Jesse, me, Gabe
(Best part of the rally - free tshirts! The front says "HaKotel LeKulam/n" meaning the Kotel is for everyone, but the ending of m/n emphasizes that they are referring to men and women)

The four of us went to Thailandi for dinner (good, but not great) and then went home by way of Kikar Zion to check out the rally. It looked like there was still cool stuff going by as we walked past.

Sunday was our Silicon Wadi class trip to Intel in Kiryat Gat. We had a really fun time with two presentations from people who work there and Q&A sessions as well as a general tour of the factory. Intel exports $5 million per day from Israel and much of the money that the Israeli government invests in Intel ends up right back in the Israeli economy. One really interesting thing about the Intel factory was that there was a Mezzuzah on every doorpost. It was one of those only-in-Israel moments. After the trip we came back to school and the Silicon Seven grabbed lunch at the Frank before heading back to Beit Nativ. Sunday night I again went to Beit Midrash and had fun with free pizza and good learning. Sometimes I feel like I'm monopolizing the discussion, but no one else seems to be jumping in so I think it's ok. After Beit Midrash we watched an episode of LOST (when this post went to print we were two episodes into season 3!!!)

On Monday morning I woke up feeling sick and I ended up staying home. That gave me plenty of time to start getting better and to work on my Freshman Writing essay on Conservative Judaism.

On Tuesday I only had Hebrew (among other things, we read an article about the rally I had been at). During lunch Aaron announced that he wanted to go to the zoo and so Aaron, Jesse, Joey and I hopped on the 26 bus and made our way to Jerusalem's Biblical Zoo. Among the highlights were the lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, parrots, red pandas and, most of all, the chimps. We stood by the chimps for at least half an hour just watching them play and fight with each other. We left in total agreement that zoos rock. When I got home, my favorite teacher, Alick Isaacs, gchatted me to see how I was feeling! For Erev Nativ we watched the movie Trembling Before God. This is a documentary made about homosexual Orthodox Jews. After watching the movie, we spent some time examining two of the four teshuvot accepted by the Conservative movement - Dorff/Nevins/Reisner and Roth. Dorff says that homosexual couples should be welcomed into Conservative communities, ordained/trained as rabbis/cantors, and that Conservative rabbis can perform commitment ceremonies. From a social justice standpoint, I may side more with this teshuvah, but from a purely halachic standpoint, it seems to me that Dorff makes a mockery of Halacha. The entire argument is based on the fact that "men don't have vaginas" (direct quote from his teshuvah). To me, that is just not a halachic argument of the caliber necessary to overturn a prohibition from the Torah. I was bothered that the program set up these two teshuvot as opposites, because, though Dorff's is the furthest to the left, Roth's actually is in the middle. The furthest to the right says that homosexuality is a choice and that we should offer reconditioning courses to fix homosexual Jews - obviously an idiotic position. Roth says that we should welcome homosexual Jews into our communities, just not as couples. He also does not allow for the ordination/training of homosexual rabbis/cantors. I think that this is an issue that very few people my age have a concrete and informed opinion on, because it is such a loaded issue where Judaism and the natural social progressiveness of being a college student seem to clash. I think everything right now boils down to the fact that all people should be treated with respect, and that it is not up to humans to decide whether a person has sinned.

Wednesday was a long day. We found out in the morning that one of our fellow Nativers would be going home that evening so there was gossip flying like crazy. When we got home, it was Mark Lazar time and that was fun as usual, though Jordana was out with her dad so she was missed. After J.E.T. I was up late finishing my paper on Conservative Judaism which I think turned out pretty well.

Since Freshman Writing is now over, this Thursday was my first Thursday since the beginning of the semester without class - its going to be nice having the day off. Thursday afternoon I took a bus to Hadassah Ein Kerem for an appointment with a neurologist. I didn't really find out anything new, which is frustrating but what I expected. We had Kol Nativ, which is getting pretty frustrating, but it'll all be over soon (I have a plan for a four-man Yerucham a capella group, should be pretty awesome). Thursday night I really wasn't feeling well so I only went out for about an hour and I only went out at all because it was Jordana's birthday and I would have felt bad not going out at all. Happy Birthday Jordana!!!!

On Friday we had a make-up Hebrew class because Ulpan ends before the semester ends so that we have more time for finals. Shifi knew that it was a big hassle for us to wake up on a Friday morning so she decided to make it more fun for us. We had about an hour of learning and then took a break, followed by a big brunch. We all brought in food (Shifi included) and had a HUGE meal - marzipan rugelach, pita, cheese, chips, burekas, juice, shoko, tea and all sorts of goodies. Don't worry that I missed out on lots of learning during the Hebrew class. The other class watched Sallah Shabbati - a wonderful movie, don't get me wrong, but no better use of my time then our brunch. After eating, we still had time left in the class so Adina came up with the wonderful idea of playing 2 Truths and A Lie. This is an icebreaker where everyone goes around and tells the group two true facts about their lives, along with one lie that they made up. The group then guesses which fact is the lie. We played in Hebrew, so there was at least a little educational value. Shifi made everything so much fun because she is just the cutest Hebrew teacher ever. She is by far the second best Hebrew teacher I've ever had, right behind Morah Besner.

After class ended, a number of us headed over to the Central Bus Station to begin our weekend fun. Adam, Aaron, Joshy, Gabe Co, Asaf, Brian, Nadav, Meir, Jacob, Joey, Max and I went to Ramat Gan to a hotel/resort called Kfar Maccabiah. After a little bit of a room balagan where the rooms that they initially gave us were too small for three people, we ended up moving to bigger rooms that could each sleep four, so we needed one fewer room. We headed to the hot tub, pool and saunas right away and hung out there for a few hours. After that, we went back to the rooms did Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv, and then had dinner. We hung out and watched tv for a while, and then went to our rooms for bed. In the morning we woke up for hotel breakfast and it was wonderful!! They had fruit and cheese and bread and pudding and yogurt and shoko and juice and cake and parfait and tea...we were all really full after breakfast and we went back to our rooms for late morning naps. When we woke up, we headed down to the basketball courts to play for a few hours and then went back to the pool area for a while. We had dinner back in the rooms with some more tv watching and then took some more napping time. We woke up as Shabbat ended, packed up and headed home. Once we got home, we dropped our stuff off and a number of us headed off to a movie theater/restaurant on Rehov Lloyd George to see A Serious Man (A Good Jew in the Hebrew title). It is based in St. Louis Park, MN where a lot of my friends live. Joey's little brother plays the role of "Daniel's Reefer Friend," who is always asking Daniel to pass the marijuana that he is smoking. The movie is VERY interesting as a modern Book of Job parallel and just generally as a thought-provoking film. I really enjoyed it.

This morning it was off to Silicon Wadi again (with a stop at The Frank first for lunch), and then back home. On the way home I saw a nun in Naot sandals - one of those interesting incongruities that you only see in Israel. We watched a lot of LOST today and then Rachel, Adina and I went to grab pizza. Rachel had a meeting for her Poland trip and Adina and I walked around a little more, then it was time for another episode of LOST.

Now it's time for bed, but it feels really good to be caught up on my blogging.

Talk to you soon,

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving in Jlem, Jazz and Sacrifices

Monday was a long day as always. I spent my breaks watching The Lord of the Rings, to catch up to a few other Nativers so that we can all watch the third one together. That night was a girls football game. They lost by a lot, but not because their fans weren't supportive. We were cheering our heads off, confusing the other team's offense and supporting our girls as much as we could. On the way home I had a nice chat with Jordana (who had a spectacular catch during the game), about what I can't remember, but our conversations tend to be quite good and engaging.

On Tuesday I had Hebrew in the morning followed by lunch at Frank Sinatra. In the early evening Gabe, Jonny and I headed over to a place downtown for haircuts. We were all terrified. The place is a haircutting academy. It was the first time I'd had my hair cut by a sixteen year old Arab boy, and let me tell you, he was no Maryanne. My hair doesn't look bad, its just not what I'm used to. I may go to Adam for my next haircut and have him just give me a buzz on a seven or eight. Tuesday evening was Erev Nativ. We started all together in -3 before breaking out by track. Noah and Cori led a discussion about the Hadag Nahash song Shirat HaSticker (The Sticker Song). The lyrics to this song were written by Israeli novelist David Grossman. I have done similar programs many times, but I still found them interesting and Noah and Cori put a different spin on it by printing out images of the bumper stickers mentioned in the song.

On Wednesday we had Kol Nativ rehearsal after a long day at school (I got back my PSchinds midterm - I was pretty happy with the result) and then I went out to dinner with Brian, Ilana, Asaf, Lainie and Jesse at HaShamen - a great shwarma place that gives you a choice among turkey (the most commonly used at every other shwarma joint), chicken and a mix of beef and lamb. The reason to go to HaShamen is for the lamb one which is just so delicious (though I could see chicken tasting really good). Afterwards we met up with other Nativers for a really fun night, culminating in a trip to McDonald's with Joey, Nadav and others. Though this McDonald's isn't Kosher, their ice cream, of course, is. And it costs 3 shekels ($0.79) for a big cone. It's probably emblematic of how cheap we all are that we refer to places by the cost of their products. Three good examples would be Seven Shekel Beer, 25 Shekel Pizza and now Three Shekel Ice Cream - obviously they're not the best ice cream or pizza in town (Aldo's and Big Apple, respectively), but hey, they're cheap.

Today was my last Freshman Writing class. Our final papers are due in a week, hopefully that won't stress me out too much. We got back the first five pages that we'd written and she liked mine and gave very constructive criticism. I then had a mid-semester academic advising session with Reina (the Freshman academic advisor who also handles Nativ - she's a past Nativer). She asked about my classes, and I'm glad to say that I was generally able to give positive reports. When I got home I took a nap for a few hours and woke up just before 5 for our final Kol Nativ rehearsal before the performance. When we finally did perform we were good, but not great. Whatever, room to grow. As we headed into dinner we were directed to a table outside the dining room with envelopes on it. Everyone took the envelope with their name on it and headed to the tables to open them. Inside were emails solicited and printed out by our staff from our family members. So cute and sweet! Thanks to all of you who wrote and to Shosh for organizing this great surprise!

Dinner was good. The turkey was good, as was the stuffing, but there were several things missing (in order of importance):
1. Family
1a. Pigs in Blankets
2. More Spanish spoken than English
3. Grandma's turkey and gravy
4. My apple pie
5. Navah's meatballs
6. Football
7. The Macy's parade
It was clear that Nativ was doing its best to make us feel at home and the efforts were very much appreciated!

Ilana, me, Shara and Gabe - 201 pride!

After dinner we went to -3 to watch the Thanksgiving video that two Nativers had put together using footage that they'd filmed of us and pop culture video clips. After the presentation, a bunch of us, including Brian, Asaf, Joey, Joshy, Meir, Jesse, Jordana, Judah and me went to the Davidson Center (next to the Southern Wall) for a jazz concert. It wasn't truly jazz - more funk and jazz-inspired stuff than real Bill Clinton at the Apollo jazz - but it still sounded good. After the concert, Brian, Jordana, Joshy, Jesse and I walked the walls of the Old City a little and then headed home. We actually went home three different ways, Jesse and I were the only ones who went my usual way. As we were skirting the edge of the Armenian Quarter, walking on the edge of a parking lot, we spotted a group of Muslim boys pushing a goat, standing up inside of a shopping cart. The sight was only inexplicable for a moment before we realized that tomorrow is Eid al-Adha of the Feast of the Sacrifice. Once we realized that, the scene became simply ridiculous. This was no small goat either; it probably weighed at least 90.718474 kg (200 lbs). Tomorrow, they will sacrifice it to commemorate Ibrahim almost sacrificing Ishmael (you'll recall that our story is slightly different) and donate the meat to poor Muslims. A little weird if you ask me, but that's religion for you.

I thought about putting in a things for which I am thankful piece here, but I decided that that would be far too cheesy. Instead I'll just say that I'm thankful for those of you who choose to read my blog. If any of you want to post lists of thanks in the comments, feel free!

Finally, here's an article I found really cool: Israel's top ten must-have gadgets
Hope you like it!

Happy Thanksgiving and I'll talk to you soon,

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Another Week Gone By

Again, it's been a while. In order for me to write I need a combination of time and will to write, so sometimes I'll write every other day, sometimes it'll take a week.

Monday was the usual long day. When I got home I had a lot of work to do, specifically Hebrew that night.

Tuesday after Hebrew I put in time on my Freshman Writing work, and then it was Erev Nativ. For Erev Nativ we met by track and had a program. The Kehillah program was Share or Dare. We sat in a circle and tossed a ball of yarn around. When the yarn reached you, you grabbed hold and either shared an experience from Nativ so far or vocalized a dare for yourself for the weeks and months to come. It was a fun program, and at the end we all walked away with a yarn bracelet, so it was nice.

On Wednesday after school I had Mark Lazar's JET course again. We really are learning a lot about education, formal and informal. This week we focused on Teachable Moments and how to harness them and use them as they pop up. Everything we learn is so interesting and Mark teaches it in such a fun way. After Mark Lazar, I was up late finishing my Freshman Writing assignment for the next day.

Thursday we had Freshman Writing and it was great to hand in what I'd been working on. There's still more to come though, one more class for that six-class course and then I need to wrap up my paper and then I'm done.

Thursday night a lot of my friends were at the B'yachad program for returning staff members to Ramah and other camps. I wish I could participate, but I didn't staff Ramah last summer and even if I had, Wheels is my first choice this summer and you need to commit to Ramah to be in the program. Joshy, Jacob and I went out to Fruit Bar (a Pinkberry-type frozen yogurt place) and then came home and watched The Illusionist.

There were (was? Anyone know the grammatical rule here? Feel free to help me out in the comment section...or comment there - that's what it's there for.) probably about 4/5 of Nativ home this past Shabbat. Joshy's family is here so he was staying at David's Citadel with them. Friday night I walked to Shira Hadasha with Brian and his parents and then had dinner at Beit Nativ. We went to the tisch for a little and then played Risk. I went to bed pretty early. On Shabbat morning I went to Shira Hadasha again, and after davening Gabe, Gabe, Meir, Nadav, Lainie, Ilana, Seth, Adam, Jesse, Shira, Tyler, and I walked over to our friend Josh Goldberg's house. Josh was on Nativ 26 with Gabe's brother Simeon and the two of them have been friends for a while. He is in Hebrew and Isaacs with me, plus we have similar USY backgrounds and he knows Navah - we get along really well. He is a genuinely hospitable guy who loves Nativers. He and his roommate have a beautiful apartment and are wonderful cooks and hosts. After lunch we sang zmirot (Josh taught us some new ones) and played a board game called Settlers that I'd never seen before but really enjoyed. As Shabbat was winding down, a number of people went home, but Gabe, Gabe, Meir, Tyler, Josh, Nadav and I went to a small vacant lot by Josh's apartment and played 9 innings of wiffleball. I can still throw a wiffleball pretty well because it's lighter than a baseball, and the bat is light enough that my hand isn't an issue so I'm pretty good. My team lost though, on a walk-off homerun by Josh. We all had a great time. Once we got home, I had a little time to get ready and then it was time for dinner with Joshy's family. Josh's parents took Jesse, Joey, Tyler, Seth, Jordana and me out to dinner along with their family of five to a beautiful and delicious steakhouse called La Guta on Derech Beit Lechem. They are all very generous and the food and dinner conversation stimulating and engaging. In particular, Josh's father and I had several great discussions about Conservative Judaism, Israeli politics and business, and I look forward to talking with him more over the rest of their trip.

On the way back to Beit Nativ, we took the Sacks' past the Gilad Shalit tent, and then we took Steven (Joshy's 9th grade brother) to Ben Yehuda street because he wanted to go. I came back pretty quickly (Joshy and Steven headed back to the Citadel) and then I hung out with Adina and Rachel for a while before bed.

Today was Silicon Wadi (aka the most recent installment of the Spectacular Adventures of the Silicon Seven) so the seven of us had our Frank lunches and four hours of class. We just got home so I have some time for work before Beit Midrash.

Talk to you soon,

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Feel Like It's Been Forever

So I haven't blogged since that little half post about last week's Erev Nativ, which was almost a week ago. I probably could be spending this time more wisely, but I'm going to write this instead, because the truth is I enjoy it. Look at that Eemah and Abba, the little kid at Schechter who had to be forced to write sentences longer than three words now enjoys writing - go figure.

Wednesday is one of my long days. Wake up at 6:30 for davening at 7:00, Nativ provides a bus to school at 8:00, Hebrew from 8:30-12:00, lunch at the Frank from 12:00-12:30. Isaacs from 12:30-2:00, break from 2:00-4:30 and finish up with Talmud from 4:30-6:00. We got home at about 6:30 and I had Jewish Educator Training with Mark Lazar again. I continue to enjoy learning from this enigmatic man. To take a moment to describe this talented teacher - he is from California, probably about my parent's age, with chest-length frizzy gray hair and a beard. He really knows teaching, and it is a pleasure to learn techniques from him. Going into the course I was unsure what to expect, but we spend our time playing games with an eye towards how we can successfully employ them as teachers. After JET, I saved Gabe from the evils of his Freshman Writing paper and we went to get falafel from Maoz. Brian Cook

On Thursday, I had Freshman Writing at 12:30 until 2:00 (with lunch at the Frank before, of course). We then had to hang around Hebrew U for a make-up Hebrew class, because they run out of class time at the end of the semester. We watched Blues LaChofesh HaGadol a poignant Israeli movie based in 1970 about recent high school graduates experiencing their last summer vacation before the army. I enjoyed it, but it was annoying having to stay after school for it. Thursday night was actually a pretty quiet one and most of us ended getting back to base early.

Friday was also a quiet day. I went to Shira Hadasha on Friday night and Alick davened. Friday night Gabe Ci., Adam, Joey and I played Risk. I slept through shul on Saturday. After lunch, Gabe Ci., Joey, Brian and I played another game of Risk. Once Brian and I were both out, we went outside and played catch. I'm working on learning to throw with my left hand (in some ways this is more important to me than being able to write lefty, probably in part because it feels more attainable, I'm actually a pretty good southpaw).

Today was Silicon Wadi so the Silicon Seven (the seven Nativ guys who take the class) had lunch together at the Frank and then went to class. Class was good but long as always. When we got home we had a meeting about hammering out our winter break plans. I'm going to Italy with Joshy, Joey, Gabe Ci., Adam, Seth and possibly Nadav. Planning is so exciting, and I can't wait for break, though I also like my other idea (which is totally unfeasible). I would have loved to fly somewhere cheap in Europe and then board a train. We would travel all over Europe, sleeping on trains, hitting as many countries and cities as we could, and then flying home after two weeks. It would be exhausting, but awesome, and we could sleep once we're back in Israel. I'm sure that it would be too expensive, but it still sounds cool to me. Joshy and I decided that when we are co-directors of AIPAC we would do it on the organization's money and claim that we were raising pro-Israel sentiments in Europe.

Tonight was Beit Midrash (free pizza and text study on free will) and guy's night movie night. We watched Gran Turino and it was wonderful. The movie is essentially Clint Eastwood growling instead of speaking, spitting racial epithets left and right, and tying up the movie with a beautifully poetic plot. Not for the faint of heart, but a great movie.

Now I'm writing this and about to go to sleep but I'm glad I got it all down. Davening at 6:45 tomorrow.

Talk to you soon,

P.S. It's sufganiot season!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Not Disney World

My mom, sister and brother were all in Disney World for a couple days this week so I'm understandably jealous. Still, I'm here in Israel, which is pretty good too.

Monday I had Hebrew, lunch at the Frank, Medieval Jewry, and Talmud. Everything was fairly standard. The day is pretty long, especially since the sun sets so early now. By the time we get out of Talmud at 6:00 it is dark out and that makes it feel so late. When I got home I did a little work and then went out to dinner at Thailandi with Gabe. The food was pretty good and not too expensive - plus the company was wonderful, and we discussed all manner of fun things.

Today I had Hebrew at 10:30, but I woke up not feeling well around 8:00 (instead of the 9:00 that our alarm was set for). Hebrew was the same as usual, then we had lunch (guess where) and we were home by 2:00. I got right to work because I have a lot of stuff due over the next two days. I finished the Isaacs essay I had as well as the Hebrew project and half of my freshman writing assignment due Thursday.

Tonight we had Erev Nativ, which I found very interesting. Rabbi Tovia Singer, the director of Outreach Judaism (an organization similar to Jews for Judaism) came to speak with us in an unusual way. Yossi introduced his session by saying that he'd brought in a Jew for Jesus to give us a talk similar to what we might expect to hear on a college campus. Rabbi Singer then came in (using an alias) to the room in a suit with a Jews for Jesus tshirt under his jacket. I realized during Yossi's intro what was happening (having heard of Jews for Judaism) and I resolved to sit back and watch and not become an active participant in the discussion. My fellow Nativers were drawn in to what he said, staying alert and interested. At one point, about half of Nativ had their hands in the air, waiting to ask questions. They were skillfully and smoothly confronted and many of them revealed a lack of knowledge about Judaism (that's not at all to say that they are unintelligent - I may have found myself in the same situation had I engaged with him, though I like to consider myself knowledgeable) and some acquitted themselves quite well. After he finished, he left the room and Yossi said that a rabbi would now be coming in to present the opposite side. Rabbi Singer walked back in (this time in a shirt and tie instead of the Jews for Jesus shirt) and blew the minds of most of Nativ. Once everyone calmed down, and this took some time, he began to talk to us about what techniques he had used earlier and why they were effective, about the tactics of Jews for Jesus and about the fact that the vast majority of Christendom bears no malice for the Jews and doesn't attempt to convert us. It was a very interesting program and I really enjoyed sitting back and observing (though apparently my absence from the discussion was felt - Gabe asked me after if I knew what was going on, citing the fact that I would have gotten heavily involved in the discussion had I not known...he knows me too well). I had always wanted to see one of these presentations and I was not disappointed.

That's all for tonight.

Talk to you soon,

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Conservative Judaism, Rabin, and Insomnia

I'm still awake, even though I need to wake up at 6:15 for davening tomorrow, so I figured I would take advantage of this time. On Thursday I ended up not going to V for Vendetta, and instead watched 3 episodes of Lost. On Friday, We had to get up for a morning session with Jules Gutin, Director of USY (and I had to get my package of 4 SIs, Sudafed and gloves). I enjoyed it, as I do all of Jules' sessions, but I felt that the group was hoping for a more in depth look at the Movement. After the session It was time for lunch, and then Debbie, Jordana, Joshy and I headed off towards the shuk to buy rugelach from marzipan for Shabbat. As we were walking there though, I got sidetracked by a crafts fair and we all went exploring. According to the artists I spoke to, they will be there every Friday. A lot of the stuff I saw was beautiful, and I can't wait to bring Eemah there. We bought our marzipan and headed home.

When we got home I found Joey and Adam (our resident barber) and we (along with spectators) shaved Joey's head according to the terms of the bet.

I think it came out rather well.

Friday night services were at Moreshet (The shul that is part of our compound - stepping through it's doors transports you via wormhole to an American Conservative shul). Judah led kab shab and it was fun because his voice is beautiful. The girls had a "sleep-over" (minus the actual sleeping over), and the boys felt the need to crash and assert ourselves - it was pretty fun/obnoxious of us.

Saturday morning I went to Shira Hadasha with Meir. Alick led Shacharit - beautiful as always. I walked home with Shosh and we had fun talking - she is the best big sister ever! After lunch we had another session with Jules. He taught us about the role of the Torah in modern Judaism and about the authority of Rabbinic Judaism - all stuff that I knew already, but a necessary primer for some of my fellow Nativers. I spent what little free time we had over Shabbat with the most wonderful people ever - Joshy, Debbie, Rachel and Adina.

After Mincha, Maariv, and Havdallah, a busload of us headed off to Tel Aviv. Saturday night was the rain check of the Yitzhak Rabin memorial - 14 years since his assassination (I actually do have vague memories of seeing the news about his death). The ceremony was moving. I understood a lot of the speeches (from people such as Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni, Dalia Rabin and others) and enjoyed the music (Hadag Nachash and also some performing group at the end singing Shir L'Shalom). Unfortunately, the evening was marred for me when I got back on the bus. One of my staff members, who I already knew aligns himself with the political right, felt the need to take the bus microphone and give his take on the proceedings. He called the evening a hate-filled event that spread mistrust and hatred of the right and the religious in Israel. What he did was disgusting (I can think of no way to soften my words here - I felt quite physically sick), and upset me and some of my fellow Nativers. Ariella and I had a discussion about whether we could possibly have missed these undertones that our staff member had perceived, considering that we aren't native speakers, but we decided that they could not possibly have been there. To paraphrase Tzipi - 14 years ago there was a huge rift between the right and the left, a rift that led to an unspeakable act of hatred. Now, we must continue coming together, continue working together, for peace. Unfortunately, Nativers who don't have as much Hebrew as I do only saw the evening through the lens of hatred presented by our staff member.

One cool part of the evening was seeing the recorded message from Obama. Israelis don't like him too much, but I thought that the message was very good, saying things that needed to be said. Except when he used the term Palestine in the present tense; that was either a major gaffe (obviously unlikely) or a calculated move in Obama's push towards peace.

Today was business as usual. I woke up earlier than I often do on Sundays so I had plenty of time to relax before school which was nice. Silicon Wadi (after lunch at the Frank, of course) was very interesting today. We heard from a deputy director within the Ministry of Finance, who also happens to be our professor's father.

When we got home I watched a little tv with Joshy and then I went out to dinner with Gabe, Ilana and Becky. After dinner it was time for our final session with Jules, this one about Halachic decisions of the Conservative Movement - focusing specifically on the Eemahot (adding the Matriarchs to the Amidah). I found this the most interesting of the sessions, though I wonder if maybe we could have eliminated one of the other sessions and split this one into two, to allow more time for questions and to make the sessions shorter. All in all out weekend with Jules was very pleasant (especially considering that it is supposed to be the first of our Conservative Judaism sessions, and we already had sessions with Joel Roth and Bradley Artsen).

Now I'm going to try to go to sleep again, I have a busy day ahead of me.

Talk to you soon,

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Yankees Win!

So, in case you haven't heard, the Yankees won the World Series! Joey isn't talking today, but once he recovers a little, we'll be cutting into his hair.

So, back to Monday. Monday, if you'll recall, was the day Jerusalem was behaving like flood-era Mesopotamia. A little rain doesn't stop the Jerusalem girls flag football league though. I headed over to Kraft Stadium with our team and the coaches because I wanted to cheer on my friends. The guy at the gate stopped me (like he did last time) and told me that I couldn't go in because the religious girls didn't want any men in the stadium. After I explained to him that I was my staff member Shosh's brother, and argued a little, I was admitted to the stadium with the warning that "If anything happens, I'm coming for you." I'm not really sure what he thought would happen - an orthodox girl melts into a puddle of goo upon being seen in long athletic shorts by a man? I suppose anything is possible. Anyway, our girls lost but we had fun. On the way home, Debbie, Rachel, Jordana, Arielle, Adina and I decided to order pizza for when we got home. We called Joshy and had him order and then all seven of us had a pizza party back in the room.

On Tuesday, Josh and I headed to school for Hebrew. Hebrew was fine, and then we had the real reason to go to Hebrew U - the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria. I'm not sure that I've communicated just how good this food is in my blog. Even though we've been at Hebrew U for 3 months already, we still spend much of our lunchtime discussing just how good the food is. Right now, I'm really loving the grilled chicken with a side of couscous, but everything is so good.

Tuesday night was Erev Nativ. Our staff had planned a program to be held outside, but as it was still Atlantis out there, they canceled the program and instead showed us the movie Someone to Run With (משהו לרץ אתו) based on the book by David Grossman (a famous Israeli author who I best knew before this for his son's death during the Second Lebanon War). I had seen about 45 minutes in the middle of this movie on Pilgrimage during our groups free time when Raffi and I snuck into another group's program. I hated it then so I didn't expect too much. The movie still doesn't make my top 10 (or 30...or 50) list, but it was interesting, and not as bad as I remembered.

Yesterday I had class from 8:30-6:00, with lunch in the middle (at the Frank, of course). During a break between classes I read about the taking of a ship loaded with Iranian weapons on its (presumably) to Hizballah and Hamas by way or Syria. The mission was carried out by the Israeli special forces unit Shayetet 13, considered to be the most intense of Israel's special forces units. Having not really read much about the Israeli special forces, I spent about an hour diving into Wikipedia learning about them - very interesting stuff. When I got home, I had Mark Lazar (Jewish Educator Training course), which was fun again, and again, very informative. After that, we watched one episode of Lost, and then it was time for bed.

I woke up at 3 am and watched the first two innings of the game on my computer. The Yankees taking a 2-0 lead in the bottom (that's the second half, Nav) of the inning acted like a security blanket, and I drifted off to sleep happy. In the morning I awoke to the (expected) news that the Yankees are once again atop the baseball world. Finally, I've missed gloating.

Today was only Freshman Writing which is still useless. My teacher doesn't accept newspaper or magazine articles as credible sources - that will make writing my paper harder, but it is what it is, and I'll just have to tough this one out. After Freshman Writing was lunch at the Frank which made FW much easier to swallow. Lunch was a lot of fun. I sat and talked with Gabe and Rachel about their summer at Ramah this past summer and how I would love to work there if my plans to staff Wheels fall through.

When I got home, I almost went to Museum on the Seam with Ariella, Jesse and Joshy, but in the end we realized we didn't have time. Tonight is the 5th of November, so Gabe planned a screening of the movie V for Vendetta (if you've seen it, then you'll get why the date matters). I plan on going to that and then turning in for an early (for a Thursday) night. We need to be up early tomorrow for our first session of a closed weekend full of sessions with Jules Gutin, Director of USY. Should be fun, especially since he is bringing me issues of SI.

Talk to you soon,

Monday, November 2, 2009

Jerusalem is Very Confused

For some reason, this city seems to think that it is Fair Lawn from the summer of 2009. As I type this, there is a strong wind whistling outside my window and spitting rain blowing into the faces of passersby. I don't really mind the weather, but it just seems very out of place - I know Jlem has a rainy season, but this is a lot of water (it's a good thing in this country - even though my Silicon Wadi professor explained to our class that Israel has the capability to use desalinization techniques to purify seawater to perfectly potable quality for less than 1/1000 of the GDP [considered to be a very reasonable sum] but the agricultural lobby in Israel fights hard against this for some reason and so the drought continues). Everything is good with the Yankees, they currently lead 3-1 in the Series, my hair seems to be safe, and I can't wait for them to finish off the Phillies.

Adina's birthday on Thursday was a blast. I went out for waffles with Adina, Rachel, Debbie, Jordana and Ariella. The waffles were delicious and I had great company so that made it even better.

Debbie, Me and Rachel enjoying waffles on Ben Yehuda.

After waffles we went exploring Jerusalem a little bit until we found a place to hang out, and many more Nativers joined us there to celebrate. This was the first occurrence of the rain, and we all had to scramble for cover. After a while, Joey and Debbie and I headed back to Beit Nativ. Debbie went to bed and Joey and I spent a little while getting ready for the game. We met up at 2 am in a little alcove on his floor. Watching the game was great, but we got very tired by the end and headed back to our rooms to follow the box score online and fall asleep if we got too tired. I watched like that until around 6am when the Yankees won! Evening out the Series was very important, and I went to bed happy.

I woke up on Friday at 11 or so, just in time to say goodbye to my roommatey. After a little while, I decided it was time to head down to lunch. I left my room and went to the door of my building - at which point I immediately turned around. Jerusalem was currently in the middle of a torrential downpour. The courtyard in between the two buildings was partly underwater! I waited a bit for the deluge to stop, and then went to lunch. Jordana and I decided to go shopping for snacks and stuff for Shabbat, so we headed across the street to Supersol. When we got back, the water had mostly drained away and I spent the last few hours before Shabbat in bed on my computer. As Shabbat came nearer (Shabbat starts very early here - 4:11 this past week and we'll get as early as 3:55 on December 4th before it starts to get later again) and my friday morning lethargy failed to break, I decided that the only way I was going to shul was if someone came into my room and said "What the hell Seffi? Get off your butt and get dressed for shul!" Just as I thought that, in came Adina, dressed and ready to go. She gave me a look and I jumped right up and started getting dressed. Adina, Brian (and Brian's mom - a very nice lady who was in Jlem for shabbat after taking Brian to Jordan during the week), Gabe, Haley and I headed to Shira Hadasha (which Brian and I agreed was lacking some of its usual energy, though even a diminished Shira Hadasha is better than most davening experiences we've ever had in the States). We made it back to Beit Nativ just in time for dinner, which was very pleasant, and afterwards I played Risk with Adam, Gabe Ci, Gabe Co and Meir. Gabe and I agreed that we had missed Risk a lot from our days in USY. Saturday morning I woke up in time for lunch and then we played Risk again. After Risk, I went to the Parshat Hashavuah study session and then led Mincha. We did Maariv and Havdallah soon after that, and then (once stores opened a few hours later) I went our for sushi with Adina, Gabe, Lainie and LeeAnn (Nativ doesn't give us stipend for Saturday nights, which is absolutely ridiculous, because nothing even remotely approximating dinner is served at Beit Nativ). After that, Adina and I walked over to Ben Yehuda Street to pick up a bagel for Debbie, and then we headed back to Beit Nativ. I watched Coraline with Gabe, Lainie and Adam - it was a lot of fun and a surprisingly good movie.

On Sunday Joshy and I woke up and headed to school. Class was interesting, but also a little confusing. Silicon Wadi is unique in that the professor isn't an educator, but an entrepreneur. He brings expertise about his topic that no teacher could, but he also isn't as skilled in the areas of pacing his teaching and explaining concepts. The class is still worth taking though, and next time we are taking a field trip to Intel in Israel.

On Sunday evening a lot of people were ordering food for dinner, but the Beit Midrash program was beginning that night and they were going to have free pizza. I ended up going with LeeAnn, Debbie and Jordana and the three of us benefited from the free pizza and then studied about Jewish views on ethical treatment of animals (Tzar Baalei Hayyim) with Yonina Creditor (many of my readers know that name, if you don't, don't worry). The whole program is designed to bring JTS Rabbinical School students, studying in Israel, together with Nativers in study. It was interesting, and definitely worth going back a second time.

Today was back to classes as usual. This morning though, students in Rabbi Schindler's classes got an email telling them that Talmud was canceled today so my classes ended at 2:00 (The free time was wonderful, I just hope that everything is alright with the Rabbi). I took that time to head to the library and begin my research on Conservative Judaism for my Freshman Writing paper. I took out six books, and hopefully they will prove useful - at the very least they give me sources to cite, and since a list of sources is all that's due for next class, they'll serve that purpose (I hate writing essays piecemeal like this, but this time it's helpful). That's about all for now. Hope all is well!

Talk to you soon,

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Regular Week of Classes and JET

This week has been fairly ordinary and I don't really have too much to write about. Much of my time was consumed by a video that I was making for Hagalil USY's Leadership Training Institute this weekend. The video can be seen here. The people being interviewed are all Hagalilers (I'm the one doing the interviewing). I also edited all of the interviews, made everything pretty, wrote the credits and put in the music. It was a lot of work but it's rewarding to see the finished product. A lot of Nativers were doing freshman writing work every night this week (their final essays are due long before mine because I started the class later due to MDA training). Rachel spent hours in my room typing up her paper one night (sorry Rachel, it's a weak shoutout, but it's the best I could do under the circumstances).

Tuesday night was Erev Nativ and we heard from Rabbi Bradley Artsen, Dean of the Ziegler Rabbinical School of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. I knew that I disagreed with many tenets of "West Coast" Conservative Judaism, but I couldn't express it concretely. Rabbi Artson seems like a really nice guy but I disagree with most of his beliefs. He seemed to be expressing religious naturalism - one of Mordechai Kaplan's (the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) main beliefs. He argued against an omni-everything God, and instead believes in God existing in the world around us, particularly in science. He said that today's Judaism is heavily influenced by Platonic concepts (forgive the super-Jew digression: I pointed out that it has been for a long time, specifically citing the anti-anthropomorphic views of the Targum Onkelos having been influenced by a belief in an omnipotent God, but he said that many classical sources should be accepted, but looked at through his lens) and that that makes God inaccessible. It seems that he means well in his intentions, but I think he gets too far away from the basics of Judaism without justifying the departure. His arguments make me worried about the future of Conservative Judaism and caused me to lose respect for the Ziegler School as a whole. It's one thing to make Judaism more accessible, to dilute it is quite another.

Last night a lot of my friends went to a Hapoel Yerushalaim basketball game, but I had signed up for Jewish Educator Training (JET) long before Nativ told us about the game so I headed down to level -3 for a two hour session with Mark Lazar about teaching Hebrew School. I learned more then I thought I would, and I'm excited to keep going.

Today is Adina's birthday so Yom Huledet Sameach Adina! We'll be celebrating later tonight, though Joey (my phillies phan phriend) and I will need to watch the game at 2 am tonight. Joey and I have a bet going on the Series. If the Yankees win, he needs to shave an NY into the back of his head. Conversely, if the Phillies win, I need to shave a P into the back of my head. I haven't given much thought to the Yankees losing, because they will obviously win, but even if they do lose, I've been needing a haircut.

That's about it for now - talk to you soon,

Sunday, October 25, 2009

I high-fived Natan Sharansky!

Sunday morning was a very easy one - I woke up around 10:30, showered and got dressed, and then headed out to lunch with Joshy and Adam. After lunch, we headed over to school for Silicon Wadi which was interesting but not spectacular. Then we went home and did a little school work and a little hanging around before it was time to get ready for the Idan Raichel concert that MASA (the part of the Jewish Agency that pays me money to go to Israel) was holding for all of their participants at Binyanei Ha'uma. Before the concert started we heard from Yuli Edelstein, and Natan Sharansky(!) and watched a movie that MASA had put together about their programs. The movie featured three MASA participants, one of whom was Ariella! It was really cool to see her up on the big screen promoting MASA. I find MASA to be very interesting. Their slogan is "Israel: Your Home Away From Home," but, as one of my friends pointed out, their ultimate goal (as part of the Jewish Agency) is to get people to make aliyah. This was particularly evident when Edelstein spoke of us as ambassadors of MASA and Israel, but reminded us that ambassadors only serve for a few years. "Serve Israel for two years, for three years," he said, "then come here and become Olim Hadashim (new immigrants)." Interesting. Anyway, the main point of this digression from cool things is that as Natan Sharansky was walking past me back up the aisle to his seat (We were in the tenth row from the stage), I reached out my hand into the aisle and got a high-five! Pretty cool for me.

The concert itself was great - the Idan Raichel Project has a very unique sound because of all the different cultural influences brought together by Idan Raichel. The songs we heard last night had lyrics in many different languages including Hebrew, Arabic, Amharic and Spanish. Raichel is famous for pulling inspiration for his lyrics from Shir Ha'shirim, the Song of Songs, which I have always found interesting. He played a number of songs that I knew and even more that I didn't know but could still enjoy (Though I was upset that he didn't play Im Telech [a favorite of mine] or B'yom Ha'shabbat [one of his most famous songs] last night).

When I got back from the concert I studied for my Ulpan quiz today with Adina and LeeAnn for a bit, and then went to bed after chatting for a bit with Joshy (part of being the best roommates on Nativ is that we aren't just two guys who live together - we like to say we have a sleepover every night because we love having the chance to talk and gossip and joke every night as we go to sleep).

Today is one of my full days. On Monday and Wednesday I have Ulpan in the morning at 8:30, then Holy Life and Holy Death, and then Talmud until 6:00. The day is long, but the classes are still interesting, and hopefully they will stay that way. I have Talmud very soon, but hopefully I'll get another chance to write soon.

Talk to you soon,

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Catching Up

Disclaimer: There have been some mutterings of malcontent regarding the maintenance of my blog, and I would like to clear up a few points. Navah's blog, Seven Daily Reasons, is just what the name suggests - a daily blog in which she lists seven reasons why her day was good. MY blog, on the other hand, is meant to keep the fans back home apprised of the goings-on of my life. It is not a daily, so much as a whenever-convenient account of events, along with some useless musings. I hope you enjoy, but I never did promise regularity. All this said, I DO highly recommend Navah's blog and suggest you click over there whenever your daily (hourly?!) checking of my blog yields no new posts.

All this week was the first week of classes. I enjoyed all of them, though there are some major weirdos in my Talmud class (maybe a few anecdotes to follow about them, but I'm not sure if I feel comfortable posting those online). I actually enjoyed class too much and spent a significant portion of this week worrying over which of my four classes I would be dropping (it's ultimately going to be Islam). Wednesday night I walked over to my great aunt and uncle's house (Naomi and Mordechai), and we got in a taxi to head out to Chashmonaim for Avigail and Ariyeh's engagement party. It was VERY overwhelming (there were at least a hundred people there and the fact that they were all speaking English flustered me for some reason. Plus, there was this old guy with a handgun tucked into his belt - crazy!), but not unfun. It was a good introduction to that side of the family, who I have never really known.

Thursday afternoon, Ariella woke me up from my nap and reminded me about our museum date that we had planned. We were going to go to Museum on the Seam, but we weren't entirely sure how to get there and the bus just wasn't showing up. In the end, we gave up on that and decided to go to the Bloomfield Science Museum. We looked at a lot of optical illusions, wandered around an Einstein exhibit for over an hour, then played with the hands on exhibits. We had very limited time there, but we look forward to taking our friends back there sometime soon (and going to other museums all the time).

I was home again for Shabbat, which is getting a little old, but there were great people home for Shabbat which was fun and chill. Friday night I went to Shira Hadasha, and then later that night I played Risk with a bunch of guys which was great and something I've missed. I was going to go with Aaron to Kol Haneshama this morning (a Reform shul in the area - it just sounded like a good experience to have), but we couldn't find it, so we ended up going to Yemin Moshe, which was nice (their kiddush is spectacular!), and walking and talking with Aaron was nice. At lunch, Noah announced that there would be parshat hashavuah study and mincha at 4:30, I asked him who was teaching and he responded with "you can!" Then he also asked me to read Torah. I got Debbie and Jordana to come back to my room to keep me company while I prepared. That stuff went fine. After Seudah Shlishit, Joey and I had a catch with a baseball which was something I've missed so much. It was great to just stand and talk and joke with him while tossing the ball back and forth (too bad he's a Phillies fan). After Shabbat I went out for bagels with Ariella, Debbie, Shara and Adina - I'd really missed bagels - then we all went out for Max's birthday.

That's about it. Hope everything is good by you.

Talk to you soon,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rain of Falafel

So the morning after my MDA test I woke up feeling really sick. I struggled through that day, and spent a lot of it in bed, before heading to the MDA barbecue, which was annoying because I wasn't feeling well. I got back early and called it a night, even though it was Thursday night. Friday morning I realized that I wasn't better yet and so I canceled my Shabbat plans and arranged to be on base. Of the 25 hours that make up Shabbat I probably slept through 17 or so. After Shabbat ended, David, Seth and I went out for schwarma and then we went back to base to wait for our friends to come back (I was feeling much better by then, though I am still even now a little under the weather). Ariella and I had a very engaging conversation about the Goldstone report, about which I've started to draw some conclusions (I'll share later). I couldn't sleep last night, but that was fine, because every time I tossed and turned myself into wakefulness, I was able to check the score on the Yankees game and see (eventually) that the Yanks beat the Angels to take a 2-0 lead in the series. Joshy and I woke up at 10:05 and got ready for our exciting first day of class. After a little hunting we found the bus stop and boarded the #19 bus for Hebrew U. We got there at 11:45 - perfect timing for a 12:30 class, since we were planning on grabbing lunch at the delicious Hebrew U cafeteria. We got to class (Silicon Wadi: Global Entrepreneurship in a Middle Eastern Economy) right on time and settled in for the 4 hour session. Class went well and seems like it will be really interesting. The professor isn't really a teacher, he is an entrepreneur who has also done stuff at MIT, which apparently qualifies him to teach. I enjoyed him so I'm not complaining. Once we got home, we watched Lost with the girls and went out to dinner. Josh is playing basketball now so I figured I'd take this opportunity to blog.

Since this is a short post, I figured I would share some musings and interesting discoveries - feel free to read, skim or skip as desired.

1. Professor Halperin (I think we're supposed to call him Avner, but until he explicitly says that I'm playing it safe) told a story about Israel in the early 1960's. People were emigrating from the State, the economy was bad, and things weren't looking good. Someone actually erected a sign at Ben Gurion Airport that said "Will the last one out please turn off the lights." I thought that was clever.
2.Did you know that PM Levi Eshkol had to give up much of his power (or something like it) because he stuttered while delivering a radio address about Israel's national security?
3. Did you know (this one really blew me away) that in 1984 Israel's elections produced a tie atop the seat-getters in the Knesset which led to an agreement to rotate which party would be in power halfway through the term?
4. My thoughts on Goldstone: Israel shot itself in the foot here. By refusing Goldstone access to government officials, military officials, residents of Israel or even access to the STATE of Israel, they opened the door for statements like "20. By refusing to cooperate with the Mission, the Government of Israel prevented it from meeting Israeli government officials, but also from travelling to Israel to meet with Israeli victims." While I don't believe he had Israel's best interests at heart, Justice Goldstone has stated that his report is a compilation of the facts as he found them. Israel supplied him with no facts, thus the report is very one sided. The report does, however, still manage to criticize Hamas, along with Israel (or the Zionist Menace, as I sometime refer to Israel, tongue-in-cheek), something the UN Human Rights Commission managed to omit. Goldstone seemed genuinely upset that the UNHRC took his (already biased report), and boiled it down to a purely anti-Zionist/anti-Semitic resolution. No one is entirely innocent - not in the actual Operation Cast Lead (though a retired British officer had this to say about Israel's conduct - really fascinating), nor in the Goldstone/UNHRC debacle that is still unfolding (and will probably continue to unfold until it eventually reaches the Security Council and the US puts a stop to it).

Ok, I've rambled on about politics long enough - I think we're about to have a boys movie night down in the auditorium - 300 on a really big screen, pretty exciting.

Later: 300 never happened, oh well. To explain the title of this blog post - many of you may be familiar with the American children's book (now movie) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. In Israel it's called...Rain of Falafel. Oh Israel.

Talk to you soon,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Master of All Things MDA

The title is what I'm considering calling myself - that's not too pretentious is it? I'm getting ahead of myself though. Tuesday night is Erev Nativ which this week was an Israel Update courtesy of Yossi. We watched the Gilad Shalit video and Yossi talked to us about it and also Goldstone. It wasn't really anything I didn't know, but it was interesting to hear directly from an Israeli. I hope my cocky quotient isn't getting too high in the first paragraph. Ariella and I decided that we should read the Goldstone Report. We then considered how long it would be - I guessed 200ish she thought 500 - actual total: 575. Maybe we'll skim it. After the Israel Update, we had our semester orientation where Yossi told us all sorts of crucially important things that I can't quite remember now.

Now back to MDA. Well, with the 60 hour course under my belt, I sat down for the test this morning feeling not so confident. We needed to get an 80 or higher on the written exam and be able to administer CPR on an adult, CPR on a baby, and PHTLS (Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support). The morning was devoted to the written exam. I answered the questions as best I could and then breezed through the Hebrew translations we needed to do. I was very nervous after the test - I was pretty sure that I missed the 80 by at least a couple of points. After lunch, Josh and I worked as a team for the practical. The practical made me feel much better because I was really confident and did everything right. We finished our practical at around 2:30 and then we had until 6:30 for dinner and we would head back to the classroom on -3 at 7:00 for our results.

Josh and Sophie (who I got everyone calling Girl Seffi because our names sound similar) and I hung out in the room for a while. Dinner was fine and then we went to get our results. Seri met with us one by one and the rest of us played Jungle Speed - a mix of Uno, the card game Spit and the most basic primal warfare. When Seri called me in I was ready for the worst. Then I saw my paper had an 87 written at the top and I knew that I'd passed. We went over what I got wrong and then she congratulated me. I was really glad to have passed, especially since not all of the class did. People get to retake things tomorrow and then we have a celebratory barbeque at the tayelet.

It's pretty cool to think that I have the knowledge and skills to save someones life in a variety of dangerous situations. I don't really know how well I'll be able to handle the pressure of the situations themselves when in the moment, but only time will tell. Josh and I went out for ice cream to celebrate tonight before watching Lost with the girls.

Getting unspeakably excited for classes to begin.

Talk to you soon,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Simchat Torah

Friday night was the start of Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret. I went to Shira Hadasha with Gabe, and we met up with some of my school friends on the way, including Tamar and Dani. When we got there, Gabe and I went to sit with our friends (and future Hebrew U Advanced Talmud buddies) Jesse and Jonny. I had a good time, and I was really enjoying the dancing so I went over to my professor (one of the founders of Shira Hadasha) and asked if he thought I might be able to lead one of the hakafot or if that honor was reserved for members. He told me that they in fact reserve one hakafa for guests, and he would be overjoyed to let me lead it. After the next round of dancing, he ushered me to the front of the room, handed me a Torah (which I can carry so long as I hold it like a lefty) and a slip of paper with the words of the hakafa on it. Getting to lead the hakafa absolutely made my night.

Towards the end of the hakafot I saw my friend Adi, with whom I went to school and did USY. It was great to see him and talk to him and, by arrangement (he is also friends with my staff Shosh), he came back to Beit Nativ for dinner. Dinner was ok, and then we had the tisch which was very fun (and filled with marzipan rugelach). Saturday was back to Shira Hadasha for me, again with a whole slew of people, for more dancing, singing, praying, and an aliyah for everyone (Shira Hadasha actually had seven different Torah readings to accommodate the crowd). The service was lovely as always and Kiddush was yummy. Then we headed back to Beit Nativ for lunch, and then I hung out with Josh, Rachel, Debbie, Adina and Gabe for most of the afternoon. I should mention that Na'ale, Schechter's 9th grade trip to Israel, was staying at Agron this Shabbat. I was lucky enough to get to spend a little time with two of my favorite teachers from high school, Morah Besner and Senora Shapiro. As Shabbat was ending, the other Schechter Nativers (as well as other class of 09 Schechter students studying in Israel who wanted to come for Shabbat) and I went to the Nativ Sukkah to sit with Na'ale and sing with them. I led them in a few songs (employing my awesome songleading powers imparted in my by my years in USY) and then the former Schechter choristers led Havdallah.

After that, both Nativ and Na'ale were off to Gan HaPa'amon (Liberty Bell Park) for Hakafot Shniot. Hakafot Shniot is a very interesting phenomenon. On the basketball courts of this park in the center of Jerusalem, hundreds of people gather for post-Simchat Torah dancing, a sort of take-two, only this time with instruments and microphones. My friends and I had a great time singing and dancing (I made sure to pull the Na'ale kids into circles and trains and all the other good Simchat Torah dancing) for one hakafa (which lasted for about half an hour) and then we headed home. We held a MDA study session for the midcourse exam the next day.

After that, I went to give something to my Schechter teachers and they gave me three uneaten pizza pies and a couple of bottles of soda (total cost of this seemingly free meal: approximately $80,000) and asked me to give it to Nativers. I brought it to the Sukkah where I sat with Ariella, Josh Cooper (not on Nativ, but a very good friend from home), Daneel (also not on Nativ, but a friend of Ariella and Josh from Ramah Nyack) and Shira Telushkin (also not on Nativ, but she's going to Yale with Ariella). We then sat for over three hours talking about a lot of random but fun and interesting (for us this meant several sociopolitical facets of the State of Israel and some Talmud) topics.

The next morning it was time for MDA - 12 hours, from 9am - 9pm. I made it through the morning to the lunch break, but after eating lunch I went upstairs for a quick catnap and slept for five hours. David tried to wake me, but I really wasn't feeling well (the MDA instructor later diagnosed me as having been dehydrated). When I woke up I was feeling much better, and I went with my friends down to Gan HaPa'amon for the night's Nativ Basketball Association games. My hand makes it very hard to play basketball, and the hours at the NBA were very frustrating ones.

Today I had MDA from 9am - 4:30pm - not great, but not too hard (I discovered that I really didn't miss much at all when I slept through 5 hours of class). After MDA we heard from a woman about alcohol and drug abuse. She clearly was passionate about the subject, but she didn't understand how to properly convey her message to 18 year olds and most of what she had to say fell on deaf ears. It's a shame.

I've been watching the show Lost with some of my friends - we really enjoy it and I highly recommend it.

To close on a good note - my grades are done from minimester at Hebrew U and I was very pleased - I hope I can duplicate that success in the real semester when it actually counts.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Desert Survival

It is very late here so I'm going to do my best to condense an awesome experience into a short post - my apologies if it leaves you wanting more, feel free to contact me and ask.

At 5:35 on Sunday morning, the alarm that Josh had set jarred us both into wakefulness. After showers, we threw on our Hanes' white tshirts, athletic shorts and hiking shoes, grabbed our lulav and etrog (that we had picked out ourselves in the market for them in Jlem - forgot to mention that) and siddurim and headed down to the busses waiting outside. Yerucham (my group), and Kibbutz (the others) boarded separate busses - each with their own guard - and started south. I fell asleep right away. We woke up in Beer Sheva where we davened shacharit at a local synagogue, and then ate breakfast. We got back on the bus and headed to Machtesh Ramon. By way of some background info, a machtesh is a crater that wasn't formed by impact, but by the collapse of ground due to the withdrawal of an ocean - or something like that. Our bus drove for about 20 minutes to the base of a steep (think 60 degree incline) hill. We met our guide, Michal, and she spoke to us for few minutes and then told us to hike on up. We were all dying by the top, but it was a great way to start out our hike. Michal talked a little more and then we continued hiking. We hiked about 6km up and down hill and over dry riverbeds (wadis) until we got to our campsite. We set up camp (grabbed our clothing bags from the trucks that drive them to our camp, as well as mats and sleeping bags from the truck and help set up dinner). Adam, Josh, Seth, Miri and I went hiking on our own up a nearby hill and spent some time hanging out up there, which was pretty cool. Then we came back down for dinner which was beyond delicious. Afterwards we had a bonfire and Josh pulled out his guitar and we sang and had marshmallows and everything was lovely. The moon made the sky very bright, but it was also very beautiful.

As an aside, the adults hiking with us were Cori and Noah, our staff, Tamir, our guard, who made aliyah from Dallas with his family when he was in high school and was my guard once in Jlem class and is just so much fun to joke with but also talk to seriously about Tzha"l and other things, Elkana, the assistant director of Nativ (with whom Jordana and I had an interesting discussion about the lack of paleontology in Israel), and Michal, our guide.

We got up early in the morning and davened and had breakfast. Then we loaded our stuff back on the trucks and headed off. the total hikage for the day was 14km, but lots of it was up and down mountains which was my favorite part. about halfway through, we walked past kibbutz and traded Elkana for Yossi (the director of Nativ). Everything was just so much fun. My hiking buddies were generally Debbie Kruger and Rachel Engelberg, both of whom I knew at Ramah and both of whom I'm getting much closer with now. They could keep up with me at the front and they were fun to be around so they made the hike so much better.

Michal kept us entertained with fun games and things that sort of came out of nowhere and seemed pointless, but when we played them they really enhanced our experience. We got to the campsite that night and had the same basic experience as the night before. We woke up in the morning and again had more of the same (except this time, Judah and I hung out with Yossi for a bit and I also hiked with my friend Shara). We made it to the summit of that day's mountain (our third summit of the hike, I think - the beauty sort of runs together), and had a trust walk with our eyes closed, and then spent time just listening to the silence. Tamir and David and I then threw a frisbee around on top of the mountain, and watched air force jets dip into the crater during training exercises. We headed down and once we reached the bottom we got into jeeps for a ride to our lunch spot for the day and to be picked up by our bus and head back up north. The ride back up was uneventful.

That night was a very lazy one because we were all exhausted, though it was nice to shower for the first time in three days. Yesterday, I had my first MDA training course which ran from 8am-5pm with a break for lunch. After MDA I saw Yemima and Senora Shapiro, two of my teachers from Schechter who were chaperoning the 9th grade trip to Israel (they are staying at Agron). After a quick hello to them I headed out with Jordana to scope out a place to watch the Matisyahu concert in Breichat HaSultan without paying the 200nis ticket price. We found a spot that was accessible via climbing on the walls of the Old City and bumped into our friends and brought them to our spot. We only stayed for a little bit, because nothing was really impressive about the concert, then we headed home. I napped from 10pm-12am and then went to Adam's room to watch the Yankees-Twins game with a bunch of my friends from Minnesota - the Yankees won!

Today was MDA from 8am-8pm which was torturous, but I'm still excited about the end result which makes the course slightly bearable. After the course ended we went out for a little but I came back to write this and get to sleep. Even though tomorrow is friday, we still have MDA from 8-12 - it's eating all my time! On the bright side, I now know how to administer CPR and do a lot of other cool stuff.

That's all for now - get excited for Simchat Torah!

Talk to you later,