Wednesday, September 30, 2009

JNF, Joel Roth, Jewish Texts and Junk

There have been lots of small things going on around 8 Agron St. lately (the "junk" in the title). But I'll go chronologically. Yesterday was my last day of minimester classes at Hebrew U before Sukkot vacation and the real semester begins. I led Shacharit and the we had breakfast and headed off to school. We went through our two morning classes and came back to base early. When we got back to base I started a project that will take quite some time. Josh has seasons 1-3 of the TV show LOST on his computer and my friend Rachel and I plan on working our way through them. We only watched one episode though. This meant that when I got a call from Alon Badihi, Executive Director of JNF's Israel office, telling me that he couldn't meet with me on Wednesday as planned, but since it's so close, would I mind walking over right then. Gotta love Israelis. I of course said yes and headed over. JNF's Jlem office is in the big building next to the Great Synagogue called Heichal Shlomo. When I got there, I was expecting something of an interview, but apparently the email that he got from his boss at my request was enough of a recommendation that an interview was unnecessary (Russell Robinson [CEO of JNF] and I are friends [on Facebook {he friended me} and, to some degree, real life] and I asked him to write to the Jlem office and let them know I was interested). I also have a sneaking suspicion that they are understaffed and need all the help that they can get. I love JNF and what it stands for, so I'm glad to help out as much as I can and it sounds like I'll be working on some pretty cool stuff. When I got there, all Alon wanted to do was show off the computers that he has in his conference room. Israelis. I'm excited to get a chance to work there, they seem very nice, and it's work that I care about.

That night was Erev Nativ and we got the chance to hear from Joel Roth about his take on Conservative Judaism. The movement is so misunderstood and it kills me. I'm not sure he really answered questions for people (many people felt that he came on too strong and so tuned out what he had to say, but I loved him), but he certainly raised the discussion among the Nativers. I hope that the other speakers we'll hear from on the topic get the chance to further clarify the main points of Conservative Judaism, rather than harping on pet issues (something that Rabbi Roth stayed away from until the very end).

After Erev Nativ we had a study session for my Mendelsson (Israeli Society, Culture and Politics) exam and then it was bedtime. In the morning we headed off to Heb U and took the exam. I think it went fairly well but time will tell. One interesting question on the test was for one of the essays, we had the option of writing a dialogue between a Peace Now activist and a West Bank settler. I had fun writing that one, and I hope David has fun grading it (by which I mean, gives me a good grade). Afterward, we had time to kill before lunch (the food at the Heb U Frank Sinatra cafeteria is so good!) and the busride home, but we just hung around and wasted time.

Once back at base, I started my Isaacs essay and then headed to the courtyard to help build the Nativ sukkah. Once there, Cori grabbed me and told me that I have a doctor's appointment at that moment and gave me directions. The directions weren't right and I had to call Navah (who in turn got help from cousin Greta) to figure out where I was going. I arrived over an hour late and the receptionist essentially laughed in my face when I told her my appointment time. I'm going to go back tomorrow. PS, the walk back from the Dr's took approximately 10 minutes. I'm not mad about anything, or at anyone, but the whole saga was a massive collapse of communication and really frustrated me because of time wasted. Tonight, I finished my Isaacs essay, studied for my Isaacs exam (incredible study session) and did laundry, so I was able to salvage a measure of productivity out of the day. Time to get to bed so I'm well rested for my Isaacs exam tomorrow.

Talk to you soon,

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Happiest Yom Kippur Ever

To pick up right where I left off - I didn't go on the Slichot tour. I set my alarm (which has the annoyingly polite quirk of turning itself off after 30 seconds so as not to disturb my sleep) and asked a staff member to knock on my door - neither method proved effective. The sleep that I got was quite worth it though.

Friday was a pretty lazy day. We hung around base and didn't really do anything. Josh was out of town, so I was in for a lonely weekend. Just before everything closed for Shabbat I took a walk to Ben Yehuda with Gabe and Tyler which was fun. We got back to base and hung around until Shabbat started. After lighting candles, David, Judah, Joey, Tyler, Noah (the staff member who I often call Noiach) and I went to Yakar for Kabbalat Shabbat which was fun, but, like Kedem, everyone seemed to find it more moving than I did. We got back to Beit Nativ for a lovely dinner, and then it was time for the tisch, filled with rugelach, coke and singing. There is a booklet called the Nativ-a-tisch filled with 146 short songs. We went around the circle of all of us who had chosen to stay on base for the open Shabbat (I just felt it was time to have a Shabbat in Jerusalem, plus there were good people staying behind) and everyone led a song. Thinking back on it, David and Judah and I may have seized leadership of the tisch to some degree, but it was David's birthday, and Judah and I were on either side of him, so it just naturally happened. The singing was wonderful and beautiful and so much fun. Judah led us in a piyyut (Jewish poem, i.e. adon olam, yigdal) from the RH service called Yitnu Lecha Keter Melucha which was wonderful and very fun to sing.

After the tisch, we hung out for a while, just talking, and then it was bedtime. In the morning, I again slept through knocking at my door, but again, the extra sleep was appreciated. We ate lunch and hung out, then we had a parshat hashavuah session led by Joe Ornstein and Josh Orol which contained many interesting discussions. Then I led Mincha and we had seudah shlishit and finished up Shabbat with Maariv followed by Havdalah outside. Then we went out and hung out around Ben Yehuda St and other places for a while. We had a little extra time because Israel changes the clocks before YK to make more of the fast be during sleeping hours. I saw Josh and gave him a big hug after having missed him all Shabbat - we are the best roommates ever.

Sunday was filled with preparations for Yom Kippur. In the morning we had study sessions about different aspects of YK. I went to one on the '73 war followed by one on Jonah - both were interesting. We had lunch at 11:30 and seudah mafseket (the last meal before the fast) at 3:30 so that the kitchen staff could get home before the fast started (they are all Arab [I'm not sure if they are Christian or Muslim] but no one drives in Jlem on YK). Seudah Mafseket was delicious and very filling, and pretty soon after we headed out for Kol Nidrei.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that we (the same group as last time) went to the mikveh before YK. I have often been asked before about the difference between being physically clean and being ritually clean. I now have a personal example. When you go to the mikveh erev YK, you are most definitely NOT physically clean, but you are ritually pure. Just saying.

I went with friends to Kol Rina which seemed interesting but I wasn't there for too long. I wasn't feeling well, so after Kol Nidrei and the Maariv personal amidah, my friend Michael and I headed home. Even though we weren't feeling well, I insisted that we walk in the middle of the road on the way home (even when it was less convenient than the sidewalk) because it is just such an incredible thing to be able to do. I had asked people to wake me if they were going to be singing in the (usually traffic filled) intersection outside of Beit Nativ, but they didn't come inside before starting and I slept through which was irksome. I woke at 6:30 (after 11 1/2 hours of sleep!) and headed out to Shira Hadasha (a torah-egalitarian shul with a mechitzah that can be pulled aside. They have many interesting quirks to their service, one of which is waiting for ten men and ten women before they consider themselves as having a minyan). They have a reputation for turning away groups of people on RH and YK to make sure that they have room for their congregants and other visitors, but my friends and I had no trouble getting in. We got there right for Hamelech (the start of Shacharit) and everything was lovely. Once Musaf started though, everything became incredible. My teacher, Alick Isaacs (a wonderful Scottish Jew and a real scholar) has the most incredible voice and his Musaf was the best I have ever heard. Everything he did was just so happy. The tunes he picked were often familiar to me, and he would wave his arms, beseeching the congregation to join him in song and prayer. YK is so often misunderstood. It really is meant to be a joyous holiday, but that so rarely happens in America. Alick's Unetaneh Tokef was especially beautiful (he, like most shlichei tzibur in Israel, did the Yair Rosenblum version which so beautifully translates the meaning of the prayer into music - click here and scroll down to the video then skip the first 20 seconds or so to watch it performed), along with a piyyut called Mareh Kohen. We sat there for six hours, enjoying most of it. I really loved Shira Hadasha, the first shul I've been to on Nativ about which I can say that, and I look forward to going back.

We went home during the break and we to sleep. I slept from 3 until ten to 6, with the fast ending at 6:10. I realized that I wouldn't be able to make it anywhere in time for the end of the service, so I got dressed and did Neilah in my room - it wasn't ideal, but it was strangely pleasant. Then I headed downstairs to break my fast. We hung around Beit Nativ for a while and then headed out for an hour or two. I came back and watched Gossip Girl with some friends and then headed back to the room for roommate time with Josh. Now I'm headed off to bed.

Talk to you soon,

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Israel - Where even the busses wish you a Gmar Hatima To-

The past few days have been fairly quiet, but I'll go ahead with a quick run through. Tuesday afternoon was one of the most exciting moments on Nativ so far. We had our semester orientation and received our course catalogs. I decided to flip through the courses available to us and circle those that looked interesting - I circled at least fifteen classes. Realizing that I would need to whittle that down to three, I settled on a plan of attack. I typed up the name of each course, the professor's name, and the time of the course. I then highlighted in the same color the courses that conflicted timewise. I was able to see that with three blues, two yellows and three greens, I would only be able to take one from each time slot (not to mention the assorted ones that didnt conflict with anything). With much agonizing and advice from friends and family (Eemah, Navah and Kari in particular) I finally settled on four courses (in addition to the mandatory Hebrew [level Gimmel with the best Hebrew speakers of the Nativers] and freshman writing [ugh] and my Magen David Adom training course, more on that later): Holy Life and Holy Death: Medieval Jewry, Belief and Ritual in Islam, Talmud (with Rabbi Pesach Schindler), and Silicon Wadi: Global Entrepreneurship in a Middle East Economy. Reina Lavi, the academic advisor, told me that I would need to drop one of those four by the end of the first week - we'll see how things go. Advice or suggestions, informed or otherwise, are of course welcome.

That night we had Erev Nativ. We were divided up into four groups and we discussed Shabbat. I didn't really get anything out of the discussion itself, but I thought it left a lot of loose ends that I look forward to resolving later. After Erev Nativ, several of us were grabbed by Elkana and told to go to Yossi's office. Once there, Yossi congratulated us on being accepted to MaDA training and asked us if we wanted to accept. I said yes, for many reasons. One, it is an $800 (yes, $ not NIS, at least according to Yossi) course, and Nativ is paying, might as well get the most bang for my buck. Two, I really want to volunteer for MaDA second semester, and this is the only way to do it. Three, I really want to staff USY on Wheels in the near future, and this would more than qualify me to be the medic for my bus. Speaking of volunteering by the way, I have been in contact with JNF here in Jlem and I think I will be volunteering for them during the semester, which is fairly exciting.

We had our first meeting of Kol Nativ, the Nativ a capella group that I am running with my friends Tyler, Judah and Jon. We only met for about ten minutes because we were meeting after Erev Nativ and it was late, but we made a little progress on our first song.

Yesterday we studied all day long (it was really cute, our staff set up a study session by providing snacks and a room, and told us that it was BYO-Notes but they would be there to help) and today was our first minimester final: Jerusalem Through the Ages. I thought the exam was very fun and not too challenging; time will tell.

I noticed that on the front of the busses (which is an acceptable spelling of the plural of "bus" despite what my spell check is telling me), now that RH has passed, the traditional greeting of Gmar Hatima Tovah is displayed. Almost. There isn't actually room for the full thing, so the busses either say "Gmar Hatima To" or "G. Hatima Tovah" both of which I find equally funny.

After school today we came back to Beit Nativ and had a little down time (aka Gossip Girl time) before we headed out for Kaparot. This one probably needs some explanation. When I first walked into the tent where Kaparot were being done, I had every intention of trying it. Then I took my first breath and thought I would "chicken" out. Without getting too graphic, there was a lot of slaughtering going on. I finally decided that this was an opportunity that I don't usually get and I split the cost of a chicken with my friends David, Jesse, Josh and Seth (10 NIS per person). We did our swinging and handed the chicken over to the shochet who did the deed and began getting it ready to be donated to Jerusalem's poor.

We came back to Beit Nativ, washed up, and had a delicious poultry dinner (turkey - I checked). Then the boys went out to play basketball for a few hours, which was fun, but not really my thing.

Now I'm in bed about to go to sleep. I am waking up at 4 am for a Selichot tour. I'm not entirely sure what to expect, but I'll be sure to let you know how it was.

Talk to you soon,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shanah Tovah!

I'll start with a quick rundown of my Rosh Hashanah. Friday morning was devoted to learning about the holiday. We all were able to pick three sessions led by our staff to attend. I found this mildly interesting, but nothing incredible.

UPDATE (I can't believe I forgot this, thanks Judah)
In the afternoon, Josh, Judah, David, Seth, Tyler and I went out for pizza. We found a place on Rechov Aza where I think I ate before when I visited Navah on Nativ but I think it had a different name. Now it's called Pizza Panini and it was fairly good for Israeli pizza. After that, we headed over a couple blocks to a synagogue with a mikveh attached. We had decided that it would be an interesting experience to go for dunk before the new year, especially since mikvaot are so easily accessible in Israel. Only David seemed to have any idea what to do so we followed his lead. We paid 7 S"H to get in (which offended me a little), and then went into little booths to shower. All of the booths are open on one side, which leads to a hallway that leads to the mikveh. We waded in to the (surprisingly) warm water, dunked three times, and said the shehechianu. I hope we did it right. It was a pretty cool experience.

On Friday night all of Nativ met together in one of the rooms on -3 for Ma'ariv to start Rosh Hashanah. Yossi led Maariv and we all enjoyed davening together. At dinner I had my first ever Seder Rosh Hashanah - we said the lines for the various foods that we're supposed to eat on RH and then we ate them (including fish heads - yum). Dinner on the whole was better than average Agron food, but still not good. After dinner my friend David, my roommate Josh and I rounded up about 15 of our friends to walk with us down to Yemin Moshe. We sat under the windmill in Mishkenot Shaananim and sung songs for about an hour or so. We had lots of tourists watching us and taking pictures, but they werent too disruptive. When we decided to head back to base we all agreed that it was one of the best moments of Nativ so far.

The next morning was Yerucham's turn to take the long walk to Talpiot for RH services (Kibbutz would be going the next day). I davened with about ten Nativers at Moreshet Avraham (everyone else was at Maayanot - a small congregation that meets at the local high school) and I enjoyed the service a lot. It was clear that I had the better davening experience because the people at Maayanot hated it. For lunch we were assigned to host homes in the area. I went with two other Nativers to our friends Alexis and Charlie's for lunch. Alexis was my babysitter way back when so we've known them forever. I was there by design, but the other Nativers were random They have three little boys who are very cute and fun to play with. The food was delicious and it was great to see them. After lunch, we walked over to Maayanot for Mincha (at which I read Torah as I had been doing all week because it is Haazinu) which was nice because it was mostly Nativers. We got back to Beit Nativ and it was naptime. My friend Gabe woke me up for Maariv by tickling me - not at all a pleasant way to wake up and I was groggy all through services which were awful anyway because they were at Moreshet Yisrael. Dinner was again good but not great. That night I again went for a walk - this time with just Josh and our friend Jordana. We decided to walk south-ish, the one direction we almost never go from Beit Nativ. We wandered around for about an hour and sat for a time at a playground with a view of the Knesset. Then we started home and I got the chance to use my Hebrew to ask for directions (Ramzor [traffic light] is a word I was particularly proud for knowing) not that we were REALLY lost.

The next morning we got up and had the opportunity to go anywhere for davening. about 8 of us decided to go to Kehillat Kedem which was weird, but nice. They were very welcoming and very enthusiastic about their prayers which sometimes rubs me the wrong way, but in this instance it wasn't too unpleasant. Lunch back at Beit Nativ was the best meal I've had there yet, and then the rest of the day was devoted to hanging around doing nothing until Maariv. Dinner was eatable (my friends and I always check whats being served before deciding on dinner plans - it's just too expensive to go out every night) so we stayed in. After dinner we went out to Cafe Joe where we watched football which we'd all missed a lot and got dessert.

Yesterday it was back to class which was the same as always - equal parts boring and cool. For Jerusalem class we explored Yemin Moshe which was fun, but I didn't really learn much. Last night we were in for dinner again and then ten of us went out to play basketball. It was fun, but I wasn't too successful - my athletic prowess leaves something to be desired. Then it was back to base for a shower, some social time and bed.

I'm writing this now from the Rothberg courtyard. My text class isn't meeting today and neither is Jlem so we came to school for an hour and a half of class this morning and we have to stay for second semester orientation this afternoon (I'm going to try to use the time to write an essay).

That's all for now.

Talk to you soon,

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Israel - Where even the busses wish you a Shana Tovah

This week so far has been fairly mundane, but it has been a while since I last updated so I wanted to fill in the blanks. A few days ago, there was a crafts fair on Emek Refaim, a number of us walked down there to look around; it was pretty cool. Two days ago Josh and I finally got tired of having our room be a mess. We assessed the situation and decided that if we could just clean everything up and get everything put away once, we would be able to maintain the cleanliness indefinitely. So we talked to a few of our different female friends and found two who not only were willing but were, in fact, eager, to clean our room with us. Somehow, places that had been wasted space in our clumsy concept of cleanliness became useful storage space in their hands. I think I should put up pictures of my room, because without them, most people won't believe how clean my room really is.

Yesterday, I had my Magen David Adom (MaDA) interview. A representative of MaDA came to Beit Nativ to interview those of us who were interested in volunteering. She asked me a few questions, two of which I had to answer in Hebrew. I think I did well in the interview, the Hebrew certainly wasn't a problem. Time will tell. In theory, we have the option of volunteering for MaDA in Jerusalem, not just Yerucham (a new option this year), but I'm not sure if I will. I was walking down King George St. and I spotted the JNF Jerusalem office about a five minute walk from Beit Nativ. I think it's probably time for me to email my friend Russell (CEO of JNF) and see what he can find for me.

Last night we had our first guy's night, which was an interesting male bonding experience. Our staff led a program about respect and things like that. I also had to write my first essay in over eight months last night - it went pretty well in my opinion, hopefully my professor agrees.

This morning, on the way to Hebrew U, I noticed two things that caught my interest. First, ever since 2006 there has been a light rail system being built in Jerusalem. If you look out your window on most main streets in Jerusalem, you will see digging and other construction to lay the tracks. Today, I noticed a small orange sign that said, in Hebrew, "Archeological Place." There, a segment of nearly completed track ended abruptly and, several feet below street level, the stone walls of a building from some previous century were being excavated. Maybe that's why nothing is ever built on time in Jerusalem - they need to stop every now and then to look out for history.

Also on the way to Hebrew U this morning, I spotted the electric sign on the front of a public bus (it normally says the final destination of the bus). Today, the sign switched between the destination and a greeting of "Shana Tovah." Every Egged bus (at least those I saw in Jerusalem) wish everyone who cares to take a look a happy new year. Only in Israel.

I don't know if I'll get a chance to write before Rosh HaShanna (or if I'll have anything worthwhile to share), so Shana Tovah uMetukah to everyone!

Talk to you soon,

Sunday, September 13, 2009

First Week and Teveriah

Wednesday night was my friend Ilana's birthday so we went out to Caffit (a restaurant on Emek Refaim) to celebrate with a birthday dinner. That was lots of fun (as any meal with gnocci is), and it was a great group of us at the restaurant. The first week came to a close on Thursday (as they do in Israel), and that night we watched the movie United 93 as a commemoration. It was a very sad movie, but also a very interesting examination of the events of the day. I recommend it, but caution that it has some sickening moments.

Thursday night in Israel is usually the night to go out on the town, since there arent any classes on friday but this thursday was different in that a) many of us were to have a class friday morning, and b) we'd just watched United 93. We still hung out and had some fun.

Friday morning I had my first Mendelsson class - he is very interesting, but I could teach his course (that's not my hubris peeking through, he just has to teach to a fairly low common denominator), so I find it hard to focus, but I think it will be ok - I get to impress a college professor with my knowledge, which is always fun. Immediately after that fourteen of my friends and I set out on our first adventure of the year - shabbat in Tiberias. When we got there, we checked into our hotel, went shopping for food, and then relaxed for a few hours.

As we got close to shabbat, I grabbed my siddur (which I thought to throw in my suitcase for the weekend) and we headed down to the Kinneret. Since I was the only one with a siddur, I became the de facto leader, but my friend Shira joined me. Because some of the group peeled off, we only had 9 people and so we couldn't do maariv - even so, kabbalat shabbat was beautiful.

After that we spent time at the beach, and then headed back to our hotel to hang out more. We slept late on shabbat and then lazed around all day until it was time to head home. Back in Jlem, we had slichot services. We had an option in theory, but since we got back late we were told to go to Shorashim, which is a congregation that meets on Shammai in Jlem about ten minutes from Beit Nativ. Their services were proceeded with a guided meditation (a dimyon medurach in hebrew - I found that phrase really interesting), which was relaxing. Then we had the service, which was very long, but with beautiful tunes - not many of us made it all the way through but it was good. I explained to my staff that the reason most people gave up halfway through was because slichot in america means coming together at the shul to watch the movie Ushpizin, and then racing through a 15 minute service. They liked that description.

Today it was back to the real world. I had all three of my classes in one day for the first time, which was long but not unfun. I have a pretty bad cold though which is why I'm going to sleep very soon. Tonight, after dinner, a bunch of us headed down to the Kotel to watch an induction of soldiers, which was very cool.

I'm fading fast, and I want to get this up for this evening in America so I'm wrapping up now.

Talk to you soon,

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Starting Classes

I'm sitting in the courtyard of the Rothberg School with my classmates hanging out before class starts. I thought now would be a good time to update you guys on how things have been going. Yesterday, I started classes for the "minimester" (basically September) which is what we do so as to not waste the time before the chagim. I placed out of minimester ulpan so I'm taking three courses. Israeli Society, Culture and Politics with Dr. David Mendelsson (required for non ulpan students); Jewish Text and Historical Context with Dr. Alick Issacs (it was this or film); and Jerusalem Through the Ages Intermediate with Dr. Doron Bar (i could choose between the two levels - beginners or this. Beginners is taught by David Keren and has 35 people in it to my class' 10). I had Issacs yesterday and I like him, but don't love his class - too much of a lecture session and not really discussion - but I think it might get better.

Last night we had our first Erev Nativ. Every Tuesday night we have a mandatory evening program with our group. This week we had drama games at Beit Nativ. It was fun, but nothing great. It's getting to be time to get to class, talk to you all later.


Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcome to Israel

So, better late than never, right?

I'm here in Israel, in my room in Beit Nativ. My room is 611 in the old building, which isn't any less nice than the new building, in fact, many people argue that the rooms are nicer here. So that's good. It's pretty weird right now, because Judah, David and I got in to Ben Gurion at 7:30 am Israel time, which means that we got to the Fuchsberg Center at around 9 ish. I had missed the bus (there is a charter bus to Hebrew U during minimester) and Judah and David didn't really feel like walking the twelve and a half steps to the yeshiva, so we just started unpacking and lazing around. You all probably know what an excellent bum I can be when I put my mind to it. I was having a lot of trouble unpacking because I would take things out of my bags and then have nowhere to put them because the closet/shelf space is very small. At noon, Elkana (assistant director of the program) let the three of us down into the storage lair to find the stuff that had been left for us. I now have a lot of shelves, thank you Kari. Plus, I have under the bed bins (I just now realized that that's why they are long and flat), and assorted other things (including a brand new Scene-It Harry Potter DVD trivia game from Missy and SBR...weird but very thoughtful). Unpacking is still going slowly, as I'm simply too tired to do much of anything effectively, but I have some basics into their shelves. The Hebrew U kids will be getting back in a few more hours, and around when they get back, the Yeshiva kids will be getting out of class. Now I think its time for me to get in a nap - hopefully jet-laggedness doesn't do crazy things to me.

More soon,