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,

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Rush of Memories

This post may be more stream-of-consciousness then you are used to, but I'll do my best.

I think my Isaacs exam went fine - and thus ended minimester.

I went to the Dr. on Thursday and he was very helpful (Yossi says he's really the top notch guy at the practice). Hopefully Yossi will make things work with the insurance so that I can see the neurologist like I am supposed to. Thursday night was lots of fun going out on the town with friends, but I came back (relatively) early with a few friends.

Friday morning I woke up at noonish and went to lunch. At lunch, Shosh and Cori wrangled me into planning and leading a parshat hashavuah session about which I was first very unenthusiastic but then when they asked my friend Jordana to do it with me it became a party. Josh, Jordana and I went to the Marzipan bakery to buy rugelach for Shabbat, and then we got back and Jordana and I went to work. We were discussing and studying the parsha for literally three hours (and it is only 41 lines!) and we put together the basics for a pretty good discussion session and trusted to our fellow Nativers to participate and make it great.

That night, I walked to Shira Hadasha with Jordana for Maariv which was very nice, and on the way home we circled around Mishkenot Shannanim and walked home through Mamila. We got back home as most people were finishing dinner so we ate in a corner and then went and hung out with our friends. Jordana, Debbie and I hung around on a porch upstairs for a while before a number of us headed downstairs. Jordana, Debbie, Josh, Jesse, Jonny, Rachel, Adina, Brian Ariella and probably other wonderful people and I all spent a few hours talking out in front of Beit Nativ. Jordana and Brian and I went exploring all over the compound at one point and that was really incredible.

Shabbat morning I went to Shira Hadasha again and I enjoyed it. The afternoon was fun and then it was time for the study session. Everything went really well. I tend to take charge in these things but Jordana has a very strong personality so she doesn't get pushed to the background. The two of us complement each other rather nicely - I have a stronger basis in Jewish text but Jordana is a very smart girl and also has a very interesting and poetic perspective on texts that she reads. The study session went very well and soon after we did mincha and maariv and finished up shabbat. It's bedtime now so my recap of the Desert Survival Tiyul will come tomorrow.

Talk to you soon,