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Monthly Archives: January 2009

Today, I went to the mall attached to the Central Bus Station to look into a replacement camera more closely, and it was a partially successful trip. I went to every electronics store, got business cards and an idea of when to call, and then spent some time in the place with my friend Scott. It is the first time I have exhibited strong characteristics of a person from DC – he looked at me and commented on how business-like and straightforward I was being with getting all the contact information. I thought about it, and realized that it was the first time I had done such a thing in a few months, yet it came so naturally. Either DC was the right choice of school location for me, or it has grown on me enough to affect my methods of getting things done.

We then proceeded to walk from the station (in the far north-west corner of the city) for 5 consecutive hours, and it was a great day. First stop was the Israeli shuk (open-air market), and that was quite the experience. First of all, things were ridiculously cheap. That, and there were a million and one options for what one could buy, be it food, drink, clothes, art, and so forth. It was an interesting stop, but some of the graffiti we saw on the way out was quite the statement. In a parody of both the hostile conditions of the Middle East and the well-known expression “diamonds are forever,” there was a colorful and surprisingly symmetrical rendition of spray-painted letters declaring “WAR IS FOREVER” on the side of one building, 2 stories up. A strong statement, and given the history of the region, a bitterly accurate one too.

Next up was this protest that Scott had heard about from his work. They had described it as a woman’s league that organizes weekly protests against the occupation of the Palestinian territories, and he was interested: I figured it would be peculiar to see a protest in a country without a constitution or a bill of rights. We arrived, and it ended up being an older women’s league: the average age was 60, with a few ladies up into their 90’s. Nevertheless, they had their black signs shaped like hands which read “End the occupation,” and stood in the Paris Plaza by the King David Hotel for an hour every Friday. Very admirable, if not politically sanctioned – there were three armed police officers patrolling the vicinity, and they didn’t look pleased. You know those 90-year old women: troublemakers, the lot of them.

We started to walk east across the city, past the King Solomon Hotel and so forth, and then we passed something that Scott had seen before on his walk to work. It is a series of city blocks under extensive renovation, development, and construction, and improvement, but on one side there is a large open area. Most of it is a park, but the corner of it is the most dilapidated cemetery I have ever seen. We went in to check it out, and every few feet we looked at graves that looked to be decades old at the least, all of them Arabic. Also, there is a huge fenced-in area, with rusty barbed wire around a large pit that looks to be quite old. Scott told me that when he was there last time, a group of kids were playing in the center of this very questionable pit. It was nearly nighttime, and they kids all whipped around their heads to look at him simultaneously, leading us to dub the area “The Children of the Corn Training Center.” 🙂

We went into the Old City again, this time to look into the Palestinian shuk near Damascus Gate. it was certainly worthwhile: Scott managed to get 3 cucumbers, 3 tomatoes, and a box of strawberries for 15 shekelim, which is about USD $4. They also had very, VERY fresh things for sale: live pigeons and rabbits that could be bought and brought home for cooking, and vegetables arriving all the time in cars, trucks, and by hand. A lively place, with what are probably the best prices in the city. There was even a little card-playing joint: we were invited in, and the people looked nice enough, but we decided to pass this time.

The other cultural difference that became very clear to me today regards the way in which Israelis run retail stores. Every receipt I have seen has clearly printed (in Hebrew and English) at the bottom “NO REFUNDS; NO CANCELLATIONS.” This is mostly why I am hoping to order my new camera and hard drive from home, so I can get replacements/make returns in the event of a shoddy product. That, and it will probably be cheaper in all honesty. We’ll see how that goes.

Finally, on the way home, we walked though some intensely Orthodox neighborhoods. Now, it wasn’t ultra-Orthodox: those have signs proclaiming that tourists are welcome under no circumstances whatsoever. Still, we got a couple of odd and even dirty looks from people. Still, it was interesting to see.

Bethlehem tomorrow… 🙂

So I just got back from a long walk in the chilly air on Mount Scopus, and had an interesting evening spent at the Central Bus Station/Mall combination in the middle of the city.

Jumping on the 26 bus outside the Kvar haStudentim (Student Village where the majority of abroad students are housed), my friend Zev and I took the ride down to the Central Bus Station in order to see what it was like. As the name suggests, one can take a bus from there to many, many places in Israel (not just Jerusalem). Arriving, we went through the requisite security precautions and got inside. The first thing we noticed is that compared to the mall we were bussed to by Hebrew University, this one was much, much smaller and far busier as well. It was a fairly standard mall, similar to many at home in the US, albeit with loads of Hebrew/English mixed store names and so forth.

The other huge difference with malls at home was the slew of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers roaming through the place, all with large rucksacks and backpacks on them. The part that was odd is that they seemed to all be on leave, for the evening or perhaps for the weekend: they were all purchasing whatever interested them, and not particularly businesslike about their time. The two details at odd with that background story are that 1) they were all in full uniform, including berets; and 2) they all had compact M16 machine guns slung from their shoulders. Apparently, soldiers on leave in Israel are still partially “on the clock” if you will, as they stay both uniformed and armed at all times. No one else found this odd, of course: since every citizen of the country is required to serve in the military, they are used to such sights.

Zev has some Israeli friends, one of whom gave him a Playstation 2 for the semester so he and I were looking into purchasing games for it. Whereas there is a Nintendo America, Nintendo Japan, and Nintendo Europe, there is no such division for the Middle East or Israel. Similarly, Sony doesn’t have such a component for cheaply distributing their products into Israel. Therefore, PS2 games were retailing for NIS 424, which is approximately USD $105 (which is insane). This is due to the retailer paying the cost of the game plus the international shipping fees plus the customs duties of the state of Israel (which are quite high, as it were). Another peculiar (and somewhat unexpected) way that the world works in Israel.

Finally, my experiences almost everywhere have not really shown me any sense of a world recession. Mind you, I have never before been here, it still seems that almost every store I go into, whether retail or restaurant, it is nearly full. The one set of exceptions to this rule comes from the Old City. Due to both tighter spending around the world and (somewhat accurate, somewhat misplaced) fears of terrorism and echoes of the second intifada, very few Christians make the trip into the Holy Land any more, and so the plethora of shops in the Old City filled to the roof with Christian paraphernalia and artwork and the like simply do much, much less business than they would otherwise. It is somewhat sad, to see the ecstatic looks on some Old City shop owners’ faces when I have gone into their store, only to become glum again after I only look and then leave without making a purchase 😦

Hello everyone:

Although the time stamp on this post and the preceding one are not far apart, I wrote the majority of the last one 4 days ago and only had time to post it today.

First and foremost, I wanted to note the oddest difference in food culture that I have encountered 4 times now, and it only struck me today how out of place it really is. Many of you will realize that Israel has many strong cultural ties to the US for a variety of reasons, and that affects how the culture of Israel changes over time as well. Well, in the Forum (the Hebrew University analogue for a Student Union building of sorts) there is this one food stand with really good shewerma (rotisserie-style meat in a pita with a variety of vegetables, sauces, and spices added) and falafel. I have eaten there, and after successfully getting all the components I want put into my pita im shewerma, I am asked if I want chips. The first time, I asked how much (thinking a bag of chips); I was told they come free, and they just put them into the paper wrapping on top of the pita. They meant fries, yet oddly use the British expression for them. I intend on finding out how that specific colloquialism got put into place, because it baffles me.

I got my credit card yesterday, albeit with a bunch of additional hours spent on the phone. Its great that I got it, and if my phone bill rivals my food bill for this month, its a sacrifice I have to make I suppose 😉

And, as an update to the ebb and flow of Hebrew language courses, I am still taken aback by the speed at which we are going. Today was the last day of our second full week of Hebrew courses, and yet we had a test today on Units 1-7 in the book (100 pages out of a 500 page book). It ended up being easier than I imagined it would be, probably because although the teachers insist on going very, very quickly, the sheer amount of homework they assign plus their tendency to test on major concepts rather than the minutia of the language (as was my experience from French IV in high school on up to Advanced French II at AU) makes the tests doable.

As one might imagine, phone numbers are done differently as well. For instance, my phone number is 052-6163341, and that is written in the Israeli style. The first three numbers are the area code, which is based on of the cell phone provider. It is also possible to have an area code based on the location, so Netanya is 09-… for example.

All of the Israeli and Arab students on my floor definitely make a habit of smoking indoors: in their rooms, in the common area, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, and even in the shower. That has not been the case back home for a long, long time, so it is quite a different living situation.

That’s it for this post; stay tuned for more updates on obscure/unlikely cultural differences. Same Bat-blog, same Bat-channel.

Shalom shalom, everyone.

I wanted to follow up a prior post regarding the Beit Madrash sessions that are held every Monday night, a sort of dinner followed by Jewish theological discussion/learning period. This past Monday night, the topic of discussion for the small group for Rosh Chodesh. The small group is put into place for those students who are looking for a deeper understanding of the Jewish tradition, yet don’t necessarily know where to start. The group is led by Rabbi Ian Pear, who, as the title of this post suggests, is my favorite rabbi.

Rabbi Pear is a native of Arizona, who went to Georgetown as a non-practicing Jew. Surprisingly, his Jesuit-shaped education there helped him make the decision to practice his faith more strongly, and eventually to become a rabbi.

Rosh Chodesh, to give the quick explanation, is a monthly holiday that is drawn from a madrash (rabbinic story) drawn from a passage in Exodus. At the height of the drama of Moses confronting the Egyptians, it is said that God called Aaron and Moses aside to tell them “be sure to mark the beginning of a new month and bless it.” This is interesting, because as we discussed, the layers of meaning taken out from this are that the new month must be officially validated by a High Court of Jewish leaders drawing on witnesses from the common citizen, thus making it so that the calender is based on layperson participation in religious rites. Specifically, the first two witnesses were those whose accounts made or broke the new month, and all witnesses who came were invited to a huge feast.

Upon considering the meaning of this action, Rabbi Pear sat quietly for a moment and then gave us the most brief rendition of Jewish history I have ever heard. I quote him directly: ” Isn’t that how all of Jewish history has been, though? Someone tries to kill the Jews, some of us survive, and then we eat.” Certainly a specific take on the history of the Jewish people – everyone there was first really uncomfortable, but then he grinned and we all laughed as well (both to release tension and because it was kind of funny).

At the end of the evening, one of the people present began to ask some very rude and pointed questions, and everyone was very uncomfortable. That is, except for Rabbi Pear, who politely and knowledgeably answered questions such as “do you REALLY believe in God,” “why aren’t you a Christian,” and other such things. As it turns out, that guy is the son of a couple who made ‘aliyah,’ which is a Jewish term for moving permanently to Israel as citizens. The guy had not at all settled into or become comfortable with the culture, and generally seemed to deeply resent being here at all. I truly pity him, for his position is not desirable in any sense.

On a lighter note, after two weeks of harried searching and inquiries, I have my…. laundry card. That’s right, the machines here function somewhat similar to those of AU, except instead of having the money to operate them come from your student ID, you must purchase and then load money onto a separate card entirely (using a machine that is only labeled in Hebrew, and was broken until this past Tuesday). Yay clean clothes 🙂

Finally, as a follow-up to my previous mention of learning/singing Hebrew songs with a very talented Hebrew music teacher, I have finally figured out who she reminds me of. Having been abroad with groups of Americans, and having encountered other groups of Americans while abroad, she fits into their familiar pattern: just as a tourist from the US has the tendency to simply speak louder in English in the hopes that the local person they are speaking to will understand, she does the same. She speaks in rapid Hebrew, and then when noticing the lack of comprehension on the faces of many people in the auditorium, she speaks louder in Hebrew with the page number (mind you, we have sang with her for 40 minutes each week, and only began to learn numbers the day after the second singing session). Its a good time, though – all the lively clapping and harmonies from the people in the room who know what they are singing make it a good time.

Sorry for the long post – I was very interested in what the good Rabbi had to say and so forth, and wanted to fully share it with you. To those of you in many parts of the US, know that I am jealous of all your unseasonably heavy snowfall.

Darom, Israel.

As can be seen here:

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=darom+israel+to+jerusalem+israel&sll=32.328302,35.314366&sspn=1.940167,3.537598&ie=UTF8&ll=32.361403,35.238647&spn=1.93947,3.537598&z=8

Darom, Israel is a mere 197 kilometers away from my dorm room…. Another interesting fact about Darom is that the Fedex facility where my replacement credit card was routed through is still the card’s resting place. I was told that the mailing address wasn’t valid, so they can’t deliver the card to me (it has been sitting there since the 22nd of January, as a matter of fact). The only reason I found all of this out is because I spent 35 minutes on the phone with Visa.

Similarly, I received a call from El Al two nights ago telling me that “we seem to be unable to find your camera or hard drive.” Outstanding. At this point, I see no reason in providing additional updates through the medium of this blog about my stolen possessions: suffice to say that I strongly, STRONGLY advise everyone against flying with the El Al Airlines of Israel to any destination.

I have decided, then, that anything and everything that belongs to me cannot EVER get anywhere NEAR either the international mailing system, nor the internal “mailing system” of any airlines. My stuff is just really well spiced or something, because both of those methods of delivery consume my packages with no recourse.

I shudder to think about those poor, helpless postcards I sent out yesterday afternoon… 😦

So I was reading through the American Infantryman’s Edition of the Gideon Pocket Bible (given to me by my sophomore year roommate Dave Simnick while he worked at the Pentagon), and a series of verses really popped out at me/stayed with me even after a night of sleeping on them. They are as follows, Acts:30-38…

30Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.

31″How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

32The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”[a]

34The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.

36As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”[b] 38And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.

(As drawn from the NIV of the Bible at: http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%208:30-38;&version=31;)

Now, this is a famous verse in some circles for the apparent theological meaning. It is the anecdote of a man interested in the matters of Christian religion, and looking for someone to teach him the specifics and help him understand what he is reading. I think this is a beautiful meaning, and I personally know people who are sort of in this situation (some of whom don’t even realize that they are reaching and striving for a sense of religious fulfillment and connectedness).

A entirely different set of meanings became clear to me after reading this and considering my present situation. First of all, since written Hebrew and Arabic are nothing at all like the English character set, I essentially play the role of the Ethiopian every day, every new place I go: “how can I understand the signs if I don’t have someone to explain it to me?”

Similarly, all of the academics I am participating in this semester are indicative of the “how can I without someone to explain it” sort of wisdom drawn from this passage. By no means do I take this to mean that the only way a person can improve or get better is with someone else to help them – there are plenty of people in the world who make significant strides with self-improvement, and I make every effort to be amongst them. At the same time, though, it seems that the only way a person can truly make progress at any given pursuit requires the input of another person at some point (whether it be speaking Hebrew like I am learning to, or any variety of things like learning how to do one’s job).

It is precisely the sort of person in these verses, those paragons of humanity who still desire to improve their situation no matter how difficult life gets, who in part motivate me towards a career in the organization of international religious aid work. And paradoxically, knowing that some people can be so set on improving their lives and those of their neighbors also motivates me to want to work with those people of the world for whom hope seems to have tarnished beyond recognition.

I suppose that what I am trying to say is that this place, those verses, and a strong sense of vocational calling all seem to be pointing at a similar end: that of working to improve the situations of other people on this Earth, that they might lead a more fulfilling and Godly life as a result. The specifics of how I might do that as a career are still falling into place, but it is nice to have some semblance that I should even consider asking other people to help me understand my calling/life/reality, as the Ethiopian did, is already blessing enough. Here’s hoping and praying that I understand enough of the explanations I get to act on them to the fullest possible extent.

So just a quick update on a bunch of little things.

First and foremost, the utterly deplorable “business practices” of El Al are again denying my the lawful return of my possessions. I called again today, to check and see if my items had actually gotten to JFK “for additional security testing,” as I was told they were en route to last time I called. This time, I was given the answer “I can’t actually tell you where they are, because I simply do not see them.”

This is entirely unacceptable: perhaps they were barely within their legal right to tell me what I can and cannot take onto their airplane (even though the “reasons” given were weak and had no clear evidence to back them up), but illegally seizing my possessions without returning them simply does not work. I am still trying to be polite on the phone, but at this point I am losing my patience with them. Specifically, I tire of their assurance “I’ll have the night shift call the US,” because this empty claim has never resulted in any new information being passed my way. The claim of some fellow passengers, that “El Al is really the only way to fly into Israel,” is a hollow one indeed – its the only way to fly if you’re looking to have your rights stomped on, your possessions handled by total strangers and confiscated ad naseum for an indeterminate period of time, and your personal finances shaken by their ridiculously overpriced tickets.

In terms of my living situation, it seems that my room is directly above the water heating mechanism for the entire building: our floor is always warm to the touch, and the water from our faucet always comes out somewhere between warm and hot. This is great while it is colder outside, but I shudder to consider the sensation of an overly warm floor upon waking up this summer.

Our next door neighbors are also a treat. As I have previously mentioned, the guy across the hall is all about burning his speakers out as soon as humanly possible, and does so with his door open. Directly to our left, we have a set of floormates who may just be tied for the best laugh in the entire world. One, a shorter guy, have a really deep-pitch rumble sort of a laugh. His friend/roommate (I haven’t figured out which yet) has this hyena-like staccato that emanates from deep in his belly and thus has the power of gale-force wind: it does, after all, reverberate throughout my room, rattling my possessions, teeth, and very soul. Its especially enjoyable after a long silence, because then its unexpected and makes dorm life into sort of a suspense film that I can’t get out of… 🙂

We had a mandatory academic registration orientation today after Hebrew, and beyond the useful information, the gentleman giving the talk explained that “all classes at HU are 4 academic hours. This means that they last 3 hours per week, because in Israel, an academic hour is equal to 45 minutes of time (due to studying so hard).” I was intensely pleased by this, as was everyone else there – this so perfectly frames the reality of Israeli bureaucracy and “efficiency.”

That’s all I have on these subjects for you. Hope you’re enjoying this blog.

So I wanted to consider several aspects of the same issue in this post, and as the title suggests, that subject is security (a nebulous word, indeed).

I am personally fairly opposed to any sense of security in the TSA sense – practices and methods that are at the same time invasive, unnecessary, probably un-Constitutional, and accident-prone (things getting broken, people being grievously delayed, etc). At the same time, however, the state of Israel has an entirely different set of issues facing their security forces. One specific anecdote that is close to home (Hebrew University’s campus) kind of shocked me. As most Americans, I was constantly feeling a strong sense of annoyance that each and every time I went into any compound owned by HU, I had to present my ID as well as my backpack for searching to the guards present.

My perception shifted slightly yesterday, however, as I went on one of my self-initiated, self-guided figure out the odd campus layout walks. As I approached the Mexican building (here’s an odd detail – everything, and I mean EVERYTHING on the HU campus was sponsored or fundraised by some international Jewish group, and as such their names are featured on their respective projects), I came into a small plaza in front of a cafe. Deciding to enjoy it, I sat down on one of the walls around a fountain and noticed that the facade of the low stone wall in front of me had tablets with Hebraic and English writing on them. Both said essentially the same thing: “this plaza is dedicated to these 6 students, who died here in a terrorist attack during 2002.”

This is definitely the sort of find that stops a person in their tracks, and it really got me to thinking. This is almost exactly the same as how the TSA functions: an awful tragedy or near tragedy (such as the failed liquid bombs in the shoes), and the TSA responds by implementing new security measures that are very problematic and always remind everyone of the fairly few and far between issues of terrorism. In Israel, however, there is arguably more cause to have such measures. I don’t entirely think I agree with the policy still, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

On a lighter note, and to point out the craziness of trying to be 100% secure at all times, DC has a striking parallel with Jerusalem that one wouldn’t expect. Whereas DC is chock full of rats (something that not everyone is aware of, and no pun or metaphorical political meaning intended), Jerusalem is fill to the very brim with… cats. In fact, its as if the two cities should really start an import/export business to even things out. But, the point is, these cats get anywhere and everywhere, including into dorm buildings and they can always be found tearing up/through garbage bags, and generally making a huge nuisance of themselves. This serves to illustrate that as in control as the security guards like to try and be, there is always a significant number of variables that they cannot even begin to control.

Another concise example of the overdone nature of Israeli “security” is El Al: nothing more need be said, given my previous posts.

While we’re on the subject, and since I am genuinely curious, here is a poll for you, my readers:

So I had what is likely to be the least successful trip to a grocery store in my life two days ago.

I finished up with Hebrew for the day, relaxed a little bit and shook my head to dump out all the extra Aleph and Yod characters from class, and took my backpack to walk over to the Mister Zod grocery store. I figured “oh, I’ll stop at the bank on the way there to get shekelim – it is directly before the grocery on my path.”

I figured very, very wrong.

The machine said very clearly in English “This ATM can give a cash return for customers with a credit card” (i.e. me). I therefore put my card in, waited a moment, and was given the card back sans shekelim. I tried a second time, and that was a very significant mistake. It took the card in, whirred and made some worrying noises for a prolonged period of time, and then the screen changed completely. It started flashing “Temporarily out of order” in English and Hebrew. And it had swallowed my poor, poor credit card whole 😦

Needless to say, I was slightly concerned. I called one of the Madrachim (a sort of RA analogue, except they are in charge of making sure we are having fun/settling in properly rather than following any rules). Rotem answered the phone, and suggested I call my bank in the US (the number for which is on the back of my credit card, now “safely” deposited in the machine). Eli, another Madrach, told me to look on the ATM for a number to call – I looked, found it, and called. The mostly Hebrew-speaking individuals on the other end of the line suggested I call my home bank as well, and, with the evidence piling up, I came back to my room and called my dad to get the number.

I called their international number, and got everything set up for them to send me a new card in 3-4 business days which actually means a week. An Israeli oddity became apparent during this process – my mailing address doesn’t have any street name within it, and it has a compound city – “Mount Scopus, Jerusalem.”

I went back yesterday, and had to do the bureaucratic dance of: 1) which employee looks like they speak enough English to help me; 2) which employee ACTUALLY speaks enough English to help me; 3) which employee are they going to refer me to; 4) oops, they pointed to the wrong one, because I need to talk to Sarah; 5) wait in line; 6) wait for her to finish her conversation with the Brinks Security people (wasn’t excepting to see them there, delivering money from an armored car); and finally 7) have her take apart the machine and pull out the mangle remains of my poor, poor Visa. This 50-minute long pursuit made me miss a fair amount of Hebrew for the day, but c’est la vie, je suppose.

To use a bit of ASCII art, here is approximately what the thin side of the credit card now looks like:

________/ \___

I am not sure what sort of mechanical gears, large cutting devices, or small malevolent ATM gnomes they store in that machine, but my Visa of 4 continents now (US, Europe, Africa, and Asia) has finally been sent to the Old Visa Veteran’s Home. May God have mercy on it’s soul, because the ATM certainly did not.

So after getting used to Gillie, the Hebrew teacher, for the first two days, the third day threw an additional level of complexity at us. Beyond just having class in a different room every day, at different times every day, we now had a second teacher to learn from as well, giving us 2 different accents to try and emulate (not that much of a difference), and not 2 but 4 sets of handwriting to learn (they each have distinctive ways of doing the formal and cursive characters). That was a surmountable obstacle – more nuanced of an encounter was our 45 minute-long Hebrew song lesson. We (the Aleph level classes) filed into an auditorium with a piano and were promptly spoken at (not to) by an Israeli music teacher who refused/was unable speak anything but rapid-fire Hebrew. Now, the songs were all in Hebrew (as expected), but when the page numbers and titles of the songs were quickly read in between details of the composer’s background [again, all in rapid Hebrew], it can make for difficulty understanding what is being said. Nevertheless, the auditorium was filled with passable Hebrew singing at the end (it also helped that all of the songs were transliterated, meaning written into phonetic English pseudo-words).

And, on an entirely different note, it turns out that the delicious breakfast salad common in Israel (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and some lettuce) doSo after getting used to Gillie, the Hebrew teacher, for the first two days, the third day threw an additional level of complexity at us. Beyond just having class in a different room every day, at different times every day, we now had a second teacher to learn from as well, giving us 2 different accents to try and emulate (not that much of a difference), and not 2 but 4 sets of handwriting to learn (they each have distinctive ways of doing the formal and cursive characters). That was a surmountable obstacle – more nuanced of an encounter was our 45 minute-long Hebrew song lesson. We (the Aleph level classes) filed into an auditorium with a piano and were promptly spoken at (not to) by an Israeli music teacher who refused/was unable speak anything but rapid-fire Hebrew. Now, the songs were all in Hebrew (as expected), but when the page numbers and titles of the songs were quickly read in between details of the composer’s background [again, all in rapid Hebrew], it can make for difficulty understanding what is being said. Nevertheless, the auditorium was filled with passable Hebrew singing at the end (it also helped that all of the songs were transliterated, meaning written into phonetic English pseudo-words).

On an entirely different note, it turns out that the delicious breakfast salad common in Israel (diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and some lettuce) doesn’t keep at all – my lunch today was going to be the leftovers from breakfast a few days ago, but it turned into mush 😦

To keep up to date, I called El Al about my possessions again yesterday. I spoke to a lady named Anat, and after some discussion it became apparent that whomever I spoke to last week on the phone failed to register any of my information in a case file for nearly a week. Again, a huge sign that the money I paid for their flight wasn’t worth it by a lot. Anat, however, was very helpful indeed. She got all of my information, made sure to call me back within 3 hours to let me know that it had been properly logged into their system, that the bar code number on my receipt sticker hadn’t entered the system yet, and that she would be sure to tell the night shift to call El Al in Newark directly to inquire as to the standing of my items. We shall see how this turns out, but optimistically, it gives me more time to go scout out places around the city to go take photographs at later.

Yesterday evening, I attended the first meeting of Beit Madrash – a sort of theological discussion of Judaism at the synagogue with dinner. It ended up being a presentation by a rabbi of several Rabbinic interpretations of the Bible that are overtly strongly in favor of Zionist policies (basically, moving as many of the Jewish people into Israel as possible). Rather than a lecture where he presented what he held as fact, he gave us the texts and let us read and discuss them in small groups, followed by a large group debate/argument. It was a very enjoyable evening, and I look forward to attending Beit Madrash more in the future (what better place to brush up on my slim Jewish theological knowledge than here?).

Finally, this morning, I managed to figure out that there IS one way for me to stand out more than I do while wearing shorts in the winter at home (DC or Cleveland). At home, while there are some other people who do wear shorts all the time, we still get odd looks from people. Here in Jerusalem, however, things are slightly different. This morning, I got up at 5:45 and got dressed to go to the Lerner gym – gym shorts and tee shirt only. I didn’t realize it upon waking up, but it was actually quite chilly this morning – every Israeli I saw was wearing a heavy winter coat and a hat, and in many cases, gloves and scarves. Needless to say, I didn’t only get some odd looks, I got a few people who openly gaped at my choice of attire. Admittedly, it was probably in the 40’s F, because my arms were fairly reddish upon getting to the gym. Nevertheless, I have decided to go buy a sweatshirt later today and wear that to the gym on future mornings. Even though that’s my plan, I guarantee you the morning guard for the Reznik dorm gate will remember me in the future – upon returning, I forgot that here at HU the gym ID is different than my student ID, but the guard didn’t care (very unusual, because it has been my experience that they adamantly require students to have a student ID in order to get it). Maybe with my sweatshirt I’ll stick out less.

For those who are so interested, I hope you enjoy the inauguration today – I look forward to watching it with a bunch of Israelis and see their reactions/listen to their commentary.