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Category Archives: Arrival

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 after waking up at a jet-lagged 5:15am, I prepped to go into the Old City of Jerusalem today on Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath, during which every Jewish part of Jerusalem shuts down).

I went with a few people, and we decided that although we had some maps, the best way to get there was to basically figure “its that direction to the Dome of the Rock as we could see it on Mount Scopus, so let’s head that way.” That brought us through several of the neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, including Wadi Al-Joz and a few others. We eventually scaled a hill and began to wonder if we knew where we were, until we looked ahead of us more closely and saw the Old City’s walls.

Going in through Herod’s Gate into the Moslem Quarter, we spent a few hours wandering down side streets and through bazaars (all very quiet, because it was Shabbat). We slowly made our way over the Christian Quarter, and our first major visit was to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer. We went inside the sanctuary, which was both very simple yet very beautiful Jerusalem Stone, and then paid the 5 shekels to go up the tower. It is clear that the building is nearing 200 years old – the staircase was clearly made for people shorter than I.

At the top of several winding flights of stone steps, we had the best view of the city one can get. Everything was arrayed beneath us, and it was all beautiful. The Dome of the Rock, and towards Mt. Scopus, the Orthodox church with their respective gold-covered roofs were shining like the sun, and the Jerusalem stone of all the buildings was also dazzling (not too bright today given that it’s the rainy season, so I can only imagine what it will be like come June). Almost exactly after we got to the top tier of the tower, the Muslim call to prayer started playing on speakers within our vicinity, and this was another instance of “wow, I’m actually here doing this.” After spending some time in the tower, we returned to the labyrinth streets of the city and went over to the Catholic Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Now, for a building completed in the 4th century Anno Domini, the excellent condition of much of the interior stonework, paintings, incense burners, and chandeliers was astonishing. It was slow moving through the church, because a huge group of Nigerian tourists were slowly on the move throughout the Church and the city, but it was worth the wait.

The third stop on our ambling tour was at the Western Wall, which is quite a sight on Shabbat. There was a large group of Jewish people praying, and in some cases, singing their prayers at the Wall, and their songs carried across the wind. After looking around the rest of the plaza therein for a little while, we started to make out way out to the Armenian Quarter, where we had lunch on the roof of a cafe and looked across the city. We finished and left for Mt. Scopus again, taking the Jaffa Gate to exit the Old City. Along the way, we witnessed something unfortunate and at the same time somewhat unexpected: everyone knows about the tensions between Jews and Arabs, it manifested itself in a very odd way on a small scale. Several Orthodox Jews were crossing the street, and some Arabic guys in a car (waiting at the red light, mind you) started beeping their horn at them repeatedly, with malicious looks about them. The men kept walking, but once they were past and the car started moving, the Arab guys gave the Jews the finger, and promptly had the gesture returned. Not what I was expecting to see on Shabbat, and all too unfortunate: if such things happen frequently, it becomes easier to see how the tensions in this region have remained fueled for so long.

And, all of that said, writing about all of this truly angers me: if not for El Al’s ridiculous insistence upon mailing me my camera and hard drive, I would be posting some truly breathtaking photographs here (especially from the view at the top of the Church of the Redeemer’s tower). Put very simply and politely, if anything happens to my possessions in the mail (or, God forbid, they don’t ever arrive), there will be Hell to pay.

Don’t get me wrong though – today was an excellent day to be sure.

With the laptop problem apparently fixed, I am back and ready to fill in some more detail.

I arrived at the campus and eventually moved into Reznik building 12, where my room is. The door looked like it had been forced or broken at some point, as the handle was hanging out of the socket – the university fixed it fairly quickly, and I was moved in. Eventually I will post some photos, but needless to say it is a fairly standard dorm room (although it did have a sink in it, which is surprisingly nice to have).

I did a bunch of running around and seeing parts of the campus, as well as doing the registration work and so forth. I picked up my Israeli cell phone, and started to become exhausted around 3pm local time (having not slept on the plane at all, I had been awake for a significant number of hours by that point). I wanted to go on a couple of the tours they had to offer, but eventually couldn’t stay awake any longer – I slept from like 5pm until 3:30 the next morning.

Waking up, I finished all of the paperwork and so forth, and then went out to eat for the first time in more than 24 hours. I went to the nearest option, which was called Aroma – its the Israeli equivalent to Starbucks is the best way to describe it, but they serve very different foods. For around US$10, I got the traditional Israeli breakfast salad (lettuce, diced tomatoes and green peppers), cheery tomatoes and olives on the side, eggs, bread, cream cheese, and what I think was goat milk cheese. To drink, I had what ended up being really good – freshed squeezed carrot + apple juice. It sounds gross, it doesn’t look great, but I absolutely love it.

At the Aroma, I met another abroad student named Zev and we decided to walk around the campus – both literally around it and then throughout its labyrinth interior layout. As we are on Mt. Scopus, connected to us and quite close is the Mt. of Olives, which has a few buildings on it but is mostly sparse (as we could see from the campus). Also, as we got higher upon Mt Scopus, we could see the whole of the Old City and most of the rest of Jerusalem, which is an impressive sight indeed. The campus has a variety of different buildings and offices and the like, but it is not clearly laid out and in many cases you have to walk around or sometimes even through some buildings to get to others.

We went over to the Student Village (the newer dorms where the vast majority of international students are housed, and where I was supposed to live) for a free lunch of bagels with lox or tuna, and vegetables. I met some other people there, and then decided to head over to an Israeli supermarket to both see what they do differently as well as pick some stuff up. It is run mostly the same, although it is very noticeable that while American brands (409 cleaner for example) are available, they are also comparatively extremely expensive next to comparable local products.

In the afternoon and evening, I attended the mandatory orientation session, which was somewhat informative, and then went on the shopping tour to a someone-distant shopping mall (they chartered a bus, making it much easier for the students to not only get there but also return with their new belongings). I got a bunch of stuff, and returned back to Reznik to sleep (this time until 6 am, which is closer to a normal schedule).

Also, the ‘About’ section of this blog now has some copyright information (in the event that anyone wants to republish any of the text or photographs in this blog for other works). Check it out:
https://exploratorius.wordpress.com/about/

-Mike

“In cases where it is deemed imperative, security officers have the legal right to conduct a search of the body and/or possessions of any student.  Student cooperation is expected.  This is a precautionary measure and should not be seen as infringement of one’s personal rights.”

This quote, drawn from the student handbook we were all given upon arrival, showcases several of the huge and immediate differences between home and Israel.  The flight itself from Newark was already lacking in civil liberties: of the entire plane, the six individuals “randomly chosen” to have their carry-on searched again were all not Jewish.  This I can deal with, but what happened next was unfortunate, to say the least.  After giving their security office our carry-on at around 11:15, we waited nearby until 1:20, still without our bags for a flight that departed at 1:30 according to the schedule.  I was the last person to actually get into the room in an effort to retrieve my belongings, but then the “security precautions that don’t infringe upon my rights” kicked in.  I was asked to remove everything from my pockets, take off my shoes, and then frisked by an El AL security officer.  Then, they scanned the contents of my carry-on with a variety of machines, and came over with a grim look about them.  Telling me “these two items cannot go on the plane,” one security officer walked over to me with my $400 brand new camera and my external hard drive.  I inquired as to why, and I was told that they had set off the explosives detection device.  They promised me that they would send it right home, and that my parents could mail it to me.  Now, I am no fool – shipping things to Israel is an expensive, long affair that has large customs tariffs on anything over US $10 – so I was not going to let them do that.  As it ended up, the Hebrew University flying with us on the group flight was able to give them a mailing address on campus where my camera and hard drive will be mailed (I sincerely hope intact), but that is probably the most ridiculous part of all of this.  They are going to “mail” me my items as cargo on…. another El Al plane.  Not really sure how that enhances the supposed safety of anyone, but that’s a question to ponder later.

On the plane, I quickly walked towards my seat, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone – I was very clearly the last passenger onto the plane, and it was very clearly 35 minutes later than the planned departure, so I was probably not the most popular individual in many people’s eyes.  People around me on the plane were all students and were really cool.  We ended up talking about a variety of topics for almost the entire flight (and in between that, I played some New Super Mario Bros., always a great pastime on a plane).

Arriving in Tel Aviv, we had to only get our passports stamped and we were into the airport.  We got onto chartered buses, and departed for the campus in Jerusalem.  The sights were all amazing for most of the ride, with almost every building constructed out of ‘Jerusalem stone’ (the off-white stone that is so iconic of the region), and a vast majority of buildings have black cylinders on top of them (those are solar water heaters, and they save the country a considerable amount of electricity costs).  On the other hand, my opening reference to “security” trumping rights was all too apparent on the bus ride as well.  We passed by very high walls of stone, but more gripping was one large area of land on the left side of the highway.  As we crested one hill, we saw first the sunlight dome of a local mosque, but then we saw nearly 15-foot tall razor-wire fences being installed.  There is something very peculiar about a green John-Deere tractor carrying spools of razor-wire along the fence’s path so workers could install it and wall in the local Palestinians (again, I wish I had my camera, as that would have been a photograph posted here).

So I have to go – not because of classes or any scheduled requirement, but because my laptop is almost out of power, and recharging it is a fun game.  When plugged in to the converter I purchased, the battery charges as it is supposed to, but every single USB, monitor, and other metal-based port on the side of it becomes significantly electrified (so not too much fun to accidentally brush and get mildly electrocuted).  Hopefully, my search for an Israeli IBM charging cable will be fruitful.

-Mike

So I had an enjoyable flight out of Akron earlier today: I haven’t ever been a passenger in a twin propeller plane, and that was an enjoyable experience.  Arriving in Detroit, I essentially sprinted across 3/4 of the airport to make my connecting flight, and arrived in time to board.  I ended up seated with an older man and an elderly woman – he said he was traveling back to his home in India, and she mentioned she was going to Israel.  That sparked quite the conversation – Sheila and I spoke about all sorts of things that I should be prepared for while I am there.  Eventually, we arrived at Newark and I took the long circuitous route to my baggage and then the hotel shuttles.  I got on board, arrived at the Holiday Inn, and met 2 girls named Jamie who are also studying at HU.

And, once I got to my 9th floor room, the windows offered me an excellent view of the well-lit airport, which made for some nice pictures (the included photographs).

-Mike