Friday, July 27, 2007

To Hell and Back---and Baseball!

Literally! Yesterday was the second of our weekly summer trips around Jerusalem. We actually began the trip Wednesday night, with a trip to a burial ground/crypt from the First temple period. In those days, it was customary that when a priest or his family member died, they placed in caves and allowed the disintegrate, and then their bones were placed in a family crypt. It's a little creepy to me, but interesting nonetheless. Thursday we began our day with a really wonderful meditation scharit (morning) service. I'd been studying meditation briefly before I came to Israel, and I didn't realize how much I've missed it until yesterday, laying on the grass, finding both total relaxation and Gd through the service. Then, we began our long (and incredibly HOT---but I'll get to that later) trek through the Gehenom Valley. The word Gehenom in Hebrew literally means 'hell' (thus the catchy name for today's blog title!), though Jews don't really believe in an actual hell. In the time prior to the destruction of the First Temple, it was the place where people came to sacrifice their children to Gd, and apparently, other people came to watch. It's another one of the things that explains the bad deeds the people did to deserve the destruction of the Temple.

After the Gehennom Valley we ventured up (and I mean UP--straight uphill) to the Old City. We went to the Center for Jerusalem in the First Temple Period museum, where we learned about the building of the City of David (in air-conditioning, Baruch Hashem) and watched a very cheesy movie that actually explained a lot about how the city was built and protected from the Assyrians. We then walked to the Broad Wall, which was neat, but I honestly can't remember why it's important--I think by this point heat stroke was starting to get to me---and then had some text study. A small group of friends and I went and ate some falafel in the Old City, went the to Arab shuk, and called it a day. All in all it was a very interesting day, though it was so hot I don't think I learned nearly as much as I could have if it were cooler.

The Broad Wall in the Old City. I need to research it more and figure out why it's so important.

So, let's talk about the heat for a minute. Jerusalem is currently under a heat wave, which means the temperatures hit around 100 everyday and don't cool off very much at night. It's NOT pleasant, certainly not when you're schlepping up the hills of Jerusalem to sit in the sun and have text study. The heat does nothing but make me tired, thirsty and disgustingly sweaty, and coming home to an un-AC'ed apartment doesn't really help much. Sorry to be complaining about it, but you all want to know what life is like here, and as my friend Jen said in her blog the other night, "I'm extremely jealous of your [people at home] AC." I couldn't agree more, and I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Last night, after a very cold shower and many glasses of ice water, a big group of us went to Kibbutz Gezer for...a baseball game! We watched the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox play the Modi'in Miracles! Baseball is not a popular sport here in Israel, so I wasn't expecting much. Upon arrival, we saw a dinky field and a scoreboard from 1868 (or so it seemed) and plastic lawn chairs to sit on--it was very Field of Dreams-esque. The players are from all over the world and are minor-league rejects or Israelis who think they know how to play real baseball. Because of all of this, the game was AMAZING---extremely pathetic baseball (I could have played as well as these guys), good hot dogs, sunflower seeds, and cute, CUTE baseball players. I really couldn't have asked for more. They started the game with Hatikvah (literally 'The Hope', Israel's National Anthem), which was cool to see, and then, in the 5th inning stretch (they only play 7 innings, which was a little bizarre) us HUC students were asked to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame"! It was soooo much fun---I just wish I could have recorded it. We came home early, and though many people were going to a bar afterwards, I came home and crashed, which was beautiful after a very long (but good) day.

Erin, Josh, me and Amy at the game---the lighter blue hats are for the Modi'in Miracles, and the Navy hats are for the Bet Shemesh Blue Sox. I liked the hat for Modi'in better, therefore I was rooting for them. Sadly, they lost, but a good time was had by all.

The field and scoreboard--it's hard to read, but the yellow sign above the scoreboard is an advertisement for Kibbutz Gezer Olive Oil, one of the products the Kibbutz makes and sells. You can also see the corn fields in the background---I told you it was like Field of Dreams!

Erin and Batya's daughter Carlie, who is the most beautiful baby in the world---she was hot and cranky, so Batya cheered her up by splashing her with water. This pic was taken right after she was splashed. It was so cute.

Today has been a very chill day, which is nice after this crazy week I've had. I went to a little produce market on Azza (not the shuk---I don't think I could handle that on a Friday before shabbat) and stocked up for the week, and here I am. Tonight the cantorial students are going to a Yemenite (I believe) synagogue for services (cantorial students get to go on special synagogue tours that not all students can participate in---it's one of the perks) and then I am going to dinner at my friend Jen's house. I haven't decided where to go tomorrow, but after morning services there is a picnic in the park, which should be fun.

Hope everyone at home is doing well--enjoy your air-conditioning and Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Tisha Ba'av

Today is Tisha Ba'av. Literally, this means the 9th day of the Hebrew month of Av, which commemorates the destruction of the 1st and 2nd temples as well as other occasions in history where the Jewish people were killed or exiled simply for being Jewish. It's a very solemn holiday, similar to Yom Kippur in that many Jews fast and attend special t'fillah services. I have to admit that until this week I'd never heard much about Tisha Ba'av or it's significance, as many reform Jews do not observe the holy day, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to study and create a meaningful experience of it here in Jerusalem.

Last night, a group of HUC students arranged an amazing service in a garden that faces the Old City. The service had many typical prayers and lovely readings, but the most beautiful and resounding part was the reading of Eicha, the book of Lamentations. Elana, one of my fellow cantorial students, chanted the text in hebrew while Rachel, a rabbinical student, simultaneously read the english translation aloud. The trope Elana used to chant the text was different from normal Torah trope, one that I'm assuming is used for specific holidays and festivals. The combination of the simple reading of the translation paired with the not-so-simple chanting of the text was a beautiful, chilling, and inspiring reminder of how devastating this holiday is to the Jewish people. It gives me goosebumps now, just thinking about it.

After the service last night, there was a group text study and tour of the Old City and Kotel (Western Wall.) I opted out of the large group tour in favor of a visit to the Old City with Steph and my friends Jen, Dan and Ariel. It was my first trip to the Old City since I've been here this trip, and I have to say that the experience as a whole was a little underwhelming. First of all, there were THOUSANDS of people there (literally), and the Old City streets are not made to hold that many people. It was a wee bit too crowded for me (and by 'wee bit' I mean WAAAAY too crowded), so crowded that we couldn't even get up to the Kotel. We sat in the Kotel plaza (in front of the wall itself) and watched the people for awhile, and I was struck by both how many people there were and how many of the faces we saw were those of teenagers, people younger than ourselves. In a way, it was inspiring to see the many young faces greeting each other and making their way to the wall to pray. It would have been more inspiring had an Orthodox guy not pushed me out of the way to get past me (I thought Orthodox men don't touch strange women...) but that's another story.

This morning, we had 1 session of ulpan (we normally have 3) and then a text study followed by a mincha (afternoon) t'fillah. The text study was by far one of the coolest things I've done here so far. It was led by the director of outreach and admissions here, Rabbi David Wilfond (AKA Gingy.) We basically looked at texts in the Mishnah that explain the biggest reasons for the destruction of the temples. For those of you who may not know, the first temple was built on what was the holiest spot in Jerusalem, where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Issac, his beloved son, because Gd commanded him to. It is said that the 1st temple was destroyed because Jews were acting unjustly; worshipping idols, engaging in inappropriate sexual acts, and murdering innocent people. Gingy told us that committing these crimes is a violation of the 3 most important commandments in the Torah, and while it doesn't help cushion the blow, it does give some appropriate reasoning for the destruction of the temple. The temple was rebuilt after the first destruction, and in 10 A.D. it was destroyed again. It is said that at the time of the second temple, the people were studying Torah and performing mitzvot (commandments) and deeds of loving-kindness, but it was also a time of causeless hatred. The destruction of the second temple is obviously much harder to swallow, as the reasons for it are much more ambiguous. There were several stories we looked at which talked about small acts of hatred which escalated into the destruction, and while I'm not sure I believe them 100% I am able to more clearly define what "causeless hatred" is and why it led to the destruction of the holiest site in Judaism.

I'm happy that I finally understand what this holiday means to the Jewish people. To the best of my knowledge, it was never discussed or commemorated at my home congregation (which is common amongst Reform Jewish synagogues.) I realized today, sitting in Gingy's text study, how happy I am to be here discussing Judaism with 50+ other people who think about Judaism on such a passionate level. I learn something about Judaism from my classmates and professors everyday, and I cherish all of the lessons they are teaching me.

I've been thinking that I need to get on the ball with my actual studies this summer. Besides hebrew, I feel like there's a lot I need to learn in the way of liturgy and cantillation before classes begin this fall. A lot of my classmates come with a lot more Jewish experience than I do; they know how to chant Torah, they are familiar with weekday liturgy and melodies, etc. I'm unsure of where HUC starts us in our programs, and if we're expected to know certain things or if we're starting completely from scratch. Either way, I'd like to catch up to where some of my classmates are as to not feel totally overwhelmed by the time school starts. I've been working on my cantillation this week, which has always been something I've wanted to learn, and it's really exciting for me and kind of fun.

Speaking of studying, my hebrew flashcards are calling my name, so I will end this here. Much love to everyone!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Filling in the Gaps

This week has been the first real week of my grad/cantorial school career. Besides starting ulpan on Sunday, we've had our first High Holy Day choir rehearsal on Monday and our first day of music theory on Tuesday. We also took our first tiyul (trip) as a class today.

Many of you have been asking me about how the ulpan situation worked out. I went to the aleph class yesterday, which was mostly review. However, it was review of verb conjugation in forms other than pa'al (the simplest form), which is exactly what I need to be reviewing. I think I'm going to stay in the Aleph class until I feel comfy with my verbs, and then switch back to Bet. It's still far too early to tell for sure, but I do feel better about the whole situation. We also spent half of the class time at an old cafe/bookstore near Ben Yehuda, reading the menu and ordering in hebrew and then discussing the homework over coffee and sandwiches. It was just a fun and different way to have class.

The High Holy Day choir is going to be a lot of fun. It's directed by a great professor who is very dramatic and funny. He's quite the character, but he seems to know a lot about what the composers wanted the music to sound like, and he's excellent with helping us connect to the text. As of now, the choir consists of the 5 cantorial students (all women), one tenor and one baritone. Because all 5 of us are sopranos we needed to divide up, and I was asked to sing the alto part. I was a little opposed to the idea at first, but I have to say that I really enjoyed singing the part. I've been active in TI's HHD choir for the past 4 years and always sang the soprano part (which I love), but this is a refreshing change and challenge for me. I also think it will help me if I ever need to direct a HHD a choir director, knowing the parts is always beneficial to both you and your singers. We also learned that all of the cantorial students get the solos in the music, and though I don't know which pieces I'll be singing, I'm excited and honored to have the opportunity.

Our tiyul today was very beautiful and interesting. We started at the Hass Promenade, known to locals as the Tayelet. The Tayelet is a beautiful promenade that overlooks all of Jerusalem, including the Old City. We had morning t'fillah and some text study about King David at a park-like area before hiking around the promenade. Now, I've clearly never been one for hiking or outdoorsy-type things, but I have to say I really enjoy this mostly downhill walk with the beautiful views of Jerusalem and Professor/Rabbi Moshe Silbershein. He put together a booklet of texts from Torah and Mishnah that we'll use on all of our tiyulim (the plural form of tiyul, or trip), so I'm really excited to be studying with him.

After the Tayelet we ventured by bus to Ir David (the city of David), where King David is said to have built his original kingdom. We were a little rushed for time, but we did enjoy a very cheesy 3D movie of the history of Ir David before schlepping down a lot of steps to visit Hezekiah's Tunnel. Hezekiah built the tunnel before the destruction of the 1st temple around 586BC to make sure he and his troops had enough water to last them through the war. The tunnel still has water in it, so as you go through you're basically wading through waist-high water. Being the claustrophobic that I am I chose not to go into the tunnels, which I do not regret a bit. Thank goodness Steph is also claustrophobic, so I wasn't alone! Steph and I decided to go home after schlepping back up the steps to the entrance. I was slightly disappointed to miss walking home through the Old City, but we were both exhausted, sweaty, and grouchy from schlepping up all those steps (I'm not kidding, there were hundreds of steps at this place!)

I think the biggest benefit of this trip to me was figuring out exactly where everything in the Torah actually happened. Moshe was great about stopping and pointing out things like Mount Moriah (where the Old City is, the Golden Dome specifically) and the Mount of Olives. I feel like after today I have a much better sense of the Biblical significance of Jerusalem and why it's important to history and especially to the Jewish people. Here's some pictures of the amazing views and scenery.

The view from the mid-way point on the Promenade

The view of Jerusalem from the Tayelet. This was our view from where we prayed our morning t'fillah. Cool, huh?

The white stone houses of Jerusalem

That's pretty much been my week this week. It's been a little stressful and frustrating at times, but I think everything is working out for the best. My goal for next week is to find a voice teacher---I need to start working on those solos and fixing my vocal technique that has been ignored the last year or so. I'm excited to be studying voice and to be singing on a regular basis's been too long since I've done that and I've missed it tremendously.

BTW, if you ever come to J'lem and want some delicious kosher Chinese food, we found an amazing place tonight. Probably the best Chinese food I've had in a very long time, with really good service (getting good food AND good service is very rare in this country--it's usually one or the other.) Just another delight to lure you to Jerusalem to visit me :)

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Big 2-5

Happy 25th to me! I think I began to experience my quarter life crisis this morning, on the very day of the anniversary of my birth. I had some drama in my ulpan this morning, which led to me being demoted to Kitah Aleph (the first level hebrew class), which I am NOT happy about. I won't bore you with the details, but basically I was pushed down a level so some other people could get into Kitah Bet, where all of us belong. It's a long story, which makes me too angry and sad to write about, but ask me sometime and I'll fill you in. It's definitely worth hearing about. I'm hoping to be switching back to the Bet class after a day or 2.

Then, after I had walked home crying (I cry when I'm really angry--I hate that) I learned that the cantorial students had music theory today, which began at 2:00. I found out about the class at 1:59, when Steph got home, so I wiped off my face and ran back out the door. For some reason, nobody told me we had class today. Luckily, the prof was very nice and understanding, and was only meeting with us privately to talk about our theory skills and listen to us sight-sing. I was also introduced to my first taste of sight-singing using Fixed Do, which is an incredibly frustrating system when you've spent the last 8 years learning Movable Do (let me know if you want to know the difference.) I'll be fine with it, but it's definitely going to take some getting used to.

I spent the rest of the day just hanging out by myself, which I needed to do to cool off and calm down a bit. A group of us then went out to dinner at Spaghettim, a great Italian restaurant near Ben Yehudah street, which was wonderful. I was finally able to let go of my anger and just have fun on my birthday, which is exactly what I wanted. The gang bought me dinner and dessert and I had a fantastic time with my HUC family. I had been wanting a new tallit (prayer shaw), and even though I have 2 at home that I rarely wear, I decided to buy myself a new one as a birthday present. This one is made from gorgeous pink organza, with purple and red stripes on the sides. I also bought a tikkun (a book with the whole Torah, with vowels on one side to learn from and no vowels on the other side to practice with before you actually read from the Torah), which I'm happy to own. The whole evening made my day so much better and put me in a much better state of mind. Thanks, friends!

Yesterday, we hosted a very fun birthday party for the 3 consecutive birthdays this month: Steph (July 15), Sara (July 16) and me (July 17). We had a happy hour-style party, with drinks and snacks and a lot of people in our tiny apartment. I'm so happy we celebrated together and that so many people could join us. Here are some of my favorite pics from the party, and some pics from dinner tonight.

The birthday girls! Sara, me, and Steph. I don't know where the hat came from, but I kind of love it.
Our delicious triple chocolate mousse birthday cake! It was delicious.
Making birthday wishes. Erin and Batya's 17-month-old daughter Carlie is helping us blow out the candles.My HUC family at my birthday dinner, minus Steph, who was taking the picture. I love these guys!

Thank Gd that I have these amazing people to make my day better. They helped to give me a very happy birthday, which I am thankful for. You guys are the best! There's been lots of other stuff going on that I am going to try to write about tomorrow. Until then, lots of love from J'lem!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Shabbat Shalom

I am in the midst of celebrating my 3rd Shabbat here in Jerusalem. Shabbat here is a very special time; there's a very unique spirit in the air that lives from Friday night until Saturday night that you just don't feel often enough in the States, outside synagogue walls. The spirit is hard to describe, and maybe it's just the absence of construction workers and rude cabbies that occupy my neighborhood during the week, but the city has a radiant and glowing essence on Shabbat. It's quickly become my favorite time of the week, where I spend wonderful time with my classmates at dinners and services and I take a bit of quality time for myself as well.

We've had several different services this week, with various members of the faculty, board of directors, and alumni welcoming us to the "College-Institute" (as David Ellenson, president of HUC-JIR calls it.) Services last night and this morning were absolutely beautiful. Last night I was able to hear Cantor Eliyahu Schliefer sing for the first time, which for any cantor-in-training is an amazing experience. Cantor Schliefer, the head of the cantorial program at this campus, is considered to be "Yoda" because of his extensive (a vast understatement) knowledge of liturgical Jewish music. It's obvious that he takes his job as both cantor and professor very seriously and has incredibly high expectations for his students. While the thought of studying under him is very nerve-wracking, I am incredibly honored to be given the opportunity to do so. I also helped to lead a sing-along last night at dinner, which got everyone, students, faculty, and alumni up and dancing and having a wonderful time. It reminded me how much fun Shabbat can and should be.

This morning, Cantor Tamar Havilio and Rabbi Michael Marmur (the Dean of this campus) led lovely services in the Blaustein Auditorium, which has beautiful glass windows that overlook the Old City. It's truly awe-inspiring to be able to pray and sing directly to the Old City while being surrounded by my new HUC family. Tamar's voice is very expressive and emotional, and what I like most about her is that you can tell she's actually praying, not just singing a bunch of words in hebrew. As of now, she and I seem to be in-sync as far as service repertoire is concerned; from what I can tell, she likes to mix the old and the new and help her congregants find various ways to reach Gd through prayerful text and music. She sang lovely solos and gave us plenty of opportunities to sing and pray along with her. I am excited to get to know her as a teacher and cantor, and I am hopeful that she will share the melodies she uses in her services with all of us.

The title of Steph's latest blog is "My Heart is Full." I have to say that those words reflect exactly what I am feeling right now, in the midst of a beautiful Shabbat with all of these amazing people. My own heart is full of many emotions right now; the peace from Shabbat, the excitement and nervousness of starting ulpan tomorrow, the love for my family and friends here and at home, the appreciation for this opportunity to live and study in this beautiful city, and a million other things. As cheesy as it may sound, I know that this time in my life is all the evidence I need that Gd is here, with me, always.

As always, my love and prayers go out to everyone. Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Here We Go

This week has been a little calmer than the one before, mostly because orientation and classes are starting up. I needed a little time to rest, to enjoy my last days of freedom before ulpan (my intensive hebrew study) begins. That's not to say I've been lazy, however. I've ventured out to new and different areas this week, and have been braving longer walks and new neighborhoods both alone and with others. Monday night, I ventured onto Emek Rafaim, a cute area that reminds me a little of downtown Kirkwood in STL. It has a lot of cute little shops and restaurants, and is far less crowded than the touristy Ben Yehuda area (See Danny, I listened to you...) I met Rabbi Franken there for dinner, which was lovely. It was nice to talk to Rabbi Franken outside of TI, and to get to know him through his history and knowledge of Israel. It was especially nice to see a face from home.

Yesterday morning I headed off for my first solo adventure to the shuk (marketplace, similar to Soulard in STL). I managed to find it okay by myself, but once I actually got there I was completely overwhelmed. The shuk is ALWAYS crowded with people buying the many fresh fruits, vegetables, breads, etc they have to offer. For someone who tends to be "people claustrophobic", it can be a bit of a traumatic experience. Yesterday as I was walking down the hill of the shuk, a man came after me screaming in hebrew and finally tapping me on the shoulder. As I turned around, visibly scared out of my mind, he said "Lady, you left a bag at my stand" and handed me a bag with the lemons and peppers I had bought from him. He then proceeded to tell me that I didn't have to be afraid, that people in the shuk are my friends. It was reassuring, especially after initially thinking that this man wanted to kill me, but it was still an uncomfortable situation. I think I need a buddy the next few times I go, until I'm comfy there.

Orientation began last night, with a fun evening of mixers and getting-to-know-you activities. It continued this morning, with a very lovely shacharit t'fillah (morning prayer service) followed by meeting after meeting after meeting. It was great to meet the faculty, and to hear about this coming year, but I am now totally exhausted.

I've been incredibly emotional the last couple of days. I think it's the realization that school is starting and I'm not just here on a 12 day Birthright trip, combined with the usual insecurities of starting something new and the small pangs of homesickness I've been feeling. I cried during t'fillah today, and again in one of our orientation breakout sessions, and again when I got home and started to really process everything I learned today. The funny thing is that I'm not sad--homesick maybe--but definitely not sad. Emotions are bizarre sometimes.

The good news of the day: I was placed in the kitah bet (2nd level) hebrew class for the summer. I completely expected to be sitting in the aleph (1st level) class, so that news makes me very happy. I'm a little shocked, I must say, but I'm hoping it's the right place for me. I guess we'll see on Sunday, when ulpan begins!

OK, naptime for me. Much love from Jerusalem!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Ezeh Yofi!

Thank you to everyone for your emails, comments and suggestions about my ugly landlord situation. We did hear back from him, and apparently we are getting new beds sometime tomorrow (Sunday), and many of the other problems fixed Tuesday...we hope. I think we're going to stay here unless things really get to hard to bear. We both really like it here; it's a great location (5 mins from school, whereas other students have to schlep a good 30 mins to campus) and a very cute apartment. And, we have a meeting tomorrow with Nancy, one of the head administrative people here who also serves as "mom" to many of us students, to discuss what she thinks we should do. I'm hoping that either she or a native Israeli she knows can talk to our landlord and make him realize we aren't the "stupid Americans" that he thinks we are. We'll see what goes, but at the current moment I am optimistic about staying here.

In other news, I spent yesterday in Tel Aviv, going to an amazing artist fair, the Carmel shuk, and then the beach. The beach was so beautiful, and the waters of the Mediterranean Sea felt amazing against my feet (I don't like swimming at the beach; I prefer just walking on the shore with my feet in the water.) There are definitely differences between beaches here and beaches in the states--let's just say that some people here are a lot less self-conscious about their bodies and what they do with them in public places. All kidding aside though, it was a really lovely way to forget about my apartment worries and prepare for a lovely shabbat. I will definitely be returning at some point this year

The group that went to Tel Aviv...we had sooo much fun.

The Mediterranean Sea, with Tel Aviv in the background. I could have stayed here FOREVER!

Shabbat this week was really, really nice. I found myself a bit too exausted to attend services last night (at the time I felt a nap was much more important.) After my nap I attended dinner at my friends Jen and Dan's apartment, which was delicious and relaxing. This morning I went to shacharit (morning) services at HUC, which was by far the best way I've spent shabbat since I've been here. The service was American style and from Gates of Prayer, the prayerbook I grew up with at home. Also, Cantor Evan Kent from the LA campus and my summer intern, Dan, helped to lead the services. I was so inspired watching both of them, and the music was incredible. HUC has a full grand piano in the sanctuary, and one of the interns was playing the flute for many of the songs. Cantor Kent's voice is beautiful; rich and pleasant without being overbearing or showoff-ish. He sang many unfamiliar melodies and prayers, which meant I couldn't sing along very well, but it got me excited to spend the rest of my life learning and singing Jewish music. There was one part where a young girl joined the cantor to sing, which of course made me think of the relationship between myself and Linda. While it did cause me to be a bit homesick for TI, it also reaffirmed my belief of just how special my future career really is. To have the ability to communicate Jewishly, musically, and prayerfully with another person or group of people is an incredibly sacred and unique thing. To be able to communicate with Gd through music and help others communicate as well is a truly wonderful and awesome gift that I am blessed to possess.

There are definitely times when I am insecure about my ability and readiness to be here, both musically and Judaically. The service this morning reminded me that I am here because I am meant to be here, and that the passion and faith I possess can get me through any bumps in the road. It's nice and incredibly comforting to be able to carry that reassurance with me everyday.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The First Week

I've officially been in Israel a week now. In a lot of ways it feels like I've been here a lot longer, and in a lot of ways it feels like I just got here. It's bizarre how I'm still not entirely convinced that I'm actually staying a whole year--I still sometimes believe that I'm heading home in a week or 2. I'm really happy to have a week under my belt, though, and that the newness of the city is wearing off.

The past couple of days have been a bit stressful for us. We're dealing with a lot of apartment problems and a very unresponsive/unreliable/apathetic landlord. We've been trying to get in contact with him since I've been here, and for almost a week he didn't pick up his phone nor did he return our many, many phone calls. He FINALLY came over yesterday, and was a complete asshole (sorry for the language, but it's the only term for him that's truly fitting) to both of us. He made a sloppy list of everything we needed him to do, which included the following very important things:

~New beds (Steph's is so moldy she can't sleep on it, and I am bigger than mine, meaning I literally can't roll over or get comfy without falling off.)
~Very weak cold water pressure, which means we either take scalding hot showers or very weak cold showers. I don't know which is worse.
~Exposed electrical wires
~A section of the HUC lease that his father crossed out when he met Stephanie at the airport, meaning HUC won't guarantee us if something should happen.
~Many more little things

He told us that he'd get back with us about new beds and repairs when he gets back from his trip to Turkey, in 2 weeks. He sent a plumber over this morning, who basically talked on his cell phone while turning faucets on and off and then told us he needed to talk to Haim (our landlord) before he'd actually fix anything. We're very skeptical about ever hearing back from him.

We've been talking to our friends here, who've been suggesting we break our lease and find a new place. I really, REALLY don't want to move, and I like this apartment a lot, but I don't really want to deal with this guy for a year if he's going to continue to be like this. So here's where I need YOUR advice--what should we do? This is one of those times that a Dad would come in handy, so if you're a father (or even if you're not), please give your advice--we're desperate.

Apartment stresses aside, we've been doing fun stuff. We went to the shuk (marketplace) yesterday for the first time and bought delicious, fresh fruits and vegetables. We also went to a 4th of July festival at Ilana's, which was so much fun. I really think I had more fun at this 4th of July party than I have at any other 4th of July party in the states. We had everything we needed for a great 4th: sparklers, watermelon, plenty of beer (I was good, don't worry.) Here's a cute pic of me and the roomie having fun with our sparklers.

Speaking of the roomie, I really lucked out with her. Stephanie is absolutely adorable, and we've been getting along great thus far. We've spent many evenings laughing over everything, from our crazy family stories to our crazy landlord, and I know she'll make an amazing rabbi. My only regret is that she'll be going to the Cinci campus next year, while I'll be going to the NYC campus. I hope we have a shana tova (a good year) together.

All right, I've rambled long enough for today. But seriously, we don't know what to do about this landlord situation, so I really need your thoughts. I miss everyone back home, so even if you don't have brilliant advice (which I'm sure you do), call/write/comment and say hi.

Much love from Yerushalayim!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Today I overslept...again. I was supposed to be meeting my intern, Dan, for coffee/breakfast this morning at a nearby coffee shop, and he called me 10 minutes after we were supposed to meet, waking me from my slumbers and wondering where I was. The other day, I was supposed to wake up for Shabbat morning services and once again, overslept. I don't understand this...very rarely did I ever oversleep at home. I'm just going to blame it on jetlag.

Anyways, when I'm not oversleeping I am having an amazing time here. The city opens itself up to me a little more everyday as I become braver about exploring new things. Sunday night I discovered Ben Yehuda street, the 'it' street in Jerusalem. It's very fun, with lots of cafes, bars, dance clubs, and cute shops selling everything from Dead Sea products to fresh flowers. It's also crowded all the time, which makes it the perfect place for people watching. Yesterday, I explored Ben Yehuda and the surrounding areas on my own, and had a great afternoon munching on falafel and watching the many kinds of people that occupy this city. I've also had a chance to tour HUC, which is bigger and much more beautiful than I expected it to be. Last night we went to a concert at the Old Train Station, which is a defunct train station turned concert venue. By venturing out a little more, I'm beginning to see how everything connects here, how things aren't really as far away as I thought they were. It's a nice thing to realize after the initial period of complete overwhelm.

The thing about Israelis that continuously strikes me is their sense of true ruach v'chayim (spirit and life.) Israelis are known to some Americans as being pushy, rude, loud, etc etc etc, and many times they can be. However, when you think about it differently, you realize just how spirited they are. They live in the moment, with no time to wait or dawdle, and they realize just how short and precious life is. It's really a very beautiful thing. My favorite example of this comes from seeing 2 performances by Israeli musicians. The first was David Broza, an incredible singer/songwriter and guitar player, and the second was Hadag Nachash, an Israeli rap group. Not only did the performers sing/play with an incredible amount of gusto, but the audiences were so alive. At the Broza concert, people were singing along, loud and proud, without any regard to who might be around them. At Hadag Nachash, the audience clamored and pushed to get up to the front of the stage, and once they did they danced and cheered like no audience I've seen before. It did get a little obnoxious to me, both times, but every time I opened my mouth to complain, I realized just how obnoxious it really wasn't. Israelis live their lives in fear, knowing that any day something could happen that could change their lives forever. When they do have a chance to let loose, they take full advantage of it. Is there a more beautiful way to relax and celebrate life than by singing out loud at a sunrise David Broza concert on Masada? I think not.

This ruach is prevalent throughout this country, in all different aspects of life. One of my goals for myself this year is to soak up as much of it as I possibly can. It does definitely change my perception of many of the little things that can bother people who visit here (rude cab drivers, cars on the road that don't stop for you when you want to cross the street, people that butt in line at the falafel stand, etc.) Israeli's just do their thing--they don't try to purposefully make our lives more difficult.

I am now stepping off the soapbox. Thank you for your attention.