Birthday, Purim, and Subsequent Shenanigans.

galileeTurning 21 abroad is extremely underwhelming. The anticipation for the past few years of the day I would finally be able to legally drink was tossed out the window when I started my travels in Europe and realized that here, a person’s 21st birthday doesn’t contain the same luster involved in the legalization we experience on this day in the U.S. Here, it pretty much just means we’re getting old, and there’s nothing special about that. My birthday landed on a Thursday this year, which meant I had no classes, and also meant that I could go out to bars and clubs at night with my school friends. That night, my friends and I had a small party in our university bar (the Moadon) where my friends surprised me with a cake they made (a difficult feat considering most of us don’t have ovens) and fun games to play before hitting the town. Needless to say, I felt extremely loved on my birthday and I am so grateful for my new friends.

The next weekend was the weekend of Purim. Purim is an Israeli holiday which honors the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who’d planned to kill them. It is celebrated a bit like Halloween in that everyone gets dressed up in costume and goes to parties, bars, and clubs. I spent the weekend with friends in Tel Aviv. The city is so diverse, lively, and home to some of the best clubs in the world, making it a tiring, at times stressful, yet overall perfect holiday weekend that only left me with the desire to return to Tel Aviv to experience more as soon as possible!

This past weekend, my friends Kate, Brian, Alanna, Sarah, and I decided that we would spend Shabbat in Tiberius, at the Sea of Galilee. We arrived at our AirBnb late in the afternoon and voyaged down a nearby trail in our “stretchy pants” to try to catch the sunset from a mountain top. We ended up traveling off trail up a steep, rocky cliff, scraping our knees, falling into pricker bushes, and stepping in poop left by the roaming mountain cows. When we reached the peak, our shirts were drenched in sweat and our bodies were covered in dirt, but the view of the Galilee was breath-taking. To descend, we had to quietly pass through a herd of cows, trying to keep distance between us and the babies while apprehensively eyeing the massive horns of the adults not 4 meters away from us. We were forced to trespass on about three different olive farms to find our way back to our home for the night.

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring the beaches along the sea, relaxing in the summery weather, and enjoying the newly blossomed wild flowers of the Galilee. The incredible views and perfect company make every weekend in Israel feel like the best weekend of my life. It may sound as though I’m putting more emphasis on the “abroad” part of “study abroad”; however, with midterms coming next week, it’s time to buckle down and start reviewing. Wish me luck!

שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם

Shalom aleikhem,

Julia

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Week 2: I stood where Jesus once stood.

Today, I toured Jerusalem and I am amazed at how spiritual and educational just 5 hours in the holy city was. The first thing I noticed about Jerusalem is how diverse it is. Most everyone knows that the city is a holy site for Christians and Jews, and not everyone knows that it is also host of the third holiest site in Islam, Al Aqsa/ Temple Mount. People from all over the world walk side by side in prayer and you can feel the spiritual energy pumping through the stone floors and walls of the Old City. We visited the Western Wall where the women and men each have a side to pray. We roamed inside the incense-filled  Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified and buried. We saw the tomb of King David and read scripture from the Old Testament. I learned today that Jerusalem is the poorest city in Israel. This is largely due to the fact that Orthodox Jews believe that God will provide for them and their families, so they don’t necessarily work (meaning the government has to subsidize most of their living costs) and they also believe in having as many children as possible (many have around 8 children). Between the booming population and the idea that work will only distract ones self from their studies of the Torah, only about 20% of Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have jobs. Even less of the Arab population in Jerusalem works as well, mostly due to lack of education and skills necessary to join the work force. In my university city of Haifa, Arabs and Israelis coexist peacefully, but it is evident that in the city of Jerusalem, this is not usually the case. It is strange to think that a city so holy to so many religions and cultures can also be the source of so much conflict and bitterness.

In lighter news, this week, I went to the beach in Haifa on my day off from school. It is easy to tell who the tourists are. We are clad in bikinis, swimming and tanning while the Israeli locals are bundled up in their winter coats because 70 degrees is still cold for them. My classes are so interesting and I am so excited to learn more every day! I am taking Contemporary Arab Thought and Culture, Islamic Fundamentalism, Arab-Israeli Relations, Women in Israel, and Arms Control in the Nuclear Realm. My classes are small, catering to intimate discussions and a more interactive classroom dynamic than I am used to, which will benefit me greatly. Friday morning, we took a tour of Haifa to see the Baha’i Gardens on Mount Carmel, and we visited the Arab market, which has extremely inexpensive fresh herbs, spices, produce, and anything else you can imagine. There, I get to practice my Arabic haggling with vendors for the best deals. They are always surprised when we small foreign girls start to speak to them in their native tongue. On Shabbat, I spent the day hiking and exploring caves in the Carmel National Park behind my university. We ate Bambas (small israeli chips flavored like peanut butter) and watched the sun set behind rows and rows of banana trees from the peak of the cliff. Every day I wake up smiling because Israel is starting to feel like my home away from home.

Day 1: Julia *Israeli* far from home.

No one in the world is ever prepared for his or her first time traveling alone. This realization hit me when I arrived in Brussels, Belgium on January 24th upon learning that my suitcase was still in JFK airport in New York, and I had no way of communicating  with anyone around me. At first, I panicked about missing buses and trains and about not understanding the new world I had just entered. After about 4 hours of being lost in Belgium, I realized I had no reason to stress. It was just the beginning of my adventure of independence and self-growth. For the next three weeks, I visited my high school host family from France in Lille and Angers, toured Paris, visited Berlin, then Rostock, Germany at the Baltic Sea, and then arrived in Eilat, Israel on Valentine’s Day. I had a really romantic day of security checkpoints and airplane food.

Eilat has a strange reputation because it is a desert port on the northern tip of the Red Sea and a very popular vacation spot for some Israelis, but mostly Russians. There is a beach boardwalk with carnival rides and Tiki bars every five meters. Everyone I met in Eilat works for the scuba diving industry. The first thing I noticed about Israelis are that they are so hospitable. Even the guy working at the gas station is excited to chat and hear about my story and why I chose to study in his beautiful country. The sense of patriotism in Israel is astonishing,. They are so proud to belong to such a strong, quickly progressing nation. They love to share their political opinions and have real discussions about both the conflicts and successes of Israel.

Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) begins at sundown on Friday. All the shops and restaurants closed early Friday afternoon so that people can begin observing the shabbat. I spent the sabbath with my new friends in Netanya, a suburb of Tel Aviv. They graciously invited my into their home to experience a “real shabbat”. I have never seen a kosher kitchen before. Marcelle, my host for the weekend had two ovens, microwaves, sinks, and two sets of cups and silverware. One for meat and one for dairy. Every Friday night is like Thanksgiving. The whole day is dedicated to cooking for the whole weekend, families travel to be together, and Friday night to Saturday at sundown is spent catching up and celebrating religion.

Everyone I meet opens their homes to me, and cares for me like their own family. I feel so blessed to be surrounded by such a resilient and kind people and to be able to experience a culture that too often seems so distanced from the United States by media bias. With this blog, I hope to bridge the gap between countries and give you a taste of the Israel I see in the next few months. Tomorrow, I begin classes at my new school, the University of Haifa. Wish me luck!

שָׁלוֹם עֲלֵיכֶם

Shalom aleikhem,

Julia