Friday, September 12, 2008

Email - End of Ulpan / Off to Travel

Dear everyone,

It's amazing how fast time flies. This email is going to be a bit shorter than it perhaps should because I leave in less than an hour for Eilat and subsequent traveling around Israel for a little over a week. This just means that you'll have to read my blog ( and look at my pictures ( to get more details (or email me J).

Our Ulpan is now over. Wednesday was our final exam and I think that I did well. That evening we had our end of Ulpan dinner and celebration at Abraham's Well, the site where Abraham was told to come by G-D and the reasoning for the naming of Be'er Sheva. We had a great dinner and each class did a song/skit for everyone. Logically, mine was awesome. Sometimes I feel like I didn't learn enough in Ulpan, but then I think back to just a few weeks ago when I didn't even know how to say "Central Bus Station" in Hebrew – which is important when you rely on buses for a lot of your transportation. I guess I have come a good way, but of course have much more to go.

Here are some of the Highlights of the past week and a half:

Our overseas student group took a day trip to Masada, Ein Gedi, and the Dead Sea. It was a long day, beginning at 3:00 a.m. but quite worth it. We hiked up Masada for the sunrise and explored the mountain after the beautiful sunrise was over. This was especially exciting for me since I didn't get to do this the last time I was in Israel due to illness. After the hottest early morning of my life and hottest 9:00 a.m. hike ever, we went to Ein Gedi, a desert oasis that was a good time and after that, drove to the Dead Sea where we floated in the water – also something that I didn't get to do my last time in Israel. A bunch of us finished the day with a sort of "potluck" Shabbat dinner.

I missed Labor Day. I really wanted to BBQ, but alas no grill was to be found (and no American flags either).

Last Thursday, I went with our Ulpan class to a Beduin museum to learn about the history, culture, and traditions of the Beduin. It was very interesting. In the evening, we went to a dinner/bonfire event with some overseas students from Tel-Aviv University and Hebrew University. It was a great time and I even met a friend from Kansas City there who I haven't seen in several years. Israel is crazy. The highlight of the day though was a trip to the Gaza Border and nearby communities including a moshav, Sderot, and a kibbutz – the hardest hit areas by the Qassam Rocket Attacks. Being at the border, looking into Gaza, visiting these places, and the learning about the rocket attacks and their affect on people was one of my favorite experiences thus far in Israel. I could write several emails about it, but I wrote about it fairly extensively on my blog so you can read about it there or send me an email.

I spent last Shabbat with two families. I went to one family's home and on to Friday Night services with them before returning for Shabbat Dinner which was very good. The father works at the University and had at one thought about being a Conservative Rabbi and the wife works for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel. Both parents are from the U.S. They were very nice. Shabbat (Saturday) morning I went back to their synagogue (a small Orthodox shul with about 50 families) and after services (I got an aliyah J) I met another family who had me over to their apartment for a great lunch. The father is Israeli and the mother is American. It was a great Shabbat and I've been invited back to both families J

I would keep on writing but I have to run. Today I am leaving Be'er Sheva for our break between Ulpan and Semester. Below is a rough outline of my break. It could still change, so who knows. I am excited to spend time exploring Israel and a day in Jordan.

Thursday - Be'er Sheva
Friday - Eilat
Saturday - Eilat
Sunday - Petra, Jordan and then back to Be'er Sheva at night
Monday - leave late morning/early afternoon (by train?) to Haifa
Tuesday - Bahai Gardens in Haifa then on to Tiberias
Wednesday - Tiberias / Sea of the Galilee / Hiking in the North
Thursday - Leave the North for Jerusalem
Friday - Jerusalem
Saturday - Jerusalem
Saturday night - Back to Be'er Sheva
Sunday - Semester classes start

Let me know what you think. I will send out a better update after returning from break around the time the semester classes start.

Please be in touch.

All the best,

Joel Portman

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