Sunday, September 28, 2008

Email: A message before Rosh Hashanah

Shalom chaverim (Hello friends),

A lot has happened since I last wrote. I’ve been on a week+ break and traveled around Israel (and a day in Jordan), I’ve started the semester here, I’ve been preparing for the Jewish High Holy Days, it rained for the first time, and more.

From September 11 – 20, we had a break between the end of the Ulpan and the start of the Fall Semester. It was an adventure traveling around Israel from the South to the North and spending a day in Jordan. I’ve attached a full description of my break in case you are interested, but here are some of the highlights:
- The beach in Eilat
- Riding a camel in the Jordanian desert through the great red canyons of Petra
- Visiting the Baha’I Gardens in Haifa
- Getting on the wrong train and then stuck at a train station in the middle of nowhere
- Joining a group of Israeli school children for a night tour of the old city of Akko (Acre) in Hebrew
- A really sketchy youth hostel in Akko
- Touring the Israeli Supreme Court and Knesset Buildings
- Shabbat at the Kotel (Western Wall)

Our semester started well. I have completed the first week of class and so far, all of my classes seem interesting and the professors seem really good and knowledgeable. I moved up to the “Bet” level of Hebrew after getting an A in Ulpan. I am taking four classes in addition to Hebrew:
- Critical Decisions in the History of the State of Israel
- Jewish Identity and Contemporary Issues
- Arms Control and the Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East
- International Terrorism and Guerilla Warfare
I am also sitting in a class (but not getting credit for it) as I am interested in the topic but am out of credit hours. It is Environmental and Natural Resource Issues in Israel and the Middle East.

I spent this past Shabbat in Be’er Sheva. Friday night, I, along with four other students, joined our Jewish Identity professor and his family for Shabbat services and dinner. I went back to the synagogue (45 minute walk) for services Saturday morning and joined another family for lunch. On the walk there something crazy happened: it rained. The rain was unusual as it doesn't usually rain in Israel until after Sukkot, the harvest festival/holiday, and that isn't for another few weeks (although it is later this year due to a leap month in the Hebrew calendar).

I had class today and now we are off until Thursday for Rosh Hashanah. This coming weekend our Overseas Student Program has a trip for us to the Galilee in the north of Israel. We have class until next Wednesday when we are off for Yom Kippur on Wednesday and Thursday. We are then off until October 22 for Sukkot/Fall Break. Then we actually have class for the rest of my time in Israel. We have such a crazy schedule…

For my next break, I was planning on going to Egypt for a few days. However, after a lot of thought (e.g. recent kidnappings, Israeli government travel warnings, and my Intl Terrorism professor basically telling me that I was a goner by going through the Sinai), I have decided against it. Now we are looking to traveling around Israel more – Tel-Aviv, Tiberias, Sea of the Galilee, Jerusalem for Simchat Torah, who knows.

I am spending the next few days in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah with a Conservative Rabbi. I am looking forward to my High Holy Day celebration in Jerusalem and hope to end up in Jerusalem for Yom Kippur as well. As we approach the high holy day season with a focus of repentance, I ask you for your forgiveness for anything I may have done against you this past year. I am striving to improve for the year to come.

There is a lot more to write, but you can check out my blog ( for a lot of that. I have also attached a long description of my last break, as I mentioned, as well as a picture of me and my brother Stuart in Jerusalem in August.

Stay in touch and all the best wishes for a happy and healthy new year!

L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu,

Joel Portman

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