Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Cold Week

This week has been rather cold. While the temperature has, according to the sites I've found online, only gotten into the 50s once, I don't believe them. I have stopped using the fan that I have at night and often during the day as well. My tile floor is cold and I'm considering buying a cheap heater for my room or if not, perhaps a heavier blanket. Additionally, it has been cloudy for much of the week and rained off and on most days. While the rain is definately needed here, I find the weather to be rather unhappy without blue skies and sun. I liked the weather before much better. I think that it is suppossed to change for next week, which would be good.

My Hebrew teacher has asked our class for an additional session on Sundays for at least one time, but likely for a few weeks. She think that we are behind, which is true. I feel like I should know more than I do.

I'm leaving in a few hours for Tel-Aviv. I'll be spending the weekend with a family there and will return to Be'er Sheva on Saturday night. When I return, I'm going to have to start doing a lot of studying and reading as well as research for several midterm papers that will be due before the end of November.

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Bit on Today

The screen on my cell phone stopped working (on Friday) so I had to get a new phone (today), which also didn't work so I got another one (after some stress, also today due to confusion with other people and their phone issues). That was cool. I went to the shuk today and bought fruits and vegetables (I bought bought corn on the cob for about ~30 cents per husk). I also bought a kilo of hummus for only 8 shekels - I was super excited. Ialso got locked out of my room and my roommate got locked inside because our door decided to stop working. That was fun.

I decided tonight that I'm going to Tel-Aviv this weekend. I'll be staying with a family my brother put me in contact with.

I also went to class today, but need to study/read a lot.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Only Two Months Left

As of today, I have been in Israel for three months. That means that I only have two months left here.

It's crazy how fast time has gone. I can't believe that it will be November in less than a week!

Unfortunately, today it is finally cold in Be'er Sheva. While there were times when it was definately hot today, I elected to wear pants instead of shorts. Overall, it was a good decision, even though I hope that it warms up enough for me to still wear shorts later in the week.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Email - Done with the Holidays, Back to School

If you want to read about my second break, do so by clicking the link to the left as this email copy just has a brief summary.



It has been quite a long time since my last email; almost a month in fact. So much has happened in the last month and it has flown by so fast. I don’t know where my time has gone. Since my last email, I’ve passed the half way mark of my time in Israel and tomorrow will be two months until I return home. It’s crazy. I still have so much that I want to see and experience. Class has barely even happened. I’ve only had a few weeks of class, interrupted by the holidays. Now, I have class straight through for the rest of my time in Israel.

Celebrating the Jewish holidays in Israel has been great. The services themselves didn’t necessarily feel very different but the feeling of community in the synagogue and the country as a whole was amazing. Seeing “Shana Tova” signs around and hearing people say “Shana Tova” is a great feeling. Seeing Sukkot around Israel is awesome. They were literally on almost every balcony and in every corner of a building and grassy area in many parts of the country that I saw. I was in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah – all with the same great family (They kept inviting me back, which was fine with me). Dancing around outside and inside with the Torah on Simchat Torah and singing “Am Yisrael Chai” – “The People of Israel Live” in Israel was a wonderful experience.

Since my last email, we’ve had the holidays, my second break, a number of other travels, and class. Below are some of the highlights. For more details check out my blog at or email me. I’ve also attached a long description of my second break for those of you who are interested in skimming through or reading it in its entirety.

We had an Overseas Student Program trip to the North a few weekends ago. We went to Tzfat, did a little hiking in the North, saw the first kibbutz, the Kineret (Sea of the Galilee), a cemetery with many Zionist and Kibbutz pioneers, and a chocolate factory and stayed on a kibbutz in the North.

We saw Kaparot which is a way that some (some meaning only a few, mainly very Orthodox Jews these days) Jews seek forgiveness for sins. A chicken is swung over one’s head and is killed and given to the poor as a way to transfer one’s sins from one’s self to the chicken. My viewing of this though ended up being more of a way to see how a chicken can be killed in a Kosher manner.

During my second break, in addition to the holidays and the large amount of services that I attended, I did a lot of traveling, mainly in the North and around Jerusalem. I went to Rosh Hanikra, grottoes along the Mediterranean Sea at the very Northern point of Israel and the Lebanese border. I stayed with an Israeli family in Tivon, a suburb of Haifa. It was a great way to experience actually living in Israel and see how an Israeli family might live. We went to the Jordan River where my friend got rebaptized, we went swimming in the Kineret, Sea of the Galilee, and we went ATVing in the Lower Galilee through mango orchards on a moshav. I went to a party for an Israeli guy who finished his army service and learned a new card game.

While in Jerusalem, I visited several overlook sites from Hebrew University/Mt. Scopus over the city, East Jerusalem, and towards Jordan. I went to Ammunition Hill, the site of a battle in the 1967 Six Day War that led to the reunification of Jerusalem. I walked through Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, the day before Simchat Torah and saw the Sukkot everywhere and people getting ready for the holiday.

I, along with two friends, took a day tour to Hebron organized by the Jewish Community of Hebron. While it was an observant, very right-wing tour, it was a great way to visit. We drove through the West Bank where I saw the security barrier, a number of checkpoints, several Jewish and Palestinian villages, Rachel’s Tomb, the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the three Jewish neighborhoods, and a number of other sites.

I think that this email is long enough for now. Like I said, if you want to know more about anything, check out my blog or email me. For information on the holidays I mentioned, check out:

Here are links to pictures that I’ve posted since my last email:
OSP Trip to the North -
Kaparot (Warning: These are graphic) -
Break #2 -

Stay in touch. My next email should come sooner than almost a month.


Joel Portman

Politics - A Summary

This is a post that should have been made a long time ago, at least on some level…

Many of the people on my program have at least some interest in international affairs and/or politics if they don’t plan on majoring in or making a career out of one or both of these things. As such most members of my group stay up to date with politics.

During the National Conventions, I watched most of the Democratic Speeches and some of the Republican Speeches (I wasn’t as interested in all of the speakers) and I know that many of my friends did the same. We sometimes discussed the speeches while walking to class.

I, along with many of my friends, stay up to date with politics in the U.S. on a regular basis. Many of us monitor news sites online and watch news videos. Most mornings, I watch the recording of the previous evening’s CBS Evening News online and also subscribe to email updates from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and The Economist.

The progress of the Presidential campaigns, as well as other topics (i.e. the economy), frequently make it into conversations between my friends and I as well as conversations that are had and that I join in on during meals that I have been invited to when I’ve stood with different families around Israel. Many of the families I’ve stayed with have American citizenship and many of them plan on voting in the upcoming election, although some fear that they had missed the application deadline for absentee ballots. Some also said that it can be hard to contact the last place they voted in the U.S. if they left before they were of voting age or were born in Israel but also have U.S. citizenship.

I had been concerned that I would not receive my absentee ballot on time, if at all. Luckilly, I got it soon after Rosh Hashanah. This was important to me, not only because of the significance of this year’s election, but also because 2008 is my first Presidential Election and I wanted to make sure that I could vote. I filled out the ballot the same day I received and mailed it soon afterward to make sure that it would be in St. Louis long before the deadline.

As far as Israeli politics go, that is a big mess. I try to follow what is going on here, but it is very confusing. Even Israelis tell me the same thing. However, after attempting to follow what’s going on while living here and after visiting the Supreme Court and Knesset in Jerusalem, I have a bit of a better idea of how the government (is supposed to) function. I subscribe to email updates from the Arutz 7 news service, have an RSS feed from the Ha’aretz newspaper through Google Desktop, get video news from, and frequent the Jerusalem Post website.

Mayoral elections are coming up in many cities and that is a big issue in Jerusalem with candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister, was recently selected as the head of the Kadima Party and has been attempting to form a new coalition government and become Prime Minister, but it is likely that she will not succeed and will instead send the country into general elections.

This is not even going into the craziness that is going on with the academic system. After two strikes last year (senior faculty and students) and the threat of another strike (junior faculty) as well as a semester being canceled, there are now threats of another strike. The government has been cutting funding to Universities (most of Israel’s Universities are public) and telling them to increase the costs to students – hence the strikes. As a result of the strikes, the government said they would restore their funding of Universities to their previous level (but not increase them). Now, the government is withholding that funding. Therefore, the Presidents of the Universities are threatening not to open the Universities for school (they start at various times in November) if they do not receive the funding – i.e. another strike. This is looking likely, but who knows.

Well I could go on and on, but this is enough for now.


Check out my pictures from Break Two to Jerusalem, the North, Hebron, etc.

Also, I have finally added captions to my photos from our OSP Trip to the Galilee.

Break Two: Yom Kippur – Simchat Torah

Below is a description of my activities during my second break in my Overseas Program - October 8-21. Some days have more detail than others and overall, this is a fairly long description (6.5 pages typed) so feel free to skim and skip around. I hope that this provides answers to many of you who have asked what I did during the break.


I had originally wanted to go to Egypt during this break and spend a good deal of time researching different options and contacting various tour companies. However, in the wake of an increase in kidnappings in Egypt, warnings by Israeli authorities against travel to Egypt, and a warning from my international Terrorism professor, I decided against traveling to Egypt. Instead I started looking at a variety of options, but didn’t really solidify my trip until the day before I left (and then changed it part way through). There ended up being a lot less planning on this trip than the first one.

Thoughts on a Different Way to Travel

Most of this trip was spent staying with families instead of in youth hostels. While I did less of the “tourist” traveling on this trip than I had originally wanted to, I found the experience very enjoyable. I did not end up going to all of the museums that I had planned on, but I had the experience of living life like an Israeli. We traveled several days in a car instead of a bus, went to places (beach, restaurants, etc.) that tourists are unlikely to find, and more. It really gave me the feeling of a person living in Israel instead of a person visiting Israel.

Yom Kippur (October 8-9)

I was in Jerusalem for Yom Kippur, back with the Romm family in French Hill.

View previous post about this here.

Shabbat (October 10-11)

After the movie at the Romm’s, they took me over to the Schwartz’s.

View previous post about this here.

Saturday night – Sunday morning (October 11-13)

Back in Be’er Sheva. I had originally planned on being in Be’er Sheva Saturday night and Sunday and then going to the North on Sunday evening. This ended up changing and I was in Be’er Sheva until Monday morning. There is nothing really to write about here. I just took it easy and attempted to catch up on emails and random stuff after being gone.

The North (October 13-15)

Heading up North was a great time. While it could be described as the length of a long weekend, it seems like we did so much more in that time.

Aaron and I left Be’er Sheva on a 7:26 a.m. train and took it to the end of the line in the North at the Nahariya station. Ximena joined us North of Haifa from the station we would be returning to later in the day. We got off at the Nahariya station and took a taxi to Rosh Hanikra.

Rosh Hanikra is the Northern most site in Israel. It is on the Mediterranean Sea and consists of grottoes that the sea has carved into the rock (turned white from salt). We took a cable car down to the grottoes, saw a video about their creation, and walked the path through the grottoes. It was really beautiful and the sea was a great shade of blue. Back above the grottoes, we saw the border with Lebanon, which must have been closed for some time. We saw (sort of) the military establishment on the mountain and several soldiers hanging out.

We took the train back to the Lev HaMifratz station, North of Haifa. The station was attached to a shopping mall, which was kind of cool. We waited there while we figured out if we’d be able to stay with Barney (from our program) at his friend Nitay’s (Israeli) house or in a youth hostel in Haifa. It ended up that we could stay with Nitay. Barney and Nitay came to pick us up from the station and we went to his house in Tivon, a suburb to the Northeast of Haifa. It was a nice house in a nice area.

At their house, we met Nitay’s family. They were having a party for their family to celebrate the birth of Nitay’s sister’s baby a few months prior. It was kind of awkward being at a family party we weren’t invited to, but the family was very nice and welcoming and it was a good way to see how a large Israeli family interacts. Nitay’s mother and family are originally from Russia and his father and family are originally from Uruguay. They all knew English at some level. They gave us dinner – a lot of (really good) meat.

This was the evening that Sukkot was beginning and while we were still planning on traveling, there was no public transportation the first day of Sukkot – Monday night to Tuesday night (The beginning and end of the holiday are especially special). While this was originally going to be an issue for travel, it wasn’t now that we were staying with a family. Nitay’s dad has a company car and we got to use it – and the company paid for the gas.

After dinner, we hung out in Nitay’s room and got to know him. Afterwards, we went to a restaurant in Haifa and got waffles. I was not sure what to expect at first and Nitay told us not to worry, that he would order for us. This was good because the menus were in Hebrew, we couldn’t read them, and they didn’t have English menus. A bit later, the waitress brought us the most amazing things ever. They were huge waffles stuffed with milk chocolate and white chocolate and covered with chocolate and bananas. They came with two scoops of ice cream and two piles of whipped cream. It was amazing and I thought I might burst.

After the waffles, we drove around the area and to an overlook site that had some sort of monument on it. We hung out there for a while watching the lights of the city.

In the morning (Tuesday), we got up, ate breakfast, and made our decisions about what to do that day. We drove towards the Kineret, Sea of the Galilee, and went back to the Jordan River, near where we had been on our group trip and Ximena, who is not Jewish, got rebaptized. We then drove to a store to pick water and a few snacks and then on to a beach. We went to a beach that was popular with Israelis (but wasn’t too crowded. It was a free beach (many beaches in Tiberias on the Sea now charge a fee. It was on the other side of the Sea from Tiberias and down a road that I don’t see a tour bus making it through. It was a nice beach and the water was great.

After the beach, we drove most of the way around the Sea and sort of through the lower Golan Heights to the North of the Kineret. We went to a moshav (we thought it was a kibbutz) where we went ATVing. They were on Israeli time – meaning not ready when we got there. We took an ATV and a Ranger. Only Nitay and Aaron (who has an International Driving Permit) were allowed to drive. We went down some paths through the orchards and down to the Kineret again before returning to our starting point on the moshav. It was very enjoyable, although not quite the off-roading I had expected. I decided that it was a good thing to be able to see the orchards (I found out they were Mango) in Israel during Sukkot, the Fall harvest festival. We were very dusty after this.

On the way back to Tivon, we stopped at a restaurant that Nitay said was popular with many Israelis after going to the Kineret or the Galilee. They had great chicken and brought us pita and salads as well as Turkish coffee and candy after the meal. It was really good. That night we hung out at Nitay’s house and then went to his friend’s house. Nitay’s friend was having a party in his Sukkah for another of their friends who had just finished his time in the army. While there it started sprinkling (i.e. a little rain) so we moved under their awning and we played cards. I learned an Israeli card game that is like a combination of Go Fish, Gin Rummy, and Texas Hold ‘em. While I didn’t like it at first, it ended up being fun and I was fairly good at it.

We went back to Nitay’s house to sleep. We left in the morning.

Be’er Sheva (October 15-17)

I had planned on going to Tel-Aviv with Aaron on Wednesday, but that didn’t end up happening. Aaron and Ximena decided that they wanted to go to Egypt after all and I was not feeling well. I had figured that I would go to Tel-Aviv by myself, but decided to go back to Be’er Sheva to rest and try to feel better. In Be’er Sheva, I took medicine, relaxed, and hung out with the people from my group who were still in the city.

Between Yom Kippur and the end of Sukkot, the University was basically shut down. Many entrances to campus were closed, many buildings were closed, and restaurants on and near campus were closed. It was kind of crazy.

Shabbat in Jerusalem (October 17-18)

I went to Jerusalem on Friday to stay with the Romm’s. It was fun traveling during Sukkot. There were Sukkot at the bus stations, outside restaurants and shops on the sidewalk, and around homes and on balconies, especially in Jerusalem. When I got to the French Hill neighborhood, I saw Sukkot all over the place. They were literally hidden away in every nick and cranny of outside of the buildings.

I spent Shabbat with the Romm’s, going to services, eating in the Sukkah, and hanging out. It was a good time. I enjoy the Hallel service that is included during Sukkot and I liked singing the psalms in Jerusalem. It felt like I was becoming part of the family when they welcomed guests at the synagogue during services on Saturday and when someone mentioned that the lady left me out, she said that I was more like a regular than a guest.

Sunday – Jerusalem, Hebron, and the West Bank (October 19)

I got up early to go to morning services (I used the lulav and etrog) and then we went to the Fuschberg Center for Conservative Judaism where Rabbi Romm works in downtown Jerusalem. Along the way, he pointed out different significant buildings. I left him and walked down the street to the Sheraton Plaza Hotel where I met Barney and Ximena and we went on an organized tour of Hebron.

The tour was led by the director of the Hebron Fund and I knew it would contain many observant Jews and be rather right-wing, but I figured that would make the tour more interesting. I was still caught off guard though when our tour guide mentioned as we drove off from the hotel (about 10:00 a.m. on a bullet proof bus) that if we answer his questions, we should let him know what yeshiva we go to so that he can report back on us.

We drove along the security fence/barrier/wall (depending on what word you choose to use) and went to Rachel’s Tomb. I had thought that it was actually in Bethlehem (which I had been looking forward to visiting) but it was actually more of an enclave set into the security wall. There was a symbolic grave marker inside that people were praying at. While it was cool, I was a bit confused as to what we were supposed to do there.

Driving through the West Bank we saw a few olive trees, but most of the areas we were in had grape trees. We saw several checkpoints that didn’t really seem to be too worried about letting people through and a number of villiages, both Jewish and Arab.

In Hebron, we went to the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the Me'arat HaMachpela. Outside we were told about the community and about the tombs and their history, their significance, and the history of the building (built by King Herod during the same period as the Second Temple). The building was converted under Ottoman rule into a Mosque and now, the Jews and Muslims each have control of about 50% of the building. Inside are symbolic tombs for the patriarchs and matriarchs that are buried in caves (off limits) below the building. Ten days a year, on holy days that are pre arranged, the entire building is open to only Jews and on ten different days, to only Muslims. Two years ago, one of the holy days was the same – Hoshana Rabah and a Friday in Ramadan – and the entire building was split – open to each religion at different times, without incident. We prayed Minha there.

Also in Hebron we saw the three neighborhoods with Jewish families, Tel Hebron, Beit Hadassah, and the Avraham Avinu synagogue and neighborhood (they have one of the oldest Sephardic Torahs in the world). We also went to a museum there about the Jewish community in Hebron. There were a lot of soldiers around the area and a lot of tourists there (they told us that visits during Sukkot were popular). We also saw the blocked off crossing into the Palestinian Authority controlled parts of Hebron (90%+ of the city).

There were definitely pro-settlement sentiments on this trip, as I’d expected, but the tour leader, while acknowledging that he has Arab friends, didn’t really agree that the Hebron settlers had issues with the army or soldiers in the area. He did say that before there was “peace” that the Jewish and Palestinian settlers got along a lot better. Interesting…

I enjoyed seeing the West Bank. While there were a lot of checkpoints, they didn’t really seem to be stopping and checking a lot of cars, but maybe I was there on a day the media was focusing on this area… We got back a little after 5:00 p.m.

Back in Jerusalem, I left Ximena and Barney and went back to the Fuschberg Center where I met Rabbi Romm. We went back to his home, had dinner in the Sukkah, etc.

Jerusalem – Hoshana Rabah and Simchat Torah (October 20-21)

In the morning we went to services, which were longer due to Hoshana Rabah. We used the lulav and etrog and then took willow branches and hit the ground in a symbolic asking for rain for the land.

After services, Rabbi Romm took me on a drive around the neighborhood and showed me the outside of the Hebrew University campus (closed for the holiday) and several views over Jerusalem and the Old City as well as towards Jordan. Looking over East Jerusalem, we saw a number of Palestinian villiages. While we didn’t see the refugee camps, the villages definitely did not look as poor as the media makes them out to be.

We went to Ammunition Hill which is the site of a battle between Israel and Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War that led to the reunification of Jerusalem. We went through the museum and walked through the trenches that were a major part of the battle.

Afterwards, we went to Mea Shearim, the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, and walked around for a bit. It was amazing to see Sukkot on almost every single balcony and outside buildings. The place was busy as people prepared for Simchat Torah, full of people wearing black or white for the holidays. We went to a bakery next to a shmura matza (handmade matza) factory. We walked through several streets of the neighborhood. Most in the area do not watch t.v. and thus, Rabbis send people messages by posting signs on buildings. Rabbi Romm read one to me saying that watching any film is not permitted, even if it could lead to the fulfillment of a mitzvah, because this could also lead one astray as well as another sign saying that during Sukkot, women are only allowed to walk on one side of the street at night.

We then went back to the Romm’s house and relaxed and got ready for Simchat Torah. While I had originally wanted to go the Kotel, the Western Wall, on this day (I didn’t as car access was blocked due to so many visitors to the Old City during Sukkot), it ended up being a great day.

Simchat Torah was great in Jerusalem. I spent it at Ramot Zion, the Conservative Synagogue, with the Romm’s. I had thought that I might be at the Kotel or at another Orthodox synagogue, but I had a great time. We went to services at night and we danced with the Torah in the sanctuary, outside on the roof of the social hall/auditorium and then in the auditorium. I got to hold the Torah for part of the time outside and we danced and sang a number of Jewish and Israeli popular songs, some of which I hadn’t sang since I was in USY. We then read a little (as opposed to finishing the Torah and starting over) from the Torah, but unlike my synagogue, did not call everyone up to the Torah for an aliyah (they did it in the morning).

In the morning we went back to services. Services were longer due to Simchat Torah as well as Shmini Atzeret being the same day in Israel. We once again had a great time dancing with the Torah outside and inside and then read a lot from the Torah. We finished the end of Devarim/Deuteronomy and then started again with the beginning of Bereshit/Genesis. They did a number of group aliyahs to cover the entire congregation: Kohens, Levis, Rabbis and their families, New Parents and Grandparents, Parents of 3+ children, different sections of the sanctuary (left, center, right, balcony), etc. I heard a number of tropes (melodies in which the Torah is read) used due to the diverse makeup of the synagogue including one from Italy and one from Yemen.

We napped in the afternoon and went back to the synagogue for the afternoon and evening services as well as Havdalah. While there I met a member of the synagogue who I had previously seen but had never been introduced to. He moved to Israel from Pisa, Italy 69 years ago. He is a Professor of Bible at Hebrew University and travels around the world. When he gives lessons, he can quote specific verses, even without preparation. I really liked him.

My time in Jerusalem for the holidays was great. The Romm’s said they enjoyed having me and invited me back for Shabbat again sometime.

Now it is on to class. I have class now until I go home – we have no more breaks.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Yesterday - More to Come

I haven't updated my blog in a while. I owe updates from Yom Kippur and my second break including Sukkot and Simchat Torah in Jerusalem. I will post something along those lines tomorrow. I may also do a post about politics here/in the U.S.

I was going to be in Tel-Aviv this weekend, but elected to stay here in the dorms. I am currently sick and figured that this would be the best option for getting better. I started feeling sick during my break, but got better prior to last weekend. Unfortunately though, sickness returned (and I think, worse).

Yesterday (Thursday), I went to a clinic after Hebrew class to see a doctor. I went to the reception desk to get an appointment. Luckilly they make appointments the same day. Not so luckily, most people didn't know English and the lady who did know only knew a little. Nevertheless, I got an appointment and went to wait in the waiting area.

In the waiting area, I eventually attempted to talk to a few ladies who were also waiting to see doctors. I did fairly well, considering. My Hebrew is getting better, but still has a logn way to go. I think that it is impaired as well when I am sick and can't think clearly to translate and process it in my head.

I went in to the doctor. He said he didn't really know English. His English was as good as my Hebrew when I got to Israel, if that. He told me to explain what was wrong in English though. Between my attempts at speaking Hebrew and understanding his Hebrew, my speaking English and his attempts to understand English, and my pointing, I think the message got across. He was very nice.

The doctor put information into the computer about me. (They are pretty advanced here. They scanned my insurance card to give me my appointment and also to put in my diagnosis and prescription.) He gave me a prescription for two different types of pills and some sort of (cough?) syrup. Hopefully, I'll be getting better soon.

Last night I slept horridly, probably because of the medication. Once, I woke up after having a dream in Hebrew (who knows if it was real) and in my half-asleep state was thinking in Hebrew as well. It was kind of crazy...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Edited Break 2 Plans

Okay, so here are some updates on the rest of my break -

Tomorrow, Monday, moning we (Aaron and I)are taking a train at 7:26 a.m. (yikes!) to the very northern end of the line and the a taxi to visit Rosh Hanikra - grottoes on the Mediterranean Sea at the Israeli/Lebanese border. Ximena is going to meet us on the way from a northern train station.

We are then going to Tivon to stay with Barney and his friends through sometime on Wednesday. We will be having fun galavanting around the North (doing who knows what). There is a chance that we may have to stay at a youth hostel, but it's all good.

Wednesday sometime Aaron and I are going to be going to Tel-Aviv where we will meet Josh and travel around to see a few sites in Tel-Aviv before returning to Be'er Sheva on Thursday night.

Friday I am going to Jerusalem to stay with the Romm's again until Tuesday night - the end of Simchat Torah. They've invited me to stay with them the whole period.

On Sunday though, I may depart the Romm's for the day and take a tour with Aaron and Zion to Hebron and Bethlehem. Don't worry, it's with an organized trip on an armored bus, although it is, I believe, a very right-wing, pro-settlement tour. It ought to be interesting. Here's a link.

Those are the plans for now. So we shall see how they work out...

Yom Kippur & Shabbat

I spent Yom Kippur and this past Shabbat in Jerusalem.

Taking the bus to Jerusalem was rather uneventful and I was surprised by the relative lack of security. I got to the Romm's (the family I had stood with for Rosh Hashanah) at the time they asked me to arrive and went with them to Minha – the afternoon service – prior to Yom Kippur. After that we went back to their apartment to get ready for Yom Kippur at which point we discovered that their refrigerator had stopped. Luckily in what could be termed “the miracle of Yom Kippur” it came back to life during the day.

I spent Yom Kippur at Ramot Zion, a Conservative synagogue in the French Hill neighborhood. The fast started at ~4:45 p.m. on Wednesday and ended at ~5:50 p.m. on Thursday. The fast was surprisingly easy, which I was very happy about. I went to Kol Nidre Wednesday evening. On Yom Kippur day, I was at the synagogue at the beginning from 8:30 a.m. until the end of Mussaf at 2:00 p.m. – ish. Minha began at 3:15 p.m. and Neilah ended around 5:50 p.m. They actually finished a bit early and dragged out the end of the service.

The entire Yom Kippur service was in Hebrew and since everyone speaks Hebrew fluently, they sped through bits of the service. Luckily, I had a copy of the same Mahzor, prayer book, that I used at home for the High Holy Days with English translations. Most of the services matched up and I was able to read the translations and reflections that I very much enjoy on Yom Kippur. We had a nice pre fast meal and a nice break fast meal.

On Yom Kippur in Israel, there is no public transportation – bus, train, airport, etc. Even the taxis stop running. The television stations do not broadcast and neither do the radio stations, except for a silent one that is left on in case of national emergencies – after the Yom Kippur War. No one drives – many roads have barricades put up. Children who aren’t religious ride bikes and skateboards in the roads since there aren’t cars. The only vehicles I saw (basically) were hospital transports and ambulances. French Hill is on top of two Palestinian villages and occasionally cars would come up to a barrier and turn around (some on purpose people may ask). One group of three cars with music playing and a guy smoking a cigarette drove up and moved the barricades out of the way. I thought that there might have been a confrontation between them and Jewish people at the intersection (There was violence in Akko that is still continuing – an updated story).

Yom Kippur was a great experience and hopefully, will yield excellent results.

On Friday I went to morning services and to the naming of the Rabbi’s child followed by a reception. I then helped the Romm’s set up their sukkah. (Sukkah’s seemed to pop up all over the neighborhood after Yom Kippur. It was great. It was described to me as the overnight shanty town all over Israel.) We then watched the movie of the book The Chosen by Chaim Potok. It was very good. Afterwards, we took the dog, Max, for a walk and then I made it over to the Schwartz’s. I stood with them for Shabbat.

The Schwartz’s live a five minute walk from the synagogue in a nice apartment complex full of nice plants. They live on the top floor of their building and have a balcony overlooking the Palestinian villages below and the West Bank. In the distance at night, you can see the lights of Amman, Jordan. They are very nice people (and coincidentally the grandparents of my friend Maayan). The lady, Penina, teaches music at the Academy associated with Hebrew University as well as private lessons and directing the synagogue choir. He husband, Shalom, is a retired professor of social phychology from Hebrew University. He is running a program that is doing research in 70+ countries and they are leaving soon for 10 days in Slovenia. He won the Israel Prize in Psychology in 2007. Needless to say, we had very interesting conversations.

We didn’t go to services on Friday night but had a very interesting dinner with a couple made up of a Law Professor and a Professor (and chair of department?) of Hebrew and Related Semetic Languages at Hebrew University. We had great conversations. Lunch was at the Schwartz’s and I met a number of people with interesting stories. Many had some tie to Camp Ramah of some sort. We talked a lot about the political situation in Israel and the U.S. and the riots in Akko.

We went back to synagogue for Mincha and Ma’ariv and after Havdalah I returned to their apartment while they had choir practice. I ate dinner and then they came back and took me to the bus station. It was very nice Shabbat.

I am currently in Be’er Sheva and am leaving early tomorrow morning for the next leg of my break.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Potential Plans for Break #2

While I've been thinking about it off and on, I didn't really realize until today that my second break begins tomorrow with Yom Kippur. That said, I spent a decent amount of time today trying to figure it out. Below are some preliminary plans.

Yom Kippur - In Jerusalem with the Romm family (French Hill, Conservative Shul)

Shabbat - Move over to another family from the same shul who happen to be a friend's grandparents :-)

Saturday night - come back to Be'er Sheva

Sunday night - head up North to Tivon

Sunday night - Wednesday morning - stay in Tivon with a few people from my group at one of the guy's friend's home. We don't have anything definitive planned but have ideas like going hiking, to the beach at the Sea of the Galilee, going rapelling, ATVing, kayaking on the Jordan River, etc.

Wednesday - go to Rosh Hanikra - an awesome and beautiful place on the sea at the Northern border of Israel with Lebanon.

Wednesday evening - Friday morning - Tel-Aviv. We don't have any definitive plans. Ideas include the beach, Palmach Museum, Yitzhak Rabin Plaza, Israeli Independance funness, Markets, etc.

Friday - Sunday - come back to Be'er Sheva. Spend Shabbat in Be'er Sheva relaxing an catching up on emails and readings and such for class.

Sunday sometime - head to Jerusalem

Sunday sometime - Tuesday night - Spend time in Jerusalem to experience Sukkot and Simchat Torah in Jerusalem and maybe do some sight seeing - we don't really know yet...

So that's all we've got so far. It will hopefully shape up to be a fun experience.

New Years 5769

As we approach Yom Kippur, I ask your forgiveness for anything I may have done against you this past year, whether it was done knowingly or unknowingly.

As I reflect on the year past and the new year that is now here, I am going to try to pledge to the following in order to become a better person:

To become a more understanding person of others and of what happens in their lives as well as my own.

To become less jealous.

To become less judgmental and attempt to see the best in people. I sometimes tend to bend to preconceived and/or incorrect notions of a person without/before actually getting to know that person and this clouds my ability to positively interact with some individuals.

To speak less ill of other people.

To learn more about Judaism and its roll in my life.

To truly value my family and my friends.

Gemar Chatimah Tova - May You Be Sealed For A Good Life

Highlights of the Week

This week is shortened due to Yom Kippur beginning tomorrow (Wednesday) night. Here are some highlights of the week:

Sunday night a group of guys went to see the ritual of Kaparot performed. It was very interesting, though I learned more about how chickens are slaughtered than the actual act, which I kinda disagree with. If you want to see some pictures, they are graphic, click here.

It is still nice enough to go to the pool, which I did on Monday. Well, I hung out and laid out, I was afraid the water would be too cold.

We've been discussing "Who is a Jew" in my Jewish Identity class. This is apparently a very complex issue...

The Overseas Student Program had a little pre-Yom Kippur gathering last night that was an interesting discussion of the holiday. We later had a learning program on Yom Kippur and Sukkot. Good fun.

Today in my Hebrew class we watched the movie Ushpizin. I really like that movie. My two classes tonight got canceled because the professor is sick. This gave me more time to plan out my break, which I just discovered starts tomorrow with Yom Kippur...

I also went to the library today to find books and make copies of chapters/articles for class. That was an experience trying to figure out how the library is organized when I cannot find the English speaking librarians.

A Weekend in the North

So, this should have been posted earlier this week - say when I returned from the North or right after the weekend...

Check out the pictures from the weekend here.

We spent this past weekend traveling around the North of Israel. We left Friday morning at 6:00 a.m. and stopped at a really nice rest stop for breakfast. I had brought some cereal but wanted to see what they offered. Logically I had to get a croissant. I also wanted chocolate milk, but the lady didn't understand me asking for it in English so I said "halav" which is Hebrew for milk. I got hot milk. That is not the same thing, in case you were wondering. I found out that I should have asked for "Chocolat". Obviously I didn't know.

The first place we went was Tzfat. Tzfat is an old city that it the birthplace of Kabbala, home to many old synagogues, and the place where many famous prayers were written. It is also a resting place of many famous Rabbis from many periods of Jewish history. We walked around the city and learned a bit about it. I put on tefillin with a Chabad guy who was previosly not religous, had graduated from the University of Denver ( :-) ) Law School, and was a millionaire lawyer in Miami. That was an interesting discussion.

We went hiking around a mountain near Tzfat to see the nice (green) North. We saw where the headquarters of the Israeli Radar/Defense is in the North that monitors the border with Lebanon and Syria. We then drove through Tiberias, saw the Sea of the Galilee and the Golan Mountains, and went to our home for the weekend Kibbutz Daganya Bet.

Our Kibbutz was a nice place and we did a little Shabbat shindig, had dinner, and hung out. They had hamocks which is really fun. In the morning we went on a walk to Deganya Aleph, the first Kibbutz, and talked about its founding in the early 1900s and the Kibbutz movement. We learned how they fought off the Syrians in the War of Independance. We also went to a place that was basically a clearinghouse for people who came to Israel and wanted to start new kibbutzim. We walked by the Jordan River and also went to a really beautiful cemetary where a lot of Israeli Pioneers and Zionists are buried including the poets Rachel and Naomi Shomer. We didn't get in the Jordan River or the Kineret (Galilee) though.

After having gone back for lunch, a few of us returned to a bridge over the Jordan River and did a little Tashlich service. One of the girls in my group wanted to find out about getting rebaptized so we went to the place where they do baptisms on the Jordan River and while she found out about it, I learned about Jesus - on Shabbat. That afternoon we also went to a chocolate store. Apparently this Kibbutz makes some of the best chocolate in Israel. Their ice cream certainly seemed to attest to that :-) . We hung out in the afternoon - and our rooms had TV (with cable) which is apparently a commodity for us.

We returned to Be'er Sheva Saturday night.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

My Rosh Hashanah 5769

Shalom and Shana Tova!

I got back to Be’er Sheva last night after spending Rosh Hashanah in Jerusalem. It was a great time. I had gotten in contact with a Rabbi (Rabbi Edward Romm) from the Conservative Judaism Fuchsberg Center in Jerusalem to find out about getting set up with a family in Jerusalem for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. He ended up inviting me to stay with his family.

Monday I left for Jerusalem, which was an easier feat than I had expected in the day of the eve of a Chag (holiday). I took a bus to the Old City where I helped a lady with her bags (she had gone to the shuk – market) from the bus to her apartment inside the Old City. I then went to the Kotel where I was asked if I had put on Tefillin that day. I had not and being that it was the day before Rosh Hashanah, I took the opportunity to do so at the Kotel and say the Shema. I then found a minyan (prayer group) in the tunnel at the Kotel on the men’s side and davened (prayed) Minha (the afternoon service) there. I then spent a bit of time in a personal prayer prior to the New Year at the Kotel.

After praying, I found a taxi to take to the French Hill neighborhood where I was staying for the holiday. I had a few things going against me pricewise – I’m American, I speak English, there was a lot of traffic, it was the afternoon before a major religious holiday. Some taxi drivers wanted 100+ shekels for the ride, which is a ridiculous amount. I found one driver who I talked down to 65 shekels. He was a Christian Arab who lives in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City.

French Hill is a nice neighborhood that borders both Hebrew University and East Jerusalem. We drove through an Arab village on the way to French Hill and down a hill from where I stayed was a refugee camp. Each night/morning, I woke up with the Muslim call to prayer three times between 4:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. I think that the call to prayer is awesome and fascinating, but not at those hours, for me at least. Only in Israel could something like that happen on Rosh Hoshanah.

The Romm family is very nice. They live in an apartment that they own in a nice complex with a lot of greenery around it. They have two daughters and a dog. They are very nice people and walking the dog after each meal was a good thing after eating. They are Kosher and Shomer Shabbas. They have lived in Israel for about 30 years.

They pray at a Conservative Synagogue, Ramot Zion, that is nearby. It has a lot of families that are originally from America, but all of the services – including Mahzors (High Holy Day prayer books),page numbers, sermons, etc. – were in Hebrew. They have about 200 families as members including a lot of Hebrew University professors and about 12-15 Rabbis. Their synagogue Rabbi is a woman who was very pregnant (i.e. past due). The services were led by different volunteers in the synagogue and were held in the auditorium because the sanctuary was too small. They have a choir that sang a few songs each day.

My basic schedule:

Get to know the family
Dinner – They had 5 Hebrew University students over for Monday night and Tuesday as well who were very nice. I also met some other Hebrew U. students at services.
Taking it easy

Taking it easy/Talking to the family
Taking it easy

Taking it easy/Talking to the family
Figuring out getting back to Be’er Sheva
Taking the bus back to Be’er Sheva – they drove me to the bus station :-)

I had sort of expected some sort of crazy spiritual revelation by celebrating Rosh Hashanah services in Israel and Jerusalem. That didn’t really happen, which I was a bit disappointed about at the time, but later noticed a lot of small things. The service was all in Hebrew. I could look out the window and see Jerusalem stone. The shofar blower was under a large Israeli flag. The Kohanim did the blessing over the congregation. And there was more.

I found the experience of Rosh Hashanah very enjoyable and meaningful. Walking back to the apartment from synagogue I saw rose bushes, which I have not previously seen in Israel. Maybe that is a good sign for the year ahead?

I got invited back to the Romm family for Yom Kippur this coming week. I am excited for that opportunity.

Gemar Chatimah Tovah - May your final sealing (in the Book of Life) be good.