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

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