Saturday, December 27, 2008

St. Louis

I arrived home in St. Louis this afternoon safe and sound, althoguh I am definitely tired now. I have a number of updates that still need to be posted to the blog and they will be in the next day or two. Now, it is time for sleep.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Off to the airport - L'hitraot Yisrael!

I am off to the airport shortly. It has been a wonderful time in Israel and I will miss this amazing country and the wonderful people I have met here. I hope that we can all be reunited again.

This is not the end of the blog. I still have several posts that I need to make from this past week. I will do that either at Ben Gurion Airport or in Newark or at home in St. Louis. Hopefully, all of the flights go smoothly and waiting in the airports is not too horrible.

I'm excited to see my family and friends, but will miss Israel.

L'hitraot Yisrael! Ani ohev otach!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Last Email From Israel

Shalom m’Yisrael,

This will likely be the last time you will see me starting an email with “hello from Israel” while I am studying abroad. Time flies. I just realized that I haven’t written since Thanksgiving. A lot has happened since then. In four days from now, I will be at Ben-Gurion Airport preparing for my flight back to the United States. In five days, I’ll be home. It’s a little insane and I definitely do not have enough time to do everything I still would like to do.

Here are some highlights from the past few weeks. For more details, check out my blog at

- On Thanksgiving, we went to a large empty area, made a bonfire, and cooked a one pot meal. It was good, but not the usual Thanksgiving. I later found out that the area was an illegal dump and the wood we were burning was collected from the area.

- I have been to the Old City of Be’er Sheva a number of times. Including Falafal Yarok, which may be the best falafel stand in Israel. On Friday, I saw several yarmulke wearing Jews selling dancing Santas and fake Christmas trees. That was amusing.

- I went on a tour of the Air Force Museum, which was pretty awesome. Besides the planes one would expect to see, they also had anti-aircraft weaponry, remains of Israeli destroyed Egytian planes, and a bird zoo. Explain that one to me. On the way there, we found an amazing shwarma stand that I have since returned to.

- We went on an Overseas Student Program trip to Mitzpe Ramon and hiked a lot in and around the giant crater. We stood in a sort of hippie dance place in not-quite mud huts.

- My birthday! I turned 21 on December 8. They brought me a cake in my Hebrew class. In the afternoon we went to Falafel Yarok and then got fresh fruit smoothies. About 22 of us got together and went to a great restaurant. They brought us tons of salads and other fun things that they kept refilling. I also got a lamb kabob. We then went to a pub/bar near campus and later to a student party at a club. It was fun and most of the people on my program came to at least something with me which was really nice.

- We had a walking trip around the Old City with Ora, my Hebrew teacher, who explained to us some sights in Hebrew. We then went back to her house where she made us a delicious lunch.

- We had a farewell dinner for the learning program I’ve been doing at a nice restaurant called Jerusalem’s in the Government Center Mall one night and the next night had a farewell dinner for the Overseas Student Program at the best Indian restaurant in Israel.

- Last weekend I was in Jerusalem for Shabbat. It was my last visit to Jerusalem during this time in Israel and I visited the Kotel (Western Wall) where a Hassidic guy told me I could move to Israel and he would find me a wife to make/raise a family with. This Shabbat I spent in Be’er Sheva.

I have a lot to do before I leave Israel. I still have places that I want to see that I will not be able to see. When we got to Be’er Sheva, I figured there would be things that I would do and then have nothing to see in the city. There aren’t a ton of sightseeing places in the city, but I still haven’t seen them all. I also have to finish papers and study for tests, go to class, take tests, see people, clean, pack, etc.

I am going to miss this place and the people. I am finally starting to use my Hebrew with Israelis and becoming a part of the society. I’m leaving soon and I could definitely spent more time here.

For those of you that are wondering, I get back to St. Louis on December 26 and leave for Denver on January 4 in time for classes on January 5.

Hanukah started tonight. I want to thank all of you who have written me and/or read my blog while I’ve been in Israel. Happy Hanukah and Merry Christmas to everyone and a Happy New Year as well.


Joel Portman

P.S. Here are links to pictures for those of you who are interested:
Israeli Air Force Museum -
Mitzpe Ramon & Hiking Trip -
My 21st Birthday -
Hebrew Trip Around Be’er Sheva -
The Last Week-ish in Israel (still being updated) -

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pictures of the Last Week-ish

I have created a new photo album with pictures from my last week/week and a half in Israel. It will be continuously updated during my remaining time here.

Here is the link.


On Thursday, I had a visitor. One of the guys that was in my USY group to Israel in 2005 is in Israel visiting people and he came to Be'er Sheva to visit me. He was here Thursday until Friday morning.

We went to the Beduin Shuk, among other things. I've been to the Beduin Shuk a number of times, but I looked at a lot more this time and really realized how much stuff there is there. I probably could have bought several things there earlier in my trip for less money that would have benefited me. They also have a ton of random and worthless things, but it's all fun.

One guy tried to sell me a chamsah for 600 shekels! It was larger and maybe a little nice than some of the ones I have purshased for around 8-12 shekels that most ask 20 shekels for, but this was a crazy price. He told me that it was half off for me and "original". For that price "original" better mean from the Temple period. Logically, I didn't buy it.

Last Sunday & My Hebrew Class

Last Sunday, we had a Hebrew "field trip" around parts of the Old City in Be'er Sheva. We met our teacher, Ora, at Abraham's Well (biblical site) at then walked around several places in the Old City which Ora described to us in Hebrew. She is awesome.

We ended up at Ora's apartment where she made us lunch including several salads, shakshuka, fresh squeezed lemon aide, and some kind of chocolate & cream desert that was crazy good. She is an amazing cook. We watched a movie about the Children's Houses in Kibbutzim, where Children in a Kibbutz used to live all together, seperate from their parents. It's related to what we are talking about in class and Ora said we didn't have enough time to see it in class.

It was a good time. To see pictures, click here.

Recent Thoughts

This may not seem so revolutionary to you, but they kind of took me by surprise. I had a number of thoughts on the bus ride back to Be'er Sheva from Jerusalem last Saturday night. Here are the cliff notes:

- I'm finally starting to feel acculturated and then I am leaving the country. Some examples: I am comfortable traveling by myself, I'm starting to use my Hebrew more when I'm out, I'm comparing more prices in shekels now instead of first converting them to dollars, etc.

- If everything were aligned correctly and I went home for a while in the middle, I could see myself staying in Israel for the rest of the year (Spring Semester). It's took late for that to happen now.

- I want to come back to Israel before too long. Perhaps I can staff a USY trip to Israel (the same one I went on, preferably) one summer. It likely wouldn't be this summer because I've already committed myself to Boy Scout Camp Staff (the last summer of staffing?), but perhaps for summer 2010. If I don't come back then, who knows how long it will be before I return? I wouldn't like that.

- While I had never said that I would "never" live in Israel, I basically said that I "couldn't see it happening". Now, though I could. There would be a lot that would have to work out for that to happen and I'm definitely not saying that I am planning on moving to Israel now, but I could see it potentially happening maybe. Who knows how long this will last once I get back to the United States and back in my groove there...

Last Shabbat in Jerusalem - a week late

So, last week on Shabbat, I went to Jerusalem. It was my last trip to Jerusalem during my current time in Israel.

I went to the Kotel since it was my last time in Israel. It took forever to get there on the bus, because in addition to the regular Friday pre-Shabbat traffic, they were tearing up Jaffa St, a major road, for installation of a light rail system that is years behind. While at the Kotel, I had a guy come up to me and ask me why I had not been back to Israel since 2005. He then told me that I should make Aliyah (move to Israel) and that he would find me a wife with whom I could raise a family. That was fun.

I spent Shabbat with the Romm's on French Hill. They are the same family I spent to High Holy Days with. They were very nice and a number of the members of their synagogue welcomed me back and some asked why it had been so long since they had seen me. We talked about my time in Israel and relaxed and all kinds of good stuff. They were really nice people and I hope to see them again some day.

I am going to miss Jerusalem. I'm glad I have been studying in Be'er Sheva, but I have enjoyed all of my time in Jerusalem. There are just some things about that city you can't get anywhere else. Hopefully, it won't be too long before I can look out of a window into a Palestinian city on Shabbat and then drive down Bar-Ilan back to the bus station at night and see all of the ultra-Orthodox Jews everywhere.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Okay, so catching up will have to be tomorrow. It's been crazy busy lately. I had my final in Critical Decisions in the History of the State of Israel today. It was hard, but could have been worse. I also had 3 other classes. In my Jewish Identity class we are discussing Judaism and sexuality. In my Arms Control class and Terrorism class we are discussing biological and cheminal warfare and terrorist access. We watched a National Geographic documentary, a BBC film about a mock dirty bomb attack in London and preperations for it (called "Dirty Bomb"), and when we learned about al-Queda, we watched The Hamburg Cell about the September 11 attacks and the indoctrination that takes place.

Tonight, we had our "farewelll" dinner/party for the Overseas Student Program. It was at an Indian restaurant, rated the best Indian food in Israel by the Jerusalem Post. It was good. It was also rather sad. I've only recently begun to realize that I am really going to miss many of the people in my program and that chances are, we won't all be seeing each other again. I hope we do though. It is just now starting to hit me how soon I leave Israel. There is still so much to do...

Monday, December 15, 2008

Behind, again

So, once again I am behind. I am attempting to do a lot of work for finals - 3 papers and 3 tests before I go home.

Today, I went with Barney and Brooke to get waffles with ice cream/gelato at Aldo's today. I also bought more strawberries in the shuk - only 13 shekels/kilo this time.

Updates that will soon be posted that are late:
Recent Thoughts
Sunday & My Hebrew Class

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Oy! Only Two Weeks Now!

So, I had the revelation while eating a wonderful, large shwarma for dinner with a friend tonight at the bus station that in two week from now, I will be at Ben-Gurion airport waiting for my flight back to the United States. That is insane. How am I gonna do everything I still want to do? I have mixed feelings about going home, but I'll just have to come back to Israel soon.

Yesterday, I got back my two essay outlines/midterms for the Arms Control class and the Terrorism class that I'm taking. I got a 94% and a 90%. Not too bad. Now, though I need to buckle down and work. It is hard to concentrate sometimes as I have discovered a plethera of television shows available to me online - especially, The Nanny and now, The West Wing.

Tomorrow, I am going to Jerusalem for what will likely be the last time on this trip to Israel. I'll visit the Kotel and then spend time with the Romm's - the family I was with for the High Holy Days.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My Birthday

Yesterday, December 8, was my 21st Birthday!

יום ההולדת העשרים אחת שלי

Here is a brief rundown of what I did:

- In Hebrew class, Hila (our program counselor) brought me a Honey Cake birthday cake with a candle in it. They sang to me and then we shared the honey cake.
- I went to lunch with a friend at the amazing falafel place in the Old City, Falafel Yarkot.
- We got fresh fruit smoothies in the Old City
- At night we gathered to go to dinner. We had dinner at a restaurant called Avazi in the BIG Shopping Center. We walked there as a group, about 20-30 minutes. I had made a reservation earlier in the day. They had a big table set up for us. As soon as we sat down, they started bringing us tons and tons of little plates of salads and big bread/lafeh. As soon as one thing was gone, either they refilled it or brought something new. They also brought rice, chips (french fries), and orange juice and lemonade. We ordered our entrees. I got a lamb kabob. They gave me a birthday cake with sparklers in it, although it wasn't really cake - it was some sort of gelatenous cake. We had about 22 people at dinner. That made me happy. It was a big group of friends.
- We walked back to the dorms and most of us met back up a bit later to go to a bar.
- When we met up, we went to one person's room and had champagne for my birthday.
- We then went to the Manga Pub/Bar, in the teacher's building, across Rager, across from the hospital. (I know that doesn't mean anything to anyone else reading this.) We cut through the hospital in a shortcut that wasn't really any shorter. We sat around the bar first and then got a table. We had a good time and a few of my friends bought me a few drinks.
- After Manga, some of us took cabs to Chika, a club in a wharehouse that was having a big party last night. I was kinda forced into a cab to go. It was a big place and a lot of people were dancing to loud music and crazy lights. It was fun.

Overall, it was a good birthday. I had a lot of fun with many of my friends in Israel.

See pictures of my 21st Birthday here.

The Weekend in the Negev

I spent this past weekend on the last OSP (Overseas Student Program) trip of the semester. We spent the time in the Negev and learning about the Negev.

We started the morning on Friday at Sde Boker, the place where David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister lived a good part of his life. It is the location of a lot of research into him and into the Negev. We learned about some of the decisions David Ben-Gurion made and watched a new movie they had made. We also discussed Israeli perceptions of the Negev and how the have (or haven't) changed through film. I saw David Ben-Gurion's grave (coming full circle from the first weekend I was in Israel and our visit to Ben-Gurion's home and grave then). Last Wednesday was David Ben-Gurion Day and there were a number of wreaths still on his grave.

We did a hike in the maktesh - the large crater - next to Mitzpe Ramon. The beginning was a bit steep/difficult but it was mostly a nice walk. It was a good time. At the end, we realized that the area we were walking in was a firing zone for the military, so I'm assuming we had permission to be there, but who knows. My friend Josh and I pretended to hitchhike in the desert for a picture, but the first car that came by actually stopped. hehe.

The place we stayed in Mitzpe Ramon, whose name I don't remember, was in a wharehouse that is now a dance studio/hippie hangout. They had low couches around tables for eating and we slept in sort of "mud huts" on mattresses on the ground in a large room in the wharehouse. They were a vegetarian place and the food was really good.

After dinner, we did an acrobatics class. We did different stretches and crazy stuff on ropes attached to the ceiling and cloth ropes attached to the ceiling.

Saturday, we did a meditation like thing and walked for an hour or so in the desert without speaking. We then buried each other with rocks. One person laid down and the other covered him with rocks in a premeditated order and then took them off and placed them in a circle around him, a stack, etc. Then we switched. After that we sat in a circle and passed rocks around and all kinds of craziness.

After the meditation part, we walked to a lookout over the crater where we ate a late lunch. We were going to hike into the crater, but instead walked around the top of the crater in a few directions and hung out, looking out over the crater and the desert.

Later, a few of us went to see the sunset in the desert. It was pretty, but disturbed with a lot of clouds in the sky.

See pictures here.

Air Force Museum

So this should have been posted last week:

Last Thursday I went to the Israeli Air Force Museum with three friends. We went to the Bus Station and got one of the best shwarmas I have had. The guy was amazing. It was a bit more expensive than I wanted, but it was worth the few extra shekels. After finding out that we'd have to wait an hour for a bus, we took a cab to the museum. It was about a 10 minute ride, just outside of Be'er Sheva.

The Air Force Museum was rather large. It told the history of the Israeli Air Force and had planes from around the world - France, USSR, England, United States, Israel, etc. They had some really awesome planes. They also had a museum that discussed ways in which pilots perform rescues. They had a section of anti-aircraft weaponry and a section on radar technology. There was a row of helicopters and a large old Boeing plane that was used to show a video of the Israeli Air Force in various wars. There were also a number of planes from Syria, Egypt, Iraq, etc. that Israel has captured, including one that was dual labeled for Israel and Syria. Remains of destroyed Egyptian planes from the 1967 Six Day War could be seen in a few locations.

Strangely, the Air Force Museum had a (fun) playground. They also had, for whatever reason, a bird zoo. I saw ostriches, peacocks, ducks, geese, an alpaca, and more. It was odd.

Check out pictures here.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I'll Catch Up Tomorrow & Pictures

This weekend I went to Sde Boker & Mitzpe Ramon and did some hiking in the desert.

I'll catch up on the blogging about the Air Force Museum and this weekend tomorrow. In the meantime check out pictures:
Air Force Museum
The Weekend in the Desert

Also, tomorrow is my 21st Birthday!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Three Weeks?!?

So, I haven't written anything here this week. I'm slacking here. I only have a few minutes because it is late and I am getting up early tomorrow for an OSP trip to Mitzpe Ramon for Friday and Saturday. I'll write more after the trip.

Here are a few highlights of the week:

In three weeks from now, I'll be on a plane getting ready to leave Ben-Gurion Airport, Tel-Aviv, Israel for Newark Liberty International Airport, New Jersey, United States of America. It's crazy.

I got my midterm test back in my Jewish Identity and Contemporary Issues class and go a 98%.

We had a meeting about checking out from the dorms.

I've started working on scholarships for next school year.

I explored part of downtown Be'er Sheva on Monday - several malls, the city government area, etc. and saw a decent amount of the city that I have been meaning to see. Be'er Sheva really can be a nice and even beautiful city if you know the right places to look. I also explored a large grocery store that was supposedly less expensive. Before our explorations though, we got waffles in the big mall - Canyon HaNegev with Gnutella and ice cream. Not healthy, but really good.

Today, I went to the Israeli Air Force Museum with three friends. It was quite amazing and we spent 2-3 hours there learning about the history of the Israeli Air Force and looking at the planes. I'll have to write more about this later. I also have pictures to post.

I have my 21st birthday this Monday, December 8!