I’m going to split everything up so it hopefully makes more sense. (Also I didn’t really proofread so if there are grammatical errors I’m sorry.)
First trip to Tel Aviv:
The weekend before the last week of ulpan Leah, Mikki, Lily and I went to Tel Aviv for the first time this semester. We had the most amazing sushi at a place called “Moon” and went on a bar crawl which I had (obviously) never done before. Some of our other friends from Rothberg were there as well in the same hostel so we hung out with them. Unfortunately, the weather was not that great and it rained a little (the first time after a month that it rained here) but it was still a great trip.
End of ulpan:
Ulpan ended on a Wednesday and the Monday night before there was the first ever drag show in Jerusalem. It was wild to see the Israeli drag queens singing and dancing with the old city in the background and there was definitely a lack of religious people there. It was a great study break!
Toward the end of ulpan, our teachers were basically “teaching to the test” because they wanted us to have the chance to take/pass the level test so we skipped a lot of vocab that I had to learn on my own. During ulpan I was in the advanced aleph class so at the end I had this opportunity to take the level test to pass to bet and I did! I got a 97% on the test and an A+ in the class because Israel does grades differently. I’ll take it.
Eilat of fun:
Right after we took our final exams in ulpan, seven of my friends and I hopped on a five-hour bus ride to Eilat. Since it’s in the south, it was much warmer. Eilat kind of reminds me of Las Vegas because it’s very touristy and there are lots of hotels with bright lights. In comparison, Tel Aviv is definitely the Miami of Israel and I’d like to think Jerusalem is like New York. Anyway, we had an Airbnb in Eilat that was a five-minute walk from the beach.
We also went to the ice mall which is a huge mall with an ice rink in the center. We went out one night and to my surprise, I saw a girl who went to Highland Park who is on a gap year in Israel now. As if that wasn’t enough, she and her group were on the same bus back to Jerusalem because they live here too. Since the bus ride is so long, there is a rest stop in the middle of it, and on the way back, there happened to be two random donkeys hanging out at the stop so Leah and I took a picture with one of them. Also on the way back (on Saturday night and classes started the next day), I decided to do the craziest and most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done in my life…
I skipped the first week of classes to spend time with Yoram and his family and to attend all of the wedding festivities. Granted, I only have class three days a week, and most of my teachers didn’t really care. I quickly made up all of the work and although it will affect my participation grades and possibly overall grades, I’ve learned that once-in-a-lifetime experiences are more important than grades.
On Sunday morning, I traveled to Tel Aviv where Yoram picked me up from the bus station. Our first stop was a coffee shop that his aunt owns. Unfortunately, she wasn’t there but the coffee and pastries were incredible and Tomer and Asaf (the groom) met us there. After, we went back to Benny’s house (one of Yoram’s brothers) and rested a little before the henna. Even though we were going to the henna around 19:00 and there would be dinner there, we still had a meal at 15:00 and I finally understood my mom’s obsession with Coke zero that she picked up in Israel.
The henna was such a different and exciting experience. It was small (about 100-150 people) and I loved being immersed in the Moroccan culture. It was not at all what I expected but it was definitely better. The only downside was at the beginning of the night, Yoram’s אמא didn’t feel well (she had a pinched nerve) and they called an ambulance for her. Luckily, she felt a little bit better and didn’t go to the hospital then, but later that night she felt worse and ended up going to the emergency room. After that, she felt much better for the rest of the week, which was great. Before Tamar (Yoram’s sister and the mother of the groom) put henna on everyone’s hands, we all dressed up in traditional Moroccan dresses and hats.
The next day, we hung out, ate of course, and then visited one of Shoshy’s friends who used to live near Skokie. They had three young children with whom I was able to practice my Hebrew a little and I read one of the girls a book about animals in Hebrew. The girl said that she wants to live in the states and that she was amazed and jealous that I spoke English. I told her that I felt the same way about her and her Hebrew! A lot of the younger people and even people my age that I met this week wanted to move to America because they hear such good things about it and it seems like a dream land to them. I tried to explain that this wasn’t the case and that I would rather live here. However I was able to agree with many of these (older) people that life is most definitely more difficult in Israel and that apartments, restaurants, etc here are very expensive while people don’t really make that much money.
On Tuesday, we woke up early and drove down south to the moshav where Yoram and Shoshy grew up. On the way, we stopped at a research and development agricultural center where one of Yoram’s cousins, Eli, gave us a tour of the facility. We tried passion fruit, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, zucchini, and more and everything was the yummiest and most fresh veggies and fruit I’ve ever eaten!
When we got close to the moshav, every few minutes we would see people at home or on the street that Yoram, Shoshy, and Benny knew from when they were younger. Even when we stopped in a small grocery store for shoko (chocolate milk), they saw five people they knew and hadn’t seen in decades.
That afternoon, we went around the moshav and at one of the houses, I met a dog that I fell in love with…I have never felt this way about a dog before!
It was really humbling to see where Yoram grew up and it felt like going back in time because the houses and yards seemed so outdated.
We also visited the cemetery where everyone in the moshav is buried, including Yoram’s grandmother. This was a really powerful experience for me because Yoram, Shoshy, and Benny knew pretty much every person buried in the cemetery. Most of them were young when they died and the majority of deaths were from tragic accidents like drowning, being run over by a tractor, or killed while serving the IDF. It’s hard for me to imagine growing up in a place where your neighbors are as meaningful to you as your family and they can be taken away at any moment.
We had lunch at Sarah and her husband’s house on a neighboring moshav (I’m blanking on her husband’s name right now). I believe they used to live in the states but now live here and they are such a nice family. Yoram went to school with Sarah’s husband and they told stories about all of the shenanigans they used to get into with their friends.
Tuesday night, Tomer and I went out to some bars in Tel Aviv while the adults went Israeli folk dancing. We only spoke in Hebrew and it was a great bonding time for us.
Wednesday was wedding day so we slept in and then hung out and ate (of course) and Tomer and I waited for Leah (Leeyah) to arrive. She only had one class on Wednesday and I had told her about how amazing the henna was (she was originally supposed to come with me), so she skipped her Thursday classes, took three buses, and came to the wedding! It was really nice to have a familiar English-speaking face. It actually felt weird hearing and speaking English even after only a few days of not having it.
The wedding was so much more than I ever could have imagined! There were about 500 people there and guests were supposed to start arriving at 19:30 and the ceremony was supposed to start at 20:30. Of course, neither of these occurred and the ceremony didn’t start until around 21:15. Even though we got there around 19:30, we still had plenty to do! There were tons of appetizers including food from all over the world and it was obviously all kosher.
The venue was two huge rooms of a tented area and there were at least two other weddings of comparable size going on at the same time! The ceremony took place in the same room as the hors d’oeuvres. An aisle led down to a stage where the chupah was and instead of sitting, everyone just crowded around the aisle. After Asaf and Liat walked down (each accompanied by both parents), everyone then crowded around the stage and some family members even went on to the stage. The ceremony only took about ten minutes and throughout it, people were talking, taking selfies, and eating—everything that would never fly in the states. On that note, men were dressed in jeans while some women wore full-length ball gowns. If this were a wedding in the states, it would have been a black tie affair, but because it’s Israel, anything goes.
After the ceremony, everyone moved to the next room which was basically a huge dance floor surrounded by tons of tables. We had a few courses here but pretty much just danced the whole night. Yoram’s video for Liat and Asaf debuted (he and his siblings made a super cute video for the newlyweds and Yoram worked really hard on it).
On Thursday we went to Gan Yavne where Tamar lives. Tamar had made sfenj which are Moroccan-Israeli donuts that kind of resemble beignets. They are so good dipped in sugar. Asaf and Liat came to the house with some of their neighbors/friends and we ate leftovers from the wedding for lunch. That day was also Shoshy’s birthday so we went out to dinner later that night.
On Friday we went back to Gan Yavne again to help Tamar prepare for Shabbat. It was held in a community center/boarding school that resembled a kibbutz. We had to bring out bed frames, mattresses, blankets, sheets, and pillows and make beds for all of the people who would be staying the night there because they don’t travel on Shabbat. The caterer (a cousin) arrived with the food for the weekend and we helped bring it in and separate what was going to be for Friday and Saturday. After, we took some of the fish balls to Tamar’s house and had lunch there.
Soon after, everyone started getting ready for Shabbat. There were services before dinner and they were orthodox, of course, so I went for a little with Liat and some other women but since we had to sit outside, not even inside but separated, from the men, it was pretty boring and we couldn’t hear/see anything. The men quickly left also because apparently it was very hot inside the shul. Shabbat dinner was great and after everyone chilled out and played games. Saturday followed pretty much the same suit except during services everyone threw candy at Asaf. Later in the afternoon I helped clean up the main room of the center where we had been celebrating.
That night, we went to see Omer’s (Benny’s son) soccer game. He is on Maccabee Petah Tikvah and they were playing Ashdod. Even though the game ended in a 0-0 tie, it was really fun to watch Omer play because he is very talented.
Right after the game, I barely made my bus to Jerusalem that got me into the station just in time to catch the last light rail train back to campus. It was so good to see my friends and it felt weird to speak/hear English!
The semester actually starts:
The next morning, Leah and I went to campus and set up our usernames and I figured out the readings I had to do for my classes. We also went to the gym, of course, and I spent the rest of the day catching up on homework and chatting with my friends.
On Monday I finally had my first day of classes, which went well. Hebrew is much slower now compared to ulpan, which is at once refreshing but more boring. My favorite class is called “Jewish Experiential Education” where we learn about techniques of Jewish education, what works and what doesn’t, etc. It’s really interesting and the professor is great. I’m enjoying my other classes as well which is a class on marriage and sexuality in ancient Judaism (the professor has cousins who live in Highland Park!), and a class on Maimonides that meets for four hours once a week. The Maimonides class is very long and it’s at night but the subjects we talk about are interesting.
I got into a program called BJE Lainer Interns where I have an internship this semester in Israel, an internship in Boston senior year of college, and then after college they help me find a job in the Jewish world. My internship here is with URJ and NFTY and I’ll be making educational materials for the students who come to Israel with NFTY to use so potentially thousands of people will be utilizing what I create! This program also has some seminars so for example, next Thursday night we (the six other students at Hebrew U in the program and I) are going to a seminar in Jerusalem. I’m not exactly sure what it is about but I’ll find out! Also, next February in D.C. they pay for us to go to a seminar with everyone as well.
Two weeks ago (my first week of classes) was Purim so I only had two classes! We didn’t have class on Thursday so on Wednesday night the people in our program that didn’t go to Tel Aviv went to Abraham Hostel in the city where they had a “silent headphones party.” Instead of a DJ playing music, when we walked in to the dance area, it was completely silent! Once we got the big pairs of headphones we were able to hear the music, and while it was an interesting experience, I think I prefer a regular DJ dance party. That night, Mikki, Leah, and I dressed up as “80s girls” and basically wore high socks, high ponies, and leggings.
On Thursday, I had the amazing opportunity to go to army bases and give out mishlach manot to soldiers with “Thrive,” a program at Rothberg with supplemental activities for its members (I am not one, but I was a guest). We went to two different bases with 500 goodie bags and a musician with a guitar. We gave out the packages to the soldiers, sang and danced with them, and talked to them about their lives. It was an incredible experience and was very fulfilling. That night, I dressed up as Princess Leia and we went to one of the student centers to hear the megillah reading. After, there was a huge party at the first train station for all of the students in Jerusalem. It was basically like a grown-up bar mitzvah party and it was a blast! Everyone from entire program was there and the music was great.
The next morning, Katie, Abi, Leah, planned to wake up early to go to Tel Aviv because there was a Purim street party that afternoon there. Fortunately, we woke up an hour late and right as we were about to leave for the light rail, found out that a terrorist attack had happened two stops from us. It was a little scary because of the proximity to us, but we just took a bus instead to the central train station. For the street party in Tel Aviv, we dressed up as “flower children/hippies” and found our way from the hostel to the parade. Everyone who lived anywhere remotely close to Tel Aviv, and everyone is Tel Aviv was there! There were so many people and it kind of reminded me of Lollapalooza. There was a big stage and different DJs but there were all playing EDM music, which I am not that into. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful day and we loved walking around the city.
On Friday night, two of the soldiers who were on Leah’s birthday trip and some of their friends took us to a club in Tel Aviv because we aren’t really sure where to go. The venue was great and so was the atmosphere except it was 70s night! All of the music was 70s music so again, I was less than impressed with the music. We still danced and had a lot of fun though, and it was nice to not be in such a touristy, American place. Saturday the weather was in the 80s and sunny so we went to the beach. It was the perfect ending to the weekend.
This past week was my first full week of classes so I am finally starting to get the hang of it. On Sunday night we had the opportunity to hear from a speaker at one of the student centers. He is in the elite counterterrorism unit in the IDF and is also an educator and came in full uniform. After showing and explaining to us all of his weapons, he talked about his personal life. He runs a program for special needs people who come to Israel in the mornings and in the afternoons he is studying to become a rabbi. He told us stories about some of his experiences with terrorists and he talked about how the media portrays him this man slaughterer, whereas the terrorists who are killing civilians are referred to as “freedom fighters.” I can tell you more about this experience if you ask/desire but it was very emotional and now we have the opportunity to go to his base and Tuesday and learn krav maga with him!
Monday night, Leah, Mikki, and I went to the old city because there was a music festival called “Sounds of Jerusalem.” Stages were set up all over the old city in all of the quarters and different types of music and bands played each night from Monday through Thursday.
The rest of the week was pretty normal and I’ve settled in to my classes.
On Thursday after our last class, Mikki, Lily, Leah, and I went again to the old city to find one of the best hummus bars in Jerusalem—Lina. The hummus was one of the best I’ve had and their falafel was also top notch.
On Friday night, the three aforementioned girls and I got placed into an orthodox person’s house for Shabbat dinner by one of the student centers. We met the father of the family at the kotel and then walked with him to his house in Jerusalem. He and his wife have seven kids and just had a baby seven weeks ago (although you could never tell by looking at his wife). The four of us were not the only guests that night—they had another orthodox family over with whom they are neighbors, three girls who are in a gap year in seminary, and at least four other guests who all had random connections to the family. The food was amazing and never-ending but the atmosphere was really the best. The family made us feel so welcome and at home. They even invited us back for Passover seder! While we walked there from campus, we didn’t leave their house until around 23:45 so we took a cab back (no public transportation on Shabbat).
Yesterday, Saturday, Leah and I worked out for over two hours! (One hour lifting arms, 15 minutes of cardio, one hour lifting legs) I am sore today but in a few minutes I’m going to the gym again before meeting someone who works at one of the student centers to “learn.” Basically, I am enrolled in a program called “dollars for learning” where you meet once a week for one-on-one learning about whatever topics you want, go to the speakers on Sundays (like the counterterrorism person), and go to seminary once a month, and at the end of the semester, you get a stipend of money. Tonight’s speaker is going to be absolutely incredible and emotional as well—Racheli Frenkel, whose son Naftali (one of the three boys kidnapped and murdered this summer) is coming to speak to us.
Exciting things happening soon:
At the beginning of Passover break in two weeks, I am going on a three-day hike with the student organization at Rothberg all across Israel called “Yam l’yam” (sea to sea).
After the first night of Passover, Leah and I (Mikki is meeting us) are traveling to Amsterdam, Prague, and Budapest.
At the end of April, I am going to Poland with Leah, Lily, and others with the student organization that hosts the Sunday night speakers and the “dollars for learning” program.
I will try to check back in sooner next time!