Last Friday, we went to the shuk for the first time and it was packed! All of the food there is the freshest I’ve tasted in my life and we all stocked up on veggies, fruits (fresh and dried), and nuts to pack our lunches for ulpan. We also went to a grocery store near by to get other food like yogurt and hummus.
After, we went back to campus and prepared for Shabbat. I went to services beforehand with about twenty other people but it was very conservative. While it was good to have some kind of davening because I haven’t gone to services in over six weeks, I do feel like I need to find a different kind of service around campus or lead my own.
After services, everyone joined together for Shabbat dinner, where the food was very similar to what we usually have at home for Shabbat dinner. For the rest of the night, we hung out in different friend’s rooms in the dorms because most places in the city were closed and there is no public transportation.
On Saturday, we slept in and then walked along the light rail (it doesn’t run on Saturdays) to the kotel. It was a gorgeous, warm day but we had to wear long skirts and sweaters because of the areas in which we were walking. The walk there was about an hour and a half long and wearing converse was a very bad choice—I have a huge blister on my heel now and can barely wear closed-heeled shoes.
For part of the walk, to our left were Arab neighborhoods and to our right were Jewish neighborhoods; but we felt safe regardless. In the week that I’ve been in Israel, there hasn’t been one moment where I haven’t felt completely safe and at ease.
We met some other friends from our program at the kotel and around the old city because everyone had the same idea of walking there. I said kaddish for Ronnie’s husband at the kotel and then we walked back through the Arab stores (the only places that are open on Saturdays). I got amazing fresh-squeezed pomegranate and orange juice as fuel for the walk back.
After we got back to the dorms we made shakshouka for dinner. It was one of my friend’s birthdays so a bunch of us went out to celebrate with her and we went to two different bars. As per usual, I saw my camp friends and other people on our program.
On Sunday, we had our second ulpan and I talked to the head of housing about switching rooms but she said that I would have to come back on Thursday because there were no rooms open at the time. However at this point, I thought that living in my current apartment might have been ok—little did I realize I was completely wrong.
The drama with my non-American roommates started on Sunday night when Danielle (one of my American roommates and a very nice person) got into a riff with the two non-Americans (Cassi and Mercedes) because they were not cleaning their dishes at all and were making a mess everywhere.
On Monday, we made a Whatsapp group for our apartment so we could discuss a time to meet to talk about the cleanliness issues, Shabbat issues, etc, but Cassi and Mercedes said they were too busy to meet even for five minutes. Danielle, Taylor (the other American roommate who is really nice) and I decided to have the meeting without them, but Cassi actually came, and then Mercedes joined us.
At first, we tried to talk about having a 24-hour rule for dishes, how to divvy up the cabinet space fairly, and implementing a chore chart. Cassi and Mercedes were not very responsive and stayed firm on their view that because they are in the midst of finals and having been living here for a year, they do not need to compromise and try to accommodate everyone in the apartment like the Americans were trying to do.
The “discussion” then turned extremely ugly when Mercedes said that everyone had to keep kosher and shomer Shabbos or else we had to leave. Mercedes and Cassi both told me that I wasn’t religious enough, which is one of the worst insults I have ever received. I know that it shouldn’t matter what they think of me, but I cannot help feeling hurt by their harsh words.
They also told us about their French roommate last semester who watched a movie in her room on a Saturday and how it was the worst experience for them. I asked them how they would be affected if I’m in my room on a Saturday on my phone, and explained that I am not that French girl. Danielle, Taylor, and I managed to stay calm for the most part and they defended me. Cassi and Mercedes on the other hand were screaming at all of us and literally pointing fingers. At one point, Cassi admitted that she wanted all three of us to leave.
There was also an issue because their program (not study abroad) told them that this apartment was shomer Shabbos, where as Rothberg told us it is not. In the end, we decided to go to our separate offices the next morning so they could help us sort out who needs to move and to where because it was clear that the five of us are not capable of living together.
As many people have pointed out to me, Cassi and Mercedes may look Jewish, but they do not seem to embody any Jewish values at all, which to me is the most important part of Judaism and calling yourself Jewish.
The next morning before ulpan, Danielle, Taylor, and I told Ira (the program coordinator) about every detail of the previous night and the other interactions we’d had with Cassi and Mercedes. He said that he would do the best he could to fix the situation but something might not happen until the end of ulpan (roughly three weeks from now).
The only upside to this is that in a week, Cassi and Mercedes are leaving for three weeks for their school break. In the meantime, we may have to have a mediated meeting with one representative from each “side” so that we are capable of living together for the next week.
I am actually going to go back to the head of housing tomorrow by myself to see if there will be non-kosher housing available just for me. I talked to Danielle and Taylor about this and although I really like them and would feel terribly for leaving them in this situation, I realized that this is my only semester abroad in my life and I need to do what is best for me right now.
I don’t want to be scared to go into my apartment or leave my room, and I would really just prefer to get out of this toxic situation sooner rather than later. I also don’t think living in non-kosher housing would be an issue because it is hard to even find non-kosher food in Jerusalem, and if other people want to mix meat and milk they can do so; it doesn’t affect me.
If this housing situation were the worst thing to happen during my time in Israel, it would be ok. I would rather get the hard part out of the way and then become settled so I can have an amazing time here.
With this situation aside, everything else is going really well. We took a kickboxing class on Monday, which was so much better than I ever could have expected! There were no punching bags and the instructor was an Israeli woman with an insane amount of energy and an incredible, muscular body. It was an awesome workout (only comparable to spinning) and I definitely have found my spin replacement in Israel. Every other song was in Hebrew or English and it was very upbeat, club-type music. It is definitely going to become a staple in my workout routine here!
On Tuesday, we went to the shuk before ulpan. It was a completely different experience than on Friday because it was pretty much empty. For this reason, I was able to practice my Hebrew more (which after only four days of ulpan I can already see a huge improvement), and we were able to get everything we needed in a timely fashion. It did lack the spirit that was there on Friday. On Friday, I felt like I wanted to memorize every smell and taste and feel of the shuk and the city of Jerusalem as a whole. Luckily, we are going back today for the tour with Rothberg and again on Friday after ulpan ends at 13:00.
We went out last night because we didn’t have ulpan today and we went to a club where there was actually dancing! They played all popular American music and it felt amazing to just sing and dance crazily with my friends. It was the perfect way to blow off steam after a stressful day with the housing debacle. We were pretty much the only Americans there (it usually is a popular spot for Birthright teens but it is off-season now), and it could not have been more obvious. We didn’t care at all, however, and had a blast.
After, we walked around to different bars and surprise—ran into my camp friends and other people from our program. We also met some people from the states who were on their gap year. Some of them were from Chicago and of course we played Jewish geography and had many mutual friends.
This morning, we slept in, and are going in the afternoon to the city with the madrichim, which will hopefully be very helpful. Although at this point, we have already gotten much better at navigating the city with the help of an app called “Moovit” that gives you the bus and train schedules and clear directions about how to get anywhere you desire.
Now, I have to do my homework and study for a test I have tomorrow but I’ll be back soon.