27 December 2006

27 December 2006

Any reader of this blog will quickly understand that I am missing the entire Christmas season. Looks like we got a little bit of the season spirit here.

After a long dry spell here, it began to rain last night. No drizzle, no sprinkling -- serious downpours with thunder & lightning. The rain continued through this morning...then turning to hail...then sleet...and finally at about 2pm, snow.

The snow went in and out in terms of intensity, but think snowflakes were soon covering the entire area, eventually sticking to the ground. My view from campus of Jordan got fuzzier and fuzzier with time, until it was a total whiteout. The Israeli students and staff were flipping out, getting their pictures taken outside. They all kept asking me if it felt like Christmas, which of course it did. Soon enough the Israelis, myself included, started acting like Washingtonians in a snowstorm -- freaking out. Rumors were spreading of classes being cancelled, and everyone was abuzz with what would happen with the multiple high-profile programs at Hillel tonight. By 4pm, all events and classes were cancelled, even mine which was supposed to be at one of the dorms.

WOOHOO! Snow Day in Israel! We had it comin', not getting off for Christmas.
I get on the bus, and as we pull into the winter wonderland, I turn my iPod on the random shuffle mode. What comes up as the first song? "Snowstorm," by an indie rock group named Galaxie 500, only to be followd by the Xmas carol "Joy to the World" in Arabic. Coincidence?

Getting home was surprisingly unadventurous, through the slick and mucky streets and the incredible views of this city under snow. The pictures above are from my balcony at around 6:30pm, so the lighting isn't as dramatic as it was before.

I'm still doing my homework, so as to fulfill the requirements of Murphy's Law for school to be cancelled tomorrow. My street hasn't been plowed nor treated with snow, and when I left campus, the outside walkways were filled with slush and liable to freeze over into ice tonight.

If I dare to venture outside tonigh , I'll bring the camera.

23 December 2006

23 December 2006

I don't know what others dream in their sleep. Sometimes it's several different thoughts or experiences from the last few days that are mushed into one seamless narrative that is on par with work by Dali. And then there are dreams which fall somewhere between memories and predictions that leave me with constant bouts of deja vu.
Take the other weekend for example. I was helping lead a group of overseas students to Eilat for the weekend. Eilat is the southernmost town in Israel, located on the Red Sea, with Jordan and Egypt visible from the city center. In the past 6 months, I have had two dreams about Eilat which left me rather reluctant to go down there.
The first was connected to a beach that I grew up going to on the Delmarva Peninsula (I've taken a vow of silence in naming this place, for fear that the encroaching tourism from other locales will soon reach it). The ocean has been slowly but surely encroaching on the beach, to hte point where every few years the parking lots on the other side of the sand dunes are covered in water. My mind equated this already tiny piece of land with Eilat, with my entire extended family trying to flee the encroaching water by driving endlessly. The second was again had my entire extended family as cast, this time going on a vacation to Eilat. The land got progessively narrower and and narrower, to the point that at the last hill overlooking the town, once could see the ferries that took passengers to Eilat, which was now an island in the middle of a raging sea.
There's a lot more for me to explore in this country, and every time I take the train here I'm amazed at how big the land feels here....yet we're still talking about a country whose length is less than that when I drive with my parents from DC to our realives in Cincinnati. Part of immigrant absorption here is not just the culture and bureaucracy, but the compactness of things. Interesting that this lesson got taught through dreams.

It's Christmastime and I'm missing it intensely. I've downloaded more than a dozen songs, watched "Charlie Brown Christmas" and "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas" online, and my mom (who just arrived the other day staffing a trip here, definitely nice to see her), brought me my CD of a famous Arab singer and her Semitic covers of classic Christmas songs, and a copy of "A Christmas Story," a true classic that I grew up watching.
It's going to take a long time to get the Christmas affinity out of me. There's something about the lights, artificial happiness, and constant biblical-themed programming on cable stations that gets me very excited in a way that Passover only can vis a vis Jewish holidays. Despite living in Jerusalem, there's very little awareness and visiblity that it's Christmastime. The other week I had to go to the city center by chance, and lo and behold the main pedestrian throroughfare was decked in lights. The parallel road was covered in icicle lights, leaving me speechless. The flower stores in the shuk are selling poinsettias, almost tempting me to buy one.

I make no apologies about my connection with Christmas, not when I sang carols with the overseas students while in Eilat, and not tomorrow when I listen to them on the way to work and classes.

12 December 2006

12 December 2006

Postscript to the previous post: You absolutely have to click on the link for the Lottery here, www.pais.co.il. Click on the blue button at the bottom of the screen and you can see the taped lottery drawing from tonight. All I wanted were the numbers, and instead I good a huge dose of laughter.
In anticipation for the drawing, there's a studio that looks lie it's from the early 1990's (i.e., contemporary Israeli), with an orchestra andsingers performing everything from "The Impossible Dream" in Hebrew, "If I Were a Rich Man," "Money, Money, Money", and the drawing is set to a live jazzed-up redntion of the theme song from the promos. This is too good.
Much to my astonishment, I did not win. The most I got in one row (the ticket looks a lot like Powerball from the States, but a LOT more expensive) was two. Oh well, better luck next time, right?

11 December 2006

11 December 2006

Tomorrow, in my required course entitled "Problems and Methodology in MidEast Studies," I'm giving a short presentation ("Refarat," the Hebraized form of "report") on the biography of the late Edward Said. I'm working on polishing up the 15-minute report now, including translating it into Hebrew (I'm not quite at level of original compositions in Hebrew).
A few things struck me as I was reading up on his life:
-For a moment, skip his politics and ideologies regarding Israel, American Jews and the West. The trained English professor was intellectually and academically dishonest. In his seminal work "Orientalism" he not only chose works that proved his already-formualted thesis regarding the West's inherent racism and feelings of superiority over the East (and thus left out even more evidence that contradicts his thoughts), but he lumped together writers and thinkers with varying levels of academic background and respectability. His insistence to generalize and leave out other, non-supporting examples sounds a lot like, um, his argument against the West's generalizing of the East.
-"Orientalism" was introduced as an upcoming topic to the class last month, so people could read it. From the reactions of students, I have to unfortunately assume they never read it as an undergraduate. Again, say what you will about the man and his influence on making my field of study one bug subjective mess in the States, but this is a pretty important book. And these students are only now reading it??
-This Methodologies class feels incredibly out of place in Israel. The class is an ongoing discussion on history and social theory, with philosphy thrown in for good measure. For a system that's that seems driven (at least by the students and administration) on final examinations and a "getin & out of class fast" policy, this class is out of place. Mind you, I think it's great.

I broke down this evening and bought a lottery ticket for tonight's big 50 Million Shekel drawing ($11.5 million). Supposedly half of Israel's adult population has bought a ticket in this drawing, whose promotion has gone on for way too long. You can see the promo at www.pais.co.il, but I'll explain its significance: The zero in the "50" is shaped like a hamsa ("five" in Arabic), a common Middle Eastern symbol meant to bring good luck and more importantly keep away the Evil Eye. Just as some people will say "tfoo tfoo tfoo" to ward off bad luck, many in ths neck of the woods will say "hamsa hamsa hamsa." The jingle, "50 Million, Let's hope it's for me" is set to the tun of a recent and famous Mizrachi ("Oriental") song that anyone in Israel recognizes.
Granted, the liberal arts-NYU alumnus-DC liberal in me wants to tear apart the promotional posters in the name of ending the commodification of the socio-economic lower class' cultural and ethnic traditions for the sake of a product that naturally preys on the lower classes...but I still haven't found the corresponding word for "commodification" in Hebrew. Not to mention I cannot stand Marxist theory.
It's interesting, I bought a ticket, and that's all for now.

29 November 2006

29 November 2006

I get all sorts of looks when I say the following, but I could care less what others think: I like Christmas, from the near seizure-inducing flashing lights and metallic tinsel, to the cartoons and music I have memorized over the course of many years, to watching Midnight Mass from The Vatican on NBC. I will find some way of celebrating the holiday in this country -- I'm sure I can find some Christians hawking some Xmas gear (there's always good Jesus memorabilia to be had near the Church of the Holy Sepulcher), find a recipe for egg nog that doesn't leave friends stricken with salmonella, download music and movies (including an album of classic songs in Arabic, which I left back in DC), or go shopping until my wallet shows signs of wear-and-tear.

I've been thinking about Christmas, despite the 62 degree F weather here, especially after going to the supermarket. Slowly but surely, the cheap Menorah wax candles are making their appaearance, along with sufganiyot (more or less a jelly doughnut), a traditional food during Hannukah (hell, anything deep-fried is traditional food on this holiday). I was joking the other week with some of my Israeli co-workers that the only flavor North Americans know from sufganiyot is "red," that indeterminate filling that's somehow a combination of strawberry/raspberry/cherry/Red #4 yet tastes like none of the above. Once they understood I wasn't making a mistake with my Hebrew, they erupted in laughter. So far I've seen "Red" and Dulce de Leche, but more should be coming.
Despite how great it is to see Hannukah goods front and center in a store, instead of in the back corner with the numerous jars of borscht and boxes of matzah, I miss the tinsel and vain attempts to mask a decidedly Christian holiday with consummerism. Sigh.

On the socio-economic flip side, we're in the middle of a general strike here. The Trade Federation in Israel is pretty powerful, able to collpase everyday society with one cellphone call. No flights are leaving or entering the aiport, garbage isn't being collected, banks and post offices are closed, and a whole host of other basic services are halted.

How is this affecting me?
Not so much:

-I took out a lot of money the other day from the ATM. Today, the lines were ridiculous at every ATM on campus, since once the strike began they won't be refilled till it's over.
-Garbage collection is every other day on alternate sides of the street. Regardless of sides, the can are piled to the brim and slowly cascading into the streets.
-There's a package waiting for me at the Post Office, which will continue waiting for me for the time being.

For those of you in the States, soak up your Wal-Mart ads, auto-sensor Santa Claus robots that make you jump with their bellowing greetings, and the nonstop playing of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" that quickly becomes psychological warfare and less of a holiday greeting. I'm envious.

The weather forecast on weather.com said it was going to rain this weekend -- instead it's going to continue being in the low 60's, brigh and sunny, deep blue skies, and incredibly dry. Everyone has been getting sick lately, and I made sure to stop at the drugstore to pick up a new bottle of vitamins, Samubcol which is available in the States and is incredibly effective, and Israeli generic acetaminophen. A co-worker of mine who shares an office laughed at my American ways when she was getting sick and I popped a few aspirin. The next day, she was home sick and I was at school/work as normal. Neurosis some times has its benefits.

27 November 2006

27 November 2006

The students and staff are still glowing about Thanksgiving, which has given my professional ego a much needed inflation. With only a month left in the overseas school's semester, and approximately 8 more programs, I'm feeling better for the time being.

I was making copies of some bills today at work when I turned around too look at the view. Mt. Scopus, where I sutdy & work, is on the east side of Jerusalem and one of the highest points in this mountain town. The views from any window here are spectacular. From the stairway up to my department's office there's a commanding view of the Old City and Western Jerusalem, undulating and rolling across the hills.

The view from the copy room, adjacent to the balcony, is just as majestic. Facing east, one sees the surrounding Arab villages, Judean Desert, and a dark patch of green that is the remainder of the Jordan River before it meets its end in the Dead Sea. At the right time of day, the Moab mountains that make up the border with Jordan come into focus, their mauve (comes from Moab, the Biblical term for the area) facade seemingly a stone's throw away.

I got home by 6pm, an amazing accomplishment. Aside from nights I have programs (2 per week maximum), I'm gonna try to make this a regular ritual: I got lots of books from school calling my name.

25 November 2006

24 November 2006

Turns out there is an Autumn in Israel. Yesterday and today, a muted smell of autumn was detectable -- a combination of crisp, dry air and fermenting leaves still holding on to the last drops of moisture.

Thursday night was the annual Thanksgiving dinner for overseas students at Hebrew U, organized by yours truly. As the night started, I began to feel like I had just turned in a 20-page paper: Relief and freedom. In three weeks, I had managed to organize a 5-figure event at a hotel with dinner and a live band, sell 100 tickets, and annoy the hell out of multiple businesses in the greater Jerusalem area. Normally this job takes two months with a volunteer staff of at least a dozen...but why should anything be normal? Sleep, serenity, sanity: who needed those for three weeks?

The night turned out great, the students were happy, my colleagues and supervisors were happy, and I slept incredibly well Friday night. I'm hoping the rest of this semester (i.e., one more month) goes by much more chill than the last month, where I've managed to make some small and medium-sized mistakes and incur the wrath of two different organizations.

On a much more positive note, I caught up on some reading by going to the bookstore and buying a whole stack of the magazines I grew to like from the States (though considerably more expensive here, even if they're European in origin).

Next week it's off to the university's fitness center, in the hopes of getting a membership.

20 November 2006

20 November 2006

First, let me say that I'm completely exhausted. Maybe it's because of the Thanksgiving dinner I'm planning for 150+ people, maybe it's because I have yet to find a balance that makes school a priority and allows work to be done as well....I'm pooped.

This evening, after shopping for decorations for Thanksgiving, I met up with a friend at the Save Darfur rally in downtown Jerusalem. As opposed to the last rally, where there were only a handful of English-speaking yeshiva students and a bullhorn for the few speakers, this rally was notably different. It took place in Zion Square, the epicenter of downtown Jerusalem, with a full stage, sound & lighting systems, and a bigger array of speakers. The crowd was still overwhelmingly English-speaking, but more speeches were in Hebrew, more rabbis and teachers spoke, and attention was paid to the 250 Darfur refugees currently in Israel, mostly incarcerated as security prisoners. I never got into Darfur as much as others -- Tibet was always my cause, and in the absence of working on that, joining the rally on a cold Jerusalem night felt appropriate.

I left the rally early with the same friend, grabbed food, and bumped into another student from my Arabic class. It was finally a relief to talk with another student, an atmosphere that's definitely missing from campus. He said something profound about the course, which in retrospect I've heard before and currently couldn't say as succinctly (certainly in Hebrew): The MidEast Studies and Arabic Departments are full of wannabe intelligence and security-minded students. All our reading comprehensions for homework, he pointed out, are about "Gen. Chief of Staff said" and "the bilateral communiqué between Iran and Yemen" and so on. Hell, even one of the dictionaries we have to use is published by the Defense Ministry. Whereas in the States MidEast Studies is plagued by partisanship and subjectivity, here it's so pareve (neutral), lacking any cultural enrichment, no wonder it's so connected with the defense establishment.

Off to do Arabic homework and dream of a post-Thanksgiving 2006 reality.

13 November 2006

12 November 2006

Instead of coming up with something witty, I figured I'd finally show some more interior decorating pics from my place (furniture as seen in the IKEA Winter 2007 catalog, assembled by yours truly)
9 November 2006

As I haven't written in some time, on account of both not having an internet connection in my apartment and the encroaching cold outside, I thought I'd restart this blog with two vignettes.


Jerusalem is burning, literally. For the past week, there have been riots in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea She`arim every night. Every night, regardless of when I left campus, the ritual was the same: My bus would approach the neighborhood from across the intersection, only to make a sharp detour around the entire area. Only once did the bus driver announce the change; otherwise, as the bus was filled with college students going home for the night, there was an unspoken understanding of what was going on. Police cars and red tape would block every street entering the neighborhood, and if one looked hard enough beyond the barricades, one could see dispersing hordes of males of all ages. The detour was abnormally packed, making an already long trip even more unbearable.
In the morning, so long as there wasn't another riot, the bus would take its original route and showcase the events of last night to all its passengers: Garbage either in large piles, or strewn about in stream-like lines alongside the curbs; Green garbage cans turned black from the smoke of burning trash, some still smoldering with thick black smoke; And the occasional fire, still raging, with pedestrians quickly walking by without a notice. The bus passengers would be glued to the windows, astounded at the third-world setting they were witnessing.
The smell of the smoke from the riots has engulfed the entire city, even on days with the bluest of skies. If one left a window open, whether on the west side of town or all the way on the east side up on Mount Scopus, the pungent smell was impossible to ignore. The association with something pleasant began to change in me, not entirely, but slowly reaching a darker period of history: September 12-14, 2001. When the smoke from the wreckage of the World Trade Center and the two planes changed direction, all of lower Manhattan (and my apartment at the time) was permeated with the smell of Burnt. This week couldn't be over sooner, because the smell is getting intolerable.


Bus 28 from Mount Scopus on a Thursday night is a sight to be seen. I had to go to the phone company's store to pick up an external modem, which is by the central bus station, and thus a different bus line from my normal one. I'm one of the first to get on, which means I have a window seat. Slowly but surely, the bus fills with students with duffel bags. The majority of students at Hebrew U are not locals, so they live in the dorms or in town. As this is somewhat of an elite university, there are no classes on Friday and few activities on Thursday night, meaning students can go home. At each bus stop the bus picks up more and more students with duffel bags, to the point where the bus is just as stuffed as the bags. Most people have two bags, one of clothes to be worn and one to be washed. People are crawling into the bus at this point, gasping with the contortions of their bodies for the last cubic centimeters of space to claim as their own. The sight of all these students, grungy guys and headscarved Muslim women alike, going home for the weekend was very sweet, even if they were clamoring about the bus.
The bus entered the main streets of Mea She`arim, but went through similar neighborhoods. At one point, in the middle of one of Jerusalem's many steep hills, an ultra-Orthodox man pushed his way onto the bus. I could clearly see him from my seat, and from his body movements it was clear he knew there was little chance of him entering; yet something internal made him try. He forced the bus doors to open to such an extent that the bus' engine shut down. The students are obviously not happy, and all I think of is walking in the middle of this neighborhood and getting attacked just for not wearing a 17th century Polish fashion trend (a friend of mine, only hours before, was on a bus that was stopped by protesters, when they hurled a flaming garbage can into the streets. The passengers were forced off the bus and my friend safely got home on foot). I gave the guy such a dirty look, hopefully it was part of the reason he didn't get on the bus.


The rest of this story has to do with getting an internet connection, which I'll detail in its absurdity here very soon

15 October 2006

15 October 2006

Even though I prefaced this whole keeping-a-blog-venture by promising I wouldn't harp on more superficial differences between Israel and the States, I have to share just one.
At the end of Sukkot is another holiday that gets lumped into the former. I won't go into its significance or what happens on it, except to add that one of the additions that are added to daily prayers are two lines, praising God who "makes the wind blow and the rain fall" and asking to "give dew and rain for a blessing." Regardless of where on is in the world, at the end of Sukkot one adds these lines and continues to say them until the next Passover, so as to coincide with the rainy season in the Land of Israel.
The weather reports have said that today it would rain. This morning I looked out at my balcony and at the road, and sure enough, at some point last night, it rained. "Amazing" isn't really the word to describe this liturgical and meteorological synchronicity – more like "right on time." The first rain in modern Israel is the official start of winter, and Israelis react to winter a bit like Washingtonians react to rain or other weather patters: they don't really know what to do with themselves.

11 October 2006

This morning was very much in the same vein as the movie "Groundhog Day," where each day repeats itself over and over again. Again I woke up waiting for a call from the IKEA delivery man…except for the fact that he actually called this time. Around noon the guy showed up, all too eager to get the boxes out of his responsibility. As soon as he was gone, I got to work. In the course of five hours I assembled a bed and bed-side table which fit together. While I was assembling the various pieces, all sorts of thoughts went through my head; the most frequently occurring one being "Is this really going to support the mattress and me?" The bed's structure is a mix somewhere between a traditional bed, a futon, and a K'nex set. After assembling the wooden (read: plywood) frame, one has to add several metal beams, rods, and flat sticks that all connect to one another, after which one adds the futon-like wood beams.

In the end, with my hands feeling like they're riddled with arthritis after holding the tools too tight, my second room looks like a slice of Scandinavia in the Middle East. Since I have an, er, affinity for the Nordic lands (I'm always willing to be sponsored to travel to Iceland), I'm definitely happy with the room. Now if only I could find furniture for the first room…

10 October 2006

10 October 2006

I'm sitting on my kitchen-nook floor, waiting for the delivery of my new bed, mattress, bed-side table and drawer pieces from IKEA. They said they would be here between 10.00 and 16.00, and I'm at the half-way mark now. Still trying to figure out how to orient my soon-to-be bed, I took the opportunity to clean the floor in the second room. I have to use some special cleaning fluid especially for parquet and wood floors, which ends up doing a decent job and smelling of not-too-powerful flowers.
At the same time, outside my porch, are hordes of people walking towards the starting point for the annual Jerusalem March, with helicopters constantly circling above the area. On the Pilgrimage Festivals (Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot), when pilgrims would arrive at the Temple to offer sacrifices, modern-day Israelis now celebrate by taking to the streets of the capital city in the tens of thousands. Apparently the starting point could be reached via my street, so all morning people passed by – some with baseball caps, some without; some clutching bottled water, others with backpacks; some by themselves, others in finely choreographed groups. Every few minutes I'd hear tambourines and indiscernible singing slowly yet rhythmically approaching. Thinking it would be a group of Hare Krishnas who made a few wrong turns along the way, I'd rush to the window to get a glimpse – instead it would be groups representing youth movements, companies and businesses, or interest groups walking in formation and singing songs about Israel or Jerusalem. For a bunch of Jews, who at least in services I've been to can't seem to continue clapping synchronically to a beat, they got their marching band skills down pat.
Now it's past the window of time I was supposed to sit by and expect a call 30 minutes ahead of the delivery's arrival. I call the moving company, who gives me the number of the driver. Fine, I think, he's a few minutes late of a 6-hour block because of the March, so I'll roll over and play Genteel American. The driver says he wasn't supposed to make the delivery until tomorrow between 11.00 and 13.00 because of the march! I asked if someone was going to bother telling me this news, and said I'd see him tomorrow. I attempt calling back the company – I say attempt, because I called back at least 10 times before I got through to someone again. I'd like to think they Caller ID'd my number and were practicing a sentence that somehow becomes harder to say when in possession of an Israeli National ID: I was wrong.
At this point I'm furious, and as soon as someone comes on the line, I start speaking in rapid-fire Hebrew, demanding to know why no one bothered to let me know about the delivery time change. The woman who answered the phone is caught and says "You're right, I apologize." If I was a little more clear-headed, I would have asked for a refund of the delivery charge, but I was so angry I hung up the phone. At least she apologized, I said to myself, trying to calm down. I eventually realizing there wasn't anything else to do (call the company back and demand someone be reprimanded for this? Please.), so I got to work on making dinner. A huge serving of carbohydrates later, my food coma has calmed me down and I'm interested to see if the driver tomorrow apologizes as well (or if he's got the nerve to ask for a tip).
04 October 2006

After a few days that truly felt like autumn, this morning the summer heat made a resounding return. Assuming that it stays around for only a few days, the humidity-free warmth feels good.

I went to a garage sale hoping to find some inexpensive furniture that I still need – the apartment was located in a nearby neighborhood called Nahlaot, full of small pastel-colored houses that look like an artist colony artificially placed in Jerusalem. This apartment was incredible (if anyone's looking), and the middle-age couple was selling it and moving to somewhere smaller.
No luck on the furniture, though I did get a nice bathroom mat. The walk back provided some great free entertainment. A policeman was directing traffic at a busy intersection that normally has a very long wait for pedestrians. The traffic lights were working just fine, so perhaps there was a motorcade that just went by. Regardless, the policeman was taking his time letting the east-west traffic pass, holding up a quickly enlarging line of north-south traffic that was losing what little patience they already had. As their honking became more constant, the policeman kept letting the other traffic flow, even if there was only one car. From his slight facial expressions, one could tell, as a passerby said to me in his American-accented Hebrew, that he was punishing them for their honking. The cars sat for what must have been close to ten minutes. My sense of humor is hoping that the policeman, on a whim, picked a random intersection and used the authority of his reflective chartreuse vest and powder-blue uniform shirt to create some chaos in the Holy City.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning my apartment. I was in the middle of cooking when the phone rang – a job applied for several hours beforehand was calling me to schedule an interview. Just like finding my apartment, I don't want to jinx this one (even though I already told a few people) – suffice it to say I would be working for one of my former employers in a job I can definitely do.

04 October 2006

01-03 October 2006

Saturday night, after Shabbat ended, I ventured out with friends to witness one of the more bizarre rituals in Judaism – Kapparot. Before Yom Kippur, there's a custom to take a chicken and symbolically pass one's sins onto the chicken while circling it around one's head, after which the chicken is slaughtered for food. We decided to venture into Mea She'arim, an ultra-orthodox neighborhood in north-central Jerusalem, so you can imagine the multiple culture clashes going on. As we approach we begin to separate (I was with three females), as it's usually not appropriate for mixed couples to walk together in this neighborhood. Soon we get to our destination, plastic crates stacked atop one another, all containing white hens. The handlers, teenagers wearing kippot, and one wearing a shirt advertising a dance music record label, sold the chickens (25 NIS, or around $6) to buyers who would intone several blessings while passing the chicken around their head and the heads of their family. One guy in the corner had several crates and was actually swinging the chicken by the legs, finishing with one and bringing out another one. In the middle of all of this is the butcher, sharpening his knife and then holding it between his lips in between slaughters. His plastic apron was dripping with blood, and his table had six metal funnels running to the ground, collecting the blood from this chickens he quickly slices across the neck and then allows to flop around.
Besides the gore and what seems like an obvious question ("Do these people coming to perform the ritual, who by and large don't work for a living, have the money for dry cleaning if the chicken craps on their satin robes and/or shtreimels (fur-trimmed hats)?" I couldn't stop thinking about how the ritual we were watching was perhaps the closest one could approach Biblical Judaism in the absence of the Temple. When the Temple existed, a pilgrim would purchase his offering (sin or thanksgiving) at the gates and offer it up upon entering. What's the difference between this and that, save for location? As I started seeing this seemingly bizarre transaction going on before me in those terms, I was in awe and wanting to leave as if seeing something I'm not supposed to (like being blinded by something divine). As grotesque as this scene was, ladies and gentlemen, think about it the next time you pray for the Messiah to arrive, or jokingly sing along to that Chabad Lubavitch "Mashiach" (Messiah): this chicken-swinging and slaughtering scene is our destiny when the Third Temple is built.

First off, there are the services. I tried out two places, both of which I've been to for Shabbat. Having serious moral problems about buying a seat for services, I decided to show up and try my luck – both times it worked successfully, either finding a non-reserved seat or being assigned one whose original purchaser decided not to use.
The first synagogue I went to with a friend from DC Sunday night. I don't mind not knowing every prayer and hymn sung, I can follow along just fine in the book; the rabbi liked to mumble his Hebrew and the congregation, not knowing where they were either simply hummed along to the familiar melodies, making the experience more frustrating than necessary. The second was a place I knew I liked – there the Hebrew was crisp, clear and modern; the melodies were familiar from back home; and everyone sang along, men and women (men and women sit separately but participate just about equally in the services).
Yom Kippur is known as the Shabbat of all Shabbats (the Mother of all Shabbats, if you will) and this title became clear for the first time to me this year. Just like I wrote about Rosh Hashanah, YK is a very different experience here in Israel. For example, in the midst of the melodramatic liturgy, the prayer leader would burst into tunes normally heard on Shabbat, encouraging everyone to transcend their hunger and existential queries in order to celebrate. If you think Jews can't put on an uplifting service, you're going to the wrong synagogue. The spiritual intensity was palpable, the prayer leader in the late morning had an incredible voice, and only during the afternoon did the prayers drag, mainly because everyone was exhausted by then.
What was even more worthwhile about the day was the complete lack of cars on the road. I'm not talking a significant decrease in road travel – I mean no automobiles whatsoever. In Jerusalem it's apparently against the law to drive on Yom Kippur, with police cars passing every once in a while to enforce it. Not only does this create the visual of people walking in the middle of the street, with kids on bicycles everywhere, but it fulfills one of my many dreams: a world without cars. Sounds once muffled by the incessant honking of drivers came back into range and a level of tranquility descended on the city that the pious, secular, and Luddite could value.

Tuesday I spent what seemed like hours at Hebrew U. working out my schedule. I got the results of my Arabic placement exam, and they weren't what I expected: they put me in Year 1, much to my dismay. The advisor showed me my test, which admittedly had mistakes on it – I didn't vowel the verbs on the first page, despite there being no instructions to do as so. Like many things in this country, I was supposed to infer that on my own. Like duh!
After explaining this to the advisor, along with the fact that I had taken three years of Arabic in the States, he still put me in Year 1, though said that if it's too easy to talk with the professor as there's an outside opportunity to switch levels. Not only is it a matter of needing the next highest level academically – Year 2 only meets two times a week, with Year 1 meeting three times a week. If I'm getting a job, this shortens the amount of time I can devote to both. You can bet I'll be working hard to move on up a level.
I registered for Arabic and my other courses with little problems, at least I hope – the print-out the registrar gave me did not include the courses I already picked via Internet, and by the time I got back to the office it was closed. Hope they all show up online! I then tracked over to the Student Accounts, where I handed in my voucher for tuition from the government, only to be told there's extra fees not covered by the voucher. Of course there is, I think to myself. I get my bill and slump back to the bus stop.

28 September 2006

28 September 2006

I woke up this morning and in true fashion underestimated the amount of time I needed to get ready by 20 minutes. I ran out the door as fast as possible to get to the bus stop, figuring the traffic the bus is bound to face when it passes through downtown and heads through the 18th century hovel that is north-central Jerusalem.
I arrive on campus in time and navigate through the honeycombed Humanities halls until I reach the classroom for my Arabic placement test. I get a whole stack of forms and the 2-page test. There are four levels of Arabic (Intensive Beginners, Year 1, Year 2, and exempt/advanced) and I'm handed the Year 1 test. Not understanding exactly how this works, I ask for the Year 2 test, figuring three years of college-level Arabic deserved the Year 2 test. Yikes Yikes YIKES.
The first part of the test was a table of verbs which had to be dissected into their roots, gender, tense, verb structure, gerund, and 2nd person command. When I was taking Arabic in college, I could finish a chart like this in no time; now, between two years of not using a drop of the language and staring at a chart of verbs that are pre-conjugated into the dual and/or plural feminine forms (less used forms), not to mention containing weak or hollow roots, I use the few remaining brain cells operating in my brain to request the Year 1 test.
Phew, this I can do, I think! I get to work on the test, using my new Arabic-Hebrew dictionary as my other ones are being shipped as we speak. The dictionary I brought allows you to look up individual words, as opposed to my Arabic-English dictionary that only allows you to look up the roots, after which are listed all the possible derivatives. If you haven't figured it out, Arabic is incredibly complicated.
I finish the test in the allotted amount of time, feeling wiped out, unable to speak a single language at once, and probable foaming slightly at the mouth. At the time I felt great in being able to finish an Arabic test; now that I'm writing this several hours later, I'm thinking I was supposed to take the harder level in order to fail the test and thus place into it. Hopefully my alternative "leave with some semblance of self-confidence" way will work. Either way, it's clear that I belong in Year 2, and that I need a drink, even if it is Yom Kippur next week.

27 September 2006

I'd like to think the Blogger Demons have been listening to my outward distaste for this form of communication, and have such made it impossible for me to post in the last few days. Regardless, it's been a major pain to write on the site lately so I'm using the next few minutes -- while the site is working -- to give a brief update.

I'm preparing the best way I know for a 3-hour Arabic placement exam, scheduled for tomorrow morning: getting my apartment in order. After putting away the many donations I've gotten so far, I made another trip to the south of the city for potential furniture buying. I didn't venture as far as I should have -- into the industrial/nightclub zone -- but I decided to return to one of the malls, with its "Mega" supermarket branch and "Home Center" (if you're thinking that you now know more Hebrew than you thought because of the store names, you're making me laught and cry at once). I found a bookshelf that I want at Home Center, and waited for someone to help me. And waited and waited. I gave up, preparing my self if there's a next time to wave my credit card around in the chance it'll attract one of the workers like hyenas to carrion. I got other kitchen goods at Mega and finally made it home.

Today I woke up with little plans -- more house shopping perhaps, more Arabic studying procrastination -- and made my way to check my email out on the corner (down in the street). As I got back to my apartment, I saw several envelopes sticking out of my mail box. Lo and behold, they were the transcripts from NYU I requested....which means I can go back to Student Authority to get my tuition waiver! I bolted up the stairs and back down again, on my way to the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.
As I just registered for courses, I began to wonder/worry about tuition. Student Authority, part of the Ministry, is supposed to give me a letter to take to Student Accounts at Hebrew U that will cover the costs. The letter would wait until I got actual copies of my transcript in, along with a letter in Hebrew confirming my acceptance.
Anyways, I got to the Ministry, trying not to jinx myself too much along the way (a couple of trips along the way definitely made me slow way down). I get to the guy in charge, no one's ahead of me in line (!), and give him the transcripts. Hah!
Eventhough he shows me up by taking only one of the two transcripts he originally requested, and didn't even ask to see my diploma, he eventually prints out the tuition waiver letter. Success, even if it's per semester and I have to go back to that damn office in February!

I celebrate by stocking up on produce and spices in the shuk and going home to cook. After a huge pot of curried Israeli couscous with pomegranate seeds and cashews, I'm back on the corner with my laptop, still not thinking about the test tomorrow morning.
25 September 2006

Rosh Hashanah was fantastic, spending it at family friends in Herzliya (a town just north of Tel Aviv). Eventhough it's celebrated two nights in Israel and abroad (as opposaed to most other holidays), RH might as well be a completely different holiday -- in the States it feels like Yom Kippur Lite, with no asking for fogiveness but a similar level of solemnity. Here? You give presents, teenagers in the Scouts give out apples & honey at the bus station, and all the award shows take place.
I got lots of freebies at our family friends, stocking up on lotsa of kitchenware. I got home late, after staying in Tel Aviv after the holiday ended for a few hours – a friend of mine from college is going back to New York for a month and then moving to a kibbutz to learn Arabic. I got home very, very late, fully knowing that I wouldn't be able to sleep in – today was Registration Day. I remembered the days at NYU, where each person was assigned a specific date and time to register online or by phone, along with the seemingly hours-long wait to meet with my advisor for course approval and the subsequent travel to another floor to clear me to register.
This time I woke up early, walked across the street to a free wireless spot, entered my student number and access code, and started registering on my own – the site recognizes your major and generates a list of possible courses accordingly. Realizing that several of the courses I wanted to take were not listed, I called the Department who said that I'd have to come in to register for any course that didn't appear online. Off I went to campus, exhausted and falling asleep on the bus. The Department's secretary already recognizes me and remembers my name – a very good sign, even if it's easy to remember that poor American kid. Five minutes was all it took for her to fill out the form and sign it for me – once I take the Arabic placement exam on Thursday, and I know which level I'll take, I'll know my weekly time schedule and I can look for a job more seriously.

Rosh Hashanah instantly brings to mind laughing uncontrollably in synagogue. Allow me to explain:
Most years we go to my mom's family in Cincinnati for the holiday. Their synagogue is Conservative and rather traditional. The rabbi is a very charismatic and influential leader, and they bring in a former cantor and his wife to help lead the service…along with a choir. Never mind that this choir sings in Ashkenazi-accented Hebrew, which gets on my last ideological nerve: the real reason for the seemingly inappropriate behavior is two pieces of liturgy that the choir uses on the holiday. The first is sung when the Torah is being returned to the Ark – the tune they use sounds more appropriate for an Ohio State game against Michigan than a High Holiday service. Seriously, on hearing this psalm you expect both the synagogue's football team and cheerleader squad to come out amidst bursts of six-pointed star confetti, or the Ohio National Guard to come out in full dress uniform. I end up marching in place out of some unknown instinct.
The second piece is known in my family as "Bump Bump Bump," an onomatopoeia title we created from the first three notes of the piece. All you have to do is say that and you'll get a smirk on a person's face. In the middle of the signature piece of liturgy for the holiday, a Medieval hymn entitled "Unetaneh Tokef" which describes God's ultimate judgment over all, the choir departs from a call-and-response duet with the cantor and proceeds to spend the next five minutes regaling the congregation with possibly the funniest sounding piece of liturgy around. I always try to find the point in the text where the "Bump Bump Bump" begins, and can never find it – the choir is out on the town with this piece of music, leaving the congregation standing there with little direction. Some people try to sing along, I try my best not to make eye contact with any of my cousins for fear of filling the sanctuary with laughter, with tears streaming down my face from holding it back. I have a smile on my face just thinking about it, the tune going through my mind.

I took a nap this afternoon, and several hours later I'm still exhausted. Good night!

21 September 2006

20 September 2006

Yesterday a friend and I traveled to a sight for sore eyes – IKEA. In the bus from Tel Aviv driving along side the sea and multi-million dollar condos, the yellow and blue sign finally rises in the horizon, a beacon for yuppies all over the country. While the furniture is very similar to the models sold in the States, the sample rooms are set up to better fit Israeli homes – think compact. I walked around with a pencil and kept two different lists – the practical one which included my minimum needs and items on sale, and the I'm Bringing Half the Catalog to Jerusalem list. I ended up with five bags of non-furniture basic necessities – lamps, a small table, a tool box – and picked out a kitchen table, bed, and small couch and/or chair. As the store is restocking the bed I want, I'll probably go back next week.
The ride from Jerusalem to IKEA is less than two hours, but on the way back we got stuck in some of the worst traffic outside of Jerusalem for the middle of the week. Struggling to stay awake, I grabbed dinner and went to sleep.

Today was all about Hebrew University. My intention was to go up today to get my student ID, and meet with my admissions advisor and departmental advisor.
The admissions advisor lodges an angry call with the person over at Student Authority in charge of making sure the government pays for my tuition, claiming that a letter of acceptance in English is as good as one in Hebrew. Then she fills in a form in Hebrew which was the letter of acceptance. Fine, I said. I then arrive at my advisor – we talk; he asks me if I know what track I want, if I want to pursue a doctorate, and if so what topic it would be (Modern MidEast, yes, and it's a secret for now); he's impressed; and then I ask about my supplementary courses and Arabic language placement. I have two supplementary courses that are a joke (Islam 101 and MidEast History 101) which he said I'll finish in no time.
But Arabic? Where's your Arabic placement results, he asks? I never took a placement exam, I answer. The departmental secretary comes in, looks at my acceptance letter, and they both tell me that the International School (and not the regular school where I'm sitting) accepted me. Somehow despite the fact that I filled out the regular school's application months ago and made it clear that was my intention, coming from the States meant that the Int'l School was my choice. No wonder I wasn't getting any info all these months – each school thought I belonged to the other.
The secretary called up the Int'l School and explained the situation – we'll know in a few hours, she said, seriously trying to help me. There would be a chance that you won't be able to register with the other students until next month, she says. As for Arabic, there's a placement exam next week that you'll have to take. OK, I answer to everything, thinking I should have had that cup of coffee this morning and done my superstitious ritual of not assuming anyone would be helpful. At least it wasn't my fault, I say to myself, thinking that comment will somehow bring forth a bright warm light on the situation.
I drop off my stuff to meet a former colleague from DC, a shlicha (an "emissary" from Israel that works with a Jewish communit yabroad for a short period of time) that just returned home. She's on the other side of town, so I hop in a cab that decides to drop off a friend's wife on the way. at least the driver let me pay whatever I wanted for the scenic tour of Western Jerusalem. I finally find her, and she drives me home along with a donation of all sorts off house goods that I somehow managed to avoid making eye contact with at IKEA, for fear of buying.
As I'm showing her my apartment, the secretary calls back, saying everything's taken care of – you can register next week with the other students and take the Arabic exam, if there's any problem don't hesitate to call me or come up to campus.
The string of curse words going through my head all afternoon comes to an end, having just survived my first attack of Hebrew bureaucrazy. Finally it's time for that cup of coffee.

17 September 2006

15 September 2006

The ride from Acco to Jerusalem yesterday was spent hearing some of the dirtiest jokes ever, from two middle-age men form Kemp Mill. I won't repeat any of them here, but it was some act the two of them had going on – they played off each other like a classic comedy duo.
We finally arrived in Jerusalem, my arm still feeling weird form donating blood. The first bus that arrived had my roommate, who after arriving quickly disappeared for a meeting. Since the hotel was organized enough not to assign names to the reserved hotel rooms, I spent the next 30 minutes (at least) writing down everyone's name and room number. After deciding to grab dinner and seriously contemplating going back to my apartment instead, the room situation was finally solved. I opted not to go to the Kotel (Western Wall) and passed out on the bed, watching a special report on the war and of course my telenovela.

The next day we spent traveling to Beit Shemesh, DC's sister city, which is half-way between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. We spent the morning at a kindergarten, making gift bags with the kids for soldiers for Rosh Hashanah. Two of the soldiers came, who first hung out with the kids – they asked the soldiers questions, they reminisced about their own experience in kindergarten, and the kids put on a march for the soldiers, with the IDF's anthem playing and the kids saluting. An odd sight for Americans, but when you're going to end up in the army, how soon is now? The soldiers then spent time with our group, talking about their experience in the army and fielding questions. There's not a lot separating me with the average solider, except age and enrollment in university, which leaves me at times ready to line up at the initial IDF processing center – between that and no questions to ask, I kept silent. Let these tourists ask questions for which they already know the answers. The soldiers left, and the kids had a mock Shabbat, complete with a designated Mom & Dad. It was very cute and all the older participants were in tears.
We then drove back to Jerusalem to participate in a reunion. In Israel there's a group of people known as "lone soldiers," those who serve in the IDF and have no relatives in the country. A group of these soldiers, all from the former Soviet Union, were going to see their parents for the first time in several years, thanks to the Jewish Agency and money from the DC Jewish community. Taking into account what I just said above, this was going to be weird for me – granted I'm not Russian, but this could be me. I heard second-hand that participants from our group were speculating that these parents couldn't see their kids previously because they were in jail or committed some sort of offense – I was boiling mad. While it was great to create this opportunity, I felt like an intruder. If/when this happens for me, I would graciously thank the sponsoring agencies and then tell them to get the hell outta the way.
We then went to the Kotel as a group, where the soldiers & their families were going as well. It was amazing how quickly the group split off from one another, despite having to meet at the bus at some point. I sat facing the Kotel, not wanting to intrude on the group of Russians and not necessarily in the mood to pray.
Leaving was going to be an ordeal, and it soon became more than expected. The group walked incredibly slow back to the bus, which – especially with people who had never been to Israel before – is always a bad idea. We were missing someone, not from our group but a volunteer staying in Beit Shemesh who was joining us for the day. We finally found her phone number, and she was too far from us to wait. Off we went, finally dropping me off by my apartment. While it was sad to leave this incredible group of volunteers, who picked up form their lives and spent the week in Israel working and sweating nonstop, it was great getting home. Shabbat began, as did my sleep.

16 September 2006

14 September 2006

The next day we spent the morning at the hospital in Nahariya, a town right on the Mediterranean and only a few miles from Lebanon. Aside from being an impressive hospital, with detailed protocol for biological and chemical attacks, the place sustained a direct hit form a katyusha missile during the war. Visiting the room which was hit was an eerie experience, seeing the damaged room and the further damage caused by the shrapnel encased in the missile. The hospital also contains an entire underground operations center, complete with operating rooms and roads for ambulances to enter. I remember reading about this in a Hebrew class several years ago, and now we were touring a place, potentially hermetically sealed during an attack, that looked like a bunker more suitable for Poland.
We went back to the moshav for a quick few hours of work, double bagging the bananas on the edges of the plantation ahead of the winter and its strong winds. We finished work and got a quick tour of the moshav – this was a village dating back to the days of the Talmud, which eventually became an Arab Muslim village, and then became a moshav for Yemenite immigrants. We saw some of the Arab stone homes and the mosque, before leaving our beloved banana plantation alongside a shooting range, cow shed and the Lebanese border just beyond the hills to our north.
We got tours of a family's bomb shelter as well as one of the moshav's municipal shelters, both of which were depressing as anything. The sirens (or bombs) would sound and the family (including a 9-month pregnant daughter) had only a few seconds to walk along a narrow path into a cramped shelter with no electricity and definitely no air conditioning. They did this every half-hour to 4 hours for an entire month.
After that we went for lunch at a dairy café in Nahariya, feasting on excellent food and evaluating the trip. We all agreed this type of mission was essential to continue and started brainstorming how to get more buy-in from the DC community. Then it was off to the Magen David Adom (Red Shield of David, Israel's Red Cross) clinic in Acco to donate blood. Having never given blood, I was incredibly nervous, as I also hate needles. After some persuasion from the other participants, I decided to suck it up and do it. The volunteer was a 17-year old who had lived in Puerto Rico and Ohio, and as such had a perfect American accent when speaking English. The blood-letter was an attractive dyed blond who turned out to be much older than originally expected. While they swooned over the older men in the group, they were even more so when they realized I was using my National ID instead of a US passport as identification and that I was a new immigrant. The pain was definitely there as they drew blood, but in the end it was of course worth it.
Back to the hotel to pack and drive down to Jerusalem.
13 September 2006

Back to baggin' bananas. At lunch the volunteers, separated on several of the moshav's farms, returned to a central home to eat pre-packaged meals from the hotel (i.e, efficiently packaged food from breakfast). While I was content to sit and eat, channeling the supposed life of a farm worker, the heterogeneous group would eventually begin discussing a variety of topics. While some couldn't restrain themselves in terms of engaging in a civil discourse, the topics were nonetheless interesting: Jewish identity, intermarriage, etc. with a variety of viewpoints being shared. While I didn't necessarily agree with the views presented, I was enraptured by the idea of watching these Jews be able to talk (as usual) and then get back to dirty manual work.
After lunch we got down to real dirty business: Rippin' out dead matter among the plants. Four plants are planted together in a "bayit" (house), with drip irrigation tubes feeding water to each plant. Each plant is essentially a weed, growing sprouts that need to be destroyed (watching our female host walking around with a machete, lopping off the tops of these sprouts and pouring gasoline on them was priceless). We were pulling the dead debris out, which could range from completely dried out leaves to stalks that at first appeared to be dehydrated, only to put up a fight and display it gooey, dripping innards once exposed. The liquid went everywhere, either dripping out our gushing out that made all of us give up bananas for a respectable amount of time.
We finished work and returned to Acco to package food for needy families in the area for Rosh Hashanah. The place was located in a warehouse filled with boxes and an extended family of volunteers. I'm not quite sure of what ethnicity they were, my bets are on some Central Asian republic or the only Jewish Gypsy family in existence. We get started on working, and the place is in total chaos. The two women in charge, "Ponytail" and "Goldteeth," each have different ways of packing the same box – if one taught you how to do it and the other checked it before being packed, you were screwed. After finishing several palettes of boxes, we got to a new one with different items in the boxes. Goldteeth was explaining to me how they should be packed, as she knew I spoke Hebrew, in order to explain it to the others; Ponytail, in the meantime, was getting progressively antsy with us, and finally she exploded: She yelled at the Rabbi in our group, and went absolutely nuts. Goldteeth tried to make her shut up, when then progressed into an incredibly loud shouting match which devolved from Hebrew into whatever language these people spoke (the fact that I couldn't tell was making the whole scene funnier). In recounting the story to my roommate during the trip, I said that I was waiting for the trained bear form their caravan to join the melee, or at the very least for them to start a knife fight.
After a half-hour more of packing, and Ponytail's tail tucked between her legs, we left exhausted back to the hotel. Dinner was served outside on the lawn facing the sea, a beautiful backdrop and a free dinner for the area's mosquitoes. Catching up on my telenovela, I joined another participant and my roommate downstairs for a drink and a great conversation. My roommate was a 19-year old from Kemp Mill who was a fashion design student in New York. Despite lots of differences, personal and otherwise, I felt like I was looking at a mirror-image of myself from that age (which initially depressed the hell out of me, thinking about starting sentences with "When I was your age…"). We talked clothes, music, politics and religion along with an older man from Rockville. I admired his desire to make sure that he wasn't seen as "the kid," even if it meant egging on others and making comments that pissed people off more than engaged them in conversation. Whether he knows it or not already, he will be my clothes designer.

15 September 2006

12 September 2006

The morning felt like I was working for birthright israel again – a quick wakeup/shower/breakfast/caffeine intake/boarding the bus before fully waking up. A half of the group didn't get to their connecting flight in time (and turns out their luggage didn't arrive), so it was only a handful of us this morning. Off we went in a sherut to a moshav (a cooperative village where residents keep their personal earnings).
We got split up for tasks. Mine? Baggin' bananas. Each task consisted of the following: Setting up a 7-foot metal ladder with an attached leg, covering the fruited stalk with a bright blue piece of plastic (or nylon as they call it here), and tying the top off around a leaf. I'm definitely not complaining, and not just because the job was in the shade – I actually enjoy manual labor. Perhaps some of you who know me reading this are laughing, but I don't care. There's definitely something to be said about Jews working the land (any land, for that matter), seeing Jewish women working the land, getting one's hands dirty in the land here, and helping bring food to fellow neighbors' tables.
After work we took another Terror Tour, this one planned and following where katyushas fell in the last month. We traveled to a cow shed that was struck, a kibbutz where an American was struck dead while riding his bicycle, and the seaside Israel-Lebanon border at Rosh Hanikra, composed of white limestone cliffs with a sweeping view of Israel's Mediterranean coast and the unknown lurking behind the IDF tanks and UN vehicles (pictures to come soon).
The other half of the group finally came, we ate, and I snuck back to my room to watch what some would call a guilty pleasure and others total trash: soap operas. Israel is transfixed with the Latin American-style soap operas called "telenovelas," which only last for several months. The latest Israeli series, called "Ha-Alufa" ("The Championship"), concerns a fictional Jerusalem soccer team and has dialogue in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, and English. The plot and subplots are so exaggerated and intertwined, I would be foolish (and more of a nerd than necessary here) to go through it. I'm finally up to date with the episodes, which is great considering that Oscar is alive!
11 September 2006

Even after retelling the following story, I'll understand if you don't believe me.

The "bleasure" friend was leaving Israel today, so we decided to go out in Tel Aviv last night. It took close to an hour for the sherut from Jerusalem to fill (they only leave once they get 10 passengers) and once I arrived in the city, thick with humidity, I made a beeline to where we were eating and promptly ordered food. The rest of the evening was spent with activities such as going for Arab pastries in Yafo/Jaffa (the ancient port adjacent to Tel Aviv), walking along the beach, and finally arriving back home in Jerusalem around 04.30.
Waking up and taking my time, the plan was to meet the volunteer group when they landed at the airport around 17.30. I decided not to get there real early and passed on several buses. Finally my bus arrived and I definitely told the driver I was going to the airport (you can figure out where this is going…). We turned off the highway for the airport, stopped at the nearby industrial park, and kept going to other stops along the perimeter. Soon enough we were approaching Petach Tikva and other towns way beyond the airport and kept going, and going, and going, and going….
Thankfully the same bus' destination was Haifa, around the corner from where I needed to arrive, and the driver clearly didn't remember that I paid the fare from Jerusalem to the airport only -- I'd like to think of myself as a fairly moral person, but in this case I had every right to keep my discount. The bus, meanwhile, kept traversing the countryside and taking its time to reach its final destination. At once junction, for example, several passengers complained that the driver overcharged them (under their breaths, of course) and then the driver just about rear-ended a car. Further along, after entering the central bus station in Netanya, a tourist asked the bus driver when we'd arrive at the airport. OOPS! The driver clearly knew he messed up and told the tourist to get on the same bus going in the opposite direction (almost an hour's drive at this point).
By the time we arrived in Haifa, I had no qualms about paying much less than the trip cost, especially since my journey wasn't over. Since I know nothing about Haifa, much less its bus station, this was becoming more and more "fun." I asked at the information desk, and they gave me directions that stretched on for way too many minutes. I found the right bus, the bus driver was kind enough to explain what to do, and off we went on Bus #2, with a scenic tour of the bay at night on a very crowded bus. At the end of the line was another station with the bus to Akko/Acre, which I needed. Bus #3 was found with another accommodating bus driver who promised to let me know when we'd approach the bus station there.
Finally! I see the hotel at the turnoff to Akko, and the kind bus driver let me off. I found my room, found the group, found food, and passed out.

Perhaps the most ____________(fill in the blank) of the trip was the fact that we passed by the sites of some of the most famous terrorist attacks in the last six years: in Netanya, we passed by a mall that's been attacked more than anywhere else in Israel; and in Haifa we passed Maxim restaurant, a restaurant catering to both Jews and Arabs that was attacked. That this twisted tour took place on 11 September wasn't what stuck out in my mind; rather, that I was passing by places that have become yesteryear, especially in the face of what I was scheduled to see in the North. These were relics of the past that few people outside of Israel recognize, that Israelis have managed to return to despite the ever-present fear, and that would soon pass their fate onto the North.

10 September 2006

10 September 2006

It may be the start of the school year here and you know Rosh Hashanah is around the corner with supermarkets selling candlesticks, gift packs of chocolate, and products like Pomegranate/Apple/Honey juice, but the weather feels like the middle of summer. Yesterday there was a nationwide sharav, the local term for a heat wave that's characterized by little or no breeze. Going out after Shabbat ended to catch up on email, the stagnant air and lingering heat felt out of place in this town set in the mountains. Returning to the apartment I caved in and used the air conditioner, which otherwise I've been incredibly good at keeping off.

I woke up to the sound and feel of the air conditioner, a wonderful feeling indeed. Today was no improvement over yesterday, and there was work to be done. To my advantage, defrosting a freezer on one of the hottest days made the whole process much smoother even with the scene of me pouring boiling water into aluminum pans which sat in the fridge, speeding up the process.
Off to City Hall to get a new immigrant's discount on arnona, the municipal tax. The walk over felt like walking in the desert, with very few fellow pedestrians in sight (smart bastards). Despite City Hall's impressive (and air-conditioned) halls, the process was typical style to both here and in the States: Get a number, sit and wait for your turn. I picked up a form I supposedly needed, trying to make sense of it despite there being no reference to new immigrants. Aside from the few university students waiting to get their discount (the municipality is encouraging students to live here by lowering their arnona payments), the vast majority of people waiting were either yeshiva students or wives of yeshiva students. Granted, it's important to have apt students learning Torah and Talmud; but this many?? Even though I am actively looking for a job, I felt in the moment very selfish for claiming this z'chut ("rights" as a new immigrant).
As I sat down for my turn with one of the many female clerks and told her that I'm an immigrant, she promptly said I didn't need that form – Who gave you that form, she asked? Chaim?? Of course he did, he's really been off today, hasn't he?! (turning to her colleagues busily rejecting the requests of other residents). She promptly took the necessary documents, offered to make copies of them for her own use (if you're not careful, most offices will take the originals), and was done in no time. Again, one more bureaucratic hurdle that went smoothly, especially after eavesdropping on the yeshiva student next to me, in his American accent, getting flustered over the forms he needed. A stop at the post office to pay the little amount I owe and I was done in ldefinitely less than an hour. The heat was apparently making Chaim and the rest of the clerks get testier than normal, as was everyone else in the city.
The friend on bleasure and I met at the shuk to grab some lunch. We sat down in the air-conditioned, popular café across from a spice market and what at first looked like an empty butcher. Soon after came the meat on the shoulder of some guy with no gloves, apron or uniform covering his clothes. The first piece was either a half of a sheep or the leg of a cow, hooked by the same guy who promptly wiped his nose with the same bare hands used to carry in the carcass. My friend had her back turned to the scene, but didn't miss the next installment. Soon after the guy was bringing in the hind quarters of what was definitely a cow, its ribs the size of a person's arm, all taking place in the heat approaching 100 Farenheit with no refrigeration in sight. Definitely glad I settled on dairy for lunch. After watching the butcher start to carve the Ivory soap fat off the slab of beef, it was time to get out of the "in" café.

09 September 2006

More pictures of the apartment, the Second Room:

Top -- Second room, with closet and ladder to loft
Middle -- View of the nook, fridge and First Room
Bottom -- Bathroom, with sliding door and enough space for one person (toilet is to your left, shower to the right)

Uploading these pictures took well over 30 minutes, which is especially fun when sitting on a bench around the corner from my place to take advantage of the free wireless access in this city.
A long day tomorrow, which includes : Defrosting a freezer, Paperwork at City Hall, and a trip up to Hebrew University.

07 September 2006

Left: My apartment, with the baclony on the left, mini-kitchen, and entrance into the second room (the entrance is just behind me to the left).
Right: The building itself

I'll try to upload more in hte next few days, but it's taking a long time. Lots to do today.

06 September 2006

I'm still trying to upload pictures of my apartment to the blog -- I think the site caught on to my disdain for itself and as such is making this a much harder ordeal....

I just got the news that I'll be joining the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington's Elul (the name of the current month on the Jewish calendar) Volunteer Mission, doing recovery work in the North 10-17 September. I had been wanting to volunteer since getting here, and thankfully this opportunity landed on my lap. Even though I have imporant tasks to finish (getting my course list for school) and others relatively pressing (furniture), there's a lot of work to be done up there.

I also really like the idea of being busy with recovery work on the 5th anniversary of September 11th -- for someone like me, who at the time lived 20 city blocks away fform the World Trade Center -- it'll be nice to be making an actual, physical change instead of watching the news and attending yet another ceremony.

Not quite clear what the internet connection will be like at hte hotel we're staying at, but I'll bring the camera and computer to keep up with what's happening.

04 September 2006

04 September 2006

Last evening I went to one of the mega-supermarkets in Jerusalem, part of a chain appropriately called "Mega." Among the many tasks on my list were to buy sheets and pillows. It still sounds weird to buy one's sheets and pillows in the supermarket, but that's what one does here, even if the sheets look more and more like upholstery for a nondescript European airliner and the pillow deflate after one use. There is better bedding to be had in this country, but for now my Air France a la 1972 sheets are just fine
Like all other supermarkets, Mega carries a Russian black beer that if you walk by its Cyrillic label fast enough, it reads "KRAC." Too many self-evident jokes in that one.

Today I decided to sleep late, still recovering from the weekend in Tel Aviv and the state of my friend's apartment. I didn't have much to do, so I bought some necessary fixtures and spent time arranging things in the apartment. After putting clothes away and hanging up others, I decided to go back to the bank to finally get my card. Getting ignored by one of the workers, ironically sitting at the "New Accounts" desk, I decided to get my health care settled. I picked the Clalit healthcare company since they're literally next door to me – the employees there were happy to see me, the receptionist told me all about her trips to the USA, and in no time I was signed up with the General Healthcare for the Workers in the Land of Israel (the original name of the company), a reference to the Histadrut, the labor trade federation that can paralyze the entire country with a general strike.
I decided to try the bank again, not letting the surliness of one teller get to me. Within no time I was sitting in front of a woman who not only gave me my card and numerical code, but once figuring out that I'm a new immigrant from America, complimented me on my non-existent accent. Quintuple points for Bank Leumi!

You know it's the beginning of the academic year here, not just because you see parents taking their little kids to their first days of school or because every news broadcast announces it here (granted it's a small country, but this country's attention to its students makes the USA look like a third-world hovel); no, the way one knows it's time for school in Jerusalem is by seeing the hordes of girls with long hair, jean skirts and/or skirts over sweatpants, long sleeves with cuffs tightly wound around their knuckles, charm necklaces and/or bracelets, and an endless stream of English being spoken. The accents, the disregard for others in the same proximity (much like Israelis), the half-hearted attempts to speak Hebrew, and the general immaturity that unfortunately defines a good percentage of post-high school American Jews who wind up here in a yeshiva or seminary.
30 August-03 September 2006

A lot happened over the weekend so here, in my favorite fashion, are some bullet-point highlights:

-Moved into my new apartment
-Took the sherut ("service," a sort of vanpool/minibus) to Tel Aviv
-Lunch at a fantastic burger joint with a friend from college, comparing Aliyah experiences
-A friend on bleasure (business for a few days, pleasure the rest) arrives, after which we walk around Sheinkin Street ("the SoHo of Israel" – please) and Rothschild Boulevard (matching its grandiose name with multi-million condos and a shaded boulevard)
-Met up with friends of friends, walked seemingly aimlessly down the Tayelet (seaside promenade)
-Met up again with friends of friends at a beach party (reggae music, overpriced drinks, and a song whose lyrics included "aba shelach me'ashen hashish"/"your dad smokes hashish")
-Went to a favorite bar of mine: the small, dark, and packed place throbs to Israeli music blasted at full volume and slightly sped up; the patrons get drunk enough to dance on the bar; and the bartenders get so drunk they follow in kind, along with juggling fire and acrobatics from a suspended rope)
-3am post-drinking feeding, inhaling the best side of mashed potatoes this side of the Atlantic
-Lunch at a pricey place, successfully finishing a huge plate of schnitzel (think one big flat chicken tender, though this one was the size of the entire plate)
-More walking, browsing another friend's store on Sheinkin
-Chill at another friend' places on the porch, hoping the amassing grey clouds would bring rain
-Dinner that cost 30NIS for enormous portions (schnitzel again, it's just that good)
-BEACH: Gigantic waves that lapped halfway up shore; crashing waves complimented by sound of dozens of pairs of matkot (paddleball) players; People dressed in all manners of attire, casual is key and underwear is accepted; Watching the sunset behind a group of 20-somethings who rolled & smoked two blunts
-Dinner at a place that epitomizes Israelis in India – set up as a hostel and restaurant, with a pay-what-you-want vegetarian buffet, ancient sofas set up on several floors, waiters that disappear for at least 30 minute intervals, and a cast of patrons whom clearly have come back from their post-army trip looking for relive the experience. Definitely too lazy of a lifestyle for me, or perhaps I'm too much in the mood of everything I have to do.
-Returning to friend's apartment to find the door bolted and the air conditioner on – crap, I think, I left on the air conditioner or he came back. Turns out the apartment was promised to two different sets of friends – the other one was a group of five Paratroopers, coming back from/going to their field ops test. I quickly packed up my stuff, told the one solider who woke up to stop apologizing for me not knowing they'd be there, and made my way to my other friend's apartment, exhausted and still full from dinner.

31 August 2006

30 August 2006

I got up early to trek out to the Absorption Ministry. On the way, a bumped into a former colleague coming back from morning prayers. Although I knew he'd be in town, I wasn't expecting to see him, which is ridiculous in this small city where everyone knows everyone already.
After waiting 20 minutes after my appointed time, I finally got to see my metapelet ("case worker," for lack of a better term). She was very friendly, helpful, personable, and complimented me several times on my Hebrew and thought-out plans for being here. I then saw another advisor at Student Authority in order to get the approval for free tuition at the Hebrew University, who was equally helpful in letting me know what next steps I had to take (and also complimented me on my Hebrew). I think I'm forcing myself to believe that the oft-told horror stories of Israeli bureaucrazy will happen to me, though so far they haven't. I definitely don't want to tempt the Fates here, but it's going well.

After treating myself to a proper breakfast at a nearby café, I came back to rest for the inevitable task of the day: moving all my stuff into the new apartment. I'm staying at another friend's for a few days, which is in walking distance to the apartment. I decided I would try not to spend money on a taxi again and look bizarre in walking back and forth upscale Jerusalem with luggage. Up the hill, past the estates, and through the yuppie café-filled streets I went, with each leg of the trip ending with a huge sigh. Each suitcase became progressively heavier with each journey, making each drop-off all the more satisfying. I started unpacking, despite the lack of furniture.

I decided to grab some food downtown, waiting for an incredibly long time for bus back. Watching TV and thinking about passing out from exhaustion, huge explosive sounds reverberated throughout the town. I waited a minute before jumping to conclusions, and since the TV broadcast didn't break for the news, it wasn't any thing about which to be concerned. Turns out it was a huge fireworks display downtown during a concert for teenagers. Even though there are fireworks here every Independence Day, how OK are we with a sound and light display that mirrors the worst of days here, davka (roughly translating to " especially, now more than ever") after a month-long battle/war/wipeout?

Off to Tel Aviv for the weekend, updates to follow

29 August 2006

29 August 2006

After reading the discounted cooking books at various stores (including one I will definitely get in the near future, entitled "Ground Meat" in Hebrew) I appropriately became hungry.
I convinced myself at first that I was going to go to the shuk ( or "suq" in Arabic, the stereotypical market/bazaar of the Middle East, with crowded alleyways and merchants trying everything possible to get you attention) to get several pieces of fried kubbeh, a Levantine specialty of ground lamb and pine nuts wrapped and fried in a bulgur wheat shell. Think fried dough with meat inside, 'nuff said.
Before going, I did some wandering and stopped by the etrog juice man (Yemenite Jews use the etrog (i.e. citron) to sure many aliments – the "etrog juice man" is a landmark in Jerusalem who claims to be able to cure hundreds of illnesses with various anatomical parts of the etrog) for a juice called "Etrogat" which includes grapefruit & other juices and an herb called gat, which is the Middle Eastern version of coca. It's technically illegal in Israel, but that apparently doesn't stop the etrog juice guy from peddling MidEast speed.
Wandering around some more, I came across one of the many restaurants that are embedded in the shuk – this one was kosher, dairy, and Indian. For the equivalent of $7 I got a full thali platter and homemade lemonade with mint, not to mention a ring-side view of shoppers with their numerous plastic bags, a store-front synagogue with a full crowd for the afternoon service, and female cadet soldiers passing by, all within eight feet of my table. Incredibly pleasing with the Indian food complimenting the sweltering heat, and who knows if I'll be bale to find the place again in that market labyrinth.

28 August 2006

28 August 2006

Not much going on which explains the shorter entries appearing together. I'm learning to appreciate these periods of not having to run around. That will probably change soon, as the outgoing renter of my apartment leaves on Tuesday and I formally take over on Friday. As the place is unfurnished, I get to spend the next month and a half interior decorating and eventually making my way to the country's IKEA branch in the center of the country (here it's pronounced as "ee-KAY-a" because the American English pronunciation sounds similar to the Hebrew verb for "I'll vomit").

I changed my address and registered for free health coverage at the post office (you heard right, I also get to eventually pay my electric bill there) and finally got an appointment at the Immigrant Absorption Ministry for this Wednesday(for more free money and to get my waiver for free tuition at Hebrew U.).

The best and worst of Israeli TV commercials:
Best: "Who Will Be the Next Uri Geller?" reality show
Worst: Black Americans have the monopoly on ads for chocolate here. Cereal, cake, even a new line of diet yogurt…it's one thing to trade ethnic jokes among friends in this country (a national pastime) but to showcase caricatures of women with cellulite pink lips, dark skin and bulging figures? Maybe this is another "comes with the package" reality, or maybe it's another "If more American Jews made Aliyah, things would change" ideal.
25 August 2006

Walking back from downtown….The rich, hypnotizing smell of jasmine at 1 AM coupled with the thwack-thwack of my flip-flops tipsily making their way back home and the endless fights among the feral cats, who use their vocal chords as a motor to rev themselves up for the inevitable fight between themselves and their closest opponent.

It's so hot today, you can't help but slow down. I found myself walking slower than I've ever done before.

Music plays a big part in my life, from my CD collection hovering around 400 to an ever-developing soundtrack playing throughout a day.
Examples: The same café that played Carmen on Sunday is playing Morrissey, the former leader of The Smiths with an incredible melodramatic voice. They're also playing two of my favorite songs of theirs. Now they're playing The Pixies.
The bus driver this afternoon was listening to the radio, playing The Clash's "Rock the Casbah" as we're driving through downtown Jerusalem. Don't get caught up on me taking a bus – how about listening about a punk song which includes lines like "Sharif don't like this!" and "This is not kosher!" in the Holy Land?

24 August 2006

23 August 2006

Everything is going a lot smoother than originally expected. Perhaps a bit too smoothly, but that could be my East Coast neurosis/Jerusalemite superstition.

Apartment: As I last reported, I was going to check out another apartment after the scare that was the Monk's Cell. It's located in a quiet neighborhood called Rechavia, seconds away from cafes and the Israeli equivalent of NYC bodegas. It's on the second floor with two rooms (one containing a mini-kitchen), a lofted space for a bed, bathroom (duh), and a balcony big enough for two people to sit across from one another. The floor is imitation wood paneling (parquet), and the pervious tenant had the place looking like a stereotypical Alpine farmhouse. Not my taste, but it made the place look very warm and inviting. The wood paneling also reminded me of home in DC, so definitely another plus. In the end I decided to take it, even with all my pre-emptive self-persuasion.
The family who owns the apartment is incredibly patient and, for being landlords, nice. The son sat down with me to make sure I understood the contract, even willing to translate it for me if needed (No thanks, I told him). What amazed me even more was that the original asking price was the price written in the contract: all the other places I contemplated taking had considerably upped their price. No need to haggle, the sticker price was the final price.

Bank: Opening an account at a branch nearby my new apartment was incredibly easy. Again, perhaps too easy. For being in an upscale neighborhood, the interior doesn't look like it fits. Granted, they're doing renovations on the place, which became abundantly clear when the occasional sound of something blunt crashing made all the tellers jump from their seats. "Shiputzim (Renovations)," my clerk told me, perhaps trying to reassure the two of us.
I've never signed my name more times on a single piece of paper (I think I counted a total of 25 signatures, most likely more), and more importantly I increased my spending limit before making any deposits. I'm not going to explain the absurdity of the Israeli banking system, plenty of other jangled immigrants have written about it.

Cellphone: TBA

It is hotter than average throughout the country. Because Jerusalem is up in the mountains, it's usually 20 degrees F cooler in the evening – definitely not the case last night. I'm spending as much time inside as possible, allowing me to catch up on one of the best past-times around – Israeli TV. I explain it to others as Telemundo in Hebrew – a combination of telenovelas (Pick your language: Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, Portuguese, English), less artsy commercials that are even more entertaining (think ads for Fanta Grapefruit and Melon sodas next to Police warnings to stay away from unexploded ordnance in the North) and this one low grade, Japanese anime-looking woman who promotes every product possible, some times being shown in several back-to-back commercials (she's been bought out by so many companies, I want to treat her to a free STD test out of pity).

Hopefully I'll get an appointment with the Absorption Ministry this afternoon or tomorrow, as I have to start getting ready for school. After being scared by my admissions advisor that registration for the fall begins today, I called my department who calmly told me that MA students don't register until next month and that she'd send all the info regarding my departmental advisor and how to create a schedule. Whew! Nice to know that the different offices talk with one another. NYU was good practice for what I'm inevitably up against here.

One last note: Even though I haven't started school (and eventually a job) yet, I'm enjoying how much slower the day seemingly goes by here. The last time I wrote was two days ago, which seems like last week. Space here stays the same (and with the help of international pressure, it gets smaller by the day), but time stretches out like the teeth-pulling saltwater taffy from the East Coast. That is, unless you bump into another American who's so strung out they could use a few hours in the sun to get calm (and color).

22 August 2006

21 August 2006

The last few days have been surprisingly relaxed, especially since I'm storing up my first encounters with Israeli bureaucracy – Bank, Absorption Ministry, Cell-phone plan – for the middle of the week. Perhaps foolish, but I have my reasons:

~I'm getting a grant in NIS to become an Israeli citizen, and would like to open a bank account with a large initial deposit in order to build a higher credit line
~I can't go to the Absorption Ministry or a cell-phone company until I have a bank account

I spent the morning at a local café, self-caffeinating and checking up on email and apartment listings. 10.00 on a Sunday with quiet fellow patrons and La Habanera from Bizet's Carmen being played makes one forget that today's a week-day. I've looked at two apartments so far – one around the corner and out of my price range, and another that defines the real estate world's use of "cozy" and "fixer-upper." I'm exaggerating a bit on the second apartment – it's in a desirable neighborhood (Nahlaot) and has a lot of patio space of my own – but it's a studio that's in serious need of fresh paint and new furniture. As care-free as I was with packing all my stuff into three suitcases, two carry-on bags, and five boxes of books (to be shipped), I felt an inner hesitation to condense all of that into this ground-level square studio that needs a lot of work (yet would be my own and look like my own). There are few things on a silver platter to be had here, but the vast remainder should still feel right.

The two friends, who picked me up at the airport and live in Tel Aviv, have an attitude equivalent to New Yorkers towards the rest of America (the World?). As such, they called this morning to check in on me and persuade me to move to Tel Aviv. While we gave each other suitable reasons for living in either city, I eventually made my way to the computer to check out listings in Tel Aviv. Turns out there are flats to be had within my budget. Even though it would entail a round-trip commute to Jerusalem each day I have classes – one-way starts from at least 1 hour – I'm not against the notion. I've moved half-way around the world, what's another 40-minute move?

This afternoon I checked out a series of apartments owned by one guy that are advertised constantly on a popular English listing. Despite the advertisements of satellite TV, DSL cable, and other "perks," the fact that these places were still on the market three months after I first saw them were an easy cause for apprehension. I'd describe these apartments on a practical level as bordering on hovels, and on a melodramatic level as the End of Humanity. These places were so depressing – narrow rooms suitable for itinerant workers and the unsavory characters described by Charles Dickens – and made me think I would never find any thing in this city-town. The last apartment I was shown on the tour, located in the middle of the shuk and yet surprisingly quiet, peaked my anxiety. The place was decent for being located on the fourth floor of a dimly lit walk-up with a money changer at the entrance: a separate area for the kitchen and washing machine, space for the satellite TV and desktop computer, and a lofted bed. I tried to believe that I could do better than this place I might have to settle on, jokingly referring to it as the Convent or Monk's cell.

After wandering the shuk and deciding to stay downtown before the viewing the next apartment on my list, I began paraphrasing Annette Benning's character in American Beauty in my head: "I will rent this apartment." I knew the next place had to be a step up, and resolved to do whatever it takes to make it mine. Catching a quick bite at Aroma, a JDS classmate saw me through the window and came in. Turns out she's been living in Israel with her boyfriend, going back to the States to make some money, and return as a fellow Immigrant in the winter. We also have the same birthday, so my bubbling neurosis led me to believe that my karma was some how back on track after seeing my Monk's Cell.

This town is obviously making me even more superstitious than normal, noticing the several black cats crossing my path on the way to see the apartment that I self-affirmed would be mine. Since I'm being superstitious, I'll wait to describe the apartment until after I meet with the owners, tomorrow evening. All I'll say is after a long walk back, a necessary shower, and a breeze infused with a distant bonfire (one of the best smells of Israel), I feel much better.

Stay tuned for the eventual apartment find and inevitable saga-like anecdotes of how I picked it.