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.