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