29 October 2007

29 October 2007

The other week, my healthcare fund wished me a happy birthday by sending me a deal on laser hair removal. I’m still not sure what to make of it (annoyed? flattered that I have no other helth concerns? confused?), except that it makes total sense in a country as Semitic as this one.

The last few days have been spent looking for two important things: a job and It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Looking for a job in this country isn’t difficult just because I’m a student; rather, all I’ve been seeing are spots in call centers (chances are, if the operator you’re becoming annoyed with over the phone isn’t from India he/she’s over here), which doesn’t have much in the way of intellectual stimulation. A few leads, but not many.
For me, passage of time is connected with specific television shows, and to a lesser extent, movies. If it’s Halloween, I have to see Garfield’s Halloween Adventure, Charlie Brown, and Disney’s Halloween Treat and Hocus Pocus. After many days of online searching, I finally saw the Great Pumpkin and now all is cosmically well. It just wouldn't be possible to pass 31 October without seeing it at least once.

(Hopefully) More to write on Halloween, as it’s one of my favorite holidays, especially passing the day in Israel as there’s very little equivalence in the Jewish holiday cycle.

24 October 2007

24 October 2007

Last week was the beginning of school. Here’s a concise summary of my new program:
-Going to school on a campus that was once a military base and now looks like Southern California. Palm trees, glass-and-concrete contemporary architecture next to log cabins, attractive people, Italian bottled water in the cafeteria….Graduate school or Beverley Hills 90210?
-First lecture by the professor I’m hoping to have as a thesis advisor. 90 minutes of brilliance on a stream of conscious thought.
-A self-imposed two hour break in the middle of the day to do research, catch up on reading, and of course time at the yuppie cafeteria.
-A class on politics taught by a former doctorate candidate I knew from NYU when he led a program for my student group. A lot of reading for this class – as expected – but could do without the passive-aggressive comments from students trying to sound witty but only end up sounding like they have no self-control.
-A mandatory course on decision making taught by the dean of the program which unfortunately veered at times into self-aggrandizing (we’re reading his book, using the software he designed, etc.).
-Waking up to get to school for an 8:30am class? Even if I sleep over at friends’ in Tel Aviv, it’s an hour commute in the morning…
-…only to arrive at a class with a soft-spoken professor presenting a slide-show with the lights off.
-Another required course that almost hits four hours with the first half taught by a professor so loved by his former undergraduates that he allows them to interrupt class with their tardiness and use Hebrew in what’s supposed to be an English program; the second half taught by a guy who thinks he’s funny, but his inability to pronounce English correctly and control his volume when pausing lends to moments where students jump out of their seats every five minutes out of terror as he screams his point through the microphone.

All of this, on top of not nearly enough books in the library for everyone (not to mention not being ordered for sale), and it’s still looking to be a great program. IDC’s quickly gain its’ own esteem with me, not just on it not being Hebrew Univ.

My birthday came and went, being one of the better ones I’ve had in a while. I got a surge of greetings on Facebook from friends and former students from birthright israel which is still very touching. The party friends threw for me was well attended, tastefully crazy, and next to no mention of the age connected with this year (I don’t really care for another five years or so).

Still looking for a job, not the most exciting of tasks...

By the way, if you want to get an update of my blog by email, sign up at the top righthand corner....I know that must sound riveting to some, but considering that my updating is anything but predictable, it could save on superfluous trips to this site (as opposed to more important ones like YouTube).

17 October 2007

16 October 2007

Monday was a nationwide awareness day for road safety, an issue that is incredibly important as thousands of citizens are killed in road accidents each year. How did I commemorate this special day? By getting a ticket for jaywalking.
Almost comically, I was waiting for the light to change at a very busy intersection. Two older people crossed against the light and I restrained myself at first, thinking that while the street was completely clear it wasn’t worth risking it; half a second later, I cross the street on a red light. Two seconds later, I catch in the corner of my eye a policeman walking towards me. Not wanting in the least to turn this into a scene, I quickly confessed to crossing on a red light. He took my ID, ran it through his car’s computer, and wrote out a ticket for 100 NIS. As much as I didn’t want to admit he was right, he was…if I want cars to respect the law, then pedestrians have to as well. Even though that cop didn’t bother ticketing the other pedestrians illegally crossing the street at the same time.

I also didn’t want to waste any more time, as I was on my way to my new school for orientation. After a few hours in Tel Aviv with a good friend from college, I ventured out to campus in the middle of rush-hour. Herzliya’s city center is kickin’ at 6pm, resembling an American beach town in the summer than a regular weekday evening.
After signing-in to the orientation, I join the rest of my soon-to-be colleagues in sizing up the competition, making the place already feel like being back at elitist NYU. The open orientation itself was a repetition of the open house several months ago, with some new information here and there, such as potentials for jobs and internships (USA-Israel Chamber of Commerce, Prime Minister’s Office, and *mouth-watering* UN Headquarters). Someone asked about moving from the non-research track to the research track (which I’m in) – the head of the program and soon to be dean of the school (and one of the foremost political scientists in the world, apparently) said that the research track was composed of a select group of students with very high profiles, GPA’s and backgrounds. Later, when we broke into our respective tracks, he repeated that factoid and said to me personally “Jay, I’m very glad you’re in this program.” Stroking my academic ego like he was, I was floating.
Getting home took forever, as I got a ride from another student along with another Jerusalemite to the neighboring town’s bus station where we waited for a full hour for the bus back.
Wednesday I woke up at a reasonable time to get to Tel Aviv for a job interview. I got a call from one of the tour operators for birthright israel to be a coordinator for their winter trips. I get to the place exactly on time, get ushered into a room where only one of the three interviewers introduce themselves, and I start giving my usual professional background story. We then get into the details of the job and five minutes later, it’s all over. The job requires someone to manage the logistics of trips on the ground, which are spread out over the country and thus requires a car. “You do have a driver’s license, right?” “No,” I respond, watching the main interviewer shoot a piercing look at the guy who phoned me about the interview, as if he left out a rather important question over the phone. “Clearly this wouldn’t work,” said the interviewer, understandably, but decided to continue with the meeting. Awkwardly, I was told I would hear from them this coming Sunday. As I left, I realized the job would entail me missing school for a long and extended period of time, something I may have considered back at Hebrew Univ. but not at a school where the soon-to-be-dean had me trying to deflate my head before classes had even begun.

Tomorrow's the first day of school!

14 October 2007

12 October 2007

When I was in the States, I decided to go to New York City for a few days out of a searing need to just be there. No plans needed, no places required, just to be back in The City. Meeting up with a friend from college, we decide to find each other at the rally by the UN Headquarters protesting the President of Iran’s presence at the annual General Assembly. While this was supposed to be an anti-Ahmadinejad rally, by the looks of the crowd it had the trappings of a pro-Israel rally. Buses of yeshiva students dressed in polo shirts and flat-soled shoes, agitated post-middleagers, Brooklynite cantors leading the crowd in Hatikvah: this was a bad flashback to rallies back in college. This trapping Jewry, energized political activism turned into ethnic particularism led by antequated leadership, is something I definitely don't miss in Israel.
After a few minutes of being there, I’d had enough and we left for coffee. As we’re walking we pass a bunch of swarthy men in ill-fitting suits, no ties, and speaking what clearly sounds like Farsi. “It’s his [Ahmadinejad’s] entourage,” I said, nudging my friend who at first didn’t believe me. After picking up coffee at the clearly Israeli-run joint (my Isradar spiked just by looking at the barista through the window), we retrace our steps only to be motioned by a Secret Service agent to the other side of the street. A crowd has gathered, using their arms as antennae for their cellphone cameras. Several minutes later the president of Iran comes out with his two body-doubles and board a convoy of various service vehicles (tinted SUVs, police cars and one ambulance) to the tune of New Yorkers cursing. Too many security agents to do anything drastic, and the convoy went on its way to Columbia University for the infamous speaking engagement. To be sure, we won’t be seeing that entourage any time in this neck of the woods.

More time zone-blurring moments:

-Arriving back from the States to find a pamphlet in Hebrew among my mail, a Jews for Jesus propaganda by an American missionary who uses cartoons and specious logic to debase anything except Southern Baptists
-TNA Wrestling in TLV! I already missed the monster truck rally in June.
-A Hebrew adaptation of the musical Avenue Q (the one with puppets)

Back in the States, an Icelandic band is playing at a synagogue! Múm is scheduled to play the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in DC on 7 November…Yes, yes, my former job is co-sponsoring the Israeli Idan Reichel Project at the same venue on the 12th, but an Icelandic band at a synagogue? All I need is nonstop Tel Aviv-Reykjavik flights to see some of my favorite acts and all will more or less be well.

Tomorrow is the orientation for my new graduate school, will try to remember to take pics of the place.

08 October 2007

06 October 2007

Got back into the country a few days ago from almost a month back in the States.
Where to begin?

For starters, I’m not going into the Israel Defense Forces any time soon. After months and months, I received two letters in the mail the morning before my flight. While there was no IDF insignia on the envelopes, they both came from Human Resources: The first one read that they received my request for an academic deferment, the second one read that not only did they accept it but because of my age I would be receiving a total deferment from the army.
As much as being in the army would afford me some financial stability, being back in school is the best outcome – at least for my brain, which needs to get sharpened up again after a long period of dullness. I can now start looking for a job which would ideally allow me to break even after paying bills AND connect to my professional interests (just about any thing, returning to work for birthright israel, etc.)

I arrived back in the States about a month ago after a nondescript flight via Madrid (except for being lucky enough to have two seats to myself for the transatlantic leg of the trip). Although I had been back in the States in April, the culture shock this time around felt more pronounced. Everything seemed bigger and more spread-out, and not just because I flew into Northern Virginia. An average trip to the supermarket was overwhelming. Remarks like “Wow!” followed by “there are so many choices here,” sounding more like a bad sitcom script about a Soviet peasant visiting the USA after the fall of Communism, nonetheless comprised my vocabulary, already failing from the lack of English used in the past several months. Reacculturating to DC, everything was painted in a veneer of familiarity. Yet there was no honking of car horns every five seconds, no pushing, 65 degrees F feeling like the Arctic, countless Please’s and Excuse Me’s from complete strangers….this was turning into an even worse type of sitcom.
The trip to the relatives in Ohio for Rosh Hashanah was much needed and not just for the nonstop eating. This was the first year in a long time that I didn’t laugh out loud at synagogue during the more whimsical portions of the liturgy. True, I did smirk and had to shut my eyes to block out any potential encouragement form my family to laugh. Stricken with jet lag, I was up in time to save a row for the whole clan along with my grandmother and cousin. The cantor, who are been shipped in from his home in Israel for the holidays ever since he left the congregation, normally brings his wife on the dais to lead some of the liturgy and this year their sons helped as well. The cantor and his son, no older than 12, chanted together the Prayer for the State of Israel and I did all I could from breaking down in the middle of services. After months of general frustration and an eventual dodging of the draft, here is this boy, within 10 years of his call-up date, singing his heart out in blessing The State alongside his father in front of people he otherwise won't see for another year.

I got back after a rough flight – on the last leg of the flight, I was surrounded by a group of Spanish Catholic pilgrims, including the two in my row who were easily the loudest and most obnoxious middle-age Spanish Catholic pilgrims I have ever encountered. For the entire flight they wouldn’t shut up, until finally I rolled my eyes hard enough for them to get the picture. Top it off with an Israel electronic music producer in first class who kept making surgically-lifted eyes at me under his sunglasses, and a Passport Control packed with so many Israelis returning that I contemplated jumping ship and joining the Foreign Passport line, and it was back to business in the Holy Land.

As I said the last time, the trips back to the States are not only good to see friends and family but to re-appreciate why I live where I do. This was a longer trip than the last, perhaps a bit too long, as my Hebrew and Israeliness need to be revved up again after all that drawl and politeness. Not having much to do this week isn’t the best way to return, and coming back for the crowds-inducing holiday of Simhat Torah was a bit overwhelming, but to be starting school in a place that at least sounds fantastic is enough for now.

Okay, that’s over…time to find a job…