Sunday, February 22, 2009

"Learn Your Lessons Well"

Hey All,

So this past week was CRAZY!!
I had my last week of Ulpan, which means Final Exams. Tuesday was my oral exam, which actually went really well. I had to have a conversation with a girl in my class about which was better; the Shuk (an outside market) or the Supermarket. It was an entire 5 minute conversation between the two of us asking what each place and if what we wanted was expensive. Then we ended with giving each other directions to the two places that we wanted to go to. The second part of the oral exam was just the Teacher and I. She would ask me questions about a specific text that I had to read and memorize. I ended up forgetting half of the words that I needed to use, and she could tell that I was getting frustrated. At this point she stopped me, and started over with just asking me questions about myself (things that I like, do, eat, and drink). That part actually went really well, and I ended up getting an 80% on my oral exam. Thursday was my written exam, which I was freaking out about the whole week. When I finally got into the exam I took a minute to relax and finally decided that it was not worth getting stressed over. I just needed to do my best, and what ever happens, happens. I started the exam, and I felt really good about it. There were parts that I REALLY didn't know, and then there were parts that I breezed through. The last page of the test (5th page) was me having to write an essay (all in Hebrew). I started writing and it actually went really well, I found that I knew more then I thought I would remember. I finished early, and went back to my room with Shaina and took a "congratulation Ulpan is over" nap.

When Shaina and I woke up, we went out with our friends Sarah, Margot, and Leah to the Shuk so that we could go shopping for Shabbat dinner at Margot's apartment. It was a lot of fun, and ended up being a really nice day out. After the Shuk I came back to my room, cleaned up a bit, read, and got ready to meet up with my friend from camp, Neta. Neta and I haven't seen each other in two years, and I was so very excited to see her again. I met her at the central bus station and we took another bus to Ben Yehuda Street for dinner. We went to a restaurant called Foccacia Grill, which was kind of like a Tuscan grill, which served everything you could possibly think of. Neta and I talked about old times, and caught each other up on the things that we were doing now, all of this over two amazing salads, and a dessert cup of chocolate mousse. After dinner, Neta and I met up with some of her friends at a bar that was down the street. When we sat down Neta told them that they should speak in English, and I immediately cut her off and told them that they should speak in Hebrew, and I will let them know if I need them to stop and go back to English. They were really nice, and told me that they wanted to practice their English, and that if it gets too hard for them they will just start speaking in Hebrew. I didn't care either way, I loved hearing them speak in Hebrew, even though I didn't understand most of what they were saying. Then around 1am Neta and her friends left and I met up with my girls Ariana and Leah. We walked around the larger bar and club area on Ben Yehuda Street called "Crack Square" (you guess is better then mine). We went to another small bar just to have some girl time, and ended up staying for a good hour, we got back to our rooms around 3am.

The next morning I woke up extra early to go to brunch with my nest friend from home Andrew (who is going to Tel Aviv University for the semester). He came in the night before to see his friends from Camp Ramah that go to Hebrew University, and we had been in touch during that week so that we could make time to see each other. I met up with him at the student apartments, and took him to a great bakery right next to the student village. We sat for a good hour and a half to two hours talking about our experiences so far, our birthdays, and what we are really looking forward to when the semester actually starts. I miss him so much, and I was so happy that I got to finally see him, even if it was for just a little bit. I hope that once we both have our semesters figured out we will be able to maybe see each other a little bit more (aka me traveling to Tel Aviv). After I left Andrew I went back to my dorm to get ready for Shabbat. Shaina and I and a bunch of our friends met up at Margot's apartment and we made ourselves a GREAT Shabbat dinner. It was really nice to cook, and hang out with my friends again in a more relaxed setting. The rest of weekend consisted of sleeping in, watching movies with my friend Sarah, and snacking on what was left (which was not very much) in our closet for food.

Then the semester started.....

Sunday morning (this morning) was my first day of the spring semester. Shaina and I got up early to get ready and scrounge around for some kind of breakfast, and then walked to our first class (which we had together), Biblical Figures and Stories in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Art. This class was great. There are about 13 people in the class, and we just started right away the biblical stories that we knew the best; Cain and Abel, Jacob's Ladder, Jacob wrestling with the angel, and the binding of Isaac. We looked at different art pieces that were telling these stories through the eyes of Jews and Jewish artists, and Christians. They were all very different, and very interesting to compare. We then looked at one Islamic art piece, and out teacher told us that Islamic art is normally not allowed in society for people to see, and that if there were biblical art pieces created they were only allowed to be put inside the palaces. Our teacher told us that throughout the course we are going to be comparing a lot of art pieces between Jewish views of biblical stories, and Christian views of the New Testament stories. As well as looking at Islamic art and thinking about how they portray their own views on these biblical stories.
My second class of the day was Religious Foundations of Judaism 2: Intellectual Trends and Ideological Development. It was again a really small class ( about 9 people), and the Professor basically just started us out with where the Jews were practicing in the middle ages. He said that we were going to start out in the middle ages, and move on through medieval times, then the Renaissance, then move into modern views of Judaism. I am really excited for this class. I have a feeling that it parts of it are going to be difficult, and a lot of it is going to be class discussions on the different areas of Judaism, and how it can be argued with the New Testament. We were also told that the class will be going on an all day field trip to the North, to explore the different areas that Judaism first started, and the different movements with in those areas.
Other then that I have had a pretty easy going day, and cannot wait for the rest of my classes during the week. I'll take notes during the week so that I don't forget anything for my next post. I know that some of you are truly interested in the classes that I am taking. So I will hopefully be as detailed as I can next time.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

"You've Got a Friend In Me"

Hey All,

Hope everyone's week was wonderful...mine sure was.
Last Sunday night after I submitted my latest blog post, Shaina and I went to the Community Center in Pisgat Ze'ev for their Tu B'shvat event. Yoel and his wife Chava picked us up at our dorm, and we drove right to the center. When we got there the entire room was an explosion of color and music. It was sett up a lot like an event that would be held at my own Synagogue. Round tables all over the room, pretty, theme like decorations on top. Art work around the room, done by the kids from the community, entertainment ( a woman singing A LOT of songs in Hebrew, with a piano accompanist), and an all around lively atmosphere. Everyone was so very warm, and caring, and everyone that Yoel introduced me to was so eager to meet me, and get to know EVERYTHING about me, Wagner, my stay so far at Hebrew University.

Through the night we blessed four cups of wine representing the change in all four seasons. As well as different blessings and songs for the different foods that come from trees (oranges, nuts, olives, figs, dates, etc.). It was a lot of fun, and Shaina and I learned a lot about celebrating this holiday in Israel. By the end of the night however, we were very tired, maybe because of the wine, but also because we had just started our first week of 5 HOUR ULPAN CLASSES!!!

During the week it was literally wake up at 7:30, walk to Ulpan by 8, and be in class starting at 8:30. We had to do this because it is the last 2 weeks of Ulpan before we start the semester. So we have to learn as much Hebrew as possible in order to take a final Hebrew placement exam by the end of the second week (a two part oral Hebrew exam, and a written exam). However, because of the Israeli elections on Tuesday we had off from school, and got to sleep in, relax, and study. The down side of not having class on Tuesday though, is we had to have class on Friday, which normally does not happen because people are getting ready for the Sabbath. O well, Shaina and I dealt during the week. We went to classes, had lunch straight after (around 1:45), went back to the room, did homework, napped, played on our computers, ate dinner, watched a movie, and went to bed. That was pretty much our routine every day, UNTIL.........

Saturday night (Valentines Day), it was our friend Ariana's 18th Birthday. Which is kind of a big deal in Israel because that is the age that you are officially legal (while in the states it is 21). On Friday Ariana went into the Old City with her friend Margo and celebrated Shabbat there. Then Saturday night, right after sundown, Shaina, Becca, Sarah, and I met Margo and Ariana at Cafe, Cafe, (so good they named it twice Sarah says). We sat down for dinner and the people at the restaurant started setting up all Valentines day decorations. We figured, hey it's Ari's b-day, lets celebrate our "love" for her, and we did. The food was amazing, they have an assortment of different kinds of pastas that you can mix-and-match with different sauces. They also had sandwiches, beautiful salads, and main dishes that mostly involved Salmon, and Tilapia (that's was Becca, Ariana, and I got). We were so very full by the end that we couldnt make room for dessert. However, we definitely made up for it later.

After dinner we took a bus to Ben Yehuda Street and walked to a Bar that was recommended to us by my new friend Shai Bar. Shai was the sheliach ( Israel exchange student/member/helper if you will) last year on Staten Island, and now he is working at the Pisgat Ze'ev Community Center with some of the youth that is there. He called me during dinner and told me about this great place called Goldy's, so we walked down Ben Yehuda and found the bar, which was very packed, but finally got a seat. We had so much fun, we got Ariana a hot chocolate cake, and sang Happy Birthday to her. Then Shai actually joined us for a drink, and so that we could finally meet. He is very sweet, and is a lot of fun to be around, which makes me hopeful that we will be able to work together somehow at the Community Center during my internship. We only stayed out for a couple of hours, because we had class bright and early the next day, for our second week of 5 hour Ulpan, and our final exams.

OK...I know that all of this might seem boring to some people, but these experiences have been really important to me. I have made some amazing friends that are a lot like me (not just because they are Jewish). I have a group of friends that I live with, and ones that live in the student village, and I love them so very much. We have a lot of fun together, and like to go off on little adventures together. Then there are people that I don't get to see as much, my friends in my Ulpan class. They are about 13 people in my class, and I am really good friends with four of them, two of whom are about my mom's age. The younger one's; Sarah, and Virginia, are so sweet. They always help me whenever I am having problems understanding the classwork, and some of the things that the teacher might say that I will miss because I am still writing the previous information down. They are both absolutely wonderful, and I don't know how I would get through these Hebrew classes without them, and their wonderful smiling faces every morning. Jen, is one of my other girls. She is the true mommy of our little group, and I always feel comfortable talking to her whenever I am having a hard time in class. she remind me of my mom a lot, which always makes me feel good when I am really homesick. Jen can just look at me and tell that something is wrong, and she will just look at you with her big mother eyes and ask you to tell her what is going on. She has a very sweet and soft voice, and is always soothing during hard times.
Then there is Ilona. Ilona is from Germany, and is not Jewish, her daughter was taking Ulpan for her schooling so Ilona decided to take it as well, for a new experience. Ilona is a little bit older then Jen and has a couple of grown children, and one grandchild. Ilona is very quiet, especially during class, but she has an amazing mind, and a very loving and spiritual way about her. We think of each other as kindred spirits because both of us love to sing, and feel a deep connection with prayer when we are singing. During our half hour break today, Ilona and I had a very long conversation about our experiences in music and prayer. She told me that when she gave birth to her first child, she was not allowed to see her baby after she was born. The nurses took her away after birth and put her in a room with all of the other new borns until a later time, when the mother was completely healed. Ilona didn't like this at all, and she knew that her baby would not like it either. She knew that her baby was going to cry all night until she could be with her mother. Ilona said that after this notion, she closed her eyes and started to softly sing to her baby as if she was still in the room. She said that she felt like she was in a trance, and couldn't stop until she knew that she had calmed her baby, and that after only a couple of moments she knew that her child was sound asleep. From then on, she sang the same song to her baby every night, and did the same for all of her children. Now her first born is studying at a music conservatory in Israel, and is studying vocal music. That was absolutely amazing to me, I always thought that thing like that could happen, but hearing it from a first person point of view was so beautiful. Ilona and I then went on a tangent about how we feel when we sing, and what our body does when we get so into it that is feels like prayer. We both feel a complete connection to G-d when we sing/pray, and that it does not have to be a specific song in either Hebrew or English, it can be from inside, and when it comes out nothing can touch you, and you can feel a whole new connection to the things around you.

I feel like that is how I connect to the Reconstructionist movement. I see an everyday prayer and I make it relate to myself. I can sing the tune, and say the words, but in the end it has a completely new meaning to me, and I feel a more spiritual connection to the prayer, and that I am not just saying it for myself, I am saying it for everyone, and for G-d at times.

I hope that whole shpeal wasn't to "out there" for your guys, but hey, it gives my blog some depth, don't you think??


Sunday, February 8, 2009

"In Your Eyes"

Hey All, my last post we ended with me going on a tour of Pisgat Zeev, and the community center. Then making Shabbat dinner for my girlfriends in the Kfar Ha'Studentim (Student Apartments).

The tour of Pisgat Zeev was wonderful!!...Karen Kalif, the coordinator of the Pisgat Zeev Community Council, picked me up at my dorm early in the morning and took me and a man from the Staten Island JCC, Alan (he was here with a group, and broke off from his tour to see Pisgat Zeev and the center), to the Community Center. Karen took us on a quick outside tour of the center before going on a driving/walking tour of the different areas of Pisgat Zeev. We met up with some men from the Center who drove us up to the top of P.Z. When we got out of the car we went up a path covered in what will soon be an immense amount of flowers, some were already bloomed, but it was mostly just some green, and buds. At the top was a park, and one of the most beautiful views that I have seen since I have been here. The man that was giving the tour was telling us about how Pisgat Zeev came to be, and how it is one of the largest communities in Jerusalem. We then went to "the fence," which is the border between Pisgat Zeev and the Arab village that surrounds the entire community. The wall of the fence was very high, and we were told that it was originally very small, and a lot closer to some of the houses, and apartments belonging to Pisgat Zeev. It had to be moves back and made higher because the people of the Arab community would throw things at the homes, breaking windows and sometimes injuring the people that lived in them.

We were then taken back to the Community Center where we had a quick tour of the building. It had about 5 levels, all being used for different reasons. The floor that I enjoyed the most was the arts floor. there were rooms for arts and crafts, music rooms, and a dance studio (it was so nice for a community center; marly floors, ballet bars, mirrors, and a piano.) After the tour of the center, we were taken down to the pre-school to celebrate Kabbalat Shabbat with the 2 year olds. They were all so very sweet, and one of the little girls was looking at me the entire time, she was so adorable, and I wished that I didn't have to leave. We then met Yoel and some other people at the mall that was across the street from the Center to have lunch. It was lovely, I met two women, one named Dee who is part of the centers community, and Nanette who's mother and father live on Staten Island, right down the street from Wagner College. Nanette was very sweet, and invited me and my roommate to spend Shabbat weekend with her.

After lunch I rushed back to my dorm to get Shaina and our friend Sarah to walk to the Kfar Ha'Studentim. We walked over and went right up to my friend Ariana's apartment, where we rested for a little bit, and then made Shabbat dinner; Lemon chicken, pasta, vegy's, garlic bread, and wine. It was nice to send Shabbat with my girls, we just hung out, listened to music while I cooked. I think they were a bit scared to get in the way of my creative dinner. After dinner, we cleaned up, sat around and chit chat, then Shaina, Sarah, and I went back to our dorm and went to bed. The rest of the weekend was relaxing, Shaina and I slept in, did out homework, and ordered pizza after Shabbat was "Over," and watched "Across the Universe."

The the then concisted of Ulpan classes everyday, and then trying to figure out our Internet situation. Since Shaina and I had gotten to Israel we didnt have internet in our room. So we had been carrying our laptops to and from school almost everyday (ouch my back!!). It had been and entire 3 weeks of trying to contact the Internet company in Israel; Bezeq, and in true Israeli fashion they ignored our phone calls or just didnt give us the information that we needed, it was very frusturating. Thank god however that I had a mole helping me along the way. My cousins Alon and Debbie have been helping me the entire time, trying to use their own contacts to figure everything out. We finally got a good deal on a modem/internet connection, but we had to travel to the Tachanah Mirkazeet (The Centeral Bus Station) to go to the Bezeq store to pick up our modem. So Shaina and I apprehencivly got onto bus number 28 and payed the 5.90 shekels ($1.50) to ride it. When we got there however (at 6:15pm) it was closed, and we were told that the store closes at 6pm...UGH!!! was aweful. We were told that we had to come back the next day, and earlier, so Shaina and I made use of our surroundings and went to the mall that was in the same area. We were with our friend Nicole and we decided to walk around the mall, check out the stores, and get dinner at the GREAT food court that was in there. I got Shwarma on laffa bread (shaven lamb meat on large doughie bread, with your choice of toppings), Shaina got a crepe with nutela (hazelnut chocolate spread) and bananas, and Nicole got Yogurt and a crepe as well. It turned out to be a really great night, and I fugured if all went well the next day we finally have internet. I was wrong...we went back right after our Ulpan class with Ariana and Sarah and got the modem, but the women that gave it to me said that it was just for me, and that I couldnt get a splitter or anything to share the internet connection with Shaina. This was so very frusterating, and Shaina was pretty upset as well, but we figured she could just use my computer until we worked somthing else out. The four of us shopped around the mall, and celebrated Ariana's final papers to finish high school early (she is 17 and graduated early, she is insanly smart...she got into M.I.T.!!!). We ate dinner, walked around, and then headed back to Hebrew U. When we got back we tried setting up the modem and it didnt work, Bezeq didnt tell us that we needed a phone line in the room because the sytem that I was given was dial up...OY!! we then called everyone we could and finally got in touch with the right people who were told to come to our dorm in the morning to set up the phone line connection for us.

That night Shaina and I went to Debbie and Alon's home in Reut for the night to do our laundry, eat dinner, sleep over, and celebrate finally getting internet. It was really nice being able to spend more time with my cousins (even though I know that I will be spending time with them anyway while I am here). Shaina and I slept in REAL BEDS...and relaxed until Debbie drove us back to our dorm to get ready to go to our new destination for Shabbat weekend.

I had been in touch with Nanette during the week, and we decided to go to her Yishuv (settlement) called Kochav Vashachar which is translated as "Dawn Star." Shaina and I got onto a free bus that took you right to Kochav Vashachar (about a half hour north east of Jerusalem, on the border of the Jordan valley). What I was unnaware about was that Kochav Vashachar was an Orthodox community. I emmediatly thought, "Oh my goodness, this is going to be a VERY new experience." When we got there Nanette picked us up and drove us to her home that over looked millions of mountains and valleys that I could sware went on forever. Nanette set us up in the guest room, and we went to meet her children and husband. Avraham (Avi) is her husband, and she has 3 kids; Shallie who is 12 years old, Mayeer who is 7, and Leah who is 3. They were all very sweet, and spoke both in hebrew and english with us (Shaina and I got a little practice in...yay!!). After we settled in, we got dressed conservativly (leggings, boots, skirt, longsleepshirt, scarf) and walked to Friday night services.

Now, this was very new for me so I didnt know what to expect. Avi and Mayeer went into the mens door and Nanette, Shaina, Shallie, Leah, and I went through the womens door, in the back. We walked up a bunch of stairs and finally got to the top balcony, where all the women were praying. We sat in the back and followed along as much as we could ( Shaina is in the Reform movement, and I am in the Reconstructionist movement), and directly in front of the balcony was a curtain to sheild the view to the bottom section where the men were praying. Nanette told us that this is done because the men feel destracted by the women, and that it is easier for men to doven, while women are not as focused. This was very different for me, but I took the experience with a grane of salt, and tried to understand the traditions that I was being a part of for the first time. After services, we walked bakc to the house and have a lovely meal, prayed, sat and talked about the Torah portion of the week, then went to bed.

Shaina and I decied to sleep in on Saterday until everyone got back from morning services. When they all got back we had a nice lunch, and discussed again that weeks Torah portion. After we cleaned up Shaina, Nanette, Leah, and I went for a walk around the community and played with Leah on a small playground byt he house. When we were finished we walked back to the house and sat outside with the kids Nanette and Avi. Avi was asking me about the Reconstructionist movement, and it ended up turning into a discussion about the differneces and similarities of the Orthodox movement vs. Reconstructionist. I knew right away this was not going to go well. I tryed to explain my views and how I was brought up though the conservative movement and that it wasnt a good fit. Avi kept on telling me and Shaina about the Orthodox movement and how it is the "right way" of liveing as a Jew. I took in everything that he was saying, and tried to understand his veiws. I understood them, but I beleived in my Reconstructionist views. I also tried to explain to him that in every movement you are still learning the same Torah as every jew in the world. All of the rules, and ideals, and beleifs are the same, but each movement educates themselves differently in order to understand what they are learing, and finding a new way of connecting that information to your individual personality. He still dissagreed with me, and I figured that I ahd to choose my battles and that everyone in the world (especially if your Jewish) is going to have a different view and you can't change the minds of old traditions vs. new traditions.

It was a wonderful weekend no matter what. I left Kochav Vashachar with some wonderful experiences. I can got a closer look into a movement that I was almost scared for a long time, and realized that it was really a beautiful way of liveing. While I did not agree with some of the things that were going on I did find everyone to be very happy and loveing, and feeling a closer connection with G-d because of the way that they lived. I just hope that I can some day feel the same way that an Orthodox Community can feel, but with a Reconstructionist frame of mind.

Love and Blessings,