Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shalom Shalom! Update

It’s been almost two weeks since our last post so this one will be kind of long.  Life in Israel has been very interesting. Even though we were without Internet for a week in our new apartment (more on that later), and it’s been cold and rainy here most of the time, it’s becoming more comfortable everyday. When the sun does come out, its beautiful here, especially the view from campus on Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus). It’s so interesting to see the hills and valleys and the different terrain and ecological systems. We live right next to the watershed line, and can see where the desert begins because there is not a single tree in that area.
Abraham Hostel was our home away from home, and is definitely a great place to stay for visitors of all ages (hint hint!) We met lots of different people from all over the world and we find ourselves coming back every other night to see friends we’ve made, meet new people, as well as participate in activities such as pop quiz night, market party (the Mahane Yehuda market after hours), and get dinner at PastaBasta, a delicious little place in the market where you can have any kind of pasta and toppings that you like!! Yum fettuccine, broccoli and aubergine!  We made a number of Australian friends at the Hostel, so we are looking forward to celebrating Australia Day with them on Thursday, Jan 26.
Last week, with several of our friends from the hostel, we took a quick day trip into Palestine (the West Bank).  We stopped in two cities, Ramallah which is basically the capital of Palestine – where the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) and PA (Palestinian Authority) are located – and Nablus, a city located in the bottom of a valley.  Whatever you may see and read about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the news, we’ve come to conclude that it definitely takes a trip into Palestine itself to get a better understanding of the situation.  We saw Yassar Arafat’s tomb, had hot chocolate and laughs at Stars and Bucks (the Palestinian Star Bucks), walked in the rain through the narrow streets and shuqs (markets), and got a lot of stares from the locals.  We even found falafel sandwiches for 3 shekels (think $0.75).  While we will no doubt remember the trip into the West Bank area, I think the thing that will stay in our minds the most is the process of getting back into Israeli through the border crossing.
In the cold and rainy evening, we waited for an hour and half with all the local Palestinians to get through the Israeli checkpoint.  The only way to describe the environment is to think about what a low-key jail or detention center might look like.  We waited in lines with nervous and annoyed people pushing each other into the cell like entrance.  You are surrounded on all sides by a cage about 2 feet wide to move through.  The turnstyle at the end of the cage to let people through to the next stage of the checkpoint only stays open for a few people so everyone pushes thinking they can squeeze one more person through to stage two.  Once at stage two, it’s more waiting and pushing until you finally get through and show your papers.  The thing that made the process all the more uncomfortable was that the lines we were in kept getting closed, switched to another line, re-opened, etc. So we went from being in the front of the line, to the back of the line, only to wait again for a new entrance to open.  We spoke with someone in broken English who comes through every day.  He said the morning rush hour is much worse.
On a more positive note, we finally moved into our apartment on campus!  Evan and I will now be able to tell our grandchildren, someday, that we walked uphill both ways to school and home and it will be true!  One thing people might not know about Jerusalem is how hilly it is!  We finally got internet, although our wireless is still not set up, after about a week of dealing with the worse internet provider I’ve ever seen.  Everyone else on campus surely agrees.  Slowly but surely, our apartment is becoming more of a home as we buy our food and goods and settle in.  We had a Shabbaton last weekend with a lot of the students in the program and my ulpan is going well.  It’s an amazing experience to learn a language and learn about a culture in a classroom in that country, especially one with views of the border wall, the desert, the Dead Sea, and the Jordanian mountains all in the distance through the window.
Status Update for Marina:
For the first 6 months in Israel, I'm going to be volunteering at two theaters (Psik Theater and Mikro Theater). At Psik Theater, I will be helping with them with grants and applying for funding.  At Mikro Theater, mainly, I will be applying for them to showcase their work at different festivals, international and local. Also, I will be helping out with performances, different backstage stuff and maybe even in a few months, some assistant directing and stage management.
Yesterday, my Maslul Ishi (personal track) group took our first trip to the Golan.  I needed to be in Tel Aviv by 7am. While at first I wasn’t very excited about finding my way there by myself at 5am, I quickly realized just how easy it was.
Our group of about 30 college students, 2 madrichim (chaperones) and tour guide headed out to the Golan and our first stop was the Mitzpe Gadot viewpoint, a strategic place which was a Syrian base until the Six Days War.  Since then, it is a place where you can see the entire Jordan valley.
Next, we went to Katzrin, the capital city of the Golan, where we visited the Kfar Hatalmudi / Talmudic Village. Here we learned about the Talmudic era, saw villages and how people lived.  The Golan is one of the most fertile grounds and main areas of where wine, beer and olive oil is made. We saw the different tools and techniques of making olive oil.
Here is an educational video for our readers =) (sorry that it’s all in Hebrew)
After that, we went to the Golan Brewery. There at Kesem Hagolan / The magic of the Golan, we sampled some different beers (can you believe it, I drank beer!), had a very nice lunch and saw an educational movie about the area.
To end our trip we went go to Har Bental (Mount Bental) from where we were able to see Syria and where one of the most important battles of the Yom Kipur War took place. The views from atop the mountain were amazing, especially Har Hermon, and its snowy peaks in the distance.
I’ll put up some pictures from the trip soon!
As you can tell, we have been busy, yet we still find time to relax and enjoy life in a new city.  Since the workweek in Israel is Sunday through Thursday, Thursday night is the new Friday night.  We’ve gone out dancing, met Israelis who have been extremely nice and considerate and we have met some Israelis who were the exact opposite.  As we’ve learned about life in this country, there are 15 different shades of gray.  Nothing is black and white here.  
Until next time, Shalom Shalom!

~Evan and Marina

Friday, January 13, 2012

We Finally Made It!!!

Shalom from Jerusalem! As the first official blog post in Israel, there is a lot to update.  First I must admit that it took me about 10 minutes to figure out how I was going to type this post since logging into our account is a small challenge considering that Google Israel is in Hebrew characters and Hebrew format (I'm currently typing my English from right to Left!) But let's start from the beginning.

I would honestly recommend that anyone who comes to visit Israel fly out via Air Berlin.  Our flights were both very quick and very convenient.  Not only did they serve us ample amounts of food on the flights, we also received complimentary wine with dinner and dessert shots of Baileys and congac! Since we carried on several large pieces, they were kind enough to politely ask us to check our bags at the gate for free - we were happy to oblige considering it left us almost hands free the whole time. Once we got to Ben Gurion airport, the customs process was quick and convenient (5 minutes) and we picked up our luggage and loaded everything onto the sherut (shuttle bus) in another 5 minutes.  Within an hour of landing, we were at our hostel in Jerusalem.

I want to thank my mother upfront for finding us this hostel.  We have already made new friends - some people who are moving here just like us, some people just traveling through, others who currently live here - and the location could not be more desirable.  For those of you reading who know the city, we are located right next to Davidka Square close to the intersection of Yaffe and King George.  We can walk to the main shuq (market) in about 5 minutes and we are about a 15-20 minute walk from the old city.  Buses and the new tram run right by our hostel and everything is very centrally located.  The second night in town, we did a pub crawl and went dancing at a club - free shots of a liquorice type drink called Araq were given out at each place since it is the drink of Israel - while not very pleasant tasting, it's already growing on me!

The weather has been fairly cold for Israel standards (low 50s and high 40s with some rain) but we have still been able to make the trek up to Hebrew U on Har Hatzofim (Mt. Scopus) to try to get some things set up.  As expected, we were confronted with the Israeli bureaucracy of trying to open a bank account, getting our phones fixed, etc.etc. My hope is to soon make friends with a native speaker who can help with the language barriers.  It's funny with language; I've been speaking more Russian already in the past few days simply because we have been around a lot of Russians - we roomed with a Russian couple in our hostel and have encountered Russians on the streets in Jerusalem.  Marina feels right at home!  With Hebrew, the other evening at dinner, I asked the bartender "Eifo ha-shirutim?" (Where is the bathroom?) She casually responded in Hebrew and it wasn't until a gave her a dumbfounded look that she realized I didn't really speak Hebrew and she told me in English "Around the corner."

We met up last night with Roman (Marina's cousin) and in a Jewish geography type of coincidence, the table we sat down at had 4 students from JTS who had just moved to Israel.  I looked at this guy sitting next to me for the longest time thinking I had seen this person somewhere.  It wasn't until we chatted for a moment that we finally realized I had just made him a student ID about a month ago in New York! Funny how things work sometimes.

Since it's raining today, and I feel a small tickle in my throat, we may take it easy and relax around the hostel. It's nice to know that we don't have to rush to try and get everything in like we are on a short vacation type of trip.  We are having shabbat dinner tonight at the hostel with a bunch of people from all over the world - only 25 shekelim (about $7). It should be a fun experience.

 Since I honestly cannot read the blog page we have set up, we will more than likely put our pictures up through Facebook.  This way everyone can see our stories in pictures.  I hope that in the next few days, as things progress with my orientation and Marina's interviews, we will have some exciting things to post.  Until then, Shalom from Jerusalem.

Evan and Marina~

Monday, January 9, 2012

D-minus 1 Day and Counting

Our bags are packed (mostly) and we are ready to go!  It's 10 PM the night before we are set to fly out for Israel and we are all pooped.  Packing up most of your life in 6 or 7  bags is an exhausting feat.  I am definitely glad that we are close to the finish line, or at least the end of this segment of our journey.  Much more surely lies ahead!!!

We had a wonderful send off party last night - a big thank you to Stephanie and Will for making it happen.  Thanks as well to all those who attended.  It's nice to see to be able to see our group of friends and in one place before we leave NYC.

Our flight leaves from JFK tomorrow afternoon at around 5:30 PM.  Vlad, Alla, and Michelle are coming in early tomorrow to see us off and help with any last minute arrangements.  We have an 8 hour flight to Berlin, Germany via Air Berlin.  We are due to arrive in Berlin on Tuesday morning (Jan 10th) at around 7 AM and we have a two hourish layover before our flight to Ben Gurion.  Our second flight is about 4 hours and we are scheduled to land in Eretz Israel around 2:30 PM on the 10th.  Right on 24 hours of travel time!!! (I hope I sleep on the plane).

Thankfully Marina and I have a 5 or 6 day "vacation" in Jerusalem before we move in to our dorm apartment.  We are staying in a hostel in the city center and hope to learn the ropes while we have free time.  I'm sure it will take several days to get over the jet lag and get acclimated but I trust that living in New York for 4.5 years has trained me well for big city life - even though Jerusalem is small compared to NYC.

I know that everyone will be on the edge of their seats to read about what Marina and I are doing.  Please don't be too upset if there are no posts during the first few days.  I anticipate that we will both be slightly overloaded but I will do my best to put up some pictures on Facebook and I'm sure there will be status updates as well - some may be in Hebrew or Russian so you better start brushing up!

Much love from New York; much love to come from Israel.

~Evan and Marina