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