Monday, August 25, 2008

Yes, Gramma, There is a Cafeteria

This post is dedicated to my Gramma, who asks, "Is there a cafeteria on campus?" The biggest and most famous is the Frank Sinatra Cafeteria, which is advertised as being the only place on campus at which to get a hot meal. I have discovered, though, that the cafeteria in the Humanities Building, where our Hebrew immersion classes are held, also serves hot meals although I haven't eaten at either joint. I can tell you that at the cafe in the latter, the dudes who make my coffee every morning know me as "Americano im halav" (americano with a little hot milk, G) because that's my order. Today, however, I said they should call me "Canadiano." Also, scattered around campus are cafes, healthfood kiosks with smoothies and juices, and vending machines with regular junkfood (which take credit cards when the caf's don't) as well as microwavable meals, complete with microwave close by. I won't starve, but I'd rather save myself for Annette Metzuyenit's crepes - I will miss her and Michelle when they leave this Thursday.

I usually take food with me to campus: a granola bar, half a pita with hummus and/or eggplant salad, a plum or an apple (but not figs because they'd get crushed and that would just upset me and I wouldn't be able to concentrate thinking about crushed, inedible figs when I know that when I pack one that it's all I can think about till I eat it and the disappointment of not having it would be too much to bear)(yes, i thought about writing that in scripto continuum)(I have my figs for breakfast because they start the day off right).

Tomorrow Joseph and I are off to the shuk - the food shuk. It's said to be a foodies' paradise, at better prices than the grocery store. It's really obvious to say this, but I'm so excited. We planned it for tomorrow so that we wouldn't have to fight the Shabbat crowds. And, really, I have a bohan! tomorrow so I'd better get back to studying. A bohan! is a quiz; I like to put an exclamation mark after it to increase my excitement about being tested.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Looking Forward: Study Plans

Speaking of study plans, Mark (one of my neighbours) has told me of a great website to help me review for the Biblical Hebrew placement exam. This is a relief since I really didn't know where to start. So, here's my language dilemna in looking forward to the coming academic year: as a Visiting Graduate, I'm not required to continue in Modern Hebrew, but can opt to. I'm arguing with myself: do I take Modern Hebrew which is 8 hours of classroom study per week, which means another 20 hours-ish of homework per week, or do I take that time and use it for my own research and to travel around the country? Arrgh! Because, essentially, one can get by in Israel without knowing Hebrew, but I'm wondering if I want to because it is so great to communicate with locals in their own language. Help! Advice will be most welcome, with the caveat that I'm leaning heavily toward continuing in Modern.

So! For those of you who don't know this, I'm required to take 3 courses per semester and can substitute one of these courses for a tutorial = a directed reading either one-on-one with a prof or in a small group setting. (Modern Hebrew is not included in the three, but in addition to them.) I will be signing up for the Creative Writing (Autumn Semester) and Literary Translation (Spring) Workshops; I was told, however, that neither of these are hugely popular but the prof would most likely be willing to work with me in a tuturial. Gasp! Be still, my creative, racing heart (said in a Texan accent)!!

Next is the Biblical Hebrew. I'm now down to one more course required per semester. Are you ready? Sitting down?

Autumn Semester: "God, Man and History in the Ancient Near East" with Prof. Wayne Horowitz.
"A graduate seminar examining Ancient Mesopotamian perceptions of the role of deities in the lives of nations and individuals in Ancient Sumer and Akkad, Babylonia and Assyria. Students will study ancient primary sources in translation and examine topics such as the role of the Sumerian-Akkadian pantheon in state formation in early Mesopotamia; the function of gods in defining ancient national identity; and the relationship between great gods, personal gods, and ordinary human beings. The course begins with an overview of the Ancient Near Eastern religious system and then includes a chronological investigation of the development of Ancient Near Eastern religious thought as expressed in major Sumerian and Akkadian texts. These will include the Law Code of Hammurabi, the Babylonian national creation myth Enuma Elish, the Babylonian Job (Ludlul-Bel-Nemeqi), and Sumerian parallels to the biblical book of Lamentations. Students will be encouraged to consider theological theories generated by the seminar in the context of neighbouring cultures including Biblical and post-Biblical Israel, Ancient Egypt, India, and China, and the classical civilizations of Greece and Rome. Students will be required to present their research findings to the seminar in the form of 'conference papers' in the final meetings of the course, and then to submit written formal research papers.

Spring Semester: "Canaanite Literature and the Bible" with Prof.
Ed Greenstein
"A survey of the Canaanite literature that constitutes the literary heritage of Biblical Israel, and especially the corpus of literary and religious texts from ancient Ugarit. A variety of textual genres, including myth, epic, prayer and ritual, will be compared with their biblical counterparts, in order to discern cultural continuity on the one hand and the biblical adaptations and transformations of Canaanite conventions (forms, images, motifs, expressions) on the other."

This is the course I'm soooooooooo excited about - it's exactly what I'm looking at for my thesis and was hoping for in a course here. Yay! I'm still hoping to find a class in feminist exegesis of the Bible, as well as the course on ancient Jewish magic and its roots in the Ancient Near East, but it looks like I had downloaded last year's calendar. It's ok: these courses are right up my alley and I'm very excited to take them.

Last week I received this email:

"Golem and Kafka in Prague: The German Disenchantment with the Enlightenment." This course is taught in Prague during a 6-day tour of the city. The course focuses on German social thought and uses narratives of the Golem and Faust as keys for deconstructing major texts or scholarly work. Each day is focused on a clear theme, and the whole week revolves around the issue of the German disenchantment with the Enlightenment. The group will convene in Prague on February 2009, and estimated cost is $1,100 including all expenses (including museums and theater) other than food. (The course does depend, though, on how many people are interested in it. I sent in my vote for the affirmative.)

Truthfully, I'm working out in my head HOW this course has anything to do with my of heroes? Mythic characters made "real" in folklore? I feel as though I must justify taking this course, when it doesn't pertain as obviously as do the others to my thesis. And then I think: it's in Prague! Prague! What a fantastic way to experience Prague for my first time there! And, I HAVE the opportunity (read: money, time and interest) to do this. I'll keep you updated.

And now, I have to study. I would love to write and hang out with you all day, but both Hebrews are calling me to play with them. Plus, I have a party to go to tonight: the French folk leave later this week and the guys upstairs (Alain, Laurent, Mark, Joseph and Clements) have invited our apartment and a few others to their place to eat, drink and be merry in four different languages: Hebrew, French, English and German. (And last night I had 4 different invites to Shabbat dinners - I'm a rather popular little Canadian.)

Lehitra'ot! Auf wiedersehn! A bientot! Till soon!

Highlights from Nazareth

From the convent's guesthouse, we walked down narrow streets made of stone which were mostly stairs but also smooth, like ramps, because of the hill on which Nazareth is built. We followed the signs and ended up in the shuk as everything was closing, so just wandered around looking for an internet cafe and deciding on where to have dinner. Deciding on dinner was very important considering the less than appetizing fare we had been served at 'home' on the kibbutz. After asking directions four or five times, we finally found the internet cafe = connection-with-home heaven after only a week, at that point, of being here. Then, to Casa Palestina for dinner:

I admit it, not the greatest of shots, but the food was delicious and plentiful. Plentiful is a bit of an understatement: pita and hummus, eggplant and other yummy dips to start, and Joelle's meal was a whole chicken. Really, I can't remember what Sarah or I had (although I do remember them bringing Sarah the wrong thing), because everything was eclipsed by this whole chicken being put in front of tiny Joelle. I know she took pictures of it.

We walked back to the convent after dark, and the next morning were up bright and early to head back to the same area and very quickly got lost. The problem: on the map we had the wrong Greek Orthodox Church as our reference point. I kept asking myself, "who needs that many Greek Orthodox Churches in one area?" and remember that I come from a part of the world with a Tim Horton's every 30 meters. But, the morning was not a complete loss, since in one of these Greek Orthodox Churches we visited Mary's Well which was very cool and the church itself was lovely. This was the first place I encountered the practice of writing a note and putting it in a portion of a holy wall. (These photos are on the Minolta, so will be future postings.) We then went for monster falafel lunch, and when I was done eating I left Sarah and Joelle to go inside the restaurant and ask the man who had served us, who spoke great English, where exactly we were. He pointed me in the right direction and was really nice; so nice, in fact, that he gave us some free Turkish coffee and sabra fruit. (I'm not a fan of sabra, which is cactus fruit, because of the texture of the seeds, but the meat is delicious.)

With our new directions, we visited the White Mosque, where (heads, shoulders and arms covered with our shawls, and Joelle in a borrowed men's plaid shirt) we received a sermon about Islam from one of the men praying there. It was my fault: I had asked the man who let us in for some history on the mosque itself, like when it was built, by whom, etc. This other man happened to be close by and figured, as infidels, we needed a good talking to. He was very nice about it, and we were in his hood, but he didn't like that I didn't believe in Paradise. I wasn't going to lie, but I listened politely and played the parent when we had been there too long: "come along, girls."

Then to the Church of the Annunciation. I loved all the international artwork outside, and the openness of the architecture inside. We also went to the Synagogue Church where Jesus is said to have preached. In an alcove outside was a bust of Padre Pio. I took a photo of it for Nana, who prayed to him for the miracle of Dad's recovery after the accident. All of these buildings representative of the Religions of the Book are woven into the fabric of the shuk, or situated very close to it. At one little shop I purchased two pashminas which are lighter than the ones I already have, therefore more appropriate for the (understatement alert:) warm weather. We then took a cab, complete with argument in Hebrew between Joelle and the cabbie about the price, to Nazareth village. This a reconstruction, complete with folk in period costume, of Nazareth at the time of Jesus. We were late; it had just closed, so I'll go back another time. But we did meet an Israeli tour guide with his Japanese tourists who had been at Hazor a few days before. They honked at us in their car as we trudged up the hill back to the convent.

We took a cab to Tiberias since it was Shabbat and there were no buses. Put our feet in the Galilee/Kinneret, and I collected some rocks. I've decided to study geology after I turn 60. I like rocks.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Back Courtyard at the Rosary Sisters' Guesthouse

Our hostess here was Sister Emerance. She's Palestinian and so lovely. I felt a little like I was hanging out with Nana: she loved to pet your hair and hold your hand and when she listened to you, she would lean in and put her hand on your back - a very loving, warm hand full of positive energy. The guesthouse has six bedrooms; while we were there, there were also two men from the States, a German mom and her two little boys, a family of six adults and another family of three adults. Our room had three beds, one of the most beautiful bathrooms I've ever seen (very modern and clean - I will be blogging about restroom facilities in Israel in the future. Stay tuned.), and the breakfast was fantastic: olives, cream cheese, bread, coffee, date jam (yum!), tomatoes and cucumbers. The 'back yard' is very peaceful with a statue of Mary surrounded by a very green, very overgrown garden. I could have stayed in the shade for hours writing.

This is the biggest lavender bush I've ever seen in my life.

I don't know whose house this is, but it's within the convent's walls. I have daydreams about renting it and writing, and writing, and writing while seated to the right of the door, beneath the big tree. I may need to buy a Tilly hat and a long, ecru linen skirt and men's white button-down to complete the look. I would be barefoot.

Mary in the garden looking toward the guesthouse/convent. I get a kick out of the satellite dish on the Sisters' roof. I imagine them sitting down in their habits after a long day of charitable works, praying and looking after their guests to watch American Idol or Jeopardy.

Another view of Mary. I love how peaceful and smart and very at-home she seems to be in the midst of all the green.

A Little Backtracking

The weekend of July 18 and 19th, I went to Nazareth with Sarah and Joelle. My photos are not so great: my digital is very cute, but I don't particularly like the shots I get with it. Thank you for suffering with me. I will be processing soon the, hopefully, better photos that were taken with the Minolta and putting them up here.

Two views of Nazareth, from the entrance courtyard to the Rosary Sisters Convent where we spent the night.

Sarah photographing a very cool door. I love doors. Get ready to see many photos of doors and windows in upcoming posts.

Festive balloons and graffiti on one of the winding, very hilly alleys/streets in Old Nazareth. The first shot is without flash, the second with.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

First of all, I am loving the comments/feedback. Carl, thanks for the info re: Yad Vashem. I had been asking around about where the name had come from, and, as per usual, you have the answer!

Cool tidbits:
Yesterday, there was, in our textbook, a passage from 2 Kings in which we had to pick out words which are still in use today: shulhan (table), mitah (bed), kisah (chair/throne), etc. I got so excited - I have been stressing about how to go about studying for my placement test, but I recognized everything that was in this short passage. I'll definitely be studying for it this weekend and over the next week and a half, but I think I'll be just fine.

In about an hour, Joseph (to whom you were previously introduced), Jacob from Minnesota, and Debbie from Holland (and maybe Mark from Washington State, if we can drag him away from his textbook) are heading to an international arts and crafts festival outside the Old City walls near the Jaffa Gate. (Mary's going on a tour of the caves in the Jerusalem area where Jews in the past took to hiding - will get more info and fill you in. This tour wasn't open to graduate students. Don't get me started.) I was there - at the festival - on Tuesday evening with Mary and Alex, another Texan. It was so great to walk around and just get out of the confines of our rooms and the student village. The place was packed after the sun went down and the people watching was fantastic. In the lower part of the park, a stage was set up for music at 9:30, as well as vendors' booths from Uzbekhistan (sp?), Peru, China, Tibet, Nepal, Thailand (very popular), Poland, and the list continues. Up the hill there's what looks to be a fantastic food area; we're eating dinner there tonight so will give you the lowdown in the next post. Just up past the food area are all of the Israeli artisans: jewellery, stuffed animals, clothing, homewares, photography. Really lovely things that make me wish for a home in Israel to decorate, only because getting this stuff home would be a nightmare. And, as much as I would like to blow my budget on handpainted coffee mugs and handcrafted wire toilet-paper-roll holders, I have to be practical...and a week-long course in Prague in February is where I'd like those practical savings to be spent. How's that for a teaser? I'll fill you in in the next post...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Settling In

I've been in Jerusalem for 19 days. The steady routine now is:

6:30ish a.m. - up 'n' at 'em.
8:30 - 1:30 - Monday to Thursday, in the Ulpan learning Hebrew (and 9:30 - 2:30 on Sunday).
For the rest of the day, I'm studying, napping occasionally, catching up with family, studying some more, writing in my journal. Although I haven't been as steady at writing here, I have been writing extensively in my journal and am currently on my third one since arriving.

A few highlights:
Last Thursday, Peter and Daan from Holland, Joseph from Wisconsin and Mary from Texas (one of my room-mates) and I all went to Ben Yehuda and the Old City. Just up from Ben Yehuda Street, a huge pedestrian thoroughfare, Peter took us to a fantastic used book shop. It was mostly in the basement with all of these interconnected rooms with couches and chairs and ottomans stuffed where there weren't any books. There were so many authors I hadn't seen before, in Hebrew and English, as well as other languages, and I'm excited to read them (in my spare time...!) but it was seeing authors with whom I'm familiar that gave me a real thrill - books on the shelves by Italo Calvino, Margaret Atwood, Timothy Findley, Graham Greene. It was like seeing a dear old friend you haven't seen in a while, in a place you never expected to run into them.

Afterwards, we walked to the Old City as the sun was setting. We went first to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I loved touching the stone walls, especially the Greek letters carved into a wall in the Greek room. (Imagine!) (It wasn't very busy, but others had left their empty plastic water bottles lying around so I played clean-up...I know that location shouldn't matter when doing one's best not to litter, but c'mon. If ya can carry it when it's full, then carry it a little longer while it's empty - and, well, this is a holy place.)

Anyway, I liked the Greek room. I lit a candle and placed it on the scaffolding around the cave that is said to be Jesus' tomb. I'm not Catholic but it's become a tradition for me while travelling to light a candle in all churches that I go to, like connecting my thoughts with those I love who aren't with me. What amazed me most about the Church was that from the outside it just looks like any other building in the Old City - a part of the architecture. But once you're inside the ceilings are high and there are many rooms that have been constructed around the central cave/tomb. Plus, what added to the mystery, the experience for me was that it was all very shadowy, most of the light coming from candles or dim electric bulbs.

Then we went to the Kotel - the Western Wall. Mary gave me a quick clinic on what to do. I wrote a note, and signed it, "Love, Tanya." Mary said she was pretty sure he (meaning G-d) would know it was me, but I wasn't taking any chances. It was a small piece of paper, and I tried to include everyone - I think at one point, the wording was something like, "send love to everyone" - because as soon as I think of one person, then I think of another and there are so many on my list that I didn't want to exclude anyone. There was one line I remember clearly, though: "Tell Grampa I say "hi" and that I hope for his strength to be mine, and his pride to be earned." Maybe I shouldn't be blogging about a note written to a deity, but my deity understands that this is how I pray, this is how I connect with the divine in me and those around me. Enough said. I was modestly dressed that day: jeans and a cardigan over my sleeveless top, and I covered my head with a scarf (which wasn't necessary). If you're not modestly dressed (knees and shoulders covered), there are women seated at the bottom of the stairs, after you go through the metal detector and have your bag searched at security, who will provide you with a scarf/shawl. We went to the women's area of the Wall. The women's area is smaller than the men's, and reminded me of the book shop's feminist section, which consisted of one shelf in that whole maze. So, we made our way up to the Wall where many women were praying; en route, there were chairs set up where some sat and prayed, or sat with their children. One little girl had a camcorder and taped her mother praying at the Wall. I went up, waited patiently for a break in the women, got it and placed my note in a crack, touched the Wall briefly before backing away some distance and then turned around to sit at where we were all to meet. There is a tradition that one should not turn one's back to the Wall because it's so holy. I kinda fretted about this one, in my head: how many steps backwards before it's ok to turn around? I ended up doing a pseudo-crabwalk, so that I could both follow tradition and not step on anyone.

Then Joseph and I went looking for a 'get to know you' evening for the grad students at a pub just off Ben Yehuda. We couldn't find it, but did find Dublin Bar. All the writing/advertising is in the style of Guinness, and the inside is Irish themed. You can smoke inside in Israel. So, we sat at the bar, had a few pints and then the music started. You're thinking: how quaint, Gaelic music at an Irish-themed pub in the middle of the Middle East. No. The DJ played Israeli disco at such a loud level that we could barely hear each other speak. So we drank some more beer before finally calling it a night and going back to the student village to drink Joseph's room-mate's vodka with mint lemonade and killing ourselves laughing at the absurdity of our surreal experience that was Dublin Bar.

Class itself is great - I'm learning a lot from my two teachers, Ronit and Mayah. There are twelve of us in Alef Sheva (Alef 7) from the States, Korea, Poland, and France. Again, I am the token Canadian, and am often standing up for our coolness, and correcting one of the teachers: lo', ani' lo' m'America. ani' miToronto beCanada. I'm very glad to be in the ultimate beginners' class - I'm learning the modern script, am improving my vocab, and am speaking the language (it's very satisfying to finally understand how to properly pronounce 'r', for example). And! My training in Biblical Hebrew is coming in very handy, specifically when it comes to nouns which are irregular in the plural, and the direct object marker 'et. There is no equivalent for 'et in English, or any other language (maybe Arabic? since it's Semitic?) so I feel mighty smart and special knowing these things. And! I've made some connections with the language that I can use in my thesis - I'm still working it all out and will let you know once it's written...Speaking of Biblical Hebrew, I'm booked for a placement exam on 2 September. At Hebrew U, they won't let you take Biblical Hebrew until you've reached Level Gimel in the modern; I'm in Alef, next is Bet, then Gimel. I'll be lucky to reach Gimel by the time I leave. So, since I've been studying it for the past two years, I take the exam and they place me appropriately so that I can continue. Preparations have begun.

I love my classmates, my teachers, my room-mates from the States and France. I'm the youngest in my apartment, eat crepes on a regular basis, and am practicing my French as well as getting help with the Hebrew. The only sad part about the current living arrangement is this: the ladies from France leave at the end of August, Karen leaves in mid-September and Mary leaves at the end of that month. Wah! Whose gonna make me crepes? and buy me roses for Shabbat? and wash the floors (Annette gets up at 5:30 a.m. and cleans the floors. Yes, I love my room-mates.) Will my new roomies like "You Are So Dirty Rice," and "Special Colourful Pasta" as much as these roomies do? I will worry about it in October, and will probably have nothing to worry about. Fingers crossed, please, that T's run of good-roomie-luck continues! I do feel like I should be getting out more, but I am also very concerned about learning the language and doing well. It's very interesting to be one in a crowd of high-achieving perfectionists, regardless of our level in Hebrew. Now that I know we can go into the Old City on Shabbat, I'll be making more weekend excursions to poke around and get to know the place better.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

More Hazor

As a heads-up, folks, you can click on the photos to enlarge them - I'm putting them up in the smallest of the sizes available for uploading, with the knowledge that you can do this clicking-magic and see them in greater detail.

On our way to the end-of-season feast. Usually, we would arrive at the tel in the dark of the early morning, and arriving as the light was fading felt magical.

Approaching the storehouse, lit with many-coloured electric lights for the festivities.

Finding a spot.

I turned around from my seat at the table to take this photo. On either side, stone slabs that are around 3000 years old, in the near distance are cows and horses grazing, in the far distance are the Naphtali hills. Can you tell I'm fascinated by the Naphtali hills? I think it's the word, 'Naphtali.'

My superamazing roomie at the kibbutz, Sonja, showing off the juglette she had found on her first day of excavating. Originally from Denmark, she has called Sydney, Australia home for the past 30 years, and to add to her coolness, she shares the same birthday as my Mom, her son is also a Jason, and her daughter's first name is Jane, although she doesn't go by this.
Sarah Novah, as I called her, who knows herself well enough to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.

Jess, looking south.

The 9th century BCE storehouse. This, and the house beside it from the 8th century (I could very well be mixing up my centuries regarding these two structures), were moved rock by rock from where they were originally discovered near the temple/palace to where they are now. The end-of-season feast was held in this building.

Part of Area A3. The line of rocks about halfway down the wall is where excavations in this area began at the beginning of the six week season. I came along half-way through this, and worked mostly to the left of where this photo shows our area.

Again, from atop the roof, looking west to the hills of Naphtali. At night, and in the early mornings, the hills twinkled with electric lights. It was very pretty. During the day, every day, it was hot, humid and combined with the work we were dirty and sweaty. It was amazing.

Tel Hazor II

Getting here: I love that the majority of signs in Israel are in Arabic, Hebrew and English.

The roof that was constructed to cover the palace/temple at Tel Hazor.

The view of our site, A3, from atop this roof! To get the dirt we had dug out of the area, we formed a bucket chain - swinging each full bucket from hand to hand - and piled all the buckets at the base of the ladder. Then, each bucket would be hoisted up the ladder, along another chain to where we would dump the buckets full of dirt into two wheelbarrows. From here, the barrows were wheeled to a huge pile where the dirt was dumped. This would be done between four and eight, sometimes ten, times a day. I'm pretty sure bucket chains were my favourite part of the dig - we joked and laughed, played music and sang, helped each other and coached each other. Bucket chains were definitely a huge part of 'the fantastic-ness that is Area A,' as Cat put it. The man in the white t-shirt is Ron, our area supervisor.

Cat, Joelle and Sarah. Looking east; I'm pretty sure that's the Golan in the distance, or at least the southern part of the Golan.

Ryan and Dan. Looking west; those are the Naphtali hills in the distance.

Tel Hazor

The Cistern - amazing from two perspectives: ancient technology and archaeological excavation.

Joelle and I at the Cistern. This was during Cookie Break at 7a.m.

During Cookie Break, in a small grove of trees not far from our dig site and even closer to the 9th century BCE store house. The shade was necessary, even at 7a.m.

Looking east, at around 6a.m. one morning. Normally, there were never any clouds or very few. I like to think of the sun shining like this as my grandparents stopping by to say, 'hi!' while I'm here.

The sentry/lookout tower on the westernmost point of Hazor. From what I remember, this is the 'youngest' area on the tel, but I can't remember the exact time period and haven't written it in my journals. (if I'm wrong, please correct me!) I took this photo from the road - this is what we saw, although in shadow, every morning at 5a.m. on our way to dig.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Tisha B'Av

Sunday 10 August was Tisha B'Av. "The ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av has been set aside as a day of national mourning for all the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout their history." Originally a day marking the destruction of both the First and Second Temples, Tisha B'Av now is also a day to remember those murdered during the Holocaust. Two busloads of students from the student village went to Yad Vashem (The Hand of God), the Holocaust Museum, where we toured at our own pace the New Museum. The place was packed with people of all walks of life to envision what had transpired during this terrible time in history. The short documentary films, personal video-taped accounts, artefacts, photographs, and historical detailing of the circumstances of those persecuted throughout Europe and Northern Africa, made for an incredibly somber and powerful experience. I walked with tissue ready, amazed at the endurance of the survivors, the capability for cruelty, and the necessity for remembering such an atrocity so as never to repeat it.

Outside the New Museum is the Avenue of the Righteous. For every group or individual who helped the Jews escape from the Nazis, a tree has been planted. There are certain requirements for being considered Righteous: from the website: "Trees, symbolic of the renewal of life, have been planted in and around the Yad Vashem site, in honor of those non-Jews who acted according to the most noble principles of humanity by risking their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. Plaques adjacent to each tree record the names of those being honored along with their country of residence during the war. More plaques appear on walls of honor in the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations."

Early in my visit to the museum, I saw this quote which struck me: "A country is not just what it does - it is what it tolerates." -- Kurt Tucholsky. I think is the same for people: it is not just what we do, but also who we tolerate. I think back to a conversation I had with my father, where he was telling me about discussing intolerance with my stepmother. It went something like, "We consider ourselves intolerant of intolerance, but where does that place us on the scale of intolerance? As intolerant as those who are intolerant of others? Are we better than intolerant people, for having recognized that we will not tolerate intolerance?...?" - and we are left with ellipses. Better to be left with the ellipses, and the knowledge that we will tolerate in others what is different from ourselves. Better to be left with ellipses than the alternative - an alternative, potentially, as tragic as the Holocaust. Perhaps that is part of my T-ness, that I try to spread wherever I go - tolerance, acceptance, remembrance. Everywhere I go is the opportunity not only to practice tolerance, but to be tolerant.

Thoughts? Insights? Essentially, I'm struggling with the right words to convey how powerful it was for me being at Yad Vashem, but wanted to let you know I was there during an extremely special time in the Hebrew calendar.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Cookie Break - The Best Meal of the Day

As promised, an entry dedicated to the nasty food served via a catering company at Kibbutz Mahanayim. The two (kosher) meals for which the caterers were responsible was lunch (meat), served at 2:30 when we returned from the dig, and dinner (dairy) at 7:30. If this were one's only judge of kosher fare, one would remain confused about the definitions and further believe that kosher = nasty. Let's just say that the words of my room-mate, Sonja, summed up the experience very well: how is it possible that these people ruin perfectly good food? And, having eaten fantastic kosher food before, I knew that this was a non-issue regarding flavour. (I'll have to wait till I get home for Inna's brisket, but will never give up hope that one day it will show up in my mailbox here.)

So, some examples of what they fed us: eggs, my favourite food, ruined in a tomato sauce (another fav) because it wasn't hot, nor was any spice of any sort used; grayish mystery meat in a gravy-like sauce; peas and rice (yet again, a fav) but cold and flavourless - you get the idea. Whatever hot food they served was generally cold, as though placed on the tables when we'd left that morning, and spiced with humidity found for free in the air it sat in. When I tell you that hummus was the ketchup on the kibbutz, I'm not joking. Occasionally we'd get meat in a hot dog-like form and there would be red sauce available - but it was sweeter than ketchup. I personally did not try this and stuck with tried and true hummus - I ate it with tomato and cucumber salad, potatoes, rice, beets, soggy lukewarm vegetables, chicken and meat.

On the bright side of the gastronomic offerings, the watermelon, peaches, apples and plums were amazing and twice there was this beef stew that was so yummy. It was no Kickass Guinness Irish Stew, nor was it my Gramma's, but it was tasty. Suffice it to say, I lived for cookie break every morning at 7 on the tel. Chocolate and vanilla and tiramisu and lemon wafers; jammie dodgers; these firm little log-shaped biscuits filled with chocolate or halva; Pims. Cookies became a food group unto themselves for three weeks. Thank goodness the sugar in them was needed to fuel our digging, else I would've ballooned. As it is, I've gone down a clothing size.

On the tel, breakfast was at 9:30. This meal was consistently very tasty (see itinerary in last entry) but I had to modify what I ate. The dairy was not a good idea in the heat combined with a fairly steady stance of being bent over at the waist and doing manual labour... with a pickaxe, sometimes (I love saying that), or hunched over brushing dirt. By the end of the first week, the most I could really stomach at this meal was bread with jam.

And, not all the food is nasty here, just that which was served at the kibbutz. Truly, for the first few days I didn't think it was all that bad, then they served the egg-tomato scary surprise and I was a disillusioned little digger. Thankfully, within a five minute walk of the kibbutz was Mahanayim Junction. There they have restaurants for falafel, tasty pizza, and the best ice cream I've had in a long time. On several evenings, Sonja, Steve, Marion and I - and occasionally some of the others, but always we four - would head for ice cream. Are you ready for the flavours? Are you sitting down? I tried: coconut, chocolate with chocolate crispy bits, date, caramel, kinder egg, oreo cookie, chocolate/vanilla swirl. Total yum. If I could've lived on that, I would've. That and the falafel. Falafel is a thousand times better here - as are the figs. The figs are four times as big as the tiny ones we're sold in Toronto. I don't think I will ever get tired of figs and would seriously consider moving here permanently just for them. Maybe I should marry a fig farmer. Or be a fig farmer. I'd keep all my friends in figs, and you would love me more than you already do, that's how big and beautiful the figs are in Israel.

Speaking of fantastic food, on my first Sunday here, I roadtripped with Jess, Sarah and Joelle to Tsfat. It's a very lovely little town with many artisans, and it was here that I went into my first synagogues. On the way home, we decided to go to Rosh Pinna for dinner to a chocolate restaurant. Restaurants here are either dairy or meat - you can't, for example, get a cheeseburger. So, the choco-resto was dairy. I had eggplant rolled and stuffed with goat's cheese and sundried tomatoes, in a tomato sauce, with more cheeses melted on top and sprinkled with pine nuts - to die for. Flavour! Spice! A treat for your tongue AND your tummy! For dessert, we all shared a chocolate fondue with marshmallows, chocolate croutons and fruit for dipping - apples, watermelon, pears, bananas, and some others whose names I don't know but were soooo delicious. We were going to return with more chocolate desserts, but were very full and had already purchased some chocolate halva in Tsfat. Halva is an extremely rich dessert made from sesame seeds, and though not to everyone's taste, I thought it wonderful in small doses. Sonja and I had it for breakfast the next morning. The fun of being an adult!

After a particularly bad meal, Jess and I discussed returning to Tel Hazor as the cooks for hungry diggers. Then, after this discussion, if I was lying in bed and even remotely wired at 9 pm, instead of counting sheep I'd make meal plans for large groups. They wouldn't have to pay me - just look after expenses and pay someone else to do the cleaning-up. I had just-before-sleeping daydreams of the gratitude of future volunteers and archaeologists; of the latter including me in their list of acknowledgments in publications of their research or of the former telling all their friends that they HAD to come dig at Hazor because the meals made every digging day complete. How much rice would I need to serve You Are So Dirty Rice to 50 people?

And then I think of Deborah. Did she worry about feeding people as she sat beneath her Palm tree, or while she marched in the general direction toward where I spent the better part of the past three weeks? How would she have solved this dilemna - with a glass of milk and a few cookies? (Which is pretty much what we did.) The cookie break was important for me, not only for all that sugar, but also because I sat with her while I ate wafers and drank strong, sweet coffee. I looked at the hills of Naphtali daily which, according to the biblical narrative, was the area belonging to one of the tribes who fought in her war against the Canaanite oppressors who lived in the city I was helping to unearth. How can you top that? That's right: by eating more chocolate wafers with chocolate bits, that's how. Cookies at Hazor go hand in heavy-duty-work-glove.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Live from Jerusalem

That's right, folks, I made it to the city as described in the Talmud: "Of the ten measures of beauty allotted to the world, nine were given to Jerusalem." This blog post is dedicated to the beauty of the people I have thus far encountered in Israel, beginning with the space from which I am presently writing, and ending with my first adventure in Tel Aviv. Then, in the next few days I will fill in events between Tel Aviv on 12 July and now, as well as add some photos. As a preface, before leaving I told some people that I had this strange impression in my head of coming to Israel and being in a bubble during these travels, of being completely on my own. It was as though I was observing myself in my imaginings, as though I were a spectator projecting myself as a third-person narrator in this adventure. This preface is, therefore, an official bursting of that bubble because, as you shall see, I have been anything but alone.

Today, I write to you from Ortal's room in her apartment at Hebrew University's (HU) Student Village. Ortal is an archaeology student at HU, and worked at the dig at Tel Hazor. Two Thursdays ago, I asked her advice for finding a place to stay for a couple of nights close to campus and she offered me her room. She contacted her roomies, and they were cool with having me here, so here I am. The buildings and the apartments in them are modern, well-conceived, and clean; this one is a five bedroom, whereas others are two- and three-bedrooms. Ortal is at her parents' for the weekend, but her roomies, Sharon (from Haifa) and Ollie (from Berlin) have welcomed me with open arms. Already, they have taken me to the supermarket (yesterday) and today made me egg and hashbrown lunch with toast and pineapple juice and coffee. So yummy and helpful in the fight to forget the food at the kibbutz...don't worry, that post is in the near future!

From where I sit typing, I can look over my right shoulder out the bedroom window and see the Dome of the Rock in the Old City. If I stand up and look out the same window to the left, I can see HU, the hospital and its helicopter pad, and a cemetery. I wonder if this is the same cemetery that I saw in a documentary a few years ago about a group of older Jewish friends who met there every week for picnics. The temperature today is pleasant and the breeze is refreshing. A haze does, however, stand around the city's perimeter. Beyond the university's campus, the hills are sand-coloured and treeless; beyond the Old City the hills are greener. Jerusalem's green is a deep green of fir trees.

So, 3 weeks ago I left the Olimpia Hotel and grabbed a cab to the bus station. There are four bus stations in Tel Aviv, and I went to the one that the MofT guy had written at the top of a downloaded schedule for buses from Tel Aviv to Mahanayim Junction. The cabbie started to get out of the car when I heard a sickening crunch. I looked up from my purse, where I was pulling out shekels for him, and a huge truck had clipped his driver's side mirror and narrowly missed him. No one stopped to exchange insurance info, life continued: the truck moved on and the driver moved to the trunk to get my suitcases and knapsack.

Then, he vaguely motioned me in 'that direction' to the buses, got in his cab and left. It's noon, it's hot and superhumid, I'm not wearing a hat, I'm thanking god or whoever for my full waterbottle, and I'm looking at my luggage. It's very heavy. I put the small suitcase on top of the large one and strapped them together. I put the knapsack on my back. I began the trek to the little building resembling an old-school Dairy Queen or chip wagon that said 'Information.'

I get to this info-stand, and one of the women inside looked at me in disgust and got up and left. The other woman said this was for Dan Bus Lines, and I wanted Egged; she vaguely waved me in the direction of the Egged office. (ok, for clarification, I'm not including these women for their 'kindness,' and the same for the cabbie, but they are a part of the story.) I grabbed my stuff, crossed a parking lot meant for buses with some platforms to the left, got to the Egged office and it was closed. I'm not panicking about this (this is sincere and not sarcastic), after all, it can't stay closed forever. As I'm standing there, two young guys come along and they're speaking English so I asked for their help: 'Do you know where the platform is for the bus to Mahanayim?' They told me to stay where I was and they'd find out, and they came back shortly to tell me that it was on the other side of yet another parking lot, and added, 'you're heading to the Golan. That'll be one helluva ride.' Then they eyed up my heavy bags and were gone.

Now, most parking lots take what, 5 minutes to cross? Maybe 7-10 minutes if they're really big parking lots? Half an hour. It took me half an hour to cross this parking lot with all my stuff, stopping and drinking water and rearranging the smaller suitcase as it slipped off the larger. My face was dripping and sweat rolled down my back so that my shirt stuck to me and to the knapsack. (Um, ew.) Then, as I reached the street where the platform I needed was said to be, I thought a few things to myself:

1: The platform is probably the last one.
2: I wish someone would help me with these bags.
3: Did I really need all the stuff I brought? (yes, yoga mat, yes)
4: Big deal. You just need to get there, to the platform. You'll make it. Of course you'll make it - this will be over soon and you'll get through it just fine.

All this was thought in the last 30-40 seconds of that half hour of hell. As soon as I had finished thinking it, another young man (younger than me, older than the first two) approached me and asked if he could help. I looked at him, hesitated briefly, and said, 'Thank you.' He took the big bag, and we wheeled together down the sidewalk. I would like to take this opportunity to kiss the feet of whoever invented wheeled luggage.

As we approached (you guessed it) the final platform in a long line of platforms, an older man approached us offering sherut services to Tiberias. (For those of you who don't know, or if I haven't mentioned it yet, a sherut is a shared transport service taking usually ten people from point A to B and it's a little more than a bus but less than a private taxi as we know them.) I told the man where I was going, and he apologized that they don't go that far. I thanked the luggage-dude for helping me, and the bus pulled up. I watched all these people, including soldiers with their guns over their shoulders, throwing their knapsacks and bags into the bus' hold, and knew that taking a bus would be a bad idea for two reasons: a) loading and unloading would be, to put it mildly, a bitch; b) once I reached Mahanayim, I knew that I would have to walk about 800 meters, and if I could barely make it across two parking lots, what would 800 meters be like?

Quick thinking took over, a trait I'm not known for. Usually I have to ponder decisions for days. Not this day. I waved over sherut-dude, and asked him: if he gets me as far as Tiberias, what do I have to do to get to Mahanayim? (As I'm asking him this, I'm praying that Tiberias is where I remember it being on the map - just south of where I need to go.) He said no problem, he'd call his friend who would drive me from Tiberias to the kibbutz. We agreed on prices, I lit a smoke and finally stood in the shade. In Tiberias two hours later my stuff was transferred clickety-click from sherut to taxi, and in another half an hour/forty minutes I was at Kibbutz Mahanayim.

Till next time, darlings - let's say later this evening or tomorrow afternoon. Mwah.