Monday, October 27, 2008

Tel Aviv and Yaffo, Erev Yom Kippur III

Have I mentioned that I like doorways? This one was just down the street from the interesting lintel.

Look at that fish! And that bug! I love it!

Posing for the folks back home. This is an arch that has three biblical stories incorporated into its artwork: the fall of Jericho, Jacob's ladder and I think the third one is creation...but I'm not positive.

Killing myself laughing at something Joseph said...

Tel Aviv and Yaffo, Erev Yom Kippur II

There is some story about this, the Spirit of the Wind or the Spirit of the Sea or something. I will be investigating this, or does anyone know anything about her? But, this poor statue needs a good bath.

Cool graffiti along the beach walk.

Interesting lintel in a sad state of disrepair.

This is the side of the building to which the interesting lintel belongs. WTF?

The top floor on the corner is the first place Joseph ever lived in Tel Aviv-Yaffo. This overlooks a huge shuk which was a ghost town when we were there.

Tel Aviv and Yaffo, Erev Yom Kippur

In Yaffo, on a neat bridge. Each of the signs of the zodiac was carved like this along the railing of the bridge. In the background is the Mediterranean, breeding dangerous jellyfish...

The three nice Palestinian men who made sure we had more than enough to eat before beginning our fast - I'm becoming accustomed to the assumption that I am a secular Jew.

This is just a bizarre structure that Joseph and I laughed at. But, if you look in the top window between the first columns on the right, you can see the moon.

Sean Connery for the first Saint of Briantology!

Crazy graffiti down the street from the Maxim.

The Dead Sea and En Gedi, September

In the Central Bus Station, hanging with the soldiers. (The first and last photos are courtesy of Adrienne's facebook page.)

Adrienne at the second pool.

Mary in the water.

In the background is the Dead Sea.

Me, with my classic look of hiker's concentration...I was getting ready to get in the water and see what all the excitement was was Rabbi Crabbi!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sweet Home Jerusalem

It was very weird landing at Ben Gurion for the second time. Usually, after a vacation, I return home to my very pretty apartment in Toronto

and this time I was returning to my new home at kfar haStudentim.
The first person I met after getting my luggage was a taxi driver offering me a very good deal to Jerusalem, only 300 shekelim = about 100$ CDN. I kept walking, "No way. I'll take a sherut." "Oh," he says, "you'll be waiting for hours." I stopped and looked him in the eye: "No, I won't. I live here now and I know you're wrong." I waited ten minutes at the sherut stand and was home in the next hour or so for the low, low price of 50 shekelim = about 17$ CDN. Without traffic, it takes less time to go from the airport to the kfar than it does to drive from Yorkdale to Barrie, and here we're travelling a narrow width of the country. I think that's so cool.

Paris. Wow. I'm trying to figure out a way that I can live there after my Masters is earned. Alain, about whom I'll speak in a minute, told me that the Louvre has a school. I'm going to investigate their programs. I admit that I didn't spend the three days there that I had hoped, but did spend most of one day there, and saw the Mesha Stele, the Law Code of Hammurabai, her holiness the Mona Lisa, the apartments of Napoleon III, and the history of the Louvre itself. We saw quite a bit and didn't even get through 1% of the museum - first reason to return to Paris. It was great hanging out with Alain: his knowledge of French and Mesopotamian history is astounding; he's a native Parisian and has been going to the Louvre since he was a little boy; he was my personal tourguide and professor of all things French for three whole days. Both he and his friend, Christian, welcomed me with open arms, fed me, and sent me home with cool books and music.

For the first five days I was in Bougival with Jason, and the final five days I stayed in an apartment in Montmartre, one floor up from Alain. There is so much to tell you that I'll give an overview then when the photos are developed will post them with stories to fill in the blanks.

Bougival is just west of Paris, about an hour by bus to La Defense then on the Metro to, for example, the Left Bank/Latin Quarter or Montmartre. These were the two areas where I spent the most time. This little village is nestled along the Seine amidst mature oak and maple trees now turning gold and auburn, parks with bike- and walking paths, old old houses with glassed-in sunrooms and gables, and a high street boasting a beautiful Catholic church undergoing restoration at the top of its summit. Versailles is not far away. An ancient Roman wall runs behind the church. On one of the arches leading to an alley off the high street is a very faded painting of the Virgin; it's above eye level and you wouldn't ordinarily notice it while walking. The Tabac and Cafe down the street from the hotel became a favourite haunt for me: the proprietor is a young man, maybe late thirties or early forties, whose shiny, shaved bald head and t-shirt and jeans made him seem more suited to working in a head shop on Queen. After breakfast at the hotel I liked to walk and have a cafe creme and sit outside to write in my journal. The air is clean and the rolling hills not far away are thickly populated with forests, green, gold and red.

Getting to Montmartre was easy. I'm glad my back is better because I had to carry my suitcase up two flights of stairs upon my arrival at Blanche Metro Station on line 2. The Moulin Rouge is the first sight one sees upon exiting the station. The air smells like warm sugar. On my way to Alain's on Rue Constance I passed by the cafe made famous in Amelie. My heart skipped a beat. I had coffee there on Wednesday before heading home. The streets are narrow, winding, and easily shared by pedestrians, cyclists and motorized vehicles. If I ever live in Paris I would want a motorcycle. But, everyone walks everywhere; everyone uses the metro. I think one of the things that attracts me most to this city (aside from the fashion) is its combination of living/working environments in the neighbourhoods: shops and businesses are beneath apartments, people use public space, people use the parks on a daily basis (I'm in love with Parc de Monceau), people buy their baguettes in one of the patisseries and it's an opportunity to connect with those in the community while waiting in line, getting to work (if you don't work in your neighbourhood) is an easy commute. A take-away coffee is a rare thing: people sit at the sidewalk cafes, have their coffee, take a real break. Life is not experienced far away from where one sleeps. Home is not just your apartment or your cottage or your office in an area that closes at 5pm: home is your city. Life is lived, whether you're making plans or not.

Montmartre is a beautiful area, and it mixes tourism with daily living, combines culture with the profane. Parisians wait with people from all over the world to cross the street, on the platforms to take the subway, in the cafes taking their coffee. The Boulevard de Clechy is dominated by sex shops and theatres with live sex shows. Just behind this street is Sacre Coeur, holy and beautiful with its meringue-like architecture but you have to pass through swarms of Sengalese men selling you string bracelets at outrageous prices. Behind the Cathedral and the even older Celtic church is the area where the artists used to hang out and paint and some artists are still there but the square itself is a series of cafes. People own hundred year old (or older) houses with gardens or own apartments, some with balconies decorated with potted plants and flowers. Alain and I popped our heads into a bocci-ball club, an oasis amidst the noise of the city where foursomes played beneath gnarled trees in the walled area of their club lit by twinkling electric lights. Right outside the gate was the Witch's Stone which reminded me very much of the rocks and wee caves in the garden my mother and I chanced upon outside the walls of Blarney Castle 7 years ago. As Alain and I walked on Monday evening I silently thanked all the people who left their curtains open so I could see inside their homes. Yes, I'm a decorating voyeur: I love to see how other people live, how they make their space beautiful, what I can be inspired by to make my own little home a welcoming place for myself and others.

The apartment I stayed in was very tiny, on the top floor of a six storey building built in the 19th century. The living/sleeping area was a good size and the bed was very comfortable. The shower stall was very tiny as was the kitchen. But, the apartment boasts three balconies with only enough space for two people to stand shoulder to shoulder, with flower boxes blooming red mums and the view was incredible: directly in front I could see the tree tops of the cemetery where, amongst other famous folk, Jim Morrison is buried; to the right, the street where Van Gogh lived and worked; to the left, the Eiffel Tower. Sunsets were incredible, sunrises even more beautiful.

We walked so much! Ordinarily, I am very aware of my surroundings and am an excellent navigator, but with Alain I just let myself be swept along and enjoyed seeing and experiencing and learning what he had to teach. Every time a question formulated in my mind about what we were seeing, he was already answering it. He photocopied maps of where we walked and used a highlighter to mark our journeys; I have glued them into my new journal, purchased at one of the shops in the mall at the Louvre. Christian said it makes me look like a "vraie explorateure." Oh! and we went to a concert on saturday night to see Buika, a Spanish flamenco/infusion singer. What I saw of the concert was fantastic: I was exhausted and the theatre was too too hot so I nodded off a few times. My Dad is the only person I know who will relate to this: when I was maybe 12 or 13, we went as a family to see The Nutcracker. Again, the theatre was so hot that he and I slept through the second act. My stepmother was not impressed and ever since then we, as a family, seem to stick to musicals that will hold our attention and we never, ever, wear winter boots anymore to a performance.

Jason and I had a very fun time together. His colleagues whom I met were all interesting and fun. One of the Americans, Steve, brought his wife Patty along on this trip and she and I hung out quite often. I'm proud to say that I introduced her to creme brulee. On wednesday night Jason and I went with three of the French guys - Patrice, Gaulthier and David - to the Left Bank for drinks and dinner. They were hilarious: it was very refreshing to talk footwear, specifically boots, with straight men. And, they have this very funny theory: huge handbags are all the fashion right now. The guys believe that the bigger the handbag, the greater the sex drive of the woman carrying said handbag. They of course inspected mine, and since my grandmother reads this, I won't go into how it was judged. (I think it's enough that I'm including this story!) I did, however, ask if this is the same line of reasoning that explains how the 'size' of a man is inversely proportionate to the size of his pickup truck. They said it was. I laughed so hard. And drank more Hoegarden.

The best part of the trip? Walking by myself with impunity. Not worrying about my "distinctive Western feminine self," as Adrienne phrases it, attracting unwanted attention. Having said that, though, I'm happy to be home in Jerusalem.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Oui, Allo de Paris

Super quick update, mes amis: Jason's internet isn't working and this public one is (ahem) expensive and the keyboard is an adventure unto itself...

The flight was pretty horrific but made worth it because, oh my gosh! I'm in Paris! We're staying in Bougival, a very pretty little town in the GPA. I asked today and it'll take about an hour by bus and Métro to get to my first stop = Shakespeare and Company, which is near Notre Dame. I haven't been homesick (wishing everyone were in Jerusalem with me is not homesick behaviour) until I started walking around Bougival and the Seine: the leaves golden and green and deep red crunching under my feet, that wonderful smell you only get in the autumn (and I'm pretty sure it's most concentrated in Creemore), the crisp air in the brilliant sunshine. Yeah, I love Jerusalem but it doesn't have these things representing my favourite time of year like Paris does. And, really, that's OK because Jerusalem has its own brand of charm that I'm sure I'll ache for just as I ache right now for pumpkin pie.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This is becoming a habit

I should be packing, but true to form I am instead blogging - just like way back in July I should have been packing to come here but was instead giving a wee update to y'all. The plan was to blog earlier today, or yesterday, but I've done something to my lower back so the past two days have seen me in bed, in the most comfortable position I can find on said back. My convalescence has gone something like this: rub Ben-Gay onto my lower back, do about an hour of yoga stretches and breathing (see! the yoga mat was worth the schlep across the Atlantic!), then crawl back into bed with The Source, if any spasms occur then pray for the pain to stop, pop some ibuprofen and repeat from the Ben-Gay step. Now I'm at the computer, sitting as comfortably as I can and hoping that all the stretching (and Mary's generous back-rub last night) will buy me enough pain-free time to write this. Grrr.

It all started on Wed, as I was getting ready to head to Tel Aviv with Joseph for Yom Kippur. It felt achey, so I stretched and felt better. It got a little worse on the bus but nothing to write home about. We got to Tel Aviv and checked into Hotel Maxim on Hayarkon Street - two seconds down a set of stairs to the Mediterranean - and started walking south. It took an hour and a half to get to Yafo and I am so excited to see how the photos turn out. We had a bite to eat at an Arab restaurant and the neighbourhood itself is beautiful and old. It was a good thing that all the shops were already closed for the holiday; I saw so many amazingly beautiful things that I would have loved to pick up. Traffic was already thinning and by 4pm, the official shutdown time in the country, there were only sporadic vehicles still on the roads - the whole country shuts down at 4pm on Erev Yom Kippur and doesn't re-open until around 7 or 8pm the next day. This means no cars, no telephones/cellphones, no internet, no restaurants (everyone should be fasting, but some places, like our hotel, offered small breakfasts for non-Jews), nothing. You're not supposed to eat, drink, bathe or brush your teeth - it's the Day of Atonement and even secular Jews here honour this, from what Joseph was telling me. We walked back to the hotel through deserted streets.

At the hotel I had a small bite to eat - I'm not quite ready yet to fast (I'm taking baby steps in exploring Judaism), but didn't want to gorge. We then took our toast that we had brought from home and went down to the sea to break up and throw into the water. I don't quite understand it all yet, but Joseph said that with each piece of bread you think about what you'd like forgiveness for from any sin you've committed over the past year. I was a little worried that since this was my first time I'd have to ask for forgiveness for a lifetime of sins, but it doesn't seem to work like that. I liked this ritual very much, but would like some help deciphering it and its historical beginnings/legend.

Then, we started walking again: along Hayarkon to Allenby then along some sidestreets until we hit Dizengoff. Joseph took me past some of the apartments he'd lived in (he lived in Tel Aviv off and on for around five years, returning home to the States around ten years ago), and showed me where he was when the suicide bomber pushed past him and ran around the corner onto Dizengoff on Purim in 1996 and set off his horrible explosives. The sight on Yom Kippur while walking speaks to me of strength and life and community - Tel Aviv had been taken over by children on their bikes. Children of all ages, people of all ages, mostly in white (including me - a purely intuitive choice) had taken over the car-less streets and I was so excited and grateful to be a part of that crowd. One little boy, maybe 5, couldn't pick his bike up from where it had been dropped; there was no adult in sight who seemed to belong to him. He let out the saddest wail that was threatening to escalate into a sob when I walked over and picked up his bike for him. His mom wasn't far away - just that extra distance, y'know? - and she gave me a relieved 'toda.' It was so great to respond with a sincere 'bvakesha.' It was very exciting to be walking on the streets and Joseph and I made a compromise - he could talk as much as he wanted as long as I could stop and look at all the shoe stores. My back didn't like me very much and the spasms were getting pretty nasty when we stopped for a little bit and sat on a bench facing a designer's shopfront - the dress in the window was a strapless white wedding-dress with a big picture of Shimon Perez (ninth president of Israel) on the puffy skirt and a big 60 on the breasts. Only in Israel.

The next day we went to the beach. The great thing about being there on a holiday was that the concierge of the Maxim let us keep our room until five, instead of kicking us out at the regular checkout time at noon. I lay in the sun (fully covered in 30 sunscreen and had my bandana on my head) and read (guess!) The Source. I went swimming and it was amazing - the Mediterranean is much warmer and calmer than I remember it from Calella in Spain. My back didn't hurt much at all. But! I was stung for the first time by a jellyfish! The horror! So, I come back to our spot where Joseph is sleeping:
Me: Something just bit my leg. I'm bleeding.
Joseph: (not looking up nor opening his eyes) You probably got stung by a jellyfish.
Me: What? Aren't they poisonous?
Joseph: Yeah, if you're allergic.
Me: How do I know if I'm allergic?
Joseph: Keep an eye on it.
Me: But what does it look like? Will I see the poison going in a line up my leg, like when a spider bit my mom?
Joseph: Maybe. Here, let me see. Oh. That's a good bite.
Me: It bit me on my mole. Of course it looks bad.
Joseph: It happens all the time.

Basically, Joseph didn't change his tone, he stayed calm and even and half asleep through the whole exchange while I alternated between hysterical and relieved. And, nothing has happened to me because of the bite, although I was hoping for some bizarre unknown-till-now-inherent-jellyfish-medicinal-properties to manifest themselves and take away my back pain. No dice; back to yoga and ibuprofen.

We caught the bus back to Jerusalem at 8:05pm after a lovely picnic on the windy, chilly, almost deserted beach. Ok, a little sidenote: Tel Aviv's Central Bus Station is one of the creepiest places I've ever been. Seven stinky floors, a maze that the most intelligent rat would have a hard time navigating, some of the worst shopping ever, and uninspiring security. I much prefer Jerusalem's Central Bus Station: clean, secure, a great bookstore - really, what else does one need in a bus station if not a great bookstore?

Yesterday, Mary and her brother David came for dinner. I was very excited to cook for them but my back was not. Yes, I realize that the suckiness caused by my achey back is a whiney theme in this post. Anyway, Peter and Joseph did the honours and dinner was fantastic: spicy curry with rice, salad with blue cheese and a balsamic dressing, a bottle of Merlot and a bottle of Shiraz, and burekas and coffee for dessert. We had a great time, and after the festivities Mary rubbed eucalyptus linament into my back and I think that's what really helped on my road to recovery - plus, she said a very nice prayer to help speed the healing.

And now, dear readers, I do have to pack. I'm expecting Tam's skype call in 6 minutes and plan on calling my grandmother to wish her an early happy birthday. Then, I have to call a sherut and hope that they can come and get me around 3am this morning so that I can catch my 7am flight to PARIS. (If I can't get a sherut I'll have to suck it up and pay for the taxi.) I'm quite sure I'll be able to find a funky internet cafe in Paris to give you updates of my adventures there with Jason, who I'm pretty sure is either strapped in to his trans-Atlantic flight or nearing boarding. A bientot, mes cheris!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Links - A whole new world

I figured out, all by myself, how to add links. Please check out Adrienne's blog - with its fantastic write-up on her evening in East Jerusalem last week - and also my friend Omar's blog. I'm in love with Omar's photography, and my next project is to figure out how he added a photo gallery to his blog. A photo gallery! I salivate at the thought that one day I, too, will have photo gallery to share with y'all.

I wrote the Biblical Hebrew placement exam this morning. The exam was made up of four passages, each about 4 verses long; the goal was to translate each then parse all the verbs in each passage. I admit it: my heart skipped a beat in excitement. I finished, sort of, two of the four passages comprising the exam. I say "sort of" because there were several words in both passages that I didn't recognize, but do take solace in the fact that there were many more I did. I did, however, nail 95% of the verbs I parsed - and nearly fell off my seat I was so happy to see Niphals and Hophals - represent! The exam was only two hours, and I definitely needed an hour per passage. I'm not upset that I didn't finish it but only look at this as part of the criteria by which my placement will be judged. Considering that I haven't done any Biblical Hebrew in the past six months, other than my own translations of Judges 4, and that I studied but not extensively, I think I did just fine.

Now I can read Michener's The Source guilt-free.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I've been trying to figure out a way to include links/whole albums on the blog but without much success. I can only upload five photos at a time here so it's been a slow process and I've much more to show you: an entire roll of film dedicated to Montefiore, or Yemin Moshe, the first settlement built outside Jerusalem's old city walls in the early 1800's; an audio recording of my class saying "Shana Tova" to me, my end of year gift from Ma'ya, one of my teachers, who had picked my name for our class' Secret Santa/Hanukkah Harry/Fatima for our end-of-Ulpan party; links, etc. Yes, I can read quickly and can learn a language fairly quickly, but I can't figure out how to do these things on my wee blog. So, I spoke with my resident expert on all things computer related, Jacob, and he's going to help me set up a web page. oooh, I think I may be getting into the big time!

Instead, here's a sample. All of these photos are from our fieldtrip to, and picnic in, Montefiore.
A cool view of the Old City/Ha'Ir Ha'Atiqa:

So, this shot is very interesting. As our class sat down on these steps to hear more of the history of this settlement, in Hebrew, some men were delivering groceries to the house at the back of the photo. The door was opened and you could see this fantastic sculpture of a man seated with a lamb across his lap. How cool is that? As I was getting the camera ready to take a shot, the woman of the house came out and started shouting - and I mean shouting - at the delivery guys. I was impressed with myself for knowing what she was saying in Hebrew (you were supposed to be here at 1 and now it's after 4, what's your problem, etc, etc). The delivery guy just stood there and took it and when she was done he started bringing in her groceries. The best part: Ma'ya was telling us all about the 'conflicti' between the Ashkenazis and the Sephardis; 'conflicti' was the word on these steps. I, though, was terrified that this woman would catch me taking a shot, without permission, of her courtyard, so Debbie did the honours on this shot. I'm so Canadian.

My amazing teachers, Ma'ya and Ronit:

My very cool class, Alef Sheva, minus me, Sahmer and Ronit:

Mary took this shot of me and Ma'ya.

An Academic Update

I just checked the Rothberg website and got my mark from the Ulpan. An A! I can quote you exactly the comment my mother will make about this: "I'm so proud of you, my smart, intelligent, beautiful daughter - just like her mom!" I'm not kidding. And I'm also not kidding that as she reads this she'll start laughing so hard she'll cry.

I also have my schedule set up for the upcoming semester. Modern Hebrew is two hours per day, four days per week. I don't yet know what level I'm in for Biblical Hebrew - the placement exam is finally being written this Tuesday - but, it's three hours of class per week, divided between two days. I just met another Texan, Debbie, who told me that the Biblical Hebrew classes are fantastic with a focus on using the lexicon and the concordance. I love lexicons and concordances. My big day will be Wednesdays: three classes between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Luckily, I'm off on Tuesdays (although, I don't know when the Creative Workshop will be held...) so have decided that this will be shuk-day. (And, I do have plans to tell you all about the shuk, with the express purpose of taunting you not with figs but with mangoes, persimmons, and coffee.)

So, I will be taking:

1: Modern Hebrew
2: Biblical Hebrew
3: Creative Writing (and the reason for this, Julie, is that having a constant source of feedback close by is never a bad thing.)
4: God, Man and History in the Ancient Near East
5: Shekhinah: The Image of the Divine Female in the Early Kabbalah

Let me tell ya about course #5:
Dr. Iris Felix
The Kabbalah is famous for enhancing traditional Judaism with myths and rituals surrounding the Shekhinah, a quasi-biblical term used by the sages of the Talmud to describe God's indwelling or presence on earth. This divine presence, grammatically feminine in both Hebrew and Aramaic, was typically depicted using feminine imagery. Theosophical-theurgical kabbalists developed the image of the Shekhinah as a full-fledged divine female potency functioning on two levels, the divine and the human. They viewed her as a mediator between the divine and the material worlds, hence her central position for these kabbalists in the performance of Jewish ritual. This course will examine some kabbalistic attitudes towards the Shekhinah, exploring her various names and roles in light of other Jewish modes of thought and traditional ritual behavior.

Although the Kabbalah is much, much later than the time period I'm interested in for my thesis, this course will be fantastic for a few reasons: exploring descriptions of the divine feminine; how the divine feminine is portrayed in later writings, at a time that could be viewed as a bridge between Judges 4 and 5 having occurred and/or when it was written and my time now for its re-vision; the potential for furthering my theory that the characters of Deborah and Ja'el functioned on two levels, divine and human, and to add to that, Deborah herself was a mediator between the divine and the human. And, the bottom line is that I'm here to to take courses that will enhance all aspects, all disciplines, that I'm concentrating on for my degree in my thesis. So, Creative Writing and Religious Studies are now covered, and this is the Women's Studies component that also crosses over into Religious Studies territory, and if I can be so bold (and I am!) also into Creative Writing territory.

On a non-academic note, I have decided to go to Paris for 10 days and postpone Cairo for later. After Jason leaves on the 18th, I'll be moving to an apartment in Montmartre for 5 days. I had contacted my friend Alain, one of Joseph's room-mates, to ask his advice on hotels/hostels - it seemed that every hotel and hostel review I read on-line described a place that is exactly what you pay for and what I can afford was described as either dirty or unsafe. Unfortunately, the apartment he rents out to guests is booked at this time. He did, however, graciously ask a friend if her rental apartment would be available during the time I need it, and it is. Yay! I will be buying a museum pass, since I anticipate spending at least three days at the Louvre, especially to see the Mesha Stele. Plus, I'm starting research now to see if there are, and I'm sure there are, artistic representations of Deborah and Ja'el and Judith in one of the museums.

And now, darlings, I must return to studying Biblical Hebrew. Wednesday sees me off to Tel Aviv for the night to check out Yom Kippur city-shutdown. We plan on walking the freeway after we walk the beach.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Shana Tova v'Mtuqa!

Rosh Hashanah started Monday night (29 September) and ended Wednesday night (1 October). Tuesday morning Peter, Mary, Joseph and I went to the Great Synagogue on George HaMelekh to see the blowing of the shofar to welcome the new year. I admit to being rather nervous and not my usual adventurous self: would I be dressed appropriately? Would shiksa radar be on high alert? I had bizarre visions of well-dressed, older Jewish ladies in fantastic hats coming up to me and saying in thick Hebrew accents, "Y'aren't from around here, are ya?" I have to add to this that I have similar anxieties when entering any religious congregation. As usual, I had nothing to worry about.

We arrived and Mary and I left Peter and Joseph to ascend to the women's balcony. We found some good seats - it was only 9 a.m. and although there were many people already there and the service had already started, the synagogue was rather empty. The men sat below, the seats arranged around the bimah which was in the center of the room; the bimah is the raised area where most of the important rituals take place, including the reading of the Torah (thanks to Carl for the definition). The choir sat in another raised section between the bimah and the area housing the Torah scrolls (and I can't find/remember the name of!) Above this area a beautiful stained glass window rose high to the ceiling. I couldn't follow what was going on, even though I looked over the shoulder of the woman in front of me to see what page she was on in the Machzor, the prayer book (thanks, Rob, for the heads-up on its name). I instead skimmed through the Machzor to see what words I recognized, and people watched. Yes, I turned into a bit of an anthropologist without a Dr. Livingston-esque persona in sight with whom to compare notes.

Any time I've ever been in a congregation there's a set start and end time, everyone sits quietly and does what they're supposed to do at the appropriate moments: stand up, sit down, sing, kneel, pray. Socializing would be done after the service. Being in synagogue was a very different experience: people coming and going and shaking hands hello; everyone chatting at some point(to my right were three women in their mid-fifties to -sixties gossiping away for most of the two hours we were there); people up and swaying and praying; and my favourite was watching a father below blowing a kiss to his 14-year-old daughter in the women's section above, then a mother holding up her 3-year-old daughter to the railing and blowing her daddy below a kiss.

The shofar is "a trumpet made of a ram's horn, blown by the ancient Hebrews during religious ceremonies and as a signal in battle, now sounded in the synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur. [Hebrew šôpār, ram's horn, shofar; akin to Akkadian sappāru, šappāru, fallow deer, and sappartu, tip of an animal's horn, from Sumerian šegbar, fallow deer.]" ( It is a sound that sounds like a signal. You have this instant, sub-conscious acknowledgement in your brain and in your heart that something great and bigger than you are is about to commence. Unfortunately, our shofar blower had a few problems blowing and had to call in the back-up, who did a great job. Then the cantor and the choir began to sing. One of my other favourites was the choir director, a busy little man with precise yet wildly gesticulating hand movements.

Afterwards, as we four walked along George Hamelekh, Joseph said I looked like a secular gingi Jew. We laughed, and I like the moniker, but we both agreed that it sounds a lot like a new JellyBelly flavour. We took cabs to and from the synagogue, a big no-no, and both of our Palestinian cab drivers gave us what-for for doing so. I find it very interesting that if the guys had taken off their kippas no one would know we were going to/had come from synagogue; this one piece of clothing identifies a person. I am continually amazed here that clothing is such a political statement. At home, if I were to cover my head it would mean I'm having a bad hair day or looking for protection from the sun or the cold. A scarf is an accessory. Here, depending on how one wears the head covering, it is an identifiable marker of a woman's faith or marital status; for men, their clothing also identifies them as a member of their specific community. But, really, this happens everywhere, doesn't it? I am purposely throwing that question out there for feedback on this, to help with articulating just what it is I'm trying to convey about the political nature of clothing - here and everywhere. There is something extra-powerful about the statement made via clothing here, or perhaps I am simply more aware of it in Jerusalem than I was at home.

Naughty Blogger!

Wow! It's already 2 October and I have left y'all hanging for two weeks! I am a naughty blogger, indeed, and starting today will remedy that.

The Ulpan ended last Thursday. When I had last written, I was embarking upon a supplementary program to complete the final 6 chapters of the textbook for Alef with the goal of writing the level exam. This did not happen. I did do the supplementary program, an extra 2 hours per day of Modern Hebrew instruction, and watched myself become stressed and anxious and trying to cram so much into my head that my head erected a wall and nothing more could be crammed. I spoke with the woman heading our level, Michal, to see about my options. As it turns out, I can write the level exam 30 October. This is what I'm doing. Shortly after speaking with her, I felt my brain resume its regular sponge status and I was able to walk into our final exam with confidence, the head holding that brain held high. I have all the materials I need to study for the exam, and have Joseph to study with. It's all good.

The day after the exam, Mary and I hosted Shabbat dinner. Peter, Joseph, Adrienne and one of my new neighbours, Joe, joined us. Adrienne is an opera singer; she's an American ex-pat now living in Copenhagen with her husband and children and is here studying as part of her anthropology degree. She sang the Kiddush (sp?) and it was truly beautiful. An added bittersweet ingredient in our little party was the fact that this was our last Shabbat with Mary. She left yesterday morning to do a month of volunteer work with the Israeli army in their Sar-el program. It was getting late at our dinner party, around 11:30 pm, when we noticed that it was raining. I have been here for almost three months now and this was the first rainfall in that time, a rainfall this country desperately needs. We all ran outside and like children ran as it fell upon us. Jerusalem is a little cooler during the days now, the blue skies are constantly populated with clouds, and the nights are downright cold. I laugh at my meteorological arrogance remembering the question I asked before coming here: How cold can it possiby get in Israel?

Adrienne, Mary and I decided to roadtrip. Originally we wanted to rent a car and head north to the Galilee but we had left our planning late - understandable, since we were all studying in preparation for the aforementioned exam - and there weren't any cars left whose rental fees we could afford. No big deal. Instead, we rented a room at the En Gedi Youth Hostel and hopped a bus down to the Dead Sea on Sunday. We got there around 2:30 - only an hour away - and high-tailed it to the spa. Unfortunately, we arrived late during their operating hours and I wasn't able to head to the Dead Sea proper to soak and mud-up. I did, however, soak in the mineral pool and went for a very heavenly one-hour massage, then paddled in the pool for a little while. I didn't get down about not going to the Sea - I'm here for while and know that I'll be back.

There were no restaurants in the area but the hostel provided us with a box meal. I was expecting a sandwich. We got bread, chicken schnitzel, fries, some sort of salad that was very yummy (a root vegetable in creamy dressing), chocolate wafer cookies, an apple, and of course hummus. Adrienne had brought along a bottle of shiraz from the Golan that was perfect, medium to full body and very smooth. We sat on the terrace of the hostel's common area, the Dead Sea before us, the mountains behind and around us. It was so warm and the wind so welcome - the leaves rustling in a near-by tree sounded like rain - and the smell of sulphur was distant and not unpleasant. One of the guys staying at the hostel (he looked like he was in his late twenties and a total surfer dude) poked his head out onto the terrace and said, "You live like queens." Yes, yes we do, and I did feel like a queen sitting with my royal friends. One of the highlights of the evening was Adrienne singing part of the love aria from The Marriage of Figaro. And! As it turns out, Adrienne's last role was the soprano in Die Entfuhrung Aus Dem Serail - the opera I had seen with Julie in New York in May!

The next morning we were up and hiking in the En Gedi National Park. Photos are pending development! There were pools at the bottom of waterfalls where you could swim; none of us wore our suits but we swam all the same in our clothes. I had to be coaxed in, I admit it. At the second pool, Mary waded in right away to her waist and a few minutes later excitedly called to Adrienne and me to join her. On a rock half in and out of the water was a freshwater crab. We called him Rabbi Crabby. It was just us three splashing and revelling in where we were until a huge group of Swedish students invaded. That was our cue to move on. We hiked until noon, up as far as the Shulammit Spring when we turned back (the last bus to Jerusalem was at 2:30). From this height the view of the Dead Sea and Wadi David was spectacular. We didn't make it as far as the Ein Gedi Spring, but like I said, I'll go back.

Sightings of note at En Gedi: Nubian ibex (wild goats), rock hyrax (conies; they look like groundhogs), eucalyptus and fig trees growing out of the rocks, my first Israeli hummingbird - all black with an iridiscent blue/purple head.

And now, I'm all on my own in my big five room apartment here at the Kfar Hastudentim. Joseph and a couple of other friends, Jacob and Paul, are having a male bonding weekend in the Negev riding horses and hanging with alpacas. I wanted to go, but need the time to study for the Biblical Hebrew placement exam that I don't want to postpone any longer. I'm looking forward to having this time alone, to getting some work done and to meeting my new roommates when they eventually arrive.