Monday, December 17, 2007

Birthday memories

Out at a pub in Beer Sheva, Manga, for my bday. Cailin, me and Oded.

Oded enlarged a photo he took on Maui for me. Hanging on my wall.

My roomates filled my room with balloons!

Oded and I on the way to Sinai to celebrate my bday--in a taxi from the Israeli-Egyptian border.

The view from our bungalow: Two Bedouins on camels.

Another view from our bungalow: Sunrise.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

What's new in the Negev.

What's been going on lately?

I am sick. Second time in 1 month--everyone around me is sick too! Hanukkah started last night; I lit candles with the family that I work with, where I teach English, and had an excellent sufganya (jelly donut). My birthday is approaching--one week away! I can't believe I'll be 26. I turned in my first paper as a graduate student today! It was on defining a few different concepts (nationalism, ethnicity, homeland, and diaspora) for my Israel-Palestine class.

Aaron's girlfriend made latkes for Hankkah. She is Japanese, and not Jewish, but likes to know about Jewish stuff. Aaron, on the other hand, avoids getting involved with Jewish stuff. You can't blame him though, all he's been exposed to is Hillel at USC and crazy Jews on Maui. Hopefully he'll come to Israel soon and see what it's really like--and not get scared off!

Check out this great pic!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Sunset from my window

Very busy in school, reading about different theories on the decline of the Ottoman empire, preparing a book review about the 1956 Suez Crisis, studying for a quiz in Arabic (we've finally learned all the letters!), and preparing for a class on Mizrachim in Israel (which is distinct from Sepharadim--if you're interested, write me an email after Wednesday's class and we can discuss).

Here's a picture of the sunset on Friday evening from my room, on the 13th floor in Beer Sheva.

Shavua tov.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Colonialism? Miluim! Hummers.

We still don't have internet at our apartment, so it makes it difficult to blog as often as I want. But I try!

Classes are going great. Really interesting so far. Besides Arabic which I really like, I find the class on "Israel/Palestine: Politics of Land and Identity" to be the most interesting. Recently, we have read and discussed about the development of nationalism and colonialism. We will then go on to examine its impact in different countries, specifically Israel/Palestine.

From having a better understanding of Colonialism, this has led me to think: Am I an colonialist for having made aliyah? For supporting Zionism which "evicted" (this word is debatable) and exploited Arabs, from the Balfour Declaration of 1917 until today with Jewish settlements past the Green Line, in occupied territory?

Oded is now doing Miluim; his military reserve duty. I went to go visit him this weekend. He and his fellow platoon are located in Alei Zahav, a Jewish settlement, past the Green Line, and thus technically in the Occupied Territories. He and his fellow soldiers guard this settlement from the surrounding Arab villages. They drive around in Hummers and sit in pillboxes and basically do lots of guarding and (unfortunately) cigarette-smoking.

Or can I see things more simply--I am just a person who likes this country and wanted to be a part of it, and it's not quite as complicated, since I did not come in 1948? There are a lot of angles here, and this is very complicated.

I am not sure what the answer is. I am not some super left-winger that says Zionism is apartheid, but one must recognize, as I realized a few months ago: Jews came to Palestine in the late 1880s and Arabs were definitely here. It was not an empty land.

The hard part is: what is the solution now?

Saturday, October 27, 2007

School started last week.

School started last Sunday. Tomorrow is the start of the 2nd week of classes. I have found a job teaching/tutoring English in a private English center. The job pays really well--double minimum wage. It's fun, challenging, and frustrating all at the same time.

As for school: all my classes meet once a week, for 4 hours at a time. This is not necessarily the way the program is designed, but these are the courses I've chosen.

Sunday: Beginning Arabic, taught by an amazing professor. She has her doctorate from Harvard in Semitic languages. She is originally American, made aliyah 4 years ago, knows English, Hebrew, Modern Standard Arabic, Biblical Hebrew, Egyptian Arabic, and is working on her Jerusalem Arabic. (More later on the different "dialects" of Arabic). We learned the beginning of the alphabet: alif, bet, teh, th, wow, and yeh. It seemed really hard at first, but now it's starting to come together.

Monday: The Production of Resistance in Arab Societies and Beyond. This class reminds me of the Mass Communications classes I took when I was a Mass Comm major at Berkeley. In our first meeting, we talked about Foucault (who I absolutely despise from my experience reading him in the worst class I ever took at Cal--Indian History) and listened to an Egyptian resistance song. Half of the classes will be taught by a Palestinian professor, who recently published a book entitled "Palestinian Political Prisoners: Identity and Community." First reading this weekend was about hegemony.

Tuesday: Ottoman State and Society: Themes in History and Historiography. This class is a little dry, but it seems to be important for understanding the Middle East. Reading so far has included Hourani and some methodological texts. Like I said, not the most thrilling, but important.

Wednesday: Israel/Palestine: Politics of Land and Identity. This is what I've been looking forward to. Last week, our class met on the 12th anniversary of Yitzak Rabin's assassination. This topic was the lead in to our discussion. From Rabin's assassination, one sees so many of the problems going on here: religious vs secular, arabs vs israelis, ashkenazim vs sepharadim, and so on. We then went on to talk about the history of how Israel got to be in its current state, since the Second Diaspora.

I listed 3 classes and Arabic. I will be taking a fourth class, a mini course on the Muslim Mediterranean City (3 weeks of 12 hrs per week) at the end of the semester. It's taught by a Harvard professor.

Am leaving soon to take the bus back to Beer Sheva after the weekend in Tel Aviv.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Orientation, Good Vegetables, and Teachers Striking

There were lots of topics that I thought about including here, since my last posting:

-the entrenched, unbearable bureaucracy of every government (and often non-government) office/going to 6 different offices to get one thing done

-my experience signing up for national health insurance in Beer Sheva (more bureaucracy, ladies screaming at each other, people standing too close to me)

-Sunday morning bus ride down to Beer Sheva is a wrestling competition/who can push harder/who has fewer bags and a bigger fun (Sunday is Monday here an all the soldiers return to their bases, mentioned in last post with soldier under luggage rack on train) where I let 2 buses pass me by before a man in a cowboy hat directed all the civilians to a separate bus for priority boarding.

-eating Israeli salad almost every day, always adding bulgarit cheese (a kind of feta I think). So far, my favorite is from Aroma Cafe.

-buying paint to paint my room from Ace in Beer Sheva. I foolishly thought because it's Ace, it will be like an Ace in the US. I was sorely mistaken! 3 hours after entering, I managed to leave with 2 liters of "Sea Calm" and 750 ml of an aubergine color, but not without the cash registers not being able to process international credit cards, lots of screaming between Russian ladies (same as at the clinic where I signed up for health insurance), other customers yelling about whose fault it was that the cash registers had a "communication problem," and so on.

Asides from all these things, most a bit stressful, I am having fun!

We had orientation for the MAPMES (Masters of Arts Program in Middle East Studies) on Wednesday. It was mostly underwhelming. But I think that's a good thing. There are 27 students in the program, although I don't really know anything about any of them since we didn't do any sort of introductions. The professors seemed impressive--PhDs from Harvard, Princeton, etc. We had an hour lesson on how to use electronic journals at the library--most of us were rolling our eyes, as we all learned this as undergrads. There was also a one hour lecture/discussion by an anthro professor on life in Beer Sheva. This was interesting, although nothing new: she mentioned the Israeli concept of personal space (or lack there of), how your neighbors and everyone really care about you and aren't fake like Americans (אכפתיות= consideration/caring), and how fruits and vegetables are amazing here. I laughed a lot. The evening ended with a reception. We mingled, had Ramat Ha'Golan (Golan Heights) wine, some good ravioli, more good vegetables, and that was it. Class starts Sunday, with Arabic at 10 am.

Most University professors are striking and not starting the academic year on Sunday. There is a small chance the strike may not take place. Either way, we were informed that the professors (the same ones who are striking) will be teaching our classes. The logic: because the MA program I am doing is not subsidized by the Ministry of Education (as most students' tuitions are), the tuition we pay goes straight to the University.

Also, most middle and high school teachers are on strike. I found out recently though that religious subjects are continuing to be taught. The explanation: "Rabbi Chaim Druckman, director of the Bnei Akiva state educational network, including dozens of yeshivas and ulpanas, said, 'We are not opposed to the strike, but we have a religious duty to teach Torah.'" Interesting stuff.

Last night I was flipping through Yediot Achronot (the equivalent of USA Today) and I found this article. It's about 5 different women trying to build 5 different tables. It says only one of the was successful. I am not sure if I am more aware of gender relations here (or am I just more aware in general, of all that is new to me?), but this struck me as a bit sexist!

Would this get published in an American paper?

Even better--the writer is a woman.

Lastly, here is the Melissa plant. Oded's mom, Tali, got it for me. I was talking to her about how I had been thinking of changing my name to an Israeli name, and we were discussing the name/word Melissa in Hebrew. And I am lucky that most people are familiar with this herb/spice, and thus my name is not too foreign to most Israelis. I believe it's somewhat similar to mint, although I don't know what it's called exactly in English.

Melissa, pictured below, needs to be in the sun and stay moist at all times.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

This last week.

Here are some photos from this last week.

This scene is taking place at the intersection of Shuk Ha'Carmel (an outdoor market where produce, cheap clothing, trinkets, and more are sold), Shenkin St (hip area to live and shop), King George St (similar to Shenkin, more shopping), and Nachalat Binyamin (an outdoor artists fair). People are gathered around watching, as this woman is dancing (a combination of belly dancing and something else that is not clear). Off to the left, not in photo, is a woman singing with some Mizrachi music playing. She was first dancing alone, with a cigarette in hand, and then enticed this gentleman to dance with her. It was quite a scene!

"Sholsha Kushim." Once inside the artists fair, there are all sorts of fun gifts and things to look at. Here is a magnet made of a vintage Israeli chocolate package. The word kush (or kushim in plural) refers to an area in modern-day Sudan. When Israelis use this word, it is in a somewhat derogatory way, although they often say it's not.

"The term Cushite or Cushi (כושי) for black-skinned people was not derogatory or insulting in the Bible, but is so considered in contemporary Israel. In spoken Hebrew it is now usually avoided in favor of "Shahor" (שחור) (Black), in conscious emulation of the American replacement of "Negro" with "Black" after the 1960s. Since most Blacks who are Israeli citizens originate from Ethiopia, often "Ethiopian" (אתיופי) is used." Wikipedia.

From my understanding (and what Wikipedia supports), it's the equivalent of "nigger" in English, but because Israel lacks the history of slavery that the US has, it doesn't stir up quite the same emotion among Israelis as it does among Americans. It seems that referring to Black people as "kushim" is totally acceptable; many adults I've met do it without thinking twice.

A bit hard to decipher: a soldier on a train ride South to Beer Sheva, sleeping on the floor, under a luggage rack. Sunday is the start of the work week in Israel, and thus the morning train rides on Sundays are almost always extremely crowded, with soldiers returning to their bases, students to campus, and others getting back to work after the weekend.

"Why Drink and Drive? When you can smoke and fly?" To end on a light note--another absurd Israeli t-shirt. If you want your own: (this link of course makes no sense!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Photos from this last week...

"Shalom chaver" or "Goodbye Friend." From the Yitzak Rabin Memorial. This is part of a wall of graffiti that is part of the memorial. This phrase was spoken by President Bill Clinton, saying good bye after Rabin's assassination. This phrase is found on many bumper stickers, as well as other variations of it.

Sign outside McDonalds in Tel Aviv. "Vegetable Salad [Israeli salad] finely chopped with olive oil and lemon." I find it so great and funny that McDonalds serves Israeli salad, and that it's noted it's "finely chopped." McDonalds was always good at adjusting its menu to the local population's taste.

Absurd Israeli t-shirts, with English text, that everyone wears. They're sort of funny, but at the same time--what?!

Oded and me right after I got my cellphone that has a great camera in it, which I have used to take all these pictures!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Welcome to Israel.

I am here! Oded's mom, Tali, put this up on their front door for me. Very sweet of her.

I've been getting all sorts of welcomes. From "why did you come?" to "mazal tov" to "do you want to do this in english?"

I am not sure what to think. Still getting over jet lag. Still getting used to people standing one inch away from me. Still getting used to hearing Hebrew all around me.

This is what I came for. The challenge. The meaningful life. The israeli air and people.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


I leave in 49 hours. I am getting excited, and less scared.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What is a WASP?

In the US: White/Anglo-Saxon/Protestant
Source: Wikipedia (Reliability and credibility of wikipedia to be discussed in a later post)

In Israel: Well-born/Ashkenazi/Secular/Paratrooper
Source: NY Times Article

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Big White Cross Photos.

Here's a nice montage of this big white cross (and me) that we hiked up to yesterday, above Wailuku Heights. Sort of weird. Sort of cool.

Shanah tovah again.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Time for Sacrifice

**Before I start this post, I want to make a small disclaimer. It's about Israeli politics and the current conflict. I am very interested in this subject, and am generally well-informed, but I am by no means an expert on any of this stuff. I find it fascinating and that's why I am going to study Middle East Studies at Ben Gurion (starting in a little over a month), but please don't attack me too harshly if something isn't perfect. Please do share your thoughts and feel free to correct/add anything that I've left out. **

This following quotation is from a book I'm reading called "The Never-Ending Conflict: An Israeli Military History" by Mordechai Bar-On. I normally don't think about Israel and its establishment this way, but I guess this really is the simplest breakdown of what happened.

"The simple historic fact should be recognized that the entire conflict was initially caused by the uninvited arrival of masses of Jews in a land already inhabited by the Palestinians. But the Zionist project had arisen two generations before the Palestinians began to develop their own separate national consciousness and was conceived in a different world in which European colonialism was not considered a sin. By 1948, three years after the Holocaust in which six million Jews were exterminated, the 650,000 Jews already living in Palestine, of who many, like myself, were born in the country, faced no alternative other than to fight for their personal survival and collective right of self determination."

This makes me sort of sad about Israel. Is it our fault that this current conflict exists? Maybe so. But then again, there are approximately 7 million Jews on a tiny piece of land versus 325 million Arabs in 23 Arab countries, over 2 continents. And also relevant--the obvious--Holocaust and general persecution of Jews, thus providing evidence of the need for a Jewish state.

So, that was how the original basis for the creation of the state of Israel.

Now to the present. Recently, it was leaked that the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) set down some initial points of agreement in preparation for the November Peace Conference. You can read about it here.

So what's going on here? Israel is at a cross roads. It's probably better to say, at yet another cross roads. I keep thinking--this is it! This is the chance for peace. Or at least some sort of progress.

That's what I thought when Yasir Arafat died in November 2004.

That's what I thought in August 2005 when I lived in a city 10 km north of the Gaza Strip, as the disengagement was just being completed.

That's what I thought when Ariel Sharon created the Kadima party and it seemed there was a new future for Israel, filled with compromise and progress. (Kadima means "forward" in Hebrew).

And now, here we are again. Hamas has taken over the Gaza Strip and has been isolated by the international community. Abbas and Olmert are meeting in a couple months (as well as on a weekly basis) to hopefully make some progress on 2 state solution.

But then, I read articles like this that state that Shas and Yisrael Beytenu (2 parties in the Knesset) have problems with conceding territory, this being one among various disagreements. What's going on here?! It's commonly said in public opinion surveys that a majority of both Israelis and Palestinians are ready for a two-state solution, with a shared capital of Jerusalem

So what do we have here?

Israel "started" the conflict as we saw above. Over the last 60 years (I haven't mentioned more historical stuff here, rather mostly recent events) there have been so many chances for progress, it's tragic. Once again we're at a crossroads and a chance for something truly remarkable and fundamental to occur; some change that can alter the fabric of the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. And, not only is the opportunity present, the people themselves are ready for change. But then there are, what seem to be, ridiculous politicians who are reluctant to move forward, who want to fight Olmert all the way to the end.

My naive, optimistic thoughts are: this precious moment cannot be missed once again. These politicians--from Avi Dichter to Avigdor Liberman to whoever else might be out there--must see the greater good and sacrifice territory, or principles, or whatever it is that will accomplish peace at last.

As rosh ha'shanah (the Jewish new year) starts tomorrow evening, I hope that this next year will be filled with the necessary sacrifices to move forward.

שנה טובה ומתוקה לכולם
A good and sweet year to all


Here are some nice photos from Maui. Here til Sept 18th.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Latke Lady

This yellow sticky is a funny little piece of art. Let me explain. I found this on our refrigerator this morning. It's been up there for a while, apparently. Here's the evolution. First, my brother drew this woman; it's his rendering of his girlfriend's aunt. My mom then wrote latkes at the top of the sticky.

I found it like this, and thought it was a "latke lady" rather than 2 separate pieces that happened to be on the same sticky. I thought it was a funny coincidence.

(If you don't know what a latke is, or you don't get how I arrived at my conclusion: a latke is a "potato pancake" that Jews eat during Chanukah. It's also similar to the hash brown that you can get at McDonalds. If one eats a lot of these, one looks like this.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Those Ipod Headphone & Those Roller Shoes

These two objects made me think this morning.

First. Those white ipod headphones that EVERYONE wears. The are the young hipsters in tight jeans and all stars. Business men on the subway who get off at Times Square. Even religious people who listen to the TorahPod.

It's amazing how universal ipods and there white, signature headphones are. There isn't any product quite as universal that I can think of. Yes, there are cell phones, but those are "essential" in a way, and often replace land lines entirely. What else does almost everyone own, that's so non-essential?

Ok. So everyone has an ipod. What gets me though is when people have in the headphones when they are in a social situation. This morning, I walked by a diner and saw a little kid (probably 10 years old) who was sitting with him mom at the diner counter, having breakfast. He had in his obligatory ipod headphones. Isn't he interacting with his mother? Aren't they in a social setting?!

Seeing this kid reminded me of when I coached rowing this past school year at NYU. So one morning, we were at the boathouse early and it was very dark. On this one morning (among the many), one team member (a very unpleasant one who eventually quit) and I were standing out on the dock. I was talking to him about what that morning's practice was going to be. In the dark, I didn't see much; his white apple headphones DID stand out and catch my attention.

So, I'm speaking to this kid, or at least trying. And he has his headphones in. Is the ipod on pause? Is the volume down? Is there even an ipod in his pocket or is this all some absurd allusion? So I said, "Hey, Bob, do you mind taking out your headphones?" Of course, he is insolent, saying it's on pause. Right. Do I believe him? Or is he lying to me? What is going on here?!

I know. I sound a little paranoid.

The point here: what have we come to that people sit together, with their headphones in and ipods on, (or on their phones) and no one is talking to each other? Do we really want to be that anti-social?

******Roller Shoes
On a lighter note, I saw the first adult I've seen wearing roller shoes this morning. He would run and then pop out the wheels. I am not sure how they work--my main question is how did he run with them like regular shoes, and then the wheels came out? But the guy looked like he was having an awesome time. He was going much faster than me, and it looked fun. As I said, I haven't seen too many adults wearing these shoes. I wonder why not?

Another question: How do people not fall? Like with roller blades or roller skates? How is it just smooth gliding?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Few Photos

אהבה. Love. I dont remember where this was taken.

A puddle at Kibbutz Mordechai; where you can buy Naots.

In San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Tristan took this photo. That's me standing outside.

Here are a few photos. Not new. But nice to look at still. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

SoHo in the morning

Walking to the subway, to work this are some sights, sounds, thoughts from along the way:

Older women walking little dogs.
Construction workers with blue bandanas.
Gray haired man with white button down shirt flying by on a bicycle.
Window washing at Bloomingdales.
Man in a tshirt: Elevator Technician.
Long line at Dean and Deluca for coffee.
Avoiding puddles at corners.
Yellow taxis zooming by.
Big trucks on their way to jobs, jostling back and forth over the cobble stone of Wooster St.
A man returns from walking his dog, takes keys out, unlocks door.
Silver and gold strappy sandals.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Overwhelmed and Excited and !

Last night, I helped Jeff (a friend from Otzma) with his birthright trip. This entailed my going to the airport with him, handing out tickets, name tags, helping logistically with all the kids, since his co-leader (another Otzma kid) is already in Israel. I happily obliged (plus the $100 I will receive helped!).

I have to say, this 5 hours at the airport was totally overwhelming. For many reasons.

First of all, birthright is for kids who have never been on a peer trip to Israel. A majority of these kids had never been AT ALL. And were generally ignorant of Israel and Jewish-related issues. They didn't know the word aliyah, for the most part. So here's this group of 40 kids, going for the first time to Israel, the place that I have decided I will make my home.

Birthright was where it all started for me. My first tastes of the distinct Israeli hummus (much better than the too smooth, industrial stuff we have here), first exposure to the amazing, unique character of the Israeli sabra, and my first experience in the sands of the Negev desert (where I will be making my life soon). Just to name a few firsts.

These 40 individuals are embarking on the beginning of a (potential) journey that started for me nearly 7 years ago. That thought gives me pause.

Second-the location that we met the birthright kids was the same location in Terminal 4 of JFK that we all met for Otzma, just a little over 2 years ago. It evoked a feeling of deja vu. And a feeling of sadness. But mostly, I was filled with so much excitement, thinking back to that year that I really had no idea what it would be filled with, that turned out to transform my life and its path.

This combination of seeing these birthright-ers at the beginning of their journey and returning to this same location that started the year-long Otzma trip all made me very overwhelmed and excited at my future.

I then returned home (a long, dreadful subway ride--this theme is recurrent, as the subway is a daily, or more, part of a new yorkers life) to have fitful, bizarre dreams about this birthright's trip arrival to Israel, about people from different parts of my life somehow getting in contact with each other, and more.

Last night made my decision to make aliyah much more real. It reminded me how I got to this decision. It showed me that I, too, will soon be at the airport, filled with nervous energy and excitement to start the next segment of my journey.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Not 17 inches

I wrote 17 inches of rain fell in Central Park. I read another article this morning. It says 1.7 inches.

So either the NY Times made a typo, or I misread.

I stand corrected.

On another, but related note, I was talking to someone who just moved back to Israel from NYC. I was telling him he was lucky not to be here yesterday with the horrible subways, etc etc.

His response: "At least you have a subway!"

I will remember to be apprecative!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Subways in New York City

It's amazing and it's horrible. I will miss the new york city subways. But I will also be SO glad to not ride in them again for a long time.

This morning is an example of why the subway system can be a total nightmare. This morning, between 6 and 7 am, it was reported there were 17 inches of rain that fell in Central Park. And there were tornado warnings!

I woke up late this morning, and (little did I know luckily!) was late to the subway station. When I walked down into the Prince St NRQW line, the station was FULL. Usually this is a good sign, and means a train will arrive momentarily. However, this morning, it was because people had been waiting 30+ minutes. During rush hour, you never wait more than 3-4 minutes. Maybe 7 on a bad day.

But today was different. The subway system cannot handle when there is extreme weather. Yes I know that the subway system is over 100 years old, and normally it runs smoothly, blah blah.

So back to the Prince St station. People are dripping sweat. Backs of shirts and soaking, sweat is beading on noses, everyone is fanning madly. We have been told that the trains ARE running. Just delayed.

I all of a sudden had a brilliant thought--I will take a different train that doesn't get as close to my office, but close enough. I ask the attendant through those ridiculous bullet proof window-microphone system where no one hears anything. He kindly informs me that no 6 train is running at all.

Basically, the whole subway system has practically shut down because of flooding. And there is a heat advisory today, temperatures reaching into the high 90s, high humidity, and the subways are not running as they should.

New York is amazing!

Although I may sound negative about this morning's commute, I love the subway too. Sometime's it's a refreshing experience. You walk through the turnstile, the train immediately arrives, it's air conditioned and not crowded. You speedily arrive at your destination, which can be anywhere--the Bronx Zoo (in the Bronx, off the 123 line) or Coney Island (at the end of Brooklyn, off the F line).

I guess I will miss it.