Friday, April 25, 2008

Where Have I Been? Vacation, Yam l'Yam, Passover, City of David

ok so heres the deal. I have been sufficiently negligent in my updating to warrant a post that is made up of pictures. You know pictures=1000 words and I am for sure a few thousand behind soo without further ado here is : Pesach Vacation, My טיול ים לים trip aka Sea to Sea Hike, Passover, City of David trip, and trip to Ramle and Rehovot to meet the Ethiopian Jewish community.... Next Update will be on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day), and Yom HaAtzma'ut (Independence Day)

Pictures from the Yam l'Yam hike (Sea to Sea [Med. Sea to the Kinneret/Galilee])
Katyusha rockets
2 rocket strike sites (roof with tarp, hole in front of building), and bus station/rocket shelters
Visiting Sderot, looks outs on gaza, sderot, food distribution,
Pictures from my hike in the Yehudiya Nature Reserve
My trip to the City of David with my archeology class: the Arab neighborhood Silwan
A traditional Ethiopian food - yes, thats actually popcorn.
Taking part in a Buna, traditional coffee ceremony.
Being shown an Ethiopian musical instrument at the community center in Ramle.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad?

After a fun Shabbat in Herzliya with a friend from school in the states, now attending the IDC, I came home, found a few emails, facebook messages, and voice-mails from my parents, thought it could wait, and went to bed. In the morning I went about my business: class, lunch with my roommate, and then called my parents on skype. I made a few jokes about my having gotten on a bus from Bnei Brak full of ultra-orthodox Jews after Shabbat in my shorts, tshirt, and ipod and the hilarity/lack thereof that ensued. My mom laughed and my dad stayed a bit quiet. A moment of silence. "We have some bad news..." I knew what was coming. " Yesterday Papou [Greek: grandpa] passed away" With that they broke into tears and I sat there stunned despite it not being a total surprise. After a few minutes of shock I too broke down. Not that I have so much experience, thank Gd, but it was some of the most awkward crying I've done. I can see and hear my parents right in front of me but no one can reach out to anyone else for a hug. Anyway, after a few minutes we got off the phone so I could have a few minutes to myself. I davened a tough mincha then spoke again with my father on the phone.
My grandfather had been hospitalized a while ago and had been back and forth between better and worse. My father went to Greece for about a week and a half and my grandfather had been doing better at that point. Whatever, it wasn't such a good day. Thank Gd, he was pretty healthy for a man in his mid-80s who lived through things that really help you put things in perspective. I was also lucky to have a pretty good relationship with him given that my Greek isn't what it could be. Two summers ago we sat down with my grandfather and videotaped him telling his life's story. That was amazing and I hope to add subtitles to the cd my father made of it. My grandfather was born when Greece had a king, lived through a Greek dictator, Greek civil war, Nazi occupation, and a split between fascist and communist parties (not necessarily in that order). He grew up on an island in southern Greece, didnt finish high school (and im not sure if he went at all), left home at 17 to do physical work in Athens, came back to the island a few years later,married my grandmother, moved back to Athens, bought land, built a house, and raised a family. I do wish I'd been able to communicate a bit better though I am really happy that I got to know him in the way I did, and was fortunate to be able to visit him so often. I hope that his memory will be a blessing and inspiration to our family to model our lives after the many good and respectable things that were part of his life. I hope I'll be able to learn from how he worked through challenges and, at the end of the day, sit with my grandchildren and tell them the things I learned from him, and maybe even a little bit I'll put together on my own. Here's to the man who sat at lunch and hit his (once) big belly for me, for the man who taught me to swat flies and then helped me graduate to wasps, to a man who rocked old aviators, walked with his hands behind his back, gave up smoking, enjoyed a good cucumber, tomato, or melon at the end of the day, talked to me with his teeth in or out, often communicated wordlessly with faces and shrugs, and never let us leave the island at the end of the summer without tears in our eyes or his. Love you and miss you Papou!

Friday, February 1, 2008

Skipping the Turkey, Winter Break, and Yeshiva

So I am going to go ahead and skip weeks and weeks of the end of my last semester recall it now would be wasting time with things I don’t remember and using space I could use for more recent developments. Forgive my skipping two or three Shabbats, Thanksgiving, finals, Chanukka, leaving for the US, my Hasidic plane buddy on the way back, and my month there including new year’s, my cousin’s wedding, Dallas, and more. since toBasically I spent a month at home. It was really nice to spend so much time with my family and a but of time with my friends many of whom I haven’t seen in over five months. Long story short I’m back.

Leaving to come back here was a bit hard. I really enjoyed how much time I spent with my family, especially my parents (and I would have also like to spend more time with my sister). That said I became very excited to come back a few days before I left. I also hit a day or two when I was sad about it and the airport was harאd but that’s how things are.

So guess what? My ‘uncle’ here made my flight arrangements and wasn’t thinking about my Shabbat plans (i.e. wanting to be at my Shabbat location before Shabbat) and so my flight left Thursday at 9:30 (was supposed to leave at 9:10) and though it was supposed to get in at 2:10 got in closer to 2:30. I got out of the airport around 3:10. Candle lighting was 4:30. No problem right? It would’ve been no problem but my sherut (communal taxi) driver was a real character. I find this guy whos going to Jerusalem, and get in the sherut. We’re sitting there waiting for it to fill up with seven people. Finally its full and I go to tell the driver who is waiting and smoking a cigarette. He tells me its not full despite my just having been in the sherut. I go back in. He comes with two people and realizes I was right. He then runs around for a few minutes, when I go after him to see if we can leave he says something about waiting for a receipt. OK, we get on the road. What can I do to make it faster? Nothing, certainly not worry. So I call a few people to announce my return, including B – my friend in the army, haven’t mentioned him for a while, well he finally was inducted and is about 9 weeks into basic training of about 13 and doing well. I take in the scenery and remember how awesome this place is. Green fields, brown hills, red-roofed towns, a blue sky (at least the day I came in), and sun. Well the driver proceeds to drop off all the people who don’t care one way or another about making it for Shabbat first despite there being three people in the sherut who are clearly religious. When I ask him when he’ll be dropping me off he responds only by asking me “ata ortodoxi or reformi?” - are you Orthordox or Reform – “What? I’m religious” I respond. “So am I” he says, though – without getting into an argument of what it is to be religious- ill tell you he was at the very least not concerned about getting anywhere for Shabbat. As I debated whether to get out and hail a cab I got free advice from other passengers about my chances of getting in on time, how one measures the time that Shabbat comes in, offers that my ‘sins’ will be on someone else’s head, and comments from the driver on how he had several good passengers that day and some bad ones though he promised not to name names. How nice of him.

Well I got dropped off at five to five which was possibly cutting it close. However just to make sure things went well I got to run up and down the street I needed to be on trying to understand how the house I was looking for, #16, could exist when the houses stopped at #14. I took out my phone – which I maybe shouldn’t have been using at that point with a kipa on my head – and called my cousin – no answer, of course. I take out the piece of paper with the address on it, Oh, its actually #14. I ‘run’ to it dragging two suitcases, a backpack, and a laptop, and sweating in my too-warm-for-Israel winter coat. I pound on the door and after another minute of sweating am let in. Blah blah blah Shabbat was ok though I could have gone without waking up at 4:30 and then getting up 6:30 because of my jetlag. On the other hand reading People magazine, a family favorite, for a few hours before shul was good. The rest of the day was nice and right after shabbat I drove back with family friends to Efrat, went to bed, and the next day got up at 6:30 to start my month at Yeshivat Hamivtar...

Next Enrty - My Big Fat First-Week-in-Yeshiva...stay tuned for what happens when I decide to live in a small place with little else to do but read Jewish stuff...

Friday, November 16, 2007

4 Missed Shabbats, Cry Babies, Jewish Trailor Parks, and One Hour in an Elevator

I'm done apologizing for not updating more. This is a pain in the ass to keep but I do feel an obligation to family and friends who read this so I keep it going. I love to hate this blog. Because in the end its a list of things I do more than a journal since I feel I have to edit certain strong feelings out of it for the sake of it being OK for everyone to read.

Soooo several shabbats ago (19.10.07) I was on the MASA Security Issues Shabbaton. Basically a bunch of students here for the year/semester on various programs and getting grants from MASA stayed in a hostile for shabbat. We had a professor from Bar Ilan speak with us on Iran, the top military analyst and reporter for Ha'aretz speak about Israel in general, a Palestinian-Christian speak with us about future peace, and four IDF soldiers who had a Q&A session and just generally hung out with us over the weekend. With regard to the Palestinian-Christian, it was on the one hand very nice and very hard/sad. Its exciting because it gives one one hope that there can be dialogue and progress. On the other hand the man spoke for some time about nothing. He talked about nice things like the need to talk and listen and want peace - all of which are certainly important. But the longer I am here and see news, the same news all the time, and the same raids, actions, speeches, conferences, and nonsense I feel like I realize more and more. That there is a lot of the same all the time. There are plenty of people read to talk, listen, etc. The main problem is groups of crazies on either side (not to say I think they are equally crazy or equally a threat, i don't). More than that the problem is a non-Western approach to conflict resolution which is to say that the solution is only one way or the other, no such thing as give-and-take. I think that people like those that lead Hamas in Gaza have very little chance of changing, maybe on an individual level but not as a movement, which means there cant be peace. I don't care if that wasn't clear, I should have written it three and a half weeks ago. Sitting and talking with one of soldiers on our shabbaton was interesting as well. She is an officer in the air force and works with Patriot missile batteries/missile defense. What struck me was she was not a religious Jew and from Northern Tel Aviv (associated with the heights of Israeli liberalism and draft-dodging) so it was nice to see that good things can come out of Northern TA and get her thoughts on changes needed in Israeli society. One of those people with whom I will try to stay in touch.

The next Shabbat (because nothing particularly interesting happens during the week) was in Katamon - a pleasant neighborhood of Jerusalem, with my chevruta's family. Friday night we went to the Breslev Synagogue were I experienced the greatest L'cha Dodi. It was really something, a packed shul, everyone singing in the strongest voice they could muster, with a fantastic tune that I've not heard before. Dinner was good. Three interesting things. One there was a woman there, a friend of the family, who had been on here way to the family's house a few years back during the mass terrorist attacks called the second intifada and had asked what she could pick up for shabbat. My chevruta's wife had told her not to worry and to just come for dinner. The woman responded that she would pick up rugelach from the very well know Marzipan Bakery because "they are to die for". Long story short she didn't show up that night because in picking up the to die for rugelach she was badly hurt in a suicide bombing at the bus stop next to the bakery. Her sight and hearing were damaged. She knew almost no one in the country (having just made aliyah) and was recognized in the hospital by her roommate only because they had matching nail polish, having had manicures earlier that day, since her head was wrapped in that for a downer. Anywho, interesting thing two. There were three guests who were going on the Alyn Bike Ride with my chevruta. One of them was on his first trip to Israel. He remarked that his wife didn't want to come with him because, though he was "a big Zionist," his wife saw a trip to Israel as equal to a trip to Italy, or Britain. She knew it would mean a lot to him and didn't want to interfere with that or something. BAM. Really, that is so sad. As in, I felt genuinely sad when he was talking about it. ...

....I didn't know what the Jewish people was before I came to Israel and before I started learning a bit of our history. Too many Jewish people don't know who they are, the amazing places they come from, the people they are descended from, what they have endured by virtue of being Jewish, and the possibilities that they have because of it. Too many people don't know the depth their lives can have by getting in touch with who they are as Jews. I'm not talking about Judaism that is an abbreviated Pesach (Passover) seder and presents on Chanukkah (which are certainly important ;) but about how we lived and struggled in Israel under Rome; how we were dispersed to not just Europe and the States but also Africa and India; how Jews fought in the Ghetto and the forests of Europe; how after the Holocaust we have a chance to stand up higher - not yelling "How could Gd let this have been?" but spitting in the face of people that tried to kill us by reconnecting to our long history and religious rites that bind us and being proud and public with who we are. Stop trying to be an Italian gangster like Corleone or a thug like 2Pac. Why should we be like other people when we can be like ourselves. We can be like every Biblical figure, learned Medieval scholar (secularly as well as religiously), and any variety of modern day Jewish figure. The more I realize how great a Jew can be as a Jew it makes it harder to hear about Jews who want to be great as something else. Hopefully it will also drive me more to show the Jewish people what they have .

...Anywho, on a lighter chevruta has very different ideas of child discipline than I was brought up with. His twin 6 year olds and 8 year old spent a good amount of Shabbat time crying and screaming without being told to stop. His 6 year old hated shul Friday night and cried and screamed in shul about it (in front of everyone), then cried and screamed home about how he hates shul and its bad. Then at dinner sat with a liter tub of chumus and cried and screamed while 5 guests tried to carry on normal conversation as if nothing was happening two seats over with chumus flying overhead. The whole time I felt like I needed tell the kid to shut up and drag him to his room where he could cry by himself and not disturb dinner. Don't worry I didn't.

Shabbat Three (2.11.07) was in Ariel. My roommates A, who set things up for Shabbat, somehow got us to be three for three having meals at houses where no English was spoken. It was good practice for us....or for me since he generally sat in silence and let me frantically try to keep things from being awkward by using the same questions/topics at every meal since my vocabulary is still a bit limited. The more interesting thing was that we stayed in what was a Jewish trailer park. We stayed in a part of Ariel that was a neighborhood for people who had been living in Netzarim in Gaza before being evacuated by the Israeli government in 2005. I was all for the pull-out in '05 but that said, this gave my a whole new perspective on the situation. The fact that the pull-out hasn't meant peace in the area for Israel (on the contrary) is not something I'll discuss here. The thing is, the government pulled citizens out of their homes, citizens who they told to go there, who farmed land that no one had been able to before, and then hasn't even taken care of them. A family with 7 kids with whom we ate Seudah Shlisheet (third meal of Shabbat) was living in a trailer and a half or so. It was quite difficult to deal with.

Shabbat last week (9.11.07) was in Tzfat with Hillel. It was fantastic. Its hard to comment on it too much since a big part of it was the scenery which is hard to talk about. Shabbat day I took a walk up to the highest point in Tzfat with some people. You could see Ramat HaGolan (Golan Heights), the Kinneret (Sea of Galillee), the hills of the Galilee, and clear blue skies. I davened one of the best mincha (midday prayers) of my life by myself on the balcony of the hostile we stayed on, overlooking Har Meron (Mt. Meron) where Shimon Bar Yochai is buried. There are things I could complain about like the Hasidim who wouldn't dance with us at Havdallah but I'm running out of patience with this entry.

FINALLY - Shabbat of 17/11/07. My cousin is working at a yeshiva in the Old City and invited me there. Turns out the yeshiva was closed for Shabbat (i.e. was not serving meals, and most students were away). So after getting there around 3:45 Friday we walked over to Katamon, neighborhood of Jerusalem, and had dinner at the apartment of a friends of his, passed out there instead of walking back to the yeshiva, Shabbat day ate somewhere else, went back to the yeshiva and finished up Shabbat in the old city. ..
....I'm disappointed to say it was something of a difficult Shabbat. Despite the fact the meals and company and all that were good, through a combination of my surroundings and already existing insecurity about my religious identity - or more specifically my outlook -I finished up Shabbat nice and frustrated if not depressed. This brings me back to my love-hate relationship with this blog where I get to edit what I write and therefore not really let things out so that I can write so that anyone can read it. In short I kept having hearing things in regard to religious observance and how to approach it that are hard for me to think about since I have next to no formal education and haven't totally formulated my feelings on everything. That was a crap description of my problem but what can i tell you. Ask me about it if you're interested.

In other news B, my friend from school, finally was drafted. He just finished his second week of army. He is at a base up north for soldiers who came from other countries and need some background. They get lectured on history, Zionism, etc. Do a bit of light physical training. He spent a night in the field learning how to maneuver at night. He complained a bit about the Americans being the most annoying and the Russians wanting to leave and maybe move to Canada. The French on the other hand got only praise. In a week and a half or so he'll go back to BAKUM - the main induction base - and be redrafted with other Israelis into a regular unit

School is going OK. Its basically high school. Small classes, all in the same building - same two floors actually. I have classes two classes that are mostly freshman which means a lot of stupid questions and kids not knowing how to sit through a college class.

I was stuck in one of the two elevators in my building on Wednesday for an hour. Long story short is that after making a joke that involved me jumping in a moving elevator (very very stupid - agreed) it stopped and a friend and I sat there for an hour because A. the police call button didn't work....B. the intercom button didn't work.....C. there is no cell phone reception to call anyone....D. Sitting on the alarm button only served to annoy residents who for some sick reason came out, banged on the elevator doors (thinking someone was just playing around) then went back into their apartments. In the end a nice British girl called someone and we got out. Good job me!

OK, I have to figure out what I'm doing the rest of the evening - ideally work, more likely screwing around till its too late for me to be able to get up early and do more work.

שבוע טוב לכם -Shavua tov l'khem - A good week to you (pl.)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Hiking in Midbar Yehuda, Simchat Torah, Shabbat in Efrat

So I guess the whole plan to update more often isn't working out so well but I'll keep trying.

I went hiking with my friends from Maale Adumim in Midbar Yehuda - the Judean Desert. We went for a hike in one area near Jericho for about an hour, went home for lunch in the sukkah, then went out again to hike at another trail near a few water sources. It was interesting to see how packed the parks were (though I cant say it didn't take away from the hike a little) , there really is a difference in the involvement with nature here than I am used to from being around NYC. This isn't true everywhere in Israel but many many teens and families hikie in the different nature reserves around the country.: Golan, Galilee, Central and Southern Israel.

Another Israel moment came when we got to the second hike and walked down to the beginning of the path. Right at the start of the path there is a stream which one has to hike through for most of the course. There was a sign noting that the water was neither for drinking nor for bathing but because there were so many people in it I figured it was outdated. After finishing the hike, I pointed out the sign (signed by the Ministry of Health) to my friends father - "Oh, I should cal them, that was never there before." Well, that was reassuring.

Simchat Torah, already 2 weeks or so ago, was good. I spend Wednesday night with B at another friend, R's house with him and his family who were in visiting. R recently made aliyah after a year in yeshiva after high school and will be drafted in March or so and hope to go to a very competitive course that would require him to sign 6 or 7 years and would train him to become a naval officer. B and I passed on the mizrachi shul that R and his family were going to and went instead to Shira Chadasha, a liberal kind-of Orthodox kind-of egalitarian minyan. It was nice, danced a bit, prayed a bit, and went home. Dinner was good. Simchat Torah day, Thursday, was good too. B and I went to B's friends house for meals. Shul Thursday was rather unremarkable. Oh, Wednesday we walked to the Old City to the Kotel and caught the tail end of a group of yeshiva boys, hasidic men, religious students, tourists, etc standing in a circle that took up the entire men's section of the Kotel. We stood with them, arms around each other and sang (I also did a bit of na-na-na-ing and such since I still don't know a lot of words to religious songs - usually psalms i don't know). It was really really nice. Then B left and I sat with two other guys and just took in the wall for a bit before walking back to where I was sleeping that night.

Shabbat was spent in Efrat with B and A. Its really amazing the perspective that spending time in the disputed territories (Judea/Samaria, Territories, West Bank - take your pick) give you. You see how small the area is, how close Jewish and Arab towns, how beautiful the place is. It's just makes it much more real. In any case, its a beautiful community with a large Anglo/English-speaking community. We stayed at a house of a nice family I had been introduced to at a wedding at the beginning of time here. Its hard to explain how beautiful the community is and it being Shabbat (and therefore my not taking pictures) doesn't help me pass on the beauty. Shul was good, the building was beautiful, and the abundance of pistols was, sadly, not too surprising. Meals were great. Friday night I was given a brief tour of the area by one of my hosts sons. Among other things we visited his friend's house where one of the daughters makes cakes professionally. I was lucky enough to be able to sample some chocolate, fudge, coffee, nut cake. We walked over to one of the main squares where the communities teens hang out Friday night. There is a man there who started setting up a table with food and drinks a few years back when the area had come to be known as a hang out for kids who were becoming estranged from the Jewish community as a sort of grassroots outreach. Out hostess was so interesting. It was apparent this woman loved, loved, her community and was so committed to it. Similarly she was very involved with an organization devoted to taking care of soldiers. She took the opportunity to make it clear to B, who is being drafted in a few weeks, that he should think of the home as a second home for him. The numerous pictures of one of her sons, currently in a paramedics course for an elite combat unit, in uniform and the way she was holding him Saturday night at Havdallah (before he had to go back to his base for the week) was touching. The whole Shabbat was interesting because I was exposed to a kind of community that has a lot of spirit - precisely the kind Israeli society needs to become stronger and rebuild - but also a lot of problems - sometimes very right wing (but i don't want to get too into politics now).

Soooo the above has all been in written about a bit late....

I'm currently in my second week of classes. Things are going well. I'm taking 5 classes (more than I intended) - Hebrew (made it to the next level!), Medieval Jewish History, Modern Jewish History, Hasidim - A history, and a class on work or some nonsense like that to go with my internship....

I'm currently working for Yossi Klein Halevi at the Shalem Center! I got it! I'm quite excited that I have the opportunity. Basically I am assisting Yossi with research for a book he is writing about some paratroopers who helped liberate Jerusalem in '67. Its a fascinating project and I'd love to tell anyone who wants some more details about it in a less public forum (rules are rules).

I moved apartments!. Yep, it was time. I was with good guys but we had, to say the least, different lifestyles and it was time for real. I moved with a Brit, a Canadian, a Spaniard! (who I've yet to meet b/c i think he is visiting home), and - as of today - a guy from California who will only speak Hebrew to us (which is awkward since we know he speaks native English but prob better for my Hebrew). Everyone is religious which helps in terms of kashrut, and - maybe more importantly -clean. I'm very happy in the new place AND I have a bigger room because I'm in the designated safe room (i.e. Steel door in addition to my own, steel window cover in addition to my shutters, reinforced vents, and protected outlets and lights.)

I'm spending Shabbat with an organization that is going to take us around Friday to see the security barrier, and then have us lectured on various security issues by some military types, and discuss issues things among ourselves. I think it will be interesting but I've been on enough of these kinds of things to question how seriously I can take a bunch of teenagers and students in theirs early 20s being "briefed by IDF officers" on security issues. We'll see.

Today on the way up the stairs to my boss's office I passed a man who looked familiar. I said "Hi" (which is unusual because - though many people in the office do speak English very well - I usually don't speak to Israelis in English if I can avoid it). I realized after the man had gone that I had just passed the former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Moshe Ayalon. Quite a well known man.

Peace !

Monday, September 24, 2007

Rosh HaShana, Abu Ghosh Hiking, Yom Kippur, End of Ulpan, Sukkot

Ok, I am going to try to update much more often because these monster posts are a hassle to write, i forget details and interesting things, you probably hate to read all of it - or just don't- and doing so more often will be more interesting.

So, though this is not in the spirit of the holidays and their value, I will try to quickly go over the biggest holidays of the year and some other stuff as quickly as possible while retaining whatever particularly interesting things happened.

I was in Ma'ale Adumim for both Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur. RHS was good, my family (for simplicity's sake though they are not related - sister of an uncle through marriage) follows Sephardic custom and so the beginning of the meal was a bit more involved then the "just dip the apple in the honey (to represent a sweet new year)" that I'm used to.
There were a number of symbolic foods, all of which had a particular blessing before them and represented a certain value that we hope for in the new year. A lot of not falling to our enemies, strengthening ourselves, and so on. Of note was the the fish's head (filled with gefilte fish - which i thought Sephardim didn't eat) which was to symbolize that "we be as the head and not as the tail" i.e. from Deuteronomy/Devarim דְּבָרִים ("things") where it says "And HASHEM shall place you as a head and not as a tail..." which is paraphrased by a commentator as "as a mighty one and not as a weakling." Other than that the holiday involved getting up for 7:30 shul, early starts on holidays and shabbat is one of the few things I can't say I love about this country though there are values to it.

In between the two holidays I went hiking near Abu Ghosh, an Israeli-Arab town know to have very good relations with Jewish Israelis. It was nice though there is something lost, the quiet of nature, when you hike with a large group as I did (it was organized through the school). The hike ended with us walking to a restaurant in town that, unfortunately, a few of us couldn't eat at because it didn't have kosher certification. Some people are surprised that there are places that a shomer kashrut Jew wouldn't be able to eat at in Israel though it has to do with the certification being expensive and simply unnecessary for business when the place is located in christian, Arab, or secular areas.

Yom Kippur was somewhat disappointing. Don't get me wrong, family was good, shul was good, break fast was good, and the fast was relatively easy. That said, Chabad at my school does a really really great job with services. It feels very intense and meaningful there. You'd think that upstate would have nothing on Israel but it is what it is. Perhaps I wasn't plugged in right.
Interesting about YK in Israel is that it is also called, by some, the Day of the Bicycle. During YK even many many secular Israeli's practice in some way. There is so little automobile activity (and in some areas none) that kids, one day a year, can ride their bikes freely throughout the streets. After services Friday night (YK is the only fast day allowed to take place on shabbat, all others are postponed until the next day or made early when they fall on shabbat) everyone was out, walking, talking, riding (mostly kids under 13 who don't have to fast), etc. It was another Israel moment - a mix of emotions - although I can't say I loved people doing many things prohibited by the holiday it was also something to see streets so empty of traffic and to see so many Jews involved in the heritage in some way.

There was an end of ulpan picnic Sunday which was nice and I was particularly impressed by Hiba, an Arab-Israeli in our class, who brought us a package made up of layers and layers of newspapers. Every other layer there was a small prize covered with a piece of paper on which was a question to answer. We all one some cute key chain or other, it was very very thoughtful.
Monday was the final from 8:30-12. We'll see how I do but assuming I pass I'll be able to advance to the next level of ulpan during the first semester (Gimmel, the 3rd level of 6, something like high intermediate or low advanced).

I went to friends' subletted apartment in the German Colony Wednesday night (sprinted in Naot to catch the last bus - thank Gd, maybe because of the holiday- he stopped for me, which is unusual a country of often rude bus drivers.
Walked an hour each way to a neighborhood next to the New Gate of the Old City. We attended a sukkot meal/party of about 40 young Americans. It was really nice. Plenty of food and I spent a lot of time speaking with a guy, also staying with my friends, who is currently in the army through Machal after studying at Haifa for a year (Don't worry guys, I'm coming home). I picked up a few tips for my friend B who is going in a month or so. The two interesting ones were to tell him to go to his induction with facial hair. At BAKUM, the base where soldiers are drafted and set up, you are given a photo ID. In the army you have to be cleanshaven and my friend told me that sometimes the commander would walk around scratching people's chins to see if they had stubble, then make them shave if they did. In any case there is a loophole, religious soldiers who feel the need to have a beard can get an exemption. Thing is, you have to kind of prove to them that you want/need a beard so... they look at your ID picture. Now my friend with whom I was speaking is not religious but he got it anyway. "One of the little things that makes your life much easier." The other thing was to pray three times a day (as Jewish men are supposed to) no matter religious or not, "its a great way to start your day, reflect and recenter yourself, and avoid [having to practice clearing your gun from any possible jam]."
Today we walked an hour back and forth again to the Old City to join Ezra on the roof of his house. I had lunch in the hippiest (though very beautiful) and most crowded (with hippies) sukkah for my second meal for my first sukkot in Israel."
Sukkot here is great so far. Its the first holiday I've been able to get into. I went to Geula and spent hours picking out arba minim (which was a bit much, but part of the experience i guess) and while traveling around during the week I love noticing how many people have sukkot up. Everywhere. Someone quoted another person as describing it like this "At home we have maybe one sukkah around, here even Burger King has a sukkah (many kosher restaurants put up sukkot during the holiday).
Of course I want to build in some message for the holiday. Ezra mentioned that many people loved the sukkah at his place, it was built using colorful tapestries for walls, its floor covered with patterned mats, and decorated with "trippy" pictures and artwork. He had been asked about certain changes that might be made, making the sukkah circular instead of rectangular, and noted that there were restrictions to building a sukkah including that it have a square or rectangular shape. Many people complain about the restrictions that shabbat, various holidays, and religious life in general come with. However it is possible to focus, instead of on the restrictions, on the opportunities that we have while dealing within the framework of these rules (if we cant watch TV, or go to the mall we have to spend time with family, talking, sharing, thinking). In the same way he was able to build a beautiful sukkah that people love AND work within the requirements of Jewish law we can build an amazing lifestyle while working with restrictions. We should all have a beautiful Sukkot holiday, filled with family and friends, and get the meaning of the holiday and be built from it.

Finally I think I'm sick after - my hypothesis - lowering my immune system during a really hard track work out Tuesday night, then more by sleeping with a fan to my head, then being exposed to a lot of people. I hope this doesn't mess up shabbat plans.

One more thing, on the cab ride back from HaMoshav HaGermanit (German Colony) I spoke with the cab driver about how his sukkot started, where he was from (Maale Adumim!), and managed to get something of a compliment on my Hebrew!!!!