Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ex-Christian Ex-Pagan Chassidic Hippie and Playing Catch-up

So its been a while and the span of time and my lack of will to update this has only further discouraged me from applying for some program that will pay me to blog while abroad. That and my missing the deadline to apply. I didn't need $500 (~2150NIS) and a prize pack anyway.

Quite a bit has happened but i cant remember all right now so ill try to divide things by subject.
The domestic situation has improved and continues to improve following an emergency meeting convened by your truly after conditions were becoming horrendous. Let me try to paint a picture for you: I was starting my morning praying in the living room with high blood pressure. why? ashes from various things smoked after i went to bed are sprinkled around, and often not even close to, the ash tray. Tea mugs, warm glasses of soda, and empty bottles are around the coffee table - appropriately called for the stains left on it when tea is spilled and not cleaned. Dishes are stacked in the sink and sit unwashed for 24 hours(extra credit: dishes and utensils designated as for milk or meat or other by Jewish law are mixed in the sink - something that can lead to violations of dietary laws to which i try to hold myself). Moving on to the hallway the are stains on the wall from pizza crust thrown in anger and a chunk of avocado that made its way away from where it was prepared. Continuing to the bathroom we find too many toilet paper rolls that were too heavy to take to be thrown out. A 3 inch spot of dried body fluid is on the floor and after shaving hair seems to be better left in the sink. Heading back to the kitchen we find the garbage. When filled it isn't really full so often the garbage would pile higher than the can itself. When gravity took its toll the garbage would spill onto the floor and start new piles. This went on to such an extent that one day when attempting to do something about the situation, and lifting a bag off the floor, i found - to my delight - a piece of lemon, or was it cucumber, with some interesting specimen growing on it. I wish my friend in public health were around to give me his opinion. I trust my words to horrify you but allow me to illustrate more literally (see pictures - bear with me as i figure out how to post pictures)

In other news the first shabbat was spent at the apartment. On Thursday (equivalent to Friday in the States) we went shopping in Machane Yehuda - the open market in the city. Most characteristically it has a few blocks of sales people yelling at you to buy their goods - any combination of the following: fruits and vegetables, fish, breads and baked goods, and nuts and spices. When shopping for Shabbat one need to go out early so as to avoid being forced to buy the challah that everyone and their mother has squeezed to test its freshness. Dinner was nice though seeing as how none of us have significant culinary experience it left room, lots of it, for improvement. It was in good fun though and it was nice to have dinner with the apartmentmates. One of my roommates is Yemenite a few generations removed and hearing him make kiddush in Yemenite hebrew was great. Shabbat day two of us made the one hour walk into the city to catch a minyan and then have lunch at some guys house. Some guys house? In Israel it is not unusual for people to invite others relatively casually to their house for a meal on Shabbat - even many people who are not so religious (which has different meaning all together in this country). So two of us ate in a large hotel suite of this wealthy American family that was vacationing here. It turns out this guy funds quite a few kiruv organizations including the Maimonides program that I participated in at school. I danced carefully as he inquired about the rabbi who runs it at my school who I am not fond of - i.e. I feel like he is always trying to hawk Judaism to me. As opposed to the walk to the hotel which was in the cooler (relatively speaking) morning, the walk back was rather unpleasant.

The second Shabbat was spent in Maale Adumim, 10 minutes east of Jerusalem. A really beautiful city that makes it easy to forget how controversial it is. Dinner was spent with friend's family. I find myself being increasingly able to eat things I would not otherwise when I am a guest at people's homes. I ate an entire serving of broccoli, bottom included!!! Dinner was followed by a few games of Rummikub since more entertaining things like ghost riding are prohibited on Shabbat. Shabbat day I went to the nearby synagogue which was ok. Unfortunately most dati/leumi synagogues in Israel are a bit dry and lack the enthusiasm that one sometimes finds in chassidic or Carlebach services. Lunch was with my pseudo-family (My Aunt's husband's sister's family). The daughter of the family I was by Friday night hung out with friends Saturday and was kind enough to invite me. It was great chance to hang out with Israelis rather than the usual American/English-speakers. They even forced a bit of Hebrew out of me which is difficult since my Israeli peers are the last people I am forward about speaking Hebrew to. After Shabbat I was driven back to campus. There is something that really sucks about getting to Saturday night and realizing you have school the next day.

Not to Shabbat everyone out but last Shabbat was something. The Student Center (in no way connected to the actual University) took a weekend trip to Tzfat. We went kayaking on Thursday where I lost my favorite kipa. Also where I met a female convert to Judaism from Kentucky with long armpit hair who made aliyah and lives in the Negev. First off, Tzfat is a beautiful little city. Its one of the four holy cities in Israel and the is the center of Kabbalah - the real kind (i.e. not the Kabbalah Center). Two stories:

One of the rabbis on the trip took a group of guys to the Ari's Mikvah (please note it was not as clean and empty as in the video). We go in to the small building, those of us who were going in disrobed and then, awkwardly, got online to immerse ourselves. If you can imagine a slightly more surreal situation than standing online naked with chassidim and your fellow study abroaders please let me know. I should have mentioned that this is a mikvah that as you walk into the changing room the smell hits you in the face like the changing room in a gym but worse. Then you get into this water which is darkened from the tens of men who use it before shabbat. As you dunk yourself in a few times as one does traditionally you have two bad experiences. One is that on the second or third time out of the water you realize how cold it is (this is water that comes from underground springs) which makes you gasp - leading us to our second experience, tasting (despite your efforts to keep your mouth closed) the water in which tens of men immerse themselves. All in all this was a rather quick in and out job and I was soon dressed and outside joking about this "spiritual experience" with the other guys. How luck am I? Im so lucky that I realized i forgot to remove my watch before going in whereas one is supposed to remove all articles from his body including jewelry, glasses, etc. So I told myself that if i was going to do it I might as well do it right so to top it all off I got to do it again.

#2 story of shabbat: Friday night, after a nice evening of singing, prayers, dinner, and hanging out, a Breslov chassid came to Hotel's balcony/lobby and was talking to the madrich - counselor - who is a bit of religious hippie. This guy seemed like a cartoon character from a distance so and I had heard funny things about some Breslov chassidim so I went over to talk. WELL long story short his guy was born in Astoria, Queens and originally a Christian. At 20 he got into being a pagan, and at 30 or so found himself becoming a chassidic Jew. At some point in his life he did too many drugs, particularly acid - this he himself told me - and it showed. He had buggy eyes, an Adrian Brody nose, was missing a front tooth, and had a high pitched voice. All the time he was telling me he could help me find Gd he was sniffing snuff - as smoking is prohibited on shabbat. Long story short again he asked us at 2:15 am if a group of us wanted to come with him to the woods to pray. I thought we were going to do hitbodedut - a kind of freestyle prayer, i.e. without a siddur (not dropping beats and spitting rhymes). I've done hitbodedut before and it can be nice though takes getting used to. However I was wrong. At 2:15 am this past Saturday morning I stood in a forest in a circle with 8 guys (a chassidic guy, two christians, and more Jews) and yelled at the top of my lungs with the kind of effort one puts into anything a ex-pagan snuff sniffing chassidic guy tells you to do. I don't think I reached any new spiritual heights although it was an interesting experience anyway. only in Israel.

Finally in most recent news: ulpan is going well, im awake in class - if only for the coffee I've taken to drinking, im doing my homework and understanding almost everything. Yesterday I went to the Kotel for the first time since i got here. its a shame it took me so long to go but it was nice to daven mincha there and then do a little of my own thing. I stopped by Yeshivat HaKotel to see my cousin who is teaching there for the year, walked through the arab quarter's shuk and then went outside the old city where some friends and I got some falafel and stopped by a camping store where I investigated my next adventure: buying a backpack and going hiking from yam l'yam. There was also an 'only in israel' moment when, while sitting on a wall waiting for friends to finish their chat with someone they ran into, two young kids, about 6, climbed up and started speaking to me in Hebrew. This would be unremarkable if one wasn't black and the other not asian.

if anyone has good advice on backpacks let me know.

till next time

Friday, August 3, 2007

Settling In, Nodding Off, and More Shopping

After successfully moving in (did I mention the lack of a view while my roommates see the old city?) and doing some shopping we started ulpan.

I'm placed in כיתה ב which is the third level and is proving a challenge. particularly when I'm tired in a hot room and nodding off, snapping awake just in time to hit my head on the wall. My work ethic is proving less hardy than that of my Taiwanese and South Korean classmates. I spend a lot of class time watching the 30 year old university teacher try not to cry and in awe of the Israeli Arab who wears layers down to her feet, ankles, and over her head. Classwork is the usual mix of נחון ו לא נחון (nachon o lo nachon - true or false), stories about farmers, and rounds of asking each other the same questions. I need to a. sleep more and b. actually study and not be tempted by these hooligans telling me to go out and enjoy myself since you only go abroad once.

Roomates and I went shopping machane yehuda -the open market - to buy stuff for shabbat. I was reminded of the need to work hard to get an education by the many men and women who spend their day yelling the cost of their respective food and goods. I felt better when i saw the security guards at the entrances of the street market chatting with their friends rather than watching the gate. Bussing around is good as long as you make sure not to get on the bus that goes to Isawiyah - the arab village next door to the university.

surreal moments have so far included walking to class and seeing the temple mount on the way there, walking to the bus and hearing the muezzins call to prayer, and the usual yet remarkable ultraorthodox neighborhoods your ride through to go to town. speaking of which i've yet to go out since ive been busy buying pans and other such necessaries.

any adivce on how to respectfully yet firmly tell my roommates that smoking in the living room isnt cool with me even if the window is open?

but otherwise everything is pretty tight. this will all be easier when i dont have to sit in the courtyard outside to use the internet.

Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום


Edit: I live on Ghetto Fighters St. WHATTUP (the better translation is Fighters of the Ghetto)