Chag Sameach

26 Mar

Last night, I enjoyed my very first Seder with the Chagal family. They warmly invited myself and two classmates into their home and fed us until we wanted to burst! It was such a lovely, fun evening – I really enjoyed it. Big thank you to the Chagal family for including us and stopping to explain so many fine details as we went along. I’ll explain the evening from my point of view. Please excuse any mistakes or naivety.

Here is how the Passover table is set (click on the picture to make it bigger and easier to read):

Passover table

All the components of a proper setting.

We didn’t have everything shown in this photo (like the reclining pillow) but we had most.

So the seder is divided in 15 parts and you read the Haggadah as you go through the parts. Simply put, the Haggadah is the guide on how to celebrate Pesach. Some families follow it very strictly and other families are more relaxed. The family I joined were more relaxed as you will see. There is a Seder leader, which in our case was my friend’s father. Last night, we each took turns reading the various parts. The Chagal family had found Haggadah that were both in Hebrew/Aramaic and English so we were able to follow along with no problem. And each of us were able to take part in reading too. Here are the parts with a brief explanation:

1) Kaddesh (Sanctification): Everyone’s glass was filled with wine and the Kiddush is read before sitting down. This is the blessing of the wine. I was used to this part since the wine is always blessed before Shabbat dinner. I was surprised that I recognized this fact. Technically, very observant Jews would drink their whole first glass of wine and fill a second glass here. We choose to be more relaxed about that.

2) Urchatz (Handwashing): This is the ritual washing of the hands. My family did not do this part (shhh…don’t tell!).

3) Karpas (Vegetable): At this point, several dishes on the table are pointed out. There are two dishes that contain celery (any green vegetable can be used – cucumber, parsley, etc). Each person takes a piece of celery and dips it into salt water. A blessing is said for vegetables (FYI – there are many blessings before eating depending on what you are eating), then we eat the celery. The salt water is said to symbolize the tears of Jews trapped in enslavement in Egypt.

4) Yachatz (Breaking of the matzah): The Seder leader picks up a ritual plate with three symbolic matzahs (plural for matzo). He takes a piece from the middle of the plate and breaks it in half. He puts the smaller piece back on the plate and the larger piece becomes the afikoman. Traditionally, children try to “steal” the afikoman and then ransom it off at the end of dinner in exchange for presents or candy. Since our youngest family member was old enough to be in the middle of her military duty – we bent the rules a smidge for this part.

5) Maggid (Telling of the story of the Exodus): I really liked this part – especially after just watching the History Channel’s new miniseries The Bible the night before. At this point, the youngest person is supposed to ask a series of four questions basically centered around “Why is this night different than all other nights?” These questions are asked in a song that everyone sings (our first song of the night!). After telling the story, the upbeat song “Dayenu” is sung. It’s 15 verses long and relates all the gifts G-d has given the Jewish people and how each gift on their own “would have been enough for us.” This was my favorite song. At the end of the song, as each of the ten plagues that struck Eqypt are recited, we dip a finger in our wine and put a drop of it on our plate. Then the second glass of wine is finished and a third glass is poured.

6) Rachtzah (Handwashing): Another ceremonial washing of the hands – we skipped this part too.

7) Motzi (Blessing of the bread): The standard blessing of the bread is given. This is the same blessing given at Shabbat dinner.

8) Matzah (Blessing of the matzo): A second special blessing is given which retells of the commandment to eat matzah. A piece of matzo break is broken up by the seder leader and passed to everyone. Each person eats their matzo.

9) Maror (Bitter herbs): A blessing is given and everyone puts bitter herbs (horseradish) on their matzo and eats it to remember the harshness of slavery. The horseradish is sometimes mixed with beetroot – we had fresh, homemade horseradish that was really good and extra strong.

10) Koresh (The sandwich): Then a bit of horseradish is put on the matzo with a bit of charoset (a mixture of apples, nuts, cinnamon and wine – tasty!) a second piece of matzo is put on top to make a “sandwich” and that is eaten as well. The charoset is to symbolize the mortar the Israelites used while slaves in Egypt.

11) Shulchan Orech (Dinner): Now it’s time to eat dinner! We had an amazing salad filled with dried cranberries, pieces of grapefruit, chopped peppers, onions, mushrooms and lettuce. Appetizers included meatballs (made with matzo) and chicken livers. The next course was a large serving of matzo ball soup. The main course was pot roast and prime rib (that horseradish from earlier came in handy!), oven roasted cauliflower, carrots and sweet potatoes and regular potatoes. A sweet dish of wine soaked fruit was served last (but it’s not dessert time yet!).

12) Tzafan (Afikoman): At this point the afikoman is ransomed off by the children. It’s said this game of hiding the afikoman is done to keep children awake and interested during a very long night. It’s fun. Everyone gets a small piece of the matzo to be eaten as “dessert.” Except my family decides to do real dessert at the very end.

13) Barech (Blessing): A third glass of wine is poured for everyone. A blessing is given and the third glass is finished. A fourth glass is poured (or just a top off in most of our cases) and a glass is poured for the Prophet Elijah. A ceremonial cup has been present on the table since the beginning of dinner. The front door is open to allow Elijah into the home. Children are told that Elijah visits every house on this night (another trick to keep children awake!).

14) Hallel (Songs of Praise): The door is closed and everyone sings happy songs praising G-d before blessing and drinking the final glass of wine. Why the “-” in G-d’s name? Jews believe his name is sacred and should not be said or written.

15) Nirtzah (Conclusion): A statement is given that seder is officially completed. We sing a few more songs, including a fun one reminiscent of the 12 Days of Christmas – “Echad Mi Yodea” (Who Knows One?). It goes through each of the numbers one through 13 with a religious theme to each number – items include 5 books of Moses, 9 months of pregnancy. As each new verse is sung – all proceeding verses are sung in descending order. Lots of silly hand motions are involved too. Then the seder is finally closed when everyone says, “L’shanah haba’a bi Yerushalayim!” Which means, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Basically, that the Messiah will come in the next year and celebrations will be held in rebuilt Jerusalem.

After all this, we had dessert – flourless (of course!) chocolate cake. Everything we so delicious! I’m so happy for being able to take part in this evening. It was so interesting to learn the traditions and experience them as well. All told, it took us three hours to complete the ceremony. We sat and chatted a bit more afterwards so I never got home until nearly 12:30 a.m.

I can’t thank the Chagal family enough for taking us in. If you know any international students in your area, around the holidays (doesn’t matter what holiday – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July), I strongly encourage you to invite them into your home so they can experience them with a family. If you aren’t sure where to find international students – ask the international office of your local university. I know I made a resolution with myself this night to do this more often.


Passover, Pesach, Easter – What the what??

25 Mar

A typical seder setting

So many people have been asking me what the difference is between Passover, Pesach and Easter. I’m going to assume you know what Easter is all about so I’ll just tackle Passover and Pesach.

Passover, or Pesach as it is known in Hebrew, is probably the biggest and most celebrated of all Jewish holidays. It’s not quite on the same scale commercially as Christmas, but spiritually and religiously, it’s right in there.

Typically, Pesach kicks off with a big family meal on the first evening of the holiday, known as the seder. This meal launches the holiday and is usually attended by many family members – most of my friends are expecting 30+ relatives at their family dinner. One of my professors has 42 people coming to her house for dinner tonight!

I will be joining a friend’s family seder. These dinners take many hours as the story of the Exodus from Egypt is retold using a special book called the Haggadah. As you listen, you drink and eat specific things at specific times in the story. Always present at these dinners is a seder plate. There is lots of singing, many of glasses of wine and audience participation. I will try to take pictures and tell you all about it.

Of course, preparation is everything, and preparing for Pessach is intense. Jewish law prohibits the eating, owning or even presence of chametz (which is either a grain product that is already fermented, such as yeast breads, cake, and most alcoholic drinks, or a substance that can cause fermentation, such as yeast) in the house during the holiday, which means one heck of a spring clean to get rid of all those breadcrumbs. Sales of cleaning products naturally go through the roof around this time. Grocery stores even go so far as to cover prohibited items in the store during Pesach. I will try to get some pictures of this since nothing was covered yet last time I was in the store.

Also, there is a tradition that Jews can “sell” their chametz to a non-Jew. As the token non-Jew still on campus – I have “bought” about three different friends items. I paid 2 shekels to each person. At the end of Passover, they can “buy” their items back from me. When I threatened to charge a markup for one friend he laughingly responded, “You have lived in Israel too long.”

So, if there’s no chametz (no bread, no cakes, no pasta etc), what is there to eat? Well, apart from some yummy meat dishes, the staple food of the Pesach holiday is matzo bread (unleavened bread, which represents the Hebrews’ rapid exodus from Egypt and their lack of time to cook proper bread). This is a cracker-like bread, which is fondly described as tasting only marginally better than the box it comes in. I’ve lost track of how many Israelis have told me that the only way to eat matzo is the slather it in Nutella or the Israeli version –  HaShachar.  I think anything tastes better with Nutella! I will be trying to stick with the rules during this week but as a non-Jew I am technically excused from it.

The Pesach holiday lasts for a week. My campus is closed all this week, however, we don’t have classes again until April 7th.

Have any questions I didn’t answer? Ask below and I’ll try to answer them (or find someone who can!).

Back in the Saddle

7 Mar

Well, I’m back in Haifa and classes started yesterday. I had one day’s reprieve before our first day of class. Jet lag is still tripping me up – I had the head bob thing going on by our last class last night. Luckily, most of my international classmates were in the same boat. We were a grumpy, exhausted crowd yet happy to be in each others’ company again.

I have to admit – I struggled with rather I was ready to return to Israel. When I first got home – all I could do was think about how badly I wanted to go back. I missed it desperately. That’s about the same time that I realized how happy I was in Israel. As my time at home grew, and certain less than pleasant business was taken care of, I slowly relaxed into American life again. I spent lots of time with my friends and family…and ate all the food I missed. I realized how badly I had missed everyone at home. It was nice hearing English everywhere I went and being able to read everything around me. Though it still felt like sensory overload – right up until the end. The thought of how difficult I knew this semester was going to be, coupled with leaving friends and family behind again, made me sad. Every time I thought about leaving again my brain would blare “You’ll be gone for another six months. SIX MONTHS!” Suddenly, my time at home felt too short and I became grumpy about my return.

As I flew back to Israel, I tried to rationalize with myself. “Think of how happy you were here.” To which my brain would counter with, “Yes, but you are going to hate life once your thesis research starts for serious.” Then I’d start to panic about my work load. So I’d switch gears and think about seeing my friends….until I thought of less than endearing people I’d also have to see. Ugh. My brain was working hard to convince me to get off the plane in London and hide out for the next six months.

Once I landed in Israel and started making my way towards customs and the exit – suddenly things felt oddly…normal. The smells, the bustling people, the signs I can’t understand – it all felt welcoming. I filed my missing bag report (my bags decided to take a longer stop over in London) and walked straight to the train station without having to follow the signs. As I settled into my seat for my ride up to Haifa, a young Jewish guy sat next to me as he talked loudly into his cell phone. He stared at me as the train pulled away from the station and I automatically shot him my perfected (and soon to be trademarked) Israeli stare. Yep, I was definitely back and finding my groove quickly.

As I rode the bus from the Haifa Ha’Carmel train station up to campus, I started fielding excited texts from my roommates about my impending arrival. These messages were interspersed with messages from friends at home asking if I had arrived yet and telling me how much they missed me already. My grumpy mood was being lifted, the higher the bus climbed up Mount Carmel. As soon as the bus stopped at the dorm stop and I hopped off – I was suddenly excited. I had to keep myself from running gleefully down the stairs to my greet my roommates. I was finally happy to be in Israel, happy to be home.

Spring Semester Resolutions

17 Feb

The Dead Sea

Well, before I know it I’ll be back in Haifa – buried waist deep in the spring semester. Last semester FLEW by so quickly and this coming semester is already shaping up to be a challenging one. Though between all my classes and a once a week internship in Jerusalem – I’d really like to get out and explore more. Here are some of the resolutions I’ve been thinking about:

  • Go to the beach in Haifa! Why can’t I do my Holocaust readings as the waves crash in the background?!?
  • Explore more of Haifa. I have yet to find a good hummus shop. 
  • Take a road trip! A few friends are discussing this plan. We are trying to decide rather to head north or south.
  • The Dead Sea. I need to get this one off the “must see” list soon!
  • Masada
  • We have two separate two week breaks coming up. At least one of these will be spent abroad. Hopefully, both will be. Hello Jordan! Hello Greece!

Of course, I want to do far more than this but I’m trying not to put too much pressure on an already crazy semester. Anything else I do beyond this list will be a bonus. Plus, we have our field trip to Poland and Germany coming up next semester as well. Busy little bee…

Observations from home

14 Feb

I have been away from Haifa for just over two weeks now. I miss Israel and my life there far more than I thought I would. As I’ve eased back into life outside of the Middle East for this brief break – I’ve become pretty introspective about myself and my time in Israel so far.

As I catch up with people, the question on everyone’s mind is “What is Israel really like?” I still feel like I don’t have a good answer to this question. I usually blather on for a few moments about how it’s amazing, complex, fascinating, stymieing and just…Israel. I feel like I don’t have the ability to really explain to someone what it’s like – without them experiencing it for themselves. I’ve lived in several countries and have a “stock soundbite” for each place when someone asks me what it’s like. New Zealand – “Absolutely beautiful place, incredibly friendly people – go there immediately!” You get the idea. But for Israel – I find myself completely flummoxed for a succinct answer.  Someone asked me if it was what I expected and even that simple question stumped me. Though I did a lot of research before I left (reading blogs like this, guidebooks, websites, etc), I still went into this experience with the attitude of “let’s see what this is all about.” For the most part, it is what I expected – except for when it isn’t. I didn’t expect what we lovingly refer to as “Israelity.” When things take about twice as long as you expect, no never means no and you may know what you want, however, someone else will will you what you get. It’s a fascinating place on so many levels and it’s definitely working it’s way into my heart.

On a personal level, since I’ve been away I’ve slowly realized how happy I am in Israel and conversely (and a much harsher realization) how unhappy I was before I moved there. What continues to stump me is why am I so much happier there? I do live a much simpler life – my only responsibilities are school and my internship. I don’t drive (hello public bus!), I don’t watch TV unless I’ve downloaded it from iTunes, I read more and I’ve started writing again for fun. Is it the stripped down life that provides the happiness? I have good friends, great roommates and interesting classmates. I ended a messy personal situation shortly after arriving which – though it was tough – has meant my heart is open again in a way it hasn’t been in a while. I am able to focus on enjoying the moment instead of living my life electronically through constantly contact with home. I’ve been busting my tail in school. Learning how to be a student again has been a challenge and definitely has pushed my limits. But there is an incredible satisfaction in knowing that all the hard work, late nights and endless gripe sessions with classmates all result in bettering myself and expanding my horizons. It sounds ultra cheesy and I know it – but it’s true. I’m doing this for me and no one else….which is sadly a rare thing in my life. 

Whatever the reason for my happiness – I’m enjoying it. Next semester is already shaping up to be a doozy. We will only have a brief break between our spring and summer semesters. I’m going to have to dig deep to survive. I have my longest stretch in Israel once I return. This break away has allowed me to realize how much I miss Israel and the life I’ve built there while giving me a chance to appreciate my friends and family here at home.  I have no clue what the next few months holds or how I will feel when I pack my stuff up for the final time come September. All I know is I’m so thankful for this experience and for what is yet to come.


Things I Miss

26 Jan
Downtown Reno with Mt Rose in the background

Downtown Reno with Mt Rose in the background

After Monday morning’s German test, I have no classes until March 7th. I’ve decided to run away to visit friends in London, followed by a trip home. I just finished packing my suitcase full of stuff to take and leave at home, as well as stuff I know I will want while I’m home. I’m already worried about missing my friends here and about seeing everyone at home. I’m curious to see how the US looks and feels after nearly four months here. I’m curious to see how *I* feel.

As I packed and in anticipation of returning to a country where I can read and understand everything around me again – I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I miss from home.   Surprisingly, my list is fairly short. Given that my longest stretch here is yet to come – my list might look different by the time I reach September. Here is a list from the top of my head:

  1. Family and friends – can’t wait to hug and catch up with all of you IN PERSON!
  2. Food! Okay, so we knew there would be food stuffs on this list. Accept it and let me dream about all the food items I have been practically fantasizing about – PORK!, Mexican food, nachos (I know it’s technically Mexican but given the ones I really want are from Silver Peak – they count as their own category), pad thai from the Noodle Hut, biscuits and gravy, pumpkin pie, McDonald’s sausage biscuits, dry white wine (they LOVE sweet white wine here), the kale salad at Campo, Chinese food…I’m sure there is more that I’m forgetting. Friends – let me know if you’d like to join me for any of these food endeavors. And if you want to work out afterwards – my posterior will need it if I do indulge in all the above!
  3. My Jeep. Being able to hop in my car and not have to worry about navigating bus and train schedules.
  4. My ugly orange cat, Loki.
  5. My bed – but this one will have to wait since mine is in storage until I return in the fall. It will be so nice to sleep on a comfortable bed that’s bigger than twin sized!
  6. The mountains. Granted, I live on Mount Carmel but I miss seeing the mountains in every direction.
  7. More clothes! I’m looking forward to changing out some of my clothes. I’m bringing many of my cool weather clothes home and bringing back more summery stuff. Especially given I have a better idea of how blooming hot it’s going to get this summer.

I will try to write a blog post or two while I’m away from Haifa. In the meantime, thanks for following me through my first semester here. It feels like it went by so quickly. There is still so much I’ll looking forward to doing (Masada, Petra and more). A few friends and I are planning a road trip next semester too. Not to mention starting my thesis research and writing! Ekk! So lots of interesting (hopefully!) posts to come soon!

Cultural Differences

19 Jan

As the semester winds down and I prepare to head back to the States for a few weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about cultural differences. Some I still notice, some I’ve grown so used to – I don’t even think about them. I was recently confronted with one of each. I thought I’d share with you a few of them. This definitely doesn’t cover all the cultural differences out there and these all stem from my own experiences. I’m sure I will have more to add as my time here goes on…and after my visit to the US.

  • Crowd control. As I’ve mentioned, there is no real concept of lines here. You just jump into the melee and work your way forward. It doesn’t matter if you are at the grocery store, waiting for a coffee or trying to board the bus. Politeness will get you left behind. You need to stand your ground, bust out your elbows as needed and go after what you want. If you see an opening – jump into it. Derby training has served me well here. This is something that I grew used to surprisingly quickly given how much it bugged me at first. I didn’t quite realize how used to it I was until yesterday. I was having lunch with some friends in the student cafeteria. I didn’t finish my lunch and wanted to take my leftovers home with me. The place we ate at had a tremendous mob of people waiting for food. Without thinking anything of it – I cut to the front, leaned over the next person and asked for a container for my food. It wasn’t until I was walking back to my table that I realized what I had just done. I would have been eaten alive for that trick at home!
  • Space. Once you’ve made friends with Israelis – get used to close talking and physical contact. I had a cold a while ago and missed a class. The next time I saw my Israeli classmates they came up to me, rubbed my back, patted my shoulder and asked how I was doing. Two of the older, motherly ones even checked for a fever. Anymore, I rarely bat an eyelash when someone is talking to me and places their hand on my arm or shoulder as we chat. I sat next to an older male classmate recently who would regularly lean over to whisper to me but would always hook his arm over the back of my chair and place his hand on my back as he did it. There was nothing to be implied from this motion other than wanting to tell me something. One of my friend’s here regularly has an old buddy from his military days come visit. They never fail to greet each other with a kiss on the cheek and a big bear hug. Even as they stand to chat and tell stories of their military service – they frequently sling an arm over the other’s shoulder in brotherly companionship. No, they weren’t drunk – Israelis just aren’t shy about expressing themselves through touch.
  • Loud Conversations. When I first moved to New Zealand, my roommates were horrified by how loud I was in any given situation. I had never noticed how loud we as a culture are until this point. After that – I can always quickly find Americans in any given international crowd – just based on volume alone. Americans seem to be loud talkers by nature but they have nothing on Israelis. Israelis love a good debate. It may sound like a shouting match is happening and that people are genuinely pissed off but that is rarely the case. They just get louder the more passionate they are about their topic. I witnessed a political discussion the other day that sounded very heated. There were hand gestures flying, wrinkled brows and enough shouting that I worried the neighbors would complain. At the end of it, the two people involved had a laugh and split a bottle of wine. I doubt if I brought up politics with some of my more ardent friends at home that it would end so happily. More likely, we’d never speak again. Which is the exact reason I rarely discuss politics in the US.
  • Wine. I bet you are scratching your head at this one. Let me explain. I’ve learned through trial and error here that if you are in a group of people that you don’t know everyone – it’s best as a non-Jew to never touch the wine unless it’s the wine in your own glass. Some very conservative Jews believe that if a non-Jew touches kosher wine – it’s no longer kosher. When I’m at one particular friend’s house – though I know his roommates aren’t super conservative, they do try to stay kosher as much as possible. Out of respect for that – I won’t pour my own wine there. Luckily, my glass is rarely empty (yay for good hosts!) so I don’t have to worry too much. I still have to remind myself to pay attention to this rule when in mixed company.
  • Guns. Okay, I know from all the recent news – this is a very big issue in the States right now. Given that all Israelis are required to serve in the military – you see soldiers everywhere. Soldiers are required to carry their weapons at all times, even when off duty. Seeing people walking around with a machine gun is becoming very normal. I sat across from a young soldier on the train on Thursday who had his assault rifle pointed at the space between my toes the whole time. I found myself wondering at one point if it will be weird not seeing so many weapons when I’m home.


13 Jan

Breakfast at a favorite cafe in Jerusalem. Notice the salads!

Things I love about Israel:

  • Amazing salads. Salads are so pervasive here – they are even served at breakfast. I am 100% behind this concept. I’m talking about more than just the standard Israeli salad (tomatoes, cucumber, lemon juice), I dream of Bulgarian feta, fresh sweet peas, red onions, assorted greens and my new favorite spice – za’atar.
  • Massive breakfasts. Do you enjoy leisurely brunches where you graze for ages as you chat with friends? That’s pretty much any breakfast outing here. Whereas England is defined by the Full English Breakfast (something I have been DYING to have – soon!), Israel has it’s Israeli Breakfast which consists of many, many plates and bowls full of tasty things. Everything from Israeli salad to tuna salad to cheeses to fresh fruit. Don’t forget the basket of assorted fresh bread! And most restaurants automatically include a hot drink or juice of your choice with your meal. If you can walk away from an Israeli breakfast hungry – you fail at life.
  • Mint Tea. I love tea with only fresh mint in it. No tea bag needed.
  • Juice! My new personal favorite is a half orange juice/half pomegrante. So so good. Though give me a fresh squeezed lemonade with mint and I’m a happy camper too.
  • Okay, okay – there really is more to Israel than the food. Despite all my food talk. And photos. The People. As I mentioned in a previous blog post – I love the upfront, direct nature of Israelis. They are not a meek people. There is a popular allusion here that native Israelis are like the local plant, sabra (prickly pear). They are tenacious and thorny on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside. It is very true. It may take you a little while to make friends but once you do – you have a friend for life. They are emotional and not afraid to show it. They are all about touch – guy friends hug each other openly. A hand is almost always placed on a friend as you chat. There is a very strong sense of community here – unlike any other place I’ve ever lived. 
  • Shabbat. Though it can be a real pain to have everything shut down from sundown Friday until sunset Saturday – I really enjoy the concept of taking one day a week to stop, enjoy your blessings and eat with family and friends. Though I’m not Jewish – I enjoy the ritual of the lighting of the candles, blessing the bread and wine too. 
  • History. The history, the grandeur of the past can be seen everywhere you turn.  And, at the same time, you realize that you are a part of the history that is unfolding before your very eyes.
  • The Hebrew phrase – yiyeh b’seder. It translates to “it will be okay.” This is the Israeli response to just about anything life throws at you – Missed the bus? Yiyeh b’seder! Your dog died? Yiyeh b’seder! Rocket fire? Yiyeh b’seder! 
  • Cheesy pop music. I love that the randomest cheesy pop music is played everywhere. One day while having breakfast with a friend – the cafe went from Michael Jackson to Backstreet Boys to Wham. And no one batted an eyelash. Unfortunately, all this assorted music usually leaves me with silly songs stuck in my head at all times. 
  • Sports. I think it’s fantastic that a simple soccer game is more than just a group of guys kicking a ball. It’s politics, international relations and diplomacy all wrapped in 90 minutes. When a local team plays on an international level – it doesn’t matter if it’s soccer or basketball or what – the whole country stops to cheer them on. They are routing for the country of Israel as much as the boys out on the pitch.
  • Finally, I love this once in a lifetime experience. And I love even more, that it’s not over yet.

Happy New Year

2 Jan

Wow, it’s 2013! How did that sneak up on me? This semester has absolutely zipped by me. December was packed full of deadlines – hence the lack of posts. Sorry about that. I’ll be better now. I have a list of topics to write about so get ready for more regular updates.

2012 was a doozy of a year. In January, I decided it was time to stop dreaming and start doing. I had talked about getting a Master’s degree for nearly ten years and I wasn’t getting any younger. I had forever gone back and forth between thinking of getting an MBA in Marketing or studying the Holocaust. The going rate for an MBA is around the $40k mark. My current Master’s program is well below $10k and that’s without the scholarships I received. Since I’m paying for this degree myself – cost was a big driver.

In the end, I found an intriguing program in Israel through a school I was already familiar with through work. It was a very competitive program and I was unlikely to get in. Given the low application cost – I decided to just apply for the experience of it. I was so sure that I would not get in that I never said a word to anyone about the application except for the people who wrote my letters of recommendation. I did not want anyone to know that I had failed, so pride kept my mouth shut. After not hearing anything for several months – I knew I was unsuccessful. I applied for a new opportunity at work and started to make plans for new grad school applications.

The week of Easter, I received word that I was not only accepted to the program but I received an automatic scholarship. Suddenly my long shot had paid off and I had to decide if I was going to accept my position. First though, I had to break the news to my parents and friends. My parents took the news surprisingly well. I think they were more upset that I didn’t say anything about applying. They were, and continue to be, my strongest supporters and cheerleaders. My friends were very supportive though sad I’d be gone for nearly a year.

After about a day of thinking about it, I decided to accept my position in the program. Given that I had zero expectation of being accepted, I felt that perhaps my acceptance was divine will or just the universe telling me I needed to do this. Whatever it was – I didn’t argue. I’ve agonized over my drink choice at Starbucks longer than I thought about this decision. I can’t say why but this decision just felt right. The next hurdle was breaking the news to work.

My boss and our Director were so incredibly supportive of my decision to do this, that I nearly broke my iron clad rule of never crying at work. The rest of 2012, was spent preparing for this major life change. I moved out of my little blue house next to campus, got rid of a ton of possessions and moved in with my parents in May. I scrimped and saved all summer long. Before I knew it, October 17th was upon me and it was time to say goodbye to Reno and hello to Haifa.

I spent November and December getting to know Israel, making friends and immersing myself in the subject of Holocaust studies. I have incredible roommates and a great circle of friends. My group of friends regularly find ourselves unable to not discuss the Holocaust in some way, shape or form when we are together. My friend, Vicky went home for Christmas and shocked her family by talking about Death Camps at a family breakfast. I fear similar issues when I visit in February.

Deciding to come to Israel completely upended my life in so many ways. I realized recently that nothing will be the same after this – in some good ways and some not so good ways. I’ve gained new friends, strengthen some friendships and lost some who I never thought would leave my life. Regardless, I still think this was the best decision for me and I don’t regret it whatsoever. I’m still proud that I decided to chase my dream of getting an advanced degree and that I was brave enough to do it in a country where I had never stepped foot. This country is definitely growing on me. I appreciate the direct, no BS attitude of most Israelis. A defining characteristic of people here is that they don’t wait for what they want – they go get it. Rather it’s a spot in a bus (no polite lines here) or a person they are interested in or introducing themselves to a new group of people. They are bold, forward and fearless. I hope it rubs off on me.

2013 promises to be another interesting, life changing year. The majority of it will be spent here in Israel before I return home in September. Sometimes, I wish I could close my eyes and see a brief glimpse into where I will be a year from now. But if 2012 has taught me anything it’s  I can be wherever I want. I am the sole driver of my destiny. I can’t wait to see what 2013 holds for me.


4 Dec

It’s a rainy day in Haifa today but still lots going on. All this rain is killing my motivation so I figured it’s a good excuse to update my blog. This will be a random update of sorts so bear with me as I jump all over with topics.

  • I had an interview today with a potential internship organization. Apparently, I did okay since they hired me on the spot. I will be working with the Oral History Department at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I will be working on a brand new archive of testimonies they just received. I will be writing abstracts on testimonies of people who were children during the Holocaust. Instead of being regular interviews – they are actually psychological interviews. I will be working on the testimonies from Haifa and then once a month, I will go to Jerusalem to work in the archives on campus. The lady that interviewed me also offered to be my thesis advisor if I wanted. I am thrilled to pieces at this placement, as only a Holocaust scholar could be. She is emailing me my first testimony later this week.
  • I have been floating many ideas for my thesis and several big papers I have coming up. I have been all over the map with ideas lately. Being immersed in a topic like this is so fascinating and at the same time I’m constantly distracted by another potential topic. The focus on children during & after the Holocaust has been a new interest since arriving here. To give you an idea of the various things I have been thinking about – here is a simple list of topics I’ve thought about in just the last few days: the railway system as a tool for the Nazis, persecution of freemasons, non-Jewish Poles killed by the Nazis and psychology of the resistance. So. Many. Possibilities. The hard part is finding an angle where I can use my English. My German is still shaking enough yet that I couldn’t rely on it for reading original documents. Thus, I need documents that have already been translated or another way to focus my interest.
  • I’ve been talking to many very homesick friends here this last week. So far, I am still hanging in there. I miss people more than I miss home. That means pack your bags and come visit me, people! Ha ha! The harder thing to deal with for me is new levels of communication. It sounds obvious but when I’m home I can talk or see people whenever I want. Being here – with the time difference & busy schedules – it makes it harder to connect with some people. I’ve been learning the tough lesson that not everyone is willing to make a effort to keep in touch. I try not to take it personally but it is a hard pill to swallow.
  • Our program is giving all the students a Christmas/Hanukkah present next week. They are taking us to see Cabaret in Tel Aviv on the 15th. I’m really looking forward to it. And I’ll apologize to everyone now for all the singing I will be doing once all those songs get stuck in my head…!
  • Hanukkah starts on Sunday so we have that day off from classes. A classmate is planning a big party for all of the international students. Hanukkah is not that big here, as it is in the US. It’s a minor holiday here. The Arab neighborhood begins their Holiday of Holidays this weekend which will help me find my Christmas spirit. As of now – it doesn’t feel like Christmastime whatsoever. Except for the Christmas tunes I’ve been rocking out to as I study.
  • I’ve reached the halfway point of my first semester and it feels like time is flying by. It also feels like I’m quickly running out of time. Now that I have an internship to add into the mix and we start volunteering tomorrow – busy, busy! I have to write three very big papers for various courses this term so even though I’m leaving campus for several weeks between semesters – I will still be working on school. No rest for the wicked.
  • Yesterday, I was interviewed for a new promotional video the University is doing for our Holocaust program. It was fun to do but watching the playback was painful. I felt like a fool seeing myself. We will see how it’s all edited and then I’ll decide if I’ll post it here later.
  • I am hoping to escape Haifa this weekend since I wasn’t able to leave last week. The weather might be a hindrance though given it’s supposed to keep raining from now until next Tuesday. Since a few friends (& family!) mentioned worrying about me and where I head – I’m not going to say where I’m going until after I return. Don’t worry Mom & Aunt Helen – Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon and Syria are definitely NOT on my list! And honestly, I’m not ever going to travel somewhere that I feel is unsafe.
  • And finally, I had a very funny moment at the grocery store recently. As I previously mentioned, sometimes the deli and meat counter at the grocery store can be a bit intimidating given my limited Hebrew. I have slowly worked out who speaks English and who doesn’t. One day, I decided I wanted to make spaghetti with a bolognese sauce so I needed ground beef (mince to you Kiwis & English reading along). I knew from past experience the butcher was a very cranky man who spoke no English and who didn’t appreciate my lack of Hebrew. I had yet to recover from our last encounter when trying to buy chicken. There may have been charades involved. Which although amusing to the lady giggling next to me…had zero affect on Mr. Grumpy. He rudely shooed me off until I could find someone to help me translate what I wanted. I was filled with anxiety knowing I’d have to face him again but my love of good spaghetti outweighed my fear. I carefully researched the word in Hebrew for ground beef and 500 grams then painstakingly wrote it down. I had two classmates approve it first before heading to the store. As I approached the counter, I see it’s a new butcher who I’ve never met before. I hand him the paper and stand, biting my lip, waiting for him to shoo me off too. He squints at the writing – brings it closer to his nose, holds it at arms length, then brings it in again. I’m starting to panic and begin fishing my iPhone out so I can google translate the word again. Finally, he looks up and says, “So you want some ground beef?” in a perfect Brooklyn accent. *sigh* Oh Israelity…