Archive | January, 2013

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.

Favorites

13 Jan
Image

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.