Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ba le Jerusalem

First let me give you a context. When I was about ten years old I was enlisted to help two of my closest friends with filming a movie for Hebrew School. Being in Jewish Day School, I though I had excellent Hebrew, so I starred in their film they produced about Jerusalem by jumping onto the screen and reciting the three words: “Ba le Jerusalmem,” meaning “Come to Jerusalem,” except that I forgot the word for Jerusalem in Hebrew. This still makes the three of us laugh today, but come to think of it, its not that funny at all.

Regardless, I have arrived in Jerusalem and am alive and well. My six roommates and I share a really nice apartment in a quiet neighborhood called Talpiyot. We’ve got three bedrooms, an adorable little kitchen, and a huge living room. Abby and I are roommates again and sleep in tiny children’s beds we like to call our “Polly Pocket beds.”

As we’ve been working on our internship placements this past month we haven’t done much at all except get adjusted. And an adjustment it has been. I’ve had a few reverse culture shock moments that remind me I’m no longer in India:

1) Cross walks. As in, it’s not ok to cross the street whenever?
2) Trashcans. It is no longer acceptable to throw my trash directly on the street.  For something that took me so long to get used to in India, it’s a wonder I have to catch myself before littering.
3) Clean air. I never realized how much I missed it until I got it back. It is all of a sudden enjoyable to go for a run outside.
4) People with skimpy clothes. I just stare. It is shocking to see spaghetti straps or a skirt above the knees.
5) It is not necessary to argue with the cab driver to put the meter on.
6) Sidewalks. I can enjoy the beauty of walking somewhere.
7) A whole new set of oily foods to try and avoid: butter naan and samosas have been replaced by falafel and chips.
8) It is acceptable to eat with both hands. I still find myself tearing pita bread apart with my right hand only, leaving my left hand in my lap.

As for the past few weeks, we go to Ulpan (Hebrew class) three times a week, where it has become painfully apparent that I lost the majority of the Hebrew I once knew. I have been frequenting the market, or shook, where I love to buy my fresh veggies, fruits, nuts, cheese, bread, and hummus for the week. I’ve explored the local nightlife scene, and although Tel Aviv in known to be the life of the party, I’m still convinced Jeru knows what’s up. One week in there was spent at a leadership conference organized by MASA in a Jerusalem hostel. And otherwise, we’ve just trying to stay busy exploring the country. Gabe took a group of us on a tour of the old city. One day we went to the Biblelands museum (womp womp). I’ve been on an exercising kick, and am training for a 10K. And Abby and I have been busy visiting various friends and relatives. We went to Benyamina, a beautiful city close to Haifa, for a relaxing Shabbat at her friend Jen’s house, filled with eating and a walk on the beach. Last weekend we stayed at her cousin’s house in a settlement in the West Bank. The whole experience was unique. We took a bullet-proof bus in, passing rocky uninhabited hills on the way to their settlement. Another Shabbat filled with eating and sleeping, and then we hitchhiked to get back to Jerusalem. I love how saying something like “I hitchhiked in the West Bank” sounds so much more bad-ass then it actually was. We rode with a sweet older couple and everyone does it anyways to get in and out of the settlements.

This week I’m set to start my internship most likely working for an organization that provides higher education support for African refugees and asylum seekers… I will keep you posted.

One last note before I part, for those who haven’t heard, a bomb went off in Jerusalem last week. It was an abandoned bag left in a place across from the Central Bus Station, a place I’ve been to several times at this point. I was thankfully far away, at a leadership seminar with my fellows. It was a strange moment for us all. After reading the news together, my Israeli program director said something like “Welcome to Israel.”  While there hasn’t been this sort of violence in several years, it is unfortunately somewhat commonplace for Israelis. The two Israelis I was with at the time took the news very matter-of-factly, with little emotional response-- what strikes me as an adopted coping mechanism. Life continued in Jerusalem as if nothing had happened the rest of the day. There is the sense that Israeli society must be resilient and not let the attack change day-to-day life, because that is precisely what the terrorists wanted. The whole thing put things in perspective for me, making me realize how delicate the political situation is in this country.

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