Embark on an exciting journey into Israel, the homeland of the Jewish People and my home for the next year! I will be adding my new observations and perspective of student life at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, Israel. Enjoy the ride!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sick and Bored

Well, it officially takes a little over 2 days for me to become bored of staying at home and checking the internet, watching movies, and sleeping intermittedly throughout the day. I think it is funny how one romanticized sickness when there are other committments like school or work that are general requirements of life. However, I've decided that I would much rather be sitting in on my 4 hours of Hebrew class and seminars after class than sitting at home, on my bed, itching myself whenever my body demands it.

Today, I finally sucked it up and decided to face the Israeli hospital system, in a desperate measure to get some relief from the awful rash that has overcome my body and tonsils that make food taste weird and undesirable. The good news is that I was pleasantly pleased, much different from when I had to take my Birthright participant (not me, sorry for the confusion) to the emergency room. I held out through the night so I could go into the walk-in clinic of English speaking doctors in Jerusalem in hopes that they could figure out what the heck my body is doing and give me some drugs to get rid of it. I almost succeeded, but as is typical of me, the blood tests and throat culture was inconclusive and I am at least stuck with my new best friend, Calamine lotion, and a new nick-name given to me by my boyfriend, "Petri dish." Cute, huh? So, tomorrow morning I will call the doctor at 9:30AM and hopefully she will tell me then to start taking some drug to get me feeling better.

Other than that, the good news is I have all this time to blog and attempt to bring you up to date on my life. I might have to stop every so often to itch whatever part of my body demands, but hopefully there won't be too much stopping. This would be an accomplishment.

So, first thing is first, I am officially a student with at least four hours of class and 2 hours of homework a night. For about 2 more weeks, I will continue in Ulpan, an intensive Hebrew course for the summer, and then other classes will start as well. I definitely appreciate the concentrated focus on Hebrew, but am disappointed that I really don't use it out of the classroom like I would like to. I thought Otzma was an American bubble, but this experience takes that expression to a whole new level. I really never have to speak Hebrew outside of class unless I am in a grocery store or in a cab. Other than that, all my friends are American and we all socialize together at the same restaurants and bars, so my Hebrew is pushed aside to make room for other deeper conversations.

Speaking of which, these deeper conversations are part of what has made this experience so much different than my Otzma one. Not saying that during Otzma deep conversations were not held, but the topics certainly were not what they are now. I cannot tell you how many first interactions with other students in my program that have been about the role of Reform Judaism, or the direction the movement is going, or the unique place of the rabbi, cantor, or educator in each different community. Everyone comes from a different community in the US, and in some cases parts of Europe, with a different perspective on these issues. A part of me was overwhelmed and annoyed at these initial conversations, especially with those that I would consider having "something to prove." I was frustrated that people would not generally show their personality before their perspective, and when someone does that it is sometimes hard to then look at them for their personality first. However, taken in context, everyone here intends to be a Jewish professional in either the capacity of a rabbi, cantor, or educator, and that definitely adds a sense of entitlement to express one's opinion's regarding issues such as this. Unlike in past group situations, however, I haven't felt the need to reach out and get to know everyone, because I know that is something that evolves with time. However, in my sickness, I have come to realize that I have met some amazing people that I do just click with. That is comforting.

Some things I have done in the past few weeks... Two weekends ago, I spent the Shabbat in Kibbutz Yagur, a secular kibbutz about 20 minutes east of Haifa. The invite came from an Israeli rabbinical student also studying at Hebrew Union College, in the Israeli program which is separate from mine. He came to speak about his path to the rabbinate from his secular kibbutz upbringing to my classmates and invited a group of us to come stay for a Shabbat and see what he has been doing at his kibbutz. Kibbutz Yagur is the third largest kibbutz in Israel, and that being said, is secular. And, the truth is, when I say secular for an Israeli it is virtually the same thing as being secular in the States, except worse in some respects. Keeping kosher, Shabbat, or anything considered "religious" is frowned upon in the community, because in Israel being religious is only reserved for those who the government supports and the society hates. Therefore, the stigma attached to anything connected to that community is nothing to shrug off. So, for Gadi (that is the rabbinical student's name), his challenge was to bring a different kind of practice to his kibbutz that wouldn't turn people off but would still seem authentic to them. That is the other problem; any other "type" of Judaism isn't automatically considered authentic, so most Israelis also frown upon alternative styles of worship as well. So, Gadi started slowly, to build upon the Jewish year and began with Tu B'shevat in his kibbutz, the "tree-planting holiday" which Israelis might appreciate a little more than us in the States because of the vitality of trees to this country. He gradually moved forward and introduced other festivals to the kibbutz that people enjoyed, and now has a weekly Shabbat service. However, when I say Shabbat service, I certainly don't mean Shabbat like we are used to. They don't read from the Torah, although it is mentioned, and many secular Israeli songs are mixed into the other liturgical songs of a regular Friday night service. When several of my classmates and I were hosted by kibbutz families, some of the families joined for the services and others did not. The mom in my host family happened to be the secretary of the kibbutz, which is the same thing as the president, and she couldn't be more of a kibbutznik. Her hair was tied to the side in a long braid, she was wearing a straw hat and no make up, and her sandals just put the entire look of a kibbutznik together. She was late arriving home, so I actually didn't even meet her until after I had come and gone from the Shabbat service that Gadi led. I spoke with the "host dad" of the family, and his remarks about what Gadi was doing was that it was cute, but boring to him so he wouldn't bother going. I guess Judaism has to be "entertaining" to some, even in Israel. However, the interesting thing about this host family was that besides their frowning upon traditions, they still did a mini Friday night Shabbat service at their home prior to eating. The reason it was interesting was two-fold: first because it was at a Kibbutz, and they bothered to recognize Shabbat, and second because the service was led by the mother and daughter of the family, something definitely not traditional. The story of this family is that the "host mom," Ilana, came from a religious family and although she is not religious in that way anymore, she said that she wouldn't just throw it all away. It is fascinating to think that the one thing she preserved is Shabbat, among all the other choices of practice to keep.
The rest of the weekend at the Kibbutz was quite beautiful. My host family was more of like a hotel, not much interaction with the family or effort into getting to know me. But, I had a bed and a shower, and some food which ended up to be a great situation. I went to the pool all day on Shabbat, which was amazing, and ended up being adopted for Shabbat lunch twice by my classmate Aimee's family and my boyfriend Greg's family. I was stuffed, but the conversation was great and the people were wonderful. I definitely had warm fuzzies after leaving those two families, and feel like I would go back to that kibbutz for another Shabbat to be hosted by them again. Good times...
Speaking of Shabbat culture, it is something you really feel in this country, but especially in this city. Since I am in a Reform seminary of people who want to be Jewish professionals, each week there is a plethora of invitations to people's homes for Shabbat and different services to try out. And, considering how my weeks go, I start anticipating Shabbat on Sunday when the work week starts here. The set up of the week here truly makes you value your day "off" and find ways to make it both meaningful and relaxing at the same time. So, last weekend we had a required service by my school to go see Harel, and Reform shul in Jerusalem with a woman rabbi. I had been there before, I think with Rabbi Einstein on a tour, and it was very reminiscent of home. They offered us opportunities to be involved in their community, whether it be reading Torah or helping in the preschool or whatever. It was nice, and I may take them up on their offer. However, the best part of this night was hosting Shabbat dinner at my house after services! I volunteered to be the chef of the main course, chicken (traditional for the Friday night Shabbat meal), and my roommates and I ended up hosting around 20 people for dinner. While I was quite intimidated by this number of people, I chose an easy recipe to cook for everyone and prepared it before Shabbat so I would just have to heat it up when I got home. Well, I can say, it was great! The chicken was a balsamic vinagrette, olive oil, and honey recipe and turned out so tasty! I was so happy to see everyone enjoying the meal and complimenting me on a job well done. It was just nice to do Shabbat the right way and have contributed a significant part of it. I am happy to pass along the recipe if you are curious...

And other than that, I am still in bed, trying to get healthy so I can keep up the good work. I've been posting photos, so if you don't see a blog from me, you can at least see what I have been up to from my pics. More later... (and I will try to be better at updating...)