So what you have been dying to hear: my first post from Israel!
A Side Note: Right now I am listening to the Muslim call to prayer that is ‘broadcasted’ from minarets (strange looking loudspeakers next to mosques). There are several across the city, and I swear there is one right next to the center. It is surprisingly loud, and since it plays five times a day, the earliest around 5 o’clock, it has consistently woken me up. I don’t know how to describe what it sounds like, but it is an Arabic recital of select passages of the Koran that sounds like something in between monks in a Gregorian chant and as Amy put it, a dying cat. Each time I hear it, I enjoy it more. It is so foreign to me, but it is beautiful as well. I am just looking forward to the day it doesn’t wake me up in the morning.
The Flight Here: Ami, I really could have packed my full sized shampoo and conditioner, my luggage weighed in at 49 pounds at home, but 47 in the airport. So Laurel, it looks like your scale is two pounds off haha. It was nice to travel in a large group, it made spending a couple hours laid over in JFK much more pleasant. The plane flight to Tel Aviv was about 9-10 hours from JFK, so it was completely manageable but it would have been much less uncomfortable if I hadn’t chugged my liter of water before going through the last leg of security before entering the plane. I haven’t had to pee that desperately in a very long time. While I stayed quite hydrated, I had to climb over my seatmates three times during that long flight to use the smallest bathroom in the world. I was lucky to have a window sleep, but even with my brand new pillow pet, I only got an hour of intermittent sleep. Jesselle—Bossy Pants by Tina Fey was the perfect thing to listen to on the flight over, it was all I could do to not wake up my seatmates by busting out laughing.
After some edible but still slightly frozen Kosher airplane meals, we made it Tel Aviv. As we walked out of the airport, I almost cried because it was so perfectly warm and beautiful. And I knew that I would have another months before I would have to endure such a miserably long flight home.
The Jerusalem Center: This center has to be the nicest place I have ever lived, or ever will live, as a student. It is eight floors of marble hallways and has a panoramic view of Jerusalem on top of Mount Scopus (next to the Mount of Olives). It is the second most expensive building the church has ever built, and I feel so blessed to live here. I can’t get over the view from here, I look out from my apartment’s balcony and I see a perfect postcard shot of the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Church is held in the Auditorium which has glass walls facing the city, needless to say, the speakers have a lot of competition for our attention.
The second thing I love about the center (other than its prime location) is the food. Yep, I bet no one saw that coming…I thought it would be strange to cook any of my meals, but I can definitely get used to this. The Oasis is our little ‘cafeteria’ but it is more like food paradise. The local chef and his staff make the most amazing food. Last night I had Shwarma—which is just like Dad said, marinated meat stacked on a spike and roasted on a standing rotisserie then shaved off. I could have died and gone to heaven. Plus there is pita bread and hummus everywhere! Jesselle, you would be happy to hear that I am having the most regular, balanced meals of my life there are so many fruits and vegetables and salads, I just can’t get over it. Yesterday I had Tabouleh, some garlicky, sweet and kinda pickled carrots, fresh mozzarella caprese salad and a persimmon along with my shwarma for dinner. And the muesli and kefir for breakfast are so amazing. I am going to try and get the ‘recipes’ and eat this for the rest of my life. Lots of students have had some trouble adjusting their stomachs to all this ‘strange’ food. Not me.
Classes: The classes are definitely going to be intense, but I am going to glean all I can from them (even if we have a ridiculous amount of reading to do) and try to get a decent grade. But I think I will like them a lot. I am just getting ready to go to my first Hebrew class–I can’t wait to take a class from the legendary Mrs. Goldman. I had my first class of our Israel politics/history today and I have the Palestinian perspective this evening. There is so much conflict here, but not many people can/will talk about it. I am hoping that these classes will shed some light on it.
The People: This probably goes without saying, but the people here are amazing. The students in the program are awesome and really want to be here. My roommates are chill, fun and sweet and it is just so refreshing that we are all in the same boat because we are all in the same classes and have the same homework. I haven’t had a ton of interaction yet with locals, but I can’t wait to get to know them and ask them about how it is to live in Jerusalem. I can’t talk about the Church or politics at all, but I really want to get the local perspective.
The City: The walls and the streets of the Old Cit are magnificent and once you enter through the Damascus gate, you have step back in time. Street vendors and shops crowd every alley way and street. As we walk by in our groups, I can here people saying “It’s the Mormons!” You have to be pretty careful not to attract unwanted attention, and I am sure I will get more comfortable as I stay here longer. Evidently, looking a guy in the eyes and smiling is considered heavy flirting here and you are considered a ‘loose woman’ if you touch or hold hands or even hug another guy. I haven’t had any trouble, but I have been much more conscious of where I look and have been considerably less touchy than I normally am. The smiling part, well, I can stop smiling because I am in constant awe at this city. I can’t wait to spend more time in the city walking around and getting to know the streets and the vendors and locals.
Becca, Jacob and I walked the ramparts of the city walls on Sunday. We were walking at least 3/4 of the time from 9am to 4:30 pm. Needless to say, my calves and feet are killing me this week. I really should have worn socks with my TOMS that day. I know TOMS are sock optional, but blisters are not cool. We walked at least 6 miles and then every day we walk some more on uneven stone streets. The view of the city and the surrounding valleys and cities is so beautiful and really helpful as I am trying to get my bearings.
We observe the Sabbath on Saturday instead of Sunday here like our Orthodox Jewish neighbors. In a way, it seems almost more fitting, even though it keeps throwing me off.
Hmmm…well I swear I will post more soon. And I can’t upload pictures from the center and I have to go the Hebrew University to do that but I will keep you posted!