Friday, October 31, 2008

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I can't sleep tonight for some reason. I tried reading the Lemon Tree, but that just made me more riled up. I don't have much time to read here, so I'm still pretty much at the beginning of the book, where its explaining the creation of Israel. Of course, Ben-Gurion and the Hagannah is mentioned, and I was suddenly struck by the fact that a major Israeli university is named after the leader of a militia group. Granted, the Hagannah is generally viewed as the less extremist group (as compared to the Irgun, who blew King David Hotel), but still. What happened to Jewish powers of persuasion? How is it that Abraham could negotiate with the Almighty on such matters as destroying a city of sinners, but Ben-Gurion could not negotiate the British and Arabs on basic matters of security in a land that certainly has enough space (water may be another issue) for all its inhabitants without firing weapons first?
We had a fairly heated PELS (Peace-building and Environmental Leadership) seminar yesterday, in which we were supposed to construct narratives around our feelings of Jerusalem. We were split up in an Arab group, Israeli group, and American group. And I realized that, although I am certainly not the only non-zionist in this extremely left-wing group of American Jews, I did seem to be the least connected to Israel. The other Americans proud to be diasporic and feeling little connection or political support for Israel, said they felt guilty for being able to get in and out of Jerusalem so easily, whereas Arabs whose families come from Jerusalem cannot return. And I thought, "Guilty?" Empathetic, certainly. Responsible, in the sense that we are all responsible for each other and if you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem, maybe. But personally guilty? As an American Jew born after the partition? What have we to do with it? And furthermore, at least for me personally, my first trip to Israel is this semester, at a peace-building coexistence program. What can we do to break down the barriers between Arab East Jerusalem and Jewish West Jerusalem if not sit in that room in the desert with our Israeli and Palestinian brethren and talk about the conflict? How could we possibly take any other step toward any political resolution until we've made peace on a personal level? And if we're already here, doing that, than what has any American Jew that has never lobbied for or donated to Zionist organizations to feel guilty for? I mean, it's not like we're at that famous university named for a certain military man...

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Figuring out the future

In between trying to catch up on the first week's readings that I didn't do while I was sick this weekend, I went for a little evening chat with Rabbi Susan Silverman. I explained to her that while numbers suggest more women than men are attending HUC, there still are relatively few female rabbis around, and I'm always trying to pick up new role models, and get advice wherever and whenever I can. It was a really great chat. She told me a little more of her background, though not really as much as I was hoping for. But what was great, is she has a whole list of people she's going to put me in contact with. For one, David Sapperstein, of the Religious Action Center. She says I wouldn't need the contact to get a job at the RAC, but it couldn't hurt and she'd like to put us in touch. Furthermore, the idea that I could personally speak to David Sapperstein is like seeing the Dalai Lama. Oh wait. I did that, too. Also, she told me I should have a "Boston Week" sometime next semester, this summer, or in the fall before I file Div III, so that I can have various interviews. The Hebrew College is in Newton, MA, and it is a trans denominational, egalitarian, and gay-friendly rabbinical school, and she has a friend that runs it. She also has a colleague that does historic reconciliation work globally, and she suggested I contact him for ideas on my Div III, especially after I told her that I was hoping my project could be centered around closure for communities like Armenia that have no recognition for their painful history. Also for my Div III work, she suggested I get in touch with the woman who created the "Facing History and Ourselves" curriculum, who, according to Susan, I would be kindred spirits with. The "Facing History and Ourselves" curriculum is centered around the Holocaust (I think our Hebrew school borrows ideas from this, though does not follow the curriculum exactly), but it also about other communities and things like the role of the bystander and scapegoating in these situations. Lastly, she told me she would be able to put me in touch with the one and only Howard Zinn. I suppose I should actually read one or all of his books before I try to ask him for help. I hear such good things, they've just never been on my shelf, or even list, really. This, of course, after I read Life on the Fringes, about feminism and Judaism. Maybe my Arava classes are a heavy courseload, but at least I know I'm adding a lot to my education on the side!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Heritage House/Aish HaTorah

The MEN'S side has an entrance inside the wall.

The church of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was buried.

Jaffa Gate and the Tower of David.

Dome on the Rock, right before my camera died on the Temple Mount.


I haven't posted in a few days, because I was in Jerusalem for the holiday. We got put up in a Jewish Hostel called the Heritage House, which was free for Jews for the High Holy Day. We went to the shul connected to the hostel, which turned out to not only be Hasidic, but also really politicaly conservative. The services were non-egalitarian; the separation was floor-ceiling, and almost completely wall-wall. They were less that spiritual. So about an hour into the morning service, I left with a friend, and we went and did some praying on our own by the Western Wall. It was really great. The air was warm, but breezy, and the sun was bright, and there were people everywhere praying. We went back to the service for the end to hear the shofar and join everyone at the break-fast, which was surprisingly mixed gender. The pre-fast meal had been at the hostels, which of course were separate buildings for men and women.

At the break-fast, which was in the "student center" funded by Aish HaTorah (the sort of people who believe all the Arabs who should be driven out of Israel), I met a Bosnian Jewish woman. It was really interesting to hear her talk about the Jewish community in the former-Yugoslavia, and she was talking about Bosnia and Serbia in the pre-90's way of "we're all the same." But apparently, they're only all the same if they're all Jews. I mentioned my ex-boyfriend was from Doboj, and she looked at my funny and said there was no Jewish community out that way, and asked his name. When I told her, she started laughing and was fairly scandalized that I dated a Muslim. I told her I come from a liberal family and community and it was no big deal, and she told me not to tell other people in Israel that. I was a little taken aback by her reaction.

I also bought some kippot in Jerusalem, and started wearing one all the time. I also did not realize how scandalous this was. Apparently a kippah, is "not a woman's hat." In the old city, people thought it insane that a woman would wear one, in the new city, people thought it insane anyone would want to wear one. It was an interesting sociological four days in Jerusalem.

Of course, we also walked through the Arab market, the Armenian quarter, the Temple Mount, and the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Pictures of everything to follow.

The Arab and Israeli students are finally here! My roommate is a Palestinian girl. Surprisingly, most of the Palestinians are Christian. We haven't gotten much chance to get to know each other yet, although last night we had a bonfire, which was good for more informal socializing. I think its going to be a great group. So far, everyone is so friendly and excited to talk to each other about our different backgrounds and everything.

Class registration was today. I'm taking Climate Change, Intro to Environmental Science (both required), Environmental Sociology, Environmental Mediation and Conflict Resolution, and Statistics for Social Science Majors, as well as Hebrew, and Peace-building and Environmental Leadership (both not for credit). I'm hoping by the time we've finished registration, we'll have our grades for Marine Ecology. I'm not too worried, but just really eager to see how I did.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Bedouin meal

I don't know how it got to be sideways, but you can still see pretty well the array of deliciousness.

Mohammed pouring out coffee for us

The sun went down, and the lanterns went on.

Relaxing after eating too much

Right before we went home, we ran over to the outdoor shuk, and then into the mall to stock up on things we can get at the kibbutz, but for a much higher price. It's still takes some getting used to to see pomegranates that say "Happy New Year!" in Hebrew in the mall.

Fishie pictures

Tortoise tank

George Miles? oops, wrong stingray...

da-dun, da-dun, dadun dadun dun dun

On this side, we have Saudi Arabia way off in the distance. Wave!

From inside the aquarium

That's Egypt over in the distance


In order for the underwater observatory to not damage the coral, the outside has to be kept quite clean.

Right on the shore

Coral reefs

Yesterday was the trip to Eilat. It was amazing. First we went to this plant where they're growing fish and algae, and doing various studies on mariculture. Next, was the observatory and and aquarium, where we sat in on a class, I'd say probably 5th grade. The aquarium instructors gave the class instructions in Hebrew, and then they explained what was happening to us in English. The students are given two corals to be responsible for. They take a field trip to the aquarium once a month to check on their corals. These are corals that have broken off the reefs naturally or by divers, and are being nurtured back to health. If they grow sufficiently, they are returned to the ocean. Also, various fish are being helped the same way at the aquarium. We saw a puffer that was caught in a stray fishing hook. He was rescued, but he can't be put back because his mouth was too damaged for him to be able to feed himself in the wild. Pictures from the underwater observatory to follow.
After all this (and lunch, as well as a lecture I fell asleep during), we went snorkeling. This was the highlight. We just walked into the water off the beach, and were able to swim out far. There was a huge area in which we could snorkel, and hardly anyone but the 12 of us in the water. Also, it was so warm we didn't even need wetsuits. We were in the water not too long, maybe an hour or so. We saw an artificial reef, where the scientists are trying to promote more coral growth and biodiversity by placing man-made structures for the coral to grow on in places were there is too much sediment for proper natural growth. I'd probably understand more of this if the lecture on it had been not right after lunch, or if it was in a better air conditioned room. But it was hot and I was food-sleepy so I missed most of the artificial reef explanation. While snorkeling, we also saw some natural reefs, which had lots of fishies and they were colorful and awesome.
For dinner that night, we went to this awesome Bedouin restaurant a little farther down on the beach. They brought us coffee, then tea, then the array of food: fresh baked flat bread, goat cheese, hummus, olives, tomatoes and cucumbers, ful (garlicly delicious bean mush), some kind of hot sauce, and chocolate hazelnut spread even more delicious than nutella could ever hope to be. The meal was finished was in the traditional style: hookah. The restaurant owner even sat with us, though he sat at the other end of the table with the professor, reef scientist, and TA. But it was almost like being welcomed into a Bedouin home. Pictures of that to follow as well.
Tomorrow is our presentations and exams. I'm preparing for both right now. This class was so jam packed and a bit stressful, but I am so excited for a normal class schedule to start up. I know it will be way harder than what I'm doing now, but this class has been crazy. Especially with having to share our time with the Masa programing. The Masa programing is sort of ridiculous. I don't really understand religiously motivated governments.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Marine Ecosystems

The last two days have been spent mostly in class. I like our professor. He's very passionate about our work. He's Israeli, but he's been living in Germany for a few years now, so his accent is very interesting. It's hard to absorb the reading and keep up in class sometimes. Marine ecosystems are not like genocide... mostly. But it is pretty interesting stuff. We've been talking a lot about coral and the degradation of the seas, mainly the Gulf of Aqaba, which is the part of the Red Sea that Eilat is on. I'm so excited about our trip to Eilat on Sunday.
Last night, we had a MASA program on identity. It was supposed to be impartial Jewish identity, but of course it became a lot about Zionism. It was led by our program director, and I thought it odd how clearly he showed his biased. Maybe he's only the MASA program director, but if he is the Arava program director, he should work on that in the next week before the other students arrive. As facilitator, I think it inappropriate of him to express a resentment toward Jews who do not come to Israel, and his distrust of Arabs, as well as his distaste for the Orthodox who pray rather than fight in the IDF. He also didn't like it when I said I thought central to Jewish identity was the fact that we are a diasporic race. The program really revved up our group, but as I said, it is an amazing group of students, so there wasn't any arguing with each other or anything. Just a lot of continued chatting for the rest of the night about the program and about its facilitator.

Peace and love.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Those structures are lamps! The Mountain is a Chanukiah!

It was quite a hike. Parts were so steep, I scooted on my bum the way down.

From the top.

Friends relaxing on top of the mountain!


View of the Kibbutz

It's a lot like summer camp here...

This is how we get out of the Kibbutz

Camp fires in the desert get sweaty.

I'm a mountain woman!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Love is what I got

Blogging so y'all can keep up with me in Israel! Here's what you've missed so far:

Settling into the Kibbutz. We're in temporary housing until the rest of the students get here. There are Russians in the dormitories right now.

Shabbat in the Holy Land. Friday night was beautiful. Saturday morning, quite different than what I'm used to. But I'm sure in four months I'll be able to figure things out.

Hikes and campfires in the desert around the kibbutz. Right now, only MASA students are here. That is, we've received a scholarship from a zionist organization to come to Israel two weeks ahead of everyone else and take a marine ecosystems class (I know, marine biology in the desert?! But we'll be going to Eilat to the Red Sea and going snorkeling and all, so it works, I swear). We've also had some orientation stuff, which was far less propaganda-filled than I expected. The group is about half and half, Israel supporters and not so much, but everyone is pretty moderate and reasonable and sensitive to each other's viewpoints. It's a really great group. Last night, we were talking about our upcoming field trip to Eilat, and one boy brought out his snorkel to see if the mask would fit over glasses. For a while, he was just wearing his mask and snorkel and trying to talk with it. That alone was pretty hilarious. Then, he began using it as a shofar (the ram's horn we blow on Rosh Hashana, which it currently is), blowing into the notmouthpiece end of it. Surprisingly, it made a pretty good noise. Then everyone broke out laughing so hard we couldn't breathe and everyone's ridiculous gasping noises made me laugh even harder. So, we love our student life activities. This afternoon's was canceled, so we're taking it upon ourselves to hike the mountain.

The Kibbutz is small, and quite American. There are date trees, pomegranites, olives, lemons, and other tasty things growing around us. Also, cows and camels and horses, but we don't eat those. There are Jewish volunteers from all over here, mostly British, but some South African, a Guatemalan, Australians, etc. And the Russians are here to learn Hebrew. But they leave in about a week, and the rest of the Arava students arrive. All the MASA students are American, so I'm excited for the Arab and Israelis to show up.

Our Marine Ecosystems class has started, but just barely, so I have nothing to say about that.

Peace and love.