Friday, August 31, 2012

End of Ulpan

This past Wednesday I woke up early in the morning, said goodbye to Joey as he left for the airport, and went to my last Ulpan class.  After doing review activities from 8:30-1pm, I went back to my apartment, ate lunch, and studied from 2pm-11pm.  And all for (drumroll please) my Ulpan FINAL!!

Yes, the end of Ulpan came and, while I was sad to say goodbye to my class, I was happy to have this incredibly intensive language program come to a close.  I learned more in these 4 short weeks than I ever thought was possible, and I had such a wonderful teacher and really sweet and engaging classmates.  Still, after hours of class, homework, and vocabulary memorization each day, a bit of a break is very welcomed.  I will be continuing with Hebrew during the semester, but it is only 2 hours each morning Monday through Thursday, which is far more manageable.

So, while I don't have my final grade back, I feel really good about the test.  I know that I worked hard and did the best job that I could have done.  It is a new feeling, being in a course where learning all of the material is neither expected nor possible, but I think I absorbed a lot and I am thankful that I had such a positive experience in the course.

After the test on Thursday, my suite-mate and I decided that it would be fitting to blow off some steam. Because of Shabbat, when the buses run on a strange schedule for Friday night and Saturday, Thursday is the night to go out.  Even though we were tired, we met up with her cousin and a friend of his and headed to a dance club.  There were separate boys and girls lines, which I had never seen before, but I was happy to be on the girl's side because it moved very quickly.  We went through security and bought a ticket before entering the club.  Inside, there were lights everywhere and many different rooms playing a variety of music.  We moved between the main room with techno-top 40 music and the hip-hop room (where they played a lot of English and Hebrew rap songs).  It was so loud and so bright and exactly what I needed to get re-energized!

The perfect 3am snack!
We arrived at the club around 11:30am, which is relatively early in Israel, and stayed out until 5am!  We danced the whole time and my knees were killing me by the end.  And, in the middle, just when we felt like we were fading, suddenly employees at the club come around with ice pops and the entire room stopped dancing to have a sugary cold snack break.  It was the funniest thing!  Anyway, after getting back to the dorm at 5am I was in desperate need of an ice cold shower, and after cleaning up and drying off I fell asleep around 6.  Then, I got up at 11am to go to the bookstore and library to find some reading materials for my study tour, which begins on Sunday.  The main point is, I had a blast, but I am exhausted so I will end this blog entry here and head to sleep.  Goodnight everyone!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bahai Gardens and Other Haifa Adventures

View from the Top of the
Bahai Gardens
After our weekend in Jerusalem, Joey and I decided to check out some more sights here in Haifa.  After class on Sunday, we found a bus to the Bahai Gardens.  This is one of the most famous sights in Haifa, and it is also a holy place for people who practice the Bahai religion.  Still, they let tourists come into the top level or so.

We got on the bus after having a good lunch, putting on sun screen, and packing water.  It was incredibly hot because we left around 3pm, but the bus was air conditioned.  Still, there are no signs for the gardens until after the stop, we discovered, so we got off the bus one stop too the bottom of a steep hill...without shade.

We walked up the hill and even though it was hot, it was hard to complain with such beautiful views of the harbor.  We went into the gardens at around 3:40, and took some pictures before realizing that the site closes at 4.  Feeling a bit silly traveling for such a short period of time, we decided to walk around a bit.  We ended up finding a really beautiful promenade overlooking the water where we sat in the shade.

After cooling off a bit, we continued walking on what appeared to be a main street, which turned into one of the central shopping areas in Haifa.  Pretty convenient!  I recognized this place immediately because it was the only place in Haifa that my Taglit/Birthright tour stopped.  There were falafel stands, ice cream parlors, shops, and of course a McDonalds.  Joey and I went into an Aroma (the Israeli version of Starbucks) for the mazgan (air conditioning) and something cold to drink.  I had an iced shoko for the first time, which is like an airy chocolate milkshake.  It was delicious but way too big and it filled me up past dinner time.

Yesterday, Joey and I went back to the shuk and purchased some food for a potluck dinner with friends.  We made rosemary potatoes (they were a big hit last time), and we had some fresh squeezed orange, mango, and peach juices.  I tried to get some studying done yesterday, but I did not have any homework so I got some other work done (event planning, email catch up, etc.) before cooking and heading out to a bar/restaurant with the program.  We hung out and tried our best to speak in Hebrew to the madrichot (kind of like RAs for the program).  We headed back with enough time to get some sleep before class today.  Now I am off to study for my final on Thursday!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Weekend in Jerusalem

On Friday morning, Joey and I got up early, headed toward the central bus station, and hopped on an intercity bus to Jerusalem.  My program was going to Jerusalem on the same day, but for insurance reasons Joey could not travel with the group, because he is not on the Ulpan program.  Still, public transportation was really easy and for about $15 we found ourselves in the holy city a few hours later.

We met up with a friend from Brown, Jonah, who is on an awesome fellowship program.  He essentially receives money for rent, food, learning, and whatever else he would like to do here in Israel. He said they want him to find his "fireworks," new passions and such, but that it is a little paralyzing to have the means and the time to do so.  I imagine that having nothing to hold you back from finding your passions puts pressure on someone to find them right away, even though that process usually takes time to develop.  Anyway, we had breakfast and great conversation at a quaint restaurant near Ben Yehuda...I think on Jaffo street, but I am terrible with remembering those kinds of things.  We had scrambled eggs, pesto mushrooms, cheese, warm rolls, and fresh-squeezed orange juice.  It was quite a feast!  Still, I did not fill up too much because I had a lot of eating plans for the day...mainly I wanted to each a lot of rugelach from Marzipan (it is chocolatey and oily and delicious...a must-have in Jerusalem).

After saying goodbye to Jonah, Joey and I walked to the Old City.  I came prepared with a long skirt and a shawl to change into.  We went to the Kotel and it was crazy to see how small the women's side has become.  I don't know if the mechitza was moved since I came on Birthright, but it was difficult to find room against the wall and even in the chairs there.  Joey and I split up to pray/visit our respective sides.  I had a very moving experience at the Wall on Birthright, but, while I still feel moved now, something about the experience just wasn't the same.  Maybe because this time when I looked at all of the people there, I thought that it appeared a bit idolatrous, kissing a wall and believing that stuffing notes containing your prayers there makes them more likely to be answered.  Still, I understand that being in a location filled with so much history and connection to the past has an effect; and maybe putting oneself in that particular location changes one's energy or thought process and really does connect them more with G-d.  I don't know, I am no religious expert yet.

Joey and I met back up and walked to the shuk.  I have never been in Jerusalem on or pre-Shabbas, and I was told the market would be crazy.  It did not disappoint!  There were people everywhere and a ton of produce to buy.  We picked up avocado, mangoes, pita, and apples.  Right before entering we had purchased a container of Marzipan rugelach too, so I was a happy camper.  The shuk had so many smells that changed so fast, too.  One second it would smell like fresh bread, the other like fruit juice, and then suddenly like eggs that have been in hot weather for too long.  It was a cool experience to take in, and if I ever live in Jerusalem, I would love to go back when it is bustling like that.

Later on, Joey and I got some shawarma for lunch and checked into our hostel to clean up after baking in the sun all day and before going to services and dinner for Shabbat.  A professor from Brown who is here for a year hosted us for dinner, which was really sweet.  Joey had had his son as a student in religious school and the daughter was in Jr USY when I was the advisor last year.  We walked about 30 minutes to their shul, where we experienced a really beautiful and progressive service.  The prayer books had a lot of wording options and the room was actually packed with people singing along with the rabbi.  I was very impressed.  We then walked with our professor and his family to their apartment and ate a wonderful meal.  It was very nice to be in a family setting for a change.  After the meal, we walked back to the hostel and fell asleep quickly after so much walking.

The next day, Joey and I took our food and walked to a park.  We spent the rest of the day alternately walking, eating, sitting in the shade, and exploring the city.  It was new for me to be in Jerusalem on Shabbat, and I was actually surprised by the number of cars I saw driving in the streets.  Granted, it was not a ton, but I did not expect to see almost any.  Around 6pm we met up with an Israeli friend who was in Providence this past year, Noa.  It was great to see her in her home setting, and we spoke in a combination of Hebrew and English, and I was proud of what I understood.  Noa extended an invitation to me to come to her house on Rosh Hashannah, and any other time I am in Jerusalem.  It is really nice to connect with a friend here in Israel!  We finished talking around 8pm, which was perfect timing to head to the bus station and catch the first bus back to Haifa after Shabbat ended.

All in all, it was a wonderful weekend, and I was really happy to have Joey here to help me navigate the transportation and housing situations for my first trip to Jerusalem since I arrived this semester.  Now I am headed off to class, but I will post again soon! (And I am figuring out how to upload my pictures from the weekend...I will update when I can).

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hosting a Visitor

Everything in Haifa is going very well, and I am really feeling more settled in here.  Not only did I buy kitchen supplies the other week, but I have started making big meals.  To be honest, I probably would not have started doing so if I wasn't hosting a visitor.  Joey arrived on Tuesday morning!

My suite-mate had her boyfriend come last week, and because he does not speak Hebrew, she had to pick him up from the airport.  I was happy that Joey speaks Hebrew, because his flight got into Tel Aviv around 2am, but he could navigate to Haifa on his own.  He called me at 7am from the top of the hill at the university and I had just enough time to pick him up, get him through security, and get to class while he fell asleep.

We went to the shuk (outdoor market) on the bus.  I had gone once before with the university program, but this was my first time on the city buses.  I was a little nervous that we had missed it at one point, but Joey was calm and confident and got us there easily.  We bought a lot of food like dried fruits, nuts, cucumber, onion, potatoes, and fresh pita.  That night I made grilled chicken with rosemary and pomegranate and chopped salad.  We also bought shoko-b'sakit (chocolate milk in a bag), which is so delicious and a must have in Israel.

Yesterday, Joey and I went with my suite-mates and a few other girls to a music/beer festival down by the beach.  It was really fun even though I hate beer and didn't understand the music.  Still, it was nice to be hanging out by the beach, eating shnitzel and drinking mango juice and talking with friends.

Just so you all don't think all I do is travel around and eat and go to the beach, I will also talk a bit about class.  Ulpan is still very intense, but the homework hasn't been taking so long this past week and I am starting to feel much more confident in class.  Maybe it's because this week was not super grammar-intensive, but it wasn't stressful at all.  I really like my teacher and my peers, and I think the school does a wonderful job at making students feel comfortable while they are working hard and advancing.

That is all for now!  Joey and I are most likely headed to Jerusalem for Shabbat, so I will update on that soon!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ulpan Presentation

Hey everyone, below is the Ulpan presentation I gave today in Hebrew...I will also roughly translate it in English:

הרבה ילדים בארצות הברית הולכים למחנה קיץ
אני הלכתי למחנה קיץ "קריין לייק" או בעברית: "אגם עגור". זה מקום יפה בין ההרים במסאצ'וסטס. בני הדודים שלי וגם האחות שלי הלכו לאותו מחנה קיץּ וכשהייתי בת תשע ההורים שלי שלחו גם אותיהיום הראשון לא היה קל בשבילי, אבל עם עזרה מהמשפחה הִכַּרתי הרבה אנשיםהחברות שלי אהבו את הבנים אבל בשבילי, הבנים לא היו חשוביםעד שהייתי בת שְׁתֵים עֶשְׂרֵה, כשכל הבנות האחרות התחילו להתנשק עם בחור.

אהבתי רק בחור אחדהשם שלו דן והוא שיחק בייסבול ולקרוסדיברנו ולפעמים אהבתי לשחות איתו באגם. יש לו שיער ג'ינג'י (אדום) והוא היה נחמד ומענייןורציתי להתנשק איתו. זאת היתה הנשיקה הראשונה שלי.  

יום אחד קבוצת הגיל שלי נסעה לבוסטון באוטובוס. ישבתי באוטובוס מאחור, עם החברה שלי אלכּס. כל הבחורים התחילו לשחק את המשחק "שבע דקות בגן עדן."  היה כיף וצחקנו הרבהאז אלכּס אמרה שאני צריכה להתנשק עם דן.

היו שירותים באוטובוס ושָׁם כל הבחורים התנשקו עם הבחורותדן ואני היינו עצבניים אבל הלכנו לשירותים. 

סגרנו את הדלת והתחַלנו להתנשקבאותו רגע האוטובוס עצר וירדנו ודן נתן לי נשיקההיה דם על הפנים שלי וכשרצתי מהשירותים, המדריכה שלי ראתה אותי עם הדם ושאלה אותי "צ'לסי מה קרה?!"  עניתי לה, ש"זאת היתה הנשיקה הראשונה שלי!"

"A lot of kids in America go to summer camp.  I went to Crane Lake camp, which is located in a beautiful place between the mountains in Massachusetts.  My cousins and my sister went to this same camp, and when I was nine years old, my parents sent me there too.  The first day way difficult, but with help from my family, I met a lot of people.  My girl friends were very interested in boys, but they were not important to me...until I turned 12 and all of the other girls started to kiss the boys.  

I liked just one boy, and his name was Dan.  He played sports and we used to talk and sometimes we would swim together in the lake.  He had red hair and he was nice and interesting...and I wanted to have my first kiss with him.  

One day, my age group went on a trip to Boston, on a bus.  I sat in the back with my friend, Alex, and all of the kids started to play 'seven minutes in heaven'.  It was fun and we laughed a lot.  Then, Alex said that I should partner with Dan and kiss him.  

There was a bathroom on the bus that we were using for the game, where all of the boys were kissing the girls.  Dan and I were nervous, but we went into the bathroom.  

We closed the door and we started to kiss.  At that moment, the bus stopped short, we fell, and Dan bit me.  There was blood on my face and when I ran from the bathroom, my counselor saw me, with the blood, and asked, 'Chelsea, what happened?!'  I answered her, 'I just had my first kiss!'"

The presentation went well and the class laughed a lot at the story.  Also, for the past two days, I have completely understood what the teacher has presented in class, which is a great feeling.  I also went to a lecture today about current events in Israel and got an interesting and comprehensive perspective on various domestic and international issues, including Israel's budget issues, the ultra-Orthodox and the military, and of course Iran and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  All in all, another successful and informative day in Haifa :)

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Becoming a Real Person

Today was a great day.  I spoke to my mom and little sister Hayley on the phone, completed all of my homework early, went to the gym, and most importantly, bought kitchen supplies with my suite-mate.  These all might sound like very small tasks, but to me they feel like big accomplishments; completing all of these things in one day is helping me feel settled in and, a real person.

Starting from the beginning, today I woke up early to stop by the international office and ask some questions to the staff there.  I had to talk about some class stuff, the September study tour, and general safety things.  The news recently may be a bit unnerving, but after talking to someone in the office, I was reassured that the school has our safety as a top priority and that everyone knows the procedures to follow should anything happen.  So, in case anyone out there is a bit worried about my safety, don't waste the energy...they pay people here to worry and plan and coordinate everything.

Anyway, I went to class afterward and had a really relaxing day.  Of course, that term is relative because Ulpan is very intense, but it was not a grammar-heavy day, so I had a lot of fun.  Also, we all wrote little notes about ourselves/any topic we wanted at the beginning of the program, and the teacher has been reading them to the class periodically, and then the person who wrote the note needs to answer questions from everyone in class about his or her story.  Today was my day.  Surprisingly, I was able to understand most things and form coherent answers.  I definitely could not say everything without some help, but everyone was really nice and the whole thing went well.  We also went to a lecture about media and terror and the difference between central cities and areas on the periphery, and I was able to understand a fair amount of the talk.  I know tomorrow will be a more intense day, but I am still relishing in the chilled-out time today.

After class, I met up with my suite-mate, Becky, and we took the bus to the Haifa mall and bought:
-2 pans
-1 cutting board
-2 knives
-2 dish rags
-2 bath mats
-1 strainer
-Lots of yummy food from the SuperSol (grocery chain)
It looks like a short list, but having these basic supplies makes me feel much more at home here in my dorm.  My room may still be a little bare, but now I can make myself food.  Oh, and we figured out the laundry machines.  So, basically, we are like native Israelis now.  Just kidding...but we wish :)

Now I should go and prepare for my presentation tomorrow in class.  I have to speak for about 10 minutes on any topic I choose, and I picked to write about my first kiss.  It's a great story involving a bus stopping short, braces, and a fair amount of blood, and I was amazed that I know enough Hebrew to translate the whole thing.  Hopefully it will be funny for the class!

Li'hit'ra'ot for now!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shalom From Haifa!

Shalom from Haifa everybody!  I intended to set up this blog before leaving, but between flights to Israel, the start of classes, and iffy wifi connection, it took about 2 weeks.  My apologies, but I am connected now and excited to let everyone in on what it is like here at the University of Haifa. (Just a note, my Hebrew name is Chava, and the first letter is the same in Hebrew as that for Haifa, thus the name of the blog.  I hope it doesn't throw anyone too much).

First of all, it's August so it is incredibly hot!  This isn't a big problem when you are relaxing in the water at the beach, but seeing as the university is on top of a mountain, a bus ride away from the water, it's hot here a lot of the time.  Still, my classroom is air-conditioned, and I invested in a big fan after 2 nights of restless, sweaty sleep.

My first night in Haifa was a little rough.  I arrived at the university 20 minutes after everyone in the program had left for their first night out together, so I was waiting around for about 3 hours in a sticky hot new room with no one around.  Still, once those three hours passed and everyone returned, I met my suite-mates, and they are AMAZING!  One, Becky, is staying all semester too, which makes me really happy.  She is from Wesleyan, so naturally we have already covered topics like gender binaries and heteronormativity (these talks always make me feel at home).

Becky has a cousin here in Israel, so we met up with him and some of his friends just a few nights into the program and hung out on the beach.  We even went swimming at night!  I thought the water would be cold, but the Mediterranean is so warm and beautiful, it felt like a bathtub.  Since then, I have gone to the beach every couple of days, which is something I just couldn't do back at home.

Me rocking a skirt, tie-dye shirt, and hiking sneakers; ready
to visit a temple then hike a mountain, naturally.
We have been on a few trips with the program, too.  The first was to Caesarea, and the second was to Safed, followed by a long hike.  Both were informative and fun, but Safed is one of my favorite cities in Israel, so that one definitely was a winner for me.  I love that city because it feels so spiritual all of the time, and both times I have visited were Fridays right before Shabbat, so there is a certain electricity there that you can't find in a lot of other places.

Finally, I will talk about classes so people don't think I am just lying on a beach and walking around awesome cities (although, that is a big part of the time here).  Ulpan, the Hebrew intensive course, is, well, intense.  We have class from 8:30-1pm most days, followed by a lot of homework and studying.  I just took my midterm, and I know I didn't do so well, but it is nice being in a challenging class just to learn.  I am trying not to worry about the grade, but it is definitely in my nature to do so a little.  Still, learning so much Hebrew in so little time is pretty cool, and I think the program and my teacher especially are really impressive.

That is all for now, but I know I will have plenty to write about soon.  My future posts will be a bit more descriptive because I wont be covering two weeks in one post.  Anyway, l'hit'ra'ot from Haifa!  I hope everyone is having a great summer!