I Love Israel

Image result for shana tova happy new yearShana Tova! It’s Rosh Hashanah tonight. Sadly I am sick in bed with a pretty gross cold (One of the side effects of working with children). I’m missing out on dinner tonight in the hope that if I stay home and rest I will be healthy enough to go to the barbecue tomorrow. I figured I should take this time before the new year, while I am stuck in bed to write about some of my favorite things about Israel and living here.

  1. Israel is a Jewish State. I’m still getting used to the fact that the Jewish Holidays are the holidays. It’s such a change from the US where you are expected to go to school or work on many Jewish Holidays; Not being a minority is a nice change.
  2. Hanging Clothes out to dry. I love letting my clothes air dry. I wash them, then hang them on a drying rack on our patio. I feel like an amazing person because I’m being environmentally friendly, my clothes stay in better condition and are hardly wrinkled.
  3. Eating Healthy is Affordable. High quality fresh raw foods are sold everywhere and at way cheaper prices than most places in the US. I can get a weeks worth of produce for less than $10.00 If I do a good job shopping. Processed junk food is much more expensive, which is the exact opposite of the US.
  4. Ease of Public Transportation. The public transportation system in Israel is fantastic. There are trains and buses that can get you almost anywhere you need to go without breaking the bank. Many people in Israel don’t have cars, and use public transportation as their only way to get around.
  5. Security. I feel very safe in Israel. There are soldiers everywhere, and most civilians are former soldiers. There are also frequent security checks. If I want to enter the mall or a bus station I have to have my bag checked.
  6. Israeli Showers. Many showers in Israel, like the one in my apartment are just part of the floor. There is no wall keeping the water inside the shower area. After you finish taking a shower you use a squeegee and push all the water to the drain. It may sound inconvenient, but it keeps the bathroom floor very clean.
  7. The Weather. It’s October right now, but it’s still beach weather, and it will stay that way for 9 months out of the year. The other few months you can always take a trip to Eilat and find beach weather there.
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Missiles and Robbers

I have had such a strange day. This morning at school we had a missile drill, where a siren sounds and everyone has one minute to get to safety. It was very different from fire drills in the US where the students line up single file, and silently walk to safety, where they are all accounted for by their teachers.

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Students goofing off in the “shelter”

During the missile drill all the students burst from their class rooms, making so much noise I couldn’t hear the sirens. I was afraid I was going to be crushed by a bunch of elementary school students. It was total chaos.

After school was over I stopped at this cool Russian market to buy some butter, and I get a text from my roommates that our apartment has been broken into and the cops are on the way over.  I rushed home and found all our bedrooms ransacked, some more than others. The robbers somehow got in through our front door in broad daylight, and then went through our clothes shelves throwing everything on the ground. They only took cash from two girls, leaving our laptops and passports alone. The strange thing is that they didn’t take all the money, they went through the bills and left some of the money, which would have taken longer than just taking all the money.

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Dusting for prints.

A forensic policeman came over and dusted for prints, which made a big mess. One of the English teachers we work with came over with her son to help us talk to the policemen. I felt like a huge idiot because I was having a hard time remembering what had happened over the past two weeks, but in my defense it’s been pretty crazy, moving to a new country and all.

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Francine got fingerprinted, still waiting to see if she was the robber.

I was really sad that we had to miss our Ulpan class because we were waiting for the police to come, and then the maintenance guy so he could change the locks on our door. We only have Ulpan once a week for four hours, so missing one class is going to really set me back in my Hebrew learning goals.

After the police left Ofir, from Destination Israel came to see us from Tel Aviv, and he bought us pizza. So moral of the story is that if you get robbed on a Destination Israel program you will get pizza. If we get robbed again we are getting ice cream, but lets hope it doesn’t come to that.

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Thanks for the pizza Ofir!

Hebrew is Bananas

The Hebrew word for banana is banana. Last week we had our first Ulpan class. We have an amazing teacher named Liora, and she has her work cut out for her. Some people in the class (me) have never studied Hebrew before, and some others like Alana are almost fluent. Our Ulpan class lasts for four hours! After the first two hours I was mentally done, but after four hours I think we all felt like out brains were going to explode. I really wish we could have Ulpan twice a week for two hours, instead of one a week for four hours. We learned the first seven letters of the alphabet and how to write them. We also learned how the vowels work.

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Clearly I am a Hebrew expert.

 

We also learned how to say a few sentences about where we live, where we are from, and that we are not new immigrants. Hebrew can be really confusing and here is an example:

The word for She is He.

The word for He is Who.

That just seems like it is supposed to be intentionally confusing. I am going to have to study so much this year. Once I know a few more things to say I can start working on my horrible accent.

נתראה אחר כך

 

First Week is Over

I survived my first week in the classroom. I’m working with one of my roommates at a school about ten minutes away from my apartment, which is super convenient. My school has about 500 students, and two English teachers. This is a very critical year for the school because the fifth graders have to take the Mitszav, a standardized test from the Ministry of Education, it only happens every four or five years.

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Our first day welcome.

For privacy reasons we have to blur out the faces of the kids in pictures. The blurry faces do give the photos a bit of an ominous feel.

I was surprised at how well behaved and advanced our students are in English. I had been told continuously that I should be prepared for the students to be wild, and the behavior to be very different than what is expected in the typical US classroom. I’m not sure if it is unique to the school I am at, but I have not experienced anything like this.

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Students behaving.

The other staff members have all been so nice to us, helping us with our Hebrew, and making sure we are comfortable and have everything we need. I have been so pleasantly surprised. I think this year is going to go really well.

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The textbooks have instructions in Hebrew and Arabic.

Our First Shabbat

Shabat Shalom from Ashdod! Last night we had our first Shabbat dinner together as a group. We all went over to the other groups apartment, which is way nicer than ours, but don’t get me started on that. Our MITF Ima Irit brought over some dough, and taught us all how to make fresh challah. Cara and I, as the Celiacs of the group sat on the couch drinking wine as everyone else worked hard, sometimes being a Celiac is nice. The challah making went well, there was only one small fire. We said the usual prayers and talked about our own Shabbat traditions from home.

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Homemade Challah.

After dinner a few of us went down to the restaurants and bars next to the beach. We decided to be Israeli and order two hookahs.

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Today we spent the day at the beach. The beach was really crowded with families enjoying Shabbat together.

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One thing I love about Israel is that you can spend Shabbat doing whatever feels right to you; you can go to Shul, or you can spend it laying out at the beach. The beaches in Ashdod, like most of the beaches in Israel are incredible; Soft sand, and crystal clear Mediterranean water. It’s weird to think that that tomorrow, Sunday is a workday here in Israel. We finally got our school assignments and will begin observations in the upcoming week.

 

Jerusalem

A few days ago we went on a tour of Jerusalem. We started our tour by getting lunch at the Shuk. I was surprised at the amount of Latin American food there. A few people found some amazing rugelach. I couldn’t eat it, but I hear it was delicious.

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Elizabeth enjoys some rugelach.

After the shuk we went to King David’s tomb, where King David may, or may not be buried. Our hilarious tour guide explained the geography of Israel using Elliot’s body. If you put the map of Israel on a human body, Jerusalem is the same location as the heart, just like how Jerusalem is the heart of Israel.

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Elliot being a good sport.

Its so crazy to think that not too long ago Jews couldn’t visit a large part of Jerusalem, including the Kotel. We visited a rooftop where Jews would come to gaze at the Western Wall, and cry because they could not go there. We tried to remain as apolitical as possible on our tour, which is pretty much impossible to do in Jerusalem.

My favorite part of the tour was when we went to the Kotel. I have been to the Kotel many times, but this time an IDF (Israeli Defense Force) combat units swearing in ceremony was happening. The Kotel is usually pretty crowded, but it was nothing compared to the massive crowd watching the ceremony. I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but it was still really moving to watch these soldiers “graduate” from boot-camp after going through weeks of grueling training. The parents of the soldiers, and the onlookers were all so proud. They played the national anthem Hatikvah at the end and everyone was swaying and singing along. I felt like I caught a real glimpse of Israeli society, going beyond what a tourist sees.

Errands

Yesterday morning we attempted to open bank accounts at two different banks, but there was some sort of problem and we have to try again another day. Not being able to read Hebrew I have been relying on pictures a lot, which is difficult because the advertisements here don’t always make a lot of sense to me. Outside one of the banks was a giant picture of two backpackers hugging on top of a mountain, how does that have anything to do with a bank?

The next errand we had to do was have our private meetings with Irit. On the way to meet Irit I walked by a Cofix. I was so excited because I am a little obsessed with Cofix, and this was the first one I saw in Ashdod. Cofix is amazing because everything is five NIS. They also have these amazing gluten free muffins by Green Leaf, one of my favorite Israeli gluten free brands.

My gluten free good luck continued when I met  Irit at Aroma, another popular Israeli coffee chain at the mall. Aroma has really good gluten free bread. There was also a Rebar in the mall, which makes delicious smoothies, but the best thing about them is that every single ingredient was gluten free, and most of them were very healthy.

As I was leaving the mall I saw one of the supermarkets that I was told might have gluten free products, so I went to check it out, and it was a goldmine. I found every single gluten free product I would need, bread, pasta, pretzels, cereal, flour, even gnocchi. The prices were not even that bad, not more than I pay for gluten free food in the US. The supermarket is located right next to the central bus station, which makes it extremely convenient for me to stock up on gluten free goodies. I was a very happy Celaic.

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Gluten free food.

 

So This Is Where We Live

We spent our third day of the program touring the two cities we are stationed in: Ashdod and Ramle (also know an Ramla). We started with a tour of Ramle. We had an adorable tour guide named Kostas who is an Arab Christian. He told us all about the history of Ramle. As we walked out of the museum a woman asked which of the fellows were stationed in Ramle. She is one of the neighbors and always “adopts” one or two fellows, having them over for dinner and celebrating holidays with them. This kind of interaction has not been uncommon. Everywhere we go people have been so nice to us, especially when they find out we are the teaching fellows. People really want us to be here, and go out of their way to make us feel at home. Almost everyone we meet has offered us their phone number and told us to call them if we need anything.

On our tour of Ramla we visited the museum, my favorite thing there was a wall that had pictures of every fallen soldier from the city dating back to the 1940’s. The families of the soldiers had all made them scrapbooks, filled with family photos and mementos. It was really moving to see that these were real people who died defending their country, that they were more than just a name and a statistic.

As a bit of a history nerd being in Israel is an incredible experience. So much has happened here, and the evidence of that is everywhere you go. Walking through the shuk in Ramle we saw an old mailbox from the British Mandate period.

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We also visited a 700 year old tower. We all made it to the top, and after climbing all the stairs we definitely were feeling the burn. Kostas told us a story about how the neighboring city of Lot once tried to steal the tower, they obviously did not succeed.

 

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We also went on a rowboat ride under ground in the pool of Arches.

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The boats were pretty large for the small space, so we kept bumping into things. Eventually my boat decided to embrace this and try to start attacking people, unfortunately for us we had a lot of trouble navigating and were unable to catch anyone, however we did get some good snapchats, so all was not lost.

After we ate lunch an Israeli tour group on a scavenger hunt asked us to dance the hora with them, they were a bit surprised that we knew what that was. It was a reminder of how cool it is that people from all over the world reside in Israel, and we all share many cultural things, it’s a lot like re-uniting with your long lost cousins.

By the time we made it back to Ashdod we were all exhausted from the combination of Jet lag and running around all day in the hot sun. I feel very bad for our next tour guide, because we were not the best group for him. It was like he was giving a tour to the walking dead. We did a large part of the tour from the bus, because Ashdod is a lot larger than Ramle, the fifth largest city in Israel to be exact. Luckily I will have a lot more time to explore Ashdod in the upcoming months. Tomorrow I will attempt to open an Israeli bank account, so stay tuned.

 

Welcome To Ashdod

Today has been insane, I have no idea how much I have slept in the last few days, but I can tell it’s not enough. I had a long flight from Boston to Toronto to Tel Aviv on Air Canada. Airplane seats are so tiny. I was super uncomfortable and I am not an adult sized person. I can only imagine how terrible it must be to fly if you are average height or taller. I watched ‘The Bronze’ on the plane and really enjoyed it, I highly recommend it. I met two other girls from the program at the airport and we took a cab to the apartment. There are seven of us living in the apartment … seven girls, I’m preparing for an estrogen overload.

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The girls of apartment 18.

Our building has an elevator and some really cool storm shutters. My new roommate Anna went to college in Boston, so we have some mutual friends because the Jewish world is tiny, and everyone knows everyone. We took a brief tour around our neighborhood, and then spent the afternoon at the beach that is walking distance from our apartment.

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I will be spending every free second here.

The water was so warm, I didn’t even mind being stung by a jellyfish. I’m still not sure where it is OK to swim, the lifeguards were yelling at us, but I don’t know what they were saying because I don’t speak Hebrew, and need to fix that as soon as possible. I spent the evening attempting to stay awake so I can beat my jet lag, and trying to gather the strength to take a shower.