Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Update on LIfe and the Current Situation in Israel


-MASA event in Jerusalem: A group of us from ITF ventured to Jersualem for the MASA Israel Journey Opening Ceremony. It was awesome to see SO many MASA groups together in Jerusalem for one ceremony. Best part? 40 shekels for an Idan Raichel Project concert. I have loved them since my high school days at Milken, so I was very satisfied. It was also my first time in Jersualem (so sad, I know), and while I didn't see much, just being there lifted my spirits.

-Death of Cousin Lou: Unfortunately, soon after that, I learned about the unexpected death of my cousin Lou. He was my mom's first cousin, and a very close family member of mine. He came out to Los Angeles only a week before I left for Israel to celebrate my cousin Joseph's bar mitzvah on my dad's side of the family. That's how close he was - he was so friendly that he became great friends with the other side of the family. I miss him so much, and dealing with such hard news while here has been a challenge in itself, but I know my family has been great at taking care of each other since it happened. 

-Desert Night in the Negev: The other week, some of the Israelis organized a camping night in the Negev. We literally slept under the stars, and by slept I mean I took a nap for 2 hours. I had my first ever poike (pretty much a giant stew), took some awesome pictures with a headlamp and Jesse's camera skills, and got to hang out with some awesome people. It was soon after my bad news, so it was extremely refreshing to get away from technology and the real world for a night.

-Halloween: Nothing major, but we did kinda celebrate Halloween here! That weekend, we threw a Halloween party in my apartment. I went as a Dodgers player (original, I know), we made some chocolate balls (a speciality in our apartment), and watched Charlie Brown and Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a fun night, indeed.

-Shopping: A highlight of the last few weeks (besides teaching) was all the shopping I've done :) Aleah and I ventured to the big mall, Azrieli, in Tel Aviv a week ago. Neither of us really bought anything, but getting away from Rehovot was so nice and very needed! This past Sunday, I finally saw my Chetzi after weeks of not seeing her! I met up with her at the mall in Rehovot, and she took me to all the good stores! I bought 2 sweaters and a top at a store called Twenty-Six, which reminded me a lot of Forever 21. I have a feeling I'll be going there a lot more :) 

-School update: As another week of school ends, I can say things are getting easier by the day. I feel more comfortable in all classes, and I feel more and more confident with my teaching. Things are still a work in progress, but seeing children who have improved in just a few weeks puts a huge smile on my face. We are getting more and more involved, and Noa, Keren and I plan to put on a Hanukkah program for the 6th graders. The 6th graders are also starting to study for the Rehovot Spelling Bee, and I'm already helping pupils learn the definition of words so they know what they are spelling. They are so eager to learn, which makes me feel that I'm accomplishing something at school. I'm starting to create memory games for the 3rd graders, in hopes that it will help them differentiate between capital and lowercase letters. Getting the chance to use the creative ideas we got at training for the program shows that there is more to teaching besides reading from a book. It's such a great and meaningful experience, no matter how challenging it may seem.

-The situation in Israel: As many of you probably know, things in Israel are definitely crazy. There have been a lot of issues, and as much as I want to tell you all what is happening, I feel the best way to do so is to read NON-BIASED reports about what is going on between Israel and the Gaza Strip. I follow Jerusalem Post a lot, and I know Ha'aretz and Al Jazeera are great news sources. Anyways, things are not extremely safe in the south right now…a lot of missiles and rockets heading towards Be'er Sheva and Ashdod. Rehovot has not been affected in any way, so let me make that clear - but it's still very surreal. We were told to evacuate this past weekend, in case things were to escalate (which they didn't). A group of us went up north, and spent the weekend back at Givat Haviva in Hedera. I am very fortunate that I have yet to experience a code red siren, which indicates that a missile is falling in the area. I know people who had less than 50 seconds to find the closest bomb shelter and hope for the best. I only can hope that Rehovot continues to stay safe, since I did return tonight after a field trip in Haifa, mostly hiking in the Carmel Mountains. Ma'ase Olam is taking great care of us, and making sure we are prepared for any situation. They evacuated us when it was still safe to make sure nothing were to happen. They understand the importance of safety and security in Israel, and I truly appreciate it. I also truly appreciate everyone who has reached out to me and made sure that I am ok. I am doing my best to keep everyone updated daily via my Facebook statuses, and feel free to email, Skype, FB, iMessage, Whatsapp, whatever to make sure I'm ok :) To sum it up, I am completely safe where I am right now.

I promise I won't slack so much, and I will keep you all updated on my situation!

Friday, October 19, 2012

1st Week of School!


Sorry I have been slacking in blogging. Life got really busy, and I feel like I've spent all of my free time sleeping. And if not sleeping, I've been hanging out with my ITF family, attending a lot of meetings and trainings, and going to Ulpan twice a week.

I FINALLY started teaching this week, and it's been a great learning experience so far. I am working with Noa and Keren (our Israeli peer who joins us once a week) at Ramat Alon School, an elementary school in the neighborhood of Sharona in Rehovot. It is a lower-income neighborhood, so the school may not be seen as "the best," but it makes it all the better for me because I came into this program wanting a challenge, and I am definitely getting that challenge. Ramat Alon begins teaching English orally in 2nd grade, and in 3rd grade they begin learning to write and read. This week was definitely a lot of observing and getting used to being in the school, but I was able to work with small groups of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders this week, and it's been great getting to actually use the training I've received. Some days were better than others, and some classes are more challenging than others, but I think that is part of the whole experience. You have to have difficult situations and challenges in order to grow as a volunteer and as a teacher. I am very excited to continue my work in the school this year, and hopefully I will gain even more confidence as a teacher as I do so. I also hope we are able to come up with ways to get the students to see English in a new way - whether it be an English word of the day, decorating the classrooms with an English corner, or putting on a play or spelling bee in English. I want to really be able to use the ideas we've learned through training, so hopefully as I get more comfortable in my surroundings, I'll be able to do so!

Besides school, which has been a huge part of my life, I have really enjoyed all the time I've had leading up to start teaching to explore Rehovot, Tel Aviv, and even a little bit of Acco. I have had some great Shabbat weekends the past few weeks. 2 weeks ago, Rebecca and I went to Chen's house for Shabbat dinner, and it was great to finally meet her family…and she made her shakshuka! I obviously love that stuff, and my first time having shakshuka was after camp last summer when Chen stayed with me in LA, and made it for me. Good memories :) We also went to the outlet mall that's open on Shabbat, which was a lot of fun! Last week for Shabbat, Noam (another Israeli peer) invited us over to his house for Shabbat. I want to say it was a group of 15, and having Shabbat with a few of the Israelis was so much fun! It was great food, great laughs, and we even taught them how to play beer pong!

Tonight, we have our first ITF group Shabbat. People have been cooking all day, and I was over there a little while ago to see if help was needed (I'm on the cleaning crew, so I will be busy later!) and not only did the Kosher apartment smell fabulous, but  there was already such high spirits and people really excited for Shabbat. I do not remember the last time the 27 of us spent time together doing non-Ma'ase Olam planned activities (even though this was planned), and I'm excited for a great dinner. Hopefully some of the Israelis will be joining us as well, which will be great. As far as the rest of my weekend, I am hopefully going to having a relaxing Saturday (no plans yet), and Sunday morning I have to be up REALLY early to go to Tel Aviv for an infusion (Crohn's fun, hooray!) and then have meetings later in the day. 

Sorry I haven't blogged lately, and hopefully I'll be doing more soon! Life is getting crazy here, but loving every moment of it!

Hope everyone has a great and meaningful Shabbat, and a happy weekend! Shabbat Shalom! <3

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Recap of My Kinda Tel Aviv Weekend

I really don't feel like doing a full blog entry of my weekend, so I'm just going to do a bullet point entry for now. Tomorrow we leave for a field trip in Tel Aviv until Thursday, and then I'll have a new entry - this upcoming Shabbat and Simchat Torah I'm staying in Rehovot (or at least for now).

-Rebecca, Sabrina & I left for a weekend in Tel Aviv!
-We left on the last train before Shabbat
-Had great snacks (beefy nachos) and drinks (Sex on the Beach for me!) at an American pub on the beach called Mike's Place with Sylvie
-Dinner at Habayit, and I had awesome shakshuka!
-Our hostel room didn't have a working AC that night, so I barely slept

-After a rough night of no sleeping, we went to the beach and met up with Sylvie again
-There was some rain and no sun really, but the water was great
-Had lunch at Yotvata (I think that's what it was called) and had an Israeli breakfast complete with israeli salad, Shakshuka, a fruit smoothie & a cappuccino
-Sylvie left after, and after chilling back at the hostel the 3 of us had dinner at Jessica, where we treated ourselves to a nicer meal - I had a delicious salmon gnocchi, and a mojito
-Obviously desert was needed, and Sabrina & I got frozen yogurt at Tamara, which was right across the street from our hostel, and Rebecca got gelato
-Let's just say there were some unforeseen circumstances at around 1:30am, and the 3 of us left Tel Aviv around 3:00am…if you want the story, message me somehow and I'll explain!

-Since we got back so late, I tried to sleep in as much as possible, but overall was in a cranky mood
-Watched Big Bang Theory with Aleah when she got home, and it was worth the wait!
-Skyped with mom & dad briefly, which was definitely nice :)
-Ate dinner at home & watched Desperado with Orrie, Aleah & Sylvie
-After dinner, a bunch of us decided to have Sukkah time - complete with vodka and orange juice ;)
-Played Scattergories (or the Hebrew name of it, whatever it's called) with Orrie, Aleah, Sabrina & Rebecca  - let me just say I was missing Dahanukkah while playing it!

-Slept in, and caught up on Grey's Anatomy (so sad), Dexter (so amazing and crazy), and Once Upon a Time (so good)
-Rebecca & I decided to have lunch at Landwer's…but the second we got there, the power went out, so we grabbed iced cafes and I got a boureka at a convenience store on the way home
-We went back for dinner, and it was really good - I had a yummy chicken & avocado salad, along with another fruit smoothie

Sorry this post was so all over the place…I don't have the energy to elaborate on things right now, and I have to be up quite early tomorrow for our field trip! Hopefully it's a lot of fun, and then I have another long weekend/holiday to plan and look forward to :)

Happy Sukkot, everyone!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Meaningful Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur in Israel is nothing I had ever experienced before. I have always found Yom Kippur to be a very spiritual holiday, but being in Israel for one of the holiest days of the year left me in awe.

Yom Kippur began Tuesday at Sundown (5:11, to be exact), so leading up to that day everyone was trying to do their last minute food shopping for break the fast, as well as last minute eating. I went down to the Co-Op (the corner grocery store by our apartment) with Aleah, Sabrina and Rebecca to buy some items for our ITF break fast. While there, Aleah and I found the baking aisle, and decided to use a box recipe and make chocolate balls (similar to cake pops, I guess). We realized while making them, that there was no way that the instructions we followed were going to hold formed balls, so we did some experimenting and added some butter and milk to the recipe, and it worked! We also bought some fun colored sprinkles to dip them in, and they were in the freezer ready to go before 5:11!

Also, a little bit before the fast began, while we were all eating our last meals, we decided it would be cool to turn on the TV and see the switch being made from broadcasted shows to getting blacked out. In Israel, EVERYTHING shuts down. The radio and TV stations go dark, no one drives, and no stores are open. Well, the TV stations were already blacked out, but it was weird finding one channel that was airing stuff (turns out it was a children's channel based in Asia). Another thing is that everyone wears white. It might not be all white, but mostly everyone you see walking around will have some white on to symbolize purity. It's very unique to see this complete change occur.

5:11 came, and the fast begun. Around 6:00, Aleah, Sabrina and I decided we wanted to go on a walk and see what it was like when everything shut down. Let me just say I was blown away. The only cars you see driving in the road are emergency vehicles. Kids were everywhere riding their bikes, scooters, and other cool toy cars I wish I had. Instead of the streets being filled with cars, they were filled with people. It was a really cool thing to experience. I also didn't realize how many kids lived in Rehovot, so that was shocking to me. I guess it does make sense though, since we are helping out so many schools this year. It was really cool to sit on Herzl and just watch everyone on the streets.

We eventually made our way back to the apartment, and when we got back were told that some of the Israelis were going to be on Herzl around 9:20 and wanted us to meet them there. I was definitely down to do the walk again, so around 9:00 we gathered a huge group (pretty much everyone who was in town for the holiday) and walked over to Herzl. I was still expecting all the children out in the streets, but you could see they were slowly going to bed, and now the streets were filling up with teenagers and young adults like us. Herzl was even more packed with people our age. We got to one of the bars, and just sat in the middle of the road for a while. It's not every day you can say you sat in the middle of a main road of the city you live in, without having to worry about cars coming by. Mostly everyone had their white shirts or clothes on, which was also an awesome sight to see. Eventually, Sylvie and I decided to split from the group and go on a walk down towards the mall, because while sitting around and talking is fun and all, I definitely wanted to talk advantage of this. When we walked back to the group, a few people were still there, and eventually Sylvie, Jilli and I made our way back home. We got back, and our apartment was watching Jungle Book, but I am not a fan of that movie (sorry, don't hate me!) and settled in my room, reading my book. It's been awesome having all this time to read - I finished the book I was reading (The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway), and am close to being halfway done with my new book (One Breath Away by Heather Gudenkauf).

On Wednesday, I woke up briefly at 8:30 in the morning, but was able to get myself back to bed until around 11:00 or so, which was definitely a treat. I read a lot, and lounged around missing food. Around 2:45, a group of us went over to the local community center, which was holding Yom Kippur services. It was definitely nothing like services at Temple Isaiah. I knew it was an orthodox service, so the men and women were separated by a mechitza, which is a division in between the room to separate the two genders. I did like the fact that the Torah was passed through the women, and not just the men. It was very hard to follow along, since there was not a single word in English in the prayer book, but I'm glad I was able to have that experience. I stayed for around an hour, and then walked back with Sylvie, since we wanted to work on some final cooking before break the fast at our apartment. We sautéed eggplant and onions, and roasted some potatoes. Soon enough, it was 6:07, the apartment was home, and we all had food in our mouths. We hosted the group break the fast, and had a delicious meal at 6:30 with lots of salads, bagels, tahini, veggies, and desserts. After the break fast, a bunch of people were going to watch a movie, but I needed to get out and move around after sitting around so much - so Sabrina, Jonah and I took a walk down Begin up to the Metro Mall. We had smoothies at Lawnder's (my new fave), and had some "real talk" before making the walk back up Herzl. It was really weird, because I kept wanting to walk in the middle of the street, but by 6:07 the cars were back on the road.

We have a really chill week coming up. Sukkot starts on Sunday, and of course I have Shabbat off starting tomorrow (Thursday) afternoon. I'm still not sure what my plans are, but hopefully it will involve seeing friends from camp or spending time with my friends here. Either way, I'm feeling rejuvenated after Yom Kippur. I had a rough day before Yom Kippur, but after spending the past 25 hours reflecting and reminding myself on why I am here in Israel, I'm excited for the time to come. Plus, why wouldn't I be excited about more time off to explore this great country?

Laila tov readers, and hope everyone had a meaningful Yom Kippur!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Great Shabbat in Rehovot

I have had such a good Shabbat, that I can't help but not share with you all! On Friday, a group of us decided to go hang out at the beach in Tel Aviv for a while…and it was absolutely fantastic. I initially went with Aleah, Sabrina, Jonah, Matt, Alex, Kari and Jesse. We took the train to Tel Aviv, and then a sheirut to the Carmel Shuk. A sheirut is a shared taxi, where there are 10 seats and people come and go as they please along a route for a flat rate. The shuk is an open-air market where people sell food, clothing, jewelry, etc…and it is PACKED before Shabbat. It was such a cool experience walking through it though…and the falafel I got for 10 shekels (around $2.50 in the US) was so worth it. I had an absolutely amazing sitting at the beach and enjoying the gorgeous water. Eventually Noah and Ruthie met up with us there, which of course was great. I might be sunburned (ok, I'm really sunburned), but it was definitely worth it. We stayed until around 4:00pm, meaning that the trains and buses would no longer be working for Shabbat and we had to take a sheirut back to Rehovot. It got a little crazy, but we did it! 

We got back with around 2 hours before Shabbat, and was lucky enough to have Chen and her friend stop by after their afternoon run with Chen's sister's dog, who she is watching while her sister is on her honeymoon. It was obviously great to see Chen and meet one of her friends, and we all fell in love with the dog. Unfortunately the visit wasn't too long, but totally made my day even better! 

Aleah and I went to a family's house just down the road from us for Shabbat. They were an American family who were connected to Noam, one of the Israelis in our program. They were very welcoming, and guided us through the pre-Shabbat dinner prayers and rituals. It was a great experience, but we cut the dinner a bit short due to Aleah not feeling 100%. They were completely understanding, and it's so nice to see that families not related to our program want to welcome us into their homes. After we came back, we had people over for a power hour. I have only participated in one power hour, and it ended quite badly (thank you, Little 5), so I was a spectator of the event. Plus, I was just too exhausted!

I was able to sleep in until 11:00am today (minus some noise early that woke me up, but I ignored it and fell back asleep). Since then, I have sat around and watched movies all day - The Muppets (in Hebrew), She's the Man, Moneyball, Toy Story 3 (in Hebrew), and now people are watching The Princess Bride. I might be skyping with my mom in a little bit, and then tonight a group of us are going to go play pool for a bit at HaBirzia. It'll be an early night, because I have to be at my elementary school tomorrow morning at 8:00am for another day of observations, but I still want to go out and end the weekend on a bright note :)

This week will be an easy week…more on that when I update this next! Shavua tov, and hope everyone has a great week!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Shana Tova!

Shana Tova to all my readers!

Rosh Hashanah in Israel is something completely new for me, so I wanted to make sure to go in with an open mind about it. I knew that it wasn't likely I would be attending services, and if I were to attend, it would be something I wasn't going to be familiar with at all. This is a year all about exploring and trying new things, and sometimes that means sacrificing traditions you are used to from home in order to fully experience a new thing.

I spent Erev Rosh Hashanah at my Chetzi's house, and it consisted of a HUGE dinner. We did the prayers for the meal, but that was the extent of my praying for Rosh Hashanah. Am I disappointed? No, not at all. Yes, I'm definitely used to spending Erev Rosh Hashanah and the following day at services, but I knew not to expect that. Things are definitely different in Israel. My friend and her family is not religious, so no one was even mentioning going to services. Instead, Chetzi and I went out to Atmos (on Herzl) after dinner and met up with her friends. Let's just say I had one too many vodka red bulls, and was definitely feeling it the next day (also feeling it because I forgot to bring my meds with me, but that's a whole other issue.)

It was so interesting to see that while everything is to shut down during Rosh Hashanah, the local pubs and even a few convenience stores were still open. It definitely shows how there is a huge gap between the religious and the secular Jews in Israel. It's hard to be in that middle here.

Another thing I have noticed from both personal experience and hearing stories from my other friends on the program is how warm and opening people in Israel are. I know there's this stereotype that Israelis are rude, and they definitely can be when they want to be, just like we are in the US. But with Shabbat and especially Rosh Hashanah, you can see how Israelis are more than willing to open up their homes to those of us who are not from Israel, and need a place to call home for the holidays. 

The rest of the Rosh Hashanah vacation was so relaxing. Very little was done, which was fine by me! I was able to sleep a lot, even when getting up early to Skype Abby (which was totally worth it) and lots of hanging out around the apartment. Last night (Tuesday) a group of us went out to dinner at Igens for Jordan's birthday, which is at the Metro Mall. The Metro Mall was a great place during Rosh Hashanah, because the grocery store, pharmacy, and some cafes were open there. It'll be great during the other holidays if they are open as well.

This morning, we all went to our schools to meet the teachers and students we are working with this year. Noa and I walked 30 minutes to our school, and met up with Keren, who lives right next door. The school is called Ramat Alon, and is an elementary school in the neighborhood of Denya. It was great finally seeing where I would be this upcoming year, and although we didn't get the chance to sit on any classes, we will be able to on Sunday. The students seemed very eager to meet us at recess, and it will be very interesting to see how this all pans out. After spending an hour or so there, we went over to Keren's house before Noa and I started walking back to Herzl, where we were meeting at the Weizman Institute to get campus passes. Unfortunately, we learned less than 5 minutes away from getting there that the person in charge was sick, but it gave us more free time! I went with a group of people to check out a local gym, and hopefully I will be signing up for it very shortly! We had an apartment meeting with Ofir this afternoon, and I'm planning on spending the rest of my day relaxing.

It's definitely hard to get back in the mindset of teaching and working after so many days off for Rosh Hashanah - especially since it's already Shabbat on Friday, and Yom Kippur is Tuesday and Wednesday. As of now, I'll be staying in Rehovot, but you never know if my plans will change. I'm feeling a lot more comfortable in Rehovot, and hopefully having all this free time will make me feel even better. I've started doing things I would've never imagined doing, and I hope this only continues!

Until next time…hope everyone is having a sweet new year! <3

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ending the Year, Here's to a Great One to Come

I was very excited for a relaxing Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah…and that's exactly what I got! Friday night, those of us in my apartment who were around had a lovely dinner of rotisserie chicken, roasted potatoes and roasted eggplant. Perfect Shabbat dinner, especially since it seemed so typical of camp and other Shabbats I've had. I also got to Skype for a few minutes with my mom, which is always so nice. After dinner, I went to a local bar (I think called Hebrezia?) with Sabrina, Jonah and Orrie to play some pool and have some beer. I might be still learning when it comes to pool, but it was still fun! We also ran into Tal there, which was super nice. Seeing the Israelis from our program out and about, as well as other Israelis we all know, makes me love being in Rehovot. It's a small enough city where you can usually see someone you know, but big enough to still have a lot of fun. It made me really love being in such a welcoming and friendly place. After 2 games, we headed back home. It was super nice to get home around midnight, and not at 3:00am like the night before.

I was able to sleep in until 9:00 or 9:30 on Saturday morning, which felt great. We decided to turn on our TV this morning, and Finding Nemo was on…IN HEBREW. Let's just say we didn't get anything done because we were too enthralled! It was a super chill day, and I did close to nothing. Around dinner time we had some guests over for Hebrew practicing and Ulpan homework, and eventually Rebecca, Sabrina and I left for dinner. We went to an Asian restaurant for dinner and all got some delicious and cheap sushi. I really wanted froyo (obviously, when do I not want?) so we walked to the froyo place I had seen, Yogurla. It was really good! We came back and everyone is just hanging out for now. I'm definitely staying in tonight, because I can feel how tired I am. (BTW, I'm up for skyping/facetiming anyone...just saying.)

 I'm looking forward to a great Rosh Hashanah. It's definitely going to be weird not being at home and going to services, but I'm very excited to spend the holidays here! I want to wish everyone a Shana Tova, and a very sweet and healthy new year. It's definitely been a roller coaster of a year, but it was worth every minute of it. I'm so excited for all that is to come this year.