Hello friends and family!

I am sorry for the dearth of blog posts, my time has been eaten up by life in Israel. I have just gotten back from Passover vacation, and had some exciting adventures during that time, including:

– 120 kilometers of hiking, over mountains and through forests, under the hot Israeli sun
– 6 blisters
– 2 passover seders
– 4 days of Jordan (the country)(+5 hours getting back into Israel)
– 3 books devoured
– 1843 cups of tea

I returned to the Israel Trail to do six more days of trekking, heading south. Armed with enough trail mix to feed a platoon, I ventured out with a friend to see how much we could make ourselves walk. I think 120 kilometers was really the breaking point, we were deliriously hanging onto each other while trudging up our last hill. (Disclosure: we did have to do some hitchhiking, as we completely lost the trail at one point, but were safely delivered to the kibbutz we were trying to find.) It’s an amazing feeling to be drenched in sweat, sunburned, filled with 6 liters of water, and know you just conquered 24 kilometers of desert in one day.

After finishing our trek, we caught a bus down south to Eilat where we met up with another friend, and walked across the border into Jordan. Of course it wasn’t that simple, it also involved paying rather large sums of money and leaving all of our weapons and illegal chemicals behind (so annoying).
Once inside we headed down to Aqaba, where we almost immediately began to explore the underwater wildlife through snorkel masks, although we did stop to ditch our huge backpacks beforehand.

The next day held the wonders of Wadi Rum, a protected desert area with huge historic rocks (aka mountains) decorated with centuries old drawings of camels (remarkably accurate, compared to the dozens of camels wandering around). We wandered through red sand dunes (yes, RED!) down which we unsuccessfully attempted to surf, and the foundations of Lawrence of Arabia’s house, escorted by a largely non-English speaking, chain smoking, mountain scaling, and utterly enthusiastic Bedouin man driving a jeep with just enough parts to get us from A to B. I’m pretty sure that night we were able to see every star in the universe; all generators were shut off after 10pm, one of my first experiences with zero light pollution.

And, of course, Petra. Wow. Photos are below, although I fear they do it just as little justice as any words I might attempt to use in a description. We ended up sleeping over there in a cave with Bedouins (formally nomadic Arabs of the desert) who made the sweetest tea I have ever tasted.
And then just like that, with a short stop in the Jordanian capital of Amman, where perhaps only men live (we were the only double X chromosomes on the streets) we were back in Israel. Personally, I think the hummus here is better, but Jordan had definitively superior hospitality in the tea-giving department.

With about 2.5 months left in Israel, I’m already getting nervous about leaving. It is currently the only place in which I know how to, and have had experience with, living relatively independently. I fear for my adaptation back to America, reverse culture shock, and hummus/falafel deprivation (the last point being one of the most nerve wracking).

I hope you are all doing fantastically!

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So it goes…

In one of my classes, Continuity and Change in Modern Jewish HIstory (I also wonder why they try to make class names as long as possible), we often talk about Jews in the diaspora returning to Palestine/Israel. And each time I write a sentence referring to this, I have these two voices in my head arguing about whether to write “came to” or “went to”, only satisfactorily settled with “immigrated to”. I’ve been here for about three months now (which coincidentally is the point at which homesickness usually strikes, so say the internet experts on various message boards). The word “home” has slipped out once or twice in reference to the dorms here, and I feel relatively settled in, but I’m light years away from belonging.

However, I have become more Israeli in a very important way, and that it regarding my sweet tooth. They have these things here called “krembo”, which are kind of like huge mallomars. Israelis pretty much claim them as their own (although this is not really true, I’ve done extensive research and they seem to have a version in most countries, albeit with different names), and based on research, every Israeli eats approximately 9 each winter. They’re only sold from October to February, making them quite a commodity. They melt easily. I’ve put up some picture of the process, just for enlightenment purposes.

Besides krembo-eating, I have also been crocheting up a storm! Since its gotten pretty cold here, its been great to make something useful. One of my roommates asked me to teach her as well, and she’s in her room now churning out meters of scarf. Thank you to my 3rd grade teacher for this skill!!

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What I’ve Been Up To

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1. Doing lots of henna, as you can see from the photos. I had cones that I had brought back from India, but they are running low 😦 Fortunately, I found some henna powder at the spice shop in the shouk (big outdoor market), so I hope to figure out how to use that!

2. Cooking! I have a ridiculous amount of fun shopping for groceries here, as that takes place at the aforementioned shouk. It contains stalls and stalls of everything from fresh fruits and vegetables to that cheap adapter you wish you had found before you bought one at the mall. You can see the seasons changing as the nectarines and peaches disappear, persimmons and oranges pop up everywhere, and you start needing to bring your sweater with you everywhere. (I thought I was in Israel, it never gets cold here! Wrong. It even rained this weekend.)
I’ve been inspired by the bright colors, and have been currying and soy saucing and rosemary-ing (right downstairs from my building there is a huge huge area of fresh rosemary growing, along with some thyme) to the full extent of my heart’s desire. With an oven-less kitchen, I’ve had to get even more creative than usual, but it has been working out so far. The Moroccan stew that I included in the picture was one of the most delicious (and cutting intensive) things that I have made so far.

3. I have started my internship. Coexistence in the Middle East arranges academic trips to Israel to teach about the conflict from all sides, and I have been editing and editing and editing all the information for it. It’s quite exciting, although it might not sound so.

4. Reading and reading and reading and reading. All my classes are reading. It is a strange change from mostly studying and memorizing, although it obviously includes those things. For my Israeli Politics class we are going on a field trip to the Supreme Court, and in a few weeks on another trip to the Knesset. I expect both to be delightful!

5. Getting ready for this upcoming weekend, which will be spent in a sleeping bag in the Negev Desert. I will be sure to put up photos once they have been taken, as they are usually much more exciting to see than a bunch of words.

I hope all is well back in the states, I have been hearing a lot of chatter about Europe and not so much about America (besides all that Herman Cain nonsense and these hiccups about Iran), so I assume things are going relatively smoothly even in my absence 🙂

Love to all!

Hiking Along the Israel National Trail

There is a path that runs through the whole of Israel, from the North (not including the Golan Heights) all the way down to Eilat by the Red Sea. It’s supposed to take about 45 days to complete the whole thing, which is unfortunately way more time than I had for my school break over Sukkot. After discussing the idea with various Israelis in the campus office and the outdoors store downtown, a couple of friends decided to do the northern bit, from Tel Hai to the Kineret by Tiberias.

WOW was that a great idea. I don’t think any of us expected it to be as amazing as it was! When we were all back in Jerusalem in our rooms afterwards, all we could do was bemoan the fact that we were no longer dirty/subsisting on trail mix/sleeping in tents/seeing cows at every turn/wearing the same clothes everyday/carrying ridiculously heavy backpacks. Maybe not that last one at first, but I think we even did miss our backpacks a bit after a few days back in civilization.

It was truly a beautiful walk through the country. The path winds through hills, up mountains, through orchards, past cows and cows and cows, over stream beds and through tight gaps between boulders. The way is delineated by three stripes, blue, orange and white, painted on rocks all along the way. It makes it almost impossible to get lost, unless you are too busy looking at the cool lizards and fuzzy animals that run all over the rocks to notice the painted markings. In the evenings we stayed in campsites where we pitched tents and cooked on this miniscule stove that measured about three inches in diameter and was about 5 inches high. With two 2-person tents for five girls and five large backpacks, it was definitely a squeeze; but considering we were tired enough to fall asleep before 7:00 most nights, it wasn’t impossible.

We ended our trip at the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee), which has a beautiful beach were we slept that evening. The next day 3 out of the group left (I think the group of Israelis doing karaoke all night a few meters from our tent may have pushed them over the edge… Who brings karaoke machines and multiple microphones to the BEACH????). I stayed behind with one other girl; we couldn’t abandon the beach so soon. After a very lazy and relaxing day, we abandoned the idea of climbing the next cliff that would take us to Tiberias (she’s scared of heights), and took a ten minute cab ride there instead. It’s funny how going over mountains on foot to get somewhere can take so much longer than those fancy things with wheels that they call cars.

All in all it was an amazing experience; I’ve never eaten so much trail mix, or been so wonderfully immersed in nature and the generosity of fellow campers! We were offered food most nights by others in the area; most of them were camping with cars, which did make cooking easier, but definitely made us look more hardcore with our huge backpacks… Pictures can’t do the experience justice, but I hope they provide a window into what I did!
Just click below to see the whole album.

Israel National Trail

A Journey Farther North

On Tuesday we left for Haifa at the bright hour of 6 am. After about 3 hours of taxis, sheruts (large taxis) and buses, we finally arrived inside the city limits and immediately ventured off to the Baha’ai Gardens. They are a breathtaking sight to behold, with perfectly trimmed symmetry, and level upon level of balconies descending down to the golden Shrine of the Bab. Members of the Baha’i faith have to make at least one journey to this holy site in Haifa during their lives.

During the evening we had the pleasure of listening to live country music covers out in the street near the Inn we were staying at. Definitely not the genre we expected, but it was great fun nonetheless! The next morning we were off to Akko (also known as Acre) , a wonderful old city on the coast that is reputed to have some of the  best hummus (pronounced CHoomoos with the back of the throat; I quickly learned that “Hummus” does not exist here, upon attempting to request it several times. “Ahhh, you mean CHHOOOMOOOS” they said).

I opted out of doing the tourist circuit in Akko which the rest of the group did. Instead I just wandered around the winding streets, peeking down alleys and into doorways, and occasionally consulting my guidebook in dark corners where no one would see me (not that I couldn’t be immediately pegged as a tourist with my backpack and camera, but I tried to maintain some dignity). I walked through the souk (market) there, and was greeted by the sight and smell of many flopping fish. Further on as I reached the marina, I also saw all the nets and fishing boats that had brought those fish; it’s nice that sometimes food here doesn’t come from two continents away. I had some delicious turkish coffee (that may or may not have been from Turkey) at a little shop decorated with sequined cushions, before reconvening with my friends for what would be THE MOST DELICIOUS HALF HOUR in Israel thus far. It was the hummus/houmus/hommos, details of pronunciation were transcended by the smoothness and amazingness of this miraculous stuff. It was like little heavenly clouds of tastiness on my pita.

And then we were headed back to Jerusalem, sherut-bus-taxi-campus, taxi-synagogue-taxi-dinner, and finally bed, after a very long day. Shana Tova!

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Travels Thus Far

I’ve gotten some travelling under my belt already, just within the last month. I’ll post some photos here so you can see what I have been seeing! We went to Tel Aviv and relaxed on the beautiful beach there, up north to the Golan Heights, and to the Old City as well. I am planning on going to Haifa this coming Tuesday (we have our final test Monday, and the rest of the week off).

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שלומ עליכם – السلام عليكم

There’s this little strip of land between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea, home to about 7 million people, and the seat of a disproportionate amount of conflict considering its size. Depending on who you ask, it’s Israel, Palestine, the Holy Land, a safe haven, a stolen country. Regardless of nomenclature, this area includes a city quite dear to the hearts of those who follow any of the Abrahamic religions: Jerusalem.

It is here that I find myself, in the so-called “Seam Zone” between the Green Line and the West Bank barrier wall. For the next year I will be exploring, learning, attempting to cultivate some degree of understanding regarding the past and present of this contested land. There is so much beauty here; the nature of the north, to Dome of the Rock, to Eilat, along with everything in between. I hope to do as much roaming and voyaging as I do intellectual investigation, with attempts to keep this updated along the way!