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Isn't it pretty?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Blogging Break

I think I am going to take a blogging break for a little while. I am sure I will be back, just not sure exactly when. If you want to get in touch with me, you can e-mail me. Have a good Shabbos!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

School Reflections

Back to school time. I had my new classes for the first time these past few days, and I'm relieved to be able to report that things went better than I had expected. My Monday class is called Administration and Supervision, which I had interpreted as BORING. But the truth is, it isn't a business class at all - it's about supervising in a clinical counseling setting, which I actually understand the importance of and am interested in exploring more. The challenging part of the class is that it is typically one of the final classes a student in my program takes before graduating. I was the newest member to the program in my class; most of my classmates are in their last semester or have gone through a couple years of the program already. Its difficult to take the class at this point because I have no field experience in counseling. I have some experience, way back, at leading groups, but I don't have any formal one-on-one counseling experience, which makes it hard to understand the role of a supervisor. But hopefully it will work out. What I was even more pleasantly surprised about was the friendliness of my classmates. At first I was intimidated by the fact that they had all been in the program for so long, feeling a bit out of my element. Also, I figured that they all know each other well since they have been together for so long. But everyone was really friendly to me, welcoming me into their group, even offering to suggest which professors to take for upcoming classes and giving me advice about my current classes. They were generally older, many of them part-time, students, which I like a lot, and found a lot of connection from days in Baltimore. It was really good. Then last night I had my Intro to Counseling II class. Our professor from last semester, who I didn't have a lot to say about, was replaced with someone new, much more on top of things, seemingly quite a bit sharper, and hopefully more organized. It is a class that I took in undergrad, so some of the material will be repetitive, but it is all important, and at this level, we go much deeper. I had a few of my old classmates in this class, so it was actually nice to walk in and see familiar faces and have someone to talk to. We actually had an interesting discussion. Our professor was telling us about a study that was done to identify the factors that seem to indicate a successful therapist, meaning one whose clients report positive growth stemming from therapy. There were nine factors identified, three in each of there categories - cognitive, affective and behavioral. I don't have the nine factors in front of me, but they were things like the therapist being honest, empathic, being able to universalize problems so a client feels they are not alone in experiencing them. Having insight, really caring about their clients, and being supportive and able to identify with those they are helping. What I found most interesting about these is that I see how they really do work. I see, when I am helping others, and getting the most positive feedback, that I am representing these factors. I get response from those who I can connect with, who I relate to and who I am the most honest with, even if it means showing that I, also, am not perfect. When I show others that I also struggle with the same issues, and I just try to help them have insight into those issues, following the lines of the insight I try to have about them, it seems to truly resonate. It's good to know that, even untrained, many of these factors seem to be tapped. It's one more indication to myself that I have picked the right field to work in, which I have to admit is a relief. So, the semester started with a bang. It promises to offer no shortage of hard work, but like I was telling one of my classmates, I actually welcome that over not working hard at all. Because when I work hard, I learn. And that's what I am there for.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Acting Without a Full Heart

There are times when I find myself doing something to help out someone else, but with a small twinge of regret. Not regret necessarily that what I am doing is not the right thing to do. I guess the regret is a bit about being a tiny bit jealous, or wishing to be in the same place as the person I am helping. It is also wanting to do this thing to help out, but knowing that the outcome of it could spawn results, some of which are good (mainly for the person I am helping), and some of which are not so good (the not so good results would be directed at me). I am beginning to learn that everything in life is double-edged. Sigh. What I wonder is, is it better that I am helping someone out despite my regret? Do I get more reward for it because I am not so enthusiastic? More credit for doing something that I am not so excited to do, yet I am doing it anyway because I know it is to the benefit of the other person? Even though I know that I might get hurt in the long-term. Or would it be better, would I get more reward for doing such an act with a full heart? I wish I was doing it with a full heart, because it would certainly be much easier that way. I once was talking with a friend about how hard it was for me to not shower and put on make-up on Shabbos. A lot of the other women at the shul I then attended did shower and put on make-up and looked so nice on Shabbos. I felt pale and yucky in comparison. It really was hard for me. But I cared enough about keeping Shabbos that I couldn't bring myself to break it in order to look a little nicer and feel better about myself. My friend told me how happy she was for me that it was so hard for me to keep Shabbos. She said the fact that it was so hard made it even greater that I was doing it. I wonder if doing this helpful act is the same - that because it is so hard for me and I am doing it anyway, gives it even more weight that I am doing it. Shows that I really do care that much about helping others, despite the regret and hardship that comes along with doing it. I wish I had a full heart to carry out this action, I feel like I should be happy about helping someone else. But maybe feeling the regret is okay as well.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Is Intelligence a Gift?

I often wonder if intelligence is such a gift. I have known many incredibly intelligent people in my life. I attended a public high school which offered only an excelerated program, so the students in my school could brag about having high enough IQs to get in (unfortunately, a lot of them actually did brag about such things regularly). I also was part of an Honors Program in college which offered an incredible curriculum that I managed to mostly ignore while in college-partying mode (took me a while to get serious about college). And outside of my educational experiences, I have met and formed relationships with extremely intelligent people whose brains opened many doors, whose academic achievements are to be wowed about, and who could certainly hold their own in any intellectual discussion. But what good is it? Those highly intelligent people I've known have also often been the most arrogant, lazy and mean people I've come in contact with. Even though they could have used their intelligence in ways to better our planet, our political systems, our relations; they don't bother. Some of them spend their time making sure that their bank accounts are well-stocked, some of them don't bother to do that. Some of them use their intelligence to make others feel like less. And some of them use their brains to manipulate and deceive - highly intelligent people are often incredible schemers and plotters. Don't get me wrong. Not everyone who is intelligent is a horrible person. Some smart people use their brains in wonderful ways. I have had smart people who have motivated me, taught me, inspired me. Led me in the direction of following my dreams. Given me much to think about, and have believed in me. Smart people have brought to fruition programs for healing and justice, and social welfare. Many good things come from intelligence as well. But I have also been inspired by those who work 10 times harder to get by because their intelligence isn't quite so high on the IQ charts. Those who, against the odds, succeed. I admire those who work so hard so much more than those who don't. Because I think so much in this world is due to effort. I think you grow as a person so much do to the hard work you put in - it doesn't come easily. So while I am certainly happy that I have my intelligence, and that some things aren't so hard for me (like school), I wonder who I would be if things were different. If in some ways, I would be a better me, someone who had accomplished more, in growth rather than grades. Or maybe, hopefully, you can have both. I just hope I don't ever take for granted those "gifts" that were handed to me. I hope I don't (again) squander my natural talents. I hope I use my gifts for the good.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Free Will and Predetermination

I went to the Beyond BT melave malka last night where Rabbi Lazer Brody spoke. It was a nice crowd and he is an excellent speaker (meaning, he really managed to hold my attention, my mind has a tendency to wander during shiurim). He spoke about something that has bothered me for a long time. He didn't clear it up for me, I still have major issues with it. He spoke about Hashem's plan, and how He means for everything to happen the way it does, but along with that, the fact that we each have free will, because while Hashem knows what is going to happen, we don't. I have a very hard time comprehending how these two concepts can not be mutually exclusive. Either everything is predetermined, and therefore we don't really have a choice in our decisions, or we have free will and Hashem doesn't plan out everything. I have heard arguments that they don't have to be mutually exclusive many times, but I have yet to get my brain around it. And what is really bothering me these days is this: If Hashem determines everything that is going to happen, why would He allow us to make decisions that go against His will? Especially because, as a Torah-obsevrant Jew, I know what Hashem wants from me, but there are times when I make decisions that run counter to His will anyway. If Hashem wants the best for me, why would He predetermine, along with giving me the free will to make the decision, that I commit actions that run counter to his mitzvos and in effect, harm myself, at least spiritually, if not in many other ways? I have a hard time with both sides of the argument. I don't want to give up my free will and feel like everything I do was predetermined and that I have no choice in anything. Because to me that is a robotic life and not really worth living. There are no lessons to learn when you don't make your own decisions, though of course Hashem could implant the lessons He wants, I don't limit Him in that way. On the other hand, if we truly have free will, and make our own decisions, that certainly seems to limit Hashem's power to the will of humans to do whatever they want. And if I am to believe that I should follow all of Hashem's commandments as put forth in the Torah, then I don't want Hashem to be limited in any way. Because why should I follow a limited being - that would just make Hashem like us. Maybe a higher form of human, maybe more knowledgable and wiser, but still limited. That bothers me. And again, if everything is predetermined, if Hashem is all-powerful, then why does He allow us to make mistakes, to lead our lives counter to His wishes? Why does He allow me to, over and over again, make decisions that I know are wrong, that I know go against Torah, that I know just serve to defeat myself? Again, maybe this is the lesson I am here to learn, that I need to strengthen myself against these decisions that cause harm to myself, and that is ultimately the plan - that I should grow in this way by making these mistakes. And maybe I need to learn this in order to teach others and to share in the struggle by being able to relate to others who go through the same struggles. And what of those who either grow up and never find Torah, which is supposedly the way Jews should lead their lives, or those who choose, for whatever reason to go "off the derech" and never come back? Is that predetermined to happen? And why? Why would Hashem want people to never find His way? And if it's not predetermined and we have free will to make such decisions, then again, it seems as if Hashem's power is limited in who He can touch. These are tough questions, with no simple answers, other than those that get twisted in knots or are not challenged. I haven't found solutions yet. Anyone care to try?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Changing Faces of Shabbos

My roommates individually told me this morning that they each decided to stay in tonight to eat a Shabbos meal alone because they needed the peace and quiet (neither realized that the other had the same idea). It got me to thinking about the role of Shabbos in my life, and how I can barely fathom the idea of eating a Shabbos meal by myself, it just seems so lonely. Shabbos for me has changed over the years. Before I was frum, my family had "Friday night dinner." My mom would cook an actual meal, we would light candles, have wine and challah and my whole family would sit down for a nice Friday night meal. It lasted about half an hour before we would each retreat to our different corners of the house or to our various activities, but Friday night was reserved for a little bit of family time (it was the only time of the week my family sat down together). Then I went to Israel and experienced a kiruv Shabbos in the Old City. My first real Shabbos consisted of about 100 people, all crammed in an Aish Hatorah dining hall. There was lots of food, tons of singing and dancing, a lot of alcohol and an incredibly special feeling. It had me hooked. After I went back home from Israel, I would occasionally visit a frum family for a Shabbos meal, and the feeling was brought back and I really loved it, even if I wasn't yet ready to make the committment each week. About a year later, the SEED program came to Birmingham. Among those who came to lead the programming were a couple who I am still very close with. They brought Shabbos to a Birmingham devoid of an Orthodox rabbi at the time, and reignited that spark within me. After that Shabbos, I knew that I wanted Shabbos, and Orthodox Judaism in my life in a bigger way. Over the years, Shabbos has become a routine. My day of rest amid the hectic week. A time to relax. I used to spend some meals in by myself, but once I added school on top of work, I found that the only time to see my friends and the families I was close with was Shabbos. For a while I really enjoyed meeting new people on Shabbos, going to new families and getting to know people within the community. After a while though, being a spectator to other people's families became more difficult, as I yearned to be with my own family. So I gradually began going to the same people over and over, making family for myself, and becoming comfortable and at ease and really building relationships with a few families rather than being an acqaintance of many. Since my move, that is what I miss about Shabbos - that feeling of real closeness and comfort with a few families that I truly love. I think that is what has been missing from my making Passaic a home rather than a place to live. I have been building some relationships, but it does take time. I go to spend Shabbos with friends in different communities on occasion, and they are starting to feel like family also, and the feeling of Shabbos is starting to come back to being one of enjoyment, rather than stress at meeting new people once again and telling the same details of my life over and over. But even the prospect of having to explain who I am for the umpteenth time doesn't make me want to spend Shabbos alone. I still can't handle that. And I do really appreciate those people who have opened their homes to a perfect stranger to share in their Shabbos meals. As I was walking to work this morning, the Moshav Band (one the very few Jewish bands I can stand) came playing onto my Ipod. This used to be "erev Shabbos music" in my apartment each week. It puts me in the mood for Shabbos, and got me to thinking about how I soon hope to find family once again, here in Passaic. And how over the years Shabbos has really become part of me, part of who I am. Good Shabbos, however you choose to spend it!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

This Clock Never Seemed So Alive

What day is it and in what month this clock never seemed so alive I can't keep up and I can't back down I've been losing so much time I was walking to work this morning, listening to my IPod, when Lifehouse's "You and Me" started playing. It's a beautiful song, but the opening lyrics always catch me, because they seem so true. Especially the last few weeks, when I can't even remember what day it is (I haven't managed to get myself a new calendar, so that only compounds my confusion). My trip to Israel highlighted this feeling so much. It had been seven years, and a lifetime, since I had been there, but those seven years seemed to have passed in a blink of the eye. It's so amazing how quickly time can pass without our even realizing it. I know a lot had changed since my last trip. Heck, I've lived in three additional states since then. I know I have changed and grown a lot, and the difference in my feelings towards being in Israel this time definitely are due in large part to my personal growth, my comfort with who I am, religiously and personally. The last time I was in Israel, I went to learn in seminary, after just having become shomer shabbos. I wasn't very stable religiously, I was really young at the time, and I had made a lot of changes in my life very quickly. I had a lot of trouble then with the struggle between wanting to fit in religiously with what people were telling me I should be, and being my unique self. Growing at my own pace and managing to fit who I was into the complex world of Yiddishkeit. I saw a lot of conflict between different groups of Orthodox Jews then, and felt a lot of internal conflict within myself, trying to balance between the pressure I felt to conform and my need to move slowly and be comfortable with the changes I was making. Seven years later, it was quite a different trip. I have evened out a lot religiously, found my comfort zone, no longer feel the pressure to fit in so much. I know who I am and what I can handle and am not afraid to stand out a little bit if it means keeping my internal integrity whole. When walking the streets of Jerusalem this time, I no longer felt judged for what I wasn't yet doing. I felt part of a Jewish world, where there are so many permutations and colors that make up a the whole picture. And I felt part of the picture, a brushstroke amongst many others, rather than wet paint trying to dry in place, but dripping a bit too much. (Ok, over the top metaphor, sorry about that.) But it all seemed to happen so quickly, no matter what the calendar says. I have seen so much, but forgotten so much as well. Moved on in so many ways - from friends, jobs, aspirations. But I have found so much as well - mainly myself. So while the clock seems so alive, and I sometimes can't keep up, nor can I go back, it's interesting to see just how much seven years can mean. It doesn't look the way I imagined it would, but I don't regret any of it either.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Events in Israel

I am not that into politics. It bores me. I like knowing what is going on with the world, I do try to keep up with current events, and I do care about some of the issues, because I do know that they affect me. When it is time for a big election, I do try to inform myself so that I am not an uneducated voter, blindly following what others tell me. But when it comes to following daily political issues and who votes for what, I just don't have the attention span to follow it. I kind of feel that the government is going to do whatever they want anyway, and it doesn't really matter that much who is leading the country. This is a bad attitude, I know, but it's how I feel. When it comes to Israeli politics, then, I just feel lost. I haven't kept up enough to know who stands for what, what all the different party platforms are, and I find it extremely confusing in general, which even those who do follow it closely confirm is the case. But I do care, because it is my fellow Jews who are intimately affected by Israeli politics. Jews who are being murdered, who are being thrown out of their homes. And my fellow Jews are leading the country. And the Torah by which I lead my life is taken into consideration in some of the laws and statutes that are being made to guide life in Israel. But up until now I have kept a fairly distant and removed, and honestly, not incredibly focused, watch on the news in Israel. It always hurt me when my fellow Jews were murdered. But it is sometimes hard to really feel it personally when it is happening across the globe. Not that it is right to not feel personally affected, but it is the case. While I was in Israel, I visited some of the communities that are currently being dismantled by the Israeli government. I saw them with my own eyes, and even met a couple people who live within them. I walked around Hevron, stood a few yards away while our tour guide specifically pointed out the homes that are being taken apart now. And all of a sudden, I really feel it. I really get upset. I can't sit aside and feel like it is something that I am affected by because I am not there. Because all of a sudden I do feel affected by it. It's interesting that such a change can occur with a few days of being there. I know that I will still not follow the news as closely as I should, that's just not who I am. I still don't really know what I can do about it, besides care. But when I see the headlines now, I am moved to read the entire articles and to feel it personally. I am sorry it took me traveling all the way to Israel to feel it so personally, but I am glad that the change has occurred. It makes me feel more a part of a people, a people that transcends distance and location. Jews are Jews and we should care about what happens to them, no matter which corner of the globe they reside.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Home Sweet Home?

I am back from Shabbos in Lakewood and a visit to Baltimore. As I was driving home, it was weird, because once again, I am not sure what or where home is. My trip to Israel was amazing. I still can't figure out how, in 10 days of being there, I felt more comfortable and at home than I have in six months of living in New Jersey. I am sure part of it had to do with the fact that I was staying with a close friend of mine and part of it was because I didn't have to deal with normal responsibilities while being on vacation. But there was something else to it as well. I just was at home, and comfortable, and felt like I was supposed to be there, despite not understanding the language. When it was time to leave Israel, I was ready to end my vacation - I need more structure in my life and was ready to get back into a routine. But to come "home" to New Jersey? That I wasn't quite ready for. For some reason, though I have my bed and belongings here, it doesn't beckon to me the way Israel had. Even though I always miss being "home" and usually have a need to be in my own place, I haven't achieved that need with my new abode, even though I've been here almost six months now. I was here in New Jersey for a couple days and then I spent Shabbos in Lakewood, where my friends welcomed me as part of the family. I then drove down to Baltimore motzei Shabbos, where we went straight to the home of one of the families I am close with there. As I was sitting in their living room, I realized how comfortable I am being with them, and how it felt like home to me. Yesterday I drove around visiting friends in Baltimore, having lunch at the beloved David Chu's, and feeling, once again, like I belonged somewhere. It leaves me with a weird feeling. I want to make my new place a home. I want to meet people and surround myself by those I am comfortable with and feel like family. But something has been keeping me from doing that here. And when I was in Israel, the feeling was just intensified - I didn't want to come back. Now that could be the nature of Israel, it does draw and call us the way no other place would. I guess it's possible to have more than one home in this world - I know my heart is torn in a few pieces by those who I love who live in different places across the globe. Maybe another piece of home will soon reside here in New Jersey, and I will fondly and happily come "home" after a stay away.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Israel Diary - Shabbos and Sunday

I spent Shabbos with my friends who I was staying with. Friday night we davened at Shappell's, a ba'al teshuva yeshiva near my friends' apartment. The davening really was beautiful. The guys took their time, sang with incredible voices and danced around throughout kabbalas Shabbos. For dinner, we attended sheva brachos. It was a very full house, and I knew almost no one there. But everyone was extremely friendly, introducing themselves, chatting and singing. There were several beautiful divrei Torah for the newly married couple. The feeling in the room was one of love and happiness. I felt fortunate to share in the simcha (and of course, they made sure that I shared in the segulah wine as well - can't forget that one!). Shabbos day I had lunch with my friends and then went for a long walk towards and around Bayit Vegan. It was another gorgeous day until the moment I stepped back inside my friend's apartment, when the skies opened and flooded Jerusalem with her much-needed rain. After Shabbos, I headed to Ben Yehuda Street where another friend of mine who was a madricha for a Birthright Trip was standing guard for her trip participants. "Only in Israel" story for the day - There were tons of people in Zion Square and of course there was music blasting across. A mosh pit was formed and hundreds of Jews stood in the center of Jerusalem, dancing and having a blast. It wasn't quite my scene, but it was nice to see so many young Jews having so much fun. I caught up with my friend, her younger sister was there as well. It was nice to see them both. After a while, I got tired of the scene and decided to head home. Sunday, I just spent a lazy day getting myself packed up and ready to go. I took one last walk to and from town, checked out the Takana Markezit one last time, bought myself some traveling candy and got on the plane to go "home." That's my trip. I am still working on getting together my emotional thoughts about my trip, being in Israel and the aftermath of being back here. Stay tuned.

Israel Diary - Friday

Friday morning, I signed up for a tour of Kever Rachel, Hevron and Maarat Hamachpelah. I got up super early, after not much sleep, and made my way to the place where I was meeting the tour. About 20 of us got into a bus lined with extra-thick windows. Our tour guide was a man who lives in Hevron and had fascinating stories to tell about living there. We rode up to Kever Rachel and were told that we couldn't go in. Some kind of security issues going on, they refused to divulge exactly what. So our tour guide decided to take us to Hevron first, with a return trip to Kever Rachel on the way back, hoping that we would be allowed in then. We drove through the hills, passing Efrat, Gush Etzion, and a number of other beautiful communities on our way to Hevron. When we got to Hevron, our tour guide pointed out the separation between the Arab and Jewish sections of Hevron. We got out and walked around in a few places in the city, our tour guide telling us stories about each site. He told us about how a lot of the housing was built, about the murder of Shalhevet Pass, an eight-month-old baby who was killed by Arab snipers and the aftermath of the incident in which a tribute was erected in her honor. Our tour guide even named his next daughter after her. After being shown around the Jewish sections of Hevron, we made our way to the Maarat Hamachpelah (that's the tomb where our forefathers and mothers are buried). Half of this site is reserved for the Arabs, and as we were standing outside, waiting to go in, a loud Muslim chant was blasted over the loudspeakers at us. The funny thing was, it kind of put me in the mindset for prayer. We walked into the shul set up above the tombs (no one is exactly sure who is buried exactly where, but they estimate and put rooms above for people to daven in). There was definitely a powerful feeling there, and I sat down in the room designated as Yacov and Leah's resting place and said a lot of tehillim. I then ventured across the hall and said a few tehillim in Avraham and Sarah's room also. Before finishing, I lit a candle and gave some tzedakah, hoping that the flame would bring some light to my life. After leaving Hevron, we rode again to Kever Rachel. This time, after a bit of debate, we were allowed in, but only for 15 minutes, as we had to get back in time for Shabbos. The road up to Kever Rachel was lined with huge fences, it was a little intimidating. There was definitely a charge in the air. I went into the shul part to daven mincha, said a few more tehillim, and then it was time to go. We rode back to Jerusalem a couple hours before Shabbos. "Only in Israel" story of the day - I got on a bus to go back to my friend's apartment, rather than walking since Shabbos was getting close. All I had was a large bill, but thankfully the bus drivers have plenty of change. As I was standing on the bus, waiting for my change, the bus driver introduced himself and told me his name. Being friendly, I told him my name as well. He then asked me for my phone number as told me that we could be friends. He told me that he lived in Tel Aviv, and again asked for my number. I explained that I was leaving in a couple days and I didn't think it would be a good idea. Apparently, I am much more attractive to Israeli guys than American ones, it's rare I get asked for my number randomly here! I got back to my friend's apartment and got ready for Shabbos, watching the sunset and Shabbos come in over Jerusalem.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Israel Diary - Thursday

I had thought about attempting to go to the Dead Sea again on Thursday, but late Wednesday I had managed to get in touch with the daughter of a family I am very close with from Baltimore who is in seminary for the year. We had decided to have lunch together on Thursday, so going to the Dead Sea was out of the cards for the day. I did what had become my daily stroll through Jerusalem. I walked all the way to the Old City, stopping here and there in shops and at spots that caught my interest. As I was about half-way there, I decided to check out Emek Refaim. I hopped on a bus and when I got there, wandered up and down the charming little streets and looked in the shops. After wandering around there for a while, I decided to head to the Old City and the Tower of David Museum. The Tower of David Museum offered outdoor archaelogical interests, an incredible panoramic view of Jerusalem and a indoor museum that traces the history of Jerusalem. It was pretty cool, and I learned a lot about the history of Jerusalem and the many hands who've held it's power, while getting a gorgeous view of the city. After the Tower of David Museum, I wandered back into town to meet my friend at the Village Green for lunch. It was really good to see her - I have spent many, many Shabbosim in her home in Baltimore and her family is like a second family to me. I have known her for about 3-1/2 years now and watched her really grow through many trials and tribulations, and was moved to tears seeing her give a speech at her graduation last year. We sat, ate and caught up. After a long, leisurely lunch, we roamed the shops of Ben Yehuda, searching for gifts for my friends. We managed to purchase a few things and then she had to go to study for an exam. We gave each other big hugs and had someone take our picture for us. After that, I caught back up with Ze'ev for a little while. We wandered, got some ice cream, and chatted. He told me that I had to come back soon, certainly not in another seven years, a conclusion that I tend to agree with as well. After Ze'ev and I parted, I met my friends who I was staying with in Zion Square and we made our way to an out-of-the-way restaurant called La Luna, which was a fleishig Italian restaurant. It was pretty quiet, had lots of ambiance, and really good food. We enjoyed ourself over a leisurely meal, and then my friends headed towards a shiur, and I made my long walk home, in the clear Jerusalem air once again. Update: I forgot my "Only in Israel" story of the day. As I was walking home, almost to my friend's place, I crossed the street and was stopped by a soldier who wouldn't let anyone go any further down the street. Looking up the block a bit, I could see that traffic was stopped in the other direction as well, and that there were flashing police lights all around. After a few minutes, the area was clear and we were allowed to walk down the street again. I am guessing an "abandoned" package was found.

Israel Diary - Wednesday

Wednesday got off to a bit of a rocky start. I had decided to go to the Dead Sea for the day. I managed to get myself out of bed and to the bus station in time for the 9:40 bus (which doesn't sound like it would be so difficult, but hey, I was on vacation). I got to the bus station, purchased a ticket, and after standing in line for a while, discovered that there were unforseeable bus issues that couldn't be resolved. So, trip to the Dead Sea was scratched. I got myself some breakfast and decided to head into town. Because it was another beautiful day, I walked on down, taking my time to enjoy Jerusalem. I wandered down the street, meandered through Machane Yehuda again, walked through Ben Yehuda stopping in a couple stores to see if I could find presents for friends, and then made my way into the old city. I took some a while to daven by the Kotel, reciting Tehillim and doing my usual tear-rending while I was there (I don't know if I have ever been to the Kotel that I haven't cried). After pouring my heart out Hashem, I decided to take in some of the sites that surround the Kotel. I decided to take a look at the Archealogical Garden and Southern Wall excavations that I had previously never seen, thanks to the suggestion of a friend. It was absolutely fascinating. I am very taken by the rubble that holds so much history inside of it, and this particular exhibition was extremely well-done. What I really liked was that there was lots of exploring to do, very little few barricades keeping me from the different nooks and crannies. I wandered up and down centuries-old staircases, into little caves and dwellings, and could touch the pillars of the Southern gate, which was the outside gate that eventually led into the Bais HaMikdash. I climbed and crawled and had incredible views of the garden n the courtyard and of all of Jerusalem. After several hours of exploring, I decided to head out to get something to eat. For some reason, I was craving pizza in the middle of Israel, so I got myself some pizza and then wandered some more in the Old City. I have a habit of taking turns at whim, and found myself wandering around in sections of the Old City I've never before seen. It was a little disconcerting, but very cool as well. I watched the sun fall over the Old City as I explored. After I found my way back to known landmarks in the Old City, I took my time walking back to my friend's house. By the time I got there, I was beat. I ended up taking a short walk in the evening, while my friend's were at a wedding, but otherwise had a quiet night relaxing and reading at my friend's apartment.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Israel Diary - Tuesday

Tuesday was another beautiful day in Jerusalem (as were most of the days I was there). I started out the day with another walk around Jerusalem into town because I just couldn't get enough of it. I walked into town and back, did a little bit of shopping and site seeing. I met my friend around noon and it was time to hit the zoo - this time for real. I had never been to the zoo in Israel and it turned out being one of the highlights of my trip. It was beautiful - the scenery, the animals and all the kids playing there. We started out to the bus stop and saw the bus careening towards the stop and ran for it, since the bus to the zoo only came once every half hour. It was a crowded bus and we got on in the nick of time to a standing room only situation. As we made our way back, we ran into two girls who were friends of my friend I was with. She introduced me and it turned out that one of them was from Vancouver, where I lived when I was about 5 years old. I don't remember much of it there, but I mentioned to her the school that I started my education in, and it turned out that she grew up in the same neighborhood and knew exactly where I was talking about. I had never before met anyone that knew my kindergarten so it was really cool to reminisce a bit. "Only in Israel" story for the day - As we rode, the bus got a bit more empty and we made our way towards some seats. My friend sat down and put her bag in the seat next to her so that I could sit next to her when I made my way there. An older woman with a huge tichel on her head picked up my friends bag, set it in my friend's lap and sat down next to her. My friend suggested to her that there were some seats farther back, because she wanted to sit with me. The woman got very irate and hit my friend on the leg and yelled at her for suggesting such a thing. My friend told her not to hit her. The woman responded by saying that she shouldn't worry about being hit - she could have strangled her. She then let out a long barrage of mean comments towards my friend for asking her to move in order to assure a seat for her bag. My friend tried to explain that she was saving a seat for me, but the woman would not be pacified. My friend apologized and finally got up so that she didn't have to sit next to someone who was obviously so upset. We finally made it to the zoo with no further incidents and it was gorgeous. So many cool animals, such a beautiful setting and like I said, so many cute kids. We started out with the ducks and geese gliding along in the water. then moved onto see some of the birds then bigger animals like the cheetah and the elephants (though unfortunately we missed the brand new month-old baby elephant) Then we walked up a big hill, on one side there were lots of ibex and gazelles and on the other, giraffes and zebras so close we could almost touch them, even a baby giraffe who was so cute. We relaxed in Noah's ark and watched a little movie before heading back. As we finished up our several hours there and the sun was beginning to set, we made friends with some very interesting-looking birds and a little girl who was looking at them also. It was a wonderful day at the zoo. We returned home to have a nice dinner of yummy soup with my friend's husband. My friends headed toward a shiur and I took the opportunity to take another trip to the Kotel. I made the hour-long walk back to my friend's apartment in teh clear Jerusalem air, made it home tired but having enjoyed another incredible day in Israel.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Israel Diary - Monday

On Monday, I decided to head over to the Israel Museum, which isn't too far from where I was staying. It was a gorgeous day, as was the entire week I was there. (And according to a friend last night, I actually got tan! Not bad for January.) I headed up the hill towards the Israel Museum, passing the Gan Sachar playing fields and the Kenesset on the way over. After entering the museum, I took a stroll through the sculpture garden. It really was beautiful, for the sculptures it featured, for it's beautiful view of the city behind it and for the landscaping around it. After the sculpture garden, I wandered inside to see the archaeological and Jewish history exhibits. The archaeologist's exhibit I found fascinating because I love seeing the artifacts and bits and pieces left over from a time long gone. The beauty with which people put into their handiwork, the painstaking care that must have taken so much time, is really just beautiful. While walking through the more recent Jewish history area, I was struck by both the similarities and differences in the different ritual pieces from over the years and the different areas of the world. They had beautiful exhibits showing the different clothing and ritual objects that people all over the world have used for the last couple centuries. They had moved a shul from Germany into the museum. As I walked in, I was struck by the feeling of spirituality that emanated from the walls. I could feel the last few generations of people davening there and it really touched me. After the museum, I met up with the friend I was staying with and we decided to take a stroll through Meah Shearim and Geulah. I always enjoy it because it is so drastically different from my regular experiences, I often feel I have stepped into another century based on how people are dressed, but it is quite anachronistic when someone with long, curly payos and short pants takes out his advanced cell phone. We walked through, stopping in some shops, taking our time to stroll through the religious neighborhoods. We meandered our way down, and while the sun was setting, walking into the Old City. We just took a few minutes in the Old City, shopping around a bit, looking for a non-kosher tallis for my co-worker (didn't find that one). We then headed to Ben Yehuda, where we bargained with one of the shop owners for some souvenirs. The shop owner gave me too much change, and when I pointed it out, he gave me an even better deal on a challah board I wanted to purchase. After shopping, we met my friend's husband for dinner at Cafe Rimon, a nostalgic restaurant for me. We had a nice dinner, and then while my friends went to a shiur, I headed back away from town, taking a pretty stroll to end the day. "Only in Israel" story of the day - While walking back home, a man stopped to ask me directions in Hebrew (I still can't figure out why it happened so much, I felt like it was obvious that I was American). When I explained to him that I didn't speak Hebrew, he pointed to me and then himself and said to me, "Shidduch?" I was a bit startled. He then asked me for my phone number, which I declined to give him. We parted ways, and I returned to my friend's apartment to relax at the end of the day.

Israel Diary - Sunday

Ok, I wrote about my first (yes, that connotes that there were others) trip to the Kotel motzei Shabbos, which was certainly an amazing beginning to my way-too-short trip. On Sunday morning, I called a friend of mine from Baltimore to see what she was doing. She was on the way to the zoo with her family, who I also hadn't seen in quite a while. I told her I would meet them there. So I went down to the bus stop and waited and waited for a bus to come to take me to the zoo. It never came. I found out later that even though the sign said that the bus to the zoo came to that stop, it actually takes a slightly different route. Since my trip to the zoo had been cancelled, I decided to wander (something I do very well) to town. I stopped at the Takana (a place I got to know quite well) and, since it was still Chanukah, I decided to indulge in a real Israeli sufganiot, which I have never experienced before. I took a picture of them, at the special request of my former roommate turned blogger. After my indulgence, I had a sugar-induced energy-kick, and started heading my way up Yaffo. I meandered through Machane Yehuda and couldn't resist buying freshly made, warm pita. Since it was Sunday, the crowds weren't so crazy and I was able to actually walk through without getting trampled. I kept wandering down Yaffo and walked through the Ben Yehuda area and then called to check in on Ze'ev from Israel Perspectives, who was fortunately not working so hard that he couldn't handle a little distraction from me. We sat down, and he gave me the high-pressure speech about why I should live in Israel. I must say that he is very good at his job. While we were sitting in his office, a few students walked in and announced that they wanted to make aliyah and asked if Ze'ev could help them. They had been in Israel for a week or so and loved it so much that they decided to stay. Ze'ev provided them with a bevy of phone numbers and they left, very excited about their new plans and home. (My "Only in Israel" story for the day.) After that, Ze'ev and I walked back into town and parted ways so he could go home. I found my way back to my friends. After dinner, I decided to take another walk, and meandered my way up the other end of her street, heading towards Bayit Vagan and Hadassah Hospital. It was beautiful out, the fresh air something that I just can't find around here. After walking for over an hour, up and down the hill, I came back home, worn out, but really happy. Another day of my adventure over.

Monday, January 09, 2006

JIB Awards

By the way, thanks you to Ezzie, who nominated me for Best Personal Blog for the 2005 JIB (Jewish and Israeli Blog) Awards. If you wish, you can vote for me here, in Group B. Thanks!

I'm Back

I'm back home, though I have to say it doesn't feel as much like home anymore. I miss Israel already. Don't have time for a full blog post now, but stay tuned, hopefully later this evening, and I will start to recount my trip, complete with pictures (I took tons!).

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Can't Stay Away

Ok, must admit that I obviously can't live without my Internet, even in the Holy Land. I am in the Internet cafe that Ezzie suggested, in the Central Bus Station, which is very close to where I am staying. I couldn't stay away from all the blogs that I usually read - too much going on out their in Blogland without me! Anyway, let it just suffice to say that I am having a wonderful trip, have seen so many cool things, and taken TONS of pictures, many of which will hopefully adorn this blog sometime next week when I get back. Been running myself ragged going all over Jerusalem with a special site to see each day. I have to say though, one of the things I missed the most was walking through Jerusalem, all day and night. I can't even count how many miles I have logged walking through since I have gotten here - good thing I bought new sneakers before I left! Don't want to ruin future blog posts with what I have been doing, so I will close here. Be back on Monday, stay tuned then for much, much more!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


I am having fun in Israel, but having some computer issues, so there are probably going to be no more updates from the Holy Land. I am keeping a diary and will post a day by day journal, including pictures, when I return. Have a great week!