Hanukkah Sameah (Happy Hanukkah) from Jerusalem! We are in the midst of the holiday now, as well as that other holy time- winter break. We have the week of Hanukkah off from school, but even better, the rest of the world is on winter break, meaning that the country has swelled to capacity with visitors. I’ve already seen several friends and am looking forward to seeing many more over the next few weeks. Of course, the most significant visitors thus far were Rabbi Nevins who came to spend time with us for a week, and Abba (my father), who came into town for a bar mitzvah and was able to extend his trip to spend a few days with me.
It’s been a VERY eventful few weeks since I last wrote, starting with an extreme form of JTS class bonding in which most of us shared a nasty cold. Thankfully we are all healthy and back to feeling like ourselves. I’ll share bits and pieces of various events and experiences in coming posts, but for now I wanted to paint a picture of how I spend most of my time in my normal day-to-day routine.
Let’s start with my walk to school. Schechter is directly across from my apartment. In between lies a valley of sorts. So, to get to school I need to go down one hill, and around and up another. The fastest way would be by zipline, but we haven’t found the funding to have it installed yet. Every day, I go down 140+ steps and up another 88 (I would have said 90 but Sarit and I have counted at least 3 times and I wouldn’t want to misrepresent our findings). Of course, to get home, it’s the reverse. While at 7:15am or at the end of a long school day, this walk is not exactly how I want to spend my time, I am afforded a great view and several short workouts a day.
Let me digress for a moment with a short note about my apartment. I live on Tchernichovsky Street, a great location that easily connects to several neighborhoods and other parts of the city (every destination seems to be a 20 minute walk in any direction). I live in a 2 bedroom with one roommate, Becky, who is a Hebrew College rabbinical student from Boston. She is AWESOME (and I’m not just saying that because I know she will read this. We get along nicely, share many of the same values, and she has been a fantastic resource and friend thus far. We have “roommate shuk time” on Wednesday afternoons during which we stock up on our groceries for the week, and it is certainly one of the highlights of my routine.
Okay, back to school…
My course load is lighter than it was last year in NY. This is for several reasons: classes are spread over 5 days rather than 4 (I REALLY miss having Sundays off), I don’t have to rush off to any jobs after class (thanks to my A-1 student status), and overall, the classes require very little outside prep, largely because this Israel year was designed to be a time to enable more experiential and personal exploration. It’s been quite refreshing enlivening. As someone who often has trouble saying “no” to things (jobs, activities, etc), I’ve learned a lot by being in a situation in which I am forced to just “be.”
So, how am I filling my time? I am taking 5 classes at Schechter: Halacha (Jewish law, this semester focusing on prayer, Shabbat, and holidays), Talmud (tractate Moed Katan), Hebrew language, Midrash (reading the stories of the rabbis from a literary perspective, Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs), and Jerusalem through the Lens of the Three Monotheistic Faiths (a different field trip each week to a holy site in the city). All classes are taught in Hebrew, which is certainly a challenge and a nice balance to the lighter course load. For the most part, I am really enjoying my classes (even Hebrew, despite the fact that I was bitter at the beginning of the year about having to take ANOTHER Hebrew language class. Ada, our teacher, is just that good). Our teachers are doing an incredible job of making sure that all of us Americans understand what is being taught, and that the Israeli students don’t intimidate us into not being able to contribute to class (let’s just say that Israeli classroom conduct is a little less “restrained” than American classroom decorum). We are even starting to befriend some of these classmates arrive at a mutual understanding of each others’ experiences.
One other big component of our program is the our experiential learning programs. I mentioned our tiyul up north in my last post. To do our experiences justice, I’m saving that for a later post.
And in my copious free time?
I’m taking an incredible seminar at the Hartman Institute (http://www.hartman.org.il/) that brings together a few students from each of the major rabbinical schools that have year-long Israel programs in their curriculum (JTS, Ziegler at AJU, Hebrew Union College, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Hebrew College) over homemade soup and fantastic learning each week. Some of Israel’s top educators and spiritual innovators have presented to us this year. Additionally, we spent a Shabbat together as a group in the desert to tighten our community. I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to learn with and from such a diverse group of peers each week, especially with the knowledge that we will one day be rabbinic colleagues. Plus, the soup that people have been bringing every week has been delicious.
Another time-filler has been trying to learn how to play guitar. This has been on my lifetime to-do list for a while now, among many other things I would like to learn to do if I ever have the time (learn Spanish and Arabic, learn to crochet, hike the Israel trail, or take a road trip across the US, for example). Thankfully, classmate and friend Sarit also had this goal on her list, and we’ve been taking lessons weekly. Sadly, our teacher had to return to the States for an undetermined amount of time, so we are currently on our own. I think the sounds coming out of my guitar are actually starting to sound like music though, which is good. Still, it will probably be a while before you see me leading campfire singalongs.
The last piece to the puzzle is volunteering. We are all expected to find some sort of role in the community here but have the freedom to choose how we want to spend our time. I’m hoping to work with an organization called Ultimate Peace (http://www.ultimatepeace.org/), which combines two of my favorite activities: ultimate Frisbee and peace building. I need to finalize some details, and will hopefully be joining with them regularly soon. I’ll report back!
In my remaining time I’ve been reading books for fun more than ever before, and even socializing a bit with friends around the city. So THIS is what it’s like to be a person who isn’t married to her homework- I’m going to have to figure out how to bring this new-found lifestyle back to New York with me!