Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 6: Do You Speak Jewish?? Ulpan + Beach = TOV MEOD!!!

Well school is officially back in session! Today was my first day of Ulpan, and I absolutely LOVED it! At first I was really nervous that I wouldn't remember any of the Hebrew I had learned over the years, and I have Arabic so fresh in my mind that I was concerned I would get confused, but after a 5 hour review things came back to me nicely. I can still read and write very well, but I have a long way to go with vocabulary. The verb conjugations are very similar to Arabic so I'm not too worried, I just have to watch out that I don't get confused and mix up the languages. I wish there was something like "spanglish" in the Middle East... I would call it "Arabrew"; I figure if Spanish and English can mix to make Spanglish, there is no reason Arabic and Hebrew shouldn't be able to do the same! That would make my life so much easier :-). I'm becoming more comfortable using Hebrew when I'm out in public, and I'm really forcing myself to speak to people, as much as I can, in said language. I have a long way to go, but I feel that I will be ok after the 8 week intensive course. It's funny how when I talk to people back home I have to watch myself because I want to say things like "Tov Meod", instead of "YAY", or "Wow that is so great", or I want to say "Gam Ani" instead of me too, etc.... My poor American friends are going to think I'm nuts, and won't be able to understand a thing I'm saying!

As excited as I am to be conversational in Hebrew, this week has solidified the fact that Arabic is truly the language love of my life. Hebrew is amazing, and I'm so excited to be able to speak and understand, but I'm counting down the days until Arabic classes start. I'm going to Jerusalem on Thursday to walk around the Arab quarter of the old city just so I can keep practicing! I have already met students in my Master's program that are talking about taking trips to the Sinai in Egypt, Petra, Amman, and Aquaba in Jordan, and even Beirut, Lebanon, so I will have many people to travel around the Arab Middle East with! Luckily I'm starting to get pretty dark, so I'll fit right in with my look and my Arabic accent.

After Ulpan, my friend Dana and I decided to hope on a bus and go to the beach. We found the beach a whole lot easier than we found our way to Jaffa! We had a great time just relaxing in the sun, and enjoying the warm, clear Mediterranean waters. I will be going to the beach quite often. Once the sun was starting to set, we decided we might as well eat out since we were surrounded by rows and rows of cafes. We found a very cute little place near the beach and had a delicious pasta dinner. I guess a perk of not eating a lot, and buying food in Tel Aviv (which is pretty expensive), is that at least I can get a few meals out of it :-)

After that I came back home, did some work, and now it is time to relax! I'm so excited that I am tired, and hoping that means I'll get a good night sleep. The last two days another symptom of jet lag surfaced; I can now fall asleep at night but I wake up at 5am... I can't win! Aside from all of that, things in Tel Aviv are amazing. This city is so exciting, fun, active, and young! Every other person has a dog (which makes me so happy), there are shopping districts, beaches, clubs, bars, parks, and everything you need to have an amazing, active living experience. Really the only thing that is a bitch is the awful humidity. I will never have to do Bikram yoga again, since every time I step out of my door I get slapped the face with 80% humidity. I have never had to change clothes more in my life, and I won't even get started on my hair... Let's just say Jew afro describes it adequately!

Well until tomorrow, Lilah Tov!
Jordana Simone

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 5: Uh Oh, I wrote to Glenn Beck! Shabbat Shalom :-)

Well this has truly been a quiet and relaxing first Shabbat in Israel. Though I didn't do much worthy of blogging, I promised myself that, as long as I had internet availability (i.e. am not traveling or in some obscure part of the Middle East) I would blog everyday.

The fabulous thing about Shabbat in Israel is that, even in a busy, secular city like Tel Aviv, things are so quiet. Busses don't run, there aren't many cars on the street, and sidewalks are empty; it is very peaceful and serene. Of course the quiet in Tel Aviv could most likely be attributed to the fact that everyone is either at Synagogue or the beach, but I really enjoyed the peace and quiet while I was resting in my room. Though I won't be making a habit of staying in on the weekends (or really any day for that matter), my body was very happy to get rest. I am finally feeling a little more back on track, even though now I'm having a new jet lag problem; I can get to bed, but I wake up at 5 in the morning... oy vey! Luckily tomorrow I start my Ulpan (intensive Hebrew course) at 8:30 in the morning, so at least if I wake up early I won't be too mad. After Ulpan it's off to the beautiful Tel Aviv beaches for the first time since I've been back. I can't wait to get into that warm Mediterranean water, and further work on my "I want to look much less American" tan!

 Aside from that, the only other thing to note is that I finally wrote to the company putting on Glenn Beck's "Restoring Courage" rally that is taking place in Jerusalem next month. I want tickets very badly, and as an American living in Israel, hope they won't be too hard to find. I know most of you will read this and think "Oh my God, Glenn Beck... How can you stand that man, and blah blah". To you I say this: Anyone who wants to come and bring people to Israel, to throw a rally in support of this amazing land, is worth going to see. I may not agree with him on everything political, but then again I don't really agree with anyone on "everything" when it comes to politics, but his love for Israel is strong and unwavering, and he is doing a great service to this country by bringing both people and awareness to this wonderful, amazing, fantastic, and beautiful country. And hey, if I hope to start out by being a Fox News correspondent in the Middle East (sorry mom, but Fox News is the highest rated cable news station that reaches the most people... O and I'm a Moderate Republican), then it couldn't help to try and make contacts at the event! Mom try not to be too upset, at least there are a few things politically we agree on :-) even if they are very few!

Stay tuned for an extensive post tomorrow :-)

Lilah Tov (goodnight),
Jordana Simone

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 4: Starting To Feel Like Home

Well it was another night of little/no sleep :-( so I am utilizing this Shabbat to stay in, relax, and try and get my body back on track. Between the intense humidity, jet lag, and getting my body used to the tap water, this is a really good day and half to just stay in and work on getting my body settled.

Though my body isn't quite settled yet, my room is finally getting there; it is really starting to feel like home! The room is absolutely enormous. My room alone is bigger than most studio apartments, and that doesn't include the other room in the suite and the common areas. I have a beautiful balcony outside my room that overlooks the gorgeous, lush, green grounds that surround the university apartment buildings. I can't wait until it get's cooler (and less humid) so I can enjoy the outside more! Really the only thing that I have left to do is buy some carpets for the room and decorate the walls; once that happens it really will be home. I'm thinking some Israeli flags, pictures of family and friends, and something that has to do with CAL up on the walls will make this place perfect!

Aside from all of that, my one outing today was to the Office Depot right across the street from where I live. I finally bought all of the supplies I'll need for school, including stickers that make my gorgeous new laptop (compliments of my amazing grandparents) trilingual! I can finally type in Arabic without hitting each key to find where the letters are (although I was starting to memorize where they were!). Now I'm back home and don't plan on moving for at least a day. My one challenge will be to not take a nap so that I can go to bed at a decent hour. I'm thinking the 4 hour nap yesterday was probably why I couldn't fall asleep until 4:30 am :-(.

Look for my first Shabbat update tomorrow and שבת שלומ
Jordana Simone

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 3: I have a disease... It's called being directionally challenged (location: Jaffa)

So, as I have said in the previous few posts, I am having a large issue dealing with the time difference over here. JET LAG IS A BITCH. I have never experienced that before (at least not in Israel) because I have only been in the country for short amounts of time, and everything was so condensed there was no time to feel tired. However, that is not the case this time around. Thinking that this would be a quite, stay at home, kind of day, I woke up with the plan of watching movies, staying in bed, and taking it pretty easy. Now normally this is what I do best... I'm genetically programmed to be lazy (thank you daddy). However, once I woke up from my much needed nap, I just couldn't stomach staying in. I got in touch with my friend Dana (another graduate student who I met on the flight up to Israel), and we decided to brave the bus system and venture into Jaffa (an old, beautiful port city about 20 or so minutes from where we live).

Now, thinking I was so ahead of the game, I went online and found the bus route that went right from my apartment into Jaffa... However, that was the extent of my research, and when you are in an unfamiliar area, and are as directionally challenged as I am, that is probably not the best way to plan an impromptu trip in a foreign country... OOPS. Dana and I got on the bus, got into Jaffa, and were dropped off on a large street in a primarily Muslim area. Now, this was not a problem since she speaks a little Hebrew, and I speak a decent amount of Arabic, however, whenever we went to ask someone how to get to the port, they would answer us speaking so fast, and all we could really decipher was "go up some, then go left, then walk a little more, then go right...etc." As we struggled to decipher directions we found ourselves in the sketchiest back alleyways, in residential neighborhoods, behind churches, but no where near where we needed to be. Thinking I was being clever I looked at where I thought the sun was setting and said we should go that way because it was West and we needed to go that way to get to the water... Well, again, I don't know my right from left, so trying to figure out North from South and East from West didn't go so well... After some more back alleys, we FINALLY saw a guy with a dog and figured he would be safe to talk to because, let's be honest, anyone who is an animal lover is probably not so sketchy; and BONUS, he spoke English! So after some more wandering we managed to make it safely to Jaffa :-) YAY FOR US. We later found out that had we  just turned down the road we were dropped off on we would have been there... MAJOR FAIL

The first thing to say about Jaffa is that it is simply breathtaking. The first thing you see is the beautiful Mediterranean Sea, and then you notice the gorgeous, cobble stone, Mediterranean style buildings that line the hills. From the top of the hills you have a priceless view. Mosques line the streets of Jaffa, and if you listen carefully enough, you can hear the Muslim call to prayer ringing out from the speakers placed atop each Mosque; I felt like I was back in Jerusalem's old city. Since we had all the time in the world we decided to walk around to all of the big tourist sites in Yaffo. There is a wishing bridge lined with each zodiac sign, a statue of Napoleon (who I guess liked to come to Jaffa often), and a huge square (kikar) filled with cafes, shops, and restaurants.

Feeling that it was time to eat, we stopped at one of the eateries in the Kikar, and decided to split a chicken dinner. The waitresses didn't speak such good English so communicating was quite an ordeal! Once our food came we enjoyed a leisurely dinner, and I even made a new friend. An important thing to note about Israel is that there are stray cats EVERYWHERE (this is no exaggeration). They line the streets, are in front of buildings, are outside every restaurant, etc. you can't escape them! Well, if you know me you know I am not a cat person by any means (and I am very allergic to them), however, as I was eating, this adorable kitten kept coming up to me and staring at me with such big, adoring eyes. Being the animal lover that I am, I had to give him some food (I think he secretly knew I would be the one to cave in since he didn't bother Dana at all; clever creature). Well, once I gave him a little that was it. He was glued to me until two Russians came who were deathly afraid of him so the waitresses had to spend a good 10 minutes chasing him away from the patio area. After a good meal, great conversation about Israel, politics, classes, and so on, we decided to brave the journey back to the bust stop that would take us to our campus. Well, let me just say, I may be directionally challenged, but getting back was a hell of a lot easier!

As we were walking back, about 9:30 pm, we noticed that the streets were flooded with people; people just sitting down to dinner, families taking their children to get gelato, groups of girls going out to the bars and clubs. Well, I guess it is now accurate to say that Israel is a lot like spain. In the middle of the day Israelis have, what is called, "quiet hours"(basically a siesta time), so there nights don't really begin until about 9-10. It was such a mad house on the streets, but so amazing and fun. As we walked by shops the owners would yell "Ahlan w Sahlan" (basically a saying in Arabic meaning "welcome"which is used to invite someone in) or Shalom B'vakah Shah (a Hebrew way of saying welcome), and floods of people would be wandering in an out of each place. The city was so alive and vibrant, it was like being in New York City! After pushing (literally) our way through the people, we found our way back to the bus and made it home with no problem. It was such a fun adventure and I can't wait to go back (especially now that I have my bearings). Plus it will great for me to practice my Arabic there since it is such an integrated city.

And now, as I look at the clock and see that it is 1am, I can only hope that my body lets me sleep through the night so I can enjoy my first Shabbat here! Luckily Friday afternoons to Saturday nights everything is closed in Israel so it forces you to take it easy and relax (which I will desperately need). I need to keep reminding myself that I am here for over a year, and I don't have to do everything right now. But I am glad I did Jaffa :-)

Until tomorrow then!!
Jordana Simone

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 2: Tours, Tests, and Terrorists

Well I have made it to my second day in Israel, and I don't think I could love it more. Sure it is over 90 degrees in Tel Aviv with about 80% humidity; sure I look like I have an actual afro; sure I have to take at least 2 showers a day due to excessive sweating (thank you heat + humidity); but even with all that, there is nothing better than being in the Holy Land.

I had a tour of my campus today, and to say that it is stunningly beautiful is putting it mildly. Palm Trees line beautiful stone walkways, red clay and brick buildings are scattered between beautiful areas of gardens and lush trees, and there is a modern museum right on the campus. It is breathtaking! I really can't describe how excited I am to spend more time getting to know the campus, and it shocks me to think of how excited I am to actually start classes and seminars.

After the campus tour we were given a Hebrew test to see where we would be placed in Ulpan (intensive Hebrew class) for the next 8 weeks. I did surprisingly well seeing as I forgot all my hebrew and kept wanting to translate things into Arabic!! I can't wait until I learn more and can actually start conversing in Hebrew; it will sure help at the malls and super markets :-). Anyways, Ulpan starts on Sunday and I can't wait!

After, the test I had some free time so I decided to do what any jet lagged, lazy 23 year old would... take a nap!!! The lack of sleep I got on the plane, combined with a horrible night sleep last night, has put me in a great fog for most of the day. After FINALLY falling asleep I woke up and had to jet off to a security meeting. Understandably, the security in Israel is very intense and there were many things we needed to know before our studies could continue. I, however, feel that the Madrichim (counselors assigned to international students) probably could have gone a little easier  with the  "well there hasn't been a bombing or terrorist attack here in a while so it is up to you whether or not you want to take the busses... but we all do so it will be fine. Just do what you feel is safe and what you are comfortable with..." GREAAAAT. But it goes without saying, I am in a country where things like bombings and terrorist attacks happen often, so it was necessary for them to be brutally honest. I'm not too worried though. I feel so safe here, and if something happens, it will happen, I just have to be prepared and as safe as I can be.

After that meeting I finally made it to the mall and the supermarket with some friends, where I spent way too much money! luckily it was all on things I will need (like food) so I don't feel too bad :-). When I got home I used this amazing program I have on skype to call everyone at home just to let them know I am fine. With this program I can talk to them from my cell phone to their cell or home phone and it is like I am in the other room the reception is so good. I'm so glad I have the option of calling everyone now (it makes me feel a lot more connected)!

Anyways, tomorrow is a free day so I will explore Tel Aviv, go to the Shook (big outdoor market), and hopefully make it to Jaffa (an Arab town near Tel Aviv) so I can start back with my Arabic! More news on that tomorrow.

Until then, all my love
Jordana Simone

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 1: Arrival in the Holy Land

On Monday, July 25th, 2011 I packed up my 2 suitcases, said goodbye to all of my family, loved ones, and friends, and got on a plane that would take me 7,000 or so miles away from my home. As daunting as it may seem, leaving home for 15th months, I can't begin to describe how, when my plane touched down in Israel, I felt like I had just arrived home. Until tonight it was hard for me to pinpoint why I was so calm about this big change in my life; I should be nervous... I'm moving thousands of miles away from home for a very lengthy period of time, I have two languages to learn, and Master's degree to obtain, about a zillion countries I want to go see, and I'm totally alone!!! But despite all of that, my usual nervous stomach, accompanied by my very annoying nervous ticks, were simply... absent. This came as a huge shock to me, and then, when my plane touched down this afternoon to the sounds of clapping and cheers from all of the passengers, it all clicked. Nothing can describe the feeling that I felt when the wheels of the plane touched down in Israel. I didn't feel like I was leaving home for a foreign country. Quite the contrary; I felt like I was leaving one home and arriving in another home. Maybe you have to be Jewish to understand (I don't know since I've only ever known being Jewish), but to be in your homeland, surrounded by your people, is such an overwhelming feeling of joy that pushes out any sort of nerves or fear. 

Then I thought, well shouldn't I be missing my family and friends more? Shouldn't I be more sad to leave them for so long? But why, again, was I so calm? I will answer this by saying, though modern technology is a pain in the ass most of the time, it has allowed the world to stay so connected, that you can be thousands of miles away, and feel like you are sitting at home with your family. I skyped with my mother as soon as I was settled in my apartment, and it was like I was back in my living room. I could see her, she could see me, and it was like I was back at home for a brief period of time. As long as efforts are made to stay in touch, no great amount of time has to pass without my friends, family, and loved ones seeing me, and vice versa. Since we are so well connected, it is hard to miss more than the intimate nature of being face to face with someone. I am very sad at the fact that I will not be in the presence of some of my most dear friends for over a year, especially when keeping in contact, though made easy by technology, is still an effort on both ends. But I am confident that these 15 months will fly by and be filled with new adventures for every one of us. And it is because we are all important to one another, no great amounts of time or contact will be lost, and we can all (family and friends) grow together, while finding ourselves very far apart. 

And while I am talking of friends far away, it is important to note that there was a very dear friend close by who helped me so much today. My dear friend Sam (who I met 3 years ago on a Birthright trip), took a day off of work to meet me at the airport, help me unpack, go shopping for things I needed, and show me around Tel Aviv. I got a feel for the city, sort of learned which busses to take (and might I add that the busses are EXACTLY like the ones in Berkeley! Talk about feeling like home), ate some fantastic food (belgian waffles and pizza!), and then saw me safely back home. It was so amazing seeing him, and it was nice to know that though my main support system is so far away, help and friendship is always close by :-) 

And so, as I am lying in my new bed, in my new apartment, in my new city, in my new country, I send my love to everyone who is dear to me and far away from me. You will all make this adventure so much more amazing because I have you in my life, and when times get hard, and struggles are near, you will be the ones to pull me through. Now it is time to try and fight this jet lag and sleep so I can be ready for my orientation and Hebrew Placement exam tomorrow!!! 

Lilah Tov (Good Night for all of you non Hebrew speakers :-D),
Jordana Simone