Monday, August 8, 2011

Day 14: Ha'Mivchan Ha'rishon Sheli! V' Tisha B'Av: O And I'm Vacationing In The West Bank...NBD

Today I had my first mivchan (test) in Ulpan, and I think it went really, really well. A week ago I would have taken a look at the test and been completely lost, but today I knew exactly what I was doing, and could understand everything! It was especially exciting because the entire test was in Hebrew (instructions and all); there was not one word in English... very intimidating. I'm really hoping that my testing karma is not the same as in the USA because every time I took a test back home and thought I did really well, I didn't, and every time I thought it was awful, I did pretty well. Here in Israel I hope that when I feel like I did well, I do well! I think I'll be fine though; languages are my thing :-) Really the only problem I had during the test was that, towards the end, I had to go to the bathroom so badly I thought I was going to burst. Not the most ideal feeling when you are stuck taking an exam, but I lived through it! 

After class I came home to get ready for Tisha B'av which started tonight around 7:30. For those of you who aren't Jewish, or aren't familiar with all of the holidays, Tisha B'av stands for the 9th day of the month of Av, and it commemorates the destruction of both the first and second Temples (of which only the Western Wall still remains). It is so fascinating, and almost unheard of, that both of the temples were destroyed on the exact same day of the same month but about 650 years apart! FASCINATING! It is said that Tisha B'av is the saddest day in Judaism, and for the religious, Tisha B'av is a day of mourning and fasting. Two years ago when I lived in Jerusalem I was at the Western Wall for Tisha B'av, and it was truly remarkable. There are so many people who flock to the Old City that there is hardly room to move. Men and women are at the Kotel (Western Wall) all day praying, crying, praying some more, etc. It is a sight to see, and an experience I am so thankful to have had. I was thinking about going this year, but seeing as I'm still getting settled in, I didn't think it would be the best idea to go to Jerusalem on a fast day (when I won't be fasting). 

It is so interesting to see how different the atmosphere is in Tel Aviv on this day. In Jerusalem everything is closed, the mood is so somber and sad, and you can feel an aura of mourning in the air. In Tel Aviv life goes on like a normal day, except there is no school, and state and government offices are close. It is an interesting situation for me because, though I am what most people consider a secular Jew,  I am observant in the sense that I celebrate the holidays (I may not fast for all of them), but I am very conservative. I think this is why I am so in love with Jerusalem. In Jerusalem you can't escape any holiday, and you can literally feel it going on around you. Even if you aren't orthodox, you feel like you are participating in every major and minor event and holiday. In Tel Aviv, unless you go out of your way to go to synagogue, you really don't feel like you are involved in anything religious. Maybe on Yom Kippur (because the whole country practically shuts down), but not really anything else. This is why I think I will be going to Jerusalem for the big holidays! 

More exciting news from today. I have been thinking a lot about what to do for my month off coming up. At first I was thinking about going to Europe, but I want to wait until I have people to travel with before making a trip like that. Then it hit me; I have a whole month, and I am already in Israel, why not take this time to go intern and volunteer in the West Bank! Genius! I have wanted to do this since living in Jerusalem 2 years ago, and finally have the time and means to do so. Not only will this be a great way to spend 3 weeks, but it will help me so much with my Arabic (which is very important to me). I applied to a position working in Bethlehem, at the Deheishe Refugee Camp, and would most likely be working with women and children (probably teaching English or the fine arts). The minor cost would cover living, food, travel, and city tours of the West Bank, and I think it will be an amazing experience. I'm not going to lie, I am a little scared to live in a place that is so turbulent, but I look Arab, the Arabic I do know I speak convincingly, and I won't have my star on so hopefully there won't be a problem. It is scary being a woman traveling anywhere by one's self; I would be just as concerned going to Europe alone, but it is an organized program, there are advisors, so though I'm doing it alone, I won't be alone (if that makes any sense). Sometimes I wish it wasn't so hard for us females to travel alone; there are so many places I want to visit, and don't necessarily want to wait for people to go with me, but it is too dangerous to be a girl alone in a foreign country, and to do so would be to invite trouble, so until I have more people to travel with, I will stick to doing things in Israel (or the territories). Anyways, I should find out soon if I get the position and then I can start planning my 3 weeks in occupied territory! Should be great for some research for my thesis! 

Tomorrow I am off to Herzliya to visit a childhood friend who is living there. I am so excited to see more of Israel, and thank goodness it is only a quick bus ride away! That is the very good think about living in a country the size of Rhode Island (figuratively speaking). Stay tuned for an update on that visit, and more to come on Shuk Ha'pishpishim and the street fair in Jaffa! 

Lilah Tov Chaverim Sheli! 
Jordana Simone 

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