Thursday, September 29, 2011

9/29/11: Going Home With A Strange Family? Not A Problem In Israel :-D

How does one even begin to describe a Rosh Hashanah morning service in Jerusalem? This is a day where even the least observant of Jews will make the trek to Beit Knesset (Synagogue) to pray. Once inside the Synagogue you notice people from every generation; the, what I like to call, Pre-1948 generation made up a significant portion of my congregation, while there were plenty of people my parents age, and a few young couples with their infants and toddlers. People filled the whole Shul, the men were wrapped up in their prayer shawls, the older women were in their suits and head scarves, and the young mothers were praying with a Siddur (prayer book) in one hand and their babies in the other. I looked around and felt like everyone was family, and, as I looked at the young families, I couldn't help but get excited that one day (don't worry mom and dad not for a while) I will be in Beit Knesset with my husband wrapped in his prayer shawl.

When I first arrived and Shul, the Chazzan (Cantor) was in the middle of the morning service, and I couldn't help but notice his gorgeous voice. I think he might have been from Yemen because he had that Eastern sound (Mizrahi as they say in Israel). As the services continued the whole Temple was filled with the beautiful sound of our prayers, and when it was time to sing the Avinu Malkeinu, you couldn't help but get the chills. If Jews do nothing else on Rosh Hashanah, it is very important for us to hear the blowing of the Shofar; it is a great mitzvah (good deed), and something that should not be missed. For those of you who don't know what a Shofar is, it is the horn of a ram used in Jewish services and ceremonies.

 After such a passionate and wonderful service, it was profound to feel the silence of the congregation as we listened to the blowing of the shofar. A man my Zayde's age had the honor of performing the blowing of the Shofar, and it was so amazing to see him do it all 4 of the times it is done during the service. At around 1:30, after services were over, I met up with a family I had the pleasure of meeting last night, and they invited me to their home for lunch after services. Everyone who knew I didn't have family here, and didn't have plans to have holiday meals out, were so willing to invite me to their homes if they had room. Since I can't be with my own family, it was so nice to be with a local Jewish family eating a traditional holiday lunch. I was at their home until about 4:30, and then had to make my way back to East Jerusalem.

It is so interesting that even though East Jerusalem is only about 5 minutes away from where I was, I felt like I was leaving my world and returning to a place so foreign. I maybe be completely enthralled with Arab life and culture, but it is not my own. For as interested as I am in their world, I am that much more in love with my own. A major part of our Rosh Hashanah sermon was the Rabbi talking about how Abraham, a man of 100 years, and Sarah, a woman of 90, gave birth to a son who, in turn, gave birth to a new nation; the nation of Israel. It filled me with such pride knowing that I am a descendant of that chosen nation, praying, on this high holiday, in our holy city.

I got back to the hotel, ordered some dinner, and spent the rest of the night relaxing. Who would have thought that praying all day would make you so tired. I guess it is all of the "please rise", "please sit" that goes on :-D.  All in all, it was a fantastic way to spend the first day of Rosh Hashanah, and I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Tomorrow will be another day used to utilize some down time, since Saturday is my big trip to the West Bank. I want to be sure I'm nice and rested for the journey! I'll probably explore more of East Jerusalem, maybe go to the Old City, and just take it easy.

Until Tomorrow :-),
Jordana Simone 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

9/28/11: HAPPY NEW YEAR!! High Holidays In The Holy City

At sun down this evening Rosh Hashana began, which is not only the Jewish new year, but the start of the Jewish high holiday season. The fact that I am able to be in our holiest city during this special time in Judaism leaves me with feelings of happiness beyond description. Before the chag (holiday) started, I had a fairly normal day. I woke up, headed down to the hotel restaurant, had a delicious breakfast, practiced my Arabic, and then went into work. I decided to put in a half day since I am missing tomorrow due to the holiday.

Because most businesses closed early today, and because neither of my bosses were in the office (Hillel was in Tel Aviv, and Ziad doesn't have access to Jerusalem since they close the checkpoints at the West Bank completely during the holidays), it was a fairly slow day. Najat and I were the first ones in the office and we had a great time just talking and playing Arabic music. I always felt bad about subjecting people to my music at home, even though it wouldn't stop me from playing it, I still felt a little bad. It is so funny how those feelings stick with you because I found myself saying to Najat (an Arab women) "if this music bothers you I will turn it off". She looked at me like I was crazy! THIS IS HER MUSIC! When the other two interns came into the office we continued our leisurely day with coffee, pastries, and, of course, more music! An hour or so into work Najat heard from her friend who owns a large apartment complex across the street from the office, and we went to look at one of the rooms. I really liked it and decided to spend my remaining three weeks there instead of at the hotel. I will still have meals at the hotel, but I'm going to save over $1,000 by staying at the apartment across the street.

After Najat and I got back from looking at the room I did a little more work, and then was invited to go with Molly and Victoria (the two other interns) to Ramallah on Saturday for a big Oktoberfest festival! I can't wait to FINALLY go to the West Bank, and have a feeling it will be an incredible experience!

I left the office around 1 to go back to the hotel, ate some lunch, took a nap, and got ready for Erev Rosh Hashanah services. I found an amazing Conservative Synagogue online, was in touch with the Rabbi, and was very excited to experience the holidays with a new congregation. After getting all ready, I hopped in a cab and was on my way to West Jerusalem. I found the Synagogue, no problem, was welcomed and greeted as a member of everyone's family, met the Rabbi, and had a wonderful experience.

At first I was a bit sad being alone and without my family, but as I met more people, was invited to more homes for meals, I didn't feel so alone anymore. I, of course, miss being home for the holidays surrounded by family and friends, and, of course, I miss my mother's cooking, and how it makes the house smell, but being on my own turned out to be not so bad after all :-). I'm becoming quite the independent woman! The service itself was lovely, and I am very glad I stumbled upon this congregation. I can't wait to go back tomorrow morning for services and to hear the Shofar blow. It was so special being here in Israel, and something I hope everyone can experience at least once in their lives. You can feel the holidays in the air here, and I was filled with such pride and happiness seeing all of the people walking around the city getting ready to go to their respective Synagogues. To me, being Jewish is so profound and the most special thing in the world, and on top of that, to be a Jew, in Jerusalem, during the high holidays, is indescribable.

I have never felt more proud to be Jewish, and have never been more happy that my security in my faith and religion is unwavering. It is because of that security that I am able to be so open to other cultures and religions, and really appreciate them for their beauty and complexity. With that said, as I entered my hotel room, after sitting through Rosh Hashanah services, I heard the hauntingly beautiful Muslim call to prayer, and I was content beyond belief. That is the story of Jerusalem; a holy city in every sense of the word, where one minute you find yourself praying in a Beit Knesset (Synagogue), and the next you are  hearing the Muslim call to prayer ring through the air outside your window.

In the spirit of the holidays I feel it is appropriate to say that I thank God every day for all of his blessing; He has been so good to me, and I am so appreciative. I pray that we are all inscribed in the book of life for another year, pray for a happy and meaningful life, and pray for the health and happiness of my friends and family. I wish everyone a happy, sweet, and healthy new year, and love each and every one of you. Shana Tova v'metukah v'chag sameach chaverim v mishpacha sheli!

Love to you all <3,
Jordana Simone 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

9/27/11: What Happens When You Put Israelis and Palestinians In The Same Room?

Today was my first day truly exploring East Jerusalem, and to say that I fell madly in love would be putting it mildly. However, since I want to start this post from the beginning of my day, I'll have to keep you in suspense a bit longer. Last night I slept a little better so I didn't quite feel the need to drag myself out of bed too early. I took my time, had a nice morning shower, got ready for work, and made my way down to breakfast around 8:30. Breakfast this morning consisted of pita, humus, baba ganoush, cucumbers, tomatoes (which I obviously didn't eat), cheese, turkey, and tea. DELICIOUS! I had a very leisurely meal, caught up on my news, read my BBC Arabic headlines (which sparked interest among the waiters who felt that that meant they had the go ahead to speak to me in Arabic), and then headed off to work.

Leave it to me to be not only directionally challenged, but also an awful judge of time. I wanted to be at the office at 9:30, left my hotel around 9:15 to give myself enough time to get there, followed my good directions, and ended up arriving at the office at 9:18! Guess I'll get to sleep in a little longer tomorrow! Since no one was at the office I decided to wait outside for Najat to come. I could have waited inside the building but that's just lonely and no fun. As I was waiting, an older man from across the street came up to me and immediately started rambling in Arabic. Not only was he speaking very fast, but I had my ipod in, so I had to stop him and ask him to speak English. He introduced himself (his name is Jamal), we talked a bit in Arabic, and then he gave me his phone number and told me to call him to practice Arabic anytime; no cost! He was a very sweet man. After a few minutes Najat showed up and we made our way to the office. Since it was a slower day at the office, Najat decided to take me around East Jerusalem, show me where things are, and truly introduce me to the city.

Around 11 we set out and made our way down the street to one of the best bakeries in East Jerusalem. Immediately upon entering the bakery I was flooded with welcomes and greetings, and told to take a pastry free of charge. I later found out that it is custom to offer guests a taste of anything in the store even if they don't intent on buying anything. I tried a delicious chocolate pastry and decided to buy a whole bag full. Thinking that I was about to spend quite a bit of money (I really filled the bag up with pastries), you can imagine my surprise when I asked the final price and was told "chamsa shekel" (5 shekels)!!! I couldn't believe it! I am still stuck in the Tel Aviv mindset that everything is so damn expensive, I almost couldn't believe this was true. After buying pounds of pastries, Najat took me around all the main streets, helped me pick out some great long sleeve shirts (which were also very cheap), showed me where all the little markets are, took me into almost every store with anything interesting to see, and introduced me to shop owner friends of hers.

After walking around for a bit, Najat took me to shari3a Sala7-Addin (when you write Arabic in English letters you use numbers whenever there is an emphatic sound), Salah Addin street, which is comparable to Dizengoff street in Tel Aviv. It is just a street over from my hotel and as we were walking I looked up and saw the wall of the Old City! I had no idea I was only about 5 minutes away from bab-azzahra (Zion gate), which leads right into the Jewish quarter, maybe 6 minutes away from bab-Il3amud (Damascus gate), which leads to the Muslim quarter, and 10 minutes from bab-Ilchaleel (Jaffa gate), which is the main tourist entrance that leads to all quarters. On Sala7-Addin street there were wonderful sweet shops filled with candy and chocolates, shops with nuts, spices, and every kind of goody you could possibly want. It felt like I was in an indoor shuk, and the smells inside these stores were to die for!

Seeing as it was a work day we couldn't spend all day walking around, although I think both of us really wanted too. We made it back to the office just in time for us to leave for a roundtable conference on the Palestinian Israeli conflict. A perk of being an intern was that I was invited to witness the conference and take notes. I have never been to anything like this in my life. It was a group of influential and high powered Israelis and Palestinians all discussing the conflict, the UN vote, possible solutions, and so on. The most fantastic part about this conference was that it didn't feel Pro-Palestinian, or Pro-Israeli. I feel, more and more, that if you say you are one of these, you are against the other; Pro-Israelis don't want a Palestine, Pro-Palestinians don't want an Israel. Instead, this conference was very Pro-Peace and Pro-finding a solution for two states. Ideas were thrown around, arguments were had (some more heated than others, which is only natural when you have strong and passionate opinions), but it was a very respectful environment; everyone had a chance to speak and be heard. I won't go into the specifics of what was discussed, because that would take hours and consume about 100 pages, but it was extremely productive and gave me great material for my thesis!

It was so refreshing to see both sides sitting and talking with one another; being productive, throwing out amazing ideas, and really listening to and respecting one another. Now, if only the governments could follow suit. I so deeply wish that closed minded people on each side of the conflict could have been there to witness these discussions, and really hear educated opinions from both sides. I look forward to witnessing many more of these types of roundtables, and soon, hopefully, offering up my own opinions and ideas on the issues at had.

Aside from all of that I am looking to get an apartment here instead of staying in the hotel. It is a great hotel but very pricey, and there is a beautiful apartment across the street from my work for almost $1500 less. I was talking to my grandparents tonight and was telling them that if it is cheaper to do so I would rather live in East Jerusalem during the year and commute to Tel Aviv for school, than pay tooth and nail for an apartment in Tel Aviv when I really want to live in Jerusalem anyways. I don't have class until the afternoon and would love to permanently live in Jerusalem. It is something I am strongly considering!

Tomorrow night is the first night of Rosh Hashana and the official start to the Jewish high holidays! I am so happy and grateful to be able to spend the holidays in Jerusalem and can't wait to experience the chaggim (holidays) here. I think it will be an amazing experience!

With that said, I wish you all a Shana Tova U'metookah (happy and sweet year), and CHAG SAMEACH!!!!

Lilah Tov <3,
Jordana Simone 

Monday, September 26, 2011

9/26/11: When They Say Bed And Breakfast... They Mean It! + The Palestine-Israel Journal

For some reason, and I don't know if it was the excitement of being in a new place, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, or nervousness for my internship, I did not sleep very well last night. Now, normally after an awful night sleep I tend to not want to wake up, but when 7:30 am rolled around, I decided to skip my usual "hit the snooze button 50 times" routine, and got up to start my day. I wanted to get an early start to give myself enough time to find the office. If you have been reading the blog you know that I have a genetic condition called "directional challengement", so I wanted to ensure I had enough time to get lost and still make it to work on time!

When I got down to the restaurant for breakfast I was the only one and there was nothing laid out so I thought maybe I had missed it. Seeing that I was a bit confused one of the waiters invited me to sit down and explained that breakfast isn't buffet style here. He gave me a few choices of typical Middle Easter breakfasts (yogurt, eggs, fruit, etc.), and when I told him I wanted eggs I figured he would come out with an omelette or a plate of scrambled eggs... WRONG. The Middle East does breakfast really well! As you can see from the picture above, I was given my omelette, tomatoes and cucumbers, turkey, two types of cheese, a delicious peach fruit concoction, orange juice, and mint tea! I was overwhelmed to say the least; there was just so much food. Now the think about me is I am not even slightly a breakfast person. I usually am not hungry until 11 or 12, however, with this amazing spread, I decided to become a breakfast person and go super light on the lunch. I think a month long relationship with breakfast will do me some good.

After I (mostly) finished my feast (the tomatoes, turkey, and one type of cheese didn't make the cut), I set out for the office. Lucky for me it was only about a 5 minute walk, and I was given fantastic directions so I didn't get lost. SHOCK! When I arrived at the office I was greeted by a lovely Palestinian woman named Najat. Najat is in charge of publications and various other tasks at the journal, and I had such a great time getting to know her. I probably spent the first 30 minutes or so chatting with her, she is so sweet and kind, and she made me feel very welcome and comfortable.  When I was all situated at my desk, I began by researching different organizations that could possibly help contribute funds to the journal. Being as the PIJ (Palestine-Israel Journal) is a non profit organization, and economic times are hard, they need all the help that they can get through grants and donations. I don't have a specific project yet, so I am mainly focusing on social media advertising for the journal, and preparing grant proposals. As I become more settled I hope to contribute to their blog, and research and write articles, but since they have already started their next publication (all about women empowerment), it might be a while until that happens.

As I was doing my research, two other interns arrived at the office; one was a girl from Germany, and the other a girl from Iowa. They settled in and then Najat ordered us all the most AMAZING humus from a local restaurant. Seeing as I had just eaten a 5 course breakfast, I was not hungry, but I ate some of it when it arrived (and it was the best I have ever had), and saved the rest for lunch tomorrow. After everyone had eaten, Najat made us all traditional Arabic coffee, and taught us a little bit about the custom behind serving coffee. It was very, very interesting. First she explained, step by step, how to brew the coffee, and then, she explained, that the foam that settles on the top is dished into the guests cups, to signify giving the guest a piece of the best part of the coffee; the top part (since everything is always more fresh at the top).

Later on in the day Hillel (the co-editor and man who interviewed me) came into the office and gave me a project to transcribe a recording of an interview that he was sitting in on. There was only one problem with that; the interview was recorded on a practically ancient TAPE recorder, and I couldn't hear a word... We'll have to see what to do about that! I even took it home to play it aloud in my room and I still could only make out every 20th word. As the day progressed the Palestinian owner, Ziad Abu zayyad, came into the office and I was introduced to him. He seems like a wonderful person and I am very excited to get to know him better.

After work I was very tired (no doubt due to my awful night sleep) and just wanted to get home. I was originally going to explore a bit, but decided to postpone. I will save that for Friday when I don't have work and can really go out in the day and look around. I did, however, stop and buy myself some shampoo and conditioner since the hotel only provides little packets that aren't made for people with 50 pounds of curly, frizzy hair.
Case and point: Huge hair... and this isn't even as big as it can be. It is twice this in Tel Aviv!

When I finally arrived back at the hotel, I rested a bit, took a shower, and decided to go down and pick up some dinner. Tonight wasn't a "eat out alone" kind of night for me, so I decided to go down, order one of their famous small pizzas to go, and then take it back up to my room. The minute I sat down, a waiter came over to me with a glass of red wine, which I unfortunately had to decline, but I thought the gesture was very sweet. I ordered my pizza and a bottle of water (which they decided to make my complimentary drink in lieu of the wine!), and waited while it was all being prepared. The staff is so sweet at the restaurant, and are always asking me if they can get me anything, and so on, and it didn't hurt that Arabic music videos were playing in the background. I think tomorrow I will go down with my laptop and stay for dinner since it will give me a chance to practice my Arabic while listening to good music and getting fee wine! When the pizza came out it looked divine, and let me say this, it was divine! I only ate a few slices (saving the rest for tomorrows dinner), but it was perfect, wood fire pizza.

Now, as I am sitting here getting ready for bed, I can't help but feel a little homesick. It is so strange because this is the first time since leaving that I have genuinely missed the comforts of home, and seeing my mom, dad, and grandparents in person. I think it is because I am getting used to a very unfamiliar place, and am not totally set in my ways here (which is totally normal seeing that I have only been here one day). It also didn't help that a person from my Jewish community back home, and a friend of my family, decided not to write me a letter of recommendation for making Aliyah because she hasn't kept up with me in a while. The letter of recommendation is very simple, and I would have been happy to fill her in briefly on what I have been up to and why I want to become an Israeli citizen, but this was not suggested and she simply declined. I'm not mad, and understand the fact that she didn't feel comfortable writing the letter without a little background information, but when you are already a little down, and the background information is easy enough to obtain, news like that doesn't really help.

However, tomorrow is a new day, and I am still so happy and blessed to be here. I wouldn't be able to appreciate all of the wonderful days I have without a few tough ones, and tough days build character, but I am not worried, and will get back on my feet in no time. I'm sure a good night sleep will do the trick! And with that, I will say goodnight and send my love to all of you keeping up with my crazy life here in the Middle East :-)

Lilah Tov!!
Jordana Simone 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

9/25/11: Toto We Are NOT In Israel Anymore... Welcome To Palestine!

You can't possibly understand the difference between East and West Jerusalem until you actually experience both places. Firstly, Israel has never felt like a foreign country to me. Sure they speak a different language here, sure the people act differently, eat different foods, have different mannerisms, and so on, but I have never felt far away from home. Naturally, because Jerusalem is controlled by Israel, I figured that East Jerusalem wouldn't be wildly different than the other places within the city I have been to. I mean I practically lived in the Old City, so how different could East Jerusalem be... Well, I was in for quite a surprise. If Palestine were an established state, I would be right smack in the middle of its capital. The Old City is maybe a 10 minute walk away, but in that 10 minutes you enter and exit completely different worlds. Here in the East there is no integration of Jews and Arabs, or at least it does not feel that way, there are no signs in Hebrew, everything is in Arabic or English, Muslim women with their traditional clothing roam the streets, while groups of Arab men stand and talk on street corners. If I didn't know any better, I would think I was in Jordan or Egypt. Aside from the slight culture shock, I managed to find my hotel and get settled in.

The hotel is simply wonderful and I am so happy to be staying here. Though it is slightly tucked away in a corner, and the outside doesn't boast great appeal, inside it is quite charming. When I first entered the hotel the man at the desk knew exactly who I was, was extremely helpful and kind, and got me all checked in with no problems. After a few minutes, another very sweet man came to help me with my bags, took me up to my room, and made sure I got settled in and knew how to work all of the appliances. Upon entering the room I couldn't help but notice how quaint it is. I have a little hallway where the bathroom is, and a step up to the bedroom where there is a very cute little bed, a fridge,  two desks, a closet, and a TV. One thing is for sure, I'm very glad I'm thin or I would not be able to fit in the bathroom. I honestly don't know how people who aren't slender manage, and I say this without jest or sarcasm. The sink is practically in the toilet and the shower is practically in the sink. It is quite an interesting arrangement! And for some reason they want you to throw the toilet paper in the trashcan instead of the toilet... not sure how that is going to work out...

After getting all settled in and unpacked, which of course I did while listening to my Arabic music (hey, when in Rome!!), I decided to see what kind of TV they had here. Again, thinking that this is Israel, I assumed the TV would be similar to what it was like in Tel Aviv... WRONG AGAIN! The subtitles here are only in Arabic, they have a few movie channels, no American news (the only news in English is Al-Jezeera English), news stations and channels streaming in from Jordan, Lebanon, Dubai, Syria, and so on, and plenty of channels that play Arabic music videos! Not complaining at all :-), but again, there is nothing here that even remotely feels like I am in Israel. As I turned off the television the Muslim call to prayer rang out through my room. I turned off my music so that I could listen to the beautiful sounds of the prayers, and for the first time I truly felt like I was visiting a completely foreign country.

After testing the TV, making myself some coffee (since they provide a lovely little water heater and an assortment of coffees and teas), and skyping with my grandparents, mom, and dad, I was on the brink of passing out from starvation so I decided to go down to the hotel's famous restaurant. Now, I must admit, I have never eaten out alone in my life. I'm more of the "if I have no one to eat with I'll pick something up and eat at home". However, since this whole trip is about new experiences and trying new things, and because I don't have food and I'm not about to go out and walk around at night in an unfamiliar (Arab) place, I decided to take my kindle, go down to the restaurant, get myself a table for 1! The restaurant was absolutely gorgeous. When I first entered I noticed an authentic wood fire oven (they are known for their pizza), there was a smoking and non smoking section, and a huge bar. Everything in this hotel is so clean and kept up (which is not always a guarantee even in the nice parts of Israel), and the restaurant was no different.

In honor of my flying solo, I decided to treat myself to a nice pasta dinner (mushroom fettucini) and a glass of red wine. I feel that whenever I see movies where a woman is eating alone she always has a glass of red wine, so why should I be any different :-). It was all very European. I ordered my dinner, pulled out my kindle, talked to the waiters for a few minutes, and then enjoyed a lovely, delicious, and quiet dinner. I made a pretty big dent in the book that I'm reading (Voltaire's Candide), and had a very fabulous solo dining experience. When I was finished with my meal the waiter came with my check and informed me that my wine was on the house; compliments of the restaurant's manager!! I got free wine and I didn't even speak to anyone in Arabic! Who knows what will happen when I actually start talking to them more! It's a good thing I liked eating out alone so much since I will probably be doing it quite often in my month here.

After my meal, as I was walking up to my room, I noticed a few things that starvation had blinded me to on the way down only an hour or so before. When I say I feel like I am in Palestine and not Israel, it is not just because there are no Jews or Hebrew here. It is recognized as Palestine here, at least according to the hotel decorations; there is not even a slight mention of the world "Israel". I honestly feel that if I say to someone here that we are, in fact, in Israel, they would argue and say we are, in fact, in Jerusalem, Palestine. Of course I will clearly not being testing this theory!  Right outside of my room there is a beautiful hallway adorned with various fountains and pictures welcoming guests to Palestine, needlepoints of Israel with Palestine written above, and so on. It was very interesting to see these decorations to say the least.

It is a whole new world here, and with a new world comes new adventures. I am so excited to be here experiencing an entirely different culture and way of life. I may only be 10 minutes away from the Jerusalem I know and love, but I feel like I am in a whole different world. I'll just say this, I will have absolutely no problems finding people to practice my Arabic with! I may be a bit uncomfortable at first because it is so unfamiliar to me, and I will have to buy a whole new set of clothing items (my short shorts and tank tops don't quite work here so well), but I am so excited to embark on this journey, start an amazing internship, and have a month living in a beautiful hotel smack dab in the middle of Arab East Jerusalem.

With God's watchful eye (inshallah v baruch Hashem) I will be safe, learn so much, meet amazing new people, and have the absolute time of my life!

Masa Il'Kheir ya asdeqqa,
Jordana Simone

Friday, September 23, 2011

9/23/11: Without The Rain, There Would Be No Rainbow

Ever since I was a little girl I have loved overcast, rainy days. They are the perfect days for bundling up with a good book or movie, and enjoying the storm outside. Now, being the desert rat that I am, after a day or so of clouds and rain I am very ready for the sun, but every once in a while, a nice, overcast day is very much appreciated. Today was just that kind of day; I experienced my first Israeli rainstorm! Dana and I decided to do some shopping in Jaffa today, as a nice pre Shabbat outing, and, what do you know, as soon as we walked off the bus the rain came a-pourin down! I was less than perfectly dressed for such an occasion with my white tank top and short shorts, so we decided to hide out in a cafe, get some food, and wait out the storm. We found a very cute place near the entrance to Jaffa, I got a delicious egg sandwich with a hot glass of cinnamon apple cider, and by the time we were done eating, the storm had passed. It was a wonderful 30 minute downpour, and I celebrated its passing by doing what I do!

Dana is going back to California for the high holidays so she wanted to buy little gifts for friends back home and we decided that Jaffa was the best place to do that. As we were walking through Shuk Hapishpishim (Jaffa Flea Market) we came upon a shop that had a lot of very nice little trinkets. It was a pretty typical Shuk shop, like one you would find in the Old City of Jerusalem. This particular shop had a good deal of Judaica, and touristy items that looked very appealing, so we decided to check it out. My only hope was that I had maintained my ability to bargain for good prices (a skill I almost perfected when I lived in Jerusalem!)

I was more there to just look, however, as Dana was talking to the shop owner about prices and so on, I couldn't help but notice something very strange about the way he spoke Hebrew. For an ear that does not know the difference between Hebrew and Arabic you would never know that the shop owner was, indeed, speaking in Hebrew; it sounded JUST like Arabic. Now, normally this wouldn't be odd because there are plenty of Arabs that work in these stores (especially in Jaffa), however, this store owner was wearing a yarmulka (Jewish head covering), and Jews don't usually speak Hebrew with an Arabic accent. My curiosity was aflame at this point.

Deciding to take matters into my own hand, I asked the store owner about a beautiful plate decorated in Arabic writing. I figured he would be curious as to why an American, Jewish girl would want to know about a plate with Arabic on it. I was correct! His first response to my question was "do you know what this is"? I so badly wanted to say "ummm ya... it's a plate..." but I didn't think he would appreciate my humor, so I told him that I, indeed, knew that it was Arabic writing on the plate. After looking at me for a second he said, "Btihki Arabi?" (do you speak Arabic), to which I answered, in Arabic, that I do speak a little. We then started talking a bit in Arabic, he showed me almost everything in the store that had Arabic writing on it, and, after all of that, I had to buy something. I didn't mind since I have yet to purchase any decorative items for my room, and he let me practice my Arabic with him for a bit so buying something was the least I could do. I ended up buying the plate and a beautiful Hamsa with Arabic writing.

After a nice day of shopping in Jaffa, and a beautiful rainstorm, it was time to get back to Ramat Aviv. I got home, made some food, did some cleaning, and then had a very nice start of Shabbat. I was by myself, but I never feel lonely here. I am so busy, and have so many things occupying my time, that I really enjoy the time I do have to myself. I decided to light my little Shabbat candles, say the blessings, make my dinner, and get ready for the big Palestinian/Israeli showdown at the United Nations.

After watching both Abbas and Netanyahu address the United Nations, I was left in awe. Abbas's speech was very predictable, and relied mostly on the emotional situation of the "Palestinian plight", however, I was completely blown away by Netanyahu's address. After hearing him speak I became ten times more passionate about why I am here in the Middle East (which I never thought could happen since my passion level is already at a very high point!), and ten times more motivated to truly work for not only peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, but work for the strength and continuation of the Jewish state of Israel; my new home.

Tomorrow I am off to look at possible places for my first apartment! Since I am making Aliyah, becoming a citizen, and will most likely be living here for quite a few years, it is time that my 23 year old, graduate student, almost Israeli citizen, self finds her first apartment! Israel really will soon be HOME!

Lilah Tov and Shabbat Shalom Chaverim!
Jordana Simone 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

9/22/11: Great Teachers Teach From The Heart... Not From The Book

In this day and age, unfortunately, there are very few people who can say they have had a teacher who inspires them to the core; a teacher who is effective and creative, stern but kind, and one who reaches them in a way that can't be taught. While many people have never experienced one teacher like this, I have been lucky beyond all else to have had three in my life.

The first was Mrs. Wiggenhorn (3rd grade) who taught me that I can do anything I want no matter how difficult or impractical. I remember it like it was yesterday. Mrs. Wiggenhorn's 3rd grade class was going to put on a play and she decided on "The Pagemaster". Well, this was a bit of a problem for me. Being the theatrical diva that I am, I, naturally, wanted to play the main part, but the main character in the pagemaster was a male character. Being the fearless 3rd grader that I was, I went to Mrs. Wiggenhorn and told her that I wanted to audition for the part even though I was a girl. After my audition I received the news that I had won the part, and thus, my starring theatrical career began! It was Mrs. Wiggenhorn and her play that taught me to go for my dreams, even if the outcome is unlikely. After all, you don't know unless you try.

The second teacher, one who I hold in the highest respect, and who I am convinced helped me become the person (at least the academic person) that I am today, is Palm Spring's High School's Mrs. Loretta Stagg. She was one tough cookie who meant business, and you didn't want to be on her bad side, but she was one of the best, if not the best, teachers I have ever had. I was lucky to have her for two years, and pushed myself very hard to make sure that I did well in her classes. She meant business, and success in her class was something to be very, very proud of. She always believed in my potential and was there to help me through my hardest years of high school, and even through my process of applying to colleges.  I am sure that what I learned in her classes helped me get to Berkeley, and helped me be successful while studying there. She will forever stand out in my mind as a profound influence, and wonderful teacher.

The third teacher is one who I only had for 2 short months, but because I was with her for 5 hours a day, 5 days a week, it really felt like she was my educator for much longer. My Ulpan teacher, Eti (photographed above with my Ulpan class), is one of the most special, wonderful teachers I have ever had. Today, as I walked out of my last summer Ulpan class I couldn't help but feel an immense sadness at the thought of not having her as my teacher anymore. There is a possibility that she will be teaching my Ulpan level in the fall, but it is not a for sure, and all I can do is pray to God that my luck keeps up and I am able to continue in her class during the year. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why Eti is such an amazing teacher, but whatever the reason, she loves what she does and is one of the most effective teachers in the world. One thing is for sure, she is not easy; she is tough and let's you know exactly what she expects of you, but at the same time, she is so kind and really became the mother of our class. I was seriously considering asking her to adopt me as my Israeli mother (or at least introduce me to her unmarried son so that maybe she could be an in-law :-) because I love her that much). I learned so much Hebrew from her, but beyond that, she made me feel at home here in Israel. Again, I don't know exactly how to explain it, but after being in class with her, and spending time with her, I knew that this country was the place for me. Talking with other Ulpan students, they never would mention their teachers. They would talk about the content of the class, or talk about what they liked or disliked about the class, but never would talk about the teacher. If you asked anyone in my class about Ulpan, the first thing they would say would be how much they love Eti, and how much they hope and wish to continue Ulpan with her. We were even saying that we would go down a level if it means we could be in her class. One thing is for sure, even if she is not my teacher in the fall, I will actively pursue maintaining a relationship with her. She may not know this, but whether or not she likes it, I'm making her my Israeli momma!

Now ulpan is over and it is time for me to get ready for my next Israeli adventure. I have one month before my semester starts where I will be living in Jerusalem for an internship. It is a bittersweet time for me because it will be my first time away from home and alone during the Jewish High Holidays. I can't think of any place I would rather celebrate them than in Israel, but it will be different. However, with change comes great adventure, and I know I will have an amazing month, and if my family can't be with me for the holidays, I will have to find people who fill that void (which shouldn't be too hard here in Israel!).

Until Tomorrow <3,
Jordana Simone 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

9/20/11: How The "Vote" Is Like A Spare Tire, And How Jordan Plays A Role

Because I have not begun in depth study of this issue of Jordan being the "new" Palestinian state, don't quote me on what I am about to say at this point in time. This post serves as more of an overview to introduce and bring up questions that I will be researching, in depth, and possibly writing a thesis on, in terms of the relationship between Palestinians and the country of Jordan, how those relations and relationships could play a role in a "new" state, and what that would mean for Israel and the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

At present Jordan houses about 2 million Palestinian refugees, and close to half of the entire Jordanian population are of Palestinian origin. Because of this overwhelming statistic many people wonder why Jordan (an already Muslim country with half a population already connected to Palestine) doesn't become the official Palestinian state (if not all of Jordan than at least the trans-Jordan region east of the Jordan River), and absorb the large number of Palestinian refugees all over the Middle East. This absorption and state status is what is known as the so-called "Jordan Option".

This issue has been in discussions for many years, however, with a Palestinian bid at the United Nations for recognized statehood on the horizon, Jordan's involvement with the Palestinian issue becomes much more pressing. Come Friday morning (September 23rd) the United Nations will be participating in a vote for recognized Palestinian Statehood, an issue that has consumed Mid East politics, certainly Israeli politics and news, for weeks now. With a "more likely than not" possibility, the United States will veto the Palestinian effort in the security council, forcing them to win a majority in the General Assembly for heightened status instead of actual statehood. While, more likely than not, they won't gain full statehood, there's no question they will gain the votes needed to up their status in the United Nations to "observer" status (like that of the Vatican City). This means they will have the ability to participate in international criminal courts, join committees, vote, and so on.

While this recognition is a wonderful boost for the morale of the Palestinians, it really changes nothing on the ground. This vote can only do so much, but without defined borders, peace negotiations, a unified government, contiguous land, etc. no solution will ever be effective in terms of the long run. I like to compare this vote to a spare tire on a car. When the original tire is destroyed (for whatever reason), you can put on a spare, but usually they are very small, you can't drive fast on them, and they only last for a very short amount of time before you have to replace them with an actual tire. The spare is very necessary and helpful (due to the fact that is, in most situations, the only convenient option at the time), and allows the car the ability to function long enough to get it where it needs to be to receive the ultimate "long term" solution of a normal tire. However, if the spare is left on too long, or used without caution, it will inevitable succumb to ruin. This U.N. vote is a spare tire. It is very possible that it is the only option to get this "Palestinian-Israeli conflict" solution up and running, however, if it used as a long term solution, instead of just a stepping stone to get to a long term or more final solution, it will fail just as horribly as if someone were using a spare tire in lieu of a real one.

So where does Jordan come in in all of this? That is the million dollar questions. Who knows if this "Jordan Option" is one of the keys to an eventual solution and resolution for Israel and Palestine? Then there is the fact that Trans-Jordan becoming Palestine might cause a huge Palestinian/Jordanian conflict, or a Jordanian/Palestinian/Israel conflict (more so than at present)...I personally think that Jordan will play a role in the peace process in some way, but, unfortunately, at this time, no one really knows exactly what that role will consist of. Only time, research, negotiations, and proposals will tell what is to become of the "Trans-Jordan" region's future, and whether it will house a new Palestinian state or remain a part of the Hashemite Kingdom's domain.

Aside from this ever looming vote consuming everyone's thoughts over here, I am also in the midst of getting ready for a huge final, and a huge month long move to East Jerusalem, where I will be working for a co-owned Palestinian-Israeli journal, where I will be able to cover this vote, and hopefully write on and research this "Jordan Option" as well.  As both time and studies progress I will be hopefully doing much more work on the Palestinian-Jordanian relationship and what role it will play in peace processes with Israel, so stay tuned to hear a great deal on the subject!

Until we meet again :-),
Jordana Simone

Sunday, September 18, 2011

9/19/11: Presents, Demon Bugs, And A Farewell

Before I go into detailed descriptions of my Saturday and Sunday, I would like to take this time to say that I have finally finished my Aliyah application, am now waiting on just two more supplemental materials from back home in the States, and will hopefully be an American Israeli before the new year (secular new year, not Jewish new year)!!  I can't think of a better way to ring in 2012, and my 24th birthday just a few days after, than by gaining dual citizenship :-D. It's hard to believe that you can love a place more and more with every passing day, but, without fail, every new days brings with it a greater love for where I am.

When we last left off I had come from an amazing Shabbat dinner at Russ and Ariel's place, which proved to be a fantastic way to usher in the weekend. Saturday, as I have previously explained, is relatively quite in Israel so it is a perfect day to take advantage of Tel Aviv's many stunning beaches. This is Dana's last weekend here before she goes home for the chagim (holidays) so we decided to go to a beach she hasn't been to yet. Thinking that we would probably meet up with Ariel, Ben, and Russ at the beach, I thought it would be a good idea to go to Chof Hilton (Hilton Beach), since it is one Dana's has never been to, and one I know Ariel and Russ like to visit. Russ unfortunately couldn't join us, but Ben and Ariel met up with the two of us at the beach and we enjoyed a lovely afternoon. It was one of the hotter days we have had here in Tel Aviv so it was nice to escape the heat for a bit in the cool water. The company was great, relaxing on the beach was phenomenal, I enjoyed my time to Beten/Gav (tan), and I  even got a little darker (always a fun thing for me) :-).

After the beach Dana and I said our goodbyes to Ben and Ariel, and we were on our way back to Ramat Aviv. One thing about beach outings is that they knock you out for the rest of the day. Something about being out in the heat for too long, especially when you add 50% humidity to it, simply exhausts you. I got home, took a shower, ate some lunch, and then it was right to bed for me! After an amazing nap, that lasted far too long, I woke up, did some homework and then got ready to meet Russ for dinner. Luckily he likes sushi as much as I do because I, per usual, was craving my spicy tuna rolls! We walked to one of the many "villages" of Ramat Aviv and had a fantastic dinner. Afterwards, I said my goodnights and it was home to bed for me.

Lucky for me I took a million hour nap in the afternoon, because I got maybe 2-4 hours of sleep that night. I got home from dinner around 12, got into bed around 1, and then at 2 I woke up because I had to go to the bathroom. WELL... there was a lovely surprise guest waiting for me when I opened the bathroom door... Along with Israel having some of the best food, best landscapes, best business, and so on, she also has something I like to call "Demon Mutant Cockroaches on Steroids". These are not just ordinary cockroaches, O no, these are devil beasts that are probably 3 inches long, fat, dark brown, and, O... THEY FLY... Now, something to note about me: I can deal with spiders (I don't like them but I can deal with them); I can deal with moths (again, not my favorite, but I can manage to kill them or get them out); However, with cockroaches (of any kind, let alone the mutants), I have a panic attack and freeze. I literally stood there for a good 5 minutes hoping that I could magically acquire the ability to "will" the bug away. When I finally worked up the courage to exit the bathroom I ran so fast that I tripped and fell, probably woke up my suite mate, put a towel down near the crack in the bottom of my door just incase my unwelcome friend decided to pay my room a visit, and then spent the next 2-3 hours doing nothing but staring at my door thinking about where the devil bug was. By this morning he was gone (or in hiding), but I know that bastard is probably still in the apartment so I am ever on the alert.

I finally managed to get a little sleep, and then, by the grace of God, managed to drag myself out of bed to make it to my last Sunday of summer Ulpan. I can't believe 8 weeks has just flown by in the blink of an eye. It's unfathomable how fast time is going by here. When Ulpan was over I went to pick up a package that arrived from my mommy! I was ecstatic to get a present from home and loved seeing all the little goodies my mom and muzzy put in for me. After unpacking the package and seeing all my new things, I got some work done, skyped with the grandparents, and then it was off to say goodbye to Ben who is leaving Israel tonight to head back to the States.

After a few games of cards with the boys, a little dinner, and, of course, a lot of laughs, the four of us walked Ben to the train station near campus, said our goodbyes, and then headed back home. All in all, it was a wonderful weekend! It is crazy to believe that I only have one more weekend in Tel Aviv after this one, and then it is off to my gorgeous hotel in Jerusalem for a month!

Until tomorrow chaverim sheli! Lilah Tov <3,
Jordana Simone 

Friday, September 16, 2011

9/16/11: The Token Female And A Shabbat Shalom

When I was a little girl I remember having Shabbat dinners both at home and at my synagogue. It is a very special time that comes around every Friday night, and I specifically remember lighting the candles and singing the prayers with my mother and sister, making Kiddish, breaking bread, and generally enjoying the ushering in of the Sabbath. Now, as I am becoming an adult myself, it is such an amazing thing to be able to experience Shabbat in a whole different way. No longer do we have our mother's and father's to light candles and say Kiddish, no longer do we have our parents to prepare Shabbos meals, no longer do we have them holding our hands and leading our ways. They have planted the foundations and seeds of Judaism in us, and now, as we enter our adult lives, it is our turn to take our Jewish traditions and make them our own so that we can pass them down to our children one day.

Tonight I was invited over to have Shabbat with Ariel, Russ, and Ben (who is back in town for two more days), and I was, of course, extremely excited to have a home cooked (compliments of Ben) Shabbat meal with great friends. Ben made an amazing lentil curry stew type concoction which filled the apartment with the most wonderful aroma, there was salad and potatoes, and, of course, lots and lots of wine! But, before any consumption of food, we had to do Shabbat properly. As the "token female" of Apartment De Ariel/Russ, it was my job to begin our pre dinner ceremony by lighting the Shabbos candles and saying the blessing. The boys all put on their Kippot, I lit the candles, said the blessing, and then Ariel took over and made Kiddish. Since Russ didn't even know what Kiddish was a week ago it was a good thing Ariel was there! After Kiddish we had to exercise some creativity because there was no Challah. We said the Mozi (prayer over the Challah) over a cold piece of pita bread and figured that, for this week, it would make due.

After the prayers were said and done we sat down to a Ben's delicious meal. It will be so sad when he leaves and won't be here to make his amazing food! Joining us for dinner were two of Ariel's Israeli friends, and we all spent hours eating, drinking, laughing, and merely enjoying one another's company. It was one of the best Shabbats I have had to date, and I don't think I have ever laughed so hard in my life. I'm the token female friend to an amazing group of gentlemen. Finally, when the clock struck 12:30, I figured I better head home or I would end up sleeping on a couch (and my bed is much more comfortable). Luckily they only live a few minutes away from me so I didn't mind the walk.

Tomorrow should be a quiet,relaxing day filled with plenty of beach time, and I'm looking forward to getting to sleep in a little bit. I haven't been sleeping so well so the ability to have a late wake up will be very nice and very welcomed.

Until Tomorrow and Shabbat Shalom Chaverim!
Jordana Simone

9/15/11: Well... It Finally Happened... I Was Racially Profiled

To start off, I am happy to report that my quest to look as non-American as possible must be working famously well. For the first time ever, in Israel or anywhere, I was searched, the entirety of my bag looked through, was glanced at quite a bit between the inspection of my bag, and so on. I can say that it was a very new experience for me. Immediately after I was given my bag back and allowed to enter the outdoor mall next to the Old City in Jerusalem, Dana went to go through security where the guard took her bag, glanced in, touched nothing, and allowed her right in. Our thoughts immediately after were... "yup, Jordana was just profiled". Now, of course, it may not have been as dramatic as I am making it seem, but it really was the first time that a search like that has ever happened to me, and with Dana's almost immediate entrance, it is a logical conclusion to draw. But hey, I'm not complaining at all! It means I'm really starting to blend in with the local population, which will be very nice when I am living in East Jerusalem. I don't want to draw unnecessary attention to myself, and outwardly displaying signs of Judaism or looking overwhelmingly American/European/touristy can do just that.

So now to why I was in Jerusalem. Every year in the Old City, at the Tower of King David (Migdal David), there is a light "spectacular" that is shown inside the courtyard. Before going into detail, I am obligating myself to say that this was probably one of the most fascinating, interesting, amazing, beautiful things I have done since coming to Israel. It was out of this world breathtaking, and I hope that everyone has the chance to experience this show if and when they visit Jerusalem. So what is this light spectacular? The attraction is comprised of two parts: An exhibit around the citadel, and a show that follows the viewing of the exhibit.

First, just to give you an idea of what the courtyard looks like, here is a picture of where we were in the daytime.

Now imagine it being the dead, dark of night with lights and projected images reflecting off of the stone walls to depict different eras of time in Jerusalem's history. The effect is mesmerizing.

The exhibit took us through most of the courtyard, and as we winded around towards the end, hundreds of chairs were set up directly in front of the North and East walls of the fortress (however, with my outstanding sense of direction we were probably in front of the South and West walls but the direction isn't all that important :-p). After all of the people were situated and settled into their seats, the big show began. I am sorry to report that photography wasn't allowed so I will do my best to convey the depth of the shows innovative genius and beauty, but if I can't adequately capture every phenomenal aspect with words, you will just have to get to Jerusalem to see it for yourselves :-).

At first the entire fortress went pitch black and all you could see was one reflected light image of a single dove flying over the stone walls of the enclosure. As the dove flew over every surface of the walls another image of the shadow of a woman playing a flute was show accompanied by the sounds of a gorgeous, haunting flute solo. Once the song had ended the entire fortress lit up, and with lights and reflected images and movies, we were shown the entire story of the creation, destruction, re-creation, and so on, of Jerusalem from the time of Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden), to the time of the First and Second Temple, to Ottoman, Roman, and Muslim conquest and rule of the city, to the British protectorate period. The combination of lights, video, effects, and music set on the walls of King David's courtyard inside of his tower in the Old City was astounding. I can truly say that I have never seen anything like it in my life.

As the presentation was ending, the walls were filled with lights reflecting different spellings of Jerusalem in, what looked like, hundreds of languages, the song "Shir Hamalot" was playing, and then all of the writing went away to make way for the words "Pray For Peace In Jerusalem" reflected on the highest wall of the Tower in Arabic, Hebrew, and English. It was extremely moving and powerful, and left you with a feeling of a renewed sense of hope that peace will come to this incredible region.

I truly can't describe how incredibly powerful being in the city of Jerusalem is. Even if you are not religious you can feel the presence of a Higher Being all around you. You are standing in the middle of hundreds and thousands of years of history that affected and was important to all three of the world's major monotheistic religions, and seeing a functioning integrated city in a region stricken with religious and ethnic strife and conflict, is proof in itself that there must be God. There never has been, nor ever will be, a city as special as Jerusalem في كل العلم (in the whole world).

It was a wonderful evening trip into the Ancient City, and only further amplified my already extreme excitement to move there in 7 days. To end I feel it only appropriate to offer my prayers and desires for the continuation of a united Jerusalem, prayers for continued strength of one of the most historically significant and important cities in the world, and prayers for peace, acceptance, and coexistence in this holiest of holy places.

Shabbat Shalom <3,
Jordana Simone 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

9/14/11: Implications Of A Palestinian State

Tonight I was extremely fortunate to be able to attend a phenomenal lecture, put on by Tel Aviv University Hillel, about the upcoming United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood that will be taking place in just 6 short days. At first I was slightly reluctant to attend the lecture because I was very worried that it would be overwhelmingly one sided. From personal experience I have found that is is very detrimental to discuss and teach heavily political topics by presenting just one side. In order to get a full picture you must look at any issue from the points of view of each side, and ONLY then can a person truly make an informed opinion.

First of all, I am so incredibly happy to report that the lecture was not only one of the most objective I have ever attended, but everything was backed up by reports and facts, and even a little humor was used to better explain certain situations. It was not Pro Israel or Pro Palestine, but looked at the possible implications of going through the UN to obtain statehood, and the pro's and con's of the vote on each side of the conflict.

Firstly, it is important to note that this conflict between Palestinians and Israelis has been going for what seems like forever. Throughout history there has been tension and conflict between the Jews and the Arabs, but for all intents and purposes of this post, I am strictly talking about the recent historical conflict of the Jews and Palestinians dating from 1948 when the Israeli state was born to the present. It is also important to note that, as of now, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is a recognized entity by the United Nations, and they currently hold observer status (just some good background information).

Because I don't want to make this a 50 page post I won't go into all of the specifics, but will merely touch upon points I found to be extremely informative and interesting. Since the 1970's the Palestinians and the Jews have been trying (unsuccessfully  I might add) to use the art of negotiation to come up with a desired solution to the current crises of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Land trade has taken place, peace talks, demilitarization, and so on, but nothing has proved a successful solution. The big issue now is that Mahmoud Abbas (the Palestinian leader) has been talking about taking the issue from the negotiation table straight to the United Nations.

Now, there are three things the Palestinians can do in terms of their quest for "statehood". The first thing, and probably least desirable politically, would be to take the matter straight to the general assembly. They would hands down win this vote (since the muslim states coupled with the communist states have a clear cut majority in the UN), however, all this would do would be to boost the ego of the Palestinians. It still would not change the current situation. In fact, they are already recognized as an independent entity in the UN, so all this vote would do is reaffirm that. The second option would be to vote to increase their status in the UN. Right now they are recognized observes, but if they win a 2/3 majority vote on this second option, they would be a recognized entity, would not be a recognized country at this point, but would be able to take countries to the International courts and so on without going through a middle man. This is not the most desirable option for them but it does give them more legitimacy. The third option, and the one that is supposedly the most desirable, is to take the vote to the security council, get it passed there, then it would go to the general assembly (where it would pass no question), and then they would have full state establishment.

There is, however, 2 very large problems with this plan... First of all, though this third option is the most desirable, barring hell freezing over, it will never pass the security council. Why? if even one of the super powers exercises their veto power, JUST ONE, the vote is knocked out and they would have to resort to option 2 or 1. America has already stated that they will be using this veto, however, with the Obama administration, who are no friends to Israel, there is a lingering possibility that they won't exercise their veto. In that case, it is almost 95% that either China or Russia would exercise their veto, because even though they are more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, legitimizing a Palestinian state would pave the way for the Tibetans and Chechens to follow in the Palestinian footsteps, and if China and Russia vote for Palestinians how can they not for either the Tibetans or Chechens? It is all very political, but be that as it may, the vote won't pass in the security council.

So what does this all mean for either side? Well for one, even the Israelis and Jews (like myself) who are for a two state solution, are not for it being done in this way. If the UN legitimizes a Palestinian state without negotiations, it does nothing to further the peace process and it runs the risk of a 3rd Intifada taking place. I personally feel that negotiations are the only way to establish a state peacefully and realistically (if only it was as easily done as said). Many people in the international community, including lawyers for the Palestinians, have expressed that this is not the way to go about attaining statehood, and it could actually be more of a problem for the Palestinians than not. In terms of detriment for the Palestinians, once a state is created, it is very possible that it will be created under a Hamas government, and Hamas is a recognized terrorist organization. They are expecting to lose major funding, and there will be major issues with the right of return for refugees living in Jordan, Tunisia, and other Arab nations. Also, there is the problem of how to declare a state the is not only discontiguous, but ruled by two different parties. The Gaza strip is controlled by Hamas and is completely separated from the Fatah controlled West Bank. How can you have a state that is separated by another sate? Do you build bridges? Tunnels? Or does legitimizing a state within another state render the other state occupied land? There are so many obstacles that have to be addressed before any talks of dual statehood can successfully move forward.

There is tremendous pressure from all over the world on this issue, and it is impossible to know the outcome until it is upon us in just a few days. In recent polls however, taken by Palestinians in the territories, over 60% do not support this vote in the UN and are more concerned with living their day to day life. Many Palestinians currently residing in East Jerusalem have also stated that they would rather move to West Jerusalem then live in a Palestinian controlled East Jerusalem. They foresee major problems arising from this UN vote, and most of them don't feel it will be a successful venture anyways. Plenty of Palestinians see this as Abba's way to create a legacy for himself before he is voted out of office democratically, or thrown out of office in revolt. It seems clear that this vote does not reflect the wants and desires of most of the citizens of Palestine.

To conclude, I can only say that, no matter what the outcome of the UN vote is, I pray both sides remain peaceful and committed to working together to solve this overwhelmingly difficult and sensitive conflict. History dictates that in these situations, where tempers and frustrations are high, many many problems arise, and I would be insane to think that they won't in this situation, but I would have very little if I didn't cling, realistically or unrealistically, to my hope for peace. I pray for a successful two state solution in the foreseeable future, and will work hard to try and help the process along.

Until we meet again <3,
Jordana Simone 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Day 48-49: I'm Coming Home

It is so hard to believe that 50 days living in Israel have come and gone in the blink of an eye. At times it feels like I have just arrived, and at other times it feels like I have already been here a lifetime. These last 50 days, as I have traveled the country, met new friends, studied, and planned for my upcoming graduate program, I have been thinking a lot about accepting my "right of return", making Aliyah, and becoming a citizen of Israel. I have talked to many friends that are going through the same process, made my "pro" and "con" list, and have decided that making Aliyah is the right decision for me.

Many people, my sister included, think that making Aliyah means never returning home to the United States. In fact, 30-40% of Olim Chadashim (New Israeli Immigrants) return to their home countries after 3-5 years. I know that I will not be living in Israel forever, most likely only until the completion of my PhD, but I do plan on working in and around various places in the Middle East for a long time, am very passionate about being able to vote in this country, and since I will be here for so long, it really makes the most sense to become a dual citizen. I feel like this is the place that I need to be to really get my life going, and making Aliyah is the next logical step!

Aside from the practicality of making Aliyah, there is something so special about being a citizen of your homeland. As a Jew it is my greatest joy to say that I am becoming a citizen of my people's land; a land that holds our most holy cities and our most rich histories and traditions. As a Jew who is also very connected to the Arab side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is equally as exciting for me to know that my voice will now be heard and counted here in Israel, and hopefully through that ability I will really have the chance to work for peace in this country. This is the most important factor of my decision to become an Israeli citizen.

This is a very exciting step for me and I couldn't be happier or more excited about it. I'm following in my Bubby and Zayde's footsteps and giving myself a chance to make a name for myself here in this amazing country. Residing here in Israel will not be permanent (most likely), but I have always felt like a citizen in my heart, and I will now get the chance to be one legally! Luckily home is just a plane flight away, and with innovations in technology and the internet I never feel far away from family, friends, and loved ones. This is a very exciting time for me and I plan on taking it one day at a time, enjoying every moment, taking nothing for granted, and soaring to the highest of heights. It will be quite a process but worth every minute because...


Until Tomorrow <3,
Jordana Simone (The soon to be American Middle Easterner :-D)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day 47: On A Scale Of 1-Egyptian, I'm About Lebanese

You can feel the Sabbath in Israel. The streets are calm, busses don't run, shops and supermarkets are closed, and there is a kind of palpable tranquility in the air, even in secular Tel Aviv. On days like this, which come around every week here, there are a limited amount of things you can do during the day. Upon waking up I had a sense of restlessness that prevented me from doing my normal Shabbat activity of staying in and catching up on movies and TV shows, so I decided to get out of the room and walk to the beach closest to Ramat Aviv.

As I was walking down Rehov Einstein I observed that Saturday late morning/early afternoon is a very popular time for young families to come out with their babies and go on long walks. Family walks are a huge thing here in Israel. Young couples were out in full force with their strollers, some older families were out with their younger children and dogs, and every once in a while I would see an old man, woman or couple out with their grandchildren or animals. As I was walking, listening to my Arabic music on my ipod and without a care in the world, I took a wrong turn somewhere and got lost in a gorgeous neighborhood of Ramat Aviv. Luckily the day wasn't too hot so I didn't mind the extra walking (it probably took me 45 minutes to get un-lost :-D). You discover so much when you are in unfamiliar place, and I'm so glad I got to see more of the beautiful city that I am currently living in. The picturesque neighborhoods are ideal for families, and Ramat Aviv has the quiet feel of the suburbs while only being 10 or so minutes away from the center of busy, bustling Tel Aviv.

When I finally got my bearings, it was only about another 10 minute walk to the beach. You couldn't have painted a more perfect day to be at the water; the sun was shinning, it was hot yet there was a fairly strong breeze that offered relief from the searing sun, and the water was cool and calm. After almost an hour and a half of walking around Ramat Aviv, I was very ready to park it on the sand, listen to my music, and take a rest. In Israel they call what I was doing beten-gav, which literally translated means stomach/back, but it is used as a term for "tanning and doing nothing else". Like the title of this blog says, I am now at about a Lebanese skin tone, however, my ultimate goal is to have skin that resembles that of a darker Egyptian. I judge my tan by what Arab country people thing I come from, so I clearly have some serious beten-gav-ing to do if I want to pull off Egyptian! Luckily on Shabbat there is not much more to do so I'll have time :-)

After about an hour I wanted to test out the water so I put my Ipod on hold, went into the sea, sat down a few feet in, and just let the waves crash over me. The cool water was such a relief on my hot skin, and I enjoyed the solitude of being alone in the water (there was no one swimming anywhere near where I was, so it was really just me and the ocean). Maybe 10 minutes later it was time for me to get out of the water, rest and dry off, and then head back to my apartment. Upon my return I had about 3 hours to kill until the end of Shabbat, so I decided it would be a perfect time to catch up with my family, do some homework, shower, and read a little.

Note to self: In a country where nothing is open from Friday evening to Saturday night, it is a really awful idea to put off grocery shopping until the weekend. I found myself without much food over Shabbat, and was practically ravenous by the time grocery stores re-opened on Saturday night. It was not my smartest move. Luckily I made it to Saturday night, met up with my friend Russ at around 8:30, walked around a bit while we were awaiting the opening of stores at 9, did my shopping, and then went back home to make a big dinner!

All in all it was a really great Shabbat! And now, as I finish writing this post, I want to mention that my heart, thoughts, and prayers are back home in the United States as I remember the 10 year anniversary of 9/11. I can not believe 10 years has come and gone, and it is so important that we never forget the terror that shook our country, and the terror that continues to plague this world every day. In a time of such fear and hate I can only hope and pray, every day, that unwavering peace and acceptance will soon come to all places.

We will never forget <3,
Jordana Simone 

Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 46: Rome in Israel?!? Who Would Have Thought!

Caesarea: A city where modernity and antiquity exist side by side and are set in front of the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean. It is one of the most gorgeous places I have seen in Israel (and that is saying something), and it is steeped in history like you wouldn't believe. True, most of the places in Israel have fascinating histories that date back from the time of the Old Testament up through Roman Rule, Byzantine Rule, Ottoman Rule, Muslim Rule, British Rule, and so on, however, in most of those cities, restoration and modernity have altered the settings quite a bit. In Caesarea, however, you can stand in the actual ruins of the great Roman city free from the influences of any kind of re-build or restoration.

When I previously stated that Caesarea was a place where modernity and antiquity live side by side, I was not being facetious. Right across the way from the ruins (pictured above) was this gorgeous, sea-view cafe, which, if I might add, had AMAZING food.

When Dana, Russ, and I first entered the ancient city I was awe struck looking at these huge ruined structures surrounded by lush, green grass and various types of trees. The greenery brought life to an utterly lifeless place, and that contrast was so profoundly beautiful. The fact that we were allowed in and on the ruins made the experience different from any that I have had so far, and you have an entirely different experience when you can walk on, touch, and see these places up close and personal as opposed to merely observing them from afar.

As we progressed through the ruined city typical Roman archways and columns became more and more abundant, and, for the most part, were very well preserved. When we reached the middle of the city we came upon the communal bath houses which must have been made up of the most beautiful stone and tile, some of which was still present and in good condition. To think that we were standing on the same floors, altered only by the natural effects of "time", that were once so popular and filled with people was truly incredible.  The view of the Mediterranean in front of us wasn't bad either ;-)

After seeing some of the ruins, and eating a delicious lunch, we went to see a film on the history of Caesarea, and were shown a 20 minute presentation on the evolution of the city from the time of the Roman rule to the present. The film went over the different eras that were significant in the shaping of the city (namely the Roman era, Byzantine Era, Muslim era, and the present time), and gave a short presentation on the different types of architecture. During the Roman rule a great temple was erected in honor of the goddess Rome and Caesar, during the Byzantine rule the temple of Rome was destroyed to make way for a great Church, during the Muslim era the church was ruined and in its place was erected a great Mosque, and in the present day, unfortunately, only bits and pieces of rock and stone remain where once stood these incredible structures.

After the presentation we went back to the ruins to see the great Roman theater that was built in the middle of the city. To this day they still use it as an entertainment venue, and you can find concerts and shows being performed in the ancient theater almost weekly. I think when I become a famous American, Jewish, Arabic singer I'll perform there too :-) Hey, might as well dream big! As they say in Israel: "Lama Lo!" (why not).

When we left the theater we walked back past, what we later found out was, an old Bosnian Mosque. Apparently Bosnian Muslims sought refugee in Caesarea during conflicted times in their country, which happened to be during the Muslim period of rule in Caesarea, and they remained there up until the war of independence in 1948. When war broke out they fled back to their country. It was a very fascinating part of Caesarea's history that I had absolutely no idea about.

By this time we had been in the hot sun for 5 hours or more, and we were all tired, sweaty, hot, and ready to head back into Tel Aviv. Being that today is Friday everything closes and stops running early because of Shabbat so we had to make sure we gave ourselves enough time to make the last train back home. Luckily we had Russ with us because our cab driver was Russian, so between the Hebrew that Dana and I know, and Russ's fluency in Russian, we were able to get to where we needed to be just in time! We hopped on the last bus and and hour and a half or so later we were back in Tel Aviv. Going to Caesarea was an amazing way to ring in the Sabbath, and now, due to general exhaustion (caused by extreme heat and lack of decent sleep) I'm going to make full use of the "day of rest" to do just that... rest. I'm down to my last two weeks of ulpan and then I'm making my big move to East Jerusalem! I want to be feeling 100% when that happens.

Until Tomorrow. Masa Il'Cher w Shabbat Shalom <3,
Jordana Simone