Saturday, September 29, 2012

9/28/12: A Happy, Healthy, Sweet New Year To All!

“Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes” - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. 

It has been over 5 years since I have been home for the Jewish high holidays, and despite the fact that so much has remained the same in my home town, so much has also changed, and quite dramatically I might add. Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) is the first of the major high holidays and I was fortunate enough to be able to spend it with my Uncle who I have not seen in a very long time. His schedule is so busy that I was grateful he could make it out to Palm Springs at all let alone for the New Year. The first meal of the holiday was spent at my grandparents house, and though the whole family could not be together, it was such a wonderful time. We all get so busy as we get older it gets increasingly harder to get everyone together at one time! 

My grandparents spent all day cooking the traditional holiday delights of brisket, potatoes, matzo ball soup, and, of course, apples and honey for a sweet new year, the house smelled like the holidays and brought back so many good memories from my childhood, and once my sister arrived home from work we set the table and then did what we Jews do best: Eat! After all of the blessings of course :-) 

My Bubby, Zayde, and me! 

My uncle in his comfort zone! The kitchen! 

Apples and Honey for a sweet new year! 

The men opening the meal with all the blessings! 

My table setting skills! 

Uncle Scoooooter and me :-) 
The meal was delicious and we all had a really wonderful time! The next night we had one more Rosh Hashanah meal with my dad and step mother, and though we were eating the same food, it almost tasted better the second time! 

Since Rosh Hashanah was spent with my dad's side of the family, Yom Kippur (the next holiday and one of the most Holy days in the Jewish year) was spent with my mom and grandmother. However, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself. There are 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and in that interim I spent some great time with both families, spent time cooking with my sister (well attempting to bake that is), and my dog even added to some family excitement when he decided to get stuck behind some trees and bushes in my backyard forcing my sister to come to his rescue. Have I mentioned we are having a huge infestation of Black Widows so having him stuck in our mini jungle was a bit stressful! 

Ari decided to play in our backyard jungle 
Elana to the rescue! 

My cookie pop creations actually worked! 

After a relaxing 10 days post Rosh Hashanah, the day of atonement ( Yom Kippur) was upon us. To kick off the holiday my mother cooked a delicious pre fast feast, and I did my best to eat as much as possible so that I would survive the 25 hour fast that was soon to begin. I really can't describe how delicious my mom's soup made the house smell, but all I know is that when she cooks it we just know it is the holidays, and my dog knows he is in store for some very good treats (or Jew food as we like to tell him). 

Momma and the holiday table! 
When dinner was finished the fast had officially begun and my mom, grandmother, and I headed out to synagogue for Kol Nidre. Kol Nidre is an Aramaic declaration recited in the synagogue before the beginning of the evening service on every Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Though not a prayer, this legal formula and its ceremonial accompaniment have been charged with emotional undertones since the medieval period, creating a dramatic introduction to Yom Kippur on what is often dubbed "Kol Nidre night". It is written in Aramaic, not Hebrew. Its name is taken from the opening words, meaning "all vows". 

For me, the Kol Nidre, with its haunting tone and powerful delivery, is one of the most important aspects of Yom Kippur, and this is why I decided to go to my childhood synagogue instead of to Chabad despite the fact that I would have had a more religious experience with the latter which is what I am used to. It was a bit hard for me being back in my old Synagogue, however, because nothing was how I remembered it from the glory days of my childhood. When I was younger the seats would be filled to the bursting point on the high holidays, there would hardly be an empty space in the entire, gorgeously designed sanctuary, and our rabbi and cantor would command the audience with beautiful sounds and meaningful messages. Our synagogue was so renowned and popular that legends such as Frank Sinatra would frequent it often when he was visiting his home in Palm Springs, and our rabbi could boast a personal friendship with him. It was a wonderful environment to grow up in and I couldn't help but feel so sad at the state things are in now. All the families have left, the old men and women who watched me grow up are no longer living, I could count the people in the synagogue there were so few, it's become more reformed than anything (which to me is the most sad part), and the spark is completely gone from the place. I know things have to change over time, but this was sad to see. Regardless, I enjoyed, for the most part, the services that were held, I spent Yom Kippur night and the following late afternoon and evening atoning for all things I did in the past year that needed atoning for, and left refreshed with great hopes for a wonderful new year ahead. 

This high holiday season was particularly special as I was able to spend it with family and really say goodbye and put behind a huge chapter in my life (the chapter of growing up and living in the United States). I made my peace with the fact that this is no longer my home, that my family will always be my family, and I love them all very much, but my life is now 8,000 miles and a few continents away. As I begin this new year I can't wait to spend a little more time with my family and then get back to Israel where I will truly be shaping and fine tuning my new life away from home! My citizenship has come through, my plans for the next few years have been drawn out, my boyfriend and friends are all there waiting, and I can't wait to get back to my beautiful home and even more beautiful country! I will enjoy the heck out of these last 3 weeks at home, but I won't deny that I'm so anxious to get back to the bustle of Tel Aviv life! And really the greatest part is that only a few days after I return home Stephane comes back from Australia, and I can't even put into words how excited I am to see him! 

Until we meet again, ya chaverim <3 Shana Tova and Happy New Year to all! 

Jordana Simone 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

9/15/12: A Family Feud Like No Other

Family rivalry!!
For those who know me (and my family), you know that football is not a small matter in the Pepper household. Almost since my conception I was bred to be a fan of The Ohio State University Buckeyes, and I spent the better part of  my growing up years in front of the TV on Saturdays rooting for my Buckeyes. In fact, the Ohio State vs. Michigan game was almost as important as any major Jewish holiday in my family! It might seem funny since we are a family of all girls (except for my father, obviously, who is also a fan of OSU), but let me just say, my mother could rival even the most dedicated male football fan.

Baby me decked out for an OSU football game! I started so young :-)

Mom, sissy, and me at the ROSE BOWL for Ohio State!

I took the passion for the game that I was raised with and applied that same love, spirit, and dedication to the football team of my own university. In fact, when it came time for me to pick the university that would become my life and home for my 4 year undergraduate career, I based a large chunk of the decision on whether or not the school had a football team. The thought of spending 4 years at an institution that I couldn't put my heart and soul into just didn't seen right. After much deliberation on the matter, I succeeded in picking the university that combined only the most prestigious of academic programs with a fantastic athletics department, and I became a University of California (CAL) Golden Bear. My mom may be a huge Buckeye fan but I am die hard. I love my school and my team so much that I took the phrase "I bleed Blue and Gold" to the next level and actually got a tattoo of script CAL so I would always remember one of the greatest love affairs of my life! Now that is dedication! I even had the pleasure of dating a CAL football player for 3 years; it was meant to be.

My best friend and roommate and me at a game! Ironically she is an Ohio State Med student now!


My CAL tattoo

With this background information I am sure you can only imagine how much I was dreading the day when these two universities would meet in football. I can't imagine a scenario where I would ever want OSU to lose, but CAL is my university through and through and they have my complete loyalty. Today was the first time the two schools were matched against one another in over 40 years, and you can bet that my mom and I made the best situation out of a heated family rivalry! It was a house divided where my Alma mater played the Alma mater of my mother; the Alma mater that I grew up watching and rooting for! It couldn't have been a more fun game to watch!

Decked out in our colors and ready to play!


When the game started my mother and I decided that this was not going to be a normal game day for us. This kind of match up doesn't happen often and we were going to make it memorable. Despite the fact that it was 9 in the morning California time, we decided to spice things up and turn our rivalry into a bit of a drinking game. Just lucky enough for us we found our twin university shot glasses and decided that whenever our respective teams score we would take a shot! Only with my mother!! We both have equally awful tolerance so you can imagine how entertaining this was :-)

A house divided!

Mommy's team scored!

Then mine did!!
In the heat of the 4th quarter, when things were really getting interesting, my boyfriend happened to give me his goodnight call (it was 5am Australia time), and he got a good taste of game days in the Pepper house. Poor guy, I think I might have traumatized him... I was a bit aggressive, and there was a lot of screaming! I try not to be too overwhelmingly American around him, but when it's a game day all bets are off! I was a red cup and a hamburger away from being a really awful stereotype :-)

I'm sad to report that CAL did not come out victorious, due in large part to the consistent pattern of awful coaching and even worse kickers, but we put up a great fight and, aside from special teams, we looked really amazing out there. It gives me hope that if we can get our stuff together maybe this will be the year we FINALLY beat U$C (sorry Stephanie). But regardless of the outcome I can never be sad when Ohio State wins a game and I"m just so happy I will be home in California for some good football this year. It looks like it is shaping up to be a really exciting season :-)

Tomorrow night begins the Jewish High Holidays, and I will be ringing in the Jewish new year with family, great food, and a whole lot of apples and honey! Stay tuned for a reflective post about the last year and I am wishing everyone a happy and healthy new year!!

Shana Tova v'metukah <3,

Jordana Simone

Thursday, September 13, 2012

9/13/12: My Sweet Desert!

Beautiful Palm Springs 

Well it has been almost 3 days that I have been home and I'm praying that my jet lag will soon subside. Between falling asleep around 7:30-8, to waking up between 2 and 4am, I'm a bit tired of being tired... all the time! Aside from my slight sleeping problem, however, it feels great to be back home with family and friends. It's amazing how I can be gone for so long and return to everything virtually unchanged.

My first actual day at home, after suffering from an awful night, post travel, sleep, I went with my sister to run a much needed, essential, errand. I FINALLY replaced my lost iPhone, and felt like a whole person again! Needless to say it is no shock that I spent about 3 hours playing with Siri and telling my phone to do anything and everything. I even took the 5 or so French phrases I know, changed my Siri to French, and had fun being a complete idiot. Who knows, maybe one day (with the help of Steph) I'll be able to talk to my phone in French... It's a goal anyways!

That night my family and I went to one of my favorite Palm Springs restaurants for a kind-of welcome home dinner. Really the reason I wanted to go to California Pizza Kitchen was less for the pizza and more for the fact that they have AMAZING ranch dressing that I have been craving since I moved to Israel. When our waiter came over I pretty much demanded he bring bowls of ranch so that I would ensure I wouldn't run out... can you say obsessed!! It was the perfect first meal out, however the food coma sent me to sleep around 8:30 at night... not so fun. Luckily Australia is 17 hours ahead because when I woke up at 1:45 I spent the next hour and 15 minutes of awakeness talking to Stephane. I couldn't think of a better way to pass the time :-)

Hello Ranch Dressing!! How I have missed you! 
The next day, after yet another rough night sleep, I was lucky to be able to spend a wonderful afternoon with one of my best and dearest friends. She and I met 7 years ago when we competed in a scholarship competition, and we have been the closest of friends ever since. We are even considered sisters as we share membership to the same sorority (though she went to a far worse university than I did :-p) It was a perfect afternoon spent catching up on one another's lives, talking about work, jobs, boys (most importantly), and everything else you can imagine! After lunch I went to see my grandparents for a quick visit and was very happy to see that they are both doing very well! I will be spending a lot of time with them while I am home which will be very lovely.

Stephanie and me! 
That night I slept a bit better but still fell asleep around 8:30... Unfortunately now that I'm 17 hours behind Australia it is up to me to make the goodnight phone calls (despite the fact that I hate being the "caller"), only I keep falling asleep before I can get to the phone! Even though it was only 1 night I didn't get to hear his voice I really didn't like it so much. I know it is silly but since I can't see him for so long I really look forward to my daily phone call (even if I have to be the one to call)!

Today was quite relaxing, and I'm happy to say that I was less tired since I slept until 10am despite being woken up at 3:45 by my dog who decided he would have a barking fit just for fun. I met with Stephanie one last time for a quick coffee before she returns to Los Angeles, had fun goofing around with family, and am resting up before meeting with another one of my best girlfriends tonight for some much needed wine, chocolate, and sex and the city!

My 4 legged brother! 

Mommy and me! 

We are such crazy kids 

Muzzy and me! 

This weekend starts the Jewish high holidays and I'm so excited to be able to spend it with family; it has been about 5 years since I have been home for the entirety of the holidays. I won't deny that I am very sad about being away from Israel, especially during the Jewish high holidays, but I take comfort in the fact that in 5 short weeks I will be back home. In other news, my amazing Uncle comes in tomorrow for the weekend so that is going to be great fun and another reason that I am very excited to be home! There is never a dull moment when my Uncle Scott is involved. Stay tuned for updates on the holidays and my dealings in the desert!!

Until we meet again <3,
Jordana Simone 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

9/9/12: Tell The World That I'm Coming Home!

As I finishing packing my suitcase for my 6 week long trip to California I can't help but getting nervous, excited butterflies about my trip home; a trip that might be my last one for quite some time upon my arrival back home to Israel. I won't deny that I am extremely sad to be leaving home for so long, especially over the high holidays where there is nothing more special than being in Israel, but I am very grateful to be able to spend some much needed quality time with my family (especially over the holidays). As much as my parents and grandparents will probably not be happy to hear, the member of my family I am most excited to see (and consequently the only one who can't talk on the phone or use skype) is this beautiful baby pictured below!

I am just so excited to have canine companionship again I can hardly contain myself! And even though my so-called brother only really pays considerable attention to me when I am eating food (thank you mom for overfeeding him :-p) I still can't wait to see this little man!!

Case and point! 

To be quite honest there is nothing like a visit back home to see your family. As Stephane reminded me the other night, friends, boyfriends, acquaintances, and people you think might be around forever can leave in a second, but family is there always and forever! I won't deny that I'm very excited for a few weeks in the comforts of home with my whole family who I haven't seen in a very long time! And lucky for me I have not 1 but 3 homes to go to when I'm back in California :-)

Not to mention I get my mom, dad, step mom, sister, grandparents, and hopefully my uncle, who I can't wait to bug for 6 weeks before I ship myself back to the Middle East :-) I hope they can handle it since it's been a long time since I have been at home for this long! And of course I can't wait to see all of my friends from home! It has been far too long.

My Bubby and Zayde!

Mommy and me! 

The best Uncle in the world! 

Daddy and me! 

My grandma Muzzy and me! 

Daddy and Step Momma! 

However, despite my excitement at going home I can't even describe how much I will miss Israel. My life here, my friends here, my sister, my crazy roommates, and a million more things that have made this place completely and totally my home. However, a break is never a bad thing and the greatest part about this all is that after 6 wonderful weeks with my family I will come home to a house full of roommates, lots of crazy Tel Aviv stories from my sister, and, the most exciting, the return of Stephane from Australia. Not that I have anything against Australia (per se), I'm sure it's a lovely country, but it has enjoyed him for long enough. Come the end of October I will be too happy to have him back in the same city as me!

Until we meet again! From California :-)

Jordana Simone

Thursday, September 6, 2012

9/6/12: Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginnings End

Last night signaled the end to my 14 month Master's program in Middle Eastern Studies which, once again, closed another major chapter of my life. As I reflect back over my last 14 months in Israel I can't believe how much my life has changed and how different my plans deviated from what I had originally imagined them to be. In the beginning this program was meant to give me a fabulous year in Israel before I had to go back to the States to start my life. In actually what this program gave me was a whole new life to start in Israel. This program brought me to a country that I fell madly in love with, which prompted me to make Aliyah, which caused me to search for an apartment that led me to living with 4 crazy men who, even though I can't stand sometimes, I love to death, which opened up my social life thus introducing me to some of the greatest people I know, and BOOM... somewhere in that mix life crept up on me and began to take a wonderful shape. So, in essence, this program gave me so much more than I could have ever expected.

To commemorate the end of the program we had a little MAMES get together on campus where students and professors enjoyed great Persian food, live music, a wonderful slide show from the year, and then a belly dancing extravaganza. My roommate Morgan (who was also in the program) and I showed up a bit late due to awful bus schedules, but when we arrived I was happy to know we didn't miss any of the fun. I was able to see so many of the friends I made over the year and hear about their future plans, eat some good food, and enjoy fantastic live music.

My Arabic partner in crime and me enjoying the festivities 

After the music ended it was time for a fantastic belly dancing performance from the daughter of one of the most famous belly dancer's in all of Israel. She was joined by a friend of hers and they danced for two or three songs. I, of course, was in heaven because the music they were dancing to was Arabic and I felt right at home. The real fun, however, came after their performance was over. When they had finished dancing they announced that they wanted some volunteers to join them to learn some Belly Dancing moves... Well no one was exactly quick to volunteer so our fearless adviser mentioned that whoever went up to dance would receive extra credit. That only got a response from one girl so what our advisor did next was a bit more drastic. She walked right up to me, grabbed my hand, and told me I was to come up with her and dance. I, being not the most daring person ever, hesitated stating that I was on an academic break and didn't need the extra credit, but she wasn't going for that and I finally said "what the hell" and got my butt up to dance! One more girl joined and even my fantastic Arabic professor, Samir, made a guest appearance. Well, really, he stole the show but it was great fun! A friend captured as much as he could on film and though the quality isn't amazing you get the general idea. If anything that this taught me was that I am definitely starting to come out of my shell more :-)

When the belly dancing was over we had a few minutes to settle down while some light music played in the background. It was at this time that my professor, Bruce Maddy-Weitzman debuted his saxophone playing skills for the whole program. He looked so comfortably leaning against a tree rocking out with the background music. It was too much and just had to be captured on camera!

Yup... He was charged with my education! 
After a final announcement from the head of our program and a slide show of pictures from the year it was time to say goodbye and goodnight to everyone and head home. It was a great end to a great year and I will miss everyone immensely, but I'm sure we will all find ways of keeping in touch with one another. At least that is my hope!

While yesterday brought the end to a chapter today, in a sense, started another. I know that I made Aliyah back in February but it takes time for citizenship to be conferred and legalized. Since I will soon be traveling to the States, and since I have now been in Israel over 3 months since my Aliyah date, I was finally a legal citizen eligible to receive my Israeli travel papers and temporary passport. By law I am now officially an Israeli and I have the documents to prove it!

My temporary passport! 

Jordana Pepper: Nationality- ISRAELI! 

I can't adequately describe the feeling I got when I saw that my nationality was Israeli! I feel like it's a dream I've secretly always been working towards that has finally come true. Sometimes life is not always easy here but it's never not exciting, and no matter what, I am where I love to be which makes even the hard days a wonderful adventure; an adventure I am thankful for every day.

Tonight starts the beginning of my last weekend in Israel before my 6 week vacation in California so I am trying to do as much, and see as many people, as possible before I leave. I have a busy schedule lined up and before I know it Monday morning will arrive and I will be on a plane headed towards California!

Until we meet again <3,
Jordana Simone