As I leave for Turkey…

…Iran is now threatening preemptive action against an unnamed “enemy” and I wonder who that enemy is. A western country involved in the sanctions? Probably not. Israel? Definitely. I find it funny that people use Israel’s assumed nuclear weapons capabilities as a reason why Iran should/is developing their own, when in fact the Iranian MWD development program started in response to Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical weapons in the 1980s WELL AFTER Israel was ‘known’ to be armed with nuclear weapons. This is something I didn’t actually know until my first Arms Control in the Nuclear Realm lecture a few days ago – a class that I am very much excited for. I also learned that before the Iranian Revolution, the Israeli-Iranian relationship was pretty calm. After the revolution ended it was the new Iranian “government” (I say that loosely) that decided Israel was it’s enemy. And ever since, well, you read the news right?

Two Iranian warships sailed through the Suez Canal today for only the 2nd time since 1979. I know all of this is just war games bullshit for the time being, both sides flexing their muscles and what not, but at some point either Israel or Iran is going to take one little step too far and cross over the very fine line that both of them are currently tiptoeing; they’ll be in a situation know to us in the IR world as brinksmanship. Thats when the war starts. I really don’t want a war to start.

But with all this said, I’m PUMPED to go to Istanbul for the weekend. It should be a blast.

!שבת שלום לכולם ולהתראות

Wonderful Shabbats with Wonderful People

The last two weeks I’ve been absent from the blogging world. Part of that is due to my laziness, but it’s also partly because I ran out of batteries and haven’t taken any good pictures to upload. However, I definitely have stuff to talk about!

The last two weekends have been particularly low key for me. Two weeks ago I spent Friday afternoon, night, and Saturday in Jerusalem with my friend Mayan and her fiance Yoni. They just got engaged about a month ago! I’m very happy for both of them. It was the first time I had ever met Yoni, and the first time I had seen Mayan in roughly 18 months. Needless to say, I had been very much looking forward to going to visit them as soon as I got to Israel. We had some nice Shabbat meals together, alone and with friends of theirs, and also went to see the movie The Artist. For those that haven’t seen it, please do. It was incredible (I thought I was going to hate it).

I returned to Haifa that night and prepared myself for my last week of Ulpan, and the final exam that awaited me that upcoming Thursday (2/16). The week kind of dragged on, because I spent most nights studying furiously for the test. But it actually went really well. As happy as I am to have finished the intensive course, I miss the atmosphere of our class. It was a very fun group of people to be with every day. But it ended and the test wasn’t actually that bad. I’m still anxiously awaiting my score though. I can only hope for the best.

After the test, a bunch of us took a bus down to Jerusalem, and I spent Thursday night there in a hostel with them. The weather was unfortunately horrible. It was cold, windy, rainy, and every now and again it would start to hail. We went out anyway, and we went out hard. I was out drinking and smoking hookah until almost 3am until I realized I had to be coherent the next day and see my family. I went home and passed out. One way to make a shitty hostel bed feel amazing is to get hammered and tire yourself out immensely. It was great.

The next day, I was off to Rishon L’tsiyon to spend Shabbat with my family there. Ezi and Illana are the parents, and they have three kids: Roy, Ziv, and Gal. Roy is a pilot for El Al, and luckily he wasn’t off flying this weekend and I was able to see him. Ziv lives in NYC and I’ve never met him before. Gal I met 4 years ago the last time I visited them for Shabbat, however at that time we were both 16 and only knew our respective languages. Now I speak a decent amount of Hebrew and he can understand English, but not speak so well. It was cool getting to talk to him a little bit despite the still obvious language barrier because he’s only a month older than I am. Had we shared a common language and lived closer than half way around the world from one another, I’m sure we’d have been great friends growing up.

To top it all off, my brother Jordan is also in Israel and he was able to spend the weekend with us there as well. It was my first time seeing him since he flew to Israel 10 days after I did, so that was great. We took him back to the Alexander Muss campus in Hod Hasharon on Saturday night, and it was my first time back to the Hod since leaving almost 4 years ago. It was awesome walking around my old stomping ground, so to speak. Seeing the campus gave me intense memory flashbacks to all the experiences I had there. I also got slightly nostalgic. Sunday afternoon (yesterday) I returned to Haifa. I completely forgot that new international students were coming since the semester starts tomorrow! There are about 30 new people that I will hopefully get to know very well during the rest of my time here.

In other news, I’m off to Istanbul in 4 days from now and damn that seemed to have crept up on me a little bit. I’m very excited for this trip. The only thing I really need to do this week is get more batteries! Thats pretty much all I’ve got to talk about for now.

Oh wait, how could I forget this one…Fuck you, Iran.

Good Morning, Istanbul

Going to Istanbul. But the US Embassy says not to put up flight information, so I took it down.

(Now there is) Enough said

The Diaspora Museum and my first Intro to Japanese class

Today the International students took a trip to Tel Aviv University to check out the Diaspora Museum, known as בית התפוצות The Museum of the Jewish People. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures because I didn’t have time to grab my camera before we left. But here is a picture of the museum from the outside.

The buses left for Tel Aviv an hour after classes ended. Mitch and I decided to grab some lunch and check out the travel agency on campus before we left. We wanted to see what cruises left from the Haifa port at the beginning of April – we’re going to go to Cyprus and the Greek Isles over our spring break. Ya it’s gonna be sweet. But anyway, the museum. It was pretty awesome. There was one room that had replicas of synagogues from all over the world that were built throughout the last 1000 years of history. The architectural differences of these synagogues – some being in Warsaw, Venice, Amsterdam, Aleppo, etc. – were incredible. It was by far my favorite part of the museum. Sadly not all of the replicas represent standing synagogues, since many of them in Europe were destroyed during the Second World War and the Holocaust.

*I’ll post a picture of one of the replicas when my friends have pictures on Facebook that I can steal – Google searching proved to be a failure*

It was pretty incredible walking around the museum with our tour guide as she was explaining the way of life of Jewish communities from all over the world during the 2000 year absence from Eretz Israel (the destruction of the 2nd Temple in 70 CE – 1948 CE). The recurring theme of the tour was that no matter how hard things got for Jews during the Diaspora, it was their dedication to the faith and culture they held so dearly that ensured our return to Israel. For example, during those 2000 years, Jews worldwide would say “לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה” every year at the Passover seder. This means “Next year [we will dine] in the rebuilt Jerusalem.” Obviously, these people lived and died without ever seeing or dining the city of Jerusalem, and yet in 2 days I’ll be traveling there to celebrate the Shabbas with friends. I wouldn’t be able to do this if it wasn’t for the resilience of the Jews that lived before me. It makes me proud and honored to have an ancestry as dedicated as they were to preserve their/our faith through all the horrible years and atrocities that befell them. You don’t need to be religious to appreciate something that magnificent.

After I got back to my dorm, I had dinner with my Japanese roommate, Hisashi. He doesn’t speak English too well and doesn’t know Hebrew well enough for me to speak with him in Hebrew either, so communicating is interesting. But he understands a lot in English despite not being a great speaker. And hell, who am I to judge, I don’t speak a word of Japanese. But anyway, we started talking about 2nd languages and stuff like that, and he informed me that Japanese has 3 alphabets! What the hell is that about?! Not to mention, two of them have 52 letters and the other one has 1000+! He couldn’t put a number on it because he wasn’t sure how many letters there were, but assured me it was over 1000, maybe even 10,000. Literally my mind is blown. So as the title as this post states, I had my first Intro to Japanese lesson this evening. It’s probably going to be my last one as well. That shit is hard!

Time to go smoke some nargilah (hookah) and do my homework. It’s becoming a ritual here which is really unhealthy, but it hasn’t gotten old yet so I’m just going to go with it for the time being. Oh ya, and Israeli-Iranian war while I’m here? What…?

JF

Happy February

What a week it was. SO MUCH has gone on since my last post, and there is no way I can possibly include all of it. But I’ll give the highlights.

Last week I studied my head off for my midterm in Ulpan basically Sunday until Thursday. Not too much went on between then as I was trying to keep myself sane, but once the weekend started, life got a little more exciting.

Thursday’s Last Minute Trip to Tel-Aviv

Bekah: “I have to go get tickets for the Infected Mushroom concert and I don’t want to go alone. Will you come with me?”

Me: “Sure, why the hell not!”

So I went to Tel-Aviv for an afternoon with Bekah and Jeff. We had to go to the ticket office because we were not able to use our American credit or debit cards to purchase tickets online. But we got them and are going to the show on Purim (Jewish Halloween except way more awesome)! So far we have a crew of maybe 8 or 9 people. It’s going to be epic and I’m beyond excited. We ended our short trip with a falafel lunch and made our way back to Haifa that evening.

Some people were going out, but I decided to call it an early night after a few drinks in the dorms. We had a very early morning the following day!

Friday’s trip to Akko and Rosh Hanikrah

These are two places I have been before and absolutely love. First up was Akko. We left Haifa around 8am and were driving into the old city of Akko less than an hour later. We toured a castle that was built in the early 12th century by the Hospitallers (Crusaders), and walked around parts of the old city of Akko.

Here is the castle from the outside before we entered. More pictures on facebook!

The Shuk, or market, in Akko was amazing as well. The old city is almost 100% Muslim Arab, so it was full of Arab merchants selling goods that ranged from souvenirs to food to clothes to hookahs! There was everything there. I didn’t take any pictures of the Shuk, because I didn’t want to be that annoying American, if you know what I mean. Most Arabs-Israelis or Jewish-Israelis don’t expect foreigners to understand Arabic or Israeli if spoken to them, and one guy kept saying in Hebrew “you all don’t belong, you all don’t belong.” So I turned to him and said, “of course we do!” He was pissed, but it made me laugh quite a bit.

I had lunch with my tour guide, and that turned out to be an awesome idea since it ended in a free lunch. Restaurant and shop owners looooove tour guides since they bring them tons of business, so the guy who owned the restaurant we ate at didn’t make us pay. Gotta love a free lunch.

If anyone reading this cares to read about the  story of Akko, I suggest you check it out on Wikipedia. There is SO much history in that city. It was built, captured, destroyed, rebuilt, recaptured, and so on over and over again because of it’s strategic location right on the beach.

Around 1pm we were back on the bus and on our way to Rosh Hanikrah, my favorite place in Northern Israel. There are amazing grottos underneath the rock, the largest in the world actually, and we got to walk through the caves and take in the beauty. Once out of the caves, you swing around on to the large slab of rock that is jutting out over the Mediterranean and look out into the sea.

        

Pretty awesome stuff. Like I said, my favorite place in Northern Israel. And again, more pictures on facebook!

Oh ya, I was introduced to absinthe too…Friday night was fun, to say the least.

SuperBowl MONDAY

Ya, thats right, kickoff is 1:30AM MONDAY morning! That’s a first for me. But we have Giants fans and Patriots fans here on the program so it will surely be exciting. I’m off to go do homework before the night of sports begins. Gotta love matinee NHL games on Sunday (Rangers vs. Flyers on 8pm for me!). Well, I’ll see you soon, WordPress.

Oh ya, GO GIANTS!

Shabbat Shalom!

Good Shabbas, everyone!

So I know I’m not supposed to be doing anything today or using any technology considering it’s Shabbat, but I haven’t posted in awhile so I figured why not?! Besides, I have much to share! This morning I ate a wonderful meal with my roommates for breakfast. The Israelis are busy studying for exams, so I left them to that after we finished our meal of hard boiled eggs, and homemade bread of some sort. Zahar was one of the spices on the bread, and for those that don’t know, Zahar is delicious. The other stuff though, I’m not quite sure what it was. But it was pretty good as well. I hope to eat much more of that in the coming months.

Kate, Steph, Leah and I decided to be a little adventurous and explored the surrounding area outside the campus. There are quite a few trails overlooking a magnificent view of the other side of the mountain. It’s very hilly, and just beyond the valley you can see the beach of the Mediterranean. The hike through the valley to the beach is supposedly about 4-5 hours long, and it is something I definitely plan on doing once it gets a little warmer. I did not bring my camera out with me this time, but I’m sure to do it again. I will have pictures of it soon I hope. We thought we were going to get rained on, but it the sun decided to come out for half of our hike. And while it eventually got very grey out, we returned to our respective dorms dry, which was a nice surprise.

This week was full of excitement. A large group of us went out Wednesday and Thursday night to the bar Sleek and the club The Loft, respectively. It felt like freshman year all over again, rolling up with 20+ people down to party and drink. But despite the initial awkwardness of getting into these places with so many Americans (plus the few Europeans that we have along with us), we all managed to have a great time.

I already have gotten to know many of my fellow classmates in all levels of the Ulpan program, and we’ve all started to become a close knit  group despite how many of us there are. It’s really nice to meet so many people that are as down to earth as this group is. The best part is, there are at least 30 or so people that I have either not met or not spoken to at length with yet! I’m very excited to get to know everyone else. It’s almost been a week (wow, already?!) and I feel very close with many people here.

Well, that’s enough for right now. I have to get ready to go out and explore more of this awesome city. I’m interested to see how lively it will be on Shabbat. I anticipate there to be a little more life than there would be in Jerusalem, but who knows. At sundown, we are ready for the city to get loud again when all of the Israelis come out to party. We will of course undoubtedly join them.

The Trip and My Arrival

Wow what a day. Or should I say two days, since I’ve slept approximately 90 minutes in the last 36 hours. It started off with the train ride. Just outside of Philadelphia on my way to Newark Airport, one of the guys that worked on the train sprinted down the aisle and into the next car. Needless to say, it was frightening. A minute later, the train stopped and he was swiftly walking past me in the other direction. Everyone working on the train was outside, looking at God only knows what and telling us there were “technical problems” and they were sorry for the inconvenience. Luckily, the train was only an hour late, which gave me plenty of time to get to the gate on time, but it was so much unnecessary anxiety and stress!

So 2 hours go by and there’s about 75 minutes before the plane is supposed to leave the gate, and I get a text from Conor saying that Kate, fellow Badger, couldn’t get her carry on bag from their plane from Milwaukee because the hatch holding the bags underneath the plane was frozen shut…so we’re about to board and Kate is still not there. But about 10 minutes later she pops up next to Conor, Stephanie, and myself (we sat next to each other on the flight), so all was good. Coincidentally, all six Badgers going to Haifa were on this flight! So that was pretty cool. Just when we thought all was good, it turned out that OUR plane was frozen too! So they had to de-ice the entire 777 aircraft (not as big as a 747, but still pretty damn big). We were sitting on the plane for 2 hours before leaving. I watched The Hangover Part 2 though, so that combined with good company kept my mind occupied. Then there was the 10 hour flight…awesome stuff.

We get to Tel Aviv and get our bags and meet some others traveling to Haifa, and we’re off in our Sheirut (large taxi). This guy drove like a freakin maniac. Not to mention it was pouring, which was incredible in it of itself since rain is hard to come by in Israel, let alone a downpour. Seriously, 90 mph on the highway while sheets of rain were coming down. I thought I was going to die. But just as we started ascending Mount Carmel, the sun came out. We got a clear view, for about 10 minutes, of the neighborhoods along this enormous mountain as well as the rest of the city below us. As soon as we got inside the Moadon, םועדון, (clubhouse) it started raining again and hasn’t stopped yet.

I’ve met a ton of cool people so far, and I’m basically completely unpacked. We’re about to head out to check out the city of Haifa, in the rain, but we’re bound to hit some bars and I sure as hell could use a cold beer or 3 to finish off this day of travel. That’s all I got for now. More to come soon when life in Haifa gets more exciting!

Last Night at Home

Well, its my last night at home and I’ve already had travel problems. Due to this wonderful storm hitting the east coast tomorrow morning, my flight from BWI to Newark has been CANCELLED! I haven’t seen any winter weather in Madison or in Olney, and of course, the day I’m traveling, the weather acts up. Luckily my travel agent, Cathy, is a saint, and made arrangements for me to get to Newark by Am-Trak. It adds an hour and a half to my travel time, but cuts out the pre-boarding airport nonsense. In the end, it’s basically a wash, except I get to sleep in an extra hour so it all worked out.

I’m going to spend one last dinner home with my family, whom I will surely miss dearly. Mostly the pupster though. It is going to be tough to leave her (Mira) in the morning, that’s for sure. She’s turning 6 next week, so we celebrated tonight instead! How they grow up so fast.

Anyway, I highly doubt I’ll sleep tonight because I’m so anxious to start this trip. Sunday after I arrive at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv with Conor and Stephanie (two fellow Badgers flying with me), we have to find our way to Haifa quickly and start with orientation and moving in! There is so much planned for us immediately after we get on campus, and I’m going to have to pocket a few 5 Hour Energy’s to keep me awake after almost 20 hours of travel, layover, and more travel.

My next post will be from the Holy Land! I can only imagine what I’ll have to share…until then, לילה תוב ולהיתראות, אמריקה (goodnight and see you later, America)!

First Post!

I’m still in the states. Lame I know, but I only have 11 days until I’m off to Israel yet again for trip number 3 and I’m very excited to get back there! I’ve never been to Haifa for a significant amount of time before, so I’m looking forward to seeing what it is like.

The picture seen above is an aerial view of city I will soon be calling home for the next 5 months. The larger buildings on the bottom half of the picture is in fact the University that I will be studying at. It is hard to see based on this picture, but the University is entirely located on top of a mountain known as Har HaCarmel (הר הכרמל), or Mount Carmel in English. Everything else in the picture is the city of Haifa in the valley below, which also extends beyond this particular snapshot to the left (south) and the right (north). Finally, in the  horizon you can see the beautiful and clear Mediterranean Sea. Oh how nice it will be to be that close to the beach.

There are a few more things I have to take care of at home before I’m truly ready to go, but most of what I’ll be doing is waiting in anticipation. I hope whoever follows this or even reads just a few of my entries throughout the semester will find whatever I have to say interesting! I surely hope to have great stories that I can share here for all to see!