Saturday, May 22, 2010


I am on a blogging hiatus until my return to Egypt. I love all your emails and input into my blog but I am exhausted and really need to catch up on my Arabic! I hope you learned a little bit about daily life and the world of the Middle East. I promise I will start up again once I head back to Cairo for more Arabic. Salaam until then. (June 6)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

In Summation.

I honestly don’t think I understood Israel before. Really truly understood, that is. I now get the grunt and grind of daily life. The paranoia of safety and protection permeates the most closely woven of the strings that make up Israeli culture. Everything in Israel comes down to safety- independence- the ability to survive and the pride of being Jewish. For centuries it was taboo, dangerous or embarrassing to claim a Jewish religious identity- regrettably this is true even in some places today. I think it is brilliant how valiantly the Jewish state has fought to retain its statehood and culture. I love that Israel is a melting pot, accepting Jews with open arms from all over the world. Always, the first question asked in Israel is, ‘are you Jewish?’ The significance of that question should speak for itself. The insider/outsider or who can be trusted is a major question there.
My major beef with Israel is the education. I don’t mean the ABC’s (in Hebrew called the AlephBet) but rather the cultural awareness, or lack thereof. Obviously they are exposed to the history of the State of Israel and focus on the Jewish heritage as the common, uniting factor. However, there is very little focus on the similarities between them, the Christians and the Muslims. I realize this goes back to survival instinct, but it is fostering an us versus them mentality. Survival is one thing, but the reality in Israel and in the Middle East is that it is a place of religiosity of all three major religions and a lack of understanding of the commonalities and differences of each other will only lead to more separation and more fundamentalism. The lack of desire to learn about the peoples surrounding them will only harm the Jewish State. Understanding and a desire to learn is the first step to building a lasting peace.
A silly boy in my Ulpan once told me that attempting to learn, to study another culture is offensive because it puts your ‘subjects’ (a rather cynical way of looking at the situation) into boxes, into a scientific-esq situation. I completely disagree; for if people never step outside their culture, if there is no desire to learn about cultures outside your own, how will progress happen? How will understanding unfold? How will people learn to look past appearances? How will prejudice be combated?
I believe that Israel will play an extremely important role in the future. Israel is the shining beacon of light in the Middle East, of progress, where so much of the region is crippled by poverty, illiteracy, and political Islam. Israel has the potential to become a major world player, an innovator and a leader. This will not happen until changes are made on a grassroots level to increase the understanding of the other. At a party I attended on the Israeli Independence Day I was asked by some friends (after learning my background) if ‘I liked Arabs?’ My response- “I like people.” Look at people, not at what defines them.

I guess what I have learned is this: You will never know it all. Keep seeking. Keep learning. If you think it can’t be done, push harder. It is possible. As JFK once said, “We need people who will dream of things that never were.” The world exists to be explored.

Friday, May 14, 2010

It's So Hard to Say Goodbye

Leaving Na’an was surreal. I packed all day, went for a nice long run through the fields and around the perimeter of my kibbutz, relaxed at the pool and tried to take in the beauty of this place. Only when you are saying goodbye do you realize how lucky you truly are. Of course I had my days where I wanted something different. The endless rows of eggplants, oranges and vineyards will be images stuck in my mind forever. The view of the rolling hills of the central plain of Israel was just outside my window. The trees that bloomed these iridescent purple flowers was right outside my door. But all in all, this experience changed me. Kibbutz Na’an, minus our jerk of a director, was a growing experience. I met people who challenged me, people who changed me, and people who I had to learn to live with. Goodbye Kibbutz Na’an. This marks the end of my time living in a socialist community. And probably sometime soon, the uniqueness of the Kibbutz in Israel will morph into something modern, and become a normal community. I feel so blessed to have experienced something so unique which opened my eyes to a whole different world.

Thursday, May 13, 2010


We all go to Tel Aviv every chance we get so as a place for a fieldtrip, many of us were questioning what exactly we were going to be doing that we hadn’t already done a million times. We left early in the morning and they took us to Independence Hall, which was actually interesting. A rather plain building with a white, simple façade on the beginning of Rothschild Street, Independence Hall housed the conference where Ben-Gurion declared the Israeli state into being. We listened to a lengthy, emotional presentation and then sang the national anthem, HaTikva (The Hope) at the end. It was quite moving. The house, however, was not in the shape I would’ve expected out of a building with such importance. We ate an al fresco lunch and then journeyed to the first neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Beautiful and full of alleyways with houses that each tell their own story, walking down the roads was like hearing whispers of history at every block. Love stories, war stories, and stories of mothers, brothers, daughters and grandparents witnessing new generations build a state that was fought so hard for. We walked from there to the shook (the outdoor market) and I gathered up the last minute things I needed before I left. Leaving my friends to catch a bus at the opposite end of the shook, I ran back up to the other side of the market to catch the bus with the rest of my Ulpan. My director left, knowing I was right there, and I, needless to say was particularly irked. Thankfully, it all worked out and I met with a friend where we plopped down at this stir-fry stand and devoured some good Moroccan cuisine. I made my way back to Rehovot around 6 and had to take a sherut, a bus, and taxi to get home.

Monday, May 10, 2010


7 is a number many consider sacred. There are 7 physical properties, 7 types of natural disasters, 7 colors of the rainbow, 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, 7 days of creation, 7 deadly sins, 7 days of Pesach, 7 Heavens (in the Islamic faith) and 7 chakras. I have 7 days left in Israel. Only 7. So many of the amazing things in the world come in 7’s.
7: The amount of days left.
6: The number of holidays I was lucky enough to experience here. (Pesach, Independence Day, Holocaust Remembrance Day, Veteran’s Day, Purim, & Jerusalem Day!)
5: The number of amazing friends I met here who have changed my life and challenged me to be a better person.
4: The number of times I was mistaken for an Israeli celebrity named Roni Superstar.(Awful name, right?!?) I still don’t think I look like her. Thoughts?
3: The number of languages I am in love with. (Right now at least)
2: The number of religious revelations I have had while here.
1: The number of moments I regret.
I am bummed to be leaving Israel. I feel it is a place I will most definitely return to, maybe even live. It is one of the most inspiring places I have ever lived. I have learned so much about the history, culture and languages here but know that I have only touched the tip of the iceberg. I have so much respect, love and admiration for the Jewish people and am in awe of the perseverance and determination they faced for centuries in order to create their state. I will miss this trans-formative, inspirational place.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I headed to Tel Aviv to meet some friends. As I prepared to leave Kfar Gaza, again even in broad daylight, Gaza loomed threateningly close. It struck me as odd that I should feel uneasy around an Arab settlement. I wondered if living in Israel and hearing all the anti-Arab tirades had effected me without my knowledge. No. After living in Cairo and traveling around parts of the Middle East, I maintain that at heart, the Arabs are a warm and generous people. It is a rather uncomfortable situation for them, as literacy rates are purposely left high and much of the Middle East remains in a state of dilapidation and antiquity. The leaders of the Middle East play on the state of desperation that hey have kept their people under and manipulate them into religious and political submission; flexing their muscles to use the people as a weapon (sometimes against each other) when and how they please. I am not afraid of Arabs. No. My nerves were a product of survival instinct. In the rockets and mortar fired from Gaza, amidst their frustration and despair, there is no distinction between friend and foe. There is only death.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A, B, C, D, E, F, G.

Leaning a language is never easy. Some people are better at it than others. While I love learning these languages, at times I want to pull my hair out. For about a year now, I have been conversing with people in English whose first language is not English, or speaking in Arabic, Hebrew or Italian. The frustrating part is not looking like an idiot, which I have hopelessly resigned myself to. The most frustrating part is the lack of intellectual communication. All you can use are the words you know accompanied with dramatic hand gestures to get your point across. I can speak about my life, what I like, where I come from, what I want to do and contribute to general conversation topics. But, when it comes to actually conversing about what is going on the world, politics, religion, or any topic with vocabulary way beyond my skill, I am forced to listen and attempt to understand the new words as they pour out of peoples’ mouths. Generally what I am thinking is this: 'okay, she just said that word--which is has the same root as this other verb I know, so which verb grouping can I put that in? I suppose I would conjugate that in the past tense, first person as this and think of other words I know with the same basic root. Then maybe, I may have some general meaning as to what the verb she just used was.' Then after thinking all of these things, I join back in the conversation which probably has just taken a turn to something completely different. And then the process repeats itself.
I found this amazing article which explains what learning Arabic is like. It even touches on the similarities between Hebrew and Arabic. Read and enjoy.
I'm Trying To Learn Arabic Why's it taking so long?
Robert Lane Greene Posted Thursday, June 9, 2005, at 6:04 AM ET
When I walked into Arabic class last week, Karam, my teacher, cheerily asked me how I was doing. I said, "Tamaam, hamdulillah," which means, "Fine, thanks be to God." But I was lying. I'd just spent a full day at work and was sitting down at a desk for two hours of mind-bending grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation. I knew it would be a long night. Everyone else was partying in high school, I was learning the Spanish past subjunctive and loving it. I studied German, French, and Portuguese in college. I speak decent Russian and have taught myself some half-decent rudimentary Japanese. Languages are usually fun. But Arabic is really killing me. I'm one of a growing wave of people trying to come to grips with Arabic, a language long neglected by Americans in the years before Sept. 11. Since then, the CIA and the military have tried to recruit Arab-American "heritage speakers." The federal government has spent tons of money, both teaching Arabic to spies and soldiers at its specialized schools and encouraging university students to study it. College enrollment in Arabic classes doubled between 1998 and 2002, with much of the increase coming in a patriotic spike after the World Trade Center attacks. As a foreign-affairs writer, I thought it would be good to give it a shot.But these patriotic students are probably finding, as I am, that learning Arabic is complicated. The first challenge, the script, is a tough one. But it is by no means the biggest. Arabic has an alphabet, so it's easier than, say, Chinese, which has a set of thousands of characters. There are just 28 letters, and it does not take long to get used to writing and reading right-to-left. (Though it still feels odd to open my book from what seems like the back.) Most of the letters have four different forms, depending on whether they stand alone or come at the beginning, middle, or end of a word. Even then, so far so good. But in Arabic, as in Hebrew, people don't include most vowels when writing. Maktab, or "office," is just written mktb. Vowels are included as little marks above and below in beginning textbooks, but you soon have to get used to doing without them. Whn y knw th lngg wll ths s nt tht hrd. But when you're struggling with comprehension to begin with, it's pretty formidable.
Then there are the sounds those letters represent. I do not recommend chewing gum in Arabic class, because a host of noises articulated in the back of the throat makes it likely that the gum will end up in your lungs. Arabic has one "h" akin to ours, and another that has been described as the sound you would make trying to blow out a candle with air from your throat. That's not to be confused with another sound, the fricative kh familiar to German-speakers as the sound in "Bach." There's also 'ayn, a "voiced pharyngeal fricative," which is like the first sound in the hip-hop "a'ight." Unwritten in Roman-alphabet transliterations, it's actually a consonant that begins many common words and names, including "Arab," "Iraq," and "Arafat."
The sounds are tough, but the words are tougher. An English-speaking student learning a European language will run across many familiar-looking words, but English-speaking Arabic students are not so lucky. Merav, an Israeli classmate, should have a leg up on us: Arabic and Hebrew both use a nifty, three-letter root system for word building. The three-letter root represents a general area of meaning, and different prefixes, vowel additions, and suffixes can make it into a person engaged in that activity, the place where it goes on, the general concept, and so on. Most famous is slm, which generally means "peace." Salaam is the noun for "peace," Islam is "surrender," and a Muslim is "one who surrenders." (In Hebrew, this can be seen in shalom.) Ktb functions similarly for writing: Kitaab is "book," kaatib is "writer," maktaba is "library."
Merav is fine with this, though the rest of us are struggling. But the ferociously unfamiliar grammar sets us all adrift. Arabic is a VSO language, which means the verb usually comes before the subject and object. It has a dual number, so nouns and verbs must be learned in singular, dual, and plural. A present-tense verb has 13 forms. There are three noun cases and two genders. Some European languages have just as many forms to keep track of, but in Arabic the idiosyncrasies can be mind-boggling. When Karam explains that numbers are marked for gender—but most numbers take the opposite gender from the word they are modifying—we students stare at each other in slack-jawed solidarity. When we learn that adjectives modifying nonhuman plurals always have a feminine singular form—meaning that "the cars are new" comes out as "the cars, she are new"—I can hear heads banging on the desks around me. I want to do the same.
Karam sees the wear and tear on us, and so sometimes we pause and have a cultural chat. Arabic is peppered with a lot of God—even secular Arabs will append insha'allah, "God willing," to almost any statement of intent, as in, "I'll file my story by 3, God willing." Sometimes Karam tries to teach us how to work various niceties like this into daily speech. "Thank you" is usually just shukran. "But," Karam tells us, "that is sort of boring, so if someone gives you food it's nicer to say, 'May your hands be blessed,' or …" This is way too much information for my skill level, so I squeeze my eyes shut and hope that Karam's flourishes don't enter my brain and dislodge something vital, like, "Where is the bathroom?"
The State Department reckons that it takes 80 to 88 weeks (roughly a year in the classroom full-time and a year in-country) to get to a level 3 on a 5-point scale in Modern Standard Arabic, the language I am learning. But there's a twist. MSA has about the same role in the Arab world that Latin had in medieval Europe: It's the language of writing, religion, and formal speeches, but it is no one's native spoken language any more. Arabic has long since become a series of "dialects," which are actually more like separate languages, as many varieties are mutually incomprehensible. Arabic spoken in Morocco is as different from Arabic spoken in Egypt and from Modern Standard as French is from Spanish and Latin. When Arabs from different regions talk to each other, they improvise a mix of Egyptian Arabic (which is understood widely because of Egypt's movie industry), Modern Standard, and a bit of their own dialects.
So, if I go to Egypt or Lebanon in a year, having managed to get some near grip on my classroom language, I will be walking down the street asking people for a bite to eat in something that will sound almost as conversationally inappropriate to them as Shakespearean English would to us. Most literate Arabs know the Modern Standard from schooling, newspapers, television, sermons, and the like, though, so hopefully they will not laugh too hard as they help me out and respond in something I can almost understand. And that is if I work my tail off for the next year. Insha'allah.
Welcome to My Life.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Rosh HaNikra

Sierra and I decided to go camping. I had never actually been camping before. I mean the kind of camping where you carry your own tent on your back, bring food, build a fire, etc. I was thoroughly excited for the idea- you know, hard core camping. I told my director I was leaving, and he was less than thrilled, but I left anyway. I traveled up to Rosh HaNikra, a beautiful little spot on the border of Israel and Lebanon. Famous for its grottoes, Rosh HaNikra reminded me of the Blue Grottoes of Capri, Italy. (Though Capri beat them in awe factor) Guarded heavily by a base in between Israel and Lebanon, the grottoes boast the steepest cable car dissension in the world. We took that down to the grottoes, watched an adorably cheesy introduction video complete with water splashing on your head during the dramatic parts of the film. We went down to explore the caves. We met this adorable family form North Carolina with two kids with accents that make you want to pinch their cheeks like a creepy aunt! We reminisced about the good ole US of A and chatted for a bit about what brought us to Israel.
Sierra and I tromped around for a while through the area, taking in the salty sea air, the sun peaking out through the clouds and the beautiful crashing water inside the grottoes. After enjoying a refreshing Israeli beer and soaking up the beauty of north Israel, we hopped in a cab and headed toward Achlifa Beach, a small private beach. Adjacent to a camping ground, there were hammocks in bungalows, a beach side bar, a lifeguard tower and a beach with fine white sand that stretched on forever. We set up our tent piece by piece and built our fire. I had never done that before, but success happened! Can I just say, toilet paper starts a darn good fire. We roasted marshmallows, made some new friends and taught them the art behind a good s’more. None of the Israeli’s had ever heard of s’mores before. We relaxed all night, met tons of interesting people but were kept awake much of the night by a huge party that was going on in a private venue down the beach.
Waking up to the bright blue water of the Mediterranean was stunning to say the least. We woke up, cooked a hot breakfast on our portable stove and layed on the beach until the sunset.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Night I Slept in a Bombshelter

After an amazing weekend at Achlifa Beach near the Lebanese border in the border town of Nahariya Sierra and I packed up out tent, portable fire, our pans, our burnt selves and prepared to leave. We made a friend from the campground who took us to the Nahariya bus station so we could catch the first bus after Shabbas ended. During the two hour bus journey, I poured over the book Exodus (which I highly recommend) but was constantly distracted by the most beautiful man specimen I have ever seen. Tall, dark, handsome and piercing blue eyes – this soldier was whoa. I felt like an 8 year old girl with a crush. Anyways, Itay, Sierra’s boyfriend picked us up at the bust stop to drive us over to his family’s house in Kibbutz Kfar Aza. I got off the bus, turned around and asked Itay, “woah, is that Gaza, that city, like, right there?” “Yep.” He replied. I asked him if he ever got nervous living so close to Gaza. He told me “Growing up it wasn’t so bad, but now, after everything, it’s disturbing.” We rolled through the large Kibbutz and into his driveway. (Even after all my time here, it continues to amaze me how the Israeli’s made this desert bloom.) The fence guarding the Kibbutz was covered with barbed wire and surrounded on the outside with rolls of barbed wire in cylindrical shapes. Peering through the fence, I pointed at the lights, the cars I saw whizzing by in the distance and the activity that seemed so close- “that’s Gaza!” “Yes, Italy said; every year what really scares me is the lights and the buildings of Gaza keep moving closer. I fear one day they may be right outside our fence.” As of now, Kfar Aza is 1.8 miles from the city of Gaza.
We were led into their beautiful home which was empty at the moment with all the Kibbutzniks celebrating Lag BaOmer. Lag BaOmer is the holiday commemorating 7 weeks after Passover and the harvest. In Israel, it’s traditional for all the children to stay up late and make huge bonfires, made barbeques, parades and traditionally, the orthodox children get their first haircut on this day.
We chowed down on barbeque meats and salads while Sierra attended to her intense sunburns. After all the fun, I was offered Itay’s sisters room that was vacant. Leading me through the rooms snaking to the back of the house, they directed me to her room which also happened to be the bomb shelter. One window, the metal blinds closed tight with blue thick walls- my sleeping chamber couldn’t have been more silent. I head nothing and saw no outside light until they woke me up at 8am. Opening the thick bomb shelter shades allowed some light to penetrate the darkness I had slept so soundly in.

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