Friday, June 28, 2013

Visiting the West Bank

A friend of mine was working in Ramallah for the summer, so I planned a short trip to visit. It brought me back to reality, social, political and otherwise. Travelling by the Palestinian mini-buses, we passed the giant gray bleak wall, separating the West Bank from Israel. Entering the checkpoint, there is a sign reminding Israeli's that it is illegal to enter and warning visitors that entering is a threat to their lives...the checkpoint is massive, tall and decorated with barbed wire. Once in the city center, all fears evaporated. It was a scene I was used to, the Arab world. Women with their children, scurrying among shops with bags full of fresh food, men huddled into a smoke filled nargilla shop, and numerous dessert stores with store displays of baklava mountains dripping with honey.

I was surprised by how few mosques I saw, only three or four, though I am sure many more exist. Usually minarets decorate the skyline with little green lights and sonorous voices that call people to prayer. There were several churches in Ramallah though, and a friend and I were able to go inside one of them. We were lucky enough to run into the manger of the church, who opened the doors for us. It was a church cut out of white Jerusalem stone like the little cave church in Bethlehem with stars carved into the stone roof. The church was simple, with stained glass windows of the Virgin with child as well of pictures of Jesus, the way I imagine he looked, with dark, Mediterranean features. It was nice to chat and learn that Ramallah was originally (centuries ago) a Christian village until the Muslims conquered the area. We wandered over to a faux-Mexican restaurant that my friend loves covered in palm trees. Playing through the speakers was an Arab rendition of "Happy Birthday" which more or less includes singing 'Happy Birthday to you' for four minutes, interspersed with runs in Arabic and Arab beats. It felt surreal to be eating hummus and quesadillas in Ramallah. It was actually quite good.
City square of Ramallah

the little cave church

downtown Ramallah

me and Shay

Sunset over the West Bank

We ended our little trip with a drink at a rooftop Hotel restaurant overlooking the West Bank, stretching all the way to Tel Aviv and the Mediterranean. The ride back was a little depressing, I guess going through the checkpoint is always depressing, alas. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I'm Back + Life in the Holy City

Dearest loyal readers,

Thank you for always reading my latest travels, musings and observations about this crazy thing we call life. I took a brief hiatus to focus on grad school. I started a double masters in Middle Eastern Studies and Global Policy. Hence, my time has been stolen by the ever demanding teachers to which I am subservient. Welcome to the life of a graduate student. They say jump, you say how high? And is there a special jump you'd like me to do? Any specific form? Acrobatics?

But back to the life I am living currently...

After a glorious, arduous and mildly ridiculous first year of grad school, I received a fellowship to study abroad again! Can you guess where? I am back in the Holy City, Jerusalem. I am studying Hebrew once more, to hopefully skyrocket my Hebrew to higher levels. I am also trying to find a good place to intern, though Hebrew classes are taking up more time that I thought!

In the hot breezy mountain top city of Jerusalem, I am lucky enough to live, literally, on top of the famous Mechane Yehuda market. I awaken every morning to the sounds of trucks vrooming, venders shouting whilst filling their wooden crates full of the freshest produce money can buy. The oranges are ridiculously orange. The grapes are sweeter, the nectarines are juicer and the sweet smell of leavening bread constantly drifts through my window in an effort to remind me of the foodie paradise I am surrounded by. Just this morning, I stumbled across the most salivatingly glorious croissant I have ever had the pleasure of eating- sweet dough sprinkled with powder sugar, filled with goat cheese . Now, before you judge, imagine. Though, sadly, I know it is impossible for you to comprehend the honor which this food bestows on its carbohydrate category. Magnificent. 5 Stars. Picture to follow :)

This summer I am happy to have the unique experience of living with very religious Jewish women. I found a sublet online and chose to live in the city center instead of isolating myself in the dorms atop the mountain where Hebrew University is located.  I am learning all the rules of Shabbat (more than I knew) and also of living Kosher. My roommates are both sweet as can be, and very open minded. One of my roommates, Tamar, is as she calls herself "almost Haredi" (Ultra-Orthodox) explaining that she chooses not to dress in the traditional Haredi costume. The difference between her community, called National Religious and the Haredim community is that one is Zionist (National Religious) while the Haredim are generally not so much. Now, living in my glorious apartment means accepting their rules. When they found out that I wasn't Jewish, she had to consult her Rabbi. Even though I am living kosher and following all the rules requested of me, she still thought their might be some problems. We spoke yesterday and she told me there might be a problem with me using the kitchen because I am not Jewish. (Ever so sweetly, of course, and saying that we will find a solution that works for both of us!) I was a bit worried that I won't be able to use a kitchen for a good month... but today we received good news from the Rabbi.

Of course, they found a loophole :) If they constantly keep a candle lit (lit by a Jew, and not me) in the house, then I am able to cook. Only, If I want to cook, I cannot light the gas stove by striking a match, I must take a match and light it from the candle lit by one of the Jewish girls. Oh, I also can't be the one to open a bottle of wine.  Now, these rules and more, are in addition to the usual kosher rules of having two sets of plates, forks, cups, etc. for all things meat and all things dairy. It is an interesting challenge, and the girls are so sweet about it, how can I say no? I am taking it as a new experience, a chance to learn and a fabulous summer.

As always, if you have any questions about life in Jerusalem, religion or the Middle East, fire away! Feels so good to be back. Below is a view from my room!

View from my Apartment

View from Campus overlooking Jerusalem and the West Bank

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