Posted by Lara Berman
It’s good to have a spiritual goal when living in Israel.
Now, I’ve always been drawn to the self-help world in NY and later LA. But what stands out about this experience in Israel is that whereas previously, my fuel for these kicks typically came from icky, lurking feelings of inadequacy; here, I just feel good and as a natural extension of that, want to continue to take care of myself and do good for myself. (Imagine!) I mean, quite effortlessly I’m eating healthier (thanks to the most delicious fruits and veggies on the planet for cheap!), exercising all the time (thanks to the 7 hills of Jerusalem and my central apartment), getting enough Vitamin D (thanks to the summer sun), feeling young and sassy (thanks to a rockin’ tan and the Israeli ‘tude), and am thinking clearly (thanks to the welcome absence of MTV, raunchy billboards, the rat race, and the ‘compare-and-despair’ mentality that’s so prevalent…ummm, everywhere else!). Sababa!
And so, when on top of all that blessing and goodness, I also realized that for some reason I’ve merited to live in the holiest place in the world, literally, in Hashem’s nest and most inner sanctum; it happened quite naturally, intuitively, and from the most pure of intentions that I just wanted to be closer to Him. Not because I’m feeling lack, but because I’m feeling full.
So, when I say “spiritual goal,” I mean that I’m “taking something on” that will push me to be a better me. Typically, these spiritual goals involve lifestyle changes or character polishing. But instead of saying, “I am going to do -X- mightily and alone, bwa ha!” You say, “Hiya, Hashem – it’s You and me, babe! Let’s do this!” And knowing you’ve got the ultimate partner, you go forth with gusto, part of an unshakable team.
Now you could say, “Oh, silly Lara – Hashem’s with you everywhere and so you can work with Him whenever, where ever.” And you know what? You’d be super, super right. BUT! It is different here. Sorry. Kind of a bummer for folks chootz l’Aretz (outside of Israel), but a major opportunity while one’s here.
“The air in the land of Israel makes one wise.”
Talmud Bavli, Bava Batra 158b
I’m hardly a religious nut…(maybe more of a spiritual fruit)…and although Hashem is everywhere, there is a direct line to Him here, a different and special connection. It’s like this: If the switchboard of the world is in front of Hashem and day-in, day-out He’s answering calls—when you’re in Israel (and especially Jerusalem, hello?!), you’re accessing the red phone on the side with the flashing light. It rings and Hashem answers no matter what, “Hey Lara, what’s up? What’s up? Lay it on me. I gotcha.”
I mean, it’s not so hard to understand. My mom and dad – classic Jewish parents – are always wanting to know what’s going on, and are trying to help me and be there for me as much as they can and as much as I’ll let them. Now, when I travel to Texas to see them, they’re so happy to have a full house that they hop around trying to take care of me even more than usual. “Want something to eat? Drink? What can I get you? What an occasion! Let’s do something special, and won’t you stay longer?” Being in Israel is exactly the same – you’re visiting home. And so, when you’re here, Hashem gets super excited and wants to be there for you and do for you like a doting parent.
So, my spiritual goal: I’ve decided to take on daily, mindfulness meditation and chats with Hashem. This is a practice I’ve done sporadically for a while. Whenever I do it, the difference in my experience is unmistakable. Days can remain fast-paced and koo koo, but the mindfulness allows me to be present for my life! To experience the koo koo! Good or challenging, I’m there for it and there for myself – and as a result, I notice more, the goodness feels sweeter, and the challenges rock but don’t swallow me. In terms of my yappity yapping with Hashem, I chat in my own words. I basically spill my guts, ask questions, request favors and feedback, and give kudos. And from this I get clarity. I get answers. I get guidance. I get magic and surprises and fun. I feel connected and I usually find things working out in clever, unexpected and positive ways.
With all this in-your-face goodness, why didn’t I do this earlier? Well, I’m not proud to admit that I sometimes get lazy and sloppy, antsy and complacent. Occasionally, that little part of me that’s mean and disparaging can get the better of me, and I don’t do what’s in my own best interest. So, in the past, I’ve let the practice slide, despite knowing that it’s a lifeline to blessings and peace. No more! Now, I want my practice to become a true practice - a non-negotiable, sacrosanct and cherished part of my day, as indispensible to me as my mom’s morning coffee is to her. (And believe me, you don’t want to get between my mom and her coffee. You’ve heard the term “insta-human?” Bidiyuk (exactly).)
So, being a fan of positive reinforcement (and basically a 4-year-old at heart), what did I do? I bought stickers! Yes, I made myself a calendar and bought smiley faced-stickers that say in Hebrew (yeah, that was so cool for me) things like, “kol hakavod!” (all the respect), “avodah yafa!” (great work), and my favorite, “naki v’mesoodar” (clean and orderly) – hopefully an accurate description of my brain after all this meditation!
I am shooting for a daily practice, but to challenge my perfectionist tendencies, will be ok with 5 days a week for now. My meerpeset (balcony) has been a dream for this observance; I look forward to going out there every morning. Trees surround me, but I can see over them to the balconies of neighbors with their bright pink and red flowers blooming. As I close my eyes, cool breezes rustle my hair and the smell of vanilla coffee percolates. It’s beautiful…and timely.
Next week I begin a 10-day program where I’ll be skipping out on ulpan (Yeah, good luck to me catching up on all that – yipes!) to live in the Old City. What a zchut (merit) and what a perfect opportunity to practice being present and connected, nachon (right)?!
Wish me luck and I wish you lots of connection, presence and presents.
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July 13, 2010 | 3:03 pm
Posted by Lara Berman
Unless you’ve taken a kabbalah class somewhere along the way, you might not realize that Hebrew is not just a language. It’s a commentary, a philosophy, a teaching, a code filled with insights and secrets. “Oh, Lara, now you’ve really lost it,” you might be thinking. Aval, lo! Ani lo magzima afilu iota! (But, no! I’m not exaggerating even a drop!)
Check it out~
Basic, basic example: “Dahm” means blood (remember dipping your finger in the wine on Passover?).
From that, we get “Ah-dom” which means red, and “Ah-dahm” which means man.
From that we get “Ah-dah-ma” which means earth. As man was created from earth and returns to earth…
“Hebrew is an ancient language,” Tamara, our dynamo of a teacher said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. To her, it must be plainly evident – these connections are all over the Hebrew language!...(And, both her parents are rabbis.)
So, in response to our wonder, Liat, another one of my favorites, might say, “be-tach,” meaning of course; from which we get “ba-too-ach” which means I’m sure, and “le-havtiach” means to promise! All these words have the same root, the essence of their meanings linked.
See, Hebrew is made of “Binyanim” or, buildings, which again is a perfect description of the system because the words build upon themselves, upon their roots, brick by brick.
AND Hebrew also contains within it lessons and messages. Take the word, “ahava” which means to love. The root “hav” means to give. The “ah” is a modifier meaning I. So the word for love, literally translates to I give. Love is giving. So, while in English we speak of passively “falling in love” (a perplexing word choice, by the way, as my teachers point out), in Hebrew, the language itself teaches that first we give, and as a function of giving, create love. There is wisdom in this language!
So, as you can likely see by now, intensive Hebrew language class is fascinating! This is not the same as learning Bulgarian! (Though I’m sure that language has several…redeeming…things…er, nuggets…and…insights!...surely…to offer. And…I love the Bulgarian cheese here, by the way. Really sets off my watermelon well. So…thanks, Bulgaria. I was just…sayin’…)
Furthermore, it’s incredibly satisfying to feel growth every day. Swimming as my head sometimes is in all the binyanim and their different structures, I can’t seem to get enough of this language. Lucky for me, my classmates are also extremely dedicated to learning. Everyone has the aim to actively participate in Israeli life, so this study is far more than recreational.
Seizing the opportunity, I started “Ulpan Café,” essentially class outings where we get together outside of class, expressly to speak in Hebrew. No English allowed! So far, we’ve had lunch gatherings, coffee gatherings, seret v’seecha (movie and conversation – Hebrew movies, of course), drill team where we quiz each other, laila meeschak (Hebrew game night) and coming up soon will be our Shabbat Lunch! We’re quite a unit and feel very lucky to have such a fun and enthusiastic class!
Another thing that’s made our group dynamic such a blast is, of course, our amazing teachers! Let me give some insight into our classroom. Typically, teachers drill us, using the Socratic method of calling on people at random to test their comprehension. They give us a sentence to translate, and we must respond immediately, or they will move on to someone else.
“I had a donkey,” Fina quizzed.
“Hita li…donkey?,” Toby answered.
“Donkey – chamor,” Fina explained, writing the new word on the board.
“Why will I ever need to know the word, donkey?” Toby called out.
Fina turned around, looked him straight in the eye and said, “In Israel, you have many reasons to use the word donkey.”
And the class erupted into laughter.
“He understood,” Liat challenged.
“Hoo heh-veen,” said Shelli.
“He will understand,” Liat continued.
“Hoo ya-veen,” Shelli answered.
“He understands,” Liat asked.
“Hoo…um…mah-veen?” Shelli tried.
“Mehhhhhh!” Liat bleeted like a goosed sheep!
I assure you, my classmates and I never forgot the word, Mehhhhh-veen.
And so it goes. The teachers provide stories, or humor, or songs, or gestures to help us remember…and they work! There’ve been plenty of times when I’ve been called upon and been completely shocked to hear the right answer pop out of my mouth! This sort of automatic response is precisely the aim of our teachers. And they make sure they get what they want: “Don’t mess with me,” Tamara said one time when the whispers at the back of the classroom got too loud. “I was in the army!” she shouted, eyes twinkling. We all laughed but knew she damn-well meant it! The whispers scrammed.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again because it’s so true: Ulpan Morasha rocks! If they can’t teach me this language, nobody can. And fortunately for me, my class happens to be moving faster than any they’ve had in a long time; after 2 ½ months, we’re already at the same level as those who’ve attended 3 ½ - 4 months of ulpan. Yippee! We have been moving along speedily. Our teachers are pushing us, but thank goodness my class is committed to learning and working as much as necessary to become Hebrew speakers by years end.
It’s so exhilarating to have the opportunity to learn Hebrew in Israel, in Jerusalem no less. Since I was 13, I’ve wanted to do this! And now I feel it’s finally within reach. It’s a serious challenge to learn a language in 4 ½ months (especially in a town as Anglo as Jlem), but I feel it’s possible! An Australian who now speaks Hebrew better than English told me it’s tough until you reach a certain threshold and after that, everything just clicks; the speed comes and words you thought you’d forgotten re-emerge from your cranial recesses. As gross as that sounds, I can’t wait for it to happen to me!
Finally, I used to feel that wanting to speak Hebrew was such an irrational, impractical desire. (Wouldn’t Chinese serve me better?) But that was pure hogwash I fed myself. (And how dare I, as a member of the tribe, feed myself hogwash?! To shame!) No, after seeing the insights and joy that learning Hebrew has given me, I see my desire was not irrational, but rather spiritual and so, harder to explain. It was an intuitive directive that led me to all the gifts I’m now receiving here in Israel. Thank goodness I finally listened to that chitter-chatter!
To be practical, a language doesn’t need to be spoken by 80% of the world’s population…or even 10%. Learning Hebrew makes me feel connected to Israel, a place that I’m intensely proud of; it will allow me to teach my children Hebrew, granting them the gift of intimately understanding Judaism and the ability to immediately bond with Israel and her people; and it deepens my connection with own spiritual self. How could I ever have dismissed that as impractical?
Thank goodness, Hashem never gave up on me. He kept that little voice inside me jabbering away and guided me here in the right time. Why did I have to wait until age 30 to follow this dream? Well, surely my appreciation for this experience would not have been the same had I come at 20 years old. Furthermore, as you might have noticed by my ambition of fluency within 4 ½ months, I enjoy visible, tangible, nearly-instantaneous results. Much to my chagrin, sometimes Hashem wants to teach us patience, and what better way than to give us something to be patient about? So, le-aht, le-aht (slowly, slowly); one foot in front of the next; one verb and then another until… tafasti! (I got it!)…can’t wait!
July 9, 2010 | 5:00 pm
Posted by Lara Berman
I think it’s safe to say my fuddy duddy days are over!
To those of you who don’t know, I’ve never been the party animal, per se. Nope: Never loved the taste of alcohol, more of an early bird than a night owl, a planner rather than a spontaneous koo-koo head. Hey, I’m not selling myself short, these aren’t definitive characterizations. When inspired by someone special or in the presence of amazing music, I’ve been known to be the bell of the ball! But, as a general rule, left to my own devices, my default is practical, responsible, goody-goody, fuddy-duddy.
Well, that was my default until Tel Aviv, the BEST city in the world came around and showed me how to party like a rock star…or, at least like an Israeli.
It began last week. My friend called me. She was on her way from Jlem to TLV at 6pm. Usually, you’d head to Tel Aviv early in the day to catch the sun. What was this? It was then that I heard about the White Knight Festival – the day Tel Aviv stays hopping till dawn with free concerts and tours and open museums and shops and every Israeli out to party.
Oof. The back and forthing began: My inner fuddy duddy piping up to voice her opinion. I had just moved apartments that day, hadn’t met my roommates yet (what kind of first impression would this make?), my head was still reeling from the week in ulpan and I was pooped. Furthermore, my friend was with her husband – total 3rd-wheel situation ahead – and besides all that - where exactly would I sleep?
I took a quiet moment. My gut said GO. So, despite all the negatives, off I went. I’d never heard of anything like this! I got into high gear, called friends in TLV, boom! I had a place to stay if I needed it. I threw a bathing suit in a bag and ran off to catch a sheirut (shared taxi) to Tel Aviv. I arrived at 9pm and stayed up all night, enjoying the various acts and performances on Rothschild, open galleries in HaTachana and boutiques in Neve Tzedek. Along the way, I had so many déjà vu experiences. Rothschild felt so European! We turned a corner in the Hatachana and I was back on the waterfront in Cape Town, and Neve Tzedek was totally Soho from NY! I never knew Tel Aviv had so many cosmopolitan neighborhoods! Awesome.
There was no way to see everything, and we’d been walking for ages, so we finally stopped at a beach party to dig our feet in the sand, have some coffee and dance! People of all ages partied together - I love that! Seventy year olds danced beside teenagers – everyone so carefree and just letting go to enjoy the moment. The humidity of the day had disappeared. People splashed in the waves. Fire twirlers threw their batons into the air, illuminating the sky. Every 50 feet another genre of music blasted. We had such fun, and I finally crawled into bed tired and happy at 5:00am.
So, one night is cool. But could I really say I’d broken my inner fuddy duddy? I wasn’t sure. But now I am.
This week, a friend’s birthday party and something called the “Music Parade” drew me back to Tel Aviv. My friend, Michal and I arrived Thursday afternoon to spend some time with her sweet family. I spoke only in Hebrew with them(yay!) and became good friends with the cousin’s, four-year old daughter, Ella. What a doll! We played a Hebrew game of Matching (which probably taught me more than it did her) and she said, “At hachavera yafa v’chachama sheli.” (You are my pretty and smart friend.) How cute is that? I was ready to forget the party and chill with Ella instead.
But the night awaited! We arrived at the Pier in Tel Aviv for the birthday party. Whoa! So many attractive people! Suddenly, I found myself in a swanky, beachside, open-air lounge surrounded by gorgeous guys. I mean gorgeous – could they feel me staring? And all with accents! South African, Australian, Israeli, English – all Israel lovers! So nice and accomplished and smart and…people, this was a good night!
The hours flew – I chatted and chatted. The venue was great, the ocean breeze kept us cool, we ate watermelon with Bulgarian cheese (yum!), and before we knew it, 2:30a had rolled around. Michal and I were staying at the birthday girl, Hila’s apartment that night, and Hila wanted Aboulafia. What the bday girl wishes, the birthday girl gets! The group that was left headed from North Tel Aviv to Jaffo for the famous calzone-looking pitas filled with cheese and zaatar. After Hila got her cheesy fix, we dropped everyone off, stayed up for girl talk and finally went to bed at 5:30a.
Next morning, not wanting to sleep the day away, we woke up and jumped into the Meditteranean which is PERFECT right now! A bathtub! You don’t have to ease your way in, it’s mooooshlam! (Perfeeeeeeect!) My inner mermaid emerged. I couldn’t have been happier, letting the turquoise water rock me and carry me away.
A little more sun and the Music Parade began. Different floats came down the main drag in front of the ocean, each one blasting a different type of music. People would just follow the truck that had the music they liked best. My friend, Michal and I stopped to eat at Yotvata - the amazing dairy restaurant with food straight from the kibbutz. Our lunch came with a prime view of the parade. After eating, we too danced along the street, following the music as though the floats were pied pipers.
The music ended at the Dolphinarium where a huge concert was beginning. The biggest DJs in Israel were there, taking turns, playing their tunes. This was all free! Pelephone, who was sponsoring the event, handed out blue fabric tubes that people were using as hats, tops, skirts, bracelets, you name it. So, when looking into the concert, I saw a sea of 2,000+ blue, bobbing heads, dancing around, against the backdrop of the ocean. This was such a blast I can’t even describe it! It’s the most fun I’ve had yet in Israel. I didn’t even think I liked some of this music; now, I’m looking for it on iTunes. The energy of the place was contagious! Everywhere you looked there were people laughing and dancing.
How lucky to be there! Tel Aviv knows how to party. It MUST be one of the best cities in the world. I’ve lived in NYC, LA and Dallas; I’ve visited London, Cape Town and Sydney and Tel Aviv trumps them all. No contest!
We pryed ourselves away, and I headed home with such a happy heart, just so full of appreciation for this place and these experiences.
Now after these stories, the natural question probably is: am I sorry that I’m living in Jerusalem and not Tel Aviv? Especially, now that my inner fuddy duddy has gone bye bye?
The answer is no. If Tel Aviv is like Manhattan or some other great city; Jerusalem is unlike anywhere else. You cannot compare Jerusalem to any other place on Earth. It’s that special.
Plus, not having something at your fingertips helps maintain appreciation of it. Tel Aviv is only 30 minutes away, so I can get there when I want to, but the peace of Jerusalem is my home for now. Besides, if I lived in Tel Aviv, I think I’d feel pressure to go out every night – there’s always something happening! I don’t think I’d learn Hebrew, I don’t think I’d learn anything! But, I would have the time of my life. Lucky for me, I’m doing that anyway and I’m learning Hebrew. So, no complaints here. Jerusalem allows me to just be. The focus on superficiality is gone here. People have higher goals than looking good and being party animals. And coming from LA, that’s a most welcome change.
Furthermore, don’t underestimate Jerusalem. The famous Odelia Shabi visited me in Jerusalem and we ended up watching the World Cup (woo hoo!) and drinking beers on Ben Yehuda St. with a slew of Israelis and ex-pats. (Yes, I drank beer! The Belgians make a cherry beer that even I can dig. Down the hatch!)
…But all that said…yeah, I’m totally planning to stay in Tel Aviv during my break from ulpan…if I don’t volunteer in the army…
June 27, 2010 | 10:50 am
Posted by Lara Berman
Happy Anniversary to me – today, the 27th, marks one month in Israel!
You know, I didn’t leave Jerusalem even once this week (oh, I’ll make up for that) due to the ardor of apartment hunting, but Baruch Hashem (Thank G-d!), I finally found a place! Woo hooo! And it’s enormous! And it’s in Rechavia – my favorite! And it’s got a meerpeset (balcony)! And trees all around! And oodles of light! And as-long-as-the-roommates-I-haven’t-met-yet-because-they’re-out-of-the-country-don’t-turn-out-to-be-freaks-or-koo koos, it should be totally waaaaaaallllla (sababa).
So picture me traipsing back and forth, forth and back, all over the city of Jerusalem, map in hand, glistening brow, hopeful and stressed, and there you have the backdrop of this past week. Though I feared the apartment hunt would ruin my mood and week, as it threatened to several times, the magic of Israel still found me.
Like on Tuesday night when I found myself in the presence of true inspiration: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, holocaust survivor, best-selling author, speaker, founder of Hineni International and glamour girl – yeah, you read that right – glamour girl. Here’s a gal after my own heart. She sat on the stage dolled up, totally putting you and me to shame – gorgeous make up, classy ensemble, just the right amount sparkle, stilettos – I hope I’m such a doll when I’m 70+.
Before beginning, she warmly met the gaze of her audience members, generously connecting with many of us. And then she began. “Kinderlach,” her sweet voice began, an Eastern-European mixture of Betty Boop and Shari Lewis. “I want to share with you stories from the bottom of my heart.”**
They say that stories from the heart reach the heart, and so it was that night.
The Rebbetzin began by telling us of a people who could talk to G-d. And with that, she called out, “Shmaaaaaaaa Israel!!!!” Her voice resounded all around, goose bumps prickled on our arms, and unexpected tears suddenly pooled in my eyes. We sat in an amphitheater of sorts, outside, under a navy sky; and at the Rebbetzin’s cry, the residents of the neighboring apartments appeared on their balconies, sat down and called their children to join them. “But my kinderlach,” the Rebbetzin continued slowly, her voice aching, “Year by year, the people forgot they could talk to G-d. They forgot to connect to Him. They forgot to try!”
In the heart of Yerushalayim, you could hear a pin drop…save an occasional sniffle.
And the Rebbetzin noticed. “Do you know why you’re crying, my kinderlach?” she asked. “Because,” she said knowingly, “the name of Hashem is written on your heart. And it’s written on your heart and yours and yours and yours,” she pointed at a few of us. “And on mine. And like a computer, when you type a command, the program comes up. You’re a Jew, your soul knows the program, and it’s coming up!”
I was a puddle in this passionate woman’s hands. And that was just the beginning. She told us of her Abba (father) in the concentration camp, Bergen Belsen, saving the meager piece of bread he was given daily so as to say Hamotzi each week on Shabbat. She shared of the shofar that was smuggled into her camp for Rosh Hashana and the blast that brought all the prisoners from the adjacent barracks to the barbed-wire surrounding them, that they might catch the sound of the blast. And then she told the miracle of meeting a Polish woman who had been in one of those neighboring barracks who had managed to attain and keep that very shofar all these many years. The woman ran home to retrieve the shofar and when she did, there stood two children of Bergen Belsen healthy and safe and alive.“There aren’t many people left who can tell this story, kinderlach,” she added wistfully. “And many of the ones who can are ill. Tell your children, kinderlach. Tell them!”
The rebbetzin was a passionate powerhouse. The clip below is from the portion of the evening where she reminded us that we are living in a time of prophecy - for the Jews returning to their home, Israel, was spoken of for 2000 years but we are the lucky generation to realize the prediction. “You are sitting in Yerushalayim, kinderlach - ir hakodesh! (Jerusalem, the holy city!)” See a bit
Afterwards, I approached her and she gave me such a hug – like I was her long-lost daughter. “You’re beautiful,” she said warmly, looking into my eyes. And without my asking, she held onto me tightly and whispered a blessing in my ear.
Now, I wish I’d asked her if she knew Magda Ehrlich, my grandmother, also of Hungarian descent who was in Bergen Belsen during the war. But I didn’t. The rebbetzin’s reputation preceded her, her books lined my shelves in LA, and the question completely escaped me in the moment. But, imagine! If the rebbetzin remembered my grandmother, we’d be yet another miracle story! But the truth is, we’re both miracles anyway and our meeting another triumph of goodness.
Yossi was another sweet connection that came out of the apartment balagan (mess). See, here in Emek Refaim, I live on a street called David El Royi which is nestled behind another street called Hatzefira. At the intersection of these two lies a school, and Yossi guards the entrance to the school. Now, truth be told, Yossi is an older gentleman – hardly the intimating bouncer type I remember from the nightlife of New York.
The first week I was here, I passed the school each day like a stranger. Yossi didn’t seem too friendly. Quite the opposite - he seemed like he might be a grouch.
After a week of living here, I got a “Boker tov” (good morning) and a small smile from Yossi.
Hmmm? Never one to refuse a boker tov, I replied “Boker or!” (good light!)
Soon, this was our morning routine.
After a few days of this, our simple greetings turned into morning kibitzing (chatting). I told him I was in ulpan and over time, he told me about his 5 kids and their families. Oooh, he glowed talking about them!
In the last 2 weeks, I’ve begun chatting with Yossi both in the morning and in the afternoon – whenever I pass the school. One afternoon this week, I told him about my apartment situation as the frustration of it all was painted on my face.
“Why do you need to move?” he asked.
I told him that the guy I’m leasing from has surprised me with inconsiderate nonsense ever since I arrived, so I have to leave or else get stuck with random strangers and unnecessary headaches all summer long.
“Chaval (it’s a shame),” said Yossi. And he’s right – my street oozes with charm! Children play, flowers blossom, a playground is forever full of kids – sounds and images of family abound!
Yossi immediately began looking for solutions to help me. “ You want to live with my daughter?” he asked. “I will find out if she needs a roommate….Or,” he offered. “Why don’t you just stay here, and if these people give you any problems, you call me at any hour and I will take care of it. You’ll take my cell phone and you’ll use it. I am your Abba (dad) here.” He had a very serious expression on his face when he said this – I could tell he meant it. Funny too, because my real Daddums’ name is Joseph, or Yoseph in Hebrew, or Yossi for short.
“Thanks, Yossi,” I said. A satisfied grin spread across Yossi’s face, dozens of beautiful laugh lines appearing around his smile and eyes. He gave my forearm a small squeeze.
Classic Israeli warmth, right? That gruff exterior is such caa caa.
Sending big love from Israel!
June 24, 2010 | 10:38 am
Posted by Lara Berman
Matan means gift or giving.
We sing of the Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.
But only when you come to Israel can you meet people like Matan Yechezkely, who live up to their names by exemplifying giving.
Listen, I do have a rosey view of Israel, but one thing that has been nothing but a holy, pain in the a*% has been apartment hunting. Why? Look, I’ll just say it: Yes! The bathrooms in America are nicer than the ones in Israel! They are! And it’s tough for a girl who loves to primp and sass it up to find a suitable abode! Tack on a slight aversion to squeegee showers and a penchant for big windows and I’ve got a real challenge here! So, needless to say, this has been one area devoid of sunshine and butterflies…until today.
I’d been scouring Janglo.net and Craigslist.com and the Flathunting Yahoo! Group day in and day out, and nudging every new friend I’ve made in an effort to find a place. Growing more and more frustrated and disheartened as the month’s end draws near, today felt like a last ditch effort.
I arrived at the prescribed place in Nachalaot (a tad shvitzy as usual thanks to my hike from the German Colony) to meet Matan, a real-estate dude. Upon arriving at the building, what do we find? It’s locked. We knock. We ring. We call out. Shoom davar lo oved (nothing works). Not to be defeated by a door, he lept over the wall like a chatool (cat) and two seconds later was escorting me to the proper apartment.
First thing I see: fig and pomegranate trees. How did he know my weakness? The actual apartment didn’t have enough light for my liking, so Matan took me to another place. Better, it’s true, but still no dice.
All the while, we’re chatting up a storm and Matan exhibited true patience as I rambled and rambled in my improving, but still quite broken Ivrit (Hebrew).
We finished checking out Nachlaot. “Want a ride?” he asked. “I’m heading to Rehavia.” My stomach flip flopped. After all, we mustn’t ride with strangers. But then I remembered, this is Israel! And I love Rehavia! And it will make for a shorter walk home! And we’d bonded by then!…So, off I went. Along the way, Matan remembered more apartments that he could show me in that area, which just happened to be my favorite part of town.
Finally! These apartments were right up my alley. But the moment of truth: could I afford them?
Back in the car (he had now offered to drive me home to Emek Refaim), he told me that he’d speak with the owners and bring the apartment into my price range. “I want you to have a place you like,” he said. “And I’m willing to take a much smaller fee so that you can.”
Ayze Midot?! (What Character?!)
A. I was running late and waits and shows me place after place, literally leaping over tall buildings to do so.
B. He paid attention, totally nailing the kind of apartment I’d be interesting in, all the while figuring out how to make the various places fit my time frame and budget.
C. He schlepped me all over this city in his car, even dropping me off on my block.
D. Noticing my excitement about the places, but observing my fear that they’d be too expensive, he offered to take the hit himself and earn less money so that I would be happy.
All I can say is Wow.
How many people do you know who would do that for anyone, let alone someone they hardly know?
Matan was my gift today.
I still don’t know which apartment will work out, but I’m hopeful again. And thank goodness none of the other places had worked yet, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have met Matan, the baby-faced Yerushalmi with the long eyelashes and knitted kippah who loves Israel and wishes people saw her like he does; who went out of his way in every way for me today, and even thanked me for providing him with a good experience.
This is Israel, these are Israelis.
Col kach matok, v’maleh im lev.
(So sweet and full of heart.)
(Thank you, Matan.)
June 21, 2010 | 9:58 am
Posted by Lara Berman
I am so pleased to be sitting in the air conditioning with a few minutes to write. It’s been a wonderfully busy time since I hopped off the plane already 3 weeks ago! These blasé afternoons are few and far between, but most welcome!
Now for those of you who are unaware (as I was), everything in Israel moves fast. This is a big contrast to LA where you start a project, it takes eons to move along and maybe, with some magical fairy dust, in five years it manifests. (Or is that just the world of entertainment?) Here, you put something out there and boom, boom, there’s progress. For example, I thought I should get a job and/or find some volunteer work. So, last Tuesday, I was walking around Ben Yehuda and by the end of my stroll had a job offer AND a date. How about that? I wasn’t even in a good mood at the time. I’d had a wonky phone conversation that morning that had left me slightly miffed, but nevertheless, these beautiful blessings came swiftly, plopping into my lap. That stuff’ll cheer a girl up! Now, I didn’t end up accepting the job in the end, but Tomer was a cool guy.
This quick pace I’m referring to also goes for apartments. See I have to move on July 1st thanks to an apartment mess here. (Short story: I come home one night to a note from the girlfriend of the apartment owner, essentially kicking me out my own room! Drama ensues. Verdict: I stay. She gets the boot. BUT, as this is one of several surprises this landlord has sprung on me, I want out. Suddenly, I am in the market to find a new place. And it’s a chaval (shame), as my place here is spacious with vieeeeeeeeeews! But, mah laasot (what to do)? Cest la vie. So, it being June 21st already with no apartment lined up, I’m getting a tad antsy. “But, that’s how it is here!” My friends remind me. “You’ll have a place!” they say with the twinkle of experience.
And so it’s gone: word of mouth is the name of the game here and everyone is ready to help. Person after person has connected me to this apartment or that someone who knows of one – even and especially folks I barely know! I’ve noticed this all over Israel. The Israeli at the corner market gives me 3 apartment websites to check, “If none of these work, come back and I’ll call my friends for you.” You ask for directions – the random stranger escorts you to your destination. You’re missing the extra shekel to buy your water, they let it slide. It’s simply sababa (cool)!
Also this week, I had the opportunity to attend the Jerusalem Light Show in the Old City. Some installations were really beautiful and moving, like the history of Israel since biblical times done in a 3-D, light presentation. Other parts, like a video featuring weird, green, bubble faces made me think the artist must be an acid tripper.
This was one of several outings I’ve taken with my ulpan classmates. After learning the word for Chinese food, we went out for Chinese food. Last week we went bowling. And this week, inspired by the beauuuutiful weather (the days are hot but the mornings and evenings are perfection!), we headed outside to the light show. Tonight, we’ll watch the World Cup on Ben Yehuda somewhere. The World Cup has been frequently a topic of conversation here since Israel is very international and those games are a big deal here. The French, South Africans (obviously), Australians…and me (to my great surprise) are way into it! Sorry, football fans, but soccer’s got you beat!
And speaking of Ulpan, I’m still loving it! About twice a week, we’re bombarded with new info and my head feels like a thumb tack that is being squashed into a cork board. But fascinatingly, within 2 days that new stuff becomes old hat and something else is trying to finagle its way into my brain.
I’ve gotta rave about the ulpan for a moment here: I’ve been fortunate to have access to a lifetime of excellent, private education, starting with Country Day in Ft. Worth, then to NYU in Manhattan and finally to USC in LA, with plenty of seminars and classes in between. I’ve learned from the best, but I really believe the teachers here at Ulpan Morasha stand out as truly talented teachers. They make teaching an art-form, a skill. These teachers exemplify how far focus, energy, commitment and patience can go. I wish you could all come in and witness one of these classes as they are unlike anything else, especially if Tamara is with us.
Kodem kol (first of all), don’t mess with Tamara. This spit-fire of a teacher has a brilliant way of organizing information and giving it over in an accessible and memorable way. She drills information into us as though she’s a sergeant and we’re cadets, all the while her bright eyes dancing. She’s 100% committed to each person’s success. She takes care of us but doesn’t baby us a drop. I heard she is a former ballerina and soldier, no surprise! She epitomizes grace and discipline. No one gets let off the hook with a mistake, but she manages to be tough without embarrassing anyone or allowing the space for doubt to seep in. My entire class is in awe of Tamara.
She is one of several teachers who rotate to our class; we have two different teachers per day – one before break and one after. The communication between the teachers at this school is impeccable; when the second teacher of the day comes in, she knows bidiyuk (exactly) what vocabulary and concepts we’ve covered, and resumes the lesson with complete synchronicity. Todah raba, morot (teachers)!
In other news, Friday, I made it to Tel Aviv am now quite sun-kissed. I’ve turned golden brown. Nothing like some color to make you feel fabulous and healthy. I’ve been especially enjoying this after visiting a Bubbe last week who told me that she doesn’t remember ever being young and beautiful. She’s a Holocaust survivor and even though she showed me photos of herself where I thought she looked quite glamorous, she insists she was never beautiful. Well, like most ladies, I can be super critical of myself, but Bubbe’s story made an impression on me. So, I’ve decided not to repeat her experience and have since been walking around everyday feeling quite young and beautiful. And let me tell you something – it’s a wonderful way to walk around.
As I referenced earlier, Israel is also unique in that when you ask a question here, because there’s a direct line to Hashem, one gets nearly instantaneous answers. And so it was this week with Michal, a girlfriend of mine who I’ve known for years, but on that day she began sharing stories with me I’d never heard before which totally illuminated certain situations I was facing. With such divine timing, she was definitely a holy messenger that day.
I’m also really beginning to feel like a Yerushalmit (a Jerusalemite – it’s like being called a New Yorker or an Angeleno) because I’m now bumping into people everywhere I go. Let’s start with last Thursday night. I’m on a date with this nebishy guy. We’re walking down Yaffo Street, and I’m dreaming of how to escape from this date (nice guy, just zippo sparks) when who do I see in Jlem??? The Tel Avivian, Odelia Shabi! I shouted to her and she began hopping around, grabbed my hand and whisked me off with her to the Moroccan restaurant she was headed to with her touring group. Turns out she also wanted to vanish from her company! We danced and goofed in the street and Mr. Nebish laughed at our silly antics. Thank you, Odi! You brightened my night!
More chance meetings: Friday morning, I’m off to Tel Aviv and who do I see entering the Central Bus Station? The famous and totally, wonderful Rabbi David Aaron of Isralight! (If you don’t know him, correct that right away! I recommend his book, “Endless Light.”) I chatted with him briefly and off he went. That night, back from the ocean (which was perfect aside from the occasional medusa (jellyfish)) and the crafts fair in Tel Aviv, I found myself in the Old City at the Kotel for Shabbat and who is also there? Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis who wrote, “The Committed Life” and Sarah Schneider, author of “Kabbalistic Writings on the Nature of Masculine and Feminine” which a good friend made famous in Pico Robertson by referencing it constantly. PLUS, I saw Reb Mottle of Isralight dancing with the soldiers at the Kotel too! I guess I’m just in sync with the enlightened these days.
And by the way – it was such a pleasure to be able to be on the beach in Tel Aviv all day and that night be enjoying Shabbat in the Old City of Yerushalyim. Amazing!
Now, one new thing I discovered this week that I can’t wait to share with you was watermelon (which you’ve heard me talk about) with (drumroll pleeeease)….NANA! (Aka: mint) Thank me later, just go and try this! When it’s boiling outside, blend up a limonana (ice, mint and lemon) or toot with nana (strawberries, ice and mint) or avatiach with nana (watermelon, mint and ice). Holy moly, these concoctions will knock your socks off for real. I can’t go a day without one of these refreshing yummies. Hey, it’s nearly 100 degrees here and a watermelon addiction means you have to carry those bowling balls home in the heat! Ze lo pashoot! (It’s not simple!) One deserves a reward after that!
Back from the beautiful blues of the Mediterranean, I had Friday night dinner in a gorgeous home in the Old City that had been redone Moroccan style – it was exquisite with no detail left undone – Lions of Judeah and Magen Davids set in the stone of the sinks, floors and walls. The couple who lives there wasn’t able to have children and so instead began a program called, “Thank the IDF” and another program that helps soldiers transition from army life back to civilian life, helping them land on their feet career wise. Kol HaKavod (all the respect). The soldiers who joined us that night were all going on to become higher-ranking officers. The couple asked them why they chose that path and the answers were so sweet and selfless. Everyone was taken aback. “I was at school at Technion [a very prestigious, technical school], but when I was there I knew it was only for me. My country needed me more here [in the army] right now and so I came.” Can you imagine the motivation of our enemies’ soldiers? These young men exuded such sweetness and love for Israel and selflessness. I was blown away by the heroes at the table.
The rabbi also offered some amazing Torah around this, saying that we are taught to be like G-d. For example, if G-d is kind and non-judgmental, so we should be. And what does G-d do? Hashem guards Israel. As it says in Tehillim (Psalms 121), “Behold, He neither slumbers nor sleeps – the Guardian of Israel.” And so the rabbi taught that the soldiers were being like Hashem in their work – guarding the people of Israel so that we can sleep in peace.
We headed to the Kotel (Western Wall). I held hands with Rina, my best friend here, so we wouldn’t slip on the well-worn, Jerusalem stone. “This was us in another lifetime,” she said to me. “We were sisters.” It was familiar and sweet to be there. For sure we’d been there before. “And I think we were sefardic,” she said with a giggle. Classic Rina.
I wish I could have taken a photo on Shabbat of the site at the Kotel. It was packed with people. The soldiers dancing with the Chassidim. Shabbat songs filling the air, swirling into your ears. Wow. It was emotional to see. So special.
Just imagine: If you had told the scattered Jews of Europe only 100 years ago that within 100 years they’d be living in their home, Israel, able to pray in freedom at their holiest sites whenever they wanted to and even on Shabbat; that millions of Jews would return from the diaspora to create a Jewish country; that religious and secular would dance and sing together; that Israel would, like David and Goliath, win war after war despite all odds; that it would thrive, leading the way in environmental issues and science and technology; that it would be a thriving democracy, a beacon of equality, retaining its high standards of morality despite zero respect, recognition or tolerance; that it would fly its flag, with a magen david on it, over Jerusalem; that we would pray and dance and sing in freedom without fear – you know what they would have done? They would have laughed in your face. They would have said you were crazy.
We’re living in a time of miracles. To stand at the Kotel on Shabbat amid hundreds of Jews of every stream, from all over the world, all home to connect again was to live a dream that my grandparents couldn’t have experienced when they were born; it was to live an experience that was only a pipe dream for over 2000 years. To be alive today is a merit! To live in Jerusalem? What did I do to deserve it? We are so lucky, you and I to be alive right now.
And so, I took a moment, under the blanket of stars to take it in: these sweet people who stand for goodness and who continue despite hatred that comes from all directions and even from supposed “friends.” And I listened to the religious girls sing and hummed along, somehow knowing the same tunes, and I saw the bobbing heads of the men dancing over the mechitza (the partition between the men and the women), and I felt Hashem there, with all of us, kvelling with such nachas (pride) and joy. What a gift it was.
Finally, I want to share with you a special third meal I had over Shabbat that could only have happened in Jerusalem…I don’t even think it would happen in Tel Aviv. The third meal of Shabbat happens before Havdalla. This week, after lunch in Gan Sacher park, we had third meal on the front lawn of my friend Ravit’s apartment building. An impromptu Torah discussion broke out and afterwards, the men in attendance had a minyan (group to pray) and began davening arvit (the evening prayers), right there on the lawn. A gent in a suit with white hair, off the street popped in, “I need to say mourner’s kaddish” he said with a strong accent. Of course, the minyan was happy to oblige. With his strong, Sephardic accent and loud voice he said Kaddish, thanked the minyan and then was gone. He had given meaning to our minyan and clearly, our minyan had meaning for him. Such a zchut (merit)!
The men continued. We all blessed the moon and each other, and it was time for havdallah (for Shabbat to end). A neighbor who’d joined us brought down a havdallah candle, besamim (spices) and wine. Her little 3 year-old son – a gingi (red head) with short, growing peyot (side curls) held the candle high, his gingi, 1 ½ yr old sister looking on. We all formed a semi-circle, arms around one another and sang songs before letting Shabbat go. It was while we were singing that I glanced behind me and saw that all the neighbors had come out onto their balconies to watch and participate. Some sang, others were silent. Some were elderly couples, some were our age and some were kids, all humming and sharing in their own way.
We brought out Shabbat and then the real singing began – everyone danced, swinging each other around and blessing each other with a good blessings like safety and happiness. Where else could this happen? What a gift it was and we all felt it.
So, needless to say, I’m feeling very appreciative these days. I’m drinking in this experience with large gulps. I’m aware that, bli ayin hara, I’m very lucky.
It’s funny, people said that living here would be a wake-up call; that it would kill what they saw as a romantic view of Israel. But, they were wrong. I never said Israel was perfect. But, I have such appreciation for all that she IS. And I’m not focusing on what she isn’t. She IS magic. She IS ours. She IS a gift. It IS a privilege.
If a fig tree is blossoming with delicious fruits and you focus on the few weeds at the tree’s base that grow because that’s the nature of any garden, it’s chaval (a shame), because if you’d just look up, you’d see the sweetness within reach just above your head.
Shavua tov, friends.
B’ahava m’Yerushalyim shel zahav…
(With love from Jerusalem of Gold…)
June 15, 2010 | 8:55 am
Posted by Lara Berman
My second Shabbat in Israel was a total schmooze fest. First, I hopped to a Carlebach style shul in the neighborhood and then joined the Shabbat dinner my temporary flatmate threw. There was some ahem, interesting company, but the highlight was taking a walk afterwards with one of my dinner companions. This is basically how people date here, “let’s walk!” It’s so beautiful and picturesque here that it does make sense.
This dude is an Israeli lawyer, author and advocate who apparently used to work in the Israeli government. He’s traveled the world for enlightenment and work, representing Israel in peace discussions with Palestinians, Israeli Arabs – all the while preaching his brand of ‘let’s all get along.’ The conversation was interesting for two reasons: A) I never expected to be taught English words by a non-native speaker. And B) I found his ideas completely ridiculous for anyone, especially a representative of ours who purports to have our best interests at heart! With friends like that, who needs…Anyway! So I as a non-native, I took the liberty of educating him. Despite my disapproval of nearly every comment his brilliant mind concocted, he grew taken with me and has gone out of his way to look out for me since I’ve been here. You figure it out.
Next day after sleeping in, I hopped to Shabbat lunch and arrived glistening as it was quite hot. The folks there were awesome. Sof Sof! (Finally!) I found myself courted the entire afternoon by many a charming gent and had a blast chatting the day away until 6 in the afternoon. Off I went toward a third meal party and, as has happened often in the old, windy streets of Jlem, promptly got lost. So I wandered, never finding the way to the party but did enjoy the scenic walk home.
The week in ulpan flew! Wow, it’s incredible and hardly anything is review anymore. That means each day my head feels it will explode in the frenzy to conjugate the many verbs thrown at us into their numerous forms. But it’s exhilarating and so satisfying when something that was so overwhelming becomes second nature within about a day-and-a-half because of their genius sheeta (method). Now using my Hebrew on the street, I still get a little meboolbelet (confused), but le-at, le-at (slowly, slowly). Where as I used to just rattle off whatever I knew, now I’m slower and more careful so as not to practice bad habits and mistakes. What’s cool about Hebrew is that so many words are connected, there is logic and intelligence AND things sound like what they are. L’mashal (for example), CHok is a law, get the nice cccchhhhh in there and it sure sounds like one! Or, meh-loochlach, doesn’t that sound pretty dirty to you? Of course it does!
Tuesday was the hillula (death anniversary) of Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel (the channel for soulmates) so I headed to the Kotel (Western Wall) to have a heart-to-heart with the Guy upstairs. We talked about all of you! Wow, is He in love with you all. He told me He has our pictures on his refrigerator. So, of course, He said YES! You and I will all merit wonderful matches and soon, And those of you already with your besherts, oh, you’re only going to grow happier and happier together! Amen!
Thursday after class I just barely caught the bus to Tsfat for the weekend. For those of you who don’t know, there are four very holy cities in Israel: Tiveria (Tiberias), Hebron (which I may visit tomorrow!), Tsfat and THE most holy, Jerusalem. Each city is associated with a different energy. If Yerushalayim is fire, Tsfat is air and boy, can you feel it. One of the most mystical places on the planet, the place feels truly magical.
My girlfriends flaked, so I ended up going alone which allowed me to meet tons of folks. Thursday night with my new-found friends from Australia and South Africa, we watched a musical group I highly recommend called, “Simply Tzfat.” Who knew Chassids could rock like this? Apparently everyone there but me!
The next day, still in Tsfat, we hiked to see where Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel is buried because as it was the week of his yahrtzeit, it was the ideal time to tap into his energy. They say that whomever visits Rabbi Uziel and prays at his kever will merit his/her soulmate in this lifetime. He also helps to strengthen existing soulmate relationships. So baroor (obviously), I wanted to chat with him and did I earned my conversation with him, or what? I did that whole freakin’, 1-hour-plus hike in flip flops! I basically was picking burrs and thorns out of my footsies the entire time! But it was so gorgeous and special there, who the flip flop cared?
Once again, while I was visiting Rabbi Yonatan ben Uziel, Hashem and I chatted about all of you. The married ones, just say amen to all the happy wishes we sent to you. The unmarried ones, get set, I put in such a good word for all of you!
Later, we hiked to another kever, where there were oodles of people praying as it was his hillula, Rosh Chodesh (the first of the month) AND erev Shabbat! Wowsers. In the not-too-far distance we could see the kever of the Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the author of the Etz HaChaim! If you’ve studied any Kabbalah, you know he’s one of the main characters in sharing the deepest meanings of life and the Universe. The energy was palpable.
That afternoon I chatted with a soldier for about 2 hours in Hebrew! Well, Heblish, but more on the Hebrew side! A group of IDF soldiers who were being promoted were with us for Shabbat and I befriended one, Ori. We talked about Israel’s stance in the world, G-d and whether He exists, the religious versus the secular, the challenges Israel faces, and a couple of heavier topics like YouTube and the bubbles in Coke.
Later, I wandered around the old, curving streets of Tsfat, speaking Hebrew with the few artists in the Artist’s Colony who hadn’t yet packed up for Shabbat. “At Isha Maksima” (you’re a lovely lady) they told me before I left, very happy about our conversation and my Hebrew efforts. Soon, Shabbat was coming in so I got ready, wearing my long, white skirt that makes me feel like a princess.
I, along with the other women in my program, lit candles with the soldiers and I have to tell you, this was so moving for me. Let me go back: When I see IDF soldiers, I start to kvell. It’s emotional. I just feel maleh, maleh (full, full) of respect and pride. My chest swells, my eyes tear, it’s very profound and special. So when I gathered around the candles with the lady soldiers in uniform to light candles, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of gratitude…and nearly snapped a photo like a koo koo tourist. But I didn’t! Ok? I resisted! This experience coupled with the feelings that came up for me walking in the Old City of Tsfat during Shabbat truly solidified to me that I MUST have been an active Zionists and/or a little religious girl in past lives right here in Israel.
See, there’s been an uninterrupted presence of Jewish people in Tsfat for over 2000 years, so when you’re here you know that people have been walking on these very streets, living in these very buildings, celebrating Shabbat right here for ages and ages; you walk around and know everyone you see is family. The world becomes quiet, peaceful and light; one feels transported. I felt in a storybook, walking those streets; as though I was living in a time of kings and queens. I floated down the streets, so appreciative to have the opportunity to live in this magical place for a time. Take the cars away and we’d be back 1000 ago, again.
Shabbat dinner was a blast. The teenagers in the family I joined spoke little English and they teased me like crazy as I insisted we chat non-stop all night, regardless of all my mistakes. I had so much fun! By the end we’d created a business plan to become professional challah braiders. We’d let others make the challah dough and we’d make the real dough (hehe!) by dropping in to mold dough into beautiful and silly shapes. Surely there’s a market for that. We’re planning to franchise.
It was a lovely dinner but Tsfat is on a mountain and so it was yet another hike to get back. It’s all good. By the time I got home, I felt no guilt whatsoever about the awesome ice cream cake we ate for dessert. Needless to say, after 3 serious treks that day and then some, I pooped out and immediately headed to my room to dream and snore.
I awoke at 11:15a, heard a shiur (lesson) and had lunch. Then, Ori and I met again to chat about every corner of life. We chatted in Heblish for another few hours. He, like me, loves Israel with a very sweet love, so we felt kindred spirits since so many are jaded or blinded by the media’s bullshit.
Schwartzie, a local LA rabbi was in town and he was hysterical. He passed along great dating wisdom to me and, havdallah (the end of Shabbat) made for an awesome party where I sang and danced with my new Tsfat friends and the soldiers until the room shook! It was so awesome! “Am Israel Chai! (The people of Israel are alive!) Od Avinu Chai (We are still alive!) Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael Chai! (The land/people of Israel are alive!),” we sang and sang.
I was sorry to tear myself away from the singing and dancing, but had to catch the first bus back to Jlem. And so I did, befriending another Israeli along the way, Mordechai. Again, I got to practice Hebrew and in true Israeli fashion, he ended up using my shoulder as a pillow. Hey, we’re all family here.
Not wanting to miss a moment, I hopped to Tel Aviv to see a visiting friend and also met up with the famous Odi, aka: Madame Pompidoo. We ate awesome Haloumi salad and schnitzel by the ocean while digging our toes into the sand on Banana Beach in Tel Aviv.
I crashed on Odi’s futon that night and headed back from Tel Aviv bright and early for my 8am ulpan class in Jlem. Odi packed me a sack lunch of yummy fruits, Israeli chocolates and even put a note inside! “Motek, Nesiah tova v’lehitraot b’karov. ♥, Giveret Pompidoo” (Sweetie, safe travels and see you soon. ♥, Miss Pompidoo). Odi~Your kids will be so lucky to have you as an Ema (Mom)!
And now, sof sof (finally)! We’re up to date!
Another sparkly week awaits.
B’ahava (with love),
June 4, 2010 | 6:33 am
Posted by Lara Berman
One week in Jerusalem!
My stay thus far has been characterized by one very important question: If eating too many carrots will turn a person orange, will eating too much watermelon (avateeyach) turn me pink and green? Discuss.
Beseder, my first week was maleh meod (very full!) to say the least. I started out living in Rechavia, a very lovely, Anglo area that’s only a 10 minute walk from everything in Jlem-the shuk, the old city, Ben Yehuda, Nachlaot (the artists area), hakol. I loved it and it was a great way to wrap my mind around the layout of the city.
Just two days ago, I moved into my apartment for the month which is in Emek Refaim/Katemon – also very Anglo, beautiful, a tad chi-chi and right in the German Colony. Of course, I get lost a lot more often living here. My street is tucked away down a windy road in a residential neighborhood next to a school and tennis courts (!) which means I have a sound track of little, Israeli kids laughing forever playing in my ears. Ayze mazal! Ha lev sheli sharah! (What luck? My heart sings.) The streets are so beautiful – they curve around, made of well-worn Jerusalem stone, full of brightly, blooming bouganvillas climbing over every wall, blue doors and windows – gorgeous. Thank goodness for all of the mindfulness work I’d taken up before I left LA; it’s allowed me truly be HERE enJOY this beauty!
Now to business – the Ulpan. I lucked into THE best one in the country. True. My ivrit has improved exponentially in just one week! I’m in class Sunday thru Thursday (yeah, I started class just 2 days after arriving!) from 8:00am-1pm. The teachers essentially drill all day long so that your speaking becomes automatic; they don’t want you thinking, translating or conjugating, they want you to respond. And quick. Quicker. Quicker! It’s super intense! Furthermore, I got put into the smart-kids class, and they started a month ago. We move fst…I mean, fast. So, I’ve been playing catch up. But guess what? Now I’m caught up! I studied a lot this week after class and simply refuse to speak English on the streets. Of course everyone here speaks English, but I don’t care. I just tell them, “Lama atem choshvim sh’ani mehArzot HaBrit? Ani lo mevinah anglit.” (Why do you all think I’m from the States? I don’t understand English.) It works a lot of the time and other times it doesn’t, but I do my best. I’ve just resigned myself to knowing that I’m not going to sound like the smartest person or be perfect for a while, but you know what? At the end of every conversation, without exception, the Israelis say, “kol haKavod” (all the respect) and that they’re impressed by the effort.
I find myself attempting to translate whatever I’m thinking into Hebrew all day long. And I love it. It’s so irrational this need to speak Hebrew, but what can I do? I don’t get tired of studying or practicing and it’s SUCH a high when I get it right and they understand, or I get thru an entire conversation, or they don’t ask to speak English, or something I just learned works, or I suddenly understand something that was previously gibberish. So cool.
Now to socializing. I’m living with Rina, a real bestie who has been taking amazing care of me. She’s introduced me to lots of people and we’re living together which means I get to enjoy her amazing Moroccan cooking and yummy salads! I reconnected with Joel from LA and now that I’m getting more settled, I plan to reach out to all the folks referred to me by my LA friends.
I met up with Odelia Shabi, aka: Madame Pompidoo, in Tel Aviv on Wednesday after class. Odi and I met two years ago when I was a madricha (counselor) on a Birthright trip and she was our Israeli tour guide. We became fast friends and have kept in touch since. Together, we hit Shenkin street for sunglasses and shoe shopping. This girl cracks me up! She’s a party and we were a walking giggle factory. I got to drink one of the amazing, fresh fruit juices that I dream about in the States while I was there. That day it was banana and (of course) watermelon juice at Yotvata on the beach. Mechia! Of course, Odi told me, “Your food in the States is plastic. Your fruit is big and beautiful, but it is all wax. Now you are tasting real vegetables.” And she’s so right. If veggies in the US tasted the way they do here, we’d eat them for breakfast too! A croissant or muffin has NOTHING on the oranges and cucumbers here!
Now, Tel Aviv vs. Jlem: When I first got to Tel Aviv, I thought, “I’m an idiot. I should SO be here.” It’s so NYC-ish and alive and bustling. Plus, the ocean does something to me that’s magical, but when I returned, I actually really appreciated Jlem. I love how clean Jerusalem is, and I can’t understate how amazing my ulpan is – to feel growth each and every day is something else. And fortunately for me, Odi and I have an agreement where I can bother her as much I like over the summer and stay with her in her silly, beachy apartment with the dramatic neighbors.
Other than that, the Flotilla mess has been interesting – you know the world is upside down when the global consensus is, “Hey Israel, why don’t you just lie down and let the world terrorize you?” Because any other country would allow terrorists to smuggle weapons onto their border? Of course, both sides of the argument are represented here. But the support has been beautiful to see-people are sailing simply to fly the flag.
Overall, it feels extremely natural and easy to be here. There are adjustments, as to be expected, but I love the kippot everywhere, I love the Hebrew everywhere, I love the shuk and the falafel and the Judaica everywhere, the soldiers everywhere (so handsome) and the best – catching a glimpse of the religious Zionist - the soldier who wraps tefillin at the back of a bookstore, or the dude who sells you your phone card, chilling by a fan with the TV on, browsing the pages of the Tanach.
Shabbat Shalom from Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (Jerusalem of gold), l’koolam (to everyone)!