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)!
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