When our bus came to a halt in the middle of the street, our immediate reaction was that something was wrong.
To our surprise, our counselor informed us that we had simply gotten stuck in a traffic jam. We laughed to ourselves at the foreign concept, and gave eachother a look that said:We are SO not in Arad anymore
The bus of one hundred tired yet anxious teenagers finally pulled up outside Beit Ar-El, our Jerusalem campus, around 8 pm on November 30th.
My first impression of our new home was one of amazement. I looked around me and saw beautiful stone buildings. I heard music blasting from a nearby apartment. Taxis sped by, turning corners at dangerous speeds. A chilly breeze told me that winter in Jerusalem is nearing—time to whip out the poufy down coat.
It was hard to grasp that just a few hours prior, I was in the desert, riding a camel at a Bedouin tent. I was completely overwhelmed by my new surroundings, yet so incredibly happy to be there. I skipped around campus, forgetting my stress, hunger, and fatigue.
We walked to our off-campus apartment and unpacked our suitcases in an attempt to settle in. My luck got me the top bunk, but I’m not about to complain about it. There are too many amazing changes taking place in this new home of mine to really complain about anything.
It was our first full day in Jerusalem, December 1st. Even before we arrived, I knew transitioning to the city during this holiday would be meaningful. There was a sense of celebration in the air, reinforced by the smells of freshly baked Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) around every corner.
As I walked through the stone streets of Jerusalem with my entire group on our first tour of the old city, I couldn’t help but think about those in history who walked before me—those who stood in my place during the time the events of Hanukkah actually occurred. Those who witnessed the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days in the Beit Hamikdash, the holiest temple.
When the sun set over the city and the Hanukkah tour ended, we were free for the rest of the evening to roam the streets alone. We were amazed by some of the sights we saw. While making our way towards Mamilla (a commercial neighborhood in the city) we passed through a dark residential alleyway, where a Menorah stood outside each doorstep. Rather than the big hulky streetlamps that produce a fluorescent white light in most cities, the flames that illuminated this alley in Jerusalem had a natural glow; in fact the sight was so spiritual, my friend Emily and I later discussed that we could feel a higher presence around us. Being Jewish felt different at that moment. There was an inexplicable rightness about the situation, and something within me said: You will live here sometime in your life.
As life here is becoming increasingly more comfortable, the idea of truly living here is becoming a clearer, more real thought in my still-naïve-and-unsure mind. And after two weeks of grocery shopping with roommates, managing money, and taking busses across the city, I’m starting to feel like a true resident.
Like any true resident of a bustling metropolis, I have a schedule I must keep.
Sundays, Mondays, and Wednesdays I wake up at 6:30 (which is incredibly early for me after being so spoiled in Arad) to catch the 7:30 bus to volunteering. Today was my second day at Yad B’ Yad, an Arab Israeli school for pre-kindergarteners to high school young adults. The school aims at bridging gaps between Arabs and Jews by promoting peaceful coexistence in a supportive, safe environment.
When requesting this volunteering placement I was under the impression that I would be teaching English—so when I was placed in a classroom with three and four year olds, I was initially discouraged and a bit intimidated. Yet, I still maintained a positive attitude, and am now learning to love my new work. I’ve realized that since I don’t have the same responsibility as the paid teachers, my title is, essentially, entertainer. I draw pictures for the children, build with blocks, dance, sing, and teach them games.
Watching Arab and Jewish kids play together, devoid of prejudice and preconceptions, is the peaceful utopia I wish Israel could somehow attain. Still so young and untainted by politics, extremism, and hatred, a child sees no difference between his Muslim friend Mahmoud and his Jewish friend Jacob. And although some of the Arab kids don’t speak Hebrew and many of the Jewish kids don’t speak Arabic, they still manage to play together and learn from each other—sharing their language, food, holidays, and customs.
When I’m not at Yad b’Yad, I’m attending one of the six courses I signed up for, which include: Service Learning, Monotheistic religions of Jerusalem (a trip once a week), Hebrew, Holocaust films, Jewish art, and Torah Yoga. So far, I’m enjoying all of my classes. I must say, it feels great to get back into learning. During the Arad trimester, I felt my brain turn into mush from under-usage. My friends and I joke that we have turned into Israeli English speakers, often dropping crucial words in our sentences such as: “is, the, and for.”
However, I’m starting to feel the neurons re-connecting as I delve deeper into the coursework of my classes. I’ve even received some…homework. I had forgotten the true meaning of that word for three months, so it resurfacing isn’t the worst thing in the world. While all of my friends at home are stressing over calculus finals in college, I really can’t complain about the 100-word reflection on my identity I have to complete by midnight tonight. In fact, I’m finding work here to be less tedious, and more…fun. I missed the challenge school gave me, and the sense of accomplishment I would get when finishing an essay, test, or assignment. So now that it’s (sort-of) back in my life, I’m ready for it.
Jerusalem, all in all, has brought about some significant changes: in just two weeks I have made new friends, attended new classes and volunteering, cooked news dishes (including delicious latkes) bonded with new roommates, learned new bus schedules, and experienced, like a slap in the face, new weather: THE FREEZING COLD.
For the past few days Jerusalem has seen some pretty extreme weather; fortunately, the storm that is freezing over the city also brought some rain, something Israel always needs.
The weather has been somewhat bearable largely due to the sizeable winter coat I brought just in case. Though I must pay respect to where it is due: thank you Mother for insisting I take out some unnecessary clothes to make room for this coat. It has been extremely handy for the past few days—I don’t think I could have survived without it.
Before I end this post, I have a note for all of my followers:
You probably won’t be hearing from me again until next year, as I’m leaving for America on December 20th and returning on January 1st, 2011. Though I will miss all of my Year Coursers, I can’t wait to see everyone at home. The countdown is at 7 days!
Hope everyone has a Happy New Year :)
A view from a lookout point in Jerusalem
Me & Izzy at a cafe on Ben Yehuda Street
The Latkes I made on the third night of Hanukkah