I'm a Red Sea pedestrian and proud of it!

Trip Start Jul 29, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Israel  ,
Sunday, September 16, 2007

We had a meeting this afternoon about our course selection for the semester. There are good things and bad things about the way that it works for the overseas students. We received a comprehensive list of all the courses and syllabi, so that we can choose the classes we want to take by October 15th (the first day). We're supposed to initially take more than we need so that we can drop the ones we don't like. Brandeis requires me to continue taking Hebrew (Monday - Thursday 8:30 - 10 AM), plus four other regular classes. The other classes meet either twice a week for 2 hours or in one 4-hour block. They look interesting, although the two I really wanted to take are not being offered this semester. And we don't have class on Sundays, which is great - an extra night to stay out late and a whole day free when everything in the city is actually open.

My biggest problem is that I wanted to be home before New Year's, but the exam period starts Dec. 30 and continues right through the New Year until January 4th, because its not even a holiday here. (Christmas isn't a holiday here either!) I've heard that professors will let students reschedule the final and take it earlier, although our manual says specifically that students are not allowed to leave the program before January 4th. This SUCKS. The best I can do at this point is try to take classes that have a paper for a final, which I could hand in early. I guess I'm just going to have to talk to the professors in a month. I really have to get this figured out because I still haven't scheduled my return flight to New York. 

Several of the classes are using articles, critical reviews, and even a textbook by the president of Brandeis (Jehuda Reinharz). That's kind of neat. They also take field trips and go to museums and to the desert. When was the last time I took a field trip?! Fifth grade maybe? This entire semester is going to be such a far cry from my science-centered life at home. I've already heard kids complaining about the amount of "work" that is required. They have no f***ing idea what it means to work hard. And that's all I'm going to say about that.

Classes that are looking interesting to me right now:
- Essence of Judaism
- Zionism and the State of Israel
- Creative Writing

There was also a presentation given by a representative from MASA, the Jewish Agency organization that gives scholarships for Jewish students to study in Israel. Apparently, not only are they giving us money, but I'm also getting a cool backpack, Israeli flag, coupons, other random stuff. (This is the second backpack I've gotten - first was from the Tzfat weekend.) They've also got a schedule of various events (Shabbaton retreats, concerts, etc.) for participants. I guess a few of the non-Jewish kids are a little peeved by this, since they cannot technically be part of the program. Its true, though, that all of the programs and incentives to come to Israel are basically only geared to Jewish students. I understand why how this could get frustrating, but let's face it. This is a Jewish country trying to attract Jews. So, um, get over it. (Of course I wouldn't actually say that to them.)

Speaking of Jerusalem, I went with family friends to the city on Friday night and it was COLD. Cold enough for pants and a jacket, at least. Jerusalem is on a mountain so it gets much colder, much earlier than in Tel Aviv; in the winter it even snows sometimes. But we went into the old city and it was very quiet, just some religious Jews walking back from evening services (it was the end of Rosh Hashanah/start of Shabbat). We went to the Kotel (Western Wall) and it was so quiet and peaceful. Much nicer than being there in the midday heat, in a crowd, as we were last time.

Yesterday we drove to see the two monasteries in Israel, the Mony and the Latrun. The Mony was closed, but the inside of the Latrun was beautiful. They both have gardens and vineyards where they make their own food products, olive oil, and wines; you can buy them only on the premises. The monks looked pretty...religious. It was interesting, but honestly, most of the Christian and Muslim sites that I've seen are kind of mundane. They hold no significance for me, obviously. Although the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem was amazing and I recommend that everyone go inside to see it.

Random: Last Sunday it rained. For about 3 minutes. I just stood outside and stared up at it. I really thought it was impossible for water to fall from the sky anymore. But they say that towards the end of October winter will begin and it will be damp and cold all the time. I can't wait. The desert winds have also been picking up. I think they're supposed to last through October, but it hasn't gotten very dusty yet.

Last Saturday I got on my bike and intended to finally find the beach in Ramat Aviv. My friends had walked there before (but they couldn't remember the way) and I can see it from my window, so I know its nearby. However, after nearly two hours of riding along the coastline, I failed to find an actual "beach" where I could get down to the water. There's a small airport that has a landing strip running parallel to the shore (how ridiculous is it to waste valuable coastline this way???) and I just couldn't get around it to the water. Instead, I road my bike a little further down the coast and ended up at the Tel Aviv Port, where I'd never actually been. The port is gorgeous. Its a long strip of (rather expensive by my student standards) restaurants and shops with a boardwalk that sits right over the water. At sunset it is absolutely the most beautiful place to sit and relax. My mom is going to love it. So that was my happy discovery. And I can actually see some of the port from my window.

I really can get anywhere in Tel Aviv on my bike. Its so flat and its just an easy city to navigate. Plus, there's something so satisfying about being able to get from one part of town to another relatively quickly, without having to get on a bus or drive a car. 

Last night there was a great fireworks show right outside my window. I mean, they were shooting them off from about half a mile away. Even though everything else about my room is terrible, the atmosphere outside my window is really incredible. I feel like I'm able to see and hear things from every part of the city. From downtown buildings, to the port, to the ocean, to the nearby apartments. Its really quite hard to describe, but I feel like I'm looking out from the center of the universe at my window.

And in closing: One of my favorite ways to practice my understanding of Hebrew is to watch both American and Israeli soap operas while I'm working out at the gym. They both run Hebrew subtitles at the bottom of the screen, and if you're at all familiar with the terrible dialog and pacing of soap operas, you know that they are very simple and direct and easy to follow. Characters say the same things over and over, in plain language, so its a great way for me to measure how much grammar and vocabulary I'm picking up.
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