I am sorry that I haven’t blogged in a long time. Unfortunately, I had a death in the family and my mind has been completely elsewhere. So, I have about 2 months to catch you up on. I have broken things down into a few different blog posts that will come up in the next few days. (the first few paragraphs were written a few weeks ago)
So another week here in Israel has passed. I am feeling really settled into my routine of ulpan, soup kitchen, and beit midrash. For our education day this week, we went to Jerusalem. We first heard a lecture called “Jewish history in a flash” in which we literally went overall of Jewish history in less than an hour. The presenter broke up history into time periods of about 250 years. The presentation was entertaining and definitely memorable, but I would have liked to go into a little more detail of why the events he concerned were most important to the Jewish people were chosen as such.
After the presentation, we went to the City of David. On our three hour tour, we were able to imagine what the old city of Jerusalem looked like, as well as analyzed why this specific land is so important. I had done this tour many years ago but it was great to revisit. However, this time, I got to go into Hizikiyah’s tunnel. This is an underground tunnel (of many) in the City of David that Hizikiyah created. Some of the tunnels were used for protection and others for a sewage system. The one we walked through was still filled with water. It was so much fun! The tunnel was pitch black (good thing I brought my flashlight) and the water was all the way up to my knees. After that we went to Pardes Institute of Judaic Studies and did a beit midrash on courage.
I am still feeling very close with my host family. They include me in all holiday and Shabbat celebrations, and were incredibly supportive when I had my family crisis. While I am excited to meet my next host family in Haifa, I know I will stay in touch with this host family forever. One special memory was when three of my friends and I went up to the Kibbutz and helped them pick grapes. The kibbutz owns a field of grape vines and together we picked the grapes for the Kibbutz winery. It was a long day (and in the rain) but it was really fun. My “adoptive siblings” even worked in the winery later that day organizing the grapes and starting to squish them. After the long day of work, all of the Kibbutzniks met in the heder ochel, dining room, for a potluck meal. Each family made or brought a few dishes and we had a feast! There were many different kinds of hummus and salad and we even enjoyed some of the wine from the winery.
Being in Israel for the holidays was a great experience. While I normally associate the high holidays with sitting in services, here, it is solely about family, food, and celebration. The Israelis, in general, are very welcoming to guests and it really made me feel comfortable in Israel even though I was away from my family. I ate so much food during the 2 days of rosh Hashanah! I had two feasts with my host family, one with a friend-of-a-friend, one with my friend’s host family, and one with a family from the local synagogue.
Yom Kippur was another great experience. The program took us all to Jerusalem for the holiday. We first had a day seminar with topics including bible yoga, slichot, and unetanneh tokef. That night, the beginning of Yom Kippur, we went to the Kotel. I had a very interesting experience which I will discuss in my next blog post. The next morning we went synagogue hopping (and took a looooong nap until we could eat). It was both beautiful and eerie seeing Israel so dead. There were no cars in the streets and no stores open. Every inch of Jerusalem felt like it was holy because the entire city just had a special energy.
Sukkot was another interesting experience. A holiday that I seem to usually overlook, was very important here in Israel. But it was no important for religious reasons, building a sukkah seemed to be a cultural tradition that almost all Israelis partook in. In fact, when suggesting a religious aspect to the Sukkah, one Israeli friend of mine looked at me like I was crazy. “It’s just what we do,” she explained.