Monday, April 27, 2009


For those of you counting, this is the second of the three P's!

I'm going to use the terms "Passover" (or "Pesach) and "Passover break" loosely in this entry, mostly because my Passover break included a full week before the actual break ever began. My mom and our family friend Vicki decided to come see Israel for the first time and spend a few weeks with me, and since they arrived a week before my break from school, I spent a total of almost three weeks on some sort of vacation/break!

After a VERY grueling plane ride, Mom and Vicki arrived at the airport in Tel Aviv in the middle of the night... I was there to greet them because one of my professor's wives was on that very same flight, my professor found out I was waiting for my mom, and offered to take me to the airport and pick up the whole crew!! After sleeping a few hours of the morning away in the hotel room, the three of us got Mom and Vicki's very first Israeli falafel and then set off to explore the Old City! We trekked through the Armenian quarter and it's Aladdin-esque shuk, and then said a Shecheyanu (prayer for reaching a special moment in your life) for their first time at the Kotel (Western Wall). We also explored the Cardo, an ancient road that runs through the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, but which is now mainly upscale Judaica shopping.
the ladies' first trip to the Old City!

Chagall windows

Day two was also spent in Jerusalem, exploring the shuk for the first time! After another lunch of falafel/shwarma, we took a cab to Hadassah Hospital to see the famous Marc Chagall stained glass windows. That evening, after mom and I had dinner with Joel and Ari, we had a little "meet my mom" party at the apartment!
Mom taste-tests a pistachio in the shuk

The ladies' first Shabbat in Israel was spent in Eilat. We lounged on the beach, took a few dips in the Red Sea, relaxed by the pool, did some unsuccessful bathing suit shopping, walked on the promenade, lit Shabbat candles in our hotel, and even had corn on a stick! The wonderful trip was topped off by an extremely ridiculous bus trip back to Jerusalem and an even more ridiculous evening in the hotel (so ridiculous I can't even go into it). Even so, we had a great relaxing weekend in the sun!
taking a dip in the Red Sea

The first half of the next week was back in Jerusalem, as I needed to go to a few days of school before my break started. On Sunday, the ladies explored Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and the Israel Museum (home of the Dead Sea Scrolls) while I went to class. Mom spent Monday exploring various parts (some safer than others...) of the outside walls of the Old City, and then I showed Mom the glorious place that is my grocery store- SuperSol (or Super Slow, as we like to call it). We bought a few things for Seder, and then had dinner and dessert in the German Colony with Ari. On Tuesday, my first day off, Mom and Vicki went on an organized tour of Masada and the Dead Sea, so I slept in, did some paper research, and pulled myself back together after a busy week of playing tour guide!

Tuesday night and Wednesday were mostly spent preparing for the Seder, though we did take some time to hang out with Joel and his mom Ruth who had just arrived for a visit! The guys and I took the moms to our favorite dessert place, Babette's, for waffles, on Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning was spent with Mom, Vicki, Joel, and Ruth in the Old City. We got to see a bunch of Orthodox guys burning their chametz (bread items, NOT kosher for Passover) outside the Old City walls, went back to the Kotel, and did a little more shopping and falafel eating.

Wednesday night was our Seder. Awhile back, Joel, Jaclyn, and I realized that we would all have parents in town during Passover, so we decided to have a "family" seder! Our group included me, Mom, and Vicki, Jaclyn and her mom and dad, Joel and Ruth, and then Ari, Lisa, Jimmy, and Lisa's friend Micah. Each of us "kids" was responsible for several pieces of the service, and we put together our own haggadah to read through! It was a really fun, creative, engaging seder, and we all had a great time leading and learning from each other. With LOTS of help from our awesome parents, we also made an incredibly delicious seder meal!
my brand new seder plate!

The ladies and I set out for Tel Aviv early the next morning. We spent lots of time walking along the beautiful beach of the Mediterranean Sea, Mom and I explored Old Yafo, and we met my friend Mollie for lunch overlooking the water. Lunch was pretty interesting, as a dog ran into the restaurant from the street not once but TWO different times and ate my lamb kabobs off my plate- no fair! After an afternoon exploring Neve Tzedek (the first neighborhood in Tel Aviv) with Mollie, Mom, Vicki and I checked into our hotel and took a walk to Rabin Square (the place where PM Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated at a peace rally in 1995). We then took a VERY long walk along the beach to the Namal (pier) for dinner- even though the restaurant wasn't kosher, they offered us matzah with our salads... VERY cool to be in Israel for Passover!
the view of Tel Aviv from Old Yafo

lunching with Mollie in Tel Aviv

Friday morning was spent exploring and buying at the Nachalat Binyamin art fair in Tel Aviv, and then on a train to Ramle and a taxi to Kibbutz Gezer! We had delicious omelettes for lunch with my friends Rabbi Miri and her husband David, as well as some guests of theirs. David took us on a tour of Pinat Shorashim (the educational park where I intern), and then I led the music for Shabbat services at Miri's congregation (where I also intern) Birkat Shalom. We had a wonderful Shabat dinner at their house with their family and some guests, and went back to Jerusalem that night.

We spent the rest of our Shabbat the way I always do: having Shabbat lunch and playing cards with Joel and Ari. This time, the moms joined in, and Mom even beat us all at cards! That night, we packed all of Mom and Vicki's stuff and even two suitcases for me, because the next day we were headed on a two day tour of the North and then straight to the airport!

We took a GREAT two day tour of the North with our tour guide, Michal, who was COMPLETELY and TOTALLY out of her mind- seriously, a real nutcase. Good news was, she was a great guide, knew shortcuts, and interesting places, and information about everything! I couldn't possibly describe every place we went, so I'll just give a list:

Jordan Valley, see Jericho, Beit She’an, Kibbutz Gesher, Drive on military road to see Jordan River, Lunch at Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov, See border of Israel, Jordan, Syria at Hama Gader, Kibbutz Degania, Kinneret, Drive through Tiberias, Hula Valley: lookout from Golan to Syria, Jaba Al Sheik/ Valley of Tears, Druze villages,Gorge of Sa’ar (waterfall), Drive by Banias, Dinner and Overnight: Tel Hai Guest House, Metulla, “Good Fence”/ see Lebanon, HaShomer Cemetary at Tel Hai, Kiriat Shmona, Rosh Pina, Tzfat, Rosh Pina for lunch, Drive Akko-Tzfat highway, Haifa: Bahai’i Gardens, ice cream, Stella Maris Church, Zichron Yaakov... WHEW!!

the snow-capped Mt. Hermon

waterfall at Gorge of Sa'ar

Stella Maris church

Our "hotel" was certainly not the greatest, and neither was our tour guide, but we had a really good time and saw more of the North than I could ever have hoped to show them on my own. Unfortunately, the end of our North trip meant the end of Mom and Vicki's vacation in Israel. I was really sad to see them go, and I know I was SO lucky to have my mom spend time with me here, see my life in Israel, and meet my friends. And of course, I'm really happy that they got to visit Israel for the firs time. We got dropped off at the airport after the tour, and they checked in and headed home to the States, while I jumped onto a Sherut and went back to Jerusalem.

Of course, just because I was on my own didn't mean that I was going to take it easy! The next day I took a bus to Netanya, a city near Tel Aviv, to have a 7th night festival meal with my Israeli friend Moran and her whole family. I last saw her family five years ago, when they hosted me during my very first trip to Israel. It was surreal but really great to see them all again, and to get to join them for a meal. I even spoke mostly in Hebrew to the family (but mostly English to Moran- it's hard to catch up in Hebrew)!

On Thursday I jumped back on the bus and met Joel and Ruth in Ramle for lunch at my favorite Israeli restaurant, Samir's, where I go with Miri and David every time I volunteer at Kibbutz Gezer!

I spent most of the weekend resting, hanging out, and writing my liturgy paper, and before I knew it, it was back to school!

Next up... the "Israeli" holidays (Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha'atzmaut) and the third P... PACKING!!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Way Down South

Our class took our last big tiyul of the year at the end of March- we traveled to the Negev Desert, which comprises the southern 60% of the country. We spent four days climbing mountains, hiking, visiting Kibbutzim, swimming in the Red Sea, and relaxing in the sun! Check out the highlights and pictures from the trip AND stay tuned for an entry about Mom's visit and Passover... THIS year in Jerusalem!

Day 1 highlights:

-checking out the view from Sde Boker, the Kibbutz where former prime minister David Ben Gurion is buried
-visiting a solar energy plant and seeing the largest solar parabola dish in the world
-climbing up a mountain to see Mitzpe Ramon (the Ramon "crater")
-Mincha (afternoon) services on the top of a mountain
-music, dinner, campus v. campus sing-off, campfire, and sleeping in a "Beduin tent" (owned by Israelis...)

view at Mitzpe Ramon

Day 2 hightlights:
-wimpy but beautiful hike in Timna National Park
-pomelo (a cross between an orange and a grapefruit but bigger) picking at Kibbutz Yahel
-karaoke, card playing, and sleeping at Kibbutz Yahel (Reform movement Kibbutz)
hiking at Timna

picking pomelos at Kibbutz Yahel with Coby (my classmate's son)

what's wrong with this picture? hugs with Amy at Karaoke

Joel and RVT serenading each other at karaoke

Day 3 highlights:
-"Eco-seminar" at the eco-friendly and pioneering Kibbutz Lotan (the other Reform movement Kibbutz)
-snorkeling and swimming in the Red Sea in Eilat
-HUC student-led Shabbat services at Kibbutz Yahel + Shabbat dinner with the Kibbutz community
-more card-playing and hookah, sleeping at Kibbutz Yahel
domed "houses" made of mud, etc. at Kibbutz Lotan

the eco-friendly toilet with sawdust at Kibbutz Lotan

Day 4 highlights:
-Shabbat walk and services in the desert
-discussion with Kibbutz Yahel founders and members
-paying 2 shekels to use the bathroom on our way back to Jerusalem
site of Shabbat morning services

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The 3 P's of 2nd Semester

As commonly heard around the HUC community, the 3 P's of second semester are Purim, Pesach, Packing. Since we checked Purim off the list last week, we've just got Pesach (Passover) coming up in three weeks, and then we Pack to go home! WOW!

I arrived back in Israel on February 2nd after an amazing and life-altering winter break at home. The last month and a half back in Israel have been very busy and exciting. Here are a few updates...

has been BUSY! While I only have two new classes this semester (and neither of them are too different from stuff we studied before), I feel so much busier than I did last semester! I am really enjoying my new Bible class, where we look at selected stories, translate them from the original Hebrew, and analyze them based on all sorts of factors and view them from different perspectives (Orthodox v. Reform v. Bible as literature). We've also had a constant slew of visitors here in Jerusalem. First, the head of the Rabbinical School from the Cincinnati campus came to speak with the Cincinnati-bound students. Then, the entire Central Conference of American Rabbis (organizational body of American Reform rabbis) had their annual convention here. We met with various committees, attended services, and had all kinds of delicious food compliments of the rabbis. I ran into a few rabbis from home, some young rabbis that I knew when they were HUC students in Cincy, and even a friend of my parents who is now a rabbi! After the CCAR convention was over, the Women's Rabbinic Network held their own conference for a few days. The WRN is a special professional and support network for women rabbis in the States. They invited the female rabbinic students in our class to have a reception with them to talk about their careers as women rabbis and talk about our experiences. We've also been on a day trip for school, and have a four day trip to the Negev desert in the South next week!

Engagement Parties...
were held in Jerusalem! My wonderful friends Jaclyn, Ari, and Joel planned not one but TWO engagement parties for me (and Sean, in spirit) the week I returned to Israel. The first was a complete surprise... our head of student affairs, Nancy, asked if she could chat with me, and then we walked into the Moadon (our student lounge) together. I noticed that half of the Mo was closed off, and wondered why Nancy and I were going into the partitioned area. As soon as we entered, I saw the three planners holding a giant "Mazel Tov" sign and ALL of my classmates standing there with blowers and balloons! They also ordered a beautiful, delicious cake for me (and everyone else to eat). That evening, we had a smaller celebration, attended by my close friends in the class. Everyone got all dressed up, made desserts and brought champagne to Ari's balloon filled apartment to celebrate. It was really wonderful to get to celebrate with my HUC family!

my surprise party sign (now hanging on my wall)

was very cool and very unique in Israel! Purim is a rabbinically decreed holiday, celebrated in the Hebrew month of Adar (usually March); Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar in most places and on the 15th in walled cities (ie. Jerusalem). The story is that when Jews were under Persian control in exile, Haman, the royal advisor to King Ahasuerus, planned to kill all the Jews. We celebrate the fact that Queen Esther, a (secret) Jew herself, and her uncle Mordechai, foiled Haman's plot. I did a group costume with Ari and Joel that was awfully rabbinic and dorky, but very fun- we were "Al Shlosha D'varim" (On Three Things the World Stands)- Torah, Avodah (worship), G'milut Chasadim (acts of lovingkindness). We made t'shirts and each were one of the things (guess which I was)! We had a big Megillah (scroll, in this case Esther, the story of Purim) reading and fun service at school, and I was one of the Megilalh readers- I learned Megillat Esther trope (the cantillation) just for the occassion! After the service and reading, our class had a dinner and funny beit cafe ("coffee house"- open mic/talent show sort of thing)- Ari and I did a Debbie Friedman singalong and parody. A bunch of us also went out downtown to see the crazy, drunken, Purim madness of Jerusalem. The next day (we had two days off of school!), Joel made a great Purim Seudah (festive meal) for a bunch of our friends- it was delicious!

G'milut Chasadim, Avodah (hiding his weird straight hair under a hat), and Torah

to the northwestern coast in a little hatchback car with a broken CD player is fun! Joel, Ari, and I rented a car last weekend, and spent about 36 hours touring the northwest coast of Israel. Joel, being the only one who can actually rent a car, graciously agreed to drive. We set out early Friday morning, and first drove to Caesaria, a city with Roman, Herodian, Byzantine, and Arab periods. Along the beautiful Mediterranean sea beach, there are ruins from many of these time periods.


That afternoon we drove to the most northwestern point in Israel, Rosh Hanikra (Head of the Grottoes), which sits right next to the border with Lebanon. We traveled by cable car down to the grottoes to see the beautiful caves and water that flows through them. We also stood next to the border and took the requisite photo! I had been to both of these places on my first trip to Israel in 2004, but it was really wonderful to experience them both again.
Ari's excited to see the grottoes!

inside the grottoes

sunset over the Mediterranean Sea at Rosh Hanikra

the Israeli-Lebanese border at Rosh Hanikra

After spending about 45 minutes driving in circles to get to our little hostel in Haifa, we unpacked and set out to see Haifa at night. We ventured into Haifa's German Colony, where we ate dinner at a wonderful Middle Eastern/French fusion restaurant called Douzan that was absolutely delicious. We spent some time walking around the neighborhood and taking pictures of the Bahai'i Gardens (night shots are important!), and then had tea and hot cider and played cards (our usual) at Fatoush, another restaurant in the area.

Joel and me in front of the Bahai'i Gardens at night

Saturday morning brought our visit of the Bahai'i Gardens in Haifa. The Bahai'i Gardens are the site of the Shrine of the Bab, the burial place of the Bab, the predecessor of Baha'u'llah (the founder of the Bahai'i faith which is headquartered in Haifa). They are, simply put, ASTOUNDING. We only walked around part of the massive Gardens, near the Shrine, but you get the idea. On our way to view the Gardens from the top down, we made a quick, fun stop in the Haifa sculpture gardens.

the Bahai'i Gardens

hanging in the sculpture gardens

view of the Bahai'i Gardens from the top, looking over Haifa

Saturday afternoon was spent in Akko (Acre), just north of Haifa. Akko is a "mixed city," though Jews all live in the newer parts of the city, while the Arabs all live in the "Old City" (where all the interesting stuff is!). Akko is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities of the world, dating back to the time of the Pharaoh Thutmose III (1504-1450 BCE). The Old City is interesting and beautiful, with remanants of Crusader, Muslim, and Ottoman periods. Today, Akko is a mostly a small fishing harbor city. We ate lunch in a little hummus place, walked through the Shuk (market), visited the Al-Jazzar Mosque, walked the wall ramparts, went to the harbor, and checked out some cool things that we didn't really go into, like a fortress.

view of Akko and the Al-Jazzar Mosque

fish at the Shuk in Akko

the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Akko

On the way back to Jerusalem, we decided to relax and prolong our vacation with a stop in Zichron Yaakov, established in the late 1800s by the Baron de Rothschild. Zichron Yaakov, which we visited with school a while back, is a quaint little town, filled mostly with historical buildings, cute restaurants and coffee shops, and fun jewelry and craft stores. We stopped for some coffee, dessert, and cards, and then made our way back to Jerusalem. I had never been to Akko, nor had a spent much time in Haifa in the past, so I was really glad to have seen both last weekend. All in all, a great trip!!

So anyway, that's the update on the last month and a half of my life. My mom arrives in just two weeks, and Pesach will start during her visit, so we're well on our way to the 2nd of the 3 P's!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Top Ten of Break!

To my wonderful blog readers, thanks so much for your patience… it’s taken me a little while to come back down to earth from my amazing winter break at home and settle back into life here in Jerusalem. I suppose it’s only fair to describe my three weeks in the States, even though I saw so many of you along the way. In order to do this as briefly as possible, we’ll do the top 10, in no particular order, (with as many song lyric titles as possible)…

1. Reunited and it feels so good...

My reunions with my family and Sean were nothing short of wonderful.

Sean greeted me at the airport in Columbus, carried all of my luggage, got me lunch from my favorite Chinese restaurant, provided the means to a hot shower in a full size bathtub that did not require advanced heating and had a showerhead in the correct location, and of course, let me watch any TV show I wanted, and provided couch space for Michael and I to catch up in… all in the first four hours of my being home. More on his “greeting” later.

Besides Michael, I didn’t see the rest of my family until the next morning, when Sean and I drove down to Cincinnati for a welcome back brunch. My parents, Grandma and Sam, Auntie and Uncle Ed, Uncle Steve, and Adam were all there to welcome me home with WONDERFUL, home cooked, AMERICAN breakfast! It was an amazing feeling to walk into my house after being gone for seven months.

2. Marry Me!

After a few hours of getting acclimated to freezing cold Ohio, Sean had the nerve to take me back out into the cold! He asked if we could make a quick stop before our dinner at Martinis (my favorite place in Columbus)- he wanted to take a picture of the two of us in front of Ohio Stadium to frame as a gift for my mom’s upcoming birthday. In spite of the cold, I agreed, so we went over the stadium and posed for Sean’s camera (on a timer, of course). After a few resets of the timer, Sean told me we’d take one more, and without my knowledge, turned the camera to “video.” While my cheesy self kept posing for the next picture, Sean turned to me, got down on one knee, and asked me to marry him! I of course said YES! After some fumbling with the ring and some ecstatic first moments, we went to Martinis to celebrate.

moments before our engagement at the Shoe

3. Celebrate good times, come on!

I was supposed to return to Jerusalem by January 25th in order to start classes, but I finagled an extra week at home to attend a wedding with Sean AND celebrate my mom’s 50th birthday!! My grandma, aunt, cousin Melissa, my mom’s best friend Vicki, and I threw my mom a big birthday brunch party at our house. Tons of her friends and our family turned out for French toast, birthday cake, and of course, a slideshow! I was SO happy to be home with Mom for her birthday. As a gift to herself, she booked her ticket to come visit me in Israel in April, along with Vicki!

4. And in a thousand years after a thousand tears, I will find my original crew…

Rachel and Rachel flew/drove home for a weekend just to say hi! We also, of course, went ring-setting shopping, search for lots of houses with Sean, my parents, and me, ate at my favorite places, and catch up! We missed Amy a lot, but we had a wonderful time together after being apart for close to a year.

celebrating the engagement with Rachel and Rachel!

5. I wish I could go back to college…

After a few days in Cincinnati, I headed back to Columbus for a long weekend. I got spend some time with Emily and Elle (even though they had been in Israel visiting just a few weeks before) at Brennan’s, one of our favorite coffee places, which is of course right around the corner from Hillel (don’t worry, I stopped in).

I also got to catch up with my college roommates, Amanda and Jessica, during a few coffee dates and my Mad Mex Marg Night (more on that soon). It’s been strange living without them after two years in the same apartment together!

A few nights before I left, I was back in Columbus and got to have dinner at my favorite Columbus Mexican restaurant with Naomi, Paul, and Sara, good friends from OSU. Sara and I had last seen each other during her Birthright trip in July, and I had to catch up with Naomi and Paul on their wedding plans!

6. Wastin’ away here in Margaritaville…

With the intention of catching up with as many friends as possible during my short visits to Columbus, I organized a little bar night at Mad Mex, a bar at OSU with famous “Big Ass” Margaritas. I was joined by over twenty friends that evening, some driving in from the suburbs, some walking from campus in sub-freezing temperatures, and some stopping by just for a few moments to say a quick hello before getting back to work and school. It was really great to catch up with some many friends.

7. They say it’s your birthday…

Sean’s 25th birthday fell during my break at home, which was a great opportunity for us to celebrate more together! I spent most of dinnertime of his birthday in the car on the phone with him, as I drove the last 6 miles to his house in a snowstorm! We ended up going just down the street to a burger place for dinner and relaxing in front of the fire since there was so much snow. We spent the next morning picking out the setting for my ring (he gave me a BEATIFUL ring but let me choose my setting!), and then set off for Cleveland. With a windchill of 20 below zero, we watched the Cavs stay undefeated at home from our cool VIP seats! Sean was wonderful enough to spend the rest of the weekend with me visiting friends and family in Cleveland before heading back to Columbus to spend MLK day together.

celebrating Sean's 25th at the Cavs game

8. If I had a million dollars I would buy you a house…

Well, we don’t exactly have a million dollars, but Sean figured we ought to buy our first house this summer! With that in mind, we started our house search during my time at home… and ended up finishing it! We found a wonderful house in Cincinnati while I was home, put in an offer for it, and closed on the house a few weeks after I returned to Jerusalem. Sean moves in next week!

our new house!

9. MeshugaNotes, we are a catch…

Yes, I got to catch up with my wonderful Shugs (my college acapella group). I was able to spend time with some of my best friends from the group, go to a rehearsal, and even catch one of their out-of-town performances when Sean and I were visiting Cleveland! MeshugaNotes was my favorite college activity, and the place I met most of my best friends, and it’s definitely been hard doing without it this year. I was SO happy to get to spend time with great friends and see how well they’re doing!

10. Food, glorious food…

It wouldn’t be a trip to the U.S. of A. without some good old American food. And by that, I mean any food that’s not overpriced, covered in hummus, or served by terrible wait staff. I think I enjoyed every bite of food I ate in the States, and was honestly surprised every time I had a good service experience! Here’s just a partial list of the wonderful restaurants I frequented during my trip… Rusty Bucket, Brennan’s, Starbucks, Ruby Tuesday, Martinis, Tai’s Asian Bistro, El Vaquero, Mad Mex, some benihana-type chop chop place, Corky and Lenny’s, Tumbleweed, LaRosa’s, Montgomery Inn, Old Bag of Nails, Applebee’s, Mimi’s CafĂ©, Qdoba, etc etc etc. YUM!

And that’s the Top Ten of break!! Check back soon for an entry on my first month and half back in Jerusalem.

See you back Stateside at the end of May!

The future Rabbi Meredith Faye Kahan Flowers :)

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Little Town of Sderot

Below is an article written recently by one of my professors. Hopefully, this can help us better understand the current situation in Gaza.


By Paul Liptz

December 29, 2008

Sderot is a small town close to the north east border of Gaza. It's like many of Israel's peripheral areas with an undeveloped town center, monotonous buildings, lower middle class inhabitants and by and large, citizens who don't really have the money to sell their apartments and move anywhere else. However, the difference between Sderot and most other areas in Israel is that this particular town has been the object of attacks from Gaza for the last eight years.

Sadly, Sderot had little influence with the decision makers. As long as they only suffered a little, it just wasn't worthwhile making too much of a fuss about it. For many Israelis, it was preferable for a small group of people to be under attack than to get involved in a major war. Anyway, there was a widely held belief that Hamas would agree to some form of a minimal cease fire and even though there is unlikely to ever be a peace treaty with them, many Israelis imagined that one could continue with this low level of conflict for an extended period of time, especially since it was "out there".

Some Sderot residents even seemed to be coming to terms with their vulnerable position. They realized that they had few powerful supporters and while the politicians periodically traveled to this outpost to have their photos taken with the locals, the really important issues of Israel were perceived as the events in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa and in the banks, stock exchange and high tec firms.

In the historical context there was clearly a precedent for an "expendable" group. During the long years between Israel's Independence in 1948 and the 1967 Six Day War the kibbutzim and moshavim (collective villages) in the most northern area of the country had constantly been under Syrian fire. It hadn't seemed worthwhile going to war to ensure the safety of a relatively small group of citizens. Thus, year after year, children in the upper Galilee spent hours and days and sometimes weeks in bomb shelters while the Syrians shot down from the Golan Heights onto the defenseless villagers. It was only in June 1967 that the position changed radically and Israel took control of the Heights. I well remember my weeks on Kibbutz Dafna in June and July 1967 speaking to a whole generation of innocent people who would still look up to the mountains and wonder when the next alert would be sounded and the rush to ensure that their children were safe, waiting quietly in the harsh concrete bunkers until the all clear signal was sounded.

In many senses, life in Sderot was more difficult. There were few bomb shelters, despite continuing government promises that they would be built. As nuclear families populate this southern town, they didn't have the same kind of caring community and infrastructure that was of such importance to their northern brethren.

In 2005, during the painful unilateral disengagement process whereby several thousand Israelis were forcibly removed from their homes in the Gaza Strip, most people were convinced that now, with Gaza back in the hands of the Palestinians, everything would be just fine. And I was one of those optimists. However, on the second night after the Israeli withdrawal as I saw the Palestinians destroying the greenhouses and hacking at the water pipes, I realized my dream was ludicrous. I had so hoped that this was the first stage of Palestinian independence and slowly but surely, they would build their infrastructures - hospitals, schools and roads and that life would really become better for them.

The skeptics were correct. The Egyptians also quickly recognized that a Hamas controlled Gaza was a threat and so closed the border between them. Israel was troubled by the realities on the ground. Iranian military equipment was flowing into the area and it were designed for one purpose and one purpose only-to be used against the innocent residents of Sderot and the other small towns and villages in the area. The Israeli government decided to control the entry into Gaza of military equipment but permitted food and humanitarian supplies to flow in. However, tunnels built from Egypt were effectively developed and soon the attacks on Israeli citizens increased. The government stated again and again that it was responsible for the well-being of its citizens and thus could not allow a significant area of the country to be under constant attack. Israel's politicians appealed for understanding and asked global leaders a simple question- "What would you do if there were continuous attacks on your sovereign territory?"

More recently Israeli society came to a harsh realization. The attacks were not merely on Sderot, but some one million citizens in cities like Ashdod, Ashkelon, Kiryat Gat and even Beer Sheva would find themselves threatened. The government had no alternative but to take stern action. It was clear that Israel would be widely condemned for defending itself. It is hoped that civilians in Gaza would not unduly suffer but one can never ensure that in military conflict, innocent people won't suffer.

Israel's goals are clear and simple. Allow our citizens to live in peace and the people of Gaza can live their lives undisturbed. Few Israelis ever want to occupy Gaza again. There are too many good things happening in Israel itself and still numerous challenges before us. Now the time has come to try and establish a new reality.

As far as I'm concerned, the people of Gaza can live their lives as they want. The type of government system is up to them. How they behave towards their women is no longer my concern. Their relationship with other Arab countries is an issue only between them and the Arab world.

I hope our goals are rapidly attained. I have no wish to cause suffering to the Palestinians but there has to be an understanding that we, Israelis, are not just going to sit on the sidelines and allow ourselves to be decimated. We've worked too hard to build what we have and no-one, but no-one, is going to destroy us.

Paul Liptz immigrated to Israel on June 4, 1967. He was on the faculty of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University for 35 years. He is on the staff of the Anita Saltz Center of the World Union of Progressive Judaism and lectures students at the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Holidays from the Holy Land!!

Thank you, faithful blog readers, for still being faithful after a seven week hiatus from writing! Obviously, the last two months have been extremely busy here in Jerusalem... so busy I haven't had time to let you know what I'm up to! My last two months' activities can be divided into several categories: fun school activities, visitors, holiday celebrations, fun extracurricular activities, and the most important if not the most fun... SCHOOL!! I am 16 weeks into my fall (?) semester, including the few days here and there for vacation and celebration of the High Holy Days. My 2nd Temple History class has ended, and while I haven't added anything in it's place, I still have 9 classes and lots of activities, including football, choir, my internship at the Kibbutz, and school trips, on my schedule. More on some of the exciting things that have happened here...

#1: Fun School Activities!
As part of school's liturgy workshop program, we are required to lead services (I'll be leading in February), give a d'var Torah (sermon or literally "word of Torah"), and chant and translate Torah. I gave my d'var Torah on Monday, November 10th, and discussed the importance of helping other people do good deeds... in essence, the necessity of enabling other people to make a difference, not just doing so ourselves (if anyone is interested, I'm happy to send the full version to you). The next week, on November 17th, I chanted Torah for the first time in Israel (though I've done so many times at home)... I did so again last week, and am up one more time this coming week!

Unfortunately, due to the budget cuts that affected HUC (just like everyone else), we had to cut our fall tiyul to the North a bit short, but we did spend a long day in Haifa and Tzfat. Haifa is a northwestern port city where we visited the Leo Baeck School, a K-12 school, synagogue, and community center associated with the progressive movement in Israel. After our visit with program directors, the rabbi, young students, and high schoolers, we moved on to Tzfat, the city associated with Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. There, we met with local artists, shopped around, and visited Tzfat's many old, beautiful synagogues. Before we made our way back to Jerusalem, we stopped in Tiberias, a city near the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) for the first decent chinese food I've eaten in Israel (coincidentally, at the chinese restaurant where my cousin Joel first learned to like chinese food)!

elementary kids leading and participating in prayers at Leo Baeck

Another great perk of my time here at HUC in Jerusalem is that our teachers are very warm and friendly, and have graciously invited us into their homes to meet their families, eat their food, celebrate Shabbat, and to get to know each other better. I have been to the homes of the Head of Student Affairs, Nancy, and one of the instructors, Rabbi Shelly Donnell, for reflection group meetings, to the home of my Israel Seminar teacher, Paul Liptz, for a social evening, and to Dean Rabbi Dr. Michael Marmur's home to celebrate Shabbat with his family!

My volunteer project at Kibbutz Gezer, working with Rabbi Miri Gold at Birkat Shalom (a progressive synagogue) and with David Leichman at Pinat Shorashim (an education center), has been going amazingly well. I am really enjoying the work that I'm doing there, and I feel incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to become part of Miri and David's community and family- they are wonderful people to be around, give me great opportunities, go out of their way to help me and do nice things for me, and generally are there to come to when life in Jerusalem gets a little crazy. More on Kibbutz Gezer in a later post...

Finally, I am involved in Parallel Lives, the project that joins HUC students and Israeli soldiers in an effort to get to know each other, our cultures, and our lives. Jaclyn and LuAnne, our coordinators on the HUC side, planned an amazing Shabbaton for us all in Jerusalem at the beginning of the month. My roommates and I hosted two soldiers in our apartment, and we all spent the weekend together learning alot, making great friendships, and really getting to understand each other.
the Parallel Lives crew at the start of the Shabbaton (at school)

Over the past month, to the detriment of my school work but to the benefit of my overall happiness and well-being, I have had a slew of visitors!! First, Sean's mom Corinne, stepdad Jeff, and stepsister Shana came to Jerusalem as part of a performance trip for Jeff's choir. We celebrated Shabbat together at the Great Synagogue and at HUC, walked around the Old City, shopped ALOT, heard Jeff's concert, and ate wonderful meals together. A few weeks later, Rabbi Miri and David, the couple I work for at the Kibbutz, called to let me know that they were having dinner with a group from Kansas City that included my grandpa Sam's cousin, Rabbi Art Nemitoff... they invited me to dinner, and I got to visit with family! Last week, as the semester started to seem endless, Emily and Elle came to Israel on the OSU Hillel Birthright Trip and then extended their trip for four days to spend time with me! I got to meet their travel buddies, go with them to a truly obscure bar, and then play "sorority house" with them in my giant bedroom that all of a sudden seemed very tiny with all of us and all of our stuff! Together we celebrated Hanukkah, "celebrated" Christmas, toured the Old City, went shopping, ate alot, and reconnected... it was truly wonderful to have such close friends here with me. Finally, just tonight, I got to meet up with Brian, one of my best friends from high school, for dinner and shopping during his birthright trip! Next week, I believe I'll be meeting up with Andrea, another friend from both OSU and high school. Anyone else want to come visit? I have a comfy futon you can sleep on!!

#3: Celebrations!!

Not everyone would consider a football game a celebration, but when OSU beats Michigan 45 to 7 AND you get to watch that game via the internet with 10 friends in Jerusalem, you have to amend your definition a bit! My classmate Dan Geffen was kind enough to host the party, and I, along with other Big Ten alum classmates and some general football lovers, watched OSU pound on Michigan. Go Bucks!

Michigan Fans, OSU Fans, and a few football lovers together for the OSU Michigan Game!

Just a few days later was Thanksgiving in Jerusalem... the day I was looking forward to the least all year. Thanksgiving in my family is a huge deal- it's often my grandma's birthday, my entire family is in town, and I always spend several days cooking with my grandma and stuffing and sewing the turkey. This year, my family went on a trip (without me!!!) to celebrate my grandma's 75th, and needless to say, I was a little sad. Luckily, the Kef Committee (but really Leslie, the mastermind of meals and parties here in J'lem) put together a WONDERFUL school-wide Thanksgiving dinner. Four of us, including me, who had experience with turkeys, got elected to make the 15 lb "birds" (as my grandma calls them). After an hour of plucking pin feathers that made my index fingers bleed, I put my "bird" in a roasting bag with all my grandma's usual seasonings, put it in the oven, and hoped for the best... luckily, the turkey came out tasting just like it does at home- turns out I really did learn something!! The dinner at school was absolutely wonderful, with everyone coming through with wonderful dishes, a great talk about the Birkat Hamazon (the prayer after eating), donations to the HUC soup kitchen in NYC, and a great game led by Joel where we each wrote down what we were thankful for and then read another person's contribution. It was a wonderful Thanksgiving, all things considered.

the Thansgiving Spread... don't worry, you can't even see the four turkeys!

here's my Turkey!!! I gave it a thumbs-up... hopefully Gram would have, also!

Now it may still be Chanukah here in Israel, and this may be a Jewish country, but yes, I still "celebrated" Christmas here! For starters, feeling nostalgic for Christmas music, Ari, Joel, and I found some internet radio stations and listened to it ALL of last Saturdy while we made a test batch of latkes! I also ventured into the Christian Quarter of the Old City, as well as Mt. Zion, with Joel, Emily, and Elle, to seek out a little Christmas spirit on Christmas Eve... we found some interesting stuff, including a parade of slightly-scary Santas!! Though I missed a bit of the music, I definitely didn't feel too bad about missing commericialized Christmas in the States!

a sign wishing everyone in the Christian Quarter a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year in both English and Arabic!

And of course, we can't forget my very first Chanukah in Israel!! I made test latkes with Joel and Ari, shopped for a new menorah with Emily and Elle (compliments of my parents- thanks, Mom and Dad!), saw Hassidic rabbis light a GIANT menorah with the help of a cherry-picker truck in Zion Square at Ben Yehuda St, made latkes AGAIN with the guys, Joel's roommate, and Em and Elle, lit my new menorah several times with my roommates, my visitors, and Lisa's mom who is visiting, played Chanukah songs with Ari at our school party, participated in Mysterious Menorah (read: Secret Santa) with my classmates, and had a delicious Shabbat + Chanukah dinner at my apartment, courtesy of Lisa and her mom, with lots of friends. Everyone you look there is a reminder of Chanukah- it has been wonderful to celebrate with an entire country of people, and for the first time, to not feel on the outskirts of the holiday season but as part of the majority!

Joel and Ari doing the Latke test-run, complete with Christmas music!

Lisa and me lighting our new Chanukiot (menorahs) on the 5th night!

As a side note, I want to mention what's going on in Israel today... I won't go into the politics of it all, but if you'd like details, please read the news at I can only hope that there will be peace here soon. Please know that I, along with the rest of my classmates, am fine and currently away from any immediate danger. School is monitoring the situation carefully, and we will be as safe as possible in the coming days. I will keep you updated should anything more happen here.

I'll be back in the State for three whole weeks (yay!) starting January 9th, but in the meantime...
Happy 7th Night of Chanukah, Merry Christmas, and (almost) Happy New Year 2009!!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Four Month Mark... Trying to Be American in Israel!

These last three weeks since I returned from Istanbul have certainly been busy and exciting! We are finally into the swing of things at school, and believe me, the work has definitely picked up! Of all my classes, I'm really enjoying History of the Zionist Movement, Israel Seminar, and Cantillation (way of singing/chanting the Torah portions). My history class is taught by a terrific Brit turned Israeli teacher who is so excited about the material and so amazingly smart that you just can't help being excited by the subject. Israel Seminar is the class in which we spend one day a week examining the history and current issues that affect Israeli society. We have been on all kinds of trips, including excursions to the Galilee and Golan Heights, Tel Aviv, neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and most recently, Qumran (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) and Masada. I love my cantillation class, perhaps because it's the most musical thing I get to do here... the class is taught by a cantor and the class is filled mostly with cantorial students, along with a few other musical rabbinic students. The most exciting part is being able to connect my past cantillation experience, newfound knowledge of biblical grammar, and of course, modern Hebrew, with all of the trope (musical markings in the Torah) that I'm learning.

caves at Qumran where many of the scrolls were found

the view from atop Mt. Masada

Outside of class, I have spent another few days at my community service internship at Kibbutz Gezer. Harrison, the other student I work with, and I went out to Gezer a few weeks ago to finally do BOTH parts of our program. In the morning, we worked with prisoners from a nearby jail- they came to visit us at the Kibbutz, where we had a discussion on the weekly Torah portion, picked 70 kilograms of olives, and just got to know each other. It was a very eye-opening and humbling experience for me, even though I have some background in prison work from my time in the social work program at OSU. After the prisoners left, Harrison, David (the head of the education center at Gezer), his wife Miri (the Rabbi at Gezer), two other visitors of theirs, and I went out to lunch at "our place" in nearby Ramla, called Samir's. We also took the olives to be made into olive oil at a shop where we sampled freshly made halva and tahina (both made from sesame seeds). Harrison and I relaxed and studied for a test at Miri and David's in the afternoon, and then lead music for Shabbat evening services at Birkat Shalom, Miri's congregation on the Kibbutz. The congregation really seemed to like our music, and I even got to have a nice chat with some congregants who are recent immigrants from Peru... EN ESPANOL!! It was WONDERFUL to get to lead services again, and I'm really looking forward to going back soon. We finished out the evening with an amazing dinner at Miri and David's with a guest of theirs and their daughter.

In an attempt to connect with the American lives we left behind, the Kef committee sponsored the HUC Halloween Bash of 2008- since Halloween was on Shabbat, we celebrated a day early! Jillian graciously volunteered her apartment and mirpeset (porch) for the party, and Ari and Joel, who were spearheading the event, spent an entire day shopping, decorating, and making food and drinks for the party. Leslie had a bunch of us over for a pre-party finger food dinner, which was delicious as always. We spent the rest of the evening at the party with "witches brew", candy, popcorn, and a costume contest. Jaclyn won the contest with her very convincing Sarah Palin, while I came in a close second as Facebook.

me as Facebook!

The weather all of a sudden turned from summer (85+ degrees everyday, very dry, and sunny) to winter (60 degrees for most of the day, somewhat cloudy, and damp and rainy) almost overnight. As a result, I've been trying to be a little more physically active, especially so I don't get the "winter blahs" by sitting inside too much. I have been taking a Tae Kwon Do class taught by a fellow student, which has been a lot of fun and good exercise, though it's frustrating not to remember much from those many years of Tae Kwon Do in middle school! I also joined the HUC flag football team, called the Wise Guys (after Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, who founded HUC)... we lost our first game last night, but to be fair, we were missing half of our team due to illness, had had one practice prior to the game, and played a team that's been together for years. We still had a great time, though, and despite pulling several leg muscles (really, seeing me walk right now is super interesting) while warming up, I managed to pull off a GREAT play in the second half- 7ish yard catch that turned into another 40 rushing yards!! I unfortunately may have to leave choir, which I have been enjoying, to play football, but I really am enjoying running around outside since I spend so much of every day sitting in class. I am getting my singing taken care of in cantillation and at Kibbutz Gezer, so I should be okay.

Last weekend, I hit the four month mark... since I'll be spending around three weeks at home in January and leaving in the last week of May, the end of December will be halfway! It's been a great adventure so far, but I'm definitely missing family, friends, Sean, and of course, my life in the States. Luckily, I've been getting lots of emails and phone calls, the occassional piece of mail (that's really the Israeli post office's fault), and even flowers!!

"Flowers from Flowers"... Sean sent roses for our anniversary :)

The big event of the last few weeks, however, had to be last night's election. I took a nap from midnight until 1:45am, and then woke up to watch election coverage with Joel and Ari in my living room! We watched yucky Fox News on mute on the TV (it's the only news channel we get) and CNN/MSNBC on the slingbox that's hooked up to Sean's cable in Columbus. We had a GREAT time watching the election, drinking coffee, coloring in maps, and of course, toasting Obama's win with champagne at 6am!! By the way, I received my absentee ballot at the LAST MINUTE yesterday, just in time to stick it in the mail to be counted! Luckily, my wonderful state of Ohio (and even my usually Republican Hamilton county) went for Obama anyway, so they didn't even need me! After the election, we all headed to school on almost no sleep to meet our friends, the majority of whom greeted us and each other with cheers and hugs! I am truly proud to be an Ohioan and an American today... it's about time that this country opted for something and someone new and fresh, and it's DEFINITELY time we elected someone different to the White House- I am proud to be part of a country that can elect a Black man to be president, especially a man that is running against an white, protestant, male war hero. It just goes to show that the American people wanted change, knew who the right man for the job was, and wasn't afraid to vote for him despite lingering racism in this country. I'm optimistic about the next few years in the States, and I'm excited to see what the future brings.

Joel updates our HUC classmates who are in the airport on their way to Berlin, while I stick my head through the divider between my room and the living room to show off Joel's electoral map!

Joel, Ari, and me toasting President-elect Obama at 6am!

Congratulations America!