I've been in Israel for one week now, and everything has been incredible. It took me a little while (or rather, it took my stomach a little while) to adjust, but I am loving it. Yossi decided to spend two weeks of his winter break here too, so we flew in together and spent the first night in Ra'anana with friends of his. I got to experience the Israeli train system - which is pretty awesome. They've got double-decker trains and really clear announcements for all the stops and connections (mostly in Hebrew but it was a good thing the ones at the airport were also in English so we knew where to go).
The next morning I headed to Ramat HaSharon for an awesome weekend. Lauren (Reibstein, first cousin who's also in Israel right now) and I stayed at Rita and Ilan Aloni's house and experienced the whirlwind that descends when all of the cousins come for Friday night dinner. Everyone was there: Orly and Neri with their kids Mica, Amitai, and baby Lihi; Michal and Yigal with their kids Romi and Alon; and even Shir and Yael from all the way up north with Yuval, Edo, and Maya. We had a blast playing with everyone and catching up, and of course we also enjoyed sleeping late on Saturday morning. I have to admit that I had been concerned before going, since our Israeli cousins are secular and sometimes forget that I observe Shabbat and Kashrut, but they made sure to make vegetarian food for me, and we took a walk around the area on Shabbat afternoon, so I was really pleased about how well it worked out. Lauren and I made our way to Jerusalem that night, and I think it took about as long to get from the bus station to my apartment as it did to get there from Tel Aviv. Luckily, with the help of two friendly bus drivers and some patient old ladies, we made it to the right place.
Since then I've been living in Jerusalem and learning my way around. I spend (almost) every day at the Conservative Yeshiva from Shachrit (morning) services at 7:30AM until Maariv (evening) services at 6:30, of course with lots of learning going on in between. Since day one everyone has been so welcoming and friendly, and I really feel at home there. I am with people who are totally dedicated to learning and to living in a Conservative lifestyle, and it's really refreshing. It is such a great feeling to know that I am learning incredible things, purely for the sake of learning, and with people who genuinely want to be there to learn. This week both Conservative rabbinical schools came to give presentations, do interviews, and obviously recruit, so we had free lunch every day, along with presentations about why the world needs more Jewish educators, etc. Actually in my Talmud class yesterday I looked around and realized that of the 5 of us present, I was the only one not intending to go to rabbinical school. Oy. But Reb Mordechai, my teacher, assured me that I don't have to be a rabbi, and that's ok. It sounds funny, but after a week of rabbinical school overload, I really appreciated it. I thanked him because I think sometimes people forget how badly our movement needs active lay people. I desperately want to be one of those people.
The excitement with Bush in town has impacted the entire city, but not in the way you'd expect. I haven't seen protests or even many angry posters hung up. Mostly, Israelis are just annoyed because it's generated a lot of traffic with all the road-closures. Parts of my street is quite often closed off to cars, and even pedestrians. When I walked out of the Yeshiva yesterday I told to join a small clump of people on the sidewalk and told we weren't allowed to go anywhere because Bush's motorcade was about to go by. We waited for a little while, and then we saw one official looking car drive by us, albeit on the wrong side of the street. A few seconds later two motorcycles went by, and then all of the sudden forty cars, vans, SUV's and motorcycles came streaming by, all with official looking signs and blinking lights and secret service people dressed in black suits. All in all it was totally worth the delay, and we did actually see Bush waving as he drove past us. Yossi and I ran into the motorcade again last night when we were walking to meet his cousins for dinner. Maybe the president's following me. Of course neither time did I have my camera on me.
So I finally have started to feel like I actually live here. I am subletting a room in an apartment very close to the Yeshiva, and it's taken a little while to learn my way around. I have a cell phone that accepts the SIM card I bought (speaking of which, if you're in the area and want my Israeli cell number, just send me an e-mail). I have a space heater that actually works, which is an incredible improvement since most apartments don't have heat and it's 56 degrees inside. I learned how long I need to wait for the water heater to warm up before I take a shower - unfortunately by trial and error. I even know where the meat and dairy sections of the kitchen are, and I have clean laundry mostly thanks to Yossi's cousins who are fortunate enough to own a dryer in addition to a washing machine. Those are just some of the little crazy experiences that I have been muddling through this week in order to feel settled, and now, just in time for Shabbat, everything is coming together.
Wishing everyone an enjoyable weekend,