Monday, June 27, 2011

A trip to the shuk, some surprise (and not-so-surprise) run-ins (not with the law), a lemon tree, and a concert

Friday: woke up at a nice, decent time, and Amir came over to hang out and see the apartment. We were here for a while, then I went to meet Leah at the shuk to do our Friday veggies shopping (which means first walking through the entire shuk and getting an idea for what prices are like, and then going through again to find the cheapest spots).

Leah had been there for a while, and head to head out soon, because she had to take a bus to our apartment, unload groceries, catch a bus back to the Central Bus Station, and then one to her friend's house--all on the same transfer. I spent a long while there after she left just wandering around, enjoying the crowd of people all out to buy fresh produce before shabbat, the tourist groups, the Chicago Write On group I ran into (Ron's brother looks exactly like him! And they were wearing the hats, of course...), and of course find spots to get 7 onions for a shekel (30 cents) and other quite cheap produce. All of a sudden, this guy in a trucker hat and big sunglasses gave me a huge bear hug; only after I made him take off his sunglasses did I realized it was Daniel, a friend from the mechina. He was on his way to meet a whole gang of mechinistim who were meeting up on Ben Yehuda street, so when I was done with my shopping I trekked over to the ice cream shop they were at and saw a whole host of mechina friends I hadn't yet seen.

I had intended to go to Haifa for the weekend, to stay with my friend Ofir, but the army surprised his unit by making them stay on the base for Shabbat, so I didn't. Sam's family has generously extended an open invitation to their house for Shabbat meals, but I wanted to try something a little gutsy: take Shira Chadasha up on the offer it makes at the end of every Kabbalat Shabbat Friday night service to have guests hosted by synagogue members. [Oh, and ran into Josh Bloomberg on my way there]. Only guess what? Just my luck that in the announcements (which they usually read in Hebrew and then translate to English, but this one was made only in Hebrew) they said, "guys, we're really short on hosts for meals in the summer. This shabbat, for example, we have no one signed up to host. So if you've "forgotten" to sign up, please send me an email this week!" Imagine the thoughts running through my head: where am I going to eat? I don't actually know where anyone lives! Okay, I guess I could defrost some pita... That sounds pretty miserable." Trying to be Israeli (or at least act like it), I went up to the woman who had made the announcements and asked her, in Hebrew, "look, I know you said there were no hosts, but I was wondering if you could find someone...?" After half-asking a person, she said no. So I decided to play the American card, and went up to another woman who looked like she kind of knew how things work there.... I said "I'm wondering if anyone is hosting for meals tonight?" And she gave me a big hug, asked if I was "just one" and said, "You'll be my guest tonight!" Naturally, the woman is none other than Tova Hartman, founder of Shira Chadasha, and one of the biggest and most important names in bringing feminism to Orthodox Judaism. We made an easy connection, especially because the other family having dinner at their house is a Chicago family--whose daughter not only knows DD, but was also in the same class at CJDS as my cousin!

Moving on to Saturday I woke up too late for shul, so instead I went to the park across the street to start reading Start-Up Nation in preparation for Saul Singer's (co-author) lecture to the Shalem interns. It's a beautiful spot to sit and read, if you don't get easily distracted by five-year-old Israeli boys playing soccer with each other and little girls scooting around on "balance bikes" in their shabbat dresses. But a nice Shabbat scene, that one could easily confuse with the famous "Sunday in the Park with George" painting that hangs in a gallery in the Art Institute of Chicago. After a few hours of reading I headed up to the house where I had babysat--the grandparents had invited me for Shabbat lunch ("provided you don't mind lots of children running around")--well, lots of children meant 7 (all under the age of six), which is less than half the number of grandchildren they have. It was quite a nice lunch, and I'm always intrigued to see the way people interact with their families as opposed with their friends and acquaintances (ie: I thought the sarcasm and nudnikking, etc. between siblings was supposed to stop sometime around the point when everyone is in/finishing college, but that's not necessarily the rule...).

When I got back to the apartment, I met up with some friends from the mechina. We hung out at the apartment and at a nice cafe nearby, and then later that night I went into "the city", where I had another not-so-surprise run-in with WOFI (Mitch Fogelson!), Billy Schoenburg (working on a new album!) and Joel Pachefsky--and a former camper of mine, who I only recognized because he was wearing a big OSRUI sweatshirt. Waiting for the bus back to the apartment, I realized that it was a unique chance to take the number 4, as I knew that there was a stop literally outside the door of our apartment (I'd never taken it the other direction, because I didn't know where it went).

Sunday meant the end of the weekend, but certainly not the end of the fun. It was sort of a lazy day at work, since our meetings were cancelled. But I got to read a lot, and the lecture with Saul Singer was quite interesting. It sort of reminded me of the type of environment I was in at the mechina--intimate, questions accepted and encouraged, and real answers expected. Sam, Leah, and I made plans to go to Adriel's after see, our washing machine is quite smaller, and Leah hadn't done laundry in the month she'd been here and Sam and I were both accumulating quite a pile, as well. But we were also going to cook there (our kitchen also does not have a working oven).

I'd walked back from downtown one time with Adriel, so I knew what the traffic circle by his house looked like. Luckily, I'd also gotten lost on my way to Saturday lunch, which allowed me to realize that that very traffic circle was in a place I actually knew how to navigate to. We got to his house, and the first thing we noticed was the beautiful lemon tree, heavy with dangling fruit ready to be picked. As soon as we got the first load of laundry in the machine and the potatoes in one pot and lentils in another, we set outside to pick them. After climbing in the tree proved not-so-effective, and actually quite dangerous (who knew lemon trees had thorns!?), Sam decided to whack the tree with a broom, and Leah would catch them as they fell.

Then he realized that shaking the tree would work better, and a heavy rain of lemons cascaded down, exploding open upon impact with the Jerusalem-stone ground.

We collected around 33, I think, and used all the exploded ones to make lemonade (I will not provide details about water: sugar ratios. That's simply unnecessary...).

We ate a delicious dinner and Adriel's grandparents were, I believe, thoroughly impressed by the wafting smells when they returned to the house.

As we waited for the last of the loads of laundry (not quite. We actually left one in the dryer for Adriel to bring to Shalem in the morning) to come out of the dryer, we watched the beginning of Toy Story 3 with Ben&Jerry's ice cream (with raspberries and blueberries on top, of course!) at a volume appropriate to the "simultaneous tsunami and hurricane" occurring in his house at the time.

Monday: a relatively normal day, except that the evening was occupied by a free chamber concert at the Jerusalem Theater given by the Carmel Quartet, the quartet in which my tutoree/babysittee's father is the violist. For those who are interested (Gideon, Grandma), the pieces were Michael Haydn's String Quintet in C Major (this concert had a guest "second viola"), Paul Ben-Haim's String Quintet (the Israeli Premiere. Yoel said that the piece has only been performed once before, and that his Quartet has sole rights to make a recording of it!), and Dvorak's Strig Quintet in E flat major Op. 97. The concert was actually being recorded to be broadcast later on radio, so find it and listen for me clapping--it's extra-loud!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

So what does an intern at a thinktank do? (And other things that keep me busy)

Alright, I suppose the time has come to write about what I'm actually doing.

I'm one of 8 (and one more is coming next week) interns at the Shalem Center, a think tank in Jerusalem, for the summer. Our "diversity" of colleges is slightly disgusting: 2 Princetons, 3 Yalies (two of whom are my roommates), 1 Harvard, 1 Penn, 1 Hebrew U, and 1 UToronto grad school.

I am one of four (me, the two Yalies I'm living with--Leah and Sam, and the Penn guy--Adriel) working with Danny Gordis [who, if you've been in the middle of nowhere and haven't seen the ripples he's made recently with his JStreet and Are Young Rabbis Turning On Israel? article, then you should read those and some of the talkbacks]. Anyway, what we primary do is edit the book he's working on now. I asked Danny earlier today how much of what we're doing I can "post freely on the internet" and he was pretty much chill with everything, but I actually can't remember if he said the book's premise was game, so I'll hold off on that for now.

What I can say is that it's been very interesting. We're not doing the nitty-gritty typo-fixing (okay, well, we are. Just because it's a rough copy of the book, so there are lots of typos and spelling things and simple things that get left unnoticed when you're reading your own manuscript dozens of times, but get picked up immediately when new eyes scan it). For the most part, we're reading for ideas. And one thing that's true about Danny Gordis is that he's extremely receptive to criticism--Leah and I sit next to each other, and have at length ripped apart some of his arguments (as have the guys). The five of us meet together in excess of an hour and a half each day, during which we basically tell him what we think needs to be fixed--from a stray comma to a better word to a rearranged paragraph to a huge cut, to a restructured argument, to a complete slashing of an idea that doesn't actually work... We watch him put in the changes, and give commentary in realtime, and then we print up a clean copy and do it again. 

It's kind of like doing copy for the Prince, but much much much more interesting. Because it actually feels like we have some influence in what will eventually be published in this book. A real book! That people are going to read!

Another benefit of working in Israel is that, even in the summer, people drink endless cups of tea. Which I love. Also, Sam, Leah and I bought a watermelon at the shuk (outdoor market) on Sunday, and brought it to work to share with everyone. Delicious!

Other news: This is national Hebrew Book Week, which means that all over the country, people are celebrating the Hebrew language, its revival, and the fact that modern books can be written (and translated into) a language that was dead as a vernacular for millenia. There are book fairs and sales all over the country, and yesterday I went to the one in Jerusalem. Confirmed my love for books :)

Today I babysat! I babysat for the younger sister of one of the boys I tutored during this past year at school. (I've babysat for them in Princeton, too, but they're back in Jerusalem for the summer). The father, a viola player, had a concert tonight, and the entire family (his wife, the boy I tutored, his parents, his wife's parents, etc.) all went to hear him play. Leaving the two-year-old. I babysat her at her grandparents' house (one of the most beautiful houses I've ever seen! I guess that what happens when you design your own house...)

as soon as they found out that i was "the one who taught uri all year" they were raving: "we took uri to the jewish/israel museum today and he knew everything! you are amazing! such a good teacer...." bla bla bla

The actual babysitting was one of those times that just sort of reaffirms for you how much you love something. She's just such a sweet girl, very easy. After her bath and some stories, I put her in bed, and sang to her for half an hour, which I love to do--but I never sing like that in front of someone who's not a baby. I always always start with the Shma and the Moon Song (Grandma's friend Sandy and camp have taught me well). Mostly I sang tefillot (prayers) to beautiful tunes that I know from camp. I stopped, because I wanted her to fall asleep, but she immediately said, "o-pam" (babytalk for "od pa'am" which means "again"). She wanted me to keep singing to her!

And then she fell asleep in my lap. Which is the sweetest thing a baby can do.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Lincoln Park Zoolights. But in Jerusalem. And not at the zoo

Tonight (after shopping trip number two, and delicious dinner number two--sauteed onions and garlic fried with eggplants, olive oil, tomato sauce, and corn, plus more fresh bread) a bunch of the interns headed to the Old City (on foot. which is fine, but somehow the walk back felt much longer than the walk there...) for the annual Jerusalem Lights Festival. Pretty much self explanatory, although to give a feel, I'm putting up some pictures.

One of the most interesting parts, however, is that it's one of the few times of the year that Jews walk through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, as one of the Lights Routes goes through it. It's an interesting model--nothing is going on, everyone's getting along. Makes you wonder if there was always a "thing" (exhibit, etc.) if everyone could be a bit more open about things?

[More updates about the actual internship tomorrow, I hope. Right now it's late and I'm heading to bed]

First of the cool light displays in the Old City (Armenian Quarter route). Lights projected onto the walls, and there was cool music playing, too.

Sweet! It's like a big layer-cake candy-machine made out of what look like big tea-lights, and ping-pong balls get carried up the side and then pop out of the top at you. And the lights are changing colors the whole time.

One of the cooler light displays. They've created this entire animation to display on the gate  (Damascus Gate--at the end of the route that goes through the Muslim Quarter. Particularly cool, because that's not an area that one generally gets to walk through) that fits it perfectly. As you'll see in the next picture, the animation changes every couple of minutes. This one is Alice in Wondeland (Naomi!) 

Another of the animations. Not sure what story it's from, but it's an Old Man Tree.

Old train tracks--now out of use and surrounded by grass--running through the Muslim Quarter

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A series of firsts

Well, last night was supposed to be a "Welcome Abby to Israel" party thrown by my Mechina friends, but it went a little funny. As in, classic "guest of honor doesn't show up" funny. Lots of misunderstandings over who keeps Shabbat and who's driving Abby there and everyone else thinking that someone else has Abby... in the end I took the bus there and got there at around 11:30pm, when only about ten or so people were still around, and left around 12:30. It was a bit ridiculous, but in any case great to see everyone that was still there.

[re: shabbat. Friday night I went to Shira Chadasha for two reasons. One, I've never been. Two, Galya was bringing her soldiers there, so we planned to meet up. Turned out that the GGs--Noa and her mom--were there, too! I had dinner with Shani and her family. Saturday morning I walked to Yedidya, which is where pretty much any Hyde Parkers that have moved to Israel go. It was Sarah Kass's (Miriam's sister) daughter's bat mitzvah, and there were a bunch of people that many of you know there. Then I had lunch at Yoni Stern's house (I haven't seen him in years!) with Gabe and Zohar (Gideon). Wandered around a bit with a friend from Princeton, and then met up with some friends of my roommate, Sam, then went back to Sam's aunt's for dinner. Then the whole mess with the party...].

The first of the firsts: today was our first day at Shalem. A lot of today was just explanations of what we're going to be doing, setting up accounts on the computers, tours of the building, meeting with some of the researchers (continues throughout the week). Plus, of course, meeting each other! And wandering around.

Second of the firsts: Sam, Leah and I made our first big shopping trip. And when I say big, I mean BIG. We went to the shuk--the outdoor market--and got stuff that'll last us through this week, if not longer. Man, food is expensive! We got an entire watermelon for $1.50, though (the produce is from Friday, so Sunday evenings they sell it dirt-cheap). Tomorrow we'll see if it's good...

Last of firsts: we made our first meal! And it was delicious. Sam had brought delicious bread that we ate with olive oil, and we made Israeli salad (+ orange peppers) and omelettes, and also had fresh lafa (a kind of bread) with hummus. And fresh yellow plums for dessert. It was quite scrumptious!

And tomorrow begins the first "real" day of work!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Hiking with Jonah

Went hiking with Jonah on Wednesday, and came back today (Thursday). We went up to the Carmel (north) and though we didn't stick to our original plans (much to ambitious) we did have a great time. We started out on the red "Sfonim cave and spring" trail--which, as you guessed, has both a cave and a spring. Took us a lot longer than we expected because the trail was so poorly marked, that we ended up having to go over long stretches twice so we could end up on the proper trail. We camped in Tirat Carmel in an old abandoned house (better than the other options, although took me 2 hours to fall asleep because of the noises from all the animals), and there was a community center right down the hill, so we were able to use the bathrooms and fill up water, etc. Saw the Total Lunar Eclipse, thanks to mom calling me to let me know about it! And something I learned during Survival Week came in handy--what nutritious dinner foods you can make without a stove!
Took us a long time to even find the trailhead (blue, "Keden Spring" trail) but once we did it was pretty easy going, except for all the thorns that slashed my legs up (oh well). Today was an excellent hike, though. Complete with a nice spring/pool, and funny exchanges with the group of schoolboys we ran into.
See pictures below for some highlights.

Once we got back and I'd showered, I met up with a bunch of friends from the Mechina for a few hours in Jerusalem.

Jonah in the first cave on our trail

Up there--you see that hole? That's the cave we had to crawl through in order to continue on the trail. Luckily, we ran into some other hikers, otherwise we'd have spent hours looking for how to get from up there to down where the picture is taken from...

By the red marker to the right of the cow, you can see how close it was to the trail (ie: on it). We had to pass so many cows during the hike!
Where we slept... in a tent in an abandoned house.

The cows that didn't shut up ALL NIGHT (in addition to the foxes howling and the roosters cockadoodling)

What we ate for lunch: "tuna steak"

The spring (ayn kedem) from the hike. Felt so good--until a group of forty 6th and 7th grade boys came along...

I find something to add to my pack on every hike

At the end (finished near the University of Haifa)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A brief summary of what has happened since leaving Chicago:
1. Run into family friend/former babysitter at the airport in Newark with her two boys
2. Sylvie Render's (camp) parents sit the row behind me on the flight to Israel
3. My luggage does not arrive to Tel Aviv
4. The girl I sat next to on the plane is on my monit sheirut (ie: group taxi, ie: tro tro (Julie!)) to Jerusalem, and lives 3 blocks away from where I'll be living
5. Get to Shani's house (!!!!!) and hang out with her for a while, then go meet Amir [both Mechina friends] for late-night hamburgers and catching up. 
6. Avoid jetlag by waiting until a little after midnight to go to bed

1. Wake up at a decent hour (ie: 10am?)
2. Around noon, leave to visit the Mechina--who should happen to be on my bus to the Central Bus Station but Maxim Leyenson?! (Mutual recognition).
3. Arrive at the Mechina, talk with Dan (madrich) a bit and Gilad (head of the mechina), meet the chulnikim (non-American Mechina kids) that I recruited last year, including Rachel Hirsch, who I actually know.
4. Get a ride back to Jerusalem from the Mechina from Noa Asher's husband, Daniel (Daniel Gastfriend, this is for you!)
5. Wander around a bit, walk past the apartment (have not yet moved in)--looks nice, it's by a park, there's a garden...
6. Meet Jonah Rosenberg at his sister-in-law's house, where we ate delicious home-baked muffins and played with her baby chicks, and planned our route for our hiking trip
7. Wandered around some more and ended up at Anna B.'s house (Hyde Parkers...) and succeeded in seeing each kid for at least 5 minutes (!), and had dinner there
8. Back to Shani's house to receive my suitcase (yay!) and finish planning the trip with Jonah:
    we're going hiking for two days in the north. Not really sure where, but Jonah's got the maps. Should be nice! I'll post about that (and hopefully with pictures) when I'm back.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

צרו קשר/Contact info for the summer

אהלן חבר'ה
אני מגיעה מחרתיים, יום ב' ה12.6, וחוזרת לארה"ב ב15.8

אם בא לכם להיפגש או משהו (אני מקווה שכן!) אז הנה:
1. 052-312-6214 (תתקשרו או תסמסו)
2. אני בודקת כל שנייה
3. פייסבוק
4. אני גרה בדירה במושבה הגרמנית בירושלים. אם תהיו באיזור, תרימו טלפון וכבר נסדר איפה נפגש. אתם גם מוזמנים לדירה

מתרגשת, ומקווה לראות את כוכלם בחדשיים הקרובים

I will be in Jerusalem for the summer, flying tomorrow (Sunday, June 12) and coming back to the States on August 15. 

While I'm there, I'm intending to post with some semblence of regularity on this blog [Don't worry, it'll be in English!]

Should you want to reach me (please do!) You can
1. Call me: 011-972-52-312-6214 (that's how you dial from the US)
2. Text me: Same number
2. Email me: abionsky "at" gmail "dot" com
3. Facebook me: duh
4. Comment on the blog (!)
5. Come visit me!: (To do this, contact me using one of the above methods, and we will coordinate)
6. Snail mail: I will publicize information should this option become a viable possibility. 

I'll be living in the German Colony in Jerusalem, so if you're in the neighborhood give me a ring. 

Have a great summer!