Sunday, November 30, 2008

11 Ways Not To Go To Israel...

1) With a pair of high heels: You will not ever need a pair of high heels. If you need a pair of high heels during your trip to Israel, you probably screwed up and went to the wrong country.

2) On a diet: Yes, there is lots of healthy fruits and veggies readily available in Israel. But there's lots of awesome unhealthy foods like cheeses and chocolates. Don't even bother trying to stick to your diet.

3) Without a "Boyfriend Card": He doesn't need to be real, but you need some response for all the stalkerish guys inevitably hitting on you. A "Lesbian Card" might be a helpful backup card too, but you have to have really good timing to play this one.

4) Thinking you will learn Hebrew: Immersion only works if you actually speak Hebrew to every person you interact with and make them speak Hebrew to you too.

5) Without Family Members in Israel: Family members in Israel are amazing. They are an invaluble source of food, money, and free places to stay. If you don't have any family members of your own in Israel, try to borrow someone else's.

6) Thinking you are getting a good deal: Unless you are Brazilian, you are going to get ripped off a lot. Even when you are haggling and you think you are getting an awesome bargain, you are probably still getting screwed. If you've been in Israel long enough to find yourself thinking you are getting a great deal on something, you probably don't have the income stream to afford it anyway.

7) With too much stuff: It's just a pain to go to Israel with a ton of clothing, you're still going to be forgetting something, and you need room for gifts. Too many overpacked suitcases is bad.

8) On an impulse/without a set itinerary: This sounds so romantic and daring, but in real life, you'll spend a lot of time feeling stupid.

9) Thinking you will feel at home because everyone is Jewish: Yeah....because all Jews are the same....And because the presence of Jews in a foreign country means it is not a foreign country...

10) With skin problems: Israel has this great way of getting you sunburnt and peeling, exacerbating your acne, making your dry skin flakier and your oily skin oilier, giving you blisters and giving you massive bug bites.

11) With a past: Murphy's Law of Israel: The worst, most awkward and horrible hookup you ever had during your Jewish summer camp days that you try your very hardest to erase from memory, will magically run into you in Israel, remember this unfortunate event in full detail, and desperately want to hook up again.

Add your own.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How Is the Adjustment to American Life, Nadine?

I'm back in the USA.

Everyone asks some variant of that title question, what's the hardest adjustment? What do you miss most? What's the best thing about being back? Is it weird being back? etc. etc.

I have a few prepared responses: the currency, the prices, the language barrier, the people, the work environment, public transportation vs. driving, the food, television, allergies....I'll elaborate on one or more of these depending on the audience and environment. But truthfully, the biggest change between my life in Israel and my life in America is all about my attitude.

The truth, and also the answer to why I didn't learn any Hebrew and why I didn't feel at home enough to consider Aliyah, is that I didn't want to meet people in Israel. Any random strangers I met outside of Career Israel or my job, sure, it would have been nice to meet people and hear new stories, but I didn't want them to meet me. Outside of picking up and going to Israel, my identity is really unexciting: mundane family life, mundane hometown, degree from a college that no one's ever heard of, in subjects I know nothing about and am not pursuing a career in, no career path, no observable talents and absolutely zero knowledge on any possible conversation topic. It's humiliating enough meeting new people in my own country, let alone a foreign country where your fellow conversationalist might make you repeat the same pathetic explanation three times on a crowded bus because it doesn't neatly translate into his/her native language.

So, for the most part, whenever I encountered anyone, the storeowner, the monit driver, the bus passengers (religious and secular), the arsim, the bartender, the cashier, the soldier, I scripted my identity to be as temporary as possible. Oh, I'm a tourist, I said. Staying at a friend's apartment for the week. I'm on vacation. I don't have a cell phone. Actually, I'm leaving tomorrow, I told the woman offering me a shidduch and the sex-hungry arse, anything to end the conversation faster.

So really, I didn't belong in Israel because I didn't even try opening up and trying to belong anywhere. The language barrier remained a barrier because I was too ashamed of my shortcomings to even attempt to cross it.

Of course, it's not like I was blind to these before I came to Israel. A good part of why I decided to come in the first place was because I was so fed up with making small talk at reunions about above-stated mundane family life, living at home in unexotic location, job I didn't like and did not make for good conversation because it was all confidential, and knowing absolutely nothing, that I thought that picking up and going to Israel would be the perfect way to brighten my dull identity. Clearly, I would come back a million times wiser and more experienced and the sheer fact that I even went to Israel brilliantly unique in itself.

So I came back excited to brag about having gone to Israel. In the USA, I wanted to talk about myself. Only it backfired. When I told the synagogue congregants about my visions for a new career path, they stared blankly and asked what on earth that had to do with chemistry. My friends welcomed me back, but made it clear in their body language and actual language that they thought I was an idiot. And the relatives of my friend-who-much-to-my-dismay-is-becoming-increasingly-boyfriend-like didn't really care and continued to ask asinine questions about the "relationship" because that is obviously the most important aspect of my identity.

In Israel, I wanted my identity to be temporary and boring. In America, I wanted my identity to be more lasting and dazzling.

I suppose that's the difference that colored the experiences between living there and here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cultural Observations

Secular Israeli Guys:

  1. Wear tight jeans

  2. Think American girls are easy

  3. Smoke

  4. Are obsessed with facebook

  5. Call. Way too much.

  6. Do not treat on dates
  7. Cannot pronounce the name "Nadine"
  8. Are assholes
  9. Are Sephardic

French Jews:

  1. Are Sephardic

  2. Are less assimilated into French society than American Jews are assimilated into American society

  3. Speak multiple languages

  4. Listen to really bad music (i.e. "Stash Stash" by Fatal Bazooka, although Fatal Bazooka's other songs are not bad)

  5. All the guys have girlfriends back in France, but no problem with cheating

  6. Lose their virginity to a prostitute paid for by their uncle after their Bar Mitzvah

  7. Have little French nationalist spirit

  8. The guys are crappy kissers

  9. Smoke

Haredi/Dati (Religious) Men/Women:

  1. Smoke

  2. Fall asleep on intercity bus rides

Shomer Nagia Yeshiva Boys:

  1. Are the most amazing kissers

Clubs in Israel:

  1. Are much more overtly concerned with keeping proper ratios of guys:girls

  2. Start the partying later, keep partying longer

  3. Have limited dancing space

  4. Play fantastic music for a period of time, followed immediately by a streak of truly awful music

  5. Have bathrooms that are quite clearly intended for fucking in and doing lines of coke in, not urinating in. (as opposed to club bathrooms in the USA, which have separate "Men's" and "Women's" signs, toilet paper, and working sinks, indicating that their primary use is for urination, although clubgoers might fuck/snort coke in them on occassion. In Israel, club bathroom have none of the above mentionned items and instead have leather sofas)

  6. Play a lot of techno

  7. Have glass tables (beware of dancing on with stiletto boots)

Israeli Workplaces:

  1. Have no concept of business casual
  2. Or business formal
  3. Are hardly open between Pesach and Yom Ha'atzmaut
  4. Have no set time by which you have to be in the office
  5. Allow you to take incredibly long lunch breaks
  6. Occasionally pretend to be based in Switzerland so as to avoid angering European and/or Arab clients
  7. Are open on Sundays

Canadian Girls:

  1. Are wild party animals

Canadian Guys:

  1. Are not wild party animals

Israeli Blood Drives:

  1. Have no concept of donor confidentially
  2. Could care less about the sex and drug habits of potential donors
  3. Do not provide cookies
  4. Or stickers
  5. Or t-shirts

Things That Are Expressed the Same Way in Any Language:

  1. I want to have sex with you
  2. Give me money

Monday, May 19, 2008

One Year Anniversary

Today (May 19) marks the one year anniversary of the proudest moment of my life.

How do I commemorate (celebrate?) such a thing?

Truthfully, I'm not entirely sure it is something to celebrate. I feel very distant from the person I was a year ago today when I delivered my first public address at the Baccalaureate Ceremony for Commencement 2007.


To make this entry a little less self-centered and a little more global, I open up discussion on the general subject of anniversaries. What does it mean to celebrate the year after an incredible event? Or the several years after? What does it mean to know that this very date loses a little significance every year, whether it is celebrated or not? Why is the 10th anniversary ascribed somewhat arbitrarily more significance than the 9th or the 11th? And at one point should one cease to celebrate/commemorate the event?

Israel is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its statehood this year. The celebration of the 60th anniversary entails:

*Due to the nature of the national calendar, the day of Rememberance (Yom Ha'zikaron) followed immediately by Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha'atzmaut)
*All-night party in the street (which I did attend)
*Event(s) in Jerusalem for the 40th anniversary of united Jerusalem (which I did not attend, but saw signs for and wish that I did attend)
*Presidential Conference (which I did not attend and wish that I could have)
*Overall party, party, party (this is unconfirmed, but I heard that the day that Yom Ha'atzmaut was supposed to fall on Shabbat; the date was changed to avoid this and allow for more partying. The whole idea of religious vs. national holidays in general is a subject I'd like to blog about at some point, but not now)

Not that everyone celebrates. Anyone who opposed the creation of the state of Israel did not celebrate. This *may* include (because I don't want to make generalizations) Palestinians, Ultra-Orthodox Haredi sects, Hamas, etc. On Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), we witnessed fireworks going off in East Jerusalem from my friend's dorm/apartment in Kfar Hastudentim near Hebrew U.

Even amongst those generally supportive of Israel, there's doubts as to whether or not the state is moving in the right direction. I heard that a group of people wanted to circulate Israel's Declaration of Independence around the Knesset and have all the Knesset members sign it in honor of the 60th (link to Declaration text here). I can't recall how many did sign it, but I do recall hearing that a surprising number of Knesset Members refused to sign for a variety of political and personal reasons and I can't blame them. The lack of reference to G-d has always bothered me on a certain level.


On the one year anniversary of my graduation from college (May 20), I learned of a terrible tragedy that happened to one of the '08 graduates from my alma mater as she and her family were on their way from from the graduation ceremony on May 18. We weren't good friends, but we were acquaintances, and our paths crossed a number of times because of our mutual friends and not very mutual political views. Truly great, good-hearted sweet girl.

I'm still in shock about this.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lost in Translation, Part 1

We are two thirds of the way finished with Ulpan (Hebrew language classes) before we start our internships.

Ulpan here is a fascinating exercise in foreign language education. Class is five hours a day in the morning (with two breaks approx. 15-20 mins each). I'm in kitah "aleph plus" (advanced beginner level class). But what I think is the most interesting aspect of Ulpan is that about 40% of my class is made up of native French speakers.

See, there's Career Israel, the program I'm doing my internship through, and then a separate track for native French speakers designed with Francophone lecturers and tour guides so the French kids can get more out of the experience. The French track does a lot of their educational programming separately from our group, but we live together and have Ulpan classes together.

Which makes Ulpan much more interesting. Before Ulpan, I had this mistaken assumption that Europeans have no problems speaking and understanding English. You'd think I would know better after hanging out with Laetitia over the summer and knowing how she struggled. But Laetitia would always be apologizing for her English even though it was fantastic and all the French kids here do the same thing, so after awhile, I would just stop believing them. Like when someone asks you to teach them how to play tennis and then they kick your ass when you play - you stop believing that they don't know how to play. And especially given that this whole program has quite clearly demonstrated the huge gaps in my French knowledge (more on that in the upcoming "Lost in Translation, Part 2" entry), I've been so humbled to the point where I think the French kids could teach me English.

But in Ulpan, I witnessed the French kids translating all the Hebrew words into French, translating our instructors answers into French and it made me realize that English doesn't come naturally for them. I was sitting next to Axel one day and he had a sheet with the Hebrew words for fruits and vegetables and the French translations of them, I don't know, it was just interesting reading that sheet.

I try to help out with the French translations where I can too. I've learned that it's better to play down my French abilities (and lack of abilities), but it's a cool feeling when one of the French kids sitting next to me asks, "Ma zeh tutim?" and Inbal, our Ulpan instructor says "strawberries" and when the question-asker still looks blank, I can say "fraises" and see that instant glow of recognition on his face. It was also cool today when Yoshi and I were reading a dialogue and we asked David a question about a phrase we didn't understand, David answered me in French and I translated to English for Yoshi.

It does get confusing though. It so happens that the French guys in our class, especially Axel, are real jokers too. Once during the first week of Ulpan, I found myself sitting in between them. They were translating everything into French, but they were also making all kinds of jokes. I was paying attention to all their joking around, a)because I understood too much to tune it out completely the way a non French speaker could and b) because I needed to prove to myself that I hadn't completely lost my French and c) it's just fun to feel included in that group. At the same time that I'm trying to make sense of the French surrounding me, I was also trying to listen and understand the lesson that was being taught in Hebrew and by the end, my brain was just fried.

The other thing is that I'm getting to the point where I can ask and answer some simple questions in Hebrew (although it takes a good minute or two to piece my sentences together) so whenever I want to make some small talk with one of the French kids, I'm torn between which language to use. Today, I was talking to Leticia about possibly rooming together in Tel Aviv - I started explaining in French about how I wouldn't mind keeping Shabbat in the room and then when I got to the word "room," the first word that came to my head was "heder" not "chambre" because we were just learning vocabulary related to apartments. So then I found myself speaking in some francais-ivrit mess (like franglais, only it was with Hebrew) about how I wouldn't have parties in the room on Shabbat because I have a four day weekend (I'll only be working three days a week!) and finally, Leticia just switched to English because I was making no sense at all by this point. Turns out she was able to find a roommate who would be respectful of Shabbat observance anyway. But even little conversations too, like whenever I see the incredibly adorable 18-year-old in the French group, I would like to say hello because he's so good-looking, and yet, I never know what language to use. Not that I knew what to say to him before, but now that I know he's learning Hebrew, it makes it ironically harder to start a conversation.

I haven't come to a conclusion yet on whether I think Ulpan here is harder for me or for one of the French speakers in my class. We face different challenges. For me, both French and Hebrew are "foreign" languages because I'm still learning them and since I've taken French before, my first instinct in Ulpan is to think of French words first because it's the more familiar foreign language. It's also annoying how the very common "le" means "the" in French and "to" in Hebrew. The worst is when I'm doing a dialogue in class with one of the French speakers - I always find myself throwing in French words because I instinctively think I'm supposed to be speaking to them in French. I'm getting a lot better with this though.

But at least my Hebrew teacher speaks my native language. The French speaker is always translating from two different "foreign" languages. I felt bad today when David asked me to translate a definition into French and it was a word I hadn't the slightest idea how to explain it. Something else that sticks out in my mind is the time I ran into Yohan and his friend at the bus station and we were taking the bus back to the kibbutz after the free weekend - at one point, Yohan needed me to explain to the bus driver where we were going and ask him to make an announcement when we got to the stop because he didn't know sufficient English or Hebrew himself- I just realized at that moment how scary it is when you are in a foreign country where there's no real safety net in your language to fall back on. Like pretty much everyone in Israel knows English and while there's plenty of Israelis who know French, they are much harder to locate.

Then there's people like Marcelo (actually, both Marcelos), one from Brazil and one from Argentina, and not only is English a second language, but they don't even have that readily available Spanish or Portuguese to fall back on...I give them a lot of credit...

PS. Look for the upcoming "Lost in Translation, Part 2" for some highly entertaining (and slightly less PG Rated...) translation related stories....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Israel = Home?

I always wonder about American Jews who visit Israel and call it "home" immediately. I can understand the incredible peoplehood connection. Politically, spiritually I believe Israel is the Jewish homeland. But on the personal level, whenever I go to Israel, I feel like I am in a foreign county, decidedly not at "home".

"Home" is where one associates a sense of belonging and accomplishment, where one is "somebody" and not a tourist or stranger. Think Hercules lyrics:
"I have often dreamed
Of a f
ar off place
Where a hero's welcome
Would be waiting for me
Where the crowds will cheer
When they see my face
And a voice keeps saying
This is where I'm meant to be"

-from "I Can Go the Distance"

In contrast with the hero's welcome ideal of home, being in Israel gives me an opposite experience. Israel humbles me in so many ways. Good beautiful ways, like our Shabbat in the Negev at Sde Boker. The hostel we stayed at has the most incredible view of the machtesh (crater), I truly believe it's the most beautiful place I have ever seen in my life. Standing on the rocks looking out at the peaks is a powerful humbling experience. I can't speak about it without falling into cliche because it's one of those places where words fail, it inspires that kind of awe.

But Israel also humbles me in the less awesome and more annoying ways too. The Hebrew writing, something I feel an instant connection to if I see it in the US due to the rare occurrence, the Hebrew writing on all the signs in Israel mocks me because I can't read it. I trip over my feet and my luggage, get lost just finding the bus stop, and get off at the wrong stop. And although most Israelis speak English, I despise asking for direction help (and most of the time, it would be of no use to me anyway since I have that little knowledge of wherever I'm going). Thus, I am in a perpetual state of being lost and disoriented in Israel, not at all at home.

That said, I have a great track record for getting lost in places I've lived in forever and where I know the language, so if anything, that should make me feel more at home...

Ha ha ha.

Kidding aside, I do love Israel, but it is difficult to love a country that humbles me.

That may be due in part to the fact that we are used to romanticizing love so we expect that loving should make us feel fantastic at all times. Humbling love feels like a defeat in that mindset.