Good times with the locals!
Shalom! It’s me again! I feel like I’m going to want to start every blog post with “what an incredible few weeks it’s been!” so here I go trying to ~ spice things up ~ from the start.
Since I last shared my abroad experiences with y’all, I’ve explored the most inspiring places and have met such incredible Jewish role models. We (me and the 40 other fellows that are in Nachshon, my specific program) were able to hear from Matti Friedman, a journalist and author who wrote for the AP (Associated Press) for over five years and has tremendous experience in the field of writing. Matti discussed his experiences as a journalist reporting on Israel and the Middle East, gave amazing insight on the complexities of modern day Israel and helped us develop ways to share our experiences here in Israel with those around us.
Additionally, we had our first “Beit Midrash” session at The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. These weekly learning sessions have various individual focuses, but what they all have in common is the basis of analyzing Jewish history and exploring our Jewish identities. Pardes is an open, co-ed and non-denominational Jewish learning community based in Jerusalem where people are able to come and learn with top notch Jewish educators. For example, my teacher is the Editor in Chief of Koren Publishers Jerusalem which is a very well known Israeli publisher of Jewish religious texts. We were able to discuss a wide range of topics with one another and ended our first night there with the President of the institute, Rabbi Leon Morris, who took the time to teach us and learn with us as a cohort.
But wait, there’s more! The next day, we visited Shalva Center for Children With Disabilities. Shalva is just as happy of a place as Disneyland, truly. We learned all about how Israeli institutions provide Special Education and other services to kids of all ages who have Special Needs. Aside from the building itself being absolutely beautiful (seriously look it up on Google images or something, it’s crazy) the people and the colorful environment at Shalva were both so special. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit again throughout the semester!
I spent the weekend at the Ramah Israel Shabbaton, my Jewish summer camp’s annual weekend conference for those spending their time in Israel at the moment. I was able to reunite with camp friends, spend a relaxing Shabbat with a great group and hear from very honorable people, such as the Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (List College). It was an overall very refreshing weekend and I’m happy I was able to reconnect with people that I usually only get to see over the summer.
We ended the weekend with a SUPER cool session with Tamir Goodman, an Orthodox Jewish American athlete known by Sports Illustrated as “The Jewish Michael Jordan”. First of all, look him up. He’s amazing. Any who, Tamir shared his personal story with us and expressed how although he had a few rough patches (in relation to his basketball career) along the way, he never gave up on Judaism. Followed by his touching story, we went to the Payis Arena in Jerusalem for the Ha’poel Yerushalaim (Jerusalem’s local team) basketball game! We met up with Tamir again, who is now the Director of International Relations for the team, and got an awesome backstage tour of the stadium and press room. A few of us snuck over to the fan section and joined the Israelis in all of the Hebrew chants. Just imagine a group of American college students mixed into a giant crowd of dedicated Israeli fans. Just imagine. Obviously I was taking videos and cracking up the whole time, did you expect anything less? At one point, I was basically standing right by the court and saw Ama’re Stoudemire close up and FREAKED OUT. What a legend. We were able to meet his wife after the game, of course her nails were freshly done and her lip stick color was on point (bright purple #slay), since Ama’re now lives in Israel, played on the team, and is currently the team owner. Although the stadium is no Staples Center, it was still SO nice and cool to have an experience ~ like the locals ~ .
Aside from the adventures and learning sessions, I’ve had intensive Hebrew classes all day every day. No joke. Literally Sunday through Thursday from 8:30 A.M. until 1:20 P.M. Once my normal classes start in a few weeks I won’t have such long days of JUST Hebrew but I really am enjoying learning the language! I can already see how knowing Hebrew has benefited me while being here so far, and not just because I can have a full conversation in Hebrew with the barista at Aroma (Israeli version of Starbucks basically, but honestly better— never thought I’d say that).
Once again, I’m SO thankful for my time here in Israel; every day just keeps getting better and better. Especially since the weather has been great lately.