welcome to al-Quds/Jerusalem
I seem to recall it not being so darn cold when I was here two years ago in January… therefore, dear readers, a guide to the past (almost) week, organized around my freezingness.
Often it’s cold on planes. Not on British Airways. They’ve solved the problems of rude service, bad food, and even cramped spaces—my PHL-LHR flight was less than half full and I had a full row to sleep in. then, on the LHR-TLV flight, I got a fantastic greasy VEGAN British-style breakfast—potatoes, beans, ‘sausage,’ grilled mushrooms, etc. flying should always be like this! However, I arrived with a small sniffle. Nearly full marks.
Prime offender: we live in a wee basement, with a window box and a door to the “garden” (grassy slope/alley next to our building); tiny “kitchen” with sink, toaster, water-boiler, and electric frying pan; closet-size bathroom; convertible bed-couch, and a big table. We’re working on the furniture situation. All heat not sourced by the body itself comes from the 18” heater box. You close the kitchen and bathroom doors in order to heat approximately 20 square feet less—and it actually helps. Needless to say, it’s effing cold. On the plus side, we don’t have or need a fridge—keeping stuff outside the window works great!
On Monday we took a bus to the Dead Sea to hang out with ND’s parents who are there for a couple days on some fabulously cheap package deal—nice hotel, several meals, passes for the fancy natural-sulphur baths, etc. We took a short hike, through desert canyon alongside a stream running with the recent snows (in the mountains—there it was hot and parched as a desert should be) and to a beautiful waterfall.
Tried after that to go swimming in the Yam itself and it was too cold. Instead we went to the hotel’s indoor heated Dead-Sea-water pool: awesome! The day dried up my sniffle, too. I could write about the bus ride through the West Bank, but I’ll save it for when I have something of more substance.
I don’t notice the heat situation at all, because my brain is running as fast as possible to keep up. I got placed in the second month of Kita Aleph (Class 1), which you’d think would work for a not-quite-beginner like me. Not so. These people have been in class four hours a day for a month, and whoa baby, am I behind.
My ulpan, Beit ha-Am, is known to be liberal and inclusive, which basically means that it’s mostly Arabs. (Palestinians? the people in my class don’t say so, but this may be self-censorship around the mixed crowd.) So 80% of the class has been reading Hebrew with at least phonetic fluency for 5-10 years, unlike yours truly. I hope I can get better fast, because the head of the ulpan told me that the beginner class is totally full. My teacher is constantly yelling at us to be quiet even when we’re asking each other questions in Hebrew about Hebrew. But she’s sharp and funny.
The conversation in the class—flowing to and from the teacher, not among the students—is hilariously random. Topics so far have included “what’s in Caesarea” (ancient ruins and modern city north of Tel Aviv), “do you know/like the Beatles,” and “Israel calls the Separation Wall a ‘fence’ because it sounds less permanent.” The textbook is includes an odd mix of quasi-Jewish themes: going to the beit knesset (synagogue) on Shabbat, and what’s in the Torah, and judgmental mini-essays about Herod.
Point being, though, that’s it’s a fascinating cultural space, but I can barely put on my sociologist hat because I’m frantically trying to figure out what the hell is going on. I do feel really smart when I can understand the teacher, and there’s a machine in the (freezing!) hallway where you can get a miniature cup of coffee/cappuccino/choco for 2 shekels! Warm enough.
It is very sweet and close, and also of course ultra-dramatic, to be back in the arms of my honey. Us two being who we are, we had to have some spectacular conflicts within the first several days. I think things are settling in. It’s lovely to walk the beautiful neighborhoods (keeping warm through exertion) and talk about his studies and my work and our many observations and analyses of this crazy city.
I’m starting to set up dialogues—so far, the dean at Pardes (ND’s yeshiva) was tentatively interested but skittish about allowing any explicit political content to be part of their offerings. Ha, says I, your students are living in a bubble—and inside that bubble there isn’t a political vacuum, there’s a political message about silence and the status quo. But that’s a whole other ball of wax. My boss at Encounter is away for the week, so we haven’t started planning my work there.
It’s very hard to pray here—feels like getting lost in a shouting match, not just actually in a shul but in the whole atmosphere of intense religiosity. I promised myself I wouldn’t constantly worry about how I was dressed or who’s judging me, and so far, it’s only kind of working. The West Bank is a close and shadowy presence hanging over my prayers—it’s nearly impossible for me to ask god to rebuild the holy city of Jerusalem given what I know about the actual ‘rebuilding’ that has happened and is happening. I do enjoy the opportunity to put on a tallis; it’s warmer.
Enough for now! I’m relatively unfreezing at the moment, being in a public library. Now to put on some layers and seek out some (hot) lunch.
*In Hebrew the Dead Sea is actually the Salt Sea. Melakh is salt. Melekh is king, as in the opening lines of most brachot (blessings): melekh ha-olam = king of the world. Following progressive Jewish practice I typically say ruach ha-olam, the spirit of the world, or chei ha-olamim, life of the worlds. However I am now inclined to say, melakh ha-olam, the salt of the world, for what is god besides that which gives flavor to everything? I am waiting for the Talmud reference on this.