Friday, December 16, 2011

Oh Wouldn't You Like to Be, My Neighbor

A week before I started my course I decided enough was enough of moving around between friend’s houses and parents of friend’s houses and finally went apartment hunting.  After spending many hours on various websites looking up apartments (in Hebrew, go me!) I compiled a list of apartments and phone numbers for the next day.  I wish I could explain in words how much I was dreading this “apartment hunting day” I had scheduled myself on my day off from the army.  In order to not pay for the public transportation I was going in uniform, it was hot, I knew it would be frustrating, from experience I assumed it would be quite unsuccessful, tiring, confusing, and anything else you can imagine.  To add to things I was doing it on my own because it so happened that none of my Israeli friends were around that day to help me, my sister was still in the states, and my other friends were working since it was in the middle of the week.  I figured if I ever made it to the point of signing a contract I had a few people to call up to sit with me so I didn’t mess up or get cheated/ripped off.

Before I left Tel Aviv in the morning to set out for my dreadful day I decided to check online one last time in the morning to see if anything else was posted.  Apartments are posted and rented daily here to the point where it doesn’t even make sense to look up apartments before the week you want to move, or in my case, the day you go looking.  I found an apartment listed not in the neighborhood my sister and I were looking but in our price range and size.  I decided to go to this apartment first in dire hope that it would sweep me off my feet and I wouldn’t have to lug myself all around the city in the heat and try to find all of these other apartments.  I showed up to this apartment, which, may I mention, was in an AMAZING location, and fell in love.  It was about 5 or 6 am Boston time but I was so giddy I couldn’t wait to call home and talk to Allie about it.  I talked to my mom for a while, biding time until it was reasonable to wake Allie, while I sat for a few minutes across the street from the apartment and watched 3 other people look at the apartment as well.  In the mean time I pretended like I was going in the direction of the other apartments to take a look at them too, because it’s not smart to take the first thing you see.  I finally woke Allie up and told her about the apartment, she agreed maybe I should check out the other ones too just in case but after about 10 minutes of trying to call the other apartments as well as figure out where they are we decided together to stop being idiots and to take the amazing first apartment we saw.  I called the realtor back immediately and said I was ready to sign.  I discussed and signed the contract all by myself and we had an apartment…just like that!

We live in a super cute apartment in an area of Jerusalem called Nachlaot.  Nachlaot is very much in the center of the city, an old, fairly religious neighborhood that turning to a more young, hip place to live as well.  The neighborhood is comprised of old windy street made of white Jerusalem stone and it is kind of like a little maze to walk around inside the neighborhood.  We have a convenience store, neighborhood bar, little coffee shop, and Gelateria right across the street.  This is on top of the 3 minute walk to the central Jerusalem market, a 5 minute walk to the center of the city and all the restaurants/bars/pubs there, and a 1 minute walk across the street to a huge, gorgeous park called Gan Sahker.  Oh, and a 10 minute walk or 2 minute bus ride to the central bus station.  Could it be a more perfect location? I think not.  Good find Lauren!

I’m barely ever home but Allie’s doing a great job slowly getting everything together in the apartment and when I’m home we capitalize on shopping for furniture and accessories for the apartment.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Beautifully Intertwined

I went to an apartment to buy a used microwave and they planned to meet me back at home to deliver it so I didn't have to carry it back.  I am crossing the street to wait to meet them at the corner of my street and two Americans from California ask me if I speak English and if I know how to get to the market.  I am explaining how to get to the market when my realtor crosses the street and we bump into each other and say "hi" and catch up for a minute (in Hebrew).  The couple delivers me the microwave as I continue talking to the two women from California about what I am doing in Israel and a short synopsis of how I got here/why I am here.  I carry the microwave back across the street while continuing to talk to them for another minute then enter my apartment, take off my IDF uniform, turn on American country music, and start the kumkum (hot water boiler) to make myself a cup of tea.  

This funny combination of buying used appliances, finding a way to get them delivered, always seeing someone you know, giving directions in English, and explaining what the heck I'm doing living here couldn't be a better example of my life. 

What a perfectly complex yet beautifully intertwined and just a bit confusing life I am living.  :) 

Monday, December 12, 2011

I'm Alive!

Still there?

So it’s been over two months since I last updated…oops.  It is a perfect example of how the past two months have flown by, however, and I really struggled to keep in touch (as if I don’t struggle enough with that regularly). 

So since I last wrote I started…and finished…my training course for my job in the army.  It was a 6 week course from the end of October until December 1st.  I did what is called 12-2 meaning I was on base for 12 days and came home for two (every other Shabbat at home).  That is probably the main reason why time flew by so quickly.  I was back to the rules like basic training where I could only use my phone during meal breaks and during my hour before bed where I had to shower and get ready for the next day.  I’ll split the course into thirds to explain how it went.

The first few days/two weeks were really difficult for me.  We spent the entire day, 7/8am until 8/9pm in a classroom learning about the system of the army and then how it all relates to our job.  There was so much army terminology that I didn’t understand that it made it really hard for me to follow the lessons the first couple days.  I, unlike many of the Israelis, didn’t grow up in a society were everyone goes to the army, and these terms were not common language for me.  Not to mention that I didn’t and still don’t have any idea what most of the words are in English (again, because I didn’t grow up with army terminology in my lexicon).  The best part of all the new vocab is that you have to remember every word twice, because no one uses the full words in the army.  Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING is in abbreviations and acronyms (like NASA).  I was a bit stressed the first few weeks, especially because of the weekly tests, which were really difficult for me.  It was not enough to sit in the lessons, understand the Hebrew, simultaneously take notes in Hebrew, and review during every break, I had to then understand what the heck they were asking me on the test and then figure out how to get the answer out in some relatively comprehendible style of Hebrew.  Test scores week 1: 45, 48 corrected to 63, and a 65.  Did I mention an 80 is passing?

The next two weeks of the course were more fun and less stressful.  I had gotten the hang of how to get the most out of the lessons, I asked more questions, and we had trips around the country which helped with the “out of the classroom” more hands on type learning.  Test scores week 2: 68, 76…movin on up!

The last two weeks were a lot more fun with many more out of the classroom activities, trips, general knowledge learning, etc.  We broke up into our specific positions, either Liaison (me) or International Military Partnership Activity (yea, I just translated that directly, sorry).  The former dealing with the countries on Israel’s border; Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt (holla!), and the latter dealing with all the other countries in the world that Israel talks to including Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America, you name it.  I spent even more effort on hanging out with friends and having a good time the last two weeks than I did the previous month and it seems like it paid off; test scores week 3: 81, 84…hell yeah!  I don’t know what I got on my final test because I never got it back (shows you how much the scores actually matter) but my final grade for the course overall was 90.  The final grade includes the tests, simulations, the half hour presentation I did on Iraq, my job of managing our supplies for a week, and then things like effort, relationships, ability to work with others, how we deal with the system of the army and the course specifically, etc.  From a 45 to a 90 in just 6 weeks…not too shabby ;)

I’m going to wrap it up and I’ll post again soon.  We had our ceremony on November 30th (Shout out to my best friend Jen’s 24th birthday that was the same day!) and my sister, Eli, Daniel, and mahhm Deborah all came to support me.  Sidenote: Mahhm brought me turkey and absolutely delicious pie (both pecan AND pumpkin) from Thanksgiving since I was on base and missed it, big Mahhm points right there.  Anyway, it was great to meet everyone’s family since I had known some of the people for 4 ½ months already (since basic training) and felt like I knew so much about their lives and their family/friends.  We got certificates and pins to put on our uniforms, my commander gave me his pin off his uniform instead of a new one, he was the best. 

We got our assignments the next day…I’m a liaison to Egypt! More on that to come…

P.S. I have pics but my internet is in the process of getting fixed so they will be uploaded this weekend.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Let Go of Preconceived Notions

I had the most amazing yet simple experience today that hopefully will change my life, here's the story..

I got out of the army at 1:15 today because our lessons ended early, it is my second to last day on this base before my vacation for the Sukkot holiday and then my course starts.  I am trying to figure out the best way to move all of my stuff to Jerusalem in a very short period of time from multiple places around the country before the holiday starts.  I wanted to best take advantage of my day but when I realized there is nothing I could do moving wise this afternoon I decided to go outside to read.  It was very warm today, about 95 or so, and I could have walked down to the beach but I opted to walk across the street to a park to sit and finish my book.  I was okay with the decision because I feel I take advantage of the beach often enough since I go swimming one morning a week before the army and I run there about 4 times a week in the evening.  If you know me you know I can't resist a bit of tanning so I wore my bathing suit top while sitting on my towel and reading.

A guy about my age comes up to me and says hello.  I respond in a typical-me way when a random guy approaches me, especially when I am half in my bathing suit; I standoffishly reply back "hi"while barely looking at him, showing that I am not much interested in conversation as I am busy replying to a WhatsApp and reading (simultaneously, go me).  He continues to open up the conversation with questioning me about whether I felt weird sitting in a park in my bathing suit tanning or if it were pretty common here (he's from Jerusalem, we're in Tel Aviv, people are generally more conservative there).  He said he knows it is a bit bizarre to walk up to a girl while she is tanning and say hi but he was curious why I chose to do it in the park and not at the beach, and he wanted to ask me for his own general knowledge. You know, I don't really remember what else he said (plus it was in Hebrew and I was only half paying attention still) but it was something along the lines of he normally wouldn't go up and talk to someone in the situation but he wanted to, in a sense, push himself to step outside his boundaries and talk/question me.  I responded by saying that I am also not really from here, I am American and staying at a friends across the street.  I don't usually "tan" in the park but I didn't feel like walking down to the beach (lame excuse, i know) but wanted to enjoy the sun.  He then begins to ask me what I'm doing here as an American and I finally start to warm up a bit.  I tell him a bit of my story.  He correctly guesses my age and that I have a degree already, we talk a bit about psychology (when people ask me what my degree is in I respond "psychology and sociology" it's the most accurate answer I have formulated since no one, even english speakers, know what the hell Human Development is).  He tells me he's really interested in psychology and helping people but doesn't really know how to go forward with that interest in the future, yet.  He tells me a bit about what he did in the army (it was a sort of teacher for soldiers, I was looking into it before I came up with the idea of joining foreign relations).  He notices that I am reading The Happiness Project and we talk a bit about happiness, what is it, how it is a consistent, life-long effort, etc.  He tells me he started practicing meditation and zen and we talk about these things for a bit longer.  He decides it is time to go since his grandfather's fish that he bought was getting warm, we say our parting words, I thanked him for coming up to talk to me and he thanked me as well for being open to talking to him, we exchanged names, and Gavriel was on his way.

Although our conversation about meditation and zen was really eye-opening and peaked my interest in looking into the two things for myself, the reason this meeting hopefully changed my life has nothing to do with the context of our actual conversation and everything to do with the fact that we HAD a conversation.  I am not someone who is opposed to meeting strangers, or new people, but I must admit I can see that I am more reserved here, as I am not so confident in my ability to have a full conversation with someone, depending on the topic, because of my Hebrew level.  I am also typically hesitant to talk to guys who approach me when I am alone, particularly alone in a bathing suit at the park.  Anyway, the point is he DID come up to me and we DID have a conversation and it DID entirely change my idea of "talking to strangers."  We both admitted that we were so glad we talked to one another because it totally changed our preconceived notions of the other.  He openly told me that he did not think that a girl who was tanning in the park had any depth to her and he was pleasantly surprised to see how much I had (thanks!) and I admitted that I am very hesitant to talk random guys but I am so glad I opened up and didn't brush him off.  We didn't exchange numbers and I will probably never see him again (well, then again, Israel is a small country, you never know) but I will always remember this little encounter.

Let go of preconceived notions that constantly guide our behavior, you have no idea what great experiences you are missing out on. Another reminder of how important it is not to judge people.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ignorance WAS Bliss

The time has come to write a bit about the frustrations of language barrier, since it affects me everyday and it is for sure the biggest hurdle to moving here.

Before I came to Israel for the first time to study abroad, I didn't realize: A. how truly important language is and how much it influences and infiltrates every aspect of every part of life, or B. how much the language tells about the people that speak it.  Don't get me wrong, both of these points are very interesting in their own right, but the former is also quite frustrating at times.

Hebrew is an amazing language for many reasons.  First, the roots of the language date back so far and are intertwined with the Jewish people and the land here.  Modern Hebrew is not the same language that was used thousands of years ago, just as we do not speak English like Shakespeare anymore.  The roots of many of the words, however, are the same.  Hebrew is a root language, most words deriving from a 3 letter root and therefore the verb, noun, adjective and often times other things that are related to this word are spelled very similarly, following a variety of patterns.  For this reason, I think Hebrew is a pretty easy language to learn, comparatively, although to master a second language when you're in your 20's is never easy, no matter the language.  Because modern Hebrew has a lot of very new aspects to the language it does a great job of representing the Israeli's, the people that speak the language.  Sentences are short and to the point, just as Israeli's are.  There is no beating around the bush or sugar coating anything, in language or in attitude.  There are many phrases that describe the type of people Israeli's are, such as "l'asot chaim" which is like saying "have fun" but is literally saying, "make life," and "titchadesh" which you say when someone buys or has something knew and you want them to use it well/enjoy/etc.  There are many more phrases that I can't think of right now, too.

Moving on the the barrier part-When I was studying here my Hebrew was obviously at a much lower level.  Although I understood a bit and could speak a bit less, I missed a lot if a conversation was in Hebrew around me.  Since I still hang out with one of the groups of Israeli friends that I hung out with then it is easy for me to compare the differences.  What I realize then is that I did not even understand enough to notice how much of the conversation, and therefore the personalities of the people, that I was missing.  The Catch-22 is now that I understand much more, I know exactly when I am missing out.  It's like the more you learn the more you realize there is to learn.  I know exactly when a conversation turns to a topic where I don't understand the vocabulary, or the most obvious two times...when we're at a bar or club and I miss (so many) things because it's really hard to hear, or when there is a big group (usually 5+ or so) of people and many people talk at once.  These are the two hardest situations I find myself in now.  I flip back and forth between being extremely frustrated and feeling like I will never master the language, and realizing how far I have come and feeling positive about moving forward.  For example, conversations that use army vocabulary I understand almost entirely now whereas 2 months ago I was probably lost at the first army-specific abbreviation word used.  The problem I have now is that I know that I still do not know my Israeli friends entirely as they are because of my language barrier.  Times when, in English, I would overhear a snide comment they make, or a really nice comment they make, or an opinion, a joke or a complaint, I sometimes just do not hear, and therefore I miss a little bit about their personality/themselves.  In the 1 on 1 relationships I have I feel that I know and understand the person but there is also a huge aspect of a person that is shown when they are in groups of people, whether it be friends, family, etc.  To know someone on a general level is not difficult, but it's the people I've known for years, and our relationship is deeper than a general friendship, where I realize I have difficulty truly, truly knowing the whole person.  I really do feel, sometimes, that I'm missing out on some awesome aspects of some of my friends, and it makes me sad, and frustrated.

From the other perspective, I am also not the same person in Hebrew and in English.  If you know me then you know that I am an opinionated, outgoing, energetic, inquisitive person and I am certainly not one to sit quietly in a room of friends or even at a family dinner.  In Hebrew, however, if it is a decent sized group of people then I find it very difficult to be myself.  I rarely interject my opinion or ask questions, I come off as much more shy and introverted than I actually am, simply because I cannot express myself the way that I want.  It is not usually that I don't understand or can't follow the conversation, it is mostly that I can't listen, process, think, understand then formulate an opinion or response then figure out how to say it in enough time that it is relevant to the conversation.  By the time I figure out how to say what I want to say the moment has passed.  Again, in small groups and certainly one-on-one I am fine, but groups of people are difficult.

I cannot wait for my Hebrew to continue to improve, little by little, and I can truly feel like myself and know that I am not missing out.  I love the Hebrew language and there are many times when I prefer to speak in Hebrew or say a phrase in Hebrew because it either fits the situation better or can't be said as well in English.  Also, there are a decent amount of words in Hebrew that I hardly ever say in English or don't actually know the word for in English (this happens a lot in the army).  Because of this I also feel a bit of a language barrier with those that don't know Hebrew sometimes, if I'm talking to friends/family from back home.  I use my sister as an example, her Hebrew is excellent after her year in the army and also working for a year in Hebrew.  I cannot wait to get to the other side and be able to say that I overcame the language barrier (although it will never be 100%).

Remaining hopeful, but far too often (such as the whole weekend I just spent with Israeli friends, like almost every weekend) reminded of what I'm missing, and how long the road still is ahead of me.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I'm reading the book The Happiness Project and I have written down so many quotes or points from the book so far that I love and really relate to.  It's an amazing breath of fresh air, literally and figuratively, to leave whatever office the 15+ of us soldiers that have nothing to do on base are currently sitting in, walk over to the little pond in the middle of our base, sit on a bench and read this book.  Without question I feel so much better even after just reading one page, I love to be reminded about how to keep up my happiness, it's so perfectly me.

Anyway this quote isn't from the book but it is one of the many that I have on a post it note on my computer desktop because it makes me happy to read it and I felt compelled to share it, finally.  It is from a speech that Amy Poehler gave at Harvard at the 2011 graduation.

"you can't do it alone. as you navigate through the rest of your life be open to collaboration, other people and other people's ideas are often better than your own. find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them and it will change your life

you never know what's around the corner, unless you peak. hold someone's hand while you do it. you'll feel less scared. you can't do this alone. besides it's much more fun to succeed and fail with other people, take your risks now, as you grow older you become more fearful and less flexible. try to keep your mind open to possibilities and your mouth closed on matters that you don't know about. limit your always and your nevers. continue to share your heart with people even if it's been broken. don't treat your heart like an action figure wrapped in plastic and never used...

when you feel scared hold someone's hand and look into their eyes and when you feel brave do the same thing you are all here because you are smart and you are brave and if you add kindness and the ability to change a tire you almost make up the perfect person."

expect many more quotes in the coming weeks, I'm feeling in the mood for cheesy quotes...

homeless less!

Yes! it is true! I, Lauren Spivack, have rented my very first apartment.  I would like to take the time now to thank BC for providing me with 4 years of housing, mom for letting me move back home after graduation, Israel for putting me up in an absorption center, Allie for letting me live with you for two months, and the Porath's, Itamar, and the Fridman's for housing me during my wandering times these past two months.  I am oh so very glad to say, however, that in a few short weeks I will be a new resident of Nachlaot, Jerusalem.
Here's a little bit about how the search went:
Allie and I spent many hours looking up apartments online, Allie continuously and diligently sent me listings with addresses, info, and numbers to set up meetings to go look.  The first weekend I was going to  go to Jerusalem to look at apartments I ended up having to stay Shabbat on my army base so I couldn't.  So I decided to take an "errand day" from the army last Thursday and spend the day apartment searching. Allie, again, searched on the internet and sent me listings of potential apartments because the apartments we had written down from the week before were already rented, as it typically goes here...quickly.  I added to the search, checking things for myself and adding a few listings to my potential list on Wednesday night.  Thursday morning I decided to check online again and saw an apartment in our price range in a really great location, the center of Jerusalem.  I decided to go to this apartment first and really, really hope that it was a winner so I didn't have to trek out of the city on the bus to look at all the other apartments on the list.  I called when I got to Jerusalem and went to the apartment first, as I had hoped.  The apartment was adorable, re-done, and in a great location, I was so excited!  I knew I had to call Allie though to double check about the location, because it wasn't the location we were looking in all along.  I had to make sure she was alright with compromising a bit on the size for the fact that it is re-done and, did I mention, in a great location?  Only was about 6am in Boston and Allie was up late getting a friend from the airport.  No fear, I knew mom would be up so I chatted with her about how I felt about the apartment and in the end we decided I really should go for it.  I sat outside the apartment as the time passed and watched potential renter after potential renter look at the apartment.  My stomach turned as I knew I didn't have much time (dramatic, huh?!)  I finally decided 8am was good enough to call and wake up Allie and I did just that.  I told her all about the apartment and the fact that it's a bit small and the second bedroom, my bedroom since I'll be in the army most of the time, is a loft, not an actual room.  She thought it was a good idea to check out a few of the other apartments on the list so I reluctantly but diligently hopped on a bus to the outer part of the city.  I meandered around a bit as I called the potential apartments to no avail.  Either I could not look at them that day, they only had one bedroom (the list "rooms" here which included living room and sometimes a kitchen or another room so you can never be too sure how many bedrooms are there), or some other funk that didn't fit with us.  Finally Allie and I decided that I need to go with the first one, it's too good to pass up and after all, it's in a great location.  I called back the realtor and signed the papers that afternoon.  All in Hebrew, all understood, all by myself :).
I signed the lease for a move-in date of November 1st hoping that the current tenant would find an apartment sooner so I could move in before the 1st.  I wasn't very optimistic as she had pretty particular desires for her apartment but alas, I received a phone call today from the current tenant that she is planning on signing for an apartment on Sunday with a move in date of October 10th!  Wah-hoo! That means I can move in to the apartment on the 10th/11th instead of the first of November!
I know, I know, it is all very too good to be true.  Whoever is crossing their fingers and praying for me out there keep up the good work, I REALLY appreciate it :)
                                                       check out our adorable kitchen!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

closed my first shabbat

I know I've been slacking, but there hasn't really been anything interesting to update!

This past weekend I stayed my first Shabbat on base. I arrived at 8:30 Thursday morning (usually at 9am everyday), got my gun and the lowdown on how to guard for the 50th time and off I went to my first guard shift. I guarded 10am-2pm on Thursday. Not too shabby, not many people going in or out since it's the middle of the day, people on base to visit and sit with me, keep me company. I ended up sitting with my friend Dani who guarded 2pm-6pm for most of her shift to keep her company so there goes another 4 hours. 4 hour break and Dani and I went back to guard together Thursday 10pm-2am on Friday. We chatted the whole time and it passed really quickly. My next shift wasn't until 6pm Friday-10pm, again with Dani, right through Shabbat dinner time. It's a little weird to be sitting at the gate not able to do anything during Shabbat dinner, but they brought us plates of food which we graciously fed to the cats after a few bites, haha. Next shift, Saturday morning 6am-10am alone. Quite tough to stay awake and I ended up walking in, what I counted as, an 85 meter square for about 45 minutes and figured out that I walked a little more than 2 miles, not too bad. Last guard shift was Sunday 2am-6am then I got to leave base today (Sunday) at 10am. Exciting weekend, I know!!

Between shifts I slept, ate way too much junk food, watched TV, etc. It passed pretty quickly but it didn't feel like a weekend, I can't believe I have a full week now! Technically only 4 days since I have today almost entirely off so thats cool. I think I'll go for a walk to the beach, study Hebrew, go for a run later, maybe meet up with some friends in the city. Guarding the gate to the base on the weekend isn't bad at all since barely anyone is on our base on the weekend so there is not much opportunity to screw up and it's not stressful. My first guard shift I was nervous because I didn't recognize the people on the base and I didn't know who was allowed on and who wasn't, who to call, what questions to ask, etc. Thankfully, I guess, almost everyone on my base knows English, or at least understand it, hence the foreign relations base, so if I have a problem i can resort to English. We have many visiting military personnel who only can speak English, either they are American or from random countries like Romania, Ecuador, Japan, UK, Mexico, etc. Some of the American soldiers asked to take a picture with me and Dani when we were guarding. I think they thought it was cool to see girls with guns. People are always interested in our guns because they are big...really it's just that they are all bought from the US military so they are extra, leftover, big chunky types of M-16's. We can't afford anything more sleek over here, haha. My gun this weekend was made in Worcester, MA and Dani's was made in Hartford, CT...yayyy hometown love <3 Did I mention those American soldiers who asked to take a picture with us have been in the military 20+ years and I've been in almost 2 months? haha, ironic, I should have asked for a pic with THEM!

Still not doing much of anything on base, we have another month until our training course but we have a lot of time off for the holidays in between that which is nice. Once I start my course on October 23rd I'll be doing "12-2" meaning I'll be on base 12 days in a row then home 2 day, Friday and Saturday. After I finish my training on December 1st and start my job (don't know what it will be until after the course) I'll probably do 10-4, 10 days on base 4 at home. ie-i'll spend mannyy more Shabbats on base. It's fun though, believe it or not, lots of bonding and stuff, a little like college but in uniforms, with guns, and dealing with serious relations between volatile countries. so yea...just like college.

I hope to go looking at apartments this weekend in Jerusalem for Allie and myself. I want to move in at the beginning of October. Apartment renting happens very last minute and quickly here so I think I'm right on time. Hopefully one of the first places I look is nice and a good price so I don't have to spend too much time looking, that's be nice :)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

I've been sitting, waiting, wishing...

Sitting around on base with the girls, waiting for someone to give us something to do, wishing I were learning more Hebrew.
You know how they say be careful what you wish for? This is one of those situations...

Today we found out some new things we'll be doing to pass the time until our foreign relations course starts October 23rd. First, I have to come up with four topics I would like to present on, anything I want excluding politics. My commander picks one of the four and tells me 48 hours beforehand when and what I will be presenting on the the group. Okay, fine, Hebrew presentation, I had to do that in ulpan so I think I can handle. The problem is...the presentation is 45 minutes. 45 minutes! yikes...that's A LOT of new vocabulary to remember, I'll keep you posted.

Second, we have to present on the place where we live. Here we encounter another problem...I don't, actually, live anywhere right now. I'd say I'm "staying" in many places. I raised my hand and asked if I could present on the place were I think I will be living and my commander said no but when I reminded her that I really am not living anywhere right now she agreed that presenting on Baka, a neighborhood in Jerusalem that Allie and I are looking into is okay. So let's move there, Al, I'm about to do a 30 minute (30 minute!!) presentation on the neighborhood, I'll be an expert.

Third, we have to present on a topic from the news on whatever day we are given. We find out in the morning that we will be presenting that afternoon. That means no google translate for this girl...hah...that should be interesting. I will apologize to my fellow soldiers beforehand if they simply receive incorrect news from my presentation, they use hard words in the newspaper!

Forth, we have to come up with a bonding/ice breaker type game to do (with a partner) with the rest of the group. At least this one is right up my alley, I've got many games up my sleeve from all those years in Student Council and as captain of various sports teams in high school and college.

Fifth, we have to present on a famous person who (I believe) is assigned to us. Again, not so difficult. The Hebrew will obviously be an obstacle but I can look up facts on the internet and it is very straightforward.

As you can see, I have lots of new projects to keep me busy and on top of studying/learning Hebrew for the next few weeks. Too many of the girls I'm with speak English all day and it drives me CRAZY. All day I say, "Hebrew, please" "Let's talk in Hebrew" "Why in English" etc. I tell myself every morning that I'm only going to speak in Hebrew all day but sometimes I forget. I'll keep trying...

Monday, August 22, 2011

Backpacking Week 1

For some backpacking may mean traveling around many cities and countries by foot with nothing but a backpack on your back and a plan to see and experience as much as possible en route. For me backpacking means traveling around many cities in Israel via public transportation (free, if I'm in my uniform) with nothing but a backpack and a plan to make it to base by 9am and leave around 3ish each day. Not so different, I'd say, which is why when people ask me where I'm from, where I'm living, where I'm staying, or anything like this I've begun to answer with the phrase...I'm currently backpacking through Israel. It makes things a lot easier than saying "I don't have a home" or even "I have too many homes." I don't think there are enough weekends in a year to actually stay with all of the people that have invited me to stay with them (almost every girl from the army so far, haha).

Last week I went to the Jerusalem Wine Festival on Wednesday night with Allie and some friends. What amazinggg wine they had there! 70 shekel (<20$) entry and all the wine tasting of deliciously local Israeli wines that your tummy (and BAC) can handle. Thursday morning I went back to the army and Thursday night back to Jerusalem again to go to the Infected Mushroom concert with friends, which was awesome. I love outdoor concerts in Jerusalem oh so very much :). Friday we went on a little tiyul (trip) to a spring near Jerusalem where we jumped off the ledge into really dirty water (shout out to Boston and the Charles). Friday night I had Shabbat dinner at Daniel's with friends of his from the army and his family. It was the first time I had Shabbat dinner with both Daniel and Gadi which was fun, usually I'm at either Daniel's or Gadi's. Friday night we went out into the center of the city and Saturday we went to Gadi's house for a little belated birthday gathering. Sunday morning I went back to the army to find out that I have Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday off this week...not too shabby.

I came back to Nahariya and hung out with Allie's roommates and some people from her work, went for a run, studied some Hebrew vocab (I miss the weeks of vocab lists from Ulpan!) and tonight I'm going to visit some friends from ulpan at a kibbutz outside of Haifa. Tomorrow I'm going to finally play some ultimate, yayyy! I'm going to the Tel Aviv team's practice and I might also play in the hat tourney this Saturday too, which would be great.

Next week will be a bit more regular, I'll probably stay mostly in Ramat Aviv near my base during the week either with my friend Eli and her parents or with my friend Itamar, and I'll probably be in Jerusalem for the weekend. I'm assuming I'll continue like that for most of September. I'm hoping to find an apartment for October 1st, or the middle of October, and Allie comes back toward the end of October.

That's all for now, more later :)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

chicka chicka boom boom

sat around a lot today to find out that I will be doing "yomiot," or going back and forth daily, to a base right near Tel Aviv University. Holla old stomping ground! I felt quite nostalgic being around there today. Incase my TAU friend were wondering, the dorms are all redone, there is a new and improved gate entrance right across from the gate to the university (where the fence is where we used to sneak guests in at the wee hours of the morning to sleep), and there are some stores (i saw a bike shop and two other shops) on the first level of some of the dorms.

Back to army stuff...I am going to be wasting a whole lot of time until my foreign relations course starts October 24, oof! To start, I have tomorrow off and vacation all of next week, not too shabby but I'd rather be doing something productive. I'm going to be at this base doing the 9-5'er thing for a while, legitimately probably doing nothing but crap work until the course. We have a lot of days off in October because of the Jewish holidays so at least that will go by quickly. The course is going to be really awesome and super interesting, can't wait for that to start!

Until then I'll be hanging out with friends a lot in Tel Aviv, crashing at lots of friends houses during the week, and probably spending most of the weekends in Jerusalem until Allie gets her butt back in the country and we find our very own apartment in Jerusalem for October. Let 2.5 months of the wandering Israeli soldier commence :).

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tekes Hashbah

Me with my "model soldier of the company" award

Wednesday night we had our ceremony for finishing basic training. Apparently we weren't special enough to have parents and guests at our ceremony, lame, and it was just held in the middle of our company area on base, nothing special. On the contrary, however, it was something very special.

After we lined up in formation I went with a few other girls to get the "Tanachim" or, as you may know it, the Old Testament books. My commander handed me a stack of 20 of the books (each soldier receives one) and I can't begin to explain the infiltration of emotions that I felt. I'll try to explain anyway. I turned to the other girls I was with and said something along the lines of..."wow, I can't believe how amazing this is! we are having a ceremony in the army, a organization that is part of the government of the country, and we are swearing in on the TANACH!" I continued to say that I am not used to this and emphasized how truly amazing it felt. In the US, give or take the PC society as of late, we are used to (at least on TV) swearing in on the bible. But this was the tanach, the Jewish bible! in HEBREW! how cool.

After having our run-through of the ceremony with our commander and cracking up laughing on multiple occasions when people messed up or said the wrong thing, the ceremony commenced. As one by one we went up to swear in on our gun and the tanach I slowly started to become overwhelmed with emotions (read: cry). My commander was tearing up in front of me which REALLY didn't help and when I was "on deck" and moved up face to face with her I couldn't look her in the eyes (even though she was looking at me) because I would have lost it. I think I've mentioned it 3 or 4 times already in various entries but she is adorable. My turn to swear, "ani nishbat," and run up to the platoon commander to get handed my gun and the tanach. My platoon commander told me to look at the ground and said something cheesy and perfect along the lines of...this is your land now, the land you chose to defend, etc etc. followed by a punch to the shoulder (sign of affection in the army, i have come to find out) and a "good luck." I promptly started balling my eyes out and got back in line. Next up was the national anthem, Hatikvah, of which I tried to sing but was a little too choked up to get most of it out.

I ended up getting the "model soldier of the company" award, which is pretty cool, and had a few nice words said to me from the company commander before all was said and done.

After everyone started giggling because the commander instructed us incorrectly with our stances and gun positions for the exiting of the company commander, platoon commanders, and group commanders, the ceremony was over...just as "unspecial" as it had started, but totally not, at the same time.

Maybe the second best part of the whole evening (second to the Tanach realization aspect) was right after the ceremony ended. One of our commanders gave us 1 min 30 sec to run to the shooting line to do our last nightly gun check. After we repeat, "yes, commander, 1 min 30 seconds" and begin hustling over to where the line is she yelled, "and if you're walking....FEAR ME!!!" It's hard to explain why this was so funny but when you're used to everything being overly serious between you and your commanders anything they say "out-of-line" is really funny, especially the way she said it. We all started cracking up, myself included, through all of the tears I still had running down my cheeks. I got to the line with the biggest smile on my tear-soaked face, and was completely lost in the moment for that last gun check.

What an amazingly fun, frustratingly memorable, difficult, yet at the same time easy...and wonderful...3 weeks. I can't wait to see what the rest of my service brings me :)

brief goals follow up

these were the goals I set for week two...
Week two goals:
1. be the one to receive the commander a few more times this week
2. ask many more clarification questions during lessons/ say when I don't understand
3. answer more questions during lessons
4. don't receive any individual punishments (pushups, usually)
5. continue to converse in group settings with the girls
6. RUN during our free hour at night

1. check
2. check. could have done this MORE but still met the goal, I think
3. check. obviously could also do this more but definitely answered more questions as the weeks went on
4. fail. i forgot my gun when i left my tent last week and had to stay 2 extra hours before leaving last friday, oops!
5. check.
6. check minus. i did extra push ups, dips, lunges, sit ups, whatever i could when we had time after our exercise sessions, but i didn't actually go for a run on my own free time. being first to the shower always seemed like the better option.

embarrassing moments

where do i begin with this one...

-first and foremost, i went over a week saying "bvakasha mfakedet" instead of "akshev mfakedet" which means i was saying, "please commander" instead of "attention, commander" when i wanted to talk to my commander or ask a question. how embarrassing!!! a friend finally told me that i was saying it wrong.

-We have to write a "situation" after every break which includes the names of all the soldiers that aren't present and where they are (home, sick, guarding, with the sergeant or commander, etc). last week we had to write 10 of these things each time because we couldn't do it correctly on time (because some of the girls are kind of useless) Also, you write your name at the bottom of the paper so they know who wrote the list. This time, however, instead of writing that Julia was guarding I wrote that she was "servicing." This could either mean that she was doing service (what that is i don't know), or she was in the services...i.e. bathroom. The commander read it in front of all 50 of the girls in my company. She said, "uhh...where's julia? services? what does that mean?" and promptly began laughing after and all the girls, including myself, followed in suit. To get the commander to laugh in front of us when we're in formation is a hard thing to do in the first place but it was at my expense which made it a little less fun. how embarrassing!!

-basically every time i call out the time remaining (every 10 seconds) it's a joke, because of my accent. some of the girls mimicked the way i say the number 20 because it's the hardest one to say correctly. oof, i hate saying number 20 i get so nervous each time!

-Instead of asking if I could go and get my water bottle I asked if I could go and read my water bottle. good one, lauren

-The first two weeks we had only girl commanders but last week we also had guy soon-to-be commanders with us. In hebrew, like many other languages, words have genders. I can't even count how many times I said, "akshev mifakedet" to the mifaked, essentially calling him a girl. I guess it's like saying "excuse me waitress" to a waiter, but worse because they have power over you, haha.

i'm sure many more things happened, basically surrounding how or when I said something incorrectly or with a really bad accent, but that's all i have for now.

Friday, August 5, 2011

general recap, week 2

we went to the shooting range this week, it was pretty scary but actually kind of fun too? I did pretty well during the day, twice my farthest shot from the target dot in the center was 5cm which is pretty decent for my first time. once i shot at the wrong target (hey, what do you want, i confused the words "up" and "down"). I shot at the bottom target and so did the girl after me so i'm not sure how many out of 5 i got because you couldn't tell who shot what. my commander told us both 3/5 but i think i did better, of course ;). at night i got 5/5.

i got to go back first from the shooting range (we were there allll day, early morning until like 11pm, with two other girls in my group and my commander. we got our stuff ready and had our free hour first because one of the three of us had to guard outside the base in the am. turns out i was the lucky winner so i got to wake up 3 hours earlier than everyone and guard at the "trempiato" with my commander. before I went out i had to have a little test during which i learned what to do if someone suspicious was approaching. I didn't realize that no one would actually come from 730am-930am but it was still scary to learn that i first have to say something in arabic, then twice in hebrew, then if they continue to come forward i have to shoot two bullets in the air and if they continue then shoot at their legs and if they continue then, yea, you get it. scary stuff...good thing no one came. Also had to make sure that no soldiers were hitchhiking from the bus stop because it's illegal. might sound silly to you but it's quite typical to hitchhike here. besides that i basically just bonded with my commander for two hours, she's adorable i love her.

let's see...we learned about all the different ranks and positions in the military and how you can tell by someone's uniform, we learned some CPR and what to do in case of an explosion or attack, we learned how to use the radio communication thingy called mk-77 and a chemical mask called m-15, we learned about honor and personal example and personal vs system needs/wants/desires, etc. I like the latter type discussions about things such as...your commander tells you to do something but you don't personally agree with it, what do you do. the answer is, of course, that you have to do it anyway, but do you understand why you have to do it and such. One thing we brought up was when the IDF had to evacuate Jews from their houses in the territories and how hard that must have been, Jews taking Jews from their houses. One of the girls in my platoon lives in a settlement and she was saying she has no idea what she would do if she were put in that situation, to evacuate her family, friends, neighbors, community (in any two-state type solution situation, that is). It's easy to SAY that for the greater good of the state and the Jewish people as a whole you have to do it but how would I feel if I actually had to do it? I can only imagine. Sidenote: no worries, I wouldn't be the one doing it.

I took a 2 hours-ish Hebrew test this week to assess my Hebrew level and see what I need to receive from the army in terms of extra help, ulpan (UGH), etc. The test was pretty easy for me except for the last page where the text was pretty difficult. It brought me back to ulpan days with grammar, verb conjugations, texts and questions, etc. At least I had ample practice in that so I feel I was pretty prepared. I apologize in advance, Hebrew teachers, that I forgot or mixed up some of my linking words like despite, therefore, in spite of, as a result of, etc. sorry Sylvia and Malka!

Thursday morning was the first time I started to get frustrated with the girls that don't do anything and expect that things are just going to get done anyway. I usually just do it because it's much easier to just do it myself then wait for other girls to do it, and then they dont, and then we get yelled at, and then i end up doing it anyway. I still just do it myself but I actually spoke up about it a little last week that it's annoying that girls just think someone else is going to take care of it for them...oh 18 year olds.

I'll end with another time last week when I really felt the difference in age. We were sitting in a small group talking about whether or not we believe that every job in the army is important, small or large, and whether or not we believe in compulsory army service and such. Some of the girls, just out of high school, obviously don't think that they should have to do the army and feel like it's a waste of time. I tried to interject my opinion in the best Hebrew that I could, a few times. My perspective was that Israel is a very small country and if you believe in it's existence and you want it to continue to be here in the future then you have to believe in the existence of a strong army, since without the military Israel wouldn't be here. Since it's such a small country I understand compulsory service because without everyone being drafted the military would be too small to be strong. If at 16/17/18 everyone was given the CHOICE to join, I'm afraid, at least at first, that a lot of people wouldn't join, especially girls not going into fighter positions. Clearly that wouldn't be good for the country. I added in that many Israeli's take for granted the existence of a Jewish state, and living in one, and they they don't know what it's like to live in a place where they are not surrounded like people who believe what they believe or practice what they practice or celebrate what they celebrate. The girls continued to say that if they had a job that they wanted to do it would be different but some of them have no interest in doing what their job is going to be. I continued on trying to say something like...I've done a lot of things in my life that I didn't want to do or didn't see how it would help me or be important to me in my future, only to find out at the end, or a year or two later how it helped me to be a better person or helped me in another aspect of my life. Thankfully my commander agreed with me even though I imagine many of the 18 year olds couldn't really see how that can be.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


Last week I set some goals for myself during the week, here's a recap of how I did:

Week one goals:
1. at least once be the person who receives the commander when in formation
check: 2 or 3 times
2. ask questions during lessons with my commander or the platoon commander
check: a few times I said I didn't understand and asked for clarification during lessons.
3. answer questions during lessons
check: i think 4 times total though out the week
4. learn the correct sentences to say when we check to make sure out gun is clean
check: sometimes I mumble the last line "weapon discharged, checked, locked" because it rhymes and is kind of a tongue twister, but for the most part I've got it.
5. involve myself in downtime conversation with the girls
check: only sometimes do I not add to the conversation due to being too tired or uninterested. a few times from not understanding the conversation fully.

Week two goals:
1. be the one to receive the commander a few more times this week
2. ask many more clarification questions during lessons/ say when I don't understand
3. answer more questions during lessons
4. don't receive any individual punishments (pushups, usually)
5. continue to converse in group settings with the girls
6. RUN during our free hour at night

okay thats all i have for now, i have thought of others but currently have forgotten them. time for a few hours of sleep before the 4:50 wake up to head back to base :). see ya next weekend!

university to dishwashing...

As I stood in the dishwashing room of the cafeteria on base Thursday I couldn't help but think to myself..."where did I go wrong? I have a degree and I'm working in a dish room." I instantly reminded myself that this is just part of basic training and basic is part of a bigger piece of the puzzle, the year of service I will be spending in the foreign relations unit of the IDF (Israel Defense Force).

So as I said, Thursday was my platoon's turn in the kitchen. I spent the day in the dishwashing room, 7am-ish until 8pm-ish but with large breaks. We actually had the most time off Thursday than we did any other day since we had long breaks after breakfast and after lunch. Ironically, it was also the most physical work I did all week, pushing around carts filled with plates and trays and carrying lots of silverware and such. Since we are normally only with the girls of our platoon or company day after day some of the girls got quite excited to be around some of the guy soldiers in the kitchen. I was instantly reminded of the age difference between myself and the girls when they were yelling, flirting, and splashing/spraying water with the guys in the dishwashing room. Pretty annoying but I reminded myself that I'm sure I acted the same way around guys when I was 18. It was kind of like being at your first job (for me that was more like 16) and your boss wasn't around so you goofed off in the back room. I remember doing that at ColdStone and actually at Whole Foods too so it's cool. I just kept telling the guys to grow up (thanks to the theme song of the television show "Ramzor" I know how to say grow up in Hebrew). I thought I did a pretty damn good job in the kitchen during breakfast and lunch and was rightfully awarded by given the easiest job for dinner; walk around and make sure everyone in my group is doing their job and see if they need anything...keep things moving smoothly. That was pretty nice even though I ended up doing a lot of the closing type work anyway just so we could get it done faster and leave earlier. I found that it was easier to just do whatever needed to be done on my own then try to explain to the girls what to do...cop out on the Hebrew part but what can I say, I got the job done.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Kef li, kef lach?

what a week :). 1 week down, 2 more to go!

this may be long, I have a lot to tell, bare with me, I hope it's marginally interesting.

Last Sunday, July 24th I woke up at 5am and made it to the train dressed in uniform and with my bag packed by 6am for the long journey south where i met my commanders and Company. From Nahariya I took the train to Tel Aviv, switched trains and took a train to Ashkelon which is a city on the south western coast of israel, north of Gaza, south of Tel Aviv. From Ashkelon we took a bus to base which is a little bit farther north than Ashkelon. Since I live far from base I have an extra 45 minutes to get to the train station, woo 45 minutes. The commute isn't too bad though, the train is air conditioned and relatively roomy (although on Sunday mornings it is PACKED with soldiers). The total ride takes about 3-3.5 hours but I can sleep.

I don't remember exactly what we did each day but basically we do a lot of standing in two lines or three or the shape of this letter ח which is called a "chet" in Hebrew. That's with the guttural sounds that you make when speaking hebrew, not "ch" like cheat. Because of the heat wave last week there is a rule that we are not allowed to do basically anything physical when the sun is up so physically the week was pretty easy. Bummer for me, I would looovee to do more physical stuff. So for exercise this week we woke up at 4:30 basically every morning and did a little bit of stretching/about 2 minutes of jogging before getting ready in the morning and one day we had sport at night but we didn't have a lot of time because of random punishments throughout the day.

So what do we do from 5am until 9pm-ish? Well, we have a couple lessons per day with either our (bare with me I don't know military terms in english) commander, our platoon commander, or our company commander (just looked those up on google translate...FROM hebrew, haha, go me!) Some of the lessons are much easier for me to understand than others. For instance, generally the tactical type lessons like how to use the gun are easier, and the lesson on obedience went right over my head (maybe that's because I didn't know the word for obedience until AFTER the lesson and our platoon commander said it about a million times, oops!) What I'm having the most difficulty with right now is the terms for the different parts of the gun and the shooting positions. After physically taking apart and cleaning the gun, learning the commands and how to shoot, and going through the different positions I understand much better, thankfully. There are two main reasons that this is the hardest for me, I think. A. there are a lot of parts to the gun and I only know the names of about 1/3 so far which makes it really easy to get lost in the sentences and B. I need to understand 150% because this is a weapon I will shoot, I can't just understand the concept or the majority of the lesson because it actually could be life or death.

One lesson stands out in my mind as the most frustrating time of the week. After learning about the different positions I was pretty sure I understood about 90% and would review with my commander/notebook/and the other girls afterward to pick up the rest. At the end of the lesson my commander was asking our group/class a bunch of review questions. Now you all know me, I am not a shy person, I'll be the first to raise my hand and answer question/add my input, but in Hebrew it is much different, unfortunately. the "Hebrew Lauren" appears to be much more shy because of the language barrier, bummer. Anyway some of the girls were really on point answering all the questions, what to do with which part of the gun, when to stand how, advantages and disadvantages of each position, etc. I answered a few of the easier questions regarding the distances of shooting and when to use which position (standing, kneeling, laying down), and some about the advantages or disadvantages but there were a lot of questions that I really didn't feel comfortable answering because I don't have the vocabulary to answer correctly, even if I know the answer in english. So my group/class in general was doing great answering the questions thanks to a few key girls, and our commander was happy and laughing with them which one would think is really nice since our commanders don't usually show much positive emotion because of "distance." And yes, the term is said in english, "distance," with a hebrew accent, haha. For me, however, it was the first time I really truly felt left out in the army so far. I can recall many times when I feel left out here when I'm with my Israeli friends due to cultural or language differences but this was the first time in the army. I was so jealous that I couldn't answer the questions because I didn't have the vocabulary, and I felt dumb, which I often feel due to a lack of vocabulary. Now I am well aware for having made Aliyah 7 months ago I'm managing pretty well with my Hebrew, but I have a long way to go, and this really proved it to me. Even though I understood when the commander was talking and explaining and I had the vocabulary to explain when and why to do what in English, I couldn't voice it. For anyone who has ever learned a second language, you know how much easier it is to understand than to actually own the words and use them yourself. As they say in Hebrew...slowly, slowly. (In the army it's more like quickly, quickly, hurry up and learn, but you get the idea, eventually I will learn, word by word, phrase by phrase)

Moving on...the girls really are great in my platoon! I have a few core good friends so far and many of the other girls I'm friendly with. I talk to and am involved in a lot more conversations than I imagined I would, which is great. Everyone continuously reminds me how brave I am to be here doing what I'm doing and how inspiring it is and it really helps me to feel that I am doing the right thing. Everyone compliments me on how well I speak Hebrew, even though I know I make a lot of mistakes, haha. Besides the fact that they laugh (and I do too, whoops!) when I mess up keeping time or receiving the commander, and that they sometimes talk to me like I'm a little girl saying I'm so cute and sweet and stuff, they're really nice and I like them :). Also, I love my commander, she's adorable and weighs like 90 pounds I think, and she's probably 19 years old, maybe 20, so I am allowed to call her adorable. Speaking of age difference, my platoon commander enlisted in august 09, that means she graduated high school in july 09...3 years after me. Also, my company commander (she is higher than her assistant, the platoon commander and her assistant, the sergeant, the like 15 class commanders and 150 or so soldiers) is 22. Army age and actually age are much different though, and because of the language barrier I actually don't really feel like they are younger than me at all. I feel the same with the girls I'm with, almost all of whom are 18. This brings me to my two advantages of the language barrier:

Advantages of language barrier in the army so far:
1. I either don't always understand all of or can extremely easily drift off, tune out, or not hear all the conversations the girls are having. That is to say...the stupid conversations 18 year old girls who just graduated high school might have that would eventually annoy me, I can actually never hear if I don't want to. I should correct that: it's not that the conversations are annoying, they would just really point out to me the age/life experience difference between me and the girls. May I also add here...the girls I am friends with act much more mature, yay :)
2. When we get yelled at it doesn't hurt me really at all. I hear and understand the commander saying that we should be ashamed of ourselves and embarrassed and such, but the words just don't have the same meaning to me yet in Hebrew as it would if she were talking in English to me. Thanks to this I do not actually get upset at all when we get in trouble, haha. Just because I don't get upset, however, does not mean that I don't want to be better next time. On the contrary, I very much want to improve next week. I really resect my commander and I'm starting to see the way the military works and I want to prove to her that I CAN do everything correctly and on time. Next week: strive to be a perfect soldier :).

Another positive note: I only have to do "shmoneh v'ode shmoneh bhatzlecha" or "8 and another 8, good luck" twice. That's how they say how many pushups you will do. The first one is kind of a funny story. I think both were at 5am, so forgive me a bit. The first time I must have been really out of it because when our commander said "8 and another 8, good luck" for some reason I thought she said "20 and another 20, good luck." I have no idea why I confused this, the words do not sound the same in Hebrew and I'm pretty sure I know my numbers. I don't remember why my class was punished, I'm assuming we didn't have our "situation" paper that counts all the soldiers ready in time because that's usually why we get in trouble. Anyway, I proceeded to do 20 push ups followed by another 20, for no reason. oh well, I'm dying for more exercise anyway, haha. The second time I got punished I, and 5 other girls, didn't have my hat on when we were in formation. Let me point out that it was 5am and the sun hadn't risen yet so I assumed having my hat on my body (pocket) but not my head was okay. Rule #1, don't assume, just do as you're told, even above and beyond.

this is really long and if you made it to here...congrats! I'll probably update a few more times over the weekend when I think of stories or things to add, there is a lot more, like about my day yesterday in the kitchen, but for now I'm going to get ready for temple/shabbat. By the end of the weekend you'll have plenty of reading to keep you busy for the week until I update again next weekend.

Shabbat Shalom, Commander

P.S. oh yea, the title of the blog post, it means "it's fun for me, is it fun for you?" two of my friends and I kept saying this to each other all week. They're great and are enjoying basic training too, not all of the girls think it's fun but we do :)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

yes, commander!

extremely brief update, sorry for any mistakes! it's after 2am and i have to wake up at 5:10 in order to make it to my base on time in the morning YIKES! i can sleep about 3 hours combined on the train though, too, so it's okay.

i enlisted last thursday and everything went really well! the girls i enlisted with were really nice, asking me a bunch of questions and congratulating me for making the decision to join the army. by the end of the day they were yelling "hey american!" when i walked by. i'll explain the specifics of "barkum" (the whole first day stuff, uniforms, shots, dental, fingerprints, etc, next weekend) but basically I left there at 8pm Thursday night and went to my first night at basic training. we didn't do so much because we got there late but i still learned a ton in the short time i was there. i left friday morning at 10:15am and went straight to tel aviv to meet up with my sister. we spent the day around tel aviv and then went to jerusalem to spend shabbat at daniel's. shabbat was awesome but we just got back to nahariya tonight (saturday) at 12:30am. i packed all my stuff and now i'm ready for my first full week at basic training. oh, and we're getting a heat wave this week...yay!!

most importantly...i got my placement: i'm going to foreign affairs!!!! there is a ton of stuff that foreign affairs deals with and i don't know exactly what i'll be doing but i am sooo excited, i think it's going to be great.

more to update next weekend when i get home (my commander told us we are not staying for shabbat next weekend so I hope that is true!)

it sounds funny to me in english but at night we say goodnight to our commander so...

lyla tov, commander!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Last Day As A Civilian

So it is finally here, my draft date is tomorrow! I have a paper that tells me where to report (in Jerusalem), what time, what to bring, etc. I am pretty lucky (I think) because I am drafting on a Thursday which means I will go home for the weekend the same day. From what I understand I will get on a bus in Jerusalem and go to a place where I get fingerprinted, teeth imprint (scary thought..for identification), blood samples, my army ID, dog tags, uniform, give them my bank account info for payment, and a few other things. I'm pretty sure that after all that, instead of shipping off to boot camp that day like most do, I will be able to go home for the weekend. Sunday morning, I'm assuming, I will report wherever they tell me (somewhere in the desert or the north) for my three weeks of boot camp.

For clarification...I still have no idea what job I am doing in the army. I don't know this because I pushed everything to happen really quickly because I didn't want to enlist in October or December. Tomorrow I will also have a bit of an interview and based on that and my profile (test scores, hebrew level, physical profile, etc) I will get job options. Don't expect anything cool, I'm not very hopeful, but I am going to push my hardest. My physical profile is a "perfect" 97, the highest, my test score on the psychotechnical test was also 100%, I have a degree, all these things are going for me. Against me is the fact that I'm serving for a year and not the typical two required of girls, and also my lack of Hebrew proficiency, these minimize my job options.

Today I have to get some things done like buy socks and white t-shirts. (I have an excuse to buy new white t-shirts! If you know me and my wardrobe you know how exciting this is!) Actually they give me everything but the socks aren't that great and I'd rather have a few t shirts of my own. I also want to change my cell phone plan to a cheaper, soldier plan, I have to call the bank to sort something out and book a table tonight at a bar in Jerusalem for my enlistment/bday party.

Time to get moving, gotta get back to Jerusalem this afternoon. It's been a busy and exciting week! Hopefully I'll update this weekend on how Thursday went.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Heebs

I CANNOT WAIT until I am proficient in Hebrew.

I can definitely admit that I am improving. I can get around totally fine and manage to accomplish whatever I need to using my Hebrew, and occasionally English if need be. I successfully completed my entire army interview for over and hour in Hebrew and another interview today with the social worker, again in Hebrew. I took a driving lesson in Hebrew and only got confused a few times, haha. I generally understand the majority of conversations unless they are talking about something with difficult vocabulary or pertaining to something I'm not familiar with like business, etc. The problem is I cannot contribute to conversations in the way I would like to. By the time I have figured out how I want to say what I want to say the moment has passed and the conversation has moved forward, ugh! I've started to interject a little bit, and sometimes in English if it's something I don't have time to think about and just want to say it. It's much easier to understand than to speak, so now that I've improved with the understanding part it's time to start mastering the speaking part, in real time conversation. I'll keep you updated on this, I'm really hoping the army will help because I'm beginning to get quite frustrated at the plateau I seem to be on.

Speaking of the army, no I have not heard if the 21st is definite. I have inquired multiple times daily including showing up at the office and talking to a few people today but still nothing concrete. I am REALLY hoping to hear tomorrow, I don't want to wait until after the weekend.

Hopefully I can update tomorrow with an answer, but I've been saying that everyday so don't hold your breath...the IDF is Israeli bureaucracy at it's finest, or it's worst, whichever.

Monday, July 11, 2011

If I Had My Life To Live Over

I'd dare to make more mistakes next time.
I'd relax, I would limber up.
I would be sillier than I have been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances.

I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers.
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would perhaps have more actual troubles,
but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.

You see, I'm one of those people who live
sensibly and sanely hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I've had my moments,
And if I had it to do over again,
I'd have more of them.
In fact, I'd try to have nothing else.
Just moments, one after another,
instead of living so many years ahead of each day.

I've been one of those people who never goes anywhere
without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat
and a parachute.
If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had my life to live over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.

I would go to more dances.
I would ride more merry-go-rounds.
I would pick more daisies.

Nadine Stair,
85 years old.

We can only hope that we remember this every day as we make decisions, from the small and seemingly insignificant to the life-changing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


My friend Amos who I met at the army recruitment center and who has been helping me with my enlistment process told me Thursday that there is a 90% chance I will enlist July 21st....Happy 23rd Birthday to me!!! If you're thinking, "Wow, that's soon!" so am I, but I am the one who asked for it to be ASAP. The enlistment date they gave me at first was December 2012, Amos moved it up to October 9th this year, and then, hopefully, to July 21st. I will call tomorrow to see if the date is finalized...let's cross our fingers!

That's less than two weeks away which means I need to get my act together and get things done since, once I'm in the army, I will only be home Friday afternoon-Sunday morning. First order of business, doctors appointment in the morning with Allie for the second step of our license conversion. I need to do things like change my address with the army to say that I'm living in the north and not Jerusalem (which means I'll be allotted 3 extra hours of travel time to and from base, woo hoo!). I also need to get "lone soldier" status on my file so that I receive all the benefits that come with that including extra pay, money for groceries, rent money, etc. A lone soldier is someone without family in Israel. I have to buy a few things like socks, flashlight, odds and ends that I'll need while in the army. I also need to figure out what i'm doing for my cellphone plan because I want the internet on my phone so I can use skype to keep in touch.A bit of catchup, nothing too exciting. I babysat in Jerusalem last Tuesday and Wednesday and spent Wednesday night/Thursday in Tel Aviv. Last Thursday night I spent the night at the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) with my friend Itamar and a bunch of his friends. Itamar's family owns some land on the shore of the Kinneret. I got to wake up to the sun rising behind the mountains in the picture above. I also had poike for my first time, see photo below. Poike is a "dish" that comes from Africa and is literally just a combination of whatever you have, cooked in a pot over a fire. We made two, one veggie one meat, and put in potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, I don't know what the meat was, rice, chickpeas, soy sauce, sweet chili sauce, coca cola, wine, beer, and probably some rocks and sand,too. I had the veggie one and it actually didn't taste bad I just wasn't too fond of the texture/color. I was told you have to eat poike in the dark, it's just "what you do" and also that poike without said isn't real poike. People make it in the army I guess relatively often so maybe I'll have another shot at it soon.
I'm planning some birthday/enlistment festivities next weekend and the night before I enlist which should be nice. I'll keep you updated on the army as soon as I know for sure!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Fourth!

July 4th is coming to an end and it was all-too-much of a regular day for me. Lately my days in Nahariya have consisted of either waking up, running then going to the beach, or waking up, going to the beach, then running. Today it was the latter, with a bit of baking thrown in there. I wanted to bake something because I felt that is what I would be doing if I were back in the states on the fourth, gearing up to go to a BBQ of some sort. Instead of making an American flag cake I made and apple coffee cake, but it was still baking. I also listened to Born in the USA multiple times throughout the day. I missed my would-be 11th annual Rexhame beach/Shanahan 3rd of July party with my friends from home, and I missed a frisbee tournament in Philly with a bunch of BC friends. (Sidenote: When I'm here my high school friends and BC friends area all "friends from home," it was funny to differentiate between them) Anyway, maybe it's good because I would have been so torn on which to do anyway! Last night I called Erin's beach house and talked to all my friends there, and I just got off the phone with all my frisbee friends who are now at a Pirates game in Philly waiting for their flight back to Boston. No too shabby, talked to about 15 people in two phone calls!

I have always found it a bit ironic (since my first visit to Israel in 2007) that being here makes me more thankful to be American than I ever was when I lived in the states. It is true that I am now also Israeli, but I know I will never lose my American-ness, either. I am aware that all of the privileges that I grew up with lead me to where I am today, and had I been born somewhere else I certainly may not be so lucky. All of the rights and freedoms that I was able to experience growing up have helped me to become the person I am, and have shaped many beliefs that I have as well. For these reasons and more I feel especially connected to the USA on this Independence Day, probably more so than all of the July 4th's I had before I left the country.

Lastly, whenever I use the term "home" or something of the like, my Israeli friends, particularly Daniel, like to remind me that I live here now, and that Israel is my home. I am well aware, and I do feel that Israel is my home, but I finally decided to try and describe how I feel about Boston/Whitman to him this weekend. It's where I grew up, spent 21 years of my life, where so many of my friends are, and maybe most importantly, where Momma and Danielle are. It's really hard to be away from friends, and I love and miss them a lot, but I came down to one thing specifically surrounding the word "home"...Wherever my momma is, that will always be my home. I think it's best to say that I have two homes, because that is truly how I feel. Momma, Allie, and Dani made me a great photo book before I left and on the front there is a picture of my house, 13 Jacob Lane, Whitman MA, surrounded by the quote "Home is where you love, home where your feet may leave, but never your heart." So Whitman, and Boston, don't worry, you'll always be my home.

Happy Independence Day USA, and thank you to all of those who have fought and are still fighting to protect all of our rights and're part of the reason why I am here today, ironically, and I truly appreciate it.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Weekend's Little Lessons

things I learned/re-learned this weekend...

Run around the block an extra time to pass by the fresh lavender again...mmmm.
Dance. Even if you look like a fool. No one cares and it's more fun.
Even though it's hot in Nahariya all the time it is still quite cool in Jerusalem at night during the summer. Bring a sweater/hoodie.
Choose fun and friends over sleep at most every opportunity possible.
A return train ticket that you threw in the trash is not worth getting upset over, but don't do it again.
An unbelievable amount of technology and science goes into designing a race car.
There are a whole lot of secrets in the US (read: probably every) government that we don't know about.
Don't overanalyze. You're doing just that, OVERanalyzing. You're only hurting yourself.
Don't stand behind a dog when you're walking her, she'll pee on your foot. Take it as a compliment.
Timing is (almost) everything.
There was a time when I thoroughly enjoyed going down the same slide 50 times in a row. Do not become immune to those simple pleasures.
Drink Sam Adams because it makes you happy, who cares that it's more money and calories than coffee or tea.
Always ask little kids (12-24 months) to say please. Not to teach them manners, but because they will say "peass" and its adorable.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Always Carry A 200 Shekel Bill

The process to convert your license is pretty absurd. The first step is to go to something like a certified eye glasses store and pickup a "tofes yarok," I guess that means a green form. The optician at the store does a very quick eye exam, takes a picture of you, and prints out the form. The form and process costs 40 shekel. I count my change and realize I have 35.50 or a 200 shekel bill. Like a typical American I take out the 200 shekel bill and like a typical Israeli he asks if I have small change. I said, "no, I only have 35 shekel" to which he replied, "that's fine." In case I haven't learned yet...literally EVERYTHING is negotiable!

Another reason why this experience was "Israeli": 1. While I was walking out the door the other woman getting the same form asked me if I already had the name/number of a good driving teacher. I told her that I am just starting the process and I haven't looked into it yet. She pulls out her phone and tells me to call her driving teacher to set up my lesson because he is the best, she gives me his name and number and we are both on our way. Correct me if I am wrong but I think that would only happen between friends in the states, not complete strangers.

Now I just have to fill out the rest of the form, go to the doctor so he can sign the form, bring the form to some office to be stamped, schedule a lesson and "practical test", pay money at the post office (don't ask) for the lesson, pay a lot to take the test, hope I pass the first time, return to the random office to get my temp license, pay a lot to the post office again (yea, i know, post offices do everything here) to activate my temp license, wait 8 weeks for my real license to be mailed (to an address I don't live at anymore). all this just to get my license...AGAIN! ohhh Israeli bureaucracy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

sumer lovin'

It's officially summer time for this girl! Ulpan is over and I moved up to Allie's in Nahariya until the end of August.

The move was an adventure. We were instructed to have our stuff out by the bus that the Ulpan ordered for us at 8:30am. At 8:50ish I brought my stuff down (like a good Israeli), got my deposit back, ate some breakfast, and went out to load the bus. At 10:30ish we were off, 21 of us, mostly Russian or Spanish speaking, all headed somewhere in the vicinity of Tel Aviv. First stop, Lod, dropped two off there and we were off to Holon. First minor difficulty:the bottom door to the bus opens and our stuff spills out into the highway (see photo: us gathering our belongings from the highway). Of course of the 4 or 5 bags that fall out two of them are mine. New duffle bag scraped up and a damaged pair of sandals...bummer, but maybe more exciting than upsetting actually. We made it to Holon, then Bat Yam followed by Yafo, Tel Aviv proper, getting lost in some areas north of Tel Aviv (people who don't actually know where they are going to be living and who do not speak Hebrew or English talking to a bus driver who doesn't know the area at all and doesn't speak English is always a joy!), and 4 hours later I arrived at the Tel Aviv train station. For those of you who are unaware, this drive would have taken maybe 40 minutes in a car.

I got off the bus into a group of about 50-60 elementary school religious girls in uniforms on some sort of field trip. They proceed to stare at me as I seriously struggle to make it to security. I'm not kidding, they were legitimately walking directly in front of me turned around staring at me. At one point I was so fed up I actually said, in Hebrew, "What, is this funny to you? Move, please." Sorry little girls for being a jerk, but you were obnoxious. After getting all my bags through security and buying my ticket I had to face all 60 of the girls again to insert my ticket and get into the train station. As I'm shoving my bags through the turnstiles, sweating profusely and clearly exhausted, they stand DIRECTLY on the other side staring at me. Actually two of my bags hit them in the legs because they wouldn't move. Ugh, they were SO annoying. Here is when I said to them, "Why are you standing RIGHT here?! Move, please". Anyway, I made it on and off the train with the help of a really nice girl on the way on and a really nice soldier on the way off who carried my stuff to the taxi. Three trips of three flights of stairs and 7 hours later I am here, Nahariya Israel, about to head out for a beautiful night run along the beach (thanks for convincing me, Brendan!)

I think I will manage living one block from the beach just fine this summer :)

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Shark and The Fish

"Over 1700 days have passed since Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas terrorists, on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza, on 25th June 2006. Since then, Gilad has been denied visitation by international humanitarian organizations like the Red Cross and any real contact with his family and the outside world.

When Gilad was eleven years old, he wrote a story entitled "When the Shark and the Fish First Met". In this allegory, Gilad writes about a young fish who meets a young shark. Although natural enemies, they decide to become friends and live in peace. Here is Gilad's story:
A small and gentle fish was swimming in the middle of a peaceful ocean. All of a sudden, the fish saw a shark that wanted to devour him. He then began to swim very quickly, but so did the shark. Suddenly the fish stopped and called to the shark: "Why do you want to devour me? We can play together!" The shark thought and thought and said: "Okay- fine: Let’s play hide and seek."
The shark and fish played all day long, until the sun went down. In the evening, the shark returned to his home. His mother asked: “How was your day, my dear shark? How many animals did you devour today?” The shark answered: “Today I didn’t devour any animals, but I played with an animal called FISH”. “That fish is an animal we eat. Don’t play with it!” said the shark’s mother. At the home of the fish, the same thing happened. “How are you, little fish? How was it today in the sea?” asked the fish’s mother. The fish answered: "Today I played with an animal called SHARK." "That shark is the animal that devoured your father and your brother. Don’t play with that animal," answered the mother. The next day in the middle of the ocean, neither the shark nor the fish were there. They didn’t meet for many days, weeks and even months.
Then, one day they met. Each one immediately ran back to his mother and once again they didn’t meet for days, weeks and months. After a whole year passed, the shark went out for a nice swim and so did the fish. For a third time, they met and then the shark said: "You are my enemy, but maybe we can make peace?”The little fish said: "Okay."
They played secretly for days, weeks and months, until one day the shark and fish went to the fish’s mother and spoke together with her. Then they did the same thing with the shark’s mother; and from that same day the sharks and the fish live in peace."

This story Gilad wrote is amazing and has extremely clear parallels to the situation here in Israel. I took the story from the NU Campaign website where they made a shirt in order to support the efforts to bring Gilad Shalit back home. The NU Campaign is amazing, they make t-shirts for all types of causes and their proceeds benefit these causes. Check them out here and order a shirt for whatever story touches you!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Peace Out, J-Town Down

I had my "first order" at the army last week! It was a loonngg day of testing, and I'm glad to finally have this step behind me. I arrived at the recruitment office at 8:30am and left at 2:30pm-ish. The first thing I had to do was sort of an interview, the girl asked me about my parents and family, when/where I was in school, what I studied, where I worked, etc. After she filled in all my information including names/addresses/phone numbers of basically every person I know in Israel, she gave me the hardest Hebrew test ever. Apparently the test is standardized and everyone gets the same one, and yea, that means Israeli's too. After telling her that I didn't know any of the words int he first three sentences she gave me it got a little easier and I could do some of the things she was asking of me. The girl was really nice and told me that I was doing really well, apparently I wasn't really supposed to be able to do it because it is intended to be hard for Israeli's. Anyway, we went on to talk more in depth about my family, what I want to do in the future, what I am expecting in the army, why I made Aliyah/decided to join the army, etc. I did all of this in Hebrew fairly easily, pretty cool.

I went to the medical exam floor after the interview, which was pretty standard. Urine test, quick physical exam, height, weight, and I have an optometrist apt. on Monday to send them my glasses prescription since I didn't know the numbers really, and certainly not in the measurements here. I sat around a bit longer (see future post on the situation that occurred with a little religious boy while I was waiting) and then took the psychotechni test on the computer. I thought this test was pretty easy, two parts where I identified shapes, patterns, and relationships between shapes. Everything was in pictures which is right up my alley, I love those kinds of things. After I finished everything I finally got a sandwich and headed up to see my buddy Amos who has been helping me through my process.

Amos looked at my profile and told me that I was really smart, so apparently I did well on the psychotechni test, although I don't know what my score was and don't know what it is out of. He said "100 and 100" but that could be out of 500 for all I know, haha. Or it could be out of 100. Either way, his buddy tried to put me down because I'm almost 23 and everyone else taking these tests is 18. This is something I'll have to get used to...the age difference. Oh well, what can you do, I don't think I learned intelligence or how to identify shapes in college, but maybe. In the end I don't think I did well enough on the Hebrew test to be exempt from the army ulpan (hebrew course) which is a huge bummer. I really don't want to spend more time in ulpan before starting the army, maybe I'll only have to do 3 weeks, but I'd rather just get thrown in there and not waste any more time, I'll pick up the Hebrew eventually!

After my day of testing I went up to Shorashim to the Morse's ("adopted" family) for Shavuot, the holiday that was this week. Great food holiday, especially for a used-to-be veggie since it's all dairy meals! We had our meal Tuesday night outside with everyone from the community (Shorashim is a moshav, like a small community, not as socialist as a Kibbutz) eating together. The desserts are amazing because they can be milk/cheese based, unlike when you eat a meat meal and (for kosher reasons) desserts are "parve," which means has no milk or meat. yummm cheesecakee! Wednesday we had a yummy poached salmon with blintzes and yummy salads and cheeses. And homemade cheesecakes. Allie and I came back to Jerusalem Thursday and spent the day around town. We met up with friends at night and she left for Beer Sheva Friday morning. It's my last weekend in Jerusalem! Leaving for Allie's in the north on Wednesday. Summer on the beach, yes please! Currently my plan is to be in Nahariya with Allie until she goes to the states in August. I will then move to Shorashim with the Morse's until Allie comes back from the states in November. Hopefully then we'll move to an apartment in Jerusalem with a few other friends. Also, hopefully I'll be in the army at some point this summer, and throughout these moves.

My enlistment date should be coming in the mail, along with my job options. I'll have to work whatever connections I can in order to actually get a decent job, though.