In order to be a candidate for the course one must be either A: a new immigrant less than 10 years in Israel and/or B: not considered Jewish by Jewish Law. I fall under both of those categories. But wait a minute, some of you may ask, what does it mean you're not considered Jewish, Lauren? You're the only Jew out of all of my friends! (It's kind of funny how true that is for many people back home). In the Jewish religion one is born the religion of their mother (in my case, Catholic), in the Catholic religion one is not Catholic until baptized. Before my sisters and I were born my parents decided to raise us Jewish which meant at six months we all underwent a conservative Jewish conversion. Is the US this means that I am considered a Jew, in Israel, however, a conservative conversion does not count and therefore I need to undergo another conversion, this time Orthodox. The only way in which my current "half-Jewish" status affects me in Israel is that I cannot get married here until I undergo the conversion. Everything else pertaining to the law I am entitled to since, just to be a bit more confusing, according the the government I am Jewish yet according the the Chief Rabbi I am not. The only governmental issue run by the Rabbi is marriage, there is no civil marriage in Israel. Because of this many Israeli's that do not want an orthodox Jewish wedding get married abroad and then their marriage is verified in Israel. Although I have no idea if I will even get married in Israel or not, the reason I am going through this process now is because it is a much faster process to do in the army than in civilian life...if I decided to do so after. Back to the course...
The course is 7 weeks and it is in Jerusalem at a place run by the Jewish Agency, which means not at an army base. This has pros and cons..but mostly pros. I have a room with 3 roommates a bathroom, shower, and a real down comforter provided to me :). Our dining hall has way better food than the army, except dinner is usually a meat meal which guys love and I dislike greatly. (Usually in the army breakfast and dinner are dairy and lunch is meat, for kosher reasons it is not possible to have both at one meal. Since I'm not a big meat eater I graciously look forward to breakfast and dinner and manage to get by at lunch. A meat dinner is thought of as really awesome to almost everyone, except me and the real vegetarians.) Back on track...We are split up into 9 groups and we learn from 8am until 7pm, with breaks of course, Sunday-Thursday. We have many trips to religious and historical sites around the country. Our classes are Zionism, history, Torah, holidays, and Jewish philosophy.
A majority of the students are Russian, either Israeli born or immigrants, who are usually also not considered Jewish. In Russia Judaism is paternal as opposed to maternal, go figure, which causes problems in Israel. Many students mother's are Jewish is Russia which means their mother's father is Jewish. It's all a bit confusing and arbitrary...don't worry about not following. Anyway, I am the only American girl in the course of 200 people which I'm pretty surprised about. I am in a class with half Russian students (Israeli born and not), 2 from Peru, one Columbian, one Argentinean, one from Panama, one Romanian, two ethiopian, a few from Ukraine, one from Belarus, one from LA, and I think that's it. There are 7 girls including myself, 6 Russian and me, haha. I am among 3 who have been here for 3 years or less, everyone else is 8-10 years or more in Israel. As you can imagine, it is quite the eclectic class. I am glad I am not in the class with almost all American guys because I know I would end up speaking English too often.
So far everything is really interesting, I am excited to learn a lot more these next two weeks (we are staying the weekend) as last week was mostly an introductory week.
Look what happened in Jerusalem this week!!!
overlooking snowy Jerusalem
the old city, the Dome of the Rock
Palm tree covered in snow
My class and our snowman!