I've been in Israel for about a week and a half, and I am very happy to be here! I arrived earlier than my group so that I would be able to spend some time with my brother before he left for Europe. I spent my first Shabbat with family friends that used to live in San Diego, the Haimovitchs, my brother and Erin. We went off-roading along the northeaste border with Jordan. It was unbelievable to be so close to the fence (sorry mom). We went swimming in a natural spring and had lunch, it was my first Israeli day. Saturday night we met up with my cousin Raannan and his fiance, Sharon, and it was a really nice evening, (first legal beer, again sorry mom). Saturday night, we dropped Erin off at the airport, who, sadly, had to return to the real world back in the States. Seth was dropped off at the airport Sunday night, (we missed seeing Madona at the airport by about two hours). And on Monday I met up with my group - Young Judaea/FZY Year Course in Jerusalem. We are located in the neighborhood of Baka. Previous years we were located farther away from everything, in the Young Judaea youth hostel. This location is amazing! We are like a ten minute walk to Emec Refaim and maybe a 15 min bus ride to Ben Yehuda. Whenever there is free time, I have been walking around the neighborhood with some friends. So Monday, I meet most of the kids on our section. There are three sections, in this section we have all of FZY (England's version of Young Judaea), Shevet, and all of the art kids. Because we have all of the British kids, we only have like 5 American boys. It is very interesting with the cultural differences even just between us. Some of the Americans, including me, keep slipping and talking with a British accent.
So my room - I am in a suite with 15 other girls! We have two showers, three toilets, a kitchen, 5 different rooms, a balcony/patio area, and a dining room table. I am in the smallest room, so I only have one other roommate-Jessica-who I had met and roomed with when I was on the March of the Living, this past spring.
This week has been orientation so we haven't really gotten into the swing of things yet. And yes mom we learned where we can and cannot go and which buses are okay to take and whatnot.
Wednesday was our first evening that we were allowed out, and of course we all go to Ben Yehuda. Its really strange and comforting that everyone goes to Ben Yehuda, so people are always running into people that they know from back home.
Part of orientation was learning to go to the supermarket to buy food. Our stipends are split into two different groups for our apartment, 8 and 8. Everyone is really easy when it comes to pointing out where things are. My friend Jessica even met someone who used to live by her and they gave us her number so that we can come over for shabbat or whenever. I don't know if we will take her up on that. Jessica and I had an adventure returning the trollies (British for shopping carts) back to the store from our apartments.
Our first shabbat was a shabbat biyachad. We all walked to the Kotel, which was about a 45 min walk (it's faster in a smaller group). We danced, sang and got yelled at by one person. It was fascinating on how much time she spent on trying to make us be quite instead of doing her own thing. We weren't louder then the men and we were singing with our group. After the Kotel, we walked to the Agron House (home of Nativ's Year Course program) and had dinner with only Shevet. We had special guests this shabbat. FZY sent some of their leaders down to see the program and most of them were on Year Course when they were our age so it was really neat to see how much they care about the program that when they "grew up" they decided to work for the organization. Saturday we went to a synagogue that was close by. There are synagogues everywhere you look. We were assigned to host families to spend the day with. I went with Jessica and Britty (also an apartmentmate) to a family who made Aliyah about seven years ago from Chicago. They have three children--a daughter our age, Sarah, a daughter that is 16, Mechelle, and Coby, who is going to have his bar mitzvah this year. It was a very welcoming Shabbat for our first Shabbat in Jerusalem. After we returned, we took a Shabbat Menucha. All of the apartments were assigned to make something for a potluck for the Suda Shlishit (I have no idea how to spell hebrew words in english). We made a keish and a pasta salad. After the meal we davened Maariv and had havdalah. Most of us then went to the Israel/Latvia soccer game. Sadly, it was a very disappointing game and we lost 1 to 0. I had lots of fun though.
Sunday, yesterday, I walked around with some friends in the morning, did some errands and laundry and attended my first class. It is an elective about Jewish Art. It is taught by Dr. Avi Rose who seems like an amazing teacher and I'm very excited for his class.
I received my volunteering placement but I don't start until Weds. I will be working at Yad LaKashesh, a place where retired people have a place to work and make artsy items that are then sold in stores. It sounds interesting and since I will be working with older people they probably won't speak English as well as others, so I will be forced to use my Hebrew. I want to make sure I actually use my Hebrew here. It is really strange that when we ask someone in the street or at a store something in Hebrew and they reply in English, everyone just knows that we are American.
Today, Monday, I had nothing organized (some classes don't start till after the holidays), I went to Machena Yehuda with Jessica and Britty. We bought lots of fruit, veggies, and nuts. It was definitely an experience trying to barter and carrying everything home on the buses. Oh and I saw a guy wearing a Sun Diego shirt, it was nice seeing someone from home. We have bus passes for the three months that we are here, which is very handy.
Tomorrow is our first Siyur, I am going to explore the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. I'll write more after I have experienced it.
I haven't really seen any friends from home yet. But I plan on doing so. However, Ilan Dock came out with me and some of my friends last night for sushi. It was lovely to see him, again.
So far I am really enjoying my time here. I cannot wait for classes and volunteering to start.
And mom, we are all taking turns cooking and cleaning the apartment.
If anyone wants to chat they can call my Israeli phone number 052 6047691 or talk to me on Skype: rachherring. And there is Facebook. I will be putting up pictures eventually.