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By makenadingwell

My birthday always falls during finals week. Usually by the time the day comes, some friends have gone home and some have locked themselves away in a library, fighting off Facebook and other temptations. However here I face a different set of obstacles. Everyone is still in Madrid, but it’s the beginning of our last week, finals are just beginning, and I’m turning 21 abroad.

However, this day can be filed under ‘why homestays are the best.’ I woke up early and received messages from caffeinated friends in the U.S., still awake and studying in Gelman library. Shortly after breakfast my host mom woke up and greeted me with a little gift. “¡Feliz cumple!” It was simple silver and leather wrap bracelet and was such a lovely surprise.

For lunch, my host mom cooked her famous paella, accompanied by morcilla, toast with tomatoes, and delicious sangria for two of my friends and me. The night before I went to dinner with a group which encompassed a magnitude of mojitos and tapas and dim lighting. Despite being so far away, my birthday this year was probably the coziest I’ve had in years. Later in the afternoon I went on a walk, despite the cold and drizzly weather, with a cappuccino in one hand, and an umbrella in the other. After drifting in and out of a couple stores, most notably a Real Madrid store, I bartered with a family of florists to buy a bouquet of flowers to bring back to my host mom.

Even though the directors forgot about my birthday, this weekend highlights the benefits of a homestay and the kindness of the family you have abroad. Whenever my friends and I spend time together, we always chat about our host families and their antics. I know all about the architect dad and his rambunctious sons, the mom and her cool CD and teapot collections, the host brother and his nameless band, and the housekeeper with her teething toddler. At the end of the day, we all go back home to our families, chatting away in Spanish, about our friends and our city adventures. I’ve learned Spanish words for clumsy, cheesy, and such, all because of my friends and their host families and I wouldn’t have it, or my birthday, any other way.

By zamorse

There is a ceremony on campus tonight (and all around the country) for Holocaust Remembrance Day and I thought this would be a good time to talk a little about all of the different holidays going on recently here in Israel. We are right now in the middle of the holiday season in Judaism and in Israeli culture, with at least five holidays in a three week period. Its nuts.

Last week was Passover, made famous by Matza or the unleavened bread that Jews eat for eight days. My parents came to visit, we had a nice banquet on the night of the holiday, and it was like spring break all over Israel.

Tonight is the Holocaust Remembrance Day, called Yom Hashoah (יום השואה) in Hebrew. It is Israel's remembrance day for the 6 million Jews that perished in the Holocaust. It is a day of mourning and reflection. Places of entertainment, like movie theaters, will be closed by law tonight. Flags are lowered to half-mast and it is customary to wear white.

Next Monday night is Israel's Memorial Day called Yom Hazikaron (יום הזיכרון) in Hebrew. The day is dedicated to Israel's fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism. It is also a very somber day in Israel. A siren is sounded all over the country at which point Israel's stop whatever they're doing (including driving) and stand in silence.

Yom Hazikaron is immediately followed the next day by Yom Haatzmaut (יום העצמאות), or Israel's Independence Day. It is not on May 14 (when Ben Gurion declared the State of Israel in 1948) because it follows the Jewish calender, which is a lunar calendar, and changes dates every year. This, of course, is one of the happiest days on the Jewish and Israeli calendar. Ceremonies are held all over the country, especially the capital Jerusalem. More than ceremonies, there are huge parties held all over the country. There are Israeli flags everywhere in Israel right now on the streets getting ready for this outpouring of patriotism.

There is another holiday, Lag Ba'Omer int he middle of May. There is also one ongoing right now, called Sefirah (Counting of the Omer), counting the days between Passover and Shavuot (a harvest festival in June).

So to say that it is a hectic time in Judaism and here in Israel is an understatement. There is a lot going on, but I think it really speaks to how Israeli culture operates. One day is Memorial Day, one of the saddest days of the year, and the very next day is Independence Day, by far the happiest day of the year. So we'll see what happens.

By zamorse

This week was Passover vacation here in Israel. Passover is the Spring holiday in Judaism that celebrates the exodus from Egypt. It's a big family holiday for eight days, and Jews travel all over the world to be with their families and experience the holiday. It's know to most non-Jews by the unleavened tasteless bread that we eat, Matza. In Israel it's like Spring Break, people get days off from work, and the universities are shut down for the week. In the diaspora (outside of Israel), there's two seders (big meals) on the first two nights of the holiday, but in Israel there's only one seder. We went to my mom's friends house in Ra'anana to have the seder with their extended Israeli family.

My parents and grandmother came to visit this week since I didn't have school, and it's been really nice to see them. Instead of staying in Haifa near the university (which is shut down this week), we're staying in Herzliya, which is in the center of the country, just north of Tel Aviv, right on the beach. We rented a car from the airport and have been traveling all over Israel this week.

Today we went to Jerusalem and the Old City, went to the Western Wall and walked through the Jewish Quarter, then walked outside the Old City and had lunch at the famous King David Hotel. And what an interesting experience that was. Today is Easter, so the Christian Quarter was busy celebrating that holiday. It's Passover in the Jewish Quarter, and there are Muslim riots on the Temple Mount in the Muslim Quarter (2 people injured, 24 arrested just this morning). The Old City is a walled ancient city (.35 square miles) in the middle of Jerusalem and has four quarters. The biggest is the Muslim Quarter, followed by the Christian Quarter, then the Jewish Quarter, and finally the Armenian Quarter. So to say that a lot was going on today in such a small area was an understatement.

Yesterday we went to a museum in Tel Aviv. The day before we went to the oldest neighborhood in Tel Aviv to walk around. We've gone up to Haifa this week to see the university and walk around the national park across the street. We went to Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Museum) in Jerusalem, and Beit Hatfutsot (The Diaspora Museum) at Tel Aviv University.

It's been a busy week, but it's been really nice seeing my family since I don't get to see them very much. And living in Herzliya this week is a totally different experience then Haifa---much less diversity, much more wealth, and many more Americans.

I've been to the three largest cities in Israel this week. Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and Haifa---each with their own unique flavor and characteristics. And I've had the great experience of having my family come to visit me in my second study abroad location. Until next time!

By maxikaplan

With my family visiting this weekend for what was dubbed “Thanksgivvukah,” I had no choice but to explore London, despite my workload.  And, frankly, I am happy that I put off some work this weekend to spend time with my family and with London, because it had been too long since I adventured around.  One of the perks of family visits is, of course, the meals you get to eat, and I was lucky enough to get a taste of some of London’s best food and museums this weekend.  The combination of my family and my friends visiting from home shaped this weekend quite perfectly.

If I can think back as far as last Sunday, I probably wrote in my blog about worrying how I would manage my time between preparing for this interview I have next Friday, my school work, and my family visiting.  What I learned is, in short: don’t waste time.  The little amount of time that I had to myself this weekend I spent studying and preparing for my interview, and although I would have preferred to spend it at a pub or with my friends, it was worth it.  I was able to get just enough work done to keep my stress level down and enjoy the events my family was taking me to.  I suppose things like this happen quite often in every day life, but for some reason this time was particularly eye opening.  It might have been because this interview is so important to me, but either way I definitely learnt what it means to use your time wisely.

With all my complaining out of the way, I should probably mention the museum’s I visited and places I ate.  First off, ox cheek is apparently something that can be eaten and digested, and it is incredible.  Secondly, apparently espresso can go on top of vanilla ice cream, which can definitely be digested, and which tastes amazing.  These foods I discovered in neighborhoods in London that I didn’t know existed until my family took me there—yet again one of the perks of family visits.  As far as museum’s go, we took a trip to the National Portrait Gallery to see an exhibit of artists that painted in Vienna around 1900.  This worked out well for my family, since my brother currently lives in Vienna and I visited there this time last year.  All in all, a great experience.

Next weekend I am in New York, but do not fret, reader--I will write as usual.