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Well I officially have less than one month until I return home to New York-- I can't believe study abroad is almost over! I'm going to miss Tel Aviv and Israel so much and cannot explain how incredible this experience was. I would do it again in a heartbeat!

However, before I leave I have a ton of final papers and projects to do (about 7) which is becoming difficult to complete because the weather has been absolutely amazing (aka lots of beach days)! I'm really going to have to buckle down and get all of them done before I leave.

Although I love Israel, I'm also really excited to be going home! My mom was able to visit me this week but I haven't seen my dad since I left so I'm mostly excited to see him. Also, I miss Long Island food! Bacon egg & cheese sandwiches, great Italian food, etc-- Israeli food is great but it just doesn't compare.

What I will miss about Israel is something I cannot put into words-- the people, the food, the beach, my friends, everything! I feel so at home in Israel and will definitely be back several times in my life. If you have the chance to study abroad, and you're particularly interested in the Middle East, I highly recommend studying in Israel. Even if you can't study abroad here, please try to come visit this beautiful country and understand its people, culture, politics, and history because it is really worthwhile!

This is my final goodbye! Shalom!

Israel at 70 is still a young 21 year old. Israel as a country is 70 years, its history is almost 6,000 years old, and its democratic system turned 21 years old. Two days ago Israel held the 21st Knesset elections. Man was I happy to be in Israel for these elections. Of course as a GW student I take all elections very seriously. So these past couple of weeks I really dove into studying, reading, watching and of course going to debates and discussions about this year’s elections in Israel. Granted I did put in more effort than many people I knew because I thought was going to vote, but I don’t have residency just citizenship. The great Israel fellow of GW gave me great words of advice in saying with voting in Israel every vote counts 10 fold and because of this it’s a lot more responsibility. Well, results came in and Bibi will still be Prime Minister after the coalition part of elections are done. That is basically the quickest way to summarize all of this. I could also tell you the party I wanted  most in the Knesset had a Red Line in order to join a coalition - that is for legalization of marijuana. Anyways it is always an amazing experience to participate in democracy and although I didn’t vote I still gave my opinions and still took part in the discussion. Which, without a vote, are two crucial things that one can do. It is also not everything. Remember GOTV. I’m on break now, very happy about this. I can finally not worry about assignments to do all the time, but to keep pushing myself. I’m still going to work through this break a little bit. The most exciting thing I’m looking forward to on this break is a three day hike I will be taking from the Mediterranean sea to the Sea of Galilee. That’s all folks, Israel is just as young as we all are, but only at its heart, and that is how many times they have held democratic elections. That’s right all those people who don’t like Israel it is the one place in this part of the world with a democratic system.

    There is a common stereotype that all abroad programs and courses are a complete joke— I’m here to dispel that misconception! Depending on the program, your courses could be the easiest you’ll ever take, or potentially even harder than a GW course. I would say that the courses at my school fall somewhere in between. I definitely thought that they would be easier than they actually are. In fact, the courses that seemed the easiest (humanities) turned out to be the most difficult and required extra preparation.
       Not only are the classes more difficult than I assumed, but they are graded very differently than GW courses. At GW, we have portions of our grade that goes towards homework, midterm, final, and attendance. In most of my classes, our final itself is 50-70% of our grade, 15-40% midterm, and 10-15% is attendance. In other words, you have significantly fewer assignments, however you also have only two opportunities to do well in the class which, in my opinion, is a worse than the former.
       Lastly, and most importantly, our finals are for the most part all written take-home papers. This sounds ideal however all of the classes have these papers due within the same week which will be very stressful. To best prepare for these tests or papers, you must be cognizant of their deadlines and start working on them as soon as you’re given a prompt.
       Midterms are over for me and I’m finally on Passover break! I’ll be spending my travels in Europe and will have many more stories for my blog very soon! Ciao for now!

Shalom everyone! I'm back with another blog entry, however the topic is a lot more serious. Last night was the first night that I truly felt unsafe abroad.

Israel is a very modern country that contains some of the world's most advanced technological systems in the world--particularly in the defense sector. Because of this, Israel seems like a very Westernized country, and most of the time it feels like I am in Europe. However, last night reminded me that is not the case.

Last night, Thursday, March 14, I was eating dinner with my friends at a market similar to that of Union Market in D.C. We heard a loud crash but did not think anything of it because there was a lot of construction going on around the area. However, immediately after, we heard the red alert sirens all across Tel Aviv. The red alert sirens warn Israelis to get to the nearest bunker/safe space because of rockets and missiles being fired into Israel. The security guards at the market immediately ushered us into the market for safety precautions. Thankfully, no one was harmed by these rockets shot from Gaza because they were immediately shot down by the Israeli army.

This experience made me realize exactly where I was in the world. It is very rare for there to be rockets fired towards Tel Aviv, so it put many things into perspective:

1. I am extremely grateful to be alive, healthy, and safe.

2. Download a local news app to get notified of important day-to-day activities going on in your host country.

3. If you are in a similar situation, wait until it dissipates and you have all of the facts before calling any loved ones. Calling your parents on the phone while you are in a panicked state will do more harm than good.

4. Always travel with at least 1 friend in case you ever feel like you are in danger.

5. Keep all important phone numbers for your host country/school in one, organized place! You should NOT wait to do this after something dangerous happens (ex. over 75 students in 20 minutes joined the TAU Emergency WhatsApp group AFTER the rocket incident).

Like I said earlier, I am so grateful to be alive and safe, and I am so thankful to be in a country that prioritizes safety and security over everything! This experience did not make me afraid of this country, in fact, it made me more appreciative of it! I'll talk to you all next time! Shabbat shalom!

Shalom again! I’m back with some more updates! It is now the middle of February and we just finished our ulpan for the semester!! Ulpan was such an incredible experience because I went from knowing no Hebrew to being conversationally fluent in Hebrew. Now that our ulpan is over, we have a 10-day break! Many students are headed to Europe and I am too! I will be traveling within Spain and visiting some of my other friends that are abroad. Once we get back from our break, we will finally start classes which is really exciting. 

Now that I have been in Tel Aviv for 5 weeks, here are my top 5 favorite things to do in the city:

  1. The beach: As I mentioned in my last blog, the “winter”
     in TLV has been exceptionally warm! Many days after ulpan we would hop onto the bus and go straight to the beach. There’s nothing better than friends, sun, and good food!
  2. HaCarmel Market: also known as a “shuk”, these open air flea markets are where many Israelis will buy their groceries. It is by far my favorite one— mostly because they have the best Venezuelan arepas in the world! The food that you find in this shuk is unmatched. 
  3. Nightlife: The nightlife in TLV is incredible! TLV is such a young, diverse city and you can meet different people from all walks of life just on Dizengoff Street. 
  4. #FoodieLife: I am a HUGE foodie! I love to eat, cook, look, and talk about food! Many people would think that there’s only Israeli-style food here (falafel, shwarma, hummus) but they would be wrong. TLV has such a diverse cuisine scene with Japanese, Chinese, Iranian, Middle Eastern, Turkish, Mexican, etc. In fact, outside of Tokyo, TLV has the most Japanese restaurants.
  5. Shabbat: My friends and I love to cook a nice Shabbat dinner every other Friday night. We will buy fresh challah and other fruits/veggies from the shuk, hang out, watch a movie and relax like you’re supposed to do on Shabbat!

I hope you all get to experience all of these things in Israel as well! So long for now!

Shalom! My first few weeks in Israel have been so incredible and I couldn’t wait to share! I landed in Tel Aviv two weeks ago with so many emotions running through me. I was excited to be in one of my favorite cities, anxious about making friends, and naturally slightly concerned about safety. However all of my fears have been settled over the past few weeks. Tel Aviv is such an incredible city with a lively nightlife scene, picturesque beaches, and security measures like I’ve never seen. I am also fortunate to have the greatest roommates. We spend almost every weekend on the beach, eating hummus, and doing ulpan (intensive Hebrew) homework! Although life has been mostly carefree, I have stumbled upon some challenges in these past few weeks. The first challenge is the schedule of our ulpan. Our intensive Hebrew class is 8:30am-1pm from Sunday-Thursday with a test every week for four weeks. The teachers are incredibly talented and I am shocked at how great my Hebrew has gotten since I’ve been here. However, the schedule is very demanding and the amount of material can be overwhelming at times. The second challenge has been budgeting for city life. As we all know, DC is one of the most expensive cities and I assumed that TLV, like some other major Middle Eastern cities, would be relatively inexpensive and affordable. In reality, Tel Aviv is definitely comparable to Washington DC in terms of living expenses, which is something I wish I budgeted more for. Lastly, one of the biggest differences between Israel and America is Shabbat. Shabbat is observed from Friday afternoon-Saturday afternoon. Because of Tel Aviv’s secular society, some stores and restaurants are still open, however most of the city does shut down which makes travel and social gatherings very difficult. Despite the smaller challenges I have faced, I am looking forward to traveling within Israel and to other countries, starting regular classes, and continuing my education on Israel and all it has to offer. Lehitra’ot!

By Benjamin Aviv

Today it rains in Jerusalem.  This rain has not stopped me from really appreciating how well my first week has gone in the state of Israel! I began my time here in Israel spending a day with my cousin and his family who live in Jerusalem. Although, for most of that day I was jet lagged and really tired, so I slept a lot. However, the food I ate in that day was really good home cooked food.

Day One at Hebrew University I am the last one to my suite because my cousin and I, along with a language barrier that I hope to be able to completely overcome by the end of the semester, got lost on where to drop me off. The dorm is really nice, each person has their own room. After settling in they gave us a campus tour beginning with the walk from the student village to the main campus. (כפר הםטודנטים). On the main campus they showed  us the two different areas in which there are beautiful views of the city.

Day Two was the first day of Winter Ulpan, in which I began in Aleph 6 - which is the highest level of the beginning level of Ulpan. Ulpan is intensive Hebrew. However, on Day 3 I tried out the Bet level and liked the fact that I could understand the lesson and it wasn’t all review so decided to permanently move into that class.

Anyway, the first two days are what have set the tone for the semester because they went well, and the first week has been a really good week. I am just excited for the opportunity to get to experience the culture of Jerusalem, the culture of Israel in general and the culture will be experienced through my lens as a student for the first time in Israel.

For the next blog, look forward to hearing about my trip that I will be taking to a local kibbutz for a chocolate tasting, along with the classes I will be taking and whether or not I will add to my experience abroad in Israel by seeing what it is like to intern and be a student in Jerusalem.

Signing off,

Ben Aviv.

By Mikayla Brody

About two weeks ago, I had the amazing opportunity to ride along on a jeep trek throughout the Judean Desert. I packed my peanut-butter-and-jelly-in-a-pita sandwich and headed for the hills. Crammed inside the back of a 90’s banged-up Land Rover, we were tossed back and forth and up and down from the moment we started off of the ‘official’ (aka paved) road. But despite the blatant lack of seatbelts and the convenient flat tire we acquired half way there, it was magical. Looking past the dusty glass windows were miles and miles of rolling earth, speckled with fraying green bushes and the occasional Bedouin child running after our car with his donkey. I imagined Moses and his gang traversing these hills, shuffling around in the heat of the desert, not knowing which way was what, but knowing that their way was the right way.

After 2 hours that seemed more like 4 hours, we pulled up to the starting point of our long-awaited hike. Our guide promised sweeping aerial views and an enchanting ancient monastery perched upon the banks of an ever-surging river. So, we went. We embarked on this journey, tiptoeing around cliff edges and jumping off of baby boulders and occasionally stopping for an obligatory selfie. We eventually reached the lookout point I suppose the guide had been waiting for the whole time. It was like the universe knew we were coming: the temperature was perfect for a light sweater and a light sweat and the birds greeted us with their singing. Outstretched before us were the sweeping views and the enchanting monastery and the river.

The river that cut into the earth resulting in a series of staggering cliffs downwards. The river that the monks of the monastery used to walk down hundreds of steep steps for, just to take a sip. The river that flows all year round – fueled not by clouds, but instead by toilets.

Yep, every single drop of this surging stream of water in this lovely, picturesque setting is pure sewage. This area is known as the Kidron Valley and it runs from west Jerusalem, to east Jerusalem, into the Judean Desert, and pours out in the Dead Sea. The sewage water not only corrupts several coveted holy sites along its route, but also is a major conduit for diseases and an inhibitor for plant and animal growth.

So why would the ‘start-up’, desalination and reclamation nation just let this happen?

According to the Jerusalem Wastewater and Purification Enterprise, about 85% of the sewage in the Kidron Valley comes from East Jerusalem -- a territory under shared jurisdiction between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority. And quite unsurprisingly, the two haven’t been able to reach an agreement on how to deal with all of their poop (some pun intended).

Unfortunately, this isn’t a new story. According to the Israel Parks and Nature Authority, over 90% of sewage from the Palestinian towns flows totally untreated into 162 km of rivers and streams. The Kidron Valley is just a big, stinky example of this.

Israel has the money and the proper technology to clean these rivers up, but due to political tensions, these resources aren’t being deployed. Many efforts have been made to discuss joint solutions, but every time there is a disagreement on where, who, or how. With this disagreement, the project falls to the wayside as each government waits for the other to crack. Meanwhile, the problem continues to worsen.

But what if we forgot about borders for a second. What if we forgot about ‘mine’ and ‘yours’. What if we saw this little sliver of the earth as simply earth? Maybe this sounds super hippy-dippy and utopian, but it’s actually the simplest perspective. Whether you identify as a Palestinian or an Israeli, you still live on the same land. You still have to wake up every morning and wash your face and brush your teeth and drink water. You’d still like for your kids to be able to go play in a stream, or at least not die from accidentally getting too close. I mean the drive behind the conflict is a love for the land, right?



By Mikayla Brody

My stomach is bouncing somewhere above Greenland, already corroded by anxiety.

My lungs already dried and compressed by the recycled ‘air’.

My eyes soured by the batallions of tiny glowing screens. And yet, I’m really okay.

Maybe its the eleven men who rose at daybreak to gather their tfillin and recite their morning prayers, because God still exists on an airplane.

Maybe its seeing everybody's untied shoes scattered between the aisles and everybody's scrunched up foreheads as they desperately try to get just 5 minutes more sleep because they have a life to live when they land.

Maybe its my complimentary, Maple syrup cookies that make me happy because someone tried to make something different and make me sad because the difference wasn’t good and I just wanted chocolate chip. Maybe these things make me feel a little bit better, a little less alone on my voyage.

I tried listening to a bunch of different podcasts to pass the time. I figured that going hour by hour on podcast would seem faster than minute by minute songs. I am on a giant metal bird, soaring through the sky and I am trying to pass time. Make things move quicker than they already are at 626 miles per hour at 37,000 feet.

Rush to the good part, Mikayla.

Rush to when we arrive, rush to move-in day, rush to going out with strangers on a Saturday night and coming back as friends, rush to classes starting, rush to me blowing off work for the classes and getting bored with the classes and getting bored with my friends and getting bored with the city, and rush to come home. 5 months. Where?

I used to think that 5 months would be a long time.

My stomach is bouncing somewhere between the ocean and the street corner I puked on two nights ago, already corroded by anxiety of how to get the most out of my time in Tel Aviv. My desperate quest to remind myself that I am in a far off land.

Overgrown jungle gardens draped over balconies of shuffled and shuttered apartment buildings; toes stretching out over the fronts of neon Havianas waiting to cross from the sand to the sidewalks; frequent eye contact, less frequent smiles.

Pregaming cocktails of Arak and Tequila with cocktails of kale and beet juice; worshiping God and praying for salvation then praying for a new dress and worshipping how you'll look in the mirror.

Sometimes I forget that I am here, sometimes I remember and start to cry.

Sometimes I forget that I am not here forever, sometimes I remember and start to cry.

By Mikayla Brody

Among my family's pots and pans and stacks of magazines on the kitchen counter there were always two candlesticks rising above the rest of the clutter. They were clustered with fingerprint stains and coated with thick gobs of wax but somehow still retained their bronze-ish shine. And every Friday night since my grandpa passed away, my dad would make me stop what I was doing to light them.

I would yank myself from my bed, strike a match, and spit out a poorly pronounced version of a Hebrew prayer on fast-forward before racing out of the house to go hang with friends at the movies. The entire 'ritual' lasted maybe two minutes. But even though I was going through the motions, I was completely missing the point.

The lighting of these two candles is supposed to be a pause. It's supposed to usher in the weekly Jewish day of rest - Shabbat- but I treated it as an obligation and an inconvenience. I didn't really understand the true purpose and power of Shabbat until I came to Israel and was forced to experience it.

From Friday night to Saturday night, most of Israel shuts down. Stores are closed, buses don't run, and the streets are quiet. For the very religious, Shabbat means turning off your electronics and turning on your connection with God and your family. For me, this means a bigger hassle to get to the beach and a pretty boring day off. The first Shabbat here in Tel Aviv, I spent the entire day frantically searching for something to do. I did my yoga, I did my homework, and I did my writing, but those tasks only preoccupied me for about 4 hours. The rest of the day was spent trying to make work for myself. I took myself on a needlessly long walk and began googling potential internships for 6 months from now.

Both of the following Shabbats here have been spent meticulously trying to finagle a cheap and quick way to get to the beach and manufacture a false sense of productivity by getting tan and being with others. But for all of these days, I was completely missing the point. I was restlessly and relentlessly maintaining my need to be in a constant state of 'doing'. Whether that meant going out or doing work, I still felt the overwhelming desire to seize the day and to feel accomplished. There was no rest.

While the idea of Shabbat initially came from the Old Testament over 25 centuries ago, it still has important lessons for us today. It is an intentional opportunity to digest all the chaos of the past week and to reset for the coming week. And in Israel, whether you want to or not, the city does all that it can to encourage you to slow down and check in.

Despite my clinging to the American, constantly restless way of life, I'm slowly teaching myself that it is okay to take it easy and that it is productive in a less immediate way but a more profound way. When we give ourselves the space and the permission to slow down, we are creating a more resilient and healthy body and mind, ready to tackle all of the other crazy tasks of the days ahead. Like a perfect loaf of challah bread, we must give ourselves the time and the space to rise. Without this time for rest, the bread can stretch too thin and crack.