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By zamorse

I committed a cultural faux pas, it's true.

The University of Haifa is situated on top of a hill overlooking the city, and to get most places in the city like the shouk (market), malls, restaurants, beach, it is necessary to take a bus. When I first got to the University, I didn't know how much I would be taking the bus, and thus I elected not to get what's called a "Rav Kav" when I had the opportunity to the first week of school. A rav kav is essentially like a smart trip in D.C and is for frequent travelers on the city's bus system.

I elected not to get one because I didn't know how much I would be taking the bus, and whether or not it would be worth it financially. I didn't think I would be taking the bus enough to make it financially feasible. That was about as far from the truth as possible.

I take the bus all the time, almost every day. Obtaining a rav kav requires a trip down to the central bus station, showing them your passport, and getting a special paper from the International School to show that you are an international student.

And after I realized my mistake of not getting a rav kav the first week of classes, it took me almost two months to obtain the necessary paperwork and go all the way to the central bus station to get one.

Now that I have one, I don't have to try and find 6.90 sheckles in my wallet every time I ride the bus, I can just swipe my card....more like a local.

By zamorse

The University of Haifa is situated atop a mountain on the edge of the city and thus is the beginning of many of the bus routes into the city. To make life more exciting, there are two central bus stations in Haifa, one by the beach and one on the other side of the city.

That context is important because I tried to go to the beach today on bus #146. Bus #146 is an Egged bus route, the main bus company in Israel. It runs from the University to both of the central bus stations, sometimes the one by the beach and sometimes the one on the other side of the city. That's why it's important to ask the bus driver before you get on the bus which bus station he's going to. To make matters even more complicated, the #146 will run to the beach at 8:30 and another #146 will run to the other central bus station at 8:32, so they leave literally around the same time.

I used my Egged phone application to track when the bus was coming, got to the bus stop a few minutes early, and where I see that the #146 is already waiting, so I get on it. Without checking which central bus station it's going to...

Luckily I realized that I was on the wrong bus before we had left the University and got off the bus. Unfortunately, as I got off the bus, the correct  #146 zoomed past us and I was left to wait for the next bus a half an hour later. And I made it to the beach anyways.

That was actually the second time I've taken the wrong #146, and the last time because I didn't know how to take the buses, I took the 146 all the way to the wrong central bus station and then had to take another bus from one central bus station to the other.

As they say in Yiddish, oy vey.

By zamorse

Israeli food is phenomenal, cheap, and healthy, so it was hard to choose a top 5 list. And of course, writing this post is going to make me very hungry, but here we go:

#1: Skakshouka- A dish of poached eggs simmering in a tomato sauce broth, with chili peppers, onions, cumin and other spices. It's a North African dish originally, but is popular in Israel because of Jewish immigrants from Tunisia. What I love about shakshouka the most is that it's easy to make at home. First you sautee whatever vegetables you want, pour in the tomato sauce, and then you poach the eggs in the sauce. Look up a recipe online, it's easy to make.

#2: Hummus and Pita- This dish, which I eat more of as a snack, is easy to get in any grocery store in America. But the hummus and pita is just better here. Hummus is made from mashed chickpeas, tahini sauce, lemon, olive oil, salt and garlic. It's a little complicated to make at home, but it can be done. There are restaurants here that are entirely devoted to hummus---imagine a restaurant in D.C. entirely devoted to cream cheese.

#3: Schnitzel- Brought to Israel by its German Jewish immigrants, Schnitzel is essentially a flattened chicken breast coated in bread crumbs and flour and deep fried. Served with french fries and lots of ketchup. This I mostly get frozen from the grocery store, which is still delicious, but every time I find it in a restaurant, I have to order it.

#4: Pomegranates- This fruit is one of my favorites back in the states, but in Israel, again, they're just so much better. Cut open the pomegranate over a bowl of water and let the seeds fall into the water, then drain the water, and you have a bowl full of pomegranate seeds. This is my go to snack when watching a movie or a TV show, rather than popcorn or chocolate.

#5: Shwarma and Falafel- This should really be two different foods, but i'm going to combine them both into my top 5 list because I couldn't figure out which one I liked better. Shwarma is meat of some sorts, usually lamb, turkey, veal, or beef served on a vertical spit. It's basically a rotating vertical spit of meat. When you order it, the restaurant takes what looks like a clothes iron and cuts the meat off, puts it in a pita or laffa bread, then adds hummus, tahini, tomato, cucumber and other sides to your liking. Falafel is served also in pita or laffa, and the various sides, but is a totally different dish. Falafel is a deep fried ball of chickpeas and is a healthy vegetarian alternative to shwarma. Both are street foods and easily about $5-$6. Restaurants here specialize in falafel and shwarma, so they are usually found in the same place.

Israeli food draws from its immigrant culture who come from all around the world, and come together to make a melting pot of food heaven.  And I can't wait to try more.

By zamorse

We get about a week to study for finals at GW. Once regular classes end, make-up classes from that snow day back in the beginning of the semester occupy a couple of days, then there are a few readings days, and before you know it, finals week starts. And then it's all over, about a week later. If your lucky, you'll only have a couple of finals, maybe a take home essay, a final project due well before finals week starts, something like that. If you're unlucky, you'll have four maybe five finals that week, sleep little, and live in Gelman.

In Israel, things are a bit different. Instead of finals week, Israelis have a peculiar way of ending the semester. I arrived in Haifa well over a month ago, and my roommates were studying for finals then. Fine, I thought, I'll see them when they come out of their rooms in a week or so. It's over 4 weeks later, and they're still studying for finals.

Finals here are spread out over a much longer period of time, and usually you end up studying for one final per week. You take that final and the next week you start studying for your next final. But, say you didn't do so well on your first attempt. In the U.S., you would have to live with the grade you got. In Israel, you can take the test again. So instead of maybe a three week finals period, if you opt to take two of your tests again, that quickly becomes a five week finals period. And there goes your winter break.

But it's not just the finals period. Because Israel is the Jewish state, the academic calendar is based off of the Jewish calendar, not the Gregorian calendar that we're used to. Sometimes school in the U.S. will start on August 23, sometimes on August 21st, but it doesn't vary more than a few days each year. In Israel, because the Jewish calendar is based off of the moon, not the sun, things go a bit differently. The school year in Israel starts after the Jewish high holidays. Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashana take up so much time in September, that there's no point in starting school before them. And thus school here starts after the high holidays and much later than in the U.S.

Is that the sort of education system you would rather go to school in, or do you like the way we do it in the United States of America?

By zamorse

Israelis love Americans, well, sort of.

Because of the large diaspora community of Jews living in America, there's a definite connection between American Jews and Israelis. At any given time, there are, I would wager, hundreds of thousands of Americans in Israel. And given that Israel is a country of only 8 million people, that's a sizable portion. All of the street signs are in English, restaurants often have menus in English, and the majority of Israelis, especially the younger generation, speak English. In fact, you don't really need to know Hebrew to be able to get around in this country, since everybody speaks English.

Israelis watch American t.v. shows, listen to American music on the radio, speak English, eat at American restaurants, and generally love Americans. American people, that is. How Israelis feel about the American government at any given time is another story, but generally, connections between the Israeli government and the American government are extremely strong.

Israelis assume that most Americans who come to Israel don't speak Hebrew. And in fact, that may be true. A large portion of the American population that does come to Israel comes on "Birthright programs", a free 10-day trip for Jews throughout Israel. And they, more often that not, don't speak Hebrew. Thus, when Israelis see an American, they often assume they don't know Hebrew. Or, Americans in Israel are seen as a way for Israelis to practice their English. Israelis are pretty impressed when an American can speak Hebrew then.

Tel Aviv, the second largest city in Israel, is seen as the "Miami of the Middle East", and there is so much American influence and culture here that I often feel like I'm still in America. For an American not wanting to study abroad in the most remote, un-American place, Israel is a comfortable study abroad destination.

Israelis definitely love Americans and I feel very welcome here.

By zamorse

Normally on a Saturday night in the U.S., like most college students, I would not be in my room studying. But here I am, studying in my room on a Saturday night. In Israel, the week starts on Sunday (Friday and Saturday constitute the weekend because of Shabbat, the Jewish sabbath) hence Saturday night is a school night and the end of my first week in Israel.

It's been a busy week so far. I arrived on Sunday in Tel Aviv and took a sherut (shared taxi) to Haifa. Got settled into my dorm and unpacked. Monday was the Hebrew placement exam and orientation for the winter ulpan (Hebrew classes) session. Since then, i've been taking Hebrew class every day for four hours a day---definitely daunting, and exploring the town and the neighborhood.

The University of Haifa is situated on top of a hill overlooking the entire city, beach, and port, and the view is absolutely spectacular. There's also a national park across the street with spectacular views of the ocean and great hiking and biking trails. Even though it's a very densely populated country, there's still lots of national parks, and I happen to be right across the street from one!

Getting adjusted here was not too bad. I had been to Israel three time before, know the culture, language, geography pretty well, so it is not a completely foreign place for me. Getting adjusted to the time zone was tough though and I didn't have an appetite for the first three days I was here. Luckily, my appetite has come roaring back and I even invited a couple of friends over and made shakshouka (a Tunisian dish made with poached eggs in tomato sauce, with spices and vegetables). I have a kitchen in my dorm and a mini-supermarket in my dorm complex, complete with most Israeli foods (except fresh produce) that I need.

Cooking in my room is one of the things I'm most excited for this semester. And exploring the nature around campus and exploring the beautiful city that I now live in for this semester, and pretty much everything in this country. Until next time!

By zamorse

I took a trip last weekend to Jerusalem, the City of Gold. I had been before, but this trip was different, I had more independence, more freedom to go wherever.

My friend Becca and I took the bus down from Haifa on Thursday afternoon to Jerusalem. It took us essentially two hours to traverse half of the country, that's how small Israel is. Once we got to Jerusalem, we checked into our hostels in the Old City and walked straight through the Jewish Quarter to the Kotel (The Western Wall in English). This spot in particular, the Kotel Plaza, is a microcosm of Israeli society. The Western Wall is the last remnant of the 2nd Temple when it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE and is the holiest place in Judaism. Jews from around the world come to pray here, and it is an emotional experience for a lot of people.

Jews from the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel, and the rest of the world come to pray here, and this place in particular truly shows the diversity that is Israel. First of all, it's important to note that in the especially religious communities, men and women pray separately, so there are separate sections for men and women to pray at at the wall. Once I got to the men's section, I was surrounded by religious men praying, swaying back and forth in deep concentration. They represent one section of Israeli society.

Then there are the soldiers. Israel has universal conscription for both men and women at the age of 18, so essentially right after high school men and women join the army for 2 or 3 years. There are police and soldiers guarding the Kotel for sure, but the majority of them are there with their units visiting the holiest place in Judaism. Many of them are combat soldiers, and combat soldiers carry M-16 riffles. So picture this, combat soldiers with M-16 riffles standing next to Haredi (religious) men praying at a wall.  

The Kotel is also a tourist attraction. So next to the Haredi man praying next to the soldier with his M-16 riffle is somebody like me, a tourist. And in my sub-group of tourists at the Kotel, there are even more sub-groups, Jews and non-Jews. The Jewish tourists are mostly from America, but many of them are from all around the world. And especially during vacation months like December and the summer, the Kotel is full of Jewish groups on Birthright programs, a free 10 day trip to the Holy Land. And the non-Jewish tourists are from everywhere, but fit right into the craziness that is the Kotel. 

I could go on and on about the diversity of the Old City, how it's split into four quarters, the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter, and how I spent Shabbat with a Jewish family from New York in Jerusalem, but I wanted to focus on the Kotel as a microcosm of the State of Israel, it's diversity, and it's holiness for so many people.

By zamorse

Israel seems so familiar, yet so different at the same time. This is my fourth time in the Land of Milk and Honey, and every time I come it feels like a weird mixture of being home while also being in foreign country at the same time. Since this is my fourth time in Israel, I think the biggest shock for me was how uncomfortable I felt getting off the plane and making my way to the University of Haifa.

Last semester I studied abroad in Korea, a place so foreign to me—I don’t speak Korean, or know any Koreans there, and I certainly didn’t know anything about the culture—that I often thought to myself, “what on earth am I doing here?” That question does not apply to my study abroad experience in Israel this semester. I speak Hebrew, I know the culture, I know people here---and I know I’m here to study Hebrew and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

But yet, getting off that plane this afternoon and traveling halfway across the country to get to Haifa---I found myself asking “what on earth am I doing here?” I already had a fantastic study abroad experience; did I really need another one? And just thinking that question to myself was a shock in of itself. That is the last question I thought I would be asking myself as I traveled to my new home for the next four months.

My biggest shock arriving in Israel had nothing to do with Israeli culture, it was just a simple little question that I asked myself, “what on earth am I doing here?”

And you know what? I can’t wait to find the answer.