Mindfulness

This week, I learned how to meditate. I’m trying to learn to be present, in the moment, more fully. As my grandma said today when I spoke to her- “you can only be in one place at a time.” Yeah. I’ve wished time-turners actually existed since I read about them in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. But I think the fact that we can only be in one place means that maybe we should spend a little more time finding ways to enjoy those moments, or at least find meaning or value. We get so caught up in trying not to waste time that it’s easy to waste the time we have, the moments in which we are living, here, now.

Attention

I’ve been all over the place the last few weeks. I’ve been to Tel Aviv for a weekend to hang out, and to the Leo Baeck Community Center Synagogue here for another interfaith discussion, this time about prejudice. I was in Jerusalem for a day with CIEE and spoke with a Palestinian student at Hebrew University, and a man who runs “Keep Jerusalem,” and the curator of the Museum on the Seam, and went to the multifaith prayer room at the Jerusalem International YMCA. Since we’ve been off for spring break, I’ve been back to Ashkelon to stay with my family, and to Jordan to see Petra and Wadi Rum with my cousins, and woke up in the Negev in Mitzpe Ramon the morning of Passover, and then went to Tel Aviv for Pesach lunch with another bunch of cousins. And I just got back from the DOOF Festival on the Golan side of Lake Kinneret/Sea of Galilee. These festivals are all over Israel this season, especially the week of Pesach, and they bring together some incredibly special, peaceful people (aka hippies).

The DOOF festival is three days straight of psychedelic trance music 24/7 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. It almost got too uncomfortable at some points as it’s not really my taste in the first place. But there also were some amazing moments. Walking in, and wandering around and talking to people who were simply happy to be there. A day of basking in the sunshine along the shore, and then under enormous old trees that shaded us from the heat. And on Friday night, the trance music stopped for a few hours, and I sat in my first Shabbat circle here. It was easily the most spiritual (and most Jewish) experience I’ve had so far this semester, as we sang the soft Hebrew tunes I’ve grown up with, with others I’d never met before in my life, and will probably never see again. I moved to a nearby small quiet tent, to listen and let the music wash over me, and cuddled with a four month old border collie puppy that seemed to know exactly how to be for each person there. That evening, in those moments, I felt so in tune with the earth, so completely at peace, thankful for those quiet, calm hours in that beautiful place. It made me realize how important it is to just let good feelings wash over us, surround ourselves with good company, and take time for that, just breathing it in, and for finding that, if we feel that we need it. Especially if you’re like me, and have a lot of feelings (can you tell?)

Through all this traveling, I’ve also been all over the place emotionally, too. Each traveling experience exercises my mind and heart in a different way, even while I’m just looking out the window and watching the world go by.  There are so many new people I’ve met, thoughts I’ve had, and sensations. I don’t always know what I’m feeling, either. Each moment is special, and new, and exciting, and sometimes a little uncomfortable, and sometimes so completely heart-warming that it feels like my heart is overflowing. Those are the moments we live for, I think. And you have to have the tough ones to recognize the amazing ones. There have been a lot of tough ones. But usually, these special moments are the ones that catch us off guard. All this traveling has taught me a lot about the simple beauty of moments shared with other people, the beauty in unexpectedness and just being. And not always looking for something. And how sometimes we won’t even realize how amazing or special or valuable a moment is until it’s gone. But how important it is to let ourselves feel. Feelings are good things. They remind us that we’re human.

“Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.” (The Guest House, Jelaluddin Rumi)

Metta (Good Intentions/Lovingkindness)

We all have feelings. We all have different kinds of feelings that stem from our perceptions and attitudes and interests and passions. And I believe because of that, we have a responsibility to each other to respect the way we are in the world, the way we do things, the reasons we do things, and how others choose to do things. It is what we do with this awareness of ourselves, our feelings, our relations with others and the earth that will keep us moving forward. We each have our own stories, our own ways of dealing with things and seeing the world, and enjoying our time on earth. On my computer screen, I have a sticky note:

“remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something, and has lost something”

It is hard to remember, sometimes. Even of ourselves. But we are only human, after all.

“we’re all beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we’re blessed by our own seed & golden hairy naked accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black formal sunflowers in the sunset” (Sunflower Sutra, Allen Ginsburg)

And because we are only human, it is important to forgive ourselves, to be good to ourselves, and wish for happiness- we are allowed to be happy- and to be good to others, too- those with whom we are close, and perhaps more distant; those we know are suffering, and those we have never met or heard of in our lives. And the hardest- those who have hurt us, intentionally or not.

It takes time. These things don’t come easy, but they are steps and moments- they are these moments.

And then we had tea.

 

Planes, trains, and auto…buses

I have a love-hate-very strong dislike relationship with buses. Really any moving vehicle, actually (trains are mostly okay, though). But I especially don’t like buses. The bumpy rides and strong smells and sometimes it’s really humid and you’re sitting squished next to people when you’re carrying a bunch of grocery bags and the bus stops suddenly and you go flying backwards and your backpack hits someone in the face and when you get off everyone’s laughing because you are so obviously relieved to finally be off that bus. Every time is a new experience. I’m sure anyone who has had to use public transportation knows exactly what I’m talking about, too. Growing up, I was lucky enough to live five minutes from my high school and it started early enough that I could go in with my mom on her way to work rather than having to take the bus (thanks, Mom).  We also live on a small street at home where I would’ve been the only one at my stop. So I never had to really deal with them much until I got here. I recognize how nice it is to not have had to take buses until now. But since we live on top of a mountain, we have to take them pretty much all the time, unless we’re hiking across the street.

Buses go everywhere here, and they’re really cheap. So they’ve been my primary mode of transportation, and I’ve seen a lot of Israel while sitting on buses. Aside from the struggles that come with grocery bags and riding up the mountain, and occasional bouts of motion sickness, buses can actually be pretty great. They give me time to think. Sometimes, I have the seat all to myself and I can put my legs up and look out the window and have my own little corner. Sometimes, I get to meet someone new. When you get on the bus, you never really know what’s going to happen. Or if you’re even going to get to the right place…there’s a lot of trial and error involved. And generally a lot of error at first. But I’m figuring it out, and the little victories are awesome when I finally get to where I’m trying to go (even if it’s been a few extra hours). Bus rides have taught me a lot about myself, and about trusting people when I ask them questions about my stop (even if I have to be a little more persistent when asking) and the driver to get us there. Not everyone is excited about being helpful, but if you ask enough times they’ll answer. Some people, though, are surprisingly really nice and they’ll make sure I know exactly what to do.  And I’m never the only one who gets off. It’s pretty humbling, in that sense. I’ve also grown a whole lot of respect for bus drivers. They’ve taught me about patience (about having to have it) and being on someone else’s schedule, and waiting, and the way drivers deal with people every day (especially the ones who don’t know Hebrew and ask all the questions) and drive the same route over and over again. I’ve also learned exactly how much I love finally getting off the bus and standing on firm ground. Because as much as buses get me to the places I’m going, I love walking so much more.

One of the reasons I’ve realized it took some more time than I’d thought it would to get adjusted here is because of the buses. I can get to know a place so much easier by foot, like when I was in Istanbul. Even after just three days, I felt like I could still show someone around there better than I could here. Which was a little weird after having been here for a month by then. But there’s a whole process involved in bus rides and I think the uneasiness is just one of the unexpected challenges of living in a new place. If things weren’t hard about this whole thing, it wouldn’t be right. But now, after two months, when I get on buses, I’m a little calmer about getting to where I’m going. I can just kind of let go and know I’ll get there when I get there.

I called my brother the other day and we were talking about everything that’d been going on, and being here, and away from home, and how I felt compelled to be doing or thinking or learning or something. Listening is doing something too, but sometimes it’s also okay to just be. He told me to think about holding a glass of water- if you pick it up and hold it for a few seconds or minutes, it’s not heavy at all- you barely think about it. But the longer you hold it, the heavier it gets. Sometimes you just have to put it down. (He’s so wise, I know!) That gave me some perspective on my perspective. We’re allowed to just be, too, and let life take the reins. Buses have taught me about that, too. It’s okay to let someone else drive.

I’m well aware of my tendencies towards planning- it runs in the family (I think my brother got a little less of that gene)- so it takes a lot for me to just sit back. But I do love the grass, and feeling it between my toes, and just watching the sky go by. Just having time to sit and enjoy those little things is really wonderful. Sometimes it’s hard to learn how to give ourselves a break for us thinkers and planners, but it really is okay to just lay in the grass. I’m finding places to do that on top of this mountain, too, between classes. It’s like a little slice of home that for some reason I didn’t realize I could do here, too…we’re all under the same sun, too, even if it’s not always shining, or warm.

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees...watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time”

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under the trees…watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time”

Last weekend, we went to a seminar near Jerusalem but close to Abu Ghosh, which is a really beautiful place that overlooks the city. One of the sessions was a panel about Israeli society. All of the panelists go to the School of Management in Tel Aviv, and the conversation took a bit of a turn from community involvement when a participant asked why more young Israelis don’t get involved with politics. Her response was simple: “I can talk about the conflict, but it’s about what you do on a daily basis, more than anything- it’s about being nice to others, to Arabs or anyone else when you see them, every second, every hour.” It’s about just being- just being kind, and human. That can’t be that hard, can it?

Part of doing something is listening

Time is a whirlwind. So many special things have happened in the last week- and I can barely believe it’s already been a month since I’ve been here. In the last week, I:

  • Went to an interfaith conversation last Tuesday evening (March 11) at the Ahmadi mosque in Kababir, a community here in Haifa
  • Visited family friends and their adorable little kids
  • Flew to Turkey on Thursday for three incredible days- got to see my boyfriend and other friends from W&M, another who has been studying in Scotland for the last two years, and met some other really cool people in the hours that I wasn’t with my friends
  • Got back late Saturday night just in time for Purim (basically the equivalent of Halloween here, except people really go all out)
  • Went back to the Ahmadi mosque on Tuesday to have tea and talk with the Secretary General of the Ahmadi Muslim Community here, who also runs three different projects: one is a program for conflict resolution in schools and workplaces, another is to reintegrate teens who have been incarcerated, and the third is to help girls who are survivors of domestic violence. Just all of the things I have ever wanted to do with my life…he is inspiring and I am looking forward to learning about more of his work
  • Finally was just in Haifa this weekend- went out, walked around Carmel Center, which is restaurant central, and found an amazing hummus place and tried to settle in a bit more here…I realized I’d been exploring so many other places that I hadn’t had a chance to just enjoy where I’m living (it’s hard though since we’re on top of a mountain and have to take buses into town)
  • (and yes, between all of those things, I went to class, too)

It’s all a little overwhelming. Actually, to be completely honest, it’s very overwhelming. Everything here stretches my mind in different directions, and my heart a little too, and my levels of exhaustion. It’s hard being away from people you love. But I’m also finding things I love about being here, and people I love here. I love about having this kind of time to explore and be independent and free, too. I’ve never felt this kind of freedom before.

I love being able to meet different kinds of people. At the interfaith conversation, I met people from around the world- Focolare Christians, Ahmadi Muslims, Jews from here, London, and the US (I also went with some other girls from the International School here), and others who didn’t specify their backgrounds but just wanted to be part of the conversation- this week we talked about faith and modernity. We learned a bit about the Focolare and Ahmadi movements, which are, at their essence, focused on love. Someone asked why we never hear about them- the response: “to cut down a tree makes a lot of noise, but to let it grow is quiet.” What I found particularly striking about this group of people sitting in the room with me was that everyone wanted to listen. You don’t find that often- it seems that everyone always wants to talk, make people understand where they are coming from, and that they have to agree on everything or else they can’t be friends. Here, that wasn’t the case. People simply wanted to hear stories, experiences, and opinions of others, and share their own. No one was trying to change anyone. That was really refreshing. I was sitting next to a woman who, when I met her and shook her hand, just held my hand for a few extra moments. It caught me off guard- we are so easily caught up in moving through the motions and not fully being in certain moments, but she took the time. And for the next couple hours, we all took the time. “If listening doesn’t lead to love, then there is a bigger problem with humanity,” she said as we wrapped up our discussion. Little did I realize I was going to meet some other really special people later that week, too.

On a water taxi from Eminonu to Kadikoy (from the European side of Istanbul to the Asian side), I decided to move to sit outside so I could take pictures off the side of the boat. There were birds flying along with us that I was pretty focused on getting a good shot of- my camera keeps me company in lonely moments. The guy sitting beside me pointed out that if I looked a little higher and past the birds and the Bosporus, I could see the beautiful skyline of mosques, too. Then we started talking about how we each ended up in Istanbul- he is from Syria, and I was the first Jewish person he’d ever met. We talked about politics, the conflicts, our backgrounds, and hopes, and goals…and Seinfeld. He told me he thinks we have more in common in some respects than he does with other Syrians. I met his friend, a woman from Istanbul who studied at the Hebrew University. Over fish, while sitting on a restaurant on the Bosporus, we listened to each other and asked questions. He asked me if I believed that these kinds of conversations would do anything for peace. I hope so. I believe that they are the small steps, that if we take the time to listen and make human connections with each other and just try to learn how to love each other other a little more, maybe we can get somewhere.

Sometimes it feels like there’s so much to do here, because the news always seems to be talking about violence erupting or hate or prejudice or war or death- the media doesn’t always focus on the life and respect and peace that is here, too. And we always hear about so many people trying to work to “fix” it all. So then I feel like I have to fix things, or else what am I doing with my time here? I don’t want to miss out on an opportunity to learn or go somewhere or do something, and I feel like I need to plan it all out and know what I believe and think about what I’m going to say.

But I always talk about how the stars ground me. Which is a little ironic, I know, because they’re up in the sky and they make me feel like a tiny little dot on this whirling ball. But, like I’ve said before, they put things in perspective. Sometimes we see only a few, or just the moon, or the sky is black, or it glitters with millions of pinpricks of light. But from anywhere we stand on earth, anywhere we come from, they are always up there, and they are always beautiful. And when we look up, we are listening too, even though it’s quieter than what we’re used to listening for. I’m learning a lot about how the earth makes me feel more settled even in really unfamiliar places, and how many different experiences others are having under the same sky, and how it’s okay to wonder and question and feel small and a little overwhelmed. We all do. But we also have this really special capacity to just listen, and sometimes that’s all we need.

“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.” (-Madeline L’Engle)

Today, after hiking down Mount Carmel to the beach, I just sat listening to the waves and sand and the sunshine and laughter- and it was perfect.

Wandering in the desert

These past few days, I’ve had a lot of time to let my mind wander. We spent the weekend in the southern part of Israel on another trip sponsored by the International School, like the one to Jerusalem a couple weeks ago. On Friday, we hiked Makhtesh Ramon (in English, Ramon Crater), the world’s largest erosion crater (called makhtesh), located in the Negev Desert along the Israel National Trail. After that 6 hour hike, we rolled down sand dunes nearby (after a bit of convincing myself), and then drove the rest of the way to Eilat for the night. The next morning, we hiked through/up/on Eilat Mountains and spent the rest of day at the beach. On Sunday we finally had some time to relax, and other than figuring out how to work the laundry machines here, it was fairly uneventful, minus the short trip to urgent care for some stitches in my middle finger after slicing it while making dinner. Oops. Anyways…

When I’m walking in the middle of the desert or mountains, I’ve found that it’s really easy to think. I wonder if that’s how all these stories came out of years wandering in the middle of the desert. I realized, when we were walking on the top of the mountains, that from where I stood, I could see the places where the stories have been written about. I could see the Red Sea in one direction and the desert in another. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were all in view. It was really easy to think- but at some point, I stopped talking. I don’t think I would’ve known what to say. Thankfully there was a trail of others to follow, because my feet were just moving and my thoughts rambling along. Even now it’s really tough to articulate how I felt in those hours. Other than being really sweaty and hot and thinking I wasn’t going to make it up some of the steep climbs…

But I know I felt really small. Maybe that’s why I loved it so much; it’s like when I look up at the sky and I just feel awed and humbled and moved. It puts things in perspective. It puts me in perspective, and that’s really refreshing. One of my favorite quotes:

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” (-Edward Everett Hale or Helen Keller, who said it later, as sources say)

I’m also reminded of a quote from Pirkei Avot, a compilation of ethical teachings of Rabbis from around 200 C.E.:

“It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”

Welcome to a window into my mind…but back to the mountains.

The best thing about climbing is that you know there’s going to be a view that takes your breath away when you get to the top. I could see for miles…it was awesome. (Luckily, I overcame my fear of heights a few years ago walking on the edge of some cliffs in Seattle- thanks for making me do that, Mom and Dad). When you stand on the tops of mountains, it feels like you can see forever. I could see paths that trailed into the distance, red rocks, sand, and water. But what about the things I couldn’t see? When you have the big picture, it’s easy to forget about the little things. But it’s important to maintain a balance between all those pieces- that our perspectives don’t always let us see everything, even if we think we can. That we may have climbed up a mountain someone else hasn’t, or that they have climbed their own of which we don’t know.  It’s easy to get caught up in our own views, experiences, and backgrounds- it’s a good thing- but it is not everything. I’ve been thinking a lot about my thoughts, and from where I come. Wherever I go, this place makes it really easy to think, take a step back, and question.

For now, I leave you with this…

“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”

Happy thinking.

Turning over rocks

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I finally finished The Lemon Tree this week, and this pretty much sums up how I feel. Minus the part about not wanting to read any more, because I have a seemingly endless list of suggested books to read and movies to watch (to anyone with a pending book list, if you choose to put this on it, I would definitely recommend it going close to the top). Maybe one day I’ll get to the rest of them. Wishful thinking…

Anyways, after two weeks of being here I’m realizing that I’m probably not going to have any better understanding of human nature or conflict or this conflict in particular and how to make peace, or whatever I thought I wanted to figure out before I got here. I’m studying all of these things in my classes (since we have to register this week, my final list: Hebrew, Islamic Fundamentalism in the Arab World, Arms Control in the Nuclear Realm, Arab-Israel Relations, and Psychology of Resistance), but these classes are designed to challenge us and make us think about all the sides and approaches involved, not to find answers. I don’t think there are any answers, just diverse human experiences.  In a conversation I had this week, someone said to me “there are two peoples here, and they are both right.” They’re just looking at different sides of the elephant, or even different animals entirely (See the variations of The Blind Men and an Elephant). So how, in any place in this world, can we bring people together to have a conversation, to listen to others, and to be willing to take a step back and realize that their story is not the only one? The world is bigger than each of us, or our own families, or communities, whatever they may be (let alone the universe, but that’s another story…) Since we’re on a Calvin and Hobbes theme, though:

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But I think that looking under rocks in the creek is a valuable activity too- yes, the world is a huge place, but it’s the little things that teach us about others, the moments of connection, learning, openness, and trust. It takes little steps towards a deeper understanding, and I think now, that is what I hope to do here, and when I leave.

In the past week, I’ve spent a good amount of time turning over rocks myself. Last Thursday night (February 20) we went on a bar crawl down Haifa’s stair-trail in the city (talk about lots of little steps…) and explored the smaller pubs in the area. We tried Tubi, Haifa’s locally produced alcohol, and Palestinian beer, called Taybeh. After a stop for falafel, we called it a night. On Friday morning, I had breakfast with a friend who had been a captain in the IDF. We talked a lot about identities and the differences between expressed religious identity here and in the US.  We also talked about public and civic service and what it means to be a part of a community. Our conversation really got me thinking a lot about various parts of my own identity and the way I’ve been brought up. Afterwards, I met up with people at the shuk for groceries (Note to self: never go to the shuk on a Friday afternoon at 2 pm- everyone is there before it closes for Shabbat. Oy.) We went home, rested, and then ended up having a barbecue with some guys that live downstairs from my apartment.

On Saturday, we went to part of Carmel National Park to hike Nahal Kelah, which is a four hour-long hike along a dried up river/creek type thing, so lots of actual rocks (Calvin and Hobbes was just so fitting this week) but no water. It took us an extra hour to first find the trailhead, but once we did, it was an awesome hike- a little tough on our ankles, but so worth it. At the end, there’s a spring with clean drinking water and a few caves you can go into (see Facebook for pictures). Small steps to get over my slight claustrophobia, too…but all in all, an awesome day that left me with a clear head and light heart. I can’t wait for more hiking trips- next week we’re going to Machtesh Ramon, the craters in the Negev.

Sunday was our school trip to Jerusalem (not required, but a free bus). Our guide was the Contemporary Israel professor who showed us around from the New City to the Old City (another 6 hours of walking)- we saw the King David and Three Arches Hotels, King David’s tomb, the Room of the Last Supper, the Western Wall, stopped for shawarma in the Jewish quarter, went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and then had a few minutes for snacks before getting back on the bus home. Jerusalem makes me think a lot- it’s a beautiful city rich with history and stories and stones that are time portals to centuries ago, but the things I can see from the top of the hill make me wonder.

Monday we had class again (at this point you probably don’t even think I go to school here) but this week was still our trial period to see what classes and professors worked well for our learning styles and interests. I went to Islamic Fundamentalism and met an incredible professor who does things that I would love to do at some point in my life. I’m really looking forward to these classes and learning with and from my professors and peers.

On Thursday, after Hebrew, I took a bus to Netanya to visit a W&M alum that I met through my time as a Diversity Peer Educator. She’s been working as a teaching fellow here since September. We walked to see the beach and had delicious little mini ice creams and caught up about living here, home, and school. So much gratefulness to the Tribe for giving me a network of wonderful people, even on the other side of the world. Makes me feel a little more at home in these first few weeks. From Netanya, we took a sherout to Tel Aviv and then a bus to Ashkelon for an Israeli Lacrosse game that my friend’s friend was playing in. After the game, I stayed with my family in Ashkelon for a wonderful weekend spent walking around to see the end of Darom Adom season (the “red south” flower in the Northern Negev) and the historical national park in Ashkelon. They taught me how to cook some Israeli and Russian dishes, too- nice to bring back to my tiny little kitchen here with only a toaster oven and hot plates for cooking. On Saturday night I took the train back up north to stay in Netanya for the night and then back to Haifa this morning.

A busy, eventful week, but one that has let me think, and given me more to think about. It’s been nice to travel alone and be in my own thoughts, too. I am happy here, and feeling a little more settled in every day, but I do miss everyone at home, a lot. After hearing about two tragedies from my high school this week, I’m sending extra hugs to all, with love, as we “daringly pursue our road…we are but black specks. On we go.”

The first week

I had to pinch myself a few times when I got off the plane last week. It still didn’t feel real that I was actually here, that this was finally happening. After a pretty easy flight to Turkey (with no one next to me) and a short layover in Istanbul and flight to Tel Aviv, I found my bags and made it through customs to meet a friend who is working in Netanya this year (thanks, Dascher).  She showed me how to take the train and I got up to Haifa around midnight after a full 24 hours of traveling. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, and felt pretty alone once I got to my room (which, by the way, has a beautiful view overlooking all of the city). I knew it was going to take a few days to adjust, so I just kept telling myself to be patient and look at the stars. Everything sparkles here in this really gorgeous, special way.

We started bright and early the next morning and I met the four other girls in my program (CIEE Haifa). We all come from really different backgrounds with various reasons for choosing this program in particular.  Our morning schedule that first day: taking the bus to get the Rav-Kav card (kind of like a SmarTrip), breakfast picnic on the beach, and then a tour of Wadi Nisnas, an especially diverse part of the city where lots of different identities coexist. People do live side by side here, peacefully. The news unnecessarily sensationalizes the conflict, not to diminish the fact that things are definitely still happening. That night we had dinner with our advisor, Kate, and discussed The Lemon Tree, a really great book that parallels the human experiences of an Israeli and a Palestinian who both lived in the same house at two different points in time. I believe this is how we should learn about conflicts- from the people- the real stories.

And that is what we did, on Saturday. We drove up north around Nahariyya, to a place called Iqrit (more information also here), and talked to a few of the 12 men living in the church on top of a hill. They’re musicians, artists, and writers, and they told us why they were there and let us ask questions. That’s when I realized that if there’s one thing I’m going to figure out here, it’s going to be how to ask questions. Here, people are so straightforward and genuine, if you are to them. If you ask them questions, they will give you a full, honest answer. I love it. We went to see another of our tour guide’s friends, a guy from Jordan who is volunteering here with an organization called YEEPI, and is also in a relationship with an Israeli Jew.  That night, after a delicious dinner, we went out with some of our tour guide’s friends and got to see some of the city at night.

On Sunday, I got my phone figured out- if you want to reach me while I’m here, send me an email or Facebook message and I will give you a local number that you can call! My cell is also 058-796-3051 if you have iMessage or Whatsapp. We went to the Druze market for some basic supplies and food which helped us feel a lot more settled in. The other international students were also getting in that night, so campus wasn’t completely empty anymore.  We had orientation Monday morning and met all the other students we’ll be having some of our classes with- there’s a pretty limited set of classes in the International School (but all awesome) so we’re all in many similar ones, especially the International Relations/Peace & Conflict/PoliSci students. Some of us went on the school-sponsored (free!) Haifa tour which included a stop at the Baha’i gardens (another faith community here), the shuk (Talpiyot Market) for all my favorite kinds of fresh food, another stop at Wadi Nisnas for the two famous falafel places across the street from each other (the others hadn’t been there yet), and some pictures of the Baha’i gardens at night from below.  This day was when I finally got to take a breath and feel fully confident that I had picked the right place to go abroad.  Everyone has a different place from which he or she is coming, a different perspective, story, reason, interest, or passion.  Our first few days of classes opened my eyes even more to the broad range of experiences and studies everyone has, and the way that we are going to be able to share these thoughts with each other.  As of right now, I’m planning to take Arab-Israeli Relations, Psychology of Resistance, Arms Control in the Nuclear Realm, and Hebrew (every morning Mon-Thurs for 2 hours). The other three classes are once a week for about 3 hours each, which is actually an awesome schedule that makes me focus for that time and have a lot of other time to do my own stuff.

A few days ago I received this quote in my email from another one of my friends who is studying abroad this semester: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” How timely. I’m trying to give more attention to myself, to others, to little beautiful things- and big beautiful things, and take this time to really invest in this experience. After a week here, I’m feeling calm, happy, and more independent, but I’m still trying to put everything to the right words. I wanted to keep a blog so family and friends could not only see what I was up to, but also so I could explain some of what is really going on here in a way that the media doesn’t.  I’m not saying I’m going to know or see or do everything here (three and a half months, I’m realizing, is barely enough time to start), but, it’s something. If you have any questions about anything, what I write, what you read somewhere else, what you’re thinking, my pictures on Facebook, or just want to talk, please don’t hesitate to send me an email (hskohn@email.wm.edu) while I’m here. As much as this is my own experience, I want to be able to share it with others so that maybe, one day, we’ll all understand each other a little bit better.

Getting ready to go

“If you were all alone in the universe with no one to talk to, no one with which to share the beauty of the stars, to laugh with, to touch, what would be your purpose in life? It is other life; it is love, which gives your life meaning. This is harmony. We must discover the joy of each other, the joy of challenge, the joy of growth.”

I’ve been thinking about going abroad for what feels like forever (realistically, probably more like a year or so). And now that this week is finally here, anticipation, nervousness, relief, and excitement are just a few of the overwhelming emotions I’m feeling. I’ve been to Haifa before, but just for a day of a 2-week trip I took with my parents last year.

This time, I’m on my own. So as I’ve been packing, I’m trying to think about what I want to do for the 3 and a half months I have to study, travel, learn, listen, converse, see, and understand what’s really going on over there. I want to believe that there can be peace- I want to be a part of facilitating it. I want to figure things out for myself, see what’s really going on, and bring back stories of real people, real families, and real life.

My heart is anxiously fluttering for my 11:30 pm departure time on Wednesday night. I’m ready for this challenge, to grow, and to hopefully find some answers along the way. And I’m comforted knowing that the whole time, I can look up at the stars I love so dearly and know I’m looking at the same sky as the people I love. Thank you to those of you who have been there for me for each step of the way, to my parents and grandparents who are making this opportunity possible, and for the unconditional love and support of so many friends and family. Love to all. Shalom.