Thursday, December 25, 2014

Giving Thanks

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t get homesick too often. That being said, I was a little nervous about how I’d feel about missing out on Thanksgiving with my family.

My Thanksgiving was far from traditional (think peanut noodles and hummus), but it was a great evening. We did a potluck dinner at one of the ITF apartments in PTK, where everyone brought a dish to feed approximately 20 people. Before coming to Israel, I had been a pescatarian for 7 years, and I decided to begin eating meat and poultry again because I didn’t want to miss out on any new delicacies while abroad (as you can tell food plays a large role in my life).  This would have been the first Thanksgiving where I’d be able to indulge in Turkey, but PLOT TWIST we ended up having a strictly dairy/parve meal because some of the Fellows keep Kosher. This made for a very carb heavy yet delicious meal.

In true Thanksgiving fashion, I thought I’d share just a few of the many things I am thankful for in particular this year.

I’m thankful for Facetime

How else would I be able to spend the holiday with a few of my favorites that are 7,000+ miles away?

I’m thankful for my Petah Tikva family

These crazy kids filled any sort of void I could’ve had from spending the holiday without my family.

I’m thankful for my Israeli school family

My co-fellow, my students, and my incredible host teacher Rosi have helped make my experience in Israel exponentially greater than I could ever imagine.

Speaking of my school family, lots of fun things have been happening with teaching. For starters, my co-fellow Josh and I created our first bulletin board, which we hope to use to bring awareness of American culture to our students. Our November board was adorned with Thanksgiving d├ęcor – think hand turkeys, cornucopias, and statements of what my co-fellow and I are thankful for. 

Additionally, our 4th grade students finally got to debut their “Sam and Ann” performance. I wish I had permission to share pictures or videos of the students because they were amazingly precious and did an INCREDIBLE job! I could not stop gleaming throughout their entire performance and in that moment I realized I am 100% going to be a stage mom when I grow up.

Props for the skit - I spent way too much time on these bad boys
In Rosi news, the woman’s still a mensch (I’ve been told I should stop using “saint” because it’s not a very Jewish concept. Whatever).  I spent 3 out of 5 days of the week at Rosi’s house. Is there such thing as feeling too at home? Probably. But she doesn’t seem to mind. My first day at Rosi’s house is actually kind of a funny story. To preface the story, I am having things sent to Rosi’s address while I live here because I don’t really have access to my apartment’s mailbox.

SO, I got a call from the Israeli postal service saying that they had a package from my mother that they wanted to deliver to me. They asked me to wait at home (read: Rosi’s home) from 12-3 PM so I could be there to receive the package. That’s kind of a wide range of time so I was a little annoyed that I’d have to sit and wait, but worse things could happen. The real kicker, though, was the man on the telephone’s parting words. “You will have to pay 505 shekels for tax in cash or credit card. Thanks.”

505 SHEKELS?! I still don’t have a firm grasp of the dollar to shekel exchange rate (in my defense it fluctuates) but I knew it was a ridiculous amount. At the current exchange rate, it comes out to a little over $126 dollars. I could not fathom how a package that contained about $30 dollars worth of product could be so heavily taxed, so I decided to call my mom to discuss how silly that was.

Probably what I looked like when I found out I needed to pay 505 NIS
Long story short- I discovered that my mom declared that the contents of the package were worth a bit more than they actually were because she was concerned that otherwise they would not take special care of the package and make sure that it arrived to Petah Tikva. Safe to say we have since learned our lesson for the next package. The deliverer ended up coming a little past 2 PM, but it was torrentially downpouring outside so Rosi told me to wait for her to return from a meeting so she could give me a ride home. I ended up staying at her house till 10 PM that night, only leaving after having dinner and watching TV with her family. Rosi even suggested I just sleep over since she lives so close to school, but I had to decline considering I didn’t have a change of clothing or any of my work materials. 

Friday after work, Josh and I made our way over to Rosi’s house for lunch. Rosi, her husband, and her youngest son Eyal sat with Josh and me and enjoyed probably the spiciest shakshuka all of us have ever devoured. Over lunch, Rosi invited Josh and I back to her house for Shabbat breakfast the next day and we of course had to oblige.  Volunteering 101: A humble stipend means you never turn down free food. So on Saturday, for the third time in 5 days, I returned to Rosi’s house to enjoy a quintessential Israeli Shabbat brunch, filled with challah and jachnun. Then I was in a bit of a food coma so I took a nap on her sofa. Typing this out is making realize that I probably am getting a bitttttt too comfortable. As the kids say, “Sorry I’m not sorry.” 

Because when you find a Pharaoh hat, it'd be a sin to not try it on

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Playing Catch-Up pt 4

It has been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write, and as you can imagine a lot has happened in the interim. Let’s play catch up. Apologies if this isn’t a coherent blog post – there’s a lot to cover so feel to pick and choose to read what interests you! I've broken it up into 4 different posts.

In the Classroom (Present)

Overall, being in the classroom has been incredible. I have been learning a LOT of Hebrew from my students and have faced a lot of challenges. I’ve certainly hit my fair share of speed bumps – there was a day when one sixth-grade class COMPLETELY ate me alive to the point where I felt helpless, but after some hyperventilating to my mother on the phone post-class, I was able to remove myself from the situation and use it as a learning experience. Education is never easy, but it is always rewarding. 

I have been able to create bonds with a lot of students- including one 5th grader who sits in the back of the classroom during English class. He rarely participated in class and constantly drew funky little creatures all over his English books. The creatures are actually fantastic- I will have to get a picture to share next time. Anyway, I decided to invest a little extra time in this student, and the return on investment has been immeasurable. This student is now consistently the first to raise his hand and answer a question and the first to volunteer for little competitions. With 7 months left in the program, I cannot wait to see just how much more he will grow by the end of June. 

Another fellow and I have been working on a skit with one of our 4th grade classes. The skit, appropriately titled “Sam and Ann,” tells the Hansel-and-Gretel-like story of Sam and Ann. The students are so excited to perform the skit for their classmates and potentially the entire school! I really look forward to the days when I get to work with my 4th graders – I’ve told my co-fellow that their class gives me life (whereas the sixth graders take days off of my life…). 

We also have come up for a few school-wide initiatives so that all students (not just the ones we work with) can reap the benefits of having fellows at their school. For example, we will begin doing a weekly morning greeting on the PA system in English. As a reward, one student a week will be able to read the greeting. We think this will be a great way to get the kids hearing English in a consistent manner. I can’t wait to share more student work on my blog as the year progresses! 
Student Gardening in an Agricultural Ecology Class 
Student's English Test - Ain't Nobody Got Time for Spaces
Students Voting in a Very Democratic Class Rep Election

Playing Catch-Up pt 3

It has been a while since I’ve been able to sit down and write, and as you can imagine a lot has happened in the interim. Let’s play catch up. Apologies if this isn’t a coherent blog post – there’s a lot to cover so feel to pick and choose to read what interests you! I've broken it up into 4 different posts.

Out and About (Oct 20- Present)

After Sukkot break, we returned to working at our schools. I was really happy to see my students again after spending a long time away from them.  As always, the students greeted the other fellow at my school and me with an abundance of hugs whenever they saw us. Additionally, it’s hard to go anywhere without hearing a prepubescent voice screaming our names. One student asked me if I had this many fans in the States. If you’re wondering, I definitely don’t.

After a hard week readjusting to being in school, I took a trip to Rishon Lezion to spend the weekend with a family that I’ve had the pleasure of knowing since 2008. The family, the Yehudas, were kind enough to host me for an incredible Shabbat dinner – legitimately the best food I’ve eaten while in Israel. Having known them for quite some time, I felt very comfortable being there. It felt like a Shabbat dinner with family. Maayan, the youngest of the family, and I spent the night post-Shabbat dinner at a bar in Rishon. Rishon definitely has a lot more to offer on Shabbat than Petach Tikva, so it was a nice change of pace for me. Saturday was spent having a late Shabbat brunch with my absolute favorite Yemenite delicacy- jachnun- which is traditionally served on Shabbat because it slow cooks overnight and there is no need to break the no electricity on Shabbat rule. I for sure put on a couple pounds after my weekend with the Yehudas but again, no regrets.  Maor, the middle child, Maayan, and I then went to see a movie (PTK also lacks a movie theater but I’m not bitter or anything). It was my second time seeing the movie, Let’s be Cops, so I tried to use the opportunity to practice some and read Hebrew subtitles but JESUS those things change so quickly. At least I tried?

After the movie, Maor, Maayan, and I indulged in a beer and a football (read: soccer) game (watching not playing…what do I look like?) before returning to their home. In true Persian fashion, they packed some Tupperware filled with food for me to take home. It was something that they saw as a small gesture, but it seriously meant so much to me. That sounds silly, I know, but it reminded me of something my own family would do. I was extremely appreciative to spend the weekend with them. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s not always easy being so far away from my parents and sister (I’m getting teary eyed as I’m writing this, gross) so it really means the world to me when people do so much to make me feel at home. The Yehudas are an incredibly beautiful family and I am forever grateful for every moment spent and every pound put on during my weekend with them.

After my weekend in Rishon, I felt reenergized and was excited for the week ahead because that upcoming Friday we would be celebrating my absolute favorite holiday- HALLOWEEN! Even though Halloween isn’t traditionally celebrated in Israel, a few friends on the program decided to throw a little Halloween party in their apartment. Between working and running errands, I didn’t really have much time to throw together a proper costume but thankfully Maayan lent me some Catwoman paraphernalia in order to create a makeshift costume. 

The party was a lot of fun and surprisingly had more Israelis in attendance than Americans. I decided to spend the night at my friends’ apartment since it was torrentially down pouring outside and I refused to brave the walk home. The next morning I took the worst walk of shame home. Why, you ask? Because I had to walk home in my costume, which would not have been a big deal had I not run into the VICE PRINCIPAL of the school I work at. Safe to say I had THE shortest conversation with her before I ran home. My life, your entertainment.

Not the Most Professional Outfit
The Sunday after Halloween, our program joined a billion other Masa programs (rough estimate) for a Masa opening event in Jerusalem. It was a great night filled with an inspiring speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a great performance by the Idan Raichel Project, and another delicious stop on our hotdog tour of Israel (ranking #2 to be exact). It was very exciting to socialize with other English speakers and learn more about other Masa programs.

Coming in Strong at #2
The most recent exciting event to occur was a late night excursion my friend Jillian and I took to Tel Aviv. Jillian is a Florida State University alum while I am a University of Miami alum, so we were determined to watch our rivalry football game this past Saturday.  Only catch was that the game was airing at 3 am Israeli time. Still, we remained committed to our dream of watching the game. SO, at about 12 AM Jillian and I headed out of little ol’ PTK and made our way over to the city where anything is possible – Tel Aviv. We watched the game at Mike’s Place, which is an American-style sports bar where all of the staff speaks English and dreams come true. We waited anxiously for the game to begin while enjoying a couple of drinks and nachos. The bar had agreed to stay open for us to watch the game but once it hit halftime we felt bad making the staff wait for us considering we were the only ones in the bar.
Friendship Divided
 Jill and I decided we would sit outside the bar and stream the game using the bar’s Wi-Fi, but Mother Nature had other plans in mind and quite literally rained on our parade/plans. It was now 6 am so Jill and I figured it was probably time to head back to our homes. My team ended up losing in the last 4 minutes of the game, but I left Mike’s Place with a burrito so it wasn’t a total loss in my book.
Caught in the Rain While my Team Loses - Nothing a 6 AM Burrito Can't Fix
Another exciting event that I was able to attend was a wine festival in Sarona, Tel Aviv. Anyone who knows me is well aware that there are about a million other things I’d choose to do before drinking a glass of standard red/white wine (I will take a beer over wine any day), BUT the event promised cheese plates and Prosecco as well so I was very keen on going.  Sarona is a beautiful, relatively new area that is referred to as the “little Italy” of Israel. I have been mentioning to my friends how much I wanted to check out Sarona, so the wine festival was a great opportunity. It ended up being an incredibly fun evening – I indulged in delicious cheese plates (2 to be exact) AND even found a red wine I enjoy! How’s that for new beginnings? I look forward to heading back to Sarona once the weather. There is a restaurant there that allows restaurant goers to takeaway their meal with a borrowed blanket and picnic basket in order to have a picnic on the grassy areas of Sarona. It’s definitely somewhere I am hoping to bring my family when they come visit.