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.

Playing Catch-Up pt 2

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.

Sukkot Break (October 7-19)

I know what you’re thinking – another break?! Does this chick ever work?! Answer: Not really. At least in October I didn’t. But those days are long gone. I digress. Anyway, we had about two weeks off for Sukkot break which was nice and a great opportunity to travel abroad which I did not take advantage of. Woops. But I did do a lot of fun stuff!

Inbal, the Jewish culture and history teacher at my school, invited any of my roommates who did not have other accommodations for the holiday and myself to her house for Sukkot dinner. One of my roommates and one of my friends ended up accompanying me to dinner. It was a wonderful evening with delicious food. Inbal’s family was extremely welcoming and made us feel at home. We read a few blessings and toasted in her beautiful sukkah before heading inside her home for dinner. Something really fun and unique that Inbal’s family does for every Jewish holiday is a trivia game full of questions about the holiday’s history. The questions were asked in Hebrew so we didn’t participate much but it was really fun watching Inbal’s family team up and get competitive with the game. Inbal’s family was incredibly hospitable and made us feel as though we were all just old friends meeting for a nice dinner. By the end of the night, Inbal’s 11-year-old son even mustered up the courage to ask my 25-year-old roommate for her phone number. Boys will be boys, am I right?  

(L-R): Abi, Naomi, Me, Inbal
After the first night of Sukkot, the next exciting adventure of the break began on Sunday, the 12th. Our program planned an overnight trip to the north (Naftali mountains, Misgav Am, Mt. Meron, and Tzfat). Some highlights of the trip include a PTK vs Rishon Letzion ITF Master Chef competition, and two hikes that proved just how out of shape I am. We also had the opportunity to listen to an extremely brash Kibbutznik who dubbed himself our “Uncle Aryeh” speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Uncle A let us know that he did not care to hear our opinions and quite frankly admitted that he believed we had nothing intellectual to offer him. While he upset many people on our program, I was not offended. I obviously did not agree with his demeanor and the way he went about presenting but I did see some value in the message he was conveying.

After our trip to the north, 4 friends and I had planned a mini vacation for ourselves to two festivals in Israel. The first was the Tamar Music Festival, which was held at the bottom of Masada (in the Negev desert and right by the Dead Sea). We rented a car and drove out to the festival, which was a lot of fun. We had the pleasure of watching a couple Israeli bands perform and meeting lots of interesting characters. The next adventure of the trip was our sleeping accommodations! Spoiler alert- we slept in a tent without sleeping bags and mats. On top of ALL of the rocks. It is something I can laugh about now but at the time I didn’t actually find it very funny at all.


The next morning, after waking up in pools of sweat, we pulled ourselves together and headed out to have breakfast by the Dead Sea. We spent the morning making friends and enjoying the calm before the storm that was our next adventure. We all packed into our humble little dinger and headed to Eshkol, a city that is a short 7-mile jaunt away from Gaza (again, sorry Dad), for the Hot Air Balloon Festival! We arrived at the festival a bit before Sunset and were greeted by hundreds of families with small children. This was very pleasant, of course, given I love children, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised by the festival’s target audience. I showed up as if it were Coachella just to find out it was more like Disneyland. After our initial shock, we set up camp, snacked, and may or may not have enjoyed a few adult beverages in our tent. 

Coachella or Hot Air Balloon Festival? Beats Me.
We then headed over to see the Hot Air Balloons. They were lovely and all, but I had my eyes on the prize. The prize being the hotdog stand right outside the balloon grounds. My friend Naomi and I have been taking a “hotdog tour” of Israel, and I was excited to taste test the delicacies that Eshkol had to offer. I am happy to say that this hotdog landed third on our list. I blog about all the important things.


After this, we returned to our tents for another frigid night without proper bedding. The hot air balloons were set to take off at sunrise, but my friends Jilllian, Naomi, and I were too cold, quite frankly, to leave our humble abode. A little ridiculous, sure, but no regrets. Once morning struck, we packed up and headed back to return our rental vehicle and said goodbye to two days filled with laughter, discomfort, and good times.