A Travellerspoint blog

Lag B'Omer

sunny 77 °F

Lag B'Omer is a holiday celebrated in Israel 33 days after Passover. In Hebrew, letters have a corresponding number. The letters L and G are the equivalent of 33. Omer is the name of the season. The season of Omer lasts 49 days as defined in Leviticus 23:15-16. The significance of the 33 day of Omer is defined by historical events and by Kabbalistic custom.

In the spirit of the holiday, kids begin stockpiling scrap wood or sticks a week or more before Lag B'Omer. Some kids get so into it that I have heard of contractors hiring a nightwatchman to keep an eye on scaffolding and lumber lest an overly zealous youngster nab it for his own Lag B'Omer fire! The holiday officially begins the night before with families lighting a bon fire using the stockpiled wood. When I woke up the next morning I was glad I had closed all my windows because the air outside was still very smokey! For the most part, in Israel today it really is just a school holiday (which is why I had the day off from Ulpan) although I noticed a few stores were closed too. There was loud music and speeches coming from somewhere for most of the afternoon. I walked all over town to find the source and expected to maybe find a crowded street with lots of festivities but as far as I could tell it was just a regular day (plus extra leftover smoke in the air). I think the music and speeches were coming from a local synagogue but I am still not really sure. Traditionally it is a day for BBQ's, picnics, singing and dancing, and out door games. The day before, while I was in class, there was a large group in another classroom singing loudly; maybe they were practicing for a Lag B'Omer picnic?!

Along with the season of Omer come several prohibitions but for Lag B'Omer all of those prohibitions are suspended. It is the traditional day for weddings (supposedly hundreds of weddings take place on Lag B'Omer) and a little boys first hair cut.

Posted by Sarah 2116 06:27 Comments (1)

First Day of Ulpan


sunny 75 °F

For the next 5 months the goal of my existence centers around Room 11 on Rehov Haportzim. I am one of about 20 other students attempting to learn the basics of the Hebrew language. The majority of the other students in my class are Russian. There are also 4 Asian woman, a guy from Hungary, a lady from Australia and two other Americans one being from Springfield no less! The teacher is an extremely peppy Israeli woman who is probably originally from Russia since her name is Olga and she speaks a lot of Russian in class. She knows a few words in English but for the most part everything is in Hebrew. She speaks very loudly and slowly as if we all really know Hebrew we just need time for the words to penetrate our thick foreign skulls and awaken the inner Hebrew. Olga is probably a lip readers dream because every word she speaks is perfectly defined and clear. All of my concentration was on listening for the Hebrew words that I currently know and using them to define her hand motions and the rest of what she was talking about. We spent the first half of class on a few common vocabulary words (the masculine and feminine forms) and practicing those. That was a piece of cake. I wrote all of the words phonetically in my notebook and practiced saying them with the other students. The nightmare began when she started writing words on the board and introduced vowels. I really don't understand why they even teach vowels when Israeli books and newspapers don't utilize vowels at all. The American girl from Springfield came over to comfort me with "Yeah, we will never be able to read very well because Israeli's pretty much just memorize words and mentally fill in the missing vowels in order to determine what a sentence says." Oh gee thanks for telling me that this is all just an exercise in futility. I survived my first 5 hour class (which includes two 15 minute breaks) because halfway through the day, the director came in to say that the next day is a school holiday in honor of Lag B'Omer. That means a whole extra day to study without adding extra new material. The saying here (instead of the American version "little by little") is "slowly slowly." So I am off to my slow start in learning the Hebrew language.

Posted by Sarah 2116 03:43 Comments (2)

Shabbat Preparations

semi-overcast 70 °F

Since they knew I would be alone on Shabbat (Saturday), my friends warned me that a very loud siren goes off just before sun down on Friday to announce that Shabbat is about to begin.

"We don't want you to be uninformed about it and become afraid assuming that a war has started!" they said with a grin.

Actually I don't think that would have even occurred to this American girls mind. I have never heard a siren except for the monthly tornado test runs back home and once last year in Tel Aviv on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Friday is a busy day. Most Israeli's only have a half day of work or school. The rest of the day is full of preparations for Shabbat. The grocery store lines are full of people purchasing last minute items for their Shabbat meal. My friends had warned me that if I did not do my shopping early on Friday I would be out of luck until Sunday as everything closes midday on Friday. Even so, by the time I had walked to the nearest grocery quite a bit of the store had already been picked clean. I had to go to three shops before I finally found one with pita. It was worth the trouble though as I happened to find a store with perfectly fresh pita that was still warm! I'm out of practice when it comes to paying in shekels so I almost had a heart attack when my handful of necessities totaled 117 shekels. According to my online bank statement that is just about $32.00. That sounds better!

I happily munched a piece of pita while I lugged my three bags of grocery's to my apartment and up the 3 1/2 flights of stairs. From my window I watched two little boys maybe 6 or 7 run to the corner mini mart to pick up some milk. They carried the bag home so proudly. I think they must live in the apartment under me.

I have literally been waiting for that siren all day. At one point I thought I heard it but it turned out to be the woman in the next flat vacuuming. When it really did sound, there was no mistaking it for any other noise. It certainly didn't sound dreadful like one would expect a war alarm to sound. It vigorously resounded loud and long and vaguely resembled the sound of a rams horn although I am really not sure what actually makes the sound or where in town it originates.

Shabbat shalom everyone!

Posted by Sarah 2116 22:57 Comments (1)

Lost in Petach Tikva

sunny 73 °F

So today after a healthy dose of Arabic coffee I decided to get a little more familiar with my new temporary hometown. This is a favorite practice of mine upon arriving in a new town. I try to get myself as lost as possible (or just lost enough that I begin to feel a little uncomfortable) and then see if I can find my way back. My rational mind always reminds me that discovering the layout of the town with the help of a map would be so much more logical but my adventurous mind can't resist the challenge. And besides, I figure I can always buy a map along the way if I get really desperate. This time it took me 3 hours to find my way back. I was almost sure I had walked all the way to Tel Aviv and was tempted to stop a random passerbyer and inquire "Efo rehov Rothschild?" ("Where is Rothschild Street?") when finally there it was.

It seemed like most of the town is residential but there is quite a shopping district too. I did not pass a single house; the town is dominated by four story, white apartment buildings. I went through a small mall but aside from that almost all of the shops are small, opened booths lining the street. Shopkeepers display their goods in cramped rows of organized chaos. Items for sale include everything imaginable: toys, CD's, scarves, bottled water, school supplies. Buckets of colorful spices are arranged in rows beside tubs of fish and across from piles of carrots the size of eggplants! There was a Oriental shop with all sorts of brightly colored pillows and home accessories. It seemed like every other shop was either a Falafel stand or an ice cream booth. Can you guess the two favorite Israeli treats? Seriously I think I could live off of nothing but falafel and Israeli ice cream. Cheap too.

I passed some pretty amusing stuff along the way; some familiar some not. I thought it was pretty funny to pass a small restaurant called The USA sporting a life size Statue of Liberty outside! Almost all of the other signs and advertisements are in Hebrew but there is quite a bit of Russian too. Some signs are in both Hebrew and Russian. I recognized one shop because of the sign and logo was completely English and familiar to me: Curves!! I found that pretty funny.

I found the nearest health food store too. Inside were all the items familiar to American health food stores including organic foods, supplements, essential oils, and other natural products. I was excited to find rice milk but it seems like almost a crime to buy rice juice in "the land of milk and honey." The only problem with this health food store is I don't think there was a single English label in the entire place. If I needed to buy something I will have to rely on the picture.

One thing really foreign to American eyes around here is the independence of children. Little children! It is not uncommon to see little kids walking down the street unaccompanied by their parents or any adult for that matter. I instinctively wanted to grab one little boys hand who looked to be about 6 or 7 as we crossed a busy street together. He had the side locks distinguishing him as a child from a religious family and was enthusiastically licking a red Popsicle. A few streets later was a boy about 12 pushing a stroller and gripping the hand of a another child about 5 years old. The 5 year old and the 12 year old chattered simultaneously in Hebrew that must have been equivalent to a million words per second. Wow.

By the time I returned "home" I was ready for another cup of Arabic coffee. Tomorrow I think I will explore another part of the town. And maybe buy a map. Maybe.

Posted by Sarah 2116 07:42 Comments (4)

Knit One Purl Two

knit your way to Israel

sunny 72 °F

I have honestly never sat next to anyone on a plane before. I have always had an entire row to myself or at least the seat directly next to me. On my flight from Chicago to Zurich I was seated next to the most interesting lady. Briggete is from Germany, in her 60's, and owns her own knitting shop where she also teaches classes on fibers and knitting. Before that she ran a middle school for girls. Briggete had three bags of knitting supplies with her on the plane. Throughout the flight, Briggete and I chatted about life, spirituality, family and knitting. You should see her needles fly! She produced a spare ball of yarn and a little pair of bamboo needles for me to use. She taught me how to make a hat while we flew across the ocean. I think she expected it to be a regular sized hat but that was before she saw what a clumsy knitter I am. By the time our plane was taxiing into the airport in Zurich the last stitch was being put into my hat...which is a perfect size for a mini teddy bear!!

My experience in the Zurich airport was memorable too. Going through Swiss security took about 20 seconds. Going through the Israeli security to board the plane taking us into Israel took about 2 hours. Israeli's don't mess around. First they questioned each person individually. They asked questions like why I wanted to go to Israel, what I intended to do while there, why I care about Israel at all, how many times had I been there before, and (my favorite) why I do not speak Hebrew already. Then I was ushered into a separate room where each item in my hand luggage was examined and x-rayed. The Israeli security woman was extremely nice and chatted with me the entire time about Israel and learning Hebrew.

Landing in Israel brought back lots of memories. I half expected butterflies or some other reaction of overwhelming excitement over being back in Israel. Instead I was so calm. I am happy to be here, of course, but it is a peaceful happiness of knowing I am where I am supposed to be. It is not a glamorous pleasure trip or anything out of the ordinary. Returning to Israel feels like returning home. At the airport I was greeted by three of my favorite Israeli's and we went to their apartment to feast on Israeli cuisine including heavenly HUMUS!!!

This afternoon we walked to the Ulpan to meet the staff and to take a look around. The current students were just leaving from their days lessons. The exact starting date is still up in the air but they have promised to call when it has been set.

Posted by Sarah 2116 05:23 Comments (2)

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