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4 posts from December 2013


Alive and Kicking

      I realize I haven't quite lived up to my promise to blog continuously... I can explain! I'd say from October 3rd to October 31st I was searching for something - be it a place, a person or a volunteer experience - that would make me feel part of this country and would rid me of the idea that others viewed me as a flimsy American who lacks the ability to speak Hebrew and simply wants to "see the world" for a semester. The transition was hard. Since then, I've met a few people (Arab and Jewish Israelis) who have shared a slice of their life with me, including their connection to the land, their life goals, or just their impressions of serving in the army. As well, I started interning (though it's been more casual than a typical internship) at the Early Childhood Center for Arab children and their mothers. And so, I've started kicking again. Honestly, if hadn't started making this study abroad experience my own, it would have just been a semester of rest, friendships and incredible falafel. The latter might sound good now, but it would surely wear off a few years down the road.



     Over the past 10 weeks, I have indulged in Israel's low travel costs and short travel time from city to city. Some trips were certainly more powerful than others. For the trips where I intentionally set out to meet someone (a friend of a college friend, a friend of a family friend, a vendor on the side of the road), the memories were stronger. For the days where I chose a destination and allotted a certain number of hours to get lost in the place, the experience was even more titillating. If you know me at all, you are aware that I love to talk to anyone. Apart from history and language classes, where class-time is essential, informal conversations with people is the best way I learn. I always try to then follow up with independent research on whatever topic I discussed with said person. Let's hear about some of the faces I've met, shall we?



Heartbeat. Amplifying Youth Voices. 

This is a great photo to start with because this group of Arab and Jewish college aged students illustrates the potential for small steps to gradually make a big impact. Heartbeat unites Israeli and Palestinian youth to build their trust and understanding through music. Since the two communities have been polarized due to years of animosity, the music group breaks down their assumptions of one another. The lyrics ranged from Hebrew, to Arabic to English. The performance took place in Tel Aviv, where dozens of Israelis gathered to listen, cheer on and support the group of eight. During the Hebrew lyrics, I sought some help from Israelis in the crowd and was given a translation.

 New Friends from Nazareth. 

On the weekend of October 24th, two American friends Ian and Phillip and I decided to take an hour long bus to Nazareth to see the sights, walk the streets, meet the locals and play some basketball (apparently!). On the way there, we met some Italian tourists who didn't have any shekels (Israeli currency). It doesn't reflect well on their part but I assume they were coming off of a cruise ship. So, they tried to coax us to join their overly expensive van-ride to Nazareth to decrease the price for each of them...not happening. The city itself is worth returning to; the people are friendly, the history of the Basilica of the Annunciation is incredible, and Nazareth Village (a reenactment of the city during Jesus' years) is spot-on. In terms of the basketball game, while the boys were shooting hoops with boys from an Arab catholic church, I was sitting on the sidelines perfectly enjoying myself. It appeared as if we walked into a recreation center affiliated with the church. One of the younger girls walked over to me and handed me a lollipop. 

Ghassan Birumi

One of our CIEE study abroad trips within Israel took place in Akko (also known as Acre), a a quaint port city thirty minutes north of Haifa University. Instead of paying for the conventional tour guide, our CIEE "mom" Kate Shalvoy found a friend of a friend from Akko to give us a brief history tour. Ghassan covered the highlights, including the sea wall built around the city for defensive purposes in 1750 ( and now used by many children to jump from), the Genovese Square where many European merchants worked and lived and and the Templar Tunnel built during the First Crusade (around 1100). After the Crusade period, the Mamluks controlled the port between 1260 and 1517, giving Akko an Arab influence. Once imperial influence ended, i.e. the Ottoman Empire and the British mandate, Akko's population was majority Arab. The 1948 War of Independence and various rounds of Jewish immigration to Israel have gradually displaced many of the Arabs from the city and diversified the demographics. At the end of the tour, Ghassan told us a bit more about himself. Apart from playing the guitar, Ghassan works at a long-term care facility for young Arab women who need help getting back on their feet. The job sounded like it required a lot of patience but brought a lot of fulfillment. Although I haven't since Ghassan since our visit, he has introduced me to an Arab student from Haifa who I have practiced Arabic with twice.


Mr. Stray Cat (one of hundreds in Israel)

Mr. cat doesn't require much of a description. All I can say is that the British originally imported cats to Palestine in the early 1900s, but after the 1948 war stray cats became part of the culture in Israel...believe me, they're everywhere. 

East Jerusalem resident

During CIEE's 2 day trip to Jerusalem, an Israeli tour guide (originally from NYC) planned quite a thorough trip around the city - covering East Jerusalem, the Israel Museum, a famous book store Tmol Shilshom and an authentic Shabbot dinner with many of his friends. After we took a pit stop for 15 NIS ($4 USD) hummus and pita, we woke ourselves up given the heaviness of the bowl of hummus and met a East Jerusalem resident to hear more about the conflict's impact on his life. Initially, I didn't predict how emotional the experience would be. He first recounted the history of the 1948 and 1967 war from his perspective - a decision of his that I understand even though most of us have already studied the history quite a bit. He then walked us through a neighborhood of many Jewish ultra orthodox settlements. Since the issue is complex and emotional for both parties, I realize that both sides want to be heard. While we were listening to him talk, he took out pictures from riots in the neighborhood, during which one of the Palestinian residents had been killed. I started crying and it took some time for me to get composed again. Since Israel technically has rights over East Jerusalem, even though it is annexed to Palestinians, settlements are a complicated legal mess. He ended the tour on a positive note by inviting us to a restaurant he works as a chef at. 

 David Ehrich of Tmol Shilshom

Poet and founder of Tmol Shilshom, Ehrich established this Jerusalem cafe in 1994. The opening of the cafe occurred only several months after the first intifada ended in September 1993. Although some had their reservations about its potential success, Tmol Shilshom is now regarded as one of the best cafes in the city due to its atmosphere, food, and books available to all customers. Our tour guide had met with Ehrich once a week to read poetry, and thus suggested that we spend the morning eating fresh food and hearing great poetry. "It's a crazy country. Wars and conflict," Ehrich said. "To balance all of this out, we have literature. We have a great tradition of literature. We are people of the book." Ehrich recently published a book entitled "Who Will Die Last". I will definitely look into it.

That's me.

I might as well stick a cool shot during an afternoon hike in Klil (an Israeli village near Akko).

Young Jerusalemite 

To convey the work and energy put into Shabbot, our Jerusalem tour guide, Jonah Fischer, instructed the 11 of us to buy specific ingredients at the Mehane Yehuda market and then participate in the cooking for a 20 person Shabbot dinner that night. The Mehane Yehuda market reminded me of the hyena scene in the Lion King...if you didn't look out, you would have been trampled, stepped on or pushed by shoppers in a rush. Luckily, my assignment was just lettuce, eggs and rice. The woman pictured above may have been a housemate of Jonahs, but she was our head chef for the night. She comes from an ultra orthodox family but has since become less conservative. She evidently had a lot of experience in the kitchen and orchestrated a fabulous meal (a vegetable soup, a chicken soup, potatoes and rice, chocolate pudding and roasted vegetables). The whole experience was a bit intense given that there was one kitchen and a whole lot of bodies wanting to find a job. That said, by the time I tasted the food, I'd say it was worth it.

 That's it for now!





There is no place on Earth like Jerusalem, except for Disney World stick with me here because both give you unexplainable butterflies in your stomach and a nostalgia of history that could only ever be the cumulation of all of your personal expectations and beliefs colliding with the enthusiasm of being in that one place . Jerusalem was nothing I expected and yet everything more. Most of Israel oozes cultural richness and heritage but Jerusalem IS cultural richness. People live within the walls of the old city, Jews pray at the Western Wall while listening to the Islamic call to worship, and Christians can attend mass in any number of churches in the area. 

Our first stop in Jerusalem was an over look of much of what was in store for the day (and the weekend following as CIEE took a separate trip there). If you really really look the gold dome to the left of the picture is the Dome of the Rock, beneath that (and unseeable the word correct on my computer is telling me that unseeable isn’t a word. It is now, so go with it.) is the Western Wall, and further beyond that (also unseeable from this picture) is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.


While there are certainly not only two sections of Jerusalem, I have only experienced two so far: the old city and eastern Jerusalem. The paradox that presents itself when you walk down the road toward Jaffa Gate (above) is too cool! As I was walking, following the people above, to my left were walls that were built in 1538 by the Muslim Ottoman Empire, and to my right was an expanse of modernity including a new suspension bridge and movie theater that are a point of tension in the city. There is so much old in Jerusalem surviving, no- thriving, amidst what is new. Before stepping through the gate of the old city I was overcome.


(Jennifer, Ashley, Brandon, Maggie)


(Jennifer, Ashley, Maggie, Misem)

I’m not sure what magical strings (haha that’s funny because of the harp coming up) God pulled to make my entrance into the city as amazing as it was- but it happened and it was good. Jaffa Gate is one of 11 entrances to the Old City (only 7 of which are 0pen). It references a port in Israel, Jaffa (Yaffo), that is perhaps better known as the port Jonah fled from to escape God’s plan for him as a messenger. Side note: The entrances are at a 90 deg angle into the city and are more like a square room because when the city was being attacked, for a horse and carriage and artillery to turn 90 degs is a pretty difficult task, not that I have tried it. All that being said, it is already so cool walking even next to these ancient walls but entering a towering square gate to find a harpist playing is just so… Biblical, or to me it was.


The following few pictures mostly document the walk we made through the city. We walked through all four quarters (the Old City is divided unevenly amongst the Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Armenians) and we stared up at walls, windows, people’s laundry, terraces filled with flowers, children yelling out of windows: we stared up at these things, the manifestation of people’s lives within the walls of the Old City and couldn’t help but be in awe. Ignorantly, or however you would like to classify it, the part of me that knew about places like these never was able to attribute continual life to them, rather awkwardly I thought the Old City might be a memory, a place that has a past and whose future was just as a tourist attraction/holy site. Obviously I was wrong, the Old City is continually growing, changing, creating history and looking forward to the future. IMG_3053IMG_3054IMG_3055IMG_3056IMG_3062

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is best know to those in the Catholic faith as the place where Jesus was crucified, washed, and laid to rest in the tomb. Perhaps I was not awed immediately by the fact that this could have been the very ground, rock, and tomb my Savior touched, but rather by how incredibly ornate and colorfully busy the church was. It was like standing in a kaleidoscope, looking every direction and unable to take everything in. Combine that feeling with the overwhelming emotional response I was having and you get a Jamie who is unable to take a step in any direction for fear of missing something in the other. I hardly felt odd about the intense response because, as I became less paralyzed with the mess that is my emotional response system, I realized that others were also responding in the same way.


The mosaic here (and in a few pictures below), Christ’s Anointing, depicts stations 11-14 in the traditional sense of the Stations of the Cross, all stations which occurred here.

11- His Crucifixion

12-His death

13-He is taken down, Lamentation

14- He is laid in the Tomb



Both the above and below picture is the rock where Jesus was laid after having died and being taken down from the cross. It is where they washed and prepared his body to be placed in the tomb. Most people knelt down at the rock and prayed, some rubbed scarves or pieces of clothing against it, pictures of loved ones: I laid my Rosary down on it while I prayed. In the hopes of not getting too ushy gushy (as my Dad refers to it) I felt more of a connection to this place because of my Nanny (Grandmother) more so than anything else. She would have been overcome to have been here, at this rock: Rosary beads and all!


Below is a picture of the outside of the tomb, it was beautiful, even trying to take a peak inside was difficult though and the line to get in was about 2 hours long. Our tour did not have that kind of time and so we were unable to go in, but I will go back and I will go in and perhaps I will dedicate another post solely to pictures of this church, because it really deserves it.IMG_3073IMG_3077

Upon entering the church you can either go straight into the large space and veer to the left to see the tomb and the rock or you can take a quick right and walk up some VERY narrow stairs and make it to the place where Jesus was crucified, the actual place not just the vicinity. I made it up the stairs in a mad dash before having to leave and took a few pictures. It was darker, more ornate, and quieter up the stairs: luckily though not I walked up right in the middle of a huge tour group of Easterners so the noise level instantly changed to loud.


I wish I had the slightest clue as to what this belonged to! But it was right outside the entrance to the church and the picture was too beautiful to pass up!


Not so shockingly the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is an origin of dispute. Because it is shared by 6 different sects of Christianity there is a lot of discussion (some of which has resulted in physical aggression against one another) about whether or not certain parts of the building belong to certain sects, when the building should be open or closed during certain holidays etc. Well, a ladder remains on the front of the church nearly above the door because one day in the 19th century a man placed the ladder against the building. No one knew who the man was or which sect he belonged to, so no one took the ladder down for fear of inciting aggression by a member of another sect. The first evidence of the ladders existence is 1852, but no one can tell how long it has been there. Ironic amidst the many Christian pilgrims that travel to this Church to worship and pray alongside one another and the reminder that we are all still human and prone to earthly aggression sits right above the door. 

Just walking through the Old City and the tunnels.


The Dome of the Rock while still walking around. The Dome of the Rock is actually resting on the place where Abraham is believed to have attempted to sacrifice his son Isaac (though Ishmael to Muslims). If you can remember back to the beginning of the post where I took a picture that overlooked Jerusalem, that place where we were standing was where Abraham told his servants to wait with the donkey after days of travel so he and Isaac could go up to the mountain to worship. The Dome of the Rock also sits on the place where the Holies of Holies would have been had the Temple still been standing. A lesser known fact is that the Western Wall is actually significant because it is the closest wall to where the Holies of Holies was in the Temple. The wall itself is mirrored by three others: a southern wall, an eastern wall, and a northern wall. The walls were built by King Herod as a place to set a plateau to build on, a leveling ground of sorts. The Wall has come to be a holy site innately when, in fact, the reason it is holy is because its proximity to the real holy site: a site which is inaccessible by anyone other than a Muslim at most hours of the day. IMG_3096IMG_3101

Brandon and Stephen


More walking and looking at walls and the shuk (market place) and catsIMG_3105IMG_3106IMG_3108IMG_3110

So, apparently it is a “thing” to climb the lion and sit on it with a friend so I reluctantly took a picture with it because it is a lion statue and that’s cool in itself aside from the social construction. I did not, however, climb up it because it was my height and it was difficult and a mess and people were watching and standing next to it was just much safer and saved quite a bit of my pride.

We went and looked around at the archeological site around the Southern wall (The Davidson center is a good museum for this, we didn’t go in it). It was very cool because you could stand right beneath the wall and feel its enormity, even the stones were giant, the smallest being 4-5 tons, 60 meters tall, and 180 feet wide. The tour guide is standing next to one in one of the pictures below and if you can zoom in you can see the stone compared to him, and he was an average size guy, if not a bit taller.

This is Philip by the way!


The Minaret we heard the call of prayer coming from on our walk to the Southern wall excavation.IMG_3129IMG_3130

The Western Wall: I have not yet put a note in the wall, I felt like I needed to do more research and understand the tradition a little bit better, plus I have plenty of time. 


The women and the men are segregated at the wall, much like they are during a Jewish service. The women’s portion is considerably smaller than the men’s with a tall solid fence separating the two. IMG_3139IMG_31411004665_10152007146256189_621443854_nI will certainly get back to Jerusalem at least a few more times before I leave, and I will probably post on it again. I love it here but two months and then some in and my heart is aching a bit for home, guess I will just have to find more places to explore! :)


Are You Craving a Shawarma?

Hey guys! So if you haven't guessed it already this blog post is going to be about the scrumptious foods I have tried so far in Israel. Let me first start by explaining to you some differences between the US and Israel when it comes to meal time. Beginning with would think of some pancakes, waffles, eggs, maybe some toast and cheese or yogurt with granola. Well, scratch that image and think salad. That's right. I said salad. About a week ago I met up with some of my Israeli family here in Haifa. When they asked me what I usually eat for breakfast and I replied yogurt and half of a grapefruit, they were shocked! They said, "What, no vegetables or cheese?" Here in Israel it is pretty typical to have an assortment of vegetables with your breakfast. These veggies usually go along with cheeses and eggs, and some really awesome pastries. I'm pretty sure I haven't had such a delicious chocolate croissants until eating in Israel. Image
Also, a really popular dish that is eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner is called shakshuka. It's basically tomato sauce, with onions and tomatoes chopped up and mixed in with two sunny side up eggs placed right on top. You dip bread into eat and eat it all together. Sounds a little strange but it is so yummy! Image
Now, when it comes to lunch and dinner...the first thing I must tell you about is a shawarma. Yes, this is the dish that is talked about in the movie "The Avengers." My family friend put it into perspective for me, he said that if an Israeli has his last 10 shekels in his pocket, he'll use it to buy a shawarma. Now let me tell you, he was right! A shawarma is a pita bread filled with a combination of salads, hummus, tahini sauce, sometimes fries, and a type of meat or curried chicken which is cut up off of a huge roast. Image
A falafel sandwich consists of the same things except instead of the meat, the pita is stuffed with deep-fried chickpea balls. It's also delicious. The last thing I want to tell you all about which is everywhere, and with practically every dish here, is hummus. For those that don't know hummus is a thick paste or spread made of ground chickpeas and sesame seeds, olive oil, lemon, and garlic. Growing up my family always had some on our Shabbat table to eat with bread. But here it is actually with almost everything! During the CIEE orientation we went to the ancient city of Akko for the day, and had lunch at a famous hummus place. Everyone had the choice to add extra things into the hummus, like ground meat, eggplant, or mushrooms. I got mine with mushrooms and I'm pretty sure it was the best hummus I've ever had! On that note, all this talk about food is making me hungry, so dinner time it is! Until next time...shalom everyone! Image

My Arrival to the Holy Land

I made the decision to leave to Israel two days before my actual program with CIEE started, so i could meet up with family friends I have not seen in years. Upon my arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, I was greeted with a leap into a language I have grown up around but never actually understood. Aside from reading Hebrew prayers in synagogue and singing songs at the Shabbat table, my father speaks fluent Hebrew with his friends all the time. However he never thought to teach my brother, sister, and I. Thanks dad. This could have come in handy right now as I spend my year here. It was quite confusing since at this moment I was on my own with no one to actually translate to me where the airport coffee shop was to meet my family friends. When I finally found them an hour had passed and they weren't too happy. Guess I should have preordered my Israeli cell phone huh? Whoops. Anyway, the next two days instead of actually spending time with them I pretty much slept because of the awful jet lag. But nevertheless they were very nice about it and I will definitely make it up to them when I get the chance. Two days later I found myself back at the airport to meet the people who I would be spending most of the semester with. One by one a new exhausted face made their way off their flights and over to our meeting spot. Surprisingly, even though they all had just gotten off a long international flight, everyone was pretty bubbly for the most part. Once everyone was gathered together we made our way to our tiny bus covered in Israeli ads that would take us to our new home in Haifa. Having been to Israel once before I sort of knew what to expect from the landscape and cities. But it was very exciting to listen to the wonder and curiosity of my fellow group members. Other than myself, one other person in my group also had been to Israel before. So we both tried to give a bit of our input from what we both had previously seen. We slowly began winding our way up the side of a mountain, all of us anticipating the sight of the Haifa dorms. When we finally made it to the top we were greeted with what looked like a typical US college campus. We received our dorm assignments and we're sent on our way. The dorm is pretty decent, especially since the CIEE group was placed in the Talia dorms which are the "nicer" of the University of Haifa living facilities. Each dorm room has six separate bedrooms in it, with each room consisting of private bathrooms for each person. We all share a kitchen and a living area in each dorm too. Everyone in our CIEE group became good friends pretty quickly. We are all from different states and universities from around the US. The Haifa International School however, consists of students from all over the world. Students from Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, as well as the US. In my dorm alone we are two Americans, one German, and three local Israelis. I think my favorite part about living in Haifa so far aside from the utter beauty of it, is the diversity of the people. I can actually say that I have not experienced any type of culture shock this last month, aside from language barriers. Life in Haifa and Israel seems very westernized and comfortable. I don't think it really hit me that I am in such a different place until I visited Jerusalem with the International School. Seeing the ancient architecture and the strong basis religion has on such a tiny country was peculiar but enticing. I definitely did not feel that way when visiting Tel Aviv, although I loved the city vibe it gives off. (In Tel Aviv) Image
But being in a city that is considered so holy and rich in history to many religions really gave me the sense of why this country is one of the most "talked about" issues in everyday news. I am looking forward to spending the weekend in Jerusalem with CIEE and experiencing more of what the city has to offer. This last weekend being spent in Tel Aviv was very cool. CIEE took us to see a live band called "Heartbeat" which works to bring together Israeli Jewish and Palestinian young adults to make music and discuss important issues. They were very cool, and had awesome voices. Image
We also received a tour of an abandoned bus station in Tel Aviv which Not only has a very upbeat art scene, but is also a place where many refugees from Sudan and Darfur come to find work. The whole bus station not only turns into a daily market, but also consists of a church, a clinic, and the only Yiddish Museum in Israel. It was definitely an experience, and I am glad I got to see it. Anyway, that's all for now, Hebrew homework is calling my name! Shalom! Image