Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

16 posts categorized "Student"


Jaffa and Tel Aviv- Day Trip/ By Rebekah Noyes

Studying here in Haifa has been the highlight of my academic career thus far. While the academics are superb and the food is undeniably amazing, my favorite part of living in the Middle East has been meeting so many incredible, inspiring people. Our CIEE trip to Jaffa and Tel Aviv provided us with the opportunity to meet several people from all different walks of life, perspectives, and beliefs.

When we first arrived in Jaffa, we traveled to Tabeetha School. This Christian school hosts children of all ethnicities, all nationalities, and all religions. Tabeetha School accepts both international and local students, creating a complex, truly diverse student body. After meeting with the faculty, I sensed that for the teachers and administrators, this was not just a job. It was their passion. I sensed that they genuinely loved their jobs and the children they worked with. We then got to meet and interact with several of the students. One girl in particular, due to her father’s government job, had lived in around 5 countries and gone to just as many schools, all at the age of 13. She expressed how much she enjoyed meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, and I credit Tabeetha School, if only partially, with successfully allowing their students to build strong relationships with others of every ethnicity and religion.



After leaving the school, we traveled to the home of a prominent Arab Christian woman named Doris. She welcomed us with coffee and desserts, the traditional mode of hospitality in the Middle East (maybe my favorite part of Israel). Doris told our group about the history of her family and how they opened a family-run coffee shop decades ago that still serves delicious coffee today. She also discussed the Arab-Jewish dynamics within Jaffa in the past as well as in the present. Since Doris comes from one of the most well-known, affluent families in Jaffa, it was interesting to hear her unique perspective on social issues.


After we left Doris’s home, we traveled to the old fishing area of Jaffa. We explored local art galleries, walked the ancient streets of the old city of Jaffa, and discussed the European-inspired architecture. It was amazing to leisurely explore the historic, charming town of Jaffa, only a few miles south of the bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv.

After we left the old city of Jaffa, we took a taxi to south Tel Aviv, a neighborhood known for its delicious Ethiopian cuisine and ethnically diverse population. Since I had never tasted authentic Ethiopian food, I was really excited to try the food I had heard so much about. I soon discovered that half of the enjoyment of eating Ethiopian food is attempting to eat it in the traditional manner. Ethiopian food is meant to be eaten with the hands rather than with utensils, something my American brain had a hard time adjusting to but loved nonetheless. Injera, traditional Ethiopian bread and staple to the cuisine, has a strong yeasty taste, and while its taste definitely requires getting used to, I can honestly say that I would love to try Ethiopian food again.

IMG_1574     IMG_1583

For the last part of our day in Tel Aviv, we met Barik Sale, a young refugee from Tajuna, a small village in Darfur. Barik left his family when he was only a boy in search of safety and a better life. He eventually arrived in Israel when he was only 13 years old. After working in Tel Aviv and learning Hebrew and English, he earned his bagrut degree (high-school diploma) and is currently working on obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in the prestigious IDC Herzliya. I was stunned and humbled that someone who had experienced such hardship in his life at such a young age had the inner strength and determination to change his life and make his own success. Meeting Barik was truly an honor and definitely the highlight of our trip to Jaffa.




Study abroad newsletter heading

A word from the Resident Director:

Spring is finally here and everything is in bloom! The green-roof project on top of the Student House and the International School brings spring as close to the classroom as possible!


In Israel, spring is viewed as a symbol of a new, fresh beginning. The word for spring “Aviv” is a very popular Hebrew name for both boys and girls and this season even gave its name to the vibrant city of Tel Aviv (which literally means "spring mound")!

True to its name, the Spring Semester has started off splendidly with amazing students from different states and cities in the US and even from Mexico!  It’s been a bit over one month since the students arrived in Israel, and they’ve already done so many things; from travelling to the North, Center and South of Israel, through trying all different types of local foods, making new friends, volunteering, trying local sports, and of course, studying a whole lot in the University courses.

The Spring semester is also my first semester on board with CIEE as the Resident Director of the Haifa program. Before I began working in CIEE, I had some background about the country and specifically Haifa (I grew up in the North of Israel, in Akko, and have lived in Haifa for the past 8 years), about the University of Haifa (I’m a graduate of the MA program in Counseling and Human Development of Haifa U) and I had some knowledge about CIEE (I met CIEE students back in 2014 when they joined an interfaith dialogue seminar I was running), however, I still had a lot to learn, prepare and plan before our students arrived. I am glad that everything worked out for the best during orientation and our first month together and I look forward to exploring the country and the complex social and cultural structures in Israel with our CIEE students. We’ve got many interesting excursions and events ahead of us (including: volunteering with local kids, meeting local families and refugees, touring the ancient streets of Jaffa, Safed and Nazareth….).

In the current newsletter issue, we will revisit our orientation session, expand our culinary abilities by learning how to make a “Shakshuka” (a local favorite of our group) and improve our Hebrew skills by tackling an ancient Hebrew proverb.

Wishing you all a week full of spring blossoms and good news!

Sincerely yours,

Martha Shtapura-Ifrah
Resident Director of CIEE, Haifa

Our first days in Israel: A bit about our Spring 2017 Orientation

 By Eric Landon

After many hours air travel, I was grateful that CIEE had such a wonderful orientation. After being led to my new temporary home in Israel (the University dorms), we were taken to Fattoush, an Arab restaurant in downtown Haifa. We ate genuine hummus, tabouli, Turkish coffee, and Turkish tea. A fantastic introduction to the upcoming Middle Eastern cuisine we will continue to eat. After dinner, we were able to see the Baha'i gardens which is a UNESCO site. There was an exciting energy in the air of downtown Haifa.


The next day we got to see a bit of downtown Haifa and Wadi Nisnas. We got to smell the Turkish Coffee, see the produce being sold, and see the graffiti artwork of downtown Haifa. One of my favorite things about Israel are the markets you walk around in. It was really cool to see the meaning behind all of the artwork downtown. Everything from safety, to politics, to Jewish and Arab artwork was everywhere. We also went to two famous Falafel shops in downtown Haifa. Of course, both falafel shops were amazing, because falafel is the best, but it was interesting to see two very famous falafel shops right next to each other thriving with business.


On the third day we had another adventure. We were shown an ancient Jewish necropolis. We went far back in time and witnessed history. We saw grave sites of important ancient figures. Outside of the necropolis were hills filled with poppies and hiking trails. It was absolutely beautiful. Anyone would be in awe and amazed by the green hills, ancient ruins, and history of this place.

We then travelled to Safouri and met Ziad, whose grandparents used to live in the village of Safouri before 1948. To see a different narrative and see how the 1948 war effected some villages was eye opening. I have read about destroyed villages in articles and private studying I have done, but never seen one up close. When I was seeing the hill where the village use to be and seeing the picture of the village, I was astonished by the damage that had been done. It was a learning experience, and I am glad that I was able to see history in front of my eyes.

After this, we went to Acre (Akko) and explored the old city. We saw the markets of the Middle East. We saw scarves, traditional Arab clothes, lamps, and spices in baskets. That day we ate at a local fish restaurant inside the market and we were able to feel the Middle Eastern culture. It was an unforgettable experience. The hospitality we were shown by our CIEE leader Martha and the University of Haifa was incredible and I am excited to see what more is to come.


Shake it out: here’s how you make a SHAKSHUKA!

One of the first dishes our students tried at a local café during their orientation- was the Shakshuka. The dish itself originated in North African countries (such as Morroco, Lybia and Egypt). There are many stories about the origin of its name, but the most popular one is that the name Shakshuka stems from the verb “to shake” (which is ‘shakshek’) in Arabic and Hebrew.

The basic ingredients in all shakshuka recepies are eggs, tomatoes and peppers. The rest- has to do with personal preference and creativity.
Here’s the shakshuka that we make at home:


  • Olive oil
  • 1/2 chopped chili pepper
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • 3-4 minced garlic cloves
  • 5 soft tomatoes cut into cubes
  • 1 tablespoon of sweet paprika
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ red bell pepper
  • Optional: olives, feta cheese, chopped mint leaves.

Cooking instructions:

  1. Heat a deep, large skillet or sauté pan on medium.
  2. Slowly warm olive oil in the pan.
  3. Add chopped onion, sauté for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften.
  4. Add garlic and continue to sauté till mixture is fragrant
  5. Add the bell and chili peppers, sauté until softened.
  6. Add tomatoes and tomato paste to pan, stir till blended.
  7. Add spices and sugar, stir well, and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes till it starts to reduce.
  8. At this point, you can taste the mixture (be careful, it’s hot!) and add spices according to your preferences.
  9. Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce.
  10. Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the sauce has slightly reduced.
  11. Garnish with chopped parsley and enjoy! 


Words on our mind:

In every issue of our newsletter, we’d like to share with you a poem or a proverb in either Arabic or Hebrew. In this issue, we’re learning a proverb in Hebrew from Pirkei Avot.

לֹא הַבַּיְשָׁן לָמֵד, וְלֹא הַקַּפְּדָן מְלַמֵּד

(translation: A shy person does not learn, and an [overly] strict person is not one who can teach).

This proverb implies that a person who is embarrassed to ask questions will not be able to obtain the information that he is lacking and therefore will not be able to learn. In addition, an “overly strict” person cannot teach because his or her students would be afraid to ask questions. This proverb seeks to teach us the importance of questions in the process of learning and self-development. This is important to any sort of learning, but could be especially relevant to a study-abroad experience.

So, the next time you’re stumbling upon a topic that you’d like to learn more about- don’t hesitate to ask questions! And if you get the opportunity to share your knowledge - remember to allow others to ask questions and have the patience to answer them. 


Aisha's Language Practice Hub


My experience with the language hub has helped me advance my spoken Arabic and make new meaningful friendships outside of the international school. In weekly meetings with my partner, we start with suggested topics and adapt our conversation to gaps we discover in our vocabulary or grammar. For example, when we were taking turns talking about our families and where we come from, I realized I was having some trouble with numbers when trying to describe my parent's ages, and with colors when trying to describe my sister's hair. So, my partner taught me the words, and asked me questions to prompt responses using the new words I'd learned. We also use our conversation time to talk about cultural differences. When we were discussing our universities and fields of study, we started talking about the difference in teaching styles and class sizes, and I explained some of the complexities in the American higher education system, like rising tuition costs, work-study and federal student loan programs. She was so surprised to hear how much my public university tuition is compared to her tuition here at the University of Haifa, and asked me how American students ever pay back their debt. When she was talking about where she was from, I asked her about the divisions or tensions between students from Arab neighborhoods, Druze villages, or Jewish areas. We've never had to try very hard to discuss more difficult sociopolitical things. There is a lot of mutual curiosity, good intention and vulnerability in this kind of a partnership. My partner has become a very close friend, and someone I can turn to to ask sensitive questions about Arab culture when I am curious about something I see or read. She can teach me things I can't really learn in the classroom, both about Arab culture and about the Arabic language. The word choices and cadence used by young people are very different than the language used in the classroom - even when we are being taught "colloquial" Arabic. It's also very helpful to have a 'voice model' of sorts. I ask her to pronounce words I've already learned, I listen carefully, and repeat them back until they sound natural, like her. The language hub has been such a valuable experience. I've learned a great deal, stretched my comfort zone, and gained a true friend. I would definitely recommend it to any international student trying to learn a language!


Christen Scalfano, CIEE Haifa Fall 2016

College of William & Mary '18 | International Relations



“Daddy, what’s Palestine?”

Phifer's picture

Those were her words that rang through the chilly air. Her father’s eyes and mine met, and a small, strained smile appeared on his face. “Well…that’s a bit complicated.” Her young voice pressed onward, “But daddy, are we in another country? Did we cross a border?” “Well, yes, yes we did. Did you not see that we traveled through a wall?”

On Christmas Eve, I had the opportunity to travel to the place where the Christian story began, that little town of Bethlehem so oft sung of. It is now a city, built up and bustling, but hollow. Buildings lie half-finished. Tensions flare up regularly near the Aida Refugee Camp. A weight presses down on all that live here, a similar weight that I see in each of my Palestinian friends.

This weight could be felt in the play called New Middle East I saw in October at a local theatre in Haifa. In the play, a masked man is in the process of burying a woman alive (with real dirt). The entire dialogue is centered on her plaintive cries to know exactly WHY she is being subjected to such a terrible fate. Satisfying answers are never uncovered, and a tragic story of love lost and suffocating pressure rules the day.

That same night, after getting some drinks and food, our motley crew made up of five loud Americans and one Palestinian made its way back to campus. There are security checks at each entrance to the dorms, and we opened the door and began to proceed through as usual. People are almost never stopped. I think in my entire three months at the university, I was told to show my ID two or three times, and only then when the guard was new. However, he told my Arab friend to stop and show her ID. Only her.

This weight can is seen in the scar that marks another close friend’s arm, a scar left by a sound grenade that detonated at her feet. She acquired it a couple years ago at a protest, which was pushing back against the Prawer Plan, a bill that (if passed) would allow for the depopulation and destruction of thirty-five Bedouin villages in the Negev Desert. Dubbed, “Anger Day,” this protest comprised thousands of people, from teens to Knesset members. Obviously, it ended in violence.

I was shocked by it when I saw a monument in a neighborhood not far from the university. On it were emblazoned the words, “Haifa Liberation 1948.” What is disturbing about this phrase is that what is cast as “liberation” to one group is another’s el-Nakba (catastrophe). This disparity in experience and historical lens is staggering.

And, perhaps most plainly, this weight can be tangibly tasted when confronted with The Wall. It is a short walk from where I am currently staying in Bethlehem, standing as stark reminder of the systemic separation that plagues this piece of dirt which I have begun to call “The Unholy Holy Land,” as a result of the, frankly, ungodly actions people perpetrate against each other in the name of God or any other myriad of religious or secular reasons. Graffiti marks The Wall’s surface, which artists from Banksy to unnamed locals have added to the collective voice calling for justice.

I had the unique privilege of spending the summer in the Galilee on an archaeological dig with Dr. Byron McCane of Wofford’s religion department. He is a man that I highly respect and admire, and I am unendingly thankful for his influence and wisdom concerning this land and the many problems that perniciously press on the people, both Jews and Palestinians, that live here. I will never forget his advice as we asked him about how to relate our experiences to people at home that possess stalwart opinions about Israel/Palestine. “Sometimes all I can say is, ‘I have been there, and it is not that simple.’”

It is not simple. The brokenness runs deep. So deep that it takes my breath away at times. People on both sides of the conflict have committed heinous acts of violence, from the burning of a Palestinian family (with their newborn son) alive last summer, to the random stabbings of Jewish civilians going about their daily lives that has characterized life here for the past few months. I could list example upon example of atrocities committed by both sides, all which point to a sobering reality: unless changes are made, the people here will continue to suffer.

However, Alhamdulillah (thanks be to God), the story does not end here. I have seen with my own eyes the beauty that still lives in this divided land.

I have seen the lasting ripples that the faith of Kamil and Agnes Shehade, and their life’s work, House of Grace in Haifa, has left on the community at large. Their vision of working to selflessly serve ex-convicts (who are also recovering addicts) as an outpouring of their Christian faith’s mandate to serve the “least of these” has touched the lives of thousands, and given hope to the most hopeless individuals and families.

I see how the House of Grace plods on, faithfully working as the only halfway house for the Israeli Arab population (on request of the government), in the midst of Kamil’s death in 2000 from cancer, governmental threats to cut funding, and the ever-shaky political climate.

I see a Palestinian woman who grew up as a refugee as a result of the creation of the State of Israel who now refuses to pick sides, based on the belief that a “Pro-Israel” or “Pro-Palestine” stance necessarily excludes the other. Instead, she has chosen a path of “compassionate listening,” one that has helped her overcome deep-seated wounds and truly see the humanity behind each “side.”

It was tasted in our inaugural “Arab-American Thanksgiving,” in which the cuisines of the “East” and the “West” (phrases that I generally like to avoid, because they can insinuate a kind of irreconcilability, but for the sake of artistic flair, I will utilize here) met. Pita was defrosted and hummus olive oiled (yes, “olive oiled” is a verb now), pesto pasta with chicken was scarfed, and salata (Arab salad) added some balance to the carbs being consumed. Finally, it was topped off with what I have dubbed the “pecan loaf,” my failed attempt at baking a pie in a toaster oven that, surprisingly, turned out fairly well.

I have also seen this beauty, this hope, in one of my dearest friends here. She has sought out relationships with both internationals and Jews, seeking to share her story and heart with each of them. This quest has put her in places like local salsa dancing nights in Haifa, where she is (as far as I can tell) the only Palestinian present. It has led her to share personal and collective stories and histories about this region with people from every place and walk of life, being faithful to her cause and her people, yet open to listen and answer each difficult question with patience and conviction.

I believe that this kind of embodied engagement, undergirded by humility, is desperately needed in this place at this time. The barriers that exist here are insane: be it from language and cultural differences to the governmental mandatory military service from which Arabs (except Druze, which introduces many new nuances) are exempt. Furthermore, media creates fissures ideologically, and dangerous political discourses heap dry wood and gasoline onto already-blazing flames.

The people here, both Jews and Arabs, do carry a weight. I have experienced a bit of this reality first-hand. It is not pleasant, but it has changed me…for the better, I hope. The lives that have invited me in have taken a piece of my heart, and I have grown to truly love individuals and groups on both sides of this murky conflict.

Therefore, my answer to the questions, “What is Palestine?” or “What is Israel?” is this: people. People with hearts, hopes, dreams, fears, and yearnings for peace. People who enjoy good food, beautiful music, and the company of those they love as much as any of us. People who desire for a safe environment, a home, in which they do not have to worry about rocks or knives when they send their children to school.

I could go on and on. However, I will close with this. Which people do you and I need to strive to see as this: simply people? What kind of change could come if we could look in the eyes of the “other,” be they brown or blue, and see a mirror image of ourselves?

This world will not change in an instant. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be solved in a single moment. However, I posit that something beautiful could come to pass. Let us compose a song. Let us paint a picture. Let us write a story. Let us create beauty, and, hopefully, thereby walk into new measures of shalom, salaam, and peace together.

Phifer Nicholson, Presidential International Scholar at Wofford College, CIEE Haifa Fall 2015


Refugees: Don't take them for granted

I had always taken refugees for granted. Whenever I heard of a refugee crisis I would, of course, feel sympathy, but I never fully comprehended the difficulty of being a refugee. However, thanks to my course, "Refugee's Mental Health: Global and Local Perspectives," where we learn about the challenges and approaches to helping refugees through a psychological perspective, I learned that there is more to a refugee than leaving his or her home.

Due to internal crises like the Syrian civil war and natural disasters like the typhoons in the Philippines, the world has seen a devastating amount of refugees in the past few years.

At the end of 2013, there were 51.2 million people displaced from their homes. That is the most since the Post-WW era. What makes it even more insane is the fact that, if they were their own country, the "The Nation of the Displaced" would be the 26th largest in the world.

Many refugees tend to develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) when fleeing their homes. However, we learned that refugees' traumatic experiences may not be the primary explanation for their symptoms of depression and stress.

This is where I began to comprehend how difficult it is to be a refugee.

Imagine you who have to flee to a neighboring country. You have money for a month. What are your three biggest challenges?

This was the question our professor asked us. I thought of coping with distress, taking care of family, and food. After going around and having a discussion, my professor told me that, though my examples were true, there are more challenges. The two I found most interesting were disrupting one's "way of life" and "cultural relativity."

It's common sense to believe that a refugee has a disruption in his daily life, which is why I, and I think a lot of people, don't fully understand the difficulties refugees deal with. We think to ourselves, yeah, they're obviously going to need to adapt to different things, but think of it this way:

When or what do you have for breakfast, lunch, or dinner? When do you go out for a walk or a run? When do you go out to hang out with your friends? These consistencies of going about your day and performing the pleasures of your life are absolutely essential for feeling good.

Now you have to flee your home in Nigeria to Chad. You won't have your lunch the same time of day as you usually do. You probably won't have what you typically have for lunch. You can't afford to go out for a run to clear your mind because you don't want to risk the few things you have being stolen or your family members getting hurt by Boko Haram because there is poor security in your refugee camp, and many other concerns that hold you back from doing what you would normally do.

It all sounds simple, but if you think about it, these small things of eating and doing other social activities keep us at ease.

As for cultural relativity, this is a challenge the UN has faced when dealing with refugees. UNCHR (the UN's organization for treating refugees) primarily uses Western methods to help refugees, such as therapy. However, most refugees come from non-western countries and thus have different cultural backgrounds and views.

For instance, western health services typically treat the problem "within" someone who is emotionally distressed. In other words, they take a more scientific approach. Many refugees come from cultures where religious and supernatural understandings help ease their emotional distress and, thus, many health services cannot provide them with culturally appropriate care.

In addition, there is the issue of foreign languages. Let's say an elderly Iraqi refugee needs to speak with a therapist after his traumatic experience of fleeing from Daesh last summer. However, the health clinic cannot provide a fluent Arabic speaking doctor to communicate with him.

These are some of the many challenges the West has to adapt to when treating culturally foreign refugees, which, again, make up most of The Nation of The Displaced.

There is also the issue of being a foreigner in the country you fled to. You don't know where things are, how things work, who people are, and perhaps not know their native language. Where and when can I find a bus or a train? Where can I send my kids to school and for how much? Where, or can I even, get a job to provide for my family?

Moreover, when we talked about cultural values in class, we discussed how one's religious practices are essential for his or her well being whether it is because it is routine or because it helps soothe them.

Now, let's say you are a Syrian Christian who fled from the civil war into neighboring Lebanon where most Syrians fled to. You are emotionally distressed from the recent events and you would like to go to a church to pray for your family and calm yourself. However, you realize that you fled to a Shia neighborhood in Lebanon, can't find any churches, and might risk your security if you identify yourself as a Syrian Christian.

Again, these are only some of the many issues that refugees have to deal with. Whether having to create a new schedule, security risks, or not being able to perform your cultural practices to cope with your depression due to sectarian conflicts in the general region, being a refugee is hard not simply because you fled your home.

So the next time you hear about a pack of refugees on the media, don't just take them for granted. It's not that they're just fleeing their homes; they're leaving and will have more challenges when trying to resettle.

I have only just begun this course so I can't give a concrete solution yet. However, we did go over some possible ideas on how to help refugees in the non-western world.

For example, health services need to adapt to the refugees' cultural norms so they can treat them properly. We need a more broad base of therapists who can speak foreign languages. And lastly, and what I found most interesting, was the idea of helping build community centers in refugee camps so they can perform their religious practices and have a social life, which are absolutely necessary for one's emotional well being.

I am looking forward to getting a hands on experience too. Later on in the semester, we are planning a trip to Tel-Aviv where we will observe and help the African refugees in Israel.



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.


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 ChristiansAhmadi 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 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


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:



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 William & Mary alum who 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. 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 Sunday 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..."As we daringly pursue our road...we are but black specks. On we go."