Archive | May, 2013

Day 10 – Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea

31 May

Today we had a hot and hectic awakening which is typical of the mornings before a road trip. I’m sure we were all excited to go visit all the wonderful places that we had planed for the day, but our eyes were half shut and our voices were hoarse. On the bus, I lay my head on the window and let my eyes take in the panorama as my brain was still trying to wake up. There were beautiful hills of sand and stone that made my mouth and eyes feel dry. The sun dispersed throughout the sky and the haze hid its shape; the prediction of a hot and stuffy day. At one point we stopped for a few moments at a gas station where we saw two camels. As soon as everyone noticed, the phones were pressed to the windows and there was clicking and wide open mouths. As we drove we started smelling the strong odor of sulfur… unless someone had beans last night!

When we finally arrived at Masada we entered a modern building where we were to take the cable cars up to the top of the plateau. We could already see the beautiful scenery of the contrast between the blue of the Dead Sea and the shades of the desert. We started talking with Talya about the challenges that come with living in the middle of the desert.

Masada is in the Judean Desert, which has a very low latitude that causes the water to evaporate. Masada is a natural geological fortress, it has valleys on each side of it. It was first discovered by the Hasmoneans, archeologists are not really sure what establishments they had at Masada prior to the palaces of Herod the Great, however they found traces of their presence. Most importantly, Herod built himself a sanctuary for troubled times. Herod was very powerful but also very fearful. He was elected “king of the Jews” by the Roman Senate, this made him hated all around since the Jews did not agree with the Roman ideology. He came instead of the Hasmonean king, and he had to regain power over him by killing people and establishing fear which also establishes hate. They say he built the Temple Mount to regain popularity. However, his great power also made him hated by Cleopatra. He basically had his reasons to be paranoid, thus this fortress was perfect for this great leader with great fears to refuge in.

Herod is known to conquer the nature with his constructions, he was a great builder, and this was very observable to us in Masada. The plaster was colorful everywhere, everything was done to maintain a high quality of life and to radiate a sense of luxury. The jewish law forbids any depiction of faces or animals on the walls, which is typical of roman decor, thus in Masada you will find more simple patterns. I saw many triangles on the floors, which reminded me that the triangle is the strongest geometrical shape, and it made me wonder whether Herod chose triangles knowingly as a symbol of power and strength.

We visited the bath house which contained a hot room, a lukewarm room and a cold room. The hot room was composed by two floors in between which there were pillars which created a space between the two floors where hot air was being blown from an oven on the side. This made the top floor boiling hot, to the point of needing wooden clogs to be able to walk on it. Water was also being inserted into the room, and the roof was arched so that the drops of condensed water would drip sideways instead of on top of whoever was enjoying the sauna. Now these baths are the home to vicious pigeons, passing tourists and overly expressive tour guides.

There were 23 storage rooms for imported italian wine, oil, flour, fish and whatever Herod thought he needed to survive in the middle of the desert in the best way possible. But what really allowed them to survive was the incredible cistern system whose aqueducts enjoyed the natural shapes of the mountains to transport the water into the 12 cisterns around the fortress.

The reason that Masada is so visited and glorified is because it was the place of a great act of heroism by jewish rebels. In the year 66 and on, Jerusalem stops being a safe place for Jews, thus they start finding refuge else where. Many Jews went into the desert and a significant group established itself in Masada where they tried to create a community and make a living. There is evidence of this in an old animal stall which was then turned into a place of gathering for Jews or even a synagogue, pieces of original parchment of jewish scripture were found in here. In August of the year 70 the Romans started destroying many jewish sites, Masada is the last one they go to. During passover the Jewish-Roman war comes to its climax; the Romans are close to the capturing of Masada. Passover is known as the festivity of freedom, so at this time the jewish rebels’ leader gave a famous speech.

“Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice…We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.”

Elazar ben Yair

After this inspiring speech the rebels decided to kill each other and when only 10 men were left they wrote down each name on stones and then they drew the name of the last man who would die by his own sword. The Romans arrived the next morning finding all the dead bodies and only two women and a few children who were able to escape. The story is then told by the 1st century Jewish Roman historian Josephus who heard it from one of the women who escaped. The mass suicide is very contradictory but Masada will always be seen as a place of refuge. After the second commonwealth and the second temple are destroyed, Masada represents the last moment before jewish life in exile. Zionist mythology then makes the story of a defeat into a heroic victory and uses the story to set a goal for the Israeli people; what happened in Masada will never happen again, Jews will never be unprotected again.

After the tiring walks around Masada we returned to the modern world into a mall right below the magnificent fortress. Most of us took the cable car down, but a few brave ones decided to walk down the endless stairs under the hot burning sun of midday. We enjoyed some food in the Mall and then we left for Ein Gedi. No one could wait to enter into a magical oasis after the dry ruins of the desert. Since people walk around wanting to locate the stories of the Bible, it is thought that King David hid in the caves of Ein Gedi in the midst of the desert. We all changed in to our swimsuits and dripped in sunscreen so we could be on our way towards the magical waterfalls and pools that sprung in the middle of the desert. We enjoyed the fresh water and had fun with the strength of the waterfalls. After a while we all became anxious to go to the Dead Sea, so we packed up our things and went back on the bus.


The Dead Sea is the lowest place in the world and its water is 34% salt, whereas normal seas have around 3%. When we arrived to the Dead Sea we went straight to the beach where we took over a few sun beds and tables to set up camp and open the pretzels and chips that Lenny and Lori kindly bought for us. We then went to play in the mud, covering our whole bodies and faces with this magical mush. So magical, in fact, that we were attacked by a group of rude Asian tourists who were frantically filling up tupperware and cans of mud which was hindering us from enjoying the experience. Frustrated by the stubbornness and lack of respect, I resolved by moving the tub away from the woman who ignored my kind requests to stop taking all of the mud. After some fun pictures of our bodies filled and dried by the mud we floated in the Dead Sea. It was an incredible sensation. It was my first time and I was absolutely euphoric to be floating so easily in the water and to be rolling around in the softness of the mud that was slowly coming off and leaving a soft and oily sensation on my skin.


When it was time to go we all changed in to our dry clothes and went back on the bus. I tried to write some journals but I fell asleep with a pen in my hand and flies in my mouth. We were all completely out of energy; the strong of will showered and then went to bed, while others passed out in their swimsuits wherever their bodies landed as soon as we got back.

-Lucrezia Rigano

(photo credits to Maria Amasanti)


Volunteering in a Community Garden

30 May

Community garden 1 Community garden 2 Community garden 3

Jerusalem has 40 community gardens.  A community garden is an open space in a neighborhood whereby residents can cultivate and grow together vegetables, flowers, herbs, etc.  The Garden is a nice meeting place for the residents the neighborhood.  On April 29th we worked for two hours in one of those parks in southern Jerusalem.


Jerusalem day 9

29 May

Today was a tough day.

I woke up around 830 to go to class and for the first time on this trip I finally felt the physical toll of all the stuff we have been doing, and I just wanted to stay in bed. But on to class I went to discuss several short stories with Lori. Her class was unfortunately cut short due to the packed nature of the day but we had a pretty interesting conversation that ended up centering on who has a right to feel sad, and how sad, when visiting museums like Yad Vashem. It was interesting to hear that some people felt as if they couldn’t be as moved by the museum because they didn’t come from a Jewish family, or even because they didn’t come from a family that had a personal victim of the Holocaust. I think the conversation was really interesting and would have loved to continue to flesh it out but alas, our hectic schedule was calling and we moved on to the next thing.

We went next to the Musrara neighborhood of Jerusalem, which is situated right in the middle of the old ’67 boarder area and is therefore comprised of a lot of different types of people. There are Jews who were there before the creation of the state and were forced out in 48, there are Arabs who have lived there for generations, and there are Arabs who moved in after 48. Long story short there are a lot of different types of people there with varying claims to the land, but all sharing a love for the Musrara area.

We were in Musrara specifically for a tour of a community art project called Muslala. We walked around, unfortunately in the middle of the day in the hot sun, and looked at a bunch of art instillations that the Muslala group has put up in the public domain. Some of them are layered, which means that different aspects of the piece are completed at different times by different artists and layer together to create some really nice artwork. After the tour we went to the Muslala home base and talked to the creator about the work that they do and looked at some photos of performance pieces that the group has done.

Following the Muslala tour we finally had a short break for lunch, and in my case a short nap, and then met up as a group again to venture out into the Gonenim neighborhood to do some volunteer work at a local community garden. The garden is kind of a meeting spot and play area for the families in the area and the kids, some of them as young as two, were there planting flowers and using watering cans to help us plant some new herbs and a new fruit tree. The girl who we met there, and I say girl as she was 21, was working in the garden as a fulfillment of her mandatory service for the government. She chose, instead of going into the army, to go into what is called National Service, and had been working at the garden for three years.

The garden was a really amazing way to dig in and help out a community but also to amazing because we could see these families coming together, working together and trying to make their neighborhood nicer and greener by building a garden. Also can I just say that the little kids were super adorable, and most of them spoke English, which boggled my mind.

After planting our last plants and grabbing some dinner the group went on to a theater house to watch a play called Take Away. The play was in Arabic and Hebrew, and was therefore completely incomprehensible to me verbally, but I did find that some of the themes and emotions were familiar and I could kinda follow the plot. The story was one big, slightly confusing, allegory for the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. While I really wish I had been able to understand what the actors were saying the experience wasn’t a total loss.

So now, finally at 11pm local time our day is officially over and I can go to sleep and get ready for tomorrow, which is going to be amazing because we go to Masada and the Dead Sea!


Great posts. Please sign your name

29 May

I am enjoying reading your posts, but some of you have not mentioned your name in the post, so we cannot tell who wrote it.  Please sign your name in the body of the text.

Elan Ezrachi

Its been a week!

28 May

Monday May 27 was the one week mark of the beginning of our dialogue. It is so hard to fathom that already a week has passed. I feel that in one week, I went from being a tourist, to a resident of Jerusalem. Getting to know the different neighborhoods, especially Rehavia and Ben Yehuda, I have come to realize how life in Jerusalem can be very similar to life at home. Once I got over the idea that this is only a vacation and really began to feel like I was actually living here, I noticed a similarity to my adjustment to moving from New York to Boston. However, unlike my one year adjustment period to life in Boston, my adjustment to Jerusalem was almost instantaneous. The combination of coming back to Israel for the umpteenth time and having a routine has made me feel a confidence that is not characteristic of a tourist.
Class on Monday took place in Emek Rafaim. We went to the same building where we met the students from Hadassah College a few nights before. We were privileged enough to have two poets speak with us; Linda Zisquit and Gilad Meiri. Both poets offered something different to the experience of learning to appreciate poetry. I have never been a fan of poems, and have always found them daunting and have been to intimidated to work with them in any way. Linda’s approach to teaching us was a great way to introduce poetry to a very dynamic group of students, some of which enjoy poetry and others who may not. She did not ask us to analyze every poem she read to us, but rather read to us in an almost melodic tone that really encouraged me to listen to the words she was saying and see that all poems are not the same. Some poems are more obvious to decipher than others, and I found that Linda read her poems slowly enough to digest every word she was saying. Linda’s poems reflected more of the old Jew and the more traditional views of Judaism, even in her most daring poem.
Gilads’ approach was more geared towards dissecting the meaning and analyzing the poems individually. I think the order in which the poets came to speak to us was important because I feel that had Linda not shown me that poems can be enjoyable, I would have found Gilads’ approach to be overwhelming and discouraging. However, I was able to understand his approach better after processing the poems while he was reading them because I had read them the night before which was very helpful. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I am in love with poetry now, however, this experience definitely made me see that not all poetry is intimidating and unapproachable. His poems reflected the lives of the New Jew and the more secular lives they lead. This was especially reflected in the poem in his poem titled Ode to Odysseus.
After class, we had our first free day since we arrived in Jerusalem. We were all exhausted and walked home to have lunch and take a nap. For some reason, I was too excited to sleep and did not want to waste the day. So after I did some writing, I gathered a small group of people to go to the Shuk. About five of us walked there together and with the help of Maria’s’ navigation and the help of a few Jerusalem citizens, we finally found it. Our last experience at the Shuk was midday Friday which is the busiest day of the week because it is right before shabbat. You observe everyone around you hustling and bustling to get their last minute challah and of course the coveted Marzipan Rugelach.
Monday at the Shuk is an entirely different experience. The amount of people there is 1/3 the amount that you see on Shabbat and considering we went later in the day, some of the shops were closed. At first I thought this may be a disappointment, however, as we walked through I began to realize that everything I needed was still open, I just had less of a choice which for me is always more positive than negative. I think that is when I realized the Shuk is truly my favorite place in Jerusalem. You walk through and you experience it with all of your senses. You smell the different types of foods available like the cheeses, fresh breads and typical Israeli foods. You taste the different flavors and spices each person has to offer. You see the array of colors in all the fruits and candy. You feel the textures of the different breads, all of which are absolutely delicious. And lastly, you hear the noises of all the market salesmen shouting in Hebrew, all competing with each other over who has the best price for a kilo of watermelon (in case you were wondering it is the man at the end of the street on the left for a whooping 2 shekel a kilo.) That day off was just what the doctor ordered and I can’t wait for more days to explore the city I have begun to feel so at home in.

-Chloe Sakhaie

Day 7 in Jerusalem “If I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand forget what its supposed to do”

28 May

       For many, a Saturday is simply a day to enjoy not having to attend school or to work. People enjoy themselves by shopping or grabbing lunch at the local restaurant. In Israel, Saturdays offer a much different experienc. Saturday is the Sabbath, a holy day for the Jewish people. Since the majority of Israel is Jewish, the entire state shuts down essentially to observe the laws that go along with the Sabbath. As a practicing Jew, seeing the roads empty of cars and filled with families dressed in modest clothing walking to and from synagogue is an amazing sight. The simplicity of the day is due to the fact that Sabbath commemorates the seventh day in God’s creation of the world. The day he rested. Similar to God, the Jewish people rest by not spending money or using electricity.

        In addition to resting the Sabbath, the Jewish people also pray to God  in the morning and read from the Torah which God has given us. Each Sabbath we read a different portion of the Torah which is called the “parshah.” I attended one of these services at a modern orthodox synagogue which was a beautiful 20 minute walk through the city of Jerusalem from my apartment. At the services, I was warmly welcomed by the Israelis who belonged to that congregation and they made me feel as if I was in my synagogue back at home in the states.

Throughout the services, I was very familiar with all the prayers that were being said and the tunes that were being sung. However, something happened during the service that caught me off guard and it was something I had never seen before. The modern orthodox sect of Judaism has always been a male only led service because of their interpretation of the religious laws. This is what I have been used to my entire life as a modern orthodox Jew and I expected no different in this congregation. That expectation was quickly proven wrong when I heard the voice of a sobbing woman chant the prayer of one who goes up to the reading of the parshah for an “aaliyah.” I quickly looked up to see if my ears have heard correctly and my eyes affirmed the amazing breakthrough in the Jewish religion, women were now being included in the prayer services. After the woman finished the blessing, she wept and screamed out to the congregation  in Hebrew that this had been her first time ever having the privilege of saying this blessing and she thanked everyone in the room for allowing her to participate in such a meaningful way in the prayers.

This women allowed me to see how important it is for religion to progress parallel with society. If religion remains stuck in the traditional times, then certain laws and traditions will be outdated and no longer applicable. Or it may, like in this case, not take into account the advancements certain groups have made throughout history and simply be holding back the entire congregation from keeping up with society. And I believe the entire congregation realized this because every member, including me, had a smile from ear to ear because of the excitement that this woman had over her participation in the congregation.

ImageAs Shabbat came to an end, there was a feeling of excitement in the air. People were starting to enter the streets again and get ready for the regular life in Jerusalem to once again resume. However, in Judaism there is a proper way to bid adieu to the Sabbath queen and that is through the ritual called havdalah. As this was my first havdalah in Israel during our trip, I wanted to make it a special one. I chose to walk to the holy Western Wall and end my Sabbath with so many others who were doing the same. I made my way through the empty marketplace which is as a result of the Sabbath, and I finally reached the Kotel with the full moon right behind it lighting up the sky. The scene was a beautiful one and I could not have asked for a better Sabbath here in the holy city of Jerusalem. Until next time, Shalom meh Israel!

-Matt Horowitz

Jerusalem Day 8: Tuesday, May 28, 2013

28 May

This morning began with politics class with Professor Topol. We talked about the papers we had submitted, discussing national identity and getting into a lively debate about Michael Levine, an American who moved to Israel and ended up joining the IDF and giving his life to the cause. All students thought his act was noble, but some brought up the potential negative implications of having people move to a country just to participate in a war.

We also had a short presentation on caricatures (or cartoons) in Israel. It was basically a sample of a presentation we will be asked to do at the end of the trip. An Israeli student came to the class to present to us, and it was interesting to meet another Hadassah student and to see the interesting cartoon samples he showed and analyzed in his presentation. His main thesis was that cartoons normalize the violence and the war in Israelis’ lives.

After a short break, the class headed off to the Israeli Supreme Court. Arriving just on time, we joined the 12:00pm tour. We learned a lot about the architecture of the courthouse. There is a repeated mixing of old and new: for example, some walls are made of Jerusalem stone and designed to look similar to the Western Wall, while walls right across the hall are brand new and modern looking. There is also an emphasis on two main shapes: circles to represent justice and lines to represent the law. Triangles are incorporated as well to symbolize the hierarchy of the legal professionals: lawyers on the bottom, justices in the middle, and high justices on the top. (The three-floor library within the courthouse is also divided by floor in this same way.)

Other than the architecture, our guide also talked about the legal system here in Israel. She emphasized that it is a simple system and a unique system, asking us not to compare it to American law. There are 30 local courthouses in the country, 6 higher courthouses (one for each region: north, south, east, west, and two in the center), and one Supreme Court which is located here in Jerusalem. The Supreme Court hears appellate cases and human rights cases. Justices hear the cases instead of juries, and there can be any number of justices assigned to a case: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, or even all 15 justices. (It is always an odd number, for obvious reasons.) There is a committee that decides how many justices sit on each case, and a computer randomly generates which justices are chosen. In reality, I don’t see how it is all that different from the American court system…

The tour brought us into a courtroom, which was filled with natural light and designed with circles and lines just as the rest of the building. (The hallway where the five courtrooms were located was familiar to me: it was rather similar to the feel of Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, where I co-oped last Spring.) We also saw a beautiful courtyard and a small museum. The museum showed the three main influences on the Israeli court system: the British, the Turks, and the Jews. Unfortunately, some of the more interesting pieces of the museum were only available in Hebrew, so we didn’t spend too much time there before leaving as a group to head back to our apartments and make a quick lunch before continuing with our day.

In the afternoon, we met up with the students from University of Colorado Boulder at the place where they are staying (which is nowhere near as perfectly and centrally located as our amazing apartments are!) and see a presentation on Palestinian and Israeli art by Carol Zemel, an art historian from the University of Toronto. She showed us some pieces that are well-known, including some that we had seen at the Israel Museum. Needless to say, we felt rather cultured for recognizing several of the pieces! Zemel had a great perspective though and was able to explain the tie-in to Palestinian ideals for the Palestinian art: there is a common focus on land, for example. There were also several videos we saw, along with drawings and photographs. The mixed media made for an interesting discussion. Something I hadn’t thought of before was the way in which art is shared: photographs and videos are able to be duplicated infinitely for multiple exhibits across the world, while painted or handmade art can only exist as an original in one place at a time.

After Zemel’s talk, we went to see even more art, but this time it was canvases instead of photos on a screen. We went to the home and art gallery of Linda Zisquit. Her home was beautiful, and the pieces she showed us even more so. She told the stories of the artists, the story of how she came to own an art gallery, and the stories told within the canvases. Somehow, an hour passed by in the blink of an eye. After some water and snacks in her kitchen, we all went our separate ways to get a real dinner. Half of us ended up at Burger Bar, which was delicious. (All the restaurants here are named ___ Bar. There is a Burger Bar, Waffle Bar, Focaccia Bar, Bagel Bar, etc.) All in all, a long day, and with an interesting mix of politics and art, as is the nature of our studies here.

-Marissa Florio