Tuesday, June 29, 2010

First Few Days of Class

Sorry I haven't updated in a few days. I've been busy with homework and getting a few things to set up house in my new dorm room. I'm going to have to summarize what's happened the last few days since I have lots of Hebrew homework to work on.

The orientation was about the same as American universities except for the part about security. Getting into campus each day is almost like going through the airport. They hand search your backpack and you have to walk through a metal detector. So it helps to show up a little early on campus to avoid a bottleneck at the security checkpoint. Another point they mentioned, you can never leave your backpack unattended. At Texas A&M if you saw an unattended backpack you might wait a few minutes to see if someone comes to claim it then take it to lost and found. This is not the case at Hebrew University. If a bag is unattended it gets reported to security as a suspicious object and the call in the bomb squad. They block off a huge area drive in the remote controlled robot and blow up the bag. The school bears no responsibility for the loss of your bag if it was a mistake. It's your responsibility to keep up with your things. A suspicious object was found on campus yesterday near the pedestrian entrance and everyone had to stay on campus until the object was disposed of. Fortunately I had already left campus and was back at the dorms.

I took a tour of campus and learned some of the history. I was half asleep when on this tour but I think most of the information is correct. The ceremony for the laying of the foundation stones of the University took place in the 1920's. There is a painting commemorating the event hanging in the forum(student center). A lot of famous Israelis were in attendance but I didn't recognize the names. The first building built on campus was the Studies in Contemporary Jewry. Amazingly the first lecture given was on physics by Albert Einstein. A section of campus is named after Frank Sinatra because he donated a large sum of money to the college. Hebrew University has an interesting history. In 1948 Israel lost control of this side of Jerusalem to the Jordanian army. The school tried to bring students in by convoy but the Jordanians kept attacking the convoy so they abandoned the campus and built a new one on the other side of town. Israel regained control of this side of the city in 1967 during the six day war and the campus was reopened. Since the other campuses were already established they continued to operate.

I love the campus there are so many incredible views since we are on Mount Scopus. Here is the view from across the street from the Rothberg International School.

To the right here is a view of the desert from the amphitheater. These pictures can't really do it justice you need to come and see it for yourself.

My favorite part of campus so far is the botanical garden. Inside the garden is divided into sections each section represents one climate of Israel and the plants that grow there. It's absolutely stunning so you will likely be seeing several pictures from there as I explore further. The garden is larger than I first thought so I need to continue to explore to find all of its treasures. To the left is the entrance to the garden. You can't see it in the picture but on the sides of the pathway is running water that sounds like a babbling brook.

My favorite part of the garden is the tombs. The entrances are pictured at the right. One of the tombs is more modern though I can't remember how modern. Two very famous Zionists are buried but the names are in Hebrew and I can't read them.

The second tomb area is from the Second Temple period around the time of Jesus. You walk down a few steps and you can see ossuaries. An ossuary is basically a bone box, it is a form of secondary burial. First you would lay out the body in the tomb for a year, then you would come back, collect the bones and put them in a box called an ossuary. I'm thrilled that this burial site is on campus and I walk past it every morning on the way to class.Pictured above is one of the ossuaries. The pictures of the others didn't turn out so well. The other day I bought a tuna sandwich for lunch and decided to eat it in the garden. As I was eating I heard rustling in the bushes behind me. I turned to look and there was a stray cat as I continued to eat more cats showed up. I eventually gave up and ate my sandwich inside instead. The cats were not cooperative in getting their pictures taken they all turned out blurry. There are alot of stray cats on campus and in the student village. The story is that when the British were in control here there was a major rat problem. So the British imported a lot of cats and we are now dealing with their descendants. I'm not sure if this is the real reason for the cats but I've been getting the same story from everyone I've asked. Hopefully you enjoyed the pictures. I'll try to get some pictures of my dorm, student village and my walk to and from school up soon. It's just hard to fit in the time with all the studying I have to do. Please comment and tell me what you think. Or you can ask questions and I'll see if I can answer them in future posts. For now it's back to studying.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Moving into the Dorms

This morning I registered for my Elementary Biblical Hebrew class. Registration seemed like a mini United Nations. They really mean it when they say its an International School. I heard French, Chinese, Hebrew (of course), as well as British and Australian accents. My orientation is tomorrow afternoon. Class begins Thursday morning.

The big project for today was moving into the dorms. My dorms are considered on campus housing but I'm not so sure the term fits. The school is a good twenty minute walk down hill. On the way up to the dorms I passed by a hospital and a British military cemetery. The student village sits on Mount Scopus which was occupied by the Jordanian army during the six day war of 1967. I overheard someone say that the older dorms used to be Jordanian army barracks. I don't know if that's actually true or not.

I've been calling it a dorm but really it's more like an apartment. There is a kitchenette which means I have a refrigerator and a stove but no oven or dishwasher. I have a room to myself and my room door has a lock on it. Door locks do not automatically lock behind you, not even the front door. My room is special its referred to as the sealed room, basically its a bomb shelter. One room in each apartment is a sealed room that my roommates and I could take shelter in in the event of an attack. The room has an extra two inch thick metal door that locks in. The ventilation in my room appears to be hooked up slightly different from the other two rooms. All the windows and the sliding balcony doors have metal shutters like hurricane shutters. I'm not sure what the walls of my room are made out of because I get cellphone coverage and wireless internet just fine but I haven't tried calling anyone with the blast door closed to see if that makes a difference.

The dorms are very green compared to the dorms at Texas A&M. When you reach your floor the hall lights are off you have to turn the light on and it will remain on just long enough for you to unlock your door. The toilet is a duel flush to help save water. The third green feature I learned about was the hot water heater. Outside the bathroom there are two buttons with orange squares in the center that light up when activated. You must press those two buttons at least thirty more minutes before you want to shower. The hot water heater doesn't run all the time you need to carefully plan when you want to shower.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Jerusalem Mall

Today I ventured over to the Jerusalem Mall. The taxi ride there was beautiful it was interesting to see a different part of the city. Israelis drive on the same side of the road we do in America. I'm not quite sure how that happened since the British were in control here for a while. The street signs are in three languages Hebrew, Arabic, and English so at least I could follow along. The Jerusalem Mall is one of the biggest in the Middle East. According to my guide book its 500,00 square feet not including the parking lots, there are around 200 stores. Several of the stores were American brands, and the clothes sold in the shops closely mirrored current fashions from back home. Several American eating establishments were there too Pizza Hut, KFC, and Burger King. Strangely no McDonald's was present I haven't seen the golden arches anywhere in the city since I got here.

Types of stores included in the mall varied from American malls. They had an almost wal-mart like grocery store, it had the groceries, small appliances and housewares but not the wide range of house hold items wal-mart carries. There was a CVS/Walgreens type of store here the over the counter medications are behind the pharmacy counter so you have to talk to the pharmacist. I also saw a store that looked similar to a Home Depot all I could see was a display of patio furniture and chandeliers but I didn't go inside to check. The iphone was being sold at cell phone kiosks but there was no Apple store in the mall. A bookstore did have a few shelves of books in English in its selection.

I went into Office Depot to get a few school supplies so I'll be ready when classes start. I made an amazing discovery while there. For those of you who don't know Hebrew is written right to left and I knew this before arriving. What I didn't think about was how that would effect me. I am left handed and all my life I've had to worry about getting ink on my hand and smearing it across the page. Over the years I've bought special left handed pens and left handed spirals. Today I went down the aisle to get some spirals and notebook paper. All of the spirals and notebook paper here is what we could call left handed but here it's normal. As a left handed person who has had to deal with being different my whole life this is huge. I won't have to go hunting around to find left handed spirals they will automatically be there with no special effort. I am now wondering if a higher percentage of Israelis are left handed because of the way Hebrew is written.

Security at the mall was top notch. They inspect the cars before they enter the parking lot. My purse was searched and I went through a metal detector before being let inside. There were some IDF (Israeli Defense Force) people walking through the mall. They had two handed rifles with them. I'm not sure if they were on duty or not because some of them had shopping bags, and appeared to be browsing through stores. I think it's going to take me a while to get used to the presence of guns around here. I feel safer knowing they are there it's just a little unnerving to have a guy walk past you in the writing utensil aisle of Office Depot with a rifle that big. I loved the mall and would recommend it to anyone visiting Jerusalem.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Shabbat (Sabbath Day)

The weekend in Israel is Friday and Saturday. On Friday everything seems to shut down around noon and they don't reopen until after sundown on Saturday. The grocery store was packed yesterday morning as everyone was getting what they needed before the weekend started. The taxis don't run unless the company is owned by Muslims. Even the city buses stop running. The parking lot to the mall is blocked off. Shabbat is truly a holy day of rest very different from how we treat Sunday in America. There used to be blue laws in America where restaurants and other businesses would be closed on Sunday but the only business I know of that is still closed on Sundays is Chick-fil-a. The only blue law still on the books I'm aware of is you can't buy alcohol on Sunday before noon.

On Shabbat some Jewish sects refrain from any work at all on Sabbath and that includes using electronics even turning on and off lights. The elevators at the hotel are set to stop on every floor on Saturday so no button pushing is required. In the rooms themselves there is a Shabbat clock that guests may use. Pressing this button will turn off all the lights in the room except for the bathroom light and desk lamp at 11pm and will turn them back on an hour before Shabbat ends. I've noticed few cars going by on the road than other days of the week. The restaurants in the hotel have restricted menus today if they are serving at all. I think the menu restrictions have something to do with Kosher food laws but I don't know much about those yet.

I will also have to get used to the idea that Sunday is going to be the new Monday for me. Once school starts I will be attending classes on Sunday's which is going to feel very strange.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Arrived Safely in Jerusalem

My name is Anna and this is my blog about graduate studies abroad. I have a bachelor's degree in anthropology. I am going for a master's degree in the Bible and the Ancient Near East at Rothberg International School part of Hebrew University. This blog will be about my adventures in Israel and differences in culture I notice. I meant to start this blog before I left the United States but I ran out of time so I am starting it now a few days before I start classes.

When I told people I was going to study in Israel they would immediately ask me one of two questions: 1. Are you Jewish? No, I am not Jewish but you don't have to be Jewish to want to go to Israel. Jerusalem is also a holy place for Christians and Muslims alike. 2. Aren't you scared? Yes and No. I am scared because this is one of the biggest changes I have ever faced in my life. This is as far away from home as I've ever been. I do not have any relatives that live in Israel so I am alone over here. I currently don't know Hebrew so I still have a language barrier to work with. The no I'm not scared answer is in regards to my safety. Everyone seems to have the opinion that Israel is a war torn third world country that is crawling with people who want to kill you. The truth is Israel is a very well developed country, you can drink the water here no problem and I think their medical system is as good if not better than the United States. I think the dangerous perception people have of Israel is because the news only reports on Israel when something bad happens. I've been in Israel for a few days now and I feel perfectly safe. Plus as I like to point out I got an A in the self defense class I took for physical education credit for my undergraduate degree. So I should be just fine.

Safety isn't really an issue here for me and I'll explain why. Every Israeli citizen is required to serve in the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) I think two years is required but I'm not certain. So everywhere you go there are security guards outside. There is an armed guard outside the front door of the hotel I'm staying in. The grocery store up the street also has an armed guard and they have the right to go through your bag and wand you if they want to. The mall has similar security guards in place sometimes with added metal detectors. I am perfectly safe possibly safer than I was back home in Texas.

I formally register for my summer classes and move into the dorms next week. I'm going to work on several posts about packing and what to pack for a study abroad in Israel but I'm waiting until I know how well I did myself. This way I can include what I wish I had brought and what I wish I had left behind. I hope this blog will be helpful to others thinking of studying abroad or at least interesting to follow.