Day trip to Tel Aviv

A couple weeks ago, I took a day trip to Tel Aviv with Pardes. The day focused on understanding the nuances and challenges of creating a secular Jewish city. Tel Aviv was instrumental in the formation of secular Jewish identity – and secular Jewish national identity.

The day started with a visit to the Shalom Meir Tower – Israel’s first skyscraper – where we viewed a replica of  Tel Aviv as well as looked at a small photo exhibit documenting Tel Aviv’s early years. When this tower was build in 1965, it was the tallest building in the Middle East!

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After the tower, we went to Trumpledor Cemetary and visited the graves of some of Israel’s most important historical figures.

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Some of the more significant figures included Hayim Nahman Bialik, a pioneer of Hebrew poetry who is now recognized as Israel’s national poet…

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…and Ahad Ha’am – arguably the most influential cultural Zionist. Even if you don’t know anything about Ahad Ha’am or cultural Zionism, you may know his most famous quote, “more than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.” (particularly interesting and thought-provoking when you consider that Ha’am was not, in fact, a Shabbat observant Jew himself)

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After the cemetery we had some free time at Shuk haCarmel (Carmel Market) to walk around and get lunch.

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Noah and I grabbed lunch in the nearby Yemenite Quarter at a hummus eatery. The only thing on the menu: hummus with pita. There was a choice if you wanted hard-boiled egg on top (we said yes)! The Yemenite Quarter is full of authentic and filling hummus shops – some hole-in-the-wall style and others more of an established restaurant.

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After lunch, the group reconvened to head to Habima Theater for a private tour of the building (previous visit to Habima Square documented here). On the tour, we talked about the theater’s pre-statehood beginnings, pre-statehood. The theater officially started in Poland, but began touring in Israel on funds from the Soviet Union. Habima was the world’s first Hebrew-language theater, and many of their first tours in Israel consisted of performing on make-shift stages at kibbutzim. Now, the theater puts on all sorts of plays (still all in Hebrew). Here is the theater set up for a performance later in the day:

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While at the theater, we also got some backstage looks at the costume department and storage room:

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The tour made me really want to see a play at Habima…if only I could understand Hebrew well enough to know what was going on!!

The final stop of the trip was a much anticipated visit to Google Israel Headquarters:

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This place was seriously swanky.

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Naturally, everyone was wowed by the unlimited free drinks, espresso, and snacks in the lobby. After snack/drink time was over, we met with a couple of Google employees where they talked to us about the company, what it’s like working for Google in Israel, some of Google’s latest initiatives, and answered our questions. I asked if the emphasis on high tech in Israel leads to a more equal representation of women to men in tech fields than in the US. The response: yes, definitely.

Goodbye Google, maybe we’ll meet again…

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Running the Jerusalem Marathon

Today was the Jerusalem Marathon – 20,000 runners strong!

I ran the half marathon, and on Wednesday night, Noah and I went to the race expo at the Jerusalem Convention Center to pick up my race packet:

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Picking up my race packet was a breeze…

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…and then we explored the rest of the expo! There was a nice collection of running and health vendors set up:

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We had a good time walking around and looking at all the merchandise/race excitement:

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Of course, no running event is fully complete without some beer (Alexander Beer had a stand here):

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It was also fun to see the particular quirks of a Jerusalem marathon, such as this technical running tee with built-in tzitzit being sold at the event shop:

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And since we were in the neighborhood, how could we resist a trip to Cinema City?!?! (the Convention Center is next door to the Cinema City). We saw the movie Selma which was FABULOUS and I highly recommend it to everyone. Also, Cinema City has a new indoor ice rink…pretty cool, huh?

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Today, the morning started bright and early as I headed to the start line at Gan Sacher at about 6:05am (the start time for the half marathon was 6:45):

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ton of roads around the city were closed for the marathon, making transportation a nightmare (Noah and I stayed at a friend’s house because it would have been hard to get to the race start from our southern neighborhood). The closed roads did, however, make walking to the race start traffic-free:

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Pre-race photo with my running buddy, Dan:

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Waiting at the start line:

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After a few brief safety announcements, we were off! The course was amazing: through the Old City, by the Sultan’s Pool, along Yafo Street, Emek Refaim, the rekevet, the tayelet, and more (full race course map here). Noah, my number one race fan, saw me at four points along the route and then met me at the finish line! (thanks, Noah!!!)

While the course was beautiful and – as is the race’s tagline – through 3,000 years of history, the downside was the hills. Oh, the hills! Jerusalem is a hilly city, and this race course definitely made that fact well known. As a result of the hills, this was a tough race, and I seriously struggled at times. The worst was a steep uphill towards the very end of the race throughout almost all of kilometers 18 and 19 (the total race distance is 21.1 kilometers). Nonetheless, I MADE IT!

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The finish area in Gan Sacher was buzzing with people and various race service tents (such as this synagogue tent – oh, Jerusalem!):

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There was also a fitness area with a group fitness instruction and various types of equipment:

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After about 30 minutes milling around the finish area, we managed to find a taxi home without too much trouble. I quickly took a shower and then it was time for a delicious recovery brunch at Kalo:

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Yes, please. :)

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Where to run in Jerusalem

Alright folks, tomorrow is…

THE JERUSALEM MARATHON!

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I’m only running the half (13.1 miles or as these Israelis like to say, 21.1 kilometers), but I am pretty excited! I’ve been training for the last 12 weeks, and during that time I’ve gotten very familiar with the running options around Jerusalem. So, for anyone figuring out where to run in this beautiful metropolis, here are my top suggestions:

1. The rekevet

This was my original running grounds. Before starting to train for a half marathon, I wasn’t running much longer 3-5 mile runs, and the main rekevet route is perfect for this distance. The ‘rekevet’ refers to a tracks-to-trails path (ie, former train track, now a pedestrian and bike path). The north end of the rekevet starts near the Tahana Rishona where Emek Refaim and Derech Beit Lechem meet.

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From the Tahana, you have about a 1/2 mile of pathway until you get to an intersection with Derech Beit Lechem. From there, the rekevet path continues for another 1/2 mile until it reaches an intersection with Pierre Koenig.

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You can cross Pierre Koenig (a fairly large intersection) and have another mile or so of uninterrupted pathway. After about a mile, the path will deposit you onto A-Safa Street within an Arab neighborhood. You can run briefly across the road about 1-minute and then pick the rekevet pathway up AGAIN for another 2 miles or so:

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This part of the path will take you near Teddy Stadium, Malcha Mall, and the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo. If you’re into trail running, you can even keep going onto the dirt path at the end of the paved trail. In my opinion, this rekevet pathway is definitely the best running resource in Jerusalem, and if you have a chance I highly suggest going for a jog on it!

2. Gan Sacher

The next best place I’ve found to run is Gan Sacher. Gan Sacher is Jerusalem’s largest park, and there are lots of interweaving running trails throughout the area:

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The park is located in the western city center – near to the Israel Museum and Knesset building. There are also several workout stations and large fields in Gan Sacher, making it a great place for other types of exercise besides running if that’s not your thing. :)

3. The Tayelet

The Jerusalem Tayelet (Promenade) is a gorgeous pathway that you can get to by following Yehuda Street east past Derech Hebron. The Tayelet itself isn’t the greatest in terms of a running pathway because it’s fairly cobblestoned:

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But the views looking out on Jerusalem and the Old City compensate for any less-than-ideal surface conditions:

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The Tayelet pathway looking out over Jerusalem only lasts about a half mile, but it then continues on a paved pathway through a park and snaking around a UN building. That pathway goes another half mile or so (perhaps a bit further) and deposits at a lookout observation point. It’s a bit short on distance to compromise an entire run, but it could be combined with some running on the rekevet for a slightly longer run (they are relatively close to one another). The Tayelet alone would also be an ideal spot for a nice walk (Shabbos walk, anyone??).

And there you have it…my main running suggestions in Jerusalem. Of course, there is also some decent running to be had on the sidewalks along main roads and residential neighborhoods. That said, lights here aren’t the greatest for running and Jerusalem drivers are notoriously nutty, so it can be a bit smoother and more relaxing to run on the aforementioned pathways.

See you on the pavement tomorrow? ;)

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Celebrating Purim in Jerusalem

WOW! I had quite a weekend. :)

Purim is a Jewish holiday during the month of Adar that commemorates the survival of the Jewish people despite the attempts of the evil Haman (BOOOO!!!!) to destroy them. In a nutshell, the Purim story goes like this:

The king of Persia, King Ahasveros, divorces his first wife, Vashti, after she refuses to entertain him and his drunken buddies naked. To find a new wife, the kings has a beauty contest with all the eligible women in the land and a Jewish girl named Esther is chosen as his new wife (although her Jewish identity is hidden). Meanwhile, the king’s advisor, Haman, is an arrogant and power-hungry individual, who demands that everyone bow before him when he passes by. Mordecai (a Jew, and Esther’s uncle) refuses to bow given the Jewish prohibition against bowing before anyone besides God. Out of anger, Haman plots to destroy all the Jews and receives permission from the king to do so. Learning of Haman’s plan, Mordecai tells Esther that she must speak to the king, reveal her Jewish identity, and ask him to save her people. Although she is at great personal risk, Esther does this task and, ultimately, the Jewish people are allowed to defend themselves (which they do successfully) and Haman is killed.

The full story is recorded in Megillat Esther (the scroll of Esther) which is part of the Ketuvim (writings) part of the Tanakh. If you didn’t already read it this year, I suggest doing so – the story is really quite juicy!!

Anyway…Megillat Esther is quite unique for many reasons, including but not limited to:
– there is a female heroine (YAY ESTHER!!!)
– God’s name is not mentioned anywhere within the book, causing it to be used as a frequent example of the hidden presence of God
– the meaning of the holiday is often understand as being intended to unite the Jewish people (as the people needed to unite in order to support Esther and defend themselves from attack)
– the holiday is not from the Torah, so there are not laws against malacha (work) such as on Shabbat and many other Jewish holidays during the day
– in most of the world, Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar, but in walled cities it is the 15th of Adar (because Shushan was a walled city and the fighting lasted one day more than in the rest of Persia). Since Jerusalem is a walled city, we celebrated on the 15th (last Thursday evening-Friday at sundown).

All in all, these elements combine to make one heck of a party.

To begin…the mitzvot.

1. Mikra Megillah (reading Megillat Esther)
The reading of the megillah is typically done in a public communal setting, and Megillat Esther has its own trope (cantillation marks) different from the trope for chanting other books from Tanakh. Often times, the reading is combined with some sort of shpiel (play) reenacting the story. The mitzvah is to read and hear EVERY WORD of the chanting, so even though it’s a festive occasion, people are quiet during the reading itself to enable everyone to hear. Noah and I went to a megillah reading with Nava Tehila, and it was amazing fun:

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2. Seudat Purim (festive Purim meal)

A friend from Pardes invited us over for a meal on Friday which was absolutely delicious – sadly, no photos.

3. Matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor)

The commandment here is to give money to two people (enough money for each of those people to buy enough food to equal a meal for two people. So, in total, a minimum of the monetary equivalent of 4 meals). If you are from a community where Purim auctions are a frequent occurrence and you never knew why it always happened at that time of year…this is why! To give you the chance to fulfill this Purim-specific commandment. :)

4. Mishloach Manot (sending gifts)

My personal favorite Purim mitzvah…mishloach manot are small gifts packages given to other Jews. This mitzvah is the one most explicitly linked with uniting b’nei yisrael. Rather than being another gift to the poor, this gift is specifically supposed to be to someone that you know (or don’t know so well) but are connected to by your Jewish ties. The mitzvah is to give a mishloach manot to a minimum of one person. The gift package must contain a minimum of 2 foods that require a different bracha (blessing). Ie, there must be at least a food item representing at least two of the following categories: fruit, vegetables, bread, non-bread grain product (cakes, cookies, etc), food that doesn’t fall into one of the aforementioned categories. Noah and I put a clementine, chocolate, nuts, and hamentashen in our mishloach manot (3 food categories of brachot!):

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If you do these four things, you’ve fulfilled your religious obligation regarding Purim. But, if you want to have a REALLY GOOD TIME, then the following things are also essential:

Bake Hamantashen!!

Hamantashen are the iconic Purim food – triangular cookies traditionally filled with jam or poppyseeds (I’m partial to chocolate though, go figure!). There are varying opinions on the cookie’s symbolism, but they are generally thought to either represent Haman’s hat or ears (take that, Haman!). Noah and I made two types of hamantashen: apricot and chocolate peanut butter:

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This is the dough recipe I used, this is the apricot filling recipe, and the peanut butter/chocolate is – you guessed it! – just peanut butter and chocolate mixed together:

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yummmmm.

Get dressed up!

Part of the custom surrounding Purim is to get dressed up (yes, that means EVERYONE). This creates a very fun and socially acceptable outlet for adults to wear costumes. In Israel, during the weeks leading up to Purim, costume shops seemed to pop-up everywhere selling accessories of every kind. During Purim day itself (as well as the two or so days before) it seemed like almost everyone on the street was wearing some sort of costume. Experiencing this aspect of the holiday in Israel (ie, out in the streets as opposed to only one night inside a synagogue) was really an incredible experience:

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Noah and I got the main components of our costumes at the vintage-clothing store, Trumpeldor, in the Nachlaot neighborhood:

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We dressed up as Miss Scarlet and Professor Plum from Clue:

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GO OUT!!!

Perhaps one of the most famous Rabbinic passages is the Talmud is the instruction to drink on Purim ad lo yoda (until you don’t know) the difference between Mordecai and Haman. I have a whole dvar I would like to give you about how this is actually an instruction about utilizing the holiday to erase our judgements and preconceived prejudices against people, but I’ll save that for another time…

In any event, the connection between the holiday and drinking makes it one-heck-of-a street party. This is the shuk Purim night (first picture intentionally blurry for artsy effect…did it work?!):

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People are friendly and boisterous, as evidenced by these random guys who starting playing limbo with us:

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Of course, the Nachman Mashiach party van was out in force:

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Enjoy the Purim culture!!!

What an incredible opportunity it is to live in Israel where walking down the street I see chalk on the sidewalk referring to an upcoming Jewish holiday:

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Reads: Hag Purim Sameach (happy Purim). Presumably written by a child because the ‘mem’ is backwards.

Everyone is in costume, everyone goes out, everyone celebrates. Not only is it the ‘Jewish holiday in Israel’ effect, but this is also one of the relatively few Jewish holidays that has been fully embraced by secular Israelis and not only religious ones.

I guess it’s really not hard to see why…

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Visiting Sderot with J Street U

In the theme of my most recent post about a day trip to Kusra, here is a recap of another trip I did recently this year.

Several months ago (yes, this post is VERY overdue), I went to Sderot with J Street U. Really, the trip was for college students, so I was sort of cheating but…oh well! They let me go and I was excited to participate in the day’s events.

Sderot is a city in the Western Negev, and it is the Israeli city that most closely borders Gaza. In fact, there is a military outpost in Sderot from which you can look out and see Gaza. Sderot is often used as an illustration of the ways in which the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict negatively impacts Israeli lives even if the death toll is much lower for Israelis than Palestinians.*

*Comparing the cumulative number of Israeli to Palestinian casualties as indicative of Israel using excessive fire power is, in my opinion, not a fair analysis because Hamas does not have any sort of alert or civilian protection system in place (in fact, quite the opposite as they often use civilians as human shields). On the contrary, Israel has devoted an enormous amount of resources – financial and otherwise – into establishing the most developed protective system in the world. I see it as a very unfortunate misuse of raw data when Israel is criticized by virtue of the numbers alone. 

Israelis living in Sderot deal with a constant sense of threat and, in many cases, trauma from living in an environment where they feel constantly at risk. On the tour I went on in Sderot, the group I was with learned that 20,000 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza, and Sderot has born the brunt of these attacks. Unlike other places in Israel that have the benefit of a siren system that leaves a reasonable amount of time to get to a shelter (in Jerusalem, we have 90 seconds), Sderot is so close to Gaza that there is only about 15 seconds between rocket detection and when it will hit. Given the constant threat and lack of preparation time, Sderot has enacted a series of safety precautions that make the city look very different from other parts of Israel. For example, all of the bus stops are bomb shelters. Every building is required to have its own shelter attached, and outdoor communal areas are made to offer hiding spaces. For example, this park for children is made entirely out of bomb shelter material:

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Besides learning the general facts about life in Sderot, we also had the opportunity to look at some of the shrapnel and piping from rockets fired into Sderot from Gaza. The rockets are generally made from pipes (which are allowed into Gaza for city infrastructure) and filled with nails, marbles, etc. The explosive element is created from chemicals that are given to Gaza for the purpose of agriculture. This type of explosive doesn’t make such a huge explosion, but it creates a lot of collateral damage through the shrapnel.

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It was very powerful to see the ‘leftovers’ from these rockets, especially because it was so clear that were basically entirely made from materials intended for aid. I see this a very troubling ethical dilemma. Israel both allows international aid into Gaza and also provides much of the materials themselves. It seems to be a very sad irony that so many of these materials come back into Israel in the form of rockets, and it also poses a moral question about the boundaries of providing and permitting aid.

At the end of our visit, we met with a representative from an organization called Other Voice. This was a very interesting perspective to end the trip with. Other Voice seeks to find a peaceable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and they believe doing so requires a more conciliatory and compassionate perspective from Israelis. They believe that The Occupation is taking a psychological toll not only on Palestinians but, also, on Israelis in the sense that they have become numb to the abuse inherent within an occupation.

All in all, this was a very moving trip that left me with a lot to think about (and feeling very grateful that I have not lived my life in fear of constant rocket attack, planning my life around where I can get to within 15 seconds!).

Planting Olive Trees with Rabbis for Human Rights

A few weeks ago, Noah and I went to a Palestinian village in the West Bank called Kusra to plant olive trees. Kusra is in close proximity to two settlements: Esh Kodesh to the west and Migdalim to the east. The Palestinians in Kusra have amicable relationship with the Jews living in Migdalim, but there has historically been volatile and violent interactions with those living in Esh Kodesh – a settlement outpost. Members of the Esh Kodesh community have repeatedly destroyed Palestinian olive trees and prevented them from planting and/or harvesting their crop.

We went on this trip with an organization called Rabbi for Human Rights, a group that organizes and leads several events around Israel to defend the human rights of all people. Currently, the group’s primary work focuses on defending the human rights of Palestinians and Bedouins within Israel and the Occupied Territories as well as socioeconomic work within Israel.

The trip to Kusra was a full day event. The group met at 8:30am in Jerusalem to bus an hour to the site. Heading into the West Bank, we saw lots of open fields and areas being used for agriculture:

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At the site, we were met by several Palestinian farmers and a large collection of olive tree saplings. Our job was to help the farmers plant the saplings, thus making some sort of tikkun (repair) for the destruction of their trees done by other Jews and also to demonstrate that not all Jews seek to treat them violently and disrespectfully.

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While everyone in our group tried to be as helpful as possible, we ended up doing a lot of standing around as the Palestinian farmers were able to do things a lot more efficiently and productively than we were. After about 45 minutes of “working” we were invited to sit with some of the farmers to share food (which they graciously offered) and to ask them questions:

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Although I was nervous, I asked the group what their community’s general response was to seeing news of terrorist attacks or other violent acts perpetrated by Palestinians towards Israelis. The question was motivated by feeling disturbed and frustrated by pictures and videos of celebrations by Palestinians following terrorist attacks. Unfortunately, I ended up needing to repeat the question three times due to translation difficulties, which felt very awkward. Once the question was finally understand, the answer was essentially, “we don’t support it.”

Overall, I am very glad I went on the trip. It was a good reminder that – just like within the Jewish community – there is always a spectrum of beliefs and feelings within a community. Not all Palestinians are seeking violence and terror, and it also felt very important to think about the fear and sadness that Palestinians in this village undoubtedly experience when seeing/hearing about destruction in their olive fields.

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Idan Raichel Concert and Cinema City in Jerusalem

Last week was full of great entertainment for me here in Jerusalem- woohoo!

Here is a quick recap of the highlights:

1) The Idan Raichel Project Concert at the Jerusalem International Convention Center

Idan Raichel is an Israeli musician who’s been somewhat of a cultural/national icon for many years. He performs with a group called the Idan Raichel project, and the music is a blend of Middle Eastern sounds. The Jerusalem International Convention Center is in the north of the city near to the Central Bus Station, and it was a huge building with lots of interesting artwork that I hope to have more time to look at in the future. People streaming in for the concert:

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The concert was awesome. Something that I liked was that Idan Raichel wasn’t at all centerstage the whole time – primarily he sat to the side of the stage on the piano and other members of the group took a central focus:

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If you have the opportunity, I would definitely recommend seeing the Idan Raichel Project in concert! (if you want to check out some of his most famous songs, look here, here, or here!)

2) Hosting “balls” Shabbat!

On Friday night, Noah and I had a group of people we play basketball with over for Shabbat dinner. Since we are united by basketball, it seemed appropriate to give the dinner a ‘balls’ theme – ie, food in the shape of balls! It was a lot of fun and – needless to say – hilarious. The menu included lentil balls, meatballs, cherry tomatoes, small potatoes, and rice with peas:

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3) Cinema City in Jerusalem

Imagine if Disney World and Times Square had a baby…okay, got it?!

That’s Cinema City in Jerusalem! Noah and I had heard about this movie theater/mall/phenomenon since coming to Israel, and it is truly quite an experience. We decided to go there for a movie and dinner this past Motzei Shabbat (after the end of Shabbat on Saturday night), and it was pretty impressive! In these pictures, the place is just coming alive because Shabbat recently ended:

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Something you don’t see everyday…

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When you walk in, the upper level is where you can buy tickets and there is a mall of sorts with lots of shops and restaurants. Then, there is a lower level with theaters and an impressive concessions stand (serving Ben and Jerry’s ice cream!):

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We saw the movie American Sniper (in English, Hebrew subtitles):

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I thought the movie was very good, although the intense content of the film left me feeling somewhat on edge afterwards. If you want to see something lighter, they are also showing 50 Shades currently…

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4) Days of Togetherness!!

‘Days of Togetherness’ is super cheesy but also amazingly fun. I first read about the idea on Carrots ‘N’ Cake, and I thought it sounded super cute/nice. Noah and I did it last year, and we decided to do it again this year! Carrot does it for 24 days leading up to Christmas, but we’ve done it pretty much whenever seems like a good time! Here’s how it works…

– choose a number of days (we’re doing 28 this year) and think of that number of activities that you would like to do with your partner
– write each activity on a separate slip of paper
– put all of the papers in a container of sorts
– every day, draw and activity and do it!
super easy. super fun.

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So far, we have drawn the following activities: write a note, send a snapchat of a mystery item, play Dominion, play a game (unspecified), and find a recipe for the other person to make for dinner this week.

And…I’m actually just about to go on a walk for today’s activity so, bye. :)