Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ashkelon, Week 2

Hopefully I’ll be able to write shorter posts more often once we get our internet set up, which should be when we get back from Rosh Hashana on Monday. Here’s what I’ve been up to over the past few days. I spent Shabbat in the town of Efrat with my newly-discovered cousins on my dad’s side of the family, Ephraim and his son Eli, and I had such a great time. I had met Eli back in June when he came to Boston and we walked around town and took a mini tour of the Freedom Trail. I hadn’t realized Efrat had such a big population of olim from North America so the only Hebrew I spoke during the weekend was during services at shul.

We started Ulpan, or Hebrew classes, on Sunday, and so far so good for me. Our teacher is really nice and I already have a whole stack of vocab to learn…now I just have to remember what it’s like to study and learn new words! But in addition to learning new words, the whole class is conducted in Hebrew and we’ll be talking about current events all in Hebrew so I would hope that after a few weeks of being fully immersed, my Hebrew will be much better. But as it is, it’s been a huge advantage to have such a great base and hold conversations with people around town. I was surprised at how many people on my program know almost no Hebrew and it’s been hard for them in certain situations to get around because some people in Ashkelon speak English, but not everyone.

Yesterday I got to the shuk, or market, for the first time. For those who have never been to one, it’s the best (and most fun) way to buy food around here. There are open-air tents where dozens of vendors sell fresh fruits and vegetables very cheaply, and you’re supposed to bargain with them so they lower the price. I bought 3 peppers, 4 plum tomatoes, 2 nectarines and two apples for 10 shekels, which is about $2.50 in US dollars. In other cities, there are shuks that sell meat, but I got some chicken down the road.

In addition to ulpan classes, we’ll also be doing some volunteer work in Ashkelon. So yesterday while most of the group had a training session for one of their placements, 3 of us went to the other absorption center in the city, called Beit Canada (literally, Canada House – go figure, our one Canadian on the program did not come with us, but he did go there today). Their Mercaz Klita as it’s called in Hebrew is much larger than ours, and in addition to students, there are many families who live in apartments there with their kids. The absorption center has after school classes and activities for the kids, and we’ll be helping out with that. I was caught off-guard actually, because it wasn’t one of the volunteer options I had signed up to do or was even interested in, but as soon as we got there and toured the buildings and saw the kids, I decided I definitely wanted to spend some time there. Almost all of the families are Ethiopian immigrants and I guess a lot of them are undergoing an official conversion to Judaism (I’m so interested in learning more about the Ethiopian Jews so I’m really excited to start working with them). But the kids were so cute and they were so excited to see us come through their classrooms. And it was super easy to get there – there’s a bus that stops right down the street from where we live and takes us within a block of the absorption center. Transportation in this city is so cheap. All bus fares are 3.8 shekels (less than $1), and cabs almost anywhere cost 20 shekels, so if you split a cab ride with 3 other people, it amounts to about $1.25 a person.

I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to write another post before Rosh Hashana, so if I don’t, Shana Tova U’Metukah to everyone!

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