Greetings from Ashkelon, where I’ll be living for the next 3 months. I can’t believe I landed in Israel just over a week ago – we’ve done so much and spent so much time together as a group that it feels like so much longer. In addition to orientation sessions, we went to the Kotel in the Old City of Jerusalem for Shabbat, hiking in the Negev, swimming (or floating) in the Dead Sea, and we’ve now settling into our new home in an immigrant absorption center. These are places where new Olim can live for free for up to three weeks while they look for an apartment. They can stay longer and their rent is highly subsidized by the Israeli government. I’m living with 2 other guys, Derek from Montreal and Aaron from Chicago. Our apartment is very basic – a bedroom with 2 of the beds, a common area where my bed is, a kitchenette and a bathroom. Besides our program, there are a handful of students attending the university in Ashkelon and there are Ethiopians and South Americans living in our absorption center.
In the little time we’ve had to explore our new home, Ashkelon seems like a great city to start out. It’s right on the Mediterranean, there are about 110,000 people who live here, and there’s also a university, so there are plenty of students in their mid-20s in the area. There’s a marina filled with cool sailboats and surrounded by bars and restaurants with outdoor patio seating. I haven’t yet seen the beach during the day, but friends who have gone say it’s beautiful and the waves are huge. We did go to a bar on the beach the other night that was really chill. The seating was couch-style with big cushions and pillows and there were even seating on the sand and you could walk directly to the shorelines (which we obviously did).
Needless to say, I’ve advertised my love of ice cream from the first time we went around the circle to introduce ourselves. We had a pot-luck dinner last night and I was summoned at the end of the meal to take care of the melting ice cream before it all turned to soup. I also made sure to hit up a good gelato place on Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem when we were there last weekend.
As for what we’ll be doing here in Ashkelon – our Hebrew classes start on Monday and then we’ll be volunteering a few hours a week in places around the community (we’re supposed to hear more about that later today). Weekends are Friday/Saturday, and we’re free most weekends to travel or do what we want. So tomorrow I’m heading to visit my newly-discovered cousin Eli and his family in Efrat, and then I’ll be with cousins on the other side of the family the following weekend for Rosh Hashana.
Our internet situation is still being worked out – hopefully we’ll have it set up by Sunday or Monday. For the time being, there is a free kiosk in the lobby of where we’re staying, and we’re poaching wireless access in the front yard from someone named Sergei. We don’t know who he is but we thank him for not password protecting his router. That’s it for now – sorry it took so long to get another update up here. I’ll post some pictures when we have reliable internet because it’s too slow to do it with this connection. Miss you all back home!