Thursday, December 3, 2009

Leaving Ashkelon

Our time in Ashkelon is drawing to a close, but of course, there's plenty of fanfare to keep us busy these last few days. Here's a link to my most recent batch of pictures.

First was a trip to the most bizarre shuk in Israel.  There are 3 shopping malls in Ashkelon - the Huzot Mall, which is the up-scale mall with a movie theater, the Giron Mall, which is the most practical of the three...and then there's the Lev Ashkelon mall, which I have dubbed the Dirt Mall (a name I may or may not have stole from Mallrats). It's less than a 5 minute walk away from our absorption center, and its two saving graces are a small grocery store that's adequate and has the staples; and a bakery. Aside from that, it's dirty and just plain weird. And on Tuesdays, the mall transforms into the weirdest shuk you've ever seen...people set up little stands all over the place, including the basement and sell all sorts of stuff that looks like the cheapest flea market you've ever seen. To my friends who had never been to it until recently, I would say it's exactly what you would expect a shuk at the dirt mall to look like. So naturally I went with some people to walk around and take some pictures.

And then there was Brunch at Nana's. A few of you commented on the picture of her in my Thanksgiving album (her full name is Chana, and Nana is a nickname that also means "mint"). She's our Ulpan teacher and she's simply the best - she made class fun and enjoyable and was always willing to teach us whatever we wanted to learn. Tuesday was our last official day of class, and she invited us all to her house for brunch yesterday morning (and like Israelis do, offered us a place to stay whenever we come back to Ashkelon). As you can see from the pictures, there was so much food, and yes...she made an ice cream cake because of my obsession! 

So what's next? A very good question. While the Otzma program is divided into three main parts, we have a mini track of two weeks this month, and we could choose from 3 options: studying Jewish texts at Pardes, a non-denominational institute in Jerusalem; volunteering with the army; and a program called Livnot U'Lehibanot, which is the one I'm doing. Initially I had planned to be with the army, but after talking to some people and then learning more about Livnot, it seems much more my speed. The words in Hebrew mean "To Build and to be built" and the concept is to physically build the land through community service and to be built by learning about different aspects of Judaism in perhaps a different way than we'd learned in years past. The program is based in Tzfat, which has always been a spiritual and mystical place, and it's where kaballah was started. So our two-week program combines some community service with lots of hiking and also Jewish learning. A huge part of learning about Israel is learning about the land and exploring all the different topography, so I'm very excited for our hikes. We'll also be with the Livnot program for all of Chanukah, so it will be fun to celebrate in a big group and be able to say "Nes Gadol Haya Po - A Great Miracle Happened Here" - and if you haven't seen this video to get in the Chanukah's definitely a fun time

Following Livnot, we have two weeks of vacation, and I'm so excited that Becca will be coming midway through my break! We'll be traveling through Tel Aviv and Jerusalem for a week and then she's going to stay with me in Haifa for more than two weeks...very excited for all of this. I'll have my computer with me during Livnot and vacation, but I don't know quite how frequently I'll be able to get online and send emails and update my blog...I'll do the best I can, though!

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