Thursday, August 14, 2008

Vistas, Visas, and Vocabulary

Today I stopped in the grocery store on the way home from school. I was wearing a black skirt that didn't quite cover my knees and a black and white pinstriped sleeveless top - not a very Israeli outfit. The security guard who checked my bags at the entrance to the store (side note: all the big stores and restaurants have metal detectors and security guards) said "how are you?" to me in Hebrew, and before I had a chance to answer he changed his mind and said, "We can speak English. English, yes? Or Francais? How are you?" And I responded in English "Very well thank you, and you" and went about my way. As I was in the store, one of the people who was shelving food said "How are you" in Hebrew to me, and I responded in Hebrew, and then he said, "Comment ca va?" (French for how are you) So I responded with a smile, "Ca va bien, merci" and went about my way. As I left, I heard him saying to a co-worker, in Hebrew, something to the effect of "I can always spot the French ones." I thought that was pretty funny - and relevant to an earlier post where I noted how much clothing defines people here - because I'm dressed a little nicer than usual I don't fit the stereotype of the jeans-and-tshirt American, and therefore must be French. (Another side note - there are a lot of francophones in Jerusalem!)

Tonight I have my birthday party and I'm really looking forward to welcoming guests into our home, and to spending time with people and getting to know them socially. It seems like there will be a small group of rabbinical students (about 8?) coming, as well as one of my friends from ulpan, and a friend that I met several years ago when I was on birthright. I already had a little birthday party last night when Daniel took me to the fabulous restaurant accross the street - it was seriously really really good - and gave me more presents than I know what to do with! Daniel sure knows how to do birthdays...

As you can tell from the title of the post, there are three topics that I was hoping to have time to tell you about before I start cooking for the potluck tonight (roasted potatoes and home-made baked beans, if you must know): Vista, Visa, and Vocabulary. I'll go in that order and I apologise that each of these topics has very little to do with the other.


Yesterday our class went on a tour of Hebrew University, Mount Scopus campus (the campus where I am studying). It was really exciting to be able to learn so much information, all in Hebrew! It was also great to see how are class is starting to feel comfortable together – we could casually enter conversations with each other while walking about, make side comments and jokes – it all seems to be getting much more comfortable.

But outside those aspects of the tiyul, it was also thrilling to learn about Hebrew University and to have an opportunity to explore a bit without feeling that I was in danger of getting lost! I learned so much – I’ll share with you a little bit – though don’t take my word for it as all of this is my translation of the Hebrew I may or may not have understood:

In 1903?, the Zionist Congress purchased the land on Mt. Scopus from Sir John Gray Hill, who had a villa there and was willing to sell it as he supported the Zionists who wanted to build the university. At the time, universities throughout Europe had quotas as to how many Jews could study there, so the idea was to build the first ever university taught in Hebrew and to thereby provide education and opportunities to many Jews who otherwise would not have these opportunities. However, at the time Israel was still under the Ottoman Empire, which did not give its permission for the building of the University. In 1918 the first cornerstone of the university was laid, and in 1925 the university opened its doors (Israel was at the time under British rule). The founder of the university, Chaim Weizmann, later became the first president of Israel, and there were all sorts of important people involved in the university’s founding including Hayyim Nachman Bialik, Albert Einstein, Sigmound Freud, and Martin Buber.

At the botanical gardens of Hebrew University, which only has plants that are native to Israel, we learned that during the construction of the garden, workers found a cave. Archaeologists were called in and they found bones, as well as an inscription indicating that this was the grave of “Nicanor from Alexandria.” Nicanor from Alexandria is described in the Gemara. I found the following information online as it was interesting and I didn’t remember all of it: “As the Gemara (Yoma 38a) describes, Nicanor traveled from Alexandria to bring gates for the Second Temple. He loaded two bronze gates on a ship, but a large wave threatened the vessel. Nicanor cast one gate overboard into the sea but the sea continued to rage. Then, he declared that he should be thrown into the sea with the second gate. Suddenly, the sea became calm. By nothing less than a miracle, the first gate appeared when the ship arrived in Akko. Some said that a sea monster spit it out. Others claim that the bronze gate became attached to the underside of the ship. In any event, the Gates of Nicanor were installed on the western side of the Women's Section in the Second Temple. By the accounts of Josephus, the gates were truly impressive. Estimates are that they stood 40 cubits wide and 50 cubits high.” The sarcophagus is no longer in the cave – it is currently in London. However, currently buried in the cave are Michael Usishkin, one of the leaders of the Russian Zionists, and Leon Pinsker, the founder of the Lovers of Zion (Hovevei Zion) movement. Usishkin wanted Pinsker buried there because he envisioned a national pantheon of the graves of the great Zionists on Mt. Scopus – which is why he himself is also buried there. However it was decided that Mt. Scopus was to be a university and not a graveyard, and most of these Zionist leaders are buried now at Mt. Herzl instead.

We walked to the Frank Sinatra building – the area for international students. On May 14, 2001, a bomb exploded in a cafeteria in the international student area, killing/injuring several students (I don’t remember the number). The teacher showed us the memorial to those students – a very subtle monument. It is a tree that was damaged by the explosion, but continued to live. It grows out of a crooked area in the ground and is supported by a lot of wires, etc. to keep it up as it is tilted at about a 45 degree angle to the ground, but it is still living and thriving. This is to show that while life at the university was shaken by the event, the university still thrives.

The teacher talked quite a bit about the architecture of the buildings. At Mt. Scopus there are two kinds of buildings – those that were built in the 1920’s at the establishment of the university, and those built in the 1970’s and thereafter. After the War of Independence in 1948, East Jerusalem became a part of Jordan, and while Mt. Scopus remained under Israeli control, it was an island that was cut off from Israel proper, making it impossible for studies to continue there. Instead, a second campus was built near to where Daniel and I live, called Givat Ram – also a second campus of Hadassah hospital was built for the same reasons. After the Six Day War (1967) East Jerusalem became part of Israel, and construction started on Mt. Scopus so that it could be re-opened in 1980. The older buildings have rougher stone, ivy, arched windows, and domes (kipot!) on top. The newer buildings are smother with straighter lines.

The last place we went to on our tour was the Hecht Synagoge, in the Humanities building where we have class. It is the reason why this section is labled Vistas – Har HaTzofim (Mount Scopus) literally means Mountain of the Views – because the view is magnificent! The Hecht Synagogue faces this view, and is constructed in a minimalistic fashion (no pictures on the wall) to emphasize the beauty of the view itself. The window is cut into three parts to look like an open Torah scroll, the bimah is lowered so that instead of seeing the hazzan the congregation sees the view. The pews are constructed to look like a menorah. From the window you can see all of Jerusalem. The teacher pointed out different areas and buildings to us – which was pretty great.


Yesterday afternoon I set out to the Ministry of the Interior to get a student visa. Long story as to why I don’t have one already, but suffice it to say that I need to get one. So I didn’t know a lot about how to get one – I looked it up on the internet but otherwise didn’t have much guidance. I found the address for the Ministry of the Interior online and Daniel helped me figure out which bus to take to get there. I had to switch buses and really circumnavigate the city to get to the area where the government buildings are. After inquiring at several buildings I finally found the ministry of the interior. But when I got there, the guard told me that to get a student visa I need to go to the other ministry of the interior building, which happens to be about a ten minute walk from our apartment. So, I waited about a half hour for a bus – and spoke to a very nice woman who helped me figure out where to get off the bus and gave me directions – and I went to the other ministry of the interior building. When I got there the person at the visa desk told me that it was closed for the day and I should come back at 8am the next morning. I didn’t want to miss ulpan but didn’t have much of a choice so I e-mailed my teachers that I would be coming late and I went this morning. When I approached the visa desk, the woman asked me if I had an appointment. I said no and she gave me a form to fill out and told me to go through some doors. There were no other directions posted and when I asked someone how to get a visa, she asked if I had an appointment. When I said no, she said I needed an appointment and I needed to call to make one. I had tried to do that on numerous occasions but no one ever answers the phone. Eventually she directed me to a room, and I knocked on the door only to have the person in the office say that the office was closed and would I shut the door. I waited some more and finally went into the office and stood there until the woman was done talking on the phone, at which point she asked me what I needed and I said I wanted to get a student visa but had no appointment. She made me an appointment for Sept. 9, in the morning – so I’ll have to miss more ulpan, but I hope I’ll actually get the visa!


I particularly didn’t want to miss ulpan today because we had a pretty serious test today – as well as a lot to do in my literature class. I’m sorry I missed so much of literature today because there were some poems we were supposed to read that I didn’t entirely understand. But it is really cool to be reading literature in Hebrew, and for sure my vocabluarly is rapidly improving. We had 81 vocab words to learn for this week’s test, and we’ve only been in ulpan for a week! It’s going to be a really intense, hard course. For homework this weekend I have to do an exercise, read a newspaper article and write about it, write an essay, and read the first page of a novel, all in Hebrew! Wish me luck…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, your outfit is on the modest side for Israel - just not for a lot of parts of Jlem!