Thursday, January 28, 2016

Students of Haifa U

I came from a university where 99.9% of students were the same religion as me. Haifa University, in contrast, has students of all different backgrounds and from lots of different places. I really enjoyed the multicultural atmosphere and getting to meet not only Israelis and Palestinians, but people from all over the world. I took some pictures over the last few months to give people back home a taste of what it looks like to study in Israel.

One of the unique things is seeing lots of IDF soldiers. It’s funny that I actually got used to people walking around with guns on campus. Note the gun stuck in the back of his pants.

I also enjoyed this girl who chose the skirt uniform option and accessorized with a girly backpack. This would be me if I was Israeli.

Just because I don’t know where else to post this, here’s some other random solider pictures I took during my year here. Jewelry shopping, a couple with a TINY girl, asleep on the bus cuddling his machine gun, and even at an LDS church meeting (the funniest one). It’s just a normal part of life here.

Some other samplings of students:

3 Muslims and a religious Jewish girl.

Anyways, I didn’t take a lot of pictures. Funny enough, I actually do feel creepy when I do this so it doesn’t happen a lot... this is the result of being there for a year!

It’s so weird that my time there is over. I have 2 alma maters now. This semester I studied Yiddish, Holocaust literature, a class specifically about German Jews, and a class studying different conflict theories (political science/sociology=boring and not my thing). 

During my last week of class I stopped by the Hecht Museum, the museum on campus, for the first time. It actually turned out to be better and bigger than expected. It was kind of an unexpected combination of archeology and art. They had a pretty good collection of French impressionist paintings, like this Monet one.

This modern art, however, I was not a super big fan of. I, too, could stack toilets and drape Christmas lights on them. But I choose not to.

Caananite coffins-

Oil lamps from the Roman period (like the ones in the 10 virgins parable)-

The coolest thing was probably this boat, which is... wait for it... 2,400 years old. Who knew this was sitting at my university all along.

Not in the museum, but the other day I randomly came across a 1940s Book of Mormon in the campus library. That was a surprise.

Goodbye, campus!

So you want to survive an Israeli interrogation...

Going through airport security is pretty similar in most countries... but not in Israel. For obvious reasons, they take security very seriously and the security checks are much more thorough. Since it’s SO different from the U.S., I thought I would document a little bit of what the process is like. I’ve flown out of Ben Gurion airport over 10 times now, so I count myself as an expert :)

First of all, you have to get there 3 hours before your flight (if you’re a foreigner). I’m guessing Israelis don’t need to get there quite as early. It usually doesn’t take the full 3 hours, but it does take much longer than getting through security in other countries, so it’s smart to leave a cushion.

The first step when you get to the airport is being questioned, before you even go to the check-in counter. They usually ask me the exact same questions. Besides the normal things like finding out what you were doing in Israel, they try to find out in a roundabout way whether you’re Jewish or not. Their policy is to racially profile and give non-Jews extra screening later on. That seems odd from an American standpoint, but remember that Israel is not America. Israel is officially a Jewish state with only one official religion. It’s also pretty easy to see that most Muslims get a lottttttttt more screening than others. That would be considered illegal discrimination in the U.S., but Israel takes a more practical (and definitely not PC) standpoint considering their situation. People from the West Bank and Gaza aren’t even allowed to use this airport.

They always start with-
How do you pronounce your name? (I say my name while they stare into my eyes and compare my passport picture to my face)

Before I got my new passport last year, I had one from when I was 16 that didn’t really look like me. Exhibit A: comparison of the old and new passport pics:

When that was the case, the staring intensely into my eyes would last for much longer. They would also always ask to see another I.D., like my driver’s license. And would then hold up my passport and license on either side of my face, tell me to do the same smile as in my pictures, and stare at me for what felt like a long time. That was never uncomfortable at all.

Since my last name is uncommon, they usually follow up with-
What are the ethnic origins of your last name? (A.K.A., maybe you’re secretly a really pale Arab... at least that’s what I imagine they’re asking)
So do you speak Czech?  (That would be a big no- I explain how long ago my family came from there)

Next it goes something like-
Why did you come to Israel?
What are you studying?
Why did you come to Israel to study?  I usually give a different answer every time for that one. I had a lot of reasons :)
Have you been to Israel before?
What did you do here last time?

And then the trying to figure out if I’m Jewish begins. They usually suspect I am after I tell them I’m here studying the Holocaust.
Do you have any family in Israel?
Do you speak any Hebrew?
Where did you learn Hebrew?
Did you ever learn Hebrew as a child?
Do you belong to a certain community in the U.S.? I say yes and tell them what religion I am. 

One time they followed up with-
What street is your church building on?  I’m surprised I knew the answer to that, actually.

What holidays to you celebrate? This is the one that makes me laugh the most. I’m always tempted to answer with a really obscure holiday that no one makes a big deal of like Arbor Day!, but to speed up the process I usually just say “Christmas and Easter. I’m Christian.”

I haven’t been asked this a lot, but sometimes they ask-
Have you ever been to Jordan or Egypt?
Did you go to the West Bank?
Do you know anyone there?
Did you talk to anyone there?

When that happens, I tell them about the touristy things I did there (Petra, Bethlehem, etc.). The question about knowing or talking to anyone makes me roll my eyes a little bit. Does the tour guide count?

The award for most creative security questions goes out to Israelis that came to France in December to provide extra security (I’m assuming, since this was just 2 weeks after the terror attack in Paris). Most of the rest of this is about flying from Israel and not to Israel, but I had to include this because it’s funny. And they were Israeli.

How long have you been in Israel?
What is the conversion rate between shekels and euros? 
Translate  bavakasha (please/you’re welcome)
                rega (one moment)
                yalla (let’s go)
                l’hitraot (see you later)

And my personal favorite-
What are the Jewish months that Hannukah and Passover are in?

I’m pretty impressed with myself that I knew this. Kislev and Nisan, duh!

So not only was this whole conversation in French, he was asking me to translate things from Hebrew to French. That really hurt my brain. For the money conversion/translations I can see how he could have been making sure that I had actually been in Israel for as long as I said I had. Not sure how knowing about the Jewish calendar applied to anything though.

So back to Ben Gurion airport. After finishing the questioning part, they put a sticker with a bar code on your passport. Later, someone else scans this to see whether you are Jewish or not and what line to put you in. The next step is what’s normally the first step- checking in with the airline, getting your boarding pass, etc. My personal favorite part of traveling is when my suitcase passes the weight inspection and they take it away so I don’t have to carry it anymore. Today that part didn’t go so well though. When you’ve lived in the same apartment for a year and you have to fit everything you own in one suitcase, it’s complicated. I hit my personal record of a 75 pound suitcase, which might I add, I carried by myself this morning up 3 flights of stairs and down 5 flights to get out of the dorms. Ow. Still feeling that.

Step number 3 is the actual security part. You don’t have to take your liquids out, but you do have to take out everything that’s electronic- cords, chargers, everything. You also don’t have to take your shoes off, and they don’t have those 3-D scanner machines like in the U.S- just metal detectors. They take your passport for this whole process and you don’t get it back until you pass the inspection. Usually once you get to the front of the line, it takes maybe 10 minutes for them to go through your bags. They open and go through your bags every. single. time. They also rub all of your electronics with a wand to check for explosive residue.

There are some fun questions during this part sometimes too. The thing they always want to know is-
Which electronics came out of which bag? What came out of your pockets?

They’re obsessed with that. For the life of me I don’t understand why that matters, but you have to separate the electronics based on what was in your pockets/purse/carry-on,  and they constantly ask you to repeat what came from what.

Step 4 is going through passport control, which I’ve never had to do in another country when I was leaving it. This part usually doesn’t take very long, especially since I have a student visa. Something that’s interesting is that they don’t stamp your passports in Israel. Instead they print out a little card for you. Guess why? Because you can’t enter most Arab countries if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. Guess why? Because they'e a little prejudiced and not huge fans of Israel. So this way, they make it so people won’t be excluded from visiting somewhere else just for visiting Israel. It makes me a little sad because I would have collected quite a few Israeli stamps and that would be fun.

That’s the last step! Sometimes it takes pretty long waiting in line, but I’ve never had any trouble. In my experience, if you’re polite, they’ll be super polite to you. I’ve heard a few stories of people I know actually having to go to interrogation rooms for more questioning because 1. they were rude 2. they had visited Arab countries/West Bank that needed further explanation or 3. they were studying something that seemed pro-Palestinian. It might sound kind of intimidating but they’ve always been so nice to me. My favorite was this one time when a security guard was directing me which line to go to and he did so by singing a line from a Beyonce song “to the left to the left.”

Since I’m weird and this is my only frame of reference considering the kind of books I read all the time, sometimes I pretend I’m being interrogated by the Gestapo or the KGB haha. But it’s really not like that. But it’s a little fun to make the best of the long process and extra screening by being dramatic in my head about how I’m a scary non-Jewish threat.

All in all, I feel so safe when I fly out of Israel. I don’t trust the TSA one bit compared to the Israelis. Europe is even worse. One time flying out of France, a guy made the metal detector go off, and they just let him continue anyways when he explained that it was his shoes’ fault. That being said, I’m pretty excited I don’t have to fly out of Israel anytime soon again. Not only does it take a while to do everything at the airport, it’s such a hassle to get out of the dorms and take both a bus and train while carrying luggage. Especially 75 pound luggage. 

Chilling on the train

If you want to see some pictures of the students at Haifa University, click here. I had a lot of time for blogging during my 15 hours of flying yesterday :)

Monday, January 25, 2016

Shalom, Jerusalem!

I thought it seemed like a good idea to go visit Jerusalem one more time before heading home. I learned that it's not always a good idea to go sightseeing in January, even in Israel. I'm now an official survivor of Jerusalem Hurricane 2016 (no one else has called it that yet, but I think it might catch on).

I've been a little spoiled in Haifa so far this winter. Even though Israel is tiny and Haifa and Jerusalem are only 2 hours away, there's a significant temperature difference. Here in Haifa, this winter it's mostly been in the mid-60s. One time, my professor sent an email assuring us that class wasn't cancelled despite the frigid temperature of 57 degrees.

So that's the background explaining me being dramatic about the Jerusalem weather. Yesterday morning, we (me and my friend Bryonna) said goodbye to Haifa's blue skies and took the bus south to Antarctica.

Our first stop was going up to Temple Mount. I hadn't been there in almost 3 years, despite being back in Jerusalem many times. There are pretty restrictive visiting hours and restrictive modesty requirements that have prevented me from making the effort. Non-Muslims aren't allowed to go into Dome of the Rock or al-Aqsa Mosque, but it's still worth it to go up there and see the beautiful architecture. If you're not aware, this is also the spot where Jerusalem's temple(s) used to be.

We enjoyed (maybe that's weird) seeing a SWAT team ready to spring into action. Sometimes there's some friction at this spot.

Thankfully, I was able to get a picture of me before the cold drizzle turned into a an icy hurricane downpour.

For fun, here's the last time I was here (June 2013) and now:

After taking pictures on those steps, taking other pictures involved quite an effort. Like I said before, the rain really started coming down. It was about 35 degrees, so the rain was icy. On it's own the temperature wouldn't have been that bad, but when you're soaking wet you really feel it. Also, the wind was really strong. Evidence A: my umbrella died.

Despite this, I persevered in taking pictures, balancing my broken umbrella with one hand and whipping my other hand out of my pocket quickly to take the pictures. It worked out. I survived, I got some good pictures, and the ridiculousness of the situation was hilarious. For some reason, Bryonna thought it was really funny to watch me continue to use my umbrella that only half opened and kept turning inside out. I thought it was better than nothing ;)

Close-up of the lovely Turkish tiles.

View of the Mount of Olives and the Russian church of Mary Magdalene:

We stopped by the Western Wall since it's so close. It was weird to see it so empty! That was one big pro of the terrible weather: nothing was crowded.

That leads me to another big bonus of being in Jerusalem in the rain- ultra-Orthodox Jews wear plastic bags on their heads to protect their nice hats. It's an interesting sight to see.

Last glimpses of al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock:

The next place I wanted to go see was the Jerusalem Archeological Park, which is also right next to the Temple Mount. What I wanted to see there were the stairs that used to lead to the temple. I remember with the BYU people they made a big deal out of that being the place we went to where it's most likely Jesus actually walked. Unfortunately, the weather got worse from that point and most of my pictures are blurry from the rain drops. By then, I had nothing dry left to wipe off the lens with.

Good news: it's not too late to check out the Roman destruction of the temple. That's what these rocks are from.

View of the city from the park:

View of the puddle haha:

View of the blurry temple stairs:

All in all, my favorite part of this park was getting to stop in the bathroom and wring out my hair, dump some water out of my boots, and try to wipe out the water in my purse to protect my phone. 

Anyways... our last stop in the Old City was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Again, it was nice that it wasn't crowded. It was the shortest line I've ever seen to go into what's supposed to be Jesus' tomb, so we did that.

After that, we were pretty much done being outside, so we went over to the Israel Museum. I've only been there once and I didn't see all of it that time, so it was nice to go back. We walked through the Jewish Art and Archeology exhibits. I didn't take many pictures, but this terrifying mask was one of my favorite artifacts.

We were very happy to go back to the hotel and put on dry socks- the simple pleasures in life. We were also very happy that our hotel offered free hot chocolate. A dinner at an Italian restaurant was our last outing. By the end of the day, my poor umbrella ended up being awkwardly stuffed in a garbage can (awkwardly since it didn't close any more). We probably saw around 20 other broken umbrellas just abandoned on the sidewalk.

It actually did end up being a fun and memorable day, just a wet and cold one. Today we were supposed to go to Masada, but after getting to the bus station we found out it was closed due to flooded roads. I'll have to make it there when I come back to Israel someday!

I'm glad I had the chance to go say goodbye to Jerusalem. I'm lucky to have gotten to spend so much time here this year. Guess what time it is now... time to PACK! I'm going home in 2 days.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A Whole New World

I have a full schedule planned for my last week in Israel. I have my last 2 days of class and some sightseeing plans, as well as packing and trying to do homework.

Today I traveled a little north of Haifa to one of my favorite cities that I've been to in Israel: Akko! In English, I have seen a million different spellings of this city. Akko, Ako, Acre, Aco, Akka... so feel free to choose your own favorite.

I'll stick with Akko for now because it sounds most like the Hebrew word. Akko is also on the Mediterranean coast like Haifa, and is a 30 minute train ride north. I've been there twice before, but never on my own, so it was fun to walk around and see some new things at my own pace.

The first place I went was the al-Jazzar Mosque. I've never been inside a mosque in Israel (only in Turkey), so this was a first. This one was built in the late 1700s by the Ottoman governor of the city, al-Jazzar. His name means "the butcher" in Arabic, so I'm guessing he wasn't the nicest guy. He is famous for kicking Napoleon out of the Holy Land though, so props for that.

You have to cover your hair to go inside... remind me to delete this picture if Trump gets elected so I don't get deported. ;)

As you can see, it's a pretty place! It's fairly small, but still nice to go see. My favorite part was the electronic scoreboard looking thing announcing the specific prayer times for the day. 

Here's one last picture of the entrance. In this one you can see the scary clouds. The weather forecast for today said "sandstorm." Yep, that's a thing here. A few times I did actually taste sand in my mouth, but it really wasn't too bad. Just very windy and overcast. However, it was about 60 degrees, which was definitely nicer sightseeing weather than Germantown's current -20 windchill.

I think one of the reasons I really like this city is because it actually feels old and authentically Middle Eastern. So much of Israel is modern because of wars destroying things and new things being built. In Akko you can still see a lot of Crusader and Ottoman-era architecture. Here's what it looks like to walk through the streets.

There's a pretty big covered market that I spent a while walking through. It reminds me of Jerusalem's, but a lot less crazy and crowded. And with a lot more fish... since Akko's on the coast.

This is a last glimpse of the mosque while I was heading back to the train station. It was a fun little day trip.

Yesterday when I was on campus, I checked another thing off my bucket list by going up to the top floor of the Eshkol Tower again for some pictures. There are amazing views from campus of the Mediterranean and the Carmel national park, especially from the 30th floor of this tower!

I've obviously been here for a while now, and I've still never gotten used to the amazing views. That's definitely something I'll miss!