Ding! Ding! The 4th of September 2017 my inbox was blessed with an e-mail I had waited for in a long time.
After a longer application process I was one of the lucky ones who got accepted to Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and I started to look forward to four months in the holy land.
Guided roundtrip in Israel
I kick started my time in Israel the best possible way. With some of my best friends I travelled the country in the length and breadth of it for 10 days. We experienced fully packed days and met everything from camel riding Bedouins in the Negev desert to UN soldiers at their sentry at the Golan Heights and relaxed tourists walking around resorts by the Dead Sea and dedicated ultra orthodox worshippers by the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Learning from everyday life
After this incredible beginning of my time in Israel I was now ready to start a new semester: a semester that turned out to be fairly different from my previous semesters at anthropology at Aarhus University. There I learned about different cultures and social organization on a theoretical level but now I would not only be learning from books and lectures at school – I would continue to learn when the school day was over from simple everyday life experiences. I for example learnt that things like going for a jog, going grocery shopping at the market or going on the bus – things you might think would seem quite straightforward – wasn’t always so easy because of the volume of unwritten rules and special codes of conduct – that I eventually gained more insight into and thankfully I learned how to navigate in it.
The campus and studies
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is a huge university with buildings spread around the city. I went to campus Mt. Scopus that is situated in the eastern part of Jerusalem. Most of the international students lived near the campus in a lovely area called Kfar Studentim, the Student Village. So did I. There were supermarkets nearby and freshly made pita and hummus just around the corner. What more can you ask for?
Every day I walked to school, which was just a 15-minute walk and a security check away. I mainly took classes on Israel: about the country’s politics, history, culture, educational system, gender roles and about holocaust from a present perspective. In some classes we were fifty international students and in other classes I was the only international student among five Israeli students. The lecturers placed great emphasis on interaction in class, so we had to do presentations and actively participate, which lead to interesting discussions in class.
Shabbat and sparetime
In my spare time I liked going on different hiking routes around the varied landscape of Israel. It was easy to take public transportation and in this way I also gained insight into everyday life of the diverse people living in the country. One week I had some extra days off so I went to a small little village in the Jordan Valley far away from everything and worked as a volunteer on an organic date farm. It was an awesome experience waking up early to work and not just sit on a chair in school. I worked with other international volunteers and local Israelis – and got to taste the best dates in the world, probably.
Often, I got the opportunity to spend Shabbat with a dear local Israeli family. In this way I experienced the values of Shabbat: being together with your family and friends and to just enjoy each other’s company. On the evening of Shabbat we usually had a Shabbat dinner with loads of delicious courses. Afterwards we would have a festive time together playing games or telling stories. Saturdays were always quiet in the village where the family lived. People strolled around the streets walking their dogs and greeting each other “Ma nishma, Shabbat Shalom”.
I really got to appreciate the tranquil and peaceful atmosphere that always entered with Shabbat.
Today it is almost a year ago I was in Israel and I still often think back on many of the things I learned during my stay – mainly two things. 1) The first one is the necessity of praying for peace for the contested city of Jerusalem.
2) My culinary horizon has been expanded – the Israeli food is frankly amazing!
So now and then I miss the Israeli food and make shakshuka for lunch and brew my own Arabian coffee with cardamom. Dates, hummus and falafels have become common dietary.
There truly is something very special about experiencing Israel on an everyday basis.
Here I also have to emphasis the outgoing and talkative people, who actually talk to each other on public transportation despite their many differences. Also, experiencing the vibe at the markets; the smells and colours of a multitude of different spices, and locals who bargain, and busy mothers with buggies and several small kids around while doing their grocery shopping. Going for a walk on Shabbat and seeing kids playing carefree on the car-free streets while ultra-orthodox men with fur hats demonstrate because someone did not keep Shabbat the way they were supposed to. These are some of the impressions that are printed into my memory from everyday life in Israel.