After spending my first weekend off campus and out of Jerusalem, I’m beginning to feel like life in the gated Jerusalem University is not quite reflective of life in Israel.
I’d initially worried that I would be surrounded by Americans in my dorm and in classes. However, in class I hear more Russian and French (and several other languages) than English. This requires that I practice Hebrew, the only mutual option for communication.
Off-campus, Jerusalem is such an international city that I’m routinely asked azeh safah (which language) before addressed. I can even see parts of America here, which I can really appreciate. For example, Pinkberry/Red Mango-style frozen yogurt shops recently popped up on every other corner. Only in Jerusalem can I top my favorite American dessert — soft-serve frozen yogurt, with my favorite Israeli dessert — halva, a moist sesame candy.
I spent the weekend visiting my good friend Lee, a former co-worker from a summer camp in America. Lee, who is Israeli, lives near the beautiful Mediterranean shore, about an hour and a half northwest of Jerusalem. In contrast to the international bubble of Jerusalem, Lee’s life seems thoroughly Israeli.
Lee speaks perfect English, although her family is all tzabra, or native-born, and speaks only Hebrew in their house. Her parents come home from work to eat lunch, the main meal, every day. Although she was released from the army over two years ago and is almost 24, she lives at home and is about to begin university this fall, at the normal age to begin studying.
Possibly most distinctly Israeli is her job as a chapter head of her youth movement, B’nai HaMoshavim, children of the moshavs (small community-oriented settlements).Youth movements, an incredibly popular extracurricular activity for Israeli children, are generally affiliated with a particular religious group or political party.
This weekend she took me to an end-of-summer pool party on the moshav she works on called Beit HaLevi. Preschool and high school aged children alike danced to loud music and cannon-balled into the communal pool. Parents mingled while preparing cotton candy, blended iced coffees, and corn on the cob. I followed Lee as she made rounds hugging and high-fiving all of the children between fourth and 12th grade who she advises in B’nai HaMoshavim.
The party paused for one of the most unique neighborhood rituals I’d ever seen — a ceremony to celebrate the community’s start of the New Year. New families were each welcomed with a rake tied with a blue ribbon. The rising second graders congratulated the incoming first graders into elementary school (kindergarten is still considered nursery school). Finally, the graduated 12th graders were given farewell blessings as they left for the army or national service years. The importance of the community is one of the most distinctive values in Israeli society.