The Final Countdown

So begins my last few weeks in Israel. I haven’t really gotten emotional yet, probably because it hasn’t really set in yet that I’m leaving.

I think part of the reason why I’m not as sad as some of the other people on my program is because I’m coming back next year. Even if I haven’t tried all the restaurants in Tel Aviv I’ve wanted to or haven’t gone to visit certain sites around the country, I’m not that worried telling myself that I have next year.

As most people are trying to check things off their Israeli bucket list, I’m trying to figure out how to store stuff for three months over the summer. I don’t think it’s safe to leave clothes in suitcases for three months, won’t they get mildewy or moldy?

What did finally hit me today though was how different next year will be. I’ve gotten so used to living and working with people on my program, I haven’t really had to worry about making friends. There’s always someone around to go to the grocery store, the movies with, or shopping with (even though we can’t afford it).

Next year will be totally different. None of the people I met this year will be around, well maybe a select two or three that are staying for another year like me. Some of them live in Australia and South Africa, making me wonder if I’ll even see them ever again. Even the ones that live in America will be halfway across the world once I’m back in Israel. I’ve spent one of the most memorable years of my life with these people whom I might never see again and that’s just…weird.

I don’t know when I’ll get emotional about the end of the program. Maybe it’ll happen when I pack my suitcase, or when I’m on the plane. Maybe it won’t even happen until I’m back next year and have to start all over again making friends.

School has been winding down. The kids are crazy because it’s the end of the year. Most of our days have been filled with rehearsing for the final ceremony and playing go fish. A game I will never be able to play ever again after this year.

I’ll miss the kids but probably not school itself. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time working with these kids. Not only did I teach them English, but they also taught me things about myself. I’ve learned to be more laid back, as no matter how hard you plan things with the students, nothing will actually get done until the last minute. But I’ve also learned to be more optimistic. Because even though all that stuff is done the day before or day of, if somehow always turns out great. These kids really know how to pull through.

I’m not sure if teaching is in my future. For my brother, this program taught him he never wanted to teach again. I on the other hand am still undecided. I had my good days and my bad days. But nothing beats when the kids come up to me to show me their end dress or smile at our matching “friendship” bracelets. And it’s even better when after hours of explanation, they finally understand what I’m teaching them: the figurative light bulb going off.

Tonight we had our closing ceremony for the program. I was extremely nervous about it because my students had to perform a song. Every year my school does a performance at this ceremony, so this year Amanda and I decided to teach them Shiny Happy People. They didn’t like the song at first, saying it was “ugly” and they wanted to sing Rihanna. But in the end it turned out great. They even memorized the words which was an added bonus. There was some breakdancing and silly dancing at the end. I was proud!

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The group!

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Student selfies!

A week from today is my last day in school. We’ll see if the finality of everything has hit me by then!

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I survived birthright day.

Today, Amanda and I hosted 40 Americans on a birthright trip at our school. The point of this visit is for the Americans to see an Israeli school while interacting with the students. The students in part get to practice their English and just have a fun day. Also it’s awesome promotion for the ITF program.

We knew that the day was very important so Amanda and I started planning weeks ago, making a schedule that detailed practically every minute of the day. But, since we are living in Israel we knew that many things would have to be done last minute.

I was so nervous going into the day. Although we had a solid plan, there was just so much that could go wrong. I wondered if the kids would behave well, if the birthrighters would be interested in our activities, and if all the supplies we needed would be there for us.

The day was to start with an opening ceremony at 9am. The birthright group called at 9am and said they were five minutes away. So we sent the students to the gym to get seated and relaxed before the Americans got there. Twenty minutes later there was still not birthright bus in sight. I started to panic, knowing that the kids sitting already for twenty minutes would not be able to handle much more. Right when I thought I was going to have a breakdown, the birthrighters arrived.

I ushered them quickly into the gym and the ceremony began. First our vice principal and teach made a welcome speech. Then some of the 6th grade girls did a dance and it was amazing. Literally, I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face once the dance started, because a huge sigh of relief came over me. The day had started and it would all be ok.

After the dance, 4 of the sixth grade students made speeches about English class at the school, the history of the school (Haviv is the first Hebrew school in the whole world. Meaning, it was the first school to teach all subjects in Hebrew), and just about general life in Israel. My favorite quote from the speeches : “All Israelis want to live in America and speak English.”

After the speeches everyone stood and we sung the Hativka (the national anthem.) The students then had a 15 minute break to eat quickly and run around to let out some energy. We split the birthright group into 6 groups based on color. We had already split our students earlier in the day.

At 10:10 the rotations began. The six groups rotated throughout the school visiting different classrooms with different activities. There was a craft, a mad lib station, word dominos, a dance, basketball, and a soccer relay. The kids went around with the Americans.

The day was a complete success. The kids had an amazing time and most of them got to practice their English with the Americans. Some of the less confident ones even gained some confidence just from playing on a team with the birthrighters. I think our visitors had an amazing time as well. Some of them were interested in learning more about the program, hoping to apply maybe.

I wish I could upload some photos of the kids, I took plenty of selfies today. They were so happy and just really having fun while doing everything in English! However, I’m not really sure what the rules are with that so I’m going to stay clear. But we did get a nice group shot at the end with all the birthright participants.

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So now the most stressful school day of the year has passed. After weeks of build up and anticipation it’s over and it went so well I wish I could do it…well almost.

Also, quick side note from the weekend. Kayleigh, Amanda, and I went to a chocolate festival in Tel Aviv and it was the best thing ever. Just chocolate everywhere, even a bathtub full of chocolate. YUM!

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Testing in School, A Trip Up North, and Preparing for Paris! Another couple of weeks here.

Sorry I haven’t gotten a chance to write sooner. I usually write my new posts on Tuesday or Wednesdays but this past week my usual time slot was taken up by a different task. I am meeting my mom in Paris this week (in 4 days to be exact); so I put aside my blog time for the week to make an itinerary. I have never been to Paris and my mom said that we can do whatever I want during the trip so I thought it best to have some ideas of what to do and where to go each day. That way we can make the most of our time there.  I’m not going to get into the whole itinerary right now because you will hear about the whole trip in my next post. But I will say we are hitting all the major touristy spots with some necessary stops that remind me of home such as urban outfitters and Starbucks. Both of which don’t exist in Israel. I keep dreaming about all the food I’m going to eat. Macaroons, French onion soup, and crepes are definitely at the top of the list. Counting down the days!!

School this week was pretty quiet compared to the brawl that broke out last week. Both our fifth and sixth grade classes have finished up their units and we are giving tests this week. Hanukkah break starts on Wednesday which means only one more days left of school. It’s the longest stretch of school we’d had so far since the first few months are filled with holiday breaks. I’m excited to just get some time off.

Last week there was more excitement in our apartment. I woke up Thursday to a bunch of frantic texts from my roommates. Apparently a pipe burst and water was leaking into or neighbors apartment coming down from the ceiling and into both her bathrooms and kitchen. She came upstairs at 7am and knocked on our door. My roommate Kayleigh answered and was dragged downstairs to our neighbors apartment. She showed her the damage. Since I get a late start on Thursdays, I waited around for our landlord. I showed him that there was some water in the hallway in front of our door, seemingly coming from the marble wall. And then I took him downstairs. My neighbor was very happy as her own landlord hadn’t come yet. She was really friendly and invited me inside and offered me some tea. I noticed that her apartment was the same exact layout as ours and the tiny room that Iris and I used to share before we moved to a bigger room was being used as a storage closet. Anyway later that day I got home from school and there was a guy ripping off the floor and working on the pipes. He told me that the leak wasn’t from our apartment but the one next door. So yay, we didn’t break anything!

This past Thursday night I went out in Tel Aviv with my friend Diana who lives in Petach Tikvah.  We met at one of my favorite restaurants called Giraffe. It’s an Asian chain restaurant that has really good noodle dishes for pretty cheap. From there we walked to a bar right down Ibn Gabirol. I had been there a couple times with people from birthright. We ordered wine with hot cider which has quickly become my favorite drink. There’s not that much alcohol in it but it’s so yummy and it comes with dried apples in it. Also it was only 15 shekels because of happy hour so it fits my budget. Halfway through our drinks some lady approached our table selling good luck tokens and coins that supposedly would help Diana and I conquer our fears. She gave us a five minute speech about how some class changed her life and it was her goal to sell these coins. She told us she would sell each of us one for only fifty shekels each. My response was pretty much “yeah f***ing right” (trying to keep this as PG rated as possible). I offered her ten shekels for one just to get her away from us. It’s a cool token that says Israel post office on the back in Hebrew. It also says telephone on it so maybe it’s some old pay phone coin. Who knows.

Later that night the waitress brought two shots over to our table and told us they were from these guys at a table nearby. I smelled the shot and discovered it was tequila. This was a wine and cider kind of night, not a tequila shot night. We offered them to the couple at the table next to us, but they too did not seem keen on the shots either. We just kind of put them to the side, trying to avoid awkward eye contact with the 30 year olds who bought them for us. A few minutes later the waitress came back over and told us shyly that the shots actually weren’t meant for us. One of the guy’s wife was sitting at a table next to us and wanted to send shots to her and her friend. The waitress apologized a lot but we told her not to worry that we didn’t even want the shots anyway. The night ended with a bit of indulgence, a waffle ice cream sundae that was so good.

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Apple cider & wine, waffle sundae, tequila shots : sums up our night

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Rabin Square lit up at night.

My boyfriend and I walked around the shuk area this weekend. We bought a lot of candy from the candy stand where you can mix and match different types of jellies. I spent a ridiculous amount of money on the candy but it should last me for a while. We also walked to Neve Tzedek, a really quiet and cute area near the shuk. We found this amazing frozen yogurt place called Anita. I had eaten there with my brother when I visited him last year and it’s my favorite because they put toppings on the bottom, then the yogurt, and then more toppings. We then drove to Jaffa and picked up some Shwarma to eat for lunch. It was actually the first Shwarma that I’ve eaten since I’ve been here. I ate it every day when I was here on birthright but I just hadn’t had it since. It was so yummy I forgot how good it was.

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My frozen yogurt before.

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And after.

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Schwarmaaaaaaaaa

Side note I finished the second book by J.K. Rowling aka Robert Galbraith. It’s called the Silkworm and it was almost as good as the first one. I couldn’t put it down all weekend.

Yesterday was a really long day. We had a twelve hour seminar with our program. It was really interesting despite the fact that I couldn’t keep my eyes open once we arrived home. It started with a 645am departure from Rishon. Then we headed up to Haifa to visit a multicultural center. The center hosts various events that tries to bring Arab Israelis together with Jewish Israelis. We saw an art exhibition that shows art created by members of the center. Then we drove to a Druze village. Druze is a different religion in Israel. It’s pretty cool because the Druze people are totally loyal to the country that they live in. We learned all about the culture and the history behind the religion. The most interesting thing to me was that only the religious Druze can know what’s written in their religious books. They can choose to be secular and religious, but if they choose the secular life then they cannot know what is written in the books. Only the religious members can study and read it. Also the Druze are very similar to the Amish in the sense that if you marry outside of the community you are excommunicated. Then we had an delicious meal prepared by the family who we were talking to.

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Our meal at the Druze village!

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Quick photo I took on the bus of the Christmas tree in Haifa!

After that was our last stop of the day. An Arab high school. We got to hear from an English teacher in the school and then talk to the students. It was very interesting to hear their opinions about different issues on Israeli society. The girl I was talking to said that English was her favorite subject and had actually lived in New York City for a few years when she was little. She also added that “Jewish, Israeli, Arab, Muslim,” she didn’t “really get involved with all of that”. She lived well and that’s all that mattered and she likes everyone no matter what their religion is. Interestingly we had to discuss a time when we felt a little scared, threatened, or out of place. The boy who I was talking to and I both said the same place: Temple Mount. It was for slightly different reasons. Mine being that I was a foreigner there and definitely stuck out like a sore thumb, and his because of all the violence that occurs there. If I don’t feel safe there and neither does he, then who does feel safe there? After the talk we ate some pita the students had prepared for us and went home.

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A hill looking over village of the school we visited.

Also a few weeks ago my brother and I were interviewed for a jewish newspaper from our town and the article came out last week. Read all about the program I’m on and our experiences in Israel! : http://jstandard.com/content/item/masa-ing_english_in_israel/

That’s all for now. My next post will come after my trip to Paris!!!!

Not sure how to title this one…

I’m going to start of this blog post with probably the most interesting and scariest thing that’s happened to me so far in Israel. Have you ever seen the Morgan Freeman movie “Lean On Me”?  Well I felt like I relived a scene that could have been in this movie on Monday at school. It was second period and one of the boys in my class was causing trouble from the beginning. We were still in the main classroom because Amanda and I  hadn’t had the chance to take our students out yet. Before we knew it this boy was charging a girl in the classroom, screaming that he wanted to kill her. We didn’t know what was going on but he was not going to stop until he got to lay his hands on her. My teacher told the students to leave the classroom in the hopes that she could calm the boy down. Unfortunately he stormed out of the classroom and ran over to the girl. Despite everyone trying to shield her from him, he managed to punch her right in the face. She immediately began hysterically crying.

My teacher told me to take the students to the English room to her her away from him. I ushered the girls (it ended up being only 7 girls with me) down the hall and into my classroom. I peered down the hallway to see what was going on and I saw the boy running down the hallway heading towards my classroom. I quickly grabbed the keys and closed the door. Like a scene out of a movie, I was in the middle of locking the door when he tried to open it. Luckily I was quicker than him and I locked the door just in time. He then proceeded to kick and punch the door trying to get in. I heard teachers outside trying to calm him down. Everyone was trying to figure out what was said that made him so angry. Soon enough everything calmed down. The girls were drawing on the white board and the one girl had finally stopped crying. But then the door opened. I looked up and say the boy standing there. My first thought was “oh great he must have come with a teacher to apologize. How else would he have gotten into the locker room.” But I soon  realized I was mistaken when I saw a giant key ring that belonged to the secretary in his hands. Turns out he took the secretary’s keys to break into the room. My heart dropped into my stomach when I realized I was alone in the room. He lunged at the girl. She ran to the corner hysterically crying. I stood in front of her barricading her from the boy as he jumped on the table to try and reach her. Luckily his home room teacher came into the room soon after and pulled him away. Eventually she calmed him down. I think I was in a state of shock after as I had never seen anything like the that before let alone be involved in it. Don’t get me wrong this is not a daily occurrence at my school. And even the teachers who had been at this school for a long time at never seen a fight to this scale. Lucky me, right?

Besides the fight earlier this week, my weekend consisted of recovering from my Thanksgiving meal. I was so full that after dinner when I had to walk quickly about 15 minutes to catch a bus to Tel Aviv, I immediately started cramping. But the food was amazing: stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, homemade challah, and yummy salad and vegetables. Sadly we had chicken instead of turkey but it did the trick. And for dessert of course pumpkin pie as well as brownies, apple crumble or something like that, cookies, and fruit salad.

Speaking of food. Family dinner resumed this week. Mona made taco salad and it was incredible. It’s always the best part of my day on Mondays. After my longest day at school and an Ulpan class, it gives me something to look forward to. The salad was amazing, my favorite part was this pineapple salsa Mona made.

Speaking again of food. I finally got to try this new wings restaurant in Tel Aviv. It’s pretty new, I think it just opened up this past summer since its a few blocks away from where my brother used to live but he’d never heard of it nor went to it. It’s called Wings and it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a restaurant that serves only wings in various different flavors. I went with Ran last Saturday and it was just as amazing as I’d hoped. I had the Texas Buffalo flavor from Mona’s recommendation. Ran had some Asian orange-y flavor which was pretty good. We also split onion rings and French fries. Sadly they were out of the sweet potato fries which were supposedly very good. The wings are almost as good as ones you’d get in the US because the owner is originally from America. I think he moved to Israel a few years ago. The place is really small because I don’t think he realized how popular it would be. Funny thing is everyone in the place was American and speaking English, I felt like I was back in New York not in the middle of Tel Aviv. It was amazing and I can’t wait to go back and try a new flavor.

My sixth graders finally finished their pen pal letters. We put them in the mail today and I don’t know whose more excited for the return letters: me or my students.

Also, I finished my 5th book that I’ve read while I’ve been here and it was definitely my favorite. It was “Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith (which is a psydonym for J.K. Rowling.) It was such a good book and I definitely recommend it for any Harry Potter fans. It’s not for kids so it’s for the generation that grew up reading Harry Potter. It’s a detective novel but nothing really corny or over dramatic. It was so good and it’s the first in a series. I’ve already started the second and I hope there are just has many of these as there were in the Harry Potter series. Some of the other books I’ve read while here were Gone Girl (which I read in 3 days), Lena Dunham’s autobiography, My Promised Land, and The Dove Keeper. I’ll take any reading suggestions!!

Oh and I got a haircut! My first one in Israel. I went to this guy that my roommate went to. Her was super nice and spoke English really well, but I don’t think he totally understood what I meant when I said long layers. He did a great job and I keep getting compliments even though he cut the front of my hair really short. Probably not noticeably to anyone else, but to me it seems really short. Whatever it looks good and it’ll grow out eventually!

That’s all for now!!

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Buffalo Wings!!

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I ate all of the onion rings.

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Our Thanksgiving feast.

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My initial reaction to my haircut.

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But it’s growing one me.

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Family taco salad night!

 

Movie Skits, Pen Pals, and Chess : Another week in Israel

This past week of school Amanda and I started working on projects with the students. The 5th grade has been learning about movies and film studios, so we decided to have the students make a play to present to the class, using vocabulary and ideas from the chapter. Getting the students organized took some patience and hard work, but each class now has a plot and character list for their play. One of the classes is making “Titanic 2.” Basically the same story as the first one, except with some additional characters. They have decided there will be a captain, an assistant captain, a cook, a millionaire, a spoiled girl and her level headed brother, and a mother and her daughter that “always makes a mess.” Their homework is to write 5 sentences that their characters would say so that later we can help them formulate an actual script.

The 6th grade classes started working on pen pal letters. I contacted one of my teachers in New Jersey that I had in middle school, and asked her if she would be interested in doing pen pals with my 6th graders. It’s a little old fashioned, I know, but I think it’ll be cool for the students to get letters from kids their age in America and actually get to open the envelope. It was funny to see some of the things they chose to tell the students in America. One of my students said that it was hot in Israel because “we are close to Africa.” They were really excited to find out the names of their pen pals, as names like Ian, Mackenzie, and Dustin are not that common here. Hopefully they will all be done soon and in the mail!

We also had to decide this week about what our volunteering activity would be. I originally had decided to work at an animal shelter in Tel Aviv. But, the shelter did not seem to have too much structure and it didn’t seem like I would be doing too much. So I just found out today that instead of walking dogs in an enclosed area, I am going to be working once a week at an after school program teaching students chess. I am not a chess mastermind but I definitely enjoy playing and think it’ll be good for the kids. Hopefully that will start permanently next week. Oh and really random but we finally got our books for Ulpan so class has definitely been getting better!

Back to stuff about school. They hired someone from outside the school to come in and sort of revamp the English program. Our school is on a watch list for English, meaning that most of the students need to improve their level before the big test (like state wide testing in America). So this lady came in, tested all the kids, and then separated them into groups based on their scores. I’m not saying the test was useless, but I really don’t think you can base a students ability off of one test. Also I disagree with some of the groups made, as there were some stronger kids put into lower groups. Maybe the kid was just having a bad day. Also grouping the students like this totally discounts for the fact that some students really don’t get along or work well together and should not be in the same group.

Well the first day this new system was imposed on us, Amanda and I were told to work one on one with the weakest students for 2 hours. What this entailed was sitting with one student and having him repeatedly write the ABCs or say the sound of each letter. I think this could be beneficial except I speak no Hebrew. Or a little at best. So even when I was trying to explain things to him in Hebrew, he didn’t understand my accent.

After school, we told our teacher that we did not feel comfortable with this. Although I have no problem teaching a child the ABCs, in this situation, I don’t think I am the most qualified person to be doing it. The language barrier is the biggest issue, and I don’t think the student is getting as much out of it as he could if he were working with a bilingual teacher. My teacher completed agreed. We aren’t in the school to teach one or two students the ABCs. We were told from the beginning we would be working with the middle and stronger students to bring their level even higher. There is not much we can do with a student who we cannot talk at all to. Our teacher told this to the lady in charge of the program, we can call her Lisa for the story’s purpose. Lisa clearly wasn’t happy that my teacher disagreed with her methods and did not try to hide her feelings the next day. I also don’t think she understands why Amanda and I are in the school, and seems to think that taking small groups of students outside of the classroom and engaging them in the material through games and other activities is pointless. Needless to say there was a meeting yesterday with all of the English teachers (all of whom speak perfect English), to discuss the program and how to implement certain techniques. Lisa held the whole meeting in Hebrew without bothering to explain anything to Amanda and me. Can you say passive aggressive?

Luckily this new system is only in place until after the big test, which is in January or February. Our teacher is also being very nice and understanding. She feels bad because there is nothing she can do but she really wants to make this experience the best for us and the students. Today, she helped us take out our students from classes whenever Lisa was not around to tell us otherwise. Even though the new system is a bit overbearing, we still get to teach the students and they are obviously very happy to work with us so that makes me happy. Actually today in school one of the students cried and begged until he was switched into my group because he really likes to work with me. Take that Lisa.

After school tomorrow thankfully means the start of the weekend and I am going to my boyfriend’s in Tel Aviv. We never really do anything too special, but that’s totally fine with me. I usually am the one asking Ran if we can stay in and just watch movies instead of going to a bar. Last weekend we watched an embarrassing (or maybe impressive) amount of movies. I’m not going to write how many hours because the more I think about it, the more I realize I need to get another hobby besides this blog.

Oh and I totally forgot to take a picture of this past week’s family dinner but it was chicken parmesan and it was just as tasty as the past few dinners. It was so good I ate it all before I could even take a picture. Thanks for feeding me real food Mona!