Friday, January 21, 2011


We woke up at 5 in the morning, scrambled to gather all our things and met the bus at Pardes. We were off to the Negev desert in the South of Israel. Our bus parked in the middle of the most beautiful desert I’ve ever seen. Scraping mountains of all different sizes and composition surrounded and engulfed us. The tour guide led us up and down sandstone, granite and limestone mountains. The sand was littered with small rocks striated by time. The views sucked my breath away like a vacuum. My stupid camera was on the fritz this entire trip so my pictures are limited and don’t do the place any kind of justice. Once I figured out how the guide was using markers to lead the tour I ran ahead of him to have an unobstructed view in front of me. I imagined I was a desert explorer or an astronaut on Mars. We stopped on a cliff top for lunch and could see Egypt. As we climbed we sang “Oh lord let’s go down, let’s go down come on down, let’s go down to the river to pray.”

We passed a lake with hundreds of pink flamingoes who had settled in the middle of the desert instead of migrating to Africa. The bus driver honked his horn and the sky was covered in pink.

When the hike was over we got back on the bus to the Kibbutz (commune type place) we were staying in. The Kibbutz was surrounded by barbed wire and mountains. People lived in low squat buildings, rode bicycles to the store and to the pub (all on the compound.) It was so Dharma Initiative. This Kibbutz was in charge of making solar panels and making algae for makeup. Long rows of tubes lined a field as tall and straight as corn stalks. I’m pretty sure the “algae” was a cover and they were actually learning how to grow babies.

We ate burgers and hummus in the dining room and those of us up for it prepared for a night hike. The hike was led by Shimone and as Zahara and I walked behind him we pretended he was Moses leading us from Egypt through this very desert to Israel. We decided my Hebrew name is Mayima (water) because Chelsea also means way to water. It was a full moon so the desert was completely visible. We hiked up a mountain and stopped to look at the lights of Jordan. The hike was sometimes done with singing and sometimes in silence. I loved the sound of our feet kicking stones aside and hearing them cascade down the mountain. This was my favorite moment in Israel.

We went to the Kibbutz and sat around a bonfire and broke out our wine and champagne. The people I have met at Pardes are so incredible. I’m lucky.

The next morning after eating breakfast and davening (praying( I meditate when they pray)) we head out for another hike. This time we hiked down into the valleys of the red canyons. At the bottom, you look up, and the blue sky is cut out from the red rock up above. During our breaks I liked to climb the rocks around me. It may have made me look a little manic, but whatevs. Rock climbing is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world and it was magical being able to on these beautiful rocks. We shimmied out of the valley up a huge mountain, skirting around a thin ledge and finally onto a plateau. I laid on my stomach and looked down into the massive drop off. Then I got in trouble from the guide. Epic beauty. I’ve been everywhere man, across the desert bare man.

We left the mountains and traveled down to the southernmost city of Israel, Ma’a lot. You could throw a stone to Jordan. It just wouldn’t be a very good idea. There I said goodbye to all the people I met from Pardes and Zahara and I made our long journey back to Jerusalem by bus.

Our bus driver, Antonio, was freaking crazy and the ride was a rollercoaster. My knuckles are still white. A small white poodle who was on board slid back and forth silently down the aisle as we made sharp turns and short stops.

In the morning, Z and I had a goodbye breakfast at Tal Bagels and head to the airport. We said goodbye at the place we said hello. My journey through Israel was intense and beautiful mainly due to Zahara and her deep and unbeknownst wisdom. I truly love that woman.

On the plane I sat next to a Rabbi. I felt pretty slick when I asked him “Slikha, do you need to get out to daven for Minha?” I’m a Jew.

I am so thankful for my trip. It was what I needed to affirm doubts I’ve been having . About choosing an international life style. About being so wrapped up in the future I forget the present. About finding some kind of truth to it all.

10 truths I learned in Israel:

1) Don’t step in anything soft.
2) It is up to me to make my life exciting. I don’t need to be traveling the great canyons of the world to feel a thrill. Finding holiness in the day to day is truly the answer. Even if I have to remember to be aware by saying a Bracha before eating or writing it in my planner.
3) When someone says “DIEEE” in Israel, they do not want to end your life. It is an expression equivalent to our “Stop it. Shut up!”
4) Mountains may be the easiest way to feel God. Even if you don’t believe in God.
5) Friendship is essential and friends can help you figure out your life better than holy scripture.
6) If in the marketplace, don’t believe any vendor that tells you he really likes you. He doesn’t. He just wants yo sweet sweet money.
7) Religion means something different to everyone and is not just for the lost. It can be grounding and affirming and help an entire people through the most desperate of times.
8) Hummus making is an art.
9) It’s a good thing if you never get used to guns. It’s a good thing to be scared of violence and to hold fast to morals despite understanding the complications.
10) Getting lost is the best way to have an adventure
And most surprisingly, I packed just enough underwear. Miracles do happen in Israel.
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Tel Aviv and The Night of The Palmello


My advisor convinced me to contact a few scientists and take a few meetings while in Israel. My first was with a doctor in Weissman University in Rehovot. He was studying how heat shock proteins affect the efficacy of vaccines. So early Sunday morning, Z and I take a bus down to meet him.

I walked around his lab and felt at peace. This is going to sound really dorky but science is so comforting to me because it is the same in every culture. I don’t understand the language but I walked around and could tell that they were testing proteins because of the western blots set up, could tell they were testing DNA because of the PCR machine and could tell they worked with bacteria because of the growing cultures. I could have stepped in that second and produced work. Because acrylamide is acrylamide is acrylamide. Pure poetry.

I appreciated the lab’s cabinet of alcohol. Because really, after a long day, nay week, of fucked up results, you really need to take a shot of ethanol to sterilize your insides.

I didn’t love his project, but with his help I set up a meeting with the most important Vaccinator in all of Israel.

From Rehovot Z and I took a bus to Tel Aviv. When you’re sitting on a bus, people behind you pass their money to you and assume you are going to give it to the driver. Like “eh, it’s easier for you to reach him so of course you will do that for me.” Love that.

My friend Talia wrote us a list of places to visit in Tel Aviv and we immediately set off to find Café Shapira, where Talia worked when she was living in Israel and has the “best shakshooka in Tel Aviv.” The café was perfect. It was raining so we sat under a large white umbrella of a tent where we were outside seeing and hearing the rain all around us but keeping deliciously dry. A man in the corner stretched out with a cigarette, newspaper and bottle of wine. The couple next to us leaned in and talked sweetly. It was very Paris. We were served hot tea with honey and blankets before the menu. We luxuriated in the comfort of it all and ordered shakshooka I’ve tasted yet with the plumpest pita and the freshest garden salad.

After the rain died down Z and I walked around and got purposefully lost. Tel Aviv is gorgeous. The architecture is as unique as the people. We found our future apartment ten times over. Whenever we asked people for directions they would say “Yashar Yashar Yashar Adhasof.” “Keep going until the end.” The end of what exactly we never found out because not one person in that city got us to a place we were trying to go. Thank god.

When it got dark and we had walked around for about 8 hours, we settled at Café Conversation. We ordered coffee, wine and cheesecake. We sat there for hours, our cheeks flushed by our scandalous and gripping conversations. And obviously the only logical place to go after such talk was the beach.

We bought a palmello (a large grapefruit type thingy) and peeled and ate it on our way to the Tayelet (Boardwalk.) I took off my boots and waded into the freezing sand. The water was dark and crashing and Zahara told me the story of Moses parting the Red Sea. Mmm.

We took a bus to Zahara’s Aunt’s (Auntie) house who lives just outside Tel Aviv. At this point in my journey I smelled like a wet dog. It was nice. Auntie fed us and we took showers and cozied up on the couch and watched Robert DeNiro. Perfect night. We fell asleep so fast and slept until 10am! A first.


I had time before my second interview in Be’er Sheva so Zahara and I walked to another part of the Tayelet and got gelato and walked up and down. The boardwalk is made to look like rolling sand dunes. It would be sick on a longboard.

Tel Aviv has adult playgrounds next to kids playgrounds! What an idea! Adults can exercise and work on on the machines while the children play at the park! Obesity—cured. Done. Next.

We took a bus to Be’er Sheva and I met with this famous Vaccinator (a much sexier version of the Terminator.) He sat down and looked at me and asked “what can you do for me? What do you want? What can you bring to this project that we haven’t thought of yet?” Gulp. In short he was a tough bad ass and I loved it. However I do need to do more research on his project before I can apply for a job. He told me that getting money to fund me is no problem, the problem is can I be challenged and can I challenge him? Fuck. Yes. Love that. Love him. Anywho, I’ll look into that more when I get back to the states.

After the interview we met up with Shiri, Zahara’s cousin, and had a cup of tea at her house. And we boarded our last bus to Jerusalem. What do we do on all of the buses? We talk. Really, this trip was just one long conversation with Zahara with different backdrops. I’m really going to miss her.

Back in Jerusalem, we spent the night packing for our Tiyul (trip) out into the desert early the next morning.

Although I am going to be back in the states today, I will continue updating this blog with entries about the Tiyul.
Monday, January 17, 2011



Zahara, Althea and I went to Yad Bashem, the Holocaust Memorial Museum. To get to the museum you walk over a wooden bridge meant to sound like the train to the concentration camp. The museum was underground and the exhibit was built as a zig zag line that you slowly marched through. It was dark except for a sliver of light from the skylight. Interviews, photos and stories got increasingly devastating until like a crescendo a sign tells you the very stones you are walking on are from the Warsaw Ghetto. I was mortified and could feel my skin crawling. A big part of the museum was humanizing the 6 million deaths. I had a knot in my throat that wouldn’t loosen for a good portion of the day.

I was fascinated by the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the underground movements in the camps. Those men and women who faced so much evil and didn’t just survive but organized and fought back. So inspiring.

We went to the children’s memorial. A room completely black and filled with mirrors that reflect one candle again and again into eternity.

When you exit the museum you are on a mountain top overlooking all of Jerusalem. It was so beautiful and full of life.

I barely had time to process because we had to run home and prepare for Shabbat. We had to clean ourselves and get into schmancy clothes, prepare food for our various meals, and turn off all electronics/lights. We lit candles and welcome the bride of the weekend (literally what Shabbat means.) On Shabbat you are not allowed to use any electrical items, spend money, or use any mode of transportation besides walking. It’s a time to reflect and relax and differ from the normal routine so as to keep life sanctified and exciting.

We walked to Navah Tehilla for service. It was very non-traditional. Hippy Jews equipped with dreadlocks and kippas sat in the center in a circle playing instruments. Hippies on the outskirts danced and raised their hands up and prayed. As corny as it all sounds, nothing gets me more in the mood than dancing and singing and good music. I let myself go and sway and sung. When I was tired I sat in the corner and closed my eyes. What a phenomenal way to end a week and to welcome the weekend.

Our Shabbat dinner was across town at the son of one of the most famous Rabbis in modern Judaism. There were 15 of us walking across the silent city that night to dinner. Everyone was so friendly and interesting and handsome. Dinner was buffet style and we sat and got toasty off wine and challah and sang. I turned a laundry hamper into a drum and played it until my hands hurt. In the middle of one of our songs the sky burst open and it started to pour. People went around and told different stories from the Torah. I learned to beat box. At midnight, Zahara and I made the long walk home walking in between the raindrops.

Saturday morning we blearily got out of bed and walked next door to Althea’s house for coffee. Althea has a hot water urn that keeps water hot without having to turn on a coffee maker (which would break the Shabbat rule.) An appreciated loophole. We sat around the kitchen table and talked about Brachot. The Jewish prayer said before each piece of food or drink consumed. Bracha’s differ depending on the type of food and drink. The idea is to increase awareness and appreciation for the sustenance. It’s really the trick to spirituality. Someone should tell Opera. The trick is to change things up and make things different. To make the mundane sanctified and to keep focusing the mind back to the present.

We went to a Shabbat lunch and sat around a table filled with food and wine. I love how it is encouraged to start drinking at noon. Bitchin’.

We went straight from our lunch to our third meal. It was meal consistent of only women. Zahara and I slouched on a beanbag together, drinking more wine and eating more food until I thought I was going to go into labor. We sang sad songs and lit candles saying goodbye to Shabbat.

We head to a friends house and lay on her bed listening to great music late into the night. We talked about really tough stuff going on in our respective lives. Emotions that we hide in our stomach and try to digest with our bread. But we let it out that night and let ourselves feel aware in a way I’ve never been before of the feeling of the physical emotion rising up and out. And with the help of Leonard Cohen we laughed and cried and cried and laughed about it all again.
Saturday, January 15, 2011


Thursday, Zahara and her classmates had a siyum (a word that means a celebration of finishing) a perek of Gemara within the book of megillah. A huge and daunting task. They celebrated with lots of delicious sugary treats that represented aspects of the perek they just learned. I was so well sugared that if you lit me on fire I would probably caramelize. There was a quote shared that especially resonated with me: "It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it."

Apparently I speak Hebrew with a Spanish accent.

After the Siyum I head to the Old City once again to see the Golden Dome of the Rock. I passed Israeli soldiers and then walked in front of Palestinian soldiers with their gun barrels facing me. It was worth it. I sat next to the incredible dome on the temple mount. In one panoramic view you could see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock. If so many millions of people find this place holy, maybe there is something to it. I meditated for almost an hour until I was awakened by a solider and his gun telling me the site was closed.

I did some more gift shopping in the old city. Public Health programs should take note from the Isreali market vendors. “You are so beautiful. Come here, I like you. Your eyes are so gorgeous. My friend, I’ll make you a deal. You take this vaccine.”

One of my favorite things in the world is exploring by myself. Especially when I am walking on stones that are a thousand years old and my boots make clicky noises.

I love the combination of food here. Sushi andBBQ. Falafel and Waffles. Oriental and Lebanese. It’s fitting for a place with so many cultures and people. I bet a falafel waffle would be delicious.

At night, Zahara and I went to a party for a classmate who was leaving. I have met so many beautiful people here. Everyone is so open and loving and willing to talk. Makes me realize how scared people are to talk in the “real world.” (notice how I did that? That’s right. Jerusalem is SO not the real world.) It’s nice to have a cup of cheap beer in one hand and talk about future, religion, and love.

The air here is different. It is laden with spice and sand and dry heat. It is pretty delicious.

After the party we took a bus to the bumpin’ Dublin Pub. Loud music and hot Israelis smoked cigarettes and grinded (ground?) on each other. It was pure sex. I was feeling particularly like a baller and ordered a round of shots (Johnny Walker Reds) for the table. We leaned in close and talked about only sexy things. We went to another bar and listened to live music and danced. When I am twirled and dipped I feel like such a woman.

We walked home all the way from downtown. Just Zahara, Zach and I. It took us almost an hour. I was a little tipsy so everything was so “pretty and true and love and magic and destiny and faith and love and beauty and faith and love…” Ha. Oi.

When it rains here everything breathes a sigh of relief. Even the dirt lets loose of its tense self.
Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Old City

It was chilly in the morning so Zahara and I brought our coffee in bed. While still wrapped in blankets we talked for a few hours. Conversations with Zahara are always quiet and electric. We talked of the similarities between medicine and religion. How in order to affect a human behavior, whether to adopt a new health behavior or to absorb a religion, you need to stop listening with your mouth and your notions. We talked about the Palestinian conflict. And we talked about boys and how they’re silly and how we’re silly around them. Love boys.

When asking people for directions I always expect them to have some thick exotic accent. I’m shocked when instead they have a Brooklyn accent. And I’m back on Flatbush eating a knish and talking about “oi vey what a mench he is!”
I took a bus into the old city and visited the church of the Holy Sepulcher—one of the holiest spots in Christianity. It was dark and full of solemn ambiance. Candles lit the cave-like church and highlighted the women crying and bowing. I saw a long line and asked a priest what it was for.

“It is the tomb. “

“Of whom?”

“Of Jesus. Kind of important.”

Ha. My bad.

I waited online behind a woman who was incessantly bowing and making the cross symbol. I ducked into a tiny doorway and knelt by the tomb. The woman opened the top button of her shirt and let her cross touch the coffin. She cried and kissed the coffin again and again. She pulled aside a picture of Mary and touched the original wall of the tomb. I was so touched. Not by the tomb of a man I don’t believe in, but by her incredibly visceral faith. It was beautiful.

I left the church and allowed myself to get lost in the marketplace. It was very similar to an Indian marketplace except they were selling statues of Jesus instead of Krishna. I found Linas. A very hole in the wall place with apparently the best hummus in Jerusalem. I sat down and was immediately served the most delicious warm pita and hummus piled high with whole chickpeas, oil, and parsley. I washed it down with a fresh pomegranate juice. It was my kind of holy.

I got lost again in the marketplace and found myself in the Muslim quarter. A little girl spit on me and a boy kicked a bag at me. I kept walking deeper. A young boy taunted Israeli soldiers. I walked deeper. I was panicky but I wanted to reach the end. I bought some earrings made with Palestinian coins and then I turned around.

There are soldiers everywhere. Young boys with large guns. It’s frightening.

I met Z and we walked to the Jewish quarter. We went to the crowded and pulsing Wailing Wall. I had taken up a collection of messages to stick in the crevices from friends and family. I laid my head against the wall and did my best to pray. The women around me were crying softly into their hands and rocking back and forth. I found myself praying for the fifteenth time this week for a strength of faith. Faith not necessarily of religion but a faith in myself. A faith 1/8th as strong as the women I saw around me. A prayer I have said to myself in a Christian, Muslim and now Jewish setting. A prayer that hopefully one day I’ll listen to.

Zahara and I walked around Jerusalem’s night streets and ran into two friends from the states. Zach and Phil! We all ducked into a bar and sat on couches and I drank Israel’s infamous Arak. A licorice alcoholic drink. It burned like hell. Phil is in Israel learning from drum Maestros. Zach is in Israel studying cheese and bread making on a farm in the north and in a few months will take his trade to Tuscany to start his own cheese and bread business.

We said goodbye to Phil and Zach and met Ari, another friend from the states for a drink at a sports bar. And then we took a bus home sleepily and full and I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Market

I woke up in Jerusalem! Drank Turkish coffee to get my blood moving, said goodbye to Zahara and trekked off in search of adventure. I decided to go to Mehane Yehuda, the open air market. Several wrong buses and finally a correct one later and I was there. It was colorful and loud and surprisingly manageable. I pretended I was a young Israeli woman sifting through produce and grain with expert eye and knowing hands. I breathed in the smells deeply and was mostly rewarded.

An old woman reached her grubby hands into a piled of olives piled high and shining with oil. I followed suit and may never be able to eat another lesser olive again. Bags of open spices, strawberries the size of a fist and delicious looking fish. I stopped at a crowded stall and ordered a falafel. Pita packed with fresh vegetables and the moistest falafel. Every few bites I would pause and think “stop it.” Too good. I walked around the market with my falafel wrapped in paper. I blend in very well in this city. People are surprised when I don’t speak Hebrew. It’s much more fun to be an anonymous tourist.

I walked down HaNevi’im street , a windy street through a neighborhood. I stopped into a historic and old jewish printing press and saw the huge old machines used to make papers . I went down Ethiopia street and into a deserted and comfortingly dark temple in the round. The altar at the center was built before Jesus.
At the end of the street I walked up some steps and could see Jerusalem. A bustling city with winding streets surrounded by hills, forest and desert. I could see the gold dome of the rock in the distance. It was magical.

I found my way back to Zahara (seriously an accomplishment) and we went to the Ethiopian jew compound. It was very poor and crowded. We played with the children. A young girl tagged alongside me the whole day and when I picked her up and twirled her around she kissed me on the cheek. I became a pool of estrogen. I decided it was time to leave when the little boys thought it would be fun to lift up my skirt (I had leggings underneath thank goodness.)

Z and I had a delicious dinner of wine, warm beet salad with fried houllami cheese and shakshooka (an Israeli dish with vegetables and tomato sauce served in a hot skilled with an egg cracked on top.)

After a night class, a bunch of people head to a café to drink Belgium hot chocolate. It was warm and the conversation was good.

I told someone about my life plan of working in international public health. His first reaction was that I would need to find a family willing to move around with me. That never occurred to me and is shaking me up a bit. Ok so if I go overseas for the next 5 years or so, and come back will all the good souls be taken? A weird, possessive way of putting it but kind of how I see it. I’m 22. Do I need to start thinking about a family? Lord I hope not. The thought makes me want to vomit.
Monday, January 10, 2011

First Day

Plato talked of an education being part intellect, part physical and part spiritual. I’ve been in school for 21 years. The furthest I’ve gotten to expanding my spirituality was learning “The Godfather” and eating lox on Sunday mornings. Which with the right bagels and capers can be heavenly, I have always been uncomfortable with my almost flippant disregard for religion.

Sure I’m a scientist and thus a skeptic. We’re taught to be fearful of religion as it is unfounded in evidence (the only scripture of science.) But fear is scary no matter the origin. And I figure, if I’m going to be in a field helping people be healthy I should try and understand what sustains them beyond the antibiotics. And maybe along the way I’ll find a little faith myself. A lofty goal I know, but I feel it is deliciously appropriate.

What better way to start my trip than to sample the airport chapels. I figure maybe god will tug at my skirt when I sit in the room of my destined denomination. It was a veritable smorgasbord of faith. Right flavor of God for every palate. In the Catholic chapel I sat next to a nun and tortured Jesus dripping in stone blood. In the protestant church I sat next to a hippie. The Jewish chapel was solemn, simple, empty and uncomfortable.

I stood outside the Muslim temple for a while debating if they’d let me on the El Al flight to Israel after being seen going in. But curiosity gave way and I took off my shoes and sat in a room with 2 Muslim men. The room was pretty with a large window and prayer alters. The man turned to me and ever so politely and oppressively told me to go to the partitioned “women” area to pray. The section was dark, dirty and bare. There was a bloody tissue in the corner. I counted to 100, to you know, seem legit and rushed back to the pretty protestant chapel with abstract art and poinsettias and hippies.

At check in, security took my bags away to search privately and questioned me again and again. The gist of it was “why the fuck was I going to Israel if I wasn’t Jewish?” Such a stupid question. Who wouldn’t want to go? I had security follow me through the entire airport. We cut security lines and even bathroom lines. When I asked her why she was following me, me specifically, she answered that it was protocol. I kept pestering her until finally she said “certain people match certain profiles. I can’t explain beyond that.” I haven’t left the country and Israel is already suspicious.

I sat behind two massively beautiful blonde men. They had Hebrew tattoo’s on their arms. I can’t read Hebrew but I think it said “Italian shiksas rock my world.” I’m
pretty sure.

When I reached Israel I was greeted by Zahara. We sat on the floor waiting for the bus and talked. She is studying at the Yeshiva Pardeis in Jerusalem. We took 2 buses back to her beautiful apartment in Jerusalem and head immediately out to her school to learn Torah.

In America I feel religion follows a hierarchy of needs. A pleasureful pastime one takes part in after all other shit is taken care of. Here, it seems people draw on faith at every step of their lives before they are even satiated physically. Every person seems to be invigorated with a purpose. Every article of clothing, every street sign prayer seems to bring them back to that purpose. As a result people seem more full and less apologetic. In fact, there is not a commonly used translation of “sorry.” Driven instead of grasping and aspiring, to hold onto something already obtained. Being an observer to all these people so mindful in their purpose can be humbling and intimidating and very powerful.

Zahara and I stayed at school until 11 and then linking arms, walked down the winding dark streets of Jerusalem talking about Torah.

I cannot believe I am here.
Friday, January 7, 2011

From sea to sea

I was In India. Now I'm going to Israel.

You can read my India blog at: