These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Free Advice for Future Pardesniks

Posted on May 28, 2013 by Yisrael Ben Avraham

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f-aI’ll be a Pardes alum in the next couple weeks and possibly a second year student. I thought I’d write a list of random things for new and returning students to make their lives in Israel easier and enjoyable. These are in no particular order, but I cannot emphasis enough how much Ulpan Morasha chews bubblegum and kicks ass and it’s all out of bubblegum (see #5)

  1. Get a RavKav
      The RavKav is a card that allows you to either have unlimited local bus travel per month or purchase 10 local rides. Whereas an individual ride costs 6.60NIS, 10 rides on the RavKav is 52.80NIS so you save a little over a shekel for each ride buying the 10 rides together. It’s not so much the saving of money but the time it saves: you simply put the card in a scanner once you board the bus and you take your seat, no having to fumble through your wallet, then waiting for change and for the driver to print out a ticket to the ire of impatient Israelis behind you. In case you don’t know or haven’t found out yet, Israelis have no patience—none. The bus, I mean “otoboos” is not the place to break 200 shekels on a 6.60 NIS ticket. You can get the RavKav at the central bus station on the top floor—be sure to have your passport.
  2. Go to the shuk
      What a cultural experience. If there’s any proof to be found of extra dimensions that are tiny and curled up in space it’s at the shuk, especially on Friday before Shabbat. Otherwise, how all the people and shops fit in the shuk would defy the laws of physics. Not only does the shuk have the cheapest produce it has the best produce. There are also plenty of good “hole in the wall” restaurants. Really though, the shuk is where to go for cheap food for home and people watching. If you’re lucky, you may see some old Mizrachi guys yelling and shoving each other over a game of sheshbesh (backgammon). Don’t judge me, watching old people fight while eating kubbeh is freaking awesome.
  3. Buy canned food
      Want to save money? Canned food is the way to go. I recently purchased some canned fava beans for 5 shekels and canned sardines for 5.5 shekels. It may not be the most appetizing but then eating shwarama and falafel everyday is going to rob the bank account pretty fast (the exchange rate here is pretty bad, that won’t get you any sympathy with the Israelis who are taxed more and make less than Yankees like me). Besides, enough seasoning and sauce can make anything taste good.
  4. Eat goose
      Your in Israel, in the holiest of cities—Jerusalem, and studying at the holiest of yeshivas—Pardes; perhaps you’ll come to find yourself overwhelmed by all the Judaism and need to go off the derech a little bit, feeling a little nostalgic for the days as a raging apikorus. Before you go off to the Russian butcher for some old school eastern European style cured pork belly—eat some goose. Particularly goose shashlik (goose kabobs). There’s a place in the mall across from Pardes that has it, the Steak Jinji. Goose has the texture and juiciness of a medium rare steak with the taste of, you guessed it, bacon. So no excuses now as goose meat has the best of both kosher and non-kosher worlds. I’m surprised it has not caught in America. If it ever did, it’d only be a matter of time before it’s wrapped in bacon (for extra bacony goodness), stuffed in a turkey, covered in cheese and then deep fried.
  5. Ulpan Morasha
      A popular Isareli comedian—and Pardes alum—Yisrael Cambell says he’s been to hell and by hell he means ulpan. Learning a new language can be frustrating, especially if you’re being taught the wrong way by people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing. My ulpan teacher in Denver, who was also a neurosurgeon, said the brain doesn’t learn languages by staring at a verb conjugation chart; the brain learns a language by hearing and speaking. I’m no linguist, but that’s exactly how one learns their native language. This is how Hebrew is taught at Ulpan Morasha. There’s no looking at verb charts or an annoying workbook that you’ll want to use for kindling to burn chometz. Two minutes of hearing, “atah mepapep, at mepapepet, atah mesases, at mesaseset… etc” and you’ve learned how to conjugate pretty much all pi’el verbs in the present tense. Sure beats looking at a verb chart for an hour and still don’t know what the hell is going on. You also pay month to month at Ulpan Morasha which is another plus. The teachers are also a riot.
  6. Get an apartment with a dryer
      You read that right; don’t expect every apartment in Israel will have a dryer. Many apartments just have a washer (which are terrible, expect at least 2 hours to wash your clothes) and your stuck drying the old fashioned way… on a drying rack. That’s fine and dandy from late April until mid to late October when it’s warm and dry. Once the rainy season starts, should you lack a dryer you’ll have to start drying inside and it can take a couple days for a load of laundry to completely dry because of the humidity. On that note, #7…
  7. Bring winter clothing and a rain jacket
      “It’s Israel, in the middle east, it won’t get too cold,” was what I thought as I pulled out my wool duffel coat out of my bag before leaving for the airport. I began regretting this decision around early November. Coming from Denver, I’ve never experienced the cold like the cold in Jerusalem. Us folks in Colorado told the humidity to take a hike and it listened. It gets cold in Colorado, quite cold, but a gust of Jerusalem winter wind and you’ll start to feel your bone marrow freeze. It actually snowed while I was hear last year. And don’t whine when it rains, Israel needs the rain and you’ll need a rain coat. It’s mostly rain and sometimes it rains sideways here, actually that was hail. Seriously, winter clothing and a rain jacket are a must. It’s cool praying for rain during mincha and then 30 seconds later it starts.
  8. Pay 10-15 shekels extra for a proper shwarma
      There are many shwarma restaurants in Israel that are named by how much a shwarma in a laffa (like a torillia) costs followed by “shwarma” (i.e. 5 Shekel Shwarma). Rest assured, there is a linear correlation to the number in the name with the quality of the shwarma—you get what you pay for with a shwarma like you do anything else. These places often leave you feeling more hungry than before, so you have to buy something else (so much for saving money). Also, the eggplant at such places is often more burnt than Harold and Kumar at a Phish concert. A proper shwarma in a laffa is going to cost around 30 Shekels. Among my favorites is a Yemenite shwarma joint near the shuk on Jafo, Falafel Adir on Emek Refa’im (they have a good falafel deal too), and HaMorash on Ben Yehuda. Falafal Adir is about a 15 minute walk from Pardes making it a possible lunch destination. They have a picked lemon sauce that I have not seen at other shwarma restaurants and their fried eggplant is sweet with a subtle seasoning. Just remember, no matter what the place, Israelis cannot cook fries/chips. Try some and you’ll see what I mean.
  9. Jeff Seidel
      It’s Friday around 5 in the afternoon. You realize you have no Shabbat plans because you’re week has been absolutely meshugah (insane in the membrane in Hebrew). It’s an hour before candle lighting and all you have to cook with are some eggs, a partially rotting onion, and something in a can that you have no idea what it is. Perhaps you have time to cook something up but no time to see if anyone wants to join you some onion egg omelet surprise. Not to worry, Jeff Seidel is there to rescue you from your lack of Shabbat plans. All you need to do is head to the Kotel and look for the short bald guy near the hand washing sinks near the men’s section. He has a list of people hosting Shabbat dinners that he will arrange for you. These folks hosting are on the frum side; they simply want Jews to experience the joy of a nice Shabbat dinner. Still, probably best not to go on a postmodern 5th wave feminist (what wave are we on now?) rant. Be a nice house guest now.
  10. Get out of the Anglo bubble
      Do you seriously want to learn Hebrew, that is conversational Hebrew? You’ll need to venture outside the “Pardes bubble” and the “Anglo-bubble” (there was a Parashat haShavua class this year in Hebrew, only class in Hebrew at Pardes) that is all too apparent in the German Colony and surrounding environs. It’s easy to get caught up in going to the Anglo-shuls often doubling as a meat market. “He’s a doctor, with a law degree… some serious USDA prime right here!” as the girls hurdled and toppled over the mechitza (barrier dividing men and women in the shul) in a frenzy. They were so pissed when they found out I was actually a temp in a call center—nothing gets a Jewish girl hot and bothered like a guy making $13.68 an hour. Then they heard me speaking Hebrew in my American accent and it started raining stiletto shoes. Joking aside, if you want to learn conversational Hebrew you’ll need to step outside your comfort zone and participate in other activities with Israelis which will allow you to work on your Hebrew.