Contemporary European Identity, Music, and La Serenissima

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Tonight, I went to a roundtable discussion entitled “La Serenissima: The Millenarian Venice” at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America at Columbia University. The speaker was Jordi Savall, a Catalan musician who has been recording, performing, writing, speaking and otherwise informing the world about ancient, medieval, renaissance, and baroque music (from both the orient and occident) for over 50 years. img_3167
I originally thought to attend the lecture because I have studied Venetian political history but know very little about music from Venice. I (very nervously and poorly) presented a paper at a conference in West, Texas in 2012 and was exposed to some Medieval Spanish music there, but I otherwise have no experience with music history (you can peep that paper on my LinkedIn profile). To my pleasant surprise, Savall went beyond the discussion of music history and touched on the two things I am most passionate about: Jewish history in Venice and European cultural identity.
Savall is in New York to perform as part of a Carnegie Hall series about Venice. He has constructed a 1 hour and 50 minute (whittled down from 4+ hours) performance which covers Venetian music history. The auditory history begins in 828 when Venice was only a cub in the Adriatic and ends in 1797 when Napoleon slaughtered the sick lion.

Savall specifically mentioned the importance of Sephardic Jews to the commercial history of Venice and the first of two pieces he played was a Sephardic melodyPor Que Llorax Blanca Nina. He explained that the piece had been played from the Expulsion in the 15th century to World War II. He brought up a great point about radio which plays into Benedict Anderson‘s ideas about shared language and print culture. Up until the 1920s and 1930s music was very much a community affair. Not only was it passed down from generation to generation orally, it also had to be played by members of the community. It could never be replicated exactly and it was not a shared experience outside of the memory of those who witnessed the live performance (still true to an extent hence the unique experience of concerts). With the invention and permeation of radio and recording, people were then able to share a common experience and simultaneously ingest audio content while also interpreting it differently. People were able to do this with vernacular language and print much earlier, but it wasn’t until the 1920s or 30s that people were able to have this shared auditory experience (then shared and simultaneous visual experiences with cinema+TV). Similar to the evolution of print culture and its relation to modes of power, Savall also touched on the idea of folk music and its relationship to the two main sources of power in European history: the king’s court and the Church. I’m interested to look into this more and it definitely reinvigorated my curiosity about ways in which European identity were and are created. While his discussion of Sephardic Jewish music in the Venetian diaspora was especially fascinating, he also discussed something much more contemporary that has always intrigued me: cultural preservation and European identity.


I have always thought that regionalism, separatism, and local governance are the best ways to preserve cultures, heritages, and languages. Savall, as a proud Catalan, voiced a different belief. He thinks that unique cultures and heritages should be preserved, but he does not see that as a separating factor between Europeans. He specifically stated that he is not only Catalan but also a citizen of Europe. He says he speaks Spanish, but talks to his friends and reads in Catalan, yet feels at home in London, Venice, and all of the other cities in Europe. This brings up something at the heart of my second Masters essay: the hierarchy of one’s cultural and political identities. He didn’t talk about referendums or separatism at all, but he made it clear that he does support European unity while maintaining a strong Catalan identity-with music being the meeting place of those identities. This expands and adds nuance to a model I used for my essay. Here is an excerpt:
“Sébastien Dubé and Raùl Magni-Berton provide a theory which directly correlates  one’s income and national GDP to Euroscepticism. Their model outlines four specific differences in European political identity. The first model is poor people living in poor EU member states, the second is poor people living in rich EU member states, the third is rich people living in rich EU member states, and the last is rich people living in poor EU member states. In general, each of these socio-economic situations produces a different hierarchy of transnational, national, and regional identities. Poor individuals living in poor states often elevate their religious identity above that of the nation, assuming the pre-nationalist identity that Anderson outlined above. Poor individuals living in rich countries are more likely to identity with their particular culture or nation. Rich people living in poor countries often elevate their transnational identity above their national or cultural identity, valuing diversity above most other qualities. While rich people living in rich countries are often concerned with improving their aesthetic environment, maintaining their material well-being, as well as pride in their nation and personal economic status. Dubé and Magni-Berton conclude that wealth, and in turn European identity, denotes support of deeper EU integration while those poorer citizens that possess a strong national and cultural identity are often against EU expansion.”


I don’t necessarily think Savall’s opinions contradict the above model (I don’t know how his ideas of European integration have changed over time), but he did introduce some intricacies which I haven’t considered. In my work, I presented art and entertainment (as it was presented to me) as tools used to build national and transnational identity. There is a wonderful book called Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice which touches on the importance of entertainment and placation of the public as a tool to create shared experiences among citizens of all classes, build a singular identity, and mold people in to allowing the state to govern them. Modes of entertainment owned and operated by elite forces (the king, the Church, wealthy European politicians, etc.) have been used as tools to sculpt the political identity of the masses since Ancient times, but I have never thought about how folk music (and music created and performed on the local or regional level) helps to shape and bolster one’s political identity. I am very intrigued to know how other folk musicians from different regions and socio-economic backgrounds think of their music in relation to European integration. I will do further research, but I am also very happy to see ideas of cultural preservation come to the forefront, without some of the xenophobic ideas that often accompany that conversation. We can and should work together to help preserve the unique music, language, art, culture, and history that we each represent in the modern world. As Stavall said, cultural conservation does not have to denote separation!


SN: The theme for the 2016-2017 year at The Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America is “Conservation and preservation of heritage and the contemporary destruction of art and architecture”. The brochure presents one particular scholar and her work, which seem to tie in directly to my ideas about cultural identity and transnationalism: “Public indifference to the loss of cultural heritage and identity” by Roberta De Monticelli. I have yet to read her work (as I just learned of it this evening), but I would argue that the public (generational intricacies are super important here) is actually not indifferent to the loss of cultural heritage and identity at all. In fact, I think a majority of people who support Eurosceptic and populist political movements (beyond economics) are doing so in a desperate attempt to reclaim both national and regional cultural heritage and identity. Now, finding a singular definition of said cultural heritage and identity to “reclaim” and from whom to “reclaim” it is where the difficultly arises (which often manifests as fear, exclusion, xenophobia, racism etc.). Rather than addressing the root cause of these fears, many just scream “Fascist” or “Nazi” and go on about stripping away or militantly reshaping those very identities people are so scared of losing. I think the preservation of cultural heritage may be a great way to change some of the sentiments which lead to the support of populist and Eurosceptic political movements (againnn, just to be clear that I don’t have my head in the sand: I do think economics trumps cultural heritage and without economic changes people are going to continue to reject transnationalism). When national and transnational governments fund the protection and preservation of these local identities, they are showing citizens that in the face of globalization and economic/social/religious/linguistic integration, their personal identity matters to the success and heritage of the European Union. And we all know people just want to matter!
Anyway, tonight was FREAKING AMAZING and I can’t wait for the next discussion on the 13th: “East of Venice: La Serenissima as seen from its Eastern frontiers“! One of the criticisms of my second Masters essay was that I did not adequately situate Italy between the orient and the occident. I wasn’t thinking about this when I wrote the paper as I’ve never read any scholarship touching on Venetian history from the perspective of the East (beyond my short foray into Jewish merchants as middlemen between the Ottomans and Venetian Republic), so I am stoked to finally learn some stuff about that! Come back and join me then.

Happy (kinda-sorta) New Year!

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So, I didn’t write a post for the new year since I was out of town, but I’m going to do it NOW!

I am back in New York after 6 weeks away and I am facing what seems like an insurmountable task: I have to build a new life. From scratch.

I always struggle to find things to write about on this blog because I often feel like my life isn’t really exciting or I’m too embarrassed to write about my real opinions and struggles, but I came to a realization recently and the truth is, I have a lot to write about-I just need to gather the courage and be honest. So here’s the latest episode in the life of moi!

I’m sure you’re wondering why I have to build a new life for myself. I’ve told my three closest friends and my mom, but that’s about it. The bottom line is, I did not abide by old adage, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” I put all my eggs and the chickens that hatched them in the same basket and that basket was Riverdale, Bronx, NY. I worked there, I lived there, I loved there, and I spent all my time there for 2 years.

I moved to NYC in 2014 and found an apartment I could afford by myself in the Bronx. It wasn’t rent stabilized and it went up like 5 percent a year. The lease on my apartment on the Grand Concourse was up at the end of August 2016 and I decided not to renew it because they upped my rent to $1300 a month (I know, I know. All you NYCers are going “Whattt the hell? That’s peanuts!”). I know now that I made a terrible mistake, but alas, I have also realized I am apparently not great at making responsible life choices. I was not making enough money to pay that amount of rent living alone and stay on top of my student loan payments, plus the commute to work before I had my car was an hour and a half-so I chose to stay on top of my loan payments and move out.

SN: It was also in Mount Hope which was not necessarily a safe environment for my single self to be staying. I never had any problems but I (and my parents) felt like it was a ticking time bomb before something was bound to occur and it was also not great that I didn’t feel safe to leave my apartment after dark.

img_1721Before moving, I looked for an apartment for over a month, consulted two real estate agents, put up flyers-basically anything you can imagine. Long story short, there were no other apartments anywhere for less than $1300 a month (except in Far Rockaway or New Jersey) and despite the flyers and asking around I was unable to find a roommate during the month. I made a friend last March (the professor who is teaching me Hebrew and Judaica and who I went to Israel with) and we had been casually dating for 6 months. We didn’t really label anything and while the relationship was serious, it was multifaceted and was not just romantic, but also largely academic in nature. He knew about my search and asked me to move in with him. It was a 3 minute WALK to work and the apartment was in a nice building in a safe, clean, and quiet environment. Things were going great, I continued working, I was learning Hebrew and studying Judaism (in hopes of expanding my past scholarship of the subject incase I got into a PhD program), and as far as I knew things were cool. In September we planned a trip to Israel together for December and I gave my boss my notice. I had planned to quit my job because the client I was taking care of had deteriorated and her condition became very difficult for me to handle. Plus, I had a new M.A. and I really wanted to find a career utilizing my existing talents. Little did I know, this wasn’t a permanent or even semi-permanent living arrangement. There is a significant age difference between us and a religious difference, so it turns out that when people in the community found out about the nature of our relationship and about my religious affiliation things did not go over well. Since I am not part of the social/religious scene in the community, I was unaware that things had gone awry until I was informed that I needed to move.

A few days before my last day at work and a week or so before my trip to Israel, some extremely complicated circumstances arose and my friend was told directly that living with me was not right or proper or pious or normal or good due to the aforementioned age and religious differences. Members of the community insulted my character and questioned my motives and life choices (all this without my knowledge). Several people got involved and long story short, they made it impossible for me to continue living there-against the wishes of both my friend and I. It was an insanely unfortunate and heartbreaking turn of events for yours truly and taught me an extremely hard lesson. I quit my job under the impression I would have a place to stay after the trip while I looked for a career. But as fate would have it, within a 3 day period, I was a soon to be 28 year old, going into a new year as a single, childless, homeless, jobless woman with a ticket to Israel, a few college degrees, and not much else.

Needless to say, this reality hit me like a ton of bricks, so after a two-day sobbing fit, I had to put my big girl pants on and get to fixing (while packing for a month-long trip).

In between more crying (again, at this point, still believing I had been dumped out of the blue), I got a second storage room and moved all my clothes, kitchen appliances, bedding, and hygiene stuff in (I moved all my furniture and stuff into storage when I left my apartment). I met with a friend and put out ads on half a dozen apps looking for rentals/roomshares and I started saving job listings.

SN #1: I was unaware of the behind-the-scenes circumstances that led to me being kicked out of where I was living until I got to Israel and investigated and uncovered what happened on my own. From the start, my friend had taken the blame and said he had just changed his mind about our relationship (which made me extremely upset and confused me greatly since things had been going so well), but then when I found out the truth on my own, he explained the entire two month long saga that led up to the atomic-bomb level explosion that occurred right before the trip. I am not really at liberty to give specific details (yet again, people stay steady creepin’ my social networks, haha) but his clarification of the events did help me understand the situation-specifically the socio-economic intricacies of the Jewish community-and after a few days of walking around Tel Aviv together, things were resolved between us. However, despite the clarity and resolution, my situation remained the same, obviously.

SN #2: Also, funny (funny as in mind-shatteringly depressing) freaking story. Back in October (maybe early November, I honestly can’t remember) I took the test for entry into the State Department for the second time. See, you can take and pass the test numerous times before you are invited for an interview. I passed the test in 2010 but wasn’t invited for an interview, so I decided to take the test again. I passed it and was waiting for the results when all this happened. Well, I’m sure you can guess by now, I found out about a week before my return from Israel that I passed the test for a second time but wasn’t invited for an interview. On top of everything else, this kind of sent me over the edge emotionally. My two dream careers at this point (now that I know National Geographic photographer and Oscar winning actress are out of reach) are being a professor (at a private university) or joining the State Department. I can’t seem to get into a PhD program and I can’t seem to get into the State Department. So, not only am I working to build a new life, I also have to find a new dream. And that’s just heartbreaking, y’all!

I found a room rental with a friend of a friend from NYU a few days before I left for my trip (🙏🏻🙌🏻🙏🏻 PTL) and used my last pay check to pay through February. I went home to Texas after my trip to Israel and had another sobbing fest with my mom and my best friends and some tequila which also helped a lot. Then I started applying for jobs. I’ve applied for over 35 jobs so far and plan to keep applying until I find something. While I apply for jobs, my next order of business is to sell and/or donate as many of the things I have in storage as possible. I spent last week cleaning out my second storage room and donated/threw away 6+ bags of clothes, numerous pairs of shoes, an entire kitchen, and an entire office. I need to sell my bed, couch, and dining room table and chairs next. When I got to Israel, I found another more permanent living situation with some new roommates in Washington Heights and will be moving there tomorrow. I’ve signed a lease for 3 months just in case I don’t find a job or it’s secretly a crack-den. Once I find a job, I can start looking for a more permanent living situation and thennn this whole ordeal will be fixed.

I’m so angry and disappointed. I’m disappointed that I decided to trust and depend on someone and in the end both of our lives were turned upside down by external circumstances. It was instantly made clear to me that no matter one’s age or net worth or religion or social network or character, none of us is in control of ANYTHING. It is terrifying. I am very quick to identify my mistakes in situations and let me tell youuu, I have made a ton of shitty mistakes in my life, but I felt like I was making well-meaning and seemingly responsible choices, yet here I am. While I am angry and disappointed, I am equally exhausted. One after the other, from the time I was 17-so, over a decade now-I have loved boys and men that were either incapable of loving me the way I loved them or simply did not want to love me back (I broke a couple of hearts and dated a  few pathological liars too, so it’s been a bundle of fun, of course). I am exhausted. I trusted my gut and did something I thought was good and right and it caused my life to implode. I loved another person unconditionally and have been punished for it. I’m sad that my character and life have been judged and changed by people I don’t know and who don’t know me, solely because of my age and religion. My education didn’t matter, my character didn’t matter, my morals didn’t matter, my personality didn’t matter, my looks didn’t matter, my work ethic didn’t matter, my reputation didn’t matter, the fact that I took care of a woman in the community for two years didn’t matter, the fact I embraced a religion, language and culture that were not my own didn’t matter. Nothing mattered except what a group of people thought about me. What was going to be a fun month abroad followed by an intensive career search to kick off my adult life in a passionate new direction has now turned into a frantic search for a job while living out of a suitcase and renting a bed in a boarding house.

On top of all this, my parents are going through their own challenges with illnesses, career changes, and family obligations (my grandmother in Alabama was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s), so this time around I have to pick myself up and figure all this out on my own. I’m an only child so it’s only natural that I learn to cope with stuff and figure out this life independently of everyone, but I do wish it would have happened a little more gradually this go-around.

Despite the whirlwind of events and emotions, I do feel liberated in a sense. I went through one of these life/emotion/consciousness-shifting events in late 2011/12 and it led me here to New York, so who’s to say where this will catapult me next. Other than the looming anvil that is student loan payments, I am fortunate to have savings and wonderful credit, so as long as I can find a job in a reasonable length of time, everything will be fine.

SN: I started reading the Bible recently. Partly for scholarship and partly to atone or shake off whatever kind of bad juju one of y’all has put on me. If you’re interested check out this site. My friend is an expert of the Bible so it’s been cool to be able to ask questions and get real answers without feeling like a heretic. (The last time I read the Bible at length was in 7th grade at an evangelical private school and asking questions/challenging the teacher’s interpretation/not accepting it as literal was highlyyy frowned upon). It presents the Bible in like 10 formats and also includes commentary, translations, and other versions. I didn’t realize Beersheba was such a big part of the Bible so it makes it even cooler that I was there!

So, my 2017 started off in a heavenly location, with phenomenal people (as I said-this situation was restricted completely to Riverdale-everyone in Israel accepted me with zero judgement and was extremely nice), while I was in complete turmoil internally because I do not know what I’m going to do with my life. I’ll be renting a room and living out of a suitcase for the foreseeable future. If I can’t find a job in the next 12 weeks, I’ll be doing the U-Haul thing while towing my car from NYC to Dallas, which would be a literal nightmare.

I have faith things are going to work out though!

I did make some resolutions while I was on my trip (follow me on li.st):

1. Sell/donate my belongings.

2. Take concrete steps toward starting a career.

3. Minimize/Simplify.

4. Think more carefully before speaking.

5. Start a creative/artistic project (hopefully YouTube if I can ever make time to edit).

6. Put more effort into cultivating friendships.

7. Love someone.

8. Dedicate more time to my mental, physical, and spiritual health.

9. Work at being more patient.

10. Curb the intensity of my emotional reactions.

Check back in because I will be posting updates on my furniture-selling-job-hunting-freezing-my-ass-off-in-New York-in-February-room-renting-crazy life!

Talk to y’all later!

P.S. Need a roommate in NYC? Email me at thatgingeranna@gmail.com

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Anna the Kibbutznik

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What’s up? I want to round out this Israel series (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) by telling you guys about the kibbutz at Mash’abei Sade. This one won’t be too long, but I wanted to talk a bit about the history of the kibbutz movement and some of the amazing people I met there.

SN: Kibbutzim are communal settlements throughout Israel. Think along the lines of a factory town. Kibbutznik are the members of the settlement.

My friend’s sister has lived at this kibbutz for more than 30 years. This is the 4th or 5th Kibbutz she has lived in since she was a teenager. She’s a passionate vegetarian and likes The Voice and Big Brother! img_1616

She left home as a teen and joined a Kibbutz. She went to the army and went home for a short time before deciding to go back to another Kibbutz. She liked that Kibbutz but they sent her on a trip to a psychology convention and after several days at this convention she returned to the Kibbutz and decided she needed to leave. She had another friend at this current Kibbutz who told her to come and she was able to join. She’s worked with children, worked in the kitchen, worked as a librarian, and currently works distributing newspapers and mail! She is also an artist and has been painting since the late 90s! I really look up to her and she was very inspiring to me. Here are some of her gorgeous paintings:


We were her guests so we got to stay in the KibbutZimer units for Ulpan (Hebrew language school) students. The housing was really nice. It would be easy to live there. No gas, but you have a mini fridge+freezer, kitchen sink, electric kettle, microwave, television w/cable, wifi, table and chairs, a shower, toilet, and bathroom sink. You also get a closet, laundry drying wrack, and a table and chairs outside. I’d definitely recommend this Ulpan if you’re interested in learning Hebrew. If you are just traveling in the region you can also stay in their hotel. You can go to the cafeteria for lunch 6 days a week and dinner 1 day a week and it’s REALLY reasonably priced. Meat, sides, salad bar all for less than 20 NIS (~$6)!


I met three interesting people there. The first was the director of IT named Dan. He and his wife (who have been together since they were 16) came to the kibbutz in the 80s. He is a biologist by trade and worked in a laboratory and studied for a Ph.D. too. He was injured in the Lebanon War in 1982 and when he recovered he decided to come to the kibbutz with his wife and a group of friends. He travels all over the world, is Vegan (much more common in Israel than one would imagine) and is an amateur philosopher.

I met another lady named Hannah who was a Holocaust survivor. I don’t know much about her but she’s been at the kibbutz for decades, is in her late 80s or early 90s, and still wakes up at 5AM everyday to open the kibbutz factory!

I met one of the neighbors of my friend’s sister who grew up at this kibbutz. She was part of a common kibbutz practice: separating children from their parents at birth. Her daughter currently lives in the U.S. She left the kibbutz and married but recently returned after her father passed away. Her mom was French-Moroccan and her dad was French-Polish and they came to Israel and were part of the initial group of founders of this kibbutz! She baked this amazing lemon cake and gave me the recipe. She currently works in the kibbutz laundry facility and is also a painter!

I met many other interesting people and it was fascinating to see how each person contributes to the unique character of the community and how each person works for the benefit of their neighbors. I even went to my first Jewish funeral which was surreal. The lady moved from Poland to Mexico in the 1930s and after marrying and having children she immigrated to Israel in the 1960. What a full and amazing life!

The natural environment in this area is absolutely AMAZING. And if you are interested in history look no further. The nearest town is Beersheba and ABRAHAM, ISAAC, AND JACOB WERE THERE IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS!

I mentioned in my live video that the kibbutz movement was a manifestation of the Russian Aliyah (Aliyahs=waves of immigration to Israel). These Russian immigrants and other immigrants from Europe built agricultural communes. The first kibbutzim came to be in the 1910s and 20s but the kibbutzim in the Negev didn’t emerge until the 1940s. SN: I made some boo boos in the live video so don’t take it too seriously. These collectivist communes have largely switched from agricultural output to industrial production. See, members of the kibbutz are paid every month, provided with a house, hot water, electricity, phone, internet, and every other modern convenience. But they all have to contribute to the kibbutz for years in order to get these privileges. The peak of the kibbutz movement came in the late 80s but has declined steadily since.

As I said, the kibbutz reminds me a lot of U.S. Army bases. There was a library, several schools, a clubhouse, an art gallery, a laundry facility, a cafeteria, a clothing store, a grocery, and a pub!


One thing that intrigued me was that this Kibbutz was largely secular. They did offer Friday dinner and celebrate Hannukah at an optional children’s party, but the only religious activity came from guests staying at the hotel who prayed before Shabbat began. After staying in a 4-Star hotel in the capitol that wouldn’t allow people to play piano in the lobby on Shabbat, had a candle station (the Hilton even had a synagogue), it was confusing that a historical community in the heart of the country had no religious life.img_2150

Kibbutz life is really interesting and I think it is a great way to create new communities. I have my economic reservations, but I think it provides a great quality of life for people from so many different backgrounds! The kibbutzim served a very vital purpose in the founding of Israel and have contributed so much to the economic, political, historical, and social fabric of the society.
Everyone was extremely nice to me and I am forever thankful that I got to have this experience. I’ll definitely go back one day! Hopefully in the summertime! 🙂

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I hope you’ll stick around for my next travel series…I’ll let you know where I’m going when I find out! 🙂

The Final Countdown: Haifa, Dead Sea, and Yakir

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So, I just got back from a month in Israel (read about it: 1, 2, 3, 4) and I am in the midst of my typical post-trip spell of depression. I had a wonderful time traveling and adult life was waiting for my return like a rabid dog. Not looking forward to the next few months-AT ALL-because I have to find a new apartment and a new job in New York City, alone, in the dead of winter. So, while I lament my apparently poor life choices, lets rehash my last week in Israel!

The last week of my trip was an absolute whirlwind because I went on several day trips: Sunday-Haifa, Monday-Tel Aviv (check out my live stream), Tuesday-the Dead Sea, Wednesday-last day at the kibbutz, and Thursday to Saturday-Yakir.

Sunday: I cannot recommend Haifa highly enough and would definitely suggest staying there-if not as a “home base” then for at least a few days-on your trip to Israel. It is clean, there are tons of things to see and do, it is culturally, religiously, and linguistically diverse, and it is just gorgeous. I took the train from Be’er Sheva to Haifa and was only there for an afternoon, but I still got to see a ton. The number one attraction there are the Baha’i Gardens. You must have a reservation to enter and from what I understand when you log on to their site they tell  you when there is space available so that may take some planning. There is free public parking nearby so if you rent a car that won’t be an issue (also lots of parking near the train station), but it isn’t a walkable city since it is so mountainous. There are public busses though, so you should definitely take advantage of that. There is also a beautiful boardwalk which has some nice restaurants, hookah bars, and convenience stores-which were even open in the off season. I visited the Druze community and did a little shopping. This is another community I had only heard about in passing at some point during my studies, but I knew nothing! It is fascinating and their culture is so beautiful and intriguing. I went to Mount Carmel and while the area and many of the attractions were closed off, there were still gorgeous, biblical, panoramic views. We visited my friend’s apartment and had brunch before he took us on a tour of the city and it was a wonderful experience. The train ride back to Mashabei Sade was an effing jungle because it was the end of the holiday weekend, so I recommend not doing that. That being said, I highly recommend the train if you have language issues because it’s easier to get tickets and you know exactly where to get off, when you’ll be there, etc.

Monday: On Monday, I went back to Tel Aviv for the day because my friend had to take care of some things there. I hung out on Dizengoff Street for several hours, did a live stream, and visited a cafe that I saw during my first week there. Prices were a little high, but it was a very clean place, their bar was very nice, and the food was delicious (light lunch fare). I already talked about Tel Aviv in my past post, but Dizengoff is definitely where it’s at for people watching and dining.


Tuesday: THE DEAD SEA! So, so worth it. It is obviously in the middle of no where, expensive to stay in the resorts, inconvenient in multiple ways, but I think this area is worth a 2 or 3 day retreat. I was there for an afternoon and unfortunately due to a bus strike I was unable to explore the greater Ein Gedi/Masada area, but I got to float in the sea twice and it was an unforgettable experience. Weirdly enough, there are like no Israeli’s there (seriously, I only heard 2 people speaking Hebrew the entire day). Everyone I met or heard or saw were Russian or Arab or Druze or American. That is to say, it’s a tourist trap. There are “malls” (think strip malls a la Branson, Missouri) and resorts, but very few restaurants. If you plan to stay there, keep that in mind-there will be no going out at night or enjoying anything outside of your hotel. It is a wonderful place for relaxing, star gazing, enjoying the natural benefits of the sea, and checking an item off your bucket list (if you’re weird like me). The bus strike really put a damper on things because my friend and I planned to go to Ein Gedi but after waiting for a bus for over 2 hours, we scrapped the plan and went back to the beach. Make sure you bring water shoes! Holy Moses. The bottom of the Dead Sea is made up of billions of multifaceted salt marbles that range in size from tiny grains like sand to golf ball size. When you try to walk your feet sink into these sharp marbles at least 3 inches and it hurts like a motha! It is true though, you can float at every angle in depths as little as a few inches of water. Just don’t get it in your eyes or mouth!


Wednesday: Wednesday was a sad day. After 3 weeks, it was my last full day at the kibbutz. I really loved staying there and again, while I can’t recommend Israel for solo female travelers, Mashabei Sade was such a nice place to stay (they have a beautiful hotel for anyone and everyone). I plan to write another blog (be patient-I don’t know when because my life is a dumpster fire right now) profiling the kibbutz and the people I met there, but I will give you some information here just incase I don’t get around to it anytime soon. Kibbutzim were set up as “frontier towns” of sorts in the 20s and 30s. They played a huge role in defending the southern areas during the war for independence and other conflicts. Kibbutzim had different purposes which have evolved over time, but most kibbutzim were dependent upon industrial production from factories and agriculture. They were directly tied the the Labor party in Israel as they were manifestations of socialist-communist ideals, so when that party began to decline in power and popularity, so did the Kibbutzim. Mashabei Sade is a beautiful kibbutz in the middle of the Negev. They also have an Ulpan or Hebrew language school which is open to anyone willing to pay for the classes. Since my friend’s sister is a member of the kibbutz we stayed in the Ulpan housing. The kibbutz scene is a great way to learn about Israel, meet interesting people from around the world, and experience a lifestyle much different than other places in the world. I grew up on and near army bases and it was very reminiscent of that sort of planned community. While I can’t say which Kibbutzim are better than others, I can definitely recommend Mashabei Sade.

Thursday-Saturday: My friend’s nephew picked us up from the kibbutz and we did a mini tour of the Negev before heading to the Yakir settlement in Samaria. The largest canyon in Israel is Makhtesh Ramon. We visited the canyon and drove down into it to see the “painted sands”. It was after sunset so we only stayed a few minutes but there are amazing geological formations and the star gazing is out of this world. I would highly suggest renting a car and visiting the area and if there is a way you can camp anywhere nearby, I know it would be a phenomenal experience (not in the summertime since desert or whatever). After the canyon we drove several hours to the Yakir settlement. Yes, it’s one of those ever-expanding, contentious settlements that has been talked about so much in the media. Again, not going to get into a political discussion in this blog since it’s a travel guide of sorts (I plan to talk about politics and Israeli society in that post I will write about the kibbutz), but it was mind blowing to get to stay in such a contested place. I will say, the settlement had some the nicest and most modern construction I saw in the entire country. I also got to experience Shabbat in a religious, Jewish household which was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Shabbat or the Jewish sabbath takes place from Friday at sundown to Saturday at sundown. They don’t do any work so this means they pre-tear toilet paper, have lights on timers, turn off water heaters, lock up keys, laptops, cellphones, and other electronics, don’t cook or use any type of heat, and do not engage in any type of creative thinking. For a full day they sleep, eat, sing, pray, read, and enjoy the company of family and friends- every. single. week. While it takes a level of dedication I don’t think I could muster, I think it’s a great custom and a wonderful way to prioritize and maintain familial relationships. We went on a walk after Saturday lunch and it just so happened that afternoon prayers were beginning so I got to go into the synagogue (the women’s side, obvi). CRAZYNESS. My first time to witness any type of Jewish religious activity and to visit a synagogue was in a Samarian settlement! I got to see and hear the reading of the Torah and the traditions that surround that activity. It was by far the most unique, amazing, and memorable thing I experienced on my entire trip!


I left Israel Saturday night (like 6 PM CST) and didn’t arrive home until 11 PM Sunday night. It was a HELLACIOUS trip home and I am severely disappointed in both Virgin America and Expedia. My flight from LGA to DAL was canceled and I was not contacted by Expedia AT ALL and was only told by Virgin America via a voicemail a few hours before I got to NYC (while I was flying). When I got to NYC and tried to reschedule, Virgin America told me in would be three days before I could fly out and Expedia put me on hold for 45 minutes only to tell me they would give me a refund but couldn’t reschedule my flight (even though I know there were multiple flights from NYC area airports to Dallas that I could have been placed on). I ended up calling American Express (those cards are SOOOOO worth the annual fee) and they helped me get home Sunday night. After hours of delays due to maintenance issues, I finally got home and my bag was waiting on me (thank goodness).I just want to end this series by saying that I had one of the most amazing and memorable months of my life in Israel. While I am in for a crazy next few months, I can’t think of a better way to end 2016 and start 2017. Like every nation, Israel has it’s problems, but the natural beauty, the diversity, and the history more than make up for it. I am so grateful for my experience and really hope I get to return one day! Be sure to check out my Youtube channel in the coming weeks for a few videos from my trip.

I will be resuming my previous series soon and next up will be my commentary on Italian regionalism and the recent referendum. I will also be chronicling my search for a new house and job, so be ready for some ranting and raving. Thanks for reading about my trip and lahitraot, y’all!

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3 Down, 1 To Go: Day Trips, New Friends, and Learning!

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First: Happy 2017! I hope everyone had a great Christmas or a good Hanukkah and a wonderful New Years Eve.
Second: Check out my previous (one/two/three) posts from Israel!

Sunday began my last week here in Israel. I have been staying at the Mash’abei Sade Kibbutz for the past three weeks and have taken five day trips: one to Jerusalem, two back to the suburbs of Tel Aviv (Shapira and Holon), one to Haifa, and one to the Dead Sea. I’m going to make a separate post about the kibbutz itself and my final week here, so in this post I’ll be writing about a few of my day trips.

I’ll say it again: my IG is amazing right now, so follow me!

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Last Monday (12/19), my friend and I took the bus from Mashabei Sade to Be’er Sheva. I created yet another security dust-up when I tried to take a picture of the Kosher McDonald’s sign and Señor Mossad at the entrance to the bus station confronted me and made me go through all the pictures I’d take over the past day. Embarrassing! At Be’er Sheva we transferred buses and headed for Jerusalem. It turns out it was the day of a huge protest outside the Knesset and we went straight to the Israel Museum, which is within view of the Knesset. A guy here at the kibbutz told me it had something to do with agriculture. There were hundreds if not thousands of people with pickup trucks, flags, shirts, signs, and everything else marching to the Knesset. It started raining so I couldn’t get any good footage, but it was the second time I’ve witnessed a protest overseas (the other was in Spain).

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The museum was so interesting. There is obviously a HUGE collection of Judaica from various Jewish communities around the world. So, as I mentioned in a previous blog, prior to getting to know members of the Jewish community in the Bronx, I had an extremely ignorant and monolithic view of Judaism. My dad was stationed in Iraq and Egypt and I took classes in college about Islam, and I was raised in a Christian family (Protestant and Catholic) and took classes about the Reformation in college too, but I never knew any Jewish people or took any classes about that religion. My friend’s family migrated (see also: WALKED and rode donkeys) from Afghanistan to Jerusalem in 1935. Millions of other Jewish people from countries that were transitioning to Muslim rule also migrated to Israel. It turns out there were native Jewish populations all across the world that I had no idea about. Seriously, when someone mentions Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, etc. I only imagine those populations as completely Muslim (excluding my knowledge of the Christian community in Iraq), but it turns out those countries and many others had Jewish populations too. My friend’s family is originally from Mashhad, Iran but after some “issues” in the 19th century they migrated to Herat, Afghanistan with other Persian Jews who created a sizable Jewish community there. The Israel Museum has models of synagogues from India and Africa, numerous costumes and pieces of jewelry, and various pieces of religious paraphernalia from hundreds of Jewish migrants who came to Israel before and after 1947. Seeing these colorful costumes, I never would have guessed they belonged to Jewish people. I told my friend: the ideas of Jewish people promoted in movies and on TV are very sterile, European, and “black and white” (literally) so seeing all the colorful clothing, huge headdresses, jewelry, and other accessories were arresting and eye-opening. The Jewish diaspora is so much larger and diverse than I ever knew. The Israel Museum also recently opened a Goya exhibit which was amazing to see-although insanely crowded. There is also a beautiful outdoor sculpture garden that provides wonderful views of the city and a path to the Bible museum where you can view the Dead Sea Scrolls (got yelled at again in there for taking a picture;there were no signnnnns saying you couldn’t…), the world’s tiniest bible (a nano copy that’s almost invisible to the naked eye), and the Aleppo Codex (which was sad to see considering the current situation there-there’s no telling how much history has been lost, on top of the loss of life).


After touring the museum, my friend’s friend picked us up and we drove to Ein Karem. HOLY. MOSES. This area is my favorite so far! SN: Haifa>Jerusalem>Tel Aviv #sorrynotsorry We drove down into the valley past Mary’s Spring and the Church of the Visitation. He and his friend grew up in Shapira, an immigrant neighborhood in Tel Aviv, and the friend was born in Afghanistan. He made Afghan pilaf with chicken, raisins, carrots, and rice. His girlfriend came too. She was a really nice lady who traced her roots back to Poland. After our delicious meal and some wine, three of us drove back to Ein Karem proper and walked around a bit. Unfortunately, the Church of the Visitation was closed but I got to see Mary’s Spring and we walked all around and saw some beautiful buildings!


The next day, my friend’s friend dropped us off at the Jaffa Gate to the Old City. I got to go to the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, tour the Jewish Quarter, and see SANTA ON A CAMEL!


I (very uncomfortably) took some pictures/Snaps from the Wall and a few of you asked me to explain what’s going on there, so here’s my attempt: The Wailing Wall aka the Kotel aka the Western Wall is a pilgrimage site for observant Jews. Wayyy back in the day (around 515 BCE-63 BCE), Jews had their main temple (the second temple, as the first was built and destroyed too) near the site of the Western Wall and it was also destroyed. Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock were built on the original site of the temples and Jews aren’t allowed to visit, but the Wall is a surviving exterior wall to the former temple area (aka the Temple Mount which is important to Christians, Muslims, and Jews). Here Jews carry out daily prayers, mourn the destruction of the second temple, and otherwise conduct worship.  Jews in the diaspora also pray in the direction of the Wall. *I’m not going to get into the political issues surrounding the current location, but from the destruction of the first and second temple-before the time of Christ-until 2016 (like, literally last week), there are stilllll very heated disagreements about this location and which religious group has rights to it. So, read about it and decide for yourself. Currently, the Western Wall is split into a men’s section and women’s section since Orthodox Jews, similar to other religions (Muslims, super Baptists, etc.), do not believe in the mixing of the sexes during certain activities. Men use prayer shawls and Tefillin, while the women dress in modest clothing, cover their hair, and use holy books to recite certain prayers. Both the men and women sway their bodies in a rocking motion while praying, often touch the wall, and back away from the wall rather than turning their backs to walk away. You can also write requests on pieces of paper and stick them into the wall. If you’re interested, please read more because I know veryyy little about the various periods of Jewish history and the current contentions surrounding the area. It’s a fascinating topic though and I will write more about it as I learn!


I also went to see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which was really mind blowing too. There was also a group of Muslims from Pakistan touring and a Jewish group too, so it was amazing to be in the church with Jesus’ tomb, Nuns, Muslims, and Jewish tourists. The tomb area was empty so it was special to be able to have some time to pray and see the tomb alone.

After the Old City, I walked to Mea Shearim-a neighborhood for ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. My friend’s family lived there before their house was blown up in an attack in the late 40s, when they moved to Tel Aviv. We visited two Afghan synagogues, bought some candy, and had a little lunch. It is a SUPER interesting place to see, but I don’t know if I would suggest walking through the area if you aren’t with someone from there. My friend told me to cover my hair because sometimes they will yell at women that aren’t dressed modestly and there are posters up all over the place condemning those who aren’t Haredi. Several Haredi men put their heads down, averted their eyes, turned their backs, and even stepped off the sidewalk when passing. There was also a car driving around with a loud speaker announcing a funeral, which was surreal (video to come). If you do go, don’t point your camera at people either because I was told that’s a no-no too. Again, it’s a fascinating place and like no where I’ve ever been or ever will go. Before learning about Judaism, I thought every Jewish person was Haredi, so it was interesting to see just how diverse the Jewish populations are in Israel and in the diaspora now that I know people from different sects.

Lastly, we went to the big market in Jerusalem, Machane Yehuda. I had a delicious beer at a stall owned by an Iraqi-Israeli man and his father for the past 50+years. SN: A huge number of Mizrahim or Jews from the East (my friend says this term can be used as a point of pride or in a deragatory way since Jews from the East were often looked down upon) are from Iraq! Then I walked around and surveyed all the amazing stuff. At one point I was looking at some dry goods and I hear, “HEY GINGER!” Of course, I turned around immediately. It was a merchant from a stall across the market trying to get my attention; I laughed and he laughed and everyone laughed. It was hilarious. I stopped and got some schnitzel (thinly fried chicken) and french fries and then we headed back to Ein Karem. Jerusalem was amazing, but getting back to Ein Karem was an adventure. My friend’s friend told us the wrong bus number so we wound up all the way on the other side of the city, then took another bus and rode it to the end of the line, had to get a taxi to take us down into the valley, and then we had to walk to his house. We headed back to the kibbutz the next morning, but I will definitely go back to Jerusalem one day!


For my second trip, I went back to Tel Aviv to stay with my friend’s other sister and I visited Holon and Shapira. My friend was invited to the monthly meeting of Afghan Jews in Tel Aviv and I am so stoked to say the host agreed to let me film and take pictures. As I mentioned in the last blog, I cannot get video footage off of my DSLR and onto my iphone or ipad to edit, so I’ll have to put together videos from this trip when I get home, but it was such an AMAZING experience. The meeting is meant to allow Afghan Jews to practice speaking the Dari dialect of Persian that they spoke before migrating. I listened to some readings from a new book about Afghan Jewish heritage, met a bunch of new people, got to watch one of the men lead the lighting of a Hannukiyah SN: did you know the candelabras used for Hanukkah AREN’T called Menorahs?! (I didn’t!). The specific candelabras for Hanukkah have 9 places for candles and are called Hannukiyah (singular) or Hannukiyot (plural).


The following day was my 28th birthday and we met up with the guy we went to have dinner with in Tel Aviv during the first week (who is also part of the Iraqi-Jewish diaspora). He is a master baker (like fr fr…he’s certified by the French government and was on Israel’s national baking team) and is now the head chef at a bakery in Holon. He took us on a behind the scenes tour of his bakery, then we went up to his office and he made handmade pizzas and we had some whiskey, balloons, and I even got a flower crown a la SnapChat, hahaha! After the tour, it stormed like MAD (hail, lightening, torrential rain, and thunder), but my friend’s family came over to celebrate Hannukah and they brought a cake for my birthday. The last day in Tel Aviv was short because it’s a long ride back to the kibbutz, but I got to tour the Shapira neighborhood and learn a lot about the former communities that inhabited the area (and take awesome pictures). The architecture was so interesting and like many areas it is undergoing intense gentrification which is sad. My friend hadn’t been back to his childhood home in decades. Randomly, the current renter was home and let us in! He said the current owners plan to demolish it when/if he moves out. As a military brat, I often dream about getting to go back to visit my old homes, so it was special to get to accompany someone visiting their childhood home after so long.


SN: If you are planning on coming here for the holidays, you should stay in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. Most of the Christian holidays are only celebrated in Jerusalem/Bethlehem/Nazareth/Tel Aviv-Jaffa. From what I’ve been told, Bethlehem and Nazareth are not that safe so, yeah. NYE or “Sylvester” parties are mainly restricted to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem or private homes (make some friends, yo). Ya see, Jewish New Year was a couple of months ago and Christian New Year isn’t a big thing here-like at all-outside the main cosmopolitan areas. The kibbutz I’m at did have a bar night on the 30th and I think a university in a nearby city hosted a party with trance music, but public transportation in the middle of the Negev desert is impossible. So, I don’t have any cool stories from the holidays, but just be aware if you come here for that purpose that you need to plan far in advance, figure out transportation, and realize that this is obviously a Jewish country that largely follows the Jewish calendar.

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P.S.S: Per transportation: in the  areas of the Negev I’ve visited, the last busses are around 6 PM daily (obviously, you can get a later busses from Be’er Sheva, but for instance the last bus from the Dead Sea to Be’er Sheva is at 6 and the last bus entering the kibbutz from Be’er Sheva is at 6…). In the ENTIRE COUNTRY, public transportation shuts down Friday afternoons just before Shabbat starts and doesn’t resume until after Shabbat is over (early Sunday mornings and maybe late Saturday nights in the metropolitan areas, I believe). This means if you are planning weekend trips, you need to be where ever it is you plan to stay before the sun goes down on Friday. This also means if you want to go out Friday nights or travel anywhere on Saturdays you need to have some cash and be prepared to pay for taxis both ways.

My next post will cover my last week in Israel, including my two favorite day trips so far: Haifa and the Dead Sea! I am headed back to a town near Tel Aviv for my last weekend here, but I still have two more posts waiting in the wings so check back soon…

Talk to you crazy kids then!