Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Life of an Israeli Student

Things have been so hectic here that it’s been hard to find time to just sit back and relax. I know once this week passes, we will have more time to enjoy our ‘free time’ and start touring Israel.

Our ulpan classes started on Sunday and we now have school from 8:30-1:15 every day. It doesn’t sound like a lot but it is definitely a big adjustment. At McGill, the longest course I’ve ever had was only 2 hours long so getting used to 4 hour ulpan classes has been difficult. I am also not used to waking up so early – we have to leave our apartment by 8 am (it’s about a twenty minute walk) if we want to get to class on time. The ulpan classes are also more like high school classes than university ones – we have daily homework, weekly tests, we do work in class and the teacher actually checks the answers.

Besides from ulpan, I wish I could say I’ve been spending my afternoons doing very exciting things. But so far, we’ve been running around Jerusalem picking up things we need for our apartment, buying groceries, and learning about the area. So it’s been a lot of shlepping things up the hill to our dorms. Lucky for us, nice boys have kindly offered to help us carry our groceries or we would never have been able to make it back.

I’ve been trying to appreciate how lucky I am to study in Jerusalem. As I write this, I am staring out my classroom window, overlooking a view of Jerusalem (and the Arab village right next to us) – a much better view than the couchetard on Stanley. Our campus also has a beautiful botanical garden that we walked through yesterday (not exactly on purpose – we were looking for a cafeteria and ended up getting lost). It’s amazing to think that everything I can see and touch are thousands of years old.

I’m also starting to get used to showing my ID, having my bags checked and walking through a metal detector as I enter school. It makes McGill’s two security guards seem amateurish.

I’m hoping as we finish running errands we can start to really tour the vast campus and start visiting interesting sites in Israel. For now, I’m off to my Latin Aerobics class.

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Officially in Israel!!

I finally, finally arrived in Israel on Thursday night (after a three year journey I think). It’s nice to come full circle – I’ve wanted to spend a good amount of time in Israel for the past few years and I am finally here, doing what I said I would do. From the moment I passed security at Pearson Airport (which was extremely lax, by the way), I had this huge smile on my face. I knew I would miss my family a lot, but I was finally going to live in Israel for a few months and explore this land and my identity on my own. It was a little difficult to make the decision to come here but so far I am so glad I did it. I know I will be having life altering experiences here.

Once I arrived, I took the sherut (taxi bus) to my sister’s apartment in Bayit Vagan. Spending the past few days here has been absolutely beautiful. The views is breathtaking – I wake up and from her balcony, I see the entire city of Jersualem. I didn’t need to ask which direction I should be facing when I pray. Walking around this area, all you see are religious couples and families, talking Hebrew and French mostly, little kids playing in the street (I saw a little girl, she must have been no more than four years old, playing in the street by herself and my first instinct was to say – where’s her mother?? I guess that’s the Canadian in me…), and there are tons and tons of yeshivas. Everyone I look is another one, filled with the beautiful voices of people learning.

I spent shabbat with my sister and we woke up on Friday morning to start cooking. I was pretty hopeful that in the battle of Vicky vs. jetlag I would win. But around 4 pm on Friday I literally could not help but close my eyes. I was reading a book on my sister’s bed and I got one of those awful book imprints on your face. After sleeping for an hour, we went to this nice Carlebach synagogue nearby. It was completely packed and definitely one of those shuls you have to visit on a trip to Israel (though I probably wouldn’t go more than once – too busy and no room to breathe!) In the middle of dinner, I got that fatigue feeling again and I went to sleep at 8 pm. I thought I was so tired that I would fall asleep until mid day Saturday, but I woke up at 4 am and couldn’t go back to sleep – the sounds of the birds chirping and the sunshine streaming through the window forced me to wake up.

After shabbat, I met up with some Montreal friends who I haven’t seen in awhile, which was really nice, although I did discover that Americans in Israel are soo annoying! Walking around ben yehuda at night is just filled with American seminary girls and boys who yell and scream and make me want to pretend I am Israeli so I can feel better than them.

Right now, I’m about to go move into the Hebrew U dorms – I’m really excited to finally be settled, not living out of a suitcase, and to meet my roommates and start my new life here.

Civil Rights, or Lack Thereof.

Living in this democratic country called Canada, we are all guaranteed governmental protection, public health care, access to free education and a little thing we like to call civil and political rights. Of course, these are considered privileges – privileges we are able to keep if we pay our dues to the government, by paying taxes and upholding Canadian law. Included in these civil and political rights are the right to freedom of speech, of thought, of religion and many more. We can speak out against our government due to the very nature of the country’s democratic character.

I’ve always wondered where these rights end. When does my right to speak and be free in Canada triumph other rights I may have, if that’s possible? My right to freedom does not allow me to negate others’ rights to protection. There is a limit, and it’s easy to hit it.

When I visited the Israeli consulate last Friday to get a student visa so I can study in Israel this semester, I was told that I did not qualify for a visa – after all, how could they give me a visa to a country I was already a citizen of? Apparently, since my dad left Lebanon during the Muslim-Christian civil war in 1975, fleeing to Israel, he had made aliyah. He stayed for only a short period of time and immigrated to Canada where he now lives. Despite being born and raised in Canada, and never having lived in Israel for more than a month, I am considered Israeli by the sheer virtue of my father’s decision (although truthfully, he really did not even know he was making aliyah. He only intended to leave a war and start a new life and never really planned to stay in Israel that long). I was a little shocked when they handed me army exemption papers and told me I had to settle my army status right away. Would they even be allowed to draft me into the army – a girl who has never even lived in Israel but is considered an Israeli citizen born abroad?

I tried to refuse my Israeli citizenship. I told them I had no desire to be an Israeli citizen at this point in my life but apparently, that doesn’t matter. I am Israeli, whether I like it or not, according to Israeli citizenship laws. My kids, however, won’t be Israeli – this rule only applies to the first generation, my dad’s next of kin.

It’s not that I’m not proud of Israel. Israel has done many wonderful things for the world and the majority of technology that we spend our days using were probably developed in Israel. However, I don’t want the hassles that come with Israeli citizenship. I want to travel to Arab countries without worrying they will find out I am also Israeli. I want to work in politics without being immediately labeled as biased because of my half-citizenship. And I don’t want to worry about figuring out my military status.

I believe I have the right to choose my own citizenship. Had I been born in Israel, I wouldn’t be able to claim this right. But I wasn’t. I have lived at the same address for the past twenty years of my life and my father has only lived in Israel for maybe a maximum of two years. These details should automatically render my ‘citizenship’ meaningless. How can they claim I’m a citizen for a country I’ve only visited twice?

It’s an interesting aspect of Israeli law and I’m personally curious as to why it is so. Why is it that Israel wishes to claim people like me are citizens of Israel? Is there some benefit for them to increase the number of citizens they can claim to have?

So as of now, I’m not signing up for an Israeli passport. They can claim to force it on me, but I’m pretty sure they need my signature to process that document. I’ll let you know what happens when I get to customs.