Ulpan and a Quick Trip to the Old City

Today I attempted to begin a new routine, waking up at 6 to ensure that I can run in the morning before class. The weather was perfect and I pushed myself to go just a bit further than I had before in the previous week. I will admit that running here feels quite a bit more difficult than in Chicago: long tortuous hills versus a landscape as flat as a board. There really is no competition.

Unfortunately I will already have to abrogate this nascent ritual as it will be Tzom Tammuz. This is the annual fast commemorating the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem by Babylonian armies besieging the city in 586 BCE. This act was later followed by the destruction of the first Temple (on Tisha b’Av) and the first exile of the Jewish people from the land of Israel. As I will not be eating, I will not be running.

However, it did feel appropriate that today was the day that I made my first visit to the Old City and to the Kotel. After class, I took the bus down with a few friends with the intention of going to Machane Yehudah. Unfortunately we got off a bit too early, and while the rest of the group trekked up the road, a friend and I decided to hang back. We were fairly close to Shaar Shechem (Damascus Gate) and I had never been before. My friend had never been to the Old City.

Our first stop was Shaar Yaffo (Jaffa Gate), the primary modern entrance to the walled city. From there, we made our way through the markets in the Christian quarter to the Kotel. Truly this is a space that always shakes me to my core. I took a few minutes to daven Mincha before we continued on our way out of the Kotel Plaza and through the Arab Quarter. We took a walk through the old spice market and up to the entrance to Har Habayit (the Temple Mount). It is closed to tourists after 2:30, so no wandering up top allowed.

From there we made our way partially along the Via Delarosa toward Shaar Shechem. I had heard amazing things about the outdoor market there and was a bit disappointed to find nothing more than a few fruit peddlers and shops selling cheap clothing. The gate itself, however, is the most architecturally stunning one into the city and was well worth the trip. We also stopped in at the "gate under the gate,” the excavated Roman Arch lying directly beneath the modern entrance. The space has long been open to tourist traffic for a modest entrance fee. Although the remains and displays are not stunning, it is quite interesting to walk along the remains of the much earlier cobblestone entrance to the city which lie at least a story below the current one.

From here, we walked along Rekhov Yaffo to Rekhov Ben Yehudah and then grabbed a bus back to Givat HaTzorfatit. I have since spent the evening doing homework and making piles and piles of flashcards in an effort to force the huge amounts of vocabulary we are expected to know into my head. Learning by rote is not my preference, but not being a human dictionary is definitely holding me back.

My word for the day: תסכול, Frustration. This is really the stage I am at with the ulpan. It is not getting harder per say but the class is definitely starting to show a division between those who clearly placed well at the upper range of this level and those who placed near the bottom like myself. Thanks to my classes at Northwestern, the grammar has really been a breeze, but the vocabulary is killing me. Hopefully the flashcards will help.

In the meantime, I am holding on for dear life and pushing forward. Wishing those of you to whom it applies a tzom kal, easy fast, and a good day ahead. Thanks for reading.

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