By Meredith Scott, a student of MA program in Holocaust Studies, 2016-2017 Cohort.
Dear new students,
Rachel, from the International School asked me to write a blog for incoming students. She asked me to basically write a letter to myself, what I would have told myself October 22, 2016, when I moved to Haifa.
Academics: First, allow your personal and academic life mix. Tell your professors and your department what’s going on. They want you to succeed. You have so many resources between the International School and your department. They want to and will make Israel your home. Moreover, share your end goals with mentors in the program. I was in the Holocaust Studies program, so I have to give a huge shout out to our department and our professors. After mentioning to Dr. Granot-Bein (our program director) that I wanted to study abroad again to complete my thesis, we looked into options to make this viable for me. I’m happy to say that I’ll spending the Spring semester in Salzburg, Austria. The opportunities available to you because of your decision to study at the University of Haifa are limitless.
Culture: When I moved to Israel last year, I knew zero Hebrew, and I’m not Jewish so I didn’t know much about Judaism either. Curiosity can take you a long way. I suggest attending Chabad Shabbat dinners, if you’re want to learn more about Israeli culture. I learned quickly to never turn down an invitation. I was also fortunate to live in a very diverse apartment with two Muslims, two Jews and two Christians. It was really precious to celebrate our different holidays together and to learn our different customs. (Pro-tip: if any of your roommates offer you food their moms made, do yourself a favor and eat it! It’s going to be amazing, without fail.)
Israelis are the most hospitable people in the world. If your phone is broken, anyone will let you borrow theirs. Also, if you don’t know how to order something in Hebrew at a restaurant, ask your waiter how to say it. Then next time, if your waiter doesn’t speak English, or another mutual language, then you can still communicate. Through asking questions, not only will you learn more Hebrew but you will gain a lifetime friend. So don’t sweat it if you don’t know much Hebrew but catzat (a little) Hebrew goes a long way. (Protip: Duolingo has a Hebrew module, I definitely recommend it. Also if you don’t know the Hebrew alphabet, studying it before you come will be very helpful.)
Realities of living abroad: Okay this may seem menial, but invest in small comforts at the beginning. Get extra pillows and blankets for you bed, get dishes that make you happy. Practically one of the best places to get lots of chachkies (Yiddish for things) for not a lot of money is Max. Max (a store, not a person) was my best friend the first few months. (Take 143, toward Lev HaMifratz, from the University, Pro-tip: if you haven’t downloaded Moovit it, stop everything, mark your place in the article go download it, and then read the rest of the blog. You’ll thank me.)
Max is also near Rami Levi, a grocery store with very reasonable prices. There’s also another grocery story in Isfyia (take 55 from the Carmel Park Stop near the dorms, or 37 aleph, towards Isfyia). Isfyia, is a sweet Druze village on top of Mt. Carmel. I highly suggest the restaurants and cafes. You’ll find Israel’s best Labaneh there. On the topic of groceries, a must is the Shuk Talpiot. It’s in downtown Haifa, the prices on fruits and veggies are out of this world (cheap). They also have a wide selection of other grocery items. While you’re at the shuk, check out the Laundry Cafe. The owners are really lovely. My favorite it the avocado smoothie!
Speaking of shuks, also try the shuk in Wadi Nisnas. Most of the Wadi Nisnas area is Christian, so the shuk isn’t open on Sunday, but go any other day and find a great selection of fruits and veggies, and particularly some Palestinian specialties. Also the coffee is Taim moed (Tye-eem may-oed | delicious), I suggest Turkish coffee with Cardamom.
Practically, you’ll want to find your own cafes that you love. But here are a few of my recommendations: Cafe Cafe at Hof HaCarmel. I love going with my swimsuit and my laptop, get a little work down before a swim; business and pleasure don’t have to be mutually exclusive, especially in Israel. Mandarin is another favorite, the one in Carmel Center is my favorite. All of the cafes (and bars) on Masada street are great. Hapina is my favorite (native English speakers, this is a slice of home, because you’ll run into a lot of English speakers at this cafe).
Public Transportation: The public transportation in Haifa is BAE, because Mount Carmel is out of control. The Rav Kav card is wonderful, make this a priority in your errands those first few days. My friend did that math, and if you’re planning on leaving campus more than 4 times a week, the semester plan is worth it (the semester plan provides free travel in Haifa, and some discounts on long distance travel). Otherwise the student discount (33%) is great. Since you’ve already downloaded Moovit, you already have a pretty good handle on public transportation in Israel. 😉
Shabbat in Israel: Haifa is one of the best places to be in Israel on Shabbat. If you are Shomer Shabbat (keep Shabbat strictly, no electricity, no work etc) Haifa is great for hiking in the Carmel National Park, and the beach obviously offers a lot by means of things to do on Shabbat. There are also several great Synagogues within walking distance of the university. If you don’t keep Shabbat, you’re also in good company. Haifa is one of the only cities in Israel that still has fairly regular public transportation on Shabbat. Furthermore, a new building just opened this year, Oscar 7, which in walking distance of the University. (Walk toward the Eshkol tower, and keep going to the guard station at the bottom of the hill, and take the hellishly long stairs down on the right. At the bottom of the stairs take a left, and Oscar 7 is on the other side of the street, Oscar Schindler Street). In this Oscar 7 building, there is ice cream, pizza and a cafe (so far!). There’s also a small supersal, open every other day but Shabbat.
Transportation to the University: Speaking of Shabbat, if you arrive at Ben Gurion on Shabbat, have no fear. The train doesn’t run on Shabbat, but you can take a Sherut to the University. When you exit the airport (the door going toward the train station) you’ll walk past the train station and go to the road. There should be yellow busses there, that’s a Sherut. The first ones on the right go to Haifa. You should be able to take a Sherut to the University from Ben Gurion for about 80 shekel. If you take the train (not on Shabbat) then you should pay somewhere around 30 Shekel. Take the train to Hof HaCarmel, then you can take bus 146 all they way to the university. If you’re confused ask anyone to help you, it’s very common. This is the stop you want Multi-Purpose Building stop or “הבניין הרב תכליתי ” you can show this to the bus driver, and tell them it’s at the University. When you enter the University you’ll pass the IBM stop, then come to the Eshkol tower, (you can’t miss the tower it’s 32 floors), at the bottom of the hill, you’ll see gates on the right hand side, you’ll find your stop.
When I flew into Israel I was an utter mess. I doubted my decision, I didn’t know if I could hack it in my Middle East. But I didn’t just survive I thrived. Take advantage of opportunities your department offers. My most important piece of advice is to take the “hakol beseder” life very seriously. In Israel one of the most important things I learned was that there isn’t much that so significant to ruin your day. I can’t count how many times I was stressed over something, in retrospect was so small, and I was reminded “ha kol beseder,” everything is in order, everything is okay.
Keep calm, and hakol beseder,