Miri Jassy studied for one semester at The Hebrew University Rothberg International School on the British-Australian Semester Program (BASP). The following contains useful day to day information for the international student studying at Hebrew University.
Living in Jerusalem means total immersion. One emerges with a wider scope of what things mean.
All travellers to Jerusalem experience to some degree the spiritual power of the city. Foreign students, BASPers included, are in a vulnerable position as they are travellers susceptible to the political and religious views of their teachers, past and present. It is important for BASPers to approach Jerusalem and Israel with an open mind so that the spirituality they hope to achieve or at least encounter is not hampered by what they have been taught is the “correct” interpretation of Judaism or Israel’s political situation. Living in Jerusalem for half a year means appreciating the multiplicity of ideas and possibilities that result from her diverse social landscape.
Every visitor to Jerusalem experiences their own personal journey towards spiritual enlightenment , which does not always refer superficially to becoming more or less “religious”. My own spirituality was activated but in ways too precious for words. Instead of attempting to verbalise my obscure emotional connection to Jerusalem, I’ll discuss the lighter side of the city and student life.
Accommodation at Hebrew University, situated on Mount Scopus and neighbouring East Jerusalem, is a vantage point travellers dream about. The view of the old city from the roof of the Hecht Synagogue is breathtaking.
Living on campus, in the Resnick dorms, is a bonus for BASPers- many American students share apartments in other suburbs and have to time their body-clocks to the erratic Egged bus schedule to get to class on time.
BASPers have little more than to roll out of bed and snarf some “kinamonim” (addictive cinnamon cereal) before walking the short distance to “Rothberg Junior High” (the Rothberg International School).
Rooms sleep two, officially. Depending on how you arrange the minimalist furniture, friends can sleep over comfortably. Chances are you won’t be paired up with a fellow BASPer- dorms are scarce enough for Israeli students as it is. Don’t be scared! Sharing with a non-BASPer is a great way to meet people outside the program.
The kitchens are spartan and encourage simple cooking in the way of stir-fry and pasta. Sharing with the rest of your floor turns the kitchen into a hub of activity, so if you can’t wait, there are three felafel places which line the street opposite Idelson dorms near the Hyatt Hotel, which is a block down from Resnick. The first one looked a bit suss and the second one was so good I never went further up the hill to the third.
Laundry is easily taken care of by the long-haired laundry guy in the basement of building 3 at Resnick, although it is advisable to wash precious things by hand. Another laundry is up the road at Idelson or there’s a DIY at nearby French Hill. Or, my favourite, the funky coin-op on Hillel Street in the city-centre conveniently located next-door to Mr Li’s Chinese eatery.
Transport to and from Mount Scopus is decent and sometimes adventurous. The 9 bus is the most common way to get to the city centre, as is the 9-aleph. Avoid the 4-aleph!! Especially on a Friday morning- it will take up to an hour as it travels through ultra-orthodox neighbourhoods jammed with cars and human traffic. It is an interesting drive any other time. Be warned- it can take longer on the 4-aleph getting from Mount Scopus to Ben Yehuda Mall than it takes to get from Jerusalem to Tel-Aviv. The 23-aleph is the king of all busses- it takes the most direct and scenically interesting route, through Arab neighbourhoods and past the Damascus gate of the old city, and has you on Jaffa Road opposite the Underground nightclub (where you will go once and quickly leave) in record time.
Shop at Machaneh Yehuda. This thrilling market place will tempt you week after week with pita bread, cheeses, olives, dips and fresh produce. The meat’s a bit dicey and the fish is still flapping, but the pastries at “Marzipan” bakery will get you in the end when your backpack is bulging with purchases. Stock up at the market on any domestic items you need from slippers to frying pans to cutlery. Also try and bargain the price down on a good pillow, as the Resnick pillows are thin as pita.
La Dolce Vita living the good life in Jerusalem isn’t hard if that’s how you want to spend your shekels. Cafes, bars and restaurants are plentiful.
Anywhere on Emek Refaim Street is bound to be a treat, and the groovy outdoor bar at the Smadar cinema offered two for one beers during the world cup soccer games.
Ten minutes away by foot is Jerusalem’s haven for the film buffs, the Cinematek. Students are advised to get an annual pass if they stay on in Jerusalem after BASP. The Cinematek provides everything from mainstream to arthouse, classics to contemporary Israeli cinema. Plus there’s the trendy restaurant downstairs which is worth it for the well groomed waiters and gourmet food but only if you can get an outside table with it’s incomparable view of the old city walls.
For the vegetarians there’s the well-established Village Green restaurant but try the lesser-known branch, off King George Street, in its picturesque setting of stone walls and courtyard rather than its sister location on Bustling Ben Yehuda Midrechov (pedestrian mall).
For the clubbers there are the favourites in East Talpiyot such as Haamon 17. Pre-drinks at Resnick’s dinky Club 11 are advisable as well as a pre-organised transport/entry fee package to avoid being stuck in Talpiyot at dawn, cabless.
For hot beverages in cosy atmosphere, the Bookstore Cafe (Tmol Shilshom) is unbeatable. It has grown even more popular since the closing of the infamous Teahouse in recent years. Also downtown is the tiny Yemenite Jachnunya selling delicious doughy Jachnun – it’s located in a tiny alley somewhere between Henry’s Crepes and Tmol Shilshom. Another hidden gem is restaurant Shanty serving Asian-inspired meals mainly to Israelis over twenty-one. It is classy and dimly-lit.
Read the extraordinary novel by Tom Robbins “Skinny Legs and All” in which all the characters end up in Jerusalem. To be read in the Judean hills where you “can’t tell the sheep from the rocks”.
Think Israel, think Jerusalem and you have a rucksack-full of cliches – felafel, camels, Hebrew Beatles t-shirts and bus-drivers with a grand-prix complex. Fortunately, Jerusalem is as colourful as the Machaneh Yehuda market and as mysterious as the silent stones of her ancient ramparts once circumnavigated by Mark Twain in one hour.
Being a part of BASP entitles you to the freedom to come to your own religious or political conclusions, should you be lucky enough to resolve these issues in half a year. This freedom to decide is handy in a city where opinions often dominate the individual. BASP will give you the keys to the city, if you are prepared to delve into what lies locked in the heart of Jerusalem.