Punny title about week 2

Shalom! At home, I normally have a LOT of coffee. My go to order is Pike Place at Starbucks—I think it tastes the best (plus there’s a Starbs in the library at Wake Forest). As a mild simulant, coffee (more specifically caffeine) is a performance enhancer that enables me, and everyone else, to concentrate better and work longer. How does this work? I’m so glad you asked!

Caffeine, primarily found in coffee, is the most well-known drug in a class called xanthines. There are two others: theobromine (chocolate) and theophylline (tea). All of these have similar physiological properties, but for simplicity I’ll speak about caffeine.

Adenosine is a neurotransmitter (chemical in the brain). At moderate levels (under ten cups of coffee), caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, which results in an increased sensitivity to dopamine receptors (feels good and mildly arouses you!) as well as increased cell activation (more neurotransmitter release). At higher levels, caffeine also acts as a phosphodiesterase inhibitor (meaning it prevents the breakdown of phosphate, a chemical compound involved in biological processes). As a result, there is more energy available to facilitate more neurotransmitter release.

Some side effects of caffeine consumption include increased alertness, wakefulness, and performance (with a lovely rebound effect); blood vessel dilation in your heart and constriction in the head; and stimulated breathing. At higher doses, it can lead to agitation, anxiety, and tremors. At even higher doses, it can lead to cardiac arrhythmia, convulsions, and fibrillation.

Because I love caffeine, I sampled all the drinks the cafeteria at HebrewU offers and ranked them based off taste for your pleasure:

Coffee Ratings:

  • Cappuccino: 4/10
  • Coffee on Ice (in America this is iced coffee): 4.5/10
  • Instant coffee: 6/10
  • Iced Coffee: 6.5/10
  • Espresso: 8/10
  • Turkish coffee: 8/10
  • Americano: 8/10
  • Machiato: 9/10

With these rankings in mind, I think I will be choosing the Americano every day for a couple of reasons. Although the espresso and macchiato are as good/better than the Americano, they’re too tiny to enjoy for an extended period (I’m in it for the taste and caffeine). Also, the Turkish coffee is as good, but after the first 5/6ths of a cup you reach the coffee grinds at the bottom and it tastes horrible. Thus, Americano for the win!

Sunday:

I woke up really early to go to the bookstore and get my textbook before class. My apartment mates (hence-forth roommates) are in the same level class as I am so we walked over together. It wasn’t too hot, which was nice, and there were a surprising amount of clouds! Nonetheless, the sun was shining and it was a beautiful day to walk through campus.

At the entrance, they have a security checkpoint (like an airport without the x-ray bag machine), which can back up when a lot of students pile in. Not fun. Anyway, during the Ulpan, I started learning Hebrew! Yay! I also had a tuna salad sandwich for lunch, which is always yummy. The roommates and I hung out after class and then we went to take naps. Naps are great; naptastic, even.

We then went to an open house at Jeff Seidel’s student center (free food, and some cool programming)! Then it was homework and gym time followed by lots of studying. (I think I have a test every day though that’s unconfirmed; update: I have tests/quizzes on Tuesdays and Thursdays).

Monday:

Woke up and ran to my Ulpan class after only five hours of sleep, and then I went to an academic orientation. I’m thinking of doing an independent study where I work with a faculty member to explore a topic of choice. Knowing me, this will be something neuroscience-y or economics-y, but we’ll see what happens.

I had my first big quiz/small test the following day, which I was kind of nervous about, so I studied a fair amount before going to a free sushi (!!!) event at Hillel–an international Jewish student organization. It was nice, and it introduced the weekly Beit Hamidrash (house of learning) program that they have, but it took a lot longer than I expected so I was kind of stressed about work when I came back. Nevertheless, I made time for the gym because #Gains. I then came back and did my homework while eating a protein bar (Quest Bars are my favorite). 

After finishing the homework, Jesse–one of my roommates–and I attempted to study while I made a PB&J. I say attempted because we just laughed incessantly, mostly about the word for wine in Hebrew, which is fun to say: יין (pronounced yai-in). Not really sure why it was funny, but Jesse and I just look at each other a lot and burst into laughter. After about fifteen minutes of an ab workout, we finally studied the vocabulary and headed to bed.

Tuesday:

Woke up and left in seven minutes. Yikes! I walked to school at a 15:14 mile pace—it took me just under fifteen minutes (including security checkpoint) to get to class. My big quiz/small test (בחן קטן/מבחן גדול) was super easy (pretty much the homework). After class, I walked home with a friend named John (who speaks five languages!) and finished my homework. I tried napping to no avail, though, so I got up and did some neuroscience.

After that, I went to the gym and met a nice man named Motti. He gave me some pointers about navigating Israeli life. He studied middle eastern affairs in college and is about to enter a PhD program. Nice guy! He offered to help me with Hebrew.

After the gym I went back home and was getting ready to eat when my roommate said I could cook his chicken. Next time, I’m going out. Cooking and I don’t get along. Plus, I found out we had a leak in the sink that left the kitchen floor soaked. Someone has since come to fix it, but that was inconvenient for a while.

Wednesday:

After class I went with the Thrive program to Tel Aviv where we visited different Israeli start-up companies. The first one was a venture capital firm that primarily invests in business-to-business companies like cyber security firms. The Israeli market is saturated with many companies like this as a result of translating military tech to the civil world.

The second start-up we visited was called Lemonade Insurance. They offer renters and property insurance and have a really interesting business model based off Artificial Intelligence technology and Behavioral Economics research. There are two notable things about Lemonade.

  1. Charitable component: When you pay X amount per month, the company takes a portion to operate and the rest goes to a pay out pool. At the end of the year, whatever is left in that pool gets donated to a charity of your choosing. This is beneficial for two reasons. Firstly, charity (Tzedakah in Hebrew) is good! Secondly, there is no incentive for Lemonade to not fulfill claims since it’s not their money. Over $600,000 was given last year.
  2. Claim handling. Apparently, there’s some behavioral research that suggests people don’t lie as much when looking at themselves (a quick Google search for the publication wasn’t fruitful). So, taking advantage of this principle, in order to submit a claim you take a selfie video describing the incident. Claims are then payed super-fast (possible within seconds)!

The third startup we visited was called Healthy.io. They have essentially taken smartphone cameras and converted them into a diagnostic tool for certain diseases. Specifically, they use AI and machine learning to diagnose diseases based on the urine dipstick test (where you have a chemically-coated material that reacts with compounds in urine indicating a certain condition).

One very practical example is the urinary tract infection. Typically, you must go to the doctor to get tested for this and then get a prescription for antibiotics that must be filled at a pharmacy. Healthy.io, however, has helped simplify this process by introducing their product into pharmacies in the EU where, if people show their positive test results, they can get antibiotics from a registered pharmacy (no more doctors’ visits!). The test costs 10 pounds, approximately $12.50, at Boots (the EU Walgreens).

After the last startup, I went to the beach with some friends (walked on cool rocks) and got dinner at a really good restaurant called Kukiza (recommended by a friend). For anyone who has yet to try schnitzel…do it. It’s basically thin chicken fingers but at least twelve times better.

THURSDAY:

Took my second Hebrew quiz, hopefully nailing it (update: got a 99). I practiced speaking Hebrew with my Morah (teacher) after class then did some neuroscience reading. I came back and planned my trip for the (Jewish) holiday break. Some friends and I are thinking of going to Egypt, Greece, and Turkey.  I then took a nap and went to the gym before grabbing dinner from Japan Japan and doing more neuroscience (are you getting a central theme of my life?)

FRIDAY:

Woke up SUPER early (6:30AM). Didn’t get enough sleep so that wasn’t fun. I did make some PB&Js for breakfast, though, before heading downstairs to the buses for a weekend trip to Masada, the Dead Sea, and Ein Geidi! Once we got to Masada, we all got off and hiked up to the fort; it took about ten minutes. We walked around and learned about the history of it, which was fascinating. (The History Channel explains it very well).

From Masada, we went to the Dead Sea where we had a great time floating! It was SO cool. The water was really warm which was nice and our skin felt as smooth as a baby’s butt. Our tour guide did tell us that we shouldn’t fart in the Dead Sea, though, because it creates a vacuum and the salt can get into certain orifices and that would be painful. Luckily that didn’t happen! Most of the guys got together and took a picture. I then got the best popsicle ever: watermelon. I actually recognized it from when I was seven and needed to try it again—it didn’t disappoint.

After the Dead Sea we went to a hostel where we showered and took phat naps. Dinner came next. They had shnitzel, rice, couscous salad, hummus, and challah (Shabbat Shalom!). Afterwards, we went to play improv games which was great. For the first one, people shouted a scenario and you had to act it out. I volunteered (of course) and was a fish (later chased by a shark) and a man who was shocked by electricity every time he took a step (so, naturally, I walked on my hands).

SATURDAY:

Went on a hike (too early) in the morning. It was gorgeous! We went on the trails in Ein Geidi towards the waterfalls and the first part was rough. We climbed 650 feet (which my sister, who lives in Colorado and frequently hikes mountains, would say she could do in her sleep, but I was not prepared). We got to this little oasis, where we sat and learned about the area. Apparently, the caves that we saw on the hike were where King David (as a boy) hid from King Saul (1 Samuel 24).

After the oasis, we went up to the waterfalls. I split away from the main group and went with a few people towards a less crowded waterfall. It was really cool because we got to travel through a cave like those in Indiana Jones! Anyway, after the hike, we all came back and went to lunch, showered, and napped. 

After our nap (all four of the roommates joined me), we went to a current events program where we discussed the immigration and refugee policies of Israel. It was fascinating to hear the perspectives of people from all over the world and how the practices of their countries shape their views.

As a Jewish state, Israel has an interesting law for granting citizenship, which I think plays into how they respond to refugees. Passed in 1950, it outlines the primary way people may become citizens: being (related to) a Jew. Thus, as it seems to me, Israel has an ideology of maintaining a Jewish identity and—consequently—prevents (non-Jewish) refugees from seeking asylum. This is, as someone else pointed out, antithetical to the mitzvah (good deed/law in Jewish tradition) of showing hospitality (hakhnasat orchim), a concept that first appears in the Torah in Genesis when Abraham invites three wanderers from Mamre to relax while he brings them food and water. I’m not exactly sure what this says about Israel, the Jewish state, if it doesn’t practice what it preaches in terms of asylum seeking, but I just think it’s interesting.

As an aside, Israel is a leader in natural disaster response (relating to hospitality/treating strangers with kindness) in terms of their response to natural disasters (for instance, they were among the first on the ground in the Bahamas after the hurricane a few weeks ago).

I have only started to learn about Israel’s history and politics, so I’m not sharing this in a critical way. I recognize that there is the potential risk—especially with antisemitism on the rise—that by opening its borders to asylum seekers, Israel is putting itself, and the Jewish people, at risk from external threats.

I don’t know enough yet to take a stand on this issue, but I found the different perspectives from the discussion fascinating.

After the discussion, we went to dinner and then Havdallah (the service that separates Shabbat from the ordinary work week). From there, we got on the bus and headed back to campus where I finished my homework and went to bed.

Conclusion

If you made it this far, thanks for reading this week’s blog! I am having a wonderful time in Israel. I’d love to hear from you—feel free to drop a comment below and have a great week!

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