Four the win in Israel!

With friends near the Old City!

Howdy! Above is a picture of me and my friends at an I love Jerusalem sign near the Old City on Tuesday! That was a really cool day, but before you hear about that, and my other adventures this week, it’s time to learn about marijuana:

A friend on my program told me that he, a regular smoker, stopped. So, naturally, I want to share my knowledge about it: The main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There are two main avenues of drug consumption: oral vs inhalation.

If you inhale it, it typically works faster and is more potent because it bypasses something called first-pass metabolism. This is an evolutionarily beneficial function where potentially harmful chemicals and toxins (like drugs!) that are ingested pass via the portal vein into the liver where they are chemically altered by a variety of enzymes before passing to the heart for circulation throughout the body.

In addition to first-pass metabolism, marijuana has a special property that once ingested, it binds to fat cells and slowly releases over a long time period to keep the circulating levels steady (think of a barrel of monkeys with velcro vests that get thrown at a wall and slowly fall off as they squirm). It takes approximately 4-6 weeks for marijuana to completely leave your body for a regular smoker and about 2 weeks for a non-regular smoker.

Marijuana acts on endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, typically in an inhibitory role (decreases activity). These receptors are found in high concentrations in a few places:

  • The amygdala
    • Marijuana acting here can make you less fearful and anxious
    • Marijuana acting here can result in a decreased ability to attend to the more significant things in a situation
  • The hippocampus
    • Marijuana acting here can inhibit long-term memory formation as well as short term memory.
  • Cerebellum and Basal Ganglia
    • Marijuana acting here can inhibit coordination and learning motor paths
  • Hypothalamus
    • Marijuana acting here tends to elevate appetite
  • Area postrema
    • Marijuana acting here tends to decrease vomiting/nausea

Inhaling marijuana is a problem for a few reasons. Essentially, you’re inhaling smoke from burning plants, which includes carcinogens and particulate matter, resulting in: suppression of the immune system, increased probability of inflammation, reduced testosterone, and bronchiole problems. An alternative would be water piping, which filters out some of the particulate matter (I believe this is called a bong).

I have a lot more to say about Marijuana, including information about the history of its legal status in America. If you’re interested, shoot me an email at blog@jdtrat.com and I’d be happy to discuss it with you!

Sunday:

Went to Ulpan and stayed after to do homework with Jesse at Rothberg (the building and school). After we finished, we went to this SUPER good hummus place where I tried falafel for the first time (highly recommend) and then went to a coffee shop. I tried this new drink called a Cortado, which is basically an espresso with warm milk. Very good! There was a nice barista there who spoke with us in Hebrew so we could practice, which was also nice.

After becoming fluent in Hebrew (just kidding, I wish), we went back to the dorm and did some work before going to the gym. Then it was off to bed!

Monday:

After Ulpan, my teacher showed concern as I tried to tell her I was going to Bethlehem. She said it wasn’t safe and I shouldn’t go. That freaked me out a little bit but I was determined to go (and had friends who had gone). So, I took a bus from school to near Damascus gate where I walked to a Palestinian bus station and got on one headed towards Bethlehem. Not going to lie, I was a little nervous at first but on the bus I relaxed some (though I felt my heart rate increase as the bus pulled out of the station). 

When we got to the gate, checkpoint 300, we walked through some revolving walkways into Bethlehem. It was very nonchalant. From there, we started walking past the wall. That was extremely powerful. It made me question the legitimacy of the actions Israel has taken in the West Bank. The wall is 8-9 meters high, almost twice as high as the Berlin Wall. There are cameras and (barbed?) wire at the top.

When we first walked past it, there was a gallery of posters and graffiti all along the wall sharing the perspective of Palestinian citizens. The posters depict the Palestinian experience during the Intifadas (uprisings), as well as sexual, physical, and mental harassment/pressure. Though they are likely propaganda intended for Westerners, I suspect they are probably rooted in reality on some level.

As we got closer to the center city, the area became pretty urban. It almost reminded me of NYC’s china town (without Chinese, of course). We ended up walking through the market and got some schwarma (my first ever!) and made our way to the Church of Nativity—the location it’s believed Jesus was born. After that, we went to some shops and bought ceramics before taking a taxi back to the checkpoint and leaving.

The checkpoint was interesting. I’ve heard in the mornings, as Bethlehemites enter Israel proper to work, the line takes hours. When we were leaving, though, it was a simple metal detector and X-ray machine (like the airport). I didn’t even need to take my watch off. After the scanners, I walked to a kiosk and showed my passport to the Israeli security officer (who was apparently on Instagram according to my companion).

I’m not really sure what I think of this experience. The wall was extremely powerful, but life beyond that didn’t seem too different. It was more impoverished, yes. Though, in Bethlehem at least, there was not an overwhelming sense of despair or gloom amongst the people we spoke with. I think I could argue the benefits for both the Palestinian and Israeli side in the argument, and I’m honestly not sure where I stand on the issue.

As a Jew, I definitely feel safe and comfortable in Israel, and believe wholeheartedly in the existence and safety of a country for my people. That said, I don’t think our safety and security necessarily outweighs those of Palestinians.

Who are we, as a people historically oppressed, to oppress others? I don’t have the answer to that question, or to the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but I would be very open to hearing your perspective!

Tuesday:

After Ulpan, we joined our Thrive friends and took the bus and light rail downtown where I had some turkey schwarma (second time in two days!) in laffa bread and went to the Old City. We went to the Armenian quarter first where we went into a special church before meeting with a ceramic shop owner who discussed his people’s history in Jerusalem. 

He shared what makes Armenian ceramics special: mineral based paints and alkaloid based glazes. I also learned about how Armenians are residents of Jerusalem (because they lived here before the war/area was annexed from Jordan around 1967), though they are legally citizens of Jordan.

He also said religion is nothing but a dictation of life from those within the establishment (who can do whatever they want) to the followers. Interesting perspective.

After we left the Armenian Quarter, we had some free time in the Jewish Quarter, so Jesse, Alex, David, and I looked for some memorabilia, though we didn’t find anything enticing (within budget).

After that, we went to the Muslim Quarter where we spoke with one of the nine Jewish families who lived there. Essentially, they felt safe. There was some hostility but nothing major. They described a general sense of honor between the Jewish families and the Muslim community there, with a touch of caution. They said they may not hang out at each other’s houses, but they were amicable.

From the Muslim Quarter, we went to the Christian quarter and went into the church where it’s believed Jesus was crucified and buried. We then went to a shop that had a lot of cool artifacts from the Middle East for sale. Not sure how to describe the collection other than eclectic! They had oriental rugs, antique coins, and Damascus Steel knives. I didn’t get anything, but I definitely want to go back and look more.

After that, I made my way with Alex, Jesse, and David to The Kotel before we (minus David) went to get haircut at 202 Jaffa street. There was a really long wait, so we did our homework and made friends (by practicing our Hebrew!) with a bioinformatics student! It was cool hearing a little bit about his curriculum. Anyway, after that I just came back and went to bed.

Wednesday:

Went to Ulpan, took a nap, and got ready for a Potluck that my apartment hosted! We had about 25 people stop by throughout the night and bring different dishes. We had pastas, fried rice, curry, salads, and a cheese board! Great friends, great conversation, and great food. We definitely want to do it again!

Thursday:

Went to Ulpan and then took a nap before going out. It was definitely one of my the best nights I’ve had in a while. My friend Dahlia was getting her nose pierced (which turned out great) and we celebrated the occasion! After her appointment, I went with Jesse, David, Alex, and some other friends of ours to get sushi at the “best place in Jerusalem,” Sushi Rehavia!

The food was very good, but the quantities weren’t large. I’ve determined sushi is just too expensive to eat regularly in Israel (huge sad). Anyway, it was a great time! From there, we all went to the Shuk where we wandered around for a bit. We decided to go to Marzipan’s, a famous bakery where I had the best (and possibly only?) rugelach of my life! 

After that, we went to hangout in a Cofix (a hybrid coffee shop and bar) for a little bit while we waited to meet up with more friends. Once they caught up, we went to an American bar called Mike’s Place where it was toga night (don’t worry, mom, I’m still not drinking)! They had live music downstairs and it was SO much fun dancing. After the band stopped playing, I left with a couple friends and we got back to the student dorms and went to sleep. I don’t know how to describe my night, but fantastic seems like an accurate word.

Friday

Friday was pretty uneventful. After a long night, I slept in until noon, went to the gym, watched Netflix, and FaceTimed my wonderful girlfriend (Hi! Love you!) before going to Shabbat dinner at a local family’s house. They were really nice! They had two little girls. The husband was a Rabbi and the wife was a middle school teacher. His brother was on leave for the weekend from the army.

I had a lot of good conversation with them; I learned about the army, about the school life here (apparently, their primary school is 1st-6th grade, middle school is 7th-9th grade, and high school is 10th-12th grade), and about the Orthodox community.

One really interesting fact to me was how Orthodox couples meet! Apparently, the song Matchmaker from Fiddler on the Roof is pretty accurate! There really are matchmakers for young Orthodox men and women who are ready to marry. They submit a type of resume and get matched with a prospective person. After the families look into each other, if they approve, then the two will meet and see if there’s physical attraction/chemistry/etc. Fascinating!

I also had a discussion about how Reform and Conservative Judaism are not, according to the Orthodox Rabbi I spoke with, considered real Judaism. After all, he argued, where in the Torah does it say these changes to the religion/traditions are allowed? It doesn’t.

I asked him if I was considered Jewish, since I grew up in the Reform and Conservative movements. He said yes, because I was born to a Jewish mother. “Mother, mother, mother,” it’s all about the mothers. This was interesting because when I asked his thoughts on being culturally Jewish, he didn’t think of that as an option. As I understand his perspective, either we, as Jews, are Jewish in the religious sense, or we are Jews but improperly aligned in our faith (practicing in the Reform or Conservative movement). I disagree with this.

Saturday

Woke up, went to the gym, and then to Shabbat lunch at a Thrive member’s house! They had really good smoked salmon salad, fresh Challah, and schnitzel! We also had nice conversations about pop culture and the word onomatopoeia (which British people pronounce incorrectly).

After that, I came back, did some work and hung out, tried napping (not much success) and went out with friends! We tried this new bar called Birman (they had jazz music!), but then I we realized that half of us were hungry, so we spent a solid hour running around finding food places (I really wanted shakshuka, and some of the group was gluten free). Some ended up getting ice cream, others bagels, and I got shakshuka! We then went back to Birman and hung out for a while before taking the light rail home.

After we got back, I talked with a couple friends for a while and went to bed! Good day.

Conclusion

Thanks for reading this week’s blog! I am super grateful for another wonderful week in Israel. Tonight (Sunday, September 29th) is Erev Rosh Hashana (the night of the Jewish New Year). It’ll be really special being in Jerusalem for that and I can’t wait to tell you about it next week! Shana Tovah!

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