Archive for Jewish

Jews in the Woods

We’re currently in the big “yaaaaar jewish holiday seasonnnn” that comes around every Fall. Cause Jewish holidays are based on the lunar calendar, the dates fluctuate from year to year. During my first year in Korea, Yom Kippur was on a day when we only had a half day of school and midterms, so I wasn’t even teaching and it was easy to ask for the day off. This year, Rosh Hashana fell smack in the middle of the week. My school (in its infinite kindness) allowed me to take two vacation days to celebrate the holiday in style.

There are essentially 2 synagogues in Seoul (Chabad and the US Army chaplaincy). Ya know the saying, 2 Jews, 3 opinions? Yeah. There’s a lot of that. For the high holidays they merged together to form an uber-metch-synagogue out in the woods. WHAT? Jews in the woods?! Apparently the military has a religious retreat center in this uberforesty part of HanNam-dong with a nice chapel and bunk-bed-filled-communal-bathroom-sporting dorms. Everyone who wanted to got to stay there for free, eat for free and get eaten alive by mosquitoes for the low low cost of nothing! With the weather being an ongoing stream of monsoontyphoon I chose communal bathrooms over my normal hour long commute to temple.

The community brought in two young guys (both with connections to my hometown, which made for some Jewish geography) to help lead services and read torah. I’m gunna say with honesty that normally I don’t do so well on the high holidays. It’s hard to feel kavana (spirit//feeling) when you’re looking at a four hour service+sermons; it can feel more like an obligation to be there than anything else. Go to high holiday services, get ya JewCard(tm) renewed for a new year. This was the first year that I felt the words resonate with me and was able to appreciated the whole experience. When we blew the shofar, the symbolic trembling of our souls, I felt this deep connection to Jews across Asia, all of us celebrating the new year together. The guys also did a great job of leading, especially the Friday night services. There were about 100 people there on the first days, and it tricked down to the twenties as the holiday weathered on.

Being a Jew in Seoul is different from being a Jew in Ann Arbor. Where in the the states ya can say “I’m a Jew” and people have some kinda idea about what your taking about, a lot of Koreans aren’t really sure. I get a lotta –

Are all Jews Israeli? (no) What, there are Jews today? (yes) Do all Jews look white like you? (no)

– which I don’t mind at all. Its kinda sad though that Jewish life in Korea is really all about services and not volunteering or eating or social stuff. I’m sure that there’s more Jews here who’d want to connect, but maybe just not in a go-to-temple kinda way. There’s just not that much in way of options in Korea.

One thing that my thoughts kept drifting to as I was praying was the oft repeated Jewish mantra, ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ I have really complicated feelings about Israel in general, but I’m hoping that that’s where I’ll be next year, studying at Pardes. Maybe, maybe not. It’s what my mosquitoe bitten legs and way too Jewish heart want 😉

Happy New Year everyone! May we all be inscribed for a sweet year!


Jews of Korea (?! really)

@ Yongsan Army Base

With shabboes starting later and later, Chaplain Shulman finally got around to taking a group picture of the Friday night crew. This is pretty much the Jewish community of Korea that I know – English teachers, Korean natives, US army, reform to orthodox. People come for an hour or two outside of Seoul to get together at the US YongSang Army Base for services and dinner. It’s not Ann Arbor, but it’s not bad.

8 or so of my friends are in the picture, including Linda (to my right), who’s not jewish and was suckered by me into going. This week was Sheva Brachot for Neil and Tobi, who just got married, and a huge going away party for everyone leaving Seoul in the next month. I thought there would be some serious partying, and dragged her along…. well, at least I think she enjoyed the food.

🙂 Anyway, it’s a good time – I’m happy to be part of it.
Be sure to click for larger picture!

vegan passover bagels, made with bananas

Passover day one

I don’t know remember how it was making lunches last year. Since I almost always went home for lunch anyway… well now, passover is upon us, and there’s no choice in that mater.

Lunch made:
matza with marscapone cheese and raspberry jelly
fresh salad with korean butter lettuce, roasted garlic, cherry tomatoes, almonds and cranberries in a balsamic sauce
korean acorn squash roasted with honey and cinnamon

With my impending raise next month, I’ll be entering into the Korean Middle Class. At least based on monthly income. And looking at the low end of the spectrum. Well now, let’s just say I’ve never made so much money before – and, I’m making more than most of my students parents, just because I was born in an English speaking country. Emeth – truth, awkward and fact. In honor of my raise and my recondition of privilege (har har)  and, most importantly, Passover looming ahead in a week, I hired a maid to come in one time to help me out.

This something that makes me really uncomfortable about my economic privilege, the idea that my mess should be delt with by someone else. I know I have a cleanliness problem though. See, mess don’t bug me. When I do clean, most people tell me that there’s still la lotta work to do… but I can’t see it. I’m comfortable with a layer of grim that makes other people bust out mops and tidy up.

So, I bit the bullet and called (with the help of my co workers) up reinforcements: A nice, late 30’s woman who we can call Ajjuma. As she walked into my place, I instantly felt shame. She asked me in Korea if I was the only person who lives here. “Neh…” A mess this large was made by one  foul foreigner. Oh man. Over the next four hours we cleaned together, sorting, throwing away things, eating bananas and drinking tea. While not an equal division of labor.. It was what it was.  My place looks so hot now. . . I just gotta keep it this way for the next week, until the holiday starts (and ends).

In other news, I’m sick – Again. Seems to me as if Korea is chock full of cold viruses that I’ve never been exposed to before – I got no other idea why I’ve been sick just about every month. live n learn!

the room with a hole in it

My student’s asked me to contribute to the yearbook by writing up a lil’ bit about what I was like as a student. It took a while to search for the perfect memory to share…

I was a pretty bad student in school. I went to a Jewish* school, kind of like Hyewon: we didn’t have any classes with boys, we had uniform skirts (that we made shorter when the teachers weren’t looking), and we couldn’t dye our hair.  I guess you could say that I wasn’t fan of the whole school thing. But, there were some good times too.

My high school was about 5 stories tall, but really small. There were 120 students in my whole school. When I was 17, I had a class on the 5th floor. This class was in “The Room With A Hole In It” – a normal classroom, except that there was this hole in the floor, just big enough to put a hand in. Why was there this hole in the middle of the classroom? I have no idea. We just ignored it. Sometimes a girl would forget that she sat near the hole, and accidentally push her chair into in, causing her to PLOP onto the floor. Hahahaha! When we moved our desks for activities, the teacher would always tell us to be careful of the hole. It was kind of funny.

I sat behind the hole – close enough to admire it, but I never had to worry about my chair falling in. My friends and I would try to put things in the hole without anyone noticing.  We started small: paper notes, grammar worksheets, chocolate wrappers.  If you could crumple it up and throw it in, we sent it down the hole. We threw in bigger and bigger things: pencils and pens, cups, lunch boxes – WOOSH! They disappeared down into the hole!! We didn’t actually think about WHERE everything was landing. The hole was like some kind of alternate dimension! Once you sent something down, it was like it never existed at all.

One day, I was in a class on the 4th floor, and three men came in with a ladder. This classroom was twice the size of – and directly under – “The Room With A Hole In It.” The men didn’t say anything to us or the teacher. They began to set up the ladder in the back of the classroom. It was hard to ignore them, and us girls watched as one man climbed up the ladder and removed a tile from the ceiling.  It was then that the smell hit us-

From the ceiling, trashed rained down into the classroom like some kind of sadistic storm! Turns out just about everyone was putting stuff in the hole, and that the schools’ weird smells could be traced back to our humble 4th floor ceiling. As the men excavated pure trash from the ceiling, this is what they found:  a pile over 180 centimeters tall of countless notebooks and teacher handouts, pencils, pens, markers, chalk, textbooks with their covers ripped off, one shoe, three men’s undershirts, two hairbrushes, three doorknobs (!), one keyboard, two computer mice, one desk leg (!!), one uniform skirt, a soda bottle of pee(!!!), an old pizza, twenty empty cans, four water bottles, one sock, and seven lunch bags. It was snowing garbage into our classroom! My teacher just stood there, with this look of shock on her face. After the men gathered everything into three giant trashcans, they left as silently as they came in. How in the world did students get a keyboard in there? How could there be a table missing a leg??  And the clothes. . . We couldn’t stop laughing!

Out of all the exciting, funny and weird memories I have of school – the subtle rebellions against school regulations, the comic books I made staring my friends, the prizes I won, and my constant butting heads with certain teachers – the day I realized where the hole went (and what it contained)  is my favorite memory.

*Judaism is a religion, and Jewish is what we call people who follow that religion. Jews believe in the Old Testament of the Bible. Most Jews live in Israel and in America, but there are Jews all over the world!

So, in a surprising turn of events, my almost-brand-spanking-new mac suffered massive hard drive failure! What???! How is that even possible? My last back up was about a month ago – quite good for my records. I’ve gone years without backing up. Horrifying, but true. ㅜ_ㅜ

So, what does this mean? Well, I haven’t been online in a few days (except for at work) and I probably won’t have a working computer for at least another week. And, I’ve lost some writing and photographs. I’m not sure how to load my software from my backup either… so… I’m not sure what’ll be up with my Adobe stuff when I get my machine back.

One last bit of moping: I’m wearing dokkbukki pants today. I grabbed these jeans from the jean-pile, only to realize (now, as I sit in my office, preparing for the day) that there was a horrible accident involving that ever chewy and delicious hot rice cake: the dokkbukki. I seem to remember a night with a lot of friends and laughing and OH YES. I must have dropped a ton of the bright-red-chili-sauce-drenched – tomato-simmered-cakes. Cause there be red stains all up and down these legs. How I failed to notice as I got dressed this morning, I’ll never know… Fail. Major Fail!

Onto the awesomeness of life right now: things are pretty awesome. Life has taken on a kind of schedule: work in the mornings, of course, but every night holds something different. I’m taking an interactive class on Jonsen Dynasty culture at The National Palace Museum of Korea – last week we made soap. This week we’ll do calligraphy! I’ll be going on field trips and trying on hanbok. It’s all very interesting, and the palace is super lush.

Other days I go to Itaewon, to the Chabad. We’re studying women’s experiences in the prophet stories in Hebrew – oh man. There are some seriously strong women, but their stories are so fragmented. In Itaewon there are also weekly-or-so writers’ workshops and performer’s workshops, and lots of little coffee shops and English book stores. It’s amazing to feel like there are so many resources to plug into for the arts.

I study Korean a few nights a week, either with friends or with teachers at my school. My reading is getting to a workable stage. I’ve almost got all of the compound vowels down. Everyone knows how much I struggle with language, so learning to read awesomely is super sweet for me. Right now I’m only learning about 2 vocabulary words a week (mostly from my students, haha) which is not really enough to talk or anything. You’d be surprised though at who speaks awesome English in Seoul – it’s everywhere.

This week I have a super easy schedule – no 9th grades cause of finals, and for the 8th graders we’re giving an English speaking test. (we = my Korean English Co-teachers and myself). The speaking exam is on the slang I’ve been teaching the last two weeks:

That’s so wack! Fail, Major fail!
That’s sweet! That’s sick! Major win!
I’m chill. I’m cool. I’m solid.
I’m whatever. I’m eh.
I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.
What’s up?~ Just chilling.

The girls had to make dialogues with the slang and perform them in class. Yes, really. I love my job! I’ll put up videos of some of the good performances later – some of them are so funny! I feel like a proud mother every time I hear “I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.”


Oh, and Manisha and I made a new video for her students (elementary). You can check it out here. Funnnny!