Saturday, December 1, 2012

back to the midwest...

A lot has happened since my last post. Some highlights:

1. I left Beer Sheva and went to Haifa, which is in the north, and free of rockets. It was glorious. I was spoiled by an Israeli family, hung out with fellow Beer Sheva refugees, and studied a lot. Here's some classmates sitting down for one of our nightly family-style dinners. It was so good to get away, even when it meant squishing eight people into a three bedroom apartment.

2. The administration cancelled the rest of my classes, and I decided to return home, since classes would not resume until after Christmas.

3. Right after booking my flight, a ceasefire was called. If you weren't keeping up with the news, Jon Stewart has a great summary of the conflict that had me rolling on the floor laughing. You can find it here:

4. I returned to Minnesota and promptly turned into an icicle. Who knew it only took four months to completely lose all tolerance for real winter.

While the temperature difference hit me first, I'm surprised by how many differences there are between Minnesota and Israel, especially in my reactions and behaviors. For instance, I've been told by several people since returning home to stop yelling. I have been speaking at that decibel the whole time I've been away, and I could go louder. Also, I have difficulty speaking English while buying something. My first assumption is that I need to speak Hebrew. The girl who sold me a pop at O'Hare did not appreciate this. 

Finally, I'm having a lot of difficulty in grocery stores. In Israel, people tend to go a little crazy in the grocery store. I've seen pushing, shoving, name calling, and cart bashing. The worst part is trying to get in line to pay. There's no such thing as 'I was here first'. It's all about 'I'm not letting anyone get in front of me.' So when I went to the local Cub to pick up a few things, let's just say my Israeli aggression was not appreciated by the other shoppers, who prefer a passive-aggressive approach (smothered in Minnesota nice, of course). I suppose I'll readjust over the next few weeks, just in time to go back to Beer Sheva and relearn how to act Israeli.

Friday, November 16, 2012

there's always a downside...

     For the most part, living in Israel is amazing. I have met some incredible people- loving, funny, smart individuals who have become family. I have seen amazing things- the Old City of Jerusalem, the streets of Tel Aviv, and the Sea of Galilee. I have taken the first steps toward becoming a doctor- starting medical school, learning to place IVs, and studying constantly. While life here is very different from life in the U.S., I found myself adjusting quickly. After all, the life of a student is similar everywhere.
     However, the last few days have shown just how different life in Israel can be. While there have been occasional rockets since I arrived, this Wednesday marked the beginning of something new. Over the last 48 hours, over 60 rockets have landed in Beer Sheva, with many more blown away by the Iron Dome (an anti-rocket defense system). Thankfully, no one in Beer Sheva has been hurt and there's been little property damage. The warning sirens go off, and you have 60 seconds to reach shelter. Given that the sirens have been going off several times a day, sometimes several times an hour, there's no escaping the fact that life has changed.
     After a sleepless night spent running to the hallway (our shelter), my roommate and I decided to try a more creative approach. Our living room is also a shelter, so we pulled our mattresses into the living room, built a blanket fort, and have been hanging out in it ever since. It adds an element of fun to an otherwise stressful situation. We also decided to sleep in, have a no-homework day, bake cookies, and listen to Christmas music (I know, I know, it's too early). The result- our day off school because of rockets felt more like a snow day.
     It's hard to describe how my life feels the same even though I live in such a different place. Maybe it's because I haven't ventured outside yet. Maybe it's because I know this is where I'm supposed to be. Maybe it's because I'm sleep deprived. I hope and pray that things might calm down soon, so that everyone can be safe and I can return to my life as a busy med student. But this is Israel, and in Israel, nothing ever goes as planned...

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A brief respite

     Medical school is hard. I'm constantly amazed at the sheer volume of information being taught in each class. It's made more difficult by professors with thick Israeli accents, trying to juggle ten subjects at once, and also learning a new language. Reading my previous posts, I think I've given an unfair picture of what my life really looks like. I'm not constantly off on a new adventure, seeing the sights and having fun. I wish this were true. Too often, I'm sitting at home, alone, reading a textbook. Or having study sessions with classmates.

a recent immunology study session

     Despite how difficult things can be, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. Even when the sirens go off at 5:30am, telling me I have sixty seconds to get to the miklat (shelter) before the rockets hit (don't worry Mom and Dad, they usually hit open areas). All of my classes are interesting, my classmates are amazing, and I'm learning to love the dusty desert town I call home.
     Even so, it's always nice to escape real life for awhile. This past weekend, the Christian student group arranged a retreat in Tiberias. We studied the words of Jesus on the shores of the sea of Galilee, climbed down a mountain, and visited some hot springs. It was a welcome relief from the stress of school and a great way to get to know some new people.
some fellow MSIHers

      We really wanted to do some hiking, and decided not to let a thunderstorm deter us. (look how determined we are) Most of us were just excited to see some rain, we don't see much of it in Beer sheva. We went to Mt. Arbel, one of the mountains that overlook the Sea of Galilee. You park at the top, then hike down along the cliff. In some places, it's more of a climb than a hike...

careful! use the hand holds!

      The rocks proved much trickier than we expected, considering the storm left everything covered in a thick layer of mud. But med students are a stubborn group, and we prevailed. We saw a castle built into the cliffside...

notice the castle owner on the left, looking suspicious

And also some pretty spectacular views...

while getting covered in mud from head to toe...

After such a grueling, but incredible day, we decided we needed something relaxing the next day. So we headed to a nearby hot springs that was turned into a spa.

nothing like some hot water to wash the stress away

     So, yes, medical school is difficult. Most days are spent going to class, reading, studying, and deciphering Hebrew. There is a never-ending list of things to understand, memorize, and take to heart. But it's the rare times away from all that when I realize how lucky I am to be living the life I lead. 


Thursday, October 11, 2012


     Heading to class this week was tough after such a long break. I think the Jewish holidays are my new favorite part of the year. Israel becomes a different place during the holidays- most people are on vacation, and the pace of life slows down accordingly. My own vacation plans hit a few snags, but I was able to take a short trip to the Golan Heights. There's a national park there, Banias, which is renowned in Israel for its hiking trails and beautiful waterfalls. Speaking as a girl who lived in Oregon, the falls weren't that impressive. However, after living in the desert for the last few months, the sight of water was a welcome relief.

The river- look green! and water!

ah, that's better

getting closer to the falls

we're finally there!


We saw some other interesting things on our hike, like this...

don't stray off the path...

      It's easy for me to forget that Israel is a threatened place, with a long history of violence. The Golan Heights are a highly disputed territory, with Israel, Syria, and Jordan all claiming ownership. While things are safe there for now, land mines all over the region show its turbulent history. This is a perfect example of how life is in Israel. Everywhere you look, there are people going about their day surrounded by the remnants of more difficult times. It helps me understand the toughness that characterizes Israelis. After a lovely morning hiking to the falls, we had some extra time on our hands. So we decided to stop in Tiberias on our way home. How could we not, in such a pretty place.


     The water in the distance is the Kenneret (Sea of Galilee). So of course, we had to jump in. The water was lovely, and just the thing for a hot day. Feeling a little guilty for taking a trip without any historical stops, we headed over to a local synagogue to check out a 2000 year old mosaic floor. This section shows the zodiac, a symbol once widely used in Judaism, which has since been abandoned. Many people claimed that it had never been used, but this archaeological find proved them wrong. 

I can't wait to keep exploring this new country I call home. There's so much to see! Glad I'm here for three years, maybe I can at least scratch the surface.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Jerusalem- take 2

      This past weekend, some friends and I headed to Jerusalem. We had a 5 day weekend, thanks to Rosh Hashanah (Shanah tova everyone!), which is the Jewish New Year. People celebrate by eating a lot of sweet things, especially apples and honey, to wish for a sweet year. Now that's a tradition I can get behind! Rosh Hashanah kicks off the start of the Jewish holidays. Next up is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, which is a solemn day of repentance. After that is Sukkot, the festival of tabernacles, a week long celebration that remembers when the Holy Presence was in the tabernacle before the Temple.
     What does all this mean for a non-Jew living in Israel? I only have 5 days of class over the next three weeks. It's time to put away the books, pull out a suitcase, and travel. Our trip to Jerusalem was amazing. We stayed in the old city, which is like another world. Tiny cobblestone streets, busy shuks, and more tourists than locals. The best part of staying in the old city was being there after the tourists had gone.

Our first night stop was the Western Wall.

So great being there when it wasn't crowded! The next day we walked the ramparts of the city. We saw phenomenal views like this one

while walking on small sections of stone like this

my classmate Seth

So we were excited to take a break at a beautiful outdoor cafe

major props to Seth's guidebook!

Before gearing up for the next stage in the adventure

L-R Esther, Seth, and Angel

We wandered to the pools of Bethesda. Now, as a Minnesotan, when I hear about water, I tend to get a little excited. There's not a lot of standing water in these parts. So imagine my surprise when we arrive and see this

oh look, more rocks

I guess the last time the pools were full was in the Roman era. Too bad, I'm always up for a swim. We spent a large portion of the weekend wandering and getting hopelessly lost, only to realize we knew where we were after all. When things got too busy on the street, we climbed to the roof for amazing views like this one.

  I can't wait to continue exploring this country I now call home. There are so many places that I haven't seen, and so many places I want to go. Medical school isn't a big time commitment, right?

Friday, September 7, 2012


     Yesterday I finally got out of Beer Sheva. While there are things I love about my new home, it was nice to get away for awhile, especially to a cooler, greener place. Our class took the trip together. We spend the afternoon at Hadassah hospital, listening to thesis presentations by a group of international students finishing their MPH. It was fun meeting some other transplants to Israel, and to learn about some of the issues from their home countries.
     We spent the evening in the Old City with a tour guide, learning a little of Jerusalem's vast history. It's an unbelievable place. Everything is crowded- the people, the buildings, the merchandise at the shuk. Despite this, the city smells amazing. I wish I could capture smells to go along with my photos. You can't really understand Jerusalem without its scents. We started off at the Jaffa Gate, the western entrance.

     From there we moved through the narrow corridors of the shuk...

                                       then we arrived at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre... 

Inside were lots of mosaics like this one...

Which were okay, until you realized how they were made. Check out this close up...

We then wandered from the Christian quarter to...

where we saw this...

It looks like nothing special, until you realize it's a part of the city wall from the First Temple period       (1000-586 B.C.). It used to be a lot taller, I promise.

And finally, the Western Wall, where we ended our tour. Things were a little crazy there because the Israeli Army was having a ceremony to induct a group of paratroopers. There was a huge crowd, with lots of paratrooper's family members running around. Understandably, they were very emotional, which is saying a lot because Israelis are never afraid to show how they feel. It's one of things that makes living here easy- no need to learn Hebrew, just watch the hand gestures.

my new roomie Bethany and I checking out the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives

     So the first trip to Jerusalem was a success. A few classmates and I are heading back next weekend for Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year). Can't wait to get to know this incredible city a little better. Rosh Hashanah kicks off several weeks of Jewish holidays (Yom Kippur, Sukkot), which means that we get a break from classes. I'm hoping to do some more traveling, but at the very least it will be nice to get a break from studying. Classes start for the Israeli students after the holidays, so life in Beer Sheva is about to get more interesting.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Walking in the Desert

      Things have finally settled into a routine here in Beer Sheva. I study Hebrew for four hours every morning, practice Emergency Medicine drills for five hours every afternoon, then go home and do homework. That's right, I go home. I officially have a place to live. It's a small but comfy two bedroom apt I'm sharing with a classmate, just a 15 min walk from the hospital. We have a small convenience store downstairs, a 10 min walk to the grocery store, and a landlord from England. We're living the sweet life.
      I'm amazed by how comfortable I feel here, even in the desert heat. Our class has just 31 students, and we have become one big family. Last night, we took a bus out to the desert for a hike through a wadi (kinda like a valley, caused by erosion) and then had a  bonfire. I was surprised to learn they burn lumber in bonfires here, until someone pointed out that there was nothing else to burn. I was also saddened by the size of our fire- it was nothing like what I've built at the cabin. Check out some pictures of my classmates on our hike:

Haverim Wadi- It was a beautiful night for a hike, a nice breeze and the temperature just kept falling.

This is a cistern from the Nabatean era than we climbed into along the way. Pretty cool that it's still standing.

View from the top of one of the hills we climbed.

At the bottom of the wadi. In the rainy season, this turns into a riverbed.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Top Seven Ways to Survive in Beer Sheva

Having just survived my first week of classes and my first exam, I thought today would be a good time to share how life is different in Israel. Since Beer Sheva in Hebrew means seven wells, here are seven tips.

1. Never, ever wait in line. If you attempt to wait in a line, you will be waiting all day. Push your way to the front and stare down anyone who tries to cut in front of you.

2. Nighttime is the perfect time to wander the neighborhood alone. Everyone is out walking their dogs, running errands, etc.

3. On a similar note, only idiot tourists walk outside between the hours of 10am-3pm.. No one else is outside, and every taxi driver will honk at you. They will also probably be laughing at how sweaty you are.

4. Hebrew speakers love to watch English speakers butcher their language, especially when there are hand gestures and sound effects involved. It's like free street theater.

5. All dairy products were not created equal. Just because it looks like yogurt, doesn't mean it is. It could be sour cream. Or goat cheese. Or worse.

6. If you want to to open any sort of account, be prepared to bring every document you've every possessed, all the way back to your grandparent's birth certificates. Then be prepared to still not get what you need and be given no explanation. Israeli bureacracy is the best.

7. Always remember what day it is, or you may get "shabbated" Most stores close for Shabbat, from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Forget, and you're fasting for Shabbat.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Contact Info

Best ways to contact me, for those interested :)

Skype: rebecca.lapham

Phone: I no longer have an American telephone number. If you have an international calling plan, you can reach me at +972 054-498-6520. I don't recommend this, as it can get really expensive. I have an iPhone, so I regularly check Facebook, email, and Skype on my phone. I also have WhatsApp, a texting app that allows free texts to any number in the world.

Snail Mail: Mail can be really expensive overseas. I've been told to try to discourage mail...but here's my address. Any packages should be marked "No commercial value" or they will be charged big fines.

Rebecca Lapham
c/o Medical School for International Health
Ben Gurion University of the Negev
P.O. Box 653
Beer Sheva 84105

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Settling In

This is a picture of the AC unit in my new bedroom. It has become my new best friend. To say that summers in Beer Sheva are hot is like saying winters in Minnesota are a little chilly. The weather here is ridiculous. That being said, I love everything else about it. I assumed when I moved to the desert that I was saying goodbye to water forever. So imagine my surprise when I learned that my new apartment had a pool (see picture below).

This outdoor patio area is my favorite part of Beer Sheva so far. It's the perfect place to sit at night, cool off, and relax after the sweltering heat of the day. My first night here, I invited my new classmates over to enjoy the oasis. We were introduced to the wildlife of Beer Sheva, which included stray cats, bats, and (my surprise favorite) hedgehogs. One animal they don't have- mosquitoes. The plants were also a big change. Below is a picture of the olive tree that grows next to the pool. Definitely don't have those at home!

Today we get a tour of campus and Shabbat dinner with host families, tomorrow is a pool party and a pub crawl, and Sunday is the first day of classes. Med school here I come!

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Beginning

Tomorrow, bright and early, I leave to start my adventure in Israel. All that's coming with me is 2 suitcases, a backpack, and pillow. Not much to start the next chapter of my life. In the last few weeks my emotions have run the gamut from excited to scared, and nervous to terrified. As the big day rapidly approaches, I find myself getting more and more excited about the adventures to come. I can't wait to get back into the classroom and learn again (nerdy, I know). I can't wait to be back in a foreign country, trying to figure out where I'm going without reading any street signs. I can't wait to meet all my new classmates. I can't believe that God has blessed me with this amazing opportunity. Although I know I will be overwhelmed at times, I know that these next four years will define the rest of my life. Lehitraot, Minnesota!