ASA: Street Food Fair

For our second major event of the year, the Arab Student Association organized a night dedicated to the celebration of common, delicious dishes from across the Arab world. All of the food was homemade, featuring a spread of hummus (pun intended), foul, kushari, falafel, and awama. I had the honor of making the hummus; never before had I blended so many chickpeas in one go! During the event another ASA board member and I were responsible for putting together the falafel sandwiches, which included hummus, fresh and pickled vegetable toppings, and of course the quintessential fried chickpea balls.

I had never previously tried any of the other dishes, and this event was as much a learning experience for me as it was for many of the attendees. I love the food of the Arab world and was extremely excited to try these dishes, all of which I found to be delicious. I was particularly taken with kushari, an Egyptian dish that initially appears to be a mix of discombobulated elements: rice, macaroni noodles, lentils, tomato sauce, and fried onions. It originated as a dish of the masses because of its ease to prepare and the relative cheapness of the ingredients, but has since become the national dish and can be found anywhere from food carts to high class restaurants. Foul is a savory fava bean spread that I found to be wonderfully spiced. Awama is made of fried balls of dough soaked in a sweet syrup, and they were absolutely addictive.

We had a huge turnout at this event, and the tables were constantly filled with people talking, eating, and laughing amongst one another. It was a beautiful, joyous scene, and a reminder of the power of food in bringing people together.

The lineup of food!

Falafel gangsters

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ASA: Game Night

This year I am on the executive board of the Arab Student Association, and this past Tuesday we held our first event of the semester: a night featuring games from across the Arab world! These included tawla, the Arab version of Backgammon, dominoes, cards, and several physical games led by other ASA members.
No cultural event is complete without food, and there was a spread of hummus, pita chips, dates, and almonds for attendees to snack on as they made their way from country to country through participation in the games native to them. Tea and Arabic coffee are also staples of ASA events, and I got to see the process of how Arabic coffee is made as one of the other board members prepared it during setup (it involves a really cool little pot).
There was also live music that featured several iconic instruments native to the Arab world: the oud, which is a string instrument that looks somewhat similar to a guitar, and the tabla, which is a small drum used to create the rhythmic base of much Arab music. I took a class called Middle Eastern music several semesters ago where I learned about these instruments among many others, and the opportunity see them performed live and truly get a feel for the vibrant sounds they produce is amazing.

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The Language of Dance

Going into this summer, I knew I was embarking on an international adventure. However, I did not anticipate just how many different kinds of people of people I would meet along the way, how many languages and cultures I would be surrounded by, and how many beautiful friendships this would lead to. The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Intensive attracts people from all over the world; I have met people from the Netherlands, Germany, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Poland, Britain, Portugal, Italy, Malta, Macedonia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, Australia, South Africa, of course Israel, and I may even be forgetting a few. At any time when I am walking somewhere, I may hear three or four different languages along the way.

I have never been part of such an international group, and I have loved learning about the different places people come from. Despite all of the different languages spoken here, the most amazing revelation has been that we all share a common language of movement: we speak through our bodies with the vocabulary of dance.

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A New Way of Moving

I have trained extensively in classical ballet since I was six years old. While I have taken modern and contemporary dance classes along the way, the majority of my classes have been focused on ballet technique; I’ve spent years striving for perfect lines, meticulously pointed feet, jumps that defy the laws of gravity and extensions that go above and beyond the natural range of the body. This summer I have learned that there are no limits to the capabilities of the human body, and I have discovered entirely new ways of exploring and creating movement.

In living life and in making art, it is easy to get trapped in a bubble of routine. As artists, this bubble is our absolute nemesis, because we must continually break the bounds of what we think we know and how we understand our craft. We are scientists each day we step into the studio; it is our laboratory for researching the body and experimenting with the bounds of movement. This kinesthetic research is an exploration of the different ways we can convey ourselves as individuals and as a collective artistic force.

I have been immersed in contemporary dance this summer at the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Intensive, and I have discovered an entirely new way of using my body to make interesting and exciting art. I’ve broken the barriers to what I thought I knew about the limits of my abilities, and each day I wake up eager to see what I will discover about myself. Dancing here has shown me that the world of movement available to me is limitless, and by diving in I can discover whole new dimensions of my art. I have fallen in love with dance all over again.

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Arriving in Israel: The Adventure Begins!

Two and a half years ago, I traveled to Israel for the first time and fell in love with this place. When people ask me what it is about Israel that draws me, I lack the words to describe the feeling of the country; it is an intricate and delicate balance of ancient and modern, a culture that draws from the past but is very much alive in the present. I could eat a bowl of hummus every day for the rest of my life, and would never get sick of wandering through the marketplaces with their towers of dried fruits and rainbow assortment of fresh produce.

I began my adventure in Israel this summer in Haifa, where I stayed with a family friend and her two daughters. It was my first time in a kosher kitchen, where everything that touches dairy products is kept separate from everything that touches meat products. The concept of having two complete sets of dishes kept in two different cabinets for meat and dairy meals is mind boggling to me, but was nonetheless extremely interesting to be immersed in. Sharona, the mother of the family, keeps Shabbat, meaning she uses the Sabbath as a true day of rest – no electronics, cooking, writing, driving, or any other task requiring some kind of exertion. While I’m not sure I could ever live this way, I think it’s wonderful to have a day to quiet the noise of the outside world and focus on family, friends, and taking care of ourselves, which we too often forget in the hectic exertion of our daily lives. Sharona spent the majority of Friday cooking, and by sundown there was a delicious spread of food on the table We said the Shabbat prayers together and enjoyed a wonderful evening – there is nothing more special in the Jewish tradition than sharing food and good company.

Tomorrow I leave Haifa to begin the dancing portion of my adventure on Kibbutz Ga’aton! I can’t wait to see what these next six weeks hold in store.

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Meet Crete: The Amazing Greek Island

I began my summer study abroad adventures with a short vacation on the island of Crete, where I stayed in the home of a friend for five days. The house belongs to her family and is nestled in the small coastal town of Kondomari. Every night I fell asleep to the sound of waves crashing on the shore, only to be awoken very early in the morning by a chorus of roosters crowing on cue as daylight broke. The entire island was extremely charming – beautiful beaches lined the coast, and anywhere we went we were never more than a short drive away from the sea. I learned quickly that the Mediterranean sun is not to be trifled with; several days of lounging on the beach and walking around during the daytime left me with burns suitable for an unsuspecting foreigner. I managed to pick up a few Greek words and phrases during my time there, and toward the end of the trip my friend wrote out the full the Greek alphabet for me to study. I was eager to apply my new knowledge to reading the street signs and store names that we passed.

After hiking the longest gorge in Europe (the Samaria), swimming in the Libyan sea, experiencing the pink sand of Falasarna beach, and eating my weight in delicious Greek delicacies, I am off to the next part of my journey. Thanks for the most incredible vacation, Greece. Israel, here I come!

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The Revolution in Iranian Women’s Writing

Dr. Nasrin Rahimieh’s talk, “The Revolution in Iranian Women’s Writing,” offered unique insight into understanding the voices of female writers in Iran. One of the most profound ideas that Dr. Rahimieh shared was how women have been able to establish themselves on the literary scene even as their physical movement within society has become more confined in recent history. She addressed the stereotype of the Iranian women as one who is “mute rather than vocal, covered rather than exposed,” and then proceeded to demonstrate how women have been able to defy this stereotype through their writing. In my Sexuality and Identity in the Middle East class, we discussed how literature is able to give voice to those who may otherwise be silenced; novels are often able to express elements of culture and explore social dynamics in a more relatable way than scholastic writing.

Literature is a place that has allowed Iranian women to express their views and expose the realities of women and how they address the circumstances in their lives. Another idea that we discussed extensively in my sexuality class was how foreign influence shaped Iran during the 20th century. In Rahimieh’s lecture, she talked about a novel that dealt with this idea and discussed the suspicions that were specifically associated with the British and their presence in Iran. She related this to how the husband and wife in the novel came to reflect two different approaches to dealing with the changes taking place in Iran, wherein the wife focuses on family matters and the husband focuses on broader social and national matters. While the wife’s agency is assigned from her role of protecting the family and maintaining familial traditions despite changes in the nation, the husband’s agency is assigned through his work that addresses national issues and his involvement in conversations related to the future of the nation. Dr. Rahimieh discussed how the novel uses the metaphor of a watermelon to demonstrate this dynamic; while the carving of the watermelon by the woman can be taken as a literal sign of her commitment to family and her role in the home, it also metaphorically represents the carving up of the nation that was going on during the era of modernization that was driven by men.

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Getting Married: Afrah

The Arab Student Association put on a wonderful event this past weekend that celebrated wedding traditions from various countries in the Middle East. The evening consisted of three mock weddings, traditional Arab food, and indigenous dance styles from the region including belly dance and dabke. The belly dance was performed by a local professional, whose skill and precision with the isolations of her body were incredible. A group of students from OU performed Dabke, a traditional Palestinian dance.

I was the Moroccan bride, and I was carried out to the main event hall on a chair! This custom reminded me somewhat of the horah, which is a traditional circle dance performed at Jewish weddings where the bride and groom are lifted on chairs. I met my husband a mere hour before the nuptials, and although our relationship was short-lived, we had a great time laughing and dancing together to the cheers and zaghareet of the guests. (Zaghareet are trilling ululations made with the mouth, indicating excitement and encouragement.) There was also a Palestinian bride and an Egyptian bride. The Egyptian wedding included a demonstration of Tahtib, a traditional martial art where men face one another with sticks.

There was a woman at the event doing henna, and I had a beautiful rose drawn on my wrist by her. There was another woman doing Arabic calligraphy, and it was incredible watching her pen form the intricate letters of the language. At the end of the night the floor was opened for dancing, and we all gathered together to get loose and move to the music.

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Queer Identity and Israel

Imri Kalmann is a social activist that has been working for many years to increase public awareness of LGBT issues in Israel. He is a former co-chairperson of the Israeli LGBT Association and has also founded several prominent night clubs in Tel Aviv that are hubs for persons that identify as LGBT. Kalmann gave a talk at OU Hillel this March, where he spoke about his own personal experiences growing up in Israel as a gay man, and how he became involved in activism.

One of the most fascinating parts of this talk was hearing about the interactions of the different elements of Kalmann’s identity. Kalmann discussed how two of the most important aspects of his identity are his jewishness and his identification as a gay man. While the Jewish community as a whole is very accepting of LGBT people, Kalmann has found that government policies in Israel do not always reflect this due to the sway that the ultra orthodox that hold over policymakers. As traditionalists, most ultra orthodox are far less accepting of the LGBT community. Opposite this, the LGBT community tends to be a more secular sector of society.

Kalmann has struggled to reconcile his judaism and his homosexuality; while closing his popular gay bars on the Sabbath was important to him in upholding his personal religious convictions, the gay community resisted this show of religiosity. Kalmann felt that as much as the ultra orthodox did not support his sexual identity, the gay community did not support his Jewish identity. This was especially interesting for me to hear about as a fellow Jew and member of the LBGT community. I have been lucky to feel very supported by my Jewish community here in Oklahoma, and having an LGBTQ+ group within the OU Hillel community has shown me that these two identities can coexist harmoniously.

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Belly Dancing

At the end of February, the Arab Student Association advertised an event that instantly caught my attention – a night of belly dancing!

Last semester I was fortunate enough to take a belly dancing workshop through the OU School of Dance, and I absolutely loved it. The movement is sensual and invigorating. As a dancer, I always enjoy new dance experiences, and learning about styles that exist in other cultures opens windows to understanding dance in the larger global context.

The workshop was led by two members of the Arab Student Association with belly dancing experience. They put together a short routine for us set to an upbeat song that had a distinctly Middle Eastern sound. They taught us a series of movements, which mainly consisted of undulations in the torso and hips. We then linked these movements together for the dance. Although the gathering felt somewhat awkward in the beginning and there was a sense of shyness in the room, we soon became comfortable with one another. This allowed us to dive into the movement, swaying our hips and shaking our shoulders together. The night ended with us dancing in a circle, improvising and free dancing as a group.

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