Today's blog was supposed to be inspiring. I was going to tell the story of how I gave blood in Jerusalem. I was going to speak of the great joy I had, giving back to the country that has already given me so much, of finally contributing to Israeli society in a meaningful way. I was going to describe how I had sat on a long line, smack in the middle of the day, waiting upwards of 40 minutes, with another 10 Jews hoping to do something good with their day too. It was going to be a beautiful post, down to the picture of me smiling, "caught in the act (wink!)" of donating blood to the people of Israel. Of course, that is not what happened. After waiting upwards of 40 minutes, outside in the 90+ degree August heat (forgive me, Centigrade friends), I was informed that my iron level was .4 under where it must be for the great honor of giving them my blood as a present. Now, I know what you are going to say, it's not healthy for me or the recipient to give/take blood so devoid of precious iron, but I was livid. Really, I had myself to blame. I knew this might happen, that my iron levels might come back to bite me. Since coming to ulpan, I rarely eat meat. And here is why.
The meat (main) meal in this country is lunch. Lunch is served at 12:45. The line for food is a mile long by 12:46. Imagine, if you will, the best meal in the world. Steak, sushi- what have you. Imagine then, that it is free and plentiful. You would gladly wait on such a line, would you not? Unfortunately, in ulpan, everything in that scenario minus the insane line is the opposite. The food is free, to be sure, but it is also never appetizing (to me) and relatively sparse (no seconds!) On the rare occasion where I eat an ulpan dinner, it is generally two fried eggs, some rice or pasta (plain) and various salads. But for now we will discuss lunch. Allow me to set the scene- so it's 12:45 and my teacher has let the class out a bit early. I am first in line! Let's not celebrate just yet. Suddenly, I become very popular. People I barely know come over to chat with me about nothing. And stay there. And stand there. On the line. Because without my consent, I have just become an accessory to line- cutting! And lest you think this is a "rude American" phenomenon, please be aware that the worst perpetrators of line-cutting are the Russians and the French (in that order.) I don't want you to be concerned that I am segmenting the ulpan by nationality/language spoken- I mean, I am- but it is totally fine and accepted. We all refer to each other this way, makes things so much easier for descriptive purposes. Back to the lunch line. So it's me, my new best friends who've used my kindness to cut in front of 50 fellow students, the French, the Russians/Ukranians and a closed door. At 12:45, the door opens and lunch is served.
There are many students who enjoy the food at ulpan. I am not one of them. The choices are essentially meat or meat or meat or meat or unidentifiable fish or questionable vegetarian option. Now, I am no vegetarian, but since ulpan began, I have essentially become a pescetarian (fish-eater). This means, I always eschew the meat options, get scared by the veggie options and settle for the fish options. On any given day this means: 1) piece of fish in unidentifiable sauce, 2) fried fish (recipe: 3 pounds batter, 2 ounces fish) or today's option: 3) fish balls. I offered everyone in ulpan 100 shekel to identify the fish in fish balls, to no avail. Then to the side dishes. Can I interest you in some carbs? We have rice, pasta, potatoes, corn or couscous. As a Bostonian might say "cahbs on cahbs on cahbs." Next, you have your salad bar (term used loosely) and of course, your soup of the day. I do believe I am the only student at ulpan to be completely baffled by the need for hot soup on a scorching Jerusalem August day. Depending on the day, dessert will be served, and if you are one of the lucky few who get to the watermelon slices on time, I salute you.
So here's the main issue. I know that if I just ate the meat at lunch, I'd live a happier life. But in the USA, minus shabbat lunch, I never ate meat in the middle of the day. You see, I wait 6 full hours in between eating meat and dairy, which means if I had that schnitzel I've been eying for the past month, I might not even be able to eat the dairy I'm being served at dinner! It's truly a problem and one I haven't yet worked out. It does, however, explain why my iron is so low, and why I can't give my new country my true, blue- and- white, Zionist blood. Here's the plan: I will spend the next month building up my iron, so that I can regale you with my tale of finally giving back to my Homeland, as well as a full account of how delicious ulpan schnitzel really is. Can't wait!