Go to Israel in Dec. 2012/Jan. 2013

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Day 9

Our last day began by waking up after a great night’s sleep in the freezing cold Bedouin tents on paper thin mattresses sans pillows. It’s safe to say that none of us have ever been so happy to wake up at the crack of dawn before, but we were especially excited because we were going on a sunrise camel ride in the desert. So nomadic of us. The interesting thing about being in the desert is that during this 15 minute camel trot, the temperature miraculously went from being unbearably cold to comfortably warm.

After our camel ride we had breakfast in the Bedouin dining hall (which seemed kind of advanced for authentic Bedouin hospitality, in my opinion), we packed up our things to head north to Masada. The drive through the desert was incredible in the daylight, which we hadn’t seen on our ride here last night.

We got to Masada and it only took about 15 minutes to hike up, but still most of us were winded. When we got to the top Kuti gave us a long tour of the different parts of Masada. We learned about how the palace was built and destroyed, and about the various historical events and peoples that shaped its history (see Wikipedia or go on Mayanot Birthright for details). The views at the top were truly breathtaking, but one of the highlights was that we got to see a scribe actually writing a Torah inside the synagogue. Also, the scenery offered a major photo op for everyone, especially with the amazing weather we were lucky to have today.

After the tour we hiked back down for lunch. This hike was much longer, and even though it was a descent, it was definitely more difficult than the way up because it was windier, rocky, and had fewer actual paths. At times we found ourselves wondering why we decided to pass up the 3-minute gondola ride in favor of the walk. Whatever, it was a small taste of how the Jews felt wandering through the desert for all those years.

When we got to the bottom we ate lunch outside and had some time to shop in the Ahava store which sells Dead Sea beauty products that are supposedly amazing for your skin. Even though we can easily get these in America, something about buying them here seemed more legit.

After lunch we got back on the bus for a short ride to the Dead Sea, a definite highlight of any trip to Israel. Kuti built us up to expect that the high salt content would make it uncomfortable to swim in, and we were worried it would sting; but everyone had a great time floating and nobody even seemed to mind the fact that it reeked of sulfur. Overall it was an amazing way to end our tour of the Holy Land.

After our short float in the sea (it did start to sting eventually), we got back on the bus to Jerusalem to have our last dinner and watch an Israeli standup comedian; and to get ready to go home bright and early in the morning. We’re all so sad to leave, but it’s safe to say Mayanot 389 went out with a bang.


After an unforgettable experience in the Holy City of Jerusalem, Mayanot 389 boarded the bus and headed south for a taste of Bedouin hospitality. Along the way, we stopped at a gas station and stocked up on our new favorite Israeli snacks. Before we knew it, the Bedouin camp emerged from the pitch darkness of the desert. We were directed into a single large tent, sat on thin mattress-type mats, and waited for our dinner. Soon, we were presented with our meal: a round tin tray piled high with rice, potatoes, chicken, laffa (a flat, wrap-esque bread), and a variety of usual Israeli salads/side dishes. In true Bedouin fashion, we didn’t eat off individual plates; we instead shared the trays with small groups of our friends. After dinner, we went back to the bus, collected our backpacks, and found our bedroom for the night. We slept in a similar tent to the tent we ate in, aside from the divide down the center that separated guys and girls. We were paired up with Mayanot 302, another Mayanot group that we have seen frequently throughout Israel.  Our nightly program consisted of a Bedouin man talking about Bedouin culture and lesson on how to play a traditional image from the culture. A few of us were willing to try out the instrument and were able to play it pretty successfully. We moved out of the tents and made our way to our bonfire. We roasted kosher marshmallows and played some group games. The 30-degree air began to get to us and most of us went into the tent. Some people decided to use newly purchased hookahs while others stayed outside and enjoyed the desert at night. The tent was extremely cold during the night and lots of us didn’t get a great night of sleep. The other group took most of the mattresses and since we are such a giving and thoughtful group, we decided to let the other group have them.  We all were very excited to  wake up and go camel riding. Our night with the Bedouins will definitely be a unique memory from our Israel adventure.









Day 8

Out of the hotel and into Jerusalem!  After a few days of feeling cooped up and rained in causing a bit of cabin fever (with the exception of yesterday of course), we finally spent an entire day outside in the sun in the holeyest of places: Jerusalem. After a brief religious learning activity in the hotel following breakfast, the group excitedly boarded our caravan – the bus, so very ready to explore!

We began in Old Jerusalem. Kuti, our guide led us through significant ruins providing informative stints at each location. Occasionally Kuti was interrupted by noisy Israeli school kids playing outside (extremely cute too) or passing garbage pickup trucks. Although distracting, it was an interesting mix of modern living within the ancient sites. We ended the morning tour in front of the Hurva Synagogue in the Jewish quarter. Next stop: Shopping!

Two glorious hours to skip merrily along the cobblestone alleyways and spend hundreds of shekels (souvenirs for parents obviously) were just what we needed. We bought jewelry, scarfs, Israeli Army t-shirt, and falafel- our new favorite food. We explored a roofed market lined with a variety of stores. The jewelry shops effectively lured us tourists in with beautiful rings, necklaces, and shiny menorahs. We like shiny things.  But some prices were steep, so many found financial refuge in a forbidden area: the Muslim quarter. Of course we were warned by our guides to avoid the “Narrow streets after a big gate”, but that was as effective as a parent telling their child in a candy shop to look but don’t eat. We obviously shopped there anyways. Many did well with their purchases in the Muslim quarter by bargaining down prices and ignoring pushy sellers. Then, there were those of us that fell victim to inflated prices and persuasive trickery- myself included :-/.

After our two hour break we joined together once again to prepare for the much anticipated visit to the Western Wall. We wrote our wishes, folded then tightly, listened to Mendel make a Lchaim, then made our way to one of the most historic Jewish sites. Girls to the right and boys to the left. We visited the Wall in two separate groups but all felt the unified in the spiritual experience. To me, this was the most moving part of the entire birthright trip. What amazed me the most was the years of history embedded in the stones. The boys and girls reunited in the square where the people who had Bar/Bat Mitzvahs the night before received official certificates of recognition.

Our day in Jerusalem ended with an explanation and visit to the ancient Michvas and a brief movie viewing in a Western Wall museum. We then boarded our bus once again to start our three hour journey to the south. Tonight we stay in a Bedouin tent and tomorrow, Masada. Today was a long day followed by an even longer one tomorrow. But the excitement to experience more fuels us!


Day 7

 Yesterday was a day of somber reflection in the city of Jerusalem. We began at Mt. Hertzl, the Israeli Army’s cemetery, where we remembered those lost protecting Israel. Israel represents more than just a country in the Middle East. It is the Jewish homeland. No matter what is occurring around the world the Jews will always have a place to call home, a place where we all belong, and yesterday we had the chance to respect and honor those lost protecting such a home. After hearing stories of bravery and friendship from our Israeli friends we reached the end of the cemetery, where yet again we reflected. This time, we reflected on the time spent with our soldier friends, for they had to finally depart from us and return to the army after five unbelievable days. We shared goodbyes and tears, exchanged information, and promised to keep in touch. We knew the trip would not be the same without them, but we are truly grateful for the time we had with them and the incredible memories that we created together.

                The next stop on our day of remembrance and emotion was Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum. There we remembered the worst occurrence in our people’s history. We heard personal stories of the account, saw actual footage of the horrors that took place, observed authentic pieces taken from history, but most importantly reflected on the strength and continuance of the Jews in spite of a history of persecution and genocide. Personally, the most profound moment during the tour was at the end at the section dedicated to the children murdered during the Holocaust. About 1.5 million children under the age of 18 were slaughtered during the attempted extinction, and the thought of the terror of losing a brother or a child truly impacted me. After concluding our tour we returned to our hotel for a lecture from the David Project.

                 The David Project is an association dedicated to informing young people on the conflict and situation in the Middle East. We learned about the tension at the Gaza Strip and the West Bank between Palestine and Israel. We viewed media reports of current threats and updates issued by Middle Eastern leaders. The experience opened my eyes to the threat of war in the Middle East, the American involvement in the conflict, but most importantly the importance of protecting Israel from terrorist threat.

                The evening concluded with one final somber reflection. We remembered the Green Bay Packers’ triumphant season which ended last night at the hands of the New York Giants. The Sconnies wept while the coasties cheered, but regardless you gotta tip your hat to Aaron Rodgers and the incredible season they had.

                The extremely emotional day was intense and important, powerful and humbling, and we will always remember those lost protecting the Jewish land, at the hands of the Nazis, and to the mighty Giants.

Still a very happy Jew     -          Evan


Day 6 (Shabbat)

 Shabbos Menucha!

One of my favorite mitzvah’s of Shabbos is Shabbos Menucha, which simply means Shabbos rest. On Shabbos it is a mitzvah to rest and relax…and this is exactly what our Mayanot group did on Saturday. After some late night parties the previous night for the Bar Mitzvah celebration’s it felt amazing for some growing teenagers to sleep late. But once our day began we were busy learning about this holy holiday. After lunch we attempted to stump the Rabbi and were allowed to ask any and every question that we wanted. We learned about topics such as dating rules for Orthodox Jews and we even got into a heated debate over the Holocaust.

Later in the day we participated in a Jewish Identity project. This entailed sorting Jewish values in order of importance to us including: getting circumcised, having a bar or bat mitzvah, being a Zionist, making Ayllah and more. This spurred deep conversations and differences in opinions especially between the Israeli soldiers and American teenagers. I found myself challenging my own values and respecting others ideas even if I totally disagreed with them. It was also interesting to debate with kids my age issues such as whether it is necessary and important to marry another Jew. After arguing with my parents and grandma my whole life that love was more important than marrying a Jew, I found myself realizing and even advocating for the importance of one to marry a Jew. So I guess it’s true in a Jewish family…the loudest wins. My grandma and mother have definitely subconsciously hypnotized me! The horror!!!

After this activity we participated in a traditional Havadalah ceremony. We sang, swayed, lit the candle and left the oasis in time of Shabbos. At least the Madison students can meet up at Chabad for Friday night services in a few weeks.  Once Shabbos was finished we headed out to Ben Yehuda Street for a unique experience. Instead of shopping we danced in a flash mob in the square. This surprisingly went really well; we grooved to a collection of remixes with Jewish words to songs such as the Black Eyed Pea’s Hit “I Gotta Feelin.” When the dance was over we nonchalantly walked away from the square and pretended that nothing significant just happened. It was an especially cool experience because two other Mayanot groups participated in the flash mob with us.

Finally to finish our day we all split up and went to dinner by Ben Yehuda Street. After expressing my craving for an American Hamburger some of the Israeli soldiers hooked us up with Jerusalem’s best burgers. Since it was 9 pm our stomachs were growling and it was not a hard task to clean our plates…although, I personally never have an issue cleaning my plate! Jewish girls aren’t the salad types…let’s be honest. We then headed back to the bus to get ready for the long day to follow. That’s all for now J

Shabbat Evening

 Shabbat- This is an experience that is a huge part of the Jewish tradition and this was the first time I had the opportunity to be a part of it. Being that I got to experience all the festivities of Shabbat in Israel made this evening extra special. 

We each bought gifts for one person in the group, selected randomly, to exchange. We all gathered in a circle and went around the room presenting our gifts to each other, accompanied by a few words of thought. This was a great way to start off the night. Natan, one of our amazing soldiers, had me blushing when he presented me with my gift, a Star of David necklace.   I feel really good about going home and wearing this necklace to show that I am proud of my Jewish roots.

We then gathered for a Shabbat service. It was a lot of fun filled with singing, dancing, and a lot of confusion. I had a hard time keeping up with the Hebrew songs. Overall it was interesting to say the least and I think there was a lot of positive energy that came from the service.

Elevators in the hotel have been extremely slow due to Shabbat. A majority of us have been taking the stairs. Seven floors…No big thing! It has been a good source of exercise none the less, plus the stair dwellers always beat the elevators to the 7th floor.

So that was off topic, but we had a fantastic dinner and then we gathered for the most exciting part of the evening. A group of us had never been bar or bat mitzvahed, so why not do it in Israel! Asya, Jake, Breanne, Lauren, Mikhael, Molly, Michael, Dana, and I all gave a speech and it was as easy as that. Sorry to all of you that spent years preparing for your own. Regardless, all of us shared a really special moment together. I think I can speak for all of us in saying that we all feel more proud than ever to be Jewish through being on this trip. 

Over and Out








From the soldiers

 It’s been 3 days since we’ve joined Taglit Maayanot.

We have the honor of joining to such an amazing group of young Americans.

We are really impressed by how serious, deep and spiritual this journey had been to both us and the Americans.

We are proud to set an example as soldiers and citizens of Israel, and we really hope to see you guys coming to Israel once again.


The soldiers – Segev, Natan, Yaron, Yoni, Shira, Shiran, Shahaf and Tom.

Day 5

 Today we loaded onto the bus to downtown Tel Aviv to do some exploring and sightseeing. We were able to check out Rabin Square, which has become a major memorial for all of Israel. Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated back in 1995 at the exact place we stood, after promoting peace at a demonstration. We learned that he was offered the chance to wear a bullet-proof vest and he turned down the offer, believing that he would be safe with the Israeli people. His death was a major event in the history of Israel, and his memory will never be forgotten. The memorial of Rabin Square includes the Israeli flag and a plaque about the event, marking the place he stood for all to see. From there, our group ventured to Nachalat Binyamin and the Carmel market for a little shopping and eating. Earlier in the day, we had received one name of someone else on our Mayanot 389 trip, whether it was one of us, a soldier, or staff member. In honor of Shabbat and being together, we were in charge of buying a gift of some sort for around ten shekels for the person whose name we pulled. The plan is to exchange the gifts tonight at the Kotel, or Western Wall in Jerusalem. We loved walking through the area, getting to know the Tel Aviv streets and venues. Many merchants stood under canopies at the market, selling anything from little souvenirs to fish, challah, pomegranates and other types of Israeli food. Although some of us tried to bargain for prices, most of the time the merchants would not budge. It was totally worth it though, and a good way to expand our tastes in food and to try new things. We had a wonderful time searching for the gifts we will be exchanging tonight, all while trying to be as creative as possible. After we finished shopping at the market, we boarded the bus together and began our journey to the holy city of Jerusalem.   

Night in Tel Aviv!

 We arrived in Netanya after an amazing but extremely rainy day in Tzvat. After we ate dinner (the food was a serious improvement from our last hotel), we got ready for our night out in nearby Tel Aviv.

Why was this night different from all other nights? Because the club we went to (called Play), told our Israeli soldiers that they had never seen a party so amazing as ours. The music was a great mix between American house music and authentic Israeli tribal beats (mixed with Avicii, of course). There were a few other Taglit trips to mingle with, many shots were taken (as in, photos), and many new memories were made and then forgotten.

The down side? We only had one night in Tel Aviv and we had to be on the bus by midnight, Cinderella. Oh, and the bartenders who made up drink prices out of thin air, unfortunate for those who found themselves paying 50 shekels for a vodka soda. Unlike at the shuk in Tel Aviv where we went today, liquor prices are nonnegotiable. Pay or don’t play…at Play.

Our 7:15 wake-up call this morning was a pleasant start to the day in Tel Aviv, which was later than usual, lucky for the hungover ones. Anyway, we spent the morning in the city and now we’re off to Jerusalem to celebrate Shabbat and a few bar and bat mitzvahs. Yalla bye!

Day 4 Pictures




Day 4

 Farewell Tiberias, the memories you gave us in the North were unforgettable, but Mayanot 389 is moving on and packing up. The early wake up call, due to the classic Tiberias Marathon left a looming feeling of a tiring and long day. As soon as we reached the city of Tzfat, that feeling disappeared into the mysticism ahead. As we reached the highest city in Israel, we looked out into a fog that induced a sense that we were entering a spiritual sanctuary. Eight brave men decided to experience Mikvah in order to perform a spiritual cleansing of sorts. A cold, naked bath in the mountain was all that we knew was ahead of us. The uncertainty left many behind to see glass blowing, but a few stragglers even decided to take this spiritual journey. We walked down the mountain, with a river of water guiding us down the steps. Coming back up though, we all felt that we had experienced an amazing religious tradition. The same Mikvah had been used by Jews for over 400 years, and will be used for generations to come. Since the majority was still busy, the small group was able to bond over a Yemenite meal well recommended by Mendel. How many people do you know that can recommend a restaurant in Tzfat? Soon enough though, we all reunited, and shared the experiences missed by our counterparts. 

Quickly we scurried past shops containing beautiful artwork in order to learn more about the Kaballah part of Judaism in an ancient synagogue that many of the founders used themselves. Walking in the footsteps of such spiritual Israelis left a feeling of awe in the hearts of the group. We learned to care for those who we do not like first in the choice of helping a friend. We quickly had to meet our guide to the Kaballah, Robert, who hails from the Detroit area. It goes to show you, that spirituality has no boundaries and is what you create of it within yourself. Robert told us of his personal qualms with spirituality at the same point of his life that we are currently at. He was able to embrace his name of Avraham, in order to find out his true self, and encouraged us to seek explanation of our lives by something as simple as a name. He was truly AWESOMEEEEEE.  Avraham continued the theme of passion in Israel for whatever it may be that the citizens truly love. He couldn’t get over how his life changed by coming to the spiritual center of Kaballah. Many purchased his artwork because of this fact, finding even in the brief time that we spent with him that we all have much more to learn about ourselves and this world. From there we went to a second synagogue where a few of us were able to experience Tefillin for the first time. Putting on the Tefillin and praying allowed us to connect the mind and heart to Judaism further than ever practiced in the states. 

We then were able to view the unmatched artwork and creations that Tzfat contains. We all went to a candle store, where the locals crafted incredible candles whether for scent, holidays or for simple aesthetic beauty.  I’m sure many reading will be able to see these treasures personally once we return home. Set free on the town after many enjoyed lunch were we were able to become closer with the group and able to delve ourselves into the unique foods of Israel. We had time to explore the city as far as our feet could take us. Looking beyond the city towards the mountains, through a thick fog and rain made some become blanketed in the richness that Tzfat holds. I had felt as if we had entered an entire different spiritual world that we were enclosed in by the landscape beyond. 

A quick bus ride up the mountain a bit further allowed us to find a small center where we learned of traditional scroll writing. Our minds were taken to the test by a short trivia competition, with the winner earning their Hebrew name written by a scribe. An appreciation for those who go through the process of being a scribe was gained as we struggled through writing Hebrew ourselves with only a quill, ink, and parchment. The precision needed to master this craft was surely not learned by our feeble attempts to write our names. As we departed murmurs of the magnificence of the city was heard between all of us on the trip. That is the point we are at now; again, on the bus, wondering what wonders lay ahead of us and holding on to all the memories we are creating in such a short time, in a place that is truly home. 

Besides solely describing the sites seen, the connections being made by all of the students on the trips continue to expand and grow. We continue to learn more about ourselves, each other and our country throughout the four short days that we have spent together. The soldiers who joined us on Taglit Birthright are even becoming more comfortable and open with us Americans and are able to share their views of the land. I catch myself and many others looking out the windows of the bus in between the light hearted chattering. The land itself provides us to reflect on the land and appreciate how much the sanctuary of Israel means to Jewish people all over the world. Whether being from Russia (as many people are on the trip), Uzbekistan, or the United States, all of us on the trip are able to form newfound grasp on the spirituality and beauty in a place that maybe one day, we will call home. 

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