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Israel

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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.

Bedouins!

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.

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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!

Molly

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

Charissa

Pictures

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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.

Love,

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

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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. 

Day 3 Pictures

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Day 3

 Today was by far our most exciting and interesting day of the trip. We began our day at 8 am with a big egg breakfast, anxious to meet our new Israeli friends. We picked the soldiers up on the side of the road and had a nice thirty minute bus ride to interact with them before reaching our first destination of the day. We learned that, although separated by thousands of miles of ocean and land, we share common interests, and are all connected through our pride of Judaism. After sharing stories of our hometowns and favorite American musicians we had reached the Banyas Waterfall, which we would be hiking around. The waterfall was beautiful, underground in a sense, surrounded by boulders and trees, and the hike was a peaceful and fun chance to meet our new friends further. After the short hike and a quick icebreaker activity we hopped back on the bus en route to our next destination.

                Our next journey would take us to the Misgav-Am Kibbutz, where our goal was to hear the opinion of a very interesting and knowledgeable  4-war veteran Jew. The Kibbutz was located directly on the border of Israel and Lebanon, and as a result the man’s shpeil focused on the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I cannot understate this man’s passion and pride for Judaism and Israel as a whole, and he fully outlined his very politically incorrect opinion on the subject. I cannot speak for the group but I know this interaction opened my eyes to the conflict that exists every day in the Middle East, and left me with an overwhelming pride for my religion and my homeland.

                Our guide Kuti tells us that there is an expression in Israel; “we pray for rain, but we hope it doesn’t.” Israel has suffered from a drought for the past nine years, and they pray for rain every day, however as a tour group we hope it doesn’t. Apparently Mayanot 389 is blessed because it has rained every day of the trip so far, and the most today. After departing from the Kibbutz we traveled to the northern most city in Israel, Kiryat Shmona, and inhaled falafels and shawarma.

                Lunch was followed by the most fun activity of the trip so far, off road Jeeping. Brett and I hopped in a Jeep, and Rabbi Mendel made the poor decision to join us. Thrill seekers, Brett and I were set on flooring the Jeep around every turn and through ever deep puddle. Mendel, who on this venture resembled more of a Jewish mother than a Rabbi, feared for his life and was pleading for us to slow down, but of course was denied of his request. The highlight of the day for me was when I sped the Jeep through a huge puddle, completely soaking our trio in muddy water, transforming Mendel’s black beard to brown.

                We ended our day back at the hotel with a chicken dinner and some more fun group activities, including practice for the first ever Birthright flash mob that we will be performing. Overall, the day was filled with joy and excitement. The new addition to our family has been welcomed with open arms, and they are filled with enthusiasm and excitement to be with us for the next few days, as are we. We look forward to the rest of our trip, which will take us from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, and we cherish each day we have in the Promised Land.

As of now I am a very happy Jew,

-          Evan

Night Out on the Town!

 The dinner took place at local restaurant, Cherry. Ironically no cherries were actually served at the meal, but it was thoroughly enjoyed none the less. A three course meal consisted of an assortment of salads, potato dishes, delectable pastas, and vanilla ice cream to conclude. Sami claims the vanilla ice cream was delicious. It was certainly the perfect opportunity for the group to bond. The dinner provided for good conversations, but the majority of the bonding occurred at a neighboring location; the bar. Parents, we are a group of 18-22 year olds… but don’t you worry, we only played Monopoly. I was the thimble.

Group 389 danced at “Big Ben” Bar (We’re in Israel not the UK right?). I don’t know if the bar name is a technique to lure in English speaking tourists, or if the bar owners are just London fans, but regardless we all flocked there. Excluding our group’s Israeli guard Rafael, the Big Ben demographic was an extremely narrow one: Taglit-Birthright Mayanot members. The added treat was the company of another Mayanot group! So we were not only fortunate to dance among the 389-ers, but also other Americans that were granted the gift of Birthright. We were in good company. According to our guard Rafael, the Big Ben drink prices were standard for Israel bars, but none of us were expecting to pay for $15 drinks. Oh well, we did. At around 11:30 pm, or 23:30 as the call it here, a number of short-bus like cabs picked us up from the downtown area to bring us home. Some went to bed, but for many the night was far from over. Well, “Far” is an overstatement. We all had to prepare for another early morning.

Without going into further detail about the night, I am sure you can all conclude that 389’s first “night out” was a successful one. Our second one cannot come soon enough!

Day 2 Pictures

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Day 2

 Mayanot reached new heights during Day two (literally!) We woke up this morning and experienced our first Israeli breakfast at the hotel. Most people seemed to have slept off most of the jetlag which was great since we had a jam-packed day. Once aboard the bus, we headed towards the Golan Height. The bus traveled up the mountains, taking the long winding roads all the way up. We saw the Jordanian and Lebanese borders from the tops of the Golan and witnessed breathtaking views of the land. We learned a bit about Israel’s water shortage and Rabbi Mendel shared his thoughts about what it means to be a Jew in today’s world. We didn’t hike as originally planned due to yesterday’s rain, but we saw a movie about the Yom Kippur war instead. The movie played at a kibbutz not far from where the War was fought, and the Kibbutz is now the leader in the film-dubbing industry. For lunch, we were able to select a restaurant and purchase our own meal; lots of us had schwarma and some people had falafel or pizza. Since we were running ahead of schedule, we were able to visit an olive oil farm; the olives are grown at the farm, harvested, and then used to create body washes, soaps, and of course, olive oil. We were able to try out the hand soap/exfoliant and we were all pleasantly surprised at how olive “waste” and olive pits (which did not look like our usual soap) could leave our hands so soft. We ended our day of touring at the Chula Valley where we learned about the birds that migrate to Israel.

As I mentioned earlier, Rabbi Mendel talked to us about what it means to be a member of the Jewish people. I think that lots of us are starting to really embrace our Jewish heritage, whether by really taking in the sites we visit or by simply asking questions about Judaism on the bus. Rabbi Mendel asked us if anyone wanted to be “Bar/Bat Mitzvahed” while in Israel and it looks like a bunch of people are interested. It’s clear that we are proud of being Jewish and are consistently challenging ourselves to grow as young Jewish individuals.

Day 1

 One of the first places we visited once we arrived in Israel was Atlit, a detention camp for people coming to Israel in the 1940’s. We went on guided tours through the camp, learning about the rich history of the area. We watched videos on the experiences of the people who lived there, and went in a simulated ship. Many would agree this was the best part of the tour, as we witnessed an animatronic performance of the arrival of the people. We watched them arrive by ship, and got to have a first-hand experience of their struggles and achievements. After the camp, some of us caught up on some much needed sleep from the jetlag until we finally arrived at our next location. We stopped by Ramat Hanadiv, a park which consisted of hundreds of acres of trails, nature, and wildlife. Our group got to see the tomb and resting place of the original contributor of the area, as well as the fountains with koy fish, plants, and beautiful scenic views. After taking many pictures, our group boarded the bus and began our journey to the hotel in Tiberias. We had a wonderful dinner in the hotel, with authentic Israeli food (and of course our typical American chicken and fries, too). After dinner we did ice breakers with our group, getting to know each other even better than before. Even after just one day, it was clear to just about everyone that Mayanot Bus 389 would have a fantastic trip together. We spent the rest of the night hanging out in the common area of the hotel, drinking wine, or falling asleep in order to be well rested for the remainder of our trip, all having the common mindset that we cannot wait for all that is to come.

We're Off!

 

Shalom and Welcome to our “Sababa” (cool!) blog about our trip to Israel

Day one was a quick LONG and filled day as we embarked on our journey to the Holy Land. It began at promptly 9:15 am when we had to arrive at Newark airport four hours prior to our flight. Once we were thoroughly questioned by the El Al staff most of us passed through security. However, a few people on our flight had some minor issues and were randomly searched. As one of the boys who was searched stated “getting searched was just part of the true Israeli travel experience.” Atleast the group members searched had a positive attitude. This was not a big problem at all and we soon regrouped and began to board the flight and bond with our peers. We participated in a human Bingo in order to get to know eachother better. Most of the squares on the bingo board applied to almost every true Jew, such as my personal favorite: person who loves Chinese food. Lets be honest, who doesn’t love some Chinese food and a movie…especially on Christmas.

When we got on the plane most of us unsuccessfully attempted to sleep, even our sleeping pills could not suppress our excitement to land in Israel. Two plane meals and ten hours later and we touched down in Tel Aviv at sunrise. We then went through security one girl on our trip who is an Israeli citizen was informed she needed to get her papers fixed or the army would be in her near future. After a panic attack and a few phone calls we also got this situation under control. Besides, we constantly reminded her that atleast there weren’t finals and school work in the army, and I personally volunteered to take over her position of president of our sorority if she was detained.

We then met a Mayanot leader Pnina to go over the rules and regulations of the trip. She emphasized that Birthright is supposed to be a fun trip, but is no means a spring break. We obviously all understood this and are here for a deeper and more meaningful experience than one we would receive in a place such as Mexico. One thing Pnina stated that really stuck with a lot of us was that it is imperative that we make this trip our own and take something special from Israel. We must “make Israel ours.” Rabbi Mendle later added on that we are all here with one common denominator: our religion. Israel is the holy land of all of the Jews, and hopefully future generations will come back to Israel to visit the place of their heritage as well. In a few generations from now if our grandchildren move away from the United States to somewhere in Europe or Australia our great great grandchildren will not consider themselves American. They will soon assimilate into their new society and consider themselves European or Australian. This is why it is important to visit the only homeland that is truly ours, Israel.

After some inspiring words we went to one of my favorite sites in Israel: Cesarea. Due to my personal interest in history Cesarea is especially impressive to me. Cesarea is a beach area with aqueducts that were built during the Roman Era. These aqueducts were built so people would not have to travel to wells; instead water was directly transported to cities far from Rome. These aqueducts were similar and just as important as our road system today. It is fascinating to really see the grip and strong influence of the Roman Empire, and to see their accomplishments instead of reading about them in a textbook. At Cesarea we stood in a circle on the beach to learn more about our other peers on the trip. We then boarded the bus and headed out to our next adventure: Atlit.

Day 1 Pictures

Just pictures today. Much more tomorrow!IMG_4925.JPGIMG_4898.JPG

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So excited!!!

 2 days remaining until our trip to Israel! 40 participants, 5 staff, 8 Israeli soldiers, it will be 10 awesome days! We will try to update this blog every day while in Israel with entries on what we are doing, where we are going, plus pictures. Stay posted!

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