Israel, Part 2

May 22nd

I wrote the entry for the 22nd on the bus, on the way to the Bedouin tent. Ahh, good times. :)

That morning, we had breakfast at 7:30 and then went to watch a 45-minute movie about an American who joined the Israeli army and died in battle, Michael Levin. It was really sad to watch this passionate young guy’s life be cut short, especially since he wasn’t much older than I am when he died. But I really admire his dedication to Israel.

After that, we loaded the bus and drove to the old city. It’s seriously one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen – everything is 3,000 years old! We did a walk through a tunnel that was the water system for Jerusalem in ancient times. It was awesome! I was worried my shorts would get wet, since they were over-the-knee for the Kotel, but I rolled them up and it was fine. My cheap flip-flops worked out great, lol. It was really dark and narrow; a totally unique experience. Then we went back to the Western Wall to take pictures and put our notes in. I wasn’t as moved as I was the last time, on Shabbat, but it was still unbelievable. I still don’t really know how to pray, so I just kind of stood there in awe. And kissed it this time.

We got some time to eat and shop after that. Rachel and I got bagels with lox spread (om nom nom!) with Dafna, Sachlav, and Miriam. We sat in the square and ate, and then Rachel, Dafna and I went to shop. We got some delicious mango juice (more om nom nom!), and I got myself a Jewish star ring (that I thought I lost like five minutes after I got it, but it ended up being in my bag. Huge, huge fail). I donated 50 shekels to send soldiers care packages (since now I have soldier friends!) and got a t-shirt out of it. And we got free prayer books from a Jewish student office, I think it was.

Then it was back on the bus to head to Mt. Herzl, the biggest cemetery for the Israeli military and prime ministers and such. It was pretty special, as expected. We even saw Michael Levin’s grave, which was kind of crazy. Yogev (one of our soldiers) showed us the grave of a commander from his unit. It was so sad! It’s hard to connect the graves to real-life people, ya know? Some of the stories our guide told us about self-sacrifice made me seriously doubt my own character.

After that, we were supposed to go to a bird sanctuary and plant a tree, but we were exhausted and running late, so that plan was scrapped, and we headed straight to the Negev desert for our night in the tent.

I sat next to Tal (one of our soldiers) on the bus all day. She’s so nice! I asked her a lot of questions about the army – random stuff, like what kind of jewelry girls can wear – and we bonded over TV shows. We both watch Friends and That ‘70s Show :). And she translated the ring I found at the gym for me! It says “many people come through your life, but friends leave footprints.” Tal and I seem pretty similar, and I sort of see her as who I would be had I been born in Israel. We’re both 20, but because she was born there and I was born here, she’s in the army and I’m in school. We come from such different worlds, and yet we have so much random stuff in common. It’s kind of crazy! I never thought I’d have this much common ground with someone with such a different life. I’m so glad I got to meet these people and find this out.

I slept most of the way to the tent. We got there after it was dark, so it was already cold. The desert is FREEZING at night! We left our stuff in the tent, changed into warm clothes, and went to another tent for dinner. We sat on mats on the floor and ate six to a table… and by “table” I basically mean “tray.” It was a bunch of bowls put on a big, round, metal tray, and we all ate out of the bowls. Talk about sharing each other’s germs! As if we weren’t all sick enough already! (Did I mention that my sore throat turned into a stuffy nose the day before? SO not fun!) But it was cool, very different!

After dinner, we got yummy tea and baklava for dessert (heh, dessert in the desert!), and listened to a Bedouin guy speak in another tent. Their culture seems really interesting, but his English wasn’t great, and he was a terrible storyteller. It was actually kind of hilarious. He played an instrument at one point, though, so that was pretty cool.

Then came one of the things I was most excited for: stargazing in the desert. We felt our way out into the desert in the nearly pitch black and talked about how significant the desert is to the Jewish people, and then got to find our own space and sit in silence for 15 minutes. It was so amazingly beautiful; I had to lie down on my back and look up at the sky. I felt really small and insignificant, but then I started wondering if there was another 20-year-old girl lying on her back in the desert thousands of years ago. I felt this weird kinship with this hypothetical girl. It was kind of powerful. The stars were so bright, I seriously wanted to sleep out there.

But alas, we came back to the camp (I guess that’s what it is, since there’s more than one tent) and we were told there would be a bonfire. It ended up being really laid back and chill, with no more than half of us there at any point. Benny brought his guitar, so some guys played music, including the Israelis. I love their music; it’s so pretty! The whole time was really fun. I left grudgingly at around 1:45 am, only because I was about to pass out.

May 23rd

I woke up with the sun that morning (after a surprisingly good sleep on a mat and sleeping bag on the ground, sans pillow), but got up at 6:40-ish for our 7 am camel ride! AMAZING! Aaaaahhh, so much fun! I shared my camel with Dafna, who said she’d ridden a camel before, but not a horse. We come from such different worlds! We rode for about half an hour, and it was just all kinds of awesome. Riding a camel through the desert, and it wasn’t even 8:00 in the morning yet. Such a cool experience!

Then we had breakfast (eggs with Nutella, mmmmm) and headed out into the desert for our hike. And this is where things kind of went to hell. It was great at first – the scenery is GORGEOUS. But at one point there was a tricky jump that I botched, and hurt my left big toe. Jon and EJ thought it was their fault, since they were supposed to catch me and didn’t, but I’m fairly positive it had nothing to do with them. They felt so bad, though! I felt kinda guilty about that, but I’m glad they’re such nice guys. But anyway, walking was a bitch after that. It was soooo painful, but I could move it, so I was hopeful it wasn’t broken. (A week later, though, I’m not all that hopeful anymore. It’s still a fun shade of purple.)

After the hike, we went to David Ben Gurion’s grave, which would’ve been much more awesome if I was able to get ice for my damn toe. But no, we looked at the tomb and the view (which was breathtaking), had an awkwardly held discussion, and watched a bizarre movie about the man. I think it was supposed to be informational, but there was sort of a plot, and some weird romantic tension between the characters… I don’t know, it was weird. I think I’m the only person who didn’t fall asleep during it, and only because of sheer will.

So by the time we left for the next town (apparently Miami’s sister city), it was four hours since I’d hurt myself and I was on the verge of tears from the pain and utter frustration. But we stopped for lunch (sweet potato ravioli in sauce – delish!), and I got ice and an ace bandage from Eyal (our security guard and medic, aka the guy with the gun). So that definitely helped things. Then we did a little crafty thing and made some kites, which was actually pretty fun, and saw some loose camels. Ya know, the usual.

Then we drove to the next hotel, showered, and had a program about Israeli and Arab hostages. It was really interesting. We never really talk about this kind of stuff. Zak, Rachel and I had a really good discussion about it at dinner. After dinner, our soldiers ran a really fun program. There were games and food, but I had to sit out of the game my number came up for because of my toe. :(

There was also an intense debate about the next day’s activities, which ended up being so completely moot. But I had to rush to get to bed at 11:15 because…

May 24th

…we woke up at 4 am! It was just as painful as one would expect, but we’d all heard seeing the sunrise at Masada was worth it. It took awhile to get everyone up, ready, and on the bus, so we left a bit later than we’d planned. The sky was slowly but surely getting lighter as we were driving, and I think we were all getting nervous that we’d gotten up early only to miss seeing the sun break the horizon. When we got there, we literally ran up the mountain. We went from sleep-deprived zombies to speed demons in nothing flat. It was really impressive! I wish I knew our time! Lol. The climb hurt my toe a little, but it was the only part of me that didn’t want to be there, so I dealt with it. Brittney offered to help me walk if I needed it – so nice! Thanks girl! :)

Seeing the sunrise up there was really awesome, but I didn’t feel like it even came close to being my favorite part of the trip. Seeing the sunlight hit all these ancient relics was beautiful, though. We stayed up there for a while and toured the site, which was really cool. But what came next really might’ve been the best part of the trip. The night before, our big debate was about whether we should wake up early to see the sunrise, or go later to watch a ceremony to induct new soldiers into the army. I desperately wanted to see the ceremony, but that option lost in favor of keeping our schedule the way it originally was. But we ended up being there to see it anyway! We got to cheer them on as they finished their 60 km run/hike; just thinking about their faces as they finished gives me goosebumps. They looked so happy and proud! We got to get really up close to the ceremony (basically on top of it) and talk to some of the guys. There were so many Americans! I couldn’t believe it. They inspire me so much!

The hike down the mountain, however, isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy. 45 minutes of stairs and downward inclines, and on a broken toe? OWWWWWW OW OW OW OW OW. The night before, Dana told me I’d be fine. Yep, she totally lied.

We ended up being on the mountain for like five hours. The day was so long already, and it was still the morning! We had breakfast boxes on the bus and then went to an Ahava factory. That’s where they make Dead Sea products – lotion, face wash, etc. It was all too expensive for me, and I like what I use already, so I didn’t buy anything. It was all really nice, though. I tried one of the lotions and it was quite fantastic.

From there, we drove to the Dead Sea! I can’t even tell you how excited I was! We got to slather ourselves in mud first, which was awesome (and really exfoliating! Lol). The hike down Masada killed my toe, so walking in mud and flip flops was SO painful. But it didn’t matter when I was in the water! Seriously, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done! I wasn’t expecting it to be so shallow, nor the rocks to be so damn pointy and painful (battle wound FTW!), but the floating was exactly like I imagined, but cooler because it was real! It didn’t even burn too badly, it was just a little bit uncomfortable. Nothing like the excruciating pain I was expecting. Does that mean I have healthy skin?! ;) After the sea, we went in a warm sulfur pool, which kind of stank (hello, sulfur) but felt delicious, and a cool fresh water pool.

Then we drove to Tel Aviv to say goodbye to our soldiers. :( Soooo sad. Well, we saw most of them again, but still. Their time with us went so fast!

From there we drove to Bat Yam to shower, change, have dinner, etc. before going out. I wasn’t planning on going into the club because of my toe, but right before we left I suddenly felt like I had an ear infection. I had one at camp in 2006, and it was the same level of atrocious discomfort. So that sealed the deal for me. I was planning on just doing my own thing while everyone else was inside, but then Robyn told me I’d have to be with someone. I was mad, since who would want to forgo what’s apparently the coolest club in Tel Aviv?

I ended up walking around with the rabbi, which was actually pretty nice. He’s a cool guy! He said he hates trendy bars and thanked me for getting him out of staying at that one. I’m glad I could do my part, I guess? Lol. He was meeting up with a family friend down the strip, and said it was okay for me to tag along, so I did. I felt kind of bad that I crashed their night, but they didn’t seem to mind. We sat at a waterfront cafĂ© for a bit, where I got a delicious hot chocolate and tried to be inconspicuous as they talked about their families and lives. :P

We wandered back to the club after a while. Kim called me and said she and Dafna had left and were at the coffee shop next door, so I went and hung out with them and Eyal. I’d called home and left a message earlier about my ear, and my parents called me back then. It was so good to hear from home, especially when I was feeling so lousy! Calls cost 39 cents a minute so we didn’t talk for long, but mom made me a doctor’s appointment, and dad told me Randy Savage died. :O

By then it was almost time to head back, so our drunk group slowly stumbled out of the club. Kim and I made a friend in a really cute random stranger outside the club. He’s from America, used to live in Israel, and is now doing volunteer work in Ethiopia. Such a fascinating life! And he was so nice! Bummer we were leaving as he was just getting there.

I was ready for bed as soon as we got back to the hotel (yay being sick!), but everyone else wanted to party and say goodbye to the Israelis one last time, so I stayed out for a bit. When I finally decided to go back to my room, there was an… um… shall we say, interesting roommate situation to deal with. Looking back on it I’m chuckling, but it wasn’t something I wanted to deal with as my toe was throbbing, nose was stuffed, and head felt lopsided. But I used someone else’s bathroom, went to sleep listening to my iPod with the sleep timer set, and it was totally fine.

May 25th

I was woken up at 4 am by Blair’s phone alarm going off (it was still set from the day before, lol) but we got to “sleep in” until breakfast at 8-ish. We had to pack everything for the plane and load the bus for the final time; it was really bittersweet. Though I did get to laugh at everyone trying to do it while hung over!

We started the day at Rabin Square. We broke up into groups to go interview Israelis on the street about Yitzhak Rabin. Jen was really gung-ho about it and said she loves interviewing people, so I’m totally recruiting her to The Hurricane ;). She’ll be awesome at it! At the square, we got to see where and how Rabin was assassinated and talked about what he meant for/to Israel.

After that, we had lots of shopping time in the shuk. I finished my souvenir shopping for my family – finding a Hebrew Yankees shirt for Nolan took FOREVER (of course, I saw one in every other city but decided to wait until the last day so I didn’t have to carry it around. It WOULD take forever to find), but I did it! Rachel, Kim, Jen, Zak, Eyal and I found a cute pizza place to eat at, and we were eventually joined by Dana. It was really nice!

After shopping, we went to Independence Hall, where Israel was declared a state, and promptly fell asleep. Well, I didn’t, but again, it was only because of sheer will. It was really cool to be there, but far too sedentary for people who’ve been run ragged for nine days.

From there, we went to the beach. The Mediterranean Sea is gorgeous! I didn’t go in because I didn’t want to burn or be really gross on the plane for twelve hours. So Rachel and I sat in the shade, ordered ice cream, and chatted. It was a very nice, relaxed way to round out the trip.

We had dinner at a nearby hostel. And Dafna came! She had gifts for some of us and wanted to say goodbye for real. She gave me a long-sleeved shirt from a friend’s sergeant’s course because she remembered how cold I was in the desert :). I LOVE HER! Why must she live so far away? Ugh, it was so sad saying goodbye.

We had our final program after that, to share our reflections on the trip and get our t-shirts! We said goodbye to some members of our group who were staying in Israel, and then headed to the airport (probably a tad too late). More people left us when we got there – those were the lucky ones. The line for check-in was HUGE and completely stagnant, but of course Dana got in there and got things moving. Leave it to Dana! Haha. We had to say goodbye to her and Eyal before security, which was really sad. We’d gotten through really late, so it was lucky that our flight was delayed.

Over an hour later, though, we were singing a different tune. We got food, Chad and I went on a failed expedition for NyQuil, and half our group fell asleep on the floor of the waiting area before we could finally board. But we finally did, and I’m pretty sure I passed out before we took off. I woke up and had no idea what was going on. Pretty good for someone who can’t sleep on planes! I was EXHAUSTED, so I actually got a decent amount of sleep on this flight. I had no idea what time it was at any given point, so I have no idea how much I actually got, but I felt decently well rested. I slept through the on-flight dinner, but was awake for breakfast… though I only had yogurt and granola, so I might as well have slept through that too!

We landed at Newark at around 6:15 am… and that was it. We all got our luggage and said our goodbyes, and then I went out and met mom through customs. And then I went to the doctor and found out I had a massive ear infection and broken toe! WOOOO! :P I’ve never broken a bone before. It’s kind of exciting that my first time was somewhere cool.

So, yeah. The end. If you read this entire novel, I don’t know whether to thank you or apologize profusely. Either way, I can now do both in Hebrew! Toda, and slicha!


Israel, Part 1


So, it’s been forever and a half (or a month and a half, same thing) since this little corner of the interwebz has been updated, and I’m feeling kind of bad. There’s been some activity on the internship front as well as in the London saga, but I’ll get around to that on a later date.

I just got back from Israel a few days ago, though, and I think that deserves some attention! Granted, it’s not exactly Olympics related, but I think anything involving going to another country is a little bit related, right? And it did change my perspective on things. Either way, it’s my blog, I can write what I want, and I want to write about Israel!

This is for everybody who’s asked me “how was your trip?” or has said “tell me about your trip!” and expected more of an answer than “it was amazing.” Seriously, how do you respond to that? I was overseas for 10 days, there’s no way I can summarize that into a socially acceptably short answer. So if you want details, this is the place to get them – I’ll be (more or less) transcribing my journal entries from every day (and embellishing a bit, as I wrote as I was falling asleep at night. Seriously, I sacrificed sleep for that thing).

Anyway, onward! Welcome to my birthright adventure!

May 16th/17th

I’m not going to write my journal entries word-for-word, but just read what I open with…

“Wow, it’s been a hell of a long time since I’ve kept a journal. And I really don’t think I’ll have much time, energy, or will to do it properly now, but Israel is probably a good enough excuse to try.

“Keeping that in mind, I haven’t slept in god knows how long, it’s 11 pm, and I have to wake up at 7 am tomorrow. Needless to say, this shall be brief.”

LOL. I slay myself.

Our flight was scheduled to leave JFK at 7 pm, but for some godforsaken reason, we had to get there five hours early. We were supposed to meet at the airport synagogue (did YOU know airports have multiple places of worship?), and luckily I ran into Amy when I got there, otherwise I would’ve been hopelessly lost for a long time. There was a lot of sitting around and group time and all that good stuff. Getting through security was an adventure and a half – we were all questioned and screened. It was really intimidating! Don’t mess with the Israelis!

We were allowed to go off on our own for a bit to get dinner (and booze, apparently) before meeting at the gate. The flight ended up being delayed for about an hour, and some of that time was spent while we were sitting on the runway. Let me tell you, 10 hours is a longggg time! Yeesh. I tried to sleep and utterly failed, so I ended up watching five episodes of Castle on my iPod (what? I was sulking about missing the finale!).

Upon landing, we all had to get our luggage and get through customs, and then loaded onto the bus. We drove for a bit to this foresty kind of place (yes, Israel has trees!) for lunch, getting our phones, and exchanging money. Then we drove some more (with an impromptu stop for Blair to pee on the side of the road) to an old, adorable little town called Zichron Ya’akov. Because our flight was delayed, our originally planned hike was cancelled, so we got to wander around a little bit. Everything was so quirky, I loved it!

Then we drove to the kibbutz where we were staying. Everyone seemed to have a big problem with the food, but I thought it was decent enough. The rooms were pretty sweet! A kitchenette, hot tub, two flat screen TVs, etc. We had time to shower before the program at night. It was fun, lots of group bonding stuff. But we played Never Have I Ever – fun and rather hilarious, but it always makes me a little bit uncomfortable. Way, WAYYY too much information. Awkward turtle (or, in Hebrew, tsav mavich! :D But I didn’t learn that for another few nights).

May 18th

Again, my opening line…

“Two words: oy vey.”

Hahahaha. Maybe not the best idea to write at night! :P But alas, I had no choice. This day definitely warranted an “oy vey” or two, though!

I roomed with Rachel (one of two) and Chloe at the kibbutz, and that morning we woke up at 6:45 to a frog in our toilet. Lol, gooooood times. Rachel and Chloe were freaking out, and I just felt bad flushing it, so we called Robyn and the rabbi to come help us. Robyn came and flushed it, and the rabbi followed her and videotaped the whole thing. -_______________-

Breakfast was at 7:30, and the bus left at 8:15 for the winery. The ride was an hour and fifteen minutes (as it is everywhere in Israel. Seriously). We had a quick tour and did some tasting, and I drank all three wines they gave us! It was probably less than a full glass in total, but that’s more alcohol than I’ve ever had in my life. I didn’t like it very much, but hey. I was proud of myself! :P

From there we went to Tzfat, which is an AWESOME old city. Seriously, it’s so cool. We saw a little show with two musicians playing some old world instruments, and then went to a talk by the artist David Friedman. His stuff is amazing – it’s mindblowing all the connections between Kabbalah and art he makes!

We had lunch in a little square after that. I had shwarma, some turkey thing in pita with sauce and veggies. It was good, but nothing life changing like I was told it would be. From there we went to do volunteer work in a park. I got to help collect rocks and put them in a wall they’re building. We were there for awhile, and at the end we talking about Israel being green, and doing community service. I paired up with one of the Zacks (:P) for the partner discussion, and we went on an expedition to find a spot to discuss in. We ended up finding a bench with a really awesome view!

After that, we went to see a synagogue. We talked about the idea that it doesn’t matter where you are, it all depends on the idea and the people you’re with. It’s pretty interesting to think about. Then the boys went to their mikvah (naked swimming. Not kidding) and us girls had this Hebrew letter tai chi thing. It was weird. The lady was uber spiritual, and it was just so not my thing. But hey, it was an experience! Afterwards we had some free time to wander and shop. I got myself an IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) sweatshirt with my Hebrew name on the back. :) I’m kind of obsessed with it.

Then we drove back to the kibbutz for dinners and then showers and such before a surprise night out on the town. But room 45’s good old frog friend was back, and yours truly was the lucky one to discover him. In the shower. >.< We called Robyn, and she scooped him up into the garbage can and let him out outside. Our hero! :)

After dinner, we went to a local club. Or was it a bar? I don’t do this stuff at home, so I have no basis of comparison. But it was open air and right on the water, so it was nice! I didn’t drink, but tried a sip of Rachel’s cranberry juice and vodka. It was actually pretty good, lol. I danced a lot, too – look at me! Alcohol and dancing! :P I got elbowed in the head a lot, and had some drinks spilled on my feet, but it was really fun. Some members of the group got a bit TOO drunk, including one of my roommates, so that was interesting. I’ve never taken care of a drunk friend before, but by the time we got back, she was okay enough and just went to sleep.

Ooooh, I was writing all of this at 1 am, and had to wake up at 6:45 the next day. No wonder I was oy vey-ing!

May 19th

“So tired, but so much to write. Holy crap.”

HAHAHAHA. So apparently leads are my strength? Good to know!

Oh, but wait, there’s more!

“Breakfast this morning was at 7:30 again, and we did NOT have a frog in the bathroom! Hooray! Lol. Man, this morning feels like so long ago…”

Damn, I was delirious! This is far too entertaining. But it’s true. The days over there felt like a week!

Anyway, we left the kibbutz for the final time at 8:15 and drove the obligatory hour and fifteen minutes to our hike. That thing was INTENSE. Oh man. It was about three hours long, steep, and effing difficult! Dana told us there might be some water to walk through, so we should bring water-safe shoes if we had. I didn’t bring my crappy flip-flops, and it didn’t sound mandatory, so I wasn’t worried. Well, I was cursing myself when I was wading through butt-deep water on excruciatingly painful rocks, barefoot. Ouchhhhhhh. My feet were so unhappy. :( So yeah, not at all what I was expecting. Rewarding to finish, but really painful to actually do.

Towards the end (before the climb up the mountain stairs from hell – seriously, who needs the gym?), we sat in a cave silently for 15 minutes to think about time, what we’re making of ours, what we think of who we’re becoming, etc. It’s weird to say, but I got a little emotional during it. The whole hike reminded me of the first day of Endurance, and in the cave I thought about what I accomplished and how well I handled everything. I’m much more awesome than I give myself credit for, and have to try to remember that. If I could do that, I can do anything. I need to stop holding myself back.

Okay, mushy moment over.

After the hike, we drove to a touristy mall thing for lunch. I had pizza and a coke, lol. So American! But I really wanted to try Israeli pizza. It was very ehhhh. But I found that I can read sherutim (bathroom) in Hebrew! Yay! Lol. I had my first language adventure of the day at lunch, too. Rachel, Katie and I were in line for pizza with a girl from another birthright group. She asked the lady behind the counter (in English) where the grocery store was, and the lady didn’t understand. But we’d heard her speaking Spanish earlier, so the girl broke out her Spanish and they had a conversation!

From there, we went to kayak (aka raft) on the Jordan River. It was really fun!! There was a lot of splashing and shoving, and for some reason, the rabbi had it out for me. :P My sneakers got soaked and I had to sit in them for the rest of the day, so that was kind of a bummer. But I had my second language adventure! One of the workers that kayaked down the river with us only understood Hebrew, Spanish, and Italian. My raft wanted to figure out how to say “concussion” in Hebrew (because Jen whacked Zak in the head with her paddle), so I asked him “come se dice concussion?” He asked “parla italiano?” and I answered “un po’.” SO EXCITING! :D Later on he was trying to say something to the group about returning the rafts, and he said it to me to translate. And right before we left, I was coming out of the bathroom after changing, and he was there. He said “ciao!” and I grinned like an idiot and said it back. I can’t even tell you how excited I was! Who would’ve thought I’d use my deteriorating Italian skills in Israel?!

After rafting, we had a two-ish hour bus ride to Jerusalem, on which we all passed out. It was a rather exhausting day! Dana woke us up as we were entering the city, and this is what I pictured Israel to be. Old buildings, sand, and an overwhelming feeling of holiness. “Seriously,” I wrote, “I already feel more Jewish. The rabbi was talking about how basically every Jewish prayer involves remembering Jerusalem, or praying that we’ll get to Jerusalem… and now we’re here. It’s hard to wrap my head around, to be honest. Kind of amazing.” We had a quick opening ceremony out in the cold (seriously!), and then came to the Leonardo Inn, where we stayed for three nights.

After dinner, we had a program with an Israeli filmmaker, Patik (can’t remember her last name). The film of hers we watched was in the Tribeca Film Festival, which was cool. It was pretty powerful. We watched one more film (both shorts), got our new room assignments (new roomies Blair and the other Rachel), and dispersed for the night.

May 20th

Shabbat Shalom!

Breakfast that morning was at 7:45, and right afterwards we went to meet the Israeli soldiers we travelled with for the next five days. First we had a speaker from a bone marrow bank speak to us and a bunch of us registered, but then we had some getting-to-know-you things with our soldiers. The point was to show us all that we’re really not that different from each other. It was really interesting, but I ended up learning that on my own. More on that in a few days. Heh.

After that, we took our bus to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum. It was honestly one of the most powerful experiences of my life. When we first got there, our tour guide Mordecai showed us a video of a survivor from Greece. Nothing I’ve ever seen or read about the Holocaust has ever made me cry, until this. Seeing him standing over his sister’s grave and sobbing was one of the most heart wrenching things I’ve ever seen, and it made me think about the unimaginable pain I’d feel if my family was ripped away from me like his was. And I cried. No joke. Walking through all the galleries was equally as powerful and amazing, especially the childrens’ memorial. So, so powerful. Oh, and the hall of names! I WISH we were allowed to take pictures!

But the great thing is that I really took it to heart. As we were leaving, my feet and back hurt from standing for so long, and it was 2 pm so I was super hungry… but I couldn’t make myself complain about it. Seriously, I was about to head to a nice, air conditioned bus that I would sit on, and that would drive me to lunch. Holocaust victims had to march for weeks on end in the dead of winter, and got no food. My uncomfortableness seemed obnoxiously trivial after that.

From there, we went to the shuk (aka market) in Jerusalem for lunch and shopping. It was so awesome! Super crowded, but so cultural and bustling and amazing. I broke from the group with Rachel (not my roommate) and Zak. We got some delicious falafel at a stand for lunch, and bought some little things at some souvenir shops. We reconvened at four to go back to the hotel to relax (gasp!) and get ready for Shabbat.

We got on the bus at 6 and were taken to the outer wall of the old city. We sat in a circle and each got to talk about what this trip has meant to us so far. Everyone really opened up (I think), and the rabbi called us the perfect birthright group – respectful to speakers, on time, knows when to have fun, etc. Dana echoed his statements, and I kind of agree. We’re a really good group!

When we finished, we walked into the old city and to the Kotel, the Western Wall. I can’t even put it into words. Simply mindblowing. To be at THE holy site on Shabbat is honestly beyond words, and I’m not even religious at all. We split up into boys and girls and went to our respective sides of the wall. Our group did some singing in our own little circle before merging with some other groups to form one massive circle. There was lots of singing, it was really fun! But then we actually went up to the wall, and oh. My. God. Most powerful experience of my life. I was touching this ancient wall that’s seen so much history, been the object of so many wars, and to think about all of the generations of people that prayed to get right where I was standing… I cried. That’s twice in one day, folks! It was the closest I’ve ever come to believing in a god. There’s something special about that place, be it the holy spirit or the human spirit. Whatever it is, it’s incredible. I was sure, right then and there, that I’m Jewish, meant to be so, and damn proud of it.


By then it was pretty late, so we headed to a nearby restaurant/dining hall kind of thing for dinner. There was a lot more singing – the other birthright group that was there must’ve been wondering who the obnoxious group was, lol. But we did the ‘Canes cheer! :) I sat next to Dafna, one of our soldiers. I clicked with her immediately, she’s so nice! It was really interesting to hear about the Israeli-Muslim issues from her point of view.

After dinner, since it’s Shabbat and we’re not supposed to use electricity, we had an hour long walk back to the hotel. Rachel, Kim and I walked with Dafna. We talked about everything from the army to school to TV shows and spoilers. :)

By the time we got back, I had a monster sore throat, and my entire body hurt from standing all day. So instead of hanging out with everyone, I stayed in with copious amounts of water and Blair’s Advil.

May 21st

“Sigh, I love Shabbat in Israel. First last night, and now the chillness of today. This is the first time I get to write (at least part of) an entry earlier than 11 pm. Excellent!”

Hahaha, I’m so amused by myself.

The night before, I was writing until 2 am, but that’s okay, because we got to sleep in until 11 am! Well, we had to meet at 11, but sleeping until 10:30 was delicious. There were some hangovers amongst the group, and my voice was all but gone.

But anyway, we met at 11 and walked to a local synagogue. Julia, Mackenzie, and Chloe got Hebrew names, and Alyssa got Bat Mitzvahed. Wow, how do you spell that? Mitzvaed? Mitzvah’d? Ew, no, they all look wrong. Well, whatever. It wasn’t anything like a typical Bat Mitzvah, though I have no idea what else she did for it. All she did was read her speech, which almost made me cry. Seriously, what is with me?! But I was really moved – I was witnessing a friend get Bat Mitzvahed in Jerusalem, the holiest city in the world. And Alyssa’s speech was really special!

After that, we walked back to the hotel for the Kiddush and lunch. There was a brief hora, and Alyssa, Julia, and Mackenzie went up in the chair. Then we had the rest of the afternoon free! All or most of us went to the pool. I think I was there for a little over an hour. It was so hot out, and the water was really refreshing. I talked with an Israeli guy named Re’em for a bit. I’m not really sure who he is… maybe a soldier with another group that was there? Either way, I love Israelis! They’re so fascinating and nice and chill! We talked a bit about American politics (he’s in favor of the Republicans, and Sarah Palin came up :P) and his beliefs about Muslims. But it was hilarious to talk to him about the apparent end of the world. He said he’d heard someone say that they recalculated a new date of May 21st, 2012 (aka a year from the day this conversation took place). He said he’s got it all planned out what he’s going to do – he wants to rebuild the world after the apocalypse. I told him I’d keep in touch, lol.

After the pool, I showered and relaxed for a bit before we walked to the rose garden between the Parliament building and the Knesset to do some Shabbat reflections. The garden is gorgeous, and the whole thing was really nice. Then we went back to the hotel and had dinner, and then an hour to get ready for our night activities. We celebrated the end of Shabbat on the balcony of the top floor of the hotel, and then drove to Ben Yehuda street to walk around and do some shopping. I bought a bag to carry my overnight stuff for the next day, and some cheap flip-flops to use as water shoes the next day – no more barefoot for me, thanks! I split off and spent the time with Rachel, Kim, and Dafna. I seriously love Dafna! She’s adorable and funny and interesting and so, so nice. The two of us split from the other two at one point to search for my flip-flops. Walking through Jerusalem with an Israeli friend was so surreal, and so awesome.

After shopping, we went to a Lag B’Omer bonfire with some friends of Bar, one of our soldiers. SO MUCH FUN! And I had my first ever beer! It wasn’t good, and I didn’t finish it, but I was drinking a beer! Lol. Dafna came up with the brilliant idea to ask someone she knew (they’re in the same military unit) if she had marshmallows, so we roasted them :). Her friend seemed really nice, and is so jealous that us UM kids are in school – she wants to study, not be in the military. I got such perspective on life from that one moment.

We spent the entire time just hanging out around the fire. Someone had a guitar and was singing, and during the night, people played both Time of Your Life and Wonderwall – both of which we sang at camp, Wonderwall even at a bonfire. I got such goosebumps!

Oh, Israeli soldiers are taught a little bit of krav maga. So awesome!

It was such a good night! Though I smelled like fire for the next two days…