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…


No comments :

Post a Comment