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!


1 comment :

  1. Thanks for sharing this fabulous and touching account of your Birthright trip. You're an amazing writer.