The Little Things In Life

As most of you reading this post know, I spent a month of last summer on a program in California (it’s not like I haven’t talked about it a lot…..). It was the most remarkable program and experience I have ever been through. I left Brandeis, California with a whole new understanding of myself and appreciation for other, but most importantly I left with a new group of friends. It is often hard to stay in contact with people after programs end or time goes on, but after finishing this summer program in California I knew it would not be hard to keep in contact with the people I became closest with.

During the 28 days spent on the program I had the opportunity to meet and become close with participants from around the world. I was able to hear others stories and share moments that no one outside of the program would ever understand. After leaving BCI I stayed in close contact with my friend Carli, from New Zealand. During the program the two of us were inseparable. We had never met prior to the start of the program, but immediately clicked and felt as if we had known each other most of our lives.

I never stopped to think about how amazing it is that here I am, a year later, still in contact with Carli. Carli just left Israel a few days ago and although we only had three days together it was so special to have had that opportunity to catch up and reminisce. No matter how much time pasts or how busy our lives are, we make sure to stay in contact and up to date on each others lives. Also while in Israel, I ran into my friend Jordyn, Tamar, Emily and Lauren (all from BCI). It was crazy to be at various places throughout this country and run into friends from different states back home. After running into these friends and saying goodbye to Carli I started to really appreciate the value of my friendships with people I have become close with and had the occasion of meeting. No matter where we are in the world at the points in our lives, friends are such a special thing to have. I know that no matter where I am, I have friends like Carli to call and chat with… even if she is in New Zealand.

One of my favorite parts of all these different worldly opportunities I have had and continue to experience is the chance to meet people from all over. It is amazing to see what different lives everyone live, but how similar so many of our interests are and outlooks on life.

The simple things in life I tell ya…. quite amazing.

Exploring Tel Aviv... hopefully next it will be in New Zealand

Exploring Tel Aviv… hopefully next it will be in New Zealand

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Our Journey Continues

MONDAY, JUNE 2: After Anna and Carli explored the Carmel Market, the three of us walked to Jaffa and Old Jaffa to check out their flea market and shuk. It’s starting to get quite hot out.

TUESDAY, JUNE 3: Anna, Carli and I walked for a few hours along the beach promenade up to the Tel Aviv Port, then ventured back to the Carmel Market (shuk) which was packed, because Tuesday evening would begin the holiday of Shavuot. We got separated in the throngs of people, so I finished my grocery shopping while Carli and Anna attempted to bargain for a bag Carli really wanted.

That evening Carli had to leave to return to New Zealand for the summer. Anna and I sat on the beach and talked. Being so close to the beach is one of the things I will miss most about Israel. Especially spending relaxing evenings watching the sunset.

WEDNESDAY, JUNE 4: I met Tzipi on the beach early in the morning, then returned to the apartment because it was getting unbearable hot and humid. We spent most of the day in the apartment and ventured to the beach in the early evening. It felt wonderful to walk in the sea to cool off. The beach wasn’t very crowded and I even attempted this popular paddle ball beach game with Anna.

THURSDAY, JUNE 5: Not as hot today so Anna and I walked for over over 5 hours exploring areas we had not yet seen, especially beautiful Rothschild Blvd. which is lined with lovely apartments and many of the famous Bauhaus architecture that gives Tel Aviv the name of the “White City”.

“It is perhaps ironic that Tel Aviv houses the largest number of buildings designed in an architectural style that developed in pre-Nazi Germany, a style that came to an abrupt end in Germany, with the Nazi’s rise to power. This architectural style is so prevalent in Tel Aviv that it almost seems as though it were a local style, but it is not.” Quote taken from the Jewish Virtual Library.

We took in a visit to the Hagana Museum. The Haganah was a paramilitary organization when Palestine was under the British Mandate, but later became the core of the Israel Defense Forces.

 We had lunch at a famous, and very crowded restaurant known as Benedict’s and continued our walk to Rabin Square, where there is a memorial to the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who was assassinated in 1995.

 We explored a bit of Dizengoff street, which is crowded with stores, cafes, and LOTS of people, then headed back to the apartment with a brief stop in the Carmel Market where we found that coming late in the day, rather than early in the morning, seems to afford one better prices !!

 FRIDAY, JUNE 6: Went to the Nahalat Binyamin Arts & Crafts Fair near the Carmel shuk. There were some lovely items, especially jewelry. We also stopped to hear a famous Israeli folksinger – Miri Aloni, – who performs there every Friday.

 Her most popular hit from the late 1960s, “Shir La’Shalom,” suddenly became a reminder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and the deep social rift that continues to plague Israeli society. Even now, over 14 years later, the memory of that night brings tears to her bright blue eyes.

“I was invited to sing ‘Shir La’Shalom’ at the ‘Yes to peace, no to violence’ peace rally, which was itself very successful. None of the 150,000 people who came to support Rabin’s way of making peace knew what was going to happen afterward,” she explained. “It was not the first time I shared a stage with Rabin, but it was the first time I succeeded in getting him to join me, because he was shy, and singing was not his forte.” The applause of the crowd as they heard Rabin’s voice was deafening. In the euphoria, the normally stoic Rabin even gave Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres a warm embrace.

Aloni remembers shaking hands with Lea Rabin after the performance and asking her to take good care of Yitzhak for the Israeli people. “‘I’m doing the best I can,’ she answered.” Shortly after the rally ended, Aloni and her family heard the shots. Her husband, a former commander in the first IDF parachute unit, knew they were real and ordered Aloni and their two sons to hide behind a car. “I get choked up when I talk about it, but I was so naïve to think that it was not real shots. I thought someone made a joke and shot from a toy gun,” she said. A copy of the song’s lyrics was later found in Rabin’s jacket pocket, soaked with blood.

 Anna and I then shoved our way thru the shuk, which is crazy on Fridays, to buy the few groceries we needed.

 Friday night we took a long stroll along the beach to the Port of Tel Aviv where we had dinner at another lovely outdoor café overlooking the water. A pleasure I will truly miss.

 SATURDAY JUNE 7: Anna, myself and 5 million other people went to the beach. Being Shabbat, the beach was packed. The surfers were out in force because of the high waves. A beautiful sight. We managed about two hours in the hot sun, among the crowds, before we went back to the apartment for a Shabbat rest.

 At night, friend Tzipi joined us as we returned to the beach to watch another lovely sunset. While there are still a lot of people there in the evening, it is much less crowded and noisy.

 Tzipi then walked with us to Bialik street to see the lovely home of the late “Father of Hebrew Poetry”, Chaim Nachman Bialik. The home, which is now a museum, was built in 1927 and is just lovely. Check out photos of The Bialik House, Tel Aviv, on the internet. At the end of Bialik street is the first City Hall, all white and lit up in the evening sky. Exquisite architecture.

 Bialik Street also includes the Rubin Museum !!!

 Anna and I finished the evening at a great pasta restaurant in an alley near the shuk where one finds lots of great little eateries.

Photo Addendum

 

Little kid heading to the Western Wall

Little kids heading to the Western Wall

Anna and I enjoyed our shabbat at the King David Hotel

Anna and I enjoyed our shabbat at the King David Hotel

The pool at the King David

The pool at the King David

The King David Hotel

Laura Myers and I

Laura Myers and I

The Old City

The Old City

Our view during our dinner in Haifa, overlooking the port.

Our view during our dinner in Haifa, overlooking the port.

Our visit in our partnership region with participants of the Future program

Our visit in our partnership region with participants of the Future program

Views from our partnership region

Views from our partnership region

Walking in the German Colony, the lights are from the Bahai Gardens

Walking in the German Colony, the lights are from the Bahai Gardens

Walking through the artist colony in Ein Hod

Walking through the artist colony in Ein Hod

Anna walking through the Flea Market in Jaffa

Anna walking through the Flea Market in Jaffa

Anna's favorite juice stand in Jaffa

Anna’s favorite juice stand in Jaffa

Anna and Laura at the famous Abu Hassan humus eatery

Anna and Laura at the famous Abu Hassan humus eatery

Laura, Tzipi and I at the Moshav

Laura, Tzipi and I at the Moshav

Walking along the Promenade to Jaffa (in the distance)

Walking along the Promenade to Jaffa (in the distance)

 

 

Jerusalem, Haifa and our return to Tel Aviv

Please excuse the length of my ramblings and feel free to scan or skip parts, but this is also for Anna and I to keep to remember our trip.

 So what should have been an uneventful flight from Eilat to Tel Aviv and a cab ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, turned into over 24 hours of aggravation-they sent Anna’s luggage to Haifa instead of Tel Aviv and we did not receive her baggage for two days. Instead of driving it to Haifa to us in Jerusalem they sent it back to Eilat and then to Tel Aviv and then it finally made its way to us in Jerusalem.

 WEDNESDAY MAY 21, we went to our hotel in Jerusalem – the Hotel Arthur – located near the always jumping Ben Yehuda Street. It’s like a mini-version of Times Square, except on Erev Shabbat, Friday evening, when miraculously, around 4:30 p.m. everything goes quiet. Stores and restaurants close, most transportation, including the light rail stops, and the streets fill with people either going to the synagogue or going to family and friends homes to celebrate the coming of the Sabbath. It is a wonderful feeling, as if time stops for awhile and we can get off the merry-go-round.

 The rest of our time in Jerusalem was wonderful. We first checked out where Anna would be doing her internship. It turned out to be in an office building quite near where we were staying, but not very close to where she will be living.

 Our first night in Jerusalem we had dinner with a friend of mine, Eleanor that I had not seen since we were in the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization together in high school.

 THURSDAY, MAY 22: Not remembering what Anna and I did the earlier part of Thursday but later in the day we rushed through part of the Old City to get to a tour of the tunnels under the old City of Jerusalem. It was quite a fascinating tour. We even passed a little cubby hole where Jewish women go to pray because it is considered the part of the wall of the Old Temple closest to G-d (or something like that – not sure if I’m repeating it accurately). There were many women squeezed into this little area praying.

 When the tour ended we found the open area at the Western Wall overflowing with people as one of the special units of the Israel Defense Forces was being sworn in. Family, friends and the community were out in force to cheer them on.

 FRIDAY, MAY 23: My dear friend Laura Myers, whom I met in Israel 40 years ago, and lived with for many years in Massachusetts, met Anna and I at the Israel Museum.

Anna and I had not been to the Israel Museum, so we saw some interesting exhibits and also went into the building (I’m blanking out now on it’s name) that holds some of the actual Deal Sea Scrolls.

 Friday evening we walked to Eleanor’s house for Shabbat dinner, shared with her husband Mike, and several of their friends, including another friend, Cheryl (Cherie) Gitlin that I knew from Detroit and had visited when I lived in Israel 39-40 years ago. It was a lovely evening and Eleanor served up a wonderful vegetarian feast for us !!

 SATURDAY, MAY 24: Anna and I spent a quiet Shabbat lounging at the King David Hotel. After sundown we watching the City of Jerusalem come alive again and at 10:30pm we again walked to the Old City to see a light show of the History of Jerusalem, shown on the walls of King David’s Citadel.

 SUNDAY, MAY 25:

Anna and I returned to the Western Wall. This time so we could get close enough to touch it and to leave our written prayers in the cracks of the wall. It can be a very emotional experience. For my non-Jewish friends, this 2000 year-old Wall was not itself part of the Temple, but part of the massive retaining wall that King Herod built to create the vast plaza now known as the Temple Mount. It is the “most important existing Jewish shrine” because of it’s connection to the ancient Temple, the House of God.

Haifa

 We drove from Jerusalem along the cost to Haifa. We eventually made our way up the winding roads and crazy round-a-bouts to the Crowne Plaza Hotel where we were staying for the next three nights. We then all had a lovely dinner on the merpesat (patio) of friend Anita Weiner’s apartment (which is in a building connected to our hotel). It was a glorious evening that included a vegetarian feast consumed while overlooking the lights of Haifa and cities to the North.

 MONDAY, MAY 26: Anita, Anna and I went to the Central Galilee Region – Michigan’s Partnership Region in Israel where Metro Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids partner with three municipalities in Israel: Migdal HeEmek, Nazareth Illit and the Jezreel Valley to build long-lasting people-to-people relationships and collaborate on a variety of programs and shared resources to strengthen both communities.

 I had the opportunity to meet Ziva Ohayon Recht, Director of the partnership, when she spoke in Detroit several months ago. I told her of my impending trip to Israel and my interest in learning more about the partnership. She connected me with Einat Rafaeli, a lovely young woman who spent the day with us showing us around the region. Our tour included a visit to an elementary school for high-risk children, where we met with a wonderful group of 4th and 5th graders. They are part of the Youth Futures program. They shared with us how much the special services they receive mean to them.

 We also visited the Lavido factory where they make skin care products. Their products are extracted from organic products grown under their supervision, which reflects their respect for the land and its produce. Their factory was started with seed money from the Partnership.

 TUESDAY, MAY 27: Anna, Anita, Laura and I visited Ein Hod, an artist colony near Haifa, but only a few shops were open. We then went to Zichron Yakov, a little town with a couple lovely streets of shops and restaurants.

 Anita found a charming little restaurant overlooking the valley and the sea, where we enjoyed lunch. It was then on to Yehuda’s apartment. If I understood them correctly, he has the largest collection of Baroque classical music that he has put onto 1600 CD’s and has an elaborate system to play the music on. He wanted us to listen to a few of the selections as the sound is better than sitting in a concert hall, and the view from his apartment, overlooking the mountains of Haifa, was breathtaking.

 In the evening Anna and I walked along a promenade high in the Carmel Mountains, overlooking the lights of the City and the Haifa Harbor.

 WEDNESDAY, MAY 28: Anna and I took the train from Haifa to Tel Aviv, where we found the street our apartment.

Tel Aviv

 The apartment is 1-1/2 blocks from the beach. It is in an area of some new hotels and new apartment buildings, right next to structures falling apart or being torn down and renovated. We are close to the open-air market called HaCarmel market where we walk to buy our groceries. It is an experience everyone should have!!

 Because we are trying to keep the place cool, we leave windows open. Don’t remember if I mentioned it before or not, but most Israeli homes, apartments, hotels, etc. do NOT have window screens. We were told it is because they like to wash their windows every day and screens make it too difficult. I have yet to see anyone wash their windows, but I have seen a lot of bugs flying in the open windows. Anna has welts on her to prove it. Although I will say there are far fewer flies and mosquitos sharing our quarters than I would have expected.

 Have I mentioned the cats? For those of you who have never been to Israel, you can not fathom the number of homeless cats EVERYWHERE. Breaks my heart to see them on the streets, scrounging for food. This is a problem of long-standing that this country, with all it’s high tech inventions and medical breakthroughs, has been unable to solve !!!

 THURSDAY, MAY 29: I woke earlier than Anna and spent 1-1/2 hours walking along the beautiful promenade built along the Mediterranean and then Anna and I spent the afternoon relaxing at one of the many beaches along the sea.

 In the early evening Laura arrived. While Anna was busy online, Laura and I took a lovely walk along the promenade, where we witnessed a breathtaking sunset, and a wedding taking place near the beach. Tzipi and Anna joined us for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the sea.

 FRIDAY, MAY 30: Tzipi picked us up and took us to the shuk in Jaffa, where we did some souvenir shopping among the throngs of shoppers, and had lunch at a mid-East restaurant well known to the locals !! We then walked a bit through the Neve Tzedek neighborhood – established in 1887 and the first official Jewish district of Tel Aviv, outside the walls of Jaffa. The neighborhood is filled with homes with red-tiled roofs, colored walls, cafes, restaurants and boutiques as well as many synagogues. The neighborhood is home to the internationally famous Batsheva Dance Company.

 In the evening Tzipi took us to meet one of her daughters, Adi and Adi’s charming husband and two beautiful little girls on their Moshav. We then ate dinner at a great little Italian restaurant that was sort of in a back alley of the HaCarmel Market..

 There seem to be so many little finds of cafes and restaurants in areas I would never walk through alone at night in the States, but people don’t seem at all concerned here as there are lots of people out, cars and cabs passing through.

 SATURDAY, MAY 31: Still battling a bad cold, sore throat and cough so Laura and Anna went on a bike ride to Old Jaffa while I rested and drank “nana” – hot water with mint, picked from Adi’s garden.

 In the afternoon, Anna, Laura and I spent a relaxing time at the beach. It was Shabbat so the beaches were very crowded, but it was a beautiful day, full of sunshine and crashing waves. I ventured into the ocean a short distance, while Anna and Laura went further out to enjoy “riding” the waves.

 In the evening the three of us went with Tzipi back to the Neve Tzedek neighborhood where we saw the lovely Suzanne Dellal Center, which was renovated and restored in the 80’s as part of the neighborhood renovation plan.. “The large plaza in the front of the renovated site is used for open-air performances for the general pubic.” When we were walking around it, while waiting for our table to be ready at a nearby restaurant, we came across a party that had ended in the courtyard. They had a lot of little sandwiches, wine and desserts left, and told us to help ourselves, so we had appetizers before dinner at another charming little outdoor restaurant !!

 SUNDAY, JUNE 1: Laura returned to Jerusalem today for the remainder of her stay in Israel. Anna and I trudged through the Carmel market to do our grocery shopping and came home and had a great lunch of fresh bread, cheese, veggies and fruit.

 This afternoon Anna’s good friend Carli, from New Zealand, who was in Israel on a Birthright trip, has joined us for a couple days.

I am exhausted after trying to recall everything we did the past days, so I am off to bed! Enjoy.

MAKE SURE TO CHECK OUT THE PHOTO POSTING

It Only Took me 39 Years to Come Home

I arrived Thursday, May 15th to the smiling face and open arms of my daughter, Anna, who had just finished her ten-day Birthright tour of Israel. We were delighted to arrive at the Savoy Hotel– a charming, little boutique hotel in a Tel Aviv neighborhood just down the block from miles of beautiful beaches on the Mediterranean Sea. I was immediately struck by the site of mezzuzahs on not only the entrance to the hotel, but on every hotel room door !!

After settling in, we were excited to find a little outdoor rooftop terrace overlooking the sea and the city behind us. As the sun started to set we took a leisurely stroll along the promenade that goes along the coastline. We then enjoyed a relaxing dinner at one of the seaside eateries, London.

Both of us were exhausted after my 13-hour flight and Anna’s 10 day excursion, so we decided to get to bed early. We woke up on Friday to the sun beaming through our window and ready to join the hundreds of Israelis and tourists all converging on the outdoor Shuk-HaCarmel market. We pushed our way through the vibrant and colorful market that was lined by fruit, vegetable and bread vendors and everything else you could ever need or imagine. We of course had to stop at the Halavah vendor to purchase our first Israeli dessert . We bought a chunk of pistachio Halavah- it was delicious. I thought of Berry who would have most certainly bought the entire cart of Halavah. We then waited at a hot hole in the wall place to get my first Falafel of the trip. We pushed our way through the dozen Birthright participants all trying to order in their broken Hebrew- luckily I had Anna to help. 

We stood on the street corner enjoying our  felafel with “chips” – french fries – that they put in the pita with the felafels, veggies, etc.

We enjoyed some beach time in the afternoon before having a wonderful reunion with my friend Tzipi – who was a young social work student when I first met her in Israel in 1974.  It was delightful to reconnect with Tzipi after all this time.  Tzipi has accomplished much in her life both personally and professionally and is the proud mother of three daughters and two grandchildren, all living in Israel.

Anna, Tzipi and I enjoyed another wonderful dinner on the shore of the Mediterranean sea and kept the evening going with tea and a delicious dessert, listening to the waves and watching all the people spending a Shabbat evening strolling along the sea.

 

Shabbat morning found Anna and I riding bikes along the sea, where we came upon a dog beach filled with all shapes and sizes of dogs happily romping on the sand and swimming in the sea.  We also passed a large group of people doing Israeli zumba dancing outdoors overlooking the beaches.  We then joined the throngs of people quickly filling up every inch of space on the beaches.

Saturday evening we ventured out to make the 30 minute walk along the beach to old Jaffa, the first port city in Israel.  Unfortunately it was dark out and we had no idea where we were going so after winding up and down through some deserted passaageways, we found a quaint little restaurant to have dinner in and then returned to the hotel to pack for our next day’s excursion to Eilat.

We had a quick flight to Eilat, flying mostly over mountainous, desert landscapes.  Eilat is the southern most city in Israel, bordered on the East by Jordan, which we could easily see from our hotel, and yesterday, when it was quite clear out, we could see the mountains of Egypt, and I think Saudi Arabia in the far distance.

We are staying in the beautiful Dan Eilat Hotel, with it’s giant, gently blowing palm trees, beautiful pools and a beach on the Red Sea.

Our room has a large porch overlooking the sea, where I am now sitting to write this blog.  I am apologizing up front if the blogs rarely appear.  We are finding we are so tired in the evenings that it is difficult to write.  Yesterday, we struck up a conversation with a man and his daughter at the pool because we noticed he was wearing a Detroit t-shirt.  He is Israeli but went to college at Berkley and has spent a lot of time in the States.  We had a great talk about Israeli and U.S. politics, people, etc.

Like Tel Aviv, there are a lot of outdoor restaurants overlooking the sea – my favorite way to dine.  Today Anna and I did our one really touristy thing and went to the Eilat aquarium and rode the boat with windows under the sea so we could see the coral and tropical fish that Eilat is known for.  This was probably the one disappointing outing of the trip so far.  I have seen much nicer aquariums elsewhere and we probably would have gotten a better view of the coral reefs if I wasn’t such a chicken and had been willing to go snorkeling.

Not that I’m complaining, but the heat here is really wearing us out, so I think we may eat at an indoor restaurant tonight, then pack and get ready for the next leg of our journey tomorrow – Jerusalem !!!!!

Birthright Summed Up

Image

So, I told myself I would sit down at the end of every night and blog. I set reminders on my phone for every evening at 10pm. Whenever those reminders would go off I would simply hit “dismiss”. At the end of each day I was simply overwhelmed by the amount of information I had just taken in and the beautiful sites I had visited that I had no idea where to start writing. My mind has been engulfed by hundreds of thoughts and reflections of the incredible things I did each day on Taglit Birthright. There were sometimes when I would be visiting a site and find some inspiration of something I wanted to write about, but by the time I would get back to the hotel and have access to wifi I was extremely exhausted and all I could think about was trying to get some sleep before we had to be up the next morning around 7 am for another full day of exploration.

Now that Taglit Birthright is over and I have been afforded the opportunity to travel from the North of Israel all the way to the South, my mind has forgotten what I did each day. I started keeping notes in a journal about key points from each place I visited, but it started to become more of a task than anything enjoyable. I wanted to really live in the moment at each place and not have to stop and worry about finding my pen (that was often buried at the bottom of my backpack) and finding a moment to collect my thoughts and write about different moments. I found the itinerary from my trip, and decided to give you all an overview of the different places I visited.

 

Day #2:

We arrived at Ben Gurion airport at the wee-hours of the morning and immediately boarded a bus to Tel Aviv. We arrived at Rabin Square where we met the five soldiers that accompanied us on our ten-day trip. This birthright trip was a special gift to these soldiers who are reaching the end of the military service.

It was really strange to arrive in Tel Aviv, a city much like Manhattan, that is normally surrounded by people, but on this day it was empty. All the stores had been closed and there was no one in site, well except other Birthright groups doing the same activity we were doing. Tel Aviv was shut down because it was Israel’s Independence day and everyone was pretty much recovering from the night before where they were out celebrating this amazing country.

We did an interesting activity, although at the time, it seemed horribly boring since I had only slept for about two hours on my flight. We were divided into groups each led by a soldier. We ran around Tel Aviv trying to find different clues that were part of an interactive game. To be honest, I don’t even remember what our mission was. I was pretty much in LA-LA land due to the lack of sleep and wanting to stop and stare at all the interesting store windows that I passed while running through the streets. Also, I spent most of the activity talking to the people in my group who I had just met and was going to share the next ten days with…. I don’t think I even really participated in the game… ooops.

That night we drove to the Northern part of Israel where we were staying. I told myself I would not sleep on the bus rides like I did last time in Israel because I wanted to see the land. However, the moment I got in a seat I passed out and woke up due to a crazy feeling of nausea as we drove through the winding mountains of the north.

The kibbutz we stayed on was called Kibbutz Ortal. It was a winery and absolutely beautiful… not a five-star hotel, but definitely worth the stay. And although we did not get to do a wine tasting while at the Kibbutz, we made sure to take advantage our ability to purchase alcohol at the age of 19!

Day #3

Our third day in Israel was spent exploring Israel’s security situation in the Golan Heights, one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. (I might say that about everything I see in Israel, but its true, everything here is beautiful). We went to Tsfat, a place my mom has been telling me about forever. It is this old cobblestone town in the mountainside of the North, reminded me a lot of what Greece looks like. Tsfat is the center of Jewish mysticism and is connected by different narrow alleyways that are lined in Jerusalem stone and bright blue doors everywhere. We were given a tour and brief history of the area, that is the part I forgot. I do remember have my first Falafel sandwich of this trip, which was beyond scrumptious. It was from this little hole-in-the wall place. After eating, a few friends and I ventured into the various Kabbalistic art galleries and explored the little town.

After walking around Tsfat we went kayaking down the Jordan River… well more like floating since they were not really kayaks. We were given these little blow-up rafts and sent down the river on our own. Good thing there was no current so we had nothing to worry about. Our arms were tired by the end since we had to push ourselves down this two-mile trail. It was so relaxing to just float down this river, which was surrounded by beautiful trees and nature and I could not stop thinking about where I was.

After “kayaking” we went to Mt. Bental, which overlooks the abandoned Syrian town of Kuneitra. This overlook allows you to see right into Syria and the border with Israel. I was not really paying attention to our tour guide as she gave a history of the security situation. I was exhausted from the day and was just trying to grasp how close Israel really is with Syria. While on the top of Mt. Bental we heard a loud boom… everyone stopped and looked at each other. While on this overlook we heard a bomb and saw smoke coming from Syria, probably no further than 5 miles away. It really hit me then, while I stared off into the distance trying to take in the beautiful site, how crucial Israel’s security is and also how horrible it must be for the Syrian people to be living with bombings everyday. Everyone was freaking out and our tour guide ensured us that everything was going to be okay, this was a daily occurrence in Syria. It was really hard to focus on anything after that interruption, but I soon found my self lost in the beautiful sights of the mountains surrounding us and the lush green land below.

Day #4

We left the North and headed to Jerusalem. The bus ride was about four hours, but I somehow remained awake. I put on my headphones and listened to my “Israel playlist” that consisted of various songs I heard while I was in Israel two years ago. I was so excited to be back in Jerusalem that I could not close my eyes. We drove along the Jordan Valley, which is part of the enormous Syrian-African rift. It was the most beautiful scenery ever.

We drove into Jerusalem with the shades drawn on the bus and blindfolds on all of our faces. At first I bitched about this because I just wanted to see Jerusalem. However, after we exited the bus and held onto the persons shoulders in front of us and were instructed to lift our blindfolds, I understood how amazing that experience was. I thought I remembered exactly what Jerusalem looked like, but when I lifted the blindfold I was delighfully surprised at what I was looking at. It was the Jerusalem I had remembered but even better.

Day #5-7

Day’s 5-7 were spent in Jerusalem visiting the Old City and the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, the places that I feel most connected to. I honestly cannot remember these days in detail, but when I visit them again with my mom I will let you know my feelings! Nonetheless, Jerusalem was stunning as usual and left me with goosebumps and a strong desire to go back.

Day #8

We woke up at 5:30 am, ate breakfast, and embarked on a journey “down south”. We drove through the barren desert land and rode along through the narrow, steep, curved desert roads. We arrived at the bottom of Masada, Herod’s mountain palace and site of the Jewish Zealots’ last stand against the Roman Legionnaries. We discussed Masada’s role as a symbol of Jewish defense and its current significance in modern times. The hike up was hot, but not too bad. The worst part, walking down the very steep, curved, rocky snake path that I fell down last time I did this hike. Thankfully, I made it down (after going very slowly) without falling and was able to turn around and reflect on the crazy path I took down to one of the lowest points on earth. After hiking we floated in the Dead Sea, the craziest feeling ever… it was amazing to be able to just sit in this water and my entire body floated. It was a great experience, until the intense amount of salt started to burn my body.

That night, we went to the Bedouin tents where we enjoyed a Hafla Dinner at the camp in the desert and learned about the Bedouin tribes. The sleeping arrangments were not my favorite, a sleeping bag, which was not mine, in a sandy, dirty tent with a lot of people who snored. Lets just say, I did not sleep that night. But, I did really enjoy this break from reality and took time to appreciate what I have and the beauty of the natural surroundings.

That night, our tour guide took us out into the open desert where we all laid in the sand and looked at the stars. This was the first time I really had time to myself in the past days and the first time since my summer program last summer that I felt truly at peace. Well, that was until fighter jets flew above and the silence of the night was disturbed. I was quickly reminded of how the fact that no matter how beautiful and peaceful Israel may seem at times, there are always potential threats to her security and you have to always appreciate the peaceful moments and quiet moments you get, even if they are not often.

Day #9

We woke up at 5:30 am to watch the desert sunrise, absolutely stunning. We then rode Camels through the desert… definitely a once-in a lifetime experience, and by that I mean I will never do it again. The Camels scared the shit out of me. The one behind me kept putting its face right next to me and give me the scariest look… and the way it moved its jaw was not pleasing.

After we left the Bedouin tents we went to Ein Avdat Nature reserve (I have pictures on facebook). It was the hardest climb I have ever done in my life. We had to climb up laders in the side of the cliffs and trek up all these narrow pathways that were very slippery. However, when I made it to the top, which I did not think I would, I looked down at the amazing rock formations and just smiled. I accomplished a goal of mine, and was so delighted to see the amazing views below and the small waterfall in the middle of the desert.

Our last major stop on our trip was to the Salad Trail where we met Uri Alon, a local expert argonomist on a farm in the Northern Negeve. This man cultivated the barren land into massive greenhouses where he grew fruits, vegetables and medicinal herbs. We were able to walk around these green houses and pick fresh tomatoes, cucumbers and carrots and I even ate some plants 🙂

If you know me, you know I am big on the whole farm to table movement and I loved being able to pick my own fruits and vegetables and just eat them. It was so incredible to step outside of these fields and remember that I was in the middle of the desert.

The end…

So, birthright has come to and end and I cannot say enough good things about the past ten days. The places I visited and the people I met made my second experience in Israel everything I had hoped for.

Now my second adventure has begun with my mom, and our journey has just begun.

Check out my facebook from pictures I am tagged in from Birthright.. I did not take my own pictures.

 

P.S I am blogging from the rooftop of our hotel and it is so incredible up here I don’t think I can move from this spot.

Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem

We have finally arrived to Jerusalem, one of my favorite places in the entire world. There is nothing more amazing than walking up to the Old City with hundreds of people from all walks of life, Jewish and non-Jewish.

If you know me, you know I love being in big cities full of people and life. I often get so caught up in daily life and I am really bad at staying in the present. I am always thinking about what comes next. In Israel, however, I find myself only focusing on the present. I know people in Israel have such difficult lives and have major daily struggles that no one could imagine, but it seems like many of the people here don’t care what happened yesterday or what may happen next. The present is the only thing on their mind.

I was nervous about being placed in Jerusalem for my internship. I was worried what I would do in a city that shuts down on Friday nights through Saturday night to observe the Sabbath. But, this first Shabbat here reminded me how important it is to take time to just relax and enjoy the day spent in beautiful Jerusalem. There is no need to worry about yesterday and no need to worry about tomorrow.

This city reminds me to just sit back and appreciate what is right in front of me and the people around me. It is almost like my senses are heightened to my surroundings. I love it here. I love the different people that make this city so great.

I struggle with understanding the very observant people in this place, but I have come to just accept them and their way and try to remind myself that we should all be able to coexist and spend Shabbat the way we want to.

I am currently sitting in a park in the middle of an orthodox neighborhood watching all the orthodox children run around in 80 degree weather with long sleeve shirts and pants. They are adorable and I want to take them all back to the states.

I love it here and cannot wait for the rest of the summer.

Up up and Away

So… 13 hour flight and I somehow only managed to sleep for about 30 minutes. I put my headphones in, turned on my Israel music playlist to set the mood and hoped I would drift off into a sleep and wake up hearing the flight attendants playing Hatikvah. I woke up, little did I know, about a half hour after I fell asleep and thought I had slept for hours. Checked my watch and couldn’t believe only a minimal amount of time had passed. Perhaps my mind is so caught up in the adventures that lie ahead that there is no time to rest.

Oh well, that’s one of the things about travel I have become quite accustomed too. No sleep and always on the go. We have about two hours until landing and I have lost any hope of gaining sleep and have just convinced my self that sleep won’t be necessary… I will be so excited to get off this plane and start touring that I will quickly forget I have gone about 23 hours with no sleep. I will sleep when I’m dead, when in Israel there is too much to do and no time to sleep.

Had I slept on this flight I would have missed out on great conversations with the two women sitting on both sides of me. They asked me why Americans are so fat. At first I was kind of offended and then I started to wonder what was I offended for? American society prides itself on meat and carbs. Although I love a good bagel and French fries, Israelis are always so shocked at how poorly balanced our meals are. For breakfast, the lady next to me told me, she was given potatoes, bacon, eggs, sausage, a waffle, English muffin and a cheese Danish. She said that would never happen in Israel. I think that’s one of the things I will be adding to my list of reasons why I need to move to Israel: a good sense of portion control and an understanding of what a truly balanced meal is.

Sorry mom, I haven’t even ha a chance to kiss the ground in Israel yet and I already know I won’t be ready to leave after just three months. I have been on many many flights before and never have I been on a flight with complete strangers, from two different worlds, a language barrier and felt so comfortable and had so much to talk about. I LOVE ISRAELIS. I love Israel and I cannot wait to touch down.

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Pre-trip Excitement

Is it really possible to be so excited for an upcoming trip when I really have no idea what to expect? Perhaps, the unknown is the source of all my excitement, and perhaps the foundation for my desire to always try something new.

It is officially 28 days away. I still have 24 more days of class and 28 more days until it is “wheels up” at Newark International Airport. I find myself constantly drifting away from class conversations and thinking about what it will be like to live in a foreign country for three entire months. I find myself looking up all the “hip” cafe’s in Eilat and the hidden gems of Jerusalem. If you look in my email history you will find most of what I send is links to my mom of places I want to see while in Israel and places that I know my mom will find of interest.

Can it really still be 28 days away? My excitement level is at an all-time high and I don’t even know most of the details for my summer excursions. All I know is that on May 5th I will leave to Israel and on June 16th I begin my internship program. There are minor details in between that I know, but for the most part everything is still unknown. I used to hate not knowing, I had to know every detail of every moment. After my incredible experience last summer in California, I have come to appreciate the thrill of not knowing. There is no room for disappointment and a ton of potential for a summer of a lifetime.

I better get back to paying attention in class, after all finals are only three weeks away.