Sunday, January 27, 2013

Quote of the Week: The Future

"The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time." -Abraham Lincoln

Monday, January 21, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Final Day: Until We Meet Again

I am transcribing my Birthright journal, a day by day account of my time in Israel. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 7, 2013

Hebrew word of the day: Hazeman tas (הזמן טס) = Time flies

We woke up this morning to a rainy day. Our first stop was a monument called the Scrolls of Fire molded out of bronze by Natan Rapoport. They are huge and in the middle of nowhere on a hill. The scrolls depict the history of the Jewish people from the Holocaust through the Six Day War. It was a great stop, despite the rain and hail.

Scrolls of Fire in the rain
Next, we went to the Tel Goded caves and crawled through mud to get to the inner chamber, where our tour guide, Ariel, told the story of Rabbi Akiva's death and the story of the Bar Kochba rebellion. Again, despite the rain and mud, it was an awesome experience - totally worth it, though our bus driver was furious when we returned caked in mud.

After the caves, we went to something called the Time Elevator. It is a video with motion seats that quickly explains the history of Jerusalem from the binding of Isaac through the first and second Temples and exiles until we retook Jerusalem in the Six Day War.

We were supposed to fly out tomorrow morning on Aerosvit Airlines, but Aerosvit has gone bankrupt, so we are on a direct overnight flight on El Al with twenty others from our group. The rest are either leaving on a flight tomorrow morning or extending. Because of the change of plans, we had to shorten our closing session, so we hurriedly said "until we meet again" and then hopped on the bus to Tel Aviv.

I had an unbelievably incredible time in Israel and can't wait to come back!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Day 10: The Kotel Tunnels

I am transcribing my Birthright journal, a day by day account of my time in Israel. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 6, 2013

Hebrew word of the day: Para Para (פּרה פּרה) = one thing at a time

This morning we went to a senior living facility to hang out with the residents. I got to talk to a man named Zvi, who was born in Denmark in 1943. His family had to flee to Sweden to escape the Nazis and lived there for two years before returning to Denmark in 1945. At the age of 24, in 1967, Zvi made Aliyah. He served as a commander in the army for fifteen years and then went to school and got two PhDs - one in math, the other in immunochemistry. He spent his life studying cancer. He has two daughters, one son, and seven grandchildren. Talking to him was a great experience. When I asked how he came to live in Israel, he said, "because I wanted to live in Israel," as if there were no conflict, no fear of leaving behind the land of his childhood and the life he had built there.

We had lunch in the Jewish Quarter and then went to the Kotel, where three of our group members became Bar and Bat Mitzvah. After the ceremony, we went down to the Wall, men on one side of the mechitza and women on the other. The guys wrapped tefillin and we all said the Sh'ma. There were more women than men at the Wall today, so we had to push our way to the front of the crowd to stick our notes to God in the Wall. When I got up to the Wall, I said the Sh'ma again and Shehecheyanu before sticking my little note in the wall.

The Western Wall
It started to rain just as we were entering the Kotel tunnels, which was perfect timing. The tunnels are excavated under the Muslim Quarter to see more of the Western Wall. There were a number of (mostly) women down there praying. The holiest spot along the Western Wall, the closest point to what used to be the Holy of Holies, is in the tunnels. It was very cool and unreal to be there.

Read about my last day in Israel (for now)!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Taglit Birthright Day 9: Shabbat in Jerusalem

This is the transcription of my Birthright journal, where I chronicled my day by day activities and thoughts in Israel. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 5, 2013

Berel's conversion comments yesterday have continued to bother me all night and day. As a rabbi, Berel is an authority figure (whether or not he wants to be) and for him to have portrayed such a negative image of non-Orthodox converts is damaging. The fact that there are people who convert for the wrong reasons and that there are rabbis who perform insincere conversions makes it hard enough for me to be a Jew by Choice without Berel perpetuating these negative stereotypes. I regret not speaking up last night.

We went out to Ben Yehuda Street after Havdallah and I told our tour guide, Ariel, about my conversion. We talked about my conversion process and about why I was offended and upset by Berel's comments yesterday. I did not have a "quickie" conversion. After a childhood of dissatisfaction with religion and an agnostic adolescence, I was ready to find God again in a way that would make me happy. After a lot of soul searching and research (and on the advice of an internet quiz), I decided to try Judaism with my now-husband. Judaism is hard - the language barrier, the cultural differences, the concept of peoplehood, and so many more obstacles make it hard to break into. Looking back on it, I still can't figure out why I stuck with it through feeling like an outsider and tripping over Hebrew words. I have given up on things for much less. I think it was Lecha Dodi; I left services every week with the tune to Lecha Dodi stuck in my head. I hummed it without knowing the words. It was like that one tune wormed its way into my soul and hooked me. I started going to synagogue on a weekly basis just to hear it and then I started reading books and blogs on Jewish theology and watching Woody Allen and Marx Brothers movies. I immersed myself in Judaism for over a year before starting the official conversion process with my Reform rabbi. That process took another seven months and in that time I became more observant - starting with weekly Torah study, then keeping kosher style, and (as much as possible) not spending money on Shabbat. On April 8, 2011, I met with my bet din and went to the mikveh. I did it all for myself with the sincerest goal of igniting my Jewish soul for all eternity. Now I am somewhere on the more traditional end of the Conservative movement and my time in Israel has only strengthened my Judaism. Telling Ariel about my conversion and my frustration made me feel better and I was able to enjoy the rest of our night out.
Ben Yehuda Street

Ben Yehuda Street was excellent, even in the rain. This was also the first place we have seen bagels in Israel in the entire time we've been here. There was a lot of shopping and food and I managed to get most of the gifts I was looking for, including one for our own home - a hand washing bowl. I'm excited to use it before our next Shabbat dinner!

Read more stories from the Western Wall.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Taglit Birthright Day 8: Yad Vashem & the Kotel

I am transcribing my Birthright journal, a day by day account of my time in Israel. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 4, 2013

Hebrew word of the day: Lizkor velo liskoach (לזכור ולא לשכוח) = Remember and never forget

Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem was overwhelming, just like the Holocaust. There is so much significance and meaning just in the grounds and the architecture of the building. The museum is surrounded by beautiful gardens and trees. Within the gardens are monuments representing the lives lost. The museum itself sticks out of Mt. Herzl at the beginning and the end. You enter in the light and exit in the light with views on both ends of a beautiful and thriving Jerusalem. In order to reach the end, however, you must travel through the depths of the mountain and bear witness to the horrors of the Holocaust. There is so much material there that it is impossible to see it all in one day, let alone the three hours we were there.

The Menache Yehuda Market was also overwhelming, with so many shops and a mad crush of people. After the market, we prepared for Shabbat and went to the Kotel.

There are not words to describe the Kotel, but I'll try anyway. There is an overpowering sense of spirituality and unity at the Kotel. Singing songs surrounded by others who are singing the same songs and saying the same prayers that I say at home is an amazing and intense feeling, like being a family. We struggled past a throng of people to get up to the wall. It is a miracle that anyone is able to move in such a tightly packed crowd. Finally, all the women on our side of the mechitza made a giant circle and sang songs. It was incredible.

The modern feminist in me hates to admit it, but the mechitza was not the oppressive and segregating force that I have always thought it would be. When we arrived at the airport last week, our Mayanot coordinator, Abi, taught us a chant. With our arms around each other's shoulders, we chanted "Achim, achim, achim achim achim! Simcha, simcha, simcha simcha simcha!" Achim means brothers and simcha means joy. At the Kotel, as a large group of women, we did the same chant, but instead of achim, we shouted loud and proud, "Achayot, achayot!" "Sisters, sisters! Joy, joy!"

Unfortunately, the night ended on a sour note. After an awesome Shabbat dinner of banging on tables, we had a session called "stump the rabbi" with Rabbi Berel. One of the first questions was about conversion. Berel is a Chabad rabbi (for the Chabad opinion on conversion, check out this video), so I wouldn't necessarily expect him to see my Reform conversion as valid in his movement, but he went beyond that. He told a story about a woman who converted, but on her death bed when God didn't heal her, she turned back to Jesus. Berel went on to say that non-Orthodox conversions are quick things. He said, "You pay the rabbi $900 and you're Jewish. If you don't want to do it the right way [Orthodox], then you should choose a different religion." My husband argued in defense of non-Orthodox conversions without telling anyone that I converted. A few other people spoke up about having a parent who converted. I didn't speak up. I want nothing more on this trip than to be Jewish without question. Telling people that I converted requires a certain amount of trust. They have to trust me when I say that I converted for myself and not for my husband. I'm not sure that a twelve day trip will foster that kind of trust. I certainly didn't want to get into such a heated conversation after such an overall amazing day.

To hear more of my thoughts about conversion, keep reading!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Day 7: Jerusalem & Mt. Herzl

Welcome to the transcription of my Birthright journal, where I chronicled my day by day activities and thoughts in Israel. To start at the beginning, click here!
January 3, 2013

Hebrew word of the day: Tikvah (תקווה) = Hope

The Bedouin have excellent food, but terrible sleeping conditions. Sleeping on a thin mat on the ground in a cold tent is super uncomfortable. But even being cold, sore, and exhausted couldn't ruin my day, because today we are going to Jerusalem!

First things first, we got up at 7:00 AM to ride camels and eat breakfast. Camels are really cool and have a lot of personality. We were told by our Bedouin guide not to show our camels love (no petting, etc), but my camel and I had a good time anyway. Look, he's smiling!

After breakfast, we hit the road for Teva Tech a pharmaceutical company. They have videos and interactive stations to explain how they put the "active ingredient" in your medicine. It had the potential to be really boring, but turned out to be pretty cool.

Jerusalem was my most highly anticipated part of the trip. When we got close to the city, we sang Jerusalem by Matisyahu and as we were singing, we rounded a bend in the road and there it was!

First sight of Jerusalem
This was the beginning of one of the most emotional days of my life. It started out light-hearted enough, between the singing and lunch. We stopped at a food court kind of place and there was a kosher McDonalds that I found really impressive. Not all McDonalds in Israel are kosher, but this one was and it had two separate sides, one for meat and one for dairy, with separate entrances and everything. We didn't eat there though. Instead, we got pizza and iced coffee. I don't usually drink coffee, but if we had this stuff in the US, I would drink it all the time. It's like a coffee slushy. It's a good thing Israeli coffee is so good, because I needed it after yesterday.

I was fully awake for the next part of the day: Mt. Herzl cemetery. I bawled my eyes out through the whole thing as we heard stories of our fallen heroes from Ariel and our soldiers. I cried more when we sang Hatikvah and said "until we meet again" to our soldiers. I miss them already.

After dinner we met in the hotel's bomb shelter for Yad Vashem prep. We went around the room and talked about our feelings about the Holocaust and the importance of Yad Vashem. I broke down crying in front of forty people and didn't even care. It doesn't matter who you are, the Holocaust should make you sick to your stomach. The violence and hatred and death is incomprehensible. And yet it is important that we remember it, to give meaning to the senseless loss of life and to celebrate our survival. Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, we got the strong and beautiful State of Israel. Yad Vashem is an important piece of keeping history alive. As a history major with a focus in museum studies and a former intern at the Field Museum in Chicago, I believe in the importance of memory, specifically regarding the Holocaust in our generation. We will be the last generation to interact with Shoah survivors. How we memorialize the people who perished and remember the atrocities of the Holocaust will be important for ensuring that future generations remain connected to it. I can't wait to see how Yad Vashem encapsulates the horrors of the past, the hopes for the future, and the wide range of emotions that we all expressed in the hotel bomb shelter.

Read my thoughts on Yad Vashem and Shabbat at the Kotel!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Day 6: Masada and the Dead Sea

It's been a week since I left Israel after an amazing two weeks on Birthright. I am transcribing the journal from my trip day by day. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 2, 2013

Hebrew word of the day: Soreff (שרוף) = Burning
This morning our hostel was surrounded by gedi (mountain goats). We got to Masada around 10:30 AM and hiked up the snake path to the top. I am going to be sore tomorrow, but it was completely worth it! The desert is amazing. It stretches out in a mix of flat, rocky land and huge towering mountains. It is hot in the middle of winter and I can't imagine what it is like in the summer. Still, I want to come back in the summer and do the 4:00 AM Masada hike to be on the top for the sunrise. I bet the sunrise in the desert is gorgeous.

After Masada, we went to the Dead Sea. The mud was a lot of fun and, on our tour guide's recommendation, I let it mostly dry before going in the Dead Sea to wash it off. My skin was super smooth after. I was a little nervous about the Dead Sea, because everyone said it would burn (see the word of the day), but it didn't burn at all. One of the people in our group got splashed in the eye and it looks really bad, but apart from that, no one had any burning issues. Floating all on your own is the weirdest feeling.
View of the Negev from Masada
The hour and a half drive from the Dead Sea to the Bedouin tents turned into three hours, because our bus driver got lost. We did finally get there though and went straight to dinner. The food was delicious - hummus and pita and Israeli salad served family-style while sitting on mats in a tent. After dinner, we toasted marshmallows and sang songs around a camp fire. At midnight, a small group of us went into the desert for בּדד (aloneness). We walked away from each other and sat alone in the dark. A half moon dimly lit the land around us. I was surprised by how rocky the desert is. Sitting in the dark exhausted from Masada and smelly from the Dead Sea mud, I could only stare at the moon hanging just above a hill and think about distance. My concept of the desert before today was a stretch of sand going flat in all directions with maybe a sand dune or two. In reality, the desert is rocky and hilly. I imagined being able to see forever in all directions, but the hills get in the way of that. I sat there wondering what was on the other side of the hill and could easily imagine wandering for 40 years just looking for what was over the next hill. The desert is amazing; it's like life. If you climb a hill, you might just see more sand, rocks, and another hill, or it could be a valley, or you could see a wild animal (so be careful). We don't know what's over the next hill in life, but we should keep climbing to see, because it could be something really awesome.

Next stop: Jerusalem!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Day 5: Tel Aviv-Yafo

I just got back from Israel and I am transcribing the journal from my trip day by day. To start at the beginning, click here!

January 1, 2013

Hebrew word of the day: Tizrum (תזרום) = Go with the flow (as in "Yalla achim tizrum")

This morning we got up early after a late night, so after five hours of sleep I was exhausted for our walking tours of Tel Aviv and Yafo (Jaffa). Still, the cities are beautiful. Tel Aviv is a really cool mix of architectural styles. We stopped first at Independence Hall and in the introductory video, they mentioned the Maccabiah Games! Woo! Afterwards, we went to Yafo and walked around the bell tower outside the old city walls and up to the palace at the top. Yafo is an ancient Muslim port city on the Mediterranean, originally the city on the coast. Tel Aviv has since taken over in size, population, and economic importance. Yafo is still about 80% Muslim, according to our tour guide, Ariel.
Tel Aviv
Our final touring stop of the day was Nachalat Binyamin, an outdoor craft and food market in Tel Aviv. It was loud and hectic and full of (for the most part) cheap jewelry and art. One street was booths with handmade crafts. The other street was cramped with fruit carts, tourist tchotchkes, and pushy vendors.

On another note, it is strange to be surrounded by other Jews and to talk about Judiasm, culturally and religiously, in a completely open way. We all come from different Jewish backgrounds; I have discussed Jewish spirituality and practice not only with our Chabad rabbi, Berel, but also with someone new to Chabad, someone who is Modern Orthodox, people along the Traditional-Conservative spectrum, and cultural/secular Jews. We talk to each other on the bus, on hikes, and out at bars about our individual beliefs and practices to understand each other without judgement (for the most part). These discussions with other participants and with our soldiers and staff are the kinds of conversations that I want to have at home all the time. I want Jews of different "denominations" and different levels of practice to talk to each other without prejudice. I want to talk about string theory and God and gender roles on a regular basis, not just within the Birthright mindset. Maybe that's an unrealistic goal for everyday life, but wouldn't it be great?

Masada and the Dead Sea are next!

Taglit Mayanot Day 4: Tzfat

I just got back from Israel and I am transcribing the journal from my trip day by day. To start at the beginning, click here!

December 31, 2012
Hebrew word of the day: Baktana (בּקטנה) = No biggy, nothing much

We started the day at a tefillin factory in Tzfat, where we learned how they make tefillin, mezuzot, and Torah scrolls. Tzfat is gorgeous - all stone and hills and blue-trimmed buildings. It is full of kabbalists who you can easily mistake for hippies. We got a quick breakdown of kabbalah from an artist named Avraham Levinthal and it was awesome. Afterwards, we saw two beautiful synagogues - one Sephardic and one Ashkenazi. I go to one of the oldest synagogues in the United States now, but it is nothing compared to these places. I can't imagine praying on a daily or weekly basis in a place with such history and beauty inside and out. I'm starting to sound like a broken record just repeating "this place is beautiful" every two seconds.

For lunch, we got Yemeni pizza - one of the only places in Israel to get it, if I heard our tour guide, Ariel, correctly. Yemeni pizza is more of a cheese and veggie and spice wrapped in dough than the pizza I'm used to, but it is delicious!

Yemeni Pizza, yum!
They are really into art in Tzfat and there are some very talented painters and jewelers. Around the corner from the Ashkenazi synagogue was a candle shop with some incredible carved candles. As we were leaving Tzfat, I looked up and there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a perfect blue in all directions from the top of the city to the mountains in the distance.

David and Goliath carved out of wax
Before leaving the north for Tel Aviv, we stopped in Ma'alot to visit Ariel's parents. They are originally from New York City and made Aliyah in 2000, when Ariel was 18. Their house is beautiful with a spectacular view of the mountains. Ariel's dad tried to convince us all to make Aliyah ("Israel is a great place to raise kids") and with a view like they have, it is very tempting.

Our night out in Tel Aviv for New Years Eve was awesome. The small group of us who aren't into clubbing found each other and we all went to a bar without a cover charge and outdoor seating on the boardwalk. It was a lot of fun.

Next stop: touring Tel Aviv!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Day 3: Soldiers

I just got back from Israel and I am transcribing the journal from my trip day by day. To start at the beginning, click here!

December 30, 2012

Hebrew word of the day: Yalla (יאללה) = Get going
Shira has put together an awesome mix CD for the bus. It includes "One Day" and "Jerusalem" by Matisyahu, "Salaam" by Sheva, a cover/remix of Bob Marley's "One Love" by Shai 360, and a Hebrew cover/remix of the Numa Numa song. *This Numa Numa song turned out to be a song called "Rebbe Nachman." I heard it at all the bars we went to; it seems to be pretty popular in Israel right now.*

We picked up our eight soldiers today! The way Israel works, every man and woman serves in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) when they turn 18. Men serve three years and women serve two, followed by reserve duty until they are 40. In the US, it's fair to ask someone who is embarking on another phase in their life (usually graduating high school or college at this age) what they're planning to do next, but when I asked our soldiers what they want to do after the army, they just looked confused. Apparently, the way it works is that after their 2-3 years of service, they work for a year to save up some money and then travel the world. After traveling, they work a year or two more to save up for college. In the US, 20-year-olds are halfway through college and panicked about picking out a career. Here, the 20-year-olds are so far from college and lifetime careers that it hasn't seemed to seriously crossed their minds at all. It must be nice to have time to explore the world without being pressured by society to figure out your entire life.

After picking up the soldiers, we went for a hike along the Banyas river, which feeds into the Jordan. It was absolutely gorgeous. I feel like I can't say "gorgeous" enough to describe Israel. In the north alone, they have mountains, lakes, valleys, rivers, and waterfalls. I can't believe so much beauty has been packed into such a small country.

Banyas River
Jeeping after the hike was fun and gave me time while holding on for dear life to chat with one of our soldiers about her life. From there, we drove up to the Lebanon border to Misgav Am, the "kibbutz at the end of the world." It is the northern-most kibbutz in Israel (and thus, in the world) and sits on the border with Lebanon, surrounded on three sides by the border fence. There, a kibbutz member named Yosef told us about the origins of the kibbutz movement, the founding of Misgav Am, and about their relationship with their neighbors in Lebanon. Apparently, Israel and Lebanon had a good relationship until Hezbollah moved from Jordan into Lebanon in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, a group of terrorists broke through the fence and snuck into Misgav Am in the middle of the night. They took over the children's building (full of children age 9 months to 2 years), where all the kibbutz children slept and took the children hostage, killing one kibbutz member and one child in the process. The IDF anti-terror unit and military dogs managed to take the terrorists out after a few hours. One IDF soldier died and two were wounded in the rescue. Yosef said that it has been quiet recently, though they were afraid last month that Lebanon might join in the fighting. On a separate level, the kibbutz is threatened by an aging population and trouble attracting or retaining young members. It's too bad, because their kibbutz is beautiful. It is on top of a mountain and it felt like were were at cloud level.

View of Lebanon through the clouds from Misgav Am
Tzaft is awwwesome.  Here's why!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Day 2: Shabbat

I just got back from Israel and I am transcribing the journal from my trip day by day. To start at the beginning, click here!

December 29, 2012

Word of the day: Shavua Tov (שבוע טוב) = Have a good week

We had an early night yesterday and a late start today, which was excellent. Breakfast went from 8-10 AM and my husband and I got there at 9:30 AM so that we could eat before trying to get a group together for services. Eating salad for breakfast seems to be a thing here. Anyway, we were supposed to try to get a minyan starting at 10:00 AM for morning services, but we didn't even come close. It wound up just being me and my husband, our tour guide Ariel, and two other guys in our group. Our rabbi and the other group's rabbi didn't even show up, although even if they had, we still would have needed four more men for a minyan.

Sidenote: This is a chabad trip, so I don't count for a minyan. It is very discouraging to not count. We were separated by gender for the Maariv service last night, but they didn't use a mechitza. It almost seemed like they might as well use one if we weren't going to interact and we didn't count anyway. A few of us stuck around after for an extended service - five men and four women. It was belittling to hear the rabbis talk about needing five more for a minyan. What is the point of going if you don't contribute to the community's numbers? Despite all this, I showed up this morning anyway knowing that I wouldn't count.

After praying silently to ourselves, since we didn't have a minyan, we had lunch with the group, followed by free time. My husband and I walked down the path along the Galilee, which ends at a cemetery. It was a gorgeous cemetery on a hill with beautiful tombstones and music. At the top of the hill was a mountain of stones commemorating Herzl, the first Zionist. We asked Ariel about it and he said that there is a pile of stones further north that is harder to get to where people leave stones every year. The one we saw is made up of some of the stones from that site, which they have turned into a memorial now.

The moon on the Sea of Galilee
We walked back, took a nap, ate dinner, and had some group bonding activities. Tomorrow, eight soldiers will join our group for five days, so we talked about the army and mandatory service. Rabbi Berel led Havdalah services and we went out of a night in Tiberias. Marc and I had a nice dinner and drinks on the boardwalk. There was this awesome light show on the water - the spray water up in the air and then project onto it like a screen.

Side note: they don't have limes in Israel.

After dinner, we hooked back up with the group at the loudest bar in existence. It was like a frat party, which wasn't my thing, even when I was in college, but the night was fun anyway. It was amazing to see the mix of people walking around. The patriotism here is beyond anything I've experienced. To hear Ariel and others talk about the land, you can tell they really love it. Ariel was born in America and made Aliyah with his parents about 12 years ago, when he was 18. The more time we spend here, the more I can see us living here. The land is beautiful, the weather is great, the people are brave and eclectic, and it's nice to have such easy access to so much kosher food. Sababa!

Hear about my soldiers here!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Taglit Mayanot Day 1: Golan Hiking

Below is a transcription of the journal I kept during my Taglit Birthright trip. I went with Mayanot Israel from December 26, 2012 through January 8, 2013. To start at the beginning, click here!

December 28, 2012

Word of the day: Sababa (סבּבּה) = Awesome

I woke up this morning in Israel! Our hotel has a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. It is absolutely beautiful!
Waterfall in Zavitan

We went hiking in the Golan Heights this morning. You have to stick to the trail, which is marked by an electric fence, because the mountains are filled with land mines left behind by the Syrians when they retreated during the war of 1967. The mountains were formed by a volcanic eruption and from far away they look like huge boulders covered in a thin green blanket. If you believe Ariel, our tour guide, the black rocks of the mountains were formed by Dinah, Joseph's sister, by her tears when he went missing. The trail was muddy from recent rain, but the surroundings were gorgeous nonetheless. The kids on the trip were amazed by and scared of the wild cows and bulls that we passed. We also saw a waterfall before heading back to the bus for lunch.

We got schwarma and falafel for lunch. I could eat falafel every day! After lunch, we had a quick hike up Mt. Bental, where we saw Israeli army bunkers and learned about the Yom Kippur War (1973). Also from there, you can see Syria.

We headed back to the hotel early for Shabbat, a short Maariv service and dinner. For more about my first Shabbat in Israel, read on.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Taglit Mayanot: Arrival

From December 26, 2012 through January 8, 2013, my husband and I were in Israel with the Mayanot Israel Taglit Birthright program. I have transcribed my journal of the trip here. Enjoy!

December 27, 2012

Hebrew word of the day: Achim (אחים) = Brothers

Our flight out of JFK left on December 26 at 6:00 PM and we flew overnight to Kiev, Ukraine on Aerosvit airlines. It was a long flight that I was lucky enough to sleep most of the way through. Kiev was snowy and cold, as I expect it to be. We exited the plane old-school-style via stairs and took a shuttle bus to the airport terminal. There was only one woman checking tickets for everyone, so it took forever, and standing in line was awkward, since no one in the group really knows each other yet. The flight from Kiev to Tel Aviv was only a few hours, but felt so much longer!

Ben Gurion Airport
We landed in Israel at night and met our Israeli staff. After schnitzel and some quick ice breakers, we hopped on a bus to Tiberias in the Galilee. There are 40 of us in the group plus staff and I'm not sure I will be able to keep everyone's names straight.

So I don't forget, here is the staff:

Hallie, Mayanot 361 Group Leader
Shira, Israeli Group Social Coordinator
Ariel, Tour Guide (the best tour guide in the world)*
Berel, Mayanot 361 Rabbi/Spiritual Advisor
Moran, Security/Medic
Abi, Mayanot Coordinator
Yakov, Bus Driver (replaced by Avi on December 29)*

I can't believe we're actually in Israel!

*notes added post-trip

Read about Day 1 in Israel!