Shabbat Shalom! Of course I plan on elaborating on this, but this has by far been my favorite trip (and no it is not only because my parents are not on it). Unfortunately (or rather quite fortunately) I have not only had one favorite experience because they have all been so special and unique. I have had the best counselors, Tali and Inbal, and I have made friends that will last a lifetime (and yes, we have already made plans to tour colleges together).
I last updated you before I went to Gadna, my five day immersion at an Israeli army base. Though there were some highlights on this excursion, there were some bumps during the week. I interacted with some of the Machon participants and I met Jews from all over the United Kingdom, Scotland, and Mexico! It was nice to have cultural exchanges and at the base, and I even got to practice my Spanish with some of the Mexican Jews! I also enjoyed knowing that the majority of those who were there all had a common interest and respect for the Israeli Defense Forces. Towards the end of the week, we were able to shoot M-16s, an experience I enjoyed very much; however, realizing that every eighteen year-old in Israel receives this gun resonated with me heavily. Though I felt that I that I was mature enough to handle this gun, I know that not all people my age are. It’s extremely scary knowing that guns are being put into children’s hands.
Unfortunately, I did not find the week to be at all challenging, physically and mentally. I was disappointed in those who did not respect authority. Because of a select few, nobody was able to engage in the activities that were planned. What was just as upsetting, if not more, was the food. I had never carbo-loaded before that week and I hope to never do it again. What was really great was the fact that we had Shoko Besakit (chocolate milk in a bag) everyday. I am sure they have it patented, but I really hope that this comes to the United States. Though I anticipated for a more difficult week, I did make new friends and I find that all in all it was a fulfilling experience. After those five days, I was reunited with my friend, and it seemed like I hadn’t seen them in ages. I missed them all so much.
That afternoon, we visited a local Druze village and were welcomed by a native Druze family. I learned all about their fascinating culture and traditions. Despite being a minority in Israel (and the rest of the world for that matter), they are very much respected by the Israeli community. After learning all about their culture, we got to experience it… through food. And let me tell you, it was delicious. We were bestowed with platters full of different dishes. I tried homemade date juice. It was sweet, cool, and you guessed it, delicious! To end the meal we were treated to cookies filled with figs and a light tea. I dunked my cookies into the tea, and the result was great. I liked the cookies so much that I was given some for the road home.
The next day we traveled to Tzfat, one of Israel’s holiest cities. We learned about the city’s many miracles and how Tzfat is home to Kabbalah. After learning about this ancient city, we were given two hours to eat and explore. Three friends and I shopped around in the artist’s quarter. We then went to a Yemenite eatery. We were served by the owner, Ronen. We treated ourselves to Lachuch, a Yemenite flatbread filled a blend of fresh cheeses, tomatoes, onions, and spices. I tried Yemenite lemonade, which was a nice treat to a very hot day.
After roaming around the city of Tzfat, we went rafting in the Jordan River. It was so much fun! For the first half of the trip it was calm, so we were able to jump out and splash around. As we began to progress, we ran into some local cows. We were definitely more interested in them than they were with us. Though I had some difficulty getting back into the raft, it was easily one of the best experiences I had on this trip. That night was the second Shabbat we had together as a group, and it was really nice seeing everyone in a not-so hectic environment. Tomorrow is Tish’a B’Av, an annual fast day to commemorate the destruction of the First and Second Temple in Jerusalem. Though I will not be fasting, I will keep in mind this holiday as I tour a Druze village and learn about coexistence. I am looking forward to learning about interactions between Muslims and Jews in Israel and how they coexist.