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.
There is no other place where you can get the most exquisite brunches complete with omelets, dips, spreads, and breads at a seemingly low cost. There is no other place where you can find unreal bakeries and cherry tomatoes that taste like candy at every street corner. There is no other place where you will find a multitude of hot clubs that sit right on the amazing beaches. There is no other place where you can walk from the heart of a city to a breathtaking coastline in less than ten minutes. There is no place that is quite like Tel Aviv.
I have always been fascinated by how wherever you go in Israel, the views out the window are breathtaking. From the Golan Heights to the Old City in Jerusalem to camel riding in the Negev Desert, it is amazing how much vastness and beauty is packed into a country the size of New Jersey (shoutout to my homeland!).
Before living here this summer, all I had seen of Tel Aviv was a beach, Independence Hall, the inside of a hotel, and the Port. I knew I loved and had taken a huge bite out of tasting Israel, but still had so much to explore in this city. Every Wednesday, I found myself self-discovering a new area of Tel Aviv; and whether it was Sheinkin Street, Neve Tzedek, Sarona and the Azrieli Center, or the Marina, every hump-day took me on a new adventure and allowed my love for the city to grow. I always grabbed a snack – a piece of rugelach from a bakery that I stumbled upon, an ice cream sandwich from Cookeez (2 freshly baked cookies with ice cream in the middle, amazing), or frozen yogurt from Tamara, Anita, or Leggenda (Israeli froyo is the best). Remind me of my Wednesday snacks when I get onto the scale in America and am five pounds heavier… Obviously Wednesdays were not the only time I explored the city, but they were when I did what I wanted to do.
Speaking of me, that is why I chose to do Onward in the first place. My spring semester was off to a rocky start, and despite my mother’s pleas for me to search for a paid internship in NYC, I needed to do something that combined work experience with life experience. I begged her to let me come to Israel, and reluctantly, she made the deposit for the program and bought my plane ticket. Onward Israel, though you live with a group and travel with them a few times a week, is a program for you. If you want to spend the weekend in Haifa, go and do it. If you want to try that restaurant, nobody is stopping you. At the end of the day, it is your personalized internship and the experience you make of it; and that is why you are here. You don’t come to make friends; you get lucky if you make a few along the way. And luckily, I made about three friends, and out of twenty people, that is nothing to turn a blind eye to. This summer was about self-discovery; discovering what I want to do for a job, discovering Israel and if maybe I want to live here, and discovering what makes me happy.
I just want to take a moment to thank Young Judaea, especially Lena Elkins, for everything this summer. When asking for my placement in, “oh… I don’t know… Like Jewish nonprofit or marketing something maybe,” I never imagined that I would be placed right where the program that brought me here was based. I also never imagined how much I would love what I was doing, and that I would finally realize what I want to do as a job someday: social media marketing. I never realized that work could consist of writing witty, hilarious lists about the people, places, and things you will see on Birthright, or that work could consist of writing about my experiences (hey!). I also want to thank Ricky Eytan and Yael Sahar for both the inspiration and for making sure that I was never bored with the amount of projects I had to do. This internship is going to be hard for any other one or for a job in the future to live up to, and I could not be more thankful.
All good things must come to an end. It’s time to say l’hitraot to the beautiful beaches, the brunches that make me unbutton my jeans, the place where every store has enough hummus to fill a swimming pool, and the stores on King George with adorable 40 shekel t-shirt dresses. It’s time to stop making Birthright-themed Buzzfeed-like lists my day job and eating communal lunches with the amazing YJ staff. Though I am sad to leave, I know that bagels the size of my head and venti iced coffees await on the other side of the Atlantic.
A question that I keep getting is, “so when are you making Aliyah?” and I can whole-heartedly tell you that answer is never… Unless some hunk of an Israeli man walks into my life and changes my mind. However, I can tell you this: I will be back in Israel, whether that means a week, a month, a year, two years… I just know that at the end of the day, ani Americait (I am American), but I will always have a bayit b’Yisrael (home in Israel).
Shalom, and greetings from the Holy Land! I am currently staying with family friends in Jerusalem and relaxing after a busy first week. Upon arrival in Tel Aviv, my group has done so much, so please excuse me if I forget anything! We landed very early in the morning on July 10th, and after we caught up on our much needed rest at Kibbutz Gvulot in Sde Boker, we visited Ben Gurion’s grave. We were treated to pizza and a beautiful view. Then, our group prepared for Shabbat and continued to rest and play games. Because it was Shabbat, we were allowed to sleep in… if you call sleeping till 9 sleeping in. The next morning, we continued Shabbat services and later in the day headed for a dip in the pool. At 8:00, we concluded Shabbat and relaxed. The next day, July 12, we traveled to a playground in Sde Boker. The playground is very close to the Gaza Strip. As a result, there are bomb shelters that double as cartoon caterpillars. Upon hearing this and the normality in my tour guide’s voice, I was in disbelief that children live their lives under these conditions. After the playground, we visited the Salad Trail and learned about Israeli agriculture. We tried all sorts of different fruits, vegetables, and herbs. My tongue turned purple after munching on some purple carrots. At the end of our tour, we had sweet coffee and tea. That night, we were allowed to roam around Eilat. That night was my first time having real Israeli falafel — and let me tell you, it ISreali good. I then treated myself to some ice cream, and called it a night.
The following morning, we went snorkeling, or how the Israelis call it, “shnorkeling,” in the Red Sea. The water was such a perfect temperature and the fish were so colorful. I really did not want to leave. We then went to a Bedouin village and I learned all about their beautiful and welcoming culture. We were treated to a sweet tea and coffee. Though the Bedouin people are very inviting, if they give you a full glass of coffee instead of a glass that is only half-filled, you have stayed longer than you are welcome. After learning about their culture, we went camel riding, and I had a blast! The scenery was like something out of a movie and the ride was similar to that of a horse, just not as fast. After our ride we had a native Bedouin feast, filled with an assortment of vegetables, fruits, breads, and meats. They were so hospitable, they even gave me an entire vegetarian assortment! We then had s’mores and went to bed early because we had a very early rise.
The next morning, we woke up at 3:45 to climb Masada. To say the least, the view was spectacular. At the top we put the selfie stick to good use and learned about Herod the Great and the mass suicide that occurred. Unfortunately, everything that goes up must come down. The trek down Masada was extremely difficult for the group because we were all hot and tired. When we finally reached the bottom, we feasted on bourekas, eggs, and cakes. We then hiked to the Ein Gedi and relaxed in the oasis. Our last destination of the day was the Dead Sea. I had never stepped into such a painful ocean. It was salty, hot, and oily, but of course I floated. After rinsing off, we were accommodated in Ayanot.
The next day we explored Jaffa and shopped in a Flea Market. Don’t worry, Dad — I did not pay full price for anything. We then toured Independence Hall and learned all about Israel’s history and how it got its start. After lunch, we went to Rabin Square and learned about his assassination. After, we went to a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean Sea with beautiful waves, and oh my god Israel is just so beautiful. We then had a night out in Tel Aviv, which was my first time really being in a mall so everything was so new and exciting (#citygirlproblems)!
I had lost my passport, so I had to go to the American Embassy the next day. In reality, losing my passport was the airline’s fault, not mine. My counselor and I treated ourselves to some more falafel. She then took me to this amazing coffee shop called Aroma. Let me tell you, it is way way better than Starbucks, and luckily there is one right by me at home in New York! That day, we bid our goodbyes and I then met my family in Israel! I had not seen them since Kindergarten, so it was a little intimidating. Five minutes later, it was like I had lived with them all these years. This past weekend I have stayed in Pardesiya and the outskirts of Jerusalem. Though I miss my friends dearly, it has been really nice catching up on my beauty sleep. I have made new Israeli friends and can’t wait for them to come visit me in New York. Once I am finished writing this blog, I can look forward to packing for Gadna. Wish me luck!
For this post, I would like to share two very memorable experiences with you.
The first experience that I would like to share happened only a day ago. We traveled to Sderot, a city that is only 10 miles away from the Gaza Strip. Everywhere you looked, you could see a bomb shelter. We also climbed to the top of a small hill in town and were able to see Gaza City. It was an indescribable feeling to look out and think of all the people that are unnecessarily suffering in Gaza. While looking out, a few of our counselors became emotional, as only a year ago they had friends who had been fighting in Gaza. After witnessing all of that. I still didn’t fully understand the gravity of the situation. Later, when we we were on the bus driving through Sderot, I saw a hundred kids walking out of school by themselves enjoying their daily lives — just like any other normal kids. However, it hit me at that moment that these seemingly normal kids have constant fear that a siren will go off, that their home will be attacked, or someone they love will be killed. Only after seeing these kids did I finally realize how difficult and complex the situation in Gaza is.
The second memorable experience happened over the last week or so. As you know, last week we traveled through the Negev. We hiked through Ein Gedi, and also hiked Masada and Ein Ovdat and visited Ben Gurion’s grave. We went to Eilat to snorkel and experience the city. We floated in the salty water of the Dead Sea, then after a Shabbat filled with services, meaningful discussions, and lots of much needed relaxation, we headed out of the desert and (finally) reached Jerusalem.
For me, arriving in Jerusalem was a symbolic experience. After the Jews spent forty years wandering through the desert, they finally reached Eretz Yisrael. On Machon, after we traveled through the desert for a week (which is much less than 40 years!), we finally arrived in the holiest place for the Jewish people. When we arrived in Jerusalem, we immediately went to Beit Ar-El, which is Young Judaea’s Year Course headquarters in Jerusalem. The atmosphere at Beit Ar-El solidified my decision to participate in Year Course. Prior to Machon, I was pretty positive I wanted to be a part of Year Course, but the feeling that I got at Beit Ar-El as well as the experiences I have had on Machon convinced me that I need to go.
The next day, we went to Hezekiah’s tunnels. These incredible underground tunnels were built as a water system sometime between the ninth and seventh centuries B.C.E. All 52 of us went into the very dark and cramped tunnel for about an hourlong walk. There is only one way in and one way out of the tunnels. At some point, the water in the tunnel was up to our knees. Although this was definitely not the most comfortable experience, but it is something that most of us had never experienced before and it was fascinating to think of how long ago the tunnels were built under Jerusalem and that we were traveling through them in 2015. After the tunnels, we walked around the Old City and learned about its history. I had visited the Old City prior to this trip and had understood that many different people have lived in Jerusalem throughout history. Through this tour, especially because I am much older now than I was the first time I visited Jerusalem, I received a deeper understanding of its complexities as well as its beauty.
Finally, towards the end of the day, we arrived at the Kotel. Touching the Kotel was an extremely special moment. Thinking about the millions of other Jews that have touched, and prayed, by the wall made me feel connected to the Jewish people as a whole. However, despite the spirituality of the experience, as an advocate for women’s rights, the inequality of the distribution of space at the Kotel was particularly unsettling for me. Although we live in a more progressive world, and Israel has made many advances regarding women’s rights, it is upsetting that, in this most holy of places, sexism and the unequal treatment of women is so apparent. My guy friends on Machon had all of the space in the world to pray and appreciate the moment and me and the many other women at the wall were cramped into a space 1/3 of the size (we later had a heated discussion about this issue). Learning and experiencing the heart of the Jewish religion was an overall enriching experience.
On a lighter note, and as an update from my initial blog, I am thoroughly enjoying the food in Israel. I have eaten many Shawarma sandwiches, an Arctic (Israeli Popsicle), and am still searching for a Krembo (but I heard that I may have to wait until Hanukkah for one)! I hope that my blogs have conveyed that, so far, I have had many incredible experiences on this trip that have helped me grow as a person. I cannot wait to try more foods and continue to experience more of these life-changing experiences as we head to special interest week, during which I will be doing the sea to sea hike.
γεια σας and hello! My excursion to Athens, Greece has come to a close, and despite the fact that my time there was short, it was wonderful. My peers and I left for Greece on July 5th, and despite the bumpy ride, we could not have been more excited for the trip. Seeing that Athens’ time zone is 7 hours ahead of New York, we arrived in Greece on the sixth. Upon arrival in Athens, we broke the ice between the group and indulged in a delicious Greek breakfast filled with feta cheese, Greek salad, fresh fruit, and veggies. We later met our Greek tour guide, Evdokia, who showed us around Psirri and Monastiraki Square. My friends and I could not help but to admire the graffiti. Living in New York, I am very used to graffiti; but this was different. The artists were so creative and the colors they used were foreign and exotic. We later went to a kosher Greek restaurant, where the host and hostess welcomed us with open arms and lots and lots of food. We wallowed ourselves in hummus, sesame bread, Greek salad, and warm brownies.
After catching up on our much needed rest, Evdokia took the group to the Acropolis Hill where we saw the theater of Dionysus, the temple of Athena Nike, and the majestic Parthenon. In short, we learned about the the birthplace of modern democracy (Athens) and the history and culture of Ancient Greece. After recovering from being in awe by the structures and how long they have stood the test of time, we visited the New Holocaust Monument. It is a beautiful and simple Star of David, separated into six triangles in a secluded garden. On each triangle, Greek cities with a Jewish population (prior to the Holocaust) were listed to honor them. Across the street we visited the Bethshalom Athens Synagogue. We learned about the history of the Greek Jews and the presence they hold now. Despite a few variations in set-up, the synagogue was a nice reminder of home. The rabbi told us many Holocaust stories about the Greek Jews, but what the rabbi showed us made my heart stop. When the Nazis invaded Greece, more specifically Athens, the Jews were rounded up in the synagogue. If you look closely at the outside of the synagogue, there are several bullet holes. We then broke for dinner and later headed to a Greek dance show. After nibbling on authentic Greek donuts and fresh watermelon, the dancers asked me to join them on stage. In which I of course obliged. We danced to ABBA and did a dance that was similar to the Horah. To say the least, I was a pro.
The next day, we woke up bright and early to take a one-day cruise to three Greek Islands. We visited Hydra, Aegina, and Poros. Even though we had time constraints, we were able to shop, eat, and swim. On Hydra, I climbed up a paved cliff with two of my friends, and we were able to look out onto the water. On Aegina, I visited many shops and saw many, many cats. On the last island, Poros, my group and I waded into the cool ocean and nibbled on their infamous Pistachios. I had been to Europe prior to this trip, but I had never been to a European beach. To my surprise, the water was a crystal clear blue and most of the men were wearing Speedos. After leaving the ocean, I sunbathed (not for too long) to dry off. On the boat ride home I played music and my friends taught me how to play Yaniv, the Israeli card game. I really enjoyed the game because it reminded me of Black Jack. To my dismay I was not so good at it. However, I did win in a game of Go Fish and I am determined to improve at Yaniv. On the final day in Athens, we saw the Temple of the Greek god Zeus, Panathinaiko Stadium, and the University of Athens (don’t worry mom, I plan on staying in the states). All of the destinations were jaw-dropping. We took a break from the heat at The National Gardens. The smells and aromas were so sweet. I decided to treat myself to a frappe with Greek chocolate ice cream. It was delicious. After our little excursion we toured the Jewish Museum in Athens. Despite its size, I was impressed by the museum’s exhibitions and artifacts. After learning about the Jewish-Greek resistance during World War II, I was fascinated by their testimonials. What I thought was really cool (for lack of a better word) was how much Greek culture influenced Greek Jews. I saw this most inherently in their respective clothing. After taking all of this in, we headed back to Psirri and Monastiraki Square. We all went shopping and had a blast. I shared a chocolate-banana smoothie with a friend and devoured a fresh mozzarella, tomato, and pesto sandwich. Before leaving we all sat and reminisced on the great times we had and how much we were looking forward to coming to Israel.