Day 7: Zikaron Day
Posted by: Arielle Hornedo on Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
On Sunday morning, Bus 925 woke up to what was knowingly
going to be an emotionally meaningful day.
After breakfast, the group sat down to discuss what we were3 going to
see later in the day: Yad Vashem and Mt. Hertzl. Many members of the group shared stories of
Holocaust survivors while others listened intently. Afterwards, with our 8 soldiers dressed in
uniform, we took the thirty minute walk from our hotel to Yad Vashem. There we learned about the Holocaust in ways
many had never learned before.
The exhibitions in the museum were in chronological order,
beginning with Hitler’s rise to power and ending with the declaration of Israel
as an independent state. Many agreed
that the most moving exhibit was the childrens’ memorial. In a dark room, there were 5 candles, but the
reflection of mirrors around the room made it seem as if there were an infinite
number to represent the million and a half children killed during the Holocaust.
After lunch, we walked over to Mt Hertzl, home to the graves
of many important leaders in Israel’s history including Theodore Hertzl, Golda
Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. We then made our
way to the IDF cemetery. Just as
Americans generally go to college after they finish high school, Israelis join
the Israeli Defense Force and defend their country. We heard stories from our soldiers and our
staff about people they know who gave their lives for Israel. It is difficult to convey in a blog the
atmosphere as these stories were told, but the sense of pride3 that each and
every soldier felt for their country was evident.
After a discussion about the sites we saw during the day and
dinner, we had a light evening as we drove to an Israeli film school and
watched two short films in Hebrew (with English subtitles – of course!) We all tried to get to bed early because
Monday we were waking up at 5am to drive to the dead sea!
Day 10: The Last Day
Posted by: Jennifer Haimowitz on Monday, January 24, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Our busy days together in Israel have come to an end as we
find ourselves headed for New York. For many, it is hard to believe it is
already time to return home. Although it will be hard to part from this
beautiful land that we were fortunate to spend ten days exploring, I am sure
that it is not the end of our relationship with Israel.
However, before I get to all that, let’s do a little
backtracking. Our last day started out with an early, yet slow morning (which I
appreciated as I was given a chance to regain the energy that was spent on the
dance floor the previous night). We first found ourselves in the historical
site of Independence Hall, where we sat in the room in which David Ben Gurion’s
proclamation of the state of Israel was heard in May 1948.
Things quickly picked up as we were then exploring the city
streets of the beautiful Tel Aviv. We passed windows filled with fabrics of all
colors and patterns, stores selling various fruits, small restaurants and
several other stores in which we all thoroughly enjoyed searching through. We
certainly found a wonderful place to make the most of our remaining shekels, as
many of us came away with even more gifts for friends and family, and even a
treat or two for ourselves. Personally, a “shopaholic” side of myself that I
never knew existed before made an appearance as I came across stylish bags and
unique pieces of jewelry that were attached to reasonable price tags not so
easily found back home. Everyone was happy with their purchases and many of us
couldn’t wait to start dawning the scarves, jewelry, or sweaters we bought, so
suddenly there were new additions to the outfits we walked out with that
We later walked down to the beach, where we soaked up the
sun in the perfect winter weather of Israel and forgot about the snow that
awaits us in Binghamton. When we came across a playground, you would have never
guessed that we were a group of forty college students, as we wasted no time
climbing the large swings that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea.
We continued our walk through stone walkways in which we
heard stories of France, Greece, and Egypt. While walking we happened to run
into three separate groups of brides and grooms that were taking advantage of
the scenic location as a backdrop to their wedding photos. Little did the
brides expect that by the end of the day they would have all received
congratulations from bus 925, or that one of the brides would end up joining us
for a group-photo.
Later that evening, we enjoyed a night out at a restaurant
before returning to the hotel where we would have our final conversation as a
group. We had a chance to express how we have grown from the trip and words of
thanks to each other for making this trip as fun and amazing as it was.
Now our journey on Birthright has come to an end, yet the
relationships that have been built between the people of bus 925, as well as
with the land of Israel, are sure to continue blooming within all of us. We
have all been so fortunate to have had the chance to be a part of this special
trip, and I know it is an experience that will stay with all of us for the rest
of our lives.
By: Jennifer Haimowitz
Day 9: Environment and Archaeology
Posted by: Ilana Solomon on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
What a day! After the most emotionally draining day of the
trip, followed by the most physically draining day of the trip, I for one
thought we would be in for a bit of a break today. However, I was proven quite wrong when we
were awoken in our Bedouin tents this morning around 5:15 AM by our Israeli
soldiers for our first taste of Basic Training. We were all exhausted from being up late the
night before singing around the campfire, however the soldiers woke us all up
with shouts, push ups, and timed tasks, all before sunrise. I found it to be an interesting and really
great experience because it really helped us see into the lives of our new
friends. However, I don’t think the
other Birthright groups appreciated being woken up by our shouts so early in
the day. After marching IDF style across
the camp as the sun began to rise, our Basic Training ended, and our camel
We all were instructed to pick a camel riding partner, and
pair by pair we boarded our camels.
While many were excited, I was quite nervous. Never the less, Sarah and
I boarded our camel, and I gripped on tight as it stood up. It turned out to be an amazing
experience. Being guided through the
desert at dawn with beautiful sand dunes surrounding us made us really
appreciate the Bedouin way of life. And
mothers, don’t worry, the camels were all very friendly and safe!
After that we ate breakfast, and went back to our tent to
pack up the rest of our things and straighten up. It was then back onto the bus, for an hour
bus ride to Shivil Hasalat, the Salad
Path, which is an amazing farm in the Negev.
We all had a great time, we got to pick and eat our own carrots, and eat
fresh tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and passion fruit, all of which were
delicious! We also got to make our own pita, and see where all of these things
were grown. Then it was off to another
park in the area, where we learned the story of the original settlement and about
carrier pigeons, and some of us even got to release our own! Then it was back on the bus once again to go
to a grove where we got to eat fresh oranges, and make necklaces of lemons and
kumquats. However, after all the fun we
had been having, it was time for the saddest part of the day to begin.
Still in the grove and wearing our necklaces, we all got in
a circle to say goodbye to our soldiers.
It was a very bittersweet moment for both the Birthrighters and
soldiers, as we looked back on all of the great times and wonderful friendships
that had been formed over the past few days.
After everyone had said what they wanted, we got back on the bus, this
time to go to a mall to eat and a bus stop to drop off the soldiers. However, before we got there we had to say
goodbye to Noam, who lived nearby. After
a sentimental bus ride, we reached the mall, and although we only had a short
amount of time to eat, most of us stayed outside and said our goodbyes to our
new friends. It was a tearful moment for
many, but also one that looked to the future, when hopefully we will visit each
After all our goodbyes were said, we headed into the mall
for a quick lunch at the food court, which was separated into a meat and dairy
section based on the color of the chairs, and then headed back onto the bus for
a short ride to the Beit Guvrin Caves. Here,
we got dirtier as we participated in an active dig, where we helped unearth
artifacts of ancient settlements. After
we had sifted through everything we had dug up, it was time for my part of the
day, spelunking! This involved climbing through a cave that had yet to be dug
out like the one we had been in earlier.
While a challenge at times, more so for the tall people who had to fit
through the tiny crawl spaces, it was a
great experience, and everyone came out even dirtier than before, but with big smiles
on our faces. We then walked to a tent,
where Phil talked to us about what some of the things that had been unearthed
were, and what they represented and meant for history. After some oohs and ahhs, we made our way
back to the bus, after some people purchased t-shirts and picked up some free
pieces of artifacts from the caves.
After a quick stop at a gas station, we finally made it to
our new hotel, the Dan Hotel in Ashkelon.
However, we did not get to rest yet, as we only had an hour to get our
luggage up to our rooms, take much needed showers, and eat dinner, before our
night out! But we all made it outside in time, and we took a walk to a pier
with the other Birthright groups under the gorgeous night sky. Everyone had a great time out, dancing, talking,
laughing, and fully enjoying one of our final nights together in Israel! We’re now all safely back at the hotel,
getting ready to go to sleep before our final day of the trip. I cannot believe that we only have one day
left together; this experience has been incredible, and I am sad to see it end,
but happy for all the memories, great friends, and amazing and life-changing
experiences that have been had. See you
By Ilana Solomon
Day 8: The Desert
Posted by: Ben Zwierzchowski on Tuesday, January 18, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
an emotionally exhausting Sunday in Jerusalem, we were once again woken up with
the coocoo reekoo (the sound a rooster makes in Hebrew, credit given to our
very own Israeli soldier Ron Gross) as the sun rose early over the holy
city. Monday, January 17th held in store
many of the pinnacle events of our Taglit Birthright experience that we had looked
forward to since the day we were first informed we were on our way to
again it was my pleasure loading everyone’s luggage onto our bus, even without
the services of our beloved driver Omnon.
It was bittersweet to depart Jerusalem.
We shared tears, personal insights, and I will personally forever
cherish my first visit to the holy city for it was the place where I finally
became a man in the Jewish community.
all of our moans and groans about having to wake up with the rising sun, a
recurring theme on this trip, our complaints were appeased by our arrival at
the Ein Gad Spa at the Dead Sea. We were
all pleased when Phil told us we had over three hours to do slap on some mud
and soak in the sights. As I walked off
the bus I couldn’t help but comment that the surroundings were nothing short of
absolutely breathtaking. For all of our
Jewish mothers who follow this blog pseudo-religiously and have never been to
the Dead Sea, it is a stagnant yet pristinely blue body of water. On both sides it’s surrounded by majestic
treeless mountains that gave me the feel that I was on an entirely different
planet. Even though the Dead Sea is the lowest place
in the entire world, many of us had never felt higher. The sensation of being able to effortlessly
float in the salty waters was said to be “absolutely wild”, according to the
words of our own Ben Kantor. And where
else on Earth is it socially acceptable but encouraged to rub mud all over not
only yourself but your peers? We all
looked like characters out of Avatar and in the moment we didn’t have a
cumulative care in the world.
hours of rest and relaxation was the prelude to the most physically daunting
experience of our trip, climbing Masada.
Upon our arrival at Masada National Park, I looked up at the peak we
were about to ascend and the only thought that really came to mind was “damn,
that’s a tall mountain.” Arielle told me
I looked like an over-prepared Boy Scout at one point during the Trek. Whether more or less prepared than I was, all
50 present members of our Binghamton family reached the summit. Practically everybody simultaneously pulled
out their cameras as we were once again mesmerized by the indescribable
view. The descent back down the mountain
was a hurried 20 minute scurry as we were rushed out of the park by security. Mrs. Shlomo, Jennifer is fine after a minor
stumble at the top of the mountain.
currently sitting around a campfire at a Bedouin settlement in the middle of
the Negev. I don’t know exactly where we
are, but we are all together with our Israeli soldier detail, all eight of whom
have become truly life-long friends. It’s
funny the way life brings people together.
Maybe it is simply by chance or an act of a higher power but for one
reason or another we, Taglit Bus 925, have come to form a strong bond.
To friendship, to faith, and to life.
Day 5: Jerusalem
Posted by: Drew Wolin on Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
What ended up being the most fun day of the trip got off to
an interesting start.
As a food junky, I feel compelled to talk about what we have
been eating. And at no point since we
arrived in Israel has the “difference in tastes” been more evident than this
morning at breakfast. While we in the
States are used to eggs over easy, on the buffet line at our new hotel in
Jerusalem we were greeted by a nice big tray of eggs over a marinara
sauce. Fruit salad would be a great
choice for breakfast for us birthrighters at home, but the Israelis prefer an
actual salad – lettuce, tomatoes, dressing, etc., to start off their day. The choices were interesting, to say the
However, soon after breakfast, something took place that
would change the scope of the rest of our trip.
We got on the bus, giddy as school kids, and drove to pick up eight new
members of our Winter Birthright Bus 925 family. They go by the names of Mor, Alex, Thai,
Inbal, Naama, Joy, Noam, and Ron, and they came equipped with outfits that
might as well have read “Professional Butt-kicker.” That’s right, today is the day the Israeli
soldiers joined us.
Once they got on the bus we visited a local park and did
some obligatory “ice breaking.” It was
fascinating to talk to the soldiers and find out what life is like for
them. Probably the number one thing that
I took away from the park was that just because they are soldiers does not mean
that they are killing machines. They
were all very nice, and held positions that ranged from working in the control
center to enforcing rules within the army, such as ensuring all uniforms are
tidy and worn correctly.
The soldiers are not joining us so much for protection (none
of them are armed) as they are to even further immerse us in the country’s
culture. They are a great group and I
can tell already they will all seamlessly integrate into our already close-knit
Bus 925 crew. I am rooming with Mor, who
has already made it quite clear he is willing to prank anyone, anywhere, at any
time. I’ll be sleeping with one eye open
for sure – waking up to hummus in my ear, or whatever an Israeli soldier does
to prank his roommate, is something I’d like to avoid.
Though we already did enough to call in a productive day, we
were far from done. We still had a
landmark to visit that is both literally and figuratively one of the biggest in
Israel. One which, as the story goes, we
could have our thoughts and prayers read by God Himself.
Since our birthright orientation we had all been thinking of
what to write down on a small sheet of paper to put in the Western Wall. Today was our day. The power and atmosphere in the area
surrounding the wall was overwhelming.
After I put my note in the wall and backed away from it, never turning
my back on it as is the custom, I waited on my peers to finish their
business. Some of them returned to the
waiting area in tears. Some returned
looking somewhat complacent, if not in a trance. I am having difficulty describing what a
different effect the wall had on us, and just how powerful it was to some of
us, but it was unlike anything I had ever experienced.
After the Western Wall we visited a marketplace, “machne yehuda,”
that would put busiest part of Manhattan to shame. Fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, fish,
cheeses, snacks, clothes, wines, and, of course, people were aplenty. We were set on a mission, led by our
soldiers, to find some Israeli treats in the marketplace to bring to a party we
were having later in the night with another group of Americans in Israel. I must say, shopping without my group leader
Joy, who is one of the Israeli soldiers who joined us, would have been
impossible. She led us courageously
through the crowded streets and helped us make sense of the different prices of
the goods. Shopping in the market was a
lot of fun and we will be enjoying what we bought – especially the “best
rugelach on earth” later tonight.
Forgive the late post, but we will not able to get this up
before Shabbat. For tonight, options
range from orthodox services to yoga, followed by Shabbat dinner and
presentations on sex and relationships, politics, and Yiddish. Now I must go and celebrate the Sabbath
Israeli style. Shabbat Shalom everybody!
Day 6: Shabbat
Posted by: Amy Olinzock on Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Hi! Today was kind of a slow day here in Israel because it
But let me start with a quick mention of last night. After
our own Shabbat services at our hotel, we went over to the hotel that the
Binghamton students on the JNF service trip to Israel are staying at. I really
liked this because a few of my really good friends are on that trip, and seeing
them in Israel was a really fun and unique experience. We got to share our
different emotions from being here and talk about all of the different things
we’ve done on our respective trips.
Anyway, back to today… We started off with optional
services, but most people (including me..and Shana) wound up sleeping through
everything and waking up between 11 and 12 with a shocking 11 hours of
sleep. Seeing as we have had completely
jam packed days and late nights hanging out with our new friends, this sleep
was much needed and enjoyed.
We had a really exciting ceremony after lunch today, because
two members of our trip got Bar and Bat Mitzvah’d! Ben Z. and Sarah made the choice to become
Bar and Bat Mitzvah today. It was really a cool experience to see two of our
new friends have such a special day and especially to have it in Jerusalem.
There was a really nice service, and they both gave great speeches about what
this day meant to them individually.
After the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremony, we took a leisurely
stroll around the neighborhood our hotel was in. We got to really experience
what people here to do keep and celebrate Shabbat, and it was really interesting. This was much better than our walk last night
to visit the Binghamton students on the JNF service trip- because that walk
wound up being in the pouring rain. Who says it doesn’t rain in Israel?
Following the Havdallah ceremony this afternoon, we listened
to Professor Ruven Hazan from the Hebrew University talk about the political
situation in Israel. Although we’ve all
heard about the political issues here, there is something different about
listening while sitting within the country.
Professor Hazan was a great speaker, and I really enjoyed hearing a
brief history of the political problems in Israel in more simple terms than I
am used to.
Finally, we got to go to Ben Yehuda Street and the Nachalat
Shiva Pedestrian Mall. We had dinner on our own there, and of course, I had to
have falafel. I know we have falafel in
the US but let me tell you, it is definitely not the same. I’m convinced that I could live off of
falafel for days and not get sick of it.
As we ate our dinner on the go, we got to look into and shop at a lot of
little stores and I learned a very important tip: if possible, shop with an
Israeli with you. Having Eshcar (our
Israel Fellow) with me got me better prices on more than one of my
purchases. It isn’t so easy to rip off a
poor pathetic American college student when they have someone with them who
speaks the language and actually understands how much a shekel is really worth.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever totally catch on to that in the time that we are
here, it’s a good thing we have Esh and the soldiers to help us along.
I can’t believe tomorrow is already day eight of our trip!
It seems like every day is flying by and we’re doing so much, but we’re all
having the time of our lives. Tomorrow
is going to be a very emotional day; we’re going to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust
Museum and Mt. Herzl, the military cemetery.
Day 4: Entering Jerusalem
Posted by: Arielle Hornedo on Thursday, January 13, 2011 at 9:08:15 pm | Comments (0)
I can’t believe it’s already technically Day 5 of the trip!
We got to enjoy our last breakfast at the Nof Ginosar Kibbutz at the tender
time of 8 a.m., which if you didn’t know, is considered “sleeping in” for us
nowadays. After checking out of our
first home in Israel, we headed to the Kinneret Cemetery, where we learned
about the heroes buried here and took in the beautiful views of the Sea of
Galilee (and also got to absorb tour-guide-Phil’s extensive knowledge of
Though lunch time is usually the one meal of the day that we
spend off on our own, our spectacular and extremely generous bus driver
prepared us a delicious barbeque! We spent most of our lunch relaxing and
over-looking Israel’s valleys, which is an image I wish I was able to portray
through this blog. I really cannot speak enough about the gorgeous views we get
to experience from the higher regions of Israel. Pictures don’t even do the
The next part of our day was my personal favorite. We took a
long drive through the West Bank, which is a region unlike anything we have
seen thus far. The only scenery we have been surrounded by in the last few days
were green grass, mountains and seemingly endless rows of orange trees. The
West Bank, however, showed a completely different way of life. The area was
extremely dry, and instead of hills covered in green grass, there were
mountains of sand and dust. Living communities were spread far apart, and their
ways of life were so clearly different than the cities we had visited before.
It was eye-opening for me, because I always thought that scenes like this were
only for movies. I never imagined that Israel’s land could change so
drastically from only driving one hour farther south, but I’m glad we got to
After finally arriving in Jerusalem, we united at Mount
Scopus with other universities to have our Shehechiyanu Ceremony, which
celebrated our first time in the holy city. The ceremony consisted of a few
speeches from our peers (including an especially touching one from Binghamton’s
very own Ben Zwierzchowski). We finished our celebration with tons of music and
dancing, and surprisingly witnessed some fancy dance moves from our (extremely
handsome) Israeli guard! Everyone agreed that the ceremony was really fun, and
we all left feeling good about being in Jerusalem. We are also all very excited
to incorporate our 8 new Israeli soldiers into our Binghamton family tomorrow!
Day 3: Mt. Meron and Tzfat
Posted by: Marissa Fielstein on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 at 9:02:36 pm | Comments (0)
Shalom from Tzfat, Israel!
This morning, after a delicious breakfast of fresh veggies, eggs,
pancakes, and more, we headed over to Mount Meron. Our adventure included a walk along the Peak
Path, where we admired the incredible view of the Upper Galilee, and posed for
lots of photos!
Next, we drove over to Tzfat, a center of Jewish mysticism,
where Phil, our amazing Israeli tour guide, discussed the different “levels” of
Judaism, and the interplay of ethics and religious tradition. We visited an Ashkenazi temple and learned
about the history and meaning of this temple (as well as the Sephardic one
beside it). Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch
at one of the cafes along a street in Tzfat.
I got a schwarma laffa… It was delicious!
Once we finished lunch, we headed to the Tzfat Fortress for
my favorite activity today: a community service project with Livnot Ulehibanot
(To Build and be Built). We all worked
together to construct a wall of rocks, which will be part of a large community
park. We all pitched in to dig, mix,
lay, and construct the wall. Two hours
later, after lots of laughs and great teamwork, we settled on the grass to talk
about environmental issues and how we can contribute to the Jewish
community. The event organizer used the
metaphor of “a rock in a wall” to discuss our involvement in the Jewish
community, and how we can continue to volunteer and give “Tzedakah” after our
From the community park, we walked over to the nearby artists’
district, where vendors sold various paintings, Judaica, clothing, a wide assortment
of jewelry, and much more. We all rushed
from vendor to vendor, hoping to find the perfect gift for Mom, Dad, siblings,
and friends! I would tell you what I
bought for my family, but I want to surprise them! =)
After finishing the day in Tzfat, we headed back to the
hotel to relax and have dinner. Then, we
headed out for a night on the town in Tiberias.
It’s been a great day here in Israel… We’re having a blast and thinking
of everyone back home!
Day 2: the Golan Heights
Posted by: Helaine Firestein on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 at 8:16:24 pm | Comments (0)
To all worried parents and other interested readers: Our first full day in Israel is complete and
Bus 925 had an incredible introduction to the Holy Land!
Hey, it’s Helaine, and I’m writing to you straight from the
Nof Ginosar Hotel, where we slept last night and will be sleeping the next two
nights. However, we haven’t spent much time at all in our rooms because we’ve
constantly been on the go, beginning with breakfast this morning. Yea, there
were your normal breakfast foods, i.e. pancakes
and cereal. BUT, there was also fish and cheese, salad and borekas- a typical
Israeli breakfast. And it Was.
After a few more get-to-know-you games, we boarded the bus
and drove north to the Tel
Dan Nature Reserve- which is home to the Dan River, one of the three main water
sources of the Kinneret. It reminded some of us of the Binghamton Nature
Preserve, except the weather was GORGEOUS (some people even stuck their feet in
a wading pool), and well, we’re in Israel.
At the end of our walk through the nature reserve, we were
greeted by a group of Jeeps, ready to drive us over the bumpy, muddy, flooded
roads up to the Golan Heights. At the top, we learned about Israel’s gains in
the Six Day War, which included the Golan Heights from Syria.
The jeeps dropped us off at a shopping center: Lunch time! While a few opted for the kosher
McDonalds, most of the group enjoyed either falafel or schwarma. For many , it
was the first time they were tasting these Israeli favorites, but nobody
regreted their decision to try something new.
Once we got back on the bus, we headed up long and winding
roads to one of the highest point in Israel- Mt. Bental. From there, we were
able to look across at Syria, and we even got to go inside an old bunker! (Don’t
worry, it was completely safe- we’re all back at the hotel!) Although a bit
chillier at such a high elevation, Mt. Bental was a beautiful site.
When we got back to our hotel, we were greeted by our
luggage- FINALLY- straight from Ukraine! At dinner, we sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to
Marissa! What better way to spend your 21st birthday in Israel?! After
dinner we had our first “Hillel Discussion” and spoke about whether or not it
feels different to be Jewish in Israel than we do in the United States. Now we’re
all hanging out and getting to know one another better before we go to bed—another
full day ahead tomorrow!!