Bus 1082 - Day 6
Posted by: Karly Weinreb on Tuesday, June 4, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
These past few days have been a whirlwind! It is currently Monday, day 6 of our trip, and we just got back from gallavanting around the Negev desert. But before that, on Sunday, we visited Yad Vashem. It was quite a different experience than going to other Holocaust museums because it is organized chronologically and gives you a historical view of the events, starting with the very basic roots of anti-semitism. The museum itself was rebuilt in 2005, and the new building is architecturally metaphoric- for example, it is triangular shaped, like half of the Star of David, but the other triangle is missing to represent those who we are missing. After going through the museum, we visited the memorial to the 1 and a half million children who were killed, which was a beautiful tribute to them.
After our time at Yad Vashem, we drove straight to the Negev to stay in a Bedouin tent. It was so so so hot when we got there, but it totally didn't matter because we were all just so excited to ride the camels. Personally I can now say that I prefer bicycles, but it was certainly fun. We dismounted the camels and went straight to learn a bit about the Bedouins (the guy speaking had 3 wives, or as he put it-'only three') and then ate a delicious dinner. After spending some time reflecting and star gazing in the desert, it was time for our 4 hour slumber before ascending Masada.
We all slowly but excitedly climbed up the short Roman Ramp at 5 a.m the next day, while it was still dark out but you could tell that the sun was coming. After our climb, we all stood together in the shade and watched the hot hot sun rise over the Dead Sea- needless to say it was gorgeous and we all know why watching the sun rise on Masada is such a big attraction! We went down the Snake Path- the harder and longer of the two, and by the time we got to the bottom we were so happy to be in air conditioning. We then went to the dead sea, and obviously covered ourselves in mud before our float. Then, we went to Ein Gedi, an Oasis that looks like it came out of a magazine ad. It felt so good to be cooling off after a day full of heat and hikes. Tomorrow, we'll journey to other cool places in Jerusalem, like the Shuk!
Bus 1082 - Day 3 Jerusalem
Posted by: Aaron Pomerantz on Monday, June 3, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Day 3 - Jerusalem
The Heart of Israel
Love is a dangerous thing
It is a weapon
It can tear holes inside of you,
It can restore you.
It can make enemies
it can wipe away hatred.
It will inspire,
It will terrify
It will spark, ignite fire
It will burn you.
Love is the heat of the desert
It is the relief of the palm's shade.
Love is the deep of the ocean
On sails, you can see the world
In Jerusalem, my heart blooms
Blood rushes in,
Blood gushes out,
To Adonai, I pray
Let me see with Your eyes,
Let me heal with Your hands,
Let me fight with Your fists.
Love is a dangerous thing
It will make you believe,
It will make you believe.
Bus 1082 - Day 2 Kineret Cemetary
Posted by: Aaron Pomerantz on Monday, June 3, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
A Joyous Kaddish
*Dedicated to Deena
The silent sighing of the graveyard
Mingles with light refracted from the Kineret River
Light that shimmers
And seeps through the dancing, davening desert trees
The dry air tastes bittersweet like the melody of the Hatikva
There is a presence here which makes itself known
With a sudden chill from a summer breeze
The visitors are affected,
Pacified, though they may not know it
Shuffling feet, chattering, complaints of heat
Soon comes to a simmer
We are surrounded by the greens of the Kibbutzim
We are surrounded by their graves
The refreshing shade pulls us further in
We are invited,
Called to join one hope, one spirit united
Our tears fall like rain,
and so the nation grows.
Their bodies are seeds planted in Israel's fertile soil
The new generation buries, just as their ancestors toiled
Our land blooms green with the fruits of their labor
Which can be plucked from the free sky and dangling vines
pomegranates, grapes, citrus, apples, pears
Ripe, ready to be cherished.
When the juices are tasted,
A Kiddush will come to your lips
Then the Kaddish,
Sung in chorus by our fathers
And our fathers' fathers
And our mothers
And our mothers' mothers,
And every Jew who ever dreamed of Israel
And in one voice,
We say amen.
Bus 1082 - Day 5 - Holocaust Museum
Posted by: Aaron Pomerantz on Monday, June 3, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
The most beautiful people
Shed secret tears
Even as they grin from ear to ear
From whence these tears spring,
It isn't clear.
Perhaps someone they love(d)?
Something they hold dear?
And why can't these tears be seen?
It is their fear,
It is their fear.
So I ask these beautiful people,
Let your tears stream, let your eyes sting
Let your sorrows be washed clean
Your empathy, your pain, do not hide
Hold up your dripping chin with pride
If you open your eyes you will find
You aren't the only one who's cried.
Coming at you from Jerusalem! Today was a reflective day, we visited Ya Vashem where we learned the horrific truths about the Holocaust and all aspects of it. We saw hard evidence that riled all types of emotions and shared stories about courage and survival. The extremely powerful children's memorial made all of us reflect on life and find deeper beauty in Israel and jewish life. The visit ended with a passionate discussion about our opinions of the Holocaust and how we as a people have taken steps in spreading information about this terrible time. We also learned the importance of jewish memory and how powerful it can be.
Bus 1082 - Days 1 and 2
Posted by: Ruben Iusim on Friday, May 31, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Hello all! Welcome to our wonderful birthright blog of amazingness. After an uneventful check in, our fabulous rabbi started off our trip with a nice and embarrassing ice breaker wherein we introduced ourselves and a motion that defined our lives. One long plane ride later, and we are in Rome. Another one and we are in Tel Aviv. After a bit of a scare when Adam got stuck in customs for 45 minutes, we got our luggage and headed out into the fresh, Israeli air. We were greeted by our Israeli soldiers, grabbed our cell phones and water bottles, and drove for Tiberias, a 2 hour bus ride. Exhausted as we were Rabbi Shalom instructed us to all stay up until after dinner at the hotel, or our sleep cycles would get messed up. I, for one, was not able to comply. After dinner, it was Liala Tov, and on to our first full day in Israel!!
After a bright and early 7:00 wakeup call and breakfast (that this blogger slept through), we started our day with a trip to Mount Bental, where Israeli soldiers fended off hundreds of Syrian tanks during the Yom Kippur War. Before any sightseeing, we were given a speed run through of the changes to Israel's borders by our fantastic tour guide, Deena, to give us an idea of what was at stake during the war, and the history we would encounter throughout the trip. Then we walked through a fascinating, if dark and a little spooky, bunker left from the war. On the walls, we saw maps describing military movements from the war, and signs encouraging soldiers to stand strong, to fight for and defend the Jewish nation, the state of Israel. We came out on the other side of the bunker on top of the mountain, with a beautiful view of the Golan Heights and the less beautiful, less green Syria. On our way out, some of us had a taste of some extremely sweet local cherries. Next, we went walking through the Tel Dan nature preserve, a very pretty little forest with the streams of a tributary of the Jordan River flowing through it. Here, the tribe of Dan, of the 12 Hebrew tribes, set up their settlement oh so many years ago. We found Winey the Pooh's tree (a tree with a sign in hebrew saying Winey the Pooh lived there), and lots of us climbed a large tree, wherein I became a monkey. Then, it was off to a part of the Jordan River, where we had loads of fun boating down the riverbends. After more than an hour of splashing and paddling and bumping boats, culminating in a fun little 2ft waterfall, it was time for ziplining and rock wall climbing, both a little scary and immensely fun. There was also a small archery tournament. We rounded out the day with a pizza dinner, before going back to the hotel for the all-important hillel discussion. Here we talked about what it really meant to be Jewish, whether Jews are really special, and if so, how we are special. In addition, we discussed how an array of contradictory could all equally be characteristics of Judaism, and whether that hinders or helps our "cultureligion".
Bus 1057 - Update #5
Posted by: Heath Lenoble and the Blogging Committee on Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
And so, after 9 action-packed days, we, the students from Binghamton, bus 1057, are ready to come back to the United States of America to see our families. In an interesting stroke of fate, Tuesday happened to be the day of Israel's federal elections, determining which party would control parliament and who would be the nation's Prime Minister. Three students, including me your narrator, accompanied Ami to his polling place to see how it works in Israel, a country where there are far more than just two parties, and where coalition government means that even the smallest party can have a huge impact on the direction of the government if they are needed to provide a majority to one party or another. It was quite interesting. After Ami voted we headed to Tel Aviv, the economic, media, and population capital of Israel, which Ami called "New York in miniature." We headed to Israel's Independence Hall, where on May 14th, 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared that the state of Israel was born: a simple declaration that has led to many wars, and created the Jewish homeland that we have been so privileged to visit for the past 10 days. After learning about the creation of Israel (and we are lucky for, unlike our grandparents, we grew up with there ALWAYS being a state of Israel and, G-d willing, there always will be!) we headed to the bustling Artist's Market in downtown Tel Aviv which was bustling because election day in Israel is a Federal Holiday - it was no ordinary Tuesday in Israel or Tel Aviv! After shopping we enjoyed a surprise visit from two of our Soldier friends (both Ofirs came to surprise us), and then we hiked down to the beach and got to stand on the sand and put our toes in the surf for an hour before we went to Rabin Square in southern Tel Aviv where, on November 4th, 1995 Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated for trying to make peace with the Palestinians. Ami stressed that, as dangerous as the enemies opposing Israel from the outside are, the true danger to Israel will always be hatred, fear, and division from inside the nation; he said it is what led to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans and the Diaspora, and must be fought at all costs...we must learn to disagree peacefully and to respect our fellow human beings who have different opinions.
After getting back to the hotel and finishing dinner we began our final program of the trip. First we broke into groups and produced skits about each day we had spent in Israel, stressing the high, the low, and especially the funny. After that the Bus Committee had organized a reading of "superlative" awards given out to the members of our group, ranging from "Nicest Eyes," to "Most Likely to return to Israel right after we get home to the USA." Even Ami and our guard Gilad were included as, afterall, they are most definitely parts of our Mispocha (family) at this point. Finally came perhaps the most touching moment of the entire trip, as each student stressed what they felt they had learned in Israel and would take with them going forward. The most common answer was the friendships.
Family...that is how I myself will remember this trip and how I choose to end this blog of our great adventure. In less than 10 days time a group of mostly strangers has come together into a unit that is tight and nearly unbreakable...a group who love, depend, and rely on one another. A group which is the envy of all other Birthright groups (your humble narrator has been approached by no fewer than two members of other birthright groups who wished they were a part of our loud, fun-loving group). Much of the credit for this incredible closeness goes to us members of the group, but it is also due in large part to Ami, who clearly loves his job and took delight in showing us around his country. He was amazingly knowledgable about any and all subjects that we showed the slightest interest in, and he became a true part of the group; we really lucked out with him!
However, our closeness and the absolute and total success of this trip have been due in LARGEST part to our leaders Inbal and Lauren. Lauren - who many of the group have taken to calling "mom" - has been a tireless protector of the group, always watching to make sure everyone was ok, fidgeting restlessly when students got too close to heights for her liking, and bringing her usual constant smile everywhere we went. She was incredible. Inbal was our fierce leader and advocate, fighting for every inch for us, trying to get us extra time in places that previous Birthright groups had enjoyed, and making sure each of us had everything we required at all times. Inbal, who is every bit as proud to be Israeli as we are American, has put her entire soul into this trip and the success is more due to her than anyone else. I personally could not have gone on the trip without her encouragement and her ability to understand exactly who people are, what they are feeling, and what they need. She was with us nearly every step of the way, leaving only briefly once to see her brother's swearing in to the Israeli army, and even in that brief time - though Lauren and Ami certainly made sure the group was in more than capable hands - there was a palpable sense of loss. Both Inbal and Lauren are special people, and all of us in the group will be eternally grateful to them for their effort and the care which they took of us.
And so our trip comes to an end, but of our friendships it is only the beginning. With our Soldier friends, and with our guard Gilad, and with Ami we will correspond on Facebook (it has already begun!) but with the rest of us, for the next semester and beyond into our bright and unknown futures we will have family with whom we have shared a special and unknowable experience. When we get home we will tell you our stories, share our pictures, and give you souvenirs, but for us lucky 48, the story will continue to go on, and these friendships will never die. It has been the trip of a lifetime for all of us, and one that none of us will ever forget. It has been a joy to write this blog to update you on the happenings of Bus 1057 out of Binghamton University! Hopefully you have gotten to enjoy just a small bit of the wonder and excitement of this trip. We will see you all soon!
-Heath David Lenoble and the Blog Committee
Bus 1057 - Update #4
Posted by: Blogging Committee on Tuesday, January 22, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
It was a somber day in Israel today filled with sad, sweet, and bittersweet happenings. After waking up at the usual time for breakfast, Bus 1057 headed for Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial museum in the state of Israel. Obviously in America we all know about the National Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, but this is a special museum dedicated to the greatest tragedy in the history of the Jewish people (and maybe in human history) set in the Jewish homeland. We met our tour guide, a South African man named Jackie, and he showed us around the museum, which is shaped like a triangle and not meant to be very comfortable. The museum has an incredible amount of history that covers the Shoah, and it could take a person several visits of 5 or more hours to truly take it all in, but we only had 3 hours to spend, so Jackie was forced to give a more abridged tour than many - including your humble narrator - would have liked, but the true power of the place was felt by everyone, even on our Israeli Soldier friends who had visited the place time and again. Jackie made many points that were very interesting, as he tried to take as wide a view of the Holocaust as possible, mentioning for instance that the Nazis systematically murdered 11 million human beings, not just the 6 million Jews, with the other 5 million being made up of Roma (the un-PC term is Gypsies), dissidents, "enemies of the state," homosexuals, Soviet POWs, and ethnic Poles. Jackie also took us to the room that is dedicated to the Wansee Conference, which was a secret meeting that took place in early 1942 in a suburb of Berlin where the Final Solution was laid out on paper, and Jackie showed the list the Nazis had compiled at that meeting that mentioned how many Jews were in each of the nations they intended to conquer eventually. He struck a cord when he pointed out how there was NO Jew the Nazis were content to allow to live, as they had even listed their estimated numbers for Jews in countries - such as Spain - that were neutral, and he emphasized that Albania was on the list with 200 Jews...truly, no one would have been left out. So Jackie said...with all due respect to those who lost family in the catastrophe, including your humble narrator (who lost family who had lived in Hungary), that the murder of 6 million Jews, while truly unfathomable, was not as bad as it could have been had the Nazis either won the war or kept their regime afloat for longer. Perhaps the most important aspect that Jackie emphasized was that it is up to us, the Jewish youth, to remember the Holocaust as survivors are rapidly dying out, and that it is up to us to rebut those Holocaust deniers whose ludicrous and offensive arguments may grow more potent as generations rise who have no knowledge of World War II or the horrors of the genocide of the Jewish people.
After leaving Yad Vashem we headed to an open air market in Jerusalem where Inbal surprised the group by treating us all to lunch, and then we got to spend time with and say goodbye to the 8 Israeli soldiers who had journeyed with us for the past 5 days. It was very hard to say goodbye to Ofir Kariv, Adi, Yiftach, Yuval, Lior, Amit, Eilon, and Ofir Mor, as they had become part of our family in their short time with us...it was sad to see them go, but we will keep in touch with them through facebook and our relationships are only beginning. As Ami said, we were not saying goodbye to the soldiers, merely "see you later."
And so with the soldiers gone, the end of the trip is now in sight and our great adventure is coming to an end. We have a great night planned and then tomorrow we'll spend the Israeli election day in Tel Aviv. And the trip continues tomorrow!
-Heath and the blogging committee! (Molly, Kevin, Kara, Andrew, Ariel, Amanda)
Bus 1058 - Update #1
Posted by: Matt Blum on Monday, January 21, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
By Matt Blum
Jerusalem is a city that is historically significant for a number of people.
The old city predates most as it was built nearly 4000 years ago. Like the rings around a tree’s cross section, the layers of this beautiful site pay homage to its Jewish Christian and Muslim history. From the ornate columns in the room of the last supper, to the domes of the Muslim mosques, to even the tomb of King Kavid, the history and livelihood of a people lay within. No other city rivals that of the old city as the layers of archaeological sites tell the story that is true to a myriad of people.
The old city is a truly diverse area that makes me think of New York. However unlike New York, Jerusalem is a center of controversy throughout the world.
Jews have been fighting and persevering for thousands of years from the Spanish inquisition in 1492 to the pogroms in Russia, and of course, the pinnacle of Jewish persecution, the Holocaust. Being a grandson of a Holocaust survivor, I have always admired my grandfather’s strength as a survivor of the Nazi regime and the Auschwitz death camp. Unfortunately, he never visited Israel, but the fact that I am now in Israel, nearly 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, speaks volumes.
The threat of extinction of a Jewish population and the 6 million that perished because of their beliefs in Judaism is an idea that has always stuck out to me. Growing up in a Conservative Jewish household, although I learned about Israel in Hebrew school, I can’t say I had a great connection. Israel was a distant land thousands of miles away - all we were told was that it was the Promised Land and home of our people. Being from the NY suburbs of Long Island, and being surrounded by Jews, made Israel an afterthought. I always saw Judaism as more of a culture because of the family celebration of the holidays, not as a religion. Walking around the Old city, and coming up to the Western Wall, really cemented the fact that Israel, the city of our people, really means OUR people. Jews are a people of collective memories and ideas; it’s not just playing Jewish Geography. Judaism is the only religion where you can run into a guy wrapping tefillin at the Western Wall who knows the Rabbi at Binghamton. This evokes a sense of family that is at the heart of our people.
Seeing complete strangers come up to me just because I was wearing my AEPi letters, made me proud to be part of a Jewish fraternity. I cannot say I am going to go to temple more often, begin keeping Shabbat, or even begin keeping kosher – sorry, I enjoy mixing Milk and meant too much to give that up. However, the notion that Israel is significant directly to my life is something that will continue to hold on and pass on to my future posterity. As a bracelet on Ben Yehudah street stated, “Although I may love NY, Israel is my home.”
Bus 1057 - Update #3
Posted by: Heath Lenoble and the blogging committee- Molly Prince, Andrew, Kevin, Amanda, Ariel, and Kara on Monday, January 21, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
After a bit of a break from posting, due to resting on Shabbat, we are back to relate the exciting tales of Birthright Bus 1057 from Binghamton. We rung in Shabbat in style in Jerusalem, the cultural and national capital of Israel. There were several different options for Shabbat services, ranging from two kinds of Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and an Alternative service for those who are more secular than religious. After the services we had different programs and went to bed fairly exhausted because we had had to get up at 5:00 AM for our hike up Masada: shabbat truly came at the perfect time! Saturday was a lazy day for some, and the first event that was attended by all the members of our group was lunch, allowing much time for rest and recuperation after a very busy (though VERY fun!) first 5 days in Israel. We ended Shabbat together with all the other Birthright groups and then heard a brilliant lecture from Avraham Infeld, the creator of Birthright, who reminded us that Judaism is not merely a religion: we are a family, and we lucky American Jews were born with, as Avraham said, "A ticket to Israel attached to (our) umbilical cords." He said it was important that we were invited to the "family home." It left a big impact on many (including your humble narrator of this chapter of our journey). Following the talk we headed out for a night on the town on Ben Yehuda Street in the heart of Israel. We did some shopping, some eating, and some dancing...it was a blast.
Today, Sunday, we woke up early and headed to the Old City of Jerusalem where we explored the Jewish Quarter and learned all about the Destruction of the Old Temple before finally going to see the Western Wall, the center of Jewish thought, prayer, and belief. Seeing the wall, praying there, and experiencing its awesome power is something all Jews should do before they die, and it was a special moment of my life that I will never forget. We then ate lunch in, explored, and did some shopping in the Jewish Quarter before leaving for Mount Hertzel, the national cemetery of Israel, where are buried great Jewish figures like Yitzhak Rabin, Golda Meir, and Theodore Hertzel himself. When we headed to the military part of the cemetery, set aside for those who have died while in uniform serving the state of Israel, Ofir, one of our soldiers, spoke movingly about those he had lost in the defense of our homeland, and Inbal made an important comment when she said that, being with us Americans, she realized that death at such a young age - most of the soldiers died not much older than 20 or 21 - was "not normal," and that we should appreciate how in America we did not have to deal with such loss at such an early age, as both she and Ami had pointed out that, since everyone serves in Israel, no one does not know a soldier who has died or been wounded in action, which is a far cry from America.
And so that is the state of the trip right now as we head into Sunday night, the 20th of January 2013. Tomorrow we head to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum, and will obviously have a lot more to say then. The trip goes on!
Heath Lenoble and the blogging committee- Molly Prince, Andrew, Kevin, Amanda, Ariel, and Kara
Bus 1057 - Update #2
Posted by: Students and Staff on Friday, January 18, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
Hello again, we have a new update on the past couple of days and they were awesome! We first went to Mont Arbel and hiked down a mountain and it was great for everyone . We all were able to complete the whole course and after had great food in tzfat!! We all walked around the area and got To look at some of our tour leader, ami's moms art! Then we did some community service were we sang songs and talked about different Jewish conversations. Today we are meeting our soilders and going to ride camels. At night we are going to the Bedouin tent which is going to be a blast. We are all super excited and can't wait!
Hey everyone! Today is the fourth day of our Birthright trip! We've had crazy long days that were so much fun! So far, we've had two hikes! My favorite part of the trip so far was definitely the time spent in Tzfat!
We've had an action-packed 2 days! Yesterday, we met our new friends from the Israeli army. It is surreal that, as our tour guide, Ami, pointed out, had we been born in Israel and they in the US, we could be in each others ' places right now.
We moved down south and en joyed a Bedouin feast, complete with a night in a tent. We walked out to the desert to get away from the noise of the outside and to connect with ourselves and our present.
Then it was up bright and early to have a sunrise hike on Masada and learn the history of this ancient place. The top had a combination of original ruins and reproductions. It was awe-inspiring to be in a place of such significant to the Jewish people.
From the awe-inspiring to the fear inspiring: we went to the Dead Sea for some mud-bathing and sea-floating. You would not want a hug from one of us! We are moving on now to Jerusalem for Shabbat! Shabbat shalom!
Bus 1057 - Update #1
Posted by: Students and Staff on Wednesday, January 16, 2013 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Hello everybody! Welcome to our Binghamton Taglit Birthright trip bus 1057, 2013. We have been having a great time so far experiencing Israel. We landed yesterday and even though we were very tired, we got right into the action by heading to the ancient port of Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv, where we learned about the history of the city. After that we headed to Zippori where our tour leader Ami told us that the ancient city, which flourished 1700 years ago, thrived on "tradition." After looking at the beautiful mosaics, 1500 year-old synagogue, and Roman-style theatre, we headed to our hotel in Astoria, near Tiberias, where we could (FINALLY!) shower! Then we went to bed, ending a hectic first day in Israel.
The second day began bright and early and we headed out to the Golan Heights for a thrilling jeep ride. After we did some off-roading and learned about how the Golan Heights factor into Israel's present and future, we headed to Tel Dan and hiked to a beautiful waterfall, and we got to see an amazing rainbow inside of it. Then we headed to Mount Bental and braved the chilly summit as Ami told us about the mountain (and Golan's) role in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and we explored a flooded bunker and could see miles into Syria. After we descended the heights we headed to lunch and a tour of a winery where we had a wine-tasting - it was very good wine, and the winery tour guide clearly loved his job (drinking on the job IS his job afterall!). After the wine we headed to the boardwalk in Tiberias and walked around, haggled prices with the locals, and purchased some souvenirs ; it was a little slow because it is late January, but it was absolutely perfect weather and the lake was quite picturesque. We headed back afterwards for dinner, and went to sleep to start another busy day tomorrow.
Thoughts on the Food Stamp Challange
Posted by: Shalom Kantor on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Today is the second day of the Food Stamp Challange. As we continue to see the impact on our bodies, energy levels, and out looks this is a place to share our thoughts and ideas on what this means to each one of us.
Please post your thoughts under the comments to this blog entry:
Bus 1001- #3
Posted by: Blog Comittee on Tuesday, June 12, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
These past few days have been a whirlwind, and we’ve barely had time to sit down to blog. Today is day 4 in Jerusalem. We’ve had an amazingly busy time. On day 1, we left Ashkelon early, and arrived in Jerusalem. We went to the Tower of David Museum and saw a breathtaking view of the Jewish quarter, and the whole city. Doron explained to us that you can see all of the major religious sites from the roof of the museum. It is so interesting that so many different religions reside in the most important religious city in Judaism. He also explained that we need to understand the beauty of Jerusalem past just what we are seeing. For us, it is really easy to get to Jerusalem and Israel by just sitting on a plane and then taking a bus from our hotel. However, part of the beauty of the city is found in remembering all of the people who died and suffered for the Jewish people to prosper and eventually make it to the land where we are standing. To celebrate that, we said the Shehechiyanu to begin our journey through Jerusalem.
Later that day, we visited the Kotel. That was a very emotional experience for me. As soon as we walked to the wall, I was overcome with emotions. It is hard to say exactly what I was feeling. Part of me was sad, thinking about all of the people who have died for the Jewish people to remain a unit. On the other hand, I think the major emotion I was feeling was thankfulness. I felt so lucky to be a part of a group of people and a religion that has remained
Bus 1002 - June 9 and 10
Posted by: Blog Committee on Sunday, June 10, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
Tel Aviv is the largest city in Israel by population, a number that resides around 850,000. Though tiny compared to a major American metropolis like New York or LA (the former's population resides at over 19,000,000), Tel Aviv is extremely diverse and is arguably the most progressive city in the middle east. The Friday we were there, for instance, was the day of an annual lgbt pride parade, often noted as the largest in the middle east. Time constraints did not allow us to attend, but my visit to Tel Aviv was still wonderful and introduced me to plenty of things I haven't seen on my previous visits.
The first was Carmel market, especially busy before Shabbat. It's a long street with shops piled on top of each other on each side. Signs scream out the prices of every product imaginable - fresh food, candy (which I got, a transaction I pleasingly did entirely in Hebrew), bathing suits, and everything else imaginable and unexpected. After getting through that hubbub, we arrived in a square where we had some free time to get lunch and shop around a bit.
David led a few of us to a local pizza shop, where he knew some of the workers. The nine in our group ordered five pies (the slices were thin and we were hungry - don't judge). I also got a lemon fanta, which I haven't seen before. It was okay. Tastes like Mountain Dew. There, also, a few guys hit on some Israeli girls, amusingly oblivious that they were probably lesbians since they were chatting about the parade the whole time.
After that bit of free time, we congregated back at the square that was at the exit of the Carmel market. Before moving on to Independence Hall, I noticed a street artist was performing in the square. She was a middle-aged-looking woman dressed as an angel, clothes and makeup white as cloud. I realized how terrible it must be to be a street artist. To do that as a living must require some sort of artistic temperament. But that kind of artistic temperament does not lead one to be a painter or a novelist, but instead an actor who stands around and pretends to be a nonmoving angel for hours at a time. They are the least inspiring kinds of artists, with such little creativity and such little meaning behind their work.
Ironically, much of the architecture in Tel Aviv is in German style. Koren told us that during WWII, many Jews left Germany for Tel Aviv, and many of those Jews were among Germany's finest architects. This is only part of the long tradition of Israel being a home for Jews who were expelled elsewhere, and them bringing their talents to our homeland.
Allenby Street, on which we walked to get to Independence Hall, was something unique. It represented space and time on Earth. Stores had signs in every language, owned by people from all over the world. Stores selling antiques stood by stores selling the latest in digital photography. It's because of Allenby Street and other places like that around Tel Aviv that the city is considered an International Heritage City, one of the few in the world.
Our tour guide in Independence Hall was funny, engaging, and thoughtful. One of the things he told us is that Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israeli independence day, is celebrated every year on the Hebrew date, not the date on the Gregorian calendar. This is part of the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
The room where the Israel Declaration of Independence was signed was surprisingly small. I guess I always thought it would be in someplace epic, like a grand concert hall or auditorium. But no, it was merely a small art gallery (where the art still hangs). The room did, however, have wall-to-wall carpeting and shiny AC, which I don't think was there in 1948 but I'm thankful for nonetheless.
After WWII, everyone went home. But the Jews of Europe had no home to go to or did not want to return. So a Jewish state was needed. It's amazing that figures like David ben Gurion and the others buried on Mount Hertzel had this kind of thought and willpower to make this happen. In the US, we learn of comparable founding fathers like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. It just never occurred to me before that Israel has the same type of figures. And, by extension, so must many other countries.
We listened to a recording of Ben Gurion reading the declaration aloud and leading everyone in the room in singing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. But it wasn't until today
, at Yad Vashem, that I quite realized how monumental that was. An exhibit in Yad Vashem had not only video footage of the same event in that room, but also footage of thousands and thousands of Jews standing outside, listening, then cheering, and then joining in a thunderous Hatikvah.
Bus 1002 - June 7
Posted by: Blog Committee on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
Emotional rollercoaster. That's the only way to accurately describe our first, full day in Jerusalem.
We started the day with a moving lecture from the renowned Avraham Infeld. If only everyone could hear him speak...his articulation, humor, and passion for telling stories is mesmerizing. He is a person that seems to have infinite wisdom, but he is especially powerful when speaking about the complexities of Judaism.
His speech resonated with me because he spoke about my greatest insecurity about being Jewish -- that I don't know what that means. I'm Jewish in the same sense that I am Russian, German, and Polish. If asked, I would most identify as a cultural Jew -- someone who remembers the Jewish history and shares the same values as the small percentage of the world that is Jewish.
This identity crisis stems mostly from the fact that I was raised in a town where I was the only Jew in my high school. Like most Jews, I attended summer camp and was able to get my Jewish fix there. Camp is one of the top three most life-changing and memorable aspects of my life (Thanks Mom and Dad1).
Fast forward a few years to my college days...
My choice to go to Binghamton University had nothing to do with Judaism. In fact, I was unaware of the vibrant Jewish community at BU. However, as soon as I arrived, I realized there was something very special about the Jewish community and unity on campus. The most symbolic memory I have of this is wearing my volunteer shirt for Israeli Independence day and being part of the majority, instead of the minority, with the hundreds of other volunteers.
Last night, I felt this sense of unity again. Once a year, Birthright hosts a "Mega Event" that is a huge celebration of Birthright's progress, bringing together all trips that are in Jerusalem at the time. We were lucky enough to take part in this amazing event. Being there was like combining a lecture series, massive concert, rave, dance party, pride celebration, and more into one. Everyone there felt a connection to their Judaism and to each other that was euphoric.
The Mega Event showed me that, once again, I am part of something bigger than myself. The same is true for my Jewish identity crisis. A lot of Jews don't know what they mean when they say they're Jewish. People on this trip who were sure what their Judaic beliefs were prior to this trip are now in a state of confusion.
However, like Infeld said, confusion is good because it leads to questions, discussions, and hopefully, some answers. But, while this emotional rollercoaster is causing me so much introspection, I feel happy and privileged to be a part of a people and a culture that is complex. Normal is boring, and we Jews certainly are neither of the two.
So, my advice? Ask questions, be unsure, listen to those on the other side of the argument. Most importantly, be open to learning something new about yourself, something that makes you feel like you are a part of something bigger than yourself.
Bus 1002 - June 7 and 8
Posted by: Blog Committee on Friday, June 8, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Hi parents! Sorry this blog is a bit overdue, we've been busy as you can imagine so I haven't had a chance to breathe let alone blog. On the evening of June 6th, after a long fun-filled day, we had the pleasure of attending a private program in the hotel titled "Cinema as a Window into Daily Life: A Glimpse into Israeli Society through film" with a talented student at the Ma'aleh Film School here in Israel. He was from America which offered an instant connection to us. He now directs films and he shared two films with us, one that he directed and one that he really enjoys.
The first film that he showed us depicted a young boy growing up in Israel, about to make his Bar Mitzah. He is experiencing the normal turmoils that puberty brings and he feels so extremely shameful of his behavior, he tries to purify himself. He turns to the internet for answers and listens to a Rabbi that tells him he needs to block his thoughts and cleanse his mind. However, he cannot deal with this frustration and tries to castrate himself. The whole message of this film is that communication about seemingly 'taboo' topics need to be discussed between parents and children in order for emotions to be expressed and dealt with in a healthy manner.
The second film showed Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint and the challenges they encounter. The checkpoint is told by its chief that there is a red alert and a bomber may be coming through. Upon closing the checkpoint, a unregistered ambulance tries to come through to take a sick diabetic girl to the hospital. The moral dilema of listening to orders or helping a sick girl is shown and evokes emotions from the audience. Overall, we see the conflicts and challeneges young soilders are exosed to every day.
This was a great program and we all enjoyed it! Cinema and media are a passion of our donors, Joel and Marcy. They have been incredibly generous by giving us all the opportunity to come to Israel and have COUNTLESS amazing and beautiful experiences. We cannot thank you enough :)
Bus 1001- #1
Posted by: Allison Berkowitz, Jacey Gottlieb, Paige Garramone and Carly Dawkins on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (3)
Our Adventure in Israel: Alex C.
Beginning our day in Ceasareas was amazing. We explored the beautiful ancient ruins, and learning the history was fascinating. (Doron is extremely knowledgeable and engaging, I look forward to his informative talks and appreciate the passion with which he talks about history) Looking out over the gorgeous blue coast of the Mediterranean sea was breathtaking. From there we stopped for lunch and I tried my very first shwarma which was delicious! I like that my birthright experience has also included a mini food tour- thanks to Dylan the future chef- I think one of my favorite things about Israel is how natural everything is. Not only is the food always fresh and organic, but the people we have met live such a different and holistic lifestyle. I like that the people we met at the “salad tour” are so passionate about the innovative ways in which Israel has pioneered desert farming and agriculture. Everything was delicious; I have never had juicier tomatoes, sweeter strawberries, and smelled herbs quite as intoxicating and potent, as I did on the farm. This day was so enjoyable, even though we did not do as many activities as compared to some of the other jam packed days.
Last night we had our Bedouin encounter, and I do not think that I have ever experienced something quite as magical. We got to ride a camel! It was such an amazing feeling being on top of such a strange animal, and seeing the calm desert surrounding us. I rode my camel with Bar, one of the hayalim traveling with us for our mifgash, we had such a fun time! It was funny because she is afraid of heights and was nervous to ride; I assumed someone in IDF would not be afraid of something that seems so trivial to me. We also sang some songs that Bar knew from America; we had a great time. Dinner was a fun experience too. I have never sat on the floor sitting so closely to other people eating dinner and truly enjoying my time, it was a fun and intimate experience that I shared with my new friends on the trip. But my favorite part of our stay in the Bedouin tents was when we walked out to the desert at night. Sitting alone for the 15 minutes (that seemed like half an hour) felt so serene. I sat atop a small hill of rocks all alone, and I felt my surroundings in such a profound way. I was able to look up and notice all of the stars; I could even see a constellation, something I have never picked out before. When I was looking at the moon, it occurred to me that I have never sat outside at night at observed the moon, and for that matter any of my surroundings. It made me stop and think, that maybe I do move too fast, I am too worried about the future, and what I need to so for the future. The future is a daunting thing that as a college student, seems to be the biggest concern of everyone I know. This trip as a whole has opened my eyes to the fact that I cannot consume myself with worry, and that just doing stuff for fun to enjoy myself, and giving myself new experiences and opportunities is more important that trying to figure out “the next step” or “the right track”.
When we all came back together after our time of private self reflection, we sat in our two groups to begin a discussion. I had a feeling it would become very serious, and that many people would be timid to share their personal thoughts, which is completely fine. But after listening to what other people thought about when they were alone; whether it was their family, friends, goals, the meaning of our trip, or just cleared their mind, the overall emotion of the environment became very solemn. And when we began sharing personal stories of a moment when we all felt like we belonged to something
greater, or made a connection to a higher power, and knew in that moment that there was something else out there, I began to cry. Some of the stories were happy, but unfortunately many of them were sad, but that made sense to me. When we are happy we do not always pause to think about why we feel the way we do, or who is responsible for our happiness, but in times of tragedy or despair we look for help, solace, and guidance. I think this is why many people look for a G-d. It is a comforting feeling to believe that there is some sort of power watching over the people, and feel that everything happens for a reason.
Bus 1001- #2
Posted by: Allison Berkowitz, Jacey Gottlieb, Paige Garramone and Carly Dawkins on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
We woke up early in the tents this morning to a rooster singing cock-a-doodle-doo. We got to see the sunrise. Sleeping on the floor of the desert on those so-called mattresses was a great experience but a one time thing. We don’t know how the Bedouins do it every night. Then we headed off to climb Masada to burn off the calories we gained from eating the Israeli nutella that we had for breakfast. When we got to the top, we learned about the history and had a naming ceremony for everyone who didn’t have a Hebrew name. One by one, everyone said their Hebrew name and then those of us who were getting a new one announced what it was. Then we all shouted the name and heard the echo back in the mountains, which Inbal explained is another way of how the desert speaks back to us. Joslyn’s new Hebrew name is Hadar Yael. She says, “The naming ceremony was a beautiful experience. It was lovely to share the significance of my new name with my peers and to shout it out into the mountains. The roaring echoes we heard in response made me feel as if the souls of the people that had died there were giving me their blessing, and I was as a result, one step closer of being more connected to my Jewish heritage.” After that, we took the snake path down and it felt like we were traveling in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. When we finally saw the gift shop, we thought that it was a mirage.
Just when we thought that we were going to die, we got on the bus to the dead sea. When we arrived, we went straight to the changing rooms and then jumped right into the sea. The water stung our cuts and burned our faces but was amazing! We floated with our heads comfortably above the water with absolutely no fear of drowning. It was incredibly relaxing. Inbal was nice enough to by us a whole round of mud, which we smothered our bodies in. It was mud from the Dead Sea, and made our skin incredibly soft! After a quick shower, we jumped back on the bus and headed to Ashkelon. We arrived at the hotel, and finally shaved after growing out leg hair for a few too many days. That’s where we are now, and we’ll update you tomorrow!
You know you love me,
Bus 1002 - June 5th
Posted by: Jacob Shamsian and Jillian Bucosky on Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
Guided tour through Zefat.
At the beginning of our tour through Zefat, we all took a break from walking to sit in a shade in a square. There we all shared something new and good that happened to us. People shared their thoughts, experiences, and feelings of the trip so far as well as other happy points of serendipity. Koren, our tour guide, told us that he had a pleasant breakfast with his five-year-old son this morning. Hallie Marks said that El-Al finally returned her luggage after losing it upon arrival to Israel. I mentioned that I found my phone after desperately searching for it last night.
Koren then gave us a primer on spirituality and the importance of taking in that which is around us. We also learned that Zefat was one of the major fortresses the Crusaders built in their time. The name "Zefat," Koren told us, is rooted in the word "Zafah," which in Hebrew means "to look for," one of the strategic benefits of the fortress-city's mountainside location. Unfortunately, strife is not new to Israel, and it's interesting to see that even centuries ago, military strategy had a role in defining what the land of Israel is today.
The Spanish Inquisition of 1492 caused many Jews to leave Spain. Zefat was one of the major cities they went to, and it is there that Kabbalah, a brand of Jewish mysticism, began. In this sense, Kabbalah is more associated with Sephardic Jewish tradition than Ashkenazi tradition. "Sephard," means "Spanish." When Jews fled Spain from the inquisition, they mostly went to the middle east, including Israel. My own family is from Iran and also follows Sephardic tradition. "Ashkenaz," however, means "Germany," and much (but not all) of Israel's Ashkenazi population originated from after the Holocaust.
We also learned more recent history of Zefat, including early British involvement of defending the city for the Jews and that Mahamous Abbas, "elected" leader of the Palestinian Authority, was born there. For me, that really brings into view the sheer complication of Israel as a Jewish state, and why it's so controversial on an international scale. So many different nations have had a presence here at some point or another in history, and make claim to it in different ways.
Kabbalah, we learned, began with Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He was one of Rabbi Akivah's students, and hid in Mount Hebron for twelve years. According to legend, he and his followers were sustained for those years by G-d, who gave them a Carob tree to eat from and a nearby river to drink from. During those twelve years, they studied the Torah. At some point, the voice of Moses spoke from the back of the cave and revealed to them the secrets of the Torah. When they emerged from the cave, they became angry at many Jews for their perceived ignorance. Because of this anger, G-d sent them back to the cave for another twelve years, and it is at that period of time that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai wrote the Zohar, the basis of Kabbalistic knowledge.
Kabbalah, as Koren said, has a focus on the ability to accept, it is a way of life that guides in how to process that which is around us.
We passed through an alleyway and then a limestone plaza where we stopped and discussed the various Jewish affiliations (such as Sephardi and Ashkenazi mentioned above), and how their religious and occasionally social differences throughout history shaped the city of Zefat himself. Though Sephardi and Ashkenazi are the predominant subcultres in Judaism and the ones I knew about growing up, it was fascinating to learn that there were so many, and that many of them are connected to Zefat.
We also learned about the holiday of Shavuot and the notion that Israel is G-d's bride. It is at Sinai where the Jews received the Torah and became married to Hashem, and Shavuot is when we celebrate the anniversary of uniting with Him.
Many shuls cropped up in Zefat dedicated to prominent rabbis known for their Kabbalistic teachings. We visited one small but stunningly beautiful 400-year-old Ashkenzi shul dedicated to one of those Rabbis.
Afterwards, we went to a candle factory and shop with free bathrooms. Devorah, one of the candle artists there, gave us a demonstration on how candles are made, strings dipped in wax and dye and twisted into different shapes. She also showed us different kinds of Havdalah candles, used in the ceremony to end Shabbat. The number of wicks were for candles are based on Gematriah - the numerical meanings behind words.
Nearby, we had our lunch break in an artists' colony, where different talented and local artists sold everything from rugs to paintings to sculptures to handmade jewelry. Near that was a glassblowing shop...
Today we went to see a live glass blowing demonstration.
We walked through a gorgeous archway which thankfully offered some shade; it was framed with bright colored flowers and pomegranate trees. We entered a open aired shop adorned with colorful watercolor paintings and various pieces of hand crafted glass. I was relieved to sit down in the air-conditioning.
The artst presented herself promiently at the front of the room. She introduced herself as Sheva Chaya. I was surprised when she started talking because her American accent was flawless. Sheva Chaya talked to us about her past while simultaneously creating a shot glass. She told us how she was a native of Denver, Colorado and how she first came to Israel on a trip at age 17. She went to Princeton for Art history, yet never felt at home or happy there. She said that she went to Israel on a trip and decided then and there to make it her home. She chose to embrace Judiasm as a way of life.
Her American name was Darcy which means "dark" and coincidently her hebrew name translates to "light." Moving to Israel and becoming a full time artist was a big change with a lot of obstacles. She compared people to the glass she was blowing. She took two pieces of glass and held them above a searing flame in order to fuse the two shards into something unqiue and beautiful with an entirely new use. She said that there will be times where things will fall apart, but that is not the time to give up. It is easy to give up sometimes but it is worth it to start over, accept the challege, and think of how to move on from it.The glass will not be how it was before it broke but it will be something just as good if not better when you take the time to work on it.
Being that I just graduated college two weeks ago, I found her speech especially inspiring. It is easy to feel trapped in society's expectations of school, work, family, kids, repeat. It is easy to give up on finding a job or getting into grad school. But if you want to break the cookie cutter cycle then you have to make changes. It may get worse before it gets better but the outcome, the newly formed glass, may be worth the hastle. I cannot imagine leaving my friends, family, language, and culure for an entirely new life abroad but it is comforting and hopeful to know that it can be done and successfully so. She insipired me to work even harder when things get hard or rejections come in because the only way to get what you want is to keep working at it... keep the piece under the fire- maleable for change and refinement.
Sheva Chaya finished the shot glass by writing "l'chiam" on the front: to life. I will always remember Sheva Chaya ( the former Darcy) surrounded by her prized pieces of art, sunshine, and bright flowers. One day I hope to feel as at home and happy anywhere as this woman was in her little shop in Israel.
After the glass blowing demonstration we headed straight for the Jordan River for rafting and kayaking. I doused my unprepared, pale skin in spf 50 and was still mentally preparing myself for the inevitable burns. I was expecting an exciting, adrenaline inducing ride; rocky waters and white waves crashing around the raft. In reality, I was greeted with a calm river that lazed through a path of greenery. There were 5 of us in the raft and the first thing I experienced upon entering the water was a tree branch coming towards my face at an alarming rate. We all screamed and manvered the raft just in time. The raft kept tilting everywhich way but straight, and we bumped into the sides of the brush often for the first ten minutes of the ride. We laughed the whole time, of course, it was like aquatic bumper cars.
Soon, we were drifting along the gorgous green river alongside fellow friends from Birthright and new local friends we chatted with along the way. We encountered a raft that was stuck between a tree trunk and the riverbed and we helped them get back on path. Jacob even fell out of the boat at one point while trying to reach a piece of bamboo that would make a particularly awesome walking stick. He got back on with bamboo in hand, refreshed from the fall and his hat still on his head. I loved the warm air on my skin, the cool breeze in my mouth, the impromptu water fights...
It was then that I realized that even though this excursion was not what I expected, I had a lot of fun regardless and often found myself wanting to stop and savor certain moments. The point is to have no expectations, accept that the river is flowing, will keep on flowing regardless of whether you want to stop it or go back against the current. You are along for the ride and there is no such thing as one correct direction to face. You will fall off the boat or get lost but you can always get back on and choose to take a souvenir from the fall with you. We race ever forward but the journey is always over too soon.
Enough of this sentimental chutzpha... After the river rafting we had the choice between climbing a rockwall and going on a zipline. I chose the zipline. I am terrified of heights but enjoy confronting this fear any chance I get. We clibmed four ladders to get to the top of the zipline. One of the Israeli soldiers was in line behind me. He told me that he too was afraid of heights and that he was equally as scared and excited or "excared." We laughed uneasily and excitedly until it was my turn to jump off the ledge. I discovered that the suspense was more terrifying than the actual fall. Jump. The man with the ropes told me in a bored voice. come on, just jump. Push me, I said. You have to push me, once I'm falling I'll be happy. But I need the push. Before I could even comprehend what was happening, I was falling down, through the air, over the water, and then into it. It was exhilarting and mildly annoying becuse I lost both of my water shoes.
Bus 1002 - June 4th
Posted by: Sophie Rosenbaum and Hayley Shapiro on Monday, June 4, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
As if we weren't tired enough from a 10-hour plane ride and the onset of jet leg, Bus 1002 had a jam-packed day of sight seeing, physical activity, and group bonding.
We left the kibbutz at 8:30 a.m.
sharp (Koren doesn't like us to be late), and started on our journey to an area that has a history of violence, and overlooked the current war-torn country of Syria. It was a paradoxical day in that we could see three countries at once (Israel, Syria, and Lebanon) just by standing on top of one peak, despite being so close to a country that is experiencing extreme political turmoil and genocide.
Our day was primarily focused on comparing the Middle East's history to its present state of affairs. Whether it was seeing sights like Mitzpeh Gadot, an abandoned Syrian military post, or discussing Israel's security atop an inactive volcano that is home to an Israeli city, we learned how to contextualize current events by actually standing right where historical, ground-breaking moments happened.
The last stop of our never-ending day was at the Tel Dan Nature Reserve, which is home to the largest fresh water in the Middle East and has more trees, plants, and species of animals than you can imagine. The weather was cooperating perfectly, so as we took a million group pictures and smelled the aromas of fresh bay/fig leaves, we were truly able to capture the beauty of Israel that everyone talks about.
Our day ended much like it started -- together, working as a group to solve problems and ask tough, open-ended questions. At the beginning of the day, we worked as a team to complete trust-building exercises through physical activities.
Even though we started the day as strangers from all walks of life, we ended the day feeling a sense of unity and community that did not exist 24 hours ago. It's crazy to think that we just ended our first full day and we already feel this familial sense. Besides meeting new friends from Binghamton University, we feel lucky to have the honor of sharing the entirety of this experience with 8 amazing Israeli soldiers. Although most Birthright trips only get to have this bonding experience with Israelis for a few days, we feel privileged to have them with us because we not only get to learn from each other, we get to make friends to come visit when we return in the future.
We can't wait for tomorrow's adventure that includes visiting the Jewish city of Safed, a glassblowing demonstration, and a white-water rafting/kayaking excursion that will likely imprint a lasting memory on all of our memories.
Stay tuned for more, and Shalom1
Birthright winter 2012: Day 3
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom Kantor and students on Wednesday, January 18, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Today was a lesson in giving. We started the day with a bus ride to Safed. There we enjoyed the beautiful mountain view from half a mile above sea level. Safed is a center for Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. We learned about the importance of mitzvahs and how Kabbalah followers believe that we can heal the world through positive acts and good deeds.
To demonstrate the importance of positivity we watched an artist named Sheva Chaya at work in her glassblowing and painting gallery. Her work embodies the light which is so intrinsic to Kabbalah.
The informative activities of the morning flowed into an afternoon of community service with Livnot Ulehibanot- to build and to be rebuilt. As a group we worked together to clear the yard of a low income housing project. It was a blessing for us to be able to give back in light of the incredible gift of the birthright trip.
We finished today with a fun dinner out in Tiberias and a walk on the boardwalk of the Sea of Galilee.
One of my favorite parts of the day was when we went to see the glass blowing and to hear about Cabalah. The women who spoke to us, Sheva Chaya, not only blew glass, but painted as well. She was an artist who loved to work with a lot of bright, vibrant, lively colors. She started off by telling us a little bit about herself and how she came to Israel. She grew up in Denver, Colorado and was not very religious. At the age of seventeen she went on a trip to Israel and fell in love. She really loved the environment and energy there and learned a lot more about Judaism. While she was there she got Bat Mitzvahed and found out what her Hebrew name was and meant: Sheva Chaya= 7 Lives. Later when she was in Princeton, she wanted to find out the meaning of her English name and found out that it meant dark and coincidently her first painted when she still identified with her English name used dark colors. Later, when she made Aliyah and took on her Hebrew name she began to paint using a variety of bright colors. She then told us about how she tries to pick out at least one nice thing about a person. While telling her story and teaching us about her thoughts and beliefs, she began to blow glass. She started by taking two pieces of glass, heating them, and then connecting them. She then told us how they added color to the pieces of glass: they used pieces of color sand/ broken glass and rolled the heated glass in it. After that she began to blow into the glass and form a shape. In the end, she made a beautiful pomegranate candle cover; pomegranates were a popular theme in her glass art. When she was done, we were able to walk around and look at her art. A few purchased some of her paintings in smaller form, which she was nice enough to sign for us. The piece I bought was a beautiful simple stroke painting of a mother and her child dancing. It reminded me a lot of my mom and I. It was amazing to watch her create a piece of art right in front of our eyes, to see her other art, and to hear about her story. It was an experience that I will never forget.
We spent most of our 3rd day in Israel in Svat. The city itself is incredibly interesting and different than anything we’ve really experienced before. But the people may be even more interesting. A few of us were walking around the city trying to kill some time before we left and we met a man named Moshe. I had seen this guy earlier in the day laying out bread and French Toast for the stray animals wandering the city and trying to capture doves by sneaking up on them. He was unsuccessful though. He was wearing a Philadelphia Phillies hat and shirt so he spent a little bit of time telling us how great they were and how they needed to get back to the World Series to beat the Yankees. In addition, he told us a bunch of stories about him seeing a white donkey that turned to be the messiah, or how he wanted to eat the dove he was trying to capture. He actually had a bunch of interesting things to say, but I’m sure that all of us that met him are going to remember Svat in part due to Moshe. He had been to Israel countless times and was really passionate about it, like most of the people we’ve met here are.
To bring an end to a great day, Marty, our tour educator, took a bunch of us to the cow sheds on the kibbutz. After a short walk, we quickly knew we arrived due to the overpowering smell. We met the baby cows who were born this week and stuck our fingers in their mouth. As we watched them getting milk, we learned about the process it entails; the cows are hooked up to machines, which pumped their milk. The machine keeps track of the quantity, quality, and bacteria level of the milk. When the cows were done being pumped, they got released from the machines. Then we were all in for a surprise. To continue the food cycle, most of them started pooping. Two of us were in the splash zone. Their reactions kept us laughing the entire time back.
Birthright winter 2012:Day 2
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom Kantor and students on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (1)
As my older brother Matt used to say, I could be labeled as an imitation Jew. What I mean to say is that while I was born Jewish and will be Jewish for the rest of my existence, I am incredibly far from devout, religious, practicing… whatever you’d like to call it. However, I can say without a doubt that I have never felt more connected to Judaism than I do here in Israel. Walking through this country I can feel a power in my blood, a kinship to everyone I see, and most significantly, my brother’s presence absolutely everywhere I go. With every new place we visit here in Israel, I find myself wondering: who has stood here, in this very place, and seen what I am seeing? With whom do I share this experience? My grandma? My dad? Golda Meir? My brother Matt? The connection I am discovering here- a connection to my people, my country, my history, nature, and most noticeably, my wonderful brother Matt, is one like nothing I have ever experienced before.
On the plane ride over to Israel, a boy named Mike saw my blatant fear of flying, sat down in the seat next to me and became a good friend in 10 seconds flat. I soon learned that he not only knew Matt as a Binghamton University student and the president of the school’s outdoors club, but Mike also ventured out on the same caving trip with the club that I went on last year. After an unfortunate incident with a car skidding off the road, I decided to go back to campus but Mike was able to tell me about his experience exploring the caves with my older brother. He told me how cold it was; their shirts were literally cracking with frost and the students huddled together for warmth until pictures were taken and they were able to hop back into the cave- like a “rabbit hole.” I was happy to receive this memory of Matt, a priceless gift that I had not seen coming.
Throughout the last two days, I have felt Matt with me every time I look out at a beautiful green and rocky mountain, the expanse of sky (whether blue, pink or gray), the incredible statues, sculptures, animals and water I see absolutely everywhere. However, I was hardly prepared for the next Matt experience I would have- a discovery that knocked me on my side. As part of the bus committee, it is my responsibility to plan games and activities to keep the group entertained as we drive through Israel, and tonight I met with another new friend named Devon to discuss ideas for tomorrow’s bus ride. We spoke for only a few minutes before the conversation turned to my brother; I asked her if she knew him and she told me she had been on the Colden hike in September when he fell to his death. After I recovered from the realization that I had not recognized this girl from the funeral or pictures, I had to embrace my new friend and reflect on the endless surprises I’m experiencing here in Israel. Whether I am discovering a new part of Matt as I gaze out onto the lake nearby the hotel, alone, or finding out that he has touched more people on this trip with me than I had ever thought before, the journey I am taking with my older brother will never end. And no matter what I believe in or do not believe in, the journey I am taking with my Jewish self will never end. I have Birthright as well as Israel to thank for the connections I am discovering and the new friends and family I am finding, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I will leave the holy land a much different person than I was when I arrived.
The smells are familiar. Rain smells like rain. But in Israel, it seems different. The plants look familiar, but they have a different feeling. Walking in Tel Dan, the smell of the land and of the rain was different than any land or rain that I have ever smelled before. This place is different either physically, or in my mind.
Today on the bus I had the sudden realization that I was on Birthright. We have spent two days in Israel already, but it just felt like a trip until today. We had just finished our daily activities and we were all pretty beat (the constant rain and constant moving can do that to you) and Marty decided to put on an Israeli music CD. Although I didn’t understand anything the people in the music were saying, it just felt so right. The feeling right then and there made me feel like I was really on Birthright. I guess I had always had my own vision about what Birthright should be… and this was it. Being surrounded by new and interesting people, driving through the countryside of Israel and listening to Israeli music, just felt right.
Birthright winter 2012: Day 1
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom and Students on Monday, January 16, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
“Cell phones are just pieces of plastic with Jewish brains.”
Jaffa Port- Zack Arenstein
After walking around Tel Aviv for a little while we ended up at Jaffa Port. To me this was the most amazing part of the day because of the historical/mythical significance it holds. Our guide Marty told us 2 stories that are relatively common and ones that I had heard and studied before, the story of Jonah and the Whale, and the greek story of Andromeda and Perseus’ journey to save her. According to Marty, both of these stories had large important parts take place at that very spot.
In the case of Jonah and the Whale, Jonah set sail out of Jaffa Port in order to run away from his God-given task of telling people to the East to repent for their sins. Instead, Jonah sailed West and ended up being swallowed by the whale. In the other story, Jaffa Port is where Perseus supposedly used Medusa’s severed head to turn the Kraken to stone. Some of the stones by the wall in the water are supposed to be its remains.
These kinds of things are definitely one of the most amazing things about Israel. For years we’ve learned about stories like this. Until now, they had no context. To come to Israel and go to see these historically significant places is unbelievable.
A huge part of Israel and learning about the culture is eating the food. So for our first lunch, in Israel, most of us headed to a schwarma restaurant to taste this Israeli delicacy. Schwarma is meat cooked on a vertical rotisserie, with fat dripping down the sides. We were able to pick between chicken and lamb, or both, and on a wrap or pita. They added cucumber, tomato, hummus, and seasonings as well. It was greasy, but delicious!
Our tour educator, Marty, explained to us that while our trip is about seeing all the things that make him proud to live in Israel, he doesn’t want to/ wasn’t able to sugarcoat things when we were all standing at the spot where Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in ’95. The peace treaty Rabin had signed two years previously wasn’t working out too well and a religious Israeli law student decided to as he said, “take the law into his own hands.” This event was something that impacted all of the people living in Israel. Our parents remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, we all know where we were when 9/11 occurred, and for the people of Israel, they all know where they were when their former Prime Minister was shot. I really liked the sculpture we saw next to the sight representing Israel having the ground ripped out from under them. It was a bunch of stones all unevenly placed next to each other. The entire sight and conversation with Marty was very powerful and definitely something I want to take away from the day.
Juxtaposition –Jason Liebman
Looking out from a scenic overview in the port of Jaffe, We learned how juxtaposition and contrast have shaped the Israeli landscape and culture. Going up along the shoreline from where we are now, we see the old tile rooftops of the early neighborhoods of Tel Aviv in the foreground. As you move further away, it is as if the city progressed forward over time. Two story tile roofed homes give way to modern glass skyscrapers in the distance. Walking along the shoreline from the ancient port of Jaffa to the modern city of Tel Aviv, the new concrete promenade grows and evolves out of the hand laid bricks. Arab Churches and Mosques Coexist within the city where the Jewish state was declared. The juxtaposition of these contrasting aspects surprisingly live in harmony like preserved moments in time all occurring right now.
Welcome Home – Justin Kalin
In the image of late 19th century father of Zionism Theodore Herzle, on the sand dune where Tel Aviv was bought and populated by Jewish diaspora, the first city of the modern state was born. Its founder and official Mayor Dizengoff was offered the plot to build his home, which later became the city’s first art museum made possible by his selfless donation. But Tel Aviv faced many horrors, including the devastating aftermath of the Holocaust and impending attacks from 5 Arab nations. On May 14, 1948, Britain ended its occupation of the Holy Land , leaving hundreds of thousands in imminent danger. Jerusalem was far too conspicuous, and with only a few hours to spare an art museum was quickly transformed into Independence Hall. In a 32-minute assembly, Jewish leader Ben Gurian signed an emergency declaration of statehood which rushed a seemingly impossible Israel into existence.
In closing our story of perseverance, we as Birthright participants were deemed not tourists, visitors or guests – we are the Jewish people returned home. A dream for our ancestors is now our right. The gesture blew me away.
The morning began at 7:15 with a delicious breakfast at the Nof Ginosaur dining room, featuring a wide array of foods including pancakes, cereal, yogurt, an omelette station, along with many other Israeli dishes.
After breakfast, the group got their belongings together and hopped on the bus. The very scenic route led us to the Tel Dan nature preserve, where we hiked to a beautiful waterfall (which was well worth the muddy and slippery adventure -- despite the few individuals who made very good friends with the ground).
The military-style caravan began when we were escorted by jeeps to an off-road path, leading to a bunker overlooking the Golan Heights. Accompanied by enthusiastic and hilarious drivers, we learned a lot about the area along with the history behind Israel and Syria.
The caravan ended with another bus ride to an awesome Schwarma place (there were other food options as well, but most of us were told by family and friends that we MUST try it). During the ride, our tour guide Doron discussed the history of conflict between Lebanon and Israel.
Our next stop was the De-Karina chocolate factory, where received a personal tour and a behind-the-scenes view of the hand-made chocolate in the making, followed by a chocolate and chocolate liqueur tasting (don't fret parents, it was all supervised). Souvenir purchasing was available, just in case the free chocolates acquired by Inbal weren't good enough (thanks again Inbal!!).
Our last stop was a beautiful view of the Syrian border, where Doron explained the history of the area. Many pictures were taken, followed by a very silent and sleep-filled bus ride back to the hotel.
The day came to a close with a committee-forming session, followed by dinner and a final discussion.
Posted by: Alex Schwartz on Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
With much anticipation we woke this morning to see what the fourth day would bring. After breakfast, we made our way to the busses and before we knew it, we were at Allapattah Middle School for our second day of physical service. As before, we started our day at the middle school by being lead in “PT” by the City Year team. In addition to the fun and quirky callisthenic movements we were shown yesterday, we were taught an additional movement known as the Banana Peel. As expected, it was a fun way to get started in the morning. If you remember from yesterday’s posting, we spent our previous day in Allapattah reorganizing a storage room by removing and replacing thousands of old texts books. Today’s task was very different. We spent our time preparing and painting pillars that line the central hallway in the school. While the task was not as physically demanding as moving thousands of textbooks, we saw a dramatic improvement in the schools physical appearance quickly. As custodial staff passed by they even commented on the visual improvement that took place in such a short amount of time. In just three short hours we saw a new bright hallway emerge were a dark and dirty hallway once was.
After a bit of lunch and some time to relax we left the Allapattah Middle School for Dunbar Elementary where we were to spend our second day working with students. Since Wednesday is early let out for the students we decided to host a field day for their enjoyment. The field day consisted of three stations: Jeopardy, Bingo, and Outdoor Games. Our role as volunteers was to guide the students through each station. Getting a chance to see third graders get really jazzed about educational trivia was really awesome and gives hope to the idea that every child we work with has a great potential to succeed academically. As I write this blog entry this evening, I can only reflect on the day’s work as deeply impacting upon the people around us as well as us. This trip has been great and still much is planned for the remainder.
BS Chemistry, ’12
Posted by: Katie Shepard on Thursday, January 5, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Thursday day 4: Katie Shepard
Today we started off our morning with a little pump up music and the promise of another rewarding day at Allapata Middle School and Dunbar Elementary School. I found myself thinking of how this was going to be our last full day of service on the trip. I began to wonder how the trip had gone by so quickly. But I didn’t really have time to continue my thoughts because we had arrived at Allapata Middle School. After dropping off the lunch in the correct classroom we began our daily “firing up” exercises on the basketball courts with the city year staff, where we learned a new exercise. This new move consisted of lunges, spirit, and a lot of weird clapping. Soon after our group began to take on our first task of the day: painting the courtyard area in off-white. Weused a combination of rollers and smaller paint brushes to cover every last inch of the walls. After an hour or two of painting, parts of our group started to paint some of the murals that had been stenciled onto the wall, while others began to stencil words such as: persevere, imagine, and create onto the pillars of the courtyard. As I was stenciling the word “persevere” onto the wall, I began to picture future students walking through the courtyard. I wondered if they would notice the words that had once been painted onto the pillars by a bunch of college students, or if these words would simply blend into the background like I imagine the previously cracked paint and faded messages once did. I then thought of how I used to feel inspired by a poster from my high school that read “perseverance is one of the biggest keys to success.” This poster used to make me feel motivated every time I passed it, no matter how bad a mood I was in.
After lunch, we watched a film called Waiting for Superman. This film taught us of the many flaws in America’s education system including: bad teachers, lack of funding, tenure, the lottery system for entry into certain schools, and the tangled web of the federal government’s ideas of a good educational system versus the state. When discussing the film with the group, I think a lot of us were shocked by how complicated the educational system of America had become. For instance, a child could fail a test in one state, but he/she could then drive down an hour to another state and take the same test, and their score would be considered a passing grade! Signals were clearly very mixed up between states concerning the fundamental standards of passing versus failing. Another idea that struck me was that a child could be stuck in a horrible public school, simply because they lived in a bad neighborhood. Furthermore, they could potentially have the chance to switch to a better public school or charter school; however, 1000 kids could be applying to a school like that when there are only 100 spots available! So these kids’ entire futures could be riding on one lottery number. I found this to be completely baffling.
Nonetheless, we continued to Dunbar Elementary School after the movie and were instructed to lead the class that we had been working with in a few field games. My group played a few basic games including toilet tag, the human knot, and leap frog. One moment that stood out to me was when we decided to join the kids in creating a human knot of arm and legs. The kids were able to free themselves of the knot in a matter of seconds, but once the bigger college kids got involved, the whole game got a lot trickier. It took us several minutes to untangle ourselves from the knot, and when we did, for some reason we ended up with two separate groups (which is not supposed to happen) and all the college kids were like “oops something must have gotten messed up.” But the kids had a completely different reaction; they thought they had done something extra special that had led us to make not only once circle but two. They were so pleased with themselves that they were high fiving each other and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to tell them that it was in fact a mistake, since they seemed to be so proud of themselves.
It was hard saying goodbye to the kids I had worked with at the end of the day, but despite my sadness, I feel pleased that I was able to connect with these kids on a pretty deep level, even if I had only known them for three days. I was reminded of how younger children are so willing to share things about themselves and how interested and curious they are to learn about others as well. All in all, it was another tiring, but mostly satisfying day in Miami.
Miami Day 2
Posted by: Haley Schulman on Wednesday, January 4, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Welcome to Miami: day two! Today was an even longer day than yesterday, if that’s possible. Our day started bright and early when we had to be on the bus by 8:00 AM (which meant I had to wake up at 7:00 AM, something I probably haven’t done in years). I promise I’m not complaining, though, as this is probably the biggest downside I can come up with from what I felt was a really great day.
First stop was Allapatta Middle School, where we were to spend the greater part of our day. At first, the entire group was together and we did a bunch of warm up activities lead by the City Year representatives. We did some jogging in place, jumping jacks, and some other stuff with funky names. Most importantly, we learned that whenever someone asks how we are feeling, we must always respond with a loud and energetic “fired up,” and when asked if we are ready to do something, we must shout “Hillel is always ready!” Perhaps the exercise was a little unexpected at 9 AM, but I think it served its purpose of waking us all up for the day.
From there we split off by school, and Binghamton got to go to a training session to learn how to deal with the kids we’d eventually get to meet and work with. We learned some basic rules of how to work with children, and we played some of the games that we will be teaching the kids to play tomorrow. It was informative and, at times, a little silly. After the training, we had the task of loading old, unusable textbooks from the school’s storage room into a big truck to be recycled. The job sounds pretty simple and menial, but it was definitely an important job with a lot of hard work involved. Not to mention that it was surprisingly fun! We blasted some music and overall had a great time with our few hours of heavy lifting.
After all that we had lunch and then heard a few presentations with the rest of the group. The first was a speaker named Rabbi Leonid Feldman. He spoke to us about the famous biblical question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and how it relates to the volunteer work we are doing on our alternative break. The second presentation was a panel from City Year. They told us about the work they do with City Year, recounted a few of their personal experiences, and answered a few questions from the audience. I personally found this part really interesting- it seems like working for City Year is a pretty awesome career path.
Finally we went off to work with the kids, which I had been waiting for all day. Binghamton and a couple other school groups left to go work at Dunbar Elementary School, a school where many of the kids have home troubles, live below the poverty line, and receive free or reduced-cost lunches in order to afford one good meal every day at school. This is what they told us before we walked into the classrooms. I was initially a little bit nervous because, as a camp counselor for a nice Jewish day camp, I hadn’t really had much prior experience with underprivileged kids who can’t easily afford a meal per day. That fear disappeared when I walked into the classroom, though, and realized that these kids are really all just kids. I had a great time hanging out with one little boy who refused to talk at first but later opened up to me. He was very funny because he had no interest whatsoever in the packet of work we were supposed to be completing, and insisted on joking around with me instead. We talked about sports and television, and he even tried to play a practical joke on me but, I am pleased to say, I did not fall for it. This was definitely the most enjoyable part of the day for me, and I am so excited to spend more time with the kids tomorrow.
That’s all I have to say about the program so far- can’t wait to see what happens next!
Welcome To Miami
Posted by: Meredith Abel on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” On the first official day of not only 2012, but also of Miami Alternative Break, the president of Temple Israel of greater Miami offered this proverb. This quote truly has meaning to me especially considering I can still remember it at the end of the day. What it signifies is very simple, yet also very profound: together we can. One person may not have the resources to accomplish a goal, but when band together as a community of any size, anything is possible.
Aside from poverty and social justice, one core theme of this trip is community. What is it? How do we get it? Can we create it? If so, how? Even the term community service has the intrinsic value of “community” built in it. Among the myriad of activities we participated in today, we began with community service in one of Miami’s prominent graveyards. I personally contributed by raking leaves around the graves and disposing them in garbage bags. When looking back on the morning, however, I don’t necessarily think about the physical work, but rather the symbolism behind it. I worked with people I hadn’t previously spoken to, and by fusing two rakers together and two bag holders together, this service in itself helped to create a small community for myself. It wouldn’t have been as significant if we hadn’t worked together to accomplish the task. By starting the trip facing death, I am more encouraged to enhance life.
Later in the day, after basking in the sun for a little while, we were confronted with a speech by Doreen, a speaker from the organization faces of the homeless. To keep things brief and light, her story basically resembled the reality of an episode of Law and Order: SVU, except that her story took place over thirty years rather than a single hour. After hearing the horrific story, and asking many questions, my immediate thought was what am I going to do about this? There were so many deeper concerns, thoughts, and frustrations that overwhelmed me. No one should ever go through what this woman went through. Although, I am glad I heard this story, because it was just the piece I needed to inspire me for the rest of this week. Her story helped explain the reason why I am here.
Beyond all of the ice breakers, beautiful weather, and delicious meals, this trip is about making a difference to both those we are helping and also to ourselves. How can we help them and how can helping them help us individually? This day was full of questions, full of sun, and full of fun. It was a fantastic beginning to what I believe will be a very meaningful week.
Bringing it to a close
Posted by: Shana Kantor on Sunday, June 5, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
Something great about birthright is
that sometimes you are surprised about what inspires you. Visiting the (underground
what was it called), the secret weapons manufacturing during the time the
British controlled the pre-Israeli state, really reached me in a way I never
would have predicted. We heard fascinating stories about how the weapon
manufacturing was kept a secret. They knew that there was a tremendous amount
of noise to cover up, so they started a laundry business that would run all
day. However, clothes would be picked up and dropped off so no one would come
close to the site. It was such a successful business that even the British
soldiers sent in their uniforms.
Meanwhile, underneath the raucous
noise of the machine, there would be men and women diligently working. They
were not in far away fields, as the “giraffes,” kibbutzim who, like giraffes,
didn’t know what was happening below their feet, thought they were. So, the
manufacturers installed a tanning room to appear like they work outside all
When a train explosion caused the
death of British officers, the workers rushed to their aid so that they would
not feel the need to explore the kibbutz and possibly find the underground factory.
When a solider came by the kibbutz to personally thank them for their aid, they
gave him a glass of warm beer. If he wanted a cold one, he would have to make
sure he called in advance (so they would never be caught off guard again). The
guide, Yaov, joked that since he was British, he would then call 5 days in
advance, then 3 days, then the day before to confirm, and so on.
There were many more fascinating
stories like these (like how the bullets they made were one millimeter too
large, so the worker that had to shave off that extra bit was nicknamed the mohel),
but what was most meaningful to me was that the bravery of the men and women
manifested themselves in a way that was uniquely Jewish. The stories all had
Jewish humor, spirit, creativity, and work ethic in order to accomplish a very
righteous and serious goal. Also what was very important to me was the fact
that in this effort the men and women were equal—women were appreciated for the
time and risk they put into protecting their people. In return, I can
appreciate and sincerely feel connected to the the dedication of Jews in a
different time and place, with an inspiring mission and a uniquely Jewish way
of protecting its people.
The last days of the trip were an emotional
roller coaster as we started the day with
an overview of the old city of Jerusalem and were formally welcomed to The
heart of the Jewish people. We visited the old city and spent time praying,
meditating and singing at the Western Wall.
We then spent a few hours in the
Shuk, Macheneh Yehuda, tasting and smelling the amazing foods of the open air
market and “grazing” our way through with our Israeli counterparts as our
waiters and guides. Then in the afternoon we took a turn for the sadder as we visited
Mt. Herzel, The national cemetery for leaders of the nation and fallen soldiers.
We listened as our Soldier friends told stories of fallen friends and family
members. We heard how each and every person had to fight for this land in one
way or another and that they felt that as hard as it was, they had no choice because
this was their (and our) home land.
The following day we visited Yad
Vashem, the memorial and museum of the holocaust. An experience that can only
be truly understood through a visit on your own, but be it enough to say that
emotions ranged from disgust, to tears, to fear and then to hope as we walked
out on to the balcony at the end of the museum overlooking the hills of
We then proceeded to the garden of
roses to reflect on all that we had seen and officially say good bye to our
soldiers. A day of emotions and tears both of happiness
and sadness, but a true reflection of this amazing country, a wonderful people,
and a fantastic trip.
Day 4-5: Shabbat and a new week
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom Kantor and students on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
was a good chance for everyone to relax and enjoy Shabbat together. Saturday was the first time on our trip for
us to sleep in at the hotel. Since it was Shabbat there was time to spare for
sitting by the pool and some peaceful meditiation. Some of us relaxed while others engaged in a
discussion with the Rabbi about sexual relationships. After the last meal of Shabbat we gathered
together and sang.
feasted on yet another delicious breakfast at the hotel. We eventually picked up 8 wonderful soldiers
for Mifgash. We quickly learned that our
pre-planned ice-breaker was not necessary:
they were just like us and eager to socialize. Then, the soldiers joined us in the Dead Sea. The impossibility of floating brought back
nostalgic memories for most, as others rubbed small amounts of healing mud on
themselves. Finally, we made our way to
the hospitable Bedouins, who’s tents we slept in reminded us to be grateful for
ever minor commodity, yet gave us a certain simple connection with the desert
Day 6-7: Masada and the Mega Event
Posted by: Rabbi Shalom Kantor and students on Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 12:00:00 am | Comments (0)
ascended the immaculate Mount Masada with an excellent explanation from our
tour/life guide Phil. We joined a very
generous farmer who shared his finest carrots, radishes, strawberries, and
tomatoes, topped off with a pesto tasting and peace dove ceremony for Gilad
Shaleet, a captured Israeli soldier.
evening the soldiers presented a hilarious demonstration of Israeli stereotypes
and we reciprocated with our own. It is
absolutely amazing and fascinating how quickly and close we are getting. Besides doing Israeli things like teaching
us, ordering food, and making suggestions, we are making ties which we have no
doubt will last longer than the remainder of this trip.
also a very exciting day as we commenced our tour at the Alayon Institute for an
enlightening tour of the clandestine factory used during the British mandate. Next
we met a Binghamton alumni at the “Save a Child’s Heart”. There we learned about this amazing heart-
touching program itself and met a few children that we apart of the
organization. And finally, we ended our Tuesday in Rana’ana to attend the Mega
Event. It was amazing and everyone had a lot of fun! Here, we met other
Birthright Taglit groups from all over the world such as Argentina, Brazil,
India, Canada and of course, different parts of the United State. Later at the
Mega Event, we attended a very exciting and thrilling concert.