A 10-day trip to Israel, all expenses paid. What’s the catch? Well, sometimes, it’s best not to ask. Find the ticket, and just take the ride.
Going into the trip, I was completely usnure of what to expect. As a traveler, I’ve actually learned how to let go of expectations and let the times roll in like a soulful soiree.
Despite your religious affiliation, what you look like, or where you come from, the Birthright Israel program is about touring the “home land” and having fun. Doing so with a group of amazing group was just icing on the Kosher cake.
After we got off the plane in Tel Aviv, we drove up the coast to our first hostel, stopping off at the Caesarea Aqueduct to see the Mediterranean Sea.
That Thursday we were pretty tired after a day of traveling, so bed time came early.
The next day we hit the old Orthodox city of Tzfat.
The group did a hike in the morning, but I actually got sick and couldn’t join. Leave it to me to turn a crummy situation into a positive- what an experience it was to be in a hospital where very little English was spoken. One of the Israelis invited me into her family’s house on the way back and made it her goal to make me feel comfortable. Talk about a true cultural experience.
Come Saturday, I was ready to go again. In Judaism, Saturday, or the Sabbath is the day of rest. It’s called Shabbat in Hebrew, pronounced “shah-bot” or if you’re feeling creative, “shah-bet.”
We got to hang out at the hostel for the day, where some of us did a little yoga in the down time.
Relax we did. My roommates and I accidentally slept until 1 PM that day. We took the Sabbath a little too literally I suppose. #oops
After sleeps on sleeps, we were ready for our first night out in none other than the fine city of Tiberius.
An outdoor bar with dance music and birthright kids from all around the world.
We got back to the hostel and found a bottle of wine in the activities building. Naturally, we couldn’t be wasteful and considered ourselves the chosen ones.
Sunday, we woke up so ready for a sweltering Banyas hike.
Not ready to make hike.
After the scorcher, we post gamed with lunch and then river rafting on the Jordan.
So zen? Or clueless to the photo-op?
That evening, we toured the Lebanon Border at Misgav Am Kibbutz and listened to an awesome nut job tell us about Israel, war and how our opinions meant nothing to him. He was quite controversial and most of the group wasn’t a fan, but I actually found him to be quite entertaining. The more colors, the brighter the rainbow, right?
That night we got back to the hostel and sang songs in the grass like we’d all grown up together. Travel pals are truly one of a kind.
I saw the food delivery guy that night and went over to him to say Shalom. He mimed out the motion for eating followed by opening both hands. Free fruit? Shalom indeed. Call it cheap, call it savy, we ate meals of fruit and were oh so happy.
The next day, we did a hike, walked to a water hole Oasis and swam in the Dead Sea.
Yeah, sleep was not the prerogative on the itinerary. They kept us busy in Israel, but actually, we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Before floating in the Dead Sea, we had lunch at Cafe Cafe (Israel’s version of Panera, give or take a few shekels.)
With full bellies, we hit the Dead Sea, and what a strange experience it was.
The water was pretty warm and as soon as you got in, you felt your body quickly float to the top. The entire time you’re trying to enjoy the float, you can’t help but think how bad it would suck if someone accidentally splashed you and got water in your eyes. Then there’s the slight current pulling you down the sea while Rebbetzin (cool word that means the Rabbi’s wife) is constantly calling out for you not to float away, so you’re trying to appease her by swimming against the current, carefully trying to avoid touching the water with your face.
I mean other than that, it was relaxing.
We headed back to the hostel for activities galore. Who doesn’t love activities?
“I’m not in the mood for a circle of kumbaya again.”
Tuesday, we packed up and headed to Masada, a 2,000+ year old fortress where the last stronghold against Roman invasion stands.
Masada is located near the middle of the country, overlooking the Dead Sea.
If you’re into history, here’s the story.
Drop down and get your spirituality on girl.
After Masada, we made some new friends.
What a handsome devil.
Next we went to see Ben Gurion’s grave (Israel’s first Prime Minister) and then headed to the Bedouin tents for the night.
Bedouin tent sleepover time!
Waking up in the morning was rough, but some of us managed to get up in attempt to watch the sun rise. Apparently the sun rises at 6:30 am, not 6:00.
Then it was time for more activities.
Look at that excitement.
Next up, a gorgeous desert hike with hills, rocks and views for days.
“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.”
That night, we got dressed up and hit the town of Jerusalem. I was surprised at how fun this city was.
“Every thing is stored in the mind and soul for you to explore.”
We spent the remainder of our trip at the Jerusalem Gate Hotel.
On Thursday, we cruised through the city, ate tasty Mediterranean food, went shopping, spent time in the Jewish Quarter, hiked through a cave with water, and saw the Western Wall. Operation: see it all.
That evening we bid our Israelis a farewell and took time to appreciate the amazing friendships we made in just a few short days.
Friday we toured the Holocaust Museum in the morning, then hit the Mahne Yehuda Market.
That evening, we went to the Western Wall for Shabbat and walked back to our hotel afterwards to observe the holiday.
Saturday, our last day, we slept in for Shabbat and did a fun gift exchange, followed by a walk through the park, a Shabbat feast, and a night out to end the trip with a bang.
We are like wild flowers in this colorful field.
I’d say one of the many highlights of my trip was spending 15 minutes in the desert in silent meditation. It resonates with the longing of always pursuing novelty. Laying in the desert at night, looking up in the stars. Letting your eyes glide from star to star. Selecting a cluster of stars to focus on and study. What do your eyes see? You have that control to draw lines from star to star. Whatever you choose to see and believe is your truth, so chose wisely.
Thank you Birthright Israel for this incredible experience and I’m so happy to have met each and every individual on this extraordinary adventure.
Until next time, Israel.
“I’d like some water.” “Still?”
Stay insatiable, Mayanot 202!