Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mazel Tov

By Sykes Radford '14 and Jacob Albano '15

Today, members of the group woke up early to attend conservative Shabbat services in Ashkelon. Afterwards, we went for an afternoon walk on the sandy shores of the Mediterranean Sea. When we returned to the hotel, a beautiful Shabbat lunch had been set up for us as we all enjoyed one of our final meals together as a group. Manishevitz, laughter, full tummies, and friendship filled the air just before we held Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs for four group members! One-by-one, Carly Epstein, Enika Selby, Jacob Albano, and Sykes Radford read Aliyah Blessing and discussed their interpretation of the Ten Commandments and it's relevance to loving, living, and learning. In keeping with tradition, candy was thrown at each of them at the conclusion of their presentation. Candy wasn't the only thing thrown into the air, though. Members of the group played music, danced, ate, and lifted Carly, Enika, Jacob, and Sykes in the air (Horah) for celebration. In the end, we enjoyed a relaxing dinner on the pier before calling it a night. 

There's no demure way to clean a carrot

By Daniel Yellin '15 and Monique Sager '15

Is waking up to Arabian Nights in a Bedouin tent racist? This was the thought that went through our heads at six this morning. After a night sleeping on the ground in the desert on one of the handful of rainy nights that happen each year, we woke to Shany's choice DJ-ing with what can only be described as collective disdain. Everything hurt. Feeling like we hadn't showered since the Second Intifada, we set out to climb Masada.

The 2100 year old mountain castle loomed before us. King Herod built his vacation home far away from anything living to escape a most fearsome people... Some angry Jews. Once on top, we learned about the mountain's history as a palace, fortress, and story of inspiration. We drank plenty of water and wore our semi-mandatory hats despite the overcast skies. We also experienced a most magical echo at one end of the plateau... Sababababa (read as if echoing). 

After scampering down the mountain as nimbly as a Roman soldier or a Jerusalem cat, we headed across the desert to an agricultural farm for the best part of every day, public restrooms. The Salad Trail, as the farm is known, provided us with a lesson on Israel's advanced agricultural techniques and business practices, and also let us eat fruits and veggies off the vine in what can only be described as a vegan Willy Wonka paradise... Come with me and you'll be in a world of giant purple carrots... But actually, it was delicious. We ate cumquats, lemons, strawberries and habanero peppers (a bad, bad idea says Daniel). We also found something called a Prostate Tomato, which apparently helps you in that department. You know the saying, a tomato a day keeps the doctor away. We also ran through a passion fruit maze (like a corn maze, Israel style). Lastly, we got to pick purple, white and orange carrots the size of souvenir baseball bats. There's no good way to clean or eat these carrots, so we did the best we could.

Since it's Shabbat, we arrived at the hotel in Ashkelon early, lit candles, SHOWERED, and had a fantastic dinner. It was so good that we had no room for the dessert that we bought for our Shabbat oneg earlier today at a pit stop along the road (hooray more public bathrooms).

Public restrooms though are a very small price to pay for the immense beauty that we experienced. From the Bedouin camp to Masada to The Salad Trail to Ashkelon, the Negev Desert is truly a magical and diverse place.

Thursday, January 9, 2014


By Kyla Balkan '16 and Joanna Kamhi '15

Today was full of trials and tribulations, but don't worry Jewish mothers, we still managed to hike for less than 20 minutes. We started the day on a somber note, saying goodbye to the soldiers as well as the delicious breakfast buffet we had become accustomed to at kibbutz Ginnosar. But thanks to Facebook, we can continue to keep in touch and share selfies with them, although they still refuse to acknowledge twitter as a viable social media platform. Our count off will never be the same without their heavily accented pronunciation of #37-#44. 

Our first stop was a bougie rest stop en route to the Negev where we ate "Mexican" flavored chips and saw our first camel parked nearby. Back on the bus, the all-knowing Shany continued to outline the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while some of us napped. 

We arrived at the Dead Sea where we covered ourselves in globs of mineral enriched mud and took copious photos. Once it dried, we took a dip and almost drowned! (Just kidding, we floated by pure magic and the high salt concentration of the lowest point in the world.) Then we all complained about our splotchy dry skin and burning blisters and covered ourselves in samples from the tester lotions in the Ahava store. Personally I think the Dead Sea saps the minerals out of the unaware bathing humans and that's why it is so enriched and the rest of us were left so tired.


Next we headed to Ein Gedi where our hike was short, sweet, and full of ibex and other unidentified creatures (mongoose? Prairie dog? Either way it was really cute). We wanted to hike higher but Shany claimed to be too out of shape, a thinly veiled excuse as she is a fierce aerobic machine. We ate various fillings in a pita at "in-a-pita."

We then traveled to the Bedouin camp and back in time to ride on on their pet dinosaurs that they call "camels." They are regal creatures with haphazardly attached jaws and a tranquil nature. If we had asked the "camels" if we could ride on them instead of just excitedly jumping into their makeshift saddles, I imagine they would have responded, "Baduk." The ride itself was a roller coaster of gentle swaying and not so gentle double jointed camel knees. 

We were introduced to Bedouin life by Mohammed, who has three wives and twenty-one children with two on the way. He considers both the Jews and the Jordanians "like cousins" but we couldn't help but wonder if this act was a little rehearsed. Also, a little mental math of our own revealed that while he looked 50, the ages he gave for when he started having kids and the age of his oldest child would make him 35. We ate a traditional "Hafla" dinner sans utensils or plates. Lamb meatballs were included so everyone was happy. Next, we braved the camel poop as we trekked into the desert for some individual nighttime reflection in silence. In true Taglit fashion, this was followed by a discussion where we learned about each other's spiritual experiences with reflection and introspection. We are about to go to sleep in a giant heated Bedouin tent aka snugglefest 2014.