Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Welcome to Israel!

~DAY 1~

Our journey began in JFK airport, New York, at 8 am on Sunday, May 19, 2013. Different from most other flights we've taken, we were questioned by the El Al security team. We were asked our connection to Israel and Judaism, the purpose of our voyage, and our plans afterward. Some of us were interrogated a tad more thoroughly than others...a lucky few got their bags confiscated at the gate for an hour as well as a complimentary cavity search.

We shared an eleven-hour plane ride with a gamut of people; half of the flight consisted of fellow birthright groups from other campuses while the other was mostly orthodox Jewish families, many, as we gleaned, en route to a wedding. Two meals, six naps, and one screeching baby later, we had arrived at our destination!

~DAY 2~

Lod, Israel is beautiful and serene at 5am after such a long flight (that propelled us into the next day no less). We hopped a bus to Caesarea, which is located on the coastal strip of Israel, on the West of the country. Greeted by an ancient aqueduct, we traversed the same sand our ancestors did and approached the Mediterranean Sea with fresh eyes and open minds. The sand, as our guide Ronen explained, connected us in our Jewish Identities to our forefathers' exodus from Egypt over 3,000 years ago.

We then drove to the expansive gardens of Ramat Hanadiv, dedicated to Baron Rothschild, a visionary philanthropist spearheaded the revitalization of Israel in the early twentieth century; without him and his family's contributions, Israel would not be what it is today. The gardens were large and represented the five countries in which Rothschild's sons resided. In the neighboring town of Zichron Ya'acov, we enjoyed the best shwarma and falafel of our entire trip!

Our final sight of the day was the beautiful Tzipori (a name that stems from the word Tzipor~bird). We walked on the main crossroads of the town, which was once lined with shops. The limestone had been worn by carts, and their tracks were visible, as was an etching of a menorah in one of the stones. After the second temple was destroyed, it was Tzipori that became the hot spot in the north. A number of exquisite and vibrant mosaics were preserved as well as the spacious home of Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, which had an intricate mosaic of its own, portraying Dionysis and other Roman elements. Ronen told us that Rabbi Yehuda liked the idea of learning from other cultures and also was responsible for writing down the Oral Torah (which was revolutionary), known as the Mishna.

We concluded the day at a Kibbutz in the Upper Galilee, with scenic views and very loud squawking peacocks.

~DAY 3~

Our well-rested and well-fed group alighted our Mercedes Benz Mega Bus for Mt. Bental, in the Golan Heights, an area that had belonged to Syria for almost half of the twentieth century. From our vantage point, a military bunker, we could see the stark contrast between the Syrian land and the fertile, tended Israeli farmland. All that separated the two was a dirt road!

After a quick nap, we had arrived at Kibbutz Mitsgav Am, which was perched a mere hundred feet from the border of Lebanon! Our guide talked to us about the instability between these two neighboring lands, sharing with us his own personal accounts from his military missions in Lebanon. Much of the land today is still littered with mines. (This is where we took the picture at the top of the page!)

Our next stop was a refreshing nature hike in Tel-Dan, where we saw one of the three rivers that leads into the Jordan River, Israel's main and only river, and a temple that had once been built to rival the first temple in Jerusalem and now is one of the oldest structures remaining in the whole country.

We'd also like to make a note that in addition to our guide Ronen and our student leaders Scott and Mimi, we travel always with Benzi, our armed guard.

Anyway, we capped off such an exciting day with a raging rapids lazy river adventure! Split into teams of five, we each manned a boat and raced floated down the treacherous tame waters, meeting along the way various branches, rocks, and boats of aggressive Israeli children who yelled things at us and splashed us! :( We were soaked when we were done, but our bus driver refused to let us on didn't seem to mind too much.

A quick dip in the kibbutz pool and a big meal with LOTS of hummus later, we resigned peacefully as our second/third? day came to a close.

Pics to come soon!

Shalom L'hitraot :)
Jordyn and Dan
Birthright 2013!! Bus 1061 all the way!!

Dear Chris and Rachel, I'm fine! --Jennarose
Also, Hi Glenn and Kathy, Love Daniel G
And Hi Mama, Grandma I and Papa Phil!! xoxo Jordyn

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