Archive for June 2013

Hello, friends.
Now that summer is underway and we’ve settled into a post-Birthright routine that doesn’t revolve around sleeping away the jetlag, I think it’s time to reflect on the whirlwind of these two weeks (10 days, then a wonderful weekend extension with my Dad after he came for a conference).  So this is what I learned from my time in Israel.
-It’s hard to believe you’re still in America when you enter the international terminal.  You know you’re definitely not in Kansas anymore.
(Not my photo, but an accurate one.)
-When you make it through an 11-hour transnational flight full of screaming babies, you can make it through anything.  (It doesn’t matter what time you fly, there will be screaming babies on an El Al flight.)
-You may never understand how Israelis stay so thin and fit in a country full of falafel, breads, pastries, and hummus.  Maybe they’re just magical people.
-Israel is great at accurately naming its streets.  (These are in Jerusalem and Tzfat)
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-Jerusalem is the only place better than Brandeis University to truly celebrate the joy of Shabbat.  There’s a moment on every trip when you start to feel at home in a new place, “Wow, I like it here and I could be very happy staying here at some point.”  That feeling finally hit me in Jerusalem, the heart of Israel.
-Walking through the crowds of Mahane Yehuda, then passing those same empty streets on foot while all the shops were closed for Shabbat, really served as a reminder that Shabbat is a day of rest.
And the spirituality of praying at the Kotel twice in one day, and singing and dancing with women we’ve never met, is probably the defining moment of the trip for me.  Old or young, religious or not, we were all one sisterhood, one unbreakable chain of strong Jewish women, as it should be.
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-When Israelis try to strike up conversations with you in Hebrew, and you have no clue what they are saying, just nod, smile, and know you’re doing something right if you can pass for Israeli to begin with.
-Just one Israeli iced coffee will make you question why you’ve been drinking American coffee all your life.
-A bathing suit is not a bathing suit in Israel, it’s a “swimming costume”.
-Also, sunscreen is not sunscreen, it’s “sun cream”.
-Even though it goes without saying, the Mediterranean architecture against the blue sky is so beautiful.  This was at the Port of Jaffa.
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-Remember all those trees that people planted in your honor as a Bar/Bat Mitzvah gift?  Well, they really have made the landscape of Israel greener.
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-Everyone instantly becomes a “cat person” in Israel.  The cats there are adorable!  This one, just like us, was making his way to the Kotel on Shabbat.
-In Kabbalah art, a circle is never just a circle.  Everything represents creation and the birth of the universe.  This is the print I bought in Tzfat.
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-If you think a downhill hike isn’t difficult, then you haven’t taken the Snake Path down Masada.
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-Israel’s cities are developing and urbanizing faster than ours.  The new city-wide train route in Jerusalem didn’t even exist when I was there 5 years ago.
-Jewish observance in Israel is very diverse and pluralistic.  Meeting more observant people at Brandeis has made me wonder if religious pluralism is more about letting everyone practice religion in their own comfortable way, or about facilitating exchanges between people who observe in different ways.  I still haven’t resolved this question, but I think in Israel, it’s possible to have both.  Many of us identify as Reform Jews, and even though Reform Judaism isn’t yet recognized by the Israeli rabbinate, the more religious Jews in Jerusalem welcomed us into their world no matter what our backgrounds were.
-Those inevitable travel mishaps put things in perspective, and eventually, they do make you stronger.  One day I can brag about that time I fell down hiking at Ein Gedi, aggravated an old ankle injury, got a house call from a doctor in the Negev who only spoke Hebrew, and still pushed through to finish the trip when I could barely walk.
-If you don’t leave your hotel before the cutoff time when everything closes for Shabbat, then you get locked in the parking garage.  This happened to me and Dad in Jerusalem.  (On the other hand, it’s pretty amazing to see a Shabbat candlelighting in a hotel lobby.)
-Tel Aviv is one of the best beach experiences of your life… unless you get to visit the beaches of Netanya just an hour away.  My Israeli family friends took me there on the weekend.  As it turns out, my Hungarian grandma had settled in Netanya for some time after WWII, and I can see why she must have loved living there — it’s so beautiful and full of life.
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(Low risk of jellyfish attacks that day — always good to know when you’re getting in the water)
-The camel ride is thrilling, and surreal when it hits you, “I’m riding a camel.  An actual camel.  This is what people really did 2000 years ago.”
photo (76)
The defining images of a Birthright trip.  (More camel photos are trapped inside my other camera…)
-You learned so much from those intangible moments that were and weren’t on the itinerary.
-There’s the sobering moment when you visit a vibrant elementary school full of young children in Haifa, and see an entire wall of former students who died defending Israel’s security, and realize they were all your age, or barely older.  And you have the same realization walking through the military section of Har Herzl Cemetery.
photo (82)
(Still, making this hamsa with the kids was a highlight for me.)
-There’s the moment when you finish a hike and realize it doesn’t matter if you’re fit or coordinated or not, you had the strength to do that, and it is incredibly empowering.
-There’s the feeling of completeness that hit all of us when the Israelis joined the trip, and the moment when we realized just how close we’d all grown over those 5 days together.
-There’s that moment of horror when you and your kibbutz roommates are trying to catch the lizard that got into the bedroom, and accidentally snap its tail off. (Sorry about that.)
-But most of all, there’s the feeling that even when you’re sleep deprived and you’ve had enough of the sweat and uphill hiking and kibbutz food and waiting in line to use all 3 clean bathrooms that exist in the State of Israel, you love this country and know that 10 days is nowhere near enough time to bond with your new family and experience all the adventures you see yourself having, and it makes you wish study abroad would come sooner, because traveling and seeing the world are simply exhilarating.
-And now that you’ve seen the Jewish Motherland, you finally understand the idea that all of Israel is responsible for one another.
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So, until next time, Israel.
Shalom and L’Hitraot,
P.S. Comment if you have anything to add.  I miss you all!