In an effort to just BEGIN somewhere, today I’m going to show you Part 1 of my trip to Israel in March of 2011. WTF, Beth… that was so long ago… right?! I know. I have been waiting for the perfect opportunity to start this off, and today is the day. In just a few hours, I’ll be reunited with some of my good friends from our trip… my “Taglit Family”. I cannot wait to see them!
For some of you, a trip to Israel might sound like a crazy, crazy thing. 1. How did I afford that? 2. How did I go with a group? and 3. Why Israel?
Just a brief background: One of the many great Jewish organizations is called Birthright Israel or Taglit. They believe that every young Jewish person should have the opportunity to visit and experience Israel in order to build a Jewish Identity (answer #3). The organization provides young adults ages 18-27 with a FREE trip to Israel (answer #1), where they can experience the country for 10 days along with a group of peers as well as Israeli peers (answer #2). How awesome is that? Did I answer your questions?
Throughout each post about Israel, I’ll try to stop and explain some words, traditions, or some other confusing things as best I can. Don’t be offended that I’m going to link you to Wikipedia. Let’s not pretend we don’t all go there first. 🙂 And… post a comment if you have any questions!
I took my birthright trip to Israel with my boyfriend Dave. We sat together on the direct flight, and 13 hours later we were in Tel Aviv, ready for our journey. Our group thus far included about 40 21-27 year olds, plus two staff members, one Israeli Tour Guide, and one Israeli Soldier. Our first two days in Israel were spent in the South part of the country, the Negev Desert. Click here for an awesome Israel Map.
We arrived at the Kibbutz* and had a buffet-style Israeli dinner. I remember eating Schnitzel and a ton of Hummus. MMM. After dinner, our two staff members initiated a few ice-breaker games, and then let us go to the Pub on the Kibbutz, for some “after activities … but don’t get drunk” drinks. The empty bar turned into a dance party not too long after- I guess this is when I realized this group of people was really something special 🙂
After a really fun night (and blowing out all 3 of our hair straighteners, warning: frizzy hair ahead!), the next morning (Day#2) we walked around the Kibbutz and learned all about the Kibbutz Farming and Lifestyle. Our guide for the day took us to the house of mud he and his wife are building, in order to further “live off the land”. A few from the group got to literally get their feet dirty and make mud bricks for the house.
After the “Mud House”, we got on the bus and drove to a farm that is part of the Kibbutz where they grow potatoes and carrots. Highlight of my trip: Eating carrots right out of the sand they were growing in. It doesn’t get more fresh than that!
Next on the agenda (and get used to that word “Next”… Birthright really jam-packs your days on the trip so we do A LOT every day!) was the Gaza Lookout / Memorial. Each item on the columns here leading up to the lookout were taken from the homemade rockets that are launched into the area from the Gaza Strip*. From the lookout at this memorial, you can see Gaza in the distance. It was near this area that Gilad Shalit* was kidnapped out of the IDF by Hamas. It was amazing how close we were but still I never felt unsafe. In fact, Dave and I believe that we felt safer in Israel than we do in some of our own cities in the US.
Following our stop at the Lookout, we took a small nature walk. We stopped along the way to say the “Shema” (a prayer you do the first time you do… anything really) and sip on some wine. Back on the bus!
Next up was a stop at Sderot. Sderot is a small town literally right next to the Gaza Strip. I’m glad I didn’t know we were going here until we were here. On our exit of the bus, our staff members told us casually “hey if you hear sirens, just do what everyone else is doing”. Later, we find out this means: “You’re so close to the Gaza Strip in this town, that you literally have less than 30 seconds to find shelter when the guards see rockets coming our way.” Wow. Visiting Sderot was my personal wake-up-call as to how life in Israel sometimes has to be. I could not believe people live this way. Schools with no windows facing the strip, bomb shelters turned into playgrounds, graffiti artists trying to spruce up the shelters on the streets… it all just left me in shock.
We went to lunch here where I had my first Shawarma*. I wasn’t writing this blog yet, but as you can see, I was totally already a blogger at heart- documenting many of our great eats of Israel. We also visited a bakery… mmm!
Our last stop was to a playground where we played some more ice breaker games and took some seriously awesome group pictures. While we were having our fun, we were snapped back to reality when we found out that the playground we were on was actually a bomb shelter. It’s moments like this that make you realize how truly lucky we are in our lives at home.
Believe it or not, we’re at the end of Part 1 of our trip to Israel! The night of Day #2 we went to bed early to prepare ourselves for the busiest day ever of our trip. I can’t wait to tell you about it!
Kibbutz: A community or gathering of people who live and work together, traditionally based around a farm.
The Gaza Strip: This area to the West of Israel is run by the militant group Hamas and has a long history of violence with Israel. Read here for more.
Gilad Shalit: An amazing story we got to see unfold. When we arrived in Israel, Gilad had been held captive by Hamas for just under five years. We learned about his abduction at the Gaza Lookout and several other times during our trip. Less than a year after we left Israel, Gilad Shalit was released back to Israel. This was a huge triumph for the people of Israel. Read here!.
Shawarma: A sandwich similar to a Gyro- sliced slow-cooked chicken from a rotating spit served as a wrap/sandwich with TONS of toppings, hummus, and hot sauce. YUM! This obviously deserved it’s own explanation. You’ll be hearing a lot about this.