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Shalom from Ben Gurion Airport!
January 9, 2013
Yesterday we were at the mercy of the wind and rain as we discovered that there was intense flooding in Holon and that that Ayalon Freeway into Tel Aviv was flooded enough to shut down and back up Tel Aviv traffic over four hours. We began the day with a conversation called “How I related to Israel, How Israel relates to me,” and then headed out to the Ashkelon Marina, where we enjoyed the taste of salt in our mouths and the waves crashing. They were just a bit too high in the area where we were walking so we turned around, braved the sand of the seashore in the air, and headed back toward our bus. We proceeded leisurely to Ashdod, a larger city about ten miles up the coast from Ashkelon where we had some time for lunch and then reconvened on the bus bound for Tel Aviv. Thanks to waiting out the weather, rush hours, some careful navigating, and perhaps a little bit of luck, we arrived the the Ir L’lo Hafsakah (City that Never Stops) around 3 in the afternoon and visited to Shalom Tower, where we learned about the first development of Tel Aviv over 100 years ago and explored the City through the mosaic designed by Nahum Gutman.
We walked around the corner to Rothschild Boulevard and arrived at Independence Hall, the art museum of Tel Aviv that became the site that, with 24 hours notice, would witness the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. We saw a movie about Meir Dizengoff and the history of the city and then sat in the room where the state was proclaimed while a guide from the site walked our bus and the bus of Hopkins Hillel students through an account of the fall of 1947 through 1948.
With an eye toward the weather, we decided that walking around the Rothschild area did not make sense and instead based ourselves at Dizengoff Center, the mall in the Center of the City, where students had a couple of hours to walk around, do a little more shopping, and eat some dinner.
We returned to the bus and headed back to Ashkelon, where we gathered for our closing conversation. Participants shared highlights of our journey together. We were struck how no two people described their “wow!” moments the same way. There was a general consensus and sense of appreciation for the relationships that have been created and the experience that we had together.
Steven Klupt, a College Park student who joined our bus at last-minute, gave us permission to share what he shared during the closing conversation:
The first person I talked to in Israel was Hadar [one of the Ashkelon participants]. She asked me where I went to school. Thinking she might have heard of University of Maryland, I told her that I went to College Park, but—as it turns out—she was actually asking me where I went to high school because…she knew my high school which is a small high school in Towson and she knew about Owings Mills. It’s amazing to me that I flew across the whole world and the first Israeli I met knew all about my home life. I thought, “Wow! Is this an Israeli I am talking to or another Baltimorean?” It really shows the power of the partnership. I’ve read about a lot of sister city relationships on line and they seem like no big deal, that nobody really cares about. But that’s not the case in the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership. And I think it’s even more noticeable when we’re here in Ashkelon. When children in Ashkelon are asked what the capital of the United States is, they say, “Baltimore,” because that’s what they know....It seems like everyone in Ashkelon knows about the partnership. I didn’t realized that there was an eye from Israel watching over Baltimore.
Five participants are staying in Ashkelon for the better part of the next week to continue to do volunteer work in the community; we are excited to hear their stories. If your participant is staying in Ashkelon, Einav Koren is the point person of our partnership there coordinating the volunteer activities, so if you need to be in touch with your student, please feel free to call her at [from the States] 011 972 54 699 7443 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
We reviewed some logistical details for our early morning departure, and handed out bus t-shirts. There were many bittersweet good-byes, and promises to see one another again. Our students packed and hang out and danced. Some went to bed, others stayed up until after 4 am when we need to get up and board our bus to the airport.
As we type this, our students have boarded the flight (our colleague Rabbi Debbie Pine from Hopkins Hillel is joining them), which we expect to leave at any minute. (We are each sticking around for a few days to visit friends and family.)
Parents—thank you for trusting us with the privilege of accompanying your children on this special journey. Together, we all created a caring community in which people could learn, travel, and grow together. We are looking forward to seeing you and your students back in Baltimore.
University Partners—we are so happy to be returning to Goucher, Towson, and UMBC with students who have had an immersion experience that we expect will enrich not only them, but the people they learn with and live with back home.
Board Members & Community Partners—we cannot thank you enough for your support of the work we do with our students. We are particularly grateful for THE ASSOCIATED’s support of Taglit-Birthright Israel and the Baltimore-Ashkelon partnership.
With hopes of wonderful unfolding journeys of learning, connection, and peace,
Sam and Jason
Shalom from Ashkelon!
January 7, 2013
What a wonderful two days.
Sunday morning we woke up, loaded the bus, and were on our way to the Dead Sea by 8 AM. On our way, we discovered that, because of windstorms brewing around the country, our original intended destination on the Dead Sea was not taking visitors. Lana did some quick thinking on her feet and we found a public beach at which there was a lifeguard on duty. The weather was a bit chilly; Shelly only put her feet in the water, but some other Ashkelonians believed that it was much nicer to be in the water when it is cold than when it is very hot. It was quite windy for the usually calm shore of the Dead Sea, so our participants asked that we shorten our visit a did, which we did, and then headed to Masada.
During lunch, Isaac, who was enjoying one, learned that Dr. Pepper soda had just recently come to Israel. After we ate at the bottom of Masada, the group began its hike up the mountain via the Snake Path, not necessarily an easy path at all. Andrew described feeling accomplished at the conclusion of the hike. We took a few minutes to catch our breath, refill our water bottles, and enjoy the particularly unusual view, as the view toward the desert and toward the Dead Sea was punctuated not only by clouds but by fog. We gathered the group, and amidst the wind, sat in a large circle in which Lana told us some of the story of Masada, built up by the Hasmoneans and then fortified by King Herod, and then made more famous by the final group of rebels who stayed here, most of whom killed themselves, during the Great Revolt. We spoke about the important of Masada as a symbol of peoplehood, commitment, and continuity, and then we did something special that we have not done o n one of our trips before.
We asked participants to remain quiet, close their eyes and trust us, and then placed into each one of their hands, a letter written by their family. Some were mailed to us at our offices before we left, some emailed and printed. All 39 Americans and 7 Israeli’s received a letter from home, short and long, English and Hebrew, but just real. We want to thank all of you who wrote letters to your participants to make sure that we had 100% participation in this activity for which so many of our participants expressed appreciation. Karin found the experience particularly moving. After some silence, tears, and laughs, we headed up into some of the major archeological sites of Masada and visited cisterns, mikvehs (ritual baths), a bathhouse, and wrapped up at the synagogue, possibly the first synagogue in Jewish history that was used not only for gathering (the root meeting of synagogue) but for public ritual as well. In the synagogue, we linked thousands of years of Jewish tradition to our own experience as we publicly gave Hebrew names to three three participants, Lena, Julie, and Caroline, who chose to take on the Hebrew names Rina, Dalia, and Teva respectively. We gave them names with a traditional blessing, said their names to them, read Zelda’s famous poem “Each of Us Has a Name,” and sang in celebration. And then, we descended the mountain via the Roman ramp, where we met our bus and drove directly to Kfar HaNokdim.
Kfar HaNokdim is an encampment set up for visitors to learn something about Bedouin life and hospitality. As soon as we arrived, our students had an opportunity to ride donkeys and camels, settled into our tent with sleeping bags and mattresses, and then we headed out to meet with a Bedouin man who taught us a bit about Bedouin culture, and demonstrated the coffee roasting and grinding coffee. We drank tea and coffee, and then—after a short break—headed to dinner. There was a general consensus that this Hafla—this feast—was the tastiest meal of the trip to date.
After dinner, we joined up in our tent for a conversation about spirituality. We noted the desert as a place known as barren, yet a place that birthed great religious traditions including our own. Many participants shared experiences in which they connected to something greater than themselves and we considered concepts of spirituality and God. Corinne shared the irony that we are using words to describe things that may not be able to be described by words at all.
Our students had time to relax, sit by a campfire, or head to sleep early.
We woke up at 5:45 AM to the sounds of Israeli pop artist Dana International’s “Diva,” the winning song of Eurovision in the late 90’s. Some people went to watch the sun rise over the desert, and we joined together for a delicious breakfast. At breakfast, Adam, perpetuating a myth that we had heard, teased friends that the best way to remove sand from your eyes is to use cucumber.
We cleaned up our tent, boarded our bus, and headed West to Moshav Talmey Yosef to learn about agriculture, but everyone was excited about arriving at Ashkelon as well. Having been north and east and seeing borders with Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan with our own eyes just a few days ago, visiting just a few kilometers from Gaza and from Egypt was intriguing as well. At Talmey Yosef we visited Shvil HaSalat—the salad trail—a collection of organic farming approaches set up for visitors to learn about drip irrigation, innovations in growing, and eat some delicious fruit and vegetables. We began by picking our own carrots—orange, purple (this was Dora’s favorite), and white and then continued to the medicinal herb green house, where we were able to smell and sample dozens of types of herbs—mints, basil, thyme, cilantro, oregano, parsley, and more. Craig’s favorite was the lavender. The name “medicinal herb” inspired questions about the status of medical marijuana in Israel, which—according to our guide at the site—is grown in a few locations that are unknown to the public but are highly regulated. Herbs led to cherry tomatoes of a few colors, cucumbers right off the vine—sweet tasting if you ask us—and some of the hottest peppers in the world which a few participants (courageously?) tasted. Peppers led to strawberries grown five feet above ground in soil made primarily of ground coconut shells and we finished with some tea made from some of the herbs we visited and tasted. We concluding by learning about—and having the opportunity to demonstrate the behavior of—homing pigeons.
After the salad trail, we drove up to Ashkelon. We gave our students an introduction to the partnership, supported by THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore stateside, while we were on the bus, and then—after lunch at a local mall—students were introduced to Maia Hoffman, THE ASSOCIATED’s director of Israel Missions and Sigal Ariely, the director of the partnership in Ashkelon. We are inaugurating the celebration of the 10thyear of our partnership, so it is such an honor to be present here at this time in the relationship between the Jewish community of Baltimore and Ashkelon. The focus of our partnership is people-to-people connections and volunteer service, so it felt so appropriate to do service work in the community after nearly eight days’ time of 46 people from each community getting to know one another, live together, celebrate life cycle events together, support each other, cry together, and laugh together.
We took a tour of Ashkelon led by Hadar in which she pointed out civic landmarks and neighborhoods and schools that are part of our Asheklon friends’ lives.
Then, we split our bus into two groups, each volunteering with a different community organization serving the community of Ashkelon. Some students had the privilege of working with at-risk children in and after-school and day program called Meytar that provides an alternative approach to schooling and care for them. They have several programs and vocational training opportunities for their clients including digital printing, a music studio, and a new candle-making room, which we helped clean up, set up, and paint.
We joined up together after a couple of hours with our peers from Johns Hopkins University for dinner and orientation in the youth center, where several local youth who volunteer with the organization Amen gave a tour of the building and told stories of them sitting with youth—so their parents could go to work—from the community in bomb shelters when Ashkelon has been on the receiving end of rockets fired from Gaza. We ate pizza and falafel for dinner and then headed to the Dan Garden Hotel, where we are spending these last two nights.
We have been writing you a lot, so we also thought you would enjoy hearing about the trip in our participants’ own voices:
“In the beginning of the trip, I never imagined that all of the group would be very connected to each other and now after seven days, I have to say all of us are like a huge, big family. I feel connected to people here.”—An Ashkelon participant
“I stayed with the Bedouin people last night. Not only was learning about another culture and sleeping in a tent amazing—but the values they had and the importance they placed on hospitality and respect rang loudly of Judaism and the personal values you instilled in me.”—A Baltimore participant
Wishing you a wonderful day and night from cool, windy, rainy Ashkelon, where I hope we all feel home away from home, washing the desert sand off of ourselves, and heading to a good night’s sleep.
Laila tov from Ashkelon,
Jason and Sam
Shalom from Jerusalem!
January 5, 2013
Shabbat in Jerusalem was magical and restful. We were been joined at the hotel by Yona Gorelick of Goucher Hillel and by Frank Salah and Emily Boling, students at UMBC. Our bus community joined together for candle lighting in the hotel lobby and every participant received a Shabbat shalom flower from the Machane Yehuda market. There were many options for services for our bus together with several others from across the United States—from Reform and Conservative services at the hotel to an Orthodox service in the neighborhood and an “alternative” service. Many of the services were in rooms with huge windows, so our singing and praying was accompanied with expansive views of the City—from the Bayit Ve’gan neighborhood in which we are staying, all the way to the Old City.
After services, we joined with hundreds of other students for Shabbat dinner. After dinner, students had the option to participate in one of a few discussion groups, from Gender & Sexuality to Jewish Eating. We heard a lot of positive feedback from our participants from the various teachers before we reconvened as a bus; spaces were tight and loud in conference rooms so we formed a giant rectangle (quite narrow and quite long) on the floor we were all staying for our next activities. First, our Israelis presented small gifts to us—books of Psalms small enough to be amulets (a popular practice among religious and secular Israelis alike)—which everyone seemed touched to receive.
Then, we continued into a discussion called Special & Normal in which we explore the ways in which we feel particularly Jewish and the ways in which we feel human just like everyone else. A lot of people shared a variety of perspectives and enjoyed reading texts ranging from biblical texts calling the Israelites a holy, a nation of priests to the famous quote of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, in which he says that Israel will be just like every other country when Jewish thieves and Jewish prostitutes conduct their business in Hebrew. We also spoke about the relationship between particularism and power and concluded reflecting on the Spiderman quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
After our conversation, we enjoyed an Oneg—a delight—a late-night snack of delicacies from the market including some of the best Rugelach, dates, and pita that our students had tasted. Later in the evening and in the morning, some students had relatives visit them at our hotel including some relatives they had never met before or did not remember.
In the morning, students had the opportunity to wake up early to walk to local synagogues. Each of us led a group, one to a local Conservative synagogue, and one to a local Sephardi synagogue. Many students went to a yoga and chanting session later in the morning. At noon, we surprised Max with a birthday party—JoAnna and Daria were kind enough to go shopping and the whole bus came together to set up drinks, cheesecake, snacks, balloons, confetti—singing birthday songs, Shabbat songs—you name it. Max seemed to know we were all up to something but couldn’t predict the intensity of the celebration of his 20th. We had some leftover fresh dates from the celebration, and Matt5 dared one of our bus staff (we will not say who) to lay them out along with the other fruit at the buffet table. Not only did this anonymous staff member accede, but by lunch’s end, most every date had been eaten. After Shabbat lunch, we reconvened as a bus community to celebrate Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies. Eight people on our bus—seven women and one man, one Israeli and seven Americans, were called to the Torah in front of the rest of the bus community, articulated what being a Jewish adult meant to them with hopes and dreams for the next phases of their Jewish journeys. We had an (upright) Sephardi Torah scroll, so people placed cloths and jewelry on it to adorn it while we read from it, items that may feel sanctified through their closeness to the Torah and the celebration for all these young people. Julie, Lena, Caroline, Becca, Daria, Katherine, Steve D., and Michelle each stood before the community and said the blessings at the Torah; another student reviewed the blessings with them, which was wonderful. The whole bus gave blessings back to the group of eight, Lana read Yehuda Amichai’s poem “Ten Commandments” in which the narrator’s father on his deathbed adds a number eleven and number twelve—“don’t change,” and “change, change.” Lana thoughtfully encouraged each of our students to continue to be hir authentic self as each continues to grow and grow. After services, each bar or bat mitzvah was lifted on a chair with much singing of “siman tov u’mazal tov.” Brian K. was particularly moved by each of their choice to become b’nai mitzvah and may be making some extra plans between now and the end of the trip to continue to celebrate our friends.
All of us seemed elated after the b’nai mitzvah ceremony and continued to be uplifted as our Israeli participants led us in some fun and funny games like Billy-Billy-Bob-Bob. Hadar kept raising the level of difficulty of the game; Cayla quipped that maybe we should eventually lower the difficulty level as so many of us were messing up. In any event, it was all in great fun. The Israelis moved into sketches that were satires of stereotypes of Americans and Israelis—driving taxis, at a party, and more. Nir even served as captain in a mock IDF training which made most of us laugh out loud.
We formed a circle for some check-in before the end of Shabbat about how the trip was going for each of us and people shared thoughtfully. After a few minutes to relax, we reconvened for Havdalah, the ceremony marking the distinction between Shabbat and the rest of the week. With our eight b’nai mitzvah and one birthday young man in the center of the circle, we enjoyed blessings on wine, spices, fire, and distinctions and recognizing the distinctions each of them had made in their lives today, sanctified the moment together through words and song. As the inner circle members closed their eyes, we heard the midrash about the first Shabbat in the Garden of Eden in which the light shone throughout Shabbat and how the first people became scared once Shabbat was over, so they received the gift of fire. When the nine opened their eyes, they were greeted with the lights of indigo glow-sticks, one for each participant, which, as we extinguished the light of the Havdalah candle, carried all the light we felt on Shabbat into the night.
Our students reconvened with Avram Infeld, former President of Hillel and one of the visionaries of Taglit-Birthright Israel, to hear a talk about Avram’s vision of Jewish connections. Avram likes to describe five-legged table (each leg is one aspect of Judaism—memory, family, Mount Sinai, Israel, and Hebrew) that can stand on a minimum of three legs. Each of us can be connected in a different way, but it is important to have a few of these connections so that the table can stand.
After Avram’s talk, we headed toward the center of town to hang out for a couple of hours on Ben Yehuda Street, the pedestrian mall filled with food, shops, and lots of people. We are just returning to the hotel now, packing up for our trip down south tomorrow.
Here are some pictures from the past few days!
Shavua tov! May this be the beginning to a wonderful week!
Sam and Jason
Shalom from Jerusalem!
January 4, 2013
What a long, wonderful two days it has been!
Thursday morning we were up by 6:30, eating breakfast after 7, and seated together with a couple of other buses to learn about the Israeli political system from Professor Hazan, the chair of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Hazan spoke about the differences between US and Israeli democracies and the advantages, disadvantages, and implications of each. He also stressed that while an issue like the economy was the primary issue on which American voters voted this November, the issue of security is consistently the primary issue on which Israeli voters vote election after election (and whether land-for-peace will bring about such security or whether wider borders will bring about such security, regardless of who else lives there).
Becca has been working on a design for our bus t-shirt, so before we left the hotel, we worked out some logistics for ordering the shirt, which Dudi, one of our Israeli friends has been coordinating.
Since our hotel is so close to Mount Herzl, we left the hotel and walked 15 minutes to the entrance of the national cemetery at Mount Herzl. We began with Herzl’s grave itself—we talked about Herzl’s story, the Dreyfus Affair, and his two books— and then continued to the section of the cemetery where Israel’s great leaders are buried. We began by visiting the graves of Prime Minister Yitzhak and Leah Rabin and hearing some stories of Rabin’s quest for peace before his assassination by a Jewish Israeli in 1995. We continued to the grave of Prime Minister Gold Meir and Lana, our tour educator, told us some personal family stories about Meir’s visits to Russia. First, Lana’s grandfather was among the 10,000 people in the Moscow synagogue when Meir visited in the early days of the state with an appeal for help. Years later, when Meir returned to Moscow, she returned to the Moscow synagogue and was so struck that—amidst the Soviet oppression of Jews and repression of Jewish identity—that a young man was called up to the Torah as a bar mitzvah the morning, chanting in the Hebrew language and embracing a Jewish identity. She wished the young man mazal tov at the conclusion of services, and presented him with a blue and white kipah (yarmulke). Lana’s father, now of blessed memory, wore that kipah that Golda Meir gave him every year at the Passover seder for the rest of his life.
We visited the memorials to Hannah Senesh and her fellow World War II paratroopers and sang her most famous poem whose English translation reads “My God, my God, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart.” We continued to the memorials for victims of terrorism and our Israeli friends Dor, Daria, and Hadar each told us stories of people close to them or their communities who had died—either while in military service or as victims of terrorism. At the military cemetery, we visited a few graves, including the grave of Michael Levine, an American who immigrated to Israel after high school, whose story of returning to Israel during the Second Lebanon War to be with his paratrooper unit is both tragic and inspiring.
The visit to Mount Herzl was not easy—our Israeli friends were particularly upset in the space and many American participants were moved to tears as well. We concluded our time in the military cemetery by chanting the Jewish Memorial Prayer El Maley Rachamim, reflected on our experience, and then said a blessing for soldiers and sang Hatikvah, the national anthem. Hatikvah means “the hope,” so at this particular time, we were not only thinking about the hope of generations to establish Israel, but also the hope of an Israel at peace with her neighbors, and Israel where no more 18 year-old soldiers will need to be buried on Mount Herzl amidst the thousands already there.
As we made our transition out of the cemetery and onto our bus to head to lunch, many participants chose to ritually rinse their hands at the exit to the cemetery, a ritual of transition from this place back to regular life. Hayden and I spoke a bit about difficult it was to be in the space of Mt. Herzl.
At lunch, Erica at falafel for the first time in her life (this is a good place to have it!) and enjoyed it very much.
We drove to the Zion Gate—one of the eight gates of the Old City of Jerusalem—and walked along the southern walls of the City to the area of the Temple Mount. People were awed by the views of Silwan and the Mount of Olives on the way down and struck by the splendor of the Dome of the Rock. We noticed that many soldiers were on their way toward the Temple Mount—Julia and Dana enjoyed taking pictures with large groups of them—and came to understand that there was going to be an oath-taking ceremony at the beginning of hundreds of soldiers’ IDF service at the conclusion of their basic training. We visited the southern most part of the Kotel, the Western Wall, near where it converges with the Southern Wall, and climbed a bit around the Robinson’s Arch excavation. We imagined King Solomon building the First Temple and our ancestors making pilgrimages to this site three times a year. We continued from here to the more popular section of the Western Wall where our participants had another opportunity to touch the Wall, place notes, look, listen, and pray, this time separated by gender. Jacob and Brian F. were particularly struck by the rehearsal for the oath-taking ritual of the Nachal soldiers whose home base is Jerusalem.
We walked from the Wall up into the Jewish quarter and reflected on our experience at the wall both publicly and with one another. Gary talked with me about how being at the Kotel surpassed his imagination; Daniel spoke of his grandparents and how they have been to the Kotel and were looking forward to him being there as well.
We walked through the Jewish quarter, oriented ourselves to the four quarters of the City, and made our way through the Armenian quarter to the Jaffa Gate. We had a little time to walk around the Mamila boutique shopping center. At Mamila, Yona Gorelick, the Associate Director of Goucher Hillel—met us; Goucher students were especially pleased. Yona will join us for Shabbat and once again later in the trip. Then, we headed to the German Colony—an American expat favorite—for dinner and a little shopping. We returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
This morning, we boarded our buses at 8:30 bound for Yad Vashem, the central memorial museum for the Shoah. Our tour educator Lana prefers not to simply use the Greek-English word “Holocaust” because “sacrifice by burning” does not capture the complexity of the Shoah. Shoah, she explained, is a word that is difficult to translate. Some would say it means “whirlwind,” but it certainly seems to imply a system in which the destruction is so utter, that it is hard to know up from down. We walked down the Avenue of the Righteous Among Nations; Lana pointed out the interplay of the light and the darkness of the 2,000 trees there. Alec was struck by the power of non-Jews helping Jews during the Shoah at risk of their own lives. Then, we broke into small groups and spoke about our family ancestry; Michelle spoke about her family in New York during the War.. We had a short conversation about heroism, visited the memorial hall, and the children’s memorial, and then viewed the new museum for a lengthy tour with many visual and audio cues—original artifacts of those who survived and those who did not. Lana herself is a Yad Vashem-trained educator, so we had the privilege of being guided by the museum by her.
We had to rush from Yad Vashem to Machaneh Yehuda, the market in West Jerusalem filled with tasty fruit, baked goods, and so much intensity before Shabbat. Now we are back at hotel about to welcome Shabbat together. There is not time for us to upload photos before Shabbat, but please know that not only are there are many photos of our 39 Americans and 7 Israelis deepening their relationships with each other, with Israel, and with Jewish identity.
Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem!
Jason and Sam
Shalom from Kibbutz Ginosar!
January 1, 2013
2013 began for some of our students sleeping and for others toasting at midnight before heading to bed. As the ball fell over Times Square, our bus captains for today, Spencer and Katherine, made sure everyone was awake, and ready to start our second big day here. Around 7:30, our students returned to the Dining Room at the kibbutz hotel for breakfast of many different options—cereals, breads, fruits and vegetables, eggs and cheeses, but it seemed that throughout the day there was consensus that the most fabulous part of the morning meal was the machine that would squeeze oranges before your eyes right into a glass!
By 8:30 AM we had boarded our bus and headed clockwise around the Kinneret to begin the climb up the Golan Heights headed for Mount Bental. (We should note at this point that yesterday, Steve D. volunteered to be a human map for us—picture his right hand pointing over his head and his left elbow bent outward with his left hand touching his forehead, so that means we began the day by heading toward his left elbow.) Mount Bental sits overlooking the Syrian border and today there was a gorgeous view of the Syrian city of Kinetra as well as Mt. Hermon, the site of Israel’s ski resort that is on the mountain at the boundaries of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon. Much of today’s program was about strategic borders in the north, and the importance of water and land elevation for Israel and its neighbors, so we began by speaking about the Yom Kippur of 1973 at Mount Bental, and then took a jeep tour in the Western Golan Heights up to pre-1967 international border between the Golan and the Upper Galilee. Our procession of jeeps wound its way through fields of grazing cattle prompting a little nausea but mostly a lot of smiles and laughs.
We stopped for a short lunch break (some of our participants taste-tested Israeli McDonalds, for better or worse; the feedback about whether it was better than its American counterpart was inconsistent).
From there we headed to Tel Dan, which includes a national park encompassing much of the Dan River and its tributaries (the Dan is one of the three rivers that merge together to form the Jordan River) as well as some of the remnants of the Israelite tribe of Dan, which is understood by many to be an ancient worship site before the Assyrian Empire invaded Israel in the 8th Century BCE. We were extra lucky on this walk—firstly, because it rained a great deal before we arrived so there was so much beautiful gushing water to see and hear and secondly because the weather was so gorgeous that being outside in nature was irresistible. During a break along our walk, some of us noted our lack of an official bus dance and Aaron S. took the initiative to patiently teach the Kiki—the choreography of which was recently popularized by the Thanksgiving Episode of “Glee,” a favorite TV show for many Baltimorea students and Ashkelonians alike.
On our way back to the Kibbutz, Jason taught about some theories about the relationship between the Tel Dan site and the golden calf story from the Hebrew Bible with which many of our students are familiar. Sam taught the bus about the concept of a niggun, the Chasidic tradition of a wordless melody that can touch the soul and many people sang along as he taught one of his favorites.
So far, Brian W. has been doing a lot of video on our trip and we know our students are excited to see the results of his work; we are also thankful for Sander’s seeming uncanny ability to capture a still image—even when it is of a rapidly moving plane.
Back at the kibbutz, some students watched the last bits of the day’s light disappearing behind them as they sat by the water, and then we gathered together for a conversation about Jewish Memory. We shared earliest memories and earliest Jewish memories—Caroline shared a memory that happened to be both—and talked about the role of collective memory for the Jewish people. Steven K. shared a great story about his transition from Jewish Day School to public school and Daria noticed how most of the earliest memories we shared with each other were associated with strong emotions. After dinner, we joined together as a bus one final time today and split into seven groups, one Israeli participant and the rest American participants for each group, and there was some time for more thorough getting to know one another. Then each Israeli participant was more thoroughly introduced to the whole group with a creative presentation—through song, dance, and more. Later, we found out that Hayley and Karin were mistaken for sisters—pretty amazing for people who met just 40 hours ago! As the two of us were sitting in the hotel lounge, we were inspired by the return of Lisa from a late-night run here at the kibbutz.
Speaking of late nights, we should probably get some sleep too. Here are some pictures of our day.
Jason and Sam
Shalom from Israel!
December 31, 2012
We are Sam Konig, director of Towson Hillel and Rabbi Jason Klein, director of UMBC Hillel and our plan is to reach out a few times over the next 9 days to keep you posted about Taglit-Birthright Israel: Hillel Trip's bus 1046 -- mostly Goucher, Towson, and UMBC students with a few Baltimorean CCBC, College Park, and American University students as well. (Let us know if you don't wish to receive anymore emails and we'll do our best to remove you.)
This morning before 7 AM, we arrived in Israel on an airplane with three other groups of students going on trips.
We cleared passport control, picked up our luggage, and then met our tour educator Lana. Lana is originally from Moscow, came to Israel as an eight-year-old, where she lived in Netanya, moved to Jerusalem to study at the Hebrew University, and has been in the Nachla'ot neighborhood (near the Shuk if you know the area) for the past five years. We also met our bus driver Uri and our guard Dor.
Our 39 Baltimore students were joined by 7 peers from our sister city--the other half of THE ASSOCIATED's Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership: Ashkelon, of course! Their names are Shelly, Dor, Dudi, Hadar (who used to work in Baltimore during her year of national service), Daria, Nir, and Karin. We picked up our cell phones, changed money, drank lots of water, and boarded our bus to catch our first glimpses of Israel on the way to Caesarea.
We stopped for an hour on the shores of the Mediterranean next to the Roman aqueduct that is still there, dipped our feet in the water, and the stood in a circle and told stories about each of our names in order to break the ice. Speaking of the ice, it was a balmy 70 degrees with bright sun on this New Year's eve on the Sea. But what's even brighter is the high energy and positive vibe that we feel among the group so far. People are chatting with one another and watching out for another, and we could not be happier!
After Caesaria, We headed north, and then inland toward Tzipori. We learned about different cultural traditions for Jews and for Arabs about house-building in Israel; Jewish homes tend to have sloped permanent roofs, while Arab homes tend to have more temporary flat roofs so that new layers can be built for children and their families.
After a stop for lunch at a local mall, we entered the national park in Tzipori, the site of two thousand year-old synagogues amidst a Roman City. Sitting around the mosaics of the ancient synagogue, our tour educator Lana led us in a short text study of various passages from Pirkey Avot, ethics of the fathers, from the Mishnah, to connect that text--codified in 220 of the Common Era, with the place at which it coalesced. We also viewed an ancient Roman style home and an extraordinary watersystem that directed water from the hills of Nazareth to Tzipori.
We headed toward Tiberias and preceded clockwise a bit around the Kineret--the Sea of Galilee--and checked into our hotel at Kibbutz Ginosar, where we will join together for dinner in a bit, get to know each other a more, and say good night. After a long flight and a long day, I am not sure how many people expect to be awake to celebrate the secular new year, but we send you our best for a happy and healthy and hope you are doing wonderfully!
We'll try to attach some pictures for you to enjoy in Caesaria and Tzipori for you to enjoy.
Sam and Jason