Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Israel - June 16

June 16
We started off the day by waking up at 4am to climb Masada for sunrise. We had a short drive to get to the base of Masada. Once we were there the sky was starting to look all pretty and we were really afraid we were going to miss sunrise. We walked about via the Roman ramp, which is pretty much the easy way to do it. We did it pretty quickly since we were so afraid we were going to miss the actual sunrise. I wanna say it was about 20 mins or so. But honestly it was almost perfect timing. We got to one of the towers just as the sun was rising.

After the sun had officially risen Gidi gave us a tour of the ruins. Masada was originally built by King Herod. He was pretty much the king of the Jews appointed by the Romans. Masada was pretty much built as a vacation home. As Gidi said he probably went there once every 3 years, but they had to be ready at any time. The majority of what we spent our time looking at was the roman baths and the store rooms.

The second period at Masada was after the destruction of the 2nd temple. There was a sect of Jews that escaped from Jerusalem and captured Masada from the few guards there. There were several structural changes we saw from this period such as the baths being turned into a mikvah and a synagogue. Of course the Romans didn’t really want a Jewish city, so they went to capture it. The built a ramp to get up to the city, (ie the path we took up) and overtook it. Masada is famous because once the soldiers finally captured it and made it inside, all the Jews had killed themselves and were dead. They figured it would be better to end their lives free than be killed or raped or enslaved. Of course no one knows how true the story is. There was a Roman historian that wrote down what happened as well as names. However, once Israel got possession of the Negev desert after the 6 days war, they were able to do evacuations. Interestingly enough they uncovered stones that had the same names from the story dating from the correct time period.

When it was time to head down we took the easy. Most group take what is called the snake path. A switch back path that goes back and forth ALL the way down the mountain. He however took a cable car down the mountain, mainly to save more time so we could do more doing the day. We stopped at another youth hostel for breakfast then went on our way.

The second thing we did that day was a hike. I want to say it was at En Gedi. I think that’s what it was called I don’t remember exactly. The hike was fun because it ended at a waterfall. Gidi had us wear our bathing suits under our clothes so we were all able to go swimming. Very refreshing. And since it was so hot by the time we starting walking we were pretty much dry.

After the hike we drove to the Dead Sea. Since it’s such a big body of water there’s obviously a bunch of places you can get to it. Something that I hadn’t really thought about before. We wound up going to the spa, literally called something like the Dead Sea Spa. They did have an actual spa there with sulfur baths along with a private part of the beach roped off. When they originally built the building it pretty much was built right on the shore. However since the Dead Sea is disappearing, since Israel is using most of the water which used to originally get deposited in it, they now have a tram driving people back and forth to the Dead Sea. While you can walk, it is a bit of a hike.

The Dead Sea is totally what you expect it to be. Literally you just kinda lift your legs up and you’re floating. The water is so salty though its dangerous to get in your eyes or mouth. They tell you not to go under; also they have an eye wash of fresh water floating in the sea. Everyone said that being in the Dead Sea was really painful. Like it would burn your legs and any cuts you might have. I think because I was really expecting the worst, I didn’t really notice anything.

Since we didn’t have a lot of time we stopped floating so we could have time to coat ourselves with mud. In the hurry to get back on the tram off course, I left my sunglasses on my car. O well, they were pretty cheap in the first place. We got to the mud and coated it pretty much everywhere. Arms, legs, face, the whole nine yards. After a few pictures, we rinsed it off first with a salt water rise. Then our faces and everything else with plain water.

We went inside the spa for lunch then. Gidi bought us tickets which included a main course, the salad bar, bread, dessert, and juice. The food wasn’t amazing, like most the food we didn’t have to pay for. But like I said it was free.

After eating quickly we were back on the bus. We stopped at an Ahavah outlet on the way to Jerusalem. Just outside the city we picked up our solders. We had 4 guys and 3 girls. Since the people on our trip we kinda older, they gave us officers most of whom were around 22-ish. When we got to the hotel they had this woman from New Zealand come and do ice breakers. Of course we were all exhausted, and kinda smelled from the mud. But it was an interesting experience. We had diner and then went out in Jerusalem.

We spent the first part of the night on Ben Yehuda Street. Of course the highlight was walking past Shoshanah’s bar. I wouldn’t have noticed it, but Moshiko, one of our Israelis, pointed it out to me. When I had told him my name at diner he was kinda stunned that an American had such an Israeli name.

After walking around a bit we all met up to go to a bar. Pretty much the only people at the bar were other birthright groups. It was a fun place though. There were two floors. The top floor had a dance floor and an outside bar, and the bottom floor was like a lounge. At first the dance floor was empty, but me, Sara, and Micki went out on the dance floor, and eventually it was full. One from instance from that night was when we were dancing the guy came up behind Sara and started dancing with he. She kinda moved her way to the other side of the circle away from him. Micki was like, “How old are you?” When he said he was 19, she told him Sara was 24. He responed, “I don’t care,” to which Micki responded, “Well she does.” He was actually pretty made about the experience, but overall it was pretty amusing.
Shoshanah's Bar!

Thursday, July 3, 2008


I didn’t really mean to turn this into a travel blog, but I just never update. And crazy as it is I took two pretty huge vacations this year. SOOO I got back from Israel this past Tuesday, so I will at least attempt to write something up before I forget anything.
June 12
I left. I flew JetBlue from New Orleans to JFK airport in NYC. My flight got in about an hour and a half-ish before Sara’s did. I bought a magazine and waited for her flight to come in. Surprisingly we had the exact same baggage claim. Anyways as we were trying to figure out how to get to the El Al terminal, we realized a bunch of kids on Sara’s flight from Boston were also doing Birthday. So we took the tram with them over to our meeting spot. It was about 5pm now, but we weren’t actually supposed to meet up with our group till 7:30. So as we’re about to walk off to get something to eat, two more girls join the group. We realized that there were two birthright groups on our flight. The ones we’d been hanging out with before were with a different Boston area group. The two new girls (Alyssa and Rachel) were on our Young Professional / Grad Student trip.

So we went to dinner met up with our whole group at 7:30, then attempted to get through El Al security. Now there’s a reason why El Al is considered to be the safest airline. They took each person one by one and grilled them. Like for me they asked if I spoke Hebrew, what my Hebrew name was, where I learned Hebrew, where my parents went to temple, the name of my rabbi. I know they asked one girl to sing the four questions. But we all made it through security, had enough time to buy snacks, and an ice breaker. At the gate along with two girls Micki and Elana, and a guy Seth we played a game to see if we could guess what color gummi bear we were eating.

The flight itself was pretty uneventful. I was passed out most of it. I remember afterwards someone mentioning diner on the plane, which I don’t recall at all, so I must have slept through it. I do remember breakfast though, which included granola that was pretty good.
At Ben-Gurion Airport

June 13
We arrived on Friday at about 5-ish. After going through customs and everything, we pretty much raced through the airport since Shabbat was about to start. The airport was literally deserted, since it was Shabbat. We got our luggage and got on the bus. There we met Gidi, our tour guide, Maxim, our bus driver, Ahikam or Cohen, our bodyguard and medic, and Benji, who was kinda our Israel Experience coordinator.

We got to the hotel, checked in had diner. After diner we did what you could call a mini Shabbat. We had these packets, with a bunch of stuff in them, but all we really tried was L’cha Dodi. Then we talked about a few rules and regulations and what we were expecting to get out of the trip.

We went out to the bar across the street that night. It was on the beach, and it really just gave everyone a good chance to get to know eachother.
Beach just outside Tel Aviv

June 14
Since this was Saturday and Shabbat. So most of the day was spent laying out on the beach. There was a small incident when 3 people got stung by a jellyfish, but other than that it was fairly uneventful. We did have one quick discussion where we talked about what we were looking forward to and what made a person Jewish. Somewhat surprisingly I was probably in the top 8 or so of the more Jewish ones on the trips. For example there were some guys that had been raised more Christian, but felt they were Jewish culturally.

After dinner at the hotel, we did a brief Havdallah outside. Then we all went out in Tel Aviv. We went to a bar called Mike’s place, which pretty much came off as an American sports bar. They were playing a Euro Cup soccer game, which honestly was on at most bars throughout the trip.

At the end of the night a bunch of us walked over to a different bar across the street. Half of this bar was set up on the beach. The beach part had hookahs on it, with pillows surrounding them on the sand. They had these red lights up, and music playing. We all felt we should have spent the entire night there inside of at Mike’s Place.

June 15
This was our first full day. We left pretty early, probably around 7-ish. That was the standard time for the trip. We drove about 2 hour-ish to get down to the Negev desert. We went on a small hike so we could experience what it would be like walking along in the desert. It wasn’t really that long and there was a group of high school age orthodox Jewish girls doing the hike at the same time. They spent their whole time singing loud slightly obnoxious songs, while Gidi wanted us to experience the quiet of the desert. The two goals didn’t quite match up. There was a small waterfall at the end of the hike, what you could technically call an oasis.

Afterwards we went to David Ben-Gurion’s house. He was Israel first Prime Minister, and several years in his term he retired to live on a kibbutz in the desert. After he died he donated his house as a museum, and that was what we went to. It was a pretty small house, esp considering he had been the prime minister. One of the neatest things there was his library which had a wide variety of books, some which you might expect such as The History of the Jewish People, and others you might not such as math science, and psychology books.

Afterwards we went to ride camels. They had us pair up with a partner, and they tried to spilt us up so the camels had a somewhat even weight distribution. The camels were tired together and they pretty much led us on a walk. It was very picturesque, but extremely uncomfortable. And if it was bad for me, you can only imagine how it felt for the boys in the group. It’s def something I’m glad I can say I did, but it wasn’t quite enjoyable per se.

At the same place at the camels were the Bedouin tents. We had what they call a Bedouin hospitality. They first gave us hot tea. It was really sweet and really good. The point of the tea is to get you to sweat, so that your body cools down. Then they made us coffee. They used a grinder that has become somewhat of a musical instrument for them. The coffee was pretty good, although they didn’t use anytime of strainer so there were bits of coffee grinds in it. At the end they gave us each a piece of baklava, and then gave of a chance to play the coffee grinder.

At the end they opened up the floor for questions. Sara asked if they actually lived at the village. The guy who had been talking to us said that no he was Jewish, and that he didn’t live there. The guy who made the coffee for us, and didn’t say anything was however actually Bedouin. As we were walking away Sara told Cohen how she was a little disappointed that it was a real Bedouin and a real Bedouin village. Cohen told us the problem was Bedouins don’t speak English only Arabic, and that therein was the problem. So in some ways it was more of a tourist attraction, but still informative nonetheless. We left after that and didn’t spend the night at the tent, which is an experience some group get to do. Roy, who was one of our Marichim, said when he went last year they got to. While he said it was fun, he wound up having to climb Masada on about 3 hours of sleep, which was not so fun.

We then went to our lodging for the night, which was at a youth hostel. It was a very nice youth hostel there. They had small buildings all over the property. While we only had 3 in a room, they rooms could have easily fit 5, since it had 2 beds, a bunk bed, and a trundle.

I’m going to end this entry for now. Yes I still have the majority of the trip to write about. But if I don’t upload something now, I might not get anything up. So next time, Masada, En Gedi, dead sea, and Jerusalem.
not quite in a straight line