This time, it's Jenna making the trip. After the jump are the daily updates from clergy and photos. Full photo album at this link.
Friday, December 23, 2020
Gooooooooood evening Parents! As promised, here is a look back on our 28 hour day:
After a long flight (including a Chanukiyah lighting in the aisles!) where some slept and others tried to sleep, we landed in Tel Aviv. We met our guide, Hannah, and our guard/medic, Tehila.
Once we got through Tel Aviv traffic, we set down our bags and were off to services…or so we thought. Turns out, there was a bit of a miscommunication - the address for Beit T’filah Israeli that’s on their website, Facebook, Google Maps, etc is their offices, not where they have services. So we walked to their offices. Only to find out their services that evening were another 20 minute walk away in the wrong direction.
Naturally, we did what we do: we pivoted! Instead, we had a really beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat prayerful moment on the beach. We all shared what we hope to welcome in throughout the trip (some examples from the kids: new experiences, new foods, getting outside my comfort zone). We sang some, we prayed some, we had some communal yet private moments on the beach.
Then, we came back to the hotel for dinner, and right now, everyone is passing out!
As an aside, I cannot tell you how proud of these kids we are. I had a long conversation with Tehila, and she is so impressed by how they show up on time, are respectful to everyone - adults and kids alike. Katey, Charlotte, and I are very blessed to be sharing this experience this group!
Shabbat shalom from Tel Aviv!
Saturday, December 24, 2020
Boooooooooooker tov Parents! Here is a look back on our first full day in Israel:
After an amazing Israeli breakfast (i.e., breads, cheeses, vegetables, salads, eggs in at least 5 different ways including shakshuka, and lots of various middle eastern foods that some kids actually tried!), we headed out to services at Beit Daniel.
They welcomed us warmly, and we were fortunate enough to not only witness a Bar Mitzvah, but our group had an aliyah, and Lev & Charlotte helped lift and dress the Torah. (culture shock #1: the Bar Mitzvah and his father were wearing a white button up shirt that was untucked, with blue jeans, and sneakers!)
We walked back to the hotel, had a lovely Shabbat lunch, went for a brief walk to get some snacks at a convenience store (culture shock #2: even little convenience stores sell fresh fruits and vegetables!)
After a brief rest, we had Havdalah and lit the Chanukah menorah, followed by a walk over to the Namal (beach promenade) where we got dinner and ice cream.
This evening, we learned from comedian and educator Benji Lovitt, who taught about some of the cultural differences between Israel and the US. Now, everyone is heading to bed to rest up for a busy day tomorrow!
PS: Katey, Charlotte, and I have been kvelling about these kids…so many people at Beit Daniel remarked how respectful and engaged our kids were during services!
Lailah tov from Tel Aviv!
Bonus Jenna having all the feels over a cat video.
Sunday, December 25, 2020
Bo bo bo boker tov Parents! Here is a look back on our VERY full, and rainy day:
After another amazing Israeli breakfast (this time with a working coffee machine…yesterday was Shabbat, so there was only hot water and instant coffee), we were so fortunate to be joined by Linda Platt, along with her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson! We talked about their Israel story, why Israel is important to them, and why this trip is so meaningful for them and each of our students.
Then, we made our way to Yafo/Jaffa where we explored the old town with its rich history, and walked through a lovely market before making our way to Machon Ayalon. This was an underground ammunition factory disguised as a laundry service during the establishment of the State of Israel. The students were mesmerized at the ingenuity!
Later in the afternoon, we experienced one of the most powerful sites we’ll visit - “Save A Child’s Heart.” Check out this video which tells their story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DHtXV2y9WI. We got to play and dance with some amazing kids! Check out the pics and ask your kids about the experience…it was incredible seeing how much fun everyone was having together!
Now, we finished dinner and we’re packing our bags as we head south to Sha’ar Hanegev tomorrow.
Lailah tov from Tel Aviv!
Monday, December 26, 2020
Top of the marnin’ to ya!
Well, this was QUITE the busy day filled with sites, sounds, passion, community, and a whole lot of rain, and these kids are just amazing and resilient.
We had breakfast and checked out of our hotel in Tel Aviv before taking a quick ride to the new Museum of the Jewish People (now called “Anu,” and previously known as the Diaspora Museum. This museum has been completely changed, now focusing on the diversity of Jewish life throughout the world. Oh, and we enjoyed some Aroma (which is the Israeli equivalent of Starbucks ;)).
We traveled south to Sderot, stopping for lunch along the way, where we got a tour of what life is like when you border Gaza. For example, when the “Tzeva Adom” (literally “color red” but effectively means “you have 15 seconds to find shelter before a rocket lands”) goes off and you’re in a park, find shelter in the cute caterpillar structure!
We then made our way to our sister community, Shaar Hanegev, where our kids met some of their teens and quickly became friends. After a delicious dinner of fresh pita, falafel, hummus, and Israeli salad, it was time to head to our Kibbutz Nir Am lodging for the night.
FYI: The next two days cover more time with Shaar Hanegev, a sunset camel ride, camping in a Bedouin tent, an early morning hike up Masada, followed by the dead sea before heading to Jerusalem. Cell service in many of these areas is rather spotty, so it’s possible that this will be the last update you’ll get from us for a couple of days. When we can, we will send pics!
Tuesday, December 27, 2020
Boker tov from Masada!
Well, the theme of yesterday was, “Let’s roll with it and make the most of our time here!” And wowzers did we make the most of our time!
After breakfast on Kibbutz Nir Am, we made our way to Black Arrow, a site of historical importance of Kibbutz life from the war of Independence, and we also heard from our Sha’ar Hanegev hosts.
Then we checked out the bench that was made with tiles created by our students, followed by a quick stop at the regional school where we painted rocks which will be glued to the wall of the new youth lounge.
We had a schnitzel lunch on the bus when we got the unfortunate news that we would not be able to ride camels today. Our incredible guide, Hannah, pivoted and took us (after a quick pit stop for bathrooms and yoga) to Machtesh Ramon, a naturally formed crater which also is the location of a museum dedicated to the memory of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.
Then the long and winding road that leads…to the Bedouin tent! We had a yummy traditional dinner and a cultural exchange where we learned about Bedouin hospitality.
After a brief sleep with a memorable wake up song (ask your kids!), we took a short bus ride to Masada.
More to come!
Thursday, December 29, 2020
Erev tov from the holy city of Jerusalem!
Full disclosure: today was a REALLY long day, made especially longer because wake up was at 4:45 this morning. If you hear a little crankiness in your kids voices this evening, not to worry - this is a totally normal moment in the trip. Also, we are well aware about some of the food related issues. Since we’ll be based in Jerusalem until the end of our trip, there will be many more opportunities for the kids to get meals on their own at various restaurants, rather than lunches on the go.
After our early wake up, we hiked up Masada’s back Roman Ramp to enjoy a gorgeous sunrise over the Jordanian hills. We learned about the history of the site and the archeological dig that is ongoing (our guide Hannah worked here!).
Then, we got an incredible surprise with the on-site sofer! We connected to each other and “together” wrote a verse of Torah (in case you’re wondering, it was Num. 14:20 - And יהוה said, “I pardon, as you have asked.” which is a core part of the Kol Nidrei liturgy.). It was an incredibly powerful moment for all of us.
After an obligatory group photo, we rode the cable car down Masada and enjoyed breakfast. From there we drove to Ein Gedi nature preserve where we hiked to the famous King David water fall.
Since we couldn’t ride camels yesterday, we did the next best thing: we rode gas station camels! We continued on to the Dead Sea where, after a bit of miscommunication about the lunch situation, we ate and floated in the sea. (note: because that moment involved kids in swimsuits, the staff did not take photos. Some of the kids brought their own phones down to the water for pics, though.)
As we boarded the bus and made our way to Jerusalem, we passed out your letters to your kids which they read before blindfolding themselves and stepping foot onto Jerusalem and taking in its beauty for the first time.
For dessert, I surprised them with a sweet treat of rugulach from Marzipan, the BEST bakery of rugulach in the whole wide world (go ahead DZ’s... fight me on this.).
Lailah tov from Jerusalem!
Erev tov from Jerusalem!
Wowie-zowie if we thought yesterday was intense…today was even more so!
We started the day with breakfast at the hotel and a drive to the Haas promenade which features one of the most exquisite overlooks of Jerusalem. Hannah gave us a 3000 year history of Jerusalem in about 5 minutes!
From there we went to an archeological dig where our students sifted through bucket after bucket of artifacts. Some even found a coin, although it was mostly lots of clay. Still, pretty neat!
Then we made our way to the Old City where we toured a bit to get our bearings, had some delicious lunch, and made our way to the Kotel (Western Wall). The Kotel was, as always, both inspiring and challenging. Ask your kids about it - some had truly profound experiences that filled and broke their hearts at the same time.
We briefly came back to the hotel before we headed out again for a light show at the Tower of David, followed by dinner and free time for shopping on Ben Yehuda Street.
Tomorrow will be another intense day of Yad Vashem (Holocaust memorial), Har Herzl (equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery), and Machane Yehuda market before Shabbat…but for now, sleep.
Friday, December 30, 2020
Shabbat shalom from Jerusalem!
Today was probably the most whirlwind/emotional roller coaster of a day throughout the whole trip. Lots of tears. Lots of hugs. Lots of sadness, lots of joy.
We started our day at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial & museum. While the story of the Shoah is meaningful for many of our students who have family members who are directly connected to the Shoah, this memorial has special meaning for my family, as one of the artifacts at the beginning of the museum was the possession of, and was donated by, Sarah’s grandfather and great-uncle. The museum is a powerful reminder not just of the atrocities of the Shoah, but of the culture that led to the Nazi’s uprising, and on the other end of the spectrum, the strength of Jewish will to persevere and create the State of Israel.
From there we walked up the mountain to Har Herzl, where many famous Israeli figures were buried. This visit was particularly special because we visited the memorial to those who have died in acts of terror within Israel, as well as the graves of two soldiers who served with our guide, Hannah.
And now…for something completely different, we did a whirlwind 180 and spent the early afternoon at the Machane Yehuda market, full of SOOO many people (including BI alum, Amanda Levy who is on a Birthright trip of her own!), so much good food, and so much character!
Then we made our way down to the Kotel for Kabbalat Shabbat. We entered Robinson’s Arch plaza, where the egalitarian prayer space is located, and another group had already started their prayerful moments…so we did what anyone would do at the Kotel…we joined in! After they finished, we broke off and had a brief service of our own. Then we made our way to the main Kotel plaza, where our students got to experience the incredible energy and ruach (spirit) of the Kotel on a Friday evening. It really is like nothing else!
We made our way back to the hotel for dinner and sleep…everyone is excited that we’ll get to sleep in a bit tomorrow :)
Lailah tov and Shabbat shalom!
Saturday, December 31, 2020
Shaaaaaaaaaaaaaaavua tov from the formerly silent Jerusalem!
Today was FAR more relaxed than previous days as the city nearly completely shuts down for Shabbat.
We started the day with a late wakeup and breakfast, before making our way out to a stroll through some neighborhoods in Jerusalem. One highlight was walking through Machane Yehuda, completely empty and quiet. I reflected with Charlotte that it was like what happened in mid-March 2020 where the world shut down, but this happens every week! (enjoy the Friday/Saturday pic compilation)
After lunch much needed menucha (rest), we had a “Kiki” (group reflection) with pita and snacks. Then we had some more menucha and packing time.
We had a beautiful Havdalah and another stroll through other Jerusalem neighborhoods before a cash dinner on Ben Yehuda street. In the evening, we had a HILARIOUS presentation on the current Israel political situation from Neil Lazarus. Now, we gave the students some free time to celebrate New Years.
Tomorrow will be our last full day in Israel. I’ll be sending a note when we are at the airport wrapping up our day and providing any updated information about our flight before we depart.
Lailah tov and shanah tovah!
Sunday, January 1, 2020
Goooooooooooood evening, parents!
For the last time this trip, here’s what we did today:
We ate breakfast in the hotel, then pivoted when our speaker fell through (whoops?) and had a reflection about the conflict and life on college campuses.
Then, we walked to Yad L’kashish, which is a place designed to give older, poor individuals a purpose in life by teaching them crafts and selling their wares. Ask your kids if they bought anything!
After that, we had some free time in Ben Yehuda and Machane Yehuda for last minute shopping and lunch, loaded the suitcases onto our bus and made our way to a brand new museum/memorial: Khan Sha’ar Hagai. If you can, check out this museum online…it’s a fantastic museum covering a harrowing moment in the Israeli story.
On our way back to Tel Aviv, we stopped at a super fun place…an American style diner called “Elvis,” which features not one but TWO... TWO Elvis statues!
Then we continued on to Shuk HaCarmel in Tel Aviv and a final Israeli style dinner before saying goodbye to our driver Avi, guard/medic Tehila, and guide Hannah. Now, we’re waiting at our gate, looking forward to some SLEEP.
If you are an aviation nerd like me and want to track our flight, we’re on El Al flight 6. Track here: https://live.flighty.app/f2a20dc1-8b87-4067-bf7a-9e2410fad466