The first full day of the trip took us to the Old City in Jerusalem. To be more exact, on top of King David's fortress. During our time at the castle, we ate some challah bread, danced the Horah and of course, took some pictures. Here are a few:
Throughout the trip, I made sure to take 10-40 second video clips of most places we visited. This is a video of us dancing on top of the Old City Fortress:
Our next location was to the old ruins of Jerusalem. In Judaism this is the holiest location. However, it is incredibly holy to both Muslims and Christians. Members of both faiths venture to this location from all over the world. We then continued to the Western Wall, or what some call The Wailing Wall. A Wikipedia description below to describe the unusual name:
"The name “Wailing Wall”, and descriptions such as "wailing place" appeared regularly in English literature during the 19th century. The name Mur des Lamentations was used in French and Klagemauer in German. This term itself was a translation of the Arabic el-Mabka, or "Place of Weeping," the traditional Arabic term for the wall. This description stemmed from the Jewish practice of coming to the site to mourn and bemoan the destruction of the Temple."
Some pictures of the ruins:
A review of the Shwarma from the marketplace near the ruins.
Next stop was to the shuk (Marketplace) at Ma Yehuda. Those Jews, they love their marketplaces. I guess you need somewhere to go if grocery stores are unavailable. There are grocery stores in Israel but this is way better. These pictures were taken on a Friday afternoon, right before Shabbat where the majority of the country comes home to pray, eat, and be with family.
Not only does this trip provide educational and religious purpose, it puts you in some great situations. This guy standing next to me, came up to me at an event. Believe it or not, this didn't seem so outrageous because I knew that he was on a Birthright program. I could tell he was close to my age but I had never seen this person before. He told me that someone from his hometown (Yorktown, NY USA) told him that that a guy with a bald head and beard would be in Israel on Birthright (I'm sure there are many bald man with facial hair that live in the country), so he asked if I was that man, and it turned out I was.
A quick little fact, Jews make us .02 of the world's population. So statistically, it was meant to be we'd eventually stumble upon each other.
The next day we woke up early to take a trip to a special place called Lifeline For The Old where people who are disabled or in old age create art and crafty gifts. The members make toys, buttons, clothing, Judaica (fancy Jewish stuff) and the proceeds go to keeping the place open. Now this may seem like some Happy Gilmour gimmick, but her is an explanation:
"In this environment of focused energy and creativity, participants master challenging and rewarding tasks, while simultaneously forming bonds with newfound friends and peers around them.In this environment of focused energy and creativity, participants master challenging and rewarding tasks, while simultaneously forming bonds with newfound friends and peers around them."
I wish there were more of these types of places in The United States. It's amazing how creative these people were. Serving a purpose in life gives more of a reason to keep on living, despite how awful life can be at times, and this place was a perfect example and a testament at how we as humans can create beauty even at our oldest and sometimes toughest times.
If I had to rate the destinations of the trip, this next location would be second on my list. Yad Vahshem, which is the Holocaust memorial in Israel, was not only a museum, but a monument center, education spot, and mourning space. I cannot explain how much power this place emitted. Now, most of you have heard of the Holocaust and I hope that all of you believe that it happened, but being here was more compelling then any synagogue or religious destination we visited the entire trip. I've never had such a heartfelt connection to being Jewish in my entire life. I had visited the national museum in Washington DC, but this was levels above the rest.
I had family killed in the Holocaust, so being taught about it at times can feel redundant, but here I could not obtain enough information on the subject. So much terror, agony, and unspeakable crimes that occurred, it's difficult to wrap your head around why or how it happened. Every-time I learn something new, it makes me question how something so preventable could have been stopped. I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't learned about this time in history and may not believe that it "was as bad as people made it out to be" to look a little harder. These are only words. Make an attempt to at least once in your life visit the museum or a related monument. It's not only important for Jews, but for human beings to recognize what happened during the Holocaust.
Throughout the trip, there is this kind of over atmosphere of death. We're in the desert, recollections of the Holocaust, and the constant reminder that we're still in a war zone. And although all of this is a part of the country, there still is happiness and joy to be had.
We then took a trip from Jerusalem into the desert, to a Bedouin camp. A Bedouin is an Arab.. They usually live in rural areas like the desert or in compounds almost like outdoor camp areas. While at the camp we got to ride camels, eat incredible food, and venture out into the desert, where I had a tremendous bonding experience with the rest of the group. I didn't take any pictures of the bonding, but here are some of the camels and Bedouin camp images.
From there we rode down south to my favorite destination of the trip, Masada. It may not seem like an incredible place, but Masada is a wonder that I have seen nothing like before. Originally a fortress and community for Jews way back when, It served as living area as far back as 70 CE (no one lives there currently) I've heard stories throughout my life about how amazing it was and the importance it has had in my life has been repeated to me since I can remember.
This was taken at the top of the mountain where you can listen to an echo if you speak loud enough. I can't hear it, can you?
The Dead Sea is notoriously one of the coolest places to visit in all of Israel. If you hadn't noticed because of the high salinity levels, it's extremely easy to float. However, because the salt is so powerful, if you decide to let the water near your eyes or open wounds, it burns very badly. Luckily that didn't happen, but I did hear about someone diving in head first. Crazy tourists!
We then drove up to Tiberius and stayed in a Kibbutz where the food was delicious and the sights were magnificent. Tiberius is located in northern part of the country near the Kinerit, which is the main water source for all the country. We rode bicycles into the reserve, went bird watching, and saw the craziest rainbow in the history of rainbows. Afterwards, we spent time in the spiritual town of Tsfat, where Kabbalah was created and is still to this day studied and practiced. Some wacky dudes over there, but also some delicious treats:
The view of Syria
The following days were spent down in Ashkelon, near Tel Aviv. I wish I would have spent more time walking around, but unfortunately the trip did not allow us to do so.
Words, adjoining pictures and media can only speak so loud and describe so well. The experience's I had endured while on this trip made a huge impact and left a colossal mark on me not only as a Jew, but as a human being. There is an appreciation of life that I know I received from going on this trip. It's not about Arabs vs. Jews or donating money back to the country, and I know many of you have heard this is what Birthright is about. To me, it was about getting face deep into a culture and only coming up to breathe when necessary. People have been asking me about the trip, and I'm left speechless, I just can't express to them how incredible of a time I had. If your a Jew please take advantage of this amazing opportunity, and if your not Jewish and your thinking about going on vacation, choose Israel, it will change your life.
To find more information on Birthright, visit the site Here
This post is dedicated to the stray cats of Israel, they're everywhere!