Before I show you photos, I want to give you some background on what my Israel experience was like, so read on and then click the link for photos 🙂
First, let me explain just a bit about what Taglit Birthright is. Taglit is a company that gives young adults, all American Jews, between the ages of 18 and 26 the FREE gift of experiencing Israel. Yes, you read that correctly… free and yes it is a gift. Its a chance to understand the Israeli and Jewish life that most American Jews don’t know much about. Taglit works with about 25 organizations with different agendas. Some with a more religious itinerary, others on the more studious side, and others with the more adventurous itinerary, which is of course the one I attended.
So for 10 days I traveled by bus with my sister Devon and Taglit Group 49 around Israel being taught by our amazing Israeli guide, Hila Madar, who is with no doubt one of the most knowledgeable and determined women I have ever met. It is possible she may be smarter than all of my high school history books combined! Also with us were our group leaders Josh and Sarah, who kept us in line while also keeping us healthy, happy and entertained. Lets just say, Josh looks great in a dress, you should ask him about it.
After landing at Ben Gurion airport, it was non-stop from there. First, Caesarea, a beautiful Roman built aqueduct on the shore of the Mediterranean. After all the awkward and hilarious icebreakers on the beach which included lots of staring at each other, lots of learning how to make a circle (we are great at!) and learning how to count to 39 (we are terrible at!), we headed off to our Hotel in Tiberius. Talk about a view! We stayed at a hotel on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. In the few days of staying in Tiberius, we had our first real Shabbat (not to mention it was lead by the one and only Rabbi Josh!), we had a nature walk at Mount Meiron and relaxed in the hot springs. And then had a first hand encounter with Daniel. Who is this Daniel person you ask? This kid is ridiculous! He follows us though the Tomb of Rabbi Meir, starts rambling about how crazy life is, then goes on to tell us about why being dirty instead of clean is more important, and talks about black chalk on a white board. Wise words of Josh “well that was fucking wierd!”. Drugs. This kid had lots of drugs.
Ok now Im rambling. Next we meet our 7 Israeli soldiers; Jasmin, Amir, Nisim, Noam, Yarden, Sunny, and Yosi. What most people dont know is that in Israel once you graduate high school you go right into the army. Men for 3 years and women for 2. If you want to meet people with pride for their country, give any of them a call they will explain the real definition of pride. Its a beautiful thing. The bond that we developed with them in only 5 days is incredible. Maybe I can’t speak for everyone, but these 7 people are now my family regardless of how far away they live in reality. As a tip to Taglit and Israel Outdoors, introducing us to these 7 amazing people was the smartest move by far.
In the next 3 days we visited Tzfat, rode camels, slept in a Bedouin tent, hiked Masada, volunteered at Livnot U’Lehibanot, canyon hiked in Golan Heights, swam in the dead sea and hiked to a waterfall in the Negev desert. And incase you are curious, apparently a cow a day blows up in the Golan! So watch out for that. These places were all amazing, so if I went on to talk about it all, you would be here reading for a week.
The next day was probably the hardest. Not hardest physically, but hardest mentally and emotionally. This was the day of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum and Har Herzl Military Cemetery. For whoever is reading this, im going to let you think on this one and soak it all in. There is no word to describe the feeling you get when standing in front of a memorial for a 13 year old boy, who wrote in his journal about how he had hopes and dreams right before he was murdered at the Auschwitz camp. Not to mention the countless number of people who lost their lives during the Holocaust, and somewhere in those rooms was the name of someone you were most likely related to. Did your heart sink? Mine did.
Okay, on a happier note its time for Jerusalem! Probably my favorite place on the trip. A crazy, bustling market, classic neighborhoods, even more hummus, and a night out on Ben Yehuda Street with some of our Israeli friends that came back to play. But first, the Kotel aka The Western Wall. I had only seen this place in history books and I honestly didnt think I would think much of anything but damn was I wrong. Jasmin,my new Israeli sister, told me that she wanted to walk me and my sister to The Wall, and I again didnt really know what to expect, but clearly she did because I cried like a baby. I walked up to this massive structure of stone, put my hand up and 5,000 years worth of history rushed through my veins. Amazing. Of course, I didnt want anyone to see me cry like a baby so I waited until no one was around, put my sunglasses down and just stood there looking up.
In the last couple of days we shared a final Shabbat, wandered through the Tel Aviv markets, and visited Independence Hall. All in all, I would say this trip was a major success! I really don’t think I could say a bad word about it. I can absolutely say that I learned how to not just be Jew-ish, but a proud Jew. (Thank you to Neil Lazarus our political speaker for that quote.)
Some final dedications…..
TO those of you were are reading this and trying to decide whether to go on a Taglit Birthright trip – what the hell are you waiting for! You should have been starting to sign up about 3 paragraphs ago!
TO my amazing group 49 – you are all wonderful! It is not easy for a group of 39 people to randomly get thrown together and all get along. But I think we did a pretty good job! Group 49 would not be the same if it was missing even just one of you, so thank you for being great!
TO my new Israeli friends – Each of you has a very special place in my heart, thank you for everything! And yes, I now consider you all family.
TO Hila – you should know that you are major asset to Taglit and like I said before, one of the brightest women I know. Thank you for wanting to pass all your knowledge along.
TO Josh and Sarah – We wouldn’t know how to count to 39 or make circles without you both 🙂
Now that you have all of the back story and considering this blog is supposed to be about my photography, here are some photos!!!