Sometimes Free Isn't Always Better
Being Jewish and Catholic both religions I felt no connection to. I heard about the birthright trip to Israel but honestly didn’t feel it was for me because I wasn’t even close to being Jewish despite having Jewish blood and a Jewish last name. I was coming up on my twenty seventh year, which is the cut off to go on this trip. At the last minute, I decided to go for it without any expectation of what was going to happen or what it was going to be about. My father is Jewish and my mother is Catholic, they are not too religious and have tried to pass down their religious views when I was little but according to my mom, I was not a fan of either one. Within the last six to seven years, I did my research for my Italian ancestry and found I could become an Italian citizen. I loved the process of figuring out the missing puzzle pieces of who I am and where I came from. As excited as I was to find out where I came from on my mother’s side, I felt a missing piece to the puzzle where I came from on my dad’s side.
My father was born in Argentina and I never heard him talk about Jewish culture other than some Yiddish words here and there. I wasn’t looking to convert but I wanted to have an open heart to hear what being Jewish is all about. I wanted to do it all, Shabbat, breaking the bread, being amongst other Jewish people who were on the same journey as me to connect; connect with being Jewish. Taglit is the Hebrew word for discovery. Birthright gives individuals with Jewish heritage to go back to the motherland to learn more about being Jewish and their culture. It is offered to Jews for free to fly to Israel for 10 days along with other people who are on the same journey. My boyfriend drove me to JFK airport and as we were getting closer, the reality was setting in we wouldn’t see each other for the next 10-11 days. We arrived a little bit before 7am but talked outside for a little bit, hugging and kissing each other. He told me to be safe and we said our I love yous. I walked inside and saw a big group of people and assumed this was the group. It was but our group leaders hadn’t arrived yet. I always heard Israeli security was intense and wasn’t sure what I’d experience, let alone 40 other people being questioned. I thought we’d be there forever. Surprisingly, it went by quick but my turn was up and when I’m nervous I tend to laugh. The guy called me over and asked me weird random questions, like “How many passports do you have? What is your mother’s maiden name? Did I have a Hebrew name? Did I ever go to Hebrew school? When was the last time my dad went to synagogue?” I couldn’t answer a majority of these questions. I couldn’t help but laugh because I thought I’m failing miserably and maybe he wouldn’t let me on the plane. He then asked “What is your favorite holiday?”I said the 4th of July. He laughed and said how about a Jewish one? I laughed and said Hanukkah? He questioned if I was even Jewish. I said I was. He said why are you even going to Israel for birthright. I laughed and said clearly because I don’t know shit about being Jewish. He laughed and let me go through. My ticket said it was standby and thought that can’t be good. I hope I get a seat on this plane. I did but it said window seat. I know so many travelers that love the window seat, I hate it. I love the aisle seat because it forces me to get up and stretch and I’m not squished inside the whole time. One of the girls in the group wanted a window seat and I told her I will switch with you if your ticket happens to be an aisle. I was praying it was an aisle seat, so when we were boarding I saw her behind me and yelled out to her what seat she has. It was an aisle. So we switched and the seat I got was the first row in the exit row with plenty of legroom for this 11-12 hr flight.
A woman sitting in between me and another woman had such an infectious laugh. We all had our seats back with blankets and looked at each other and all of us busted out laughing. The woman laughed and said, “This feels like first class”. I already felt a sense of relief and comfort to be sitting next to these women for the next 12 hours. I told them about my seat situation and how at the last second I got moved to them. She said, “Nothing is a coincidence.” We all exchanged names, the woman with the infectious laugh was from Israel visiting her family and her name was Keren and the other woman’s name was Michelle and she was going there for business. Keren is such a free spirit. She said, “I feel so free and love to travel and meet people. I’m curious about the world and other people’s cultures.” I immediately felt a connection with her. We were talking about life and found out we are in the same field working in mental health. I then told her my real passion is traveling also and writing about my experiences. I told her if I could make money from that I’d quit my job in a heartbeat. I was watching a movie about some guy skiing and trying to get into the olympics. Earlier when I started watching it she said pay attention because there is a good message in regards to your passions. She said so the movie’s message is when you want something that bad and you feel it in your gut 100% then you can have it. I told her I believe in that very much.
She went on to say, “I can’t do something that doesn’t feel right in my soul.” I agreed completely. I said it’s hard when you have to settle down like get a real job and pay your bills/rent etc. instead of hopping around job to job trying to make ends meet. She said, “You can be serious but still have following your dreams within you. I am always smiling and loves surprising people and I’m always flying.” I told her that my mom said that about me and my brother that we were born with wings. Keren loved that and said she has kids and is going to raise them to have wings. She said, “My mom doesn’t understand my lifestyle with wings.” I told her I can understand that. She said something interesting. “My mom gave me life but she doesn’t own me. She can’t walk in my shoes.” I sat in deep appreciation for this conversation as I truly believe we meet people at the right moments to give us messages.
When we landed in Tel Aviv it was 530 in the morning. I was exhausted from only being able to sleep on the plane for 2 hours. We grabbed our bags and met the founder of Birthright. I was tired, hungry and anxious. He was talking about something but I could barely hear him and my mind tuned out. I was quite anxious and trying to focus on calming down. I mentioned before during my trips, usually the first day I’m anxious because there’s so much newness and I become overwhelmed. The leaders told us we would have a full day ahead of us. Already I was not liking how this was sounding. I’m so used to traveling on my own and not used to being on a strict schedule. I was wondering if this was going to be a good trip or not. The day was kind of a blur because I was jetlagged and tired from not sleeping on the plane. I was not prepared for the heat in Israel. I was told by friends back home the heat isn’t too bad which was fine because I’ve dealt with hot places before but I was not prepared for a heat wave in already hot Israel.
Anyway, we stopped at a gas station for lunch and I was disappointed because when I travel I like to experience the country like a local. I want to eat at authentic Israeli places and not restaurants I can find at home. We quickly got back on the coach bus and went to Caesarea where there were ancient ruins. The heat was unbearable and I was over it like many others in the group. They kept pushing us to walk around and tell us history about the place which unfortunately, I had no clue what was going on because I couldn’t focus from being tired and hot. After, we got back on the bus where I tried to sleep but I couldn’t relax in a comfortable position long enough and the leaders told us we would be going on a hike for 2 hours so to prepare ourselves on the bus before we got there. All I wanted a bed and a shower. I was still in the clothes I left New York in. The hike was strenuous and felt like it never was going to end especially when the heat kicked in. Shabbat our tour guide was quite the talker so who knows how long the hike actually took.
After the hike we then headed to our hostel in Shlomi. I couldn’t be more excited to get situated and showered. After we showered and ate they said we had another activity to do. Shabbat pulled out yarn string. He said his name and an adjective about himself that started with the first letter of his name. He told us to say that and mention where we went to school, what we studied and then throw the ball of yarn to someone else. After throwing it around the string in the middle created a big criss-cross. He said find the people you are connected to and we pulled on our string and he would come and cut the string long enough to wrap twice around each other’s wrists and we were to wear them until they fell off on their own. When the activity was over, I thought we were off to have free time and could go to bed. Shabbat said to meet him in the basement/bomb shelter to talk. He explained to us about how our trip was going to go and what the next day was going to entail. He said we need to be up at 615 in the morning. I was not looking forward to the next day. We woke up early, semi-rested we went to eat breakfast and then went on another hike called Hatzbani and it was a water hike. The cold water felt great in between my toes with the day getting hotter. Shabbat told us more stories about Israel along the way. It was interesting to hear more about Israel from another perspective other than the news back in the states. After our hike we went to Mount Bental with gorgeous panoramic views of Golan and the border of Syria. From the view, I could see the fence to Syria. It may sound silly but you expect to see bombs, lots of security, which I’m sure they are in other parts of Syria but in this area it was nothing but nature’s beauty. We hear about chaos from our media we become unconsciously judgemental and fearful of these countries, even Israel but to see it in person was humbling. Shabbat had pointed out a small UN building in the distance and mentioned recently was under siege from ISIS. I could tell everyone was shocked and even myself. To think ISIS was close not too long ago was hard to comprehend from what we are conditioned to know and think of ISIS in the states. The threats and violence are alive and well in these countries but not all of the country is mayhem like the media makes it out for us to believe.
Shabbat stopped us for a moment after telling us all these stories and asked us to write any problem we want to get rid of. At the time, I hated my job back home and I wanted to find a way to get out of there and find something I loved. He said he would put it in a bag and at the end of the trip he will ask us if we want him to keep it or give it back. We got back onto the bus and we kayaking in the Jordan River. Each of us had a group of 5 to 6 people in each raft. It was refreshing. When we left we quickly went to the olive factory before they closed. We put pressed olives on our faces which smelled delicious and made our skin feel moisturized.
We went back to the hostel to prepare for Shabbat. We lit the candles, held each other in a circle, sang songs and blessed the wine. The Shabbat ceremony was one of my favorite parts of so far since I’ve never experienced it. I loved the Jewish traditions and the beautiful meanings behind it. We then said a prayer over the challah bread and ate a piece before we had dinner. We went to the basement again to play more activity games. Shabbat dropped the bomb on us we had to be up at 545 in the morning tomorrow and we were shocked because it’s Shabbat and the next day is the day of rest. He laughed and said meetup at 1045am. We all cheered with excitement we could finally sleep in. Being in a group of 47 individuals with 47 different personalities is a lot to deal with on a 24/7 basis. I don’t mind being social but I like to have my alone time where I can relax, or write about my travels. So I took advantage of an early night and the next day of rest to catch up since I’m sure the next few days will be packed with activities.
The rest day was great and Shabbat took us to the forest to do a group activity with a beachball that had questions on it like, “If you had a yacht, what would you name it? If you were on a deserted island who and what would you bring?” We bumped into some Israeli soldiers who stopped to watch us. They had their military tanks and a majority of the group went to take pictures. I was going to but decided not to. Sometimes I don’t want to always take pictures when I travel, I like to sit back and soak it in. Writing about my experiences in great detail is better than any picture I could take. I have the words to describe the day where it immediately brings me back and I can picture exactly what was going on. Pictures are great but when you have long travel days you tend to forget the little details and writing fills in those spaces. We did another activity about our Jewish identity. There were blue circles which represented being Jewish, the red circles for being American and the green circles for you and how you felt about yourself. The size and distances together on these little cards represented how connected you felt to each one. I picked the green and red which was the same size and the blue circle was little. I said I wanted the green one to be a little bit bigger and the red to be smaller. I wanted the American circle smaller only because I don’t agree with a lot of what the American government does and I connect more with my heritage of being Italian/Argentinian. When we arrived back at the hostel we went back to change and prepared for a havdalah ceremony which marks the end of Shabbat. It is performed before nightfall, we stood in a circle lit a candle and one of the girls from the group went around to look at our nails to make sure they weren’t dirty to show we didn’t work. Then someone else went around with the spices, we all sniffed it. The spices represent the loss of the sabbath spirit. Then they dipped the candle into the wine after someone sipped it. Then we dipped our pinky finger in the wine to either put behind our ears or in our pockets for good luck and good fortune. We had another activity to learn how to do traditional Jewish dances. No one wanted to go because we all were exhausted and had to be up early the next morning. It was hilarious because I think we all were past the point of tired where you feel like you are delirious or drunk and everyone was acting more silly than usual.
The next morning we did another two hour hike up Mount Meron. It was beautiful but because it was hot, the importance of staying hydrated in the desert heat with a heat wave is vital. I was growing tired of the non stop activities where there was little rest times. One of the girls would refuse to come down for some activities and stay in her room. The leaders would have to go grab her. I felt her pain. I understand wanting to see everything but it takes away from the experience. I’d rather see a handful of things and spend a lot of time to experience it than to hop around everywhere. We then drove to a town called Tzfat where they told us we would do a 4-5 hour walking tour. I’m fit at home, I work out 6 days a week but let me tell you, I was struggling and the 100 degree or more heat added to it.
We stopped in a small synagogue where half of us were falling asleep from the warmth and exhaustion of hiking and walking. They brought us to a park to get some shade and eat some Israeli popsicles. The leaders told us to close our eyes to meditate for a moment and when we opened them seven Israeli soldiers appeared. They were to going to join our group for the remaining of the trip. We were on day four of our trip and they’d be with us for the next 6 days. We heard their stories and what positions they held in the military. They were young some close to my age 26 or younger. Then we were told we had little time to find a place to eat and it was 1250p and we had to be back at the bus at 115p. The soldiers came with us and we broke into little groups. The soldiers knew where to go but me and some of the other girls were annoyed we had to rush and eat and walk back. We had to drive to Jerusalem which was a 3 hour ride. When we arrived to our hotel in Jerusalem we went straight to dinner which was a step up from the dinners we’ve been having. This tasted more authentic to Israeli food. We met in the bomb shelter for what was like a history lesson on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. They said it would only be an hour but I laughed to myself because there’s no way discussing the conflict was going to take an hour when we have 7 Israeli soldiers with us and most of them had strong opinions. We discussed what we as Americans thought the solution should be and what was thought provoking was the Israelis seemed to be just as confused as we were as to how to stop the conflict. Emotions were running high the last few days being in Israel and learning about the conflict from a their perspective and talking with the Israeli soldiers about their life in Israel and in the military. We went on top of Mount Scopus hotel to get a beautiful view of Jerusalem. All you saw was white buildings and the infamous gold dome in the distance. The heat of course was in full throttle and it grew harder to pay attention to what was going on. All I could think about was keeping myself hydrated and staying out of the sun. We walked around the city for about 4 hours until we found some food which was either shawarma or falafel. I couldn’t wait to go to Yad Vashem or the Holocaust museum because they said it would be cold in there. Despite the difference in temperature, I was intrigued to see what the holocaust museum would be like here. I visited the one in Washington D.C. and I thought it was intense. We were told to mentally prepare ourselves because this one was more emotional.
Two parts of the tour struck me hard and I wasn’t expecting to get that emotional. I knew it would be sad but being in Israel and learning more about being Jewish and seeing what happened to Jews hit home harder than usual. There was a video of an old man who survived standing in a pit with his grandfather where they were about to be shot. Soldiers went to shoot at him and his grandfather but before his grandpa was shot he said “hear, O’ Israel” prayer and his grandfather fell on top of him and the soldiers thought the little boy was dead too but he made it. But when he was explaining the story he began to tear up and I lost it. I couldn’t imagine the feeling of knowing this is your last day on Earth and to be with your loved one and witness them being killed. The fear he must have felt knowing he was still alive and hoping the soldiers didn’t notice must have been paralyzing. All these years later and it was still raw as if it had happened yesterday.
The museum is designed specifically to make you feel certain emotions as you walk through, for example in the beginning it’s a comfortable room with carpet and has you walk to the main part as it turns into cement and the structure is in an A frame and as you look out it looks like the walls are slowly moving inwards. The next room struck me the hardest was the children’s part. It was a dark room filled with mirrors and five candles in the middle and when you walked in it looked like a million candles were lit, signifying how many children died. I started crying as saw it and as you walked around the candles in the middle a loudspeaker came on with kids saying kids names, their age and where they were from. All of them were killed.
It was emotional to say the least for everyone. We went to a park nearby to play an activity and we always sat in circles to talk about the day or what we were going to do next. Shabbat told us all to turn to the person next to you and massage their back and switch sides. We all sighed with relief after a long emotional day. We all started to head back to the bus to get ready for our night out which I wasn’t looking forward to because we had to be out till 1am and then be up at 630am the next morning. Normally, I’d like to go out, have a couple drinks and have a fun time but with the heat I didn’t think it was a smart idea to get drunk the night before and be dehydrated in the morning and go on hikes in the desert heat. I reluctantly got ready for our first night out after I tried to power nap earlier when we arrived back at the hotel but didn’t get too because my roommate was loud and the other girls were sitting and jumping on my bed. I went downstairs to look for everyone and couldn’t find them. I bumped into one kid from my group and asked where they were and he told me but when I went to look they left. The leaders prided themselves on never leaving anyone behind but they did with me. I honestly was relieved. I went back to my room and broke down. I called my mom back home and needed to hear a familiar voice. I told her I wanted to come home, I missed home, my boyfriend and I hated how this trip was going. I was upset because I had six more days left. I didn’t like how hot it was and how much we were doing everyday with barely any breaks on very little sleep. I cried and told her I hate traveling like this and there’s too many people with so many different personalities. I was tired of being on such a strict schedule at all times with so many rules. I didn’t always want to be with other people 24/7. Sometimes you just need your alone time to reflect and digest the day. This is not traveling, at least to me. I want to be able to enjoy what I’m doing and seeing. My mom consoled me as much as she could and told me to try to make the best of it and see them leaving me behind as a blessing in disguise so I can catch up on some rest. As some small revenge to try and do something without their knowing, I wanted to find some snacks for the next day. The hotel didn’t have anything open but told me there was a convenient store near by. I walked outside alone and I felt like I was a little kid breaking the rules but I found the store and grabbed some snacks so I’m not struggling throughout these long dragged out days. Day 6, we visited Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery. We visited the section for all the fallen soldiers. One thing I love about cemeteries are the uniqueness of each headstone, how far back the history goes, seeing the beauty families leave for their loved ones. Each country I visit, I observed vast differences of cemeteries in the US versus other countries. Strange to say but some of them were absolutely beautiful to walk through. The ones in Italy sat upon the mountain top overlooking the ocean. White mausoleums with hundreds of flowers hanging from each one. I couldn’t help but to see the beauty in it. Shabbat told us the stories of the lives of some of these young men and women who fought for their country. I was shocked by how young a lot of them were, some of them were American too. Some were Americans who came on their Birthright trip and fell in love with Israel and joined the military.
Eitan, our medic and security who accompanied us throughout the whole trip came up to speak to tell us something. Eitan was a young man, skinny in stature with curly brown hair which had a mind of it’s own. As young as these soldiers were we continued to get to know during our trip, they were normal like any young 20 something but their eyes told a different story. Eitan started by telling us when he was out in the field driving in his military car, his fellow soldier and friend was complaining he wanted to sit by the window. Eitan cleared his throat, his voice was beginning to crack from holding back his emotions. They switched seats and 2 seconds later they were hit by a missile. Eitan walked away with minor scratches but his friend died. We grew close to Eitan because he was around our age and kept us safe. We all were protective of him in a sense. He was struggling to get the words out. I could feel his pain and sadness, a lot of us including myself and the other soldiers began to cry for him and his story. Eitan continued and said he blames himself. He said the missile was meant for him. He said his friend’s family ignores him when they see him and they blame him for the death of their son. One by one all of us went up to him and gave him a hug.
The other graves had pictures and the most colorful decorations. You can tell their families took great effort to not only visit their loved ones but to make sure it shows who this person was. I struggled to just up and leave onto the next activity after something emotional. I wish we had more time to digest. We were off to the market which was everything and more from dry teas and spices to fresh fruits and meats. The heat was brutal and I didn’t have much of an appetite and didn’t want hot food so I found a fresh smoothie instead I thought would hold me over with all the water I was drinking. We even had a water drinking schedule. By 12 noon we should have already drank 3-4 liters of water. Some days I drank 7 and still felt dehydrated, that’s how hot it was.
We drove to the Dead Sea, it’s the lowest place on Earth and the hottest. I already didn’t want to go because we’ve been outside all day running around and now we were going to an even hotter place. My energy was depleted and I didn’t expect the water to be as warm as it was. It felt like walking into a hot tub. When we got back to the hotel I was feeling dizzy and hot. I left dinner because I was having tunnel vision and I went to find Eitan to let him know and I needed to get into my room. We didn’t have the keys yet we had went straight to dinner when we arrived back from the Dead Sea. I felt hot but had the chills and I felt like I couldn’t cool off. I even tried taking a shower and didn’t help much. Eitan stayed in the room with me and laid in the bed adjacent to me to keep me an eye on me and distract me. Any time you are sick abroad it’s a horrible feeling especially when you are completely out of your element. I texted my boyfriend and dad back home to let them know of what was going on. There were a few girls who were hospitalized from dehydration a few days earlier. I didn’t want to go to the hospital unless it was absolutely necessary. Eitan said I’d be ok and I had heat exhaustion. The leaders checked up on me as well and brought me a plate of food and some more water. They told me to try to eat something and rest as much as possible. I had to try to get as much rest because we had to be up at 4am to hike Masada which was the biggest and toughest hike we’ve done yet.
On top of girls getting hospitalized for dehydration, our group was hit with some nasty stomach bug. Some people were hospitalized because of that as well. I was praying I wouldn’t get it. But I was nervous being we all were in such close quarters all the time. I luckily did not get it but one of the soldiers got it and she was surprised being she never has been sick with a stomach bug in Israel before. She was in my room and she was yacking her brains out all night, I felt bad but we all got little sleep. She stayed behind and went to the hospital in the morning while we all got up at 4am to go hike Masada. The hardest trail called the Snake path was canceled due to the excessive heat so we lucked out and did the easy trail. We saw hundreds of Israeli soldiers ahead of us and we asked some of them what they were doing. They said they were training and had been training since 10p the previous night and Masada was their last stretch. They told us they’ve been walking and training for about 25 miles.
We were trying to hike fast to reach the top so we can watch the sunrise but it was difficult with all the soldiers ahead of us. I wasn’t sure if we would make it but we did and it was well worth the hike up to the top. When we got back down to the bottom, we had to drive to the Bedouin tents where we would sleep outside in the desert. Shabbat told us we didn’t have a tent to sleep in because they overbooked it and we need to pick a partner to sleep with because they are going to give us sleeping bags because it’s possible we were going to sleep outside. Everyone was not happy about it. They told us to put our stuff in an open tent but it’s not ours until they figure the issues out. We went to dinner in another tent where we had delicious meats, rice, warm pita bread and hummus.
The bedouin tents were for other Birthright groups too on different tours and they had a concert going on and we all did the Horah, it was fun but I was kept thinking of when we’d get to sleep since having been up since 4am and it was around 9pm. We then had designated activities we had to go to and I chose meditation. Me and a guy from my group were trying to look for it and couldn’t find it at all. We both were laughing at how tired were and thought should we just ditch it? We eventually found it hidden behind another tent. The meditation was long but we fell asleep and we walked back to our group. Shabbat had us all around in a circle and said the tent where all of our stuff is actually our tent. It was a joke they overbooked it. We all gasped, laughed and sighed in relief we had a tent to sleep in. The next morning, we were all pleasantly shocked we slept so well for the first time we’ve been here. I slept like a rock and it was fantastic. I slept on a thick foam mattress using my book bag as my pillow. We set out to go on another hike and the heat was brutal. I still wasn’t feeling 100% myself and didn’t want to be in the sun for too long. Shabbat said if anyone was feeling weak or had any doubts about the hike should stay back in the bus. I thought about it and then said fuck it. I’m not pushing myself too much to risk feeling like shit again. We stayed back with one leader and 4 other girls where we played cards. It was a hell of a lot better than hiking in the desert sun. Then we had lunch in a small town called Sderot which was a hot spot for bombs and missiles a couple years ago. Shabbat said they only have 15 seconds after the siren goes off to get into the shelter. We went inside the shelter and if a real threat occurred they wouldn’t be able to leave until it was safe. It had games and lots of things to do for kids. We walked into a small room to watch a video and I was feeling dizzy again. I got really hot and walked out. Eitan saw me walk out and I said I wasn’t feeling good again and wanted to sit out in the main area to cool off.
Three other girls then came after me complaining of the same issue. We all laid down on the foam kiddy mats and just sprawled out sweating and laughing at how ridiculous this was. Homesickness was kicking into high gear at this point in the trip. I was trying my best to enjoy this trip but I wasn’t and I felt guilty about it being it was free. I pushed myself to experience everything we were doing and following the schedule and I got heat exhaustion. So I was at my breaking point and I was going to listen to my body because my health comes first.
We finally made it back to Tel Aviv which meant our trip was coming to an end. We did a scavenger hunt in the city of Tel Aviv in small groups. It was hard and who ever finished the fastest won. We didn’t win but we had a good time walking around the city without supervision. We went to more markets and we were told we had to go and walk around. At the second market, I was over it. I tapped out and said I was going to chill in an air conditioned bar until the group came back. A girl from the group was feeling dizzy and dehydrated so I volunteered to stay with her while the leaders went off. We got kicked out of the place we were sitting at because they were setting up for a band playing. The girl started crying because she felt horrible and didn’t know what to do. I told her I’d go find another place to sit in and I went walking up and down the streets asking if it was ok to sit and cool off. I found a pastry store and the owner was sweet, I told him my friend doesn’t feel well and she needs to cool off. He said of course, bring her. I went to grab her and he set up a fan for her to sit in front of and offered us free sweets. We arrived at our hotel late and we were starving being we had eaten lunch at 12p and it was almost 9p. We lit candles for Shabbat and finally had dinner. After dinner we did our usual after dinner activities. Two guys in our group did this hilarious poem or rap about everyone in the group where they poked fun at everyone. They said they couldn’t wait to perform it because they’ve been working on it from the beginning of the trip. Everyone was laughing so hard. We had a relaxing day the next morning where we were able to sleep in til 10am and then go to the beach for a few hours. That’s what we all wanted. Some good R&R. Being away from the desert was a relief and the ocean was perfect. We all went back up to our rooms to freshen up to do the bar/bat-mitzvahs. We had the option of doing a bat-mitzvah in Israel, I initially signed up but I thought we were going to do it on top of Masada where I saw other groups do it. But we did it in the hotel and decided to drop out of it. After we got ready to head out for our last night in Tel Aviv. We walked to some bar where they said it would be a half hour walk but it turned out to be an hour. We all were sweaty by the time we got there.
We got there at 1030p and had to leave by 1220a and I was annoyed we couldn’t even enjoy going out because it was rushed. It was a cute bar, outdoors hidden in some back part of some small complex filled with other bars and restaurants. I had 1 drink but didn’t feel like staying. I had my glass of wine and walked outside to walk around the complex and get away from everyone for a few moments. A couple other girls and Eitan joined me where we sat, talked and joked around until it was time to leave. We had to walk an hour back but a lot of the group was wasted, of course and it felt like it took even longer to walk back. My foot was bleeding by the time we got back because I wore the wrong shoes. We got back at 130am and had to be up at 7am for another full day. I don’t know or understand how some of the other kids did it being hungover with hiking and walking around in the heat all day.
We went on a graffiti tour in Tel Aviv and it was interesting to learn about the many hidden messages behind the art. The guide was American and I think from the east coast which was great because he hit all the high points of the tour and did it fast because he saw some of us were struggling after a night out. We had our lunch break and then did another tour at the Independence hall. There wasn’t any seats so I sat on the floor, many kids were falling asleep. The inner child in me cracks up when I see people head bobbing around because they are so tired. I think most of us zoned out, some had their sunglasses on to hide they were sleeping.
The tour was over and we went to the Jewish Cultural Center to have our last discussion together. We did a big circle and all moved in towards the center for a big hug. Then we sat down and had to say three things about the person to our left. One thing about their character, a physical trait you like and one thing you take away from them. I had one of the leaders. I said she was really sweet, I loved her accent; she was from Chicago and I took away from her she always kept a positive attitude even when we were dragging and complaining. We all then discussed how we felt about the trip and what impacted us. Shabbat gave his last speech and we were on our way. We said our goodbyes to those who extended their trip and then we headed off to the airport. We returned our sim cards.
I couldn’t wait to be home and see my boyfriend. I felt different this time around because we’ve never been apart long before and being so far away from each other. This trip was emotional and it was something I didn’t expect. I loved some parts and hated others, it gave me a new perspective on Israel and being Jewish. I feel more of a connection with being Jewish I’ve never felt before. I would love to experience Israel again on my own terms, slow and steady, soaking in the culture and maybe in their winter.